Duval Republicans take aim at FSBA over school choice suit

The Republican leadership in one of Florida’s biggest counties passed a resolution Monday night condemning the Florida School Boards Association and other groups for filing suit against the state’s tax credit scholarship program and potentially snuffing out academic options for nearly 70,000 low-income students.



The strongly-worded resolution by the Republican Executive Committee in Duval County, a conservative stronghold that includes the city of Jacksonville, calls on all registered Republicans to stand in opposition to the suit. It also urges those elected to serve on school boards to “take all appropriate measures to force the Florida School Boards Association to remove itself as a litigant.”

“They’re denying children an opportunity to get a good education and they’re doing it strictly for dollars,” Rick Hartley, chairman of the Republican Party of Duval County, told redefinED. “They’re fighting over dollars and they don’t care about the kids. That’s not appropriate.”

The move in Duval is the latest example of pushback following the suit’s filing on Aug. 28. Florida’s 13-year-old tax credit scholarship program is the largest private school choice program in the nation, with 67,000 students enrolled this fall, nearly 70 percent of them black or Hispanic. Evidence shows the students tended to be the lowest performers in the public schools they left behind.

In the suit’s aftermath, state Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, a key education leader with a reputation for listening to all sides, declined to accept the FSBA’s “Legislator of the Year” award; state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, a moderate with close ties to teachers unions, expressed concern about the potential displacement of low-income students; and a handful of local school board members around the state penned newspaper op-eds denouncing it.

Duval isn’t the only county where Republican leaders are taking action. Last week, the executive board of the REC in neighboring, suburban Clay County passed a similar resolution, which will go before the full membership next week. Leslie Dougher, who heads the Clay REC, is also chairwoman of the Republican Party of Florida. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Testing, tax credit scholarships, Satanists & more

Charter schools. The Plato Academy charter schools in Pinellas are academically knocking it out of the park. Tampa Tribune.

florida-roundup-logoTax credit scholarships. Senate President Don Gaetz, who pushed for stronger accountability and transparency in the program, says in an op-ed that as a former school board member he is “ashamed” of the Florida School Boards Association suit against tax credit scholarships. Northwest Florida Daily News. “An end-run around the will of the people,” writes Walt Gardner in Edweek. Howard Fuller’s call for the fight in Florida to go national gets some ink on Gradebook. Whitney Tilson says its sad to see Charlie Crist sell out Florida kids.

Common Core. Jeb Bush directs criticism to President Obama. Washington Post.

Satanists. They’ll be handing out material in Orange County public schools this year. Orlando Sentinel.

Testing. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart drops a requirement for FAIR testing for students in K-2 after an Alachua County kindergarten teacher refuses to administer it. Tampa Bay Times. Miami HeraldGainesville Sun. Florida TodayAnswer Sheet. Continue Reading →


Don Gaetz: I’m ashamed of FSBA for filing anti-school choice suit

Sen. Don Gaetz

Sen. Don Gaetz

Add Florida Senate President Don Gaetz to the list of legislative leaders who are stepping up criticism of the Florida School Boards Association for filing suit against the state’s tax credit scholarship program, and potentially forcing 60,000-plus low-income students back into public schools.

During last spring’s legislative session, Gaetz was among the program’s toughest critics, initially pushing for scholarship students to take the same standardized tests as their public school peers and insisting on more oversight for scholarship funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

But in an op-ed over the weekend for the Northwest Florida Daily News, his hometown newspaper, Gaetz takes even stronger aim at the FSBA for attacking a “a national model  of voluntary school choice” that “gives lower-income children what we all want for our children – a chance to learn and succeed.”

“This is what angers the plaintiffs in this lawsuit the most,” he wrote, “that families are in charge of their own children, that caring parents willing to make sacrifices can choose their children’s schools and, most troublesome of all, that resources follow not the needs of educrats but the interests of children.”

Florida’s 13-year-old tax credit scholarship program is the largest private school choice program in the country, with more than 67,000 students enrolled this fall, nearly 70 percent black or Hispanic. The FSBA, Florida Education Association, Florida PTA and other groups filed suit against it on Aug. 28, sparking fear among scholarship parents and outrage from school choice supporters throughout Florida and beyond.

In his op-ed, Gaetz noted the oversight changes made to the program in SB 850, which the Legislature passed last spring, and the financial repercussions if scholarship students are “forced back into traditional public schools at twice the cost to taxpayers.” He also noted that, “As a former school board member, I’m ashamed of the Florida School Boards Association.” Read his full op-ed here.


Howard Fuller: Parental choice fight in Florida is national issue

If its import wasn’t apparent already, parental choice leader Howard Fuller said Florida should be a national battleground after the Florida School Boards Association, Florida Education Association and other groups filed suit Aug. 28 to kill the nation’s largest private school choice program.

“First off, we got to fight, and we need to make Florida a national issue,” Fuller, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, told redefinED this week. “It isn’t just a Florida issue. It has to be a national issue, for all of us who care, not just about parental choice as a policy, but care about 70,000 poor kids not having the opportunity to go to the schools of their choice. So we need to become very focused on that.”

The suit is targeting the 13-year-old tax credit scholarship program, which is serving more than 67,000 students this fall. All are low-income, and nearly 70 percent are black or Hispanic. The program is administered by scholarships funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

Fuller said the suit should be a lesson to school choice supporters that they must be ever vigilant.

“They just told us, we don’t care. We don’t care. And we’re going to continue to try to protect our power,” he said, referring to the plaintiffs. Continue Reading →


FL roundup: Charter schools, Common Core, Crist v. Scott & more

Charter schools. The Naples Daily News takes a closer look at the 269 charter schools that have closed since Florida opened the door to charters in 1996. The Associated Press picks up the story.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools. It’s time for action on poor-performing charter schools in the Broward County School District. South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Career academies. The Lee County School District will beef up its career education programs under a partnership with Ford Motor Company’s Next Generation Learning program. Fort Myers News Press.

School choice. Pinellas public school enrollment increases for the first time in a decade, as charter schools gain more ground and the district, after adding new choice programs, mitigates its losses. Tampa Bay Times. (Enrollment is up in the Leon County School District too. Tallahassee Democrat.)

Crist v. Scott. The Wall Street Journal rips into Charlie Crist for not denouncing the suit to kill the tax credit scholarships. By not denouncing the suit, Charlie Crist may have alienated black voters and cost himself the election. Tampa Tribune. Both pro- and anti- school choice forces are making big contributions. Sarasota Herald Tribune.

More school choice politics? The state NAACP moves to shut down the St. Petersburg branch, headed by Rev. Manuel Sykes, who happens to be at odds with the state chapter over school choice. Tampa Bay Times.

Standardized testing. Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano says there’s too much of it. So do some teachers and parents in Brevard. Florida Today. Despite testing angst, the Lee County School District continues to roll out the new state standards. Fort Myers News Press.

Common Core. A look at how it is changing kindergarten. Sarasota Herald Tribune.

Parents. The Alachua County School District wants to see more dads involved in their kids’ education. Gainesville Sun. Continue Reading →


Could new rules help FL bring quality charter schools to high-need areas?

Some of Florida’s top policymakers have for the past few years been looking for ways to attract more high-performing charter school operators to the state’s inner cities. But apart from KIPP Jacksonville and a few newcomers like the SEED School of Miami, they have few high-profile efforts to point to. And attempts to change state law to help recruit well-regarded operators have faltered in the Legislature.

Rep. Adkins

Rep. Adkins

Now one of the top state lawmakers on education policy, Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, says she wants lawmakers to try a different approach next year.

The state creates special provisions for charter schools designated “high-performing.” Why not do something similar for charters that want to open in “high-needs” areas, helping them with issues from accountability to financing for their buildings?

“We need to have a whole new set of criteria,” said Adkins, who currently chairs the House subcommittee dealing with K-12 policy. “I’m envisioning a whole new set of statutes dealing with high needs.”

The idea came up during a recent gathering of charter school and district officials in Fort Lauderdale. Richard Moreno, who works with organizations that provide financing and other business services to charter schools, said one major barrier keeping organizations like KIPP and Uncommon Schools from Florida is the state’s stringent “double-F” rule.

State law requires most charter schools that earn F’s two years in a row to close. As a result, Moreno said, philanthropists and well-known charter organizations run a risk that they could sink resources into an area with high need, only to see their school shut down a few years later. “They’re not touching Florida because of this,” he said.

Adkins said she wants the state to emphasize learning gains when holding these new high-needs schools accountable so they aren’t penalized for taking on low-proficiency students and/or ensnared by the double F rule. But right now, she said, proposals are in the “idea stage” and details would still need to be worked out.

Robert Runcie, the schools superintendent in Broward County, said he could envision school districts and other community groups vetting competing proposals from charter operators looking to move into struggling schools, creating “a very structured way of bringing a high-quality solution into a community.” Continue Reading →


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Is it 1952 in St. Louis?

MrGibbonsReportCardRex Sinquefield and the Children’s Education Alliance

Progressives in Missouri criticized Rex Sinquefield for conspiracy theories about public schools, spending millions on campaigns supporting private school choice and for donations to ALEC, but they remain oddly silent about the way he, and the organizations he backs, are spending money right now.

Before we discuss these latest expenditures, a little history is in order.

Last year, over 1,000 students (about one of every four) in the mostly low-income, minority Normandy School District transferred out thanks to a law that allowed students in low-performing districts to enroll in higher-performing districts. As a result of all the transfers, Normandy faced bankruptcy and was taken over by the state. The Missouri Board of Education voided the district’s low-performing status and revoked the right to transfer. Fortunately, a judge recently overturned the Board’s new rule.

Normandy students

Now Normandy must allow students to transfer and every district, except for the mostly white and affluent Francis-Howell School District, agreed to comply. Francis-Howell said they would only accept transfer students upon direct court order.

In other words, officials in the mostly white affluent district told low-income minority parents they needed to hire a lawyer if they wanted their child enrolled. Fortunately, Rex Sinquefield’s Children’s Education Alliance is covering the legal expenses of any Normandy parent who wants to do that.

So far, the attorney for the alliance has enrolled 17 students in Francis-Howell and is requesting court orders for another 35. Francis-Howell, meanwhile, has spent $17,000 trying to keep the students out.

Grade: Satisfactory

Continue Reading →


FL schools roundup: Charter schools, Charlie Crist, FL’s progress & more

Tax credit scholarships. Creative Loafing gives Charlie Crist’s “evolution” on tax credit scholarships some ink after the Miami Herald story about his refusal to denounce the FSBA/FEA suit to kill them.

florida-roundup-logoSchool choice. Private schools still serve the public good, writes William Mattox of the James Madison Institute, in an op-ed for Hernando Today. Watchdog.org notes that Fund Education Now’s Kathleen Oropeza filed a motion to have the judge in the adequacy/funding/choice suit recuse herself because of Catholic ties, but doesn’t note the judge granted the request.

Charter schools. The state Board of Education is moving ahead with creation of standard contracts for charter schools. Gradebook. Things are quiet in the simmering dispute between the Hillsborough County School District and Charter Schools USA. Gradebook. Duval County School Board members raise concerns about the performance of schools serving at-risk students, including several charter schools. WJCT.

Florida’s progress. Florida gets A’s in 3 of 11 categories in a new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – in parental options, data quality and academic achievement for low-income and minority students.

School spending. StateImpact Florida writes up concerns that black-owned businesses aren’t getting their fair share of contracts from the Miami-Dade County School District.

Testing. The Alachua County superintendent offers qualified support for the kindergarten teacher who refuses to administer a standardized test for diagnostic purposes. Gainesville Sun.

Teachers. Tension continues between the Pasco district and teachers union over planning time. Tampa Bay Times.

9/11. Middle school students in Manatee learn about victim advocate dogs. Bradenton Herald.