Court says Alabama school choice program allowed to continue for 2014-15 school year

alabama-choice-operate-appeal_lgAn Alabama circuit judge today overturned the injunction he had issued just 12 days ago on the state’s new private scholarship program.

Circuit Judge Gene Reese had ruled the Alabama Accountability ACT (AAA) unconstitutional on May 28, which meant the program had to end at the conclusion of the 2013-2014 school year. Following that ruling, lawyers for the state and the Institute for Justice filed a motion to overturn the injunction as the case was being appealed to the state Supreme Court. Today, Reese issued a stay on his own injunction against the AAA.

That is good news for the students participating in the private school refundable tax-credit and scholarship programs.

“Today is another step towards victory for Alabama parents and students,” said Bert Gall, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice. “The trial court’s ruling means that parents across the state can continue to rely on the Accountability Act’s school choice programs while this case moves forward on appeal.”

The Alabama Accountability Act allows parents who transfer their children from low-performing public schools to higher performing public or private schools to receive a refundable tax credit. The AAA also allows for scholarship granting organizations to create private school scholarships from individual and corporate donations. The AAA also provides tax-credits for donations to scholarship organizations.

In a separate order today, Judge Reese also denied parents of the newer scholarship students the right to intervene in support of the program.

Gall says these parents couldn’t participate in the trial court case because they hadn’t yet received scholarships for their children when the suit was first filed back in August of 2013. “It was wrong to deny them the right to intervene,” said Gall, arguing that the tax-credit scholarships will serve many more students than the refundable tax-credits.


(Full disclosure: Step Up For Students, one of the co-hosts of this blog, provides assistance on application processing and information technology to the Alabama Scholarship Fund)


Jason Bedrick: Education excellence can’t be achieved from above



Editor’s note: This is the first post in our series on the future of parental choice and accountability.

Education in America in the 21st century is moving away from the standardization of the Industrial Era and toward greater customization. As parents increasingly tailor their children’s education through course choice, scholarship tax credits, education savings accounts, homeschooling, online and blending learning, and so on, top-down accountability schemes will become increasingly untenable. As our education system becomes more decentralized and complex, the locus of accountability should shift from government to parents.logo bigger

The best form of accountability is directly to parents who are empowered to choose the education providers that meet their children’s needs—and leave those that do not. Since low-income families often cannot afford anything besides their assigned district school, the government school system has had to impose top-down accountability measures to ensure quality in the absence of choice.

However, such centralized accountability measures are ill suited to handle complexity and tend to stifle diversity and innovation. As University of Arkansas Professor Jay P. Greene noted recently:

“With top-down reforms the people selecting the standards, designing the tests, setting the cut-scores, devising consequences for performance, writing the curriculum, and picking the instructional methods have to get it just right … for many different kinds of kids who may need different approaches. And they have to be right over and over again as circumstances and information change.”

That’s a nearly impossible task even before special interests attempt to block, dilute, or co-opt such measures. Moreover, a parent seeking to change the system is, at best, merely one out of tens of thousands of voters at the local level or one out of tens of millions at the state level. With the advent of Common Core’s national standards, a parent’s ability to affect systemic change is practically nil.

By contrast, educational choice programs foster innovation and diversity by putting parents in charge. They give space to providers to develop new ways of educating diverse children that might not fit the pre-existing mold. Parents can then evaluate which approaches work best for their children and which do not. Over time, this market process weeds out ineffective approaches and encourages the proliferation of more effective approaches.

Some advocate combining the two forms of accountability, attempting to harness the dynamism of market-based education reforms while tethering it to a single standardized test that allows for apples-to-apples comparisons. This may sound tempting in theory, but in practice the imposed uniformity undermines the very diversity and innovation that educational choice provides. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: Catholics push for school choice, education races in ME and SC and more news

MondayRoundUp_redAlabama: Scott Beaulier, chair of the Economics and Finance Division at Troy University, says there is a large body of evidence supporting vouchers but the U.S. Department of Justice and others keep getting in the way ( The Alabama Education Association spent $7 million to defeat school choice and education reform supporters (Associated Press).

Colorado: A new study on public school transfers shows middle- and upper-class students are more likely to request transfers to another public school than less affluent students (Education Week). ACE Scholarships releases a study on the impact of scholarships on students in the state (

Connecticut: Education leaders in Bridgeport complain that the expansion of charter schools is hurting the district’s ability to predict student enrollment and estimate a budget (Connecticut Post).

D.C.: District lawyers claim a charter school funneled millions to a for-profit company to do work that charter school officials were already doing (Washington Post).

Delaware: A new bill will allow the Delaware Board of Education to restrict charter schools to geographic areas and by grade and academic emphasis if the board deems the charters will affect nearby public schools (Delaware Online). Republicans propose a voucher program allowing full scholarships for Free and Reduced Price Lunch students and 25 percent scholarships for students in families earning up to $110,000 annaully (WDDE 99.1 FM).

Florida: Palm Beach County wants a special property tax to fund arts education but the new tax won’t benefit the 13,000 students attending charter schools in the county (Sun-Sentinel). McKay Scholarships offer special needs students a way to find a different school that works well for them, but Fund Education Now, a group suing to enforce school uniformity, wants special ed students to have the exact same standards, instructions and method of teacher training at all schools (Sun-Sentinel). The state’s graduation rate improves (Education Week, redefinED). Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: FCAT, McKay Scholarships, reading and more

Testing. Statewide FCAT scores show slight improvement, with variation around the state. Tampa Bay Times. Miami HeraldTampa Tribune. Pensacola News-Journal. Ocala Star-Banner. Tallahassee Democrat. Palm Beach Post. WJCT. WFSU. Florida Times-Union. Orlando Sentinel.

florida-roundup-logoMcKay Scholarships. The Sun-Sentinel airs criticism of the program for special needs students.

Career academies. Polk middle-school students earn professional-grade engineering credentials. Lakeland Ledger.

Charter schools. A Hillsborough charter school prepares to close amid falling enrollment. Gradebook.

Graduation. South Florida schools once seen as “dropout factories” see graduation rates soar. Miami Herald. A Bay County charter school is the last high school in the district to continue recognizing valedictorians. Panama City News Herald.

Books. Author Cory Doctorow takes to YouTube to call out administrators who pulled his book from a summer reading program. Pensacola News-Journal.

Summer slide. School officials hope to keep students from forgetting what they’ve learned during the school year, a problem especially pronounced among low-income students. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Early learning. Funding delays pose problems for the Head Start program. Orlando Sentinel.

Budgets. There’s no room for employee raises in the Palm Beach County schools budget. Palm Beach Post. The Okaloosa County school system may give the central office greater control over spending. Northwest Florida Daily News. A 5k helps the district raise money. Daily News.

Seniors. Prom, senior trips and class rings can make senior year expensive for families. Scripps.

Nutrition. A bus converted into a food truck will help make a summer meal program accessible to students. Bradenton Herald.

Administration. The Lee County school district seeks public input on coming policy changes. Fort Myers News-Press. Manatee County’s handling of a sexual abuse case involving an administrator may run afoul of federal Title IX rules. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A longtime Hernando administrator is given a choice to either take a pay cut or lose his job. Tampa Bay Times.

School boards. Five Pinellas school board seats are open to challenge. Tampa Bay Times. Every Manatee County incumbent up for re-election will face a challenger. Bradenton Herald.

Teachers. The Gainesville Sun talks to first year teachers at the end of the school year.


The future of education accountability

logo biggerAs parental choice matures, so does the definition and character of “accountability.”

We asked some of the sharpest minds in the choice realm to help us understand the challenges ahead, as parental choice becomes more and more mainstream. We’ll be running their responses in a series of posts, beginning Monday.

Here’s the prompt:

In education, as in all other fields, accountability involves a combination of government regulation and consumer choice. Generally, as consumer choice increases, government regulation decreases, and vice versa. This is certainly true in education today. Charter schools, vouchers, homeschooling and tax credit scholarships are all less regulated than the neighborhood district schools students are required to attend by law.

The challenge we face today and moving forward is the wide variation in parental choice and government regulations in various sectors of public education that are operating side by side. This is sure to lead to tensions and complications. For example:

  • Some parents do not understand why their traditional district schools – which they like – must comply with standardized testing and school rating regimens they consider excessive, while voucher-receiving private schools do not.
  • Choice critics often successfully exploit these differences in “regulatory accountability” to undermine legislative and public support for parental choice by arguing that these programs are not accountable.
  • Choice supporters are divided over how best to balance parental choice and governmental oversight, as the debates over government-mandated testing and sanctions for low-performing voucher schools show.
  • The question of regulatory accountability would seem to become more complex as educational choice moves down to the course level, with an explosion in options and providers.

So, here’s the question. What should education accountability look like in the year 2025? Continue Reading →


Education Week: Florida’s graduation rate still low but improving fast

Florida’s high school graduation rate remains one of the lowest in the country, but continues to be among the fastest rising, according to the latest graduation rate report from Education Week.

Florida’s graduation rate was 75 percent in 2012, ranking it at No. 43 with Alabama, shows the report released Thursday afternoon. The national average was 81 percent.

Between 2007 and 2012, Florida’s rate jumped 10 percentage points. That puts it in a tie with five other states for the fourth-fastest rate increase. New Mexico led the pack with a 15 point increase, followed by South Carolina (+13), California (+11) and Louisiana (+11). The national rate improved 7 points over that span.

Previous Education Week reports showed a higher ranking for Florida, and a smaller gap between the Florida and national averages. (Last year’s report put Florida at No. 34 with a 72.9 percent graduation rate in 2010, just below the national average of 74.7). Education Week normally crunches federal data using its own graduation rate formula, but could not this year because, “Unfortunately, the release of that federal database has been significantly delayed.”


Invisible no more: New book profiles school choice success stories

9781442226098_fcIn 2006, thousands of people jammed the courtyard next to the Florida Capitol not long after the Florida Supreme Court struck down the state’s first school voucher program. I was a reporter covering the state education beat, and in the second sentence of my story I noted the obvious: The majority of rally goers were black.

Somehow, almost every other print reporter missed that, leaving readers with an incomplete picture of an extraordinary event. The omission baffled me then, but I’ve since learned to expect it. It doesn’t take a sophisticated media analysis to see that the parents and children who are clamoring for and benefiting from expanded learning options are too often left out of the story.

Against that backdrop, a new book by former Wall Street Journal editor and writer Naomi Schaefer Riley fills in the gaps. To give visibility to those at the heart of the school choice debate, and to dispel the abstractions that cloud it, Riley follows a simple formula.

She tells us about the kids.

There’s a lot of pluck and love in the 10 profiles in “Opportunity and Hope.” And a lot of shattered stereotypes about low-income parents and faith-based schools. And a hammered-home fact that is again obvious but overlooked: a different school can put a child on a remarkably different trajectory in life.



Aleysha Taveras’s mother, a teacher’s aide at a public school in the Bronx, saw too much violence and too little learning. So she enrolled her daughter in a Catholic school with, as Aleysha puts it, “teachers who would always be on top of me.” Now Aleysha is on the verge of graduating from Manhattan College and embarking on a career as a teacher.

Carlos Battle was raised by a single mom in a tough Washington D.C. neighborhood. He had ADHD. But after a stint in a private school, Carlos got a full ride to Northeastern University in Boston, where he’s now majoring in psychology and social service. He envisions starting a nonprofit that will rescue kids from being stuck in neighborhoods like his. “I just want to break that cycle of stuckness,” he says.

Most of the black and Latino students profiled by Riley received scholarships through the Children’s Scholarship Fund, the pioneering, privately funded choice program started in 1998 by Ted Forstmann and John Walton. Danielle Stone is one of the exceptions, with her scholarship coming from Step Up For Students, which administers Florida’s tax credit scholarship program and co-hosts this blog.

Riley lets the students and parents do most of the talking. She asks the basics. Who are these kids? What were their lives like before the scholarship? What are they like now? What made the difference? Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Special needs, testing, school boards and more

Special needs. A Polk County private school for children with autism faces financial woes. Lakeland Ledger.

Testing. A Seminole County mother’s decision to pull her children from public school over a testing complaint leads to a post that viral. Sentinel School ZoneGradebook. A testing glitch invalidates Advanced Placement  scores for hundreds of students at a Polk County charter school. Ledger. FCAT scores are up in Holmes County. Holmes County Times-Advertiser. New end of course exam requirements could spell the end of a student-run tech support desk. StateImpact.

florida-roundup-logoAlternative schools. An alternative school for girls celebrates graduation. Bradenton Herald.

School boards. The Palm Beach County school board’s inspector general faces a whistleblower complaint. Palm Beach Post.

Summer reading. Osceola County schools distribute thousands of books to students. Orlando Sentinel.

Teachers. A veteran educator’s departure could spell the end of a technology program he’s run for decades. Tampa Bay Times.

Disasters. Relocation due to flooding leads to some Panhandle youngsters getting an early taste of high school. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School’s out. But that means crunch time for administrators. Ocala Star-Banner.

Administration. Ousted Manatee County school administrators prepare to face a judge. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Past complaints bar a new principal’s hiring in Duval County. Florida Times-Union.

Student conduct. Officials investigate reports of students having sex in a school restroom while others took pictures. Tampa Tribune.