Florida wants pre-K out of expanded schools lawsuit

The state of Florida is asking a judge to dismiss an attempt to include the state’s preschool program in a lawsuit challenging multiple aspects of its K-12 system.

The groups suing the state over education funding and other issues widened the five-year-old lawsuit in late May, adding new arguments about charter schools, McKay scholarships, and tax credit scholarships. They also added a new argument that the state’s preschoolers do not have access to a “high quality pre-kindergarten learning opportunity” required in the state’s constitution.

Lawyers for the state argued in court papers filed last week that the pre-K claims raise an issue outside the scope of the original lawsuit, and deal with a separate provision of the state constitution, approved by voters in 2002, that led to the creation of Florida’s Voluntary Pre-K program. They said if someone wants to take the state to court over its early learning system, they should do so in a separate suit.

“The new claims regarding Florida’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program do not involve facts or law in common with the current case,” their motion says. “The voluntary pre-kindergarten program arises under a different constitutional provision from the K-12 public education system with a different structure and different constitutional standards.”

They also say none of the plaintiffs, who include public school students and several persistent critics of Florida’s education policies, has direct ties to the state’s Pre-K system.

The K-12 portion of the case deals with issues from funding and standardized testing to student safety and school choice. All of those arguments could technically center on a provision of the state constitution requiring a “uniform” and “adequate” K-12 public education system.

The state’s lawyers say arguments on those issues are expected to last four to six weeks when the case comes before a Leon County judge more than a year from now. Adding Pre-K to the mix, they write, could drag the case out even longer.


Florida roundup: Charter schools, budgets, school choice and more

Charter schools. Renaissance Charter Schools will be able to open up to three new schools in the Orlando area in the coming years after reaching an agreement with the Orange County district. Orlando Sentinel.

School choice. From charter schools to career academies, new programs await Palm Beach County students in the upcoming school year. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoBudgets. The Pinellas spending plan would add choice programs. Tampa Bay Times. The district gives area superintendents control of a new capital fund. Times. Lee schools plan to tighten spending. Fort Myers News-Press. Hernando school board members look for ways to trim spending or add revenue. Tampa Bay Times. More local budget coverage from the Sun-SentinelNorthwest Florida Daily News. Lakeland Ledger. Naples Daily News. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Ocala Star-Banner. Tallahassee Democrat.

Special needs. Broward schools look to improve ESE services in the wake of a critical report. Sun-Sentinel.

Virtual education. Florida Virtual School adds flexibility to its requirements for collaborative student projects. Gradebook.

Race. Hillsborough officials look to tackle racial disparities in academic outcomes and discipline. Tampa Bay Times.

Campaigns. The Times profiles another Pinellas school board race. Two Lee school board incumbents trail challengers in the money race. Naples Daily News. The Daily News also looks at Collier fundraising.

Continue Reading →


Florida launches K-12 online course catalog

Florida students now have a tool that allows them to shop around for different courses.

Legislation passed last year broke down several barriers in virtual education. It allowed students enrolled in one school district to take virtual courses offered in another. It also laid the groundwork for a course choice program that’s slated to come online during the 2015-16 school year, and it required the state Department of Education to create a directory to help students the navigate new options.

The online course catalog is now public, as Education Pam Stewart announced Friday in a memo to school districts, and can be found here.

“As Florida continues to lead the nation in school choice, we are excited for students to access the informational catalog and choose courses that will benefit their educational experience,” Stewart wrote in her memo.

Last year’s law change means a student enrolled in Osceola County can sign up for virtual courses offered in Orange or Okaloosa Counties, in addition to the statewide offerings of Florida Virtual School. The catalog combines the course offerings of Florida Virtual School, district virtual instruction programs and other digital courses developed by districts. If the Florida Approved Courses and Tests Initiative launches as expected, those new offerings will also be available in the catalog, saving students the need to navigate dozens of different provider websites.

So far, most of the courses districts have added to the catalog are either built around the Florida Virtual School curriculum or offered by state-approved virtual education providers like K12 and Edgenuity.

Most districts have yet to add their courses to the catalog, but they have a financial incentive to do so. If students successfully complete a virtual education course, the district that offered the course can receive the associated funding, regardless of where students are enrolled for their remaining courses. So if the Osceola County student takes six courses at a traditional campus and completes a seventh through Orange’s virtual program, the two districts would split the funding proportionally.

The catalog also includes a feedback system that allows students to rate their courses with up to five stars, giving districts and other providers another way to compete for students and the funding that can follow them into online courses.


Florida roundup: Charter schools, private schools, budgets and more

Charter schools. City officials in West Palm Beach are looking for an operator to run a planned municipal charter. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools. The superintendent of Warner Christian Academy responds to recent coverage in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Budgets. Property tax rates are expected to fall in Duval County, though total tax collections are expected to rise. Florida Times-Union. The Pinellas district spending plan will be aired during a meeting today. Tampa Tribune.

Reading. A controversial title makes its way back onto a middle school reading list. Tampa Bay Times. Struggling Volusia schools add an extra reading hour. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Administration. The Fort Myers News-Press keeps digging into a principal’s departure. A Manatee district employee faces discipline for lying to investigators. Sarasota Herald-TribuneBradenton Herald.

STEMStateImpact interviews the MacArthur Genius Grant recipient behind the Algebra Project, which is active in Miami-Dade. Perhaps math and science coursework should qualify students for merit-based scholarships such as Bright Futures, rather than SAT scores, Paul Cottle writes at Bridge to Tomorrow.

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How charter schools & open data could spur new marketplace for top teachers

bidding warEarlier this year, when a lawsuit by the Florida Times-Union forced the release of evaluation data for thousands of Florida teachers, Daniel Woodring saw an opportunity.

The release of value-added model, or VAM, scores meant that for the first time, the public had access to a trove of quantitative data on the effectiveness of teachers all over the state.

Woodring, a Tallahassee attorney whose clients include charter schools, used the data to create a website, myflteacher.com.

The site uses the unprecedented release of data to help people find the most highly rated teachers. Woodring (who also provides legal counsel to Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog) hopes the data could also change the way charter schools recruit top teachers.

Parents can search the site by school to see which teachers are among the top 30 percent. But the more intriguing aspect of the project may be the password-protected area for charter schools, where they can log in and find the top teachers in surrounding schools.

The idea is charter schools could search the data for top teachers in their area. Since they are not unionized and not bound by collectively bargained salary schedules, charters could, in theory, look up the teachers with the highest ratings in the database and offer higher salaries to lure them to their schools. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Scholarship accounts, school choice, dual enrollment and more

Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts. Florida’s incoming Senate President criticizes a lawsuit against school choice legislation, writing that empowering parents has helped special needs students improve achievement. Tampa Tribune.

florida-roundup-logoSchool choice. More Southwest Florida parents are seeking out alternatives to traditional public schools. Fort Myers News-Press.

Dual enrollment. Hillsborough Community College plans to open a satellite location at a high school to give students more access to college-level courses. Tampa Tribune.

Performance. Pinellas looks to improve performance at some of the state’s most struggling schools. Tampa Tribune.  Manatee County improves its performance relative to other districts. Bradenton Herald.

Campaigns. Manatee’s superintendent fears an upcoming election could affect his future with the district. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Manatee teachers union weighs in on races. Bradenton Herald. The Tampa Bay Times recommends an incumbent Hillsborough school board member be replaced.  Political consultants get involved in school board races. Orlando Sentinel. A teacher and son of Palm Beach County’s first black board member challenges an incumbent. Palm Beach Post. Gubernatorial hopeful Nan Rich continues to mention vouchers in her primary challenge against Charlie Crist. Tampa Tribune.

Facilities. A K-8 magnet school is building a new outdoor learning center. Winter Haven News Chief. School playgrounds will have to stop using beach sand. Panama City News Herald.

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FL Senate leader: If teachers union wins, vulnerable kids lose

Sen. Gardiner

Sen. Gardiner

“Vulnerable children” on one side. “Union bosses” on the other.

Florida’s incoming Senate president, Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, drew that sharp distinction in an op-ed Friday that blasted the Florida teachers union for filing suit last week against SB 850, the bill that created the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts for students with significant disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.

“These children and their families may not be a union priority, but they are my priority,” Gardiner wrote in the Tampa Tribune.

Gardiner. who has a son with Down syndrome, led the charge for creation of PLSAs. He noted that the personal connection made the bill a priority for him, then called it “deeply regrettable” that the teachers union would try to stop it.

It was not long ago when many students with disabilities were set aside in public education because it was assumed they could not learn or could not share classrooms with other students. It was the advocacy of parents that ended these discriminatory and damaging policies.

For this reason, I think it is deeply regrettable that before the first parent could even submit an application for a PLSA, the Florida Education Association – our statewide teachers union – filed a lawsuit to block it.

The union bosses can spin the lawsuit however they want. But the bottom line is this: They view every opportunity that gives parents freedom to make education choices as a threat to their power. They are advocates for the union, not your children.

Signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, SB 850 also modestly expanded the tax credit scholarship program for low-income students. (Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog, is authorized to administer both parental choice programs.) Gardner pointed to the lawsuit’s potential impact on both groups of children, and vowed to defend them.

“The good news for Florida families is that we will not turn our backs on these children. As long as I am in the process, the Senate will work to empower parents, particularly the parents of our most vulnerable children. We will not be deterred by union bosses, union politics or union lawyers.”


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Entitled editors, Swedish meatballs and test scores, and the charter critic Cook

MrGibbonsReportCardNews & Observer Editorial Board

There is a right way to criticize school choice programs and a wrong way. The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. chose poorly. While arguing against vouchers for low-income students, the editorial board wrote,

“Advocates hailed this “opportunity scholarship” program as a way to help poor families, a group Republicans have shown little interest in otherwise. But in this case, those families are a convenient political tool for conservatives …”

poorlyReally? Arguing that low-income people are tools if, and only if, they ally with your political opponents, sounds a bit elitist and entitled. Progressives do not own a monopoly on serving the interests of disadvantaged families (and frankly, believing that conservatives never care about the poor demonstrates a sophomoric understanding of politics). If the current education model doesn’t work, low-income families are under no obligation to support a side that wants to maintain the status quo.

Besides, this isn’t a Democrat vs. Republican issue. Democrats in North Carolina are already joining forces to support school choice programs throughout the state.

Grade: Needs Improvement


chef1Andrew Coulson

Critics of school choice have been pummeling Sweden for the last year as if it was some sort of smoking gun that proves vouchers don’t work. Two things are at play: Sweden has universal school choice. And among other developed nations, it has seen some of the sharpest declines in international test scores.

Some very simplistic analyses, including a recent Slate article by an economist at Columbia, saw the correlation and concluded private schools and school choice were at fault.

Not so fast. That conclusion turns out to be the result of some bad research methods: correlation is not causation. Continue Reading →