Miami-Dade Schools

With charter enrollment surging, Miami-Dade public schools look to tighten the rules


By David Smiley

As the Miami-Dade School Board looks to improve its grip on charter schools, a new national report shows that Florida’s vast network of independent schools is expanding perhaps faster than anywhere else in the U.S.

South Florida alone — home to 40 percent of the state’s charter school students — hosts an urban charter system second in size only to Los Angeles.

“By and large, whenever we see growth it’s a sign of parental demand and a healthy sign of a growing market,” said Nina Rees, CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Rees’ organization on Tuesday released its eighth annual report on charter school “market share” in the U.S. The study shows that for the fifth straight year 225,000 more students attended charters compared to the previous year.

In Florida, charter enrollment hit 203,000 last year, including 80,000 students from Broward and Miami-Dade. Four of the 10 fastest growing charter school populations — calculated as a percentage of a school district’s student body — also took place in the state.

Rees said the report is evidence that charters, which receive public dollars but are governed by independent boards, are an attractive and successful alternative to traditional public schools. But for schools officials in Miami-Dade, where school board members will consider tightening regulations, application procedures and contracts with charter schools Wednesday, the numbers are reason for pause.

In discussing the proposed changes Monday, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho noted that Moody’s Investors Service recently published its own report detailing how “charter schools pose growing risks for urban school districts.”

Moody’s researchers found that large charter school populations can undercut already struggling districts by siphoning away public dollars. As traditional schools then cut programming and staff to reduce costs, students are even more likely to leave for charters, exacerbating the cycle, the study found.

Both Miami-Dade and Broward saw 13 percent charter school enrollment last year. In Dade, the 50,000 students enrolled this fall in charters took with them about $300 million in state funding from the district’s $2 billion general fund.

Referencing the Moody’s study, Carvalho said he worries what would happen to Miami-Dade schools if the district hit 20 percent charter enrollment.

“We’re not there yet,” he said. “But there’s nothing to suggest that this isn’t going to increase.”

Rees, however, said the districts that Moody’s studied had myriad problems before they had large charter school populations. She said charters actually bolster the systems in which they operate.

“It’s not fair to blame chartering in and of itself for the woes in these districts,” she said. “Our point of view on this is that whenever there is demand for a high quality schools, that’s a good thing in general and for the students in those districts.”

Read more Miami-Dade stories from the Miami Herald

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