Public School With 'Medically Fragile' Students May Turn Charter

Wednesday, 28 May 2014 12:25 PM

By Melissa Clyne

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If a Broward County, Fla., public school successfully transitions to a charter school, it will mark a first in the area to do so, the Miami Herald reports.

While there has been an explosion of charter schools across the country – 6,187 in the 2012-12 school year, according to the Center for Education Reform – charter conversions, turning a public school into a charter, are far less common. There have been fewer than two dozen throughout the Sunshine State and none in Broward or neighboring Miami-Dade County.

A charter school receives public funding but operates as a separate entity from the public school system. The mass popularity of charters has been controversial in many major cities, including Chicago, which last year shuttered 50 traditional public schools before requesting charter schools to apply to open in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school year, the Huffington Post reported last year.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on his opposition to charter schools sharing space with public schools.

Charter school critics argue that the concept takes a bite out of school funding and is essentially privatizing the education system.

The National Education Association stipulates on its website that it favors charter schools if they are "qualitatively different from what is available to them in mainstream public schools, and not simply to provide a 'choice' for parents who may be dissatisfied with the education their children are receiving in mainstream public schools.

Fort Lauderdale’s Wingate Oaks, which serves special needs children, learned a year ago that the Broward school district planned to close the school and one other to consolidate and expand services. The district held off on closing Wingate Oaks after parents argued against it. Many "medically fragile" students would need to ride a bus for more than an hour to get to school if Wingate Oaks closed, the Herald reports.

Wingate Oaks parents partnered with a local nonprofit specializing in disability issues, and some former school district employees, to launch an effort to "save" their school, even keeping the same staff in place. But it’s a long way from a done deal.

The district would have to OK the conversion. Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie warned that running a successful school takes more than good intentions.

"We invest a good number of our resources," he told the Herald. "That’s hard to replicate."

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