Ed reform, divided Dems & paths to common ground

The recent ruling in Vergara v. State of California once again highlighted growing tensions in the Democratic Party between two key constituencies: Teachers unions on the one hand; low-income, black and Hispanic families on the other.

DONKEY1aIs there a path to reconciliation? We asked folks who have thought about that a lot. Next week, we’ll run their responses.

Here’s the prompt:

In the Vergara decision, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu took a clear-eyed view of teacher employment policies that too often saddle low-income students with the least effective teachers. “The evidence is compelling,” he wrote. “Indeed, it shocks the conscience.” Yet those policies have long enjoyed full-throated support from teacher unions and their Democratic allies.

A similar rift exists over educational choice. Blacks and Hispanics are embracing charter schools, vouchers, and tax credit scholarships, which parental choice supporters see as expanding opportunity and empowerment of low-income families. But teacher unions, facing loss of market share and political power, are fighting every step of the way.

Democratic lawmakers are increasingly caught in the middle, and increasingly torn. Straddling the divide is becoming more and more difficult as more and more black and Hispanic parents benefit from charters and vouchers – and publicly raise their voices in support.

So, what’s the solution? Can Democrats continue to stiff-arm minority constituencies on ed policy without repercussion? Is there real risk in black and Hispanic voters turning to the more reform-friendly confines of the Republican Party? How long before something gives?

Should/can Democrats write off the teacher unions? Should the ed reform community more actively recruit reform-friendly Democrats for primary challenges? Or should they more aggressively push unions to modify their organizing model to better align with a public education system that is becoming more customized and decentralized?


Read the Dem Divide series below

Gloria Romero: Money leads Democrats to put teachers unions over poor kids
Ben Austin: Democratic leaders will follow parents on ed reform, eventually
Richard Whitmire: Houston & D.C. offer paths for ed reform Democrats
Joe Williams: Suburbs hold key to resolving Dem tensions over school choice
Myles Mendoza: Rahm Emanuel offers lesson for Democrats on ed reform
Rep. Marcus Brandon: African-Americans must blaze own path on school choice, ed reform
Doug Tuthill: New type of teacher union is key to relieving Democratic tensions

Florida roundup: Scholarship accounts, lawsuits, charter schools and more

Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts. The Orlando Sentinel takes an in-depth look at the newest education option for special needs students.

florida-roundup-logoLawsuits. Parents of children with special needs ask to be allowed to join the state in defending Florida’s new school choice law. WFSU. Saint Petersblog. Gradebook.

Charter schools. The backers of a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base try again with a new application. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune. The Hillsborough superintendent threatens to close three charter schools with the same operator. WTSP. Gradebook.

Campaigns. The Pinellas school district asks gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist to pull an ad shot at one of its schools. Tampa TribuneThe Buzz. WTSP. School board candidates debate in Pinellas and Brevard. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Today.

Back to school. New choice programs will be available to Pinellas students when school starts again. Tampa Bay Times. New standards will change the way students learn in the coming year. Tampa Bay Times. The Martin County district sets up a “university” to inform parents about policy changes. Palm Beach Post. A sales tax holiday starts today. Tampa Bay Times. Ocala Star-Banner.

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Special needs parents enter legal fray over Florida parental choice law

Special needs presser

John Kurnick explains why several parents of special needs children are intervening in a lawsuit over parental choice legislation.

The parents of six special needs students announced Thursday that they are intervening to defend a new Florida parental choice program from a lawsuit by the statewide teachers union.

At a press conference in Tallahassee, the parents said the state’s new Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts would help them get services for children with conditions like autism and cerebral palsy.

The program was created by wide-ranging school choice legislation signed last month by Gov. Rick Scott. The union is challenging the law in court. The accounts would allow parents to use state funds to pay for a mix of therapies and education-related services.

John Kurnick, of Tampa, said parents are often forced to “triage” educational and therapeutic services for children like his twelve-year-old son, who has been diagnosed with autism and other disorders.

He and his wife, Mary, have chosen to educate their son at home because he struggles in a traditional classroom. The accounts, they said, would help him get more services recommended by his therapists, and help him reach his potential.

“The funds provided for (by the scholarship accounts) will do untold good. We’re convinced of this,” Kurnick said. “It will give families access to many key treatments and specialty items that are necessary to help that dream become a reality.”

The union sued to stop the new law earlier this month, the same week applications opened for the scholarship accounts. So far, parents have started nearly 1,800 applications.

The lawsuit contends the law violates the “single-subject” rule in the state constitution. In addition to creating the scholarship account program, the final version of SB 850 contained provisions that expanded collegiate high schools, created an “early warning system” for struggling middle school students, and placed new regulations for scholarship funding organizations like Step Up for Students, which co-hosts this blog.

The union focused most of its ire on portions of the bill that expanded eligibility for tax credit scholarships. Ron Meyer, the FEA’s attorney, has said the special needs scholarship accounts could be a “collateral casualty” of the case. If the lawsuit succeeds, it could invalidate the entire law.

Throughout the spring legislative session, the union helped rally opposition to both the tax credit and scholarship account programs, as well as an effort to combine them into a single bill. Continue Reading →

Parents of students with special needs set to battle FL teachers union

Parents of students with significant special needs, including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, are taking on the Florida teachers union over a new educational choice program. Six families from across the state on Thursday are filing a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed July 16 by the Florida Education Association.

The teachers union is seeking to nullify SB 850, the bill passed by the Legislature last spring that created a new type of K-12 scholarship called a Personal Learning Scholarship Account. The scholarship accounts are limited to students who fall into eight disability categories, and the Legislature set aside enough money to serve roughly 1,800 students.

The families are being represented by Clint Bolick, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute who is nationally known for his work on school choice cases.

SB 850 also modestly expanded the state’s tax credit scholarship program for low-income students. Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog, is authorized to administer both programs.

A press conference on the filing is scheduled for 11 a.m. today in Tallahassee. For updates, check back here and/or follow @redefinEDonline and @travispillow on Twitter.

Florida roundup: Charter schools, lawsuits, teachers unions and more

Lawsuits. Six families plan to intervene in a lawsuit by the statewide teachers union that challenges Florida school choice legislation. Gradebook.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. A South Florida charter faces closure under the “double-F rule.” Sun-Sentinel. Three others seek waivers from the state. redefinED. The leader of Cape Coral’s municipal charter system leaves to take a job with the Lee County school district. Fort Myers News-Press. A new K-8 charter gets a green light in Lauderhill. Sun-Sentinel.

Single-gender. The Pinellas district considers a new option for at-risk boys. Tampa Tribune.

Private schools. The Cato Institute critiques a recent Daytona Beach News-Journal article on school safety.

Campaigns. A Charlie Crist campaign ad filmed at a high school violates Pinellas school district policies. Tampa Bay Times. Brevard school board candidates debate. Florida Today.

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Three charter schools seek relief under Florida’s ‘double-F’ rule

Of the unprecedented eight charter schools that face closure after getting F’s in two straight years, three are asking the state for waivers that would allow them to stay open next school year.

A Department of Education spokeswoman said the schools that had requested waivers by Monday’s deadline were Shining Star Academy of the Arts in Columbia County, Florida International Academy Elementary School in Miami-Dade County, and Broward Charter School of Science and Technology.

State law requires charter schools that receive “double F’s” to lose their charters unless they receive a waiver from the state Board of Education. The decisions are rare, and a school can only receive such a waiver once.

Schools can also appeal their grades. The Palm Beach Post reported at least one South Florida school was considering that option.

The double-F rule stems from the original theory behind charter schools, which are supposed to trade more operational freedom for stricter accountability. There’s some flexibility for special cases — such as schools that serve a disadvantaged population that might need a little extra time to raise its achievement. Continue Reading →

Florida wants pre-K out of expanded schools lawsuit

The state of Florida is asking a judge to dismiss an attempt to include the state’s preschool program in a lawsuit challenging multiple aspects of its K-12 system.

The groups suing the state over education funding and other issues widened the five-year-old lawsuit in late May, adding new arguments about charter schools, McKay scholarships, and tax credit scholarships. They also added a new argument that the state’s preschoolers do not have access to a “high quality pre-kindergarten learning opportunity” required in the state’s constitution.

Lawyers for the state argued in court papers filed last week that the pre-K claims raise an issue outside the scope of the original lawsuit, and deal with a separate provision of the state constitution, approved by voters in 2002, that led to the creation of Florida’s Voluntary Pre-K program. They said if someone wants to take the state to court over its early learning system, they should do so in a separate suit.

“The new claims regarding Florida’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program do not involve facts or law in common with the current case,” their motion says. “The voluntary pre-kindergarten program arises under a different constitutional provision from the K-12 public education system with a different structure and different constitutional standards.”

They also say none of the plaintiffs, who include public school students and several persistent critics of Florida’s education policies, has direct ties to the state’s Pre-K system.

The K-12 portion of the case deals with issues from funding and standardized testing to student safety and school choice. All of those arguments could technically center on a provision of the state constitution requiring a “uniform” and “adequate” K-12 public education system.

The state’s lawyers say arguments on those issues are expected to last four to six weeks when the case comes before a Leon County judge more than a year from now. Adding Pre-K to the mix, they write, could drag the case out even longer.

Florida roundup: Charter schools, budgets, school choice and more

Charter schools. Renaissance Charter Schools will be able to open up to three new schools in the Orlando area in the coming years after reaching an agreement with the Orange County district. Orlando Sentinel.

School choice. From charter schools to career academies, new programs await Palm Beach County students in the upcoming school year. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoBudgets. The Pinellas spending plan would add choice programs. Tampa Bay Times. The district gives area superintendents control of a new capital fund. Times. Lee schools plan to tighten spending. Fort Myers News-Press. Hernando school board members look for ways to trim spending or add revenue. Tampa Bay Times. More local budget coverage from the Sun-SentinelNorthwest Florida Daily News. Lakeland Ledger. Naples Daily News. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Ocala Star-Banner. Tallahassee Democrat.

Special needs. Broward schools look to improve ESE services in the wake of a critical report. Sun-Sentinel.

Virtual education. Florida Virtual School adds flexibility to its requirements for collaborative student projects. Gradebook.

Race. Hillsborough officials look to tackle racial disparities in academic outcomes and discipline. Tampa Bay Times.

Campaigns. The Times profiles another Pinellas school board race. Two Lee school board incumbents trail challengers in the money race. Naples Daily News. The Daily News also looks at Collier fundraising.

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