Florida Senate breathes new life into school choice legislation

An expansion of parental choice programs in Florida received new life in the state Senate Friday, and now heads to a receptive House on the last day of the legislative session.

The Florida Senate received bipartisan support to add legislation opening the tax credit scholarship program to more families and creating new personal learning accounts for special-needs students to a broader school-choice bill.

The bill, SB 850, would also expand career-education programs championed by Senate President Don Gaetz, as well as collegiate high school programs offered by colleges.

The amendment adding the House’s school choice legislation was added on a voice vote. The full bill passed 29-11, with the support of a united Republican caucus and three Democrats: Sens. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, Gwen Margolis, D-Miami Beach, and Darren Soto, D-Orlando.

The most contentious provisions dealt with the state’s tax-credit scholarship program, which is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, told members the bill would bring the program under tighter oversight.

“If you really want accountability in this program, if you really want transparency in this program, then support this bill,” he said.

Ring, one of the Democrats who supported the bill, focused his arguments on provisions aimed at helping students with disabilities.

It would create individual accounts that parents could use to meet the educational needs of their special-needs children if their children do not attend public school. It would also do away with special diplomas, pushing more of them to leave high school with a standard diploma.

“I want these children to be able to be normalized, to be equalized. What I want for them is to have a path that they can be in a workforce,” he said. “I cannot wait to go home and defend this bill.”

 New information will be added throughout the day. Please check back for updates.

Julio Fuentes: Parental choice critics overlook need, demand, results

Editor’s note: This post originally ran yesterday on VOXXI, the fourth in a series of back-and-forth op-eds between Dr. Rosa Castro Feinberg and Julio Fuentes, president & CEO of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options and a member of the board of directors for Step Up For Students. Step Up administers Florida’s tax credit scholarship program and co-hosts this blog.

Dr.. Feinberg actually tries to draw a parallel between private schools that accept tax credit scholarship students and cancer-causing cigarettes.

Dr.. Feinberg actually tries to draw a parallel between private schools that accept tax credit scholarship students and cancer-causing cigarettes.

When her son Valentin was in sixth grade, Janet Ruiz decided enough was enough. Because of language barriers, Valentin, who is from Nicaragua, wasn’t doing well in public school. In fact, he was failing. He was also being bullied mercilessly because he didn’t speak English well enough. At one point, Ms. Ruiz kept him home for two weeks, but no one from the school even called.

So Ms. Ruiz got a tax credit scholarship that allowed Valentin to go to a different school, a dynamic little private school called La Progresiva Presbyterian in Miami. Now he’s in ninth grade and he reads and speaks English perfectly. In a school that prides itself on tough grading, he’s making straight A’s.

La Progresiva, his mom says, “is where he began to learn.”

It’s true that tax credit scholarships for low-income children, what the critics call “vouchers,” are not a panacea and don’t work for every child. It’s true there are fair questions to ask about them. But all too often, critics of parental choice seem eager to overlook thousands of stories like this one and instead perpetuate myths and make sensational claims.

In the process, they insult parents like Ms. Ruiz who are desperately looking for help, and an army of motivated educators, like those at La Progresiva, who are willing to roll up their sleeves and be part of the solution.

In Dr. Rosa Castro Feinberg’s latest essay in VOXXI, she rehashes many of the arguments from her first essay and then makes an absurd comparison, trying to draw a parallel between private schools and cigarettes.

The number of smokers dropped dramatically, she notes, once cigarette packs started carrying warning labels. “Consumer satisfaction is not enough. What you don’t know can hurt you,” she writes. “And there’s a lot we don’t know about the effects of Florida law on ELLs and others in vouchers schools.”

Comparing private schools to cancer-causing cigarettes? I thought I had heard it all.

There are more than 36,000 educators in Florida private schools, and the vast majority of them are like the vast majority of public school teachers. They’re working as hard as they can, often in tough circumstances, and for not enough money, to make our world a better place. As a private school principal in Broward wrote recently in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, “Like public school teachers, we’re not about profits and privatization. And with them, we share a common goal: to help our students become successful in school and in life.”

Those educators deserve respect and fair consideration. So do the parents of the kids they’re educating. Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, Common Core, textbooks and more

Tax credit scholarships. A vote to take up the House’s school choice bill fails, leaving the issue to the final day of Florida’s legislative session. Scripps/Tribune. Associated PressRedefinED. It’s one of five bills that could shape the sessions final hours, Gary Fineout writes.

florida-roundup-logoTextbooks. The state adoption process remains alive in re-worked legislation bound for Gov. Rick Scott. Times/Herald. Scripps/Tribune. Reuters. Associated Press. School Zone. Palm Beach Post.

Whistle-blowers. A Leon County Schools administrator becomes a whistle-blower in an ongoing saga involving district construction contracts. Tallahassee Democrat. A Palm Beach County whistle-blower faced retaliation from the school district. Palm Beach Post.

Common Core. Supporters of the new standards tout their flexibility. Tampa Tribune.

Facilities. Broward schools consider an $800 million bond issue. Miami Herald.

Teachers. A Broward County man at the forefront of desegregation decades ago returns to the classroom to teach. Sun-Sentinel. Orange County teachers prepare to vote on raises. Orlando Sentinel.

Graduation. An FAU student could graduate before receiving her high school diploma. Sun-Sentinel.

Retention. Other countries have higher stakes than Florida’s third-grade retention policy. StateImpact.

Budgets. The Pasco school district looks to rebuild support staffs after years of cutbacks. Tampa Bay Times.

School choice legislation hits snag in Florida Senate

A bill expanding Florida’s tax credit scholarship program and creating new personal learning accounts for disabled students hit a procedural snag Thursday with time winding down in the legislative session.

But legislative leaders say their school choice push is not over, and the legislation could come up again Friday on the Senate floor.

Senate Democrats thwarted an attempt to take up the House version of the school choice bill, HB 7167.

Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, objected, and the move failed on a 25-14 party-line vote. It needed support from two-thirds of the Senate, meaning it fell two votes shy.

The issue may not be dead yet, given that it is supported by top leaders in both the House and Senate. Legislative leaders said they want to see the Senate debate the bill.

“I feel very good about that bill,” House Speaker Will Weatherford told reporters after floor sessions adjourned for the day on Thursday. “I think there’s a great landing zone for that bill. We look forward to seeing the Senate pass that bill, and hopefully the governor will be signing that bill.”

Senate President Don Gaetz reminded reporters that the bill was part of the agenda he and Weatherford laid out before the start of session.

“We believe in school choice, both the Speaker and I do, and we both believe in academic and financial accountability. We’re trying to make sure that the bill is in proper posture to get a full consideration,” Gaetz said. He added, however, that passing the bill could be a “heavy lift” because the Senate plans to follow its normal procedures, which means the bill would need the support of at least one Democrat.

“My hope is that we’ll be able to take that bill up, if everyone gets their questions answered, and pass it out tomorrow,” he said.

The scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

Report: Charter schools $ gap growing

The funding disparity between charter and traditional public schools around the nation appears to be growing over time, according to a new report.

On average, charter schools during FY2011 received $3,509 less per pupil than traditional public schools – a 28.4 percent gap, found the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. Worse, that gap grew by 54 percent between FY03 and FY11.

Note: the researchers used a “weighted” per pupil formula that takes into account that charter schools, which now educate more than 2 million students, are more likely to be centered in urban/metro areas. They write that the “weighting adjusts statewide per pupil district enrollment proportions to match the same proportion experienced by charter schools statewide.” Basically, the weighted formula recognizes that urban areas tend to spend more on their student population and this calculation prevents the lower spending rural/suburban districts from distorting (and dropping) the statewide average. This allows a more fair comparison with the more urban/metro-oriented charter schools.

The funding gap varies widely between states. Tennessee leads the nation by giving an extra $15 per pupil to charter schools, followed by Texas ($-362) and New Mexico (-$365).

The biggest gap is surprisingly in Louisiana, but it may deserve a big caveat. The next biggest comes from another big charter school area, Washington D.C., with a whopping -$12,736 per pupil funding gap with charter schools. Of course, D.C. is also the nation’s biggest education spender per pupil. On a percentage basis, Maryland had the largest charter-public gap with a 38.8 percent difference (-$7,347).

*ABBA – Money, Money, Money (the obvious “show me the money” reference was already used and we like to be original at redefinED). Continue Reading →

Collegiate high school expansion wins support in FL House

Another school choice expansion won overwhelming approval in the Florida House on Wednesday.

SB 850 is a wide-ranging education bill that, among other things, would expand career-education programs and create an “early warning system” for at-risk middle school students.

It would also require the state’s community colleges to expand access to school choice programs that allow students to finish a year of college before they finish high school.

Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, said earlier in the session that he drew up the legislation after seeing the success of Tampa Bay-area programs like St. Petersburg Collegiate High School and the Collegiate Academy at Hillsborough County’s Leto High School.

“You sit there and say, “Why isn’t this in every school?'” he said.

The bill would require colleges to make at least one collegiate high school program available to all students in their service areas. The programs would allow high school upperclassmen to earn at least 30 college credit hours before they graduates.

It passed the House with a lone no-vote from Rep. Darryl Rouson, who called it a “good bill that has a bad provision,” singling out a portion that limits schools’ legal liability if they make their playgrounds available after school hours.  The rewritten version still needs final approval by the Senate.

Florida roundup: Charter schools, tax credit scholarships, school grades and more

Charter schools. A new study shows they receive about $2,130 less in funding per student than district-run schools. StateImpact. Next week is National Charter Schools Week. Extra Credit.

Tax credit scholarships. Advocacy groups are mobilizing against legislation expected to come up for discussion today in the Senate. Sentinel School Zone.

florida-roundup-logoSchool grades. An A-F revamp passes the House on the 15th anniversary of Jeb Bush’s original A-Plus Plan. Associated Press. Orlando SentinelFlorida Current. Times/Herald. Pinellas schools receive school recognition bonuses. Tampa Bay Times.

Private schools. A Christian school in Clearwater plans to expand to accommodate growing enrollment. Tampa Bay Times.

School safety. Lawmakers increase penalties for sex offenses committed by school workers. Tampa TribuneGradebook.

Funding. Palm Beach County school district officials oppose the Legislature’s latest education budget. Palm Beach Post.

Weather. Schools close in Northwest Florida amid widespread flooding. Panama  City News Herald. Pensacola News-Journal.

Accreditation. Duval schools retian their seal of approval for another five years. Florida Times-Union.

Labor. Pasco school district officials prepare for contract negotiations with their employees. Gradebook. It should not have taken years to remove a teacher from the classroom, the Tampa Bay Times editorializes.


Educators: Parental choice isn’t public vs. private

same teamAnybody watching the scrum over the tax credit scholarship bill in Florida has been treated to quite the display of dueling op-eds.

Educators (like here and here) have been among those weighing in against the bill and/or the scholarship program, which is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. But it’s noteworthy, given prevailing narratives, that a number of educators have been on the pro-parental choice side, too.

Their views and backgrounds are diverse (see here), so pigeonhole at your peril. But several respectfully stressed that support for expanding  school choice does not pit public vs. private.

Wrote Stacy Angier, principal of Abundant Life Christian Academy in Margate, in the South Florida Sun Sentinel:

“Our scholarship parents tell us, all the time, that their children are doing better, that their children love school now. I don’t bring this up as a knock on their former schools. It doesn’t mean our school is better; it means we’re different – and for individual students, different may be better.”

Wrote Steve Knellinger, lead administrator at St. Petersburg Christian School, in the Tampa Bay Times:

“We view public schools in Pinellas County as partners, not adversaries. We believe we are helping them, and they are helping us. If students want to attend a traditional neighborhood public school, or a fundamental school, or a magnet school, because that’s where they’re most likely to find success, why not? At the same time, if students who are not successful in public schools can find success at a private school like ours, why not?”

Wrote Nadia Hionides, principal of The Foundation Academy in Jacksonville, in Context Florida:

“I know that the more choices we offer, the more opportunities there are for children to succeed. Only in the diversity that is offered by all of these choices, public and private, can we possibly meet the endlessly diverse needs of all our children.”

Several of the op-eds also have this thread in common: Respect for parents’ ability to know what is best for their kids. Continue Reading →