When Catholic schools become charter schools

When it comes to urban private schools competing against free public charter schools the adage “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” rings true. Charter schools have considerably more freedom than traditional public schools and this allows them to offer a private-school-style education without the private-school-education price tag. Since it is very hard to compete against a “free” education, many urban private schools, especially Catholic schools, have closed, consolidated or converted to charter schools.

A new report, “Switchers: Why Catholic Schools Convert to Charters and What Happens Next,” by education researchers Michael Q. McShane and Andrew P. Kelly, examines the how, what and why of Catholic school conversion to charters.

It is worth noting that the Catholic dioceses interviewed by the researchers oppose use of the terms “switchers” and “converting.” Catholic leaders maintain the religious mission is fundamental to a Catholic school education and since this aspect is lacking in the charter school curriculum, the new schools are completely different entities even if they rent the same building, employ the same teachers and enroll the same students.

The report examines several Catholic private schools in Indianapolis, Miami and Washington D.C. In all instances, the schools suffered severe enrollment drops in the years leading up to closure and conversion.

Figure 4On average, Catholic schools lost 7.3 students per year with an average enrollment of just 153 students in the school’s final year of operation. Upon closing and converting the space to a charter school, the schools saw an enrollment growth of 34.4 students per year.

These new charter schools also saw a significant increase in minority students. Minority enrollment climbed from 79 percent during the Catholic schools’ final year to 93 percent within two years of re-opening as a charter school. Continue Reading →

Virtual school, charter school funding set in Florida budget deal

Florida’s virtual schools could see a slight funding boost, while charter schools would receive less money for facilities than they did last year, under budget agreements reached by state lawmakers.

House and Senate negotiators met until about midnight on Monday, reaching agreement on budget fine print and their last remaining spending items, including a total of $75 million in capital funding for charter schools and a larger amount for school districts.

Budget negotiators had previously agreed not to overhaul the state’s funding for virtual education programs as proposed by the Senate. Instead, their agreement includes a slight increase in the funding supplement for virtual schools, known as the virtual education contribution.

Florida Virtual School is the largest recipient of funds from the virtual education contribution. The money also supports virtual charter schools and virtual education programs run by school districts, and  is intended to bring virtual programs’ funding to the equivalent of $5,200 per full-time student. The new state budget would lift that amount slightly next year, to $5,230.

Star Kraschinsky, FLVS’ director for external affairs, said the slight increase in the virtual education contribution is based on the bonus funding that brick-and-mortar schools receive for students who earn industry certifications and college credits, which virtual schools don’t currently receive.

She said the increase could provide Florida Virtual School with an estimated $1 million in additional revenue, which she said it plans to invest in developing more career-education courses, which legislative leaders like Senate President Don Gaetz have pushed to expand.

That would be an increase of less than 1 percent, but in a year that follows funding changes that cost FLVS tens of millions of dollars, Kraschinsky said the outcome of this year’s budget talks was “very positive” for the award-winning program.

On Monday, budget negotiators also agreed to provide charter schools with $75 million for capital expenditures like leases, construction costs and technology, a reduction of nearly $15 million from what they received last year. They also earmarked $4.8 million for university lab schools, which have also received funding through the charter school capital outlay.

School districts, meanwhile, would receive more than $110 million in state capital funding, the first substantial sum they’ve received in four years. More than half of that total is earmarked for specific construction projects in a handful of rural school districts. Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Budgets, graduation rates, school safety and more

Budgets. Lawmakers agree on a spending plan that would boost state construction funding for school districts. Times/Herald. RedefinED.

Graduation rates. Florida’s graduation rate trails the national average. StateImpactAssociated Press. Sentinel School Zone.

florida-roundup-logoSchool safety. The Florida House approves a controversial gun bill. Miami Herald. News Service of Florida. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Scripps/Tribune.

Teacher conduct. Parents receive notice about a teacher arrested on molestation charges. Gainesville Sun. A Pinellas teachers union official is barred from the classroom due to alleged “gross immorality.” Tampa Bay Times.

Textbooks. The House and Senate remain divided over legislation reducing the state’s role in textbook adoption. Tampa Tribune. Associated Press.

Teacher quality. StateImpact looks at Duval County’s efforts to attract teachers to the schools with the greatest needs.

Career and technical education. A Palm Beach County shop class prepares to reopen after an accident. Palm Beach Post.

School choice mom: “Why must this be controversial?”

Faith Manuel

Faith Manuel

Editor’s note: There’s no doubt school choice parents made their voices heard during this year’s debate over tax credit scholarships in the Florida Legislature. They packed committee meetings, responded to misleading news stories and even took on the PTA. Several also penned op-eds for major newspapers in Florida. The latest may be the most powerful.

It’s written by Faith Manuel in response to an off-the-mark news story in the Daytona Beach News Journal. Ms. Manuel notes her son, a former scholarship student, is now studying to be a teacher at Florida State College in Jacksonville, so he can “return the blessing of his education to the state of Florida.” Then she asks some of those obvious questions that somehow get lost in the coverage:

I wouldn’t use the word “poor” to describe our family. The fact that my children have been able to benefit from the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship program is a blessing. We are not “poor;” we’re thankful.

My oldest son is currently on the President’s List at Florida State College in Jacksonville. He’s majoring in education and wishes to return the blessing of his education to the state of Florida as an educator.

For me, a single mom, the scholarship is not a political statement. It’s not a criticism of Volusia County public schools, where my other son is doing quite well. It has nothing to do with public vs. private.

The scholarship just gives me another school option, and it worked big-time for Davion, my college student who was born when I was 15. It is putting my middle-school daughter on the same path.

So, as a parent who read The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s front-page story April 20 about this program, I was left to wonder: Why must this be controversial? When an attorney for the Florida Education Association calls the Tax Credit Scholarship “a money-laundering scheme” and questions whether the program should exist at all, it leads me to wonder if his real motivation is education at all. Why would anyone attack and demean a program that has been so beneficial to so many families? To me, it’s not so much about if students are educated via private or public education. What’s most important is that they are being educated. They are being trained and groomed, and in the case of my children (and the many other children we’ve encountered these past seven years), they are becoming great citizens who give back to this community.

Read the full op-ed here.

How Florida’s budget talks could affect charter school funding trends

Florida House and Senate budget negotiators meet today to reconcile their competing spending plans. Like in previous years, one of the last issues to be resolved is how to divvy up the funding for construction at schools, colleges and universities.

One question to keep an eye on as they try to reach a deal before Tuesday’s deadline: Will charter schools’ funding for buildings and construction keep pace with their growth?

From 2006-07 through 2012-13, charter schools typically received about $55 million each year in capital outlay funds (in some years they received a little more; in some years slightly less). But more than 200 new charter schools opened during those years. While not every charter school receives capital outlay funding, that growth meant a larger number of charter schools split roughly the same amount of money for their facilities.

That changed last legislative session when lawmakers allowed the pie to grow again. They set aside more than $90 million in capital outlay funding for charter schools. The total funding amount was unprecedented, but because there were hundreds more charter schools receiving capital outlay funds, it brought the average per school to just above 2009-10 levels.

Not all charter schools receive state capital outlay funding. The most recent state budget increase brought an increase to the average amount schools that do receive state capital dollars are getting.

Not all charter schools receive state capital outlay funding, which is based on the number of students. This graph shows the change in the average amount that went to  charter schools receiving sate capital outlay funding during the last five state fiscal years. Source: Charter School Capital Outlay.

This fall, charter school enrollment grew to nearly 230,000. That means the amount of capital funding per student is expected to remain lower for charter schools than what districts receive from one of their revenue sources – a tax of up to $1.50 for every $1,000 in local property values.

If recent trends continue, and charter schools grow by another 10 percent or more, the House’s original $100 million capital plan for charter schools would come close to keeping pace, while the Senate’s $50 million plan would set them back. For the first time in four years, both plans set aside a substantial chunk of state capital outlay funding for school districts, though that’s not likely to resolve tensions over how capital funding gets divided.

Expanding parental school choice can help English language learners

Editor’s note: This post originally ran as an op-ed Sunday on VOXXI, in response to an op-ed by Dr. Rosa Castro Feinberg. Julio Fuentes is president and CEO of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options and a member of the board of directors for Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that administers Florida’s tax credit scholarship program and co-hosts this blog.

Julio Fuentes

Julio Fuentes

In Florida schools, there is no doubt that English language learners, many of them Spanish speakers, are the most vulnerable and most struggling of our students.

To offer but one sad fact, only 11 percent of ELL (English Language Learners) students last year passed the 10th grade FCAT in reading, the test they must pass in order to graduate from high school. Let me repeat that so the gravity of the number sinks in: 11 percent. That’s compared to 54 percent of students overall, 41 percent of low-income students and 21 percent of students with disabilities. To be sure, standardized test scores should often be taken with a grain of salt. But it’s clear they wave a bigger red flag with ELL students than with any other group. And there is no doubt we must move with greater urgency to do all we can to ensure a brighter future for those students.

Given that backdrop, I must respond to Dr. Rosa Castro Feinberg’s April 24 op-ed, “Students learning ESOL with vouchers might be getting shortchanged.” I have the utmost regard for Dr. Feinberg. I appreciate the expertise she brings to the subject of ELL and ESOL students. And I do think there are some issues involving those students and tax credit scholarships (aka “vouchers”) that are worthy of fair-minded debate. But in this case, I must respectfully say that Dr. Feinberg’s concerns are misplaced, and that she is unfairly tarnishing a tool that can help ELL students.

At the end of the day, what tax credit scholarships do is simply give parents more options. Why in the world would we limit options for students who need help wherever they can get it? Dr. Feinberg listed a slew of things that public schools are required to provide ELL students, including extra funding and extra training for teachers. Many of those policies are well-intentioned and helpful. But the statistics show they’re not helpful enough.

This year, 35 percent of the nearly 60,000 low-income students using tax credit scholarships are Hispanic. Many were not satisfied with public schools, and so they used the scholarships to find something that works better for their children. If the ELL families among them felt their needs were being met in public schools, they wouldn’t have left. There are endless reasons for their frustration, but I have no doubt that the cultural barriers they sometimes face in public schools are among them.

Sometimes Spanish-speaking parents can’t communicate well with the staffs at public schools. At some public schools, there is no one who can help the family because no one at the school speaks their language. I don’t mean this as a knock on public schools, which are too often burdened with the impossible task of being all things to all children. But it’s a fact. It’s also a fact that many private schools serving Spanish students go to great lengths to ensure that even their written communications are in Spanish. I wish I could say the same about public schools, but unfortunately I know more than a few examples where that is not the case.

Perhaps unintentionally, Dr. Feinberg made a case for school choice and parental empowerment in her own op-ed. She suggested to parents, “Visit the school’s ESOL or bilingual classes. Do you think the children are learning English? If the school doesn’t offer these classes, think twice about changing schools.”

We couldn’t agree more. But it’s not in the best interest of ELL students for the parents to limit their visits to public schools. Why not explore all options? Continue Reading →

redefinED roundup: ESAs in AZ, scholarships in KS, charter schools find homes in NYC and more news

MondayRoundUp_magenta

Arizona: A bill to allow children of military service members killed in action to become eligible for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts passes into law (Watchdog). Gov. Jan Brewer vetoes a bill to allow owners of S-Corps to receive individual tax credits for donations to scholarship funding organizations, but signs two bills related to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (Arizona Republic, Associated Press).

California: Two Democrats battle for leadership of California’s K-12 system: one backed by the establishment and the other backed by education reformers (Reuters).

Colorado: The school choice oriented school board in Jefferson County looks to provide more equity for charter school funding (Denver Post). Fewer students get their first choice in Denver’s public school choice program (Chalkbeat).

D.C.: The D.C.Public Charter School Board hears proposals for eight new charter schools (Washington Post).

Delaware: A charter school principal says charter schools were meant to help improve the quality of public education but not intended to simply duplicate public schools (The News Journal).

Florida: The senate revives a plan to expand the tax-credit scholarship program, but the senate’s version is less ambitious than the House version (Education WeekTampa Bay Times, Florida Current, The Ledger, WFSUPalm Beach Post, Naples News, Highlands Today, GTN News, St. Augustine RecordredefinED). William Mattox, an education researcher at the James Madison Institute, argues that private schools already face greater accountability because parents, and donors, can leave at any time (Daytona Beach News-Journal). A local public school PTA president favors school choice and says the legislature should expand options, not deny them (Tampa Tribune). The Palm Beach Post editorial board opposes expanding tax-credit scholarship eligibility from 230 percent of poverty to 260 percent because that now represents the middle class. The Orlando Sentinel editorial board opposes expanding the tax-credit scholarships without more accountability, which the editorial board defines as taking the exact same test as public school students. The Tampa Bay Times editorial board believes it is hypocritical to require the FCAT of public schools and students but not of private school students on scholarship. A private school principal says she supports school choice in all its forms because schools that work for one child may not work well for another (Context Florida). A tax-credit scholarship mom says she is thankful for a program that helps build a future for  her children and others (Daytona Beach News-Journal). Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, testing, charter schools, budgets and more

Tax credit scholarships. Hispanic leaders debate the program’s impact on English language learners here and here in Voxxi. Editorial boards weigh in on tax credit scholarship legislation as a piece of unfinished business going into the last weeks of the legislation. Tampa TribuneMiami Herald. A parent writes about the benefits of scholarships for her children. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Charter schools. Lawmakers debate construction funding. Fox Orlando. Parents at a Pasco charter school devoted to children with autism scramble for ways to keep it open. Tampa Bay Times. The Florida Times-Union writes up standard contract legislation.

florida-roundup-logo

Single-gender schools. One school-choice proposal wins broad support in the Legislature. Orlando Sentinel.

Budgets. House and Senate negotiators come close to a budget deal, agreeing on a 2.6 per-student funding increase for public schools. Times/HeraldNews Service of Florida. Duval’s superintendent lays out some controversial recommendations. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher quality. Hillsborough schools try to recruit top teachers where they are most needed. Tampa Tribune.

At-risk students. Bay County scuttles plans for a new alternative school. Panama City News Herald.

Testing: Citing recent issues with the last FCAT administration, a Tampa Bay Times editorial calls for a slower transition to a new assessment.

Continue Reading →