The Sunshine State’s school spending data could use more sunshine

school spendingFlorida earns high marks for its innovative education reforms and strong academic performance, but its level of financial transparency leaves much to be desired. In a new report from the Cato Institute on financial transparency, the Florida Department of Education earned a D for the data published on its website.

The report, “Cracking the Books: How Well Do State Education Departments Report Public School Spending?”, examines the spending data that all 50 state education departments make available to the public on their websites. The report reveals that very few state education departments provide complete and timely financial data that is understandable to the general public.

As in school, these grades are intended to be informative, not punitive. Since Florida has a record of striving to improve, here are a few ways the FLDOE could be more transparent with its data:

1) Report total per pupil expenditures, not just operating. Half of all state education departments publish total per pupil expenditure (PPE) figures but Florida does not. At present, the FLDOE’s “Financial Profiles of Florida Districts” only includes “current expenditures per UFTE (unweighted full-time equivalent),” which excludes expenditures for capital projects and debt service. While these expenditures are reported separately, citizens looking for the total cost per pupil would have to break out a calculator.

The differences between total and operating PPE can be quite significant. According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (2009-10), Florida’s total PPE was $10,283 on average that year while Florida’s Financial Profiles reported that operating PPE was only $8,578.

Moreover, citizens looking for the change in PPE over time would have to gather the data from multiple reports since the FLDOE does not provide a single chart or table displaying that data. By contrast, the FLDOE does provide a table showing the change in average employee salaries over time.

2) Break down total salary data and publish average employee benefits. Continue Reading →


Next week: A live chat with Rick Hess



Nothing gets critics of school choice and education reform more riled up than the specter of privatization. The response from Rick Hess: It’s complicated. For-profits in education can bring problems, he says. But they can also be a big help.

Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, is co-editor (along with Michael B. Horn of the Christensen Institute) of a new book on the subject, “Private Enterprise and Public Education.” He’ll be our guest next week, in a live chat, to talk about it.

“Of course, the record of private ventures in education, as in other sectors, is mixed. It’s no wiser to romanticize for-profit providers than to demonize them,” says the book’s introduction. But, it continues, “For-profit enterprises have brought innovative power to an array of sectors. Given sensible policies and quality-control mechanisms, the particular strengths of for-profits can make them an invaluable part of the education tapestry.”

The chat isn’t limited to the book. Among many other hats, Hess is executive editor of EducationNext and author of the “Straight Up” blog at Education Week. He frequently weighs in on a wide range of ed topics, and doesn’t fit neatly into anybody’s ed reform box. So, ask away.

It’ll help to send some questions in advance. You can post them here, or on the redefinED facebook page, or tweet them to us @redefinedonline.

To participate in the chat, just come back to the blog on Monday, Sept. 9 at 1:30 p.m. You’ll have a full hour to ask away.


Florida KIPP still looking for traction

One of the most celebrated charter school outfits in the country has yet to hit its stride in Florida. The KIPP Impact Middle School in Jacksonville saw its school grade fall from a B to a C this year, and it was spared from sliding further by a state “safety net.”

Tom Majdanics

Tom Majdanics

Still, organizers are optimistic that great things are still to come.

“There is a sort of tortoise and hare component to this work,’’ said KIPP Jacksonville Executive Director Tom Majdanics. “We realize we certainly have a lot more work to do, but we’re still in the early innings.’’

KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools are nationally renowned for focusing on high-poverty students and setting the bar high for academic success. When the Jacksonville KIPP opened in 2010 to 80 fifth-graders – a model favored by KIPP – U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cut the ribbon.

“I want every child in the country to have these kinds of opportunities, where there are such high expectations, where there’s a college going culture from day one,’’ he said at the time.

In 2010, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cut the grand-opening ribbon at KIPP Impact Middle School.

In 2010, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cut the grand-opening ribbon at KIPP Impact Middle School in Jacksonville, Fla.

Despite the high hopes, the school ended its first year with an F. The next year, it rebounded to a B, with progress fueled in large part by big learning gains for sixth-graders in reading and math. But even with those sixth-graders moving on to seventh-grade last year, KIPP fell to a C.

The school would have earned a D without a provision the state Board of Education passed in July to keep schools from falling more than one letter grade. Gary Chartrand, BOE chairman, is a member of the KIPP Impact board of director and helped bring the school to Florida.

The cushion affected hundreds of schools, with district schools benefitting at a higher rate than charters.

“We still made gains, but not as eye-popping as the year before,’’ said Majdanics, who noted a few factors that influenced the grade.

Because KIPP Impact didn’t have eighth-graders last year, school grading rules required it be given the average writing score for the school district it’s located in – and Majdanics suggested KIPP would have scored higher. The school also didn’t have the opportunity to earn extra points, like other middle schools did, by enrolling eighth-graders in Algebra I.

“That would have been a healthy boost to our grade’’ and landed the school a solid C without the safety net, Majdanics said.

Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Gov. Scott, virtual ed, teacher raises & more

Gov. Scott: The Florida governor isn’t the education cheerleader he portrays himself to be, editorializes the Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoVirtual ed: Online schools and programs brace for a major enrollment boom now that the state wants every high schooler to take an online class to graduate. Sun Sentinel.

Common Core: This is supposed to be the final year of FCATs, but now Florida’s public schools are in limbo. TC Palm. Florida reacts to mounting opposition. The Tampa Tribune. Foundation For Excellence In Education’s Patricia Levesque explains why we can’t transform American public education with silver-bullet thinking. Dropout Nation. ”The standards, fewer in number, exchange quantity for quality, which means I’ll have more time to delve into each standard with my students,” writes Polk County elementary literacy teacher Beth Smith for The Ledger.

Teacher raises: Educators have long since abandoned the simple notion of an across-the-board $2,500 pay bump Scott once promoted in news conferences across the state. Tampa Bay Times. Pinellas County could raise teachers’ starting salaries to $40,000. Tampa Bay Times.

Grad rates: PolitiFact Florida takes aim at interim Education Commissioner Pam Stewart’s boasts about the state’s graduation improvements. Tampa Bay Times.

Parent tack: The Hillsborough County school district hosts a Saturday workshop for parents to learn more about the school system. Tampa Bay Times. Duval County schools introduces Parent Academy to get mom and dad more involved. Florida Times-Union. ”We need parents to trust teachers and believe we’re playing on the same team to enhance student behavior and improve achievement,” writes Terri Friedlander for Florida Today.

Enrollment: Manatee County public schools have 1,000 more students than expected. Bradenton Herald.

Charter schools: Hernando County’s two new charter schools gear up for their first school year. Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough County school officials eye charter schools and their system of fees and donations. Tampa Bay Times. The Manatee County School Board prepares to vote on three charter school applications. Bradenton Herald.

Private schools: Sarasota County sees the opening of a new high school for students with disabilities. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

More choice: Pinellas County’s East Lake High offers students new academic programs in cyber security, accounting, biomedicine and performing arts. Tampa Bay Times.

Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: Louisiana vouchers under fire, charter school performance in Tennessee, Florida Virtual cuts & more

MondayRoundUp_goldAlabama: The Rev. H.K. Matthews, a civil rights icon now living in Alabama, says school choice is an extension of the civil rights movement (

Colorado: The Douglas County School District offers private school vouchers for students but some residents, policymakers and journalists can’t see anything but conspiracy theories (Our Lone Tree News). Fifteen new charter schools open statewide for the 2013-14 school year (The Gazette).

Connecticut: State Superintendent of Schools William McKersie wants public school choice and more digital learning for students (Greenwich Post).

Florida: Education leaders urge the governor to overhaul the school grading system again (which also applies to charter schools) (Tampa Bay Times). Florida Virtual School is facing hard times as program revenue drops 20 percent (Education Week). Charter schools are under scrutiny from the Department of Education after a ban on charging additional fees and requiring volunteer hours from parents (Tampa Bay Times).

Louisiana: The U.S. Department of Justice files suit to block the state’s new school choice program, arguing it violates court ordered desegregation (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Advocate). The Black Alliance for Educational Options and Gov. Bobby Jindal both say the scholarship program provides a vehicle for low-income students to escape failing schools and that the Justice Department should drop the lawsuit (Education Week, Huffington Post, Weekly Standard). The Washington Post editorial board calls the DOJ lawsuit “appalling” (Washington Post). “Course choice” is underway in Louisiana (Education Week).

Continue Reading →


Happy Labor Day!

laborday5Like most of you, we are out enjoying the holiday! Don’t labor too hard this Labor Day and stay safe! See you back here tomorrow.


More Florida charter schools with deficits, but …

A new report finds more Florida charter schools operating in the red, but it’s not necessarily a sign they’re in trouble.

Released this month, the annual report from the Florida Auditor General shows 12 percent of the 499 charter schools reviewed in the audit ended the 2012 fiscal year with a deficit, up from six percent of 445 schools the previous year.

The bulk of charter schools flagged were in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which have the largest number of charters in the state. In Broward, 17 of 73 charters closed the year with a deficit. In Miami-Dade, it was 16 of 109 charters.

“It certainly is something we are aware of and paying attention to,’’ said Adam Miller, who oversees charters and school choice for the Florida Department of Education.

But the report looked at a particularly difficult year for both charter and traditional public schools, Miller noted. Lawmakers slashed $1 billion from the education budget in 2011, significantly reducing per-student funding and other dollars to charters and traditional public schools.

Another factor: a third of the charters audited were less than three years old. That’s important to note, Miller said, because new charters take some time to build reserves. They don’t receive as much public funding as district schools. And since most of them don’t get facilities funding, they have to dip into operation dollars to pay for buildings and other capital needs. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Common Core, Scott and Bush, Rowlett magnet & more

Common Core: Rep. Debbie Mayfield of St. Lucie County files a bill that would put the Common Core standards on hold. StateImpact Florida. More from TC Palm.

florida-roundup-logoMeet up: Gov. Rick Scott meets privately in Miami with former Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. John Thrasher and Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand to talk about the future of Florida’s schools. Times/Herald. Why Scott’s meeting with the two men has the potential to cause headaches for the current governor. The Buzz.

Cheating probe: A Miami Norland Senior High School program through which hundreds of students have earned state industry certifications has been tainted by cheating, according to the Miami-Dade Office of the Inspector General. Miami Herald.

Academic targets: Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti feels closer to persuading the school board to accept his goal to bring next year’s student achievement data to the state average. Florida Times-Union.

Rowlett Magnet: Manatee County schools Superintendent Rick Mills plans to recommend approval of the district’s Rowlett Magnet Elementary application to become a charter school. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Continue Reading →