Dozens of Florida charter schools lose ‘high-performing’ status after reviews

More than three dozen Florida charter schools have lost “high-performing” status since a new state law required them to have their designation reviewed annually.

The state allows charter schools with good grades and sound finances to be labeled high-performing, which entitles them to certain privileges under the law.

Legislation passed in 2013, which some charter school advocates say needs to be clarified, requires the state to review high-performing charter schools every year to see if they still qualify. In the two years since the change, 37 schools  including 16 after this summer’s release of school grades  have lost their status as high-performing schools.

Losing that status can affect schools’ budgets or expansion plans. High-performing charters pay lower administrative fees to school districts. They are allowed to enter 15-year charter contracts, and state law lets them to expand or replicate more easily.

Charters can only qualify for high-performing status if they receive two A’s in 3 years and nothing less than a B. They also have to keep a clean bill of financial health.

Rod Sasse, a vice president with Imagine Schools, said the Imagine School at South Lake received a letter earlier this month announcing it had lost high-performing status. The state graded the school a C this year. But he said the school might have kept the designation if the law had not been changed last year. He pointed to this provision from the original high-performing charter law:

(4) A high-performing charter school may not increase enrollment or expand grade levels following any school year in which it receives a school grade of “C” or below. If the charter school receives a school grade of “C” or below in any 2 years during the term of the charter awarded under subsection (2), the term of the charter may be modified by the sponsor and the charter school loses its high-performing charter school status until it regains that status under subsection (1).

Sasse said that provision, which remains on the books, suggests a charter could remain high-performing unless it receives multiple grades of C or lower. Under last year’s legislation, charter schools can only remain high-performing if they meet these standards each year:

(1) A charter school is a high-performing charter school if it:
(a) Received at least two school grades of “A” and no school grade below “B,” pursuant to s. 1008.34, during each of the previous 3 school years.
(b) Received an unqualified opinion on each annual financial audit required under s. 218.39 in the most recent 3 fiscal years for which such audits are available.
(c) Did not receive a financial audit that revealed one or more of the financial emergency conditions set forth in s. 218.503(1) in the most recent 3 fiscal years for which such audits are available. However, this requirement is deemed met for a charter school-in-the-workplace if there is a finding in an audit that the school has the monetary resources available to cover any reported deficiency or that the deficiency does not result in a deteriorating financial condition pursuant to s. 1002.345(1)(a)3.

State Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, heard concerns charter advocates’ concerns about the potentially conflicting requirements during a recent task force meeting in Fort Lauderdale. She said it might make sense to clarify the rules so that once they earn the status initially, charters can remain high-performing if they maintain “all B’s, all A’s, or any combination thereof.”

School districts can only keep 2 percent of high-performing charters’ funding to cover their oversight costs, instead of the usual 5 percent. As a result, Sasse said some schools fearing an immediate hit to their budget might look for ways to stave off action by the state until the Legislature has a chance to clarify the rules.

There are currently a total of 148 high-performing charters in the state, including nine that achieved the status recently. Here are the 16 schools that lost high-performing status after this summer’s release of school grades. In most cases, they either slipped from a B to a C, or they earned a B for the second year in a row.

Broward
Paragon Academy of Technology

Dade
Lincoln Marti Charter School
Charter School at Waterstone
Aspira South Youth Leadership Academy

Duval
Somerset Academy Middle – Eagle Campus

Hillsborough
Advantage Academy

Indian River
Sebastian Charter Junior High School

Lake
Imagine School at South Lake
Round Lake Elementary School

Lee
Bonita Springs Charter School
Gateway Charter Elementary
Gateway Charter Intermediate

Orange
Oakland Avenue Charter School

Palm Beach
Glades Academy
Palm Beach Maritime Academy

Pinellas
Academie DaVinci Charter School