FSBA leader twists truth on tax credit scholarships



If truth is the first casualty of war, then Florida School Boards Association executive director Wayne Blanton may have been suiting up back in June. His Capital Dateline interview then with Steve Wilkerson described tax credit scholarships for low-income students as a financial drain not only on public schools but on all state government services.

Blanton, a seasoned educator, knows better. So let’s assume the association’s planned lawsuit against the scholarship, to be announced today, was his motivation.

Blanton’s financial assertion is short enough to quote in full:

“We are not a big fan of those type of scholarships. There’re a couple of reasons. No. 1, it’s taking a substantial amount of money every year away from public schools. But the bigger issue, I think, is over the next two years those corporate scholarships are going to siphon off about 2 to 2 ½ billion dollars from the state. Now making my assumption earlier that we get 36 percent of that, for every $1 billion that would be $360 million that public schools do not get. But then there’s over $600 million that doesn’t come into the state at all. It doesn’t come in for child care, it doesn’t come in for health services, it doesn’t come in for the Division of Family Services and things of that nature, it doesn’t come in for corrections. Those dollars not coming into the state are not just detrimental to public schools, it’s detrimental to a lot of other services the state is trying to deliver and has a hard time getting those dollars to them now. So I think we’ve got to take a real close look at that in the big picture – not just education but how those dollars are disappearing from a lot of other entities.”

Readers should be aware that I’m the policy director for Step Up For Students, a nonprofit that co-hosts this blog and helps administer the scholarship that Blanton calls into question. But his misstatements are at such odds with the fiscal reality that they are rebutted by basic state revenue reports and fiscal evaluations.

Let’s begin with the “siphon.” Under state law, the amount of tax credits that can be used toward contributions for the scholarship is capped every year. The Department of Revenue is responsible for overseeing the cap, and here is the link to its latest calculation. The maximum possible amount for scholarships in the next two years is in fact $805.1 million – not $2.5 billion. That’s one-third the amount that Blanton claimed.

Now let’s look at how the loss of those dollars is “detrimental” to all those public services, including schools. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Lawsuits, testing, school choice and more

Lawsuits. The statewide teachers union, school boards association and other groups are preparing to announce the first direct constitutional challenge to Florida’s tax credit scholarship program. Times/Herald. Sentinel School Zone. redefinED. florida-roundup-logo

Testing. In clear violation of state law, the Lee County school board votes to “opt out” of all state standardized testing. Fort Myers News-PressNaples Daily News. Collier schools roll out new end of course exams. Naples Daily News.

School choice. A Palm Beach school board member pushes for more choice options within the district, but meets resistance. Palm Beach Post.

Charter schools. The Northwest Florida Daily News visits a new, collegiate-themed charter high school.

English Language Learners. Gov. Rick Scott criticizes federal accountability rules for students learning English at an event in Miami. Miami Herald. Gradebook. He appears ready to challenge the standards for federal accountability waivers. StateImpact.

Common Core. The standards were not the election driver some expected. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Prayer. The Orange County school district’s decision not to allow chaplains at football games draws heat from a local pastor. Orlando Sentinel.

Elections. Recounts are coming in Hillsborough and Palm Beach school board races. Palm Beach Post. Tampa Tribune. A winning Indian River candidate faces residency allegations. Indian River Press Journal.


Florida School Boards Association urged to drop school choice suit

A chorus of Florida lawmakers, education leaders and others began urging the Florida School Boards Association Wednesday to drop a lawsuit it plans to file against the state’s tax credit scholarship program for low-income students.



The suit, which sources said could be filed as early as Thursday, could potentially limit school choice options for nearly 70,000 low-income parents, saddle school districts and taxpayers with hefty financial costs and entangle the nation’s largest school choice program in litigation for years.

“I believe in choice and in freedom especially for those children that have limited mobility and limited financial resources,” said Florida Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand in a written statement. “The Florida tax credit scholarships provide this freedom for our most underserved population to choose a school that best serves their needs.”

The FSBA “is acting without consideration for this population by filing a law suit against this program,” Chartrand continued. “This is surprising and disheartening, and I call on them to rethink their position and withdraw the lawsuit.”

Added Florida House Speaker-Designate Steve Crisafulli: “This proven, popular program is essential for preparing children for success in college and the workforce.  I hope School Board members will reconsider their actions and put the needs of children first.”

The FSBA board of directors voted June 11 to move forward with a suit challenging the constitutionality of the scholarship program, which the Legislature created in 2001.

FSBA Executive Director Wayne Blanton could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But Juhan Mixon, executive director of the Florida Association of School Administrators, which is supporting the suit, said it was in part spurred by the program’s rapid growth. Continue Reading →


FL school boards set to sue nation’s largest school choice program

Editor’s note: Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog, helps to administer the tax credit scholarship program in Florida. Tampa businessman John Kirtley is chairman of the Step Up board of directors and is also chairman of Florida Federation for Children and Florida Voices for Choices.

Karen Disney-Brombach

Karen Disney-Brombach

Diane Smith

Diane Smith

With the Florida School Boards Association on the cusp of filing suit against the state’s popular scholarship for low-income students, its president and president-elect were upset Tuesday in local elections that bore the imprint of school choice organizations.

Karen Disney-Brombach, a two-term Indian River School Board member who is the new FSBA president, was defeated by a former science teacher and political newcomer, Shawn Frost. Diane Smith, a two-term Volusia County School Board member who is the FSBA president-elect, was beaten by a physician’s assistant and political newcomer, Melody Johnson.

At least two choice organizations were involved in the races. Florida Voices for Choices, a new 501(c)(4) that organizes parents and supporters of all school options, spread word about the incumbents’ expressed opposition to many choice programs. The Florida Federation For Children, an electioneering organization tied to the American Federation For Children, issued a statement saying that it invested money in state school board races for the first time in its history. Its chairman, John Kirtley, said bluntly: “If the FSBA proceeds with the suit, FFC will be heavily invested in these races around the state for years to come.”

“Parents talked a lot about how they felt bullied by a school board association that, through the lawsuit, wants to take away their scholarships,” said Voices for Choices executive director Catherine Durkin Robinson, a former Step Up employee. “So we talked about what to do with bullies.”

Scripps Media reported today that Indian River County Tax Collector Carole Jean Jordan, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, sent out emails on Friday retracting her support of Disney-Brombach after learning that she voted to sue the scholarship program. “Disney-Brombach said her ties with the Florida School Board Association may have led to her loss,” wrote Colleen Wixon.

Gary Chartrand, chairman of the state Board of Education, also issued a statement today opposing a lawsuit. It said, in part, that FSBA “is acting without consideration for this population by filing a lawsuit against this program. This is surprising and disheartening, and I call on them to rethink their position and withdraw the lawsuit.”

At issue is a vote by the FSBA board of directors on June 11 to move forward with a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the tax credit scholarship program, which is now in its 13th year and is expected to serve 69,000 economically disadvantaged students. The action followed a presentation by FSBA attorney Ron Meyer, who also represents the Florida Education Association teacher union and filed a lawsuit last month challenging the process by which the Legislature enacted a bill this year expanding the scholarship and creating a new program for students with significant special needs.

Sources say the FSBA is planning to file the suit on Thursday. FSBA Executive Director Wayne Blanton could not be immediately reached for comment.

The reaction among parents and private school leaders has been swift. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Choice, charters and school board election results

florida-roundup-logoOusters.  Both the president and presdent-elect of the Florida School Boards Association are ousted in elections in which school choice figures prominently. Indian River Press Journal. Central Florida News 13. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Charter schools. A pair of charter school supporters seek Collier school board seats. One prevails. Naples Daily News. A charter school administrator defeats a Walton incumbent. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Incumbents. Sitting school board members have good Election Nights in Alachua County, Tampa Bay and South Florida. GradebookMiami HeraldSun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Gainesville Sun. A Broward incumbent overcomes an N-word controversy. Miami Herald.

Runoffs. School board races aren’t over in Hillsborough, Marion, Putnam and Manatee Counties. Tampa Bay Times. Ocala Star-Banner. Florida Times-UnionBradenton Herald.

Gestures. Two Volusia school board candidates pledge to donate their salaries. Orlando Sentinel.

Budgets. School tax referenda pass in Orange and Volusia Counties Orlando Sentinel. WKMG.

Testing. A standardized testing critic wins a school board seat in Lee County. Fort Myers News-Press.

Labor. Meanwhile, Brevard approves a new teacher contract. Florida Today.

Security. The Manatee school board delays a vote on hiring a private security firm. Bradenton Herald.

Adult education. A 79-year-old woman earns a high school diploma. Panama City News Herald.


Gloria Romero gives parent empowerment a new push

California’s parent empowerment law spawned organizing campaigns aimed at transforming individual schools by parent petition, and went on to inspire legislative showdowns over similar “parent trigger” legislation across the country, including in Florida.

Gloria Romero

Gloria Romero

Yet that was only half of what the law did.  Another part of the 2010 statute could affect students at 1,000 California schools, and one of the law’s original architects says that provision has yet to get the attention it deserves.

In brief, it also allows parents at those schools, determined to be the lowest-performing in the state, to transfer their children to a higher-performing public school. It’s analogous to Florida’s Opportunity Scholarships, which allow children assigned to schools that earn low grades to transfer to other public schools.

California’s program casts a wider net that could affect nearly 10 times the number of schools. But it can’t help parents who don’t know it exists, or whether its applies to their schools, or what it allows them to do.

For that reason, former state Sen. Gloria Romero, who sponsored the original legislation, has set up a new organization aimed at informing parents of their rights under the law.

“We want to create public awareness – to reach out to parents whose kids are enrolled in one of these 1,000 schools,” she said.

Starting this summmer, the Center for Parent Empowerment has been operating out of an office in East Los Angeles. In addition to cajoling education officials to support the goals of the law she helped put on the books, the Democratic former lawmaker says she plans to hold meetings with parents from key schools on the list.

In a recent phone interview, Romero said the state’s convoluted formula for selecting the “persistently lowest achieving” schools isn’t perfect. But she’s also had a hard time getting good information from school districts about how many parents are taking advantage of the law, and what’s being done to inform them of their options. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: School board races, enrollment, start times and more


Education reform. Gov. Rick Scott releases a second-term education agenda. Times/Herald. Tampa Tribune. Gainesville SunredefinED. A Tampa Bay Times columnist criticizes the governor over testing.

Campaigns. It’s election day. Charter schools are among the issues at stake in Clay County school board races. Florida Times-Union. Common Core looms large at all levels. Naples Daily News. WJCT looks at spending in school board races.

Enrollment. Sarasota classrooms aren’t as crowded as officials expected. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Start times. Advocates for a later start to the school day have their cause bolstered by a new study. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Accountability. This will be a lower-stakes “baseline year” for school accountability. Ocala Star-Banner.

Continue Reading →


Scott: Let more children access Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts

Florida’s Republican governor says he wants to expand the pool of children who would qualify for the state’s new personal learning accounts.

Scott Personal Learning Scholarship Account event

Gov. Rick Scott at a recent campaign event focused on special needs students.

In the midst of a contentious back-and-forth over education, Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign released a second-term agenda Monday morning. The Associated Press has fleshed out some details already, but one noteworthy proposal hasn’t gotten much attention: A declaration that, if re-elected, the governor “will expand the list of disabilities that are eligible for the Florida Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts.”

Now in their first year, the accounts are available to children in eight categories of significant special needs, including autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. Scott indicated during previous campaign events that he planned to expand the accounts, but had not specified what form he hoped that expansion would take.

Education has become a central issue in the the governor’s race. Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who is expected to gain the Democratic nomination after Tuesday’s primary, recently attacked Scott on education funding during a statewide bus tour.

Scott has responded with pledges to spend a record amount on public schools next year, followed by the more detailed education agenda released Monday. The agenda also includes an idea Crist has also endorsed: Allowing businesses to apply for tax credits if they donate to public schools. That plan is intended to mimic the state’s tax credit scholarship program, which allows companies to receive tax credits if they help fund tuition for private-school students. It’s not clear exactly how the idea would work in practice.

Both the tax credit scholarships and personal learning accounts are administered by scholarship funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

The Crist campaign dismissed the Monday announcement, with a spokesman repeating its attacks on education cuts during Scott’s first year in office to the the Miami Herald.