Florida roundup: School board races, enrollment, start times and more


Education reform. Gov. Rick Scott releases a second-term education agenda. Times/Herald. Tampa Tribune. Gainesville SunredefinED. A Tampa Bay Times columnist criticizes the governor over testing.

Campaigns. It’s election day. Charter schools are among the issues at stake in Clay County school board races. Florida Times-Union. Common Core looms large at all levels. Naples Daily News. WJCT looks at spending in school board races.

Enrollment. Sarasota classrooms aren’t as crowded as officials expected. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Start times. Advocates for a later start to the school day have their cause bolstered by a new study. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Accountability. This will be a lower-stakes “baseline year” for school accountability. Ocala Star-Banner.

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Scott: Let more children access Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts

Florida’s Republican governor says he wants to expand the pool of children who would qualify for the state’s new personal learning accounts.

Scott Personal Learning Scholarship Account event

Gov. Rick Scott at a recent campaign event focused on special needs students.

In the midst of a contentious back-and-forth over education, Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign released a second-term agenda Monday morning. The Associated Press has fleshed out some details already, but one noteworthy proposal hasn’t gotten much attention: A declaration that, if re-elected, the governor “will expand the list of disabilities that are eligible for the Florida Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts.”

Now in their first year, the accounts are available to children in eight categories of significant special needs, including autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. Scott indicated during previous campaign events that he planned to expand the accounts, but had not specified what form he hoped that expansion would take.

Education has become a central issue in the the governor’s race. Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who is expected to gain the Democratic nomination after Tuesday’s primary, recently attacked Scott on education funding during a statewide bus tour.

Scott has responded with pledges to spend a record amount on public schools next year, followed by the more detailed education agenda released Monday. The agenda also includes an idea Crist has also endorsed: Allowing businesses to apply for tax credits if they donate to public schools. That plan is intended to mimic the state’s tax credit scholarship program, which allows companies to receive tax credits if they help fund tuition for private-school students. It’s not clear exactly how the idea would work in practice.

Both the tax credit scholarships and personal learning accounts are administered by scholarship funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

The Crist campaign dismissed the Monday announcement, with a spokesman repeating its attacks on education cuts during Scott’s first year in office to the the Miami Herald.


Parents hope to revive F-rated charter school poised for closure

The parents love the school, even though the state says it’s failing. So against all odds, they’re looking for options to stave off its closure.

Shing Star charter school

Shining Star Academy of the Arts

Shining Star Academy of the Arts, a charter school in Columbia County, Fla., received F grades from the state in its first two years of operation. Under state law, it must lose its charter. But supporters say its music, drama and arts programs provide unique options to rural students in North Florida.

So they’ve come up with a plan. Over the next three months, while the current school winds down, they want to fast-track an application for a new, academically revitalized institution that could take over in the middle of the school year, serving the same children in the same location under new leadership.

That scenario would likely be unprecedented for a Florida charter school that faces closure under the state’s “double-F” law. Getting the local school board to approve the plan may be a long shot. But there’s nothing in state law that prevents supporters from trying. They say they plan to raise the idea at the board’s meeting Tuesday, when it’s scheduled to formally terminate the school’s charter.

Shining Star’s attributes, including its heavy focus on the arts, drew parents from surrounding rural counties, undeterred by its academic struggles. Sometimes, there’s a big disconnect between what regulators and parents think is a good school.

“My kids had never been able to learn music,” said Takeya Cray, who said she planned to keep her fifth grader and eighth grader enrolled as long as the school stayed open. “Now, one of them plays the guitar, one of them plays the cello. I like that.”

Tony Buzzella, the founder and current principal, opened the Shining Star more than two years ago, not long after the death of his friend and mentor, the prominent Lake City musician and educator Alfonso Levy. The two men envisioned a K-8 school where children could learn to play instruments and cultivate a love for the arts. Buzzella said the school had realized key parts of that vision – as he put it, “More arts, no bullies.”

What was lacking, especially in the early going, was academics. Particularly math.

In the 2012-13 school year, one out of four fourth graders scored a 3 or higher on the FCAT math tests. In other grades, the numbers were worse. Buzzella made changes. He replaced a math teacher and extended the school day. Test scores rose in some areas in the second year, but remained among the lowest in the county, and the school still got an F.

Buzzella said the school had shown improvement, and one more year would be enough to right its course.

Many parents – some of whom had previously eschewed the public school system – were in his corner.

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Florida roundup: Charter schools, teacher conduct, testing and more

Charter schools. A host of new schools, not all of them reputable, submit charter applications. Sun-Sentinel. Fewer charter schools apply in Flagler and Volusia Counties. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Officials debate the location of a planned West Palm Beach charter. Palm Beach Post. A Post columnist weighs in.

florida-roundup-logoTeacher conduct. Administrative law judges repeatedly thwart Broward’s attempts to fire teachers. Sun-Sentinel. A Southwest Florida teacher is accused of sleeping in class. Naples Daily News.

Digital learning. A state Board of Education member helps create financial incentives for children to obtain technology-related industry certifications. Keynoter.

Campaigns. WFTV offers its take on school choice supporters getting involved in school board races. Pinellas school board candidates debate background checks and felony records. Tampa Bay Times.

Career education. A Hernando aviation program launches as hoped after enrollment rises. Tampa Bay Times.

Testing. The FCAT reading exam trips up a recent Chinese immigrant on the path to a diploma, drawing a lawmaker’s attention. Orlando Sentinel. A South Florida teacher is accused of helping students during FCAT testing. Sun-Sentinel. Summer algebra camps boost the pass rate on algebra end-of-course exams. Lakeland Ledger. Opting out becomes a hot topic in Palm Beach. Palm Beach Post.

Private schools. The Bradenton Herald profiles an Episcopal school’s cultural exchange program with Chinese students.

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More Florida parents choose home education

For a growing number of Florida families, back-to-school season doesn’t mean a return to the classroom, per se. In the past several years, the state’s home education programs have grown faster than most of its school districts.

Home education enrollment

The top 10 Florida school districts for homeschooling remained the same in the two most recent school years, but enrollment patterns shifted.

That remained true last year, even though growth in homeschool enrollment slowed considerably, according to the latest annual report, released this week by the state Department of Education.

The report is based on data collected by school districts, which help keep track of home education students. It shows the number of students enrolled in home education grew 1.7 percent last school year, its slowest growth rate since 2008. That still outpaced enrollment increases in the state’s 2.7 million-student public school system, which grew by less than 1 percent.

And by another measure – the number of participating families – home education grew more quickly.

Statewide, nearly 57,000 families chose to homeschool their children in the 2013-14 school year, a 4.6 percent increase from the year before. There’s also some significant variations in homeschool participation in different parts of the state.

Duval County, Florida’s sixth-largest school district, has the largest number of homeschool students and accounted for 7.7 percent of the state total. The largest district, Miami-Dade County, is home to less than 5 percent of Florida’s homeschool students, and has fewer than some smaller districts like Orange and Brevard, according to the report.

While the top 10 school districts remained the same in both 2012-13 and 2013-14, there were some shifts. The share of home-education students coming from Hillsborough declined, but the share in Pasco increased.


Florida roundup: Funding, testing, tax credit scholarships and more

Tax credit scholarships. The Palm Beach Post criticizes this year’s school choice legislation in an editorial.

Charter schools. WPTV scrutinizes Charter Schools USA’s real estate operations.

florida-roundup-logoFunding. Gov. Rick Scott promises record funding for schools in the midst of a re-election battle. Associated Press. Times/Herald. Palm Beach Post.

Campaigns. Partisan politics rear their head in a supposedly nonpartisan Hernando school board race. Tampa Bay Times. The Florida Times-Union looks at school board campaigns in Putnam and Baker Counties.

School boards. The Palm Beach Post examines possible Sunshine violations by the local school board.

Budgets. School district employees’ travel comes under scrutiny in Pasco. Tampa Bay Times. A Marion school board member reverses course on restoring funding to arts programs. Ocala Star-Banner.

Testing. Is opting out really an option for parents? Palm Beach Post.

Superintendents. Clay County’s showdown over elected-vs-appointed heads to court. Florida Times-Union.

Tutoring. An audit finds problems with supplemental instruction for low-income children at a Lee County school. Fort Myers News-Press.

Security. A school administrator saves a student from an on-campus attack. Palm Beach Post.

Growth. The Santa Rosa district sees larger than expected enrollment increases. Pensacola News-Journal.


Engaging teacher unions will accelerate transition to parental choice

This post first appeared on the Friedman Foundation blog.

Social movements such as women’s suffrage, black civil rights, and parental choice in education involve the redistribution of social, political, and economic power. Because few groups in control of that power at the time are enlightened enough to share it voluntarily, these power struggles are usually contentious—but they don’t have to be.

Although school choice opponents have used name-calling, character assassination, and misinformation as key strategies in maintaining their power, thankfully they have refrained from the physical violence that often accompanies disruptive social change. The bad news is their strategies still undermine our civic discourse and make it more difficult to provide every child with an equal opportunity to succeed. Our children and our democracy deserve better.

Despite the opposition’s tact, school choice supporters should try engaging opponents, particularly teachers’ unions. I know that is easier said than done, but, in the long run, the willingness to search for common ground could accelerate the transition to greater school choice. I say this as someone who’s had a front-row seat on both sides of this debate.

I became a teachers’ union organizer in 1978, and, for the next 16 years, held a variety of local, state, and national leadership positions in both the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA). Today, I am president of a nonprofit organization that helps administer our nation’s largest private school choice program.

Although neither side is without sin, I have been most disappointed by the discourse coming from the teachers’ unions and their anti-choice allies. When I talk with local, state, and national union leaders, I am stunned at how uninformed they are and how many falsehoods they have embraced as truths.

I recently had dinner with one of our country’s top teachers’ union leaders who told me there has never been research showing students benefit from school choice programs. And last month, I was on a panel with a top Miami-Dade union leader who erroneously said Florida’s tax credit students are not tested.

This level of ignorance is a reflection of how insular, polarized, and tribal our politics have become. People are increasingly retreating into self-contained echo chambers where they hear only the messages that reflect the positions of their political tribe. Without access to contrary views from sources they know and trust, people have no basis upon which to question the one-sided communications they are receiving. And few organizations are as insular and tribal as teachers’ unions.

Such insularity causes many union leaders to develop a mindset that says their positions are good and all contrary positions, and those who hold them, are evil—hence all the rhetoric coming from teachers’ union leaders.

There are also financial incentives at play. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, campaigns, teacher quality and more

Charter schools. A Duval charter school that just opened is at risk of being shut down. Florida Times-Union. Children affected by a charter school’s miscalculation are placed in new schools. Gradebook.  WTVJ follows up on the impending closure of a South Florida charter school. Two small Palm Beach charters fail to open due to lack of enrollment. Palm Beach Post. A Polk Montessori preschool looks to open a K-8 charter. Lakeland Ledger.

florida-roundup-logoCampaigns. School choice supporters pour money into a Volusia school board race. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Teacher quality. A study finds the least experienced Miami-Dade teachers often end up in schools with the greatest needs. Miami Herald.

College readiness. New scores show Florida students struggle on the ACT. Tampa Tribune. Patricia Levesque sounds a not of urgency on the EdFly. Results improve in Brevard and Alachua. Florida Today. Gainesville Sun.

Facilities. Officials look into the possibility of a new high school in Bonita Springs. Fort Myers News-Press.

Polling. The latest PDK/Gallup education survey shows support falling for Common Core. Sentinel School ZoneStateImpact. The American Federation for Children provides a disclaimer for the poll’s voucher results.

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