Districts: Why wait for quality charter schools to come to us?

Competitive grants are prompting some of Florida’s urban school districts to take a new approach to charter schools. Rather than wait for charter schools to come to them with applications, they’re in a position to actively recruit them.

Take, for example, Hillsborough, which is one of the four districts to apply for charter collaboration grants through the state Department of Education.

The district’s request for $3.3 million in grant funding notes that typically, its staff vets applications from charters that chose to apply, and makes recommendations to the school board, which decides to approve the school or reject it.

“This random process of solicitation by a charter school does not always meet the needs of the students in the district,” its application states. “HCPS needs a proactive process to bring charter schools to the district and enhance capacity to support and monitor positive student outcomes.”

Hillsobrough’s plan starts with identifying neighborhoods with high academic needs, which are closely tied to poverty. In its application, the district notes that 43 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches score proficient on the FCAT, compared to 76 percent of students who don’t.

The district, Florida’s third largest, says it plans a competitive process where different charter operators will submit proposals for schools that would operate in those neighborhoods. It would help them open schools aimed at helping the district’s more than 2,000 over-age middle schoolers, many of whom are concentrated in high-poverty areas of Tampa.

Once the charter operators are chosen, the district plans to use the grant funding to help the new schools get off the ground – something it says it does not have the resources to do on its own – and to help them find suitable facilities.

Proposals from the state’s two largest districts, Broward and Miami-Dade, also describe plans to solicit proposals from charter organizations with proven track records, which would open schools in some of their most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Both districts say they plan to work with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to develop a competitive selection process.

“This grant gives the District an opportunity, for the first time, to actively solicit proven high-impact charter school operators to serve the District’s students,” Broward’s application states.

The fourth district to submit a proposal, Duval County, has plans to work with KIPP on an expansion of its Jacksonville schools.

State education officials are vetting the districts’ proposals to decide which ones will receive grant funding.

Check out the grant applications below:

Broward

Miami-Dade

Duval

Hillsborough

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Florida roundup: Lawsuits, charter schools, Common Core and more

florida-roundup-logoLawsuits. WFSU looks at the latest developments in Florida’s school choice lawsuits and the drop-the-suit campaign.

Charter schools. A new Pasco charter school focuses on teaching classics. Tampa Bay Times. A charter school faces criticism for not giving teachers money earmarked for pay raises. Sun-Sentinel.

Common Core. A state Senator asks his local school board to resist implementation of the standards. Leesburg Daily Comercial.

Testing. The Orlando Sentinel goes deep on the anti-testing backlash. Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab weighs in. Miami-Dade schools pare back some assessments in response to recent outcry. Miami Herald. The Marion County School Board pushes back against state testing requirements. Ocala Star-Banner.

Campaigns. A mysterious outside group pours money into a Sarasota school board race. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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Former school choice scholarship student tells success story in WSJ

Denisha Merriweather

Denisha Merriweather

Switching to a different school didn’t just make dreams come true, “it allowed me to have dreams I didn’t know I could have,” writes a former school choice scholarship student in an op-ed published today in the Wall Street Journal.

Denisha Merriweather of Jacksonville, Fla., says by fourth grade, she disliked school so much she thought she’d eventually drop out. But at the urging of her godmother, and help from a tax credit scholarship for low-income students, she enrolled in a private school, graduated with honors and became the first member of her family to attend college. A few months ago, she earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary social science and is now headed to graduate school.

“This didn’t happen by chance, or by hard work alone,” she writes. “It happened because I was given an opportunity.”

Merriweather’s piece notes the lawsuit that the Florida teachers union, Florida School Boards Association and other groups filed Aug. 28 to end the 13-year-old scholarship program, which is administered by non-profits like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. The program serves nearly 70,000 students this fall, more than two thirds of them black or Hispanic.

Merriweather is also featured in a new TV ad, paid for the Black Alliance for Educational Options, which encourages the teachers union and school boards association to drop the lawsuit. In the Wall Street Journal, she said she hopes people who care about disadvantaged children pause to hear stories like hers. Read the full op-ed on the Wall Street Journal here.

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Charter school authorizers wrap up gathering in Miami

NACSA logoState and district education officials are heading back from Miami, where the National Association of Charter School Authorizers is wrapping up its annual conference.

The group represents the school districts, nonprofits and other organizations that sponsor and regulate charter schools.

Improving charter school authorizing might not pack as much sizzle as other education policy issues, but it’s getting increased attention from people who want to improve the quality of the education system as a whole. And it’s definitely relevant to Florida’s debates over charter school accountability.

In Florida, authorizers are basically synonymous with school districts, but other states allow nonprofit organizations to sponsor charters, and 17 states have active, statewide charter school authorizing bodies.

Creating a statewide charter school authorizer is part of NACSA’s recently released package of policy recommendations. The goal, according to the group, is to give charters at least two potential authorizers to choose from in each jurisdiction. Courts, however, have blocked efforts to create a statewide authorizing body in Florida.

The authorizers group also recommends setting a floor for charter performance by automatically closing charters that fail to meet minimum academic standards. Florida, which requires most charter schools to close if they receive two F’s in a row, is one of just seven states with “default closure” provisions on the books – a topic covered in this Education Week dispatch from the NACSA conference.

The group’s policy brief recommends creating exceptions to the automatic closure rule for some schools that cater to struggling students.

It also recommends creating standards for schools looking to have their charters renewed, and setting accountability standards for authorizers themselves. The full set of policy papers can be found here.

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Florida roundup: Lawsuits, charter schools, Teach for America and more

florida-roundup-logoTax credit scholarships. A recent college graduate explains in a Wall Street Journal column how the program helped her get back on track. More from StateImpact.

Lawsuits. Florida’s teachers union revives its lawsuit challenging Florida school choice legislation. redefinED. News Service of FloridaAssociated PressMiami HeraldGradebook.

Charter schools. The Sun-Sentinel highlights a spate of recent charter closures in South Florida. The mayor of West Palm Beach says backers of a municipal charter plan to “regroup” after the plan foundered this year. Palm Beach Post. The Duval school board may be poised to reject half a dozen charter applications. Florida Times-Union.

Teach for America. A study of Duval schools shows Teach for America recruits perform well compared to their traditionally certified peers. Florida Times-Union.

Truancy. Some of the 18 parents arrested in a Jacksonville truancy sweep say there were legitimate reasons their kids missed school. Florida Times-Union.

Campaigns. The Palm Beach school board invites gubernatorial candidates to hear parents’ testing concerns. Palm Beach Post. The Tampa Tribune profiles a Hillsborough school board race.

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Teachers union rekindles legal challenge of Florida school choice law

A lawsuit challenging Florida school choice legislation will continue, as Florida’s statewide teachers union has reworked its legal arguments and added public-school parents as plaintiffs.

The union filed an amended legal complaint Tuesday in Leon County Court, revamping its challenge of the law creating new Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts for disabled students and expanding access to tax credit scholarships.

The Florida Education Association argues lawmakers improperly combined too many unrelated provisions into a wide-ranging piece of education legislation on the last day of the legislative session.

A Tallahassee judge dismissed the case, deciding the plaintiffs could not show they were harmed by the legislation. They had a Wednesday deadline to rework their lawsuit to show they had standing to challenge the law.

Three public school parents have joined a history teacher from Southwest Florida as plaintiffs, arguing they are “threatened with injury” by the provisions of Senate bill 850, including the expansion of the tax credit scholarship program.

“The significant expansion of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program … will result in additional funds being diverted from the public schools (including from the Miami-Dade County Public Schools and the Lee County Public Schools) to private schools, thus further undermining the quality of education” in the public schools, the union’s lawyers argue in an updated legal filing.

The legislation, passed this spring and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, did not raise the cap on the amount of funding that could flow to tax credit scholarships. It did expand the pool of children who would be eligible, by increasing access for foster children and allowing families with higher incomes to qualify for partial scholarships.

Studies of the financial impact of the tax credit scholarship program have consistently found the program generates savings for the state.

The program is administered by scholarship funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

Coverage elsewhere:

Miami Herald

Gradebook

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Longtime Florida school boards leader announces retirement

Blanton

Blanton

From the News Service of Florida:

The head of the Florida School Boards Association is stepping down in February.

Wayne Blanton, who will have served as executive director of the organization for 30 years when he retires and who worked for the association for 10 years before that, told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday that he’s decided it’s time.

“Forty years is a long time to do the same thing,” said Blanton, 68. He said he will continue working on education issues and will do some consulting work, but not full-time.

“I’m retiring, but not disappearing,” Blanton said.

The association represents school boards before the Legislature, state agencies and the federal government.

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Rural charter schools only part of the solution

A couple education policy wonks have weighed in on whether rural charter schools help improve the education options in rural communities. Do they create welcome alternatives to district schools, or do they dilute already thinly spread resources?

Florida’s experience suggests the answer is: It depends.

Matt Richmond recently wrote that while charter schools might provide students better options in urban school systems, the opposite may be true in rural communities, which “have a much harder time attracting the kind of resources necessary to benefit from increased ‘choice.’”

Often times, a decreased government presence means fewer good choices and a decrease in quality of (affordable) options. In these cases, the market does not improve the situation; it only makes things worse. Consider rural school districts today: Many are faced with small (and shrinking) budgets, have a difficult time attracting and retaining quality staff, are burdened with large transportation costs, and have very little support from community organizations. Their largest challenges are tied to lack of connectedness to resources and economies of scale. Reducing the government’s role and introducing competition to that environment will only exacerbate current problems.

As Andrew Rotherham noted in a more recent response, the biggest challenges in rural districts tend to be issues of capacity.

One can argue that rather than more charters, what we have in rural education is too many charter-like schools now. Because of aspects of policy and benign neglect many rural schools enjoy a fairly high degree of flexibility, and by necessity autonomy, today.  Bootstrapping is common because there is more work than personnel to do it. So while the best charter schools increasingly leverage the power of network – basically becoming high-performing but not geographically contiguous school districts – rural schools are left on their own. It’s the romantic ideal of American education and it doesn’t work very well in too many cases.

That’s why a theory of action that posits that what these schools and communities need is more autonomy and flexibility raises some questions.

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