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 →


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.


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 →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, magnet schools, lawsuits and more

Charter schools. Palm Beach school district officials say it will be months before they can meet with West Palm Beach city officials looking to establish a municipal charter. Palm Beach Post. A Tampa Bay Times columnist tees off  on charters in the wake of several failed upstarts and sudden closures.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools. A review finds the quality of Broward’s magnet school offerings is mixed. Sun-Sentinel.

Tax credit scholarships. A Florida Times-Union guest columnist calls for students receiving tax credit scholarships to take state standardized tests.

Lawsuits. Sunshine State News writes up the lawsuits challenging the Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, and their political fallout.

Testing. The Ocala Star-Banner highlights the national “opt out” push against standardized testing.

Technology. Okaloosa schools look to put idle computers to use. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Immigrants. South Florida is one of the country’s hot spots accepting unaccompanied minors from Central America. Miami Herald.

Continue Reading →


Dissenting FL school board members criticize anti- school choice suit

The Florida School Boards Association is facing some pushback from within its own ranks for moving to end the nation’s largest private school program program.







In recent days, three local school board members – Jason Fischer from Duval County, Jeff Bergosh from Escambia County and Dale Simchick from Indian River County – all weighed in with op-eds in their local newspapers. All three criticized the lawsuit that the FSBA and others filed Aug. 28 against the state’s tax credit scholarship program, which, if successful, could dramatically curb educational options for tens of thousands of low-income families.

The 13-year-old program, which never faced a standalone legal challenge until now, provides scholarships for low-income students to attend more than 1,400 participating private schools. It is expected to serve nearly 70,000 students this school year, more than 70 percent of them minorities. The program is administered by scholarship funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

The suit “literally asks a judge to uproot these 67,000 students from schools that appear to be working for them, leaving particularly urban districts in the position of scrambling to find room for them,” Simchick wrote on TCPalm.com, which serves Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties. “This feels more like a temper tantrum than a strategy for helping disadvantaged children.”

In his piece for the Pensacola News Journal, Bergosh quoted letters he received from parents in support of the program, then wrote: “Instead of listening to biased, self-obsessed labor unions and other special interest lobbying entities, I’m listening to my constituents; I’m in agreement with them and together we are on the right side of this issue. I hope Florida legislators and other education leaders with courage will listen to students, parents, and taxpayers that benefit from this worthwhile program, too.”

It’s unclear how much dissent there may be amongst other rank-and-file school board members. The FSBA leadership did not consult members before voting in June to proceed with the suit, which also includes the Florida Education Association, Florida PTA, Florida NAACP and other groups as plaintiffs. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: School choice, lawsuits, charter schools and more

School choice. Kevin Chavous of the American Federation for Children talks about the widening national battle for more educational options. Wall Street Journal.

florida-roundup-logoLawsuits. An Escambia school board member criticizes the lawsuit challenging Florida’s tax credit scholarship program. Pensacola News-Journal.

Charter schools. A Sun-Sentinel columnist prescribes tougher standards for charter applications. The editorial board also weighs in. Homestead officials call for a cap on the number of charters in their city. Miami Herald. Charter enrollment outpaces district schools in Palm Beach County, but doesn’t cut into district enrollment as previously projected. Palm Beach Post.

Testing. The Fort Myers News-Press looks at the local testing calendar. The Florida School Boards Association debates an “opt-out”- inspired motion. Scripps/Tribune. Fort Myers News-Press. Florida Today. Sunshine State News. Computerized testing is not the problem. Gradebook. The National Education Association is waging a fight against “toxic testing.” Sentinel School Zone.

Digital learning. More students are bringing their own devices in Hillsborough. Gradebook. The district is moving closer to its one-device-per-student goal. Tampa Tribune.

Single-gender. The ACLU challenges single-gender schools in Hernando County. Tampa Bay Times. The move could have implications for charter schools. redefinED.

Common Core. The politics of the standards create a political balancing act for Gov. Rick Scott. Miami Herald.

Campaigns. The largest national teachers union says it plans to be heavily involved in Florida’s governors race. StateImpact.

Teachers. High turnover is frustrating improvement efforts in Jacksonville schools. Florida Times-Union.

Facilities. Seminole County officials worry a recently approved tax referendum won’t cover all the district’s maintenance needs. Orlando Sentinel.

Continue Reading →


Judge recuses herself from school choice and funding lawsuit

The judge latest assigned to preside over Florida’s school choice and education adequacy lawsuit has decided to recuse herself from the case after plaintiffs raised questions about her involvement with Catholic organizations.

In a one-page order Friday, Judge Angela Dempsey does not explain her decision to take herself off the case, but indicates that it will be assigned to a different judge. The five-year-old case has already been passed among to multiple judges in the Leon Circuit Court.

The original request to disqualify Dempsey from hearing the case drew attention from critics of the lawsuit, for whom it conjured images of anti-Catholicism that has plagued debates over American education for centuries.

However, the plaintiffs reworked their arguments, and appear to have overcome objections lodged by attorneys representing the state.

The lawsuit argues Florida has not lived up to its constitutional obligation to adequately fund public schools, and lodges objections to a wide range of state education policies, including school choice programs, including the tax credit scholarships, which are administered by groups like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.


ACLU complaints target single-gender schools, including charters

The American Civil Liberties Union widened its challenges of single-gender programs in Florida public schools, filing federal complaints in three more Florida counties this week.

The ACLU’s legal push is based on federal regulations intended to bar gender discrimination in education. It comes amid efforts to expand single-gender instruction around the state, and not just in district-run schools. The latest round of complaints also targets a charter school in Broward County.

Other similar complaints may be in the offing. Galen Sherwin, a senior ACLU attorney, said the group has sought information from more charter schools but has yet to receive a response.

From recently opened or forthcoming schools in Jacksonville and Bradenton to a short-lived experiment in Tallahassee, a host of relatively new charter schools throughout Florida have adopted single-gender models, often aimed at students who have struggled in other settings.

The jist of the ACLU’s legal argument is that single-gender programs have a high bar to clear under Title IX regulations. Schools must demonstrate the single-gender classes help the school achieve specific objectives that couldn’t be accomplished in other ways. Students of both genders need to have access to the same kinds of programs.

The complaints filed Wednesday argue that school districts in Broward, Volusia and Hernando Counties, as well as the Pembroke Pines charter school Franklin Academy, have not justified their programs with adequate evidence.

Continue Reading →