Parents of students with special needs set to battle FL teachers union

Parents of students with significant special needs, including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, are taking on the Florida teachers union over a new educational choice program. Six families from across the state on Thursday are filing a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed July 16 by the Florida Education Association.

The teachers union is seeking to nullify SB 850, the bill passed by the Legislature last spring that created a new type of K-12 scholarship called a Personal Learning Scholarship Account. The scholarship accounts are limited to students who fall into eight disability categories, and the Legislature set aside enough money to serve roughly 1,800 students.

The families are being represented by Clint Bolick, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute who is nationally known for his work on school choice cases.

SB 850 also modestly expanded the state’s tax credit scholarship program for low-income students. Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog, is authorized to administer both programs.

A press conference on the filing is scheduled for 11 a.m. today in Tallahassee. For updates, check back here and/or follow @redefinEDonline and @travispillow on Twitter.


Florida roundup: Charter schools, lawsuits, teachers unions and more

Lawsuits. Six families plan to intervene in a lawsuit by the statewide teachers union that challenges Florida school choice legislation. Gradebook.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. A South Florida charter faces closure under the “double-F rule.” Sun-Sentinel. Three others seek waivers from the state. redefinED. The leader of Cape Coral’s municipal charter system leaves to take a job with the Lee County school district. Fort Myers News-Press. A new K-8 charter gets a green light in Lauderhill. Sun-Sentinel.

Single-gender. The Pinellas district considers a new option for at-risk boys. Tampa Tribune.

Private schools. The Cato Institute critiques a recent Daytona Beach News-Journal article on school safety.

Campaigns. A Charlie Crist campaign ad filmed at a high school violates Pinellas school district policies. Tampa Bay Times. Brevard school board candidates debate. Florida Today.

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Three charter schools seek relief under Florida’s ‘double-F’ rule

Of the unprecedented eight charter schools that face closure after getting F’s in two straight years, three are asking the state for waivers that would allow them to stay open next school year.

A Department of Education spokeswoman said the schools that had requested waivers by Monday’s deadline were Shining Star Academy of the Arts in Columbia County, Florida International Academy Elementary School in Miami-Dade County, and Broward Charter School of Science and Technology.

State law requires charter schools that receive “double F’s” to lose their charters unless they receive a waiver from the state Board of Education. The decisions are rare, and a school can only receive such a waiver once.

Schools can also appeal their grades. The Palm Beach Post reported at least one South Florida school was considering that option.

The double-F rule stems from the original theory behind charter schools, which are supposed to trade more operational freedom for stricter accountability. There’s some flexibility for special cases — such as schools that serve a disadvantaged population that might need a little extra time to raise its achievement. Continue Reading →


Florida wants pre-K out of expanded schools lawsuit

The state of Florida is asking a judge to dismiss an attempt to include the state’s preschool program in a lawsuit challenging multiple aspects of its K-12 system.

The groups suing the state over education funding and other issues widened the five-year-old lawsuit in late May, adding new arguments about charter schools, McKay scholarships, and tax credit scholarships. They also added a new argument that the state’s preschoolers do not have access to a “high quality pre-kindergarten learning opportunity” required in the state’s constitution.

Lawyers for the state argued in court papers filed last week that the pre-K claims raise an issue outside the scope of the original lawsuit, and deal with a separate provision of the state constitution, approved by voters in 2002, that led to the creation of Florida’s Voluntary Pre-K program. They said if someone wants to take the state to court over its early learning system, they should do so in a separate suit.

“The new claims regarding Florida’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program do not involve facts or law in common with the current case,” their motion says. “The voluntary pre-kindergarten program arises under a different constitutional provision from the K-12 public education system with a different structure and different constitutional standards.”

They also say none of the plaintiffs, who include public school students and several persistent critics of Florida’s education policies, has direct ties to the state’s Pre-K system.

The K-12 portion of the case deals with issues from funding and standardized testing to student safety and school choice. All of those arguments could technically center on a provision of the state constitution requiring a “uniform” and “adequate” K-12 public education system.

The state’s lawyers say arguments on those issues are expected to last four to six weeks when the case comes before a Leon County judge more than a year from now. Adding Pre-K to the mix, they write, could drag the case out even longer.


Florida roundup: Charter schools, budgets, school choice and more

Charter schools. Renaissance Charter Schools will be able to open up to three new schools in the Orlando area in the coming years after reaching an agreement with the Orange County district. Orlando Sentinel.

School choice. From charter schools to career academies, new programs await Palm Beach County students in the upcoming school year. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoBudgets. The Pinellas spending plan would add choice programs. Tampa Bay Times. The district gives area superintendents control of a new capital fund. Times. Lee schools plan to tighten spending. Fort Myers News-Press. Hernando school board members look for ways to trim spending or add revenue. Tampa Bay Times. More local budget coverage from the Sun-SentinelNorthwest Florida Daily News. Lakeland Ledger. Naples Daily News. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Ocala Star-Banner. Tallahassee Democrat.

Special needs. Broward schools look to improve ESE services in the wake of a critical report. Sun-Sentinel.

Virtual education. Florida Virtual School adds flexibility to its requirements for collaborative student projects. Gradebook.

Race. Hillsborough officials look to tackle racial disparities in academic outcomes and discipline. Tampa Bay Times.

Campaigns. The Times profiles another Pinellas school board race. Two Lee school board incumbents trail challengers in the money race. Naples Daily News. The Daily News also looks at Collier fundraising.

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Florida launches K-12 online course catalog

Florida students now have a tool that allows them to shop around for different courses.

Legislation passed last year broke down several barriers in virtual education. It allowed students enrolled in one school district to take virtual courses offered in another. It also laid the groundwork for a course choice program that’s slated to come online during the 2015-16 school year, and it required the state Department of Education to create a directory to help students the navigate new options.

The online course catalog is now public, as Education Pam Stewart announced Friday in a memo to school districts, and can be found here.

“As Florida continues to lead the nation in school choice, we are excited for students to access the informational catalog and choose courses that will benefit their educational experience,” Stewart wrote in her memo.

Last year’s law change means a student enrolled in Osceola County can sign up for virtual courses offered in Orange or Okaloosa Counties, in addition to the statewide offerings of Florida Virtual School. The catalog combines the course offerings of Florida Virtual School, district virtual instruction programs and other digital courses developed by districts. If the Florida Approved Courses and Tests Initiative launches as expected, those new offerings will also be available in the catalog, saving students the need to navigate dozens of different provider websites.

So far, most of the courses districts have added to the catalog are either built around the Florida Virtual School curriculum or offered by state-approved virtual education providers like K12 and Edgenuity.

Most districts have yet to add their courses to the catalog, but they have a financial incentive to do so. If students successfully complete a virtual education course, the district that offered the course can receive the associated funding, regardless of where students are enrolled for their remaining courses. So if the Osceola County student takes six courses at a traditional campus and completes a seventh through Orange’s virtual program, the two districts would split the funding proportionally.

The catalog also includes a feedback system that allows students to rate their courses with up to five stars, giving districts and other providers another way to compete for students and the funding that can follow them into online courses.


Florida roundup: Charter schools, private schools, budgets and more

Charter schools. City officials in West Palm Beach are looking for an operator to run a planned municipal charter. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoPrivate schools. The superintendent of Warner Christian Academy responds to recent coverage in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Budgets. Property tax rates are expected to fall in Duval County, though total tax collections are expected to rise. Florida Times-Union. The Pinellas district spending plan will be aired during a meeting today. Tampa Tribune.

Reading. A controversial title makes its way back onto a middle school reading list. Tampa Bay Times. Struggling Volusia schools add an extra reading hour. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Administration. The Fort Myers News-Press keeps digging into a principal’s departure. A Manatee district employee faces discipline for lying to investigators. Sarasota Herald-TribuneBradenton Herald.

STEMStateImpact interviews the MacArthur Genius Grant recipient behind the Algebra Project, which is active in Miami-Dade. Perhaps math and science coursework should qualify students for merit-based scholarships such as Bright Futures, rather than SAT scores, Paul Cottle writes at Bridge to Tomorrow.

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How charter schools & open data could spur new marketplace for top teachers

bidding warEarlier this year, when a lawsuit by the Florida Times-Union forced the release of evaluation data for thousands of Florida teachers, Daniel Woodring saw an opportunity.

The release of value-added model, or VAM, scores meant that for the first time, the public had access to a trove of quantitative data on the effectiveness of teachers all over the state.

Woodring, a Tallahassee attorney whose clients include charter schools, used the data to create a website,

The site uses the unprecedented release of data to help people find the most highly rated teachers. Woodring (who also provides legal counsel to Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog) hopes the data could also change the way charter schools recruit top teachers.

Parents can search the site by school to see which teachers are among the top 30 percent. But the more intriguing aspect of the project may be the password-protected area for charter schools, where they can log in and find the top teachers in surrounding schools.

The idea is charter schools could search the data for top teachers in their area. Since they are not unionized and not bound by collectively bargained salary schedules, charters could, in theory, look up the teachers with the highest ratings in the database and offer higher salaries to lure them to their schools. Continue Reading →