redefinED roundup: Charter schools in Arizona, tax credits in New Hampshire, parent trigger in Louisiana & more

Arizona: New statistics show the state has the second-highest percentage of students enrolled in charter schools in the nation (Today’s News Herald). Gov. Jan Brewer signs off on expansion of school voucher program, adding kindergartners and increasing funding for all students who qualify (Arizona Daily Star).

logoWashington, D.C.: New study shows district and charter schools suspended one out of 10 students in the 2011-12 school year (Washington Post). Mayor Vincent Gray talks about blurring the lines in school choice, suggesting elementary charter schools feed into traditional middle schools and vice versa, among other ideas (Washington Post).

Delaware: The state approves three new charter schools, including one that offers its students internships (The News  Journal).

Georgia: Atlanta public schools take fight against charter schools concerning unfunded pension liabilities to Georgia Supreme Court (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

New Jersey: Gov. Chris Christie’s administration puts another three charter schools on probation and issues warning to 11 others in a quest to raise standards (NJSpotlight). Some Camden district teachers want to open their own charter schools (Philadelphia Inquirer).

New Hampshire: A judge rules the new education tax credit law violates the state Constitution’s ban on sending public money to religious schools, but the program can continue to provide scholarships for secular schools and homeschooling (Concord Monitor).

Louisiana: Gov. Bobby Jindal signs off on a parent trigger bill that allows parents to petition to shift control from some failing Recovery School District schools back to the local system (Times-Picayune). The state Board of Education approves a new course choice program that will allow public school students to take hard-to-get classes online (The Advocate).

Florida: The woman spearheading a charter conversion in Manatee County has ties to Fund Education Now, an organization that has opposed charter school expansion (Sunshine State News). Rowlett Magnett Elementary  will be the first public school to convert into a charter in the past five years (Sarasota Herald-Tribune).  A Marion County school board member suggests some cost-saving ideas to save teachers jobs, including shutting down or charging students for the IB program (Ocala Star Banner). Some private schools in Florida are signing up for Common Core training (redefinED). Pembroke Pines agrees not to privatize its charter school system, but teachers will have to take pay cuts (Sun-Sentinel). A tax credit scholarship helps single father send his son to private school (redefinED). Gateway Charter School in Fort Myers tells students to finish up Florida Virtual School online courses, or pay up (Associated Press). Continue Reading →


School “voucher” lifts father and son

Orlando and Gaby

Orlando and Gaby

Orlando Garcia never imagined he’d be a single father, and his friends didn’t think he could handle it.

When his buddies asked him how he could take care of his infant son when he couldn’t even take care of himself, Orlando would shrug it off and quickly answer that he didn’t have a choice.

“When he is sick, I will take him to the doctor,” he told them. “And when he needs medicine, I will go to the pharmacy. When he is wet, I will change his diaper.”

Despite his positive attitude when talking with his friends,Orlando still had some doubt about how he could raise young Gabriel “Gaby” alone — until he saw a man with four young children standing in front of him in line at the grocery store.

“Are you a single dad?” Orlando asked, holding his 1-year-old Gaby. ”Yes,” the man answered.

Orlando smiled, and that moment changed his outlook.

“He looked so happy, and I will never forget that. I remember it like it was yesterday,” Orlando said of his memorable conversation that was nearly 10 years ago.

It gave Orlando the confidence that he could be a good dad, even solo.

For personal reasons, it was best that Orlando and Gaby distance themselves from Gaby’s mother and Orlando became a single dad.

“It’s so sad because he wants that love that only a mother can give, that mother’s love,” Orlando said. “I try. I give him extra kisses. He’s 10 now, and I still treat him like a baby.”

As the years have passed, Orlando and Gaby have made a life that works for them, but when the father saw his son struggling in school and encountering bullies, he didn’t know which way to turn.

“He was doing kind of bad and didn’t want to go to school,” Orlando recalled.

He spoke of his concerns at his church and he was told about Florida College Academy, a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade private school in Temple Terrace, just outside of Tampa.

“I told them I couldn’t afford the $5,000 tuition. I could barely pay my bills,” said Orlando, a construction worker.

Then, he heard about and applied for the Step Up For Students school choice scholarship. Gaby started at the school in the second grade. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Common Core, superintendents, turnarounds & more

School grades. Low grades create more teacher turnover, a teacher columnist argues. StateImpact Florida.

florida roundup logoTurnaround schools. Pushback in Pasco yields some flexibility from the state. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter schools. The League of Women Voters ask questions in Polk. Lakeland Ledger.

Common Core. Administrators are training for Common Core too. StateImpact Florida.

GPAs. A proposed change in how they’re calculated in Pasco stirs debate. Tampa Bay Times.

Principals. St. Lucie will have 13 new ones in August.

Superintendents. Duval board members evaluate Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, reports the Florida Times Union. Alachua Superintendent Dan Boyd wins the Florida School Boards Association’s President’s Award, reports the Gainesville Sun. New Lee Superintendent Nancy Graham starts shaking up administrative staff, reports the Fort Myers News Press. More from the Naples Daily News.

School safety. A third custodian is considered a suspect in the shooting deaths of two custodians at a West Palm Beach high school. Palm Beach Post.

School spending. A Marion school board member suggests some controversial cost-savings ideas to save teacher jobs, including having staff clean their own schools and either shutting down or charging students to attend IB programs. Ocala Star Banner.

Reading. More than 100 residents turn out to kick off a reading mentoring program for kids in Fort Meade. Lakeland Ledger.


Florida private schools still showing interest in Common Core

Despite some of the growing resistance to Common Core State Standards in the public education arena, many private schools in Florida are voluntarily signing up to participate in statewide training.

“Private schools are always interested in what’s new and what’s cutting edge,’’ said Teri Logan of Independent Schools of South Florida, a group that represents about 70 accredited private schools.

cpalmslogShe anticipates between 75 and 100 teachers and principals will take part in a workshop in October hosted by the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University, which developed an extensive database of learning standards called CPALMS (Collaborate Align Learn Motivate Share).

None of the schools have voiced concerns about the broader public debate on Common Core, but many have expressed a desire to learn more about the standards, she said.

CPALMS is an online system that offers free lesson plans, assessments and professional development – including workshops. Most of the work is aligned with the Common Core, but there also is information about Next Generation Sunshine Standards and others.

The database is available to all K-12 educators, including those outside of Florida, and is currently reaching about 1,700 users from 200 countries. Funding for the project comes from grants, including ones from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation.

A separate site known as iCPALMS is accessible only to Florida educators, in public or private schools, and it has an estimated 50,000 users. Most are from the public sector, according to program director Rabieh Razzouk, but many private school educators also have contacted him.

The Common Core standards are a set of national benchmarks designed with added rigor to help students become more career and college ready. The National Governors Association and state education officials, with financial backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, helped create the measures that have attracted support from education reformers and the Obama administration. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: charter schools, ed schools, digital devices & more

Charter schools. A circuit judge denies a Pasco charter school’s expansion plan. Tampa Bay Times.

florida roundup logoVirtual schools. A Fort Myers charter tells parents, wrongly, that they must pay $425 if their kids fail to complete Florida Virtual School classes. Associated Press.

Class size amendment. Students down, teachers up. Intercepts.

Ed schools. Florida State College at Jacksonville, one of five state schools rated substandard in NCTQ’s new report, says the group got it wrong. StateImpact Florida.

Science. Florida should adopt science standards from California and/or Washington D.C. (and not the Next Generation Science Standards), says state Board of Education member John Padget. Gradebook.

Tech. Broward says it only has $16 million for $59 million worth of technology needs, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Miami-Dade adopts a $63 million plan to ensure every student has access to a digital device by 2015, reports the Miami Herald.

Teacher conduct. A Hernando teacher is suspended for 10 days without pay for allegedly yelling at a student for several minutes, making disparaging racial remarks and throwing a backpack at his chest, reports the Tampa Bay Times. A Venice charter school principal accused of intimidation and bullying has resigned, reports the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

Tutors. Alachua opts to stop giving low-income parents the ability to choose private tutors. Gainesville Sun. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: School grades, charter schools, AP costs & more

School grades: Schools superintendents from across the state warn Education Commissioner Tony Bennett and the Board of Education that the new school grades formula will result in more F schools. Tampa Bay Times. More from the Palm Beach Post and Orlando Sentinel.

florida roundup logoLawsuits: A judge has ruled that the federal discrimination suit against the Hillsborough County school district in the death of special education student Isabella Herrera can proceed. Tampa Bay Times. The Pasco County School Board sues Citigroup over allegations of bond fraud. Tampa Bay Times.

Wanted: The Hillsborough County School Board is looking for an attorney to replace Tom Gonzalez. Only three candidates have applied. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter schools: Pembroke Pines officials agree not to contract with Charter Schools USA to operate the city’s charter schools for at least two years, and teachers agree to take a pay cut. Sun Sentinel.

Student count: A Lake County charter school has to prove it kept proper attendance records, but that could leave the district may have to pay back some or all of state funding it received for those students. Orlando Sentinel.

Health care: A sharp increase in employee health-insurance premiums has prompted the Seminole School Board to consider a self-insurance program. Orlando Sentinel.

New boss: The Lee County School Board voted unanimously to approve the contract for new schools Superintendent Nancy Graham. News-Press. More about Graham’s $169,000 contract from Naples News.

FCAT: Sarasota County students from low-income families continue to fall behind on their FCAT scores prompting school board members to search for remedy. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Attendance zones: Escambia County school officials approve new attendance zones. Pensacola News-Journal.

AP classes: Schools superintendents tell state Board of Education leaders that a recent legislative bill allowing high school students to take as many advanced placement courses as they want will cost districts millions of dollars that district budgets can’t support. Associated Press.

Training: The Flagler County School Board turned down a contract that would have provided training for administrators who evaluate teachers. Daytona Beach News-Journal.


School choice by moving van

Editor’s note: Most discussions of school choice today are focused on newer options – charters, vouchers, tax credit scholarships – that are intended to empower parents without the ability or means to access the right school. But Catherine Robinson, a Tampa mother and assistant director of outreach for the Step Up For Students scholarship program, writes that old-fashioned methods can work as well.

School choice time again with the Robinsons.

School choice time again with the Robinsons.

I’ve been through this before. Many times.

Searching for the right school for my children has never been easy, but since we all know the importance of education in determining a good future, every few years, I skip some happy hours and dedicate myself to finding the best choice for my twin sons.

Ten years ago, Jacob and Zachary were ready for preschool and over the course of several months, I researched local providers. I consulted trusted friends, official “studies” and interviewed administrators in ways that put Senate confirmation hearings to shame.

I finally decided on a school 45 minutes away from our home. Quite a drive, but my husband deferred to me in this area, as I was a teacher at the time, the way I deferred to him, as the father, when deciding which coaches to ignore at T-ball practice.

Our children did well in preschool and precedent was established.

A few short years later, in preparation for their elementary years, I conducted similar research. I looked at school grades, asked around, and visited facilities at drop off and pick up times before choosing a wonderful public school, this time only a half-hour drive from our home.

The Big Recession threw us some unexpected curve balls and we relocated to Colorado Springs. Where it snows.  In May. Within a year, we high-tailed it back to Tampa. This was 2008, the height of the economic crisis, and so we rented a home rather than buy.

I didn’t realize then what a blessing that would be. Continue Reading →


Florida’s school choice leader heading to Georgia to advise governor

Florida’s school choice czar is leaving to help guide education policy in Georgia.

Mike Kooi

Mike Kooi

Mike Kooi, who is executive director of the state Department of Education’s Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice, has overseen for the past five years what is arguably the largest educational choice offering in the nation.

In his new role, he will serve as Division Director For Education in the governor’s Office of Planning and Budget and, in effect, as a direct education policy adviser to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal – a governor who has shown interest in expanding options himself.

The departure was announced at the Florida Board of Education meeting in Tampa today, and Education Commissioner Tony Bennett was quick to note Kooi’s role in the growth of choice options. “Mike has done marvelous work here in Florida as Florida has become a leader in choice,’’ Bennett said.

During Kooi’s tenure, he oversaw the growth of charter schools with student enrollment nearly doubling from 117,040 in 2008 to 203,199 today. In a report released earlier this year, DOE determined that 1.5 million PreK-12 students in 2011-12 attended something other than their assigned neighborhood school. That’s roughly 43 percent of all students.

“It’s an opportunity to work on a wider array of educational policy,” Kooi said, “and to hopefully provide some experience and guidance in terms of education reform policies that we have gone through are going through in Florida. Georgia is a unique state, but they are also doing some of the thing we are doing.”

Before moving to the Department of Education, Kooi was a longtime school choice advocate and former executive director for the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools. He also worked for the Florida House of Representatives as staff director and policy chief for the Schools and Learning Council.

A Department of Education biography described Kooi as being instrumental in legislative policy. He previously served as a former commercial litigator in Jacksonville, as assistant general counsel with the education department and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

“Mike has served the department incredibly well,’’ Bennett said, “and he has served the state of Florida very, very well for many years.’’