Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Spilling ink over school choice

Mr. Gibbons' Report CardThe Arizona Republic Editorial Board

Arizona’s Individual Tax Credit Scholarship has its fair share of warts and the Arizona Republic editorial board rightly takes a few stabs at those, but the they also tried to slay a few imaginary dragons as well.

Arizonans raised $84 million for individual tax credit scholarships and $39 million from the corporate tax credit program in 2014.

The Republic says only one-third of the students benefiting from the individual program were low-income and just 3 percent were special needs. As a result, the paper argues the program should be means-tested to benefit more low-income students.

The problem is less with this argument than the factual foundation that’s supposed to support it. The editorial board claims the corporate tax credit scholarship program includes incomes up to $82,996 for a family of four. It does not. That corporate program is limited to 185 percent of poverty, or about $45,000 for a family of four.

The state’s individual tax-credit program, passed in 1997, was never targeted to low-income families. The state passed the corporate tax credit scholarship program in 2006 and later a special need’s tax credit in 2009. (Note: the individual tax credit doesn’t track special needs students, but Lexie’s Law, a separate corporate tax credit program, does.)

Maybe Arizona needs to do more to help disadvantaged students (for example, increasing the cap on the low-income and special needs tax credits), but the editorial board also needs to fully understand the programs.

Grade: Needs Improvement


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Beyond the horse race: Looking at the diversity of charter schools

Charter school backers and detractors often debate research that compares their effectiveness with that of traditional public schools. Where are test scores higher? Where do students make larger gains?

Mike McShane of the American Enterprise Institute argues this horse-race debate is wrong to ignore another central purpose of charter schools: Increasing the diversity of learning options available to students.

To date, much of the prominent research on charter schools has been devoted to trying to determine if charter schools outperform traditional public schools. Charter schools exist in a political context, so backers have had to prove that their schools can do as well or better than traditional public schools on the measures states use to hold schools accountable.

But academic superiority (measured by test scores) isn’t the only goal of charter schools. Charter schools are also designed to give parents more options in the type of education that their child receives. They have the ability to specialize, and because students only attend charter schools by their free choice, schools have the opportunity to create unique learning communities organized around particular principles.

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Florida roundup: Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush, charter schools and more

florida-roundup-logoArne Duncan. The federal education chief visits the National Urban League in Fort Lauderdale and talks with StateImpact.

Jeb Bush. Former state Board of Education member T. Willard Fair, who helped start a charter school with Jeb Bush, says the governor’s support for education reform shows he’s a different kind of Republican. Sun-Sentinel. The former governor will talk education in a speech before the Urban League today. The Buzz. Education issues figure prominently in PolitiFact’s rundown of Bush and Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric on race.

Charter schools. Palm Beach’s schools chief wants charter-like flexibility for district schools. Palm Beach Post. A South Florida city sells land for a future charter school location. South Florida Business Journal. Traffic fears stir opposition to a South Florida charter school’s expansion. Florida Bulldog.

Poverty. Nearly a third of Miami-Dade County’s youngest children live in poverty. Miami Herald.

Disparities. Palm Beach schools grapple with racial divides in punishment and academics. Sun-Sentinel.

Teacher evaluations. The statewide teachers union seeks a rehearing in a case challenging Florida’s evaluation system. News Service of Florida.

Teachers unions. The national American Federation of Teachers’ takeover of Orange County’s union is expected to last a year. Orlando Sentinel.

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School choice tsunami continues in Miami-Dade

While Miami-Dade County is home to more charter schools than most U.S. states and more than one in four students receiving Florida tax credit scholarships, it’s also home to some of the most vibrant district-run school choice systems in the country, which is expected to grow even larger in the coming school year.

This week the district touted its plans to add 53 new choice programs, including new magnets at 12 schools, an Italian Language academy, and a career academy focused on cybersecurity. That will bring the total number of choice options to more than 500.

“This is by far the far the most dramatic, robust expansion of educational programs in the history of our school system,” Miami-Dade schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho said in a video report by local NBC affiliate WPLG.

StateImpact Florida reports the district plans to beef up its transportation network to support its school choice programs, which enroll more than half its students.

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The Catholic education renaissance

Catholic schools enroll roughly four of every ten private-school students in the country, making them the largest and farthest-reaching segment of American private education. And while they’ve seen their enrollment decline for decades, a growing number of initiatives is pushing against the tide, looking to attract new students and revitalize their academics.

As Andy Smarick notes, there seems to be a “wave of Catholic education innovation and entrepreneurialism that we probably haven’t seen since the 1880s, when the nation’s Catholic bishops mandated the creation of thousands of parish schools in response to rampant anti-Catholic bigotry.”

Across the nation, religious and lay leaders are creating new schools, new networks of schools, new governance models for existing schools, new pipelines of talent, new philanthropic efforts, new public programs, and much more. But all of this is taking place inside the time-tested boundaries of authentic Catholic education.

From Tampa to Orlando to Miami, there are plenty of signs this is happening in Florida. And there may be more to come.

It’s arguably one of the under-appreciated trends in education reform.

Two other trends might be related.

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Florida roundup: School choice, teachers unions, back-to-school and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Donors help provide a kitchen to a small charter school. Daytona Beach News-Journal. A principal disciplined for plagiarism moves to Palm Beach’s office of charter school supervision. Sun-Sentinel. Lee County tightens its oversight of charter school transportation. Naples Daily News.

School choice. The Miami-Dade school district expands its magnet programs. WPLG. WTVJ.

Teachers unions. Top Orange County union officials are accused of misconduct, and relieved of duties by the national American Federation of Teachers organization. Orlando SentinelWESH.

Back-to-school. There’s a longer sales tax holiday this year. Tampa Bay Times. Thrift stores offer affordable back-to-school clothes. Tampa Bay Times. Cops and barbers help children prepare for the start of classes. Lakeland Ledger.

Budgets. Miami-Dade approves its budget. Miami Herald. Tax rates are going down in Indian River County, and up in St. Lucie. Indian River Press Journal. St. Lucie News Tribune. Marion adopts its spending plan. Ocala Star-Banner.

STEM. Alachua teachers are big on robotics. Gainesville Sun.

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Miami-Dade schools face legal tab in charter school retaliation case

From the News Service of Florida

An administrative law judge said Tuesday the Miami-Dade County School Board should pay $233,000 in attorneys’ fees in a case filed by employees who said they faced retaliation for trying to open a charter school.

The legal-fees recommendation by Judge Edward T. Bauer, which now goes to the state Department of Education, stems from an underlying case in which school employees Alberto T. Fernandez, Henny Cristobal and Patricia E. Ramirez alleged they suffered retaliation after seeking to convert Neva King Cooper Educational Center to a charter school.

Bauer’s recommended order said the Miami-Dade County school system “quickly squelched the conversion efforts and, beginning in late April of 2012, reassigned all three petitioners to undesirable work locations.” Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, digital learning, testing and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Parents at a charter school that is putting off plans to open in August have few options beyond their zoned schools. Gradebook. The Miami-Dade school district faces a legal tab in a charter school retaliation case. News Service of Florida.

Digital learning. The Miami Herald‘s back-to-school edition takes a look at the digital landscape. Topics include: The growth of virtual school options, girls learning about high tech, digital literacy, the digital divide in poor communities, students learning to code and the rise of blended learning.

Home education. The Ocala Star-Banner looks at the growth of home schooling in Marion County.

Testing. The Seminole school board backs a plan to drop state assessments in favor of national norm-referenced tests. Orlando Sentinel.

Budgets. Duval, Lee Alachua and Collier districts approve spending plans. Tax rates fall, but tax collections may rise. Florida Times-Union. Fort Myers News-Press. Gainesville SunNaples Daily News. Continue Reading →