Districts: Why wait for quality charter schools to come to us?

Competitive grants are prompting some of Florida’s urban school districts to take a new approach to charter schools. Rather than wait for charter schools to come to them with applications, they’re in a position to actively recruit them.

Take, for example, Hillsborough, which is one of the four districts to apply for charter collaboration grants through the state Department of Education.

The district’s request for $3.3 million in grant funding notes that typically, its staff vets applications from charters that choose to apply, and makes recommendations to the school board, which decides to approve the school or reject it.

“This random process of solicitation by a charter school does not always meet the needs of the students in the district,” its application states. “HCPS needs a proactive process to bring charter schools to the district and enhance capacity to support and monitor positive student outcomes.”

Hillsobrough’s plan starts with identifying neighborhoods with high academic needs, which are closely tied to poverty. In its application, the district notes that 43 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches score proficient on the FCAT, compared to 76 percent of students who don’t.

The district, Florida’s third largest, says it plans a competitive process where different charter operators will submit proposals for schools that would operate in those neighborhoods. It would help them open schools aimed at helping the district’s more than 2,000 over-age middle schoolers, many of whom are concentrated in high-poverty areas of Tampa.

Once the charter operators are chosen, the district plans to use the grant funding to help the new schools get off the ground – something it says it does not have the resources to do on its own – and to help them find suitable facilities.

Proposals from the state’s two largest districts, Broward and Miami-Dade, also describe plans to solicit proposals from charter organizations with proven track records, which would open schools in some of their most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Both districts say they plan to work with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to develop a competitive selection process.

“This grant gives the District an opportunity, for the first time, to actively solicit proven high-impact charter school operators to serve the District’s students,” Broward’s application states.

The fourth district to submit a proposal, Duval County, has plans to work with KIPP on an expansion of its Jacksonville schools.

State education officials are vetting the districts’ proposals to decide which ones will receive grant funding.

Check out the grant applications below: