Hernando and Hillsborough charters have the lowest ratios of low income and minority students. In Pasco county, 58.2% of students in traditional public schools qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch while only 36.2% of charter students qualify. Charters in high income areas do well academically, charters with higher percentages of low income students receive lower school grades. This is not a surprise. Income and academic achievement are known to go together. What is of concern John Romano columnist for the Tampa Bay Times article is:
- Charters are supposed to serve academically at risk students, and they disproportionately are not.
- Higher income families leaving public schools risk creating a haves and have not educational system.
The numbers, Romano suggests, is that some charters are cherry picking students if not by the neighborhoods where charters are located, then by making demands that struggling families cannot meet.
The legislature gave a nod to this problem by promising more facility funding for charters serving high percentages of at risk children. It is a step in the right direction, but unless local districts can approve the need for a new charter school in particular areas, little is likely to change. Charters will locate where they can provide a stable income stream from students who are academically strong, not weak.
We cannot continue to ignore the increase the inequity when choice is for those who can afford it. Nor can we say that choice necessarily improves academic achievement for children from high income families. What we can say is that it is time to weigh the consequences, intended or unintended.