Duval County Superintendent Nikolai Vitti outlined his strategies for keeping charter enrollment down at a School Board workshop, Tuesday.
Charter schools get public money, but they are run by private groups. More than 11,000 Duval students are enrolled in charters. That’s about 1,500 fewer than the district expected and budgeted for.
Vitti says the lower charter enrollment is partially because of retainment efforts by the district’s school choice office. Staff there help parents transfer kids to other schools. Vitti says the office is responsible for retaining more than 100 students this year.
Four years ago there were 18 charter schools in the district. Now there are 35.
Kids are especially likely to leave traditional middle schools. District data show just 60 percent of middle schoolers are enrolled in traditional schools. In 2011, it was 71 percent.
Northwestern Middle School has the highest percentage of students in the district opting for a charter education with 56 percent choosing charters.
Don Brewer Elementary takes the other side of the spectrum, with only three students out of the entire school choosing a charter education, or one percent of the school.
An academic analysis of Duval’s charters compared to traditional neighborhood schools shows public schools outperform charters in most areas including graduation rate. Charters did score higher in the areas of civics and third grade English and language arts.
Vitti pointed out in his presentation, since 2011 there have been 60 new charter school applications submitted to the board and half were approved. The rest were either denied or withdrawn.
Vitti also presented a report by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers on Duval’s charter schools. The report laid out strengths and weaknesses in how Duval deals with charters.
Duval’s school choice department staff, along with Duval's use of a clear, rigorous charter application were both listed as strengths.
On the other hand, the report says Duval should monitor existing charters better and report charter performance to the public and board regularly.
Vitti says moving forward he wants to maintain quarterly financial reports of charter schools for board reviews. He also says reviewing charter contracts and compliance more frequently would be in the district's best interest.
Board member Scott Shine says it’s important to know why students are transferring. He suggests sending out surveys. He also suggested requiring charters to provide a report cards that compare a student’s chosen charter school to his or her zoned neighborhood school.
According to a fall 2014 survey and analysis by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, the top two most important factors parents consider when choosing their child’s school: teacher quality and safety. The survey took answers from more than 1,000 parents from different types of schools.
Charter school parents in particular also said they cared about individualized instruction and school academic performance.
Among Vitti’s suggestions: he’d like to expand and better market special programs at schools, particularly those with low enrollment. Board member Connie Hall says the marketing component is especially important. She says Duval schools have so many great programs and asks how to get them in front of everyday people.
Vitti also wants to add portable classrooms to overcrowded schools and expand buildings at schools in growing neighborhoods. He says if the district adopts uniforms, he believes that will help retain students in neighborhood schools as well.