Florida is rolling out the welcome mat for two charter school organizations ready to launch “Schools of Hope.”
The state Board of Education approved the applications from IDEA Public Schools and Somerset Academy with unanimous votes.
They will gain access to low-cost loans for facilities, state grants and a streamlined application process if they apply to open schools in the vicinities of persistently struggling public schools.
The first organization, IDEA Public Schools, hails from South Texas. It’s eyeing expansion to other states.
Dan Fishman, IDEA’s vice president of growth and national advancement, said the organization wants to take its time opening new schools. Right now, it’s looking at several urban areas, and focusing on Tampa Bay and Jacksonville. It hopes to start opening its doors in the summer of 2021.
The 2017 Hope law championed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran helped make Florida attractive, Fishman said.
But the state’s school choice-friendly political climate, history of educational improvement, rapid urban population growth and high-need communities were also factors. IDEA schools currently enroll about 36,000 students. They are overwhelmingly economically disadvantaged, and all take at least 11 Advanced Placement courses before graduation.
“The legislation that has passed has really allowed us to partner in meaningful ways with districts,” Fishman said. IDEA wants to target the highest-needs areas, he added, and “the segment of the population that is rapidly growing is one we’re comfortable serving.”
Gary Chartrand, a Board of Education member, has banged a drum for charter school recruitment for years. He said he toured an IDEA school in Austin and was impressed with the culture. He called the fact IDEA is targeting Florida “evidence that that law is working.”
IDEA qualified as a Hope Operator because it received financial backing from the Charter School Growth Fund and a federal program to replicate high-quality charter operators.
A second operator, Somerset Academy, qualified because it’s leading a first-in-the-nation rural turnaround in Jefferson County.
“Somerset saw this as an opportunity to really put their model to the test within the county that had the greatest need in the state,” said Doug Rodriguez, the president of Doral College, who has been advising the effort.
Somerset is affiliated with the management company Academica, which also runs Mater, Pinecrest and Doral Academy charter schools.
Rodriguez said Hope grants would support the turnaround work in Jefferson, and that Somerset hopes to open other turnaround-focused “Hope” schools elsewhere in the state.
Eventually, to qualify as Hope Operators, charter school organizations will have to show they serve predominantly low-income students and meet a variety of student achievement indicators.
Adam Miller, the Department of Education’s school choice chief, said the state is working on those rules. Officials are trying to figure out how to analyze student achievement data for national organizations that operate in multiple states. He said comparisons across state lines can be difficult, and that the department plans to publish rules in the coming months.
Meanwhile, Linda Champion, the state’s school finance guru and deputy chancellor of K-12 schools, said roughly $100 million from last year’s budget is left over for Schools of Hope. The first $40 million went to district-run public schools. Lawmakers set aside another $140 million in next year’s state budget, meaning the program has about $240 million available. That money will remain available up to five years after it was appropriated.