Last week, the state Board of Education set plans in motion that could bring new charter schools to as many as three high-poverty rural areas in North Florida.
It was one of the first tangible effects of the state’s new Schools of Hope legislation.
But a memo distributed by the state Department of Education shows the impact won’t end there.
Another 37 schools across the state are in basically the same position as the three schools that brought plans before the state Board. They’ve struggled for three or more years with D or F performance ratings, and are nearing the end of a state-mandated turnaround process.
If these schools don’t raise their letter grades to C’s, they will have three options for the 2018-19 school year.
They can bring in a charter school operators, convert to district-run charter schools overseen by independent boards, or shut down and send their students elsewhere. Some of them could ask for an extra year to improve if they convince the state board they’re likely to achieve a C or higher once that year is over.
Hillsborough and Polk County school districts have the most schools in this position — seven and six, respectively. Two long-struggling elementary schools highlighted in a Pulitzer Prize-winning Tampa Bay Times series are also on the list. So are the two schools in Jefferson County, which will open as new charters this fall.
The new law creates a streamlined application process, as well as a new grant program, for charter school organizations with proven track records that want to open in the vicinity of persistently struggling schools.
The Miami Herald reported 93 schools, in total, have to submit turnaround plans to the board based on their just-issued state grades. Most of them will have two full years to put those plans into action.
The new law also allows up to 25 of those schools to apply for grants that would allow them to offer wraparound services. The grant program described in the law also encourages districts to create college-going cultures reminiscent of top “no excuses” charter schools.
Teachers unions have long favored “community schools” that provide medical care, food programs and afterschool tutoring to students in poverty. Their academic track record is mixed.
But in a May interview, Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, said the grants would allow districts to create community schools and require them to connect their plans to real academic improvement.
“What we did do is require real change in order to get the dollars,” he said.
The memo says state officials expect school districts to present their turnaround plans to the state board in September.
This year, the majority — 70 percent — of Florida’s turnaround schools raised their grades to C’s or higher. The new law might give the remaining schools an extra incentive, and in some cases, extra resources, to accomplish that feat next year.