Author Archive | Ron Matus

No choice? Scholarships offer 1,425 more options for low-income kids in FL

Editor’s note: This post initially appeared as an op-ed over the weekend in the Pensacola News Journal. The tax credit scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

Low-income parents are clamoring for more school choice options for their kids, and the results to date are encouraging. Why would anyone interested in the public good want to block them?

Low-income parents are clamoring for more school choice options for their kids, and the results to date are encouraging. Why would anyone interested in the public good want to block them?

Thanks to Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, nearly 60,000 low-income students in grades K-12 attend 1,425 participating private schools, including 19 in Escambia County. That’s 1,425 options those students would not have had otherwise. That’s 1,425 options that are embracing the students who struggle the most.

So how jarring, then, to read a Florida teachers union leader saying “vouchers do not give parents real educational choice.”

The piece by Joanne McCall, vice president of the Florida Education Association, (Viewpoint, “Vouchers don’t offer a real choice in a child’s education,” March 23) took plenty of liberties with facts about the program and a bill that would strengthen and expand it. But more concerning were the notions that anchored it:

• That expanding choice for low-income students comes at the expense of district schools.

• That low-income parents don’t know whether their schools are high quality.

Let’s start with the indisputable: taxpayers pay about half as much per tax credit scholarship ($4,880 this year) as they do per pupil for public schools. Five independent groups looked into concerns of scholarship money being “siphoned” from public schools and all reached the same conclusion: not true. Rather than hurting public schools, the program saves money that can be invested in them.

McCall would also have readers believe the program exists in a regulatory Wild West. This is also not true. Scholarship students are required, by law, to take state-approved tests. The results are analyzed by a researcher whose work is highly regarded by all sides in the choice debate. The average gains or losses for schools with more than 30 tested students are posted publicly.

The evidence shows scholarship students were the lowest-performing students in the public schools they left behind – a finding at odds with McCall’s suggestion that private schools are cherry picking. Continue Reading →


BAEO’s Ken Campell: Don’t be afraid to note hypocrisy of school choice critics



Ken Campbell, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, has advice for school choice supporters who may be frustrated by critics who distort the evidence and hew to tired arguments.

Call ‘em out.

“We have to recognize and not be afraid to call out the level of hypocrisy that exists in a lot of these narratives,” Campbell told redefinED for the podcast interview attached below. “Because honestly, most of the time, the people who are fighting against parent choice are people who have parent choice. They are people who are exercising choices for their kids every day. They are fighting to keep kids in schools that they never in a million years would send their own kids to.”podcastED-logo

Campbell continued: What they’re saying is, “If your kids leave, then we might not have the system survive. Now it’s okay if mine leave, but if yours leave … And there’s something about that, Ron, that chills me to my soul when I think about what that argument really says.”

Campbell’s comments come with “the narrative” cranked at full volume in the Florida Capitol. On Tuesday, lawmakers on a second straight House committee voted in favor of a bill to expand Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, the largest private school choice program in the country (and one administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog). But disappointingly, the vote again came along party lines. Democrats voted no, choosing to stand with the Florida PTA and state teachers union instead of the scores of low-income parents, many of them black, who came from all over the state to show support. At one point, Florida PTA President Eileen Segal told lawmakers in support that they were pitting parent against parent. “And it’s sad.”

No one called her out.

Campbell’s comments also come on the eve of BAEO’s annual symposium, the largest gathering of black school choice supporters in the country. This year’s event, which begins Thursday, will bring more than 700 people to New Orleans.

The location isn’t coincidence. Continue Reading →


Rep. Diaz: I oppose testing mandate for FL school choice scholarships

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

A key player in legislation to expand school choice scholarships in Florida said Monday he will fight to keep scholarship students from having to take the same standardized tests as their public school counterparts.

The comments from state Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, are squarely at odds with calls for a same-test mandate by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and suggest positions may be hardening over a critical potential piece of the legislation.

“I do want to see any mandates to require the state test,” Diaz, who is shepherding the bill for House Speaker Will Weatherford, said during a live chat with redefinED.

“I plan to fight to keep away from any mandate of state testing that would stymy innovation at these schools,” he continued. ”Since there is no current new state test in Florida this would be a mistake. I believe that as we work this (through) the process we will find a solution that will show this program has accountability without placing it in a one-size-fits-all box.”

Diaz’s comments came on the eve of the bill’s hearing Tuesday in the House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee. So far, no testing language has surfaced with the House bill or its Senate counterpart, but Gaetz has indicated that additional testing requirements are a priority. Currently, tax credit scholarship students are required to take state-approved, norm-referenced tests in reading and math, but not the same tests taken by public school students.

Also during the chat, Diaz said he believed the bill will still earn some bipartisan support, as similar legislation has in recent years. No Democrats voted in favor of the bill during its first stop two weeks ago in the House Finance & Taxation Subcommittee. Continue Reading →


Next week: Chat with Rep. Diaz about FL school choice scholarship bill

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

A proposal to strengthen and expand Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, the largest private school choice program in the nation, has drawn a big spotlight during this year’s annual legislative session. State Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, is in the middle of the action.

On behalf of Speaker Will Weatherford, Diaz is shepherding the school choice bill through the House. And he’ll be our guest Monday for a live chat to answer questions about it, both from us and from you. (The scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)

The chat is kind of like a town hall meeting, but in writing. The floor will be open to anyone with a fair question. To participate, just come back to the blog on Monday, and click in to the live chat program that you’ll find here. We’ll start promptly at 1 p.m.

In the meantime, you can send questions in advance. You can leave them here in the comment section, send them to, tweet them to @redefinEDonline and/or post them on our facebook page. See you Monday!


FL Common Core foes oppose same tests for school choice scholarships

As if education politics in Florida couldn’t get more complicated.

Opponents of Common Core in public schools are hoping to seize on anti-Common Core sentiment among their counterparts in private schools. The prompt: Calls by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, for tax credit scholarship students in private schools to take the same standardized tests as their public school peers.

In a recent newsletter, the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition wrote:

“Senate President Gaetz is determined to impose Common Core standards on private schools by requiring the state Common Core tests for all voucher/scholarship tax credit students.  He stated these intentions in an interview in the Orlando Sentinel and in his opening day of the legislature speech. (See our report. Senator Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) is carrying this bill, SB 1620, which if changed and passed as Gaetz wants, would prevent up to 330,000 students from being free from Common Core. This is completely unacceptable. Please let him know how much of a problem this really is … “

A bill to strengthen and expand the scholarship program cleared the House Finance & Taxation Subcommittee last week on an 11-7, party-line vote. But the bill did not include testing language, and some House members said they opposed the proposed testing mandate. So far, no test language has surfaced with the Senate bill, either. (Full disclosure: the scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)

Whether Common Core would help or hurt private schools and school choice has been a heated side debate in the fight over the standards. Some private schools clearly oppose the standards, while others are embracing them.


Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, school spending, teacher evals & more

Tax credit scholarships. The Tampa Tribune comes down in favor of the expansion bill. The testing issue for tax credit scholarships is complicated. Gradebook. As she has many times before, Jacksonville’s Julie Delegal says valid comparisons to public school students can’t be made when tax credit scholarship students take similar but not the same standardized tests. Florida Today. GTN TV does a story on the bill. So does Watchdog.orgNews Service of Florida asks Gov. Rick Scott about what he said last year regarding scholarship students and testing. (The scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. A Q&A with the new principal of the University Prep charter school in St. Petersburg. Tampa Bay Times. WMNF’s “Urban Cafe” show interview the principal of Seminole Heights High School, a charter school for 16- to 21-year-old males who want a “fresh chance” at earning a high school diploma. (Starts about the 8 minute mark.) A Palm Beach County School Board member suggests a multi-million dollar marketing campaign to stem the tide of students leaving for charter schools. Palm Beach Post.

Common Core. Despite claims, many textbooks are NOT aligned to Common Core. Tampa Bay Times. Common Core standards are in use in art classes, too. Tampa Tribune. How the Common Core rollout is going in Florida middle schools. StateImpact Florida.

Pre-K. Kids who participate are more ready for kindergarten than those who don’t. School Zone.

School choice.  Parents, choose carefully. Tampa Bay Times. Probably better, for now, that the Palm Beach County school district expand its existing choice programs rather than go to “full” district choice. Palm Beach Post.

Parents. They must be challenged to help, early and often. Pensacola News Journal.

Accountability. EdWeek logs in Sen. Bill Montford’s “pause” bill.

Teacher evals. VAM scores could lead to unfair ratings. Florida Times Union. The state should chuck its eval system and let districts come up with something better. Tampa Bay Times.

Testing. Some teachers didn’t appreciate the ed commish’s letter on testing for special needs students. Gradebook. Conflict between FCAT and Passover. Gainesville Sun. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: tax credit scholarships, Common Core, testing & more

Tax credit scholarships. The bill to expand the state’s tax credit scholarships program passes its first committee on a party-line vote. redefinED. More from the Halifax Media ServicesMiami Herald, Associated Press, The Florida Current, News Service of Florida, WFSU, Palm Beach PostFaith leaders and their supporters from across Florida gather in the Capitol to support the bill. redefinED. The Ledger doesn’t like it. The Citrus County Chronicle profiles a school choice mom.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. The group behind a proposed charter school at MacDill Air Force Base withdraws its application and says it will resubmit. Tampa TribuneTampa Bay Times. New one in Palm Bay celebrates its opening. Florida Today.

Digital learning. Computer class instead of PE? Orlando Sentinel.

Home schooling. Home schooler wins Lee County spelling bee. Fort Myers News Press. Naples Daily News.

Common Core. Two retired U.S. Army generals push for Common Core. School Zone.

Obama. The president is set to visit a Miami-Dade high school today to give a major speech on education and the economy. Miami Herald.

School spending. The superintendent of the Manatee County School District calls for an investigation into the financial practices under former superintendent Tim McGonegal. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald Tribune. Continue Reading →


Faith leaders gather to support FL school choice expansion

A contingent of faith leaders and their supporters gathered in the state Capitol Thursday to back a proposed expansion of the state’s tax credit scholarship program for low-income students.ExpandEqualOpportunity_Final4

About 200 of them packed a legislative room before the proposed bill got its first hearing before the House Tax & Finance Subcommittee. More than half of them were private school students from Jacksonville, Orlando and Tallahassee, and most wore bright-yellow shirts that said, “Expanding Equal Opportunity.”

“We will fight for a cause that is a righteous cause,” Isha Haley with the Florida Interfaith Alliance for School Choice told the crowd. “There are too many of our babies that are dying. There are too many of our babies that can’t read and write. … They need an opportunity.”

One of the best things to happen to public education “is the recognition that not every school works for every child,” said Robert Ward, pastor of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in St. Petersburg. “This scholarship has helped to put many students on the right path. It is by no means a cure all … but surely it is one tool for parents who struggle with poverty.”

The turnout was organized by the interfaith group, which is affiliated with the Florida Alliance for Choices in Education, an umbrella group for an array of school choice organizations, including Step Up For Students. The latter administers the scholarship program and co-hosts this blog.

Nearly 60,000 students now use the school choice scholarships to attend private schools, about 80 percent of which are faith-based. Students must qualify for free- or reduced-price to be eligible for the scholarships. Two-thirds are black or Hispanic, and test data shows they tended to be the lowest academic performers in the public schools they left.

Mikeya Brown, a 10th grader at Tallavana Christian School west of Tallahassee, described herself as “one of the fortunate ones.” She said she attended public schools in Gadsden County before receiving a tax-credit scholarship in fourth grade. She said she benefited from a Christian-school environment, which her parents could not afford on their own. Continue Reading →