New fund aims to grow quality private schools

For years, some of the country’s top charter school networks have turned to venture philanthropy funds that have helped them grow and replicate.

Now, for the first time, a group of philanthropists and investors has set out to create something similar for high-quality private schools.

The founders of a new philanthropic venture known as the Drexel Fund say private schools need to adopt the same “growth mindset” that exists in thriving charter school networks. That requires financial support to start new schools, which they’re setting out to provide.

birdsell headshot


“We are very much of the mindset that if it’s great, the school should be serving more kids and it should expand,” Rob Birdsell, a co-founder and partner of the fund. “If someone has a great school, why should their growth be limited? Let’s get creative. They need funding to expand and serve more students and families.”

The new fund opens today, and will start providing “seed investments” to schools as early as this fall. Continue Reading →


How many parents want private schools, and how many just want options?

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice is out with its annual public opinion survey on schooling in America. It’s full of interesting findings, including one striking data point that probably deserves some deeper exploration.

The survey finds most 41 percent of parents would prefer private schools for their children, which about 36 percent would choose public schools, 12 percent would choose charter schools and 9 percent would would opt for home education.

The organization (which shares its namesake’s goal of promoting universal school choice) suggests in its rundown of survey findings that these numbers show a “glaring disconnect” between parents’ preferences and where they actually send their children, since 85 percent of children attend traditional public schools.

But does that really mean, if money were no object, parents would enroll in private schools en masse? Perhaps there’s more to the story.

During an event presenting the poll at the American Enterprise Institute, Matt Chingos of the Brookings Institution said researchers should “probe more deeply on choice among public schools.”

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Florida private school choice tops 100,000 students

Private school choice growth
Florida’s three private school choice programs are growing, and as the state begins a new fiscal year, they have passed a milestone.

During the 2014-15 school year, Florida became the first state with more than 100,000 students enrolled in private school choice programs.

The tax credit scholarship program grew to help 69,846 low-income students afford private school tuition. The McKay scholarship program grew to serve 29,776 special needs students. In the first year of a new program, the parents of 1,655 special needs children signed them up for Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSAs).

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Florida schools roundup: PLSA, test results, teachers and more

florida-roundup-logoPLSA. State lawmakers triple funding for Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts. Tampa Tribune.

Proficiency. Advocates are calling on Florida and other states to set high expectations for the next round of assessments. Gradebook. Lee students score below the state average on state tests. Fort Myers News-Press.

Charter schools. The founder of a military charter in turmoil opposes the board’s restructuring plan. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

STEM. Seats in a new Flagler STEM academy are filling fast. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

History. The Palm Beach Post recalls the removal of Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ name from a school building.

Contracts. A contractor switch could mean pay cuts for Volusia maintenance workers. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Funding. The St. Johns County School Board backs a half-sent sales tax referendum. Florida Times-Union. St. Augustine Record.

Teacher quality. A new teacher grant program is getting buzz, not all of it positive. Gradebook.


The missing numbers on charter school facilities funding

Over the weekend, an article in the Daytona Beach News-Journal explored a number of familiar arguments about charter schools. One of those, which didn’t receive much ink, is noteworthy because it raises an issue that resurfaces every year, without fail, when lawmakers write the state budget.

Yet for the past two years only charters have received money set aside for school capital improvement projects, known as Public Education Capital Outlay dollars. Charter school advocates say giving them these dollars, which come from utility taxes, makes sense because the charters can’t levy sales taxes as the school districts can (Volusia and Flagler collect a half-cent sales tax that helps pay for capital expenses ranging from building repairs to computers).

This is hardly an atypical depiction of this issue, which is why there are a couple things worth noting.

First of all, school districts have received money from the Public Education Capital Outlay, which funds school facilities and other long-term purchases like technology, in the past two years. In the current state budget, they received $53 million, plus another $59 million set aside to build a handful of rural schools in districts where the local tax base is inadequate to pay for construction. Charters, meanwhile, received $75 million.

It’s true school districts went without state capital funding in previous years, while charters did receive capital funding from the state. But there are some pretty big numbers missing from that equation.

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Florida schools roundup: Budgets, tests, charter schools and more

florida-roundup-logoBudgets. Districts with a high military population will see a funding boost. Panama City News Herald. Chief Senate education budget writer Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, talks about funding increases for North Florida schools. WUWF. A PBS digital learning program loses state funding. Fort Myers News-Press.

Charter schools. A principal’s ouster leaves a charter school in turmoil as parents accuse it of breaking the law. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Lawsuits. A decision looms in a former Manatee school district employee’s lawsuit against the district. Bradenton Herald.

Test results. Collier schools continue to perform well. Naples Daily News.

Summer. An elementary school teacher from Orlando awaits the chance to sing at Daytona International Speedway. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Gardening. Broward County schools receive seed grants. Sun-Sentinel.




Colo. school voucher case could mean new scrutiny to Blaine Amendments

Colorado Supreme Court

Colorado Supreme Court

A one-of-a-kind publicly funded school voucher program suffered a legal blow this morning, as a plurality on a divided Colorado Supreme Court ruled it violated a state ban on aid for religious institutions.

But the case may not be over, and could have implications beyond a single school district south of Denver. Supporters of the Douglas County voucher program say they are weighing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Such a move could bring new legal scrutiny to Colorado’s so-called “Blaine Amendment.”

Similar constitutional provisions bar taxpayer money from supporting churches or other “sectarian” institutions, including religious schools, in more than 30 other states. They have often been at the center of legal battles over private school choice.

“Ultimately, we believe this will pave the way for all U.S. students to be free of the yolk of the Blaine Amendment and exercise their free choice in educational opportunities,” Keven Larsen, the president of the Douglas County School Board, said during a news conference responding to the ruling.

The county’s program, unique because it is administered by a local school district, will remain closed to parents for now.

Groups — including the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Separation of Church and State, and a local organization known as Taxpayers for Public Education —had also challenged the program on other grounds, which courts rejected.

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In memoriam: Marva Collins, school choice pioneer


Marva Collins was a teacher who believed in the potential of every child. When she felt the traditional school system did not, she forged her own path, launching a private school for low-income black children in inner-city Chicago.

She was a pioneer of school choice in the era before school choice programs, and a proponent of what might now be called a “no excuses” philosophy.

“Kids don’t fail,” she once said, according to her New York Times obituary, which ran this morning after she died last week, at 78. “Teachers fail, school systems fail. The people who teach children that they are failures — they are the problem.”

The obituary notes that detractors seized on the fact that she did not hold a conventional teaching certificate. They also questioned whether her tiny school was getting results that lived up to the bevy of media attention it revived.   Continue Reading →