All thumbs up for this school choice

It’s a school choice in Florida that, so far, everyone in Tallahassee seems to support – at least everyone behind the dais Tuesday at the Florida House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee meeting.

All 13 members of the subcommittee voted in favor of House Bill 313 – a unanimous decision and a rarity for choice-related legislation. The bill would create a pilot program that allows up to five large Florida school districts to designate an elementary school as a gender-specific school in its core classes.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.

Besides expanding learning options, the proposal calls for administrators to track educational outcomes to show how students perform compared to those in co-ed schools, and to share that data with state leaders to help determine whether to include more schools.

State statutes already allow districts to create gender-specific classes and schools, and several have, including Broward and Hillsborough counties.

“What I’m doing is providing an avenue to districts who aren’t doing it,’’ said Rep. Manny Diaz, the Republican from Hialeah who introduced the legislation.

Most questions came from fellow Republicans, who dominate the subcommittee with nine members. Continue Reading →

FL Catholic schools want look at district’s distribution of federal $

After an unexpected funding shortfall, Florida Catholic schools want state education leaders to review how one of the state’s biggest school districts distributed federal dollars earmarked for needy children in public and private schools.

untitledThe request was made last week after Catholic schools in northeast Florida learned the Title I funds they rely on to provide services to low-income students throughout the school year will be gone by month’s end. The 125,000-student Duval County School District, the sixth-largest in Florida, is responsible for passing a portion of the funds on to private schools.

“We were pretty much caught off-guard,’’ Patricia Bronsard, schools superintendent for the Diocese of St. Augustine, which includes Duval, told redefinED Monday. “We serve a pretty diverse population … the very population that can’t afford to have this disruption.”

Patricia Bronsard

Patricia Bronsard

Now the diocese schools and other private schools – about 30 to 40 in all – are scrambling to shore up those services so children who count on additional tutoring and other programs won’t have to go without, Bronsard said.

Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told the Florida Times-Union his district has done nothing wrong. He pointed to a change in how the funds were spent in district schools as the reason for the shortfall. He estimated the lost funds total about $580,000.

Vitti could not be reached Monday for comment.

Duval County School Board member Jason Fischer said he thought the timing of the notice was unfortunate, but he’s not sure who’s at fault and awaits an internal review.

“I do think we all have the obligation to work together,’’ he said of public and private schools. “I don’t know where the responsibility lies (for the late notice). Everybody should know at the beginning of the year what the expectations are.’’ Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Religious schools, digital ed, evolution & more

Private schools: Students half a world away are exchanging their food, music and ideas with the Canterbury School in Lee County thanks to the Cultural Bridges Science and Social Science program. Fort Myers News-Press. Palm Beach County private schools open their doors to students of a local Christian school that announced it’s closing. Palm Beach Post.

florida-roundup-logoFaith-based schools: Jacksonville’s Catholic schools provide about 46,000 meals to  the needy each year. Florida Times-Union.

Charter schools: Tucked in Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed budget is a provision for new charter schools that want state construction funding to locate in neighborhoods with schools identified as struggling by the state’s A-F grading system. Tallahassee Democrat.

School  choice: Choice options, and fairness, are growing by leaps and bounds, writes Lloyd Brown for Sunshine State News.

Collegiate high schools: A Florida lawmaker tells the Tampa Bay Times he plans to file a proposed bill requiring state colleges to partner with school districts to create collegiate high schools, where students can earn a diploma and an associate degree in a rigorous college environment.

Digital learning: Florida students could choose computer programming courses instead of a foreign language as part of a bill to help Florida schools add more technology and digital instruction. StateImpact Florida.

School safety: The union representing schools police officers reports a marked increase in the number of guns seized from within Miami-Dade County Public Schools in the first half of the school year. Miami Herald.

Evolution: Why are we still debating evolution in education, asks Beth Kassab for the Orlando Sentinel.

Dyslexic students: Duval County’s superintendent wants to add more services for dyslexic students. Florida Times-Union.

Financial literacy: The Florida Department of Education wants to hear the public’s thoughts on proposed standards for financial literacy, guidelines for what students should learn so they can “make responsible and effective financial decisions.” Orlando Sentinel.

Continue Reading →

They want a charter school too?!

In one Florida city, the push for a charter school came from parents and teachers. In another, from a Democratic mayor. And in yet another, from the commander of one of the nation’s best-known military bases.

Over the past six months alone, at least a half-dozen examples show Florida charter schools picking up enthusiastic support from places that may seem unexpected. In many cases, school boards and teacher unions still oppose charter schools, and there’s no doubt the privatization narrative continues to dog them. But the recent examples suggest parents, local governments and other stakeholders in public education aren’t fazed.

Kara Kerwin

Kara Kerwin

“I definitely think there is a trend,’’ said Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform, a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank that is strongly pro school choice. “And I think it’s an eye-opener for local public schools.’’

Florida is a leader in both charter school growth and charter school controversy. It boasts among the highest numbers of charter schools in the nation (more than 600), with the number of students in them nearly doubling in the past five years (to more than 200,000). The rapid growth has fueled constant clashes with school districts, and all the edgy publicity that comes with it.

And yet, the recent examples show no let-up in charter school proposals, and consideration if not support from an increasingly wide array of entities:

  • In North Miami Beach, city leaders want to open a charter school focused on public safety that, eventually, would accommodate 1,300 students. Students could get their college degrees faster through a partnership with the local community college. The local school board voted down the application last month, but the city has appealed the denial.
  • In West Palm Beach, Democratic Mayor Jeri Muoio successfully lobbied her city to open a charter elementary school next August after publicly criticizing the local district’s reading scores. After admitting she surprised herself by suggesting the concept, Muoio told redefinED: “I believe we just aren’t doing the job we should be doing.’’
  • In Tampa, the same sentiment is leading military families and leaders from MacDill Air Force Base to push for a K-12 charter school. The local district runs an elementary school on base, but there is no middle school option. In addition, supporters said, a charter school provides an opportunity to create programs and services specific to children whose parents are serving their country. The district denied the application in December, but proponents, who have partnered with an education foundation and Charter Schools USA, recently appealed to the state.
  • In Bradenton, parent, teachers and administrators at Rowlett Elementary, a public magnet school in Manatee County, came together last summer in a successful campaign to convert their school into a charter next school year. The move will allow Rowlett to keep special art and music classes as well as beloved teachers despite a district wide budget shortfall.
  • In the most recent examples, the city commission in Tamarac and city council in Bonita Springs both directed city staff this week to check into the possibility of building charter high schools within city limits. In Tamarac, the city doesn’t have a public high school and according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the city manager said the city had unsuccessfully petitioned the district for a high school in the past.

Florida’s growing diversity in learning options of all stripes may be fueling further momentum for charter schools, Kerwin said. Continue Reading →

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 →