What are charter schools?

Charter schools are non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations that have a contract or charter to provide the same educational services to students as district public schools. They are nonsectarian public schools that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools.

The “charters” establishing such schools are performance contracts detailing the schools’ mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success. The length of time for which charters are granted can vary from three to 15 years. At the end of the term, the entity granting the charter may renew the school’s contract.

Charter schools are accountable to their sponsor, usually a state or local school board, to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract. The basic concept of charter schools is that they exercise increased autonomy in return for this accountability. They are accountable for both academic results and fiscal practices to several groups: the sponsor that grants them, the parents who choose them, and the public that funds them.


What is the purpose of charter schools?

The Florida Charter School Statutes require charter schools to be guided by the following principles:

  • To meet high standards of student achievement while providing parents the flexibility to choose among diverse educational opportunities within the state’s public school system
  • To promote enhanced academic success and financial efficiency by aligning responsibility with accountability
  • To provide parents with sufficient information on whether their child is reading at grade level and whether the child gains at least a year’s worth of learning for every year spent in the charter school

Additionally, Florida charter schools are authorized to fulfill the following purposes:

  • Improve student learning and academic achievement
  • Increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on low-performing students and reading
  • Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including ownership of the learning program at the school site
  • Encourage the use of innovative learning methods
  • Require the measurement of learning outcomes, along with creating innovative measurement tools
  • Provide rigorous competition within the public school district to stimulate continual improvement in all public schools
  • Expand the capacity of the public school system


Do charter schools charge tuition?

No, charter schools are public schools that receive public funds. They cannot charge tuition for the regular school day. They may charge fees for before and/or after school care.


How many charter schools are currently operating in Florida?

In 2011-12, there were 519 charter schools serving 179,931 students in 43 of Florida’s 67 counties.


What types of students are eligible to attend charter schools?

Charter schools must be open to any student covered in an inter-district agreement or residing in the school district in which the charter school is located. However, in the case of a charter lab school, the charter lab school shall be open to any student eligible to attend the lab school as provided in Florida Statute 1002.32, or who resides in the school district in which the charter lab school is located. Any eligible student shall be allowed inter-district transfer to attend a charter school when based on good cause. A charter school may limit the enrollment process in order to target the following student populations:

  • students within specific age groups or grade levels
  • students considered at risk of dropping out of school or academic failure

Such students shall include exceptional educational students, students enrolling in a charter school-in-the-workplace or charter school-in-a-municipality.


What are the specific requirements for charter schools?

A charter school is required by the Florida statutes to:

  • be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices, and operations
  • admit students as provided in subsection (10)
  • be accountable to its sponsor for its performance
  • not charge tuition and 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 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
  • provide an annual financial report and program cost report information
  • be governed by a body that exercises continuing oversight over charter school operations and reports its progress annually to the school’s sponsor
  • not levy taxes or issue bonds secured by tax revenues
  • provide instruction for at least the number of days required by law for other public schools, and may provide instruction for additional days


How are charter schools evaluated and assessed?

Every charter school must be evaluated on academic progress and the outcomes agreed upon in the school’s binding contract. In addition, individual schools are evaluated and assigned a school grade using the same standards and criteria as traditional public schools.


Are charter schools exempt from state statutes?

Yes. 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 provision of services to students with disabilities; pertaining to civil rights; and pertaining to student, health, safety and welfare. Charter schools are not exempt from any statute governing public records; public meetings; public inspection, and penalties. The sponsor’s policies shall not apply to a charter school.


Are charter schools required to employ certified teachers?

Yes. Statutory provisions require teachers employed by or under contract with a charter school to be certified as required by current law.


How are charter school student enrollments funded?

Students enrolled in a charter school must be funded as if they are enrolled in a basic program or a special program at any other public school in the school district. Each charter school must report its student enrollment to the school district and the school district must include each charter school’s student enrollment in school district’s report of student enrollment that is submitted to the state.


What is a high-performing charter 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
  • 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. (Exception: Charter school-in-the-workplace can meet this criteria if the audit determines that the school has the monetary resources available to cover any deficiency, or that the deficiency does not result in a deteriorating financial condition).


What are the benefits offered to a high-performing charter school?

A high-performing charter school is authorized to:

  • Increase its student enrollment once per school year by up to 15% more than the capacity identified in the charter
  • 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 must notify its sponsor, in writing, by March 1 if it plans to increase enrollment or expand grade levels for the next school year.

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.