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2001 Opinions

Date:   November 28, 2001
Prepared By:   James A. Robinson
Phone:   (850) 488-7707
Suncom:   278-7707
Opinion No.:   01-22
Staff Contact:    
TO: Mr. Edward J. Marko, Esquire
FROM: James A. Robinson, General Counsel
SUBJECT: Diplomas-Charter School Students
RE: Your letter of November 13, 2001

QUESTION PRESENTED: Whether the granting of diplomas to secondary charter school student graduates should be the responsibility not of the sponsoring school board but of the Commissioner of Education.

CONCLUSION: No. The responsibility properly rests with the sponsoring school board.

DISCUSSION: Section 228.056(9)(c), F.S., requires that a charter school be accountable to its sponsor as provided in subsection (10). Pursuant to subsection (10) of this section, the charter must address, and criteria for school board approval of the charter must be based on, inter alia:

  1. The school's mission, the students to be served, and the ages and grades to be included.

  2. The focus of the curriculum, the instructional methods to be used, any distinctive instructional techniques to be employed, and identification and acquisition of appropriate technologies needed to improve educational and administrative performance.

  3. The current incoming baseline standard of student academic achievement, the outcomes to be achieved, and the method of measurement that will be used. This must include a detailed description for each of the following:

    1. How the baseline student academic achievement levels and prior rates of academic progress will be established.
    2. How these baseline rates will be compared to rates of academic progress achieved by these same students while attending the charter school.
    3. To the extent possible, how these rates of progress will be evaluated and compared with rates of progress of other closely comparable student populations.
    4. The district school board is required to provide academic student performance data to charter schools for each of their students coming from the district school system, as well as rates of academic progress of comparable student populations in the district school system.

  4. The methods used to identify the educational strengths and needs of students and how well educational goals and performance standards are met by students attending the charter school. Included in the methods must be a means for ensuring accountability to its constituents by analysis of student performance data and by evaluation of the effectiveness and efficiency of its major educational programs. Students in charter schools shall, at a minimum, participate in the statewide assessment program.

  5. In secondary charter schools, a method for determining that a student has satisfied the requirements for graduation in Sec. 232.246, F.S.

  6. A method for resolving conflicts between the governing body of the charter school and the sponsor.

  7. The admissions procedures and dismissal procedures, including the school's code of student conduct.

  8. The term of the charter which shall provide for cancellation of the charter if insufficient progress has been made in attaining the student achievement objectives of the charter and if it is not likely that such objectives can be achieved before expiration of the charter.

  9. The qualifications to be required of the teachers and the potential strategies used to recruit, hire, train, and retain qualified staff to achieve best value.

  10. A timetable for implementing the charter which addresses the implementation of each element thereof and the date by which the charter shall be awarded in order to meet this timetable.

Furthermore, Sec. 229.056(10)(e), F.S., requires the sponsor to "ensure that the charter is innovative and consistent with the state education goals established by s. 229.57(3)."

Clearly, the sponsoring school board has the power, as well as the duty, to supervise charter schools to ensure academic progress and maintenance of academic standards. In the case of secondary charter schools, the sponsoring school board is authorized and directed to determine that students satisfy the requirements for graduation set forth in Sec. 232.246, F.S. We conclude, therefore, that it is entirely appropriate for sponsoring school boards to exercise the power and privilege of granting diplomas to their secondary charter school graduates.

Your letter addresses various provisions of the charter school law which demonstrate a Legislative intent to improve student learning through increased choice of learning opportunities for students, to encourage the use of different and innovative learning methods, to establish a new form of accountability, and to require the measurement of learning outcomes by creative measurement tools. See Sec. 228.056(2), F.S. Toward achieving these goals, the Legislature granted charter schools a degree of "operational flexibility," to use your term. However, we do not glean from the statutes a Legislative intent, as you suggest, to so narrowly structure the sponsor's relationship to the charter school as to prevent the sponsor's fulfillment of its statutory duty to ensure academic progress and accountability.

Please let me know if I have not adequately addressed your question, or if you need further information or clarification.

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