When celebrating and debating school choice, we need to think globally

Editor’s note: Shortly before the start of National School Choice Week, which runs through this weekend, a group of school choice researchers, advocates and practitioners met in Fort Lauderdale for the Fourth International Conference on School Choice and Reform. We provided some coverage of the proceedings, but didn’t really capture the global scope of the event. As Americans celebrate school choice, Judith S. Stein, known as “Grandma Choice” and one of the organizers of the conference, writes that the event should serve as a reminder that school choice is practiced, studied and debated all over the world.

Stein headshot

Stein

Rodrigo Sanchez Queiroz e Melo is a teacher at a private school in Portugal. His organization is the (get ready) Associacao de Estabelecimentos de Ensino Particular e Cooperativo (an organization for cooperation among private schools). Every year he packs his “school choice scarf”—Portugal-style — and heads across the ocean to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for an event which happens a week or so before the more-famous National School Choice Week.

Liesbeth Van Welie, a former schools inspector from the Netherlands, comes to Florida to listen to the presenters after serving as an astute reviewer of the research proposals which come in every year from all over the world. Zdenko Kodelja, of an Educational Research Institute in Slovenia, prepares to speak on “the right to a freely chosen education.” His country, which a generation ago was under Soviet domination, is now offering the freedom of education to its children.

The annual International Conference on School Choice and Reform presents policy studies and intellectual heft that can inform school choice advocacy: How is it working? How could it work better? The event’s global perspective belies the idea that school choice is a political football which has more to do with politics than with students and schools.

Attendees from Estonia, Brazil, Sweden, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, South Africa, Canada and the United States come each year to present their findings on school choice. These countries and many others have school choice programs where the government funds school choice for parents and children—some through tax credits, some through direct public funding, and in many countries, also supporting religious schools.

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Florida schools roundup: Budgets, testing, Catholic schools and more

florida-roundup-logoBudgets. Gov. Rick Scott pitches a $77 billion spending plan that would increase funding for public schools. Times/Herald. Scripps/Tribune. Associated Press. Florida Times-Union. He wants facilities funding to flow to charter schools that open in academically struggling areas. redefinED.

Catholic schools. School choice programs have allowed Catholic schools to reach out to new communities of disadvantaged students, and helped more families afford Catholic education. Florida Catholic. National Catholic Register.

Charter schools. A South Florida city places a moratorium on new charters. Sun-Sentinel.

School choice. Parents want more of it, Frank Biden writes in the Tampa Tribune. The Palm Beach Post looks at the local school district’s most exclusive choice programs.

Testing. State Sen. Bill Montford, who also leads the state superintendents association, is drafting testing legislation. Gradebook. Some parents say they will keep opting their students out of state testing even if there’s no legal basis for it. WFSU.

Superintendents. Palm Beach Schools look for firms to manage the hunt for a new leader. Sun-Sentinel. The Hillsborough school district is poised to do the same. Tampa Bay Times. Volusia’s outgoing superintendent answers critics. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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Scott budget: Reserve facilities funding for charter schools in struggling areas

Gov. Scott

Gov. Scott

Gov. Rick Scott this morning rolled out a $77 billion spending proposal that, as he previously announced, would increase funding for public schools, boost funding for Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts and set aside $100 million for charter school facilities.

Under the governor’s plan, that charter school funding would come with some additional requirements.

To qualify for state capital funding, new charter schools would have to be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, obtain a surety bond to ensure they’re on firm financial ground, and “be established primarily to serve students in the attendance zone of a school” that is struggling academically, to the point that it requires state intervention.

The schools would also have to receive a school grade from the state.

The requirements are contained in the proviso language, or fine print, of Scott’s budget proposal, which can be found here. They would only apply to charter schools authorized after July 2015 that seek state capital funding.

Scott has floated similar ideas in past budget announcements,and said he wants new charter schools to “go where the needs are.” So far, however, such requirements haven’t made their way into the final budgets approved by the Legislature.

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How advocates think Florida could improve its charter school law

charter school laws report coverFlorida continues to score well in an annual ranking of charter school laws in states around the country. It keeps its eighth-in-the-nation ranking in the latest analysis of state charter school laws released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and its score remains the same after a year in which state charter laws didn’t see major changes.

The state gets high marks for not placing caps on the number of charter schools allowed. It also scores well for balancing autonomy and accountability, and for having an appeals process for schools whose applications are rejected.

The report notes two areas where Florida could improve its standing: Funding equity, and authorizer accountability. Constitutional and funding constraints mean making improvements in those areas could require some creativity.

The issue of accountability for charter school authorizers has also been raised by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a group aiming to improve the quality of charter schools.

The trouble in Florida is that school districts are, by and large, the only game in town when it comes to authorizing (a handful of charter schools are authorized by universities). The state constitution gives school boards the authority to regulate all public schools within their districts, making it harder to create alternative authorizers such as a board run by the state.

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Florida roundup: Charter schools, state chiefs, school boards and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Florida gets good marks for its charter school policies (and its teacher pension system). Gradebook. Charter Schools USA is growing as a company. Sun-Sentinel.

State chiefs. Turnover is on the rise at the top of state education departments around the country, and Florida has recently been no exception. Education Week.

School choice. The Daily Caller and Watchdog.org take new looks at Florida’s most recent school choice legislation and programs. Naples celebrates School Choice Week. Naples Daily News.

Testing. Opting out is not an option in Florida. Florida Today. The Pinellas school board joins the chorus calling for state testing changes. Tampa Bay Times.

Finance. The Lee County School Board plans a tax referendum to finance the construction of new schools. Fort Myers News-Press. The Broward school board approves a panel to oversee spending of the proceeds of a bond referendum. Sun-Sentinel.  Polk’s bond rating improves. Lakeland Ledger.

Special needs. Specialized library programs help children with autism. Orlando Sentinel.

Superintendents. The Palm Beach superintendent saga continues, as Wayne Gent is named a finalist for the top job in a nearby district. Palm Beach Post. More from the Post here and here. Volusia’s superintendent retires ahead of schedule. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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Making sense of Florida’s charter school growth as enrollment passes 250,000

This year, more than 250,000 Florida students are attending charter schools. They now enroll more than one every 11 public-school students in the state. If Florida’s charter schools were counted together as a school district, it would be the third-largest in the state and among the 10 largest in the country.

The growth of Florida’s charter schools has been so rapid that this year, even as their enrollment has increases by 21,000 students (from 229,428 the year before), it may in some ways be leveling off.

Data from the Department of Education’s fall enrollment survey show charter school enrollment increasing by 9 percent this year. That means the 2014-15 school year could be the first since 2007-08 that Florida’s charter school enrollment did not grow by double-digit percentage points.

Over the past five years, the number of students enrolled in Florida’s charter schools has risen by about 113,000 students. Enrollment in all public schools has increased by 122,000 students during that time (based on state membership data) — meaning that since the state has emerged from the Great Recession, charters have accounted for nearly all the total growth in public schools.

Charter public enrollment graph

Over the past five years, charter school growth has largely eclipsed the growth of public schools overall (which also includes charter schools).

As the graph above shows, this is the first school year in that period when the growth of public schools overall significantly exceeded that of charter schools.

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Florida roundup: Superintendents, STEM, school recognition and more

florida-roundup-logoSuperintendents. It’s not elected-vs-appointed that matters; it’s the quality of leadership, state Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, writes in the Pensacola News-Journal.  Palm Beach school board members are incensed that their superintendent is job-hunting in nearby districts. Palm Beach Post.  Duval Superintedent Nikolai Vitti gives the school board his self-evaluation. Florida Times-Union. Volusia’s superintendent is expected to resign tonight. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Testing. Florida students cannot legally opt out of standardized testing. Orlando Sentinel.

STEM. A Central Florida private school students wins recognition for science research. Orlando Sentinel. Gov. Rick Scott promotes STEM programs in the Panhandle. Pensacola News-Journal.

School recognition. Marion schools receive their share of state school recognition funding. Ocala Star-Banner.

PLSAs. Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts helped a fifth grader with special needs achieve independence, his mother writes on the EdFly. The program is administered by organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post.

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Florida’s school choice bottom line: 1.5 million students

To comprehend the pace at which Florida parents are choosing education options for their children, look no further than charter schools. In the past two years, charter enrollment increased by 49,116 while total public school enrollment went up by only 2,096.

Put another way, in 2013-14, one in every 12 students attended a charter school – a form of education that, in Florida, is still just a teenager.

national school choice weekCharter schools are only one part of the annual statistical sheet that breaks down Florida’s educational choice “landscape.” The new 2013-14 version speaks to why National School Choice Week chose to kick off activities this year in the Sunshine State.

The bottom line, though not greatly different than last year, is still jaw-dropping: Last year, 1,479,685 preK-12 students chose something other than their traditional district-assigned school – 42 percent of all students.

That speaks to a new normal in public education.

The choice landscape sheet is built with state Department of Education data parsed by the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice in partnership with Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. The state tracks a wide assortment of educational options in the 67 school districts.

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