Florida roundup: Public school choice, digital learning, school grades & more

Public-school choice. Duval County’s superintendent wants to allow parents to enroll their children in any district-run school they choose, creating the first “open enrollment” policy among Florida’s major urban districts, the Florida Times-Union reports. More from First Coast News, WOKV.

florida-roundup-logoMilitary charter schools. It’s not clear what effect a bill provision, soon to become law, will have on efforts at MacDill Air Force Base, Hillsborough Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia tells the Tampa Bay Times.

Digital learning. How much will it cost for school districts to reach the state’s technology goals? WFSU asks.

School grades. House and Senate panels advance legislation to overhaul school grades, and avoid holding school districts to consequences during the first year of new standards. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida CurrentWCTV.

School boards. Candidates for the Palm Beach County School Board are already raking in the dough. Extra Credit. State officials consider the Manatee County School Board’s request for an investigation. Bradenton Herald.

School safety. A House bill that would allow at least one designated school employee to carry a gun on campus clears the House education committee. Orlando Sentinel. Associated Press. Miami-Dade officials oppose the plan. Miami Herald.

Testing. Does it matter if teachers don’t know yet what will replace the FCAT? StateImpact Florida.

Special-needs students. A Washington Post blogger continues the drumbeat against the state’s testing policy for students with disabilities, relaying a video by the Florida Education Association.

School lunch. Grants expand push for organic food, breakfast and dinner in Orange County Schools. Orlando Sentinel.

Next week: Chat with Rep. Diaz about FL school choice scholarship bill

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

A proposal to strengthen and expand Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, the largest private school choice program in the nation, has drawn a big spotlight during this year’s annual legislative session. State Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, is in the middle of the action.

On behalf of Speaker Will Weatherford, Diaz is shepherding the school choice bill through the House. And he’ll be our guest Monday for a live chat to answer questions about it, both from us and from you. (The scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)

The chat is kind of like a town hall meeting, but in writing. The floor will be open to anyone with a fair question. To participate, just come back to the blog on Monday, and click in to the live chat program that you’ll find here. We’ll start promptly at 1 p.m.

In the meantime, you can send questions in advance. You can leave them here in the comment section, send them to rmatus@sufs.org, tweet them to @redefinEDonline and/or post them on our facebook page. See you Monday!

With parental school choice, what are we Democrats afraid of?

Education’s parental choice is down to the heart of the matter in Florida. Will it remain a program at the margins? Or will the growing reality of empowering parents actually transform education over the coming years into a system that respond to the needs and desires of society and its families? Into a true public education system?

These scholarship students  joined faith leaders in the Florida Capitol last week to support a bill that would strengthen and expand the program. (Photo by Silver Digital Media)

These scholarship students joined faith leaders in the Florida Capitol last week to support a bill that would strengthen and expand the program. (Photo by Silver Digital Media)

In such a structure, the traditional public schools exist as one delivery method among several – charter schools, private schools, homeschooling, virtual schools, and possibly others to be created. But they are no longer the “public education system” that must be preserved at all costs and to the detriment of the others. Unfortunately, some Democratic lawmakers must still be persuaded.

Look no further than last week’s debate in the House Finance & Taxation Subcommittee, where representatives voted 11-7 along party lines in favor of a bill to strengthen and expand Florida’s tax credit scholarship program. (The program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog with the American Center for School Choice.)

This program will continue to save the state money even after its expansion. It has a multi-year record of academic improvement, documented by an independent analysis. Yet it was bombarded with arguments rooted in doubts and fears rather than rationality or concern for children. Can those of us who are Democrats look at a cost-saving program that is successfully serving tens of thousands of low-income families, with tens of thousands more asking for a chance to participate, and really say, “You are asking for too much too soon”?

One of the most often heard views is no further funding should go to tax credit scholarships until “public education is fully funded.” First, this unicorn chase is a beautiful, yet mythical fairy tale. Nothing is “fully funded,” not our police force, our electric grid, our sewer system, our public transportation system, or our national defense. This is an excuse, if accepted, for doing nothing except plowing money endlessly into the status quo. Second, it is akin to telling your younger child, “No more Christmas presents until your big brother’s wish list is completely fulfilled.” Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: School choice, charter schools, magnet schools & more

School choice. Democratic contender Nan Rich blasts both Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist for supporting vouchers. Sunshine State News.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. A bill encouraging collaboration on charter schools at military bases heads to Gov. Rick Scott, the Tampa Bay Times reports.  The governor says he’ll sign in it. News Service of Florida. More from the Tampa Tribune. A charter-school students wins Broward County’s spelling bee. Miami Herald.

Magnet Schools. The Pinellas County School Board approved two new magnet schools focused on technology. Tampa Bay Times.

School technology. Collier County schools officials revisit their policy allowing students to bring their own devices. Naples Daily News.

Testing. A discussion about the FCAT replacement, whatever that might be. StateImpact Florida. Orange County officials worry whether they’ll be ready for the new tests in time. Orlando Sentinel.

Construction funding. Polk County school district officials fear a $238 million funding gap for school facilities. Lakeland Ledger.

School safety. The gun bill is back, and gaining traction. Extra Credit. A Broward student is charged for bringing an AR-15 rifle near a high school campus. Sun-Sentinel.

Common Core. The Brevard County School Board adopts new textbooks intended to align with the state’s new standards. Florida Today.

School boards. The Manatee school board votes unanimously to request that the Inspector General investigate possibly malfeasance by board members between 2010 and 2012. Bradenton Herald. More from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teacher pay. Dozens of Orange County teachers rally for raises. Orlando Sentinel.

Bipartisan support for FL school choice plan aimed at special-needs students

A new type of school choice program aimed at serving special-needs students in Florida won bipartisan support during its first legislative committee vote Tuesday.

Rep. Micahel Bileca, R-Miami, chairs the House panel that has proposed individual education accounts for special-needs students.

Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, chairs the House panel that has proposed individual education accounts for special-needs students.

Several Democrats on the House Choice & Innovation Committee joined Republicans in voting 11-2 for “personal learning accounts,” a school choice option that would allow parents with disabled children to use state education funds for a range of education-related services.

Other Democrats, like Ranking Member Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, voted against the bill but held out the possibility they might support it in the future.

“Vouchers are so controversial at times, but I think that you have an honest desire to help the families that were up here today,” Saunders said. “I think there’s a very legitimate need.”

Parents of special-needs children came to Tallahassee to testify on behalf of the proposal, while the Florida PTA and statewide teachers union objected.

Mindy Gould, the PTA’s legislative chair, said the group had “great concerns,” and mentioned a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling that found the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program unconstitutional.

The Bush v. Holmes decision struck down the voucher program, which was created under Gov. Jeb. Bush for students in struggling schools. But justices in the case also indicated that other programs, including those for special-needs students, may be “distinguishable” under the state constitution.

Under the House legislation, individual accounts would be available to parents of children with conditions like autism and cerebral palsy who qualify for the state’s two highest support levels for disabled children.

The accounts could reimburse them for specific kinds of therapy or specialized instruction for their children. Funding would be based on the formula for the state’s McKay Scholarship program, also for students with disabilities. Continue Reading →

FL Common Core foes oppose same tests for school choice scholarships

As if education politics in Florida couldn’t get more complicated.

Opponents of Common Core in public schools are hoping to seize on anti-Common Core sentiment among their counterparts in private schools. The prompt: Calls by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, for tax credit scholarship students in private schools to take the same standardized tests as their public school peers.

In a recent newsletter, the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition wrote:

“Senate President Gaetz is determined to impose Common Core standards on private schools by requiring the state Common Core tests for all voucher/scholarship tax credit students.  He stated these intentions in an interview in the Orlando Sentinel and in his opening day of the legislature speech. (See our report. Senator Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) is carrying this bill, SB 1620, which if changed and passed as Gaetz wants, would prevent up to 330,000 students from being free from Common Core. This is completely unacceptable. Please let him know how much of a problem this really is … “

A bill to strengthen and expand the scholarship program cleared the House Finance & Taxation Subcommittee last week on an 11-7, party-line vote. But the bill did not include testing language, and some House members said they opposed the proposed testing mandate. So far, no test language has surfaced with the Senate bill, either. (Full disclosure: the scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)

Whether Common Core would help or hurt private schools and school choice has been a heated side debate in the fight over the standards. Some private schools clearly oppose the standards, while others are embracing them.

FL Legislature talking charter schools & military families

Update: The bill with the charter school language is headed to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk after the Senate approved it this morning on a 38-0 vote.

Florida lawmakers are set to approve a proposal intended to help military bases offer more education options for children of their personnel.

Sen. Richter

Sen. Richter

The move comes amid a high-profile effort to create a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. The organization looking to create the school withdrew its first application last week after being denied by the Hillsborough County School Board and losing its first state appeal.

A provision added to the  “Florida G.I. Bill” would add new language to the state’s charter schools law, calling for commanders on bases to “collaboratively work with the Commissioner of Education to increase military family student achievement, which may include the establishment of charter schools on military installations.”

SB 860 contains a number of provisions aimed at helping the state’s veterans, from extending hiring preferences to charging them in-state tuition at colleges and universities. The Senate is scheduled to take it up today on the floor. The House passed its version, which also includes a charter schools provision, on the first day of the session.

Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, faced questions from Democrats on the Appropriations Committee last week when he helped add the charter schools provision to the Senate bill. They wanted to know if it would change the process for charter school approvals or affect the MacDill application. (The Florida Charter Educational Foundation withdrew its application later that day, and has pledged to revise and resubmit it).

Richter said the proposal “does not affect the MacDill situation.” It simply “encourages the MacDill base to work with the school district” and “recognizes the unique characteristics of our military families with deployment and certain other circumstances.”

Richter could not be reached for comment Monday. Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Tax-credit scholarships, Common Core, school safety & more

Tax credit scholarships. The Miami Herald comes out against the bill to strengthen the scholarship program. Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino doesn’t like it either. Jewish leaders rallied for tax-credit scholarships last week in Tallahassee, saying they allow more low-income children to attend Jewish day schools, the Jewish Journal reports. The Ocala Star-Banner editorializes lawmakers should pause consideration of the bill.

florida roundup logo

Leadership. Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie receives strong school board reviews after increasing choice options, growing digital learning opportunities and creating “an overall culture of performance and accountability,” the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports.

Savings accounts. Proposals creating new options for disabled students will be hear today. Orlando Sentinel.

Wraparound services. A Central Florida high school prepares to add a physician on its campus, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Private schools. A Lecanto Catholic school could close after the school year, and parents are weighing their options, the Citrus County Chronicle reports.

Digital learning. Florida school districts see wide variation in their technology infrastructure and broadband capacity. WFSU. Continue Reading →