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Charter “school of hope” plans a third location in Hillsborough

Inner-ring suburbs from Thonotasassa to Mango are the new market for IDEA.

TAMPA — IDEA, the Texas-based “school of hope” provider that is already on track to build four Hillsborough schools, now plans to add two more.

The fast-growing organization is eyeing the East Hillsborough community served by Jennings Middle and these C- or D-rated elementary schools: Mango, Thonotosassa, Folsom, Dover and McDonald Elementary. Most are in semi-rural, blue collar communities just east of Tampa.

The charter schools should be open in time for the 2022-23 school year, said Jennifer Flores, a spokeswoman for IDEA, which stands for Individuals Dedicated to Excellence and Achievement. When fully built and enrolled, they will serve about 1,500 students from grades kindergarten through 12.

Those opening in 2021, serving children who attend Oak Park and Robles Elementary, Greco and Sligh Middle, will ultimately have close to 3,000 students.

Although the School Board will be asked to approve IDEA’s operating agreement on Tuesday, schools of hope get their clearance from the state. Richard Corcoran, now Florida’s Commissioner of Education, championed the concept when he was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as a way to give children alternatives to neighborhood schools that show chronically poor results.

As no school grades were given this year because of the COVID-19 shut-downs, the last recorded grades for the six East Hillsborough schools are from 2019. But, dating back to 2016-17, they are mostly D grades, with a few C’s.

Charter schools, which use tax funds but are operated independently of government districts, have been a growing draw for families dissatisfied with conventional public schools. At the start of the 2019-20 school year, nearly 13 percent of Hillsborough’s public school children were in charters.

That kind of exodus takes money out of the school district’s operating fund. In just the first year of operation for the East Hillsborough IDEA schools, with only 480 students the organization will receive a projected $2.25 million in state dollars.

No one can say for sure what the countywide numbers will look like in August, as an estimated half of all Hillsborough families are nervous about sending their children back to school while the COVID-19 pandemic is still in effect.

Just as the public schools are surveying parents and contemplating virtual modes of instruction, Flores said that IDEA is exploring alternatives for its families as well.

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