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Can Florida’s rural communities support charter schools?

While charter schools have proliferated in Florida, nearly a third of of the state’s school districts, most of them rural, don’t have one — a fact that got attention from members of a state House panel discussing charter school legislation.

State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, wanted to know whether home education and virtual schools were more popular with parents who had fewer charter schools available (maps of state data support this idea in some places; in others it’s less clear).

Since districts without charters tend to be rural, parents looking for other options could face a long drive to a neighboring county, said state Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach. She wanted to know if the state could use one of its grant programs to lure charter schools to communities where none exist.

“We’ve got 22 counties that don’t have their first charter school,” she said, and then asked “if there’s a way that we tailor something for those counties… so that we can incentivize and grow choice in counties where there is none.”

Adam Miller, who runs the school choice office for the Florida Department of Education, told the panel the state focuses its charter start-up grants on high-needs areas, which include some rural communities.

“We have prioritized those schools that are going into low-income rural districts,” he said. “We’ve seen some success with that, but as you can see there are some districts where no charters have gone.”

While rural charters have worked in Franklin County and found an important niche in Glades County, it’s not clear whether every rural district can support a charter school.

Madison County, for example, is home to a relatively new charter high school, backed by parents and focused on science and engineering. But a school aimed at younger children in the North Florida district was recently forced to close.

An effort to create a new charter for younger students was rejected last month on a 3-2 vote by the Madison school board, according to a report from a community newspaper. That matter could soon be headed the state Board of Education on appeal.

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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at)