Florida scholarship program has only enriched its students

Editor’s Note: Alabama’s new tax credit scholarship for low-income students has created a stir among opponents, including the state teacher union, and one of the latest attacks was aimed at Florida and its scholarship program. Doug Tuthill, redefinED blog host and president of the nonprofit that administers the Florida scholarship, responded in an oped published today in the Birmingham NewsHuntsville Times and the Mobile Press-Register.

By Doug Tuthill

As Alabama introduces a scholarship program that empowers low-income parents to choose a school that best fits their children’s needs, the apprehension of traditionalists in public education is understandable. But allow me to rebut a false accusation launched at your neighbor to the south: no one who administers Florida’s scholarship for underprivileged children is profiting from it.

I should know. I am the president of the only remaining nonprofit organization still administrating tax credit scholarships in Florida. We originally had eight nonprofits doing this work, but Florida’s scholarship funding organizations get no reimbursement until they operate for three years with clean audits, and then they can only keep up to 3 cents on each tax-credited scholarship dollar they collect. Little wonder that only one has been able to raise sufficient funds to survive.

Our nonprofit, called Step Up For Students, has raised dollars privately to help keep its doors open for 12 years. So I laughed when I read that at least one newsletter columnist and some public educators in Alabama think our nonprofit has enriched John Kirtley, the Tampa businessman who has personally funded much of our efforts. The columnist was particularly blunt: “This man Kirtley down in Florida has made $6.3 million last year managing that fund.” The scholarship, he wrote, “has resulted in a very lucrative business for him.”  How absurd.

Pick up any of the publicly available state-mandated annual audits of Step Up or any of its annual IRS nonprofit tax returns, and it is clear that Kirtley, our board chairman, has never received a penny in compensation. In fact, these statements show he has repeatedly opened his wallet to keep the scholarship operation alive.

Read the whole commentary here at AL.com.


Hello 2014!

2014 florida new year


Happy New Year’s, everybody! Enjoy the fresh start to an awesome new year. We’ll be back blogging tomorrow …


Peter Hanley: Wishing for a realistic view of testing

Editor’s note: Peter Hanley is executive director of the American Center for School Choice.



I wish we could have a more sophisticated, more realistic discussion of testing in our education reform debate. We do not yet have testing right, but the noise, much of it irrelevant to constructive dialogue, is making it difficult to determine if we are making much progress.

For all the imperfections of No Child Left Behind, the evidence seems clear that focusing even imperfectly on achievement and academic outcomes, as well as highlighting key subgroup performance, made a difference. Testing was clearly a key part of NCLB and plenty of room for legitimate debate exists about the amount and use of those tests. But the ongoing campaigns to nearly abandon testing, especially standardized testing, seem an overreaction and ill-advised.2013WISHLISTFINAL

The progress could have been greater. We could have been smarter and not allowed politics to put so many states in a race to dumb down the definition of “proficiency” so they could appear academically stronger than they were. The Fordham Foundation still rates only 10 states with history standards at an “A” or “B” level. Most of the science standards are mediocre to poor. The English/language arts standards improved little between 2005 and 2010. So in much of the country, even assuming the tests were aligned to the standards, we were starting with many defects built into the assessment system. If the standards did not ask for much critical thinking, problem solving, or teamwork skills, testing for them was highly problematic from the start. Yet this fundamental flaw is seldom a factor in any conversation about testing.

Nevertheless, the system broke through some stagnation despite NCLB’s shortcomings. Installing a testing and accountability system, however flawed, played a significant part. After treading water or deteriorating for 30 years, the high school graduation rate improved between 2000-10, even for African-Americans and Hispanics. To be sure, we are not anywhere close to where we need to be, but we got better. The focus on reading and math, on testing and then publishing the results, seems likely to have contributed to materially higher NAEP scores in the 2000 decade than over the previous period of the late 1980’s and 90’s. The result: greater numbers of better prepared freshmen entering high school, in turn leading to higher percentages of them graduating. This increase occurred even though 70 percent of high school students by 2010-11 had to pass some sort of exit exam to receive a diploma.

For all the continuous complaining about “teaching to the test,” where the standards were high and the tests were aligned, that did not seem to be a bad thing. In California, with which I am most familiar and whose standards are Fordham-rated at mostly the “A” level, academic progress has been steady. In 2013, the majority of students were “proficient” in math, English and science compared with one-third 10 years earlier. Unquestionably, many issues still remain in California – performance of subgroups, especially Latino students, and performance at the high school level, which is much lower than at the elementary level, to name just two of the most worrisome. But until California put in place its own stricter accountability system in 1999, tied heavily to testing and then coupled with NCLB, education outcomes had deteriorated markedly. Continue Reading →


Julio Fuentes: Wishing for a bipartisanship approach to ed reform

Editor’s note: Julio Fuentes is president and CEO of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options. This is the fifth post in our #schoolchoiceWISH series.

Julio Fuentes

Julio Fuentes

K-12 education is one of the hottest issues during every state’s legislative session. But when it comes to ed reform, bipartisanship does not come easy. Too often, when that reform bill hits the floor, whether it’s on accountability, choice or funding, civility goes out the door and the mentality of “us against them” takes over.

The nasty and insulting remarks that are hurled would send any child in school straight to the principal’s office. But bickering over whose agenda is more robust won’t get things resolved. And at the end of the day, we all want the best for our children.

So this is my school choice wish for the year 2014: I wish legislators across the country would work together to approach education reform with a bipartisan mindset. I wish for them not to let their party’s viewpoints blind them from making the best decisions that are beneficial for our children.2013WISHLISTFINAL

It’s clear that’s what the public wants.

According to the Pew Research Center’s recent policy survey, “Overall, 66% [of Americans] say either that the education system in this country needs to be completely rebuilt (21%) or that it requires major changes (45%).” When the findings are narrowed down to political parties, they show “about two-thirds of Republicans (65%), Democrats (67%), and independents (67%) agree that the education system needs at least major changes.”

Our legislators need to react to these numbers. They represent us. We elect them and rely on them to make decisions that will ensure a better future for our students. Education reform is not just a Republican agenda; Democrats too want to see changes in America’s neighborhood schools. Instead of all this fighting on the floor, our leaders need to change to make real transformation. Continue Reading →


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

School choice: Pinellas County schools Superintendent Mike Grego pushes to expand educational opportunities to woo back parents and students. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools: A Polk County middle school for the arts class tries seating kids on bouncy exercise balls instead of a traditional desk and chair to help them focus better. The Ledger. 

Private schools: Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa invests in technology to foster better collaboration and critical thinking among students. Tampa Bay Times.

Certificates of Completion: The not-quite-a-diploma certificate cripples career opportunities, writes the Fort Myers News-Press. Hillsborough County students look to the ACT to get their diplomas. Tampa Bay Times.

Common Core: The new education standards, state grades and teacher evaluations and pay are among the education issues to watch for in 2014. StateImpact Florida.

School funding: The Palm Beach County School District should lobby legislators to restore the 50-cent millage rate, writes Rick Christie for the Palm Beach Post.

Teacher evals: The TC Palm looks at the state’s new system of rating teachers. Continue Reading →


Howard Fuller: More parental choice, more hope for black children

Editor’s note: Dr. Howard Fuller is board chair of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. This is the fourth post in our #schoolchoiceWISH series.

Dr. Fuller

Dr. Fuller

My parental school choice wish this year is to see substantive and real improvements in the life chances of all of our children, particularly those who come from low-income and working-class Black families in America.

For them, the realization of the promise of the American dream remains largely elusive. The crushing impact of poverty with all of its manifestations is the primary reason they face huge odds in their quest for a better life. For them, the only chance they have to improve their individual lives is to have access to a quality education. Yet, in America today, 42 percent of black students attend schools that are under-resourced and performing poorly. Forty-three percent of African-American students will not graduate from high school on time with a regular diploma.2013WISHLISTFINAL

These horrific data will not get better without empowering parents to be able to choose better options for their children. Yet, opponents of parent choice and other transformational education reform initiatives continue to place one obstacle after another in the path of parents seeking the power to choose the best educational environment for their children and/or to fundamentally change some of the systems that purport to educate their children. While cloaking their arguments against these reform efforts in the rhetoric of protecting democracy, ensuring equity, and supporting social justice, they are in fact this generation’s protectors of the status quo. Many of them were at one time opponents of the bureaucracy that now stands in the way of fundamental change, and fighters to empower the people. Now, they ARE the bureaucracy and no longer interested in giving power to the people!!

Throughout history, black people have waged a continuing struggle to educate themselves and their children. Time and again, black people have been in a position where others have had the power to make fundamental decisions about the education of their children. While those in power have employed very different means, the net result has left low-income and working-class African-Americans with fewer high-quality educational options. Continue Reading →


Joe McTighe: Wishing for two front teeth & a level playing field

Editor’s note: Joe McTighe is executive director of the Council for American Private Education. This is the third post in our #schoolchoiceWISH series.

Joe McTighe

Joe McTighe

As children, my sister Moo and I were regularly prompted at holiday gatherings to sing “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,” a crowd-pleasing performance made even more so by our mangling all instances of the “s” and “r” sounds in the song and strategically placing a wad of Black Jack chewing gum to simulate missing teeth. As best I can recall, that was the last time I was ever asked to announce a Christmas wish in a public forum – until now.

My school choice wish is simple:  a level playing field.2013WISHLISTFINAL

It’s no longer a secret that charter schools are taking a toll on private schools. The evidence is overwhelming. A study by Abraham Lackman, published earlier this year in the Albany Government Law Review, estimates about one-third of students in charter schools in New York State come from Catholic schools. The results have been a slew of Catholic school closings, a drain on government budgets, and an enormous cost to taxpayers.

At the national level, a report last year from the Cato Institute estimates that at the elementary school level in highly urban districts, about 32 percent of charter students come from private schools.

Religious and independent schools are accomplishing here and now what everyone wants: low drop-out rates, high college-going rates, above-average student performance.  It makes no sense whatsoever to let these schools fade away. Their closings represent an astounding loss of opportunity for families and children.

Understandably, the private school community has mixed emotions about charter schools. Charters advance school choice, enabling some parents to make a better match between the needs of their children and the offerings of a school. And, after all, a pillar of private education is the protection of a parent’s right to choose a child’s school.

But another pillar is the preservation of pluralism in education, which ensures a variety of truly distinctive schools from which parents can make that match, including faith-based schools, which offer a dimension of education unavailable in any public school. Continue Reading →