‘No excuses’ charter school network’s migration to Tampa Bay gets a jumpstart

IDEA Public Schools’ headquarters in Weslaco, Texas, features an irrigation pond to help maintain plant life and a quarter-mile walking trail.

IDEA Public Schools’ goal to expand to the Tampa Bay area got a boost this week with the pledge of a $5 million gift from the Vinik Family Foundation.

The gift will help launch new schools in Hillsborough, Polk and Pinellas counties and follows the Hillsborough County School Board’s unanimous approval in May for IDEA to begin operating schools in the area starting in 2021.

IDEA Public Schools, a network of tuition-free, college preparatory public charter schools, serves nearly 53,000 college-bound students in 96 schools across Texas and Louisiana. The program’s founders chose the name IDEA, an acronym for “Individuals Dedicated to Excellence and Achievement” and the motto “No Excuses!”

IDEA’s vice president of growth Dan Fishman told redefinED in a July interview that the company is expanding into Florida due to the state’s need for more educational options for low-income students.

Tampa Bay will be IDEA’s first region in Florida, according to IDEA regional communications manager Jennifer Flores. The network plans to launch four new schools in the area in 2021, eventually growing to 20 schools at 10 campuses in Tampa Bay by 2028. At full scale, IDEA will serve almost 15,000 K-12 students in Tampa Bay annually.

For more than a dozen years, 100 percent of IDEA Public Schools’ graduates have been accepted to four-year colleges and universities, and IDEA alums graduate college at five times the national average, according to Flores.

Julene Robinson, executive director of IDEA’s Tampa Bay region, said in a prepared statement that while Florida has made great strides in improving educational choice, accountability and opportunities, much remains to be done.

“In several communities, a disheartening number of schools have earned a D or F grade for at least three of the past five years,” Robinson wrote. “IDEA Public Schools will provide an additional education option to close the opportunity gap and increase levels of achievement for students and families in Tampa Bay.”

The Vinik Family Foundation is a private foundation created and managed by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his wife, Penny. The foundation has donated more than $100 million to nonprofits working in the areas of education, human services, healthcare and the arts since it was founded in 1997.

The Viniks have described their $5 million gift as “the most important investment we can make.”