Florida Virtual School fears enrollment drop due to proposed funding changes

Florida Virtual School officials say Florida school districts are already beginning to curb student enrollment in online classes in response to a funding shift proposed by state lawmakers.

Under the change – which continues to be debated as lawmakers head into the final week of the session – districts would get less funding if their students take Florida Virtual School courses. Florida Virtual School officials say they’re already seeing a spike in guidance counselors denying student requests for FLVS courses this summer.

In the past, counselors usually denied requests for academic reasons, such as students not completing prerequisite courses. But now they aren’t signing off because of funding concerns, Florida Virtual School officials said.

Holly-Sagues-Pic1“We knew that this would happen,’’ said Holly Sagues, FLVS’s chief policy officer. “The entire session, we were telling legislators that it’s going to pit the district against Florida Virtual School.’’

It’s too early to tell how widespread the trend is, but FLVS already has heard from students, parents and guidance counselors in at least five districts, Sagues said.

Sen. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, who introduced the new funding formula in House Bill 5101, could not be reached for comment. The bill has since been amended to Senate Bill 1502, where it is now being negotiated as part of the Legislature’s education budget conference.

If the measure passes, it would cut 14 percent to 17 percent from what FLVS receives for every class a student takes in the program, Sagues said. The estimated total loss: about $34 million. The program already receives between 10 percent and 20 percent less in per-student funding than traditional public schools, she said.

Here’s how funding for FLVS and the districts works now: when students take six courses in their district school and one through Florida Virtual, the district receives its full per-student allotment for that student and FLVS receives another one-sixth of the funding – but only if the student completes the course.

If the new funding forming goes into effect, it would cap it so that the district receives six-sevenths of its allotment and FLVS receives one-seventh. Continue Reading →


Another week, another state, another few thousand parents rally for school choice

A school choice rally in Greensboro, N.C. this week drew more than 2,000 people. They were there to show support for a school voucher bill that will be considered in this year's legislative session. (Image from Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.)

A school choice rally in Greensboro, N.C. this week drew more than 2,000 people. They were there to show support for a school voucher bill that will be considered in this year’s legislative session. (Image from Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.)

There were 1,000 in Tallahassee, Fla., 2,000 in Columbus, Ohio, 2,400 in Greensboro, N.C. and 10,000 in Buffalo, N.Y. And that’s just in the past few weeks.

From coast to coast, swarms of parents are showing up at school choice rallies for charter schools, vouchers, tax credit scholarships or all of the above. They’re not angry like the Tea Party or Occupy. They don’t have defiant flags or frayed tents (yellow scarves maybe :) ). But they’re just as passionate and far more diverse.

“I want to be able to have a choice for where my daughter can go to schools,” one New York City mom said at a rally last summer. “I don’t want that choice made for me.”

That rally drew 5,000.

In the past year, one in Chicago drew thousands, as did one in Indianapolis. One in Atlanta drew 1,500. One in Boise drew nearly 1,000. One in Los Angeles drew 1,000. Another in Los Angeles drew 5,000.

In Pembroke Pines, Fla., nearly 1,000 showed up earlier this year to demand equal funding for charter schools.

Critics say Astroturf. Perhaps saying it enough has tamped down press coverage.

But people don’t take time out for these kinds of things if they’re lukewarm. There’s something happening here, and all those blips on the radar aren’t about to fade.


Florida roundup: virtual schools, parent trigger, teacher conduct & more

Virtual schools. The state investigation of K12 Inc. in Florida – which turned up three inadequately certified teachers – anchors a critical story in Maine by the Portland Press Herald. Education Week writes it up.

FL roundup logo snippedParent trigger. Sen. David Simmons is proposing another compromise for parent trigger. Gradebook.

Common Core. StateImpact Florida talks to one activist mom who doesn’t like it.

Education funding. AP reporter Gary Fineout looks at the behind-the-scenes battle on The Fine Print blog.

Paddling. A step backwards for Marion, editorializes the Ocala Star Banner.

School spending. Orange will still have $3 billion worth of work left to do when the district’s half-penny sales tax runs out in 2015, reports the Orlando Sentinel. The possibility of school closures is surfacing as Manatee’s budget woes continue, reports the Bradenton Herald. Continue Reading →


Florida working to resolve problems with private schools, end-of-course exams

Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett is tweaking policy and looking to enlist school districts and state colleges to remedy a testing headache for thousands of private school students.

The headache is caused by Florida’s end-of-course exams, which are tied to graduation requirements. kids testing

Here’s the problem: If a seventh-grader in a private school completes Algebra I, then becomes a freshman at a public high school, he can’t receive credit for the course until he takes the EOC. But currently, he can’t take the test until he enrolls in public school. So he ends up taking the test two years after completing the class.

As many as 6,000 private school and out-of-state students a year could be affected.

Barbara Hodges

Barbara Hodges

“It’s one of our biggest issues,’’ said Barbara Hodges, executive director of the Florida Council of Independent Schools, which accredits 160 private schools.  “It’s really impacting our freshman class this year. We know our students are prepared, but they don’t want to take a test on a class they took two years before.’’

Here’s Bennett’s proposed solution:

First, starting next month when EOC assessments begin, the state Department of Education will allow private school and out-of-state students who plan to attend a Florida public school next fall to take the exams prior to enrollment.

Private school administrators and/or students must contact their local district’s assessment office – not the public school – to schedule a time.

Bennett has “strongly’’ encouraged school districts to offer their future students the opportunity to participate.

“While I certainly understand that testing these students prior to enrollment will result in additional work for school and district staff, allowing these students to test is the right thing to do … ,’’ he wrote to school superintendents earlier this month. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: virtual schools, magnet schools, paddling & more

Virtual schools. Florida Virtual School is battling proposed budget cuts, reports Associated Press. A state investigation finds online provider K12 Inc. employed three teachers who lacked proper certification to teach some subjects, reports StateImpact Florida.

florida roundup logoMagnet schools. A Hillsborough high school best known for its football program starts an academic program heavy on dual enrollment. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter schools. Neighbors are upset about plans for a 2,000-student Academica charter school in East Kendall. Miami Herald.

District charter schools. The Polk district’s Step Up Academies for struggling students (no connection to Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog) are being asked by district officials to be even more like schools within schools. Lakeland Ledger.

Common Core. Protesters at the Capitol, reports StateImpact Florida. Tony Bennett’s thoughts on PARCC, also from StateImpact Florida. Continue Reading →


Florida town’s conversion to charter schools helped local economy, too

Editor’s note: This guest post is from Jesse L. Jackson, superintendent of Lake Wales Charter Schools in Lake Wales, Fla.

Superintendent Jackson

Superintendent Jackson

By early 2000, the once great tradition of outstanding local schools for Lake Wales’ citizens had reached a point of decline. It was at that time when concerned citizens, with the support of the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce education committee, decided to do something to reverse that trend. What emerged was not only an accountability driven charter school system, but, unexpectedly, the town’s biggest employer.

Since 2004, when five Lake Wales’ public schools were converted to public charter schools, and with the addition of Bok Academy charter school and the International Baccalaureate program to Lake Wales High School, a significant reversal has taken place in terms of quality and participation in our local schools. Many families that had previously decided to seek other opportunities to educate their children outside Lake Wales have found favor in our system, which now serves approximately 4,000 students. While the majority live in Lake Wales, many come from surrounding towns. Lake Wales Charter Schools pioneers such as Robin Gibson, Clint Horne, David Ullman and many others could feel quite satisfied when reflecting on the impact of their effort.

However, when the details are analyzed, it becomes quite clear the system offers more than just a great education for this community. The mere shift of the schools’ management from district headquarters in Bartow to Lake Wales has profoundly impacted Lake Wales’ economy.

Our principals are chief executive officers. They have the autonomy and responsibility to make decisions regarding the most effective way to run their schools, including financial matters. With each school’s annual budget ranging from roughly $2.5 million to $6 million, managing the operations of our charter schools is a huge responsibility. The autonomy provides our principals the freedom to make decisions regarding their engagement with businesses. Along with this freedom, they and other members of our leadership team have the responsibility and are compelled to adhere to the strictest finance and accounting principles to ensure our system’s finances are managed properly.

Our success as an effective school system has enabled us to evolve into a locally based multi-million dollar enterprise with an annual budget of more than $30 million. Continue Reading →


Balancing choice, regs in public education

seesawMy recent post about the importance of including parental choice in our definition of public education accountability drew a thoughtful response from Melissa Webber, the parent of a special needs child.

She writes, “I’m not sure I agree with the writer’s explanation of accountability. While I support parental choice and have in the past taken advantage of the McKay Scholarship, I think choice is a separate issue not to be confused with accountability unless parent empowerment actually affects positive change of a program to bring it up to regulation standards. One of the private schools I visited had no certified teacher, made no attempt to comply with sunshine standards and they weren’t bound to provide services spelled out in Blake’s IEP. Basically, it served as a disorganized daycare for middle school ESE kids. It was an easy choice for me to opt for another public school program. However, my choice to do so did not make the school more accountable. There should be much more oversight to insure at least minimal standards are met so the children of less informed parents do not suffer in the name of choice.”

The public good is best served when public education operates with maximum effectiveness and efficiency. Highly effective and efficient schools are best possible through a combination of regulations and consumer choice. Regulations provide the floor below which no school should operate, but regulations alone can’t produce excellence. Excellence requires consumer choice.

Ron Matus’ recent story about one of Florida’s top charter schools included this quote from the school’s founder and principal, Yalcin Akin: “If they like us, they come to our school. If they don’t like us, they don’t come. We have to have a high level of customer service and a high level of performance – or we will not survive.”

This necessity to meet parents’ needs or go out of business is part of accountability, and helps fuel the drive for excellence. Last year, Akin’s school had a waiting list of about 1,500 students.

Now consider Melrose Elementary in St. Petersburg. Only one student chose to attend Melrose’s magnet program this year. All the other Melrose students were assigned there by the school board and, if they don’t show up, their parents can be sent to jail.

Melrose is more highly regulated than Akin’s charter school, but it is not more accountable. As long as students are forced by law to attend Melrose, it won’t go out of business, regardless of its effectiveness. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: parent trigger, charter schools, school rankings & more

Parent trigger. Parent trigger is headed to the Senate floor, with growing potential for drama. Coverage from redefinED and The Buzz. The latest from Diane Ravitch’s blog.

florida roundup logoCharter schools. The Pinellas County School Board agrees to sell the site of a former middle school to a charter school venture started by Cheri Shannon, former head of the Florida Charter School Alliance, reports the Tampa Bay Times. More from the Tampa Tribune. Lawmakers adopt language that would reign in the kind of abuses that happened last year at an Orlando charter, reports Gradebook. The International Studies Charter Middle/High School in Miami is ranked No. 2 in Florida and No. 15 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of top high schools, reports the Miami Herald.

Teacher quality. A piece of the parent trigger bill regarding ineffective teachers is attached to the teacher eval bill, just in case parent trigger doesn’t pass. The Buzz.

Teacher evals. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan urges Florida to make its teacher eval system better, reports the Associated Press. In an editorial, the Ocala Star Banner agrees but also says: “A full generation of Florida schoolchildren have gone through the FCAT process, and in spite of the many political, mechanical and bureaucratic foul-ups along the way, Florida is making remarkable and steady educational progress. That is largely thanks to its teachers and local school officials.”

Teacher conduct. The Hillsborough County School Board reverses an earlier decision to stop posting the names of employees facing suspension or dismissal. Tampa Bay Times.

Turnaround. In an attempt to jumpstart struggling Lacoochee Elementary, Superintendent Kurt Browning is replacing the entire staff. Tampa Bay Times.

Religion. The Hillsborough School Board is again wrestling with what religious materials are okay for students to circulate. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →