Three Florida districts chosen for charter school collaboration grants

Florida’s two largest school districts could soon be searching for charter schools looking to serve their most disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The state Department of Education has chosen three school districts, including Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, to receive grants intended to entice more national charter school networks to open in Florida’s academically struggling urban areas and stoke new collaborations between districts and charters.

Duval County, the third district chosen from four that applied, already has a high-profile charter school collaborator in KIPP Jacksonville.

The two South Florida districts indicated in their grant applications that they intend to recruit similar “high-impact” charter schools from around the country. They described plans to seek proposals from charter networks looking to open schools in high-needs areas and work with the districts on improving results for children in poverty.

First, their school boards need to sign off. John Schuster, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade County school district, said in an email that a school board committee would likely vet the charter school collaboration grant this week, which would allow the full board to decide how to proceed at its Feb. 11 meeting.

A spokeswoman for the state education department said it has so far committed about $665,000 in grant funding to each district — a three-way split of $2 million in Race to the Top funding, which is expected to start flowing to districts once their final plans are approved.

In addition to recruiting top charter networks to more Florida cities, the grants are intended to help the districts improve their supervision of charter schools. The districts’ plans called for working with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers on issues like setting performance standards for charter schools.

The grant funding could help. Broward County school district officials indicated in their grant application that the district currently has seven people working in its charter school oversight office, which monitors more than 100 schools.

The application notes that “this staffing model makes it challenging to manage such a large portfolio of charter schools,” and that the district wants to bring more “support, staff, and expertise”  into its charter school office.

While urban school systems around the country have entered collaborative arrangements with charter schools, Florida’s grant program is unique because it’s being driven at the state level, allowing the participating districts to take different approaches and learn from each other.

Broward’s grant application contemplates recruiting charters to serve up to 5,000 students. Each charter organization that responds to its competitive search would have to show it is capable of “dramatically changing the educational and developmental outcomes of the children attending its schools.”

Recruiting a high-impact charter organization won’t solve all the problems faced by students in the area the Broward school district wants charters to target (an area in downtown Fort Lauderdale known as the Dillard Innovation Zone).

But the district notes in its grant document that it wants the charter school collaboration to “establish a proof point educational model that significantly outperforms other district and state schools serving a similar student population” — which could help the district improve results for similar students elsewhere.

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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at)