Florida school districts will have a new way to track the financial and academic records of charter school operators.
For the first time, a new database is connecting charter schools to who runs them. The goal is to reduce the number of charter schools that close.
The National Association of Charter School Authorizers wants to create a paper trail. The group has launched a database that lists who is operating a school and includes performance data from the website GreatSchools.org.
William Haft with the association says it’s surprisingly difficult to track down who runs a charter school.
“We want to help the authorizers, help districts make good decisions,” Haft said. “You want to know how well they’ve been doing, how they’ve been performing… where they’re been doing it.”
Nearly one in three Florida charter schools have closed since the state first allowed the publicly funded but privately run schools. And Florida charter schools were three times as likely to close during their first year than they were nationally during the 2013-2014 school year.
In Florida, most charter schools are approved by school districts. And 45 percent of charter schools are run by charter management firms – often for-profit companies paid to oversee the day-to-day school operations.
Florida is the first state in the database.
Haft says the National Association of Charter School Authorizers is using a combination of publicly available data and surveys or schools to maintain the database. Haft admits it could be a challenge to keep the database current.
“I know we’re going to have corrections,” Haft said. “It’s a beta version. It’s our first time out of the gate. But I have a lot of confidence in the work that went into this in terms of getting it right.”
A rising number of charter school closures has advocates and critics concerned. A South Florida Sun-Sentinel series tracked the issue in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, finding more than 50 charter schools had closed in the past five year.
Critics argue it’s a sign the schools don’t have enough oversight. Advocates say bad charter schools reflect poorly on good charter schools.
The state is also creating a database tracking charter school operators and the State Board of Education has required applicants to reveal past affiliations with charter schools.