Florida roundup: Special needs, career education, turnarounds and more

Special needs. Legislation that will soon be headed to Gov. Rick Scott would give students with certain disabilities new ways to customize their education. Watchdog.org.

florida-roundup-logoCareer education. A 20-year-old career academy student overcomes long odds to earn a high school diploma. Northwest Florida Daily News. New diploma options could allow more career-center students to graduate with standard diplomas. Tampa Bay Times.

Budgets. A Palm Beach County advisory panel recommends the school district use operating funds to pay for capital projects. Palm Beach Post. Polk County school officials say pending funding increases may be inadequate to meet their district’s needs. Lakeland Ledger.

Turnarounds. The Tampa Tribune looks at turnaround efforts underway in a handful of struggling Pinellas County schools.

Pay raises. Orange County teachers overwhelmingly approve a new contract with salary increases. Orlando Sentinel.

Superintendents. The Manatee County school board declines to approve a two-year contract extension for its superintendent. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald.

Biometrics. A new law could bar the use of hand-scanner systems in school cafeterias. Tampa Bay Times.

Employee conduct. A Madison County teacher faces multiple accusations of sexual abuse. WFSU. The Okaloosa County school board upholds the firing of a teacher accused of slapping a student. Northwest Florida Daily News. A school clerk accused of stalking a principal is set to stand trial. Tampa Bay TimesTampa Tribune.

Cellphones. The Broward County school district eases its restrictions. Sun-Sentinel.

Yearbooks. There’s an app for that. Fort Myers News-Press.

Uniforms. A North Florida elementary school plans to require them next year. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Retirement. An outgoing teacher reflects on his 41-year career. Citrus County Chronicle.


Florida budget would boost pre-K funding

In coming days, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is expected to approve a funding boost to one of Florida’s largest and most popular school voucher programs.

Under the legislative spending plan that sits on his desk, the Voluntary Pre-K program would receive a funding boost of about $54 per student for programs offered during the school year. That would be the program’s first increase in six years.

Florida’s pre-K program is recognized as a national leader for giving parents access to schools of their choice. Last year, it enrolled 174,145 students, with about 80 percent of them served by private providers.

The likely funding increase is not everything early-learning advocates may have hoped for. It won’t undo all of the cuts and level funding of recent years. But it’s a sign of the national trend marked earlier this month by the National Institute for Early Education Research, which found states boosted their publicly funded preschool programs by a combined $30.6 million in the previous school year after adjusting for inflation, while funding for Florida’s pre-K program remained flat.

In its latest annual State of Preschool report, the group says the funding increases in other states were “just a small step towards reversing nearly a half a billion dollars in cuts in the previous school year,” but calls them “a step in the right direction.”

Next year's state budget would boost the base student allocations used to calculate funding for Florida's Voluntary Pre-K program.

Next year’s state budget would boost the base student allocations used to calculate funding for Florida’s Voluntary Pre-K program.

The report says despite the increases, “the level of funding provided for pre-K is, in too many instances, inadequate to support good quality, and that effectiveness suffers as a result.” It does give Florida high marks for access, as one of just five states where more than 60 percent of children are participating in the program. Only Washington D.C. claimed a higher proportion of 4-year-olds enrolled.

However, it has drawn criticism in some quarters for focusing more on “inputs” (like funding per student) than on results (how well the providers prepare children for kindergarten). Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: Charter schools and civil rights, debating the merits of charters, and can parents be trusted?

MondayRoundUp_magentaAlabama: Cameron Smith, vice president of the Alabama Policy Institute, shows readers the students who benefit from the Alabama Accountability Act (AL.com).

Arizona: Gil Shapiro, a spokesman for FreeThought Arizona, says parents can’t be trusted to home-school or choose a good school for their child (Arizona Daily Star). Linda Thomas, a member of the Oracle School Board, says parents can be trusted to pick a good school (Arizona Daily Star).

California: Larry Aubry at the Los Angeles Sentinel says charter schools are civil rights failures because they are more segregated than traditional public schools. Avery Bissett, a student at Chapman University, says vouchers would provide the state an inexpensive experiment on how to improve public education (Orange County Register).

D.C.: Scott Pearson, director of the D.C. Public Charter Schools Board, says charter schools have helped to improve public school performance (Washington Post).

Georgia: During a debate among Democratic candidates for the open state school chief position, state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan said she will “buck the Democratic party for the best interest of children” and supports charter schools and tuition tax-credit scholarships (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Florida: Denisha Merriweather, a former tax-credit scholarship student, tells her story (redefinED). Ron Matus, the editor of redefinED, dispels the myths surrounding the tax-credit scholarship program (Pensacola News Journal). Scott Maxwell, a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, says public schools lose when students are allowed to transfer to private schools. Chris Guerrieri, a middle school teacher in Jacksonville, opposes private school vouchers because students aren’t forced to attend private schools (St. Augustine Record).  Jac Wilder VerSteeg, a journalist based in Palm Beach County, says parents don’t know best when it comes to their own child’s education (Sun-Sentinel). The Orlando Sentinel reaches out to readers and finds 51 percent support expanding school vouchers. Two private schools have been barred from receiving McKay vouchers for reporting students that never enrolled (Miami Herald). Virtual learning labs become more popular in Lee County (NBC 2). Education leaders in Miami-Dade approve what may become the state’s largest charter school (Miami Herald). Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Digital learning, private schools, parental choice and more

Charter schools. Broward County parents consider converting a special needs school into a charter in order to save it. Miami Herald. The SEED school in Miami has chosen a new site for what could become the Florida’s first public boarding school,  the Herald reports.

Digital learning. Large numbers of Florida high school students still haven’t taken the online course that’s required before graduation. Orlando Sentinel.

florida-roundup-logoTax credit scholarships. A Sun-Sentinel column criticizes parental choice programs, and a St. Augustine Record column criticizes tax credit scholarships. Parents seek out scholarships for a reason, Ron Matus writes in the Pensacola News Journal. He is the director of policy and public affairs for Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

Private schools. One Palm Beach County private school marks its first graduating class, while another bids farewell to its last. Palm Beach Post. A college preparatory Christian school celebrates its first graduation. Bradenton Herald

Testing. The first round of released FCAT scores shows results are largely flat in the test’s final year. Associated PressTampa Bay TimesTampa Tribune. Palm Beach PostSt. Augustine Record. Tallahassee Democrat. Scripps. Bradenton Herald. Panama City News Herald. Pensacola News Journal. Tenth graders improve in writing. Orlando Sentinel. Thousands of third graders could be held back. Florida Times-Union. Miami Herald. Teachers in some districts question falling scores. Tampa Bay Times. The FCAT reading test can present a barrier to graduation for students who are learning English. Tampa Tribune

Desegregation. The end of court-ordered busing raises concerns in Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood. Orlando Sentinel. The opening of a new school in the neighborhood could prompt officials to close, the Sentinel reports.

Common Core. StateImpact looks at how the standards could affect creative writing instruction. A group of education foundations backs the standards. Gradebook.

Unions. The Palm Beach County teachers union is preparing for a do-over in its leadership elections. Palm Beach Post.

Facilities. Marion school officials plan to use state capital funds for much-needed repairs. Ocala Star-Banner. The Star-Banner also looks at local charter school funding. Developers have their sights on the Miami-Dade school district headquarters. Miami Herald.

Continue Reading →


A day to remember

memorial day 6We’re off today, enjoying time with friends and family, and hoping you are too. We’ll be back tomorrow. In the meantime, remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us.


We all benefit from parental choice

Editor’s note: This post originally ran as an op-ed in today’s Pensacola News Journal, in response to this op-ed.

myth bustersLast week, parental choice in Florida reached a milestone, with the number of low-income students starting applications for tax credit scholarships this fall reaching 100,000.

The program’s popularity speaks to an untold story: how Florida parents are demanding more learning options for their children, and how the state, school districts and other providers are obliging them.

It is a sea change, and it brings complications worthy of scrutiny. But too often what we get, instead, are op-eds with so many distortions, it’s impossible to respond in 600 words. Here are basic points I hope readers will consider when criticisms surface.

The need for options. Florida public schools are making strides, especially with low-income students, but they need help. In 2013, low-income fourth-graders in Florida were number one among all states in reading, after being among the lowest-performers in the 1990s. Public schools deserve far more credit than they get for gains like this. But being number one still means only 27 percent are proficient.

The cherry picking myth. Scholarship students are required by law to take standardized tests (though few take the FCAT), with the results analyzed by Northwestern University researcher David Figlio. Contrary to statements in a recent op-ed, Figlio found those students “tend to be among the lowest-performing students in their prior school,” a trend that is “becoming stronger over time.” In other words, if private schools are out to cherry pick, they’re doing a lousy job.

Results. Figlio’s conclusion was also mangled in the op-ed. Here are his words, straight from his report: “… a cautious read of the weight of the available evidence suggests that the FTC Scholarship Program has boosted student performance in public schools statewide, that the program draws disproportionately low income, poorly-performing students from the public schools into the private schools, and that the students who moved perform as well or better once they move to the private schools.”

The draining myth. The scholarships don’t hurt public school funding. Many think they do, and in a state that ranks low in per-pupil spending, that’s a killer. But the truth is, taxpayers pay about half as much per scholarship as they do per student in public school. The scholarship is $4,880 this year; it’ll be $5,272 next year. Seven different analyses conclude the program does not drain public school funding. Not a single one concludes it does. Continue Reading →


Why school choice? Ask Denisha

Denisha Merriweather is a former tax credit scholarship student who graduated from college this month, becoming the first in her family to do so. Her story was captured on video and shown at this week’s American Federation for Children conference in Florida. We’ll let it do the talking. (As always, we note the Florida tax credit scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)


Group taking aim at charter schools misses the mark

Do charter schools hurt the academic achievement of minority students that enroll? Do charters hurt the minority students who remain in public schools? How does closing traditional public schools and replacing them with charter schools impact these students?

Those are valid questions. But relying on unsubstantiated claims and ignoring credible evidence detracts from the thoughtful discussion the topic deserves. Unfortunately, that’s the route taken by the Journey for Justice Alliance, a coalition of left-of-center education activists and parents that recently garnered a fair amount of ink for its position.

During the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the alliance released a report, “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” which was part of a larger civil rights complaint against charter schools and public school closures. It claimed charter schools and school closure policies were “racially discriminatory.”

The alliance treats the racial demographics of charter schools, and the fact that charters are less popular in whiter suburban areas, as evidence that minority communities are being treated differently than their white counterparts. While it’s true there are disproportionally more black students and fewer white students in charters (see the highly regarded CREDO study on charters, page 16), it is a broad jump to conclude this occurred because of racism or discrimination on the part of charters or education reformers.

The alliance doesn’t consider the possibility that urban charters may be growing because they’re outperforming traditional public schools in urban areas, while suburban charter schools may not be because they’re not outperforming suburban public schools. Research seems to back up this explanation.


*CREDO National Charter School Study 2013, page 81.

The 2013 CREDO study found low-income black students attending charters benefited a lot – the equivalent of 29 extra days of learning in reading per year and 36 extra days in math (page 65-66). Continue Reading →