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Traditional vs. charter: The differences

Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy will provide a new option for East County parents.

Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy is expected to have about 740 students enrolled if the school opens in August 2022. Within five years, the school is projected to have an enrollment of 1,965 students. Courtesy photo.
Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy is expected to have about 740 students enrolled if the school opens in August 2022. Within five years, the school is projected to have an enrollment of 1,965 students. Courtesy photo.
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Lakewood Ranch’s Ellie Herrera had never thought about sending her children to a charter school, but after hearing about Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy, she’s taking it into consideration.

Herrera has a sixth grader at R. Dan Nolan Middle School and a first grader at Gilbert W. McNeal Elementary School and is preparing for her 5-year-old to enter kindergarten next year. 

Hearing that Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy, whose application was approved by the School Board of Manatee County on April 27, will be a K-12 charter school with a focus on science, health and wellness has piqued Herrera’s interest.

“The kids only get a few days per week of recess at school,” Herrera said. “If a school is going to focus on wellness, I’m all for that.”

Although she’s interested in the charter school, Herrera has many questions about the differences between traditional schools, such as McNeal Elementary and Nolan Middle, and charter schools.

Frank Pistella, the director of district support for the School District of Manatee County, said the main difference between a traditional and charter school is that a charter school has more flexibility in curriculum.

“The charter schools were created to help improve or maintain high standards of student achievement and increase parent school choice,” Pistella said.

Here’s a breakdown in similarities and differences between traditional and charter schools:



Traditional: The School District of Manatee County has control of its 43 traditional schools and sponsors 13 charter schools. The school board monitors the budget, implements policies and procedures, and hires the superintendent. The district has several departments to track and support academic progress, address finances, ensure students’ and employees’ safety, maintain facilities and more.

Charter: Charter schools are created when an individual, a group of parents or teachers, a business or a legal entity submits an application to the school district.

In the case of Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy, Charter Schools USA partnered with Southwest Charter Foundation, a nonprofit that runs eight charter schools across the state including Manatee Charter School, to submit the application for Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy to the School District of Manatee County. Now that the application has been approved, Charter Schools USA and Southwest Charter Foundation will create a governing board to lead the school.

Pistella said governing boards’ responsibilities include monitoring a charter school’s budget, implementing policies and procedures, and hiring school administrators.



Both: Traditional schools and charter schools are both given a grade based on the state’s assessment of the school’s performance.

All schools must have students participate in Florida Standard Assessments, as well.

Traditional: The school district has several departments on the district level to address numerous facets of the district, such as finances, academics, safety and facilities.

Charter: Charter schools must submit a financial report to the school district monthly until the Florida Department of Education deems the charter school as high performing when it can move to quarterly. Pistella said that the school district also monitors the charter school’s governance, facilities, health services, human resources, safety and academic accountability.

If a charter school isn’t meeting student performance outcomes agreed upon in the charter agreement, fails to be fiscally responsible, violates law or shows other good cause, the sponsor of the school can close the charter school.



Traditional: If students do not apply for school choice, students have a zoned school based on their residence in which they enroll.

Charter: A charter school can choose to focus on a certain population. For example, a charter school can focus on students who are interested in performing arts or be a school for gifted students. Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy is accepting any students in kindergarten through 12th grade through an application process. Once the number of applications exceeds the capacity for each grade, a lottery system will be used to select students.


Curriculum and programming

Traditional: The school district adopts curriculum based on recommendations from the Florida Department of Education. For example, the district will receive K-2 English language arts textbook recommendations from the state. The district will then seek input from teachers, staff members, families and others to determine which is best for the district and is most aligned with Florida standards.

Curriculum is set across the district’s traditional schools based on grade level.

Charter: Pistella said curriculum is one of the most flexible areas for charter schools.

“Charter schools have a lot of options to make their program different and innovative by implementing curriculum that might not be the same curriculum the district is using,” Pistella said.

He said the district has 13 charter schools, so you could easily have 13 charter schools using 13 different types of curriculum.

Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy will implement the WISH framework, which focuses on wellness, innovation, science and health.

In the charter school’s application, some of the potential wellness and health initiatives stated were wellness walks embedded in student schedules and physical education curriculum infused with stretching and yoga.

Potential innovation concepts included such programs and electives as coding for kindergarten through eighth grade, research and Capstone for sixth grade through eighth grade and pre-med electives and industry certifications for high school.

High school students could earn multiple college credits through participation in Advanced Placement courses and the Cambridge Assessment International Education program, which provides courses that are rigorous and emphasize higher-order thinking, written and oral skills, problem-solving and other skills.

Participation in these programs gives seniors an opportunity to graduate high school with 45 college credits.

Students who attend Lakewood Ranch Charter Academy could have the opportunity to participate in health- and wellness-related internships through partnerships with local health organizations.

In elementary school, there will be daily reading periods of a minimum of 90 minutes as well as daily writing periods of 30 minutes.



Both: Pistella said both traditional and charter schools receive federal, state and county funding through property taxes and grants.

Both types of schools also receive funding through the School District of Manatee County’s 1-mill property tax referendum. All except 14.5% of the funding from the millage since it passed in 2018 goes toward different aspects of education the school board designated for traditional schools. Charter schools are given 14.5%.

The charter school will operate on its own budget, independent of the district’s budget.


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