Florida roundup: Scholarship accounts, school choice, dual enrollment and more

Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts. Florida’s incoming Senate President criticizes a lawsuit against school choice legislation, writing that empowering parents has helped special needs students improve achievement. Tampa Tribune.

florida-roundup-logoSchool choice. More Southwest Florida parents are seeking out alternatives to traditional public schools. Fort Myers News-Press.

Dual enrollment. Hillsborough Community College plans to open a satellite location at a high school to give students more access to college-level courses. Tampa Tribune.

Performance. Pinellas looks to improve performance at some of the state’s most struggling schools. Tampa Tribune.  Manatee County improves its performance relative to other districts. Bradenton Herald.

Campaigns. Manatee’s superintendent fears an upcoming election could affect his future with the district. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Manatee teachers union weighs in on races. Bradenton Herald. The Tampa Bay Times recommends an incumbent Hillsborough school board member be replaced.  Political consultants get involved in school board races. Orlando Sentinel. A teacher and son of Palm Beach County’s first black board member challenges an incumbent. Palm Beach Post. Gubernatorial hopeful Nan Rich continues to mention vouchers in her primary challenge against Charlie Crist. Tampa Tribune.

Facilities. A K-8 magnet school is building a new outdoor learning center. Winter Haven News Chief. School playgrounds will have to stop using beach sand. Panama City News Herald.

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FL Senate leader: If teachers union wins, vulnerable kids lose

Sen. Gardiner

Sen. Gardiner

“Vulnerable children” on one side. “Union bosses” on the other.

Florida’s incoming Senate president, Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, drew that sharp distinction in an op-ed Friday that blasted the Florida teachers union for filing suit last week against SB 850, the bill that created the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts for students with significant disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.

“These children and their families may not be a union priority, but they are my priority,” Gardiner wrote in the Tampa Tribune.

Gardiner. who has a son with Down syndrome, led the charge for creation of PLSAs. He noted that the personal connection made the bill a priority for him, then called it “deeply regrettable” that the teachers union would try to stop it.

It was not long ago when many students with disabilities were set aside in public education because it was assumed they could not learn or could not share classrooms with other students. It was the advocacy of parents that ended these discriminatory and damaging policies.

For this reason, I think it is deeply regrettable that before the first parent could even submit an application for a PLSA, the Florida Education Association – our statewide teachers union – filed a lawsuit to block it.

The union bosses can spin the lawsuit however they want. But the bottom line is this: They view every opportunity that gives parents freedom to make education choices as a threat to their power. They are advocates for the union, not your children.

Signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, SB 850 also modestly expanded the tax credit scholarship program for low-income students. (Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog, is authorized to administer both parental choice programs.) Gardner pointed to the lawsuit’s potential impact on both groups of children, and vowed to defend them.

“The good news for Florida families is that we will not turn our backs on these children. As long as I am in the process, the Senate will work to empower parents, particularly the parents of our most vulnerable children. We will not be deterred by union bosses, union politics or union lawyers.”

Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Entitled editors, Swedish meatballs and test scores, and the charter critic Cook

MrGibbonsReportCardNews & Observer Editorial Board

There is a right way to criticize school choice programs and a wrong way. The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. chose poorly. While arguing against vouchers for low-income students, the editorial board wrote,

“Advocates hailed this “opportunity scholarship” program as a way to help poor families, a group Republicans have shown little interest in otherwise. But in this case, those families are a convenient political tool for conservatives …”

poorlyReally? Arguing that low-income people are tools if, and only if, they ally with your political opponents, sounds a bit elitist and entitled. Progressives do not own a monopoly on serving the interests of disadvantaged families (and frankly, believing that conservatives never care about the poor demonstrates a sophomoric understanding of politics). If the current education model doesn’t work, low-income families are under no obligation to support a side that wants to maintain the status quo.

Besides, this isn’t a Democrat vs. Republican issue. Democrats in North Carolina are already joining forces to support school choice programs throughout the state.

Grade: Needs Improvement


chef1Andrew Coulson

Critics of school choice have been pummeling Sweden for the last year as if it was some sort of smoking gun that proves vouchers don’t work. Two things are at play: Sweden has universal school choice. And among other developed nations, it has seen some of the sharpest declines in international test scores.

Some very simplistic analyses, including a recent Slate article by an economist at Columbia, saw the correlation and concluded private schools and school choice were at fault.

Not so fast. That conclusion turns out to be the result of some bad research methods: correlation is not causation. Continue Reading →

Strong demand for Florida’s new educational choice option

Parents are definitely interested in Florida’s latest educational choice program.

The Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts are for students with significant special needs, including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. And since applications became available a week ago, more than 1,200 parents have started the process. (As of 6:46 a.m. Friday, the number stood at 1,250.)

Not every applicant will qualify. But the initial burst suggests real demand.

The numbers jibe with the enthusiastic comments we’re hearing from parents. And they seem even more notable given that applications opened just two days after the state teachers union sparked widespread publicity by filing suit against SB850, the bill that created the PLSAs. (Step Up For Students, which is authorized to administer the program, and co-hosts this blog, includes a notice about the lawsuit on its application site.)

Florida’s PLSA is the second of its kind in the nation, passed by the Legislature last spring and signed into law last month by Gov. Rick Scott. The state set aside $18.4 million for the first year of the program, enough for an estimated 1,800 students.

Last week we noted a steady stream of stories about PLSAs that thankfully included the voices of parents. More continue to trickle in. Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Special needs, preschool, campaigns and more

Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts. Hundreds of parents have started applications for Florida’s newest school choice option for special needs students. Gainesville SunGradebook.


Lawsuits. The Washington Examiner takes on the Florida Education Association’s lawsuit over school choice legislation.

Early learning. PolitiFact checks Gov. Rick Scott’s claims about preschool funding.

Campaigns. Scott is among the Republican governors being targeted by national teachers unions. Politico, via StateImpact. Rival Charlie Crist continues to talk about education issues during campaign stops. Naples Daily News. Fort Myers News-Press. Sarasota school board candidates debate Common Core. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Arts. Hernando schools will allow students to transfer out of schools that lack music programs. Tampa Bay Times.

Budgets. Digital learning, a new program for children with autism and an expansion of district choice options are part of the funding proposal in Miami-Dade. Miami HeraldWPLG. Supporters are gearing up for an Orange County sales tax referendum. Orlando Sentinel. Manatee schools are trying to find money for new initiatives. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Proposed schools budgets will lower the property tax rates slightly in Okaloosa and Manatee Counties. Northwest Florida Daily News. Bradenton Herald.

Special needs. The Orlando Sentinel visits summer camp for special needs students.

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School choice scholarships shoring up FL private school enrollment

private schools 2Students using school choice scholarships now make up nearly a third of K-12 students in Florida private schools.

According to final state figures released last week, 88,192 students attended private schools last year using McKay scholarships for students with disabilities or tax credit scholarships for low-income students. That’s 31.2 percent of the total private school enrollment, up from 28.4 percent in 2012-13 and 8.6 percent a decade ago.

Does it matter? At the least, the numbers help paint a more complete portrait of private schools in Florida. As we reported last month, overall private school enrollment in Florida is up slightly for the third straight year. But once Pre-K enrollment and school choice scholarships are factored out, the trend lines show the number of private-paying students in private schools declined for the ninth straight year.

Why are the numbers falling? We touched on this a bit last year. Could be lingering effects of the Great Recession. Could be growing numbers of middle-class families are priced out of private school tuition. Could be more of them are turning to charter schools. According to Florida Department of Education data requested by redefinED, 5,426 students left private schools for charter schools during the 2012-13 school year.

We don’t have data for other years, so we can’t be sure of the trend lines there. But all of this seems worthy of a closer look by all who value a strong public education system.

Here’s a quickie spreadsheet with the numbers. Here’s a few charts with highlights: Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Charter schools, testing, campaigns and more

Charter schools. Two Collier County School Board candidates have ties to a local charter school. Naples Daily News.

florida-roundup-logoTesting. A Pinellas magnet school faces an FCAT cheating investigation. Tampa Bay Times.

Open enrollment. The Ocala Star-Banner criticizes the Marion County district’s plan in an editorial.

Reading. Pasco schools attempt to add a state-mandated extra hour of reading within the school day, rather than extending it. Tampa Bay Times. Dozens of Broward schools prepare to extend their school day. Sun-Sentinel.

Campaigns. Gubernatorial challenger Charlie Crist meets with Sarasota teachers. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Two Hillsborough school board candidates attract record-setting contributions. Tampa Tribune. Two Manatee school board candidates debate. Bradenton Herald.

Advanced Placement. Duval’s pass rate improves, though fewer students take AP tests. Florida Times-Union.

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Some new FL charter schools raise their grades, others struggle

The latest release of school grades was cause for celebration at some of Florida’s charter school networks, which saw substantial improvements over last year.

At other schools, though, it brought bad news. Ramz Academy Middle School, a charter school in Miami-Dade, sent a letter to parents, informing them it would not be open next school year and offering to help them find another option. At the opposite end of the state, near the Georgia border, Shining Star Academy of the Arts in Columbia County was rallying parents, pursuing an appeal of its F grade, and preparing to seek a waiver allowing it to remain open next school year.

Charter school grades

More Florida charter schools received grades this year, bringing an increase in the number of A’s and the number of F’s.

Florida statutes require most charter schools that receive F’s in two straight years to close. In many cases, low test scores can either force them to shut down, as Hoggetowne Middle School in Alachua County announced before grades were released, or prompt efforts, like one now underway at Shining Star, to look for waivers or exceptions that can give them another year to improve.

In all, the double-F rule could affect an unprecedented eight elementary and middle schools around the state this year. Still more charter schools could face that reality next year, after 42 charters received F’s, the highest single-year total ever. That number rose in part because there are more charter schools, and in part because a change in state law led to more charters being graded.

Most of this year’s F-rated charters were receiving grades for the first time, either because they were new schools or too small to receive a grade the year before. Among the first-year charters that struggled was University Preparatory Academy, a high-profile effort to bring more education options to southern Pinellas County.

For many new charter schools – especially those that serve overwhelmingly low-income or minority students – it’s common to receive poor grades in the early going, and then improve over time.

KIPP Impact Middle School in Jacksonville was struggling with an F four years ago. This year, it posted some of the highest scores in its history, and snared a B. Two other charter schools received F’s as their first-ever grades in 2013, only to climb all the way to B’s this year.

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