Florida Roundup: Open enrollment, charter schools, magnet schools and more.

Open enrollment. Parents debate Duval County’s open enrollment proposal at community meetings in Jacksonville. Florida Times-Union.

florida-roundup-logoCharter Schools. A Senate panel scales back legislation aimed at easing their expansion. News Service of Florida. Gradebook. State Sen. Dwight Bullard pans charters on MSNBC’s Ed Show.

Magnet schools. Demand for new Pinellas County programs is high. Tampa Tribune.

Cultural exchange. Students at a Hernando County K-8 science academy embark on a cultural exchange with Chinese middle schoolers. Tampa Bay Times.

Funding. Sarasota voters overwhelmingly back the renewal of a tax to fund schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Testing. The switch to computerized grading of student essays could eventually eliminate the need for statewide, standardized writing tests. StateImpact.

Class Size. Lake County avoids state fines for violating the caps. Orlando Sentinel. A Sentinel columnist pans the move. Florida Tax Watch calls for an overhaul of class-size rules. Gradebook.

Unions. Pasco County school employees file a complaint with their school district. Tampa Bay Times.

Special Needs. Hillsborough County looks for ways to accommodate special needs students on their bus rides. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune.

Florida lawmakers look for compromises on charter school legislation

The controversy surrounding a charter school bill began to fade on Tuesday, as a Senate panel stripped away its controversial provisions.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

The original bill was intended to speed up charter schools’ contract negotiations with school districts, give them more access to district-owned buildings and lure more high-profile charter networks from outside the state.

Those provisions have won support from Republicans and charter school supporters, but drawn criticism from school districts and Democrats during hearings in the House.

The Senate removed them from the bill during its first hearing this morning.

The amendment approved by the Senate Education Committee leaves a five-page bill with some new provisions. Now, the measure would bar charter schools from suspending or dismissing students unless they commit specific violations spelled out in the school’s code of conduct, and require administrative law judges to resolve charter contract disputes within 30 days.

Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, cast the lone vote against the re-written bill. Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, supported the measure. He has pushed for a separate proposal aimed at preventing charter schools from withdrawing students against their will.

Meanwhile, the bill continued to advance in the House in its original form. Its sponsor, Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, said his goal is to “streamline” the opening of new charter schools, but he also hinted at plans to look for common ground with school districts and other groups that opposed the measure.

One contentious part of HB 7083 would require districts to make under-used buildings available to charter schools. House staff found that right now, there are 13 charter schools operating in school-district-owned facilities around the state, and eight of them either don’t pay rent or use them for a “nominal charge.” But they noted that in some cases, buildings have stood vacant, but have not been made available to charter schools looking for space.

Diaz told the House Education Appropriations panel that he is working on tweaks that would clarify that school boards would not have to offer up buildings they are already putting to good use, and set terms for “fair-market value payments” for charter schools that lease district facilities.

He also said he planned to re-work provisions that would allow national charter school chains to receive “high-performing” status from the state.

Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Charter schools, tax-credit scholarships, open enrollment and more

Charter schools. Legislation is on the move. Palm Beach Post. Florida Current.

florida-roundup-logoTax-credit scholarships. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich opposes the program, while primary favorite Charlie Crist does not take a firm stance on legislation that would expand it. Sunshine State News. Politico mentions Florida’s program in a broadside about public money going to religious schools. Responses from Eduwonk and the National Review.

Open enrollment. The move could give Duval schools officials more breathing room under state class-size rules. Florida Times-Union.

School grades. An overhaul heads to the House floor. News Service of Florida. Gradebook.

Testing. New end-of-course exam requirements prompt Orange County schools officials to cut electives. Orlando Sentinel. Common Core opponents’ claims rate Half True. PolitiFact.

Parent involvement. Members of Pinellas County’s “parent leadership cadre” are happy with their district. Gradebook.

Labor news. Pinellas County Schools prepares to cut teacher positions. Gradebook. Walton County teachers resume pay negotiations. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Student activities. It’s hard work becoming a spelling bee champion. Florida Today. Tallahassee’s Chiles High School wins its second-straight Brain Bowl title. Tallahassee Democrat.

More funding changes proposed for Florida virtual schools

Florida’s virtual education system could see more funding changes under one of the competing spending plans proposed by lawmakers.

Sen. Bill Galvano

Sen. Bill Galvano

The House and Senate last week released rival budget proposals that would increase funding for K-12 public schools.

The Senate plan would alter the way Florida funds its virtual education programs, including Florida Virtual School, FLVS’s local school district-run franchises, and the state’s virtual charter schools.

The plan released this week by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, would do away with the virtual education contribution, a $27 million slice of the education budget that pads funding for virtual schools.

Instead, it would allow virtual schools to receive portions of state funding that have not been available to them in the past.

Galvano said the proposed revamp of the funding formula is intended to push virtual schools to offer more courses that lead to college credit or industry certifications.

The virtual education contribution supplants some of the funding streams that flow to brick-and-mortar schools, including the extra funding that gets attached to students in Advanced Placement and career education courses. It is intended to keep virtual school funding at about $5,200 per full-time student.

Without the virtual education contribution, per-student funding for many courses could fall below that amount. But funding could increase for courses that carry extra weight in the state’s funding formula – such as AP and career education courses – which Galvano said is part of his goal. Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Tax-credit scholarships, career academies, school turnarounds and more

Tax-credit scholarships. The Ocala Star-Banner looks at what an expansion of the program would mean for local private schools. The Scripps/Tribune Tallahassee bureau takes an in-depth look at the debate over the expansion, and separately reports that supporters are still holding out hope after a measure that would have expanded the program was withdrawn in the Senate. The bill’s likely fate inspires both the “winner” and “loser” of the week for the Tampa Bay Times, while Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute finds a “silver lining.” Meanwhile, Joanne McCall of the Florida Education Association argues against the program in the Pensacola News-Journal. A Florida Today editor offers his take on the bill, and what he deems a case of strange bedfellows. The bill was withdrawn due to a dispute over how the state should test children who receive scholarships, Doug Tuthill writes. He is the president of Step Up for Students, which helps administer the program and co-hosts this blog.

florida roundup logo

Open enrollment. Critics raise concerns about a district-wide school choice proposal in Duval County. Florida Times-Union.

Career Academies. Students try to cope as they await the results of an animal-welfare investigation into a veterinary medicine program in Okaloosa County. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Turnarounds. A Tampa elementary school battles to shake its F grade under close watch from state officials. Tampa Bay Times.

Testing. The Florida Times-Union looks at whether the state’s new standardized tests will allow comparisons between Florida students and their peers in other states. Computers will grade the new state writing assessments. StateImpact.

Continue Reading →

redefinED roundup: school choice to expand in NY but not FL, ESAs constitutional in AZ and more

MondayRoundUp_magentaAlabama: Lawmakers approve an increase in individual tax credits for donations to scholarship granting organizations (Gadsden Times). Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal stopped in the state to give a speech about school choice and more (Bayou Buzz).

Alaska: Ben Walker, a math teacher, says the school reform movement is based on a false fear of bad public schools (Anchorage Daily News).

Arizona: The state earned an A rating for charter school laws (Arizona Republic). The state Supreme Court refusal to hear a case on the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts means the program remains constitutional (Capitol Media Services, Associated Press).

California: LA charter schools post big learning gains (Hechinger Report, Whitney Tilson’s School Reform Blog). Parents are frustrated with school performance in Redwood and two charter school operators hope to fill the need for high quality schools in the district (The Daily Journal).

Colorado: The State Supreme Court will hear a case on the constitutionality of the Douglas Co. voucher program (WRAL, Associated Press).

D.C.: The mayoral race doesn’t have any of the heated rhetoric about charter schools that was present in New York last year and that might be due to the lack of a charter school cap in the city (Education Week). A parent, and education reporter, experiences school choice through charter schools (The Atlantic).

Florida: A bill to expand the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program advances (Heartland NewsNews Service of FloridaTampa Bay TimesSun SentinelTampa Bay TimesredefinED). Mandating FCAT testing for all private scholarship students is debated (Tampa Tribune). Only a day after the tax-credit scholarship expansion bill is sent to the House floor, the Senate sponsor withdraws the bill from consideration in the state’s upper chamber (Palm Beach PostMiami HeraldOrlando SentinelAssociated PressPolitifix). Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill issues a statement about the expansion bill being withdrawn (redefinED). School choice supporters debate mandating private school voucher students take the FCAT (Watchdog). The Florida Citizens for Science want private schools accepting tax-credit scholarships to teach evolution (Tampa Bay Times).  Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute, sees a silver lining in the tabling of the tax-credit scholarship expansion bill. Rita Solnet, president of Parents Across Florida, believes vouchers hurt a parents choice for a good public school (Huffington PostWashington Post). The Washington Post reprints an error filled op-ed against school choice (redefinED). The president of Fund Education Now, a group  arguing for more money for public schools, writes an op-ed opposing the expansion calling the program unaccountable (Orlando Sentinel). A bill to create education savings accounts for special needs students advances in the Senate (redefinED). Education in the state has been improving (Saint Peter’s Blog). Military style charter schools become more popular in the state (redefinED).

Illinois: The Chicago Tribune editorial board endorses school choice candidates.

Republicans look to expand charter schools and vouchers (Tampa Bay Times). One out of every 10 students in Palm Beach attend charter schools (Palm Beach Post).

Kansas: Debate over school funding of poor districts begins after high court ruling on the adequacy suit (Education Week). To address the adequacy funding issue Republicans plan to increase low-income district funding and allow more public charter schools (Wichita Eagle). Lawmakers consider education tax credit scholarships (Heartland News). Continue Reading →

Testing Conflict Kills Scholarship Bill in Florida Senate

Step-Up-logo-2013Yesterday in the Florida Senate, the sponsor of an important tax credit scholarship bill withdrew the legislation. This means the effort to strengthen and expand this scholarship for low-income children is, in all probability, dead for this year.

The bill was withdrawn because of a testing dispute. The Senate President wanted all scholarship students to take Florida’s new state test next spring, which presented insurmountable logistical challenges and created political fractures with the Republican Caucus in both chambers.  Consequently, the bill’s sponsor, Senator Bill Galvano, had little choice but to withdraw his bill.

Currently, Florida’s tax credit scholarship students are required to take either the state test or a state-approved national-normed standardized test. This approach has been widely embraced by scholarship parents and schools across the political spectrum, and continues to be the preferred approach of Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that runs this blog and is the scholarship program’s primary administrator.

Over the last several months, thousands of scholarship families have joined with community activists and faith-based leaders from across Florida to advocate for this bill. Their energy and passion for insuring all children have access to the schools that best meet their needs is extraordinary, and the political surge these newly empowered activists have created will continue to grow.

Even without this legislation, the scholarship program will add about 10,000 students this fall, and serve approximately 70,000 students.

While this is a disappointing legislative loss, we are already starting to organize for next year. The struggle for equal opportunity is never easy.

Military-style charter schools sprouting across Florida

From Acclaim Academy's facebook page: Students at the Duval school participating in a cadet promotion ceremony.

From Acclaim Academy’s facebook page: Students at the Duval school participating in a cadet promotion ceremony.

Like they are in other states, military-style charter schools are gaining a foothold in Florida.

There are new ones in Broward, Sarasota, Osceola and Duval counties – and more on the way. With a focus on rigor, structure, responsibility and respect, supporters say such schools experience fewer behavioral problems and better academic success.

Acclaim Academy, a fairly new charter schools outfit that embraces that formula, opened its first school in 2012 in Kissimmee, followed by another in August in Jacksonville. Local school boards, which authorize charter schools in Florida, recently approved three more academies to open next fall with one each in Duval, Orange and Palm Beach counties.

The schools feature high-tech equipment, with SMART boards for every teacher and take-home laptops for every student. But organizers defer to an old-school philosophy of discipline and rules, looking to the Army’s JROTC program as a format to promote structure, character and confidence.

Students are known as cadets. They wear Army fatigues. They participate in drills. It’s an experience that may lead some participants to the armed forces, but that’s not the academy’s mission.

“We’re not creating little soldiers,’’ said Bill Orris, Acclaim Academy’s director of education. Instead, the school is working to change the learning habits of 600 of the state’s most struggling students, he said. Continue Reading →