Charter schools are an idea dreamed up by an obscure education professor in the 1970s which have grown into a primary alternative to traditional public schools.
One in 17 Florida students attended a charter school last year, a number that has increased almost six-fold in a decade.
The original charter school model focused on local leaders forming an oversight board and spelling out the school’s mission, goals and methodology in a contract or charter. These schools range from non-profits founded by local activists, to schools set up by cities or towns to schools organized by those with professional expertise.
Florida has also had private, for-profit companies managing charter schools since state lawmakers first approved charter schools in 1996.
School districts are beginning to manage charter schools as well, offering a growing third option.
Experts say no particular type of charter school is more successful than another, but each kind of school has particular strengths and weaknesses.
Florida approved its first charter school law in 1996, and that year Liberty City Charter School in Miami became the state’s first charter.
Since then the number of Florida charter schools has grown to more than 500 with 154,000 students enrolled during the 2010–2011 school year. Private schools remain the largest alternative to district schools in Florida, enrolling 305,825 students — about 10 percent of all K-12 students — last year.
Last year Florida approved laws setting standards for “high-performing” charter schools and making it easier for good charter schools to expand.