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A civic leader in Texas asked on the blog whether there was any impartial information about charters and their effects. I forwarded her request to Sue Legg of the League of Women Voters in Florida.
Sue wrote the following response:
We have been studying charter and other choice systems for several years. See: http://lwveducation.com
In Florida, we have non-profit and for profit management companies. The biggest concern with for-profits are their associated real estate firms that build/purchase facilities and then charge the school excessive amounts for leases. Since the charter schools are privately owned and managed, the facilities are paid for by public tax dollars but revert to private owners if closed. We have relatively few charters located in publically owned buildings.
There are issues with charter boards. Most are not independent from the management company. Thus, the business model often depends on high staff turnover and low salaries. There are many regulation problems including conflict of interest and nepotism. Big charter firms create umbrella non profits that receive the charter. Their boards often have overlapping board members. Academica, for example, the largest Florida charter chain created Mater charters, Somerset charters, Doral, and Ben Gamla charters among others.
Many small independent charters have inexperienced or profit seeking people who start and then close charters, thus keeping substantial start up money awarded by the state. Some legislation has tried to curb this.
Charters in Florida tend to duplicate public school programs. Some do focus on children who need a different approach and many of these are successful. The school grade policies complicate their existence, however. For example, schools that focus on children with dyslexia are chronically called ‘F’ schools because those children struggle to learn even though they do make significant progress.
Florida has 650+ charters. The evidence of resegregation is clear. The high closure rate has received legislative attention. The practice of selective admission/retention is evident even though the admission process is supposed to be random. Achievement based on test scores does not differentiate charter and traditional public schools if well matched samples are used.
We have annual audits of each charter. There are also data on racial and economic demographic characteristics as well as school grades.
This legislative session has centered on charter authorization systems that would take even more control away from local school boards. Thus far, these proposals look like they will fail.
A Citizens for Strong Schools lawsuit over the failure of the state to support public education begins on March 14th.
Let me know if I can help.
Sue M. Legg Ph.D.
President, Alachua County LWV
Chair, School Choice Project Florida LWV