Don Gaetz: I’m ashamed of FSBA for filing anti-school choice suit

Sen. Don Gaetz

Sen. Don Gaetz

Add Florida Senate President Don Gaetz to the list of legislative leaders who are stepping up criticism of the Florida School Boards Association for filing suit against the state’s tax credit scholarship program, and potentially forcing 60,000-plus low-income students back into public schools.

During last spring’s legislative session, Gaetz was among the program’s toughest critics, initially pushing for scholarship students to take the same standardized tests as their public school peers and insisting on more oversight for scholarship funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

But in an op-ed over the weekend for the Northwest Florida Daily News, his hometown newspaper, Gaetz takes even stronger aim at the FSBA for attacking a “a national model  of voluntary school choice” that “gives lower-income children what we all want for our children – a chance to learn and succeed.”

“This is what angers the plaintiffs in this lawsuit the most,” he wrote, “that families are in charge of their own children, that caring parents willing to make sacrifices can choose their children’s schools and, most troublesome of all, that resources follow not the needs of educrats but the interests of children.”

Florida’s 13-year-old tax credit scholarship program is the largest private school choice program in the country, with more than 67,000 students enrolled this fall, nearly 70 percent black or Hispanic. The FSBA, Florida Education Association, Florida PTA and other groups filed suit against it on Aug. 28, sparking fear among scholarship parents and outrage from school choice supporters throughout Florida and beyond.

In his op-ed, Gaetz noted the oversight changes made to the program in SB 850, which the Legislature passed last spring, and the financial repercussions if scholarship students are “forced back into traditional public schools at twice the cost to taxpayers.” He also noted that, “As a former school board member, I’m ashamed of the Florida School Boards Association.” Read his full op-ed here.

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Howard Fuller: Parental choice fight in Florida is national issue

If its import wasn’t apparent already, parental choice leader Howard Fuller said Florida should be a national battleground after the Florida School Boards Association, Florida Education Association and other groups filed suit Aug. 28 to kill the nation’s largest private school choice program.

“First off, we got to fight, and we need to make Florida a national issue,” Fuller, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, told redefinED this week. “It isn’t just a Florida issue. It has to be a national issue, for all of us who care, not just about parental choice as a policy, but care about 70,000 poor kids not having the opportunity to go to the schools of their choice. So we need to become very focused on that.”

The suit is targeting the 13-year-old tax credit scholarship program, which is serving more than 67,000 students this fall. All are low-income, and nearly 70 percent are black or Hispanic. The program is administered by scholarships funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

Fuller said the suit should be a lesson to school choice supporters that they must be ever vigilant.

“They just told us, we don’t care. We don’t care. And we’re going to continue to try to protect our power,” he said, referring to the plaintiffs. Continue Reading →

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FL roundup: Charter schools, Common Core, Crist v. Scott & more

Charter schools. The Naples Daily News takes a closer look at the 269 charter schools that have closed since Florida opened the door to charters in 1996. The Associated Press picks up the story.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools. It’s time for action on poor-performing charter schools in the Broward County School District. South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Career academies. The Lee County School District will beef up its career education programs under a partnership with Ford Motor Company’s Next Generation Learning program. Fort Myers News Press.

School choice. Pinellas public school enrollment increases for the first time in a decade, as charter schools gain more ground and the district, after adding new choice programs, mitigates its losses. Tampa Bay Times. (Enrollment is up in the Leon County School District too. Tallahassee Democrat.)

Crist v. Scott. The Wall Street Journal rips into Charlie Crist for not denouncing the suit to kill the tax credit scholarships. By not denouncing the suit, Charlie Crist may have alienated black voters and cost himself the election. Tampa Tribune. Both pro- and anti- school choice forces are making big contributions. Sarasota Herald Tribune.

More school choice politics? The state NAACP moves to shut down the St. Petersburg branch, headed by Rev. Manuel Sykes, who happens to be at odds with the state chapter over school choice. Tampa Bay Times.

Standardized testing. Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano says there’s too much of it. So do some teachers and parents in Brevard. Florida Today. Despite testing angst, the Lee County School District continues to roll out the new state standards. Fort Myers News Press.

Common Core. A look at how it is changing kindergarten. Sarasota Herald Tribune.

Parents. The Alachua County School District wants to see more dads involved in their kids’ education. Gainesville Sun. Continue Reading →

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Could new rules help FL bring quality charter schools to high-need areas?

Some of Florida’s top policymakers have for the past few years been looking for ways to attract more high-performing charter school operators to the state’s inner cities. But apart from KIPP Jacksonville and a few newcomers like the SEED School of Miami, they have few high-profile efforts to point to. And attempts to change state law to help recruit well-regarded operators have faltered in the Legislature.

Rep. Adkins

Rep. Adkins

Now one of the top state lawmakers on education policy, Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, says she wants lawmakers to try a different approach next year.

The state creates special provisions for charter schools designated “high-performing.” Why not do something similar for charters that want to open in “high-needs” areas, helping them with issues from accountability to financing for their buildings?

“We need to have a whole new set of criteria,” said Adkins, who currently chairs the House subcommittee dealing with K-12 policy. “I’m envisioning a whole new set of statutes dealing with high needs.”

The idea came up during a recent gathering of charter school and district officials in Fort Lauderdale. Richard Moreno, who works with organizations that provide financing and other business services to charter schools, said one major barrier keeping organizations like KIPP and Uncommon Schools from Florida is the state’s stringent “double-F” rule.

State law requires most charter schools that earn F’s two years in a row to close. As a result, Moreno said, philanthropists and well-known charter organizations run a risk that they could sink resources into an area with high need, only to see their school shut down a few years later. “They’re not touching Florida because of this,” he said.

Adkins said she wants the state to emphasize learning gains when holding these new high-needs schools accountable so they aren’t penalized for taking on low-proficiency students and/or ensnared by the double F rule. But right now, she said, proposals are in the “idea stage” and details would still need to be worked out.

Robert Runcie, the schools superintendent in Broward County, said he could envision school districts and other community groups vetting competing proposals from charter operators looking to move into struggling schools, creating “a very structured way of bringing a high-quality solution into a community.” Continue Reading →

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Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Is it 1952 in St. Louis?

MrGibbonsReportCardRex Sinquefield and the Children’s Education Alliance

Progressives in Missouri criticized Rex Sinquefield for conspiracy theories about public schools, spending millions on campaigns supporting private school choice and for donations to ALEC, but they remain oddly silent about the way he, and the organizations he backs, are spending money right now.

Before we discuss these latest expenditures, a little history is in order.

Last year, over 1,000 students (about one of every four) in the mostly low-income, minority Normandy School District transferred out thanks to a law that allowed students in low-performing districts to enroll in higher-performing districts. As a result of all the transfers, Normandy faced bankruptcy and was taken over by the state. The Missouri Board of Education voided the district’s low-performing status and revoked the right to transfer. Fortunately, a judge recently overturned the Board’s new rule.

Normandy students

Now Normandy must allow students to transfer and every district, except for the mostly white and affluent Francis-Howell School District, agreed to comply. Francis-Howell said they would only accept transfer students upon direct court order.

In other words, officials in the mostly white affluent district told low-income minority parents they needed to hire a lawyer if they wanted their child enrolled. Fortunately, Rex Sinquefield’s Children’s Education Alliance is covering the legal expenses of any Normandy parent who wants to do that.

So far, the attorney for the alliance has enrolled 17 students in Francis-Howell and is requesting court orders for another 35. Francis-Howell, meanwhile, has spent $17,000 trying to keep the students out.

Grade: Satisfactory

Continue Reading →

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FL schools roundup: Charter schools, Charlie Crist, FL’s progress & more

Tax credit scholarships. Creative Loafing gives Charlie Crist’s “evolution” on tax credit scholarships some ink after the Miami Herald story about his refusal to denounce the FSBA/FEA suit to kill them.

florida-roundup-logoSchool choice. Private schools still serve the public good, writes William Mattox of the James Madison Institute, in an op-ed for Hernando Today. Watchdog.org notes that Fund Education Now’s Kathleen Oropeza filed a motion to have the judge in the adequacy/funding/choice suit recuse herself because of Catholic ties, but doesn’t note the judge granted the request.

Charter schools. The state Board of Education is moving ahead with creation of standard contracts for charter schools. Gradebook. Things are quiet in the simmering dispute between the Hillsborough County School District and Charter Schools USA. Gradebook. Duval County School Board members raise concerns about the performance of schools serving at-risk students, including several charter schools. WJCT.

Florida’s progress. Florida gets A’s in 3 of 11 categories in a new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – in parental options, data quality and academic achievement for low-income and minority students.

School spending. StateImpact Florida writes up concerns that black-owned businesses aren’t getting their fair share of contracts from the Miami-Dade County School District.

Testing. The Alachua County superintendent offers qualified support for the kindergarten teacher who refuses to administer a standardized test for diagnostic purposes. Gainesville Sun.

Teachers. Tension continues between the Pasco district and teachers union over planning time. Tampa Bay Times.

9/11. Middle school students in Manatee learn about victim advocate dogs. Bradenton Herald.

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Charter schools and districts agree: FL needs facilities funding fix

Florida’s charter schools need a dedicated source of funding for their buildings.

Runcie

Runcie

That was one thing charter advocates and district representatives were able to agree on during a gathering Wednesday. What’s less clear is where the money will come from.

The reality is both districts and charters need help with facilities funding, Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said. He told members of the Quality Charter School Authorizer Task Force that the two sides cannot afford to keep waging annual lobbying battles over scarce construction funds, “so there needs to be some committed source for charters.”

The Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools convened the group in an effort to improve relations between charters and school districts.

Members of the group agreed on some big-picture points during their gathering in Fort Lauderdale. Among them: Steps need to be taken to keep operators with bad track records from repeatedly applying to open more charter schools, and the state needs to find a funding source charters can rely on as PECO funds dry up.

Dwindling state construction funds have forced districts to rely on local taxes to pay for buildings. Previous legislative attempts to allow charters to receive local tax revenue have foundered.

Competition between districts and charters for scarce funding through the state’s Public Education Capital Outlay has become a perennial topic of fierce, and often distorted, debates.

“I think we need to keep the kids first in our minds … and recognize that charter schools are public schools, a piece of our choice,” said Connie Milito, a lobbyist for the Hillsborough County school district. The question, she said, is “how are we as a state going to fund their facilities?”

Members of the group tossed out suggestions like the lottery, other state gambling revenues, and even local revenue for tourism promotion. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Testing, Charlie Crist, tax credit scholarships & more

Tax credit scholarships. Charlie Crist, a staunch supporter of tax credit scholarships in the past, won’t denounce the lawsuit filed by the FSBA and FEA to end the program. Miami Herald. The head of the Florida Association of School Administrators explains his support for the suit. Crestview News Bulletin (Hat tip: Gradebook).

florida-roundup-logoSchool choice. A ‘bumper crop of litigation’ threatens school choice in Florida. Watchdog.org.

Charter schools. The West Palm Beach mayor and Palm Beach County superintendent will meet to discuss a proposed city-run charter school. Palm Beach Post.

Magnet schools. The Pasco County School District will open its first in 2015, in part to ease overcrowding concerns at other schools. Gradebook.

Virtual school. Florida Virtual School snags an area superintendent from the Orange County School District to be its COO. SchoolZone.

Single-gender classrooms. Ones in the Broward County School District are among those targeted in an ACLU complaint. South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Parents. Dads march in Daytona to show support for their children’s education. Daytona Beach News Journal.

Testing. The Palm Beach County School Board opts not to opt out. South Florida Sun Sentinel. Support grows for an Alachua County kindergarten teacher who refuses to administer a standardized test used for diagnostic purposes. Gainesville Sun.

School boards. A new report looks at how much board members are paid, county by county. Gradebook. Continue Reading →

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