Parents shouldn’t be fighting each other over school choice



Editor’s note: This post first appeared as an op-ed in the Tampa Tribune. Step Up For Students, which administers the state’s tax credit scholarship program, co-hosts this blog.

Eileen Segal is a gracious Florida PTA president who welcomed to her annual conference last summer a contingent of low-income parents who take advantage of a state scholarship for their children.

So she was speaking from the heart in a crowded House committee room last month when she said: “What you’re doing here today is very sad; it hurts my heart. Parents should not fight against parents. We all need to work together because we all want the same thing for our children — the best-quality education.”

Eileen is right, and yet she was part of a PTA group that had come to the Legislature to condemn the educational option that parents of 60,000 of the state’s poorest students have chosen this year. The audience that day was crowded with scholarship parents and their children, who in some cases sat next to PTA parents who stood on the other political side.

The PTA is not alone in this regard. A group called Parents Across Florida has written rather viciously about how the Tax Credit Scholarship for low-income children should be abandoned, even arguing that “vouchers actually strip away parents’ ultimate choice” and that parents want only neighborhood schools and “don’t want to be forced to shop around.” A group called Fund Education Now, which is led by three women who have played a constructive role in fighting for greater investment, has called the legislative effort to expand the scholarship to more underprivileged children “shameless.”

This jarring juxtaposition is hard to miss and harder to explain.

The general politics of school choice is relatively clear. Many of the established education groups reflexively oppose initiatives that are viewed as Republican priorities, which is why Democrats — even those who have supported help for low-income students in the past — are apt to run to the other corner. School boards see it as their mission to fight any program that reduces enrollment in the schools they operate, and the Florida Education Association continues to fight any option whose teachers are not represented by the union. But do parents really have to fight against each other? Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Education legislation, magnet schools, rankings and more

Education legislation. StateImpact takes a look at where key education issues stand – including tax credit scholarships and funding for charter schools – at the midway point of the legislative session.

florida-roundup-logoSchool rankings. The Washington Post ranks six Florida magnet and charter schools in the top 20 on this year’s list of the most challenging schools in the country. More here.

Tax credit scholarships. Florida’s program is the largest of its kind in the nation. WCTV. More from RedefinED.

School boundaries. Despite concerns about the impact charter schools could have on enrollment, Palm Beach County school district officials plan to alter zoning boundaries to relieve overcrowding at some locations. Palm Beach Post.

Magnet schools. A struggling Miami-Dade middle school could soon add a magnet program. Miami Herald.

School recognition. Palm Beach County schools bring in $8.4 million in bonuses this year. Sun-Sentinel. Gov. Rick Scott touts the money during a visit. Palm Beach Post.

Testing. The Utah Board of Education reaches a deal to allow Florida to lease its testing systems. Desert News, via Gradebook.

Closures. The Brevard school board is set to take up new procedures for closing schools in the future. Florida Today.

Continue Reading →


School Choice Yearbook highlights 39 programs within 19 states and D.C.

School choice programs around the nation have experienced exceptional growth – in both the number of students served and the number of programs available – over the last two decades. The Alliance for School Choice’s new yearbook documents this expansion and highlights the programs within each state.

While the school choice expansions may have suffered some early setbacks in 2014, the movement has added programs in eight states since 2010. According to the yearbook, there were seven new school choice programs passed into law in 2013 alone.

AFC Yearbook

Overall, private school choice programs grew to serve over 300,000 students in 39 different programs within 18 states plus D.C and Douglas, Co. Colorado. These programs provided students with $1.2 billion in support – an average of just $3,780 in scholarships for each student.

Voucher programs are the most numerous, but in recent years tax-credit scholarships have been more popular among legislators. Interestingly, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (which is administered by Step Up for Students one of the co-hosts of this blog) is the largest private school choice program in the nation in both the number of students served and the dollars expended. Continue Reading →


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 →


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 →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, school choice, Tony Bennett and more

Charter schools. Palm Beach County school district officials worry about the impact of expanding charter schools. Palm Beach Post. The Miami Herald flags charter schools among its examples of industries with issues in play in the legislative session that contribute to campaigns. Neighborhood groups are concerned about the traffic impact of a planned charter school for as many as 1,800 students. Herald. Miami TV stations follow a $25 million sex abuse and bullying lawsuit against a Miami charter school.  CBS Miami. NBC Miami.


Virtual schools. A virtual charter school that met resistance from school district officials says it expects enrollment numbers to rise. Tampa Bay Times.

School choice. Palm Beach County parents should be finding out whether their children were admitted to choice programs. Extra Credit.

Tony Bennett. Florida’s former education commissioner tells Chalkbeat Indiana that education reformers have lost the last several rounds of policy battles in a lengthy Q&A.

Advanced Placement. Florida’s high school graduates outpace the nation in English and social-science courses. Not so in science or Calculus. Bridge to Tomorrow.

Teacher evaluations. The Department of Education watches as a handful of Pinellas County schools experiment with alternatives to VAM scores. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


The facts behind claims of school choice Armageddon

sky is falling 2Editor’s note: This post first appeared as an op-ed in today’s Tallahassee Democrat.

Florida is looking to let 5,700 more underprivileged children attend a private school on scholarship next year, and yet some of the opponents are making it sound like a form of educational Armageddon.

In her Wednesday My View, Fund Education Now co-founder Kathleen Oropeza, whose group plays an important role in pushing for genuine investment in public education, used the Tax Credit Scholarship expansion bill as a rhetorical punching bag. It is “an unprecedented, shameless raid on our most sacrosanct revenue stream — the Florida sales and use tax” or “the largest expansion of private religious-school vouchers in state history” or “sticking taxpayers with the $2 billion tab.” The scholarship program has “zero accountability” and “offers no proof the children are learning.”

These would be heady accusations if they were true. None is.

For the record, the bill that is headed to the House floor will increase the tax credit cap next year, $358 million, by 8.3 percent and by 3.5 percent in the fifth year. For each of the next five years, the cap increase possible under current law would be bumped up by $30 million. Add those all together and you get $150 million, not $2 billion. This bill certainly will help families that have been shut out under the current cap, but it by no means makes history.

The “shameless raid” on sales taxes speaks to a provision that added a sixth tax source against which corporations could claim dollar-for-dollar tax credits. The pool of potential sales tax credits is certainly larger than any of the existing five, but that’s immaterial because the sources are collectively governed by one tax credit cap. Here’s the kicker, though: The sales tax credit has been removed. No bill currently under consideration contains it.

The assertion that there is “no proof the children are learning” ignores the six annual testing reports issued to date by the state Department of Education. Students on the scholarship are required to take nationally norm-referenced tests, and the reports have consistently issued two findings: (1) The students who choose the scholarship are the lowest academic performers from the public schools they leave behind, and (2) scholarship students are achieving the same gains in reading and math annually as students of all income levels. Senate President Don Gaetz has raised a legitimate question about whether scholarship students should take a state, rather than national, test; but the state has plenty of proof about academic performance. Continue Reading →


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: One size fits most, bipartisan support for charters and athletic admins oppose competition

MrGibbonsReportCardRepublican Naysayers

The lower house in Mississippi voted down an education savings account bill this week that would have eventually created education savings accounts for up to 700 of the state’s 65,000 special needs students. Among the no votes: 11 Republicans, more than enough to cause the bill to fail 63-57.

According to the Clarion Ledger, Rep. Tom Weathersby, one of the Republicans voting no, stated, “I want to do everything I can to help students with special needs, but I feel like in our school districts we are capable of handling most of those needs.”

 Most of those needs? Most, but not all?

An education savings accounts program – which empowers new educational possibilities – would have better allowed the state to serve ALL needs. Isn’t that the goal?

Grade: Needs Improvement


Rep. George Miller

Rep. George Miller (D) and Rep. John Kline (R)

Rep. George Miller (D – California) and Rep. John Kline (R – Minnesota) came together this week to announce a federal bill that will provide startup funds for charter schools.

The bipartisan bill consolidates two federal programs for charter schools, and bumps funding from $250 million to $300 million a year. The new program will provide incentives for states to help develop charter schools and allow charter schools with proven track records of success to access grants in order to expand operations.

Rep. John Kline

The National Education Association opposes the bill on the grounds that the federal law won’t require charters to hold open meetings or disclose private donors – two things the teacher union, coincidentally, doesn’t do either.

The bill’s bipartisan support right out of the gate is a good indication of future success.

Grade: Satisfactory


Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association

There are covert ways to limit school choice and then there are overt ways.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) has proposed one of the more obvious ways to limit choice short of banning it all together. It would outlaw charter schools from offering competitive sports if the local public school already offers that sport.

The only reason to propose such a bill is to keep athletes from transferring to charter schools.

The irony, of course, is that while the PIAA promotes healthy, safe and friendly rivalry between public school students, it wants to protect itself (and allies) from a little friendly competition.

Grade: Needs Improvement