National conference will focus on faith-based schools

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As the fight to restore the ability of families to choose the school that best meets their children’s needs proceeds across the country, the future of urban faith-based schools that have served communities for decades remains in serious doubt. Often these schools have been the only choice available to families in tough neighborhoods, but because of changing economics and demographics they have been closing at alarming rates for decades. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor described them “as a road of opportunity for kids with no other alternative.”

Unless this downward trend is reversed, the battle for parental choice may eventually be won, only to find the actual choices available have been substantially and possibly irreversibly diminished. On June 6 in Austin, Texas the national Commission on Faith-based Schools of the American Center for School Choice will host its first conference, “Religious Schools in America: A Proud History and Perilous Future,” to bring together an ecumenical group of leaders interested in preserving faith-based schools, as well as policymakers and media.

At the conference, the commission will release a report on its view of the state of faith-based schools in the U.S., the important role they continue to have in American education, and how they can serve all families that wish to choose them in the future. It will unveil a new web site that will have state-by-state data on faith-based schools and the students they serve. And most important, the commission will lead attendees as they strategize and plan on how to build on recent promising progress in several states and the courts to create momentum for sustaining and growing these schools.

Conference sessions will be highly interactive and encourage dialogue among all attendees. They will discuss progress on tax credit scholarship and voucher programs, and in the courts, and what actions made that possible. The intent is to help attendees understand in more depth how these programs work to benefit schools, as well as how they can be enacted and expanded in their communities.

This is a unique opportunity to build support for these schools on a broad interfaith basis. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Parent trigger, Marco Rubio, teacher pay & more

Parent trigger. Another year, another defeat for the parent trigger. Coverage from Tampa Bay Times, StateImpact Florida, Orlando Sentinel, Palm Beach PostTallahassee Democrat, Associated PressEducation Week, Sarasota Herald Tribune.

florida roundup logoMarco Rubio. Visits a Tampa private school to tout his federal tax credit scholarship bill – and says nice things about public schools along the way. redefinED.

Teacher pay. Maybe teachers will get money for raises sooner rather than later after all. Miami HeraldPalm Beach PostOrlando SentinelAssociated Press.

School discipline. Hillsborough district officials are taking a closer look at the disproportionate number of suspensions for black males. Tampa Bay Times.

School turnarounds. Pinellas has five schools facing state intervention, but 11 other D schools may he headed that way, warns Superintendent Mike Grego, reports the Tampa Bay Times. Staff at the five must reapply for their jobs, reports the Tampa Tribune. Continue Reading →


U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio touts federal school choice plan at private school

Sen. Rubio visited several classrooms at Florida College Academy, including this second-grade class. The students were in the midst of a social studies lesson on goods and services.

Sen. Rubio visited several classrooms at Florida College Academy, including this second-grade class. The students were in the midst of a social studies lesson on goods and services.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., used a Tampa-area private school as a backdrop Tuesday to highlight his proposal for a federal school choice program that resembles Florida’s tax credit scholarships.

Under the bill he filed in February, low-income parents anywhere in the country would be able to defray private school tuition with scholarships funded by individuals and corporations who make donations in return for federal tax credits.“I think school choice means that every parent in America, irrespective of how much money you make or don’t make, should be allowed to put their kids in any educational environment they deem fit,” Rubio said during an hour-long visit to Florida College Academy in Temple Terrace. “And I think what’s sad about the current status across most of our country is that the only people who don’t have school choice are the people who need it the most.”

Rubio’s bill isn’t the first school choice bill considered at the federal level, but it may be the most sweeping. It would make private schools an option for low-income families in states that don’t currently have vouchers or tax credit scholarships, essentially bypassing resistance from teachers unions and school boards and, in some cases, state constitutions.

Individuals could give up to $4,500 a year to “scholarship granting organizations” in return for dollar-for-dollar tax credits. Corporations could give up to $100,000. The SGOs would award scholarships to students whose household incomes do not exceed 250 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that’s $58,875 this year.

It’s not clear what the per-scholarship amount would be. In Florida, a tax credit scholarship this year is valued at $4,335. Continue Reading →


Parent trigger bill goes down to defeat in Florida Senate

Parent trigger history repeated itself in Florida’s Senate today. After deadlocking last year on a plan to let parents vote to take over struggling public schools, the Senate was offered a milder approach this year that put the parent trigger finger in the hands of the elected School Board in each county. It didn’t matter. The bill again went down on a 20-20 vote.

Given that the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on Friday and a parent trigger bill that passed earlier this month in the House contains more explicit language, the Senate vote likely signals an end to the fight for 2013.

The bill had been amended on Monday by a moderate Republican, David Simmons, to vest the final decisions about school turnaround strategies with school boards — and not with parents. Sponsors were hoping the change would clear the way for approval on the floor. But key Republicans still voted against it. Most telling was the opposition of Jack Latvala, who voted in favor of the more stringent parent trigger bill last year as he was in the midst of fighting for votes to be elected Senate president. To date, Latvala has failed in that quest.


Florida roundup: teacher pay, parent trigger, Common Core & more

Marco Rubio. He’s visiting a Tampa private school today to highlight his proposal for a federal tax credit scholarship. The Buzz.

florida roundup logoParent trigger. StateImpact Florida notes the Times/Herald story on the Sunshine Parents video and the parent trigger petition questions. So does Education Week, which includes a response from Parent Revolution. Senate vote on the parent trigger is expected today, reports Naked Politics. John Romano says the petition proves the narrative is true.

Teacher pay. StateImpact Florida writes up the compromise. South Florida teachers are disappointed with it, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel.  More from the Palm Beach Post, Orlando Sentinel, Northwest Florida Daily News, Tallahassee DemocratTampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau chief Steve Bousquet says Gov. Rick Scott should veto the education budget to help teachers – and perhaps himself.

Teacher turnover. A study finds half of Duval teachers leave within five years. Florida Times Union.

Testing. Guidance counselors bear the brunt of FCAT test administration. Gainesville Sun.

Cyberbullying. Lawmakers pass a proposal to give school districts more power to deter bullies off campus and on line. Gradebook and Associated Press. Continue Reading →


Choice vs. choice: charter schools up, private schools down

When Sarasota Academy of the Arts opens this fall, the Florida K-8 school still will have the feel of the Julie Rohr Academy, the private school it used to be. Small campus. Small classes. A special curriculum devoted to music and the arts.

sarasotaBut the new school won’t be a private school. It will be a public charter school.

The conversion is symbolic of a significant trend coursing through the school choice sector. Private school enrollment is falling. Charter school enrollment is rising. And the potential repercussions – particularly on faith-based schools and the communities that value them – have yet to be fully aired.

The new Sarasota Academy will have state-certified teachers, state-mandated tests and, most importantly, nearly twice as many students. It’s that enrollment boost that led Julie Rohr and her son, Matt McHugh, to make the difficult decision to shut down their family-owned school and apply to become a charter.

“When my mother started our private school 35 years ago, there were five public schools in the area and a couple of private schools,’’ McHugh said. “Now we have charter schools, virtual school – and homeschooling is a big thing now.”

“There are just so many options right now that are free,’’ he said. “And, obviously, that’s a huge challenge for us. We had to figure out how to reach more kids.’’

The Julie Rohr Academy, a 35-year-old private arts school in Sarasota, Fla., will become a public K-8 charter school this fall.

The Julie Rohr Academy, a 35-year-old private arts school in Sarasota, Fla., will become a public K-8 charter school this fall. Most of the private school students were accepted into the charter, school officials said.

It’s a dilemma shared by private schools in Florida and beyond. Between 2002 and 2010, private school enrollment nationally tumbled from 5.4 million to 4.5 million. Over the same span, charter enrollment climbed from 666,000 to 1.8 million.

A recent U.S. Census Bureau report suggested a correlation. Parents send their kids to private schools for advanced programs, extracurricular activities, small class sizes and other perks easily found today in charter schools that don’t charge tuition, the report noted.

There’s no doubt many parents are making the switch, even if it means giving up the faith-based atmosphere they’d prefer. Some private schools are following their parents’ lead.

Barbara Hodges of the Florida Council of Independent Schools, which accredits 160 schools, said she hates to lose a school like the Julie Rohr Academy. But at the same time, she said, going charter is “breathing some life and financial sustainability into a fine school.’’ Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: parent trigger, school turnarounds, diploma tracks & more

Parent trigger. Who are Sunshine Parents, a group tied to parent trigger? Tampa Bay Times. More on AnswerSheet. More questions about who signed or didn’t sign a petition in support of parent trigger, reports The Buzz.

florida roundup logoTurnaround schools. A number of schools in Pinellas and Hillsborough face prescriptive state intervention plans because they continue to struggle, reports Tampa Bay Times. Finding the right applicants to re-staff Lacoochee Elementary, a similar school in Pasco may be tough, the Times also reports. But don’t give up on it, writes a volunteer in a Times op-ed. More from the Tampa Tribune.

Charter schools. Lawmakers agree to give charters $91 million for construction and maintenance, reports the Tampa Bay Times. The Lakeland Ledger writes up the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools report on the research showing academic gains for charter students. An appeals court sides with the Seminole school district in its decision to deny a charter school application, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

Career academies. An aerospace academy at Boynton Beach High School has big plans. Palm Beach Post.

Vouchers. Bad. Gainesville Sun.

Teacher pay. The House and Senate reach a compromise that Andy Ford applauds. The Buzz. More from Associated Press and Tallahassee Democrat. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: Vouchers in Indiana, virtual education in Florida, school choice in Connecticut and more

Indiana: Lawmakers expand state’s school voucher program to allow more children to be immediately eligible. (Associated Press). The legislature may forgive $12 million in loans to nine failing charter schools (Associated Press).

Washington, D.C. : Charter advocates make their annual plea to district officials for equitable funding (Washington Post). Malcolm E. “Mike” Peabody saw improving the city’s schools as a civil rights issue, which led him to found a powerful pro-charter advocacy group in 1996 called FOCUS -Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (Washington Post).

MondayRoundUp_magentaFlorida: Florida Virtual School is already taking a hit with enrollment as lawmakers debate bill that ultimately cuts funding to the program (redefinED). More from the Orlando Business Journal and the Associated Press. Gov. Rick Scott signs the Career and Professional Education Act, what some lawmakers call the most “transformational” education bill of the 2013 legislative session (Tallahassee Democrat). The parent trigger bill moves to the Senate floor, but likely will see more drama with last-minute changes (redefinED). And the parent trigger debate continues to churn controversy, with a video said to be from a mysterious grass-roots group that turns out to be Parent Revolution (Miami Herald).

Pennsylvania: The Philadelphia school district plans to open a virtual academy to lure back students and families (Education Week). If 21 charter schools get their wish - to add 15,000 new charter students in the next five years - the Philadelphia school district could be faced with losing millions in funding (NewsWorks). And now the district says it can’t expand charters due to a $300 million budget shortfall (CBS Philly). Mother of a son with autism plans to open the Pennsylvania Autism Charter School with a goal to eventually return students to regular classroom (Express-Times).

Illinois: Parents of charter school students have formed a new group, Charter Parents United, to advocate for more equality – especially concerning public school funding (Chicago Tribune). Gov. Pat Quinn has cut off state funding to the United Neighborhood Organization, the state’s largest charter school operator, due to allegations of corruption (CBS Chicago). Continue Reading →