Author Archive | redefinED staff

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.


redefinED roundup: vouchers in TN, ESAs and scholarships in FL, tax credit critics in KS & more

MondayRoundUp_magentaAlabama: Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, says the Alabama Accountability Act, which allows students in failing districts to transfer to private schools, is a failed experiment (Anniston Star). A lower court dismisses a suit filed by students to stop the state’s school choice program (Associated Press).

Alaska: A private school tax credit bill passes through the House (Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch).

Arizona: School districts are worried about education savings accounts expanding (Ahwatukee Foothill News). Applications for state voucher programs doubled over last year (Associated Press).

California: More students in southern California are switching to virtual schools (Daily Press). Two charter schools in LA are given permission to enter into negotiations with the school district to take over vacant school buildings (LA Times).

Connecticut: A group called Connecticut Voices for Children reports that school choice programs segregate special needs and English Language Learners (New Haven Register, Connecticut Mirror). However, that same report shows charter schools are far more likely to serve minority students.

D.C.: The district releases the full data on parental school choice lottery preferences (Washington Post). Mayor Vincent Gray outlines a new school boundary proposal that includes lottery-based open enrollment (Washington Post).

Delaware: Stacie Beck and Eleanor Craig, associate professors of economics at the University of Delaware, make the case for tax-credit scholarships (The News Journal).

Florida: A bill to expand Florida’s tax credit scholarship program and create education savings accounts for special-needs students  advances out of the House on a mostly party-line vote (Capital SoupOrlando SentinelWFSUSun SentinelFlorida CurrentredefinED). (The scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.) Earlier in the week, a House committee voted to strip the tax credit proposal of additional funding but the bill will still increase the income eligibility (Orlando SentinelPalm Beach PostTampa Bay TimesAssociated Press, News-JournalredefinED). Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: school choice suits in NC and GA, bishops mad in NY and more news

MondayRoundUpAlabama: A bill to eliminate the $7,500 cap limit on individual tax-credit scholarship donations advances in the state legislature (Decatur Daily).

Alaska: Tony Knowles, the former governor of Alaska, says vouchers have never  improved student achievement or graduation rates, so the state should spend more money on public schools (Alaska Dispatch).

Arizona: The Arizona Education Association opposes the education savings account expansion, calling them “vouchers in disguise” and claiming vouchers do not improve student achievement (Arizona Republic). Matthew Ladner, the “inventor” of education savings accounts, says school choice allows students to match their needs with the strengths of the appropriate school (Arizona Republic). State and national groups write legislation at home and abroad, including the state’s education savings account bill (Arizona Republic).

Arkansas: The Blytheville School District votes to opt out of the Public School Choice Act again (Courier News).

Colorado: Parents in Jefferson County pack a school board meeting to show their support for increasing charter school funding (9 News).

Connecticut: The state Department of Education approves four new charter schools for Bridgeport and Stamford (Connecticut Post, Fox CT).

D.C.: District officials release the lottery results; 85 percent of students were accepted to a school in their top three choices (Washington Post).

Delaware: The Delaware Charter School Network says charter schools offer students choices (The News Journal).

Georgia: A group of parents sue the state over the tax-credit scholarship program (Atlanta Journal-Constitution). Continue Reading →


‘Once again, Catholic school kids get kicked to the curb’

Cardinal Dolan

Cardinal Dolan

Editor’s note: Don’t be misled by the politics of the moment in Florida. School choice – yes, including vouchers and tax credit scholarships – is increasingly bipartisan. Check out blue-state New York.

In a fascinating counter to the Florida debate, a proposal for tax credit scholarships in New York this spring won widespread backing from Democratic lawmakers and even labor unions (not counting the teacher unions), only to be dashed, apparently, in budget negotiations last weekend. In response, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, penned this op-ed in the New York Post.

Dolan noted the value that faith-based schools bring to all of us – academically, financially, socially – then lit into state leaders with this kicker: “Sadly, once again, they’ve divided our kids into winners and losers.” Here’s a taste of Dolan’s op-ed:

The public-school teachers unions weren’t alone in causing the bill to fail, and there is, I am sure, plenty of blame to go around. Certainly, when the bishops of New York State visited Albany recently to meet with our elected ­officials, we received plenty of assurances that the tax credit was a “no-brainer,” that it had plenty of support and that, for the first time, Catholic-school students wouldn’t be left by the wayside.

Sadly, those assurances turned out to be empty, and, once again, Catholic-school kids get kicked to the curb, along with children attending other faith-sponsored schools and even the other private and public schools that would have benefited.

This mistreatment of Catholic-school students can’t be due to any question about the quality of our schools. Across New York, our students consistently outperform their public-school counterparts, particularly in the inner cities.

And it can’t be because our political leaders don’t otherwise recognize the value that our schools and other private and parochial schools offer. Tuition-paying families pay about $3.8 billion in tuition each year — on top of the taxes they pay for public schools. Their sacrifice saves New Yorkers $9 billion a year. Just imagine for a moment that all Catholic schools across the state closed their doors, and the public schools had to absorb all our students. The burden on our towns, counties and cities would be enormous. Read the full post here.


School choice parents to PTA: ‘Stop the attack on our children’

The Florida PTA encouraged its members to fight a bill that would strengthen and expand Florida's tax credit scholarship program, which serves low-income families.

The Florida PTA encouraged its members to fight a bill that would strengthen and expand Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, which serves low-income families.

Last week, the Florida PTA sent an action alert to its members, pressing them to call lawmakers about the bill to expand tax credit scholarships for low-income students. The alert said, “Tell them to “STOP THE ATTACK ON OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS!”

Parents of children with tax credit scholarships fired back. One wrote, “Stop the attack on our children.”

Some sent messages to the PTA; some to the same lawmakers targeted by the PTA; some to both. (The scholarship parents were notified about the PTA missive and encouraged to respond by Step Up For Students, which administers the scholarship program and co-hosts this blog.)

One of the ways we believe our blog can add value is by highlighting the voices of those central to the  school choice debate and yet too often not heard. To that end, we think the parent responses to the PTA are worth consideration. Here are excerpts:

Thank you!

Can I just take a minute to say that again?  THANK YOU!

For the past year, my third grade daughter has been able to attend a private school, with a student/teacher ratio of 1/17.  She LOVES her classes, and is excelling quickly–so far making straight A’s. There is no way my husband and I could afford to send her to private school without the help of the Step-Up-For-Students scholarship.  Unfortunately, I had to put her 7th grade brother into a public school system this year in order for him to be able to potentially qualify for the private school scholarship next year. Within the first two weeks of public school, he asked if I would personally provide his transportation rather than having to ride the bus.  His reason, “I am required to sit by these boys on the bus, and they are perverted.  They look at everything as perverted, and constantly make disgusting jokes.”  He also told me the other day, “I don’t think I have a single friend at school who doesn’t cuss, although a few of them are trying to stop.” Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: school choice advances in FL, protection for NYC charters and more news


Arizona: Former state Sen. Tom Patterson says school choice is opposed by unions because the unions feel school choice threatens jobs for adults (East Valley Tribune). An advancing bill will allow special needs kids to have access to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts without having to get approval from school districts first (Associated Press).

Florida: The tax credit scholarship expansion bill that was killed in the senate gets new life (Miami Herald). A bill that would allow education savings accounts and an expansion of the tax-credit scholarship program advances out of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on a party line vote (redefinEdOrlando SentinelMiami HeraldWFSUAssociated PressThe Florida Current). There has been a genuine surge in applications for tax credit scholarships, so much so that processors stopped keeping a waiting list for fear of creating false hope. (redefinED). Valerie Strauss says there was never a wait list for the tax-credit scholarship program (Washington Post).

Lawmakers look to make opening charter schools easier (WPTV) and give charter schools access to unused school district buildings (redefinED). A bill to allow school choice students to participate in extracurricular activities at a local public school advances unanimously through three committees (redefinED). One out of every 10 students in Palm Beach now attend a charter school (Palm Beach Post).

Illinois: The Chicago Tribune editorial board says the state should expand charter school authorizers and not eliminate the new Charter School Commission.

Kansas: Republicans remove a tax-credit scholarship proposal from the education funding bill (Witchita Eagle).

Kentucky: The state senate passes a bill which would allow low-performing public schools to be converted to charter schools (Education Week).

Louisiana: The Lafayette Charter Foundation says charter schools are public schools (The Advertiser). Charles Lussier of The Advocate, says the state’s charter schools have been strong performers but new schools in Baton Rouge must must be better.

Massachusetts: Hundreds of parents protest the expansion of charter schools (Boston Globe). Charter school supporters want to lift the state cap on charters (Salem News). A bill to expand the number of charter schools in the state fails to meet a deadline (Education Week, Milford Daily News). Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: school choice to expand in NY but not FL, ESAs constitutional in AZ and more

MondayRoundUp_magentaAlabama: Lawmakers approve an increase in individual tax credits for donations to scholarship granting organizations (Gadsden Times). Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal stopped in the state to give a speech about school choice and more (Bayou Buzz).

Alaska: Ben Walker, a math teacher, says the school reform movement is based on a false fear of bad public schools (Anchorage Daily News).

Arizona: The state earned an A rating for charter school laws (Arizona Republic). The state Supreme Court refusal to hear a case on the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts means the program remains constitutional (Capitol Media Services, Associated Press).

California: LA charter schools post big learning gains (Hechinger Report, Whitney Tilson’s School Reform Blog). Parents are frustrated with school performance in Redwood and two charter school operators hope to fill the need for high quality schools in the district (The Daily Journal).

Colorado: The State Supreme Court will hear a case on the constitutionality of the Douglas Co. voucher program (WRAL, Associated Press).

D.C.: The mayoral race doesn’t have any of the heated rhetoric about charter schools that was present in New York last year and that might be due to the lack of a charter school cap in the city (Education Week). A parent, and education reporter, experiences school choice through charter schools (The Atlantic).

Florida: A bill to expand the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program advances (Heartland NewsNews Service of FloridaTampa Bay TimesSun SentinelTampa Bay TimesredefinED). Mandating FCAT testing for all private scholarship students is debated (Tampa Tribune). Only a day after the tax-credit scholarship expansion bill is sent to the House floor, the Senate sponsor withdraws the bill from consideration in the state’s upper chamber (Palm Beach PostMiami HeraldOrlando SentinelAssociated PressPolitifix). Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill issues a statement about the expansion bill being withdrawn (redefinED). School choice supporters debate mandating private school voucher students take the FCAT (Watchdog). The Florida Citizens for Science want private schools accepting tax-credit scholarships to teach evolution (Tampa Bay Times).  Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute, sees a silver lining in the tabling of the tax-credit scholarship expansion bill. Rita Solnet, president of Parents Across Florida, believes vouchers hurt a parents choice for a good public school (Huffington PostWashington Post). The Washington Post reprints an error filled op-ed against school choice (redefinED). The president of Fund Education Now, a group  arguing for more money for public schools, writes an op-ed opposing the expansion calling the program unaccountable (Orlando Sentinel). A bill to create education savings accounts for special needs students advances in the Senate (redefinED). Education in the state has been improving (Saint Peter’s Blog). Military style charter schools become more popular in the state (redefinED).

Illinois: The Chicago Tribune editorial board endorses school choice candidates.

Republicans look to expand charter schools and vouchers (Tampa Bay Times). One out of every 10 students in Palm Beach attend charter schools (Palm Beach Post).

Kansas: Debate over school funding of poor districts begins after high court ruling on the adequacy suit (Education Week). To address the adequacy funding issue Republicans plan to increase low-income district funding and allow more public charter schools (Wichita Eagle). Lawmakers consider education tax credit scholarships (Heartland News). Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, testing, teachers unions and more

Charter schools. More could be closing in Broward. South Florida Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald.

florida-roundup-logoTax credit scholarships. Did top Step Up For Students officials need to register as lobbyists? Times/Herald. (Step Up co-hosts this blog.)

Testing. Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart picks AIR to develop the new wave of tests tied to Common Core. News Service of Florida. StateImpact Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Associated Press. EdWeek. WFSU. Naples Daily News.

STEM. Manatee County schools focus on growing its science and math programs. Bradenton Herald.

Teacher unions. Allegations of inappropriate behavior with students dogs some candidates for union president in Pinellas. Tampa Bay Times.

Bullying. Polk Sheriff Grady Judd says parents need to be a bigger deterrent. The Ledger.

Budgets. Brevard parents hope to stave off school closures as money gets tight at the school district. Florida Today.

Textbooks. Lawmakers advance a bill that would remove the state from the textbook adoption process advances. Orlando Sentinel.