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Broward, Miami-Dade see big jumps in charter school enrollment

Charter schools continue to enroll more students in Florida, with Broward seeing a 26 percent jump in charter enrollment last school year.

Both Broward and Miami-Dade rank among the top 10 districts with the most charter students, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which on Wednesday released its annual report based on 2011-12 enrollment figures.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools holds the No. 6 spot in total enrollment, with more than 41,700 students in charters, or 12 percent of the student population.

Broward County Public Schools ranks No. 10, with more than 30,400 charter students, also about 12 percent of the student population.

In 2011-12, Broward saw charter enrollment grow by nearly 6,300 students, or 26 percent, while Miami-Dade saw an 18 percent increase.

“It’s a testament to parental choice,” said Lynn Norman-Teck, spokeswoman for the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools. “No one is assigned a charter school.”

Charter schools receive taxpayer dollars like traditional public schools, but outside groups — not locally elected school boards — run them.

Statewide, more than 200,000 students attend 574 charter schools, according to the report.

That number would grow by 60 percent in the next six years, under goals set by the state Board of Education. Gov. Rick Scott also wants to continue charter expansion.

Despite those goals and growth, including a 52 percent jump in enrollment in Hillsborough County, the number of applications for new charters has slowed in Miami-Dade and Broward.

Broward received 41 charter applications this year, down from 53 last year.

Miami-Dade is reviewing 57 applications, a nearly 38 percent drop. The new round include four requests to open virtual charter schools — which would offer only online classes and not operate a brick-and-mortar campus.

“What we’re finding is for us, it has not been an overnight growth. It’s been incremental,” said Helen Blanch, Miami-Dade’s assistant superintendent over school choice. “We’ve seen that pace slow down a little bit because we’re seeing a point of saturation.”

She added that with more magnet programs — nearly 40 new magnets in 2012-13 — parents are pursuing more choices in traditional public schools.

School Board Member Carlos Curbelo said charters have helped the public education system become more efficient, but changes in regulations are needed.

“We all need to be playing by the same rules, whether it’s class size requirements or something else,” Curbelo said. He quickly added an exception: “I don’t think they should be pursuing to go after our capital budget or taxing authority.”

That was a big battle in the Florida Legislature earlier this year and is expected to return in 2013, as charter schools seek more money for capital expenses and facilities from the state.