Federal "Race to the Top" Funds Used to Build More Florida Charter Schools in Poor Areas

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This week's cover story about Mavericks in Education Florida explores the pitfalls of a for-profit charter school company that promises to help at-risk kids. Florida has been especially friendly to charter schools, allowing private companies to continue opening them using taxpayer dollars, even if they encounter academic and financial problems.

But it's not just Florida. The Obama administration is also a fan of charter schools. With his landmark "Race to the Top" initiative, the president encourages the expansion of charter schools. Some observers, including my sister, Sara Goldrick-Rab, an education policy professor at the University of Wisconsin, have raised questions about this emphasis on charters and who stands to benefit from it.

In Florida, at least $20 million of the $700 million "Race to the Top" grant the state received last year
will be used to open "high performing" charters in poor neighborhoods.

The Florida Charter School Growth Fund, partnering with the state, says it will use the "Race to the Top" money to open 30 new charter schools serving 15,000 students.

"There is an incredible demand for high-quality educational options in Florida, particularly in our low-income communities," Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said in a November news release about the fund. "These ground-breaking public-private partnerships will help spur the growth of top quality charter schools in our state's K-12 school system."

Mavericks also aims to help students in low-income communities. Wonder if it will be considered for a grant. The fund says there will be a competitive process to pick charter-school grant winners, emphasizing "candidates with quality academic achievement, potential growth and financial sustainability." 

Hmmm. Mavericks has debt problems and low graduation rates, and its schools score "incomplete" on state report cards. But this is Florida. It may still have a shot. 

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