McKay Scholarship docked when students enroll in Florida Virtual School

Florida is reducing state-funded scholarships for private school students with disabilities if they take online courses through Florida Virtual School.

McKayThe state Department of Education last week began notifying the 1,200 private schools accepting the McKay Scholarship that quarterly payments for students will be docked starting in February – in some cases, by as much as $800.

Since then, some school operators, such as Donna Savary of Savary Academy in tiny Crawfordville, have pulled McKay students from the FLVS programs to avoid the unexpected costs. They also have warned parents they’ll have to pick up the tab for courses their children already completed.

“We’re not happy,’’ said Savary, whose academy has 16 students of which six receive McKay Scholarships. “The kids are not happy. The parents are really upset.’’

In a letter dated Nov. 8, the department cited the recently-amended education funding formula as cause for the reduction. DOE officials reviewed the new law that went into effect in July and determined last month that it did apply to recipients of the McKay Scholarship because the funding comes from the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP).

School districts and Florida Virtual School also are funded by the FEFP, and have been hit with similar cuts when public school students enroll in the online provider’s program.

“If they (DOE) had told me about this in the beginning of the school year, my kids wouldn’t have been in Florida Virtual School at all,’’ said Savary, who told one of her families this week it will owe $800 in February for two courses completed since August. “This is a rural area. Parents here don’t have $800 lying around.’’

The DOE decision means parents of McKay Scholarship students are the only ones in Florida directly assessed for FLVS courses, said Robyn Rennick of The Coalition of McKay Scholarship Schools. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Magnet programs, charters, Common Core & more

Magnet programs: Pinellas County school administrators want to add four new middle school programs next school year, including ones in engineering and the arts. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: A Monroe County charter school’s disciplinary practice of making students walk in circles or back and forth for an extended period of time raises concerns. Keynoter.

Common Core: “As a strong supporter of education in the Sunshine State, I believe that these standards are a powerful tool to make sure our young people are ready for the world and workplace that await them,” writes Marshall Criser III for the Miami Herald. House Speaker Will Weatherford says Florida likely won’t repeal the new standards, but modify them. Tampa Bay Times. Julio Fuentes of HCREO writes about what’s missing from Common Core coverage: the increasing number of Florida students ill-equipped for college and forced into remedial coursework because their high-school curriculum did not adequately prepare them. Orlando Sentinel.

FCAT replacement: Florida advertises for companies that would like to provide the state’s next generation of standardized tests. Sun Sentinel.

Teacher pay: Of the seven largest school districts in Florida, only Palm Beach and Orange counties have not reached at least a tentative agreement on pay raises. Palm Beach Post. The Hernando County School District and teachers union remain at odds on how to distribute $3.8 million in state dollars earmarked for raises. Tampa Bay Times.  Brevard teachers vote Monday on whether to approve this year’s contract and a 4.5 percent raise. Florida Today.

Mentoring: A mentoring and job-shadowing program for high school students with disabilities and other special needs is being offered at some Collier County schools. Naples Daily News. Continue Reading →


Marco Rubio’s school choice bill stuck in committee

Nine months ago, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., shined a national spotlight on school choice by introducing a bill to create a federal tax credit scholarship program for low-income families. Since then, the Educational Opportunities Act has languished in its first committee.

Sen. Rubio

Sen. Rubio

A spokeswoman for Rubio’s office in Washington, D.C., declined to comment on what that might mean or where the proposal, which hasn’t garnered any additional sponsors, is headed.

Its predicament isn’t unexpected.

Democrats are the majority party in the U.S. Senate, and a Democrat chairs the Senate Finance Committee, where the bill was referred in February. And while Democrats are increasingly embracing school choice, including private school vouchers and tax credit scholarships, it remains politically sensitive for many of them.

Rubio’s bill, his first in Congress, creates a federal corporate and individual tax credit, and allows contributions to go to a scholarship granting organization. Dollars are distributed to needy families, who use the money to help pay for private school tuition or expenses. The proposal mirrors scholarship programs that exist in 11 states, including the nation’s largest in Florida, which serves about 60,000 students. (Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that co-hosts this blog, administers the Florida program).

The House companion to Rubio’s bill may get more traction.

Introduced in March by U.S. House Rep. Todd Rokita, a Republican from Indiana, it was referred that month to the Ways and Means Committee, of which Rokita is a member. In July, it was referred to the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education,  which Rokita chairs. It has nine sponsors, all Republicans.

Rokita’s office did not respond to requests for comment. But in a prepared statement from earlier this year, Rokita offered his reasons for introducing the legislation: “For too long, bureaucrats and power brokers in Washington, D.C., have kept millions of families from accessing a full range of education options,’’ he said. “The hardest-hit victims have been those trapped in failing school systems who don’t have the means to choose another school. This bill returns power to where it belongs – parents and families – and gives them a ladder of opportunity.’’


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: school choice critics, campers and elections

MrGibbonsReportCardEd Hughes – Madison (Wis.) School Board president

There is no end to the strange arguments made to oppose school choice and Ed Hughes, president of the school board in Madison, Wis. has come up with a new one about vouchers.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Hughes weighed in against vouchers by saying, “The issue is whether the state should be subsidizing a private school. We all pay our property taxes for the full range of services the state provides. If I don’t like a state campground, I can’t ask taxpayers to pay for me to stay at Jellystone Park.”


Public education, it’s just like… camping?

School choice opponents often argue how unique education is, which is why they often say it can’t be compared with anything else (like supermarkets or any other businesses for that matter). So it’s interesting to see, in this case, public education compared with public campgrounds.

The problem is, no one is forced to attend a state park or campground based on their zip code. We all get state park choice.

For what it’s worth, the private Jellystone Park outside Madison actually looks like a lot more fun (putt-putt golf and a swimming pool!) than some of the state parks in the area …

Grade: Needs Improvement


Douglas County and Denver school boards:

There’s progress on the education front in Colorado.

Education reformers in both Douglas County and Denver won re-election in local school board races this month. Board members in Douglas County started the nation’s first district-wide private voucher program and faced a tight race against opponents who planned to roll back school choice. Reformers in Denver won more easily.

Critics contend the reformers were supported by “big money” from out of state, but to be fair, the National Educators Association and its affiliates were putting their own “big money” elsewhere (including $4 million into a statewide ballot initiative to raise taxes and increase per-pupil spending).

Congrats to the reformers.

Grade: Satisfactory


Gary Rubinstein – Teach For Us

Over at the Teach For Us blog, Gary Rubinstein attacked the idea of the “D.C. NAEP Miracle,” as he called it, after the latest NAEP results were released last week.

Rubinstein posted a chart, created by researcher Matthew Ladner, that showed the top three states in NAEP gains to be big school choice and education reform areas (D.C., Indiana and Tennessee). Ladner shows the biggest gains came from states implementing several different education reforms, including A-F school grades, teacher evaluations, rigorous standards and charter schools.

To attempt to prove Ladner wrong, Rubinstein put the chart “into context.” He examines cumulative scores for students overall (adding up the point totals for the four core NAEP tests), cumulative scores for low-income students, and then the achievement gap between “haves” and “have-nots.”

Cumulative scores show states like Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Washington, Hawaii and Wyoming at the top, whereas D.C., Indiana, and Tennessee have mixed results (Indiana doing well, Tennessee average and D.C. at the bottom).

But, Rubinstein doesn’t make a single chart looking at gains – an impressive feat given his entire premise is education reform doesn’t improve education. It’s as if he believes education reform must immediately result in states performing No. 1 overall.

Grade: Needs Improvement


Florida schools roundup: Charters, magnet schools, digital learning & more

Charter schools: The Schools of McKeel Academy board takes no formal action against the charter’s superintendent following an investigation into employee grievances. The Ledger.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools: Duval County Public Schools strikes out on a $12 million federal grant that would have helped create five new magnet schools. Part of the reason was due to the district’s desire to create two single gender schools. Florida Times-Union. A Lee County high school teams up with Chico’s to create the Cambridge AICE Art and Design program. Fort Myers News-Press.

Digital learning: The first phase of a $63 million rollout of digital equipment in Miami-Dade schools is pushed back. Miami Herald. Pinellas County School Board members vote unanimously to hire a new technology chief and change the job’s qualifications simultaneously, without any discussion. The Tampa Tribune.

Fun and math: A baseball themed math game endorsed by Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. could be a new teaching tool in Manatee County Schools. Bradenton Herald.

School safety: The Polk County Sheriff’s Office partners with the school district, assigning a captain to oversee the Safe Schools program. The Ledger.

Pay raises: Collier County school support employees are upset about proposed raises that are less than what teachers will receive. Naples Daily News.

Start times: High school start times in Okaloosa County likely won’t change anytime soon. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Deaths: Lou Eassa, a former Palm Beach County School Board member from 1978 to 1986, dies during a cruise to Panama. He was 74. Palm Beach Post.


The high school choice that Michelle Obama made

Michelle-ObamaPresident Obama may need a dose of his wife’s popularity at the moment, but don’t discount the importance of her visit to some fortunate sophomores at Bell Multicultural High School in D.C. on Tuesday. This is a first lady from a tough part of Chicago who beat the odds to Princeton University, to Harvard Law School, and to corporate executive offices. And her high school choice, to which she spoke, is worth underscoring.

“Even though my parents didn’t have a lot of money, they never went to college themselves, they had an unwavering belief in the power of education,” Mrs. Obama told the students. “… So when it came time for me to go to high school, they encouraged me to enroll in one of the best schools in Chicago. … My school was way across the other side of the city from where I lived. So at 6 a.m. every morning, I had to get on a city bus and ride for an hour, sometimes more, just to get to school. And I was willing to do that because I was willing to do whatever it took for me to go to college.”

The school was Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, opened in 1975 as Chicago’s first public magnet school.  It was ranked this year by Newsweek as fifth-best high school in the Midwest. A fourth of the students are black, two-thirds are minority, and just under 4-in-10 are on free or reduced-price lunch. The academics speak to excellence: 82 percent of students take Advanced Placement classes with an 80 percent pass rate; the average ACT score last year was 27.1, with four students scoring a perfect 36; every single one of its 2012 graduates was accepted into a four-year college.

While much has been made about the private school choice the Obamas made for their daughters in D.C., Mrs. Obama’s own choice for high school is at least as relevant. She wanted a different future for herself at a time when she says some of her own teachers were telling her that Princeton was an unrealistic dream. So she chose a public school outside her neighborhood that she saw as worth the hour bus ride each way. This was the late 1970s, don’t forget, at a time when children in American public education had precious few options. But Michelle Obama found one, and it worked for her.

Forget the political backdrop here. Her message, particularly to students of color, is compelling.


Survey: Parents pick private schools based on learning environment, not test scores

When it comes to reasons why parents move from public to private schools, standardized test scores are nowhere near the top of the list, but concerns about classroom discipline and atmosphere are, according to a new report from the Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice.

Based on a survey of 754 parents of tax credit scholarship students in Georgia, “More Than Scores” finds the five top reasons are better discipline, better learning environment, smaller class sizes, improved safety and more individual attention. When asked the single most important reason for choosing a private school, 28.2 percent of parents said a “better education.” In second place, 28.1 percent said a “religious education.”

No parents chose “higher test scores” as their top reason. Only 4.2 percent listed the reason in their Top 3 and just 10.2 percent listed it in their Top 5.

When given a list of 21 possible reasons why they chose a private school, parents most often chose “better learning environment” (85.1 percent). “Religious education” came in at No. 5 (64.1 percent). “Higher standardized test scores” came in at No. 15 (34.6 percent).

The relatively low regard for test scores led the authors to conclude that “public officials should resist the temptation to impose national or state standards and testing on private schools or demand that private schools publish ‘report cards’ emphasizing test score performance.”

Full disclosure: I’m also a research fellow for the Friedman Foundation.

Other coverage: Rick Hess at the American Enterprise Institute weighs in here. The report’s authors weigh in at Jay P. Greene’s Blog here.




Florida schools roundup: Magnet schools, charters, teacher evals & more

Magnet schools: Seminole Ridge High School Construction Academy students build a modular home for Habitat for Humanity of Palm Beach County – turning in their assignment five months ahead of schedule. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: The Pinellas County School Board votes unanimously to approve an application for the district’s first Montessori charter school, which would serve about 200 students. Tampa Bay Times. More from The Tampa Tribune.

Teacher evals: A panel of appellate judges orders the state Department of Education to release controversial teacher performance data. The Buzz. More from the News Service of Florida and Florida Times-Union. Nearly 68 percent of Seminole County teachers earned top-notch, “highly effective” evaluations last year compared to fewer than 7 percent in Orange County. Orlando Sentinel. If the purpose of revamping teacher evaluation is to improve teaching and learning, then it’s worth it for states and school districts to take time to get it right, writes Laura Bornfreund for the Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher pay: Duval County teachers and other school workers will receive about $18.9 million in bonuses. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher of the year: Thirty-three Santa Rosa County teachers are up for the title of the district’s Teacher of the Year. Pensacola News-Journal.

Conduct: The state has disciplined eight area teachers and former teachers for incidents that allegedly happened both inside and outside their classrooms. Sun Sentinel. Continue Reading →