Florida schools roundup: Lawsuits, PLSAs, testing and more

Lawsuits. Watchdog.org writes up the latest in the legal battle over Florida’s school choice legislation.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Backers of a proposed charter at MacDill Air Force Base are waiting on the base commander to weigh in. Tampa Bay Times.

PLSA. The state Board of Education is set to approve rules for Florida’s new special needs scholarship accounts. Gradebook.

Learning. An active learner program in Pasco schools lets students shape their own lessons. Tampa Bay Times.

Testing. Gradebook catches up with the Lee County School Board member leading the charge against testing in Florida schools.

Health. Duval schools officials investigate a case of tuberculosis. Florida Times-Union.

Sunshine. The Manatee School Board faces a a transparency lawsuit over its hiring of security guards. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald.

Labor. Manatee schools plan on a 2 percent raise for support staff. Bradenton Herald. Pasco’s superintendent rejects teachers’ complaints over training time tied to professional learning communities. Tampa Bay Times.

Security. A student who brought a gun to a Duval school faces expulsion. Florida Times-Union.

Parent involvement. The Hernando school district starts a parent academy to increase involvement at Title I schools. Tampa Bay Times.

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Howard Fuller: More diversity needed for ed reform to be sustainable

While some ed reform and parental choice organizations are working hard to increase diversity, there still aren’t enough people of color in leadership positions, says longtime parental choice activist Howard Fuller. And unless that and related concerns are addressed, the ed reform movement could be on shaky ground.

“The other thing that we have to do on that score is how we go into communities, and the discussions that we have with the people in those communities,” Fuller told redefinED, describing recent discussions he had with a cross-section of African Americans in New Orleans about ed reform. “And the thing that kept coming across clearly, no matter who I talked to was, we feel like this has been done to us and not with us. We have got to change that kind of idea about ed reform. And if we don’t, I’m worried about the long-term sustainability.”

Fuller’s comments came in a wide-ranging Skype interview, where he answered questions about this new book, “No Struggle, No Progress,” and a host of timely issues. The interview runs about 40 minutes, but it’s Howard Fuller, so it’s worth your time. Here is a mini-index of highlighted excerpts, along with the point at which they come up in the interview:

On clearing up misconceptions about what brought him to his position on parental choice (3:43)

The reason I started out (the book) with the meeting with President Bush – other than shock value – was, it really did explain … this man is sitting down talking to me. He really thinks he knows me, but he doesn’t know me. And all kinds of people think they know me, but they don’t really know me … I really don’t worry a lot about clearing up misperceptions. But what I really did want to do was to tell my own story in my own way, and whatever comes of that, fine.

On not knowing much about Milton Friedman until he became a voucher supporter (6:28)

I actually got in a debate with Milton Friedman at a dinner in honor of Milton Friedman … He didn’t agree with me that it should be focused on low-income parents, because he believed in universal vouchers, which I will never support. It is true, I really did not come to it from the free-market standpoint. For me, it has always been an issue of social justice, and so that means that the framework that I use to look at it is probably very different. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Lawsuits, charter schools, teachers and more

Lawsuits. A judge dismisses a lawsuit challenging school choice legislation, but gives lawyers for the teachers union a chance to rework their case. redefinEDTimes/Herald. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Associated PressTampa Tribune. A Palm Beach Post editorial backs a separate lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of tax credit scholarships.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. The Hillsborough school board appears poised to reject a proposed charter at MacDill Air Force Base. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher conduct. Two Hillsborough teachers are expected to face consequences for drug arrests. Tampa Tribune. The state Board of Education plans to set rules defining teacher immorality outside the workplace. Gradebook.

Testing. The Fort Myers News-Press follows up on the local school board’s decision to scale back district assessments. More here. A Lee school board member will lead an anti-testing lobbying push. Naples Daily News.

Security. The Manatee school district plans to ask the Attorney General’s office if arming its new security guards is legal. Bradenton Herald.

Continue Reading →

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Lawsuit challenging Florida school choice legislation hits snag

A lawsuit challenging Florida’s newest school choice legislation hit a roadblock Wednesday, as a Leon County circuit judge found the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the case.

Judge Charles Francis dismissed the case from the bench after a brief hearing, but gave the people challenging the law 15 days to rework their arguments.

The plaintiffs, including a public-school history teacher from Lee County, could not show they were harmed by a law that created new Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts and expanded access to the state’s tax credit scholarship program, along with a number of other education-related measures.

As a result, they had to argue SB 850 fell under an exception, which allows taxpayers to challenge laws that violate constitutional limits on the Legislature’s authority to tax or spend.

Ramya Ravindran, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, argued parts of the new law, including the creation of new school choice accounts for special needs students, “arise under the Legislature’s taxing and spending power.”

But Jonathan Glogau, a lawyer for the state, argued if that rule applied to SB 850, it would apply to just about any legislation, since most bills that create new programs have some bearing on the state budget.

Francis agreed.

Continue Reading →

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More FL Republicans urge FSBA to drop school choice suit

Republican leaders in a second Florida county are condemning the Florida School Boards Association and other groups for filing suit to end the state’s tax credit scholarship program for low-income students.

Dougher

Dougher

A resolution passed late Monday by the Republican Executive Committee in Clay County, in suburban Jacksonville, calls on registered Republicans to oppose the suit and urges Republican school board members to “take all appropriate measures to force the Florida School Boards Association to remove itself as a litigant.”

The move follows in the footsteps of a similar resolution passed by the REC in neighboring Duval County last week. And it’s especially noteworthy given that the chair of the Clay County Republican Party, Leslie Dougher, is also chair of the Republican Party of Florida.

The 13-year-old Florida tax credit scholarship program is the largest private school choice program in the nation. It is administered by scholarship funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. The program is serving 68,450 students this fall (as of the latest count Wednesday afternoon), about 70 percent of them black or Hispanic.

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Survey: Private school graduates just as civic minded as public school peers

cardusSchool choice critics often suggest that only public schools can create public good. But a new education survey finds private school students are not only more likely to graduate from college and earn advanced degrees, but are as civic minded as their public school counterparts.

The study, “Private Schools for the Public Good,” released by Cardus, a Christian think tank from Canada, surveyed 1,500 U.S. high school graduates, ages 24 to 39. The research team, which included several professors from the University of Notre Dame, surveyed graduates from different education sectors, including public schools, home education and private schools, both faith-based and non-religious. Since private school students tend to be more affluent than public school students, the researchers also attempted to make controls for demographic differences between sectors.

The survey found graduates of private schools reported higher satisfaction from their school experience. They were also more likely to feel their high school prepared them well for college and career. Graduates of non-religious private schools felt the most satisfied with their education experience (65 percent were highly satisfied) compared to all other educational options, including public school graduates (46 percent).

Among other findings, science education in private schools appears on average to be at least as strong as in public schools. Catholic school students were likely to take more math and science courses than their public school counterparts; students at evangelical Protestant schools took about the same number.

Private school students are also more likely to graduate from college. According to the survey, 77 percent of nonreligious private school graduates, 75 percent of Catholic school graduates and 64 percent of Protestant school graduates attended and graduated from college, compared to 57 percent of the public school graduates surveyed. Students attending non-religious private schools were the most likely to obtain professional or doctoral degrees. All private school sectors outpaced public schools when controlling for family differences. Continue Reading →

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Florida Roundup: Charter schools, private schools, testing and more

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Charter schools. Hillsborough district officials continue to find fault with a proposed charter school at MacDill Air Force Base. Tampa Tribune. South Miami city officials investigate “racial disparities” at a local charter school. Miami Herald. Charter law changes are part of the Broward district’s legislative platform. Sun-Sentinel. Polk’s charter review board recommends rejecting seven applications. Lakeland Ledger.

Digital learning. Orange County schools experiment with one-to-one digital devices. Orlando Sentinel. Pinellas schools get about $1.1 million for technology upgrades. Tampa Tribune. St. Johns officials say state funding doesn’t go far enough. St. Augustine Record.

Private schools. Charters and Choice talks tuition increases.

Testing. School districts inveigh against mandatory tests. Tampa Bay Times. The Brevard school board weighs in. Florida Today. More from the Gainesville Sun. The Lee County school district pares back district-mandated assessments. Fort Myers News-Press. Naples Daily News.

School supplies. Miami-Dade teachers are still waiting on debit cards to help them purchase classroom supplies a month into the semester. Miami Herald.

Continue Reading →

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Prominent law firm wants out of Florida education lawsuit

Mills

Mills

One of the key legal advisers behind a lawsuit challenging multiple aspects of Florida’s education system is asking to withdraw from the case, at the same time his law firm is backing a national legal push aimed at changing education policies around the country.

Jon Mills, a former speaker of the Florida House, is an architect of a state constitutional provision at the center of the so-called adequacy lawsuit and helped guide the case when it was first filed in 2009. Earlier this month, however, he filed court papers asking a judge to withdraw his firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP — from the case.

The firm’s chairman, David Boies, is leading an effort to challenge teacher tenure laws in New York. He’s indicated in recent media interviews that he plans to pursue similar lawsuits elsewhere, and may wade into issues like funding equity.

Boies said in an interview with The Washington Post that he is crafting a state-by-state strategy regarding teacher tenure because many state constitutions explicitly require the provision of an equal education to all public school students.

“Our initial approach is state law,” he said. “And we’ll see how much progress we can make using state law.”

The U.S. Constitution does not include the right to education. But civil rights activists used the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment — which says that no state shall deny to any person “the equal protection of the laws” — as the basis for Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision that put an end to racially segregated schools.

Bringing arguments in state court can help lay the groundwork for an eventual Supreme Court case, Boies said. He noted that the fight for gay marriage was initially waged state-by-state. “It helped frame the issue,” Boies said. “It helped raise people’s knowledge about the issue.”

When Florida’s drawn-out legal battle began picking up steam earlier this year, what began as a suit focused on adequate school funding expanded into a number of other areas, challenging multiple school choice programs and the system for evaluating teachers.

Mills was among the backers of a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998, which requires the Legislature to provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.” As he explained during a forum last fall at the University of Florida, the goal was to create legally enforceable standards for the quality of the state’s school system.

He has since helped advise the plaintiffs in the Florida adequacy lawsuit, which argues the state has failed to live up to those standards.

The Gainesville-based public interest group Southern Legal Counsel has been serving as lead counsel in the case. In the legal filing seeking to withdraw from the case, Mills doesn’t provide details about what prompted the move, but indicates it would not delay progress in the case, which is scheduled to be heard in a Leon County courtroom next summer.

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