IMMOKALEE – Florida’s State Board of Education on May 11 designated Immokalee-based RCMA as a “School of Hope” charter school operator. RCMA is just the sixth such operator since the program began in 2017 to encourage development of publicly-funded, privately-run charter schools in neighborhoods where a traditional public school has been persistently low-performing and/or is within a Florida Opportunity Zone. The designation makes RCMA eligible for state funds and low-interest loans as the 57-year-old nonprofit organization expands its charter school operations.
“We were founded in 1965 near Miami to provide safe, quality child care to migrant families,” says RCMA Executive Director Isabel Garcia. “Today, we are Florida’s largest nonprofit provider of early childhood education and a nationally recognized charter school operator. As a School of Hope operator, we can now help even more students from rural, low-income families achieve academic parity and pursue their dreams.”
RCMA has 65 child development centers and two charter schools in 21 Florida counties that provide a bilingual, bicultural curriculum to more than 5,500 children annually. The organization has a $98 million budget, a staff of 1,600 employees and more than 50,000 alumni.
In 2000, RCMA opened Immokalee Community Academy (ICA) and Wimauma Community Academy (WCA). ICA is currently K-7 but is expanding to K-8 for the 2022-2023 school year. WCA is already K-8.
RCMA plans to open the K-8 Mulberry Community Academy for the 2023-2024 school year followed by another K-8 school in Immokalee and a K-8 school in Miami-Dade County.
Earlier this year, the Charter School Growth Fund, the largest funder of high performing charter schools in the country, pledged a $1.275 million investment over four years to help RCMA expand its schools.
“RCMA’s work within its communities is impressive, inspiring, and a model for others,” said Charter School Growth Fund President Darryl Cobb. “We are excited to support RCMA as it embarks upon a new chapter in its growth. We are humbled by their leadership, their outstanding commitment to families and students and look forward to being partners as they expand their presence and impact.”
A School of Hope operator must be a nonprofit organization that operates three or more charter schools and has a record of serving students from low-income families. Its students must exceed district and state averages; at least 70 percent of students must be eligible for a free or reduced price lunch under the National School Lunch Act; the operator has audited financial statements without any issues; and it meets other outcome measures.
According to the state, a School of Hope operator is eligible to receive funds for the following expenditures:
1. Preparing teachers, school leaders, and specialized instructional support personnel, including costs associated with:
a. Providing professional development.
b. Hiring and compensating teachers, school leaders, and specialized instructional support personnel for services until the school reaches full enrollment in accordance with a performance-based agreement.
2. Acquiring supplies, training, equipment, and educational materials, including developing and acquiring instructional materials.
3. Providing one-time startup costs associated with providing transportation to students to and from the charter school.
4. Carrying out community engagement activities, which may include paying the cost of student and staff recruitment.
5. Providing funds to cover the nonvoted ad valorem millage that would otherwise be required for schools and the required local effort funds calculated pursuant to s. 1011.62 when the state board enters into an agreement with a hope operator.
6. Providing funds for the initial leasing costs of a school facility in the event the department determines that a suitable district-owned facility is unavailable or not leased in a timely manner.
The other five Florida designated hope operators are: Mater Academy, Democracy Prep Public Schools, Inc., IDEA Public Schools, KIPP New Jersey, and Somerset Academy, Inc.
Learn more about RCMA at rcma.org