In honor of the fallen

arlington national cemetery


We’re off today, enjoying time with friends and family but also remembering what this day is about. We hope you’re doing the same. (Image from the Arlington National Cemetery website.)


A ‘whiny’ argument against voucher testing

The question of how to hold private schools academically accountable for publicly supported, school voucher students remains contentious and, frankly, unclear. But to oppose tests out of fear the opposition will twist the results is simply untenable.

Bob Smith

Bob Smith

In one of the latest venues where this debate played out, at the American Federation For Children policy summit this week on the banks of the Potomac River, part of the audience broke into applause when Bob Smith, the former president of Messmer Catholic Schools in Milwaukee, pushed back on testing. Smith and Messmer schools are both highly regarded, and he was not coy about his rationale.

“We have some enemies who have sworn they are going to destroy this program, beginning with two presidents of the United States, and a number of secretaries of education,” Smith said. “Until those people stand up, and with the same fervor, deny that they will use that data against private schools, I will not trust them.”

At least two of the panels during the two-day event revealed the ongoing split over how, or even whether, to test students on school vouchers and tax credit scholarships.

Not surprisingly, Robert Enlow, president of the Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice, made an eloquent and principled case for why the marketplace itself is a powerful force for assuring quality. Parents whose students are on scholarships, just like parents whose students are on private tuition, can and do walk away from schools that aren’t serving their needs – in some case putting schools out of business in the process.

Adam Emerson, director of parental choice for the Fordham Institute, made the principled case for why public is different. Public schools are under enormous pressure to produce results on state tests, with sometimes severe consequences for failure. To expect private schools serving publicly supported students to be immune from that system is unrealistic. It also denies elected policymakers who are paying the bill a test that they view as an important report card.

One slice of the divide that was hard to ignore was the contributions of the only current school administrator to serve on either panel. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: charter schools, career academies, cat dissections & more

Charter schools. Green light given for golfer Ernie Els’ $30 million charter school for children with autism, reports the Palm Beach Post. Students at a Duval charter get a moving lesson in bullying prevention, reports the Florida Times Union.

florida roundup logoCareer academies. Fort Meade High School gets four of them. Lakeland Ledger.

School spending. Florida’s per-pupil funding isn’t as bad as it looks. StateImpact Florida.

School security. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office says merging with the district police force wouldn’t be a good idea, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post. Heightened school security is part of the “State of the Schools” address from Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette, reports the Orlando Sentinel. Flagler officials give the sheriff the go ahead to seek a grant to pay for deputies serving in elementary schools, reports the Daytona Beach News Journal.

School grades. A Volusia high school should have been awarded a C rather than a D last year, but missed a deadline for submitting data to the state. Daytona Beach News Journal.

Testing. First big round of FCAT results scheduled for release today. Gradebook.

Cat dissections. South Florida Sun Sentinel.


Designing tax credit scholarship programs

sketchingI have written an article about tax credit scholarship plans that will be published in the Journal of Law and Education (Volume 43, Issue 1, Jan. 2014). You can read it here.

The article describes these school choice scholarship plans, which have now been enacted in 12 states. Put simply, funded by state tax credits, these plans enable low- and modest-income families to send their children to private schools in grades K-12. The main purpose of the article is to discuss design parameters that those creating such plans must consider. I address the important issues and show how states have come up with a variety of answers to these questions. I also make some brief legal and economic comparisons between tax credit school scholarship plans and voucher plans, and I discuss Sen. Marco Rubio’s recently proposed federal tax credit school scholarship plan.

The key design questions for these plans (which I consider) are:

1.   What families are eligible for the scholarships (as measured by income and up to what level, and by whether their children are already in private schools)?

2.   How large must or may the scholarships be (and how large are they likely to be if there is discretion)? What do such limits mean for the obligation of the family whose child wins a scholarship to pay tuition in part out of its own pocket?

3.   To what extent are schools that accept scholarship students to be regulated and by whom (in terms of testing regimes, teacher qualifications, and control over admissions)? Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Tony Bennett, per-pupil funding, charter conversion & more

Tony Bennett. Interview with Alexander Russo.

florida roundup logoSchool choice. Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning is forming a high-level task force to examine expansion of district options, reports Gradebook. Miami-Dade is planning to expand its partnership with the academically rigorous Cambridge program from 20 programs in 16 schools to 100 programs in 86, reports the Miami Herald.

Charter schools. Manatee district officials stress the downside to parents considering the conversion of a magnet school to a charter school, reports the Bradenton Herald. More from the Sarasota Herald Tribune. A proposed Somerset Academy charter school, initially shot down by the Palmetto Bay Village Council, will be reconsidered. Miami Herald.

School spending. Florida ranks among the lowest per-pupil. StateImpact Florida. Associated Press.

School grading. Maine, don’t hide your problems. EdFly Blog. Here’s the message a second time, from former Board of Education Chairmen Phil Handy and T. Willard Fair in an op-ed for the Bangor Daily News.

School security. Wellington High in Palm Beach County bans backpacks in the wake of an alleged bomb threat, reports the Palm Beach Post. Orange will begin screening students with metal detectors after a high school student is arrested with a loaded gun in his backpack, reports the Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Towards a united front on school choice



Vouchers, here. Charters, there. Virtual, over there. Politically, school choice sectors have been islands. But there are signs the movement is building bridges to advance common goals.

Florida’s lead here surfaced at this week’s American Federation for Children summit, during a panel discussion on just that topic. In the Sunshine State, charter schools and supporters of vouchers and tax credit scholarships have teamed up to advance legislation, said panelist Jon Hage, founder and CEO of Florida-based Charter Schools USA.

“We realized it was time to join forces,” Hage said. “We felt we were sort of the Army, and they were the Navy … What we’re trying to do is have a common Department of Defense.”

The Florida school choice coalition doesn’t stop at two sectors. Through a group formed in 2010 – the Florida Alliance for Choices in Education – it includes online providers, home-schoolers and district school choice options like magnet schools. In the middle of this year’s legislative session, the group held a rally that, for the first time, brought parents together from across the spectrum.

Panelists suggested the benefits of a united front included strength in numbers, a more focused message and crossover appeal.

In response to a question from moderator Nina Rees, CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Hage said some Democratic lawmakers in Florida were more willing to support charter bills this year because they had supported tax credit scholarships in the past. Plus, the coalition offered a tighter, more compelling argument – one that emphasized school choice options even more and better deflected the usual criticisms. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Common Core, school spending, arts education & more

Common Core. Tony Bennett promises the most aggressive deployment of Common Core in the country. StateImpact Florida.

florida roundup logoTeacher raises. Guidance from the governor’s office, reports Gradebook. Alachua teachers are getting a 2 percent raise., reports the Gainesville Sun.

Teacher conduct. Snoozing teacher, two day suspension. South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Teacher evals. Needs tweaking, says a panel that includes Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. Florida Times Union.

School spending. StateImpact Florida takes a closer look at the state ed budget. The Broward school board decides to outsource most of the facilities department, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel. More from the Miami Herald. Pasco’s still looking for ways to fill a projected $26.4 million deficit, reports the Tampa Bay Times. Flagler’s decision to eliminate some paraprofessionals draws criticism, reports the Daytona Beach News Journal. Continue Reading →


Mike McCurry: School choice centrism is antidote for broken politics



In an American political system ripped apart by partisanship, the school choice movement stands out as a rare example of centrism, former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said Tuesday. But the movement can build even better bridges if it eases up on the name calling and finger pointing, he continued.

“We cannot demonize our opponents,” McCurry told several hundred people at the American Federation for Children summit in Washington D.C. “I hear too often, as I do the work I do at (the Children’s Scholarship Fund), hear people talk about teachers unions in a way that’s frankly ugly. Those people love our children just as much as anyone in this room. They happen to be particularly wrongheaded about the way … to improve their lives. But it’s not because they are ill motivated.”

“We need to recognize that, and have compassion for the people on the other side,” he continued. “Not everything needs to be mud wrestling on CNN with people calling each other names. … We’ve got to nurture the better angels on that side and understand where they’re coming from.”

McCurry worked for liberal Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (himself a strong school choice supporter) early in his career and later for President Bill Clinton. He serves on the board of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which provides privately funded scholarships for low-income students in grades K-8.

The school choice movement’s appeal to all points on the political spectrum is a source of pride, McCurry said. The movement needs to continue doing the hard work of making the center hold, of putting aside differences on other issues to find common ground on kids and education. He suggested it might even model good behavior in other realms. Continue Reading →