Democrat: Party insisted I vote against school choice scholarships

Rep. Campbell

Rep. Campbell

Editor’s note: Florida state Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, was the only House Democrat  to vote this month for a school choice bill to strengthen and expand tax credit scholarships. In an op-ed over the weekend for the Miami Herald, she writes that the Florida Democratic Party pressured her to vote against it. She asks, “If not for these desperate underprivileged families, for whom does my party expect me to fight?” Here’s some of Rep. Campbell’s piece:

Florida offers a scholarship just for low-income children, and my party this year insisted that I vote against it.

Never mind that it gives these children some legitimate learning options. Never mind that the beneficiaries are mostly black or Hispanic and live barely above poverty. Never mind that I’m a Haitian-American nurse and lawmaker who represents a North Miami district that is almost 90-percent black and Hispanic.

My vote recently to strengthen Tax Credit Scholarships for these students was treated as an act of defiance by the state House Democratic Caucus. The whole episode makes me wonder: If not for these desperate underprivileged families, for whom does my party expect me to fight?

This scholarship is an alternative for the children who tend to struggle the most in education, and it is serving 59,765 students in 1,425 private schools this year. The news about the program is uniformly good: Their standardized scores show us they are achieving the same gains academically as students of all incomes nationally; the public schools most affected by the loss of students to the scholarship are themselves showing impressive academic gains; and the scholarship is small enough, $4,880 this year, that it saves tax money that can be spent on traditional public schools.

In my own district, I have seen some of these schools turn around the lives of children who were headed in the wrong direction, and I proudly helped Ebenezer Christian Academy build a new facility that furthers its mission in the community.

None of this seemed to matter to the party this session. Nor did it matter that Democrats have routinely voted for the scholarship in the past, including nearly half the caucus for a major expansion in 2010. Instead, I was accused of being anti-public education. The reality is that I was parting ways with the Florida Education Association, which threatens Democrats with primary opponents if they support any school option that is not under the union’s collective bargaining agreement.

This is most unfortunate, because parents don’t care so much about who runs the school or whether the teachers are union members. They’re simply looking for options that work best for their own children and, in this environment, there is no conflict between public and private.

Read the full op-ed here.

redefinED roundup: charter schools, charter schools, charter schools …

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Arizona: A former school teacher criticizes the state superintendent of public instruction for his support of Common Core and school choice (East Valley Tribune). The Sierra Vista Herald editorial board says the state superintendent’s support of ESAs hurts public schools. Applications for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts doubles (Heartlander). The Arizona Republic editorial board opposes allowing public funding to go to private schools, especially now that the state support for ESAs exceeds the state support for public schools (note: the editorial board’s calculation excludes local support for public schools). A consultant at a scholarship organization is indicted for stealing $529,000 in scholarship money (Arizona Republic).

California: Vanila Singh, a professor and physician at Stanford University and congressional candidate, says school choice is the key to student success (Mercury News). The California Charter Schools Association has sued the West Contra Costa School District for withholding tax revenue intended to fund charter schools (Contra Costa Times). Charter schools struggle with online assessments (FSRN Radio).

D.C.: Two charter schools allegedly under federal investigation for possible discrimination say they have never received a complaint from a student or parent (Washington Post). President Obama sends his daughters to Sidwell Friends, an elite private school that refuses to release information on student course completion and graduation rates (Washington Post).

Florida: The tax-credit scholarship expansion will allow the program to serve higher-income families (Education Week, Tampa Tribune, WJHG TV). More low-income families will benefit from the tax-credit scholarship program if the Governor signs the bill into law (Florida Times-Union). The state  passes the nation’s second education savings account program (Foundation for Excellence in Education). Daphne Cambell (D-Miami-Dade) says she voted to expand the program because giving poor kids more options is the right thing to do (Miami Herald). The Tampa Tribune editorial board says the scholarship expansion is justified because every student deserves to find a school that works well for them. Brian Tilson, owner of a communications firm in Boca Raton, says the scholarships are unpopular and are hurting public schools (Gainesville Sun). Ron Matus, the editor of redefinED, says more progressive Democrats support parental choice (Gainesville Sun). The scholarship program helps families afford Jewish day schools (Chabad News). State Impact talks with Sen. John Legg about the legislative session including the passage of the scholarship bill. Marc Yacht, a retired physician, say charter schools should be more regulated and held to the same standards and rules as traditional public schools (Sun Sentinel).

Georgia: The Southern Education Foundation helps file a suit to overturn the state’s tax-credit scholarship program (Watchdog). A former reporter sends her daughter to a charter school and says each school is so different it is difficult to compare them to each other let alone public schools, and that is a good thing (Atlanta Journal Constitution). Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, turnarounds, budgets and more

Tax credit scholarships. Legislation could soon expand eligibility for Florida’s tax credit scholarship program to middle-class families. Florida Times-Union. The Tampa Bay Times editorializes against the bill. The lone House Democrat to support the legislation details her stance and her party’s internal politics in the Miami Herald.

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Charter schools. The Manatee County school district considers ending bus service for charter schools. Bradenton Herald. Officials talk charters in the Keys. Keys News.

School choice. Palm Beach Post commentary criticizes the legislation, notes demand is rising for choice programs offered by school districts, and appears to confuse a proposed new scholarship account program for special-needs students with the existing McKay Scholarship program.

Prom. Students at charter schools and technical institutes organize their schools’  first proms. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Ocala Star-Banner.

Turnarounds. Mandatory school turnaround efforts can bring staff shakeups, even if administrators are reluctant. Tampa Bay Times.

Budgets. The Palm Beach County school board could soon ask voters to extend a tax dedicated to special areas of instruction like the arts. Palm Beach Post. The district’s budget looks bleak, both for capital and operating expenditures, the Post reports. St. Johns County schools will see a smaller funding increase than they expected. St. Augustine Record. Volusia schools officials expect the business community will back  proposed sales tax extension. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Magnet schools. Students at a veterinary medicine program in Miami-Dade are scrambling to find homes for dogs as the school prepares for renovations. Miami Herald.

Teachers. StateImpact examines teachers’ use of social media. The Tampa Bay Times posts the results of a Hillsborough teacher survey. The Winter Haven News Chief profiles an International Baccalaureate teacher. A Hillsborough middle school teacher gets a $10,000 bonus. Tampa Bay Times. Two Palm Beach County teachers plan to retire together. Palm Beach Post.

Pay raises. Monroe County teachers are a ratification vote away from a new contract agreement with the district. Keynoter.

Bullying. An anonymous messaging app fuels concerns. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A Hillsborough cheerleading coach is cleared of bullying allegations. Tampa Bay Times.

Transportation. Focus groups detail worker complaints with Hillsborough’s bus system. Tampa Bay Times.

STEM. Collier County students compete in gadget-building and geocaching. Naples Daily News.

No Child Left Behind. Civil rights groups continue to take aim at Florida’s learning objectives adopted as part of its waiver agreement with the federal government, which set different objectives for groups of students – including racial groups. Gradebook.

Dual enrollment funding for private school students remains unresolved

Despite the efforts of private schools and some lawmakers, the Florida Legislature this spring didn’t resolve concerns that more private schools could end up paying for their high school students’ dual enrollment courses.

Last year, the Legislature changed the way the state funds dual enrollment courses, requiring school districts to pick up the tab for courses their students took on college campuses. That led to concerns that private schools could face similar charges, potentially reducing their students’ access.

Potential remedies were floated during the recently concluded session, but didn’t stick.

The House, for example, proposed adding language to state law ensuring private schools would be exempt from any of those payment provisions.

Private-school supporters spent the final week of the session emailing and calling legislators. But in the end, the plan to exempt private schools from the payment requirement did not prevail, nor did separate 
legislative efforts by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.

The final legislation did make some tweaks, though. It provided, for example, that the Legislature could cover the cost of dual enrollment courses taken over the summer.

While it’s not clear what the impact will be for private school students, James Herzog, the associate director for education at the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he was worried it could create a “chilling effect” if more colleges start billing private schools for the costs of dual enrollment courses.

Howard Burke of the Florida Association of Christian Colleges and Schools said parents of private school students should be able to enroll their children in the same college-credit courses as their public school peers.

“They’re paying the same taxes the public school child’s parents are paying that have dual enrollment,” he said. “They should have equal access.”

Florida roundup: Budgets, teachers, legislation, Common Core and more

Legislature. StateImpact reviews the legislative session and talks about parental choice legislation with Senate Education Chairman John Legg.

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Private schools. A man hopes to open a small private school to better meet the needs of some children. South Florida Times.

Common Core. The Miami Herald captures Gov. Rick Scott on video as he explains his stance on the standards to a crowd of protestors.

Teachers. Pinellas County public school teachers feel they are over-worked and students are over-tested. Tampa Tribune. Several Broward and Palm Beach County teachers face state discipline. Sun-Sentinel.

Budgets. Palm Beach County school district is projecting a budget shortfall. Extra Credit. School board members worry a last-minute budget blitz in the waning days of the legislative session could backfire politically. Extra Credit. Pasco’s superintendent plans to start re-investing in school staffs. Tampa Bay Times. Collier County schools expect to dip into their reserves. Naples Daily News.

Special needs. Exceptional students in Jacksonville – including those who attends Christian schools – learn about art at a local museum. Florida Times-Union. A program helps them prepare for careers. Naples Daily News.

School district employees. Palm Beach County’s internal schools watchdog is accused of retaliation. Sun-Sentinel. A former Manatee school board attorney is feuding with the district. Bradenton Herald. A former Manatee High employee said her firing was a case of retaliation. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Facilities. A Pinellas County high school is set to be torn down and rebuilt. Tampa Bay Times.

STEM. Middle schoolers  learn about DNA. Bradenton Herald.

Moms. Hernando County graders read mothers-day poetry. Tampa Bay Times.

Lunch. Manatee County’s district food and nutritional director receives national recognition. Bradenton Herald.

Report shows uneven spread of school choice in Florida

While school choice in Florida has continued to mature, the array of options – and the information parents receive – can vary greatly from one school district to the next.

That’s one of the findings from a recent report produced by the state Department of Education, which is intended to measure school districts’ compliance with state school choice policies.

The data can be surprising. The proliferation of charter schools might get a lot of ink in Florida’s seven largest urban districts. But as a percentage of enrollment, they play a larger role in a handful of rural areas and exurban enclaves.

In Franklin County, a single charter school serves nearly half the district’s students. In Glades County, a K-8 devoted to preserving the traditions of the Seminole Tribe serves nearly 15 percent of the student population – a larger proportion than urban Miami-Dade (where charters serve about 13 percent of students) or Palm Beach (7 percent).

The enrollment figures are from last fall, and they’re derived from the last enrollment survey of the 2012-13 school year. They paint a nuanced picture of a state where more than a million students take part in some kind of educational choice program.

In 13 Florida school districts, charter schools make up 10 percent or more of total school enrollment. Source: DOE surveys, choice access report.

In 13 Florida school districts, charter schools make up 10 percent or more of total school enrollment – an example of the variation in school choice options from one county to another. Source: DOE 2012-13 survey 5, choice access report (2014).

Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Nation’s report card, turnarounds, transportation and more

Nation’s report card. The latest grades for America’s high school seniors are “dismal.”  Associated Press. Scores are largely flat in Florida, too. RedefinED. More from the Sun-Sentinel and StateImpact.

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Personal learning accounts. A new Florida program could be the state of the art in parental choice, Matthew Ladner writes for the EdFly.

Tax credit scholarships. The program doesn’t hurt public schools, the Tampa Tribune editorializes.

Turnarounds. Pasco County schools honor the gains of students who started out struggling. Tampa Bay Times.

Transportation. The Hillsborough school board grapples with problems in its bus system. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune. Hernando schools officials decide to preserve busing for students living near their scores. Tampa Bay Times.

Transgender students. A transgender student hopes to become prom king. Tampa Bay Times.

School boards. The Leon County School Board delays a meeting on contracting practices. WFSU. Tallahassee Democrat. A Democrat editorial calls for an explanation of the ongoing controversy. The Palm Beach County debates disciplining its top corruption watchdog. Palm Beach Post.

Real estate. The Miami-Dade school district considers selling some of its land. Miami Herald. The Manatee County school district rejects a $1.1 million land deal. Bradenton Herald.

Catholic schools. A Catholic high school in Fort Myers taps a local to be its next principal. Fort Myers News-Press.

Teachers. A Polk County teacher is a finalist for state recognition. Lakeland Ledger.

School safety. A bomb threat keeps middle school students at school in the afternoon. Ledger.

Graduation. The Palm Beach County school district prepares to recognize graduates bound for the military. Extra Credit.

National test scores mostly flat for Florida 12th-graders

Reading and math scores for Florida high school seniors remained flat between 2009 and 2013 on a respected national test, according to results released Wednesday.

NAEP chartFlorida’s reading scores moved from from 283 to 286 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, better known as “the nation’s report card,” while its math scores inched up from 148 to 149. Neither increase is considered statistically significant.

Nationally, NAEP scores were also flat in both subjects. In math, 25 percent of students tested at proficient or above; in reading, 36 percent. (The corresponding numbers for Florida: 19 percent and 36 percent.)

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the results “troubling.”

“We project that our nation’s public schools will become majority-minority this fall – making it even more urgent to put renewed attention into the academic rigor and equity of course offerings and into efforts to redesign high schools,” he said in a written statement. “We must reject educational stagnation in our high schools, and as nation, we must do better for all students, especially for African-American and Latino students.”

Unlike NAEP results for fourth- and eighth-graders, which receive widespread attention when they are reported every two years, NAEP results for 12th graders come with significant caveats.

  • Only a handful of states volunteer to participate. Florida was among 11 states that participated in 2009, the first time state-by-state results were reported, and among 13 states that participated in 2013.
  • The data only extends back to 2009, so there aren’t any long-term trend lines yet.
  • And because it involves 12th-graders, the results can be impacted by graduation rates.

That could help explain why the national scores are stagnant at a time when graduation rates are climbing, said John Q. Easton, director of the Institute of Education Sciences.

The test sample now “includes more lower-performing students who would have dropped out in the past,” he told reporters in a conference call Tuesday. “So we’re sampling from a population that includes more weaker students than we had when the graduation rate was lower.”

Florida scores, then, would seem to be especially impacted. Over the past decade, it ranks No. 2 among states in improving grad rates, climbing 23 percentage points between 2000 and 2010, according to an Education Week analysis. Continue Reading →