redefinED roundup: cuts to NYC charters, proposed federal vouchers, National School Choice Week & more


Alabama: The Southern Poverty Law Center says school choice hurts students who can’t leave their public school (Montgomery Advertiser).

Alaska: More Republicans sign on to support the governor’s constitutional amendment proposal to allow public funding of private religious schools (Anchorage Daily News). You can pick your grocery store and you can pick your coffee shop, so why can’t you pick your school (Alaska Dispatch, Alaska Daily News)?

Arizona: The state leads the nation with the newest school choice innovation: education savings accounts (

California: High Tech High charter school in San Diego wishes to buy a building owned by the local school district in order to open a new elementary charter school (Voice of San Diego). Parents unhappy with their local schools are using Parent Trigger to make changes (NationSwell).

D.C.:  City charter schools may soon be sharing space with district public schools (Washington Post).

Florida: 1.5 million students choose a school other than their assigned neighborhood school (redefinED). Catholic schools in Florida see small growth in enrollment for the second year in a row (Florida Times Union). A public boarding school for at-risk students prepares to open this fall (Miami Herald). The owners of a private, voucher-accepting school that abruptly closed its doors in Milwaukee have opened a similar school in Daytona Beach (News-Journal). House Speaker Will Weatherford wants to increase the number of low-income children allowed onto the state’s tax-credit scholarship program as well as increase private school accountability (Tallahassee Democrat, Tampa Bay Times, Palm Beach PostWFSU). Florida’s high rate of return on its education investment may be due, in part, to the many diverse education options available to students, says William Mattox a research fellow at the James Madison Institute (Orlando Sentinel). The Manatee County School District holds a school choice fair to feature the district and charter schools in the area (Bradenton Herald). The city of Hollywood is pushing local district schools to market themselves better in order to lure students and families back into the schools (Sun Sentinel).

Idaho: More than 55,000 students attend charter schools, private schools or home schools in the state (Idaho Press). Renee McKenzie, president of the Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families, says every family deserves school choice (Idaho Press).

Illinois: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel addresses critics who said it was unfair to approve seven new charter schools while shutting down 47 public schools last year (Chicago Tribune).

Indiana: The state’s voucher program more than doubles in size over last year (Indianapolis Star, Journal Gazette, Northwest Indiana Times). The number of voucher students who never attended public school increases (Indiana Business Journal, The Star PressIndianapolis Daily Star). The editorial board for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette wants voucher schools to follow the same rules as public schools. A proposed bill to allow private schools to use a state-approved standardized test rather than the state’s official test is quickly rejected (Indianapolis StarIndianapolis Star, JCOnline). School choice supporters in the state say the voucher, worth $4,700 this year, is too low for most private schools (State Impact). Robert Enlow, president of the Friedman Foundation, says parents should not be forced to send their kid to a public school before gaining access to vouchers (Indianapolis Daily Star). Critics of school choice argue that vouchers can’t be used at private schools which teach creationism or intelligent design (Journal-Gazette). The senate passes a bill to allow charter schools for returning adult students (The Statehouse File). Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Vouchers, charters, digital ed & more

School vouchers: House Speaker Will Weatherford is among Republicans looking to expand school choice efforts this year, including beefing up the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: A new state law that requires a “model” contract between school districts and charter operators is not stopping Orange County from requiring new charters to meet performance standards. Orlando Sentinel.

Faith-based schools: Parents are shocked after learning a Palm Beach County Presbyterian church is  closing its school. Palm Beach Post. Hundreds of low-income students at Duval County private or parochial schools will likely lose tutoring and other academic help because the federal money paying for it is drying up. Florida Times-Union.

School choice: The city of Hollywood is pushing its public schools to better market themselves this year, in hopes of luring new students — and new families. Sun Sentinel. Pasco County students and parents face a broader array of education options as the district’s 2014-15 school choice application window opens. Tampa Bay Times.

Digital learning: A proposed bill to expand school technology could lead to more tablets and computers, more professional development for teachers and more opportunities for K-12 students to take classes in subjects like computer programming. The Tampa Tribune. More from Tampa Bay Times. StateImact Florida asks teachers how they learned to connect technology to learning.

Education budget: While Gov. Rick Scott’s suggested a $542 million bump in K-12 funding is no small chunk of change, few people believe it’s anywhere near enough to meet the ever-growing demands of the state’s public schools, writes Rick Christie for the Palm Beach Post.

Continue Reading →


Florida lawmakers target funding for digital learning expansion

Students at Dayspring Academy Middle School, a charter school in New Port Richey, Fla., use iPads and deskstop computers to work on Algebra problems. The school serves as an example of what some key Florida lawmakers hope becomes the norm in public schools statewide.

Students at Dayspring Academy Middle School, a charter school in New Port Richey, Fla., use iPads and desktop computers to work on Algebra problems. The school serves as an example of what some key Florida lawmakers hope becomes the norm in public schools statewide.

Two top Florida lawmakers have joined together on supporting a bill that would target roughly $100 million a year for digital learning in public schools and require districts to build workable technology plans to take advantage of it.

Sen. John Legg

Sen. John Legg

Sen. Education Chairman John Legg and House Speaker Will Weatherford introduced the proposal during a press conference Friday at Legg’s charter school, Dayspring Academy, in New Port Richey. Legg has filed the bill for the 2014 legislative session, which begins March 4.

A draft of the legislation shows that Weatherford and Legg want to create a new category in state education funding, known as the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP), to drive technology. The category would be called “Florida Digital Classrooms” and draw up to 1 percent of the “base student allocation” as a funding stream. In this current year, that 1 percent would translate to $37.52 per student, or roughly $101.2 million statewide.

The focus is on taking current investments in technology and digital learning to the next level. ““I’ve seen it firsthand,’’ Legg said before the press conference. “Districts and schools buy up the technology and then it sits in the box because they don’t know how to integrate the concepts and use it with students.’’

Senate Bill 790 calls for each district and the state to develop digital classroom plans that include technology purchases and teacher training and for those plans to be tied to student performance and measured against benchmarks established by the Department of Education. “Results of the outcomes shall be reported at least annually and be accompanied by an independent evaluation and validation of the reported results,” says the bill draft.

Ruth Melton of the Florida School Boards Association told redefinED that the proposal, so far, appears to address her concerns about ensuring there is accountability within the program and that teachers are properly prepared, but she would prefer the funding come from some place other than FEFP dollars.

“Digital learning is going to move forward and should,” Melton said. And it has been funded in the past by the FEFP, but another source “would provide greater clarity to what is being provided,” she said. “When there’s an increase in the total FEFP line item, there’s an assumption that everything is getting an increase. But sometimes the additional money masks declines in other areas.”

In addition, the bill requires districts to provide grade-specific computer instruction with the introduction of cyber security in elementary school, digital arts in middle school and computer coding in high school. Also, at the high school level, rigorous computer programming courses could be counted toward satisfying some of the existing graduation requirements.

“Students need those digital skills,’’ Legg said, “but it’s more than just having computers in the classroom. … We’re building coursework so students will be able to use the technology. You have to learn to crawl before you walk.’’

Continue Reading →


School choice, civil rights and a little discord over linking the two

From left to right: Julio Fuentes with HCREO; Rabbi Moshe Matz with Agudath Israel of Florida; T. Willard Fair of the Urban League of Greater Miamii; and BAEO's Howard Fuller.

From left to right: Julio Fuentes with HCREO; Rabbi Moshe Matz with Agudath Israel of Florida; T. Willard Fair of the Urban League of Greater Miamii; and BAEO’s Howard Fuller. (Photo by Silver Digital Media)

It’s an increasingly common refrain: school choice is an extension of the civil rights movement. But two of the choice movement’s elder statesmen took exception to that description at a National School Choice Week event Thursday night.national-school-choice-week-logo1

The civil rights movement was broader than the battle for school choice, and every generation ought to define its own movements, said Howard Fuller, a legend in the choice movement and chair of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. Also, attempting to link the two can create friction and arouse suspicions when it’s used by choice supporters who may not see eye-to-eye on other issues important to civil rights veterans and their supporters.

“Just even using that terminology gets us into arguments that we don’t need to be in,” Fuller said.

T. Willard Fair, a former chairman of the Florida Board of Education, raised another objection: When it comes to school choice, too many black leaders are not on the same page.

“During the civil rights movement, no black elected official dared to stand up and be against this,” said Fair, who co-founded Florida’s first charter school. “If he or she did, we would get them.”

The spirited comments from Fuller and Fair, and polite comebacks from other school choice leaders, came during Florida’s “spotlight” National School Choice Week event. About 200 people attended the event, held at Coral Springs Charter School near Fort Lauderdale. It was organized by the Florida Alliance for Choices in Education, an umbrella group for a wide range of pro-school-choice organizations, including Step Up for Students, which administers the state’s tax credit scholarship program and co-hosts this blog.

The back-and-forth over civil rights and school choice was spurred by the event’s theme. This year is the 60th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, which declared separate schools for black and white students unconstitutional. Many school choice supporters see a connection between the barriers knocked down then and those falling now. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Digital learning, charters, Jeb Bush & more

Digital learning: Two Florida lawmakers introduce a draft bill to expand school technology. StateImpact Florida. If passed, the proposal would target $100 million a year for digital learning in public schools. redefinED.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: Pasco County School Board members will consider allowing charter school applicants time to respond to district questions and concerns before the superintendent makes a final recommendation. Tampa Bay Times.

IB: Juniors in Largo High School’s first class of International Baccalaureate receive gold pins symbolizing the halfway point of their rigorous academic coursework. The Tampa Tribune.

Jeb Bush: The former Florida governor talks to StateImpact Florida about Common Core and state testing.

Legislation: Florida lawmakers propose a bill to stop students from getting in trouble at school because they pretended their finger or another harmless item was a gun. Orlando Sentinel.

Common Core: A promise by 35 state education commissioners including Florida’s to keep identifiable student data out of the federal government’s hands receives poor marks from anti-Common Core organizations. Tampa Bay Times.

School boards: The Palm Beach Post looks at candidates for the district school board.

College apps: Miami-Dade County high schools host free workshops to help students and their parents with college applications and financial aid forms. Miami Herald.

Teachers: A six-year veteran of Brevard Public Schools who is a former professional wrestler and a poet, too, is the district’s Teacher of the Year. Florida Today. A new report finds English-language learners in Orange County perform better and graduate at higher rates than their peers in other large Florida districts, but the district could improve teacher training and parent outreach. Orlando Sentinel.

Superintendents: Lee County School District’s superintendent receives good performance marks. Fort Myers News-Press.

New schools: The south side of Tallahassee will get a new high school – eventually. Tallahassee Democrat.

Hiring: the Pinellas County School District needs bus drivers. Tampa Bay Times.


Tune in tonight! From Brown v. Board of Education to school choice

Brown v. Board of Education opened many doors of opportunity, but too many remain closed. School choice can open some more.

Longtime school choice advocate Howard Fuller and a high-profile panel will reflect on that theme tonight at a National School Choice Week event in South Florida. To watch it live, just come back and view it here at 6:15 p.m.

You can also keep tabs via Twitter @redefinedonline. Search for #SCW and #FLschoolchoice.

In the meantime, here are some more thoughts on the links between Brown v. Board and school choice from some of the panelists you’ll be hearing from.

T. Willard Fair, former chairman, Florida Board of Education; president, Urban League of Greater Miami:

While we were victorious in fighting for school choice nearly 60 years ago, the struggle continues. Choice is still an issue for many low-income children who come from the wrong side of the tracks. The Urban League of Greater Miami has made education and school choice the focal point of its work for over 50 years because access to quality education is still one of the most pressing civil rights issues of our times. This is not to sound somber or overly critical of the great strides we have made with Brown vs. Board of Education. However, we cannot be ignorant to believe that the victory of 60 years ago assuaged all of our “Black or Brown” educational issues. The need to access quality education is still alive and evident in Florida with more than 60 percent of Black children reading below grade level. Continue Reading →


Private school student excels in public school JROTC

Every morning, Kevin Gines gets up an hour earlier so his mom can drive him to a nearby public school, where the 16-year-old sophomore takes a naval science class. Then he heads to a private Christian academy in North Florida to finish the rest of his school day.

Florida private school student Kevin Gines makes the most of an opportunity to participate in a nearby public school's JROTC program.

Florida private school student Kevin Gines makes the most of an opportunity to participate in a nearby public school’s JROTC program.

“He’s really serious,’’ said Kevin’s father, Jesse, a security guard. “You should see how he shines his shoes. He’s already a soldier.’’

Kevin said he’s willing to make the extra effort because he knows it’s an opportunity he almost didn’t get. His school, the Christian Home Academy in Orange Park, doesn’t offer JROTC. So last May, the Gineses tried to sign up Kevin for the program at Middleburg High, a Clay County district school within minutes of their home.

School officials intervened, telling the Gineses that Kevin wasn’t eligible because he wasn’t enrolled in the public school, and that he couldn’t register for only one class. A high school in neighboring Duval County said Kevin could sign up for JROTC there, but it was too far for his mother to drive each day.

Kevin was about to give up, but not his dad. Jesse Gines combed through state statutes. He learned private school students are allowed to participate in extra-curricular activities at public schools, such as sports and gifted programs. So are homeschoolers and students taking classes through Florida Virtual School. There’s also a notice on the JROTC website that says students not enrolled at the school hosting the program can become special cadets.

But the district official overseeing enrollment wouldn’t budge. Kevin, who comes from a family of Marines, appeared to be caught in a gray area.

Then his dad reached out to Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. Kevin’s family uses the scholarship to send him and his little brother to Christian Home Academy. Step Up also co-hosts this blog.

We talked to JROTC officials as well as the state education commissioner at the time, Tony Bennett, and Clay County Superintendent Charlie Van Zant. Everyone agreed it would be a mistake if Kevin couldn’t join JROTC and follow his dream. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: School choice, virtual schools, charters & more

School choice: Expect debates on vouchers, school grades and charter schools this year as legislators set priorities for the upcoming session. The Buzz. Lawmakers propose legislation affecting public schools, from an overhaul of Florida’s school accountability system to a “massive expansion” of school-choice and career-education programs. Tallahassee Democrat. More from The Florida Current. More than 3,000 parents and prospective students crowd into the Bradenton Area Convention Center for Manatee County School District’s first school choice fair. Bradenton Herald.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: The Charter School Appeals Commission recommends the state Board of Education turn down a Lakeland group’s proposal for a charter school. The Ledger. Former Gov. Jeb Bush tours the Latin Builders Association Construction & Business Management Academy Charter High School as part of National School Choice Week.

Virtual schools: Mom Heather Tempesta lets her daughter try Florida Virtual School after all. Tampa Bay Times.

Magnet schools: Manatee School for the Arts student and teacher get to spend D-Day at Normandy. Bradenton Herald.

Education budget: Orange County school leaders say Gov. Rick Scott’s budget proposal isn’t as generous as it seems. Orlando Sentinel. Much of Scott’s proposed education spending boost would come from property taxes. The Buzz.

Governor’s race: Seventy-one percent of Washington insiders surveyed in January think that the Florida gubernatorial race is the most important one to watch for education. Education Week.

Continue Reading →