Florida charter school alliance counts successes, but says more work ahead

Former state Rep. Trey Traviesa says Florida is a national leader when it comes to its support for charter schools.

And the 2013 legislative session offered plenty of examples – from extra facility dollars to legislative language that included charters in teacher pay raises and school safety funds, to revamping charter applications and contracts to make them more uniform from district to district.

Trey Traviesa

Trey Traviesa

But there’s plenty more work to do, Traviesa said today during an online town hall meeting organized by the Florida Alliance for Charter Schools.

“Funding needs to be stronger,’’ he said. “Policy can be better.’’

With those two objectives in mind, the alliance and its band of former legislators-turned-lobbyists already are setting the stage for next year’s charter school agenda. The group plans to meet with operators, parents and other supporters across the state within the next few months.

In Florida, there are 203,000 children attending 579 charter schools. One of the biggest issues for the charter industry has been getting organized and developing a unified mission, alliance leaders said.

“We as a movement have to be able to stick together as one voice,’’ said Ralph Arza, another former state representative who now lobbies for the two-year-old Fort Lauderdale-based nonprofit. “That is the importance of our advocacy, to make sure that charters are front and center … and treated equally on the funding side and the policy side.’’

That “Herculean effort’’ really came together this year, said Arza, noting that the benefits for charter schools this legislative session were beyond the allinace’s expectations.

Among the highlights:

  • Lawmakers earmarked $91 million for charter school facilities construction and maintenance costs
  • Charter school instructors are included in the $480 million allotment for public school pay raises
  • The nontraditional schools also will receive a portion of the $64 million approved for school safety, which includes suicide prevention and after-school programs.

Charter schools also will get more leeway in submitting applications before the Aug. 1 state deadline, and have a quicker turnaround in the district review process – from 60 days to 30 days. Other changes include requiring districts to report to the state annually the number of charter applications they receive, and how many they accept or deny.

“We just wanted to make sure things are moving along quickly and as close to the timeline as possible,’’ said Mike Kooi, executive director of Florida’s school choice office.

The session brought “a lot of victories for charter schools in terms of polices and funding,’’ Kooi said. “And, hopefully, it will continue.’’


Education Week: Florida No. 2 in improving high school graduation rates

Florida’s high school graduation rate rocketed 23 percentage points to 72.9 percent between 2000 and 2010, putting the Sunshine State at No. 2 among states for progress over that span but still behind the national average, according to a new national report.

From Education Week

From Education Week

Only Tennessee did better, with a 31.5 percentage point gain, shows the annual Diplomas Count report from Education Week. The national rate was up 7.9 percent, to 74.7 percent.

Education Week, the country’s highly respected paper of record for education news, uses its own formula to calculate graduation rates.

Its findings are the latest in a stack from credible, independent sources that show Florida students and teachers are making some of the biggest academic gains in the country under a model distinguished by a tough, top-down accountability system and expanded parental school choice.

Florida ranks No. 44 in the percentage of students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch (with the ranking going from lowest rate to highest), according to the latest federal figures. But the Education Week data puts it at No. 34 in graduation rates, ahead of states with less challenging student populations – and arguably better academic reputations – like Washington, North Carolina and Utah.

The gains also come despite tougher standards than other states. Among other things, Florida requires more academic credits to graduate than most states (24 to the national average of 21.1) and the passing of an exit exam (only 23 other states do). Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: charter schools, virtual schools, Common Core & more

Charter schools. Parents at Rowlett Elementary, a magnet in Manatee, say their calculations show a charter school conversion will bring in more money for fine arts programs. Sarasota Herald Tribune.

florida roundup logoVirtual schools. Florida Virtual School holds its first ever graduation for full-time students, reports the Seminole Chronicle. Lee County’s virtual school, the Lee Virtual Instruction Program, gets a  Bronze ranking from U.S. News & World Report’s high school rating system, reports Fort Myers Beach Talk.

School technology. Foundations may need to help school districts shift into higher gear. StateImpact Florida.

Common Core. Crazy claim of the week: involves Glenn Beck, Common Core and eyeball scanners in Polk County. Oh, mercy. EdFly Blog.

Retiring teachers. A final farewell. South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Graduating seniors. A Pinellas teen with cancer finds the strength to walk with her class. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


Wanted in Florida: charter schools with track record of helping neediest students

How can Florida attract highly regarded charter schools outfits like Rocketship and Yes Prep? Some of the state’s top education leaders hope to figure that out as they begin looking more closely at why those high-impact schools aren’t in Florida now.

Gary Chartrand

Gary Chartrand

“We need to do a better job, in my opinion as the state Board of Education chair, of serving our neediest children,’’ Gary Chartrand told redefinED Tuesday. “We need charter school operators that are really serious, cause-minded folks ready to do the hard, hard work of working in the toughest neighborhoods.”

Chartrand joined Gov. Rick Scott and Florida’s school choice director, Mike Kooi, in Orlando on Friday for a meeting with five of the country’s leading charter school operators (KIPP, Yes Prep, The Seed Foundation, Rocketship Education and Scholar Academies) and five superintendents from the state’s largest school districts (Orange, Miami-Dade, Duval, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties).

The group also included representatives from the Walton Family Foundation and the Florida Philanthropic Network, which includes the Helios Education Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Chartrand said.

The goal: identify the roadblocks for such schools and work toward solutions. There are a lot of variables, including per-pupil funding, which Chartrand said presents a significant challenge.

Florida ranks near the bottom nationwide, with an average of $9,572 spent per pupil, according to a recent Education Week analysis. By comparison, Vermont spends $18,924 per pupil and Utah $7,042.

“It does cost more to serve the highest-needs areas,’’ Chartrand said.

Chartrand helped bring KIPP to Florida and serves on the board of directors for the Jacksonville school (Chartrand donated $1 million toward the middle school and helped raise $9 million from the local business community). KIPP offers a longer school day and year, after-school programs and highly-qualified instructors to teach an academic program that focuses on college prep and character development.

Since KIPP was founded in 1994, more than 90 percent of its students have graduated high school and more than 80 percent have attended college. Of those, 40 percent have obtained college degrees.

The state wants to lure similar schools “by making long-term sustainability … a reality,’’ Chartrand said.

That might mean reducing startup costs, he said, perhaps by giving the schools access to the state’s Charter School Growth Fund. The fund is a $30 million reservoir created by federal Race to the Top dollars and philanthropic groups to benefit high-performing charters serving low-income students.

Another way to help is to streamline the charter school authorization process, Chartrand said.

In Florida, where there is no state authorizer, charter school operators apply through individual districts. But the process could go smoother if districts, state school choice officials and charter operators collaborate more closely on the front end, he said.


Florida roundup: Common Core, high-tech classrooms, black males & more

Common Core. A new Florida group calls the Common Core standards “monstrous.” Daytona Beach News Journal.

florida roundup logoBlack males. An endangered species in Florida, given the Schott Foundation’s calculation of grad rates. Politics365.

Vals and sals. Hernando school board members tell Superintendent Brian Blavatt to reinstate the designations. Tampa Bay Times.

Graduation. Remembering the ones who are gone. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher conduct. A Clay County teacher charged with child abuse enters a pre-trial diversionary program under a plea bargain, reports Florida Times Union. The Pasco principal accused of making anti-gay remarks is retiring, reports the Tampa Tribune. Polk is taking steps to fire a teacher who repeatedly lied about her health to avoid work, including claims of kidney stones, ovarian cysts and a brain condition, reports the Lakeland Ledger.

Teachers unions. Pasco union leader Lynne Webb says it’s not the union’s fault that contract negotiations have yet to begin. Gradebook. Continue Reading →


Lessons from school choice in Florida

lessons learnedFor the last month, the North Carolina legislature has been debating whether to create a scholarship program to help low-income families pay the tuition and fees at qualified K-12 private schools. Since this proposal closely parallels Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, I’ve traveled to Raleigh three times in recent weeks to discuss what we’ve learned in Florida about school choice over the last 10 years and how these lessons might apply to the North Carolina program.

Below are the lessons learned I’ve shared with supporters and opponents:

  • All parents want to match their children with the schools that best meet their needs. This is not a political or ideological decision for parents. They just want to do what’s best for their children.
  • Low-income parents have fewer schooling options than more affluent parents. Scholarships provide low-income families with more options. Scholarships don’t level the playing field, but they move us toward greater equality of opportunity for disadvantaged children.
  • Low-income parents don’t have a bias for or against neighborhood schools, magnet schools, charter schools, virtual schools or private schools. Their schooling decisions are pragmatic. They just want access to schools that work for their children.
  • Every child and every school is different. Schools that work great for some children fail others. The challenge for parents is matching each child with the school that works best for him or her.
  •  Children and schools are constantly changing. A school that works for a child one year may not work for this child the next year. When the relationship between a child and a school is no longer successful, low-income parents with scholarships find another school. Low-income parents without scholarships don’t have this option. Continue Reading →


Father Andrew Greeley, choiceniks’ ally



Editor’s note: Among many other things, Father Andrew Greeley, who passed away last week, was a champion of Catholic schools. According to the New York Times obituary, “His research debunked the received view at the time that Catholics had low college attendance rates. He found instead that white Catholics earned bachelor’s degrees and pursued advanced degrees at higher rates than other whites, and he attributed their success to the quality of education in parochial schools, a controversial assertion in a time of public school ascendancy.” As John E. Coons writes in this post, the school choice movement also considered him one of its own.

Andrew Greeley was a friend and a puzzle. We first met in 1978 at a conference of the National Catholic Educational Association. James Coleman – that other splendid Chicago sociologist – had written the introduction to a new book of Steve Sugarman’s and myself; it was about school choice, and Coleman thought Andy and we should connect. Sporadically, over the next 30 years we enjoyed a rather lively reciprocity.

I had known Greeley’s work on Catholic schools and their role in the larger civic order. His 60’s book with Peter Rossi – “The Education of Catholic Americans” - was suggestive to anyone hoping to liberate the inner-city child from a public system that only helped secure his permanent dependence. Sugarman, William Clune, and I took added confidence in arguing (1968, 1970) that any constitutional solution to our warped and irrational distribution of support among public schools not foreclose the state’s assistance to families to make their own choice – including private religious schools.

In respect of school choice Greeley contributed principally – but very effectively – as an intellectual source. His work in the 80’s with Michael Hout on the social picture of life in Catholic schools and their intellectual and social payoff was, I think, a constant resource for those more on the front line. He was emotionally committed to the institution and publicly regretted what he saw as the shameful and unnecessary closing of parish schools in Chicago. All choiceniks saw him as an ally. If not a spear carrier, he was the ideal quartermaster. His relative distance from politics preserved his academic stature, and – prudently – he stayed in the intellectual background and fed the troops. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Common Core, teachers, Manatee school district & more

Teachers. Either masochists or saints. StateImpact Florida.

florida roundup logoTeacher conduct. The Gilchrist County teacher  of the  year is put on leave following allegations of inappropriate conduct with female students. Gainesville Sun.

Teacher pay. The chair of the Marion County School Board says 160 first-year teachers will be spared their jobs if all teachers forgo their state bonus money. Ocala Star Banner.

Teacher protest. Two Manatee High teachers unveil a mural replica of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” – their version made from garbage because the district did not have money for materials – to protest budget cuts. Bradenton Herald and Sarasota Herald Tribune.

Subs. Recent graduates from a Palm Beach County high school give back – by returning as substitute teachers. Palm Beach Post.

Charter schools. A struggling charter in Deland is fighting to stay open. Daytona Beach News Journal.

Common Core. Will Common Core state standards undermine school choice? Jay P. Greene: Yes. Checker Finn: No.

School spending. Small towns in Miami-Dade chip in to pay for a school nurse. Miami Herald.

School districts. Manatee is in a crisis “more dire than anticipated,” new Superintendent Rick Mills says, according to the Bradenton Herald. District officials release an economic recovery plan, reports the Sarasota Herald Tribune. Continue Reading →