New Charter 'Schools Of Hope' Slated To Open In Liberty City, With Potential $23M Price Tag

Apr 18, 2019

A controversial state law aiming to attract more charter schools to Florida could soon transform public education options in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood.

The national charter school network KIPP is asking for more than $23 million in state funding to establish five campuses in Liberty City, eventually serving about 2,800 students in grades K-12.

The two new elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school would be among the first “schools of hope,” the program championed by the Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran during his tenure as House Speaker. His signature initiative offered $140 million to incentivize high-performing charter networks to open in neighborhoods where traditional public schools have struggled.

The national nonprofit KIPP was one of the charter networks Corcoran name-dropped when explaining his push for the financial and regulatory incentives that he believed would make Florida even more fertile for charter schools. There are now 655 of the privately run, publicly funded schools throughout the state serving about 295,000 children, according to state data. Before last year, KIPP had only one location in Florida, in Jacksonville, with mixed results.

KIPP Miami Sunrise Academy — which now serves kindergartners and first graders and will eventually grow to include second, third and fourth grades, as well — opened this school year on the same campus as the traditional public school Poinciana Park Elementary. It would be one of three elementary schools under KIPP’s expansion plan.

The group expects to open a middle school in the fall, starting with fifth and sixth grades and eventually adding seventh and eighth grades. The other schools would come later.

“When we make a promise and a commitment to our kids in kindergarten, we promise that we’re going to be with them through college,” said Monica Kress, managing director of operations for KIPP Miami. “And with that promise, that means they’ll have a seat at a KIPP school — an elementary school, a middle school and a high school.”

KIPP’s funding request for more than $23 million over five years would mostly support start-up costs, since the network uses a “slow growth” model, where schools are built one or two grades at a time. Officials said after the first five years, the schools would operate using the standard funding levels available to all public schools.

Like with the existing shared space agreement between KIPP Miami Sunrise Academy and Poinciana Park, the charter network is hoping to locate the new schools in available school district space.

Under “schools of hope,” charters must open within the attendance zone or a five-mile radius of a school that has consistently performed poorly under the state’s school grading system.

In this case, that’s Brownsville Middle School, which has earned a D or F in each of the last six school years. Brownsville is also currently at the center of a sexual-abuse scandal, after a former teacher there was accused of assault or misconduct by nine of his previous students.

Brownsville’s principal, Marcus Miller — who started after the alleged misconduct by the former teacher — declined an interview for this story. He wrote in an email he is focused on preparing students for upcoming state exams.

“I am not concerned about KIPP right now,” he wrote. “It’s my job to make sure that Brownsville is the best Middle School possible!”

The “schools of hope” law gives the Miami-Dade school district 60 days to finalize a contract with KIPP once the group formally announces its plan to open the school, which happened on March 11.

A spokesperson for Miami-Dade schools wrote in an email that the district is negotiating with KIPP now for a contract that would include certain performance expectations for the charter schools. Once it’s completed, it will be considered by the school board.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida House are currently supporting a plan to expand “schools of hope,” while the Senate has advocated defunding it. Lawmakers are negotiating now to finalize a state budget before session is scheduled to end May 3.

Read KIPP's proposal for the new schools here: