Marco Rubio’s school choice bill stuck in committee

Nine months ago, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., shined a national spotlight on school choice by introducing a bill to create a federal tax credit scholarship program for low-income families. Since then, the Educational Opportunities Act has languished in its first committee.

Sen. Rubio

Sen. Rubio

A spokeswoman for Rubio’s office in Washington, D.C., declined to comment on what that might mean or where the proposal, which hasn’t garnered any additional sponsors, is headed.

Its predicament isn’t unexpected.

Democrats are the majority party in the U.S. Senate, and a Democrat chairs the Senate Finance Committee, where the bill was referred in February. And while Democrats are increasingly embracing school choice, including private school vouchers and tax credit scholarships, it remains politically sensitive for many of them.

Rubio’s bill, his first in Congress, creates a federal corporate and individual tax credit, and allows contributions to go to a scholarship granting organization. Dollars are distributed to needy families, who use the money to help pay for private school tuition or expenses. The proposal mirrors scholarship programs that exist in 11 states, including the nation’s largest in Florida, which serves about 60,000 students. (Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that co-hosts this blog, administers the Florida program).

The House companion to Rubio’s bill may get more traction.

Introduced in March by U.S. House Rep. Todd Rokita, a Republican from Indiana, it was referred that month to the Ways and Means Committee, of which Rokita is a member. In July, it was referred to the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education,  which Rokita chairs. It has nine sponsors, all Republicans.

Rokita’s office did not respond to requests for comment. But in a prepared statement from earlier this year, Rokita offered his reasons for introducing the legislation: “For too long, bureaucrats and power brokers in Washington, D.C., have kept millions of families from accessing a full range of education options,’’ he said. “The hardest-hit victims have been those trapped in failing school systems who don’t have the means to choose another school. This bill returns power to where it belongs – parents and families – and gives them a ladder of opportunity.’’


Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: school choice critics, campers and elections

MrGibbonsReportCardEd Hughes – Madison (Wis.) School Board president

There is no end to the strange arguments made to oppose school choice and Ed Hughes, president of the school board in Madison, Wis. has come up with a new one about vouchers.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Hughes weighed in against vouchers by saying, “The issue is whether the state should be subsidizing a private school. We all pay our property taxes for the full range of services the state provides. If I don’t like a state campground, I can’t ask taxpayers to pay for me to stay at Jellystone Park.”


Public education, it’s just like… camping?

School choice opponents often argue how unique education is, which is why they often say it can’t be compared with anything else (like supermarkets or any other businesses for that matter). So it’s interesting to see, in this case, public education compared with public campgrounds.

The problem is, no one is forced to attend a state park or campground based on their zip code. We all get state park choice.

For what it’s worth, the private Jellystone Park outside Madison actually looks like a lot more fun (putt-putt golf and a swimming pool!) than some of the state parks in the area …

Grade: Needs Improvement


Douglas County and Denver school boards:

There’s progress on the education front in Colorado.

Education reformers in both Douglas County and Denver won re-election in local school board races this month. Board members in Douglas County started the nation’s first district-wide private voucher program and faced a tight race against opponents who planned to roll back school choice. Reformers in Denver won more easily.

Critics contend the reformers were supported by “big money” from out of state, but to be fair, the National Educators Association and its affiliates were putting their own “big money” elsewhere (including $4 million into a statewide ballot initiative to raise taxes and increase per-pupil spending).

Congrats to the reformers.

Grade: Satisfactory


Gary Rubinstein – Teach For Us

Over at the Teach For Us blog, Gary Rubinstein attacked the idea of the “D.C. NAEP Miracle,” as he called it, after the latest NAEP results were released last week.

Rubinstein posted a chart, created by researcher Matthew Ladner, that showed the top three states in NAEP gains to be big school choice and education reform areas (D.C., Indiana and Tennessee). Ladner shows the biggest gains came from states implementing several different education reforms, including A-F school grades, teacher evaluations, rigorous standards and charter schools.

To attempt to prove Ladner wrong, Rubinstein put the chart “into context.” He examines cumulative scores for students overall (adding up the point totals for the four core NAEP tests), cumulative scores for low-income students, and then the achievement gap between “haves” and “have-nots.”

Cumulative scores show states like Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Washington, Hawaii and Wyoming at the top, whereas D.C., Indiana, and Tennessee have mixed results (Indiana doing well, Tennessee average and D.C. at the bottom).

But, Rubinstein doesn’t make a single chart looking at gains – an impressive feat given his entire premise is education reform doesn’t improve education. It’s as if he believes education reform must immediately result in states performing No. 1 overall.

Grade: Needs Improvement


Florida schools roundup: Charters, magnet schools, digital learning & more

Charter schools: The Schools of McKeel Academy board takes no formal action against the charter’s superintendent following an investigation into employee grievances. The Ledger.

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools: Duval County Public Schools strikes out on a $12 million federal grant that would have helped create five new magnet schools. Part of the reason was due to the district’s desire to create two single gender schools. Florida Times-Union. A Lee County high school teams up with Chico’s to create the Cambridge AICE Art and Design program. Fort Myers News-Press.

Digital learning: The first phase of a $63 million rollout of digital equipment in Miami-Dade schools is pushed back. Miami Herald. Pinellas County School Board members vote unanimously to hire a new technology chief and change the job’s qualifications simultaneously, without any discussion. The Tampa Tribune.

Fun and math: A baseball themed math game endorsed by Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. could be a new teaching tool in Manatee County Schools. Bradenton Herald.

School safety: The Polk County Sheriff’s Office partners with the school district, assigning a captain to oversee the Safe Schools program. The Ledger.

Pay raises: Collier County school support employees are upset about proposed raises that are less than what teachers will receive. Naples Daily News.

Start times: High school start times in Okaloosa County likely won’t change anytime soon. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Deaths: Lou Eassa, a former Palm Beach County School Board member from 1978 to 1986, dies during a cruise to Panama. He was 74. Palm Beach Post.


The high school choice that Michelle Obama made

Michelle-ObamaPresident Obama may need a dose of his wife’s popularity at the moment, but don’t discount the importance of her visit to some fortunate sophomores at Bell Multicultural High School in D.C. on Tuesday. This is a first lady from a tough part of Chicago who beat the odds to Princeton University, to Harvard Law School, and to corporate executive offices. And her high school choice, to which she spoke, is worth underscoring.

“Even though my parents didn’t have a lot of money, they never went to college themselves, they had an unwavering belief in the power of education,” Mrs. Obama told the students. “… So when it came time for me to go to high school, they encouraged me to enroll in one of the best schools in Chicago. … My school was way across the other side of the city from where I lived. So at 6 a.m. every morning, I had to get on a city bus and ride for an hour, sometimes more, just to get to school. And I was willing to do that because I was willing to do whatever it took for me to go to college.”

The school was Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, opened in 1975 as Chicago’s first public magnet school.  It was ranked this year by Newsweek as fifth-best high school in the Midwest. A fourth of the students are black, two-thirds are minority, and just under 4-in-10 are on free or reduced-price lunch. The academics speak to excellence: 82 percent of students take Advanced Placement classes with an 80 percent pass rate; the average ACT score last year was 27.1, with four students scoring a perfect 36; every single one of its 2012 graduates was accepted into a four-year college.

While much has been made about the private school choice the Obamas made for their daughters in D.C., Mrs. Obama’s own choice for high school is at least as relevant. She wanted a different future for herself at a time when she says some of her own teachers were telling her that Princeton was an unrealistic dream. So she chose a public school outside her neighborhood that she saw as worth the hour bus ride each way. This was the late 1970s, don’t forget, at a time when children in American public education had precious few options. But Michelle Obama found one, and it worked for her.

Forget the political backdrop here. Her message, particularly to students of color, is compelling.


Survey: Parents pick private schools based on learning environment, not test scores

When it comes to reasons why parents move from public to private schools, standardized test scores are nowhere near the top of the list, but concerns about classroom discipline and atmosphere are, according to a new report from the Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice.

Based on a survey of 754 parents of tax credit scholarship students in Georgia, “More Than Scores” finds the five top reasons are better discipline, better learning environment, smaller class sizes, improved safety and more individual attention. When asked the single most important reason for choosing a private school, 28.2 percent of parents said a “better education.” In second place, 28.1 percent said a “religious education.”

No parents chose “higher test scores” as their top reason. Only 4.2 percent listed the reason in their Top 3 and just 10.2 percent listed it in their Top 5.

When given a list of 21 possible reasons why they chose a private school, parents most often chose “better learning environment” (85.1 percent). “Religious education” came in at No. 5 (64.1 percent). “Higher standardized test scores” came in at No. 15 (34.6 percent).

The relatively low regard for test scores led the authors to conclude that “public officials should resist the temptation to impose national or state standards and testing on private schools or demand that private schools publish ‘report cards’ emphasizing test score performance.”

Full disclosure: I’m also a research fellow for the Friedman Foundation.

Other coverage: Rick Hess at the American Enterprise Institute weighs in here. The report’s authors weigh in at Jay P. Greene’s Blog here.




Florida schools roundup: Magnet schools, charters, teacher evals & more

Magnet schools: Seminole Ridge High School Construction Academy students build a modular home for Habitat for Humanity of Palm Beach County – turning in their assignment five months ahead of schedule. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: The Pinellas County School Board votes unanimously to approve an application for the district’s first Montessori charter school, which would serve about 200 students. Tampa Bay Times. More from The Tampa Tribune.

Teacher evals: A panel of appellate judges orders the state Department of Education to release controversial teacher performance data. The Buzz. More from the News Service of Florida and Florida Times-Union. Nearly 68 percent of Seminole County teachers earned top-notch, “highly effective” evaluations last year compared to fewer than 7 percent in Orange County. Orlando Sentinel. If the purpose of revamping teacher evaluation is to improve teaching and learning, then it’s worth it for states and school districts to take time to get it right, writes Laura Bornfreund for the Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher pay: Duval County teachers and other school workers will receive about $18.9 million in bonuses. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher of the year: Thirty-three Santa Rosa County teachers are up for the title of the district’s Teacher of the Year. Pensacola News-Journal.

Conduct: The state has disciplined eight area teachers and former teachers for incidents that allegedly happened both inside and outside their classrooms. Sun Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Faith leaders must mobilize to stem crisis with faith-based schools

Hanley (left) and Aguirre

Hanley (left) and Aguirre

Bad public policy has exacerbated the crisis with faith-based schools in America’s inner-cities, and it’s likely to get worse unless religious leaders, parents and the schools themselves get better at raising awareness about the value of such schools and advocating for expanded school choice, two school choice leaders said Tuesday.

“Faith-based education is under attack on so many levels from the government and others with an anti-faith agenda,” said Robert Aguirre, who chairs the new, national Commission on Faith-based Schools. “It is easy to see the result and the implication of such a crisis. It is much harder to explain the lack of a national outcry.”

“If the organizations who operate faith-based schools don’t get to work to organize their parents/families,” Aguirre continued, “things will get much worse, much quicker, over the next 25 years than they have over the past 25!”

Aguirre’s comments came during a live, written chat on redefinED that also featured Peter Hanley, executive director of the American Center for School Choice. The center, which co-hosts the blog, formed the commission last year to raise awareness about the plight of faith-based schools and spur action towards their revival. The commission’s first leadership summit is set for next week in New York City.

Wrote Hanley during the chat: “The Commission was formed to challenge the complacency that closing religious schools, especially in urban areas where there is little educational choice and where these schools have served communities for years, is just a result of natural evolution rather than bad public policy. We want to create a national consensus that these schools are a national asset that millions of American families value and should be able to access as part of our educational system.”

Aguirre and Hanley also:

  • Stressed the need to accentuate the moral case for school choice over the financial benefits.
  • Said we should stop regarding public and private schools as part of an either/or system.
  • Called it “especially disappointing” the Obama Administration has not been more supportive of faith-based schools, given their track record with traditionally underperforming students.

You can read the entirety of the chat through the transcript below.


Florida schools roundup: Private schools, charters, district choices & more

Private schools: Pinellas County school leaders want private schools that accept tax credit scholarships to participate in Florida’s accountability system and use certified teachers. They also want the new education funding formula to go back to the way it was last year. Tampa Bay Times. St. Anthony Catholic School in Pasco plans a $3 million expansion. The Tampa Tribune. A Boca Raton Catholic schoolteacher is tapped to teach a professional development course to teachers all over the world. Sun Sentinel.

florida roundup logoCharter schools: A new Palm Beach County charter school is planned for a county “learning cluster” among two biotech giants and a state university and community college. Sun Sentinel. An independent investigation finds complaints about McKeel charter schools’ superintendent are generally valid. The Ledger.

District teachers: New research shows dozens of struggling Miami-Dade schools benefited in recent years from the forced transfers of hundreds of teachers. Miami Herald.  The Pinellas County school district still needs to hire about 300 more substitute teachers this school year. The Tampa Tribune.

New tracks: A handful of niche programs at Duval County high schools are axed to make room for new programs in culinary arts, information technology and health sciences. Florida Times-Union.

Achievement gap: The Hillsborough County School Board plans to discuss the disparities in achievement and discipline between white and minority students. Tampa Bay Times.

School arrests: Broward County’s superintendent says new procedures limiting the number of campus arrests are a common- sense approach that will give students the benefit of the doubt. StateImpact Florida. Continue Reading →