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PRESS RELEASE

December 19, 2006

Cathy Schroeder
(850) 245-0413

Department of Education Releases Charter School 10-year Anniversary Report
Florida charter schools are serving diverse populations and closing the achievement gap

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Department of Education today released a report commemorating the tenth anniversary of Florida charter schools, which have provided parents an additional public education option. The report highlights the history of charter schools in Florida, provides student demographic information, and compares achievement of students in charter schools with those in traditional public schools.

"This report marks a decade of progress, innovation and promise," said Education Commissioner John L. Winn. "Charter schools can no longer be considered an educational experiment, but a vital and integral part of Florida's public school system."

Like all public school students in Florida, charter school students are assessed through the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). Overall, the performance of Florida's charter school students on the FCAT is on par with, and in some cases exceeds, the performance of students attending traditional public schools. Further, charter schools are closing the achievement gap between white and minority students at a rate similar to that of traditional public schools.

A greater percentage of charter elementary and middle schools students are reading at or above grade level as compared to their traditional public school counterparts. In addition, the percentage of charter middle school students proficient in mathematics surpassed their traditional public school peers for the first time this year. While the percentage of proficient charter school students still falls below traditional public school students at some grade levels, significant progress has been made to reduce or eliminate the gap that once existed.

Florida's charter schools have also seen their student populations become increasingly diverse. On average, the state's charter schools serve a slightly greater proportion of minority students than traditional public schools, with a significant increase in the enrollment of Hispanic students from 2 percent in 1996-97 to 29 percent last school year. In terms of minority student performance on the reading and mathematics FCAT, charter and traditional public schools have experienced similar decreases in the achievement gap between white and minority students at all school levels.

"During the last 10 years, Florida's charter schools helped students — especially our minority students — achieve academic success," said Florida Board of Education Chairman T. Willard Fair and founder of one of Florida's first charter schools, The Liberty City Charter School. "These schools focus on the individual needs of students and challenge them to reach their full potential."

The Hispanic student population at charter schools appears, on average, to be more proficient in reading and mathematics than the Hispanic student population at traditional public schools. While the achievement gap has narrowed at a similar rate in charter and traditional public schools, the magnitude of the actual gap between white and African-American and white and Hispanic students at charter schools is smaller across all school levels when compared to traditional public schools.

Last year, enrollment in Florida charter schools topped 92,000, which equates to about 3 percent of Florida's total public school population during the 2005-06 school year. Enrollment in Florida's charter schools is projected to surpass 100,000 students this school year. Ten years later, there are approximately 175 times more the number of students enrolled in charter schools in their first year (1996-97). Florida is ranked second in the nation in public charter school student enrollment.

In May 1996, legislation authorizing the creation of charter schools as part of Florida's state system of public education was signed into law and was effective in July of that year. Charter school applications were submitted and approved by schools boards in Escambia, Leon, Miami-Dade, Polk and Walton Counties, resulting in the state's first five charter schools — Escambia Charter School (Escambia County), C.K. Steele-LeRoy Collins Charter Middle School (Leon County), The Liberty City Charter School (Miami-Dade County), the APPLE School (Polk County), and Seaside Neighborhood School (Walton County). Today, there are more than 350 Florida charter schools — the third largest charter school system in the county.

Charter schools are among the fastest growing school choice options in Florida. Charter schools are public schools that are independently designed and operated and committed to improving the academic achievement of every student. Charter schools are largely free to innovate, and are open to all students, regardless of income, gender, race, or religion. Charter schools tend to attract students who struggle academically and cover a spectrum of educational needs from specializing in the performing arts to technical training.

To view the complete charter school tenth anniversary report, visit www.floridaschoolchoice.org/information/charter_schools/files/Charter_10Year_Book.pdf. For more information on charter schools in Florida, visit www.floridaschoolchoice.org/Information/Charter_Schools/.