Could new rules help FL bring quality charter schools to high-need areas?

Some of Florida’s top policymakers have for the past few years been looking for ways to attract more high-performing charter school operators to the state’s inner cities. But apart from KIPP Jacksonville and a few newcomers like the SEED School of Miami, they have few high-profile efforts to point to. And attempts to change state law to help recruit well-regarded operators have faltered in the Legislature.

Rep. Adkins

Rep. Adkins

Now one of the top state lawmakers on education policy, Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, says she wants lawmakers to try a different approach next year.

The state creates special provisions for charter schools designated “high-performing.” Why not do something similar for charters that want to open in “high-needs” areas, helping them with issues from accountability to financing for their buildings?

“We need to have a whole new set of criteria,” said Adkins, who currently chairs the House subcommittee dealing with K-12 policy. “I’m envisioning a whole new set of statutes dealing with high needs.”

The idea came up during a recent gathering of charter school and district officials in Fort Lauderdale. Richard Moreno, who works with organizations that provide financing and other business services to charter schools, said one major barrier keeping organizations like KIPP and Uncommon Schools from Florida is the state’s stringent “double-F” rule.

State law requires most charter schools that earn F’s two years in a row to close. As a result, Moreno said, philanthropists and well-known charter organizations run a risk that they could sink resources into an area with high need, only to see their school shut down a few years later. “They’re not touching Florida because of this,” he said.

Adkins said she wants the state to emphasize learning gains when holding these new high-needs schools accountable so they aren’t penalized for taking on low-proficiency students and/or ensnared by the double F rule. But right now, she said, proposals are in the “idea stage” and details would still need to be worked out.

Robert Runcie, the schools superintendent in Broward County, said he could envision school districts and other community groups vetting competing proposals from charter operators looking to move into struggling schools, creating “a very structured way of bringing a high-quality solution into a community.” Continue Reading →

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Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Is it 1952 in St. Louis?

MrGibbonsReportCardRex Sinquefield and the Children’s Education Alliance

Progressives in Missouri criticized Rex Sinquefield for conspiracy theories about public schools, spending millions on campaigns supporting private school choice and for donations to ALEC, but they remain oddly silent about the way he, and the organizations he backs, are spending money right now.

Before we discuss these latest expenditures, a little history is in order.

Last year, over 1,000 students (about one of every four) in the mostly low-income, minority Normandy School District transferred out thanks to a law that allowed students in low-performing districts to enroll in higher-performing districts. As a result of all the transfers, Normandy faced bankruptcy and was taken over by the state. The Missouri Board of Education voided the district’s low-performing status and revoked the right to transfer. Fortunately, a judge recently overturned the Board’s new rule.

Normandy students

Now Normandy must allow students to transfer and every district, except for the mostly white and affluent Francis-Howell School District, agreed to comply. Francis-Howell said they would only accept transfer students upon direct court order.

In other words, officials in the mostly white affluent district told low-income minority parents they needed to hire a lawyer if they wanted their child enrolled. Fortunately, Rex Sinquefield’s Children’s Education Alliance is covering the legal expenses of any Normandy parent who wants to do that.

So far, the attorney for the alliance has enrolled 17 students in Francis-Howell and is requesting court orders for another 35. Francis-Howell, meanwhile, has spent $17,000 trying to keep the students out.

Grade: Satisfactory

Continue Reading →

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FL schools roundup: Charter schools, Charlie Crist, FL’s progress & more

Tax credit scholarships. Creative Loafing gives Charlie Crist’s “evolution” on tax credit scholarships some ink after the Miami Herald story about his refusal to denounce the FSBA/FEA suit to kill them.

florida-roundup-logoSchool choice. Private schools still serve the public good, writes William Mattox of the James Madison Institute, in an op-ed for Hernando Today. Watchdog.org notes that Fund Education Now’s Kathleen Oropeza filed a motion to have the judge in the adequacy/funding/choice suit recuse herself because of Catholic ties, but doesn’t note the judge granted the request.

Charter schools. The state Board of Education is moving ahead with creation of standard contracts for charter schools. Gradebook. Things are quiet in the simmering dispute between the Hillsborough County School District and Charter Schools USA. Gradebook. Duval County School Board members raise concerns about the performance of schools serving at-risk students, including several charter schools. WJCT.

Florida’s progress. Florida gets A’s in 3 of 11 categories in a new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – in parental options, data quality and academic achievement for low-income and minority students.

School spending. StateImpact Florida writes up concerns that black-owned businesses aren’t getting their fair share of contracts from the Miami-Dade County School District.

Testing. The Alachua County superintendent offers qualified support for the kindergarten teacher who refuses to administer a standardized test for diagnostic purposes. Gainesville Sun.

Teachers. Tension continues between the Pasco district and teachers union over planning time. Tampa Bay Times.

9/11. Middle school students in Manatee learn about victim advocate dogs. Bradenton Herald.

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Charter schools and districts agree: FL needs facilities funding fix

Florida’s charter schools need a dedicated source of funding for their buildings.

Runcie

Runcie

That was one thing charter advocates and district representatives were able to agree on during a gathering Wednesday. What’s less clear is where the money will come from.

The reality is both districts and charters need help with facilities funding, Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said. He told members of the Quality Charter School Authorizer Task Force that the two sides cannot afford to keep waging annual lobbying battles over scarce construction funds, “so there needs to be some committed source for charters.”

The Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools convened the group in an effort to improve relations between charters and school districts.

Members of the group agreed on some big-picture points during their gathering in Fort Lauderdale. Among them: Steps need to be taken to keep operators with bad track records from repeatedly applying to open more charter schools, and the state needs to find a funding source charters can rely on as PECO funds dry up.

Dwindling state construction funds have forced districts to rely on local taxes to pay for buildings. Previous legislative attempts to allow charters to receive local tax revenue have foundered.

Competition between districts and charters for scarce funding through the state’s Public Education Capital Outlay has become a perennial topic of fierce, and often distorted, debates.

“I think we need to keep the kids first in our minds … and recognize that charter schools are public schools, a piece of our choice,” said Connie Milito, a lobbyist for the Hillsborough County school district. The question, she said, is “how are we as a state going to fund their facilities?”

Members of the group tossed out suggestions like the lottery, other state gambling revenues, and even local revenue for tourism promotion. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Testing, Charlie Crist, tax credit scholarships & more

Tax credit scholarships. Charlie Crist, a staunch supporter of tax credit scholarships in the past, won’t denounce the lawsuit filed by the FSBA and FEA to end the program. Miami Herald. The head of the Florida Association of School Administrators explains his support for the suit. Crestview News Bulletin (Hat tip: Gradebook).

florida-roundup-logoSchool choice. A ‘bumper crop of litigation’ threatens school choice in Florida. Watchdog.org.

Charter schools. The West Palm Beach mayor and Palm Beach County superintendent will meet to discuss a proposed city-run charter school. Palm Beach Post.

Magnet schools. The Pasco County School District will open its first in 2015, in part to ease overcrowding concerns at other schools. Gradebook.

Virtual school. Florida Virtual School snags an area superintendent from the Orange County School District to be its COO. SchoolZone.

Single-gender classrooms. Ones in the Broward County School District are among those targeted in an ACLU complaint. South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Parents. Dads march in Daytona to show support for their children’s education. Daytona Beach News Journal.

Testing. The Palm Beach County School Board opts not to opt out. South Florida Sun Sentinel. Support grows for an Alachua County kindergarten teacher who refuses to administer a standardized test used for diagnostic purposes. Gainesville Sun.

School boards. A new report looks at how much board members are paid, county by county. Gradebook. Continue Reading →

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What drives a parental choice warrior

fuller bookIn 1998, at a luncheon in Chicago, former superintendent, activist and now-icon Howard Fuller was on an education panel with an up-and-coming state senator. Barack Obama told the audience that vouchers were a “distraction,” and said those who support them don’t want to tackle the difficulties of changing the “entire system.”

Dr. Fuller

Dr. Fuller

Fuller laments the spectacle of black leaders going toe to toe in public, but he did not shy from a retort. As he recalls in his just-released autobiography, “No Struggle, No Progress,” he answered from experience about teachers unions’ resistance to change, then lowered the boom:

“And you sit here and claim that we can make changes in the existing system? If you can do that, God bless you. But I’m going to tell you this. Those of us who are out there fighting are not going to wait for you to do that. We’re going to keep trying to find ways to help people whose kids are being undereducated, miseducated, not educated.”

Howard Fuller’s passion for parental choice is common knowledge in choice circles. He is arguably the best known and most revered figure in that realm. But thanks to his book, a wider swath of people will get a chance to meet him. Written with noted author Lisa Frazier Page, the book would compel even if school choice wasn’t such a hot topic; it chronicles an extraordinary American life. But it has the potential, too, of knocking a few more holes into the tired narratives about choice supporters and what motivates them.

Low-income parents are lining up in droves for alternatives to district schools, and one prominent Democrat after another is swinging towards them, including President Obama who, while still hung up on vouchers, wholeheartedly supports charter schools. The Dem divide is real, and as it grows, more rank-and-file Democrats will have second thoughts. Fuller’s story can hasten the process. Politically, he’s part of the same extended tribe, and for many folks that external validation makes all the difference.

It wasn’t until after he embraced vouchers in the late 1980s, Fuller notes, that he heard of economist Milton Friedman. Fuller’s views about education and everything else were forged in a different world: through his own humble upbringing by strong black women who found ways to get him the best education possible (including stints in Catholic schools); and in the tumult of the 1960s – in civil rights and Black Power, in protest marches and rent strikes.

It’s clear from every page that Fuller is motivated by love for “my people,” and for finding ways to right wrongs and uplift them. “No Struggle, No Progress” is brimming with passages that speak to his heart – passages like this one, where Fuller describes one of the Durham, N.C. neighborhoods he was assigned to help as a community organizer in the 1960s:

“Though I’d grown up in public housing and spent my earliest days in a poor southern community, I’d never seen poverty and neglect like this. Hayti, the largest neighborhood in my target area, sat in the heart of a major city, yet some areas still had dirt streets. Dirt streets! In the middle of town! That was incomprehensible to me. Shotgun shacks were everywhere, and some of them had no running water indoors. My heart hurt when I saw how my people were living and how they had accommodated themselves to survive under conditions that no human being should have to endure. Anger burned deep inside. But far from feeling overwhelmed, it made me even more determined to figure out how to change the condition.”

Early on, Fuller was captivated by another concept too: “maximum feasible participation.” Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Testing, magnet schools, big budgets & more

School choice. Add Voices for Choices to the list of school choice groups in Florida. redefinED. Duval County School District leaders propose a “Public Education Strong” marketing campaign to lure students back from charter and private schools. Florida Times Union. Sunshine State News’s Nancy Smith says women are waiting to hear what Charlie Crist’s position is on vouchers.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools. The Broward County School District looks for ways to improve five F-rated magnet schools. South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Charter schools. The Palm Beach County Commission approves a $20 million financing deal for a new charter school. South Florida Sun Sentinel. The St. Johns County School Board considers a couple of applications. St. Augustine Record.

Teachers unions. More about new NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, who visited South Florida last week. StateImpact Florida. Charlie Crist gets big money from the NEA. The Buzz.’

Technology. Low-income kids in the Pinellas County School District who were given laptops to take home last year outscore their peers without them. Gradebook.

Lawsuits. Members of the Bay County School Board, concerned about unfunded mandates, say they are considering joining the education funding/adequacy suit filed in 2009 by Fund Education Now and others. WJHG.

School spending. A school board member in the Manatee County School District raises concerns about the district’s request for proposal regarding the hiring of security guards for elementary schools. Bradenton Herald. (Follow-up story here.) The Pinellas County School Board approves a $1.3 billion budget. Tampa Bay Times. The Hillsborough County School Board approves a $2.9 billion budget. Tampa Bay Times. The Marion County School Board approves a $475 million budget. Ocala Star Banner. The Leon County School Board approves a $530 million budget. Tallahassee Democrat. Guest columnists ask voters in Palm Beach County to reauthorize a property tax hike for education. Palm Beach Post.

Standardized testing. Complaints about a “toxic culture of testing” surface at a Brevard County School Board meeting. Florida Today. The Lee County School Board considers searching for ways to mitigate what it says is too much high-stakes testing. Fort Myers News Press. An Alachua County kindergarten teacher refuses to give her students standardized tests that are used for diagnostic purposes, putting her job at risk. Gainesville Sun.

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New kid on Florida’s school choice block

When members of the Florida School Boards Association started pulling into the Costa D’Este Beach Resort for a gathering in Vero Beach last week, some three dozen parents, private school teachers and school choice advocates were there to greet them.

They lined the sidewalk, holding signs: “My Child, My Choice.” “No lawsuits against Step Up.”

School choice lawsuit protest

Parents line sidewalks in Vero Beach during a Florida School Boards Association meeting to protest a lawsuit against tax credit scholarships.

The pro-school choice contingent was smaller than expected – a bus broke down en route from Jacksonville. But it was large enough to fill the sidewalk without antagonizing the police in the sleepy beach-side town.

Catherine Durkin Robinson, director of Florida Voices For Choices, told the parents they’d be able to say they were with the movement from the beginning.

“Having the right school and the right environment for your kid – that’s just a choice that people need to have,” said Susan Montogmery, a Vero Beach local who had come to support her fellow parents.

Her son, Ryne, is beginning his freshman year at Johnson University Florida, a college in Kissimmee, something the mother of six said would not be possible if he had not received a scholarship to attend Master’s Academy, a private school in Vero.

Voices for Choices is a new advocacy group started with the goal of organizing parents to ensure they have the same rights as Montgomery – to choose the educational environment that works best for their children.

The new group grew out of some preliminary organizing efforts by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. Robinson is a former Step Up employee. And Step Up board chair John Kirtley chairs Voices for Choices. But the new group is funded privately and has a separate staff. Continue Reading →

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