Putting Education Reform To The Test

Five Misconceptions About Charter Schools

If Michele Gill learned anything from helping open a Seminole County charter school this fall it’s this: Charter schools cannot do anything they want.

Despite some public perceptions, Gill said opening Galileo School for Gifted Learning has meant navigating a complicated network of state and federal regulations. Then school leaders have to make sure the local school board is happy with the plan, she said.

Gill is an education professor at the University of Central Florida and opened the school with UCF colleagues.

Joe Raedle / Getty News Images

Gov. Rick Scott visits an Opa Locka charter school earlier this year. Lawmakers approved a law making it easier for highly rated charter schools to expand.

Charter schools do have some big advantages, said Gill, but not as many as most people believe.

“These are expensive and difficult things to do and they’re very hard for a charter school to take care of,” she said. “What I have found out personally is they are quite restrictive. They are way more restrictive than a private school would be.

StateImpact Florida has compiled a list of what charter school advocates said are the five most-common misconceptions about the rules of charter schools. And taking a page from the Pulitzer Prize-winning PoltiFact, we apply degrees of accuracy to each.

1. Charter School students don’t have to take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test

“Pants on Fire”

This one is not true at all.

Charter schools are public schools and subject to nearly all the same accountability rules as district schools, said Michael Kooi, who directs the Florida Department of Education’s school choice efforts. Only private school students do not have to take the FCAT, Kooi said.

Annual FCAT results figure into charter schools’ grade in state evaluations, just as with district schools. Charter schools’ curriculum must also adhere to state standards.

Charter schools are free from some state regulations, Kooi said, including a different standard for calculating class sizes and looser building codes.  But most rules still apply, such as required 90-minute blocks for reading study.

2. Local school districts get no say

“Mostly True”

This is mostly true once a charter school is up and running.

School boards have no say over administration, personnel or what the school is teaching.  A school district’s grade includes the charter schools within its boundaries, and school boards have complained they are graded on something over which they have little control.

School District of Hillsborough County

Hillsborough County School Board chairman Doretha Edgecomb says charter schools are not distinctly part of the school district.

“That is a concern that they are not distinctly a member of a school district,” said Doretha Edgecomb, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County school board.

However, school boards must review a charter’s application and can accept or deny the school. School boards can also determine the length of a charter school’s contract. Many are granted longer-term contracts, but with required annual reviews.

The school board is also responsible for ensuring charter schools are meeting the terms of their contract and remain on proper financial footing. The board can close poorly performing or insolvent schools.

A state law passed earlier this year requires school district fast-track applications for so-called high performing charter schools. Those are schools which have earned at least two A’s and a B on its their report card the previous three years as well as receiving clean audits.

Pasco County is weighing a challenge to the law because of a pending application.

3. Charter schools can hire any teacher they want

“Mostly False”

Unlike private schools, charter school must hire state-certified teachers.

So even though charters can quickly change their course offerings, they still need qualified teachers to instruct those classes.

“We’re having a very hard time, for example, finding foreign language teachers,” said Galileo’s Gill. “At a private school you can hire anybody.”

Charters do enjoy a significant advantage over district schools when making personnel decisions: No unions.

District schools must negotiate pay with their teachers’ unions and the cost of benefits such as health insurance and pensions are set by the state. Charter schools are free to make those decisions themselves, limited only by what the labor market will accept.

The absence of unions means charter schools are also free to hire and remove teachers at the school’s choosing.

4. Charter schools only have to accept the best and brightest.

“Half True”

State law requires charter schools to accept any student who applies. If a school receives more applications than it has capacity, the school must hold a lottery to determine which students enroll.

In short, charter schools are not allowed to choose which students they accept.

However, the best and brightest students may be “self-selecting” themselves for charter schools Charter school advocates acknowledge that motivated students – and especially motivated parents – are more likely to be interested in charter schools.

Gill notes that charter schools are often more difficult to get to than a neighborhood district school. Many do not offer athletics or have the money for a well-stocked library or other traditional amenities.

Parents must put in time and research to choose the proper school, she said.

“Parents have to be very, very savvy to look at the data,” she said. “Charter schools are harder to get to or don’t have as many resources.”

Gill admits that charter schools are competing for students and that can cause tension with both district schools and other charter schools.

5. Nothing happens to bad charter schools.

“Mostly False”

It’s far easier to close a charter school than a district school, supporters say.

More than 60 charter schools have been closed in Florida since they were approved by law in 1996, said Kooi, with the state Department of Education. Florida included the detail in its application for a $700 million federal grant to prove the state enforces its accountability measures.

“In Florida,” said Kooi, “we’re not afraid to close failing charter schools.”


  • I believe that all of the people in Florida who pay Property Taxes etc should file a constitutional amendment prohibiting any Florida legislators from accepting campaign donations from Charter School Corporations and Lobbyist for those Charter Schools.

    The FLorida Charter School Scams are out of control at the taxpayer expense while those who are receiving those funds are enjoying training in the Bahamas, salaries that public school administrators and teachers would wish for. 

    59 Florida Legislators consistently receive funds to drive certain companies in receiving those tax dollars.  Just remember that READING program from SEn Wise who has NO clue about education and what is good for our teachers, students, parents and our community.

    Every Florida Legislators in their new job requirements must pass the FCAT before taking office as a State Requirement through a Constitutional Amendment since we the people hire those legislators. Who decided the requirements for their job anyway?

    You want to be a Florida Legislators and receive all those donations then step up and take the test and by the way should also be fingerprinted as teachers are required to be.

    Come on Florida Taxpayer lets start that Constitutional Amendment now by calling me at 352-729-2559

  • Jose Torres

    Arizona charter schools use asterisks and screening policies to select who gets in, and since they often choose not to have transportation (no bus), they become ‘self-selecting’. After that, yeah, sure they crush standardized test scores – wealthier people can take their kid to school, less-wealthy cannot. Children of wealthy people tend to do better on standardized tests. But since they can turn away special needs children – or rather that most can’t even bother to apply without transportation – the public schools are saddled with the kids who are more expensive to educate.

    The ‘choice’ feels like a way to avoid the impacts of ‘Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas’ – and for society, it feels like a false one.

    And yes – my three children all go to a district funded public school, and always have.

  • mom and vpk teacher

    Charter Schools do choose what students they want. If your child had disibilities they take advantage of them and teach them to lie that they are abused and call CPS on you to make you angry enough to pull them out. As for certification, look the teacher’s up on states certification websites. None of my son’s teacher’s actually hold a teaching certification. They’re a business and nothing more. They hit you up for cash every chance they get and take it to add trees instead of investing in a media center. I am an educator myself and am completely traumatized by my experience with a charter school. Public schools are established. Its not their fault lawmakers are always changing things for them. I thought my son would do better in a smaller setting, but that has nothing to do with it. The quality of education a teacher provides is what matters. Public school teachers are required to have state certification and even if they have an alternative certification, it is only temporary and full certification must be attained. As an educator, I am so embarrassed I fell into the charter school trap.

    • Danielle

      I am having a very bad experience having my son in Rennassance Charter School. We need to join our voices to stop the goverment giving money to the charters company.
      We need money for the public schools.
      The worst experience ever !

    • Josh Clark

      I agree.
      My daughter was at Cornerstone charter in Orlando.
      Went for a meeting regarding her grades and her papers were ready for her do be dismissed.. Dont think an IEP was implemented. Once they read report from neurologist that she got in March 2017.She passed rest of subjects with D’S and failed Algebra1.Even after 6 years in that school.

  • Educator and Tax payer

    I’m concerned that lawmakers are dismantling public schools through unrealistic teaching requirements and silly teacher bonus programs based on SAT/ACT scores. Charter Schools on the other hand get all the leeway they want. Charters are not held to the same accountability standards as public schools. The charter school where I worked did not have a working school-wide intercom system. They wanted teachers to carry their cellphones in case they needed to contact us. The most concerning safety issue was the school could not appropriately notify students and staff if there was a CODE RED. During Code Red drills the staff would knock on our classroom door and say “code red.” What would happen if there was a real emergency with a dangerous person on campus? They can’t walk around and say code red! According to the other teachers who had worked at this Charter School the school-wide intercom had not worked for over 2 years. Teachers were also allowed to use their cellphones while supervising students on the playground and in the classroom. The Charter School did not have a media center/library, it did not provide hot school lunches, it did not have student computers in the classroom, it did not train new teachers on the MTSS program for struggling students, it had lowered the grading scale for K-2 students, it told classroom teachers to make up and input grades for specials (art, music, p.e.) which we did not teach. The charter did not supply student text books for all classrooms. Teachers were discouraged from writing accident reports when a student got hurt and I was directed not to give parents a copy of the accident report. So in a nutshell, Charter Schools do have more flexibility to make a profit off the backs of our children. There needs to be an Independent Commission to oversee these for-profit schools (management companies get the money so don’t let politicians say charter schools are nonprofit) that is semantics. Corporations can make a hefty donation to a program and filter those tax credit dollars to private schools. We don’t get a tax credit for the money we give from our property taxes to public schools. Finally, Charter Schools are touted as providing a choice for parents. What if a parent doesn’t own a car or have reliable transportation? Charters are not a “choice” for them. Floridians are being sold a pipe dream if they think K-8 Charters are the solution to improving education. Only students should profit from education. If you decide to send your child to a Charter School please do your homework and hold the school accountable,
    because the district can’t and the state doesn’t want to.

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