Dispelling distortions about Florida’s school choice scholarship bill

FTC cap growth

A House committee this morning released a new version of a bill that would expand Tax Credit Scholarships for low-income children in Florida and, given some of the outsized claims about its impact, it’s worth reviewing the bill’s actual targets for growth.

The truth is, there is less there than meets the eye.

The scholarship program has a cap that limits the tax credits and, by extension, the number of disadvantaged students who can be served. And the degree to which the bill actually increases that cap has become something of a rhetorical sport for opponents and, in some cases, even the media.

This year, 59,765 students are using the school choice scholarship in 1,425 private schools. Various accounts have described the bill as doubling that enrollment, with one today suggesting the bill would add 50,000 new students. In committee, one state representative dismissed it as “too much, too fast.” A Gainesville Sun column even branded it as “the largest expansion of private religious school vouchers in state history,” adding, “they’re sticking taxpayers with the $2 billion dollar tab.”

Not even close.

Given that I am the policy director of the nonprofit, Step Up For Students, that supports this expansion (and co-hosts this blog), readers are entitled to take anything I say with some measure of skepticism. But here is the simple truth: The bill increases the current cap by $30 million, which represents a growth of 8.3 percent in the first year and 3.5 percent in the fifth year. It would allow for an additional 5,745 students in the fall, a number that would actually shrink over the five years because the $30 million is constant. Continue Reading →

Jalen Rose: More school choice is the remedy for educational ‘madness’



Editor’s note: This guest post was written by Jalen Rose, the ESPN analyst, former NBA player, charter school founder and now educational choice ambassador for the American Federation for Children.

It’s that time of year again when basketball and brackets take center stage. This March Madness, we’ll be pulling for our favorite teams and celebrating the players for their hard work and commitment – both on and off the court. And, while we may have differences in our final bracket picks, we know one thing is certain: many of the players we’ll be cheering for are student athletes who were given the opportunity to earn a quality education based on their athletic talents.

Many of these student athletes come from challenged backgrounds – not much different than my own. As many know, I grew up in Detroit, but thankfully, I was both afforded opportunities to attend a great college as a result of my basketball talents.

While a select few are able to capitalize on their individual athletic skills, for far too many students that simply is not an option. Sadly, in the United States, too many children do not have these same opportunities due to gaps in their educational experience that lead to a lack of fundamental knowledge and skills – those same skills that are necessary to be accepted into college and to succeed in life.

That’s why as we focus our attention on March Madness, I  hope to shed a light on the true “madness” in this country – the fact that every 26 seconds a student drops out of school.

Far too many of our minority students are not receiving the education they deserve because for many, the idea of attending a quality school is simply unattainable. I believe that this is unacceptable.

To put it into perspective, an estimated 366,369 kids will drop out of high school while we watch the 63 games throughout the tournament.

This is madness.

Students in our country deserve more educational options. They deserve access to best school for their needs, no matter their family’s income, and no matter their race. I am committed to empowering parents with the ability to choose the very best school for their child. Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, school choice, state board and more

Tax credit scholarships. The legislation revamping the program could see a reversal of fortune – and get combined with a separate school-choice proposal. Times/Herald.


Capital funding. Both charter schools and traditional public schools stand to benefit from spending plans in the Legislature. Orlando Sentinel. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

State board. Gov. Rick Scott appoints an Orlando businesswoman to fill the latest vacancy on the Board of Education. Gradebook.

Funding. The overwhelming approval of a tax renewal shows school funding is important to voters, Jeremy Wallace writes for the Herald-Tribune.

Improvement. Blogger Mike Thomas, of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, responds to some of the fact-checks of the group’s ad campaign touting Florida’s progress in education. EdFly. Background from StateImpact.

School choice. Seats are still open for some Pinellas County programs. Gradebook.

Student Safety. The Hillsborough School Board is set to vote on a planned settlement for the family of a student with a neuromuscular disorder, who stopped breathing during a bus ride. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune.

Transportation. Hernando County schools officials prepare to revamp their bussing plans. Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough school board candidates make transportation an issue. Tampa Tribune.

Biometrics. The Senate approves a ban on data collection that makes some accommodations for school districts. Florida CurrentGradebook.

Special guests. Jacksonville elementary schools students get lessons in life, and rap, from a civil rights activist. Florida Times-Union.

 Politics. A Tampa high school becomes the latest backdrop for Gov. Rick Scott’s crusade for lower college tuition. Tampa Bay Times.

Florida House could expand access to extra-curricular activities for students in choice programs

The full Florida House is set to vote on a bill that would give private-school, virtual-school and charter-school students more access to extra-curricular activities at nearby public schools.

The bipartisan legislation has passed unanimously through three committees, and it seemed to be cruising toward a final vote without controversy. That changed on Wednesday, as the bill’s supporters faced a series of tough questions from Democrats when it was introduced on the House floor.

HB 533 would broaden Florida’s so-called “Tebow Law” that allows students in home education and other choice programs to compete on sports teams at nearby public schools. It would clarify that the rule also applies to other extracurricular activities, like drama or debate clubs.

It would also allow students – including those who attend traditional public schools – to participate in those activities at other schools in their district if their zoned school does not offer them.

Bill sponsor Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, said the bill would ensure students have access to extracurricular activities as growing numbers of them choose options beyond their zoned schools.

“Students and parents have a lot of choices to make, and those schools are not bound by attendance zones, so why are we being hypocritical, and trying to keep these students out, from participating in athletics and activities?” he asked his colleagues, responding to a litany of questions from Democrats on the House floor.

“This concept bothers me a great deal,” said Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood. Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, asked if the bill would allow schools to “quote-unquote recruit” students to build powerhouse programs in sports or other competitions.

Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, warned about a potential “chaos factor.” Continue Reading →

Private school in Haiti gets help from U.S. charter school company

Charter Schools USA is one of the nation’s largest for-profit charter school management companies, with 58 schools in seven states. But the Florida-based organization also has a charitable arm that’s helping a hardscrabble private school in Haiti.

Students of the Genecoit School of Excellence in Haiti may have a new school building by the end of this year. Charter Schools USA, through its charitable arm, is raising money to help build the private, tuition-free school.  PHOTO: Charter Schools USA

Students of the Genecoit School of Excellence in Haiti may have a new school building by the end of this year. Charter Schools USA, through its charitable arm, is raising money to help build the private, tuition-free school. PHOTO: Charter Schools USA

The Giving Tree Foundation has pledged to raise $250,000 to build a new tuition-free school in Francois, a remote mountain village about an hour and a half outside of the capital of Port-au-Prince. In addition, Charter Schools USA founder and chief executive officer Jonathan Hage has offered to match the funds.

The new school is slated to open in the fall.

A half-a-million dollars will go a long way in a village where few residents have access to running water and electricity, said Richard Page, vice president of development for CSUSA. Page traveled to Haiti in December with his wife and their two daughters to see the school and help deliver 700 Christmas presents to the local children. For many, it was the first Christmas gift they had ever received.

For now, the Genecoit School of Excellence is in a one-room, dilapidated building. It employs about a dozen teachers and serves 119 students in K-6. There are no laptops or Smart Boards, or even enough books.

“The conditions are so far from what we as Americans could ever imagine,’’ said Page, whose recent trip was documented on CSUSA’s Facebook page. “Yet, the children are bubbly, excited and happy. They put on a fashion show for us. They were on fire for life.’’

Continue Reading →

Florida Roundup: Open enrollment, charter schools, magnet schools and more.

Open enrollment. Parents debate Duval County’s open enrollment proposal at community meetings in Jacksonville. Florida Times-Union.

florida-roundup-logoCharter Schools. A Senate panel scales back legislation aimed at easing their expansion. News Service of Florida. Gradebook. State Sen. Dwight Bullard pans charters on MSNBC’s Ed Show.

Magnet schools. Demand for new Pinellas County programs is high. Tampa Tribune.

Cultural exchange. Students at a Hernando County K-8 science academy embark on a cultural exchange with Chinese middle schoolers. Tampa Bay Times.

Funding. Sarasota voters overwhelmingly back the renewal of a tax to fund schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Testing. The switch to computerized grading of student essays could eventually eliminate the need for statewide, standardized writing tests. StateImpact.

Class Size. Lake County avoids state fines for violating the caps. Orlando Sentinel. A Sentinel columnist pans the move. Florida Tax Watch calls for an overhaul of class-size rules. Gradebook.

Unions. Pasco County school employees file a complaint with their school district. Tampa Bay Times.

Special Needs. Hillsborough County looks for ways to accommodate special needs students on their bus rides. Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Tribune.

Florida lawmakers look for compromises on charter school legislation

The controversy surrounding a charter school bill began to fade on Tuesday, as a Senate panel stripped away its controversial provisions.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

The original bill was intended to speed up charter schools’ contract negotiations with school districts, give them more access to district-owned buildings and lure more high-profile charter networks from outside the state.

Those provisions have won support from Republicans and charter school supporters, but drawn criticism from school districts and Democrats during hearings in the House.

The Senate removed them from the bill during its first hearing this morning.

The amendment approved by the Senate Education Committee leaves a five-page bill with some new provisions. Now, the measure would bar charter schools from suspending or dismissing students unless they commit specific violations spelled out in the school’s code of conduct, and require administrative law judges to resolve charter contract disputes within 30 days.

Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, cast the lone vote against the re-written bill. Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, supported the measure. He has pushed for a separate proposal aimed at preventing charter schools from withdrawing students against their will.

Meanwhile, the bill continued to advance in the House in its original form. Its sponsor, Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, said his goal is to “streamline” the opening of new charter schools, but he also hinted at plans to look for common ground with school districts and other groups that opposed the measure.

One contentious part of HB 7083 would require districts to make under-used buildings available to charter schools. House staff found that right now, there are 13 charter schools operating in school-district-owned facilities around the state, and eight of them either don’t pay rent or use them for a “nominal charge.” But they noted that in some cases, buildings have stood vacant, but have not been made available to charter schools looking for space.

Diaz told the House Education Appropriations panel that he is working on tweaks that would clarify that school boards would not have to offer up buildings they are already putting to good use, and set terms for “fair-market value payments” for charter schools that lease district facilities.

He also said he planned to re-work provisions that would allow national charter school chains to receive “high-performing” status from the state.

Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Charter schools, tax-credit scholarships, open enrollment and more

Charter schools. Legislation is on the move. Palm Beach Post. Florida Current.

florida-roundup-logoTax-credit scholarships. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich opposes the program, while primary favorite Charlie Crist does not take a firm stance on legislation that would expand it. Sunshine State News. Politico mentions Florida’s program in a broadside about public money going to religious schools. Responses from Eduwonk and the National Review.

Open enrollment. The move could give Duval schools officials more breathing room under state class-size rules. Florida Times-Union.

School grades. An overhaul heads to the House floor. News Service of Florida. Gradebook.

Testing. New end-of-course exam requirements prompt Orange County schools officials to cut electives. Orlando Sentinel. Common Core opponents’ claims rate Half True. PolitiFact.

Parent involvement. Members of Pinellas County’s “parent leadership cadre” are happy with their district. Gradebook.

Labor news. Pinellas County Schools prepares to cut teacher positions. Gradebook. Walton County teachers resume pay negotiations. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Student activities. It’s hard work becoming a spelling bee champion. Florida Today. Tallahassee’s Chiles High School wins its second-straight Brain Bowl title. Tallahassee Democrat.