Success Academy eyes Florida expansion as Schools of Hope operator

Florida’s decade-long efforts to recruit more high-quality charter school operators to the state could be on the verge of a major breakthrough.

Tomorrow, the state Board of Education is set to consider an application from New York-based Success Academy as a designated Schools of Hope operator.

The Schools of Hope program was created in 2017 to help draw more high-performing charter school organizations to the Sunshine State. It scored a few successes, helping bring IDEA Public Schools to Jacksonville and Tampa, as well as KIPP to Miami.

Florida education leaders had for years bemoaned that major national nonprofit charter networks with strong track records of improving outcomes for low-income students had largely steered clear of the nation’s third-largest state, despite a steadily growing charter school sector that now enrolls nearly 400,000 students.

One of the leaders working to make the state more friendly to top charter operators was then-state legislator Manny Diaz Jr., who is now the state’s education commissioner.

Success fits the profile of operators Florida has long hoped to attract. Its schools boast the best math achievement in New York State while serving a student population of predominantly low-income children of color. All of its graduates get accepted to four-year colleges. The network is known for a relentless commitment to high expectations and celebrated efforts to deliver an academically demanding curriculum at scale.

But it’s never opened a school outside New York City.

That may be about to change.

“We are immensely excited at the prospect of bringing our success to Florida and look forward to exploring what we can accomplish together, given that Florida is a national leader in educational choice, as the Schools of Hope program demonstrates,” Success Academy’s founder, Eva Moskowitz, wrote in a cover letter accompanying its Hope application. “Success believes its innovative model would translate well in Florida to bring further educational choice and opportunities to deserving Florida families.”

Schools of Hope was designed to eliminate barriers for top charter operators, such as startup funding, facilities and local school board politics. In the just-completed legislative session, lawmakers set aside $6 million in funding to help Hope Operators with teacher training and startup costs.

The state’s charter schools have scored other under-the-radar policy wins in recent years. The state created new exemptions from local zoning rules, convened a statewide authorizing commission, and is gradually phasing in close-to-equal per-student funding with district schools.

Combined with the state’s continued enrollment growth, these policies have made Florida fertile ground for new charter schools.

New York’s cap on the number of allowable charter schools has one of the state’s best charter networks looking at other options for growth to help more students, including expansion to Florida, a state with a favorable policy environment, said Derrell Bradford, president of the education advocacy group 50CAN.

“Growth has been a priority for Success Academy for a very long time, because the network wants to give as many families access to a quality education, regardless of their ZIP code, as possible,” said Bradford, who is also a member of the charter network’s board.

Success has worked to spread its impact beyond the 53 schools it runs, publishing curriculum guides online and creating an education institute that offers training and resources for teachers.

“Right now, this is the best way for us to make sure that an example of what is possible exists beyond New York,” Bradford said.


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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) sufs.org.

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