Scott okays funding for digital learning, nixes it for single-gender schools

Florida school districts will have to come up with a detailed strategy for using technology in their classrooms under a bill Gov. Rick Scott approved today alongside the state budget.

The governor approved the $77 billion spending plan that sets aside additional funding for “digital classrooms,” as well as legislation that could set the stage for increases  in the coming years.

Requests for money to help school districts upgrade their technology infrastructure and train their teachers to use the devices has varied widely in recent years, from a request of more than $400 million last year to the $40 million the state Board of Education sought this year.

Key lawmakers, including Senate Education Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, said one reason for the variation is state officials often don’t have reliable information on school districts’ digital learning needs.

For that reason, Legg sponsored a bill requiring districts to set specific digital learning goals tied to improving student achievement, and allowing them to receive dedicated funding tied to those goals. That legislation made its way into a larger education funding package Scott signed today. In a statement responding to Scott’s signing of HB 5101, Legg said the governor “understands the vital need for a continued focus in digital education in the classroom.”

The first round of district digital learning plans is due to the state Department of Education in October. Those plans will then be tied to funding in the budget. The amount is $40 million in the spending plan that takes effect July 1, but it could increase in future years once the plans are in place. The legislation sets an annual funding target of about $100 million.

Scott took a light touch with line-item vetoes, approving most of the education-related projects in the budget. However, he rejected $300,000 in funding that would have gone to help train teachers at single-gender schools in Duval and Broward counties.

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Will Florida school districts open ‘innovation schools?’

Starting this month, Florida school districts will be able to start their own version of charter schools, which would be bound by performance contracts and freed from a range of state regulations.

The question now is, will they?

Charter school legislation passed last year included provisions allowing districts to create Innovation Schools of Technology. Last month, the state Board of Education approved a process that allowing districts to apply to create the schools. But restrictions on the program could bar most Florida school districts from participating, at least for now.

The original proposal was advanced by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. A former superintendent, he was an early supporter of the charter school movement in Leon County. Now head of the state school superintendents association, he said during last year’s legislative session that the proposal would allow school districts “to be able to benefit from the flexibility that the charter schools have used to be innovative and creative in the other public schools.”

Though they would still be run by school districts and subject to their collective bargaining agreements, the innovation schools would, in other ways, function a lot like charter schools.  They would be exempt from most of the state laws that make up the state’s education code. and have the same flexibility charter schools enjoy under the state’s class size limits. In exchange for the greater freedom, they would have to enter performance contracts with the state Board of Education.

The legislation ultimately approved by Gov. Rick Scott was also designed to help districts experiment with blended learning. Each innovation school will have to use a system such as the “flex model” or the “flipped classroom,” in which students receive a portion of their instruction through a virtual education system, and a portion in-person from their teacher.

To participate in the new option, a district must have been rated A or B in each of the past three school years. Last year’s tumbling school grades shrank the potential pool, leaving 21 districts that meet that requirement.

Nearly half of those districts may not be eligible for other reasons. Districts looking to start innovation schools must have either 5 percent of their students enrolled in charter schools, or a fifth of their students enrolled in schools of choice.

An analysis of enrollment surveys and district grades showed 10 school districts would have qualified based on data from the 2012-13 school year. Two of those - Miami-Dade and Palm Beach – have started other experiments with blended learning in collaboration with Florida Virtual School.

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redefinED roundup: Scholarships under legal attack in FL and AL, Catholics rally for choice in NY & more

MondayRoundUp_redAlabama: A state judge struck down the tax credit scholarship program on procedural grounds while ignoring the teacher union claims that the program violated separation of church and state (Montgomery Advertiser, Education Week, AL.comWAFF, Watchdog). Lawyers for the state and parents file a motion to lift the injunction against the program (AL.com). Parents and teachers react to the judge’s ruling (WSFA 12). Judge Reese, who declared the tax credit scholarship program unconstitutional, is a Democrat and has thwarted Republicans on education issues in the past (AL.com). Katherine Green Robertson, a senior policy counsel for the Alabama Policy Institute, says the court decision was a political attack on students and school choice (AL.com).

California: Campbell Brown spotlights Vergara v. California, where nine students are suing the state over education policies they argue worsen quality (The Daily Beast).

Colorado: A group opposing education vouchers takes their case to the state Supreme Court (Chalkbeat).

D.C.: A proposed bill will make it easier for children of charter school teachers to enroll where their parents work (Washington Post).

Florida: The first proposed charter school conversion in Broward County awaits approval (Miami Herald). A group amends a 2009 adequacy lawsuit to include McKay Scholarships, tax-credit scholarships and charter schools as culprits for the alleged under-funding of public schools (Orlando Sentinel, redefinED). The Florida League of Women Voters release a report critical of charter schools (Jacksonville Free Press, Orlando Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times). Charter school advocates call the report “flawed” (Palm Beach Post). Henry Fortier, the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Orlando Diocese, says school choice doesn’t pit private schools against public schools (Orlando Sentinel). Leaders in Pinellas County react to changes in the law including the expansion of school choice in the state (Tampa Tribune). School choice critics ask the governor to veto the new laws expanding school choice in the state (WJHG).

Illinois: The Chicago Tribune hosts a debate between school choice supporters and opponents (Huffington Post). The senate votes to require charter schools to accept special needs and English language learners (Sun Times).

Indiana: A group opposing vouchers and charter schools previews a documentary to teachers, union members and school administrators (Muncie Free Press). Enrollment at Indiana Cyber School doubles but the school is still in debt (Trib Town).

Kentucky: Jim Waters, president of the Bluegrass Institute, says charter school critics shouldn’t focus on administrator salaries when some school districts have more employees making over $100,000 a year than the state capitol (Times-Tribune).

Louisiana: The last five traditional public schools in New Orleans close their doors for good (Washington Post, Joannejacobs.com). Gov. Bobby Jindal roasts President Obama over many issues including parental choice (Times-Picayune). The House votes 73-15 to allow students to transfer out of  lower-performing schools (New Orleans Business Journal). Test scores for voucher students improve (Times-Picayune). Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Lawsuits, education legislation, graduation and more

Lawsuits. A lawsuit seeking sweeping changes to Florida’s education system widens to include school choice programs. redefinED. Orlando Sentinel.

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Graduation. The entire graduating class at a Lakewood Ranch private school is bound for college. Bradenton Herald. Career center graduates celebrate hard-won diplomas. Tampa Bay Times. A terminally ill dad gets to see his son graduate high school. Tampa Tribune.

Legislation. Pinellas County school district officials sound off on this year’s legislative session, including school choice bills. Tampa Tribune.

Charter schools. The Lake Wales municipal charter system eyes expansion at one of its campuses. Lakeland Ledger.

Magnet schools. A Polk County magnet school helps provide a reading-friendly environment. Lakeland Ledger.

Common Core. Jeb Bush faces criticism for promoting the standards. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →

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Florida school funding lawsuit attacks school choice programs

A lawsuit seeking more funding for public education has widened to challenge programs that help Florida parents send their children to private schools.

The original case aimed to put Florida’s education system on trial, arguing among other things that lawmakers had not adequately funded public schools, in violation of the state constitution. 

An amended legal complaint filed late Friday afternoon adds new claims to the case, challenging the tax credit scholarship program for low-income students and the McKay Scholarship program for special-needs students.

First filed nearly five years ago, the case centers on a requirement in the state constitution that the Legislature must provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.”

The revised lawsuit contends:

Many of the State’s reforms and programs, including the accountability system, changes to the graduation requirements, retention and promotion requirements, teacher evaluations, charter schools, and the FTCSP and the McKay Programs, have wasted millions of dollars without producing the desired effect of a high quality public school system, and are thus not efficient.

It also argues the state “is not providing a high quality pre-kindergarten learning opportunity,” in violation of a related constitutional provision that led to the creation of Florida’s Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the state Opportunity Scholarship voucher program, which used state education funding to help pay private school tuition for children in poorly rated public schools, was unconstitutional.

The ruling in Bush v. Holmes hinged in part on the fact that the program used funds already set aside for education. Justices gave themselves room to rule differently on other private school choice programs, including those that cater to students with disabilities.

Neither McKay nor tax credit scholarships have faced a similar constitutional challenge until now. The revised lawsuit argues that by creating and expanding the two scholarship programs, “the Florida Legislature intended to divert public money from the education finance program and use this money instead to fund private school vouchers.” Continue Reading →

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Florida’s tax credit scholarship program the most regulated such program in U.S.

FFstudypicAs Florida lawmakers voted this year to strengthen a scholarship for low-income students, critics took repeated aim at issues of accountability, arguing the students don’t take standardized tests and the schools are “unaccountable” and “unregulated.” But a new national report, “Public Rules on Private Schools,” by Andrew Catt of the Friedman Foundation, demonstrates that such claims are exaggerated.

Friedman, a free-market education think tank, actually ranks the Florida tax credit scholarship as the most regulated state scholarship law in the nation. Participating private schools in Florida are required to administer standardized tests and, as far as accountability to the public goes, face twice as many reporting requirements as non-participating private schools. Friedman also ranked the Florida scholarship as third most regulated among all 23 state voucher and tax credit scholarship programs combined.

Catt analyzed private school regulations before and after the passage of 23 private school choice programs from around the nation. Each regulatory statute is weighted -3 to +3 and assigned to one of nine categories such as, “paperwork, reporting,” “testing, accountability,” and “curriculum, instruction.” Negative scores represented regulatory requirements/burdens while positive scores represented protections for schools such as funding parity or regulatory cost reimbursements. The further the score is from zero, the bigger the impact.

“Paperwork, reporting” turns out to have the largest impact on school choice program scores, owing to the sheer number of state statutes requiring private schools to report information to the state. This does not mean reporting regulations are a bigger burden than something like uniform testing and curriculum requirements.

States across the nation already imposed regulations on private schools, such as health and safety requirements, before passing school choice programs into law. The amount of pre-school choice regulations varies from state to state. Once a school choice program passes into law, most states impose additional new regulatory burdens for private schools that wish to participate.

The new school choice regulations varied considerably depending on the type of program. Private schools participating in voucher programs saw far more new regulations than private schools participating in tax credit scholarship programs. Private schools participating in Arizona’s education savings accounts saw the least. This mirrors the findings of Andrew Coulson’s 2010 Cato Institute report. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Digital learning, Catholic schools, graduation and more

Digital learning. Improving broadband connectivity in America’s schools could cost billions. StateImpact.

florida-roundup-logoCatholic schools. A veteran educator gets a retirement send-off. Florida Times-Union.

School’s out. Students at a Brevard County magnet school look back on the year. Florida Today

Graduation. Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder don’t deter a student at Center Academy – a private school for students with moderate disabilities who is graduating with perfect attendance and heading to college. Tampa Bay Times. Graduation night is an emotional one for many at a Collier County technical school. Naples Daily News. A senior prankster gets punished for an obscene drawing on a football field. Tampa Bay Times.

Tax credit scholarships. Capitol News Service covers the groups opposing legislation that would expand eligibility for the program.

English language learners. An audit turns up problems with the ways Orange County classifies students learning English. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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Catholic superintendent: School choice doesn’t pit public vs. private

fortier2Henry Fortier, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Orlando Diocese in Florida, offered a comeback today to a column by Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell.

In his piece, entitled “Like zombies, school vouchers rise from dead,” Maxwell wrote that the tax credit scholarship bill now awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature “isn’t about reform.”

“It’s about taking money from public schools, shifting it to private ones — and not even making sure it’s being spent properly or that kids are learning anything. And just like “Night of the Living Dead,” that’s darn scary.”

In his response, Fortier highlighted Artayia Wesley, a scholarship student who attends Orlando’s St. Andrew Catholic School, which is designated a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. He also noted how the education landscape is changing in response to parental choice, and how those parents do hold private schools accountable. Here a few choice graphs:

Today’s public-education students enjoy an expanding menu of options, including open enrollment, magnet programs, career academies, online courses, International Baccalaureate, charter schools and scholarships for disabled students.

There is no reason to view any of these options as being in conflict with one another, or any of them as an attack on the traditional neighborhood school. We know from numerous independent financial evaluations on the tax-credit scholarships that they save tax money that can be used to enhance district schools. We know from academic research that the public schools most impacted by the loss of scholarship students are themselves achieving commendable test-score gains for low-income students.

While the private schools that participate in the scholarship don’t follow all the same rules and tests and grades as public schools, they are indeed held to account for how they spend their money and how well their students perform. Continue Reading →

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