How Florida’s budget talks could affect charter school funding trends

Florida House and Senate budget negotiators meet today to reconcile their competing spending plans. Like in previous years, one of the last issues to be resolved is how to divvy up the funding for construction at schools, colleges and universities.

One question to keep an eye on as they try to reach a deal before Tuesday’s deadline: Will charter schools’ funding for buildings and construction keep pace with their growth?

From 2006-07 through 2012-13, charter schools typically received about $55 million each year in capital outlay funds (in some years they received a little more; in some years slightly less). But more than 200 new charter schools opened during those years. While not every charter school receives capital outlay funding, that growth meant a larger number of charter schools split roughly the same amount of money for their facilities.

That changed last legislative session when lawmakers allowed the pie to grow again. They set aside more than $90 million in capital outlay funding for charter schools. The total funding amount was unprecedented, but because there were hundreds more charter schools receiving capital outlay funds, it brought the average per school to just above 2009-10 levels.

Not all charter schools receive state capital outlay funding. The most recent state budget increase brought an increase to the average amount schools that do receive state capital dollars are getting.

Not all charter schools receive state capital outlay funding, which is based on the number of students. This graph shows the change in the average amount that went to  charter schools receiving sate capital outlay funding during the last five state fiscal years. Source: Charter School Capital Outlay.

This fall, charter school enrollment grew to nearly 230,000. That means the amount of capital funding per student is expected to remain lower for charter schools than what districts receive from one of their revenue sources – a tax of up to $1.50 for every $1,000 in local property values.

If recent trends continue, and charter schools grow by another 10 percent or more, the House’s original $100 million capital plan for charter schools would come close to keeping pace, while the Senate’s $50 million plan would set them back. For the first time in four years, both plans set aside a substantial chunk of state capital outlay funding for school districts, though that’s not likely to resolve tensions over how capital funding gets divided.

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Expanding parental school choice can help English language learners

Editor’s note: This post originally ran as an op-ed Sunday on VOXXI, in response to an op-ed by Dr. Rosa Castro Feinberg. Julio Fuentes is president and CEO of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options and a member of the board of directors for Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that administers Florida’s tax credit scholarship program and co-hosts this blog.

Julio Fuentes

Julio Fuentes

In Florida schools, there is no doubt that English language learners, many of them Spanish speakers, are the most vulnerable and most struggling of our students.

To offer but one sad fact, only 11 percent of ELL (English Language Learners) students last year passed the 10th grade FCAT in reading, the test they must pass in order to graduate from high school. Let me repeat that so the gravity of the number sinks in: 11 percent. That’s compared to 54 percent of students overall, 41 percent of low-income students and 21 percent of students with disabilities. To be sure, standardized test scores should often be taken with a grain of salt. But it’s clear they wave a bigger red flag with ELL students than with any other group. And there is no doubt we must move with greater urgency to do all we can to ensure a brighter future for those students.

Given that backdrop, I must respond to Dr. Rosa Castro Feinberg’s April 24 op-ed, “Students learning ESOL with vouchers might be getting shortchanged.” I have the utmost regard for Dr. Feinberg. I appreciate the expertise she brings to the subject of ELL and ESOL students. And I do think there are some issues involving those students and tax credit scholarships (aka “vouchers”) that are worthy of fair-minded debate. But in this case, I must respectfully say that Dr. Feinberg’s concerns are misplaced, and that she is unfairly tarnishing a tool that can help ELL students.

At the end of the day, what tax credit scholarships do is simply give parents more options. Why in the world would we limit options for students who need help wherever they can get it? Dr. Feinberg listed a slew of things that public schools are required to provide ELL students, including extra funding and extra training for teachers. Many of those policies are well-intentioned and helpful. But the statistics show they’re not helpful enough.

This year, 35 percent of the nearly 60,000 low-income students using tax credit scholarships are Hispanic. Many were not satisfied with public schools, and so they used the scholarships to find something that works better for their children. If the ELL families among them felt their needs were being met in public schools, they wouldn’t have left. There are endless reasons for their frustration, but I have no doubt that the cultural barriers they sometimes face in public schools are among them.

Sometimes Spanish-speaking parents can’t communicate well with the staffs at public schools. At some public schools, there is no one who can help the family because no one at the school speaks their language. I don’t mean this as a knock on public schools, which are too often burdened with the impossible task of being all things to all children. But it’s a fact. It’s also a fact that many private schools serving Spanish students go to great lengths to ensure that even their written communications are in Spanish. I wish I could say the same about public schools, but unfortunately I know more than a few examples where that is not the case.

Perhaps unintentionally, Dr. Feinberg made a case for school choice and parental empowerment in her own op-ed. She suggested to parents, “Visit the school’s ESOL or bilingual classes. Do you think the children are learning English? If the school doesn’t offer these classes, think twice about changing schools.”

We couldn’t agree more. But it’s not in the best interest of ELL students for the parents to limit their visits to public schools. Why not explore all options? Continue Reading →

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redefinED roundup: ESAs in AZ, scholarships in KS, charter schools find homes in NYC and more news

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Arizona: A bill to allow children of military service members killed in action to become eligible for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts passes into law (Watchdog). Gov. Jan Brewer vetoes a bill to allow owners of S-Corps to receive individual tax credits for donations to scholarship funding organizations, but signs two bills related to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (Arizona Republic, Associated Press).

California: Two Democrats battle for leadership of California’s K-12 system: one backed by the establishment and the other backed by education reformers (Reuters).

Colorado: The school choice oriented school board in Jefferson County looks to provide more equity for charter school funding (Denver Post). Fewer students get their first choice in Denver’s public school choice program (Chalkbeat).

D.C.: The D.C.Public Charter School Board hears proposals for eight new charter schools (Washington Post).

Delaware: A charter school principal says charter schools were meant to help improve the quality of public education but not intended to simply duplicate public schools (The News Journal).

Florida: The senate revives a plan to expand the tax-credit scholarship program, but the senate’s version is less ambitious than the House version (Education WeekTampa Bay Times, Florida Current, The Ledger, WFSUPalm Beach Post, Naples News, Highlands Today, GTN News, St. Augustine RecordredefinED). William Mattox, an education researcher at the James Madison Institute, argues that private schools already face greater accountability because parents, and donors, can leave at any time (Daytona Beach News-Journal). A local public school PTA president favors school choice and says the legislature should expand options, not deny them (Tampa Tribune). The Palm Beach Post editorial board opposes expanding tax-credit scholarship eligibility from 230 percent of poverty to 260 percent because that now represents the middle class. The Orlando Sentinel editorial board opposes expanding the tax-credit scholarships without more accountability, which the editorial board defines as taking the exact same test as public school students. The Tampa Bay Times editorial board believes it is hypocritical to require the FCAT of public schools and students but not of private school students on scholarship. A private school principal says she supports school choice in all its forms because schools that work for one child may not work well for another (Context Florida). A tax-credit scholarship mom says she is thankful for a program that helps build a future for  her children and others (Daytona Beach News-Journal). Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, testing, charter schools, budgets and more

Tax credit scholarships. Hispanic leaders debate the program’s impact on English language learners here and here in Voxxi. Editorial boards weigh in on tax credit scholarship legislation as a piece of unfinished business going into the last weeks of the legislation. Tampa TribuneMiami Herald. A parent writes about the benefits of scholarships for her children. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Charter schools. Lawmakers debate construction funding. Fox Orlando. Parents at a Pasco charter school devoted to children with autism scramble for ways to keep it open. Tampa Bay Times. The Florida Times-Union writes up standard contract legislation.

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Single-gender schools. One school-choice proposal wins broad support in the Legislature. Orlando Sentinel.

Budgets. House and Senate negotiators come close to a budget deal, agreeing on a 2.6 per-student funding increase for public schools. Times/HeraldNews Service of Florida. Duval’s superintendent lays out some controversial recommendations. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher quality. Hillsborough schools try to recruit top teachers where they are most needed. Tampa Tribune.

At-risk students. Bay County scuttles plans for a new alternative school. Panama City News Herald.

Testing: Citing recent issues with the last FCAT administration, a Tampa Bay Times editorial calls for a slower transition to a new assessment.

Continue Reading →

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Single-gender schools bill headed to Gov. Scott

A bill creating new requirements for Florida’s single-gender school programs is headed to Gov. Rick Scott.

The first piece of standalone school choice legislation to pass this session cleared both houses of the Legislature with overwhelming support.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

The bill itself would not expand single-gender programs, which are already authorized under state law. But sponsor Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, who sponsored the legislation in the House, said it could help them receive a boost in the state budget and create a framework allowing them to grow.

The bill would require school systems offering single-gender classes to make them open to all children in their districts. It would also require them to provide training for their faculty and report comparisons of their students’ performance to the state Department of Education.

The House has proposed spending $300,000 on gender-specific programs in Duval and Broward counties in its version of the state budget, which has yet to be settled in negotiations with the Senate.

Diaz said the money would help fund professional development for teachers and administrators at the schools. As public schools gain more experience with separate male and female classes and the state studies their results, he said, the quality of the programs will improve and they will be more likely to expand into other school districts.

Eventually, he said he hopes more public school students to participate in programs like those in place at Academy Prep Center. At the Tampa private school, which recently received a visit from Congressman Eric Cantor, R-Va., students are separated by gender for core subject classes to help them focus, but the genders are mixed during other parts of the day.

“These programs will be seen as another option for parents who may not have the resources to send those kids to a private school,” Diaz said.

The Senate sponsor, Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said she attended an all-girls high school and wanted more families to have that option.

The bill was never really controversial. The closest thing to opposition it received during debate on the Senate floor was a quip from Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.

“I can’t imagine going to school without women,” he said, before supporting the measure.

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Florida roundup: Private schools, magnet schools, testing and more

Testing. Pasco County schools run into a second bout of FCAT glitches, but testing proceeds smoothly in other districts. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune. Parents who opt out of state testing have other options to demonstrate their students’ performance. StateImpact.

Tax credit scholarships. Legislation expanding the program has proved “hard to kill,” the St. Augustine Record reports in an article that quotes only opponents. The program promotes “equity and social justice,” a private school educator writes for Context Florida. Lawmakers should keep the status quo when it comes to school choice policies rather than passing new legislation, the Tampa Bay Times editorializes.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools. The Fort Myers News-Press writes about the growth of the Discovery Day Academy.

Magnet schools. A Palm Beach magnet school gets a visit from a local Congressman. Extra Credit. A Polk County magnet program earns national recognition. Lakeland Ledger.

Student discipline. The now-famous “Pop Tart bill” is headed to Gov. Rick Scott. Gradebook. Orlando Sentinel.

Gates foundation. A Tampa Bay Times columnist looks at the impact of Hillsborough’s seven-year, $100 million grant as it reaches its midway point.

STEM. A Palm Beach student attends a STEM leadership academy. Palm Beach Post. Gainesville high school students prepare for a national oceanography competition. Gainesville Sun. Hands-on science lessons get messy for an award winning teacher. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Budgets. Citrus County looks at possible cuts. Citrus County Chronicle.

Continue Reading →

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School choice scholarship helps end family’s emotional rollercoaster

Ulysees (left) and Uriah

Ulysees (left) and Uriah

Editor’s note: Step Up For Students, which administers Florida’s tax credit scholarship program for low-income students (and co-hosts this blog), periodically profiles students who benefit from the program. Here is a recent profile. 

Imagine coming home to discover your house was foreclosed on.

Beverly Gilbert doesn’t have to imagine. That was the reality she faced in April 2011.

She came home with her two sons, Ulysees III and Uriah, before a football practice to find a foreclosed sign in the yard of her house in Ocala. Since she wasn’t the person responsible for handling all of the household finances, she was unaware this was in the works.

“That was a real shock,” Beverly said.

Family belongings had been moved out of the house and into the yard. As a result, Beverly and her two children moved elsewhere in Ocala.

That year continued to be a rollercoaster ride.

In the summer of 2011, Beverly was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy on her left side that fall, and is now cancer-free. The day after Beverly’s surgery, her youngest son Uriah, underwent his own surgery. Years before, he had crashed into an oak tree while driving a four-wheeler. He fractured his head and broke his nose, requiring intensive care. He recovered, but needed surgery in 2011 to remove some debris from the incident embedded under his chin.

Changes continued for the Gilbert family as Beverly formally separated from her husband that September.

The only positive thing in her eldest son, Ulysees’ life, at the time, was his experience at Trinity Catholic High in Ocala which lent some stability during a very unpredictable chapter in his life. He was enrolled in the ninth grade and played football. He would take his little brother to games and practices. He made new friends there.

Because of the separation, Beverly, a second grade teacher in the public school system, was now confronted with how to pay for Ulysees’ education. She was able to work with the school to keep him enrolled.

“Trinity bent over backward to make it easy for him to stay there,” his mother said.

But she now was left with figuring out how to pay for Uriah’s tuition. She called herself the “New Poor in America,” meaning someone who works every day and has a decent job but can’t afford anything, such as a new car or replacement car parts.

She had applied for the Step Up school choice scholarship for Ulysees in the past, but said she was denied because her household income exceeded the qualifying guidelines. Ulysees completed 8th grade in public school and enrolled into Trinity for ninth grade, in the 2011-12 school year.

She decided to apply again for Step Up, but this time for Uriah. And she was met with success. Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Testing, tax credit scholarships, prayer and more

Testing. FCAT continues, with technological glitches addressed. Tampa Bay Times. Sun-SentinelAssociated Press. WFSU. Florida Times-Union. Testing conflicts with take-your kid-to-work-day. Tampa Tribune. Parent complaints prompt a school to stop serving kids Mountain Dew before testing. Florida Today.

florida-roundup-logoTax credit scholarships. A PTA mom writes in the Tampa Tribune that scholarships help increase opportunity. Highlands Today writes up the bill. The Palm Beach Post  comes out against school choice legislation in an editorial that conflates proposed education savings accounts with McKay scholarships for students with disabilities.

Top schools. The Florida Times-Union looks at local high schools, many of them schools of choice, featured by U.S. News and World Report.

Career academies. An investigation continues into Okaloosa County’s veterinary program. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Transportation. Hillsborough’s transportation director resigns amid turmoil. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune. A shuttle makes commuting safer for high school students. Tampa Bay Times.

Prayer. A Seminole County investigation finds no evidence a girl was stopped from praying the cafeteria. Orlando Sentinel.

Early learning. Tougher oversight laws pass the House. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher conduct. A Polk County teacher faces 20 separate charges over allegations she has sex with a student. Lakeland Ledger. The House approves the “Stop Harassing Underage Teens Act.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Dress codes. Palm Beach County schools decide not to enact one for parents. Sun-Sentinel.

Teachers. The Palm Beach Post looks at local educators receiving honors.

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