StateImpact Florida
2:00 pm
Tue January 15, 2013

Report Says Florida A National Leader In Charter School Growth — Another Says It’s Not Fast Enough

The number of charter schools operating in the United States has surpassed 6,000 for the first time, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Volunteers build a playground at a charter school in Tampa.
Credit Kaboomplay/Flickr

Charters are now serving a record 2.3 million students based on estimates from the current school year. But a pro-choice non-profit says Florida school districts are preventing more charters from opening.

Data collected by the Alliance show charter schools now make up more than five percent of public schools in the country.

It took two decades to get there. Most of the growth happened in the last five years.

Since 2007-08, the Alliance reports “the public charter sector has added 1,700 schools – almost a 50 percent increase – and is serving an additional one million students – an increase of 80 percent.”

“The growth of the public charter sector continues because parents are demanding quality options for their children,” Alliance CEO Nina Rees said. “Charter leaders are opening schools to respond to parents and to provide more students with a quality education that meets their needs.”

The alliance was created in 2004 to expand educational options for families looking for alternatives to traditional public schools.

Here are some statistics from the Alliance:

  • The public charter school movement had a net gain of 381 schools for the 2012-13 school year.
  • Charter schools enrolled 275,000 more students this year than in 2011-12 – the largest single-year increase since the movement’s inception.
  • Five states are responsible for a net gain of 237 total new schools this school year. Florida is among the leaders, adding 67 charters.

“Our movement has momentum that will continue to positively impact public education,” Rees said, “because our leaders are committed to pursuing innovation and replicating success in communities across America.”

This story is part of NPR and WLRN's StateImpact Florida project which examines the effect of state policies on people's lives.

However, the Center for School Options says despite the growth, Florida districts are standing in the way of new charter schools opening.

The group graded the state’s ten largest school districts based on percentage of students enrolled in charter schools and other school choice programs, waiting lists for charter schools and the number of charter school applications the school district rejected and other factors.

Most districts earned a C grade or lower.

The group wants charter school applications reviewed by outside specialists. The decision on whether to approve the charter school would be made by the state Department of Education, and not local school boards.

Who is the Center for School Options? Guidestar has no tax records for the non-profit group. But it’s chairman is Jim Horne, a former lawmaker and Florida education commissioner.

Horne is also a lobbyist representing Charter School Capital, Charter Schools USA, online educator K12, Inc., Kaplan Higher Education Corporation, Learning.com and Wireless Generation, among other education firms.

Experts are divided on the usefulness of charter schools.

The Florida Department of Education says they outperform traditional schools, while a UCF researcher says traditional schools are the better performers.