State asks judge to dismiss Florida tax credit scholarship lawsuit

Lawyers for the state are asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging Florida’s tax credit scholarship program.

In court papers filed Friday, they argue the statewide teachers union and other groups behind the suit can’t show they are harmed by the program.

The argument draws on court rulings from around the country, which have rejected lawsuits challenging tax credit scholarship programs. It hinges on the fact that the program is funded through tax credits that companies receive in exchange for private donations.

“The program relies on private voluntary donations—not public dollars,” the state’s lawyers write. “And the program provides tax credits to donors—not schools or students.”

The teachers union and other groups argue tax credit scholarships violate a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Florida voucher program. They also argue the program is unconstitutional because it subsidizes tuition for low-income students who attend religious schools.

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One in four Florida public schools is either a magnet or a charter

Fresh federal figures show Florida has more magnet schools than any other state, and saw its number of charter schools increase at a rate two-thirds faster than the national average during the 2012-13 school year.

The new statistics come from a U.S. Department of Education report released Thursday on the types of public schools around the country.

The number of charter schools jumped 6.7 percent nationwide in 2012-13, compared to an 11.6 percent growth rate reported that year by the Florida Department of Education.

That school year, Florida saw its largest-ever increase in its number of charter schools. The rate of new charters in the state has slowed in more recent years.

Florida Charter school magnet graph

Proportions of charters and magnets in 10 states, excluding D.C., where charters account for the largest share of public schools

Overall, the federal report counts 4,269 public schools in the state, including 581 charters and 494 magnets. That means one out of every four public schools in the state is either a charter school or a magnet of some kind – the highest combined proportion of any state in the country.

Arizona, with its substantial charter sector, and Michigan, with a mix of charters and magnets, are close behind. Florida still trails Washington D.C., which is off the charts. The two choice options account for more than half the public schools in the nation’s capital.

Some states either do not designate magnet schools or, in the case of New Jersey and Massachusetts, could not report data on their number of magnet schools.


Florida schools roundup: Testing, technology, free speech and more

florida-roundup-logoTesting. Broward district officials and national teachers union leaders make a unified plea on testing and teacher evaluations. Miami HeraldSun-Sentinel. StateImpact. The Sun-Sentinel reports on Palm Beach schools’ decision to reduce testing in its schools.

Technology. A “high tech” middle school surprises teachers with iPads. Sun-Sentinel.

Campaigns. A brouhaha over Brevard school board campaign signs now rests with the local state attorney’s office. Florida Today. A program proposed by Volusia school board candidates may not fly under state curriculum guidelines. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Career education. Disney donates welding machines to Central Florida schools. Orlando Sentinel.

Student health. Classmates rally around a student diagnosed with leukemia. Tampa Bay Times.

Extracurricular activities. Student frustrations mount over a cancelled chorus concert. Naples Daily News.

Free speech. A court decides against an ex-porn star and former school board candidate who filed a federal free-speech lawsuit against a school district. Palm Beach Post. The Satanic Temple seeks permission to begin distributing coloring books and fact sheets to Orange County schools. Orlando Sentinel.

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KIPP seeks expansion in Jacksonville


Students congregate outside KIPP’s Jacksonville Campus.

The Duval school board is set to take up a plan next week that would allow for a substantial expansion of one of Florida’s most high-profile charter school endeavors.

KIPP Jacksonville has applied to open a new K-8 school that could eventually serve 1,800 students, roughly tripling its current capacity.

The new school won’t get that big overnight. Its plans submitted to the school district call for the new school to expand methodically over an 11-year period. It would add one grade each year, and gradually increase the number of students at each grade level.

“We want to make sure we scale and grow with quality,” said Tom Majdanics, KIPP Jacksonville’s executive director.

About 660 students currently attend KIPP’s existing middle and elementary school in Jacksonville. Enrollment is expected to reach about 860 students once KIPP Voice Elementary, now in its third year, reaches full capacity.

The application for the new school, which is set for a vote at the school board’s Nov. 4 meeting, calls for enrolling 50 kindergarten students during the 2015-16 school year. It would grow to 100 kindergarten students and 50 first-graders the next year, and eventually reach approximately 750 students in grades K-4 in the new school’s fifth year. It could eventually grow to a K-8 school serving 200 students per grade.

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

florida-roundup-logoCampaigns. A national teachers union leader heads to Broward to talk testing in the waning days of the governor’s race. Gradebook. Sun-Sentinel. The Florida PTA quizzes gubernatorial candidates on education policy. Gradebook.

School board races. Hillsborough’s superintendent weighs in on a school board race. Tampa Tribune. A school board candidate’s fears over yard signs lead to a 911 call. Florida Today. A Marion County school board race takes a nasty turn. Ocala Star-Banner.

School choice. Florida gets high marks on school choice and other education policies from the American Legislative Exchange Council. Gradebook. Fort Myers News-PressSunshine State News. EdFly.

Common Core. Teachers are divided in their views of the Common Core standards. Orlando Sentinel.

School boards. A former Broward school board member faces ethics charges for taking payments from developers. Sun-Sentinel.

Administration. A story about a cancelled chorus concert is a really a story about school bureaucracy. Naples Daily News. Leon County Schools face an FBI subpoena involving construction contracts. Tallahassee Democrat.

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Rich or poor, public or private, parents seek school choice

A wealthy enclave of Miami-Dade County is considering buying space for its residents in a local public school.

Setting aside whether this is fair to other families hoping to enroll their children in Henry S. West Laboratory School, this story in the Miami Herald should lend further credence to idea that parents – including those who can afford to send their children to private schools – want more options from the public school system.

Students in Coral Gables are five times more likely than the average Florida to attend private school, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. And families there are more likely to be able to afford it without the help of a private school choice program. The median household income is roughly twice the average for Miami-Dade County as a whole.

Yet the Herald reports that families in the city are lining up for slots in the popular magnet school, which is located within the city’s limits, but is oversubscribed due to high demand from all over the county. The city government is looking for ways to accommodate their desires to enroll their children.

“In my neighborhood, everyone goes to private,” said Dave Kelly, a Coral Gables resident. “It’s not because they don’t want to go to public schools. They just can’t get in.”

To give residents a better shot at landing a seat, Coral Gables officials on Friday discussed paying the school district a one-time fee of $23,000 per student to establish a separate lottery program just for residents who want their children to attend West Lab. As it stands now, the proposal is to buy between 22 and 44 seats per grade level.

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Florida education reformer joins Step Up For Students board



A prominent figure in Florida’s education reform movement has been tapped to help oversee the largest private school choice program in the country.

Patricia Levesque last month was elected unanimously to the governing board of Step Up For Students, the non-profit that administers tax credit scholarships and Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts for more than 70,000 students (and co-hosts this blog).

Levesque is CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which Jeb Bush founded before he was elected Florida’s governor.

Before joining the foundation in 2007, she was a key member of the legislative staff that helped enact Bush’s first-term education agenda. She then joined the governor’s office as an education policy adviser in 2002.

Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up, said Levesque was recruited for the position because she’s “one of the country’s leading thinkers when it comes to personalized learning,” which he believes is important terrain for the future of education policy.

This year, she was an outspoken advocate for legislation creating the scholarship accounts, which gives families of students with significant special needs a way to pay for a mix of educational expenses, from therapies and private school tuition to curriculum and private tutoring.

“A more customized approach – whether choosing the school, supports or services that meet a child’s needs – is a good thing,” Levesque said in a statement. “It breaks down barriers to success and gives parents the power to help their children reach their full potential.”

Florida is the second state to create a personal scholarship account program. Many advocates view similar programs as part of the next wave of parental choice.

Levesque joins an eight-member, all-volunteer governing board, which last year added former Democratic state Sen. Al Lawson.


Florida schools roundup: Campaigns, lawsuits, corporal punishment and more


Lawsuits. Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute picks apart some of the facts cited in a lawsuit challenging Florida’s school choice legislation.

Special needs. A new state law has the state pushing more students toward a standard diploma. Lakeland Ledger.

Campaigns. Central Florida legislative candidates weigh in on school choice and education reform during an Orlando forum. Orlando Sentinel. The Bradenton Herald breaks down the differences between two local school board candidates.

Homelessness. A new Hillsborough school will be aimed at homeless students. Tampa Tribune.

Coporal punishment. The Bay County school board votes to eschew spanking in district schools. Panama City News Herald.

Technology. The Polk school district plans to shell out $1 million for technology-related expenses. Lakeland Ledger.

STEM. A Brevard student is set to meet President Obama after excelling in science. Florida Today.

Class size. Classes are getting smaller in some Broward schools. Sun-Sentinel.

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