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Democrat: Stop casting school choice parents as villains in public ed

Editor’s note: This post originally ran as an op-ed today in Florida Today, in response to a column by former state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland. It’s authored by former state Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, who is a member of the Step Up For Students board of directors. The state’s tax credit scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

Sen. Lawson

Sen. Lawson

The most significant expansion of Florida’s scholarships for low-income children came in 2010, and the bipartisan spirit was so strong I was allowed as Democratic leader to make the closing argument in a Senate controlled by Republicans.

We found common ground because the Tax Credit Scholarship Program is focused on economically disadvantaged students in a way that strengthens public education.

So it is with considerable disappointment to see the partisan fractures this year, as the Legislature considers more modest improvements. And it is hard to miss the extent to which the Florida Education Association is driving the wedge.

But it is wrong to cast a $4,880 scholarship for 60,000 underprivileged children as an attack on public education. It is, to quote public educator and former House Education Policy Council ranking Democrat Bill Heller, “in the greatest tradition of our collective commitment to equal educational opportunity.”

With 12 years under our belt, we know a great deal about how this scholarship works.

The program serves children whose household income is only 9 percent above poverty. More than two-thirds of them are black or Hispanic. These children struggled academically in the public schools they left. Most importantly, their annual standardized test scores have shown they are consistently achieving the same gains in reading and math as students of all income levels nationally.

Whether these students should take the state, rather than national, test is a fair question. But let’s not pretend as though we have no measure for how well they are performing. We know how scholarship kids are doing at individual private schools, as the schools must report their learning gains if they have a minimum number of scholarship recipients.

Let’s also call an end to the deceit that this program hurts public schools financially, and that “money used for vouchers is taken away from basic public school needs,” as syndicated columnist Paula Dockery stated in her recent column in FLORIDA TODAY. Continue Reading →

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Amendment filed to scale back FL school choice scholarship bill

From the News Service of Florida:

The co-sponsor of a measure that would overhaul the state’s de facto voucher program has filed an amendment that would scale back the legislation by removing one of the more controversial elements.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, filed an amendment Tuesday that would strike a proposal to increase the cap on fundraising for the program. The original proposal would have upped the cap to about $30 million above what it would otherwise be over the next five years, assuming the number of students using the vouchers continued to grow. If Diaz’s amendment is approved, the bill would mostly expand the eligibility for the program and boost the amount that each scholarship would cover.

The House could consider amendments to the bill (HB 7167) as soon as Wednesday.

The Senate, meanwhile, has shown no interest in attaching the voucher provisions to a bill (SB 1512) that would help parents pay for education services for disabled children — something that is also included in the House bill. Senators withdrew a stand-alone voucher proposal last month.

Editor’s note: The tax credit scholarship (aka “voucher”) program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

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Jalen Rose: More school choice is the remedy for educational ‘madness’

Rose

Rose

Editor’s note: This guest post was written by Jalen Rose, the ESPN analyst, former NBA player, charter school founder and now educational choice ambassador for the American Federation for Children.

It’s that time of year again when basketball and brackets take center stage. This March Madness, we’ll be pulling for our favorite teams and celebrating the players for their hard work and commitment – both on and off the court. And, while we may have differences in our final bracket picks, we know one thing is certain: many of the players we’ll be cheering for are student athletes who were given the opportunity to earn a quality education based on their athletic talents.

Many of these student athletes come from challenged backgrounds – not much different than my own. As many know, I grew up in Detroit, but thankfully, I was both afforded opportunities to attend a great college as a result of my basketball talents.

While a select few are able to capitalize on their individual athletic skills, for far too many students that simply is not an option. Sadly, in the United States, too many children do not have these same opportunities due to gaps in their educational experience that lead to a lack of fundamental knowledge and skills – those same skills that are necessary to be accepted into college and to succeed in life.

That’s why as we focus our attention on March Madness, I  hope to shed a light on the true “madness” in this country – the fact that every 26 seconds a student drops out of school.

Far too many of our minority students are not receiving the education they deserve because for many, the idea of attending a quality school is simply unattainable. I believe that this is unacceptable.

To put it into perspective, an estimated 366,369 kids will drop out of high school while we watch the 63 games throughout the tournament.

This is madness.

Students in our country deserve more educational options. They deserve access to best school for their needs, no matter their family’s income, and no matter their race. I am committed to empowering parents with the ability to choose the very best school for their child. Continue Reading →

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Florida selects contractor for new tests tied to Common Core

From the News Service of Florida:

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said Monday she has selected the non-profit group American Institutes for Research to design the state’s new tests for public schools, the final step in an effort to tamp down grassroots anger over learning standards.

The $220 million contract with AIR will run for six years and will be cheaper than it would have been to go forward with a test developed by a multi-state consortium that Gov. Rick Scott ordered Stewart to back away from last year, according to the Department of Education.

“I feel very confident that it is the best choice for Florida students,” Stewart said in a conference call with reporters.

Scott’s decision last year to distance the state from the consortium — the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC — was part of an executive order meant to assuage largely conservative activists worried about the Common Core State Standards.

The Common Core standards, adopted by about four dozen states, were tweaked by the State Board of Education last month. Officials have begun referring to the revised version as the “Florida Standards.”

But AIR and another company that will work with it on the Florida tests, Data Recognition Corporation, have also helped to develop the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Like PARCC, that test is being put together by a multi-state consortium that hopes to use it to measure student learning under Common Core.

Stewart said the two systems would be separate.

“This is a platform and assessment for Florida,” she said. Continue Reading →

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Pastor: Let’s debate school choice scholarships with all facts on the table

Editor’s note: With debate heating up over a proposal to expand Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, a good amount of misinformation is circulating too. C.E. Glover, senior pastor and CEO of Mount Bethel Ministries, based in Fort Lauderdale, penned this op-ed in response to an editorial in the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The Sun Sentinel published Dr. Glover’s piece today. (And again for the record, the school choice scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)

Dr. Glover

Dr. Glover

Since we opened Mount Bethel Christian Academy in 1990, we have worked with a steady stream of students who arrived in our classrooms academically behind. Many of them were in danger of falling through the cracks in school – and in life.

In recent years, many of them were able to come to us only because of Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, which offers educational options to the low-income parents who need them the most. And, I’m happy to report, many of those students have gone on to excel not only at our school, but in other schools both public and private.

I bring this up in response to the Sun-Sentinel’s editorial, “Make testing a part of state vouchers.” The suggestion that tax credit scholarship students should take the same standardized tests as public school students is worthy of serious public debate. All of us want to make sure that all students, whether they are in public school or private school or some other sector, are learning enough to succeed in a world that’s getting more competitive and complicated by the second.

But the Sun-Sentinel omitted some important details about the scholarship program that are vital to having an informed debate.

To be clear, tax credit scholarship students are not exempt from accountability tests. Since 2006, they have been required, by state law, to take a state-approved standardized test. At our school, they take the widely respected Stanford Achievement Test. The results are sent to a top-notch education researcher for analysis and comparison to public school students. Since 2010, state law has also required the public disclosure of average test score gains or losses for private schools with 30 or more students in tested grades.

We know two important things from the test data. First, the students who use tax credit scholarships tend to be the lowest-performing students in the public schools. That finding is in sync with our experiences. Second, scholarship students are making the same annual learning gains as students of all income levels nationally. That should be encouraging to parents, taxpayers and policy makers.

It’s worth noting that scholarship students are achieving these results with much less public funding than children in public schools. This year, the scholarship amount was $4,880. And though that’s roughly half of total government spending on children in Florida public schools, it still comes with meaningful requirements for financial accountability. Continue Reading →

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Anti-Common Core bill filed in FL Senate

Sen. Evers

Sen. Evers

From the News Service of Florida:

A Senate measure filed Wednesday mirrors an earlier House bill aimed at ending the state’s use of the Common Core education standards.

The Senate proposal (SB 1316), like its House companion (HB 25), would try to cripple the standards by requiring the State Board of Education to meet certain requirements before moving forward with the English and math benchmarks and would specifically bar the board from implementing common core in any other subject areas.

It’s unclear whether the bills, filed by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, and Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, will be heard. The State Board of Education voted earlier this month to amend the guidelines for what students are expected to learn in each grade, and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said they should now be referred to as the “Florida standards.”

While supported by the Obama Administration, the Common Core initiative started out as a project spearheaded by governors and school chiefs across the country. But it has prompted a backlash, largely among conservative activists who fear that it is a federal effort to seize control of education.

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Florida Board of Education approves Common Core changes

From the News Service of Florida:

Commissioner Stewart

Commissioner Stewart

The State Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to go forward with dozens of changes to the Common Core State Standards, a move that seemed unlikely to quell the grass-roots furor over the educational benchmarks.

The approval followed a raucous public hearing that seemed to indicate that passionate opposition to the benchmarks remains despite a concerted effort by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Department of Education to tamp down conservative anger over the standards.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has argued that the changes, which include reinserting creative writing into the standards and explicitly including calculus guidelines, as well as the fact that the state has science and social studies standards that aren’t part of the Common Core, justify renaming the initiative as the “Florida Standards.”

Stewart told reporters after the vote that it made the state’s standards clear.

“The vote that the board took today certainly does lay to rest where we’re headed, the direction we’re going with our standards, and this is the right move,” she said.

But dozens of activists slammed the standards during a lengthy public hearing before the vote, portraying Common Core as a federal plot to take over education and blaming it for a variety of ills. While the benchmarks were spearheaded by a coalition of state officials, they have since been encouraged by the U.S. Department of Education.

“I do not want a watered-down, world-class system; I want a school system that promotes American exceptionalism,” said Chris Quackenbush, a leader of the anti-Common Core movement. Continue Reading →

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In parent choice suit, U.S. Department of Justice on wrong side of history

Editor’s note: This piece is in response to the U.S. Department of Justice’s legal action against the voucher program in Louisiana. It is co-authored by Howard Fuller, board chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and Kevin Chavous, executive counsel of the American Federation for Children.

Fuller and Chavous: The DOJ has wrongly decided that allowing these children a life line to getting a better education must take a back seat to whether or not they impact desegregation. (Image from baeo.com)

Fuller and Chavous: The DOJ has wrongly decided that allowing these children a life line to getting a better education must take a back seat to whether or not they impact desegregation. (Image from baeo.com)

It is easier to say we must take the long view when grappling with the issue of social justice than it is to actually practice it. Such is the problem the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has today as it wrongly inserts itself in the effort to give low-­‐income children in Louisiana an opportunity to get a better education. DOJ is suing the state of Louisiana, more specifically 34 parishes in the state that are still under a desegregation law, claiming that the state’s school choice scholarship program unlawfully allows students to leave failing public schools and go to high-­‐performing private schools by way of a scholarship. DOJ thinks it’s wrong and illegal to allow that to happen.

When one takes the long view, it’s necessary to understand the moment in history in which you exist and what is the primary problem being faced at that particular moment in the continuum of the struggle for social justice over time.

In America today the primary problem facing children from low-­income and working class families is getting a quality education. The Louisiana Scholarship Program was created to give these students a way to escape failing schools. It allows them to apply for a scholarship and choose a school that for them holds the promise of a better education.

The DOJ has wrongly decided that allowing these children a life line to getting a better education must take a back seat to whether or not they impact desegregation. No one with any sense of history will deny that at one point in time the state of Louisiana used this power to fund schools that were for whites only.

But that was then and this is now. In this instance, the state of Louisiana is on the right side of history because its actions are giving children the best chance to ultimately participate in mainstream American society by giving them access to better educational opportunities. Continue Reading →

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