This week in school choice: Who benefits?

When new school choice options are proposed, opponents like to ask, “Who benefits?”

The answer, they like to claim, is someone other than the children the program would serve. It’s usually “the wealthy,” as was the case with the talking points rolled out this week against a proposed education tax credit in New York.

This line of attack glosses over the fact that New York’s proposal would offer tax credits of 75 cents on the dollar for every contribution, which means donors who fund scholarships would be giving up money to support education. Other states like Florida, offer dollar-for-dollar tax credits for similar programs*.

More importantly, parents and students (especially the low-income and working-class students the plan would prioritize) are all but invisible in the arguments about the program.

Both the Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Lieutenant Governor are barnstorming the state in support of the proposal. Jewish and Catholic leaders support it, as do some parents and school choice advocates. The usual suspects, of course, are up in arms.

Meanwhile… Continue Reading →


We can all learn from home schooling

home school convention

Parents and student browse curriculum in the exhibit hall at a home schooling convention in Orlando.

This weekend, thousands of families are gathered in Orlando for a yearly home schooling convention that organizers say is the largest of its kind.

The gathering, organized by the Florida Parent Educators Association, draws an estimated 17,000 attendees, including home-school parents and their children. A sizable portion come from outside the state. (It might help that Disney World is just up the road.)

It’s worth paying attention to trends in home schooling. For one thing, like other forms of educational choice, it’s growing and becoming more diverse.

It also offers lessons that, arguable more than ever, are relevant to the education system as a whole. The recent push for policies that support customized learning owes much to the home-school movement. Continue Reading →


Putting Florida’s preschool programs in perspective

One state enrolls 80 percent of its four-year-olds in publicly supported preschool programs, while spending less than $2,300 per student on average. Another spends more than $4,000 per student, but only serves 30 percent of its prekindergarten-aged children.

Which state has made a greater commitment to early learning?

Preschool funding trend graph

Funding for Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten program rose this year. Next year’s funding will likely be decided next month, when the Legislature meets for a special session.

The first would be Florida, where a nearly $400 million Voluntary Prekindergarten program is one of the most widely used forms of school choice, and serves a larger proportion of four-year-olds than its counterparts in any other state but Vermont.

The second is an imaginary state representing the national average in 2014, according to the annual State of Preschool report released earlier this month by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

The scope of Florida’s investment in preschool, mandated by a state constitutional amendment passed in 2002, would exceed the national average since it serves a larger proportion of youngsters. That point isn’t exactly emphasized in the report’s accompanying press release lamenting the level of funding in early learning programs, though it does note a funding increase approved last year is “encouraging.”

The VPK program funds scholarships, which help parents send their children to preschools of their choice. The vast majority of providers are private early learning centers.

The scholarships are considerably less than per-student funding for K-12 schools, or for other private scholarship programs. While the state mandates fewer hours of instruction for pre-k than it does in elementary schools, some advocates say increased funding could encourage more schools to participate, or to improve their existing programs. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Bankruptcy, testing, Catholic Schools and more

IMG_0001.JPGBankruptcy. Acclaim Academy, the troubled operator of shuttered charter schools, files for bankruptcy. Orlando Sentinel.

Testing. Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab skewers the state of affairs on testing. Orlando Sentinel. The state’s testing vendor says it will help with a review of its validity. Gradebook.

Lawsuits. Editorials in the Panama City News Herald and Leesburg Daily Comercial praise the recent ruling on tax credit schlarhsips.

Charter schools. A charter school network under fire in Escambia County has also come under scrutiny in Bay County. Panama City News Herald.

Longevity. Three educators at Tampa’s Jesuit High School have worked together for 44 years. Tampa Bay Times.

High achievers. Twins finish at the top of their class at a Catholic high school. Tampa Bay Times.

Attendance. Three Broward students celebrate perfect attendance for their entire school careers. Sun-Sentinel.

Mentors. Jacksonville clergy back a major mentoring initiative. Florida Times-Union.

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Setting a high bar for charter schools, without unnecessary burdens

Charter schools paperwork report cover

Charter schools were first conceived as a bargain. Teachers (or, in the case of some of Florida’s oldest and most successful charters, parents) would receive the freedom to start new schools and experiment with different educational models. In exchange, they would face greater accountability for their academic results.

That bargain is threatened by a “paperwork pileup,” a new report by the American Enterprise Institute argues. Charter schools are startup enterprises. The more hoops they have to jump through during the application process, the fewer promising new schools will be launched. Every page added to a charter school application puts those teachers or parents at a greater disadvantage.

In practice, however, the charter bargain has become fairly one-sided. Charter school authorizers often include hundreds of tasks in the application to open a charter school, creating an onerous and lengthy process that risks freezing out potential school operators. To be sure, many application tasks are well within authorizers’ rights to require, but others are unnecessary and unduly burdensome for applicants. This is a real problem for the groups of teachers that Shanker envisioned, who might lack the time or resources to tackle these outsized applications and create new educational options for students.

In short, the report focuses on what has become a timely topic in Florida: How do you set a high bar for prospective charter schools, without creating needless barriers?
Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, Pam Stewart, funding and more

IMG_0001.JPGCharter schools. A principal who helped stabilize Key West’s only charter school gets a strong evaluation. Keynoter. New charter schools aim to help relieve crowding in Orange County. Central Florida News 13.

Performance. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart draws praise from the state Board of Education in her annual evaluation. Tampa Bay Times.

Private schools. A Marion County Christian school takes a classical approach to education. Ocala Star-Banner.

Funding. The state board calls for increased public school funding and more support for school technology. WFSU. Gradebook. Gov. Rick Scott keeps banging the drum on school funding. News Service of Florida. The Hernando school board decides to hold off on planning funding cuts in case a tax referendum fails. Gradebook.

Testing. More technical glitches. Sun-Sentinel. How Pinellas schools plan to assign math grades amid confusion over end-or-course exams. Gradebook.

Safety. Lee schools investigate racially motivated threats of violence. Fort Myers News-Press. A student is arrested for bringing a gun to school. Leesburg Daily Commercial.

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Rejected Duval charter school takes its case to the state board

The Florida Board of Education this morning will hear an appeal from a charter school that was rejected by the Duval County School Board.

Sometimes state officials are confronted with tough calls, or situations where the state charter school appeals commission supports overturning the local board’s rejection of a charter application. One such case, where the Palm Beach County School Board tried to take a stand against charter school growth, is making its way through a state appeals court.

In this case, however, the Duval school board unanimously voted not to approve the proposed Arts Academy of Jacksonville Preparatory School, and the appeals commission has voted to support their decision.

District staff found the school’s application lacking or incomplete in important areas, from where it planned to recruit students to its plan for promoting academic excellence.

They also noted the operator’s president briefly ran a school that quickly shut down, early in the 2009 school year. (The school, however, contends the administrator in question has since “gained more knowledge” and “obtained more experience” that would help her run a charter school successfully.) Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Testing, taxes, charter schools and more

IMG_0001.JPGCharter schools. StateImpact explores a dropout recovery charter school in Clearwater. Lauderhill city officials tout new restrictions on private and charter schools. Lauderhill Forum. A Mavericks charter school is approved for a contract renewal in Broward. Sun-Sentinel. Charters’ impact on Duval’s district budget may be smaller than expected. Florida Times-Union.

Lawsuits. The Tampa Tribune praises a judge’s recent ruling on tax credit scholarships in an editorial. The program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

Testing. State math end-of-course exams won’t be required to factor into students’ final grades. Tampa Tribune. Orlando Sentinel. Miami-DadeBroward, Sarasota and Bay schools ease a variety of testing consequences. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel. Panama City News Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Confusion over calculators could cause hundreds more state math exams to be invalidated. Tampa Bay Times. Gradebook breaks down the expected arrival of state test results.

Closure. The Alachua County School Board votes to close a rural elementary school. Gaineville Sun. The Escambia school board votes to close two troubled charters. Pensacola News-Journal.

Taxes. If a tax referendum fails, there could be budget cuts, Hernando’s superintendent warns. Gradebook.

Budgets. Collier school board members discuss their tentative spending plans. Naples Daily News.

Morale. Teachers report the going is tough in schools with large concentrations of low-income students. Gradebook. 

Growth. County commissioners reject a planned middle school in Orange County. Orlando Sentinel. 

Continue Reading →