Number of Charter Schools Increasing Over Traditional Tampa Schools

Written by Patricia Hawke for

In 1996, then governor Jeb Bush co-founded the first charter school within the state of Florida, when most educators across the nation thought of charter schools as nothing more than a fad. Now, there are more than 350 charter schools within the state of Florida; there are 38 across the Tampa Bay area with several in the Tampa Schools area — private and public. The movement has mushroomed across Florida with charter school enrollment expected to top 100,000 students this year.

Yet, if you ask the average adult on the street, most have no idea what a charter school is. Though many charter schools are private businesses that operate under the guidelines of the state school board, many were traditional schools converted to public charter schools and still under the direction and control of the school districts, such as the Tampa schools.
Charter schools are given more flexibility from many of the regulations that apply to the traditional Tampa schools in exchange for greater accountability. Charter schools can be as different as day and night in their mission, vision for their students, approaches to curriculum and teaching methods, and administrative structures, as well as their overall philosophy.
Each charter within the Tampa schools area must prove that their students are continuously improving academically from year to year. If they fail (indicated by student test scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT)), they are closed. 
Any individual or business that wishes to create a charter school can. Successful new approaches to education by some charter schools are copied by others. The primary philosophy of these schools, however, is that one curriculum and one way of doing things is not correct for every student.
The success of the charter schools within the Tampa schools’ area has forced the Tampa schools’ leadership and educators to re-evaluate their traditional schools, giving students and parents more educational choices from which to choose.
Clearly no longer just a fad, the Tampa schools lose many students (and the funding that goes with each student) to charter schools each year, and the numbers are on the increase. The Tampa schools now have 12 public charter schools converted from their traditional schools. Ten are lower grade levels and two are secondary. A few have middle school grades included.
Charter schools within the Tampa schools’ area, as well as across the nation, continue to produce mixed results. Since their inception in Florida, 78 have closed, and nearly 30 percent were in the red financially a few years ago. Charters traditionally average 11 percent less funding per student, and their students generally score slightly lower on the FCAT, though they are improving.
Most charters within the Tampa schools’ area have a greater proportion of minority students than the traditional schools. Many are located within the inner city communities, where all schools face their biggest challenges.
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