Charter-like flexibility is available to some Florida school districts already

The new school district chief in Palm Beach County has had some interesting things to say since he took the job in June, talking about the appeal of charter schools and his desire to expand in-demand choice programs.

More recently, Superintendent Robert Avossa has become the latest Florida district leader to seek greater freedom from state regulations for schools his district runs. As reported by the Palm Beach Post, he told the school board last week that he wants to seek some of the same autonomy available to charter schools.

His district might be in a position to take advantage of an existing, relatively new and so far unused state program intended to give school districts some charter-like flexibility.

The Post reports:

A key state lawmaker expressed skepticism about Avossa’s plan Thursday, saying that state law already permits school systems to get around many regulations by declaring certain schools “schools of innovation.”

“What’s in the existing statute that doesn’t allow you to do those things already?” said state Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, chairman of the Senate’s education committee and a charter school operator. “When superintendents ask those questions and we probe a little bit, they’re often not asking for what they pretend to be asking for.”

A state law passed in 2013 allows districts to create Innovation Schools of Technology, which share some features with charter schools. Districts have to apply to the state Board of Education to create them, and they have to enter performance contracts. In exchange, the schools can receive exemptions from a host of state education rules and statutes. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: School boards, funding, homelessness and more

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Tax credit scholarships. The Palm Beach Post talks funding and accountability with representatives of Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post.

School boards. Supporters of rival school board associations air their views in a political forum. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Lake school board won’t switch to single-member districts. Leesburg Daily Commercial.

Funding. Polk County district officials raise concerns about capital funding, which is stretched thin in a large district with many rural areas. Lakeland Ledger. How much of that additional revenue is going back into classrooms? Daily Commercial.

Home education. Florida Times-Union readers weigh in on home schooling.

Digital learning. The state plans to distribute digital classrooms funding, despite the lack of a state technology assessment. Gradebook.

Back to school. The state sales tax holiday starts Friday. Tampa Tribune. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Bradenton Herald. An event distributes supplies to children in need. Fort Myers News-Press. A training workshop helps Polk teachers gear up for the new year. Lakeland Ledger.

Parent involvement. Duval creates parent academies to increase involvement with district schools. Florida Times-Union.

Homelessness. Three Panhandle districts are home to thousands of homeless students, unbeknownst to many in the community. Northwest Florida Daily News. Continue Reading →

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This week in school choice: Catholic schools and the mix of old and new

America’s Catholic schools are deep-rooted community institutions, and still make up the largest swath of the nation’s private schools. Yet many of them are in the midst of reinventing themselves, often drawing lessons from top charter school networks to attract new students and strengthen their academics.

Kathleen Porter-Magee reflects on this mix of tradition and transformation, which she navigates as the leader of New York’s Partnership for Inner-City Education.

We are much more than “charter-like schools”; we’re Catholic schools. And our rich history is the foundation of what we do. Some of the differences are obvious: We can wear our faith on our sleeve and teach values unequivocally. We teach religion. We prepare students for the sacraments. We operate on shoestring budgets.

But there are other differences that have a more subtle—but perhaps more profound—impact on the work that Catholic schools have had on their students and their communities.

For starters, Catholic schools in general (and the Partnership Schools in particular) are deeply rooted in the communities they serve. We call our schools “hundred-year-old start-ups” because as much as we seek to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit of charter schools, we know that we are also stewards of deep community roots that were planted long ago.

The New York effort is part of a broader renaissance in Catholic education. Competition from charters and the growth of private school choice scholarships are also part of the story.

Meanwhile… Continue Reading →

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

Mr. Gibbons' Report Card

North Carolina Newspaper Editorial Boards

The North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision to uphold school choice sparked a wave of angry editorials.

The News & Observer editorial board writes, “It is distressing on its face, this idea that public money can go toward the expenses of private schooling.” Why stress about something that has occurred for decades already?

The News & Record editorial board argues the Supreme Court contradicted itself by allowing vouchers. “In 1997,” it writes, “The N.C. Supreme Court unanimously delivered its landmark Leandro ruling that declared the state has an obligation to offer every child a ‘sound, basic education.'” That obligation isn’t compromised by offering children vouchers to attend private schools. Sound basic education and school choice are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they often go hand-in-hand.

“The state Constitution requires that state funds for public education be ‘used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools,'” writes the Charlotte Observer editorial board. Yes, any money appropriated to the state K-12 school fund has to be used for public schools, but the voucher money was never appropriated to that public school fund. The money was appropriated to a state scholarship program within the higher-education budget. The N.C. Supreme Court correctly decided (see p. 13-15) that the constitution did not prohibit the state legislature from funding other means of K-12 education outside the public school fund.

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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