Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, charter schools, competition and more

Tax credit scholarships. Parents of children who receive scholarships answer critics in the Florida Times-Union and the Ocala Star-Banner. The program enhances public education, Doug Tuthill writes in the Miami Herald. He is the president of Step Up for Students, which co-hosts this blog. The president of the Alachua County League of Women Voters criticizes charters and vouchers in the Gainesville Sun. A school board member also criticizes tax credit scholarships in the Sun, focusing on religious education. State standardized testing requirements won’t appease all critics, but they might help the program in the long run, Paul Cottle writes at Bridge to Tomorrow.


School choice. Private and charter schools compete with magnet and career education programs in Palm Beach County, fueling a drive to create new options. Palm Beach Post.

Charter schools. Hillsborough officials are scrutinizing the boards that oversee schools managed by Charter Schools USA as lawmakers debate charter legislation. Tampa Tribune. The management group Academica faces federal scrutiny. Miami Herald. The Volusia County school district prepares to end a long legal battle with a failed charter school. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Dropout prevention. Pinellas schools plan a new alternative school aimed at at-risk students. Tampa Tribune.

Digital learning. Replacing old computers won’t be cheap for Marion County schools. Ocala Star-Banner. Technology helps a Southwest Florida teacher enhance instruction. Naples Daily News.

Discipline. Kindergarten students face increased suspensions, which disproportionately affect minorities. Florida Times-Union.

Testing. A computer glitch affects FCAT administration in Miami-Dade schools. Miami Herald. A group of parents and teachers protests high-stakes testing. Fort Myers News-Press. Even at the height of FCAT season, educators say kids need a chance to get outside and play. Tampa Bay Times.

Continue Reading →

redefinED roundup: ESA expansion halted in AZ, court hears tax credit scholarship case in NH and more

MondayRoundUp_magentaAlabama: The Alabama Education Association, which opposes a new tax-credit scholarship program, says former Gov. Bob Riley has personally banked up to $1 million from it (he has made $0) (AL.com). The AEA is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to back Republican and Democrat candidates to run against lawmakers that support school choice. (AL.com).

Arizona: A bill to expand the education savings accounts program advances in the Senate (Arizona Capitol TimesAssociated Press) but is defeated after nine Republicans vote no (Arizona Republic, Arizona Daily Star, Associated Press). Laurie Roberts, a columnist for the Arizona Republic, describes the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts expansion as a bill designed to weaken public schools. The accounts allow families access to special needs funds in order to customize the learning options for their children (Wall Street Journal, Jay P. Greene Blog). The editorial board for the Daily Courier says school choice should remain limited to public schools, including public charters. The accounts allow parents to save money for use in future education, including higher education, and David Saifer, a columnist for Tucson Weekly, seems to think  saving money is a terrible idea. So do public education officials (Arizona Capitol Times). A Democrat campaign manager says the accounts will destroy public education (Maricopa.com).

Delaware: State officials approve four new charter schools (The News Journal).

Florida: Steve Knellinger, an administrator at St. Petersburg Christian School, says tax-credit scholarships create more options and help improve student achievement (Tampa Bay Times). A mother of two tax-credit scholarship students is mad the PTA is fighting thel scholarships (Florida Times-Union). James Herzog, director of education for the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, says there is good evidence to prove school choice expansion is needed (Palm Beach Post). Gov. Rick Scott is noncommittal on whether private schools accepting scholarship students should take the same state assessment as public schools (State Impact). The Florida Citizens for Science want private schools that accept tax-credit scholarships and vouchers to teach evolution by state standards (Tallahassee Democrat). A former Republican lawmaker says public schools should be fully funded before allowing voucher programs to expand (The Ledger).  Frank Cerabino, a columnist with the Palm Beach Post, says school choice has been around for a long time for those who can afford it. The Florida Times-Union editorial board says education achievement is getting better and solving poverty is a better solution to improving schools than attempting school choice. Eileen Roy, a school board member in Alachua County, thinks vouchers will destroy public schools (Gainesville Sun). Former state Senator Al Lawson says tax-credit scholarships serve some of the most disadvantaged students in the state and the program deserves to be expanded (Florida Today).

Democratic lawmakers blame charter schools for a decrease in state appropriated capital funding for public schools (Creative Loafing). Charter school critics claim charters get the lion’s share of capital funds but the critics disregard local revenue sources (redefinED). Six single-gender charter schools will open over the next few years in the Jacksonville area (Florida Times-Union). Continue Reading →

Citrus County’s only Catholic school gets a chance to stay open

Parents in Citrus County received some good news going into the holiday weekend. Their community’s only Catholic School, which they had rallying to save, will be able to remain open next school year.

Since they learned in early March that the Diocese of St. Petersburg was thinking about closing Pope John Paul II Catholic School, parents, pastors and alumni had been working with the school’s administration to raise money, recruit more students and come up with a longer-term plan to keep the school viable.

photo 2They met Monday with advisers to Bishop Robert Lynch to discuss their five-year plan to grow enrollment at the school and make it financially sustainable.

“We were very impressed with their work, and the bishop agreed with their proposal and wrote them a letter letting them go forward,” said Frank Murphy, a spokesman for the diocese.

The diocese was concerned about stagnating enrollment at the school, located in Lecanto, about 80 miles north of Tampa in the northern reaches of its territory.

Faced with the impending closure, parents and pastors in the surrounding area spent the past two months working overtime to promote the school’s pre-kindergarten program and scholarships that can help low-income parents afford tuition. Dozens of families came to the school.

“We have never had so many families come through and tour our facility,” said Jennifer Petrella, a parent of kindergarten and fourth grade students who also helps lead the school’s marketing efforts.

Continue Reading →

Why school choice? Because ‘different children have different needs’

Editor’s note: This op-ed by Steve Knellinger, a longtime former public school educator and now private school administrator, ran this week in the Tampa Bay Times. Here’s a snippet:

diversity in applesMore than 30 years ago, parents in Pinellas County showed up at meetings to protest a new school choice program. Schools said they couldn’t compete with it. Critics raised fears of cherry-picking the academically and athletically talented students. But in the end, the program got a green light. Now it’s such a vital piece of the school system, parents would fight to keep it.

The fight back then was over the International Baccalaureate program at St. Petersburg High, the first IB in Florida. It became a bona fide star in the Pinellas school system and helped usher school choice into the district. I bring it up now because of the school choice concerns with Florida’s tax credit scholarship program.

Lawmakers want to modestly expand the program, which now serves about 60,000 low-income children in 1,425 private schools across the state. The teachers’ unions, the PTA, and the Tampa Bay Times editorial board object. I know there is some controversy, and I know there are some issues like testing where people can respectfully disagree. But I also know the program works for most of the struggling children who choose it, and, like IB and so many other choice schools, is an asset to public education.

I know because I’ve been an educator for 44 years, 39 of those years in public schools. I know because I witnessed that IB controversy. And I know because I am now the lead administrator at St. Petersburg Christian School, where some of our 450 students in grades K-8 are on scholarship. They represent less than 20 percent of our school population but are involved in 100 percent of the academic and athletic curriculum.

Like the IB program, the tax credit scholarship program is needed because of something we all know: Different children have different needs. We’re now comfortable with the IB program at St. Petersburg High because we’ve accepted the fact that high-performing students need more options to reach their full potential. It’s only a matter of time before we fully realize the same is true for the students who struggle. In fact, in all probability, they’re the ones who need the most options. Read full op-ed here.

Florida roundup: School choice, Common Core, testing and more

School choice. “There has always been school choice,” Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino claims in a column railing against charter schools and private-school scholarship programs.


Single-gender classes. Half a dozen single-gender schools are preparing to open in Jacksonville. Florida Times-Union.

Common Core. The latest tactic for opponents of the standards is a long shot. They are seeking a special legislative session in Florida. StateImpact.

Pay raises. Orange County teachers will vote on a re-worked pay raise plan approved by the school board. Orlando Sentinel. More from the Sentinel. WKMG. News 13.

Testing. It’s bring-your-own computer mouse for some Pasco County teachers as their schools administer more statewide standardized exams on computers. Gradebook. For some schools, FCAT preparation includes pep rallies. Tampa Bay Times. StateImpact profiles the new SAT. Lee County teachers oppose high-stakes testing. Naples Daily News.

Arts. A new music program comes with better academic results for a Miami middle school. Miami Herald.

School closures. An Orlando college student produces a documentary arguing against the closure of an elementary school, which could come as a result of a new inner-city school opening nearby. Orlando Sentinel.

Continue Reading →

Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: vouchers upheld in AL, newspapers mislead in WI and de Blasio earns a better grade

MrGibbonsReportCardU.S. District Court Judge Keith Watkins

Late last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit seeking to end a new voucher program in Alabama for students in low-performing public schools. The suit argued the law didn’t provide the plaintiffs (the students) “equal protections” because students either couldn’t attend a private school because the option was too far away, or couldn’t receive a voucher because they were not assigned to a failing school.

Critics of the SPLC lawsuit (including yours truly) found the logic underpinning the case to be odd indeed. Looks like Judge Keith Watkins agreed.

“The requested remedy is arguably mean,” Watkins argued in his recent, 57-page decision. “The only remedy thus far would leave the plaintiffs in the exact same situation to which they are currently subject, but with the company of their better-situated classmates. The equal protections requested is, in effect, equally bad treatment” (emphasis added).

The state’s voucher program was intended to help kids in low-performing schools find options. The SPLC’s lawsuit sought to deny all kids an option because a few might not be able or willing to take advantage of the program. Judge Watkins decided correctly.

Grade: Satisfactory

Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, testing, dress codes and more

Tax credit scholarships. Gov. Rick Scott avoids wading into the debate between the House and Senate over testing of scholarship students. StateImpact.

florida-roundup-logoTesting. The teachers union joins parents and the NAACP calling for a delay in consequences for Florida’s next high-stakes test. Florida Times-Union.

Magnet schools. Pinellas County taps new principals to lead its magnet programs. Tampa Bay Times.

Dress codes. Palm Beach is the second South Florida County weighing a new dress code – for parents. Extra Credit.

School boards. A member of the Hernando board said it should have voted on a plan to switch to six-period days. Tampa Bay Times. A Marion board member seeks anonymous feedback from district employees. Ocala Star-Banner.

Teacher quality. Facing a shortage, Volusia County Schools look to recruit hundreds of new teachers. Daytona Beach News-JournalWJCT wraps up its three-part series on Duval’s effort to bring high-quality teachers into high-needs areas.

Administration. Polk”s new superintendent is pleased with the district’s progress. Lakeland Ledger.

Teacher conduct. A teacher who showed an explicit photo to students returns to work. Florida Today.

Teachers Unions. Orange County’s union invited the public to its impasse hearings with the the school district. Sentinel School Zone.

Facilities. A $1.2 million air conditioner repair proposal looked costly to the Palm Beach County School Board. Palm Beach Post.


Rhetoric on charter school facilities misses full funding picture

Spending plans moving through the Florida Legislature in its final weeks have reinvigorated a familiar debate over how to help charter schools find money for construction. But the question of whether charter schools or districts schools are getting the most from an account called Public Education Capital Outlay is inherently misleading.

In the previous three years, almost all of the money allocated to K-12 institutions in the PECO fund, which helps pay for building maintenance and construction, has flowed to charter schools, fueling the contention that lawmakers have slighted school districts.

A group of Democratic lawmakers and PTA members appeared at a Tampa middle school on Monday, decrying what they called a “theft” that was “causing damage to our public schools.” Their rhetoric mirrors arguments made recently on the floor of the House and Senate, and speaks to a likely point of contention when lawmakers hammer out their competing spending plans during the remaining weeks of the legislative session.

But it also misses the full picture of facilities funding in Florida, of which the PECO money in the state budget is currently a small part. School districts raise billions of dollars each year in local revenue for capital projects, and unlike operating expenditures, that money seldom follows students who enroll in charter schools.

Charter schools accounted for nearly 8 percent of school enrollment in 2012-13, the most recent year for which detailed data are available. But they received a smaller share of overall capital funding.

Charter schools accounted for nearly 8 percent of school enrollment in 2012-13, the most recent year for which detailed data are available. Their share of overall capital funding was less than that.

In the 2012-13 fiscal year, the most recent for which detailed budget figures are available, school districts raised more than $2.5 billion for capital expenses through local property taxes and other revenue sources, according to financial profiles published by the Department of Education. That same year, charter schools received about $55 million in state capital outlay money.

Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, said charter schools absorb the costs associated with the students who enroll, even though they don’t receive all the funding that would otherwise accompany them. “There’s two sides of the equation,” he said. When people criticize the funding that flows to charter schools, “they only talk about one side of the equation.”

That’s one reason lawmakers have prioritize charter schools when they allocate increasingly scarce PECO funds. Legg and members of the legislative staff are running the numbers to compare the $91 million charter schools receive in the current budget with some $2 billion in local revenue for capital projects on a per-student basis. Their estimates show traditional public schools receive an average of slightly more than $800 per student for capital expenditures from property tax revenue alone, while charter schools receive an average of less than $500 per student.

That does not mean school districts and members of the Legislature don’t have a point when they complain about the state of funding for Florida’s school facilities or talk about the need for repairs. Funding for school district’s building needs has dwindled. And Legg is among the lawmakers who say there are other long-term issues with capital funding that should be addressed as charter schools in Florida continue to grow.

Charter school funding ‘equity’

The lion’s share of funding for capital improvements is controlled by school districts, and, for the most part, they do not share their local capital funds with charter schools. Lawmakers and blue-ribbon commissions have floated different proposals for sharing that money with charter schools, but none of the proposals has made it into law.

Continue Reading →