redefinED roundup: Voucher proposals fall short in Texas and Tennessee, school choice rally in Florida & more

Tennessee: Gov. Bill Haslam, not pleased with Republican plans to create a broader voucher program, pulls the plug on his voucher proposal, limited to low-income children from low-performing schools (Associated Press). More from Nashville Public Radio and The Tennessean. The finger pointing begins (Chattanooga Times Free Press). New York Times takes a look at the Achievement School District, which has turned to charters as part of the solution to raise student achievement. A bill to create a statewide charter school authorizer clears a House committee (The Tennessean).

MondayRoundUp_whiteTexas: The House shoots down any attempts to create a voucher or tax credit scholarship program, with dozens of  Republicans joining Democrats in saying no (Dallas Morning News). More from the Houston Chronicle and Texas TribuneSchool supporters plan to press ahead with a proposal for tax credit scholarships (Dallas Morning News).

Alabama: Critics say the state’s new tax credit scholarship program will subsidize private schools built to resist desegregation (Birmingham News). Democratic legislative leaders say they’ll push for a repeal (Birmingham News).

Mississippi: Senate leaders agree to a watered-down charter schools bill to keep it alive (Jackson Clarion Ledger). House members pass a charter bill with no debate (Jackson Clarion Ledger). More from the Associated Press. Both sides later pass the same bill and send it to Gov. Phil Bryant (Education Week).

Florida: More than 1,000 rally for school choice at the Florida Capitol in the first event that brings together parents from magnet, charter, voucher, virtual and home-school sectors (redefinED). Catholic schools buck national trends, seeing the first enrollment growth in five years (redefinED). A parent trigger bill clears its first committee in the state Senate (Orlando Sentinel) and passes the House (Tampa Bay Times). A bill that would allow school districts to create charter-like “innovation schools” also gets okay from the Senate Education Committee (Associated Press). A bill to tighten accountability on charters but allow high-performing ones to grow faster passes the House (Orlando Sentinel). Continue Reading →


School choice debate isn’t all conflict

If you think the school choice debate in Florida is all us vs. them, maybe you’re not listening carefully enough. Here are three examples just from the past few days.

Sen. Montford: "We know that the vast majority of charter schools in the state have done a good job."

Sen. Montford: “We know that the vast majority of charter schools in the state have done a good job.”

At Monday’s Senate Education Committee meeting, Sen. Bill Montford, a Democrat who heads the state superintendents association, introduced a bill that would give school districts the freedom and flexibility to create charter-school-like “innovation schools.” Along the way, he said this:

“We know that the vast majority of our charter schools in the state have done a good job. Usually what you hear of is those who don’t. But that’s like any – in public school, you hear about the bad stories. But we’ve learned a lot over 15 years. The charter schools have set the pace, if you will, for a lot of innovations and creative efforts. And they’ve been able to do that because they’ve been allowed to be creative. They haven’t been burdened quite frankly with some of the state rules and statutes.”

The only member of the public to comment at the hearing was Jim Horne, a former education commissioner under Jeb Bush who now heads the Florida Charter School Alliance. Both the alliance and Associated Industries of Florida, for whom he lobbies, support the bill, he told the committee. Then he said this:

“This is sort of a great partnership where we can benefit from what we’ve learned. We know charters started 15 years ago to be innovative, free from some of the bureaucracy. And we think districts ought to have that same opportunity, to be able to innovate and be able to be creative outside of the bureaucracy and some of the regulations that we hear choke innovation.”

The bill passed unanimously. But neither Montford nor Horne’s comments made the papers, which is too bad. Their positions not only made sense, but cut against the stereotypes that dog both the “education establishment” and the “school choice crowd.” Beyond the political theater, there’s a lot of that going on.

Here’s another example. The Ledger reported Tuesday that the Polk County School District may convert an elementary school and a middle school in Lake Wales into a K-12 arts magnet. The two schools are the only ones in Lake Wales that are not part of that community’s charter school system. So how did the charter system respond? Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: parent trigger, charter schools, digital learning & more

Parent trigger. Parent trigger passes House 68-51, with seven Republicans voting no. Tampa Bay Times, Orlando Sentinel, Associated PressOrange County School Board Chair Bill Sublette paints a nightmare scenario against the parent trigger in this Orlando Sentinel op-ed.

florida roundup logoDigital learning. The House passes a bill to expand access to online classes, with some Democrats voting yes, reports the Tallahassee Democrat. More from SchoolZone.

Charter schools. The House passes a charter school bill that beefs up accountability and makes it easier for high-performing charters to expand, reports the Orlando Sentinel. A proposed Montessori charter school in Lake County asks for more time, for a third time, to answer questions about finances and other issues, reports SchoolZone. The Naples Daily News profiles the Marco Island Academy charter school.

Tutoring. A House committee adds a provision to a bill that would undo a requirement that districts spend a portion of Title I dollars on parent-selected, private tutors for low-income kids. The Buzz.

More school choice rally. Sunshine State News, WFSU. Continue Reading →


A smaller stack of Florida school choice bills still in the hopper

i'm just a billHalfway through this year’s Florida legislative session, here’s a brief look at the school choice related bills that are still moving. To compare to the bills at the beginning of the session, click here. Things are changing fast. Several bills, for instance, are up for a House vote today.

Career Academies:

CS/CS/SB 1076 by Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz. On Senate floor, on Special Order Calendar
April 4. Creates funding incentives to increase innovation in public school programs to better prepare students for future careers; provides for the development of industry certifications at the middle school level; requires financial literacy to be included in high school graduation requirements; revises the funding for industry certifications earned in high school and at postsecondary institutions; and requires the development of multiple pathways to meet high school graduation requirements.

Charter Schools:

The Senate Education Committee conducted a workshop March 18 to discuss the charter bills that were filed. The committee took input from the workshop and proposed a substitute for SB 1282, related to charter schools, during their next meeting April 1.

CS/SB 1282 by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. Committee Substitute favorable by Education Committee on April 1. Includes financial and accountability requirements for charter schools; prohibits a governing board under deteriorating financial condition, financial recovery plan, or corrective action plan from applying for a new charter school; requires a charter agreement to immediately terminate when the charter school closes; requires the use of standard charter and charter renewal contracts; clarifies that members of a charter school board may not be an employee of the charter school; prohibits a charter school that closes from spending more than $35,000 unless the sponsor approves in writing or previously approved.

CS/SB 1390 by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. Committee Substitute favorable by Education Committee on April 1. Includes a mechanism through which a school district may establish one innovation school within its district to enhance high academic achievement and accountability in exchange for flexibility and exemptions from specific statutes; exempts facilities leased by the district from ad valorem taxes; and provides that the class size calculation be changed to the school level for district schools or schools of choice.

CS/CS/HB 7009 by Choice and Innovation Subcommittee. On House floor, on 3rd reading. Provides for increased charter school accountability by prohibiting a charter school, upon termination of the charter, from expending more than $10,000 without prior written permission from the sponsor; requires the DOE to develop a proposed statewide standard charter contract by consulting with school districts and charter schools; and requires that a district board-owned facility that has previously been used for K-12 educational purposes be made available for a charter school’s use, with the charter school responsible for the costs to bring the facility into compliance with the Florida Building Code. Continue Reading →


Florida tax credit scholarships offer good model for Texas school “vouchers”

No essay titled the “Voucher Rabbit Hole” needs to be treated as though it were a search for academic truths, but Grand Prairie educator Jerry Burkett would better contribute to the current debate in Texas if he weren’t so fixated on Georgia.

To be sure, Georgia’s tax credit scholarship has been insufficiently accountable to taxpayers and has invited some abuses the Legislature took an important step toward fixing last week. But we should no more judge the fitness of all private scholarships based on the law in Georgia than we would judge the integrity of all public schools based on the cheating scandal in Atlanta.

In the same 2011 Southern Education Foundation report from which Dr. Burkett quoted so extensively, the foundation contrasted the practices it criticized in Georgia with a program directly to the south.

“The neighboring state of Florida,” the foundation wrote, “offers an example of a tax‐credit educational program that has evolved and improved over the last few years. As a public‐private venture, it has begun to require more effective measures for public accountability and educational performance from all entities and all private schools that take tax‐diverted funds to support student learning.”

Florida is now serving 51,000 low-income students with the largest tax credit scholarship program in the nation and, more importantly, offers an extensive public record on educational and financial impact as it completes its 11th year. Since I work for the nonprofit that oversees the scholarship and since Dr. Burkett mostly neglected it, let me offer some independent findings that could ease his fear of falling. (In Florida, we fear sinkholes instead of rabbit holes.)

First, we know the students who seek the scholarship are among the poorest and lowest-performing students in the state. The Florida law restricts the scholarship to students whose household income qualifies them for free or reduced-price lunch, which is 185 percent of poverty, and the average this year is only 6 percent above poverty. We also know through five years of state-contracted research that the students who choose the scholarship are the lowest performers from the public schools they leave behind. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: School choice rally, parent trigger, teacher evaluations & more

School choice rally: More than 1,000 turn out in Tallahassee from magnet, charter, voucher, virtual and other school choice sectors (redefinED).

Charter schools. The Broward school district’s former construction chief, forced to resign, now works for Charter Schools USA. Miami Herald.

florida roundup logoSchool rezoning. Boynton Beach version. South Florida Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post.

Teacher conduct. Though criminal charges were dropped, a Palm Beach County band director is suspended for 10 days without pay for allegedly using band funds to bring relatives on a trip to Paris. South Florida Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post.

Teacher evaluations. Orlando Sentinel’s Beth Kassab: “The state’s system for evaluating teachers is nonsense.” Continue Reading →


More than 1,000 rally for school choice in Florida

More than 1,000 school choice supporters from across Florida rallied at the Capitol in Tallahassee Wednesday, in an event that for the first time represented just about every school choice sector.

The parents and students came from magnet schools, career academies, virtual schools, charter schools, home schools and private schools that accept vouchers and tax credit scholarships.

Among their messages: Options matter.

“If your child was in the same situation and he’s not progressing, you have to do what you have to do,” said Eboni Tucker-Smith, who used a McKay voucher to put her son Daquan in an Orlando private school after he struggled in public school. “Now he’s doing great. He started opening up, singing. It brought tears to me.”

“It’s working,” she continued about school choice. “Leave it alone.”

No, don’t leave it alone, said Regina Davis, who has three children in Miami-Dade magnet schools. Expand it.

“I don’t want to be forced to put my child anywhere,” said Regina Davis, who boarded a bus at 3 a.m. to make the rally. “If we can’t get the school system to provide a high-standard education, we’re going to do whatever it takes.”

In less than a generation, school choice in Florida has quietly gone mainstream, with 43 percent of students now attending a school other than their neighborhood school. This year alone, more than 200,000 parents chose magnet schools, at least 150,000 chose career academies, 200,000 chose charters, and 50,000 chose tax-credit scholarships to send their kids to private schools.

Many at the rally said they appreciated the growing list of options, but some said there still weren’t enough. Continue Reading →


Proposed funding changes could weaken virtual education in Florida

Florida Virtual School began as an idea developed in the Florida Legislature. With a $200,000 “break the mold” grant, a small group was charged with attempting something truly disruptive: create the nation’s first online public school. From those early moments 16 years ago to present day, Florida Virtual School has changed the landscape of public education in Florida and nationwide. In 1997, FLVS had 77 students. In fiscal year 2011-12, we had more than 149,000 students in Florida alone.

Virtual-course-chartFlorida Virtual School keeps the student at the center of every decision we make. Seeing every student as an individual is one of the key reasons so many FLVS students achieve and exceed expectations. With our students in the center, FLVS has concerns with the way the language of two Florida House bills, HB 5101 and HB 7029, account for student access and opportunity.

The language used in these bills changes the lens through which the Legislature sees student funding. It moves from addressing unique student needs to a “one-size-fits-all” model that pits district against district. Essentially, the proposed language caps the amount that can be spent on an individual student to a single full-time equivalent (1.0 FTE). This dollar amount is static, and it does not change based upon the number of courses a student successfully completes.

Each student has individual reasons for taking FLVS courses, reasons that vary from acceleration to credit recovery to grade forgiveness and others. Most FLVS students are concurrently enrolled in a brick-and-mortar school, and many take FLVS courses in addition to their six- or seven-period day.

If HB 7029’s and HB 5101’s changes are implemented, the FTE associated with a student taking a full load at a zoned school will be divided between the two (or more) providers of that student’s education, based upon the individual district’s FTE calculation, which varies based upon district. The bill language says “proportionately” but this word is incorrect because FLVS already receives a reduced amount compared to brick-and-mortar schools. Continue Reading →