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Two more charter school groups seek to become Florida ‘Schools of Hope’ providers

Florida's controversial "Schools of Hope" program, which got off to a slow start after becoming law in 2017, could double its list of providers this month.

Two more charter school groups — KIPP New Jersey and Democracy Prep Public Schools — are up for State Board of Education approval Wednesday. (Agenda item)

If accepted, they would join Somerset Academy and IDEA Public Schools, which the board okayed in March.

Related: Two 'Schools of Hope' operators approved: One is looking at the Tampa area for a school 

The Legislature's stated goal for the "Schools of Hope" is to find charter school operators with proven track records educating children in communities where the district schools have not met academic expectations, often gauged by test results. Those firms would then open charters in similar Florida neighborhoods, to give families options where few existed before.

The concept has come under fire from advocates of the more traditional public school model, who have argued that lawmakers have financially starved district schools, limiting their ability to bring needy students where they need to be academically. Then the schools get labeled "failing" and these charters, which would face fewer hurdles, can move in.

Several school boards have sued over the program, contending the Legislature overstepped its bounds.

Visit the Gradebook at 11 a.m. for a podcast discussion on the lawsuit with Pinellas County School Board chairwoman Rene Flowers.  

Lawmakers did set up some guidelines aiming to ensure that the Schools of Hope providers have the proven performance results they desired, such as an achievement record that exceeds district and state averages where they currently operate.

But until the State Board establishes in rule those measurable standards, the law allows applicants to meet lesser requirements, such as having a current and active grant award for funding through the National Fund of the Charter School Growth Fund.

Related: Florida Department of Education posts proposed Schools of Hope rules

Some critics have suggested that the lower standard gives some charter schools that otherwise might not qualify a backdoor entrance into the state. The law made clear several easy to quantify criteria that have yet to be implemented, they have said.

The two initial approved applicants fell under the less stringent rule, and so, too, would these new ones.

According to their applications, each receives one of the grants detailed in the legislation. KIPP New Jersey serves about 5,000 low-income students in 11 schools. Democracy Prep also serves about 5,000 low-income students in eight schools.

So far, no "Schools of Hope" are open in Florida. Representatives of the first two approved firms said it could be a few years before they can get all the pieces in place.

State Board members raised concerns that several students whom this program was designed to help will not benefit from it as quickly as expected. Still, none opposed the first applications.

The Florida Board of Education meets at 9 a.m. May 16 at the Pinellas County school district headquarters in Largo.

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