• Charter schools in Miami-Dade take a disproportionately lower share of black, poor and disabled children, records show. One in three students in Miami-Dade traditional public schools are black, while one in five charter school students are black. School district officials also suspect some charter schools have deliberately sought out high-performing students contrary to the schools contracts.
This year, several South Florida charter schools made headlines for violating local rules or state laws, including Arts & Minds, which was accused of charging illegal fees to students, and Balere, which the school district said turned into an after-hours nightclub on weekends. The district withheld funding from both schools before concluding that it does not have the legal authority to do so.
Thats because Floridas charter school laws considered among the nations most charter school friendly are aimed more at promoting the schools than policing them, leaving school districts with few ways to enforce the rules.
When school districts have taken a hard line with charter schools, they have found their decisions second-guessed by state education officials in Tallahassee. And as the number of charter schools has climbed almost 200 now operate in Miami-Dade and Broward counties alone state lawmakers have chipped away at local school districts ability to monitor them.
Its frustrating for school district officials, said John Schuster, spokesman for the Miami-Dade school district. The only cases where we can really intervene are safety-to-life, severe financial distress or poor academic performance.
MEDICINE FOR WHAT AILED US
Bringing marketplace principles to education
Charter schools first took hold in Florida in 1996, amid worries of overcrowded classrooms and poor student performance in urban school districts. They were seen as a cure for many of the problems in public schools, bringing innovative techniques and smaller classes to populations of students struggling to keep up. Charter schools were also designed to give parents more choices, and bring the principles of the marketplace to public education. Competition from charter schools was expected to force public schools to adapt and improve.
In many ways, the plan succeeded. Florida now has 519 charter schools from small, specialized schools tucked in strip malls and churches to sprawling new campuses with 3,000 kids from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Some charter schools rank among the highest in the state in academic performance. School districts in Miami-Dade, Broward and around the state have responded to the competition by creating more magnet schools and specialized programs.
By design, charter schools are unshackled from many of the bureaucratic rules of traditional public schools, with independent school governing boards making most decisions instead of the local school district. Charter school advocates say this freedom is needed for schools to be creative and nimble, and to encourage start-ups.
While this freewheeling system has minimized the oversight of school districts, it has given rise to a cottage industry of professional charter school management companies that along with the landlords and developers who own and build schools control the lions share of charter schools money.