JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Charter schools are public schools in that they offer free education, funded by taxpayers. Per-student funds are distributed equally to both.
The difference is charters are managed privately and, in some cases, run as for-profit businesses. Proponents say that is a reason charter schools are more likely to innovate.
Charter students are tested and are graded by the Florida Department of Education the same as traditional public schools. They must employ certified teachers, although the school administrators do not need to be certified.
Charter schools must also meet certain financial obligations and are subject to an annual audit. They are, however, exempt from some rules of Florida's Education Code.
A popular buzzword in public education lately -- encouraged and, in some cases, mandated by the Florida Legislature -- is school choice. The 32 charter schools in Duval County are in that mix as parents elect to have their children attend there rather than their neighborhood school. But Duval County offers magnet programs at 74 of its "traditional" schools that allow students from anywhere in the district -- and, in some cases, beyond -- to attend.
Two differences mentioned in Wednesday's joint City Council-School Board meeting about a proposed half-cent sales tax for capital improvements to Duval County schools:
1) Charter schools sometimes lease rather than own the buildings in which they operate.
2) Charter schools tend to have smaller classrooms, as charters can turn away students when they reach a certain capacity. Public schools must serve all students in the district.
The number and popularity of charter schools in Florida has grown rapidly since the first opened in the state in 1996. By last year, there were 655 charter schools in Florida with total charter enrollment topping 295,000 students.