Florida Board of Education member Sally Bradshaw resigns

Sally Bradshaw, a Florida Board of Education member with close ties to Jeb Bush, abruptly resigned over the weekend.

Sally Bradshaw

Sally Bradshaw

Appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, Bradshaw said in a two-paragraph letter to Scott on Sunday that “family obligations” would prevent her from serving out the remainder of her term, which was set to expire in December. “I appreciate your efforts to ensure that Florida’s K-12 system continues to lead the nation in reform and accountability,” she wrote. The resignation was effective immediately.

A former Bush chief of staff, Bradshaw and other board members with strong Bush allegiances have been critical of the board’s direction in recent months on school grades and Common Core. In July, she was on the losing end of a 4-3 vote to continue a safety net that prevented schools from falling more than one letter grade this year. “I don’t understand when it became acceptable,” she said at the time, “to disguise and manipulate the truth simply because the truth is uncomfortable.”

“We are grateful for Sally’s service and commitment to ensuring the highest quality in our education system,” Scott said in a statement. “She has worked hard to continue the legacy of high standards that began under the great leadership of Governor Jeb Bush.”

Board of Education members are appointed by the governor and subject to confirmation by the state senate.

Other coverage: Associated Press, Gradebook, The Buzz, Sarasota Herald Tribune.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report, which was updated to include Scott’s statement and the links to other coverage.

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Private school operator polishes diamonds in the rough

Kat Crowell-Grate holds the key to a new building recently donated for her school. "There's not been one time we haven't met our needs,'' she said.

Kat Crowell-Grate holds the key to a new building recently donated for her school, Kingdom Christian Academy. “There’s not been one time we haven’t met our needs,” she said.

Kat Crowell-Grate was leading Sunday school classes in her hometown of Ocala, Fla., when she discovered many of her students couldn’t read. So the retired accountant started a tutoring program.

teachers and choice logoThat led to a substitute teaching job where she caught the eye of a local principal, who told her, “You missed your calling.’’

The principal spoke too soon. Nearly a decade later, the ordained minister runs Kingdom Christian Academy, an inner-city private school for 33 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Most can’t afford to pay anything, and almost all have some sort of learning disability or behavioral disorder.

“It is so easy to accept the child with the perfect pony tails and the boy with a clean haircut,’’ said Crowell-Grate, who has a grandson with special needs. “But it takes a real teacher to reach down and pull the uncut diamond in the rough and polish that diamond.’’

Kingdom Christian Academy caters to students in prekindergarten through 12th grade with a special focus on STEM - and the Bible.

Kingdom Christian Academy caters to students in prekindergarten through 12th grade with a special focus on STEM – and the Bible.

That means reminding her students every day to tuck in their uniform shirts, offering to tutor them on Sundays after church, or helping their moms and dads get high school diplomas. “We educate the entire family, making them more self-sufficient,’’ Crowell-Grate said.

Across the country, school choice has become the mantra of students and parents in search of a better way to learn. But customization offers plenty of opportunities for educators, too. More options bring freedom from a one-size-fits-all mentality that dictates curriculum and schedules, and even which students to serve.

To Crowell-Grate, that’s what school choice is all about: Finding the kids who need the most help and doing what needs to be done. Continue Reading →

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redefinED roundup: marching for charter schools, voucher growth in Indiana, voucher suit in Oklahoma and more

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Alabama: The Alabama Education Association sued to stop the state’s education tax-credit program but a parent steps forward to try and block the suit with the help of the Institute for Justice (Associated Press).

Arizona: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice surveys parents using education savings accounts and finds they’re happy with the program (Friedman Foundation).

Colorado: Two internet radio talk show hosts speak in Douglas County against school vouchers and “corporate” education reform (Lone Tree News).

D.C.: The government shutdown threatens the funding of the District’s public school system including charter schools (Washington Times).

Florida: Tampa Bay area private schools are seeing enrollment growth thanks to a rebounding economy and school choice (Tampa Bay Times). GEICO donates $2 million to Step Up For Students, the non-profit that operates Florida’s education tax-credit scholarship program for low-income students (PR Web). The McKay scholarship program serves 27,000 special needs students in Florida (Tallahassee.com). A group is suing the state to get more money for public schools, saying it is unfair to devote resources to charter and virtual schools (Miami Herald). Florida Virtual School wins the first round of court battles against K12 Inc. over trademark violations (EdWeek).

Georgia: Atlanta area KIPP charter schools received a group charter allowing them to pool resources (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Indiana: The state could be the No. 1 state for school vouchers if the growth continues (Indianapolis Star). Gov. Mike Pence talks education reform and school choice at the Education Nation summit (WNDU.com). A state report says voucher schools outperform the public schools but it is still unclear if the voucher schools are creating a bigger impact per student (Associated Press).

Iowa: A new survey by the Friedman Foundation shows a majority of parents in Iowa support having a school voucher program (Quad City Times, Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier). One local newspaper columnist calls school choice “insidiously popular” (Daily Iowan).

Louisiana: The state’s voucher program actually promotes desegregation (National Review). A Ruston area private school that was kicked off the voucher program sues, claiming discrimination (The Advocate). Parents in Lafayette protest two charter school operators seeking authorizing in the parish (KATC.com).  Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Charter and magnet schools, Common Core & more

Charter schools: Charter Schools USA plans to fight to add schools in Orange County, where district officials are critical about the chain’s outcomes locally. Orlando Sentinel. Since August, 69 children have withdrawn from University Prep in St. Petersburg, and four teachers and the curriculum director have quit. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools: Hernando County school leaders push for more accountability in schools with special learning themes. Tampa Bay Times. This Hillsborough County high school’s Robotics Club has grown from 15 students to more than 80 in eight years. Tampa Bay Times.

Ed reform: The Lake County school district uses a Gates Foundation grant to push innovation that includes everything from changing school start times to freezing staff pay. Orlando Sentinel. More Collier County students are ditching the printed textbook for the Techbook,  an online resource that provides videos, music, and spoken word along with traditional text. Naples Daily News. Farm to School puts fresh produce, grown locally, on school lunch plates and emphasizes to students the nutritional value of fruits and veggies. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. STEM grants help schools support afterschool programs. The Tampa Tribune.

Common Core: Soon-to-be the Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist criticizes Gov. Rick Scott on education and throws his support behind Common Core, telling the Florida Education Association “we should continue to push higher and never settle.” The Buzz. Florida’s latest Education Commissioner, Pam Stewart, should stay true to the state’s goal of preparing students to compete globally by giving the standards her vote of confidence, writes the Orlando Sentinel. The new state standards win support from educators as a way to give students a competitive edge. The Tampa Tribune. We must send a clear message that we embrace world-class standards that prepare our students to compete — and succeed — in the workplace of the 21st Century, writes Hillsborough schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia for The Tampa Tribune. Common Core will rip the cover off the inadequacies of the students of our state and others by setting the bar high and ruthlessly measuring each child against the competition, writes Paul Cottle for the Tallahassee Democrat. Common Core has pushed instruction away from the pencil-on-paper mode and promotes our students to debate why and how they solved a problem, but it’s just another tool, writes Alva Swafford Striplin for the Tallahassee Democrat. Continue Reading →

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Ed funding issues are most pressing for school choice options

Despite the charge of uneven playing fields, it's charter schools and tax credit scholarships that face the greatest financial imbalances in Florida education.

Despite the charge of uneven playing fields, it’s charter schools and tax credit scholarships that face the greatest financial imbalances in Florida education.

With Florida now spending less per student than it did six years ago and less than at least three-fourths of the states, there is plausible case to be made for giving public education a raise. But Kathleen McGrory’s recent story on the status of a 2009 education adequacy lawsuit is a reminder that fiscal beauty is often in the eye of the beholder.

Let’s parse two of the claims in the suit:

The state is not putting up its fair share. In Florida, K-12 public education is funded by a combination of local and state taxes under a formula known as the Florida Education Finance Program. The complaint, filed four years ago, noted the state portion had dropped from 62 to 44 percent over the previous nine years. But that dramatic trend has made a similarly dramatic turn. This year, the state portion is back up to 57 percent – 58 percent if you count the state money spent on a scholarship for low-income students. This should ostensibly satisfy one of the major claims in the lawsuit. But the plaintiffs, which include Citizens for Strong Schools and Fund Education Now, are not likely be satisfied. The reason is the amount spent per student has remained basically unchanged – $6,873 in 2009-10 and $6,779 in 2013-14.

Charter schools and other options should be held to the same standards. It’s not entirely clear why a lawsuit aiming to enforce a constitutional provision requiring “adequate provision” for a “high quality” school system would take aim at learning options that are increasingly popular with Florida parents. But one of the attorneys, Neil Chonin, told McGrory that an important principle is at stake: “Our position is that there should be an even playing field.”

In a suit about financial resources, that’s a curious line to draw. Continue Reading →

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In parent choice suit, U.S. Department of Justice on wrong side of history

Editor’s note: This piece is in response to the U.S. Department of Justice’s legal action against the voucher program in Louisiana. It is co-authored by Howard Fuller, board chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and Kevin Chavous, executive counsel of the American Federation for Children.

Fuller and Chavous: The DOJ has wrongly decided that allowing these children a life line to getting a better education must take a back seat to whether or not they impact desegregation. (Image from baeo.com)

Fuller and Chavous: The DOJ has wrongly decided that allowing these children a life line to getting a better education must take a back seat to whether or not they impact desegregation. (Image from baeo.com)

It is easier to say we must take the long view when grappling with the issue of social justice than it is to actually practice it. Such is the problem the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has today as it wrongly inserts itself in the effort to give low-­‐income children in Louisiana an opportunity to get a better education. DOJ is suing the state of Louisiana, more specifically 34 parishes in the state that are still under a desegregation law, claiming that the state’s school choice scholarship program unlawfully allows students to leave failing public schools and go to high-­‐performing private schools by way of a scholarship. DOJ thinks it’s wrong and illegal to allow that to happen.

When one takes the long view, it’s necessary to understand the moment in history in which you exist and what is the primary problem being faced at that particular moment in the continuum of the struggle for social justice over time.

In America today the primary problem facing children from low-­income and working class families is getting a quality education. The Louisiana Scholarship Program was created to give these students a way to escape failing schools. It allows them to apply for a scholarship and choose a school that for them holds the promise of a better education.

The DOJ has wrongly decided that allowing these children a life line to getting a better education must take a back seat to whether or not they impact desegregation. No one with any sense of history will deny that at one point in time the state of Louisiana used this power to fund schools that were for whites only.

But that was then and this is now. In this instance, the state of Louisiana is on the right side of history because its actions are giving children the best chance to ultimately participate in mainstream American society by giving them access to better educational opportunities. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Florida Virtual, STEM, mentoring & more

Florida Virtual: Virtual school enrollment has shifted from the state’s online provider to district franchises following a legislative funding change. Tallahassee Democrat. FLVS sues K12 Inc. for infringing on the Florida Virtual trademark and causing market confusion. Education Week.

florida-roundup-logoCareer Ed: JetBlue agrees to partner with three Polk County high schools, mentoring students interested in aviation and allowing them access to the national airlines’ training facilities in Orlando. The Ledger.

STEM: Local civic and business groups are working on outfitting Sarasota schools with technology to help promote STEM education. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Digital learning: A $20,000 grant from the Comcast Foundation will kick-start a new digital learning initiative for young people in Sarasota County. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. 

Common Core: The Foundation for Florida’s Future and Foundation for Excellence in Education, influential supporters of the new standards, likely won’t be participating in the upcoming public meetings debating the new measures. StateImpact Florida.

Mentoring: Brevard County parents and children learn tips to maintain a balanced childhood from the father of NBA star Vince Carter. Florida Today.

Bullying: Lee County students learn life lessons from a retired New York City police officer. Fort Myers News-Press.

Conduct: A third-grader brought a loaded gun to a Sarasota elementary school. Associated Press. A Manatee County high school cafeteria manager kept his job for more than a year after having sex with a student. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School construction: Pasco school officials consider a plan to build more schools to ease crowding. Tampa Bay Times.

Band aid: The Fort Myers community steps up to provide instruments for a struggling high school band. Fort Myers News-Press.

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Florida Virtual School tells lawmakers about enrollment dive

Reeling from big drops in student enrollment, officials with the nation’s largest provider of online learning noted their woes Wednesday before the Florida lawmakers who inadvertently set the decline in motion.

Holly-Sagues-Pic1

Holly Sagues

Holly Sagues, chief policy officer for the state-funded Florida Virtual School, told the Senate Appropriations Subcomittee on Education that the highly regarded program, growing steadily until a few months ago, experienced a 32 percent drop in pre-enrollments in July, compared to the previous summer.

In August, course requests continued to fall, dropping 10 percent to 15 percent compared to the same time period a year ago. The decline is tied to a new legislative funding formula, approved in the spring, that cut state dollars to both school districts and Florida Virtual School. FLVS anticipates a $40 million loss.

“We are still estimating where we are going to wind up,’’ Sagues said.

Lawmakers offered little comment. They expect to get more specific enrollment numbers for Florida Virtual School and other online providers in January.

Under the old funding formula, districts received their full per-student allocation even when that student was taking one course through Florida Virtual, which also received funding for the student. Now, the district receives six-sevenths of the allotment and FLVS gets one-seventh. The pie gets even smaller when students take more online courses.

Lawmakers, including Sen. Bill Galvano, who chairs the subcommittee, have defended the new formula, calling it more prudent and equitable. But they also have asked the Department of Education to look into whether the change has caused some unintended consequences.

Sen. Bill Galvano

Sen. Bill Galvano

Sagues contends it has. She listed examples from even before the new formula went into effect July 1. That’s when some students were told they couldn’t sign up for FLVS classes, and others were told they would have to pay for the courses. “There was kind of a stop of students enrolling across the state because no one really knew how it was going to work,’’ she said.

The hit came in the spring, at the peak of FLVS’ pre-enrollment season for fall.

“We have had to cut back quite a bit for course development and offerings so that we could meet our budget,’’ Sagues added. The program also cut 177 full-time teachers and support staff in August. Since then, the program’s predicament has attracted national attention, with experts pointing to a new trend in online education that has states moving away from funding a single virtual school to allowing students to choose from multiple providers.

It’s not yet known whether overall student enrollment in online options is down, or whether students previously in Florida Virtual School have migrated to other providers. DOE officials are looking at online enrollments for Florida Virtual and the districts, some of which have contracted with FLVS to operate franchise programs.

Lawmakers expect to review a report in January that tracks the numbers.

“I want to revisit this and make sure we are identifying the trends properly,’’ Galvano said during the meeting.

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