Citrus County’s only Catholic school gets a chance to stay open

Parents in Citrus County received some good news going into the holiday weekend. Their community’s only Catholic School, which they had rallying to save, will be able to remain open next school year.

Since they learned in early March that the Diocese of St. Petersburg was thinking about closing Pope John Paul II Catholic School, parents, pastors and alumni had been working with the school’s administration to raise money, recruit more students and come up with a longer-term plan to keep the school viable.

photo 2They met Monday with advisers to Bishop Robert Lynch to discuss their five-year plan to grow enrollment at the school and make it financially sustainable.

“We were very impressed with their work, and the bishop agreed with their proposal and wrote them a letter letting them go forward,” said Frank Murphy, a spokesman for the diocese.

The diocese was concerned about stagnating enrollment at the school, located in Lecanto, about 80 miles north of Tampa in the northern reaches of its territory.

Faced with the impending closure, parents and pastors in the surrounding area spent the past two months working overtime to promote the school’s pre-kindergarten program and scholarships that can help low-income parents afford tuition. Dozens of families came to the school.

“We have never had so many families come through and tour our facility,” said Jennifer Petrella, a parent of kindergarten and fourth grade students who also helps lead the school’s marketing efforts.

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Why school choice? Because ‘different children have different needs’

Editor’s note: This op-ed by Steve Knellinger, a longtime former public school educator and now private school administrator, ran this week in the Tampa Bay Times. Here’s a snippet:

diversity in applesMore than 30 years ago, parents in Pinellas County showed up at meetings to protest a new school choice program. Schools said they couldn’t compete with it. Critics raised fears of cherry-picking the academically and athletically talented students. But in the end, the program got a green light. Now it’s such a vital piece of the school system, parents would fight to keep it.

The fight back then was over the International Baccalaureate program at St. Petersburg High, the first IB in Florida. It became a bona fide star in the Pinellas school system and helped usher school choice into the district. I bring it up now because of the school choice concerns with Florida’s tax credit scholarship program.

Lawmakers want to modestly expand the program, which now serves about 60,000 low-income children in 1,425 private schools across the state. The teachers’ unions, the PTA, and the Tampa Bay Times editorial board object. I know there is some controversy, and I know there are some issues like testing where people can respectfully disagree. But I also know the program works for most of the struggling children who choose it, and, like IB and so many other choice schools, is an asset to public education.

I know because I’ve been an educator for 44 years, 39 of those years in public schools. I know because I witnessed that IB controversy. And I know because I am now the lead administrator at St. Petersburg Christian School, where some of our 450 students in grades K-8 are on scholarship. They represent less than 20 percent of our school population but are involved in 100 percent of the academic and athletic curriculum.

Like the IB program, the tax credit scholarship program is needed because of something we all know: Different children have different needs. We’re now comfortable with the IB program at St. Petersburg High because we’ve accepted the fact that high-performing students need more options to reach their full potential. It’s only a matter of time before we fully realize the same is true for the students who struggle. In fact, in all probability, they’re the ones who need the most options. Read full op-ed here.


Florida roundup: School choice, Common Core, testing and more

School choice. “There has always been school choice,” Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino claims in a column railing against charter schools and private-school scholarship programs.


Single-gender classes. Half a dozen single-gender schools are preparing to open in Jacksonville. Florida Times-Union.

Common Core. The latest tactic for opponents of the standards is a long shot. They are seeking a special legislative session in Florida. StateImpact.

Pay raises. Orange County teachers will vote on a re-worked pay raise plan approved by the school board. Orlando Sentinel. More from the Sentinel. WKMG. News 13.

Testing. It’s bring-your-own computer mouse for some Pasco County teachers as their schools administer more statewide standardized exams on computers. Gradebook. For some schools, FCAT preparation includes pep rallies. Tampa Bay Times. StateImpact profiles the new SAT. Lee County teachers oppose high-stakes testing. Naples Daily News.

Arts. A new music program comes with better academic results for a Miami middle school. Miami Herald.

School closures. An Orlando college student produces a documentary arguing against the closure of an elementary school, which could come as a result of a new inner-city school opening nearby. Orlando Sentinel.

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Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: vouchers upheld in AL, newspapers mislead in WI and de Blasio earns a better grade

MrGibbonsReportCardU.S. District Court Judge Keith Watkins

Late last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit seeking to end a new voucher program in Alabama for students in low-performing public schools. The suit argued the law didn’t provide the plaintiffs (the students) “equal protections” because students either couldn’t attend a private school because the option was too far away, or couldn’t receive a voucher because they were not assigned to a failing school.

Critics of the SPLC lawsuit (including yours truly) found the logic underpinning the case to be odd indeed. Looks like Judge Keith Watkins agreed.

“The requested remedy is arguably mean,” Watkins argued in his recent, 57-page decision. “The only remedy thus far would leave the plaintiffs in the exact same situation to which they are currently subject, but with the company of their better-situated classmates. The equal protections requested is, in effect, equally bad treatment” (emphasis added).

The state’s voucher program was intended to help kids in low-performing schools find options. The SPLC’s lawsuit sought to deny all kids an option because a few might not be able or willing to take advantage of the program. Judge Watkins decided correctly.

Grade: Satisfactory

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Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, testing, dress codes and more

Tax credit scholarships. Gov. Rick Scott avoids wading into the debate between the House and Senate over testing of scholarship students. StateImpact.

florida-roundup-logoTesting. The teachers union joins parents and the NAACP calling for a delay in consequences for Florida’s next high-stakes test. Florida Times-Union.

Magnet schools. Pinellas County taps new principals to lead its magnet programs. Tampa Bay Times.

Dress codes. Palm Beach is the second South Florida County weighing a new dress code – for parents. Extra Credit.

School boards. A member of the Hernando board said it should have voted on a plan to switch to six-period days. Tampa Bay Times. A Marion board member seeks anonymous feedback from district employees. Ocala Star-Banner.

Teacher quality. Facing a shortage, Volusia County Schools look to recruit hundreds of new teachers. Daytona Beach News-JournalWJCT wraps up its three-part series on Duval’s effort to bring high-quality teachers into high-needs areas.

Administration. Polk”s new superintendent is pleased with the district’s progress. Lakeland Ledger.

Teacher conduct. A teacher who showed an explicit photo to students returns to work. Florida Today.

Teachers Unions. Orange County’s union invited the public to its impasse hearings with the the school district. Sentinel School Zone.

Facilities. A $1.2 million air conditioner repair proposal looked costly to the Palm Beach County School Board. Palm Beach Post.



Rhetoric on charter school facilities misses full funding picture

Spending plans moving through the Florida Legislature in its final weeks have reinvigorated a familiar debate over how to help charter schools find money for construction. But the question of whether charter schools or districts schools are getting the most from an account called Public Education Capital Outlay is inherently misleading.

In the previous three years, almost all of the money allocated to K-12 institutions in the PECO fund, which helps pay for building maintenance and construction, has flowed to charter schools, fueling the contention that lawmakers have slighted school districts.

A group of Democratic lawmakers and PTA members appeared at a Tampa middle school on Monday, decrying what they called a “theft” that was “causing damage to our public schools.” Their rhetoric mirrors arguments made recently on the floor of the House and Senate, and speaks to a likely point of contention when lawmakers hammer out their competing spending plans during the remaining weeks of the legislative session.

But it also misses the full picture of facilities funding in Florida, of which the PECO money in the state budget is currently a small part. School districts raise billions of dollars each year in local revenue for capital projects, and unlike operating expenditures, that money seldom follows students who enroll in charter schools.

Charter schools accounted for nearly 8 percent of school enrollment in 2012-13, the most recent year for which detailed data are available. But they received a smaller share of overall capital funding.

Charter schools accounted for nearly 8 percent of school enrollment in 2012-13, the most recent year for which detailed data are available. Their share of overall capital funding was less than that.

In the 2012-13 fiscal year, the most recent for which detailed budget figures are available, school districts raised more than $2.5 billion for capital expenses through local property taxes and other revenue sources, according to financial profiles published by the Department of Education. That same year, charter schools received about $55 million in state capital outlay money.

Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, said charter schools absorb the costs associated with the students who enroll, even though they don’t receive all the funding that would otherwise accompany them. “There’s two sides of the equation,” he said. When people criticize the funding that flows to charter schools, “they only talk about one side of the equation.”

That’s one reason lawmakers have prioritize charter schools when they allocate increasingly scarce PECO funds. Legg and members of the legislative staff are running the numbers to compare the $91 million charter schools receive in the current budget with some $2 billion in local revenue for capital projects on a per-student basis. Their estimates show traditional public schools receive an average of slightly more than $800 per student for capital expenditures from property tax revenue alone, while charter schools receive an average of less than $500 per student.

That does not mean school districts and members of the Legislature don’t have a point when they complain about the state of funding for Florida’s school facilities or talk about the need for repairs. Funding for school district’s building needs has dwindled. And Legg is among the lawmakers who say there are other long-term issues with capital funding that should be addressed as charter schools in Florida continue to grow.

Charter school funding ‘equity’

The lion’s share of funding for capital improvements is controlled by school districts, and, for the most part, they do not share their local capital funds with charter schools. Lawmakers and blue-ribbon commissions have floated different proposals for sharing that money with charter schools, but none of the proposals has made it into law.

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Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, charter schools, Common Core and more

Charter schools. In an innovative arrangement, a new Miami-Dade charter school will be built with private funds but managed by the school district. Miami Herald. WPLGA Pasco County charter for poor children with Autism is at risk of closing. Tampa Bay Times. Charter Schools USA faces a multimillion dollar verdict in a sexual abuse case. HeraldWPLG. The Duval County School Board might not renew some charter contracts. Florida Times-Union.


Tax credit scholarships. The program “is an asset to public education,” an administrator at St. Petersburg Christian School writes in the Tampa Bay Times. “It should be imperative” for students in the program to take state standardized tests, former Sen. Paula Dockery writes in an opinion column.

Common core. The standards bring debate to the Hillsborough County School Board. Tampa Tribune.

Facilities. The Lee County School Board looks for ways to address enrollment growth. Fort Myers News-Press. Maintenance money is scarce, but a Hernando County elementary school is looking ways to repair its roof. Tampa Bay Times.

Single-gender schools. Scripps/Tribune writes up pending legislation creating new guidelines for the programs.

Teachers unions. The head of Orange County’s teachers union is re-elected as it gears up for an impasse hearing with the school district. Orlando Sentinel.

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Where school choice legislation stands in Florida

just a billWhen it comes to school choice legislation, lawmakers will have some differences to resolve when they return from their week-long break for Easter and Passover.

Here’s a look at where things stand on some of the issues we highlighted going into the legislative session, plus a few new ones that have emerged.

Charter schools: The House and Senate remain divided on what has become a contentious piece of legislation intended to make contract negotiations easier for charter schools. Democrats have tried, so far unsuccessfully, to add provisions restricting the growth of charter schools. The Senate has stripped the controversial provisions from its charter school bill, and its measure would simply ensure military commanders can have a role in establishing charter schools on their bases. Gov. Rick Scott has already signed separate legislation that endorses the creation of charter schools aimed at military families.

Dual enrollment:  Changes to the way the state funds dual enrollment courses created a dilemma for some private schools. They could either limit student participation or be required to reimburse colleges for their tuition. The House’s education funding bill could address that issue by clarifying that private schools do not have to reimburse colleges for dual enrollment costs.

Collegiate high schools: The Senate last week approved legislation by Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, that would require community colleges to make collegiate high schools available in every school district in the state. The House has drawn up a companion measure which has passed three committees but not yet come to the floor.

Tax credit scholarships: The House last week passed a bill allowing families whose incomes are too high to qualify for the current program to receive partial scholarships. Other provisions that could have sped up the growth of the program have been removed. Whether, when and in what form the Senate will hear the bill all remain unclear, but testing for scholarship students remains a point of contention. (The scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)

Education savings accounts: The House and Senate have moved further apart on their plans to create personalized accounts for students with disabilities. But the bills are making progress. The House has passed a plan, combined with its tax credit scholarship legislation, that would be managed by scholarship funding organizations like Step Up for Students, while the Senate has proposed creating a program run by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. Continue Reading →