Frequently Asked Questions
Charter schools are public schools that operate under a performance contract, or a “charter” which frees them from many regulations created for traditional public schools while holding them accountable for academic and financial results. The charter contract between the charter school governing board and the sponsor details the school’s mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment and ways to measure success. The length of time for which charters are granted varies but most are granted for five years.
The Florida Legislature, in authorizing the creation of public charter schools, established the following guiding principles: high standards of student achievement while increasing parental choice; the alignment of responsibility with accountability; and ensuring parents receive information on reading levels and learning gains of their children. Charter schools are intended to improve student learning; increase learning opportunities with special emphasis on low performing students and reading; and measure learning outcomes. Charter schools may create innovative measurement tools; provide competition to stimulate improvement in traditional schools; expand capacity of the public school system; and mitigate the educational impact created by the development of new residential units.
Charter schools are open to all students residing within the district; however, charter schools are allowed to target students within specific age groups or grade levels, students considered at-risk of dropping out or failing, students wishing to enroll in a charter school-in-the-workplace or charter school-in-a-municipality, students residing within a reasonable distance of the school, students who meet reasonable academic, artistic or other eligibility standards established by the charter school, or students articulating from one charter school to another. Additionally, a charter school may give enrollment preference to the following student populations:
- Siblings of current charter school students
- Children of a charter school governing board member or employee
- Children of employees of the business partner of a charter school-in-the-workplace or resident of the municipality in which such a charter is located
- Children of residents of a municipality that operates a charter school-in-a-municipality
- Students who have successfully completed a voluntary prekindergarten program provided by the charter school during the previous year
- Children of an active-duty member of any branch of the US Armed Forces.
- Students who attended or are assigned to failing schools
Charter schools are created when an individual, a group of parents or teachers, a business, a municipality, or a legal entity submits an application to the school district; the school district approves the application; the applicants form a governing board that negotiates a contract with the district school board; and the applicants and district school board agree upon a charter or contract. The district school board then becomes the sponsor of the charter school. The negotiated contract outlines expectations of both parties regarding the school's academic and financial performance.
A charter school must be organized as, or be operated by, a nonprofit organization. The charter school may serve at-risk students, or offer a specialized curriculum or core academic program, provide early intervention programs, or serve exceptional education students.
In 2011, legislation was passed permitting the operation of virtual charter schools to provide full-time online instruction to eligible students. A virtual charter school must contract with an approved provider of virtual instruction services in accordance with s. 1002.45, F.S.
As required in s.1002.33(6), F.S., a school board receives and reviews all charter school applications and, within 90 days of receipt, must approve or deny the application. All charter applicants must prepare and submit an application on a model application form prepared by the Department, which:
- Demonstrates how the school will use the guiding principles.
- Provides a detailed curriculum
- Contains goals and objectives for improving student learning.
- Describes the separate reading curricula and differentiated strategies.
- Contains an annual financial plan
If a school board denies an application, it must provide specific written reasons within 10 calendar days. The charter school applicant then has 30 calendar days to appeal the denial. The appeal is reviewed by the State Board of Education and the State Board’s decision is a final action subject to judicial review.
The Charter School Appeal Commission assists the State Board of Education in fairly and impartially reviewing the appeals by applicants whose charter applications have been denied.
The Commission is comprised of members appointed by the Commissioner and chaired by the Commissioner or a named designee. An equal number of charter school operators and district staff shall be present to hear an appeal.
A charter school is statutorily required to (s.1002.33(9),F.S.):
- Be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices, and operations;
- Be accountable to the school district for its performance;
- Not charge tuition or registration fees
- Comply with all applicable state and local health, safety, and civil rights requirements;
- Not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, sex, handicap, or marital status;
- Subject itself to and pay for an annual financial audit;
- Maintain all financial records that constitute its accounting system in accordance with current law;
- Annually adopt and maintain an operating budget;
- Fully participate in the state’s education accountability program.
Every charter school's governing board is required to appoint a representative to facilitate parental involvement, provide access to information, assist parents and others with questions and concerns, and resolve disputes. The representative must reside in the school district. The representative may be a governing board member, employee, or individual contracted to represent the governing board.
Contact information for the representative must be provided in writing to parents each year, and must be posted prominently on the charter schools web site if a web site is maintained by the charter school.
Also, each charter school's governing board must hold at least two public meetings per school year in the school district. The meetings must be noticed, open, and accessible to the public. Attendees must be provided an opportunity to offer input regarding the schools operations and receive information about the school. The representative appointed by the governing board must be physically present at the two required meetings.
Charter schools are generally exempt from the Florida K-20 Education Code (Ch. 1000-1013, F.S.), except those statutes specifically applying to charter schools; pertaining to the student assessment program and school grading system; pertaining to the provision of services to students with disabilities; pertaining to civil rights; pertaining to student health, safety, and welfare; and relating to maximum class size, except the calculation for compliance shall be the average at the school level.
Charter schools must also comply with any statute governing public records; public meetings and records; public inspection; and penalties (Ch. 119, F.S.). In addition, charter schools must use facilities that comply with the Florida Building Code (Ch. 553, F.S.) and Florida Fire Prevention Code (s. 633.025, F.S.), but are exempt from compliance with the State Requirements for Educational Facilities (SREF).
A local governing authority may not impose local building requirements more stringent than those in the Florida Building Code and charter schools are exempt from ad valorem taxes and fees charged for building licenses.
Teachers employed by or under contract to a charter school are required to be certified (Ch. 1012, F.S.).
Conversion charter schools are traditional public schools that have been converted to charter schools. The school must have operated for at least two years as a traditional public school (including a school-within-a-school) in a school district before conversion. Application for a conversion may be made by a parent, teacher, principal, district school board or school advisory council, but must be approved by a majority of the teachers and a majority of the parents. A majority of the parents must participate in the vote.
The charter for a conversion charter school must identify the alternative arrangements that will be put in place to serve current students that choose not to attend the school after it is converted.
Conversion charter schools are not eligible for charter school capital outlay funding if the conversion charter school operates in facilities provided to them by the school district.
Charter schools-in-the-workplace are sponsored by local school districts in partnership with a company or business. Such charter schools usually target the children of the employees of a company or business.
Charter school administrators are not required to be certified.
Charter schools-in-a-municipality are sponsored by local school districts in partnership with a municipality. Such schools enroll students based upon a random lottery that involves all of the children of the residents of the municipality and according to the racial/ethnic balance reflective of the community or other public schools in the same school district.
Community college charter schools are statutorily authorized when a public community college, in cooperation with the school board or boards within the college’s service area, develops a charter school that offers secondary education and allows students to obtain an associate’s degree upon graduation from high school.
According to s. 1002.331, F.S., a high-performing charter school is a school that has met each of the following criteria:
- Received at least two school grades of "A" and no school grade below "B" for the last three years or received at least two consecutive school grades of “A” in the most recent two school years.
- Received an unqualified opinion on each annual audit in the most recent three years for which such audits are available
- Did not receive a financial audit that revealed one or more of the financial emergency conditions set forth in s. 218.503, F.S., in the most three recent fiscal years for which audits are available. (For purposes of determining initial eligibility, this requirement only applies for the most recent two fiscal years if the charter school earns two consecutive grades of “A.”)
According to s. 1002.332, F.S., a high-performing charter school system is a municipality, other public entity, private non-profit corporation with tax-exempt status under s. 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, or a private for-profit education management corporation that meets each of the following criteria:
- Operates at least three high-performing charter schools in the state
- Operates a system of charter schools in which at least 50% of the charter schools are high-performing, with no schools that received a grade of "D" or "F"
- Has not received a financial audit that revealed one or more of the financial emergency conditions set forth in s. 218.503, F.S. for any charter school within their system
A high-performing charter school is authorized to:
- Increase its student enrollment once per school year to more than the capacity identified in the charter, but student enrollment may not exceed the current facility capacity.
- Expand grade levels within K-12 to add grade levels not already served
- Submit quarterly rather than monthly financial statements to the sponsor
- Consolidate under a single charter the charters of multiple high-performing charter schools operated in the same district by the charter school's governing board
- Receive a modification of its charter to a term of 15 years
- Replicate its educational program in any district in the state
A high-performing charter school may submit an application in any school district in the state to establish and operate a new charter school that will substantially replicate its educational program. A high-performing charter school may not establish more than one charter school within the state in any year. A high-performing charter school system may also replicate one of its high-performing charter schools in the same manner.
Florida Statutes require that teachers employed by or under contract with a charter school be certified in the same manner as all other public school teachers in Florida.
First and central to charter school accountability is the charter or contract between the charter school and the sponsor, usually the school district. The sponsor may close a charter school if the school fails to meet the student performance outcomes agreed upon in the charter, fails to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management, violates the law (Section 1002.33(8)(a)).
Charter schools are evaluated and assigned a school grade using the same standards and criteria as traditional public schools.
The Department of Education is statutorily required to annually provide an analysis and comparison of the overall performance of charter school students to traditional public school students. The comparison is to be based on the statewide assessment program and information reported by the charter school to the school district. Current and archived reports are available on the School Choice web site.
Charter schools are required to comply with the constitutional class size maximums, except that the calculation for compliance pursuant to s. 1003.03, F.S., shall be the average at the school level.
Charter schools are funded through the Florida Education Finance Program in the same way as all other public schools in the school district. The charter school receives operating funds from the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) based on the number of full-time (FTE) students enrolled.
Charter school funding includes gross state and local funds, discretionary lottery funds, and funds from the school district's current operating discretionary millage levy; divided by the total funded weighted full-time equivalent (FTE) students in the school district; multiplied by the weighted FTE students in the charter school. Charter schools are entitled to their proportionate share of categorical program funds, for eligible students and programs.
Charter schools may also access federal funds through a competitive grant process that awards funds to charter schools for the following purposes:
- Planning and Implementation - the Florida Department of Education administers the Charter Schools Program (CSP) Planning and Implementation grant through a request for proposals (RFP) process each year. The general purpose of this grant is to provide financial assistance for the planning, program design, and initial implementation of charter schools and expand the number of high quality charter schools in Florida.
- Dissemination - This competitive grant aids successful charter schools in the dissemination of best practices and other information about charter schools. Charter schools in operation for at least three years who have not previously received a dissemination grant may be eligible to apply. Additional eligibility criteria may be established by the Department and may vary with each application cycle.
Virtual charter schools are funded in accordance with s. 1002.45(7), F.S.
The sponsor, or school district, must provide certain administrative and educational services to charter schools:
- Contract management services
- FTE and date reporting services
- Exceptional student education administration services
- Test administration services, including payment of costs of state-required or district-required student assessments
- Processing of teacher certificate data services
- Information services, including equal access to student information systems that are used by public schools in the district in which the carter school is located
The school district may charge a charter school, including a conversion and virtual charter school, a total administrative fee based on 5% of the available per student FEFP funds for up to 250 students ( 2% for up to 250 students for high-performing charter schools). The fee is to cover district costs for administrative services. School districts may not charge additional fees or surcharges for services unless the school district contracts with the charter school to provide additional goods and services.
Charter schools are entitled to their proportionate share of transportation funds for eligible students. The charter school and the school district are required to cooperate in making arrangements so that transportation is not a barrier to equal access for all students residing within a reasonable distance of the charter school.
Funds provided for capital outlay purposes are allocated to eligible schools based upon a statutory formula in Section 1013.62, Florida Statutes, which considers each school's student enrollment in the elementary, middle, and high school grade levels.
As required in s.1013.62(1),F.S., to be eligible to receive charter school capital outlay funding, a charter school must:
- Have been in operation for 3 or more years, be part of an expanded feeder pattern of a charter school that is currently receiving capital outlay funding, have been accredited by the Commission on Schools of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or serve students in facilities that are provided by a business partner for a charter-school-in-the-workplace; and
- Have financial stability for future operation;
- Have satisfactory student achievement;
- Have received final approval from sponsor for operation; and
- Serve students in facilities not provided by the sponsor.
The permissible uses of capital outlay funds by charter schools are:
- Purchase of real property
- Construction of school facilities
- Purchase, lease-purchase, or lease of permanent or relocatable school facilities
- Purchase of vehicles to transport students to and from the charter school
- Renovation, repair, and maintenance of school facilities that the charter school owns or is purchasing through a lease-purchase or long-term lease of 5 years or longer
- Purchase, lease-purchase, or lease of computer and devise hardware and operating system software necessary for gaining access to or enhancing the use of electronic and digital instructional content and resources; and enterprise resource software applications that are classified as capital assets in accordance with definitions of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, have a useful life of at least five years, and are used to support schoolwide administration or state-mandated reporting requirements. Enterprise resource software may be acquired by annual license fees, maintenance fees, or lease agreement.
- Payment of the cost of premiums for property and casualty insurance for the school facilities
- Purchase, lease-purchase, or lease of driver's education vehicles, maintenance vehicles or equipment, security vehicles, or vehicles used in storing or distributing materials and equipment.
- Payment of the cost of opening day collection for the library media center of a new school.
When a charter is not renewed or is terminated, any unencumbered public funds from the charter school reverts to the district school board; all district school board property and improvements, furnishings, and equipment purchased with public funds automatically revert to full ownership by the district school board subject to complete satisfaction of any lawful liens or encumbrances.