OPPAGA text logo with graphic of FL historic capitol
OPPAGA text logo with graphic of FL historic capitol

Education System

Charter Schools

What are charter schools?

Charter schools are tuition-free, publicly funded, nonsectarian schools that operate under a performance contract (charter) from their local district school board (sponsor). Charter schools are largely independent of the school district and are governed by their own board. In 1996, the Florida Legislature authorized charter schools as part of the state's K-12 public education system.

What is the purpose of charter schools?

Section 1002.33(2), Florida Statutes, establishes the purpose of charter schools and guiding principles for their operation.  The purpose of charter schools is to improve student learning and academic achievement; increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on low-performing students and reading; encourage the use of innovative learning methods; and require the measurement of learning outcomes. Charter schools are to be guided by three principles:
  • meet high standards of student achievement while providing parents with flexibility to choose among diverse educational opportunities within the state's public school system;
  • promote enhanced academic success and financial efficiency by aligning responsibility with accountability; and
  • provide parents with sufficient information on whether their child is reading at grade level and gaining a year's worth of growth for every year spent at the charter school.

How are charter schools created?

Charter schools are created when an individual, a group of parents or teachers, a business, a municipality, or a legal entity submits an application to a school district; the school district approves the application; the applicants form a governing board that negotiates a contract with the district school board; and the applicants and district school board agree upon a charter or contract.
As required in s. 1002.33(6), Florida Statutes, a school board that receives a charter school application must approve or deny the application within 90 days of receipt. All charter applicants must prepare and submit an application on the Department of Education's standard application (including an applicant history worksheet), that
  • demonstrates how the school will meet the statutory guiding principles and purpose of a charter school;
  • provides a detailed curriculum;
  • contains goals and objectives for improving student learning;
  • describes the school's reading curricula and differentiated strategies for students reading at grade level and a separate curricula and strategies for students who are reading below grade level;
  • contains an annual financial plan; and
  • discloses the name of each applicant, governing board member, and all proposed education services providers; the name and sponsor of any charter school operated by each applicant, each governing board member, and each proposed education services provider that has closed and the reasons for the closure; and the academic and financial history of such charter schools, which the sponsor shall consider in deciding whether to approve or deny the application.
School boards are required to evaluate charter school applications using the Department of Education's evaluation instrument. Upon approval of a charter school application, the school board has 30 days to propose an initial charter contract using the Department of Education's standard charter contract as the basis for the initial draft contract.
If a school board denies an application, it must provide specific written reasons within 10 calendar days. The charter school applicant then has 30 calendar days to appeal the denial to the State Board of Education.

What is the Charter School Appeal Commission?

The Charter School Appeal Commission was established to assist the Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Education with a fair and impartial review of appeals by applicants whose charter applications have been denied, whose charter contracts have not been renewed, or whose charter contracts have been terminated by their sponsors. The Commissioner of Education appoints a number of members to the commission sufficient to ensure that no potential conflict of interest exists for any commission appeal decision. Of the members hearing the appeal, one-half must represent currently operating charter schools and one-half must represent sponsors. The Commissioner of Education, or his or her designee, serves as the chair of the commission.  The commission must review the appeal and make a written recommendation to the state board. The state board must consider the commission's recommendation but is not bound by it when making a final decision.

What are the types of charter schools?

In addition to typical startup charter schools that fulfill the purposes and are created using the processes described above, there are several types of specialized charter schools that fulfill additional purposes established in statute.
  • Alternative charter schools provide dropout prevention and academic intervention services (s. 1008.341, Florida Statutes).
  • Charter lab schools are sponsored and operated by state universities (s. 1002.32, Florida Statutes).
  • Charter schools in a municipality are sponsored by local school districts in partnership with a municipality (s. 1002.33(15)(c), Florida Statutes). Such schools enroll students based upon a random lottery that involves all of the children of municipality residents who are seeking enrollment.
  • Charter schools in the workplace are sponsored by local school districts in partnership with a company or business (s. 1002.33(15)(b), Florida Statutes). Such charter schools usually target the children of the employees of a company or business.
  • Charter schools operated by Florida College System institutions offer secondary education and allow students to obtain an associate degree upon graduation from high school (s. 1002.33(5)(b)(4), Florida Statutes).
  • Charter technical career centers are publicly-funded schools or technical centers operated under a charter granted by a district school board, community college board of trustees, or a consortium comprised of one or more of each (s. 1002.34, Florida Statutes).
  • Conversion charter schools are traditional public schools that have been converted to charter schools (s. 1002.33(3)(b), Florida Statutes).
  • High-performing charter schools meet certain performance and financial criteria and are allowed to more easily increase their enrollment and expand grade levels, as well as establish and operate new charter schools that replicate their educational programs (s. 1002.331, Florida Statutes). They are also granted an extended renewal period, provided that they meet specific criteria established in Florida law.
  • Virtual charter schools provide full-time online instruction to eligible students in kindergarten through grade 12 (s. 1002.33(1), Florida Statutes).

What is a School of Hope?

A School of Hope is a charter school operated by a hope operator that serves students from one or more persistently low-performing schools; is located in the attendance zone of a persistently low-performing school or within a five-mile radius of such school, whichever is greater; and is a Title I eligible school.  (See s. 1002.333, Florida Statutes.) A hope operator is a nonprofit organization with tax-exempt status that operates three or more charter schools serving students in grades K-12 in Florida or other states with a record of serving students from low-income families and is designated by the State Board of Education as a hope operator based on its past performance meeting or exceeding specific criteria.
Schools of Hope are funded through the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) in the same way as all other public schools. They are also eligible, along with certain low-performing public schools, to receive funds from the Schools of Hope Program for certain expenditures.

How many PreK-12 Florida charter schools are in operation?

The number of charter schools in Florida and the number of students they enroll has grown substantially since the inception of charter schools. In 1996, the state had five charter schools that enrolled 574 students. By the 2018-19 school year, 658 charter schools enrolled 313,586 PreK-12 students, or approximately 11% of statewide reported enrollment (2,846,857).  During the most recent five years for which data is available, the number of charter schools in operation increased by 2% and the number of students enrolled increased by 25%.

 Number of Florida Charter Schools in Operation and Their Enrollment

  2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-182018-19 
 Charter Schools 646     652 654 655 658
 PK-12 Enrollment 251,082  270,974  283,755  295,814  313,586

Source:  Department of Education, Office of Independent Education & Parental Choice.

The Department of Education maintains a directory of charter schools currently in operation that can be searched by school name, school district, or city. The directory also provides other information, including charter school contacts.

What services do school districts provide to charter schools?

As required by s. 1002.33(20)(a)1., Florida Statutes, a school district must provide certain administrative and educational services to charter schools, which include

  • contract management;
  • FTE and data reporting;
  • exceptional student education administration;
  • test administration, including payment of costs of state-required or district-required student assessments;
  • teacher certificate data processing;
  • information services, including equal access to student information systems that are used by public schools in the district in which the charter school is located; and
  • student performance data for each student in a charter school.

The school district may withhold up to a 5% administrative fee from the available per-student operating funds from the FEFP for enrollment for up to and including 250 students. For high-performing charter schools, a school district may withhold a total administrative fee of up to 2% for enrollment up to and including 250 students per school. The fee is to cover district costs for administrative services. School districts may not charge additional fees or surcharges for services unless the school district contracts with the charter school to provide additional goods and services.

Section 1002.33(20)(d), Florida Statutes, requires each charter school to annually complete and submit a survey, in a format specified by the Department of Education, to rate the timeliness and quality of services provided by the applicable school district, and requires the department to compile the survey results.

What are education management companies or organizations?

While a charter school must be a public or nonprofit entity (s. 1002.33(12)(i), Florida Statutes), it may be managed by an education management organization (EMO), which can be a for-profit or nonprofit organization. EMOs are organizations or firms that manage at least one school that receives public funds and operates the public school(s) it manages under the same admissions rules as regular public schools. They can manage traditional public schools or charter schools. The charter school's annual accountability report, available through the Department of Education directory of charter schools, includes information on management companies associated with the school.

How are charter schools evaluated and assessed?

Every charter school must be evaluated by its sponsor on academic progress and the outcomes agreed upon in the school's contract (s. 1002.33(5)(b)1.a., Florida Statutes). The school must forward the resulting information to the Department of Education at the same time as other annual school accountability reports. The majority of charter schools are evaluated and assigned a school grade using the same standards and criteria as traditional public schools. However, some charter schools do not meet the eligibility criteria to receive a school grade because they do not have at least 10 students eligible for inclusion in the calculation of at least one school grading component. An alternative charter school may also elect to receive a school improvement rating instead of a school grade.

What happens to poorly performing charter schools?

Charter schools that exhibit poor academic or financial performance may have their charters terminated or not renewed by their sponsors (s. 1002.33(8)(a), Florida Statutes). A sponsor must terminate a charter school that earns two consecutive grades of F, with limited exceptions (s. 1002.33(9)(n)3., Florida Statutes).

Pursuant to s. 1002.33(8)(d), Florida Statutes, when a charter is not renewed or is terminated, the school must be dissolved under the provisions of law under which the school was organized, and any unencumbered public funds from the charter school revert to the district school board.  In the event a charter school is dissolved or is otherwise terminated, all district school board property and improvements, furnishings, and equipment purchased with public funds automatically reverts to full ownership by the district school board, subject to complete satisfaction of any lawful liens or encumbrances.

How are charter school operations funded by the state?

Charter schools are funded through the FEFP in the same way as all other public schools (s. 1002.33(17), Florida Statutes). The charter school receives operating funds from the FEFP based on the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) students enrolled.  Charter school funding includes gross state and local funds, discretionary lottery funds, and funds from the school district's current operating discretionary millage levy.  The funding per school is calculated by dividing the total funds available by the total funded weighted FTE students in the school district, and then multiplying by the weighted FTE students in the charter school. Charter schools are entitled to their proportionate share of categorical program funds for eligible students and programs. Schools must spend categorical funds for specified purposes, which include student transportation, safe schools, supplemental academic instruction, research-based reading, instructional materials, digital classrooms, and class-size reduction operating funds.

Section 1002.33(17)(b), Florida Statutes, permits charter schools operated by a not-for-profit or municipal entity, any unrestricted current and capital assets identified in the charter school's annual financial audit may be used for other charter schools operated by the not-for-profit or municipal entity within the school district.

In Fiscal Year 2018-19, school districts reported distributing $2,383,978,814 in general funds to charter schools, as shown in the Department of Education's state cumulative totals from the school district annual financial reports.

How are charter school facilities funded by the state?

Pursuant to s. 1013.62, Florida Statutes, charter schools are eligible for revenue resulting from the discretionary millage authorized in s. 1011.71(2), Florida Statutes, and state funds when such funds are appropriated in the General Appropriations Act. 

To be eligible to receive charter school capital outlay funding, a charter school must have been in operation for two or more years, be governed by a governing board established in the state for two or more years, be part of an expanded feeder pattern of a charter school that is currently receiving capital outlay funding, have been accredited by a regional accrediting association, or serve students in facilities that are provided by a business partner for a charter-school-in-the-workplace; and

  • have an annual audit that does not reveal any of the financial emergency conditions provided in s. 218.503(1), Florida Statutes;
  • have satisfactory student achievement;
  • have received final approval from a sponsor for operation; and
  • serve students in facilities not provided by the sponsor.

Funds provided for capital outlay purposes are allocated to eligible schools based upon a statutory formula in s. 1013.62, Florida Statutes.

In Fiscal Year 2018-19, school districts reported distributing $143,385,049 to charter schools for capital outlay funding, as shown in the Department of Education's state cumulative totals from the school district annual financial reports. The Department of Education also maintains data on charter school capital outlay disbursements by school.

Are charter schools eligible to receive other governmental support?

Charter schools, like traditional public schools, receive federal education funding through such programs as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. s. 1411(e); s. 1002.33(17)(c), Florida Statutes), Title I programs for disadvantaged students (20 U.S.C. s. 6301 et. seq., as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act, Public Law 114-95), and Title II programs for improving teacher quality (20 U.S.C. ss. 6601-6641, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act, Public Law 114-95; s. 1002.33(17)(c)-(d), Florida Statutes). In addition, the U.S. Department of Education's Charter Schools Program provides, among other things, start-up grants, dissemination grants, and replication and expansion grants to eligible charter schools.  Several tax, zoning, and fee exemptions also may apply to certain types of charter schools.

Section 1002.33(25), Florida Statutes, permits a system of charter schools to serve as a local education agency (LEA) for the purpose of receiving federal funds if the governing board adopts and files a resolution with its sponsor and the Department of Education in which the governing board accepts the full responsibility for all LEA requirements.  Charter school system's governing board may be designated as an LEA for purposes of receiving federal funds for all schools within a school district that are established under a turnaround option pursuant to s. 1008.33, Florida Statutes, and are under the jurisdiction of the governing board.

What statutory exemptions apply to charter schools?

Pursuant to s. 1002.33(16)(a)-(b), Florida Statutes, charter schools are exempt from the Florida K-20 Education Code (Chs. 1000-1013, Florida Statutes), except for statutes that pertain specifically to charter schools, general statutory provisions that expressly include charter schools within their scope, and statutes pertaining to student assessment and school grading; the provision of services to students with disabilities; civil rights; student health, safety, and welfare; public records, public meetings, and public inspection; criminal and civil penalties; and provisions relating to educator compensation, contracts, and the substantive requirements relating to performance evaluations.

In addition, charter schools are exempt from compliance with the State Requirements for Educational Facilities but must comply with the Florida Building Code and the Florida Fire Prevention Code. Libraries, community service organizations, museums, performing arts venues, theatres, cinemas, churches, Florida Community College System institutions, and universities may provide space to charter schools within their facilities under their preexisting zoning and land use designations. 

What is the financial condition of charter schools?

Each year, the Auditor General summarizes charter school financial audits. In Report No. 2020-004, the Auditor General reported that 54 (8%) of the 644 charter schools reported a general fund, or other unrestricted fund, deficit unassigned and assigned fund balance or deficit unrestricted net assets at June 30, 2018, which is a decrease from the 68 (11%) of the 629 charter schools that reported deficits at June 30, 2017. The financial condition ratio for the 54 charter schools that reported deficit balances ranged from negative 125% to less than negative 1%.  Eight of the 54 charter schools reporting a deficit balance were in their first year of operation. Nine of the 54 charter schools reporting a deficit balance had reported a deficit for two years, and 18 of the 54 had reported a deficit for three or more years.

Updates

The 2020 Legislature enacted Chapter 2020-10, Laws of Florida, which mandates that districts proportionately share any school capital outlay sales surtaxes approved in the future with charter schools in the district.

Where can I find related OPPAGA reports?

A complete list of related OPPAGA reports is available on our website.

Where can I get more information?

Other Reports
Summary of Significant Findings and Financial Trends Identified in Charter School and Charter Technical Career Center Audit Reports for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2018 - Pursuant to Section 11.45(7)(f), Florida Statutes, Auditor General Report No. 2020-004, July 2019. 

Review of District School Board, Charter School, and Charter Technical Career Center Audit Reports for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2018 - Pursuant to Section 11.45(7)(b), Florida Statutes, Auditor General Report No. 2020-001, July 2019.

Summary of Significant Findings and Financial Trends Identified in Charter School and Charter Technical Career Center Audit Reports for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2017 - Pursuant to Section 11.45(7)(f), Florida Statutes, Auditor General Report No. 2019-021, September 2018.

Review of District School Board, Charter School, and Charter Technical Career Center Audit Reports for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2017 - Pursuant to Section 11.45(7)(b), Florida Statutes, Auditor General Report No. 2019-005, July 2018.

Summary of Significant Findings and Financial Trends Identified in Charter School and Charter Technical Career Center Audit Reports for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2016 - Pursuant to Section 11.45(7)(f), Florida Statutes, Auditor General Report No. 2018-006, July 2017.

Review of District School Board, Charter School, and Charter Technical Career Center Audit Reports for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2016 - Pursuant to Section 11.45(7)(b), Florida Statutes, Auditor General Report No. 2018-004, July 2017.

Charter school financial audit reports.

Student Achievement in Florida's Charter Schools: A Comparison of the Performance of Charter School Students with Traditional Public School Students, Florida Department of Education, March 2019.

'Charter High Schools' Effects on Long-Term Attainment and Earnings', Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, April 2016.

Online Charter School Study, 2015, Center for Research on Education Outcomes. 

Websites of Interest
Building Charter School Quality
Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, Research & Reports
Florida Charter School Alliance
Florida Charter School List by District
Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
National Associations of Charter School Authorizers
National Charter School Resource Center
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Innovation & Improvement, Charter Schools

Performance Information


Performance measures and standards for the department may be found in its Long Range Program Plan.

What are the applicable statutes?

Sections 218.39, 1002.32, 1002.33, 1002.331, 1002.332, 1002.333, 1002.34, 1002.345, and 1013.62, Florida Statutes.

Whom do I contact for help?

Adam Emerson, Charter Schools Director, Florida Department of Education, 1-800-447-1636, email:  charterschools@fldoe.org

Website