Combined school choice expansion wins approval from Florida House panel

A Florida House panel approved a new measure Friday that combines two pieces of legislation that would expand school choice programs.

The House revised legislation to expand Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, and folded it into a new bill that combines it with an effort to create education savings accounts for students with disabilities.

The Education Appropriations Subcommittee approved the measure on a party-line vote. Republicans like Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, stressed that while they support investing in public schools, they want to expand other options, too.

“Every child has different needs,” she said. “With the choices that this bill adds today, we’re simply recognizing that.”

Democrats criticized the effort to merge the two school choice proposals after the tax credit scholarship legislation was withdrawn in the Senate last week. The revived House version does not include a contentious provision that would have allowed companies to donate sales-tax collections to the scholarship program. (The program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)

While it has attracted opposition, the legislation to create savings accounts for students with disabilities has received bipartisan support in some committee votes. It also has the backing of top Republicans, including Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who is set to become Senate president later this year.

“I think putting these two voucher programs together is simply a Hail Mary, and I urge you to vote against this bill,” Karen Castor Dentel, D-Maitland, told the committee.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said it made sense to combine the two plans into a measure that would give “two incredibly necessary pieces of legislation the hope of survival in the session.” He said he expects a vote on the House floor next week.

Democrats also raised the issue of standardized testing, a source of divisions that ensnared the original tax credit scholarship bill in the Senate. Continue Reading →


FEA’s political calculations mislead public on scholarship costs

false-advertisingAs a stalwart defender of funding for public schools, the Florida Education Association (FEA) brings special expertise to the complex, sometimes arcane ways the state produces its education budget. So its oft-repeated claim this year that scholarships for low-income students increase the total cost of education is presumably a political, not fiscal, calculation.

Joanne McCall, the vice president for FEA, used a recent op-ed to press the case. “Vouchers,” she wrote, “do not reduce public education costs. Actually, they increase costs, by requiring taxpayers to fund two school systems: one public and one private.”

Two school systems? That description conveniently tracks the union’s combative narrative of public vs. private. But in a state that pays for 1.5 million preK-12 students to attend schools outside their neighborhood public schools, treating all these students as though divide neatly into two separately funded school systems is form of educational sophistry.

First, a little financial history is in order. In 1973, the Legislature created the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) in an attempt to remove disparities in funding from one county to another. As the Department of Education describes it, “A key feature of the FEFP is that it bases financial support for education upon the individual student participating in a particular educational program rather than upon the number of teachers or classrooms.”

In other words, the state funds students, not systems. More to the current point, it funds the education option the student chooses even if that conflicts with the district school to which the student is assigned. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: School choice, charter schools, Common Core and more

School choice. Legislation expanding education options passes in the Florida House, while the Senate remains more cautious. Times/Herald.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. The sponsor of the House’s charter-school bill taps the breaks as he works on amendments. Florida Current. Palm Beach County officials give a school focused on African-American curriculum one last chance to stay open. Palm Beach Post.

Common Core. The standards will be coming soon to a theater near you. Orlando Sentinel. The statewide teachers union pushes back claims that the standards have been taught in Florida public schools since 2010. Gradebook.

Testing. An Orange County teacher donates his school-recognition bonus to a group that opposes high-stakes testing. Orlando Sentinel. Pasco County schools set up a new online system to help their students prepare for state end of course exams. Tampa Bay Times. Leon County Schools reschedule take-your-kid-to-work day to accommodate the state’s testing schedule. Tallahassee Democrat.

Funding. How much did Gov. Rick Scott propose to cut education spending during his first year in office? PolitiFact. More education funding. lower taxes.  That’s what’s in the budget this year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Jeb Bush. The Tampa Bay Times writes up his foundation’s campaign touting Florida’s education improvement. The former governor brings his show to Vegas. Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Capital needs. Lee County district officials say they need more funding for buildings to help them deal with enrollment growth. Fort Myers News-Press.


Dispelling distortions about Florida’s school choice scholarship bill

FTC cap growth

A House committee this morning released a new version of a bill that would expand Tax Credit Scholarships for low-income children in Florida and, given some of the outsized claims about its impact, it’s worth reviewing the bill’s actual targets for growth.

The truth is, there is less there than meets the eye.

The scholarship program has a cap that limits the tax credits and, by extension, the number of disadvantaged students who can be served. And the degree to which the bill actually increases that cap has become something of a rhetorical sport for opponents and, in some cases, even the media.

This year, 59,765 students are using the school choice scholarship in 1,425 private schools. Various accounts have described the bill as doubling that enrollment, with one today suggesting the bill would add 50,000 new students. In committee, one state representative dismissed it as “too much, too fast.” A Gainesville Sun column even branded it as “the largest expansion of private religious school vouchers in state history,” adding, “they’re sticking taxpayers with the $2 billion dollar tab.”

Not even close.

Given that I am the policy director of the nonprofit, Step Up For Students, that supports this expansion (and co-hosts this blog), readers are entitled to take anything I say with some measure of skepticism. But here is the simple truth: The bill increases the current cap by $30 million, which represents a growth of 8.3 percent in the first year and 3.5 percent in the fifth year. It would allow for an additional 5,745 students in the fall, a number that would actually shrink over the five years because the $30 million is constant. Continue Reading →


Jalen Rose: More school choice is the remedy for educational ‘madness’



Editor’s note: This guest post was written by Jalen Rose, the ESPN analyst, former NBA player, charter school founder and now educational choice ambassador for the American Federation for Children.

It’s that time of year again when basketball and brackets take center stage. This March Madness, we’ll be pulling for our favorite teams and celebrating the players for their hard work and commitment – both on and off the court. And, while we may have differences in our final bracket picks, we know one thing is certain: many of the players we’ll be cheering for are student athletes who were given the opportunity to earn a quality education based on their athletic talents.

Many of these student athletes come from challenged backgrounds – not much different than my own. As many know, I grew up in Detroit, but thankfully, I was both afforded opportunities to attend a great college as a result of my basketball talents.

While a select few are able to capitalize on their individual athletic skills, for far too many students that simply is not an option. Sadly, in the United States, too many children do not have these same opportunities due to gaps in their educational experience that lead to a lack of fundamental knowledge and skills – those same skills that are necessary to be accepted into college and to succeed in life.

That’s why as we focus our attention on March Madness, I  hope to shed a light on the true “madness” in this country – the fact that every 26 seconds a student drops out of school.

Far too many of our minority students are not receiving the education they deserve because for many, the idea of attending a quality school is simply unattainable. I believe that this is unacceptable.

To put it into perspective, an estimated 366,369 kids will drop out of high school while we watch the 63 games throughout the tournament.

This is madness.

Students in our country deserve more educational options. They deserve access to best school for their needs, no matter their family’s income, and no matter their race. I am committed to empowering parents with the ability to choose the very best school for their child. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, school choice, state board and more

Tax credit scholarships. The legislation revamping the program could see a reversal of fortune – and get combined with a separate school-choice proposal. Times/Herald.


Capital funding. Both charter schools and traditional public schools stand to benefit from spending plans in the Legislature. Orlando Sentinel. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

State board. Gov. Rick Scott appoints an Orlando businesswoman to fill the latest vacancy on the Board of Education. Gradebook.

Funding. The overwhelming approval of a tax renewal shows school funding is important to voters, Jeremy Wallace writes for the Herald-Tribune.

Improvement. Blogger Mike Thomas, of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, responds to some of the fact-checks of the group’s ad campaign touting Florida’s progress in education. EdFly. Background from StateImpact.

School choice. Seats are still open for some Pinellas County programs. Gradebook.

Student Safety. The Hillsborough School Board is set to vote on a planned settlement for the family of a student with a neuromuscular disorder, who stopped breathing during a bus ride. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune.

Transportation. Hernando County schools officials prepare to revamp their bussing plans. Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough school board candidates make transportation an issue. Tampa Tribune.

Biometrics. The Senate approves a ban on data collection that makes some accommodations for school districts. Florida CurrentGradebook.

Special guests. Jacksonville elementary schools students get lessons in life, and rap, from a civil rights activist. Florida Times-Union.

 Politics. A Tampa high school becomes the latest backdrop for Gov. Rick Scott’s crusade for lower college tuition. Tampa Bay Times.


Florida House could expand access to extra-curricular activities for students in choice programs

The full Florida House is set to vote on a bill that would give private-school, virtual-school and charter-school students more access to extra-curricular activities at nearby public schools.

The bipartisan legislation has passed unanimously through three committees, and it seemed to be cruising toward a final vote without controversy. That changed on Wednesday, as the bill’s supporters faced a series of tough questions from Democrats when it was introduced on the House floor.

HB 533 would broaden Florida’s so-called “Tebow Law” that allows students in home education and other choice programs to compete on sports teams at nearby public schools. It would clarify that the rule also applies to other extracurricular activities, like drama or debate clubs.

It would also allow students – including those who attend traditional public schools – to participate in those activities at other schools in their district if their zoned school does not offer them.

Bill sponsor Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, said the bill would ensure students have access to extracurricular activities as growing numbers of them choose options beyond their zoned schools.

“Students and parents have a lot of choices to make, and those schools are not bound by attendance zones, so why are we being hypocritical, and trying to keep these students out, from participating in athletics and activities?” he asked his colleagues, responding to a litany of questions from Democrats on the House floor.

“This concept bothers me a great deal,” said Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood. Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, asked if the bill would allow schools to “quote-unquote recruit” students to build powerhouse programs in sports or other competitions.

Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, warned about a potential “chaos factor.” Continue Reading →

Private school in Haiti gets help from U.S. charter school company

Charter Schools USA is one of the nation’s largest for-profit charter school management companies, with 58 schools in seven states. But the Florida-based organization also has a charitable arm that’s helping a hardscrabble private school in Haiti.

Students of the Genecoit School of Excellence in Haiti may have a new school building by the end of this year. Charter Schools USA, through its charitable arm, is raising money to help build the private, tuition-free school.  PHOTO: Charter Schools USA

Students of the Genecoit School of Excellence in Haiti may have a new school building by the end of this year. Charter Schools USA, through its charitable arm, is raising money to help build the private, tuition-free school. PHOTO: Charter Schools USA

The Giving Tree Foundation has pledged to raise $250,000 to build a new tuition-free school in Francois, a remote mountain village about an hour and a half outside of the capital of Port-au-Prince. In addition, Charter Schools USA founder and chief executive officer Jonathan Hage has offered to match the funds.

The new school is slated to open in the fall.

A half-a-million dollars will go a long way in a village where few residents have access to running water and electricity, said Richard Page, vice president of development for CSUSA. Page traveled to Haiti in December with his wife and their two daughters to see the school and help deliver 700 Christmas presents to the local children. For many, it was the first Christmas gift they had ever received.

For now, the Genecoit School of Excellence is in a one-room, dilapidated building. It employs about a dozen teachers and serves 119 students in K-6. There are no laptops or Smart Boards, or even enough books.

“The conditions are so far from what we as Americans could ever imagine,’’ said Page, whose recent trip was documented on CSUSA’s Facebook page. “Yet, the children are bubbly, excited and happy. They put on a fashion show for us. They were on fire for life.’’

Continue Reading →