FL Senate could increase military commanders’ role in charter schools

The Florida Senate wants to increase the role of military base commanders in creating charter schools on their installations.

At its core, the Senate’s charter school legislation remains short and simple, placing it on a potential collision course with the House, which has proposed a broader overhaul of Florida charter school laws.

MacDillUnder the latest rewrite, approved Wednesday by the Senate Education Appropriations subcommittee, the Senate legislation would allow military commanders to sit on charter school governing boards and to submit applications to open charter schools on their bases.

It would avoid more contentious changes to charter school statutes.

Earlier this year, supporters withdrew an appeal to open a charter school on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa after their plan was rebuffed by the local school district (more background here). They have pledged to rework the application and make another attempt.

The issue got the attention of lawmakers, who already have approved legislation intended to encourage charter schools for military families. Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, said the new charter school legislation would “recognize that there are unique needs at our military installations.”

Democrats proposed a series of other changes to the bill, some them backed by school districts. But they were defeated after Legg and others warned the amendments could make it more difficult for new charter schools to open. The committee heard wide-ranging debate and testimony about various other provisions that are no longer in the bill, but remain part of the House legislation.

“One thing I’ve learned in the Legislature in my now going on 10 sessions is every year we’ll debate a budget, and every year we’ll debate charter schools,” Legg said. “This is the charter school debate of 2014, but it deals with military charter schools, and that’s it.”


Catholic school parents hope to save their school

The desks in Mary Ann Camisa’s classroom are arranged in the shape of a horseshoe, but one sits on its own, in the center.

photo 2The middle spot is reserved for the fourth-grader who is designated the “Christian citizen” – a rotating designation for the student who had come to class the most prepared, or displayed the best attitude.

The seat of honor is a reminder that Pope John Paul II Catholic School in Lecanto, about 80 miles north of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast, is different than the other schools in the area, both public and private. It also helps explain why parents in this exurban stretch of Florida are on edge.

Pope John Paul II is the only Catholic school in Citrus County. And like other Catholic schools around the country, its future is in doubt.

Closure would mean long hauls to Ocala or Spring Hill for those who want to keep their kids in Catholic schools. It would also mean the loss of a community anchor – the same kind of loss, frankly, that public school parents often feel when their neighborhood schools are shuttered or at risk of folding.

“What we have here is intangible,” Camisa, a 22-year veteran of the school, said as her students wrapped up a school day late last month. “It’s the environment. It’s something gets instilled along the way.”

Parents learned in early March that the Diocese of St. Petersburg, faced with flagging enrollment and the need for costly repairs, was on the verge of closing the 29-year-old school. It serves about 150 students from preschool to eighth grade.

Since then, the parents have held rallies and enrollment drives. They’ve started raising money for repairs. They’ve tried to spread the word about scholarships and subsidies that can help families afford a Catholic education. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Class size, catholic schools, tax credit scholarships and more

Class size. Duval County schools could achieve more flexibility by designating more “schools of choice.” Florida Times-Union.

florida-roundup-logoCatholic schools. A Tampa Catholic school is back “in the black.” Tampa Tribune. Citrus County parents hope to get their school there, too. RedefinED.

Tax credit scholarships. Parents should have more options, one parent writes in the Sun-Sentinel. The Tampa Bay Times and the Palm Beach Post publish editorials denouncing legislation that would expand the program. An amendment set to be heard today on the House floor would remove a proposed increase in the scholarship cap. News Service of Florida.

Crowding. A Pasco County high school abandons a plan that would have had some students taking classes from home during the day. Tampa Bay Times. Escambia schools work on plans for building, repairing and rezoning their schools with the help of a tax voters would need to approve. Pensacola News-Journal.

Teacher evaluations. The Tampa Tribune writes up the VAM-free approaches being tried in Pinellas, and reports the Gates Foundation is now evaluating Hillsborough’s program.

School boards. The Brevard board sets a new school closure policy. Florida Today. An assistant principal enters the race for a Hernando County seat. Tampa Bay Times.

Continue Reading →


Amendment filed to scale back FL school choice scholarship bill

From the News Service of Florida:

The co-sponsor of a measure that would overhaul the state’s de facto voucher program has filed an amendment that would scale back the legislation by removing one of the more controversial elements.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, filed an amendment Tuesday that would strike a proposal to increase the cap on fundraising for the program. The original proposal would have upped the cap to about $30 million above what it would otherwise be over the next five years, assuming the number of students using the vouchers continued to grow. If Diaz’s amendment is approved, the bill would mostly expand the eligibility for the program and boost the amount that each scholarship would cover.

The House could consider amendments to the bill (HB 7167) as soon as Wednesday.

The Senate, meanwhile, has shown no interest in attaching the voucher provisions to a bill (SB 1512) that would help parents pay for education services for disabled children — something that is also included in the House bill. Senators withdrew a stand-alone voucher proposal last month.

Editor’s note: The tax credit scholarship (aka “voucher”) program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.


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 →