Florida Department of Education posts proposed Schools of Hope rules

Lawmakers approved the controversial charter school system in 2017.
The Florida House launched an ad touting the new "Schools of Hope" program shortly after approving it in spring 2017. [Florida House YouTube ad]
The Florida House launched an ad touting the new "Schools of Hope" program shortly after approving it in spring 2017. [Florida House YouTube ad]
Published Dec. 18, 2017

Aiming to jump start the a controversial new charter school system for the fall, the Florida Department of Education has unveiled proposed rules for potential Schools of Hope operators to follow.

The recommended rule, which is slated for Jan. 17 State Board of Education consideration, closely adheres to criteria from the legislation enacting the program to set up charter schools in areas with district schools that consistently perform poorly on state tests.

Lawmakers required that the groups selected to run these charter schools must have strong past performances. The specifics included:

1. The achievement of enrolled students exceeds the district and state averages of the states in which the operator's schools operate;
2. The average college attendance rate at all schools currently operated by the operator exceeds 80 percent, if such data is available;
3. The percentage of students eligible for a free or reduced price lunch under the National School Lunch Act enrolled at all schools currently operated by the operator exceeds 70 percent;
4. The operator is in good standing with the authorizer in each state in which it operates;
5. The audited financial statements of the operator are free of material misstatements and going concern issues; and
6. Other outcome measures as determined by the State Board of Education.

But until the department can adopt "measurable criteria" for those six standards, the law states, operators can be selected by meeting one of three other benchmarks. As defined in the proposed rule , those are:

1. The entity was awarded a United States Department of Education Charter School Program grant for the Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools pursuant to Title IV, Part C of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (20 U.S.C. 7221-7221j) within the preceding three (3) years from the date the entity submits an application to the Department.
2. The entity has a current and active grant award for funding through the National Fund of the Charter School Growth Fund.
3. The entity is a non-profit charter school that is selected by a district school board to turnaround the performance of a low-performing public school pursuant to s. 1008.33, Florida Statutes.

The rule does appear to tackle one of the key concerns raised by critics of the program, that the law does not require Schools of Hope to enroll students from the neighborhood schools they are designed to help.

The law already requires Schools of Hope operators to submit objectives for increasing student achievement for students from low-income families, as well as grade levels it will serve, a location and staffing plan, among other items. It further calls for performance-based contracts that include plans to recruit and enroll students from persistently low-performing schools.

The rule reiterates that the Schools of Hope agreements would be adopted to allow operators to "serve students from persistently low-performing schools." That's opposed to some critics' worries that the schools would be located in those communities but not necessarily enroll children from them.

Some lawmakers already have proposed changing the law to make abundantly clear what Schools of Hope are about. Sen. Lauren Book, a Miami-Dade Democrat, has filed legislation to require at least 75 percent of a Hope school's students come from the low-performing district schools.

With no Hope operators currently approved, the question has arisen whether any could begin a school in the fall of 2018. If adopted in January, the new rule might make it possible.

The state is accepting comment on the rule through Jan. 5. Click here to read the rule and make a comment.