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New report finds dearth of charter schools in many needy Florida communities

The charter 'deserts' appear in low-income areas surrounding urban cores, the Fordham Institute finds.

Here's a new report that's likely to generate debate in Florida education circles.

Charter School Deserts: High-Poverty Neighborhoods with
Limited Educational Options, from the choice-friendly Fordham Institute,  puts forth the idea that many inner city and suburban neighborhoods that could sustain school choice do not have sufficient options for their children.

"As the geography of poverty in America changes, are there many  neighborhoods with plenty of population density and lots of disadvantaged kids but few or no charter schools?" the researchers write. "Or do the schools actually set up shop where poor families live—whether in cities, small towns, or the suburbs?"

They find Florida has one of the highest number of charter "deserts," defined as three or more contiguous census tracts with poverty rates above 20 percent and no charter elementary schools.

The group identified 20 of these areas in and around Tampa/St. Petersburg, Orlando and Miami, which have several charter schools within the city limits, but often not in the outlying areas.

"Despite the thousands of charter schools opened [nationally] over the past twenty-five years, many more are needed if low-income students in every part of America are to have the options they need," the report states.

Florida legislative leaders have pushed for several years to get more charter schools into the state, including the controversial "Schools of Hope" plan that would direct charters into neighborhoods with district schools that persistently receive low scores on state exams.

The Constitution Revision Commission has proposed an amendment that would permit the creation of a state charter authorizer, contending that many school boards are unfriendly to the idea of charter schools competing with the districts for students and funds.

Districts and other advocates of public schooling have fought back, arguing the dilution of funding undermines the children's educational services. A CRC effort to give high performing school districts the same flexibility in law as charter schools failed to win support for the ballot.