Florida charter schools set to receive $91 million for construction

It’s not everything they asked for, but charter school advocates anticipate getting $91 million in state funding next fiscal year for construction and maintenance projects.

House and Senate leaders agreed to the one-time allocation earlier this week and are expected to pass the measure before they vote on the new state budget by Friday – the final day of the legislative session.

The move marks a $36 million increase in funding for charter schools and comes close to the $100 million proposed earlier this year by the Florida House and Gov. Rick Scott, who still has to sign off on the budget.

Ralph Arza

Ralph Arza

“This funding is driven by the demand of the consumer,” said Ralph Arza, a former state legislator who lobbies for the Florida Charter School Alliance.

With more than 203,000 students enrolled in 579 Florida charter schools, parents are making their choice – and that’s creating a need for more charter funding, Arza said. But it’s not a one-time need.

“It’s an every-year need,’’ said Arza, who, along with other charter advocates in Florida, will continue to push for recurring funding in the state budget to help charters with capital outlay projects.

Charter schools are public schools that receive state money, but they operate independently from the districts. That means charters have separate school boards, and can pick their curriculum and teachers. But they can’t levy taxes, like their traditional counterparts, to pay for buildings and facility needs.

Arza called lawmakers “bold and courageous’’ for recognizing the need for more charter school dollars.

Robert Haag, president of the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools, also praised the move. “We are proud of our Legislators believing in us,’’ he said.

The construction funding follows more good news: charter school teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, principals and other administrators are among the Florida public school workers eligible for the $480 million in raises called for in the 2013-14 budget.

The extra dollars mean at least $2,000 for teachers and other school personnel and as much as $3,500 for instructors rated “highly-effective.’’


Let’s try a little less finger pointing

finger pointingHaving spent the better part of a quarter-century writing editorials and commentaries for a major metropolitan newspaper, I have wagged my finger with the best of them and spied more than my share of blood on the hands of shameless lawmakers. So I read New York Times columnist David Brooks routinely not only as a form of therapy but inspiration. His column on Tuesday, “Engaged or Detached,” is a wonderfully calibrated look at why the finger pointers teach us far too little.

“The detached writer wants to be a few steps away from the partisans,” Brooks writes. “She is progressive but not Democratic, conservative but not Republican. She fears the team mentality will blinker her views. She wants to remain mentally independent because she sees politics as a competition between partial truths, and she wants the liberty to find the proper balance between them, issue by issue. The detached writer believes that writing is more like teaching than activism. … She sometimes gets passionate about her views, but she distrusts her passions. She takes notes with emotion, but aims to write with a regulated sobriety.”

There is a role for “engaged” writers who fire up the troops, but Brooks’ “detached” writer is the model that should motivate those of us who want to make a difference in the educational arena. Neither I nor this blog, redefinED, always measure up to that intellectual test. But it is something to which we aspire, and I can only hope that my former colleagues in journalism would as well.


Florida schools roundup: parent trigger, merit pay, mentors & more

Parent trigger. Joe Henderson from the Tampa Tribune on parent trigger: “In my opinion, it started from the flawed premise that it’s always the institution’s fault when a school fails.” Tallahassee Democrat: “What we don’t need is to have for-profit corporations lobbying parents to shut down or privatize a public school.” The Foundation for Florida’s Future isn’t giving up, reports StateImpact Florida.

florida roundup logoBad teachers. Language regarding student placement with unsatisfactory teachers, which had been part of the parent trigger bill, is approved as part of a charter school bill. Times/Herald.

Teacher evals. Lawmakers tweak the new system to ensure teachers are only rated on students they teach. Gradebook.

Teacher merit pay. In a setback for the FEA, a circuit court judge rules that SB736 does not violate collective bargaining rights. Orlando Sentinel, Associated Press, News Service of Florida.

Superintendents. The Palm Beach County School Board should quit worrying about former Superintendent Art Johnson, editorializes the Palm Beach Post.

Mentors. The Sarasota Herald Tribune writes up the mentors who helped Take Stock in Children scholars in Manatee: “A mentor is a mirror. A guide to the big picture. Someone who has walked in someone’s shoes and gotten to where they want to be.”


Evidence mounting for hit on Florida Virtual School enrollment

When Naman Thackar tried to sign up recently for an Advanced Placement science class through Florida Virtual School, he said his guidance counselor told him he couldn’t.

flvs logo 2Instead, the Broward County ninth-grader was instructed to take the class through the school district’s virtual program. But when he tried to sign up, the course was full.

And when he contacted his guidance counselor, she said there was nothing she could do about it, said Naman’s father, Bharat Thackar. “Apparently, there were some budget cuts and she was told not to sign up kids to Florida Virtual.’’

Naman eventually got the class he wanted, but only after his father contacted Florida Virtual School and wrangled with district leaders.

More students may encounter the same battle this summer.

Lawmakers likely will approve a new funding formula this week that will leave districts with fewer state dollars when their students take courses through Florida Virtual School, the nation’s largest provider of online classes. The result, say FLVS officials, is some students are being told they can’t sign up for the program.

FLVS officials said they have heard it’s happening from students, parents and even guidance counselors from across the state. So has the Florida Department of Education.

“We did hear districts were telling students they could not sign up for the FLVS summer courses,’’ department spokeswoman Cheryl Etters confirmed. “We don’t know how many districts, but believe it is fairly widespread.’’

The trend is the result of a proposed funding shift that could pit districts against FLVS. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: parent trigger, private tutors, drug testing & more

Parent trigger. Citing anonymous sources, Sunshine State News says Gov. Rick Scott helped kill parent trigger. Five GOP senators tell The Buzz he had nothing to do with it. Arne Duncan sorta kinda maybe a wee little bit endorses the concept of parent trigger, notes This Week In Education. Parents would have been at the mercy of for-profit charters because “parents of students in failing schools don’t necessarily have the skill sets to develop corrective plans,” writes Florida Voices columnist Rick Outzen.

florida roundup logoTutoring. Lawmakers, including Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, try but fail to keep the mandated program for low-income kids after all. Tampa Bay Times.

Virtual schools. Florida Virtual School doesn’t get as much as it expected due to funding changes. Times/Herald.

Turnaround schools. An attempt to restaff a struggling Pasco elementary school doesn’t draw many applicants beyond existing teachers. Tampa Bay Times.

Private schools. A Christian school in Orlando plans to begin drug testing students. Orlando Sentinel.

Charter schools. The City of Cape Coral Charter School System has a new superintendent. Fort Myers News Press.

Teacher pay. Teachers won’t have to wait for raises, reports the Tampa Bay Times and Tallahassee Democrat. Lawmakers ultimately do the right thing, writes the Tallahassee Democrat. Continue Reading →


National conference will focus on faith-based schools

Image from www.privateschoolreview.com

Image from www.privateschoolreview.com

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 →