Florida charter school effort starting to roll

After a quiet start, a Race-To-The-Top-fueled effort to draw proven charter schools to Florida’s neediest communities is picking up steam.

The $30 million Florida Charter School Growth Fund, begun in 2011, has now doled out grants to seven schools for a total of $2.15 million. It also remains in the hunt for luring a nationally known network to the Sunshine State, recently awarding $100,000 to Rocketship Education to help it search for a new school in South Florida.

Darryl Cobb

Darryl Cobb

Finding the right operators ready and able to set up shop in targeted areas takes time, said Darryl Cobb, a partner with the Colorado-based Charter School Growth Fund who leads the group’s Florida effort.

“It’s not as easy as waving a magic wand,’’ he said.

State education officials announced the Florida Charter School Growth Fund in late 2011. Florida kicked in $20 million from its Race To The Top award and the Charter School Growth Fund pledged another $10 million in private donations. (Its fund supporters include major education foundations like the Walton Family and Bill & Melinda Gates foundations.) The mission: Give grants to the best charter networks in the nation ready to open or expand schools in Florida’s poorest communities.

But organizers soon discovered many of those networks weren’t quite ready to expand to Florida, in part because of concerns about funding and authorizers. Strategy shifted to home-grown operators.

Youth Co-Op Preparatory Charter School, an A-rated K-8 school in Hialeah, was the first recipient. In November 2011, it got a $73,000 grant that went toward adding a high school. (Youth Co-Op received another grant for $250,000 in 2012).  Since then, the fund has awarded grants to six more charter schools, including five from Florida.

More schools are on the way. The 5-year goal is to open 30 new high-performing charter schools that serve about 15,000 students a year in communities with persistently low achieving schools.

“Our hope is these operators will begin to transform the opportunities for students and families in these high-needs communities,’’ Cobb said. “We have to provide opportunities for them to succeed.’’

The process, though, hasn’t been without some tension, with some established charter networks in Florida complaining they have been left out.

“We’ve got amazing schools, but many of the operators don’t want to expand” to specific neighborhoods in need, said Adam Miller, director of Florida’s school choice office. “They’re perfectly content doing the amazing work their doing’’ and staying put.

The fund is open to any qualified operators willing to start or expand a school in those areas, Cobb said.

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Florida schools roundup: Ed reform, Common Core, budget surplus & more

School reform: Rick Hess looks at Florida’s Senate Bill 736 and overhauling teacher evaluations and concludes that after all of the effort and political capital expended to enact the program, it didn’t make much difference.

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core: State Rep. Karen Castor Dentel weighs in on the controversy, calling for Florida to hit the pause button on testing while transitioning to the new benchmarks. The Buzz. South Florida’s business community is split on the issue of new standards. Sun Sentinel. Hernando County Superintendent Lori Romano reaffirms her district’s support for a quality education in the wake of Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to withdraw from PARCC. Tampa Bay Times.

College/Career prep: The Palm Beach County School District partners with Palm Beach State College to create a website that helps students with planning. Sun Sentinel.

School choice: Miami-Dade and Broward school boards win $7.5 million in the first year of a three-year program to expand school choice options in science, technology and engineering. Miami Herald.

Conduct: The Pasco County School District determines a principal tripped when he ran into a student during a school fight. The Tampa Tribune. Tampa Bay Times columnist Sue Carlton gives squabbling Hillsborough school officials an assignment:  Please, quit your bickering; deal with personalities you do not like; and find a way to make it work.

Punishment: Students at some Pasco County schools who have shown up in too-short shorts or sleeveless shirts have found themselves forced to wear neon “Out of Dress Code” T-shirts. Tampa Bay Times.

Reaching out: A Pasco County elementary school reaches out to needy students and their families with a program that helps provide food and clothing. Tampa Bay Times.

Late bell: House Bill 67 requires all public high schools to start no earlier than 8 a.m. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Budget surplus: An estimated $840 million budget surplus has Gov. Rick Scott talking about handing out tax breaks, but Rep. Karen Castor Dentel says any surplus should go to fund education. Florida Current.



Next week: A live chat about Florida ed reform with Sen. John Legg

Sen. John Legg

Sen. John Legg

If Florida’s education system was a big airport runway, John Legg would be one of its top air traffic controllers.

Legg is the influential state senator who chairs the Senate Education Committee. Last year, in noting how many sweeping changes to Florida’s education system were happening all at once, he likened the policy changes to jumbo jets.

“We’ve got to make sure all these big planes land in the right order and in the right way,” he said. If not, “all the planes can kind of crash in on themselves.”

Are the planes landing safely? Legg, R-Lutz, will join us next week for a live chat to talk about it. And if you have a question for him, by all means join us and/or send it over.

Plane analogies aside, there’s no doubt these are especially challenging times for Florida education reform. Common Core is under fire. Key pieces of the accountability system need a tune-up. And ever-growing parental demand for charter schools, tax credit scholarships and other school choice options continues to create friction with districts, lawmakers, teacher unions and you name it.

Few know the shifting landscape better than Legg. Continue Reading →


The only chart you need to see about DOJ’s anti-voucher suit in Louisiana

The U.S. Department of Justice says it filed suit against the voucher program in Louisiana because it was concerned about potential resegregation in some school districts. But a look at the racial makeup of schools in one of those districts shows the absurdity of the department’s case.

The DOJ complaint highlights a few districts to show that in some cases, vouchers were causing more segregation. For example, the DOJ writes:

“In 2011-2012 Celilia (sic) Primary School in St. Martin Parish School District enrolled a student body that was 30.1 percent black, 16.4 percentage points lower than the black composition of St Martin Parish School District as a whole. In 2012-2013 Celilia (sic) lost six black students as a result of the voucher program, thereby increasing the difference between the school’s black student percentage from the district’s and reinforcing the school’s racial identity as a white school in a predominantly black school district.”

Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute has done a good job showing the movement of black and white students in these districts, due to vouchers, changes the racial makeup about 1 percentage point. That is hardly a major change. Indeed, as Jason points out, six black students leaving with vouchers out of more than 200 black students probably won’t be noticed. However, this movement is in the opposite direction desired by the DOJ. The racial makeup is moving away from the district average.

Clearly a 1 percentage point change is where the department draws its line in the sand. So with that, I present to you the only graph you need to see regarding the DOJ suit. It shows the percentage of black students attending each of the St. Martin Parish elementary schools:StMartin

Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Common Core, SAT scores, teacher raises & more

Common Core: Gov. Rick Scott should have stood up and said that Florida won’t back away from Common Core because it’s the right thing for students, writes Beth Kassab for the Orlando Sentinel. The push is on from opponents aiming to halt Florida’s implementation of the new standards. Ledger Media Group. Jeb Bush has dismissed those who protest Common Core’s increasing federalization of local control over schools as conspiracy-mongers, writes Michelle Malkin. Despite Scott’s efforts to assuage concerns, opposition to the new education standards isn’t dying down. Miami Herald.

florida-roundup-logoEd chief: StateImpact Florida talks to former Florida education commissioners about the pressures of serving as the state’s top schools chief.

SATs: Florida’s students continue to perform below the national average on the SAT college entrance exam, mirroring results from the ACT test. Orlando Sentinel.

Race To The Top: Manatee County schools is hoping to win a $28.7 million grant through Race to The Top to expand the Manatee Technical Institute and add more STEM to elementary schools. Bradenton Herald.

Late enrollments: In Orange County, public-school enrollment has jumped by more than 18,000 since the first day of school, putting new students instantly behind in academics. Orlando Sentinel.

Charter schools: Three of six charter school applicants are still vying for approval to open schools in the 2014-15 school year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Pay raises: Escambia County school leaders and union officials agree to a possible 4.92 percent raise for teachers, and a 4.2 percent raise for support personnel. Pensacola News-Journal. Continue Reading →


An attempt at common ground between districts, charter schools

Can charter schools and districts really work together?

Squabbles about funding and facilities might make one wonder. But the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools believes charters and districts can get along – and must.florida consortium

That’s why the Fort Lauderdale-based consortium, which represents more than 400 charter schools across the state, has organized the first statewide task force of charter school and district leaders. The group meets Monday.

The idea is to get the two sides talking less about competing against one another and more about their common ground for kids. The consortium also hopes to identify school districts where charter school operators enjoy “productive, cooperative relationships,’’ and figure out how they got there.

Robert Haag

Robert Haag

“We wanted to create an opportunity for districts and charter schools to begin having an honest and respectful dialog, and a place where we could exchange constructive ideas and provide direction as to how to improve relationships between an authorizer and a charter school,’’ the consortium’s president, Robert Haag, said in a prepared statement.

“Districts and charter schools are often perceived as enemies but nothing could be further from the truth,’’ said Haag, who also serves as superintendent of Charter Schools of Excellence in Broward County. “We are allies in the pursuit of educational excellence.’’

In Florida, school districts serve as charter school authorizers – another source of tension between the two sectors. Last school year, 578 charter schools served more than 203,000 students in Florida, up from 516 during the prior year.

State Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, and the Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie are co-chairing the new group. For more information, call (954) 463-9595.



Florida schools roundup: Rick Scott, Common Core, dual enrollment & more

Rick Scott: The governor struggles to explain to reporters how PARCC is a federal intrusion, and his support of Common Core remains unclear. The Buzz. The Republican Party of Sarasota County leader calls Scott’s move to withdraw Florida from the consortium a conservative victory in education. The Buzz. At last month’s Education Summit, participants had a chance to sign off on a version of Scott’s executive order condemning PARCC and declined. StateImpact Florida. Scott defends his decision to withdraw from PARCC , while a state lawmaker files a bill addressing a common concern about the standards. News Service of Florida.

florida-roundup-logoCommon Core: During a heated discussion about the new standards, Brevard school board member Amy Kneessy calls 911 and tells the operator: “I’m getting scared, so I need somebody here.” Florida Today. Lee County’s assistant superintendent during a workshop on Common Core: “Our curriculum is under local control. Those are our choices and stay here in our district for decisions.” Fort Myers News-Press.

Funding: The growth in the number of children attending Florida public schools appears to be leveling off, meaning if lawmakers want to continue per student funding at the current level they will have to boost spending by at least an additional $113 million. Florida Current.

Career-ready: A two-year culinary program hopes to attract Broward County high school students to create a pipeline of future hospitality workers. Sun Sentinel.

Dual enrollment: Indian River State College offers St. Lucie and Indian River school districts a “one-year cost sharing program” to help comply with a new law that requires them to pay tuition for high school students taking courses at area colleges. TC Palm.

Inequality: A Broward County diversity committee finds the district’s public schools are still divided between the haves and the have nots. Miami Herald.

Raises: Polk County bus drivers, cafeteria staff and other blue-collar workers will see a slight pay increase and their health insurance covered. The Ledger. Pinellas County teachers will receive a 5.6 percent raise, on average, while other groups will get 5 percent raises. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter schools: The Florida House education committee expects to finalize a standard contract for school districts and charter schools during the 2014 legislative session. Florida Current. The proposed Polk Maritime Academy is the only one of four charter applicants received favorably by Polk County’s Charter Review Committee. The Ledger.

No smoking: Starting next school year, the Broward district wants to ban the use of tobacco-related products at bus depots, athletic fields, parking lots and off-campus school-sponsored events. Sun Sentinel.

Head Start: Palm Beach County commissioners agree to hand off operation of the Head Start preschool program for poor children to Lutheran Services of Florida. Sun Sentinel.

Learning issues: With 36,000 children identified as having special needs or disabilities in Miami Dade Public Schools, thousands of parents are seeking or maintaining formal accommodations to meet children’s needs. Miami Herald.

Superintendents: Polk County’s Kathryn LeRoy tells the school board she’s on schedule with her 100-day plan. The Ledger. Despite critics, Hillsborough’s superintendent gets a contract extension. Tampa Bay Times. More from The Tampa Tribune.

Instruction: The Polk County School Board agrees to improve instruction for juveniles at the county jail in response to complaints from a nonprofit civil rights group. The Ledger.

Conduct: A Hernando County exceptional student education teacher is arrested for having sex with a 16-year-old student. The Tampa Tribune. A civil trial is set for November to sort out allegations of negligence lodged by the parents of a former Morningside Elementary student who says she was molested in 2008 by a reading mentor. TC Palm.


Rick Scott defends decision to abandon tests tied to Common Core

From the News Service of Florida:

Gov. Rick Scott defended his decision to withdraw from tests linked to setting up a national set of educational standards, while a state lawmaker filed a bill addressing a common concern about the standards.

In his first public comments on the move, Scott on Tuesday explained why he ordered the Department of Education to stop managing the financial affairs of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, of PARCC, which is developing the tests.

It was seen as a first step toward Florida trying to develop its own tests to measure student learning gains under the “Common Core” standards that Florida and almost four dozen other states have agreed to use.

Scott maintained his stance that using PARCC would allow the federal government to meddle in the state’s schools.

“If you look at it, it’s their entry point into having more involvement in our education system. … I want to continue that focus on high standards, but we don’t need the federal government intruding in our lives,” Scott told reporters.

When pressed, Scott did not say specifically how he thought tests developed through a state-led initiative could be an instrument of federal intrusion, or cite an example of federal intrusion through PARCC. The group has received a $186 million federal grant for its work on the tests, but the state Department of Education has issued statements dismissing as a myth the idea of PARCC being used for federal control of education.

“The federal government does not have a hand in development of the aligned assessments pertaining to CCSS,” according to an undated document on the agency’s website. “There are two state consortia responsible for developing Common Core aligned assessments as well as some states that have developed their own assessment programs, such as Kentucky and New York.”

The document is entitled, “Demystifying the Movement: Answers to Common Myths about the Common Core State Standards.”

During his press conference Tuesday, Scott also appeared to hedge when asked whether his logic could be used to get rid of the Common Core standards themselves. Continue Reading →