‘Once again, Catholic school kids get kicked to the curb’

Cardinal Dolan

Cardinal Dolan

Editor’s note: Don’t be misled by the politics of the moment in Florida. School choice – yes, including vouchers and tax credit scholarships – is increasingly bipartisan. Check out blue-state New York.

In a fascinating counter to the Florida debate, a proposal for tax credit scholarships in New York this spring won widespread backing from Democratic lawmakers and even labor unions (not counting the teacher unions), only to be dashed, apparently, in budget negotiations last weekend. In response, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, penned this op-ed in the New York Post.

Dolan noted the value that faith-based schools bring to all of us – academically, financially, socially – then lit into state leaders with this kicker: “Sadly, once again, they’ve divided our kids into winners and losers.” Here’s a taste of Dolan’s op-ed:

The public-school teachers unions weren’t alone in causing the bill to fail, and there is, I am sure, plenty of blame to go around. Certainly, when the bishops of New York State visited Albany recently to meet with our elected ­officials, we received plenty of assurances that the tax credit was a “no-brainer,” that it had plenty of support and that, for the first time, Catholic-school students wouldn’t be left by the wayside.

Sadly, those assurances turned out to be empty, and, once again, Catholic-school kids get kicked to the curb, along with children attending other faith-sponsored schools and even the other private and public schools that would have benefited.

This mistreatment of Catholic-school students can’t be due to any question about the quality of our schools. Across New York, our students consistently outperform their public-school counterparts, particularly in the inner cities.

And it can’t be because our political leaders don’t otherwise recognize the value that our schools and other private and parochial schools offer. Tuition-paying families pay about $3.8 billion in tuition each year — on top of the taxes they pay for public schools. Their sacrifice saves New Yorkers $9 billion a year. Just imagine for a moment that all Catholic schools across the state closed their doors, and the public schools had to absorb all our students. The burden on our towns, counties and cities would be enormous. Read the full post here.


Florida roundup: Charter schools, tax credit scholarships, accountability and more

Charter schools. Legislation intended to ease contract negotiations heads to the House floor. RedefinED. Extra Credit. Florida Current. Three Pasco charter schools are on thin ice with their school district. Tampa Bay Times. A black charter school in Palm Beach County faces potential closure. South Florida Times. Another school gets a green light to grow. Palm Beach Post. WLRN in Miami produces a Q&A with Charter Schools USA CEO Jon Hage.

florida-roundup-logoVirtual school. The Walton Sun reports on one family’s experience with Florida Virtual School.

Tax credit scholarships. One of Florida’s oldest companies contributes $2 million to the scholarship program for low-income students. Pensacola News-JournalStep Up for Students Vice President Jon East responds to a column criticizing the program in the Tallahassee Democrat. The organization helps administer the program and co-hosts this blog.

Common Core. Law enforcement groups support the standards. StateImpact. Republicans shouldn’t dismiss a Jeb Bush presidential run based on his support for the standards, a Washington Post columnist writes.

Prayer. An Orlando Sentinel columnist throws cold water on the story of a 5-year-old who was reportedly prevented from praying at school.

Reading instruction. Florida educators discuss the impact of an extra hour of reading in struggling schools. Education Week. Boys often struggle more with reading. Tampa Bay Times.

Budgets. Spending plans pass the Legislature amid debate over charter school capital funds. Times/Herald. With money tight, Hernando schools implement a hiring freeze. Tampa Bay Times. State class-size rules crimp budgets in Marion County. Ocala Star-Banner.

Continue Reading →


House charter school bill remains controversial as it heads to the floor

A rewrite of Florida’s charter school laws is ready for a vote on the House floor, but it remains contentious despite changes intended to address some of school districts’ concerns.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

The heart of the bill is intended to speed up contract negotiations between school districts and charter schools by requiring the two sides to resolve most of their differences on key issues during the charter application process.

Supporters of the legislation included Charles Gibson, a board attorney for several Florida charter schools.

He told the House Education Committee that charter schools sometimes have their applications approved, but lose the chance to open the next fall if districts challenge provisions of their contracts.

“The contract negotiations period is where the charter school needs the most help,” he said. “We need to streamline this process.”

Under amendments approved by the panel on Thursday, large charter networks that operate in multiple counties would be able to serve as “local education agencies” under federal rules, and members of charter school boards would be able to attend meetings by video conference.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, also made a series of changes intended to address issues raised by school districts.

Charter school networks from out of state could receive “high-performing” designation from the state that would make it easier for them to expand in Florida, but only if they locate in high-needs areas.

If students withdraw from a charter school and return to the public school system, the school district would be entitled to a share of the per-student funding associated with them. If school districts allow charter schools to operate in their under-used buildings, they would be able to charge rent.

Connie Milito, a longtime lobbyist for the Hillsborough County school district, said the changes helped resolve a few of school districts’ concerns. But she opposed the bill because they felt it would take away their flexibility to negotiate terms of their contracts with charter schools.

“We need to find a middle ground where districts have to do the right thing, and there’s some intervention when they do hold up these schools from opening, who have spent a lot on advertising and who are a part of our public school choice,” she said. “We need to fix that. We just don’t believe this is the way.”

Democrats on the panel also proposed requiring charter schools to post bonds with the school district in case they failed to open, a proposal that was supported by school district representatives. The panel rejected the change after Diaz said it might be unworkable, but the issue could resurface as the bill heads to the floor.

The committee approved the measure on a party-line vote. It could face another obstacle in the Senate, which watered down its version of the charter school bill last week.


Florida roundup: School choice legislation, charter schools, school safety and more

School choice legislation. The Senate rewrites its plan for education savings accounts. redefinEDSentinel School Zone.  The move underscores the uncertain future of tax credit scholarship legislation. News Service of Florida. WFSU. Education historian Sherman Dorn offers his take on the politics, while Jeb Bush talks school choice with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. The Palm Beach County School Board votes to close a struggling, 16-year-old school. Palm Beach Post. Charter Schools USA backs away from plans to open a school in Pasco County. Gradebook.

Virtual school. A Florida Virtual School administrator is a finalist for a state award. Sentinel School Zone.

Teacher pay. Hernando County teachers reach a pay-raise deal that creates a structure for future performance-based increases. Tampa Bay Times.

School safety. Hillsborough County’s superintendent didn’t learn about a child’s death until months after it happened. Tampa Bay Times. She tries to spread the word about pedestrian safety. Times. A bill allowing some school employees to carry guns keeps moving through the Legislature. Extra Credit. Associated Press. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Continue Reading →


FL Senate proposes new path on school choice accounts for disabled students

The Florida Senate has proposed taking a new path on legislation that would create individual accounts for special-needs students.

Under a rewrite approved this morning by the Education Appropriations panel, the legislation would create “enhancements” of the existing services for children with disabilities.

Earlier versions of the bill would have created education savings accounts based on the state’s core per-pupil education funding. The new proposal would create a Florida Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts program, overseen by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities and paid for by $18.4 million in separate funding.

The program would be open to students with conditions like autism and cerebral palsy who participate in home-education programs, or attend public or private schools.

Like the original proposal, it would give their parents a way to pay for additional instructional materials, private school tuition, or certain kinds of therapy. They could also use the money to save for college or pay for services provided by school districts.

“To me it’s very simple. It’s about more money to kids who need it the most,” said Senate Education Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, who noted some of the bill’s initial opponents were concerned about funding the accounts in the state’s education budget. “This is additional money for additional services for all kids.”

“What it begins to recognize is that our public schools cannot be health-care providers for everyone,” he added.

Advocates for students with disabilities, including Robyn Rennick of the Coalition of McKay Scholarship Schools, spoke in favor of the bill. Representatives for the statewide teachers union, which opposed the original legislation, withdrew their opposition after the changes were approved. Continue Reading →


More nuance on testing for school choice students

The debate over whether and how to test students in private school choice programs has been swirling through school choice circles for years, and it’s no idle debate. The prospects for Florida’s tax credit scholarship legislation, in fact, may hinge on how lawmakers decide to resolve the issue.

So it’s worth noting a couple of coincidental developments on this front – even if, in the end, they don’t impact the Florida debate.

First: A slight shift in position at the Fordham Institute, which promotes both school choice and common academic standards. In recent policy papers and on this blog, Fordham has made the case for requiring students in school voucher and tax credit scholarship programs to take the same statewide, standardized tests as their public school counterparts.

This morning, however, Fordham leaders Checker Finn and Mike Petrilli wrote in the National Review that they’re willing to compromise with school choice advocates who bristle at the same-test requirement. The re-calibration comes as Florida and most other state prepare to test their students for the first time on the Common Core State Standards. Write Finn and Petrilli:

But now that most states are transitioning to the Common Core, the state test will soon be some sort of Common Core test. And that has freaked out some choice supporters, some private-school teachers, and some charter-school teachers, too. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, Common Core, prayer and more

Charter schools. Florida State College at Jacksonville prepares to close its charter school. Florida Times-Union. The Duval County School Board green lights a separate charter proposal. Times-Union. The school district in Pinellas County considers taking over a charter school for at-risk students. Tampa Bay Times. A second Pinellas charter school is set to close in June. Tampa Tribune. A municipal charter in Miami-Dade gets a new director. Miami Herald. A Sunshine State News columnist chides liberals for their stances on charter schools.

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core. While Florida is largely sticking with the standards, the political backlash against them is prompting some legislative changes. Associated Press. One example: A textbook bill that cleared a House panel Tuesday. Extra credit. That’s not enough for opponents of the standards, who are calling “mayday” to their allies nationally. Sentinel School Zone.

Prayer. A family says their 5-year-old daughter was told not to pray in her Seminole County school. Orlando Sentinel. The incident stirs controversy. WKMGGradebook.

Dual enrollment. The Lee County School Board reaches a deal with local colleges to cover the costs. Fort Myers News-Press.

Student safety. The Hillsborough County School Board approves a settlement in the wake of a girl’s death. Tampa TribuneTampa Bay Times.

Employees. The Pasco school board overturns an employees suspension. Tampa TribuneGradebook. A Vietnamese former employee alleges racial discrimination in a lawsuit against the Palm Beach County school district. Extra Credit.

Administration. The Walton school board prepares to appoint a new superintendent. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Teachers. Volusia County schools have more than 600 first-year teachers. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Transportation. The Hernando school board considers a “hub” model. Gradebook.



House, Senate advance digital learning bills but differences remain

Key lawmakers have raised questions about the quality of information they have at their disposal on the progress Florida school districts are making toward the state’s digital learning goals.

The situation could soon improve under digital learning proposals that have advanced quickly and with little controversy in both the House and Senate.

Both chambers have proposed bills that would require school districts and state officials to outline clearer plans to use technology in their classrooms, as well as budget proposals that would earmark funding for schools’ technology needs.

The lower chamber’s digital learning bill passed the Education Appropriations panel unanimously this morning, which means both measures are ready for votes on the floor. The competing spending plans, meanwhile, will be debated later this week.

Both the House and Senate have produced proposals that would:

  • Require the state Department of Education to draw up a five-year statewide school technology plan
  • Require school districts to come up with annual technology plans that tie their digital learning initiatives to improving student performance, and report on their technology spending
  • Create a new category of state education funding earmarked for technology
  • Ensure that smaller rural districts district receive at least $250,000 in state technology funding

Some differences remain between the two chamber’s digital learning approaches, in terms of both policy and funding. Among them:

  • The Senate legislation would encourage school districts to offer more computer-science courses, and would allow students to use those courses to meet other graduation requirements.
  • The Senate plan would set an annual funding goal for lawmakers that would equal some $100 million under current spending levels; the House plan would not.
  • The House’s budget would set aside a total of $81.3 million for technology upgrades. The Senate’s would set aside $40 million.
  • A separate House education funding bill would require school districts to boost their bandwidth to one megabit per student by the 2017-18 school year.

The digital learning provisions that have attracted the most controversy are the portions of the Senate bill that would allow students to replace math, science and physical education credits with computer-science courses. Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, the bill’s sponsor, has offered some compromises, and said he does not want to pile additional graduation requirements onto students’ already-crowded schedules.