Lots to talk about at the Florida Charter School Conference


The two-day Florida Charter School Conference officially opens Thursday with keynote speaker Deborah Kenny, founder and chief executive officer of the successful New York charter schools, Harlem Village Academies.

But a pre-conference schedule the day before offers sessions on starting a charter school and networking for principals, along with a three-hour town hall meeting featuring school leaders and legislators scheduled to talk about the future of charters in Florida.

No confirmations, yet, on the roster for that meeting. But look for discussions about charter school funding, especially calls for more oversight in light of the recent discovery of an Orlando charter school that paid its principal $800,000 last school year before the school shut down.

There might also be discussions on PECO funds – Public Education Capital Outlay dollars dedicated to school construction costs. Last year, lawmakers designated $55 million for charter schools and none for traditional public schools.

The rationale? Traditional schools can levy property taxes to build and maintain schools; charters don’t have that luxury. With 574 charter schools in 44 districts and more anticipated, expect debate about the public dollars in 2013.

Although the conference features a separate breakout session Friday on the Charter School Growth Fund, lawmakers might offer some details during the town hall meeting on how that money is used. The fund is made up of $20 million in Race To The Top dollars and $10 million in private donations.

The money serves as an incentive to create more high-performing charter schools serving low-income and minority students.  Recipients with a proven track record will be eligible for business planning assistance and multi-year funding to replicate their model.

High-performing charter schools are those that received two “A’’ grades from the state and no grades below “B’’ during the past three years.  There are 130 such schools, according to a report released this month by the Florida Department of Education.

Also, with Gov. Rick Scott pushing to give traditional schools more freedom to be creative and competitive, there likely will be talk of his idea for more district-run charter schools.

Thursday and Friday sessions feature nearly 80 other sessions that include using iPads, Kindles, SMARTboards and other technology in the classroom; implementing Common Core State Standards, understanding the Florida Education Finance Program  – per-student allocations and how charter schools are funded; and charter management among other topics.

The 16th annual conference is sponsored by the state Department of Education’s Office of Independent Education & Parental Choice and started when the first charter school opened in 1996. Today, more than 200,000 students are enrolled in charters.

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BY Sherri Ackerman

Sherri Ackerman is the former associate editor of redefinED. She is a former correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times and reporter for The Tampa Tribune, writing about everything from cops and courts to social services and education. She grew up in Indiana and moved to Tampa as a teenager, graduating from Brandon High School and, later, from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications/news editing. Sherri passed away in March 2016.