Rules coming soon for Florida ‘Schools of Hope’ program

This year, the Florida Legislature passed a new law intended to draw proven charter schools into academically struggling areas.

So far, no charter school networks have applied to open “Schools of Hope.” That might be, in part, because the state Department of Education is still developing rules to carry out the program.

Adam Miller, the director of the state’s school choice office, told a House committee the new law has generated “inquiries, but not applications” from charter school operators.

“We’ve received calls from five or six nationally known organizations from around the country … [with] questions about the policy, questions about the landscape in Florida, the regulatory framework, the funding. [And they are] beginning to look at Florida more than they ever did in the past,” he told the House K-12 Innovation Subcommittee on Wednesday.

There have been “some conversations with Florida operators as well,” he added.

Miller said the department has been working on Schools of Hope rules since July, shortly after the law took effect. It plans to publish the first round soon. That would allow the state Board of Education to take them up at its November meeting.

That will allow charter school networks to apply for “Hope Operator” status. Some could qualify already, based on criteria spelled out in the law. They can qualify as Hope Operators if they get backing from the Charter School Growth Fund, receive federal charter school expansion grants or get chosen by school boards to operate turnaround schools.

Other organizations might have to wait until early next year to see if they qualify. That’s when Miller said the department plans to seek approval for another set of rules outlining the academic requirements for other organizations that want to become Hope Operators.

The new law gives Hope Operators several perks. They can qualify for a revolving loan program, apply for special state grants and use a streamlined application process to open new schools.

State Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, asked if the timeline could “prevent Hope Operators from opening up next school year.”

“We don’t believe it will,” Miller said. Unlike ordinary charter schools that apply to district school boards, Hope Operators won’t have a Feb. 1 deadline. And they wouldn’t have to clear the same approval hurdles, either.

“If we can stick to the timelines and get a rule in place by November, that would give those operators the time to come to us, get the designation, and go to school districts,” Miller said.

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