Florida school funding lawsuit attacks school choice programs

A lawsuit seeking more funding for public education has widened to challenge programs that help Florida parents send their children to private schools.

The original case aimed to put Florida’s education system on trial, arguing among other things that lawmakers had not adequately funded public schools, in violation of the state constitution. 

An amended legal complaint filed late Friday afternoon adds new claims to the case, challenging the tax credit scholarship program for low-income students and the McKay Scholarship program for special-needs students.

First filed nearly five years ago, the case centers on a requirement in the state constitution that the Legislature must provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.”

The revised lawsuit contends:

Many of the State’s reforms and programs, including the accountability system, changes to the graduation requirements, retention and promotion requirements, teacher evaluations, charter schools, and the FTCSP and the McKay Programs, have wasted millions of dollars without producing the desired effect of a high quality public school system, and are thus not efficient.

It also argues the state “is not providing a high quality pre-kindergarten learning opportunity,” in violation of a related constitutional provision that led to the creation of Florida’s Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the state Opportunity Scholarship voucher program, which used state education funding to help pay private school tuition for children in poorly rated public schools, was unconstitutional.

The ruling in Bush v. Holmes hinged in part on the fact that the program used funds already set aside for education. Justices gave themselves room to rule differently on other private school choice programs, including those that cater to students with disabilities.

Neither McKay nor tax credit scholarships have faced a similar constitutional challenge until now. The revised lawsuit argues that by creating and expanding the two scholarship programs, “the Florida Legislature intended to divert public money from the education finance program and use this money instead to fund private school vouchers.” Continue Reading →


Florida’s tax credit scholarship program the most regulated such program in U.S.

FFstudypicAs Florida lawmakers voted this year to strengthen a scholarship for low-income students, critics took repeated aim at issues of accountability, arguing the students don’t take standardized tests and the schools are “unaccountable” and “unregulated.” But a new national report, “Public Rules on Private Schools,” by Andrew Catt of the Friedman Foundation, demonstrates that such claims are exaggerated.

Friedman, a free-market education think tank, actually ranks the Florida tax credit scholarship as the most regulated state scholarship law in the nation. Participating private schools in Florida are required to administer standardized tests and, as far as accountability to the public goes, face twice as many reporting requirements as non-participating private schools. Friedman also ranked the Florida scholarship as third most regulated among all 23 state voucher and tax credit scholarship programs combined.

Catt analyzed private school regulations before and after the passage of 23 private school choice programs from around the nation. Each regulatory statute is weighted -3 to +3 and assigned to one of nine categories such as, “paperwork, reporting,” “testing, accountability,” and “curriculum, instruction.” Negative scores represented regulatory requirements/burdens while positive scores represented protections for schools such as funding parity or regulatory cost reimbursements. The further the score is from zero, the bigger the impact.

“Paperwork, reporting” turns out to have the largest impact on school choice program scores, owing to the sheer number of state statutes requiring private schools to report information to the state. This does not mean reporting regulations are a bigger burden than something like uniform testing and curriculum requirements.

States across the nation already imposed regulations on private schools, such as health and safety requirements, before passing school choice programs into law. The amount of pre-school choice regulations varies from state to state. Once a school choice program passes into law, most states impose additional new regulatory burdens for private schools that wish to participate.

The new school choice regulations varied considerably depending on the type of program. Private schools participating in voucher programs saw far more new regulations than private schools participating in tax credit scholarship programs. Private schools participating in Arizona’s education savings accounts saw the least. This mirrors the findings of Andrew Coulson’s 2010 Cato Institute report. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Digital learning, Catholic schools, graduation and more

Digital learning. Improving broadband connectivity in America’s schools could cost billions. StateImpact.

florida-roundup-logoCatholic schools. A veteran educator gets a retirement send-off. Florida Times-Union.

School’s out. Students at a Brevard County magnet school look back on the year. Florida Today

Graduation. Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder don’t deter a student at Center Academy – a private school for students with moderate disabilities who is graduating with perfect attendance and heading to college. Tampa Bay Times. Graduation night is an emotional one for many at a Collier County technical school. Naples Daily News. A senior prankster gets punished for an obscene drawing on a football field. Tampa Bay Times.

Tax credit scholarships. Capitol News Service covers the groups opposing legislation that would expand eligibility for the program.

English language learners. An audit turns up problems with the ways Orange County classifies students learning English. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Catholic superintendent: School choice doesn’t pit public vs. private

fortier2Henry Fortier, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Orlando Diocese in Florida, offered a comeback today to a column by Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell.

In his piece, entitled “Like zombies, school vouchers rise from dead,” Maxwell wrote that the tax credit scholarship bill now awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature “isn’t about reform.”

“It’s about taking money from public schools, shifting it to private ones — and not even making sure it’s being spent properly or that kids are learning anything. And just like “Night of the Living Dead,” that’s darn scary.”

In his response, Fortier highlighted Artayia Wesley, a scholarship student who attends Orlando’s St. Andrew Catholic School, which is designated a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. He also noted how the education landscape is changing in response to parental choice, and how those parents do hold private schools accountable. Here a few choice graphs:

Today’s public-education students enjoy an expanding menu of options, including open enrollment, magnet programs, career academies, online courses, International Baccalaureate, charter schools and scholarships for disabled students.

There is no reason to view any of these options as being in conflict with one another, or any of them as an attack on the traditional neighborhood school. We know from numerous independent financial evaluations on the tax-credit scholarships that they save tax money that can be used to enhance district schools. We know from academic research that the public schools most impacted by the loss of scholarship students are themselves achieving commendable test-score gains for low-income students.

While the private schools that participate in the scholarship don’t follow all the same rules and tests and grades as public schools, they are indeed held to account for how they spend their money and how well their students perform. Continue Reading →


FL parents push to convert district school into charter school

Parents turn to charter schools for all kinds of reasons, and it’s not always because they want something different. Witness what’s happening right now in Broward County, Fla.

As highlighted by this fascinating story from the Miami Herald, a group of parents in Broward, the nation’s sixth-biggest school district, are pushing for a charter school conversion as a way to save their district-run school, which they fear will be closed in the coming years.

In Broward, the district last year announced the closure of Wingate Oaks and another special-needs school — in the name of efficiency. The district had six specialized learning centers and argued that consolidating them into four would allow students to get expanded services and, in the end, a better education.

One center, Sunset school, was indeed shut down. But the district postponed closing Wingate Oaks after parents made impassioned arguments against the relocations, which in some cases would force medically fragile children to endure bus rides of more than an hour to get to school. Some students are in wheelchairs; others need help going to the bathroom. Parent David Martinez’s daughter gets her nourishment through a feeding tube.

“When you’re a parent of a child with a disability, it takes a while to earn trust,” Martinez said. The staff at Wingate had done that, he said, and then all of the sudden the district pulled the rug out.

Postponing the closure did not placate the Wingate parents because Broward set the condition that no additional students would be allowed to enroll there. That set the stage for what parents call the school’s “slow death,” with a steady decline in resources and enrollment.

So the parents brainstormed and came up with the charter school proposal.

The article notes that charter school conversions are still rare. They’ve actually become increasingly rare as charter schools have proliferated around the state. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Special needs, STEM, tax credit scholarships and more

STEM. A South Florida middle school students who takes courses online through Stanford University impresses President Obama with his inventions. Sun-Sentinel.


Special needs. Duval schools face a federal investigation after a disability rights group alleges they denied students services. Florida Times-Union.

Tax credit scholarships. Scholarships help students find schools that meet their needs, Henry Fortier writes in the Orlando Sentinel. A judge blocks Alabama’s new scholarship program, saying lawmakers approved it using an unconstitutional maneuver. EdWeek.

Magnet schools. Kindergarten students at a math and science magnet in Hernando County show off their writing skills. Tampa Bay Times.

Testing. Teachers are anxious about the FCAT’s coming replacement. Fort Myers News-Press.

Budgets. Clerical and security worker jobs could be affected by coming budget cuts in Duval. Florida Times-Union. A Manatee school system audit finds misuse of funds. Bradenton Herald.

Parent volunteers. A middle school PTA official is accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Continue Reading →


Brickman: Course choice can modernize, customize education



Imagine if parents could pick and choose individual courses for their children, from an endless array of different providers, in the same way they now pick and choose other products online. Michael Brickman, the national policy analyst for the Fordham Institute, says that world may not too far in the future, thanks to a budding parental choice trend folks are calling “course choice.”

“Ideally parents and students can sit down at the computer and “shop” online for courses,” Brickman said during a live chat Wednesday with redefinED. “This is so commonplace and mundane when we go on sites like Amazon.com and add items from different sellers from around the world to our virtual shopping cart. Hopefully through (course choice), education can catch up to the rest of the world in this regard.”

A handful of states are moving ahead with course choice, including Louisiana and Wisconsin, where Brickman served as a policy advisor in Gov. Scott Walker’s office before joining Fordham. Florida is among those taking a close look. Brickman recently authored a policy brief that gives education officials a primer on course choice and the challenges ahead.

Course choice is complementary to parental choice options such as charter schools and vouchers, he said during the chat. But it can spur those options to innovate even more.

“I love traditional school choice and think it’s nowhere near obsolete as of now,” he said in response to a question. “But one of the frustrating things about these reforms is how similar the schools look to one another. The point of additional flexibility is to INNOVATE. Some charter and private models are off and running with this but many are still lining up 30 desks in each room, putting a teacher in front of the class for 7 hours a day, etc.”

You can read the entirety of the chat in the transcript below.



Florida roundup: Special needs, career education, turnarounds and more

Special needs. Legislation that will soon be headed to Gov. Rick Scott would give students with certain disabilities new ways to customize their education. Watchdog.org.

florida-roundup-logoCareer education. A 20-year-old career academy student overcomes long odds to earn a high school diploma. Northwest Florida Daily News. New diploma options could allow more career-center students to graduate with standard diplomas. Tampa Bay Times.

Budgets. A Palm Beach County advisory panel recommends the school district use operating funds to pay for capital projects. Palm Beach Post. Polk County school officials say pending funding increases may be inadequate to meet their district’s needs. Lakeland Ledger.

Turnarounds. The Tampa Tribune looks at turnaround efforts underway in a handful of struggling Pinellas County schools.

Pay raises. Orange County teachers overwhelmingly approve a new contract with salary increases. Orlando Sentinel.

Superintendents. The Manatee County school board declines to approve a two-year contract extension for its superintendent. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald.

Biometrics. A new law could bar the use of hand-scanner systems in school cafeterias. Tampa Bay Times.

Employee conduct. A Madison County teacher faces multiple accusations of sexual abuse. WFSU. The Okaloosa County school board upholds the firing of a teacher accused of slapping a student. Northwest Florida Daily News. A school clerk accused of stalking a principal is set to stand trial. Tampa Bay TimesTampa Tribune.

Cellphones. The Broward County school district eases its restrictions. Sun-Sentinel.

Yearbooks. There’s an app for that. Fort Myers News-Press.

Uniforms. A North Florida elementary school plans to require them next year. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Retirement. An outgoing teacher reflects on his 41-year career. Citrus County Chronicle.