Nonprofit charter school company to open four schools in Jacksonville

Lisa Buie

Students at IDEA Bluff Springs show their school spirit on one of IDEA Public Schools Austin’s newer campuses. The campus is located in the heart of one of the most economically-disadvantaged areas of Austin.

At least 900 more students in the Jacksonville area will get an additional education option  when IDEA Public Schools opens four schools in 2022.

“We are excited that IDEA Public Schools is expanding to the Jacksonville area,” said Jose Luis De Leon, executive director of IDEA Jacksonville. “Our mission is to prepare students for success in college and citizenship. At IDEA, our goal is to provide families in Jacksonville a high-quality school option. IDEA Jacksonville is excited to engage with the community, recruit top-notch principals and educators and create high-quality schools for the Jacksonville community.”

The nonprofit, Texas-based organization officially announced the move Wednesday, though officials say plans have been in the works for seven months.

IDEA Public Schools primarily serve minority students who qualify for free school lunches. It currently operates 80 schools across the country, typically in communities served by public schools rated as failing.

In a news release, IDEA Public Schools promised to provide “an additional education option to help close the opportunity gap and increase levels of achievement for students and families in Jacksonville.”

This is not the first announcement IDEA Public Schools has made about expansion plans in Florida. In May, the Hillsborough County School Board unanimously approved for IDEA to begin operating schools in the area in 2021. Company spokeswoman Jennifer Flores said then that the network plans to launch four new schools in the area by next year, eventually growing to 20 schools at 10 campuses in the Tampa Bay area by 2028. At full scale, IDEA will serve almost 15,000 K-12 students in Tampa Bay annually.

Four months after receiving approval in Hillsborough County, the company got a boost with a pledge of a $5 million gift from the Vinik Family Foundation. The gift will help launch new schools in Hillsborough, Polk and Pinellas counties.

The Vinik Family Foundation is a private foundation created and managed by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his wife, Penny. The foundation has donated more than $100 million to nonprofits working in the areas of education, human services, health care and the arts since it was founded in 1997.

IDEA Public Schools, a network of tuition-free, college preparatory public charter schools, serves nearly 53,000 college-bound students in 96 schools across Texas and Louisiana. The program’s founders chose the name IDEA, an acronym for “Individuals Dedicated to Excellence and Achievement” and the motto “No Excuses!”

IDEA’s vice president of growth Dan Fishman told redefinED in a July interview that the company is expanding into Florida due to the state’s need for more educational options for low-income students.

For more than a dozen years, 100 percent of IDEA Public Schools’ graduates have been accepted to four-year colleges and universities, and IDEA alums graduate college at five times the national average, according to Flores.

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