Florida teachers union challenges school choice legislation in court

Florida’s teachers union announced a lawsuit Wednesday aiming to block a new law that, among other things, expands eligibility for tax credit scholarships and creates the second-in-the-nation personal learning scholarship accounts program.

The suit doesn’t argue the programs themselves are unconstitutional. Like a recent challenge of Alabama’s tax credit scholarship program, it focuses on how the law was passed.

The six-page complaint filed in Leon County Circuit Court argues lawmakers violated the state’s “single-subject” rule by combining the school choice measures into a larger education bill that expanded collegiate high schools, created an “early warning system” for struggling middle school students, and grew incentives for schools to offer career education programs.

“It is an outrage that corporate voucher expansion was tacked into an unrelated bill and slipped into law on the final day of session,” Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall said, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald.

The lawsuit drew a sharp response from Patricia Levesque of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, who tried to put the focus on the students who would benefit from the new options.

“There are those who believe families should have options and trust parents in those decisions for their kids,” she said in a statement. “And sadly there are those who find educational choices threatening to their political power.”

That’s what at stake. But since the lawsuit itself is about the nuances of legislative procedure, here’s some background.

The single-subject rule. Florida’s constitution requires every law to “embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title.” The union’s legal complaint argues the various provisions of SB 850 “are not related to each other, except in the broad sense that all have something to do with education.” Continue Reading →

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Surging applications shows why parental choice movement is here to stay

big waveYesterday, at 4 p.m., Step Up For Students stopped accepting tax credit scholarship applications for the 2014-15 school year. We had almost 120,000 low-income students start applications for the new school year, but we’re only able to serve about 67,000 because of a state-imposed fundraising cap. Continuing to accept applications throughout the summer would have given later-applying families false hope.

During the last legislative session, we told state officials we thought there were about 120,000 low-income children statewide who would be on scholarship if there was no cap. Maybe that guess was too low. We’ve received 26,000 more student applications this year than last, and we’d probably have at least another 20,000 applications in the system if we stayed open all summer. To be sure, not all the students who start an applications finish the application, and not all of them who do are eligible. But when the number begins to reach 140,000, it certainly gets our attention.

Every year, we have a few thousand children return their scholarships during the school year. We started a waiting list last night and as students give back their scholarships we will give the remaining portion of their scholarships to students on this wait list. This will allow us to serve an additional three or four thousand students by the end of the 2014-15 school year. Hopefully, the Florida Legislature will eventually allow us to serve every low-income child who wants a scholarship.

Much was written last spring about the Legislature’s decision to allow working-class families earning up to 260 percent of poverty to receive partial scholarships beginning with the 2016-17 school year. The Legislature did this, at least in part, because of data showing a drop of 85,000 private-paying students in K-12 private schools since 2004-05. Some private school administrators have told us and legislators that much of this drop is from working-class families who make too much to qualify for tax credit scholarships but not enough to afford private school tuition and fees. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: School choice, lawsuits, facilities and more

School choice. Responding to parent demand and competition from charter and private schools, the superintendent in Florida’s seventh largest district plans to add five new magnet programs in the coming years. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoLawsuits. The Florida Education Association says it will challenge this year’s major school choice legislation in court. The union will release specifics today, but says the lawsuit will focus on “the way it was passed.” Sentinel School Zone. Times/Herald. Education Week.

Facilities. An Okaloosa charter school eyes a new location. Northwest Florida Daily News. Seminole County schools weigh potential uses of local construction revenue. Orlando Sentinel.

Administration. Alachua County swears in a new superintendent. Gainesville Sun. The departure of a Lee County principal stirs controversy. Fort Myers News-Press.

Religion. An atheist group is allowed to distribute materials in Orange County schools, ending a lawsuit. Sentinel School Zone.

Teacher pay. Pasco schools pare back pay raises as other expenses rise. Tampa Bay Times.

School safety. The Flagler school board proposes changes to its student conduct policies. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Transportation. Hillsborough officials say they are improving the district’s bus system. Tampa Tribune.

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Spending per pauper: An education funding stat that makes no sense

price per pauperThere are many in Florida who believe the state doesn’t spend enough supporting K-12 education. It wouldn’t be too difficult to make such a case given the fact that the U.S. Census Bureau ranks Florida 39th for per-pupil spending (table 11, page 11) while the U.S. Department of Education places Florida 38th.  Florida’s ranking even falls to 42nd if you include capital and debt expenditures.

So why are some critics ignoring those straightforward “dollars per student” statistics in favor of more convoluted measurements like “education revenues per $1,000 of personal income”?

Several groups in Florida use that statistic to claim the state ranks 50th in education spending. The U.S. Census Bureau’s measurement of “education revenues per $1,000 of personal income” (table 12, page 12) does place Florida 50th, but it is fairly meaningless measurement if your goal is to prove not enough money is spent on K-12 education. This is best demonstrated by the fact that the last-place region on this statistic is Washington, D.C.

Being 51st (D.C.) should be worse than placing 50th (Florida), but when looking at straightforward “dollars spent per student” figures, D.C. spends over $28,000 per pupil (including capital funds and debt). That is nearly three times more than Florida. If the goal is to get Florida to spend more, why cite a statistic that has the biggest education spender dead last?

So how can a region be ranked No. 1 on one measurement, but dead last on another at the exact same time? Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Advanced placement, advocacy, acceleration and more

Advanced Placement. More Pasco students are taking AP classes, and their performance is improving. Gradebook.

florida-roundup-logoAdvocacy. StudentsFirst is winding down in a total of five states. Education Week.

Acceleration. State Sen. John Legg talks up the benefits of collegiate high schools in the Lakeland Ledger.

Testing. A Collier County teacher is fired, accused of helping students cheat. Naples Daily News. An Orange County elementary school student strings together a series of perfect FCATs. Orlando Sentinel.

Tax credit scholarships. The St. Augustine Record corrects falsehoods printed in a recent guest column.

Safety. A private school teacher is arrested for child pornography. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Okaloosa school board votes to put resource deputies in all schools. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Administration. A Lee County principal resigns amid turmoil. Fort Myers News-Press. The principal at a struggling Collier County school is moving on. Naples Daily News. Manatee schools train administrators in data-driven decision making. Bradenton Herald.

Continue Reading →

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Sal Khan: Imagine if we built homes the way we teach students

The idea of competency-based instruction is not new. Florida educators were using technology to tailor student learning two decades ago, and it can trace its origin back more than a century.

But more recent advances in technology have allowed educators to begin upending the traditional “seat-time” model, in which students advance based on what they learn rather than move through the material in a fixed amount of time. That’s one of the goals of Khan Academy’s new “learning dashboard,” which lays out “missions” for students to complete, with the idea that completing a mission will signal mastery of specific math standards.

sal khanSalman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, explained the significance of the organization’s growth beyond video during a speech at this year’s National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas. Right now, the learning dashboard is focused on math — perhaps the subject where learning is most cumulative.  This is an excerpt from the keynote presentation he delivered on the conference’s first day, edited lightly for length.

(Right now, at most schools), we shepherd (students) together at a set pace. Class time, there might be some lectures. They might do some homework. The next day, we might a review homework a little bit, get a little bit more lecture. And you can continue that cycle for maybe, about two or three weeks. And then you have an exam.

Let’s say that unit was on basic exponents. And on that exam, I get an 80 percent, you get a 90 percent, and you get a 60 percent.

The exam has identified gaps. The person who got a 60 percent — 40 percent of the material, they didn’t really get. Even the person who got an A, got a 95 percent, what was that 5 percent they didn’t know? Even though that happened, the whole class then moves on to the next concept — say, negative exponents — pretty much ensuring that students are going to have trouble working on that.

And to put in focus how strange that is, imagine if we did other things in our life that way. Say, home-building. So you get the contractor in, and you say, ‘You have a total of three weeks to build a foundation, do what you can.’

So he does what he can. Maybe there are delays. Maybe some of the supplies don’t show up on time. Maybe some of the workers fall sick. And then, three weeks later, the inspector comes in and says, ‘Well, the concrete’s still wet over there. That part’s not quite up to code. I’ll give it an 80 percent.’

Oh, great. That’s a C. Let’s build the first floor. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: School grades, charter schools, campaigns and more

School grades. This year’s elementary and middle grades, the last to be based on FCAT scores, brought more A’s, more F’s, and an even more pronounced trend among charter schools. Tampa Tribune. Miami Herald. Tampa Bay Times. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Florida Times-Union. Orlando Sentinel. Florida TodayBradenton Herald. redefinED. More than 300 schools – three times more than last year – will be required to provide an extra hour of reading instruction. Tampa Bay TimesSentinel School Zone. Fort Myers News-Press.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. WJXT profiles an administrator focused on turning around struggling charter schools in Jacksonville. The Palm Beach school district says it will give charters one more year of transportation services. Palm Beach Post. A new Alachua school will have a year-round schedule. Gainesville Sun.

Special needs. A district review finds problems with Broward’s special education programs. Sun-Sentinel. A charter school for children with autism continues its switch to a private school. Tampa Tribune.

Campaigns. Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist keep assailing each other’s education records, but “neither candidate has released anything approaching a detailed education plan.” Orlando Sentinel. The Northwest Florida Daily News reports on the expense of running for Okaloosa County School Board, and the Tampa Bay Times does the same in Hillsborough.

Digital learning. Pinellas schools prepare major technology upgrades. Tampa Tribune.

Continue Reading →

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Florida charter schools earn A’s, F’s at higher rates than district schools

Florida’s charter schools received a bigger proportion of both A and F grades than their district-run counterparts for the 2013-14 school year.

florida's charter schoolsIt’s a pattern that’s held for the past few years, and it’s no different in the the elementary and middle school grades released this morning by the state Department of Education.

More than 41 percent of the state’s charter schools earned preliminary A’s for the 2013-14 school year, compared to about 34 percent of district schools.

Of the 420 charter schools that were graded, 42, or 10 percent, received F’s. Less than 6 percent of the more than 2,300 district schools received the lowest possible letter grade.

Overall, the state accountability report, the last for middle and elementary schools before the state moves to a new grading formula, presents a mixed bag for Florida’s public schools. Across the board, they earned A’s and F’s in larger proportions this year than a year ago.

Juan Copa, the states deputy education commissioner in charge of accountability, said schools’ ratings rose on average, meaning compared to a year ago, “more students are performing on grade level or better – including our most struggling students.”

Next year, the grading formula will be simplified as the state prepares to replace the FCAT with new assessments tied to the Florida Standards. The grades released today are considered preliminary because the calculations can be appealed to the state. Grades for high schools will be released later this year.

For charter schools across the state, this year’s results carry some good news, and some bad.

KIPP Impact Middle School in Jacksonville,  where more than 70 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches and 99 percent are minorities, improved its grade from a C to a B. Five schools, including two charters – the bilingual BridgePrep Academy Interamerican Campus in Miami-Dade and Orlando’s Renaissance Charter School at Chickasaw Trail – climbed all the way from F’s to B’s.

On the other hand, eight charter schools face closure after receiving F’s for two consecutive years.

As expected, K12, Inc. received a grade of incomplete for its statewide program. But five Florida Virtual Academies it operates did receive grades. Three received D’s. One, in Duval, received a C and the fifth, in Osceola, received an F. None of the virtual charters had received letter grades previously.

Copa noted that 2013 legislation lowered the minimum number of tested students a school would need to receive a grade. He said that may help explain the increased number of F schools in a year when schools raised their average scores. More than two dozen charters that did not receive a letter grade last year did receive one this year.

“There are now more schools graded this year, and many of those are high-performing schools but some of those are low-performing schools,” Copa said.

Coverage elsewhere:

Gradebook

Orlando Sentinel

StateImpact

Miami Herald

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