Report: School vouchers saved taxpayers $1.7 billion

vouchersavings1Private school vouchers have saved taxpayers more than $1.7 billion since 1990, with nearly half of that coming from Florida’s McKay Scholarship for students with disabilities, according to a new report by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

The School Voucher Audit by Jeff Spalding, former CFO of the City of Indianapolis, takes a sophisticated look at the fiscal impact of vouchers, considering multiple revenue sources, fixed and variable costs and policy design. It examines 10 programs that have served a total of 505,000 students from 1990-2011.

The bulk of the savings, $1.3 billion, have occurred since 2007. Excluded from this report are savings from tax credit scholarships, individual tax credits or deductions, or education savings account programs.

Florida programs had the biggest and smallest savings. The short-lived Opportunity Scholarship program, struck down in 2006 by the Florida Supreme Court, saved the state $2.9 million, while the McKay scholarship program has saved the state $836 million. The nation’s oldest voucher program, Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program, has saved Wisconsin $238 million since 1990. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, governor’s race, growth and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. The group applying for a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base withdraws its bid, again. Tampa Tribune. Tampa Bay Times. West Palm Beach officials appoint a board for a planned municipal charter school. Palm Beach Post.

Campaigns. State Rep. Erik Fresen blasts Charlie Crist’s shifting positions on school choice. Education WeekA liberal group attacks Gov. Rick Scott and other Republican governors over education funding cuts. Gradebook.

Personal learning scholarship accounts. The state Board of Education signs off on rules governing the state’s new option for special needs students. redefinEDGradebook.

Growth. Enrollment increases put class-size pressure on Volusia schools. Daytona Beach-News Journal.

Testing. Hillsborough Superintendent MaryEllen Elia warns the state Board of Education about testing issues. Tampa Bay Times.

Budgets. Brevard officials warn of school closures if a coming tax referendum fails. Florida Today.

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Florida Board of Education makes way for new special needs scholarships

The Florida Board of Education paved the way Monday for hundreds of families to start receiving money through the state’s newest educational choice program, which is aimed at students with significant special needs. Board members also said the state should try to make sure funding for the program keeps up with demand.

The board quickly signed off on rules implementing the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts program during its meeting in Tampa.

Adam Miller, who leads the Department of Education’s choice office, told the board he expects parents of about 650 students to receive funding for their accounts “within the next couple of days,” with more to follow.

So far, more than 1,000 students have been approved for the program, which is available to students with autism, Down syndrome, spina bifida and five other special needs categories. It allows parents to pay for a wide array of education-related expenses, including private school tuition, tutoring and therapies. More than 3,700 have started applications.

It’s not clear how many applicants will wind up being awarded by the program, which may still face a legal challenge from the state teachers union (though that challenge hit a roadblock last week). The amount of funding for scholarships in future years will be based in part on the number of parents who apply before March 1.

One member of the state board, Marva Johnson, said “it would be good to know, at the end of this process, if there was greater need than we have funds to support.”

Board chairman Gary Chartrand said after the meeting that if demand for the scholarships outstrips the number funded by the state, the board should be prepared to go to the Legislature and “explain the demand that was there and see if we can get the amount increased.”


Florida aims to stoke collaboration between districts, top charter schools

Florida education officials hope a new initiative will help the state attract more “high-impact” charter schools into academically struggling urban neighborhoods.

With the promise of $10 million in potential funding, the state is looking to entice six of its largest school districts to compete for grants that would help them launch partnerships with the likes of KIPP, YES Prep, or other organizations with established track records of raising achievement among disadvantaged students.

In 2010, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cut the grand-opening ribbon at KIPP Impact Middle School in Jacksonville. Officials want similar high-prof networks to expand in the state.

A new state initiative aims to open more “high-impact” charter schools aimed at high-needs areas, like KIPP Impact Middle School in Jacksonville.

“We hope that this will lead to some structural or systemic changes of how charter schools and districts can work together toward the common goal of making sure every kid has access to a great school,” said Adam Miller, who leads the school choice office at the Florida Department of Education.

So far, at least two of the state’s large urban districts have indicated they are interested, and another may join the mix before the full proposals come due next month.

State and local education officials, along with philanthropic and business groups in the state’s major cities, have sought to attract “high-impact” charter school networks to high-needs areas of Florida’s inner cities. One of their few high-profile successes to date has been an effort, backed by current Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand, to being KIPP schools to Jacksonville.

The state started seeking grant proposals over the summer from school districts that wanted to support similar efforts. The plan is backed by funding from federal Race to the Top grants and national philanthropic groups. Officials hope to amass additional funding from districts and local donors. Six districts are eligible, and under the plan, up to three could ultimately receive roughly $3 million each to support their proposals.

The outside funding boost, coupled with the fact that they’d be collaborating with districts from the outset, are intended to help overcome the barriers that have kept well-known charter networks from opening more schools in Florida. They’re intended to help charter operators get access to facilities, the ability to tap local teaching talent, and certainty that the local district will allow them to open. Districts and charters could also work together on issues like transportation and teacher training.

In a letter to the department describing its intent to apply for one of the grants, the Duval County district notes the current KIPP operation has outperformed comparable district schools with a high-poverty student population. The district indicates it would like to expand its partnership with KIPP.

“By developing or participating in joint district-charter learning communities and professional development, the sharing of ideas and strategies can improve traditional public schools and KIPP,” Duval’s letter states.

Miami-Dade officials indicated they planned to meet with KIPP leaders as well as officials with the Harlem Children’s Zone and YES Prep before crafting their proposal.

Other districts could also apply.

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Florida roundup: Campaigns, lawsuits, special needs and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. A proposed charter school at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base is expected not to be considered Tuesday as originally planned. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune. Some Lee charter applicants have ties to schools that failed in the past. Naples Daily News. Lawmakers say changes to charter laws will be on the table in the spring legislative session. Daily News.

Campaigns. Education Week looks at the education policy implications of Florida’s governor’s race, including Charlie Crist’s shifting position on tax credit scholarships. The Tampa Bay Times lambastes Gov. Rick Scott’s education record in an editorial. Floridians, including teachers and students, receive official messages from the governor that are criticized as “politicking.” Miami Herald.

Digital learning. It’s on the rise in Flagler and Volusia. Daytona Beach News-Journal. A Catholic school switches to electronic textbooks. Ocala Star-Banner.

Lawsuits. FEA’s legal setback prompts the Tampa Bay Times to dub the union “loser of the week” in Florida politics.

Special needs. When other methods fail, parents sometimes resort to social media to demand services for their special needs children. Tampa Bay Times. A Miami-Dade family sues in the wake of the death of a child with autism. Miami Herald. A student with Down Syndrome is crowned homecoming king. Palm Beach Post.

Testing. Political scientists offer differing views on what impact anti-testing fervor will have on policy. Florida Today. Senate Education Chairman John Legg says duplicative assessments should be “put out to pasture.” Miami Herald. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho talks testing on PBS Newshour.

School choice. Palm Beach school officials consider converting some campuses to K-8 to draw more students. Palm Beach Post.

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Can Florida stop bad charter schools while encouraging good ones?

Another Florida newspaper has taken a deep dive, looking at the state’s shuttered charter schools.

The good news: The four-day series by the Naples Daily News (which it wrapped up Sunday) is more thorough and balanced than other recent investigations into the dozens of charter schools that have closed in recent years.

It’s important not to lose sight of the big picture. The steady growth of enrollment in charter schools suggests demand remains strong among parents. A recent study found that, overall, Florida’s charter schools are getting comparable results for students despite receiving considerably less overall funding.

Still, the Daily News investigation zeros in on some real problems. While the closing of poorly performing charter schools can be a sign the system is working, the paper finds nearly two-thirds of the charter schools that shut down since 2008 suffered some kind of financial problems.

The schools plagued by money problems tended to be small. The paper estimates the closures of 75 schools affected more than 7,000 students, or less than 100 per school on average. It also found financial problems are less likely to sink schools run by the big, well-known charter networks.

The Daily News, along with recent events elsewhere in the state, show sudden school failures can uproot students, creating headaches for parents and school districts. Charter school advocates have warned about the problem, too. The question is what a solution should look like.

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Florida schools roundup: Lawsuits, PLSAs, testing and more

Lawsuits. writes up the latest in the legal battle over Florida’s school choice legislation.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Backers of a proposed charter at MacDill Air Force Base are waiting on the base commander to weigh in. Tampa Bay Times.

PLSA. The state Board of Education is set to approve rules for Florida’s new special needs scholarship accounts. Gradebook.

Learning. An active learner program in Pasco schools lets students shape their own lessons. Tampa Bay Times.

Testing. Gradebook catches up with the Lee County School Board member leading the charge against testing in Florida schools.

Health. Duval schools officials investigate a case of tuberculosis. Florida Times-Union.

Sunshine. The Manatee School Board faces a a transparency lawsuit over its hiring of security guards. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald.

Labor. Manatee schools plan on a 2 percent raise for support staff. Bradenton Herald. Pasco’s superintendent rejects teachers’ complaints over training time tied to professional learning communities. Tampa Bay Times.

Security. A student who brought a gun to a Duval school faces expulsion. Florida Times-Union.

Parent involvement. The Hernando school district starts a parent academy to increase involvement at Title I schools. Tampa Bay Times.