Florida roundup: Jeb Bush, teacher conduct, school technology & more

Charter schools. The Pinellas school district could lose $6 million next year if the school board approves a new charter school and the proposed expansion of several others. Gradebook.

florida roundup logoJeb Bush. Digital learning, Common Core and empowering the parents of students with disabilities top the legislative agenda for Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, says executive director Patricia Levesque. StateImpact Florida.

School spending. Lawmakers consider bringing back the “critical needs” millage, reports Gradebook. The Lee school district is auctioning off two unused buildings, reports the Fort Myers News Press.

School safety. Lawmakers are poised to pass legislation that would allow school nurses to use EpiPens for students without a prescription. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


Teaching values in schools of choice – and maybe, regulating them

This brief essay is the fifth in a series describing forms of legislation available to any state that considers adopting vouchers for private school tuition. The previous essays focused upon rules governing admission to private schools, the dollar amount of the voucher, information required of participating schools, testing and disclosure of scores and related issues. These can be accessed here. My present subject is legislation that affects private school curriculum – with emphasis on rules that affect the teaching of virtue and civic values.

All states – sometimes with federal incentive – require the teaching in their public schools of what we can call “basics.” The education codes differ, but predictably include English, math, computers, and aspects of science that are not controversial. However, this relative uniformity diminishes with respect to value-laden subjects such as marriage, health, civics, history, sex and literature. Our media swarm with conflict over the values curriculum – what is required and what is forbidden – in public schools. And, quite apart from the statutory rules, what actually gets transmitted behind the classroom door of any public school can be a matter of mystery; it is sufficiently unpredictable that I have preferred to call it the “Bingo Curriculum.”

This gamble with the minds of children is, of course, another good reason to pity the fate of families whose relative poverty conscripts them to “free” schools of the state.

Private schools have been less burdened either by law or by complaint of those customers who, after all, have freely chosen them. State law does require such schools to address the secular basics, but generally in the broadest language; and they are left free – at the parent’s direction – to teach their own specific value systems and of course, religion. The private school can and does hire teachers who represent its distinctive vision of the good life. It does this in order to attract customers (parents) who share that view and who expect the school to help them pass it on to their child. The Waldorf, Montessori, Muslim, Catholic, Hebrew, and Lutheran school exist precisely for this purpose. The U.S. Supreme Court long ago recognized this distinctive power of parents – deriving outside secular law – to employ educators who transmit their own vision, which may well include basic ideas that are unavailable to the state.

But, if the state here lacks power, it does carry two kinds of responsibility. One is to protect the right of the child to a basic education; the other is to protect society from the risk of intellectual corruption that is always present in the adult-child relationship, including that of teacher-student. The state subsidy for the parent’s school choice thus will not be usable at schools that are either dysfunctional as basic educators or that consciously promote contempt for values foundational to civic order. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: charter schools, school choice lotteries, gifted education & more

florida roundup logoCharter schools. Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano uses the specter of for-profit charter schools to slam state lawmakers who support parent trigger: “They say tomato, I say morons.” Times columnist Bill Maxwell, meanwhile, highlights the success of Urban Prep Academies, a high-performing, all-male, all-black charter school in Chicago where, for four years in a row, every graduate was accepted into a four-year college.

The Palm Beach Post looks at lawmakers with charter school ties. The Lake Wales Charter School system is considering adding a second middle school, with the waiting list for the existing one at 360 and growing, reports the Winter Haven News Chief. The Athenian Academy charter in New Port Richey and the Pasco school district are clashing over whether the school has the right to expand, reports the Tampa Bay Times. A charter school in Miami Shores is getting better at private fundraising, reports the Miami Herald. The state’s charter school appeals commission recommends approval of a proposed Orange Park charter school twice rejected by the Clay County School Board, reports the Florida Times Union. Lawmakers should limit charter school to districts with failing schools, editorializes the St. Augustine Record.

School choice lotteries. A lot of parents in Palm Beach County are about to get bad news:  They did not get their children into the district school  choice they wanted. According to the Palm Beach Post, “At more than half of the choice programs, less than 1 in 3 students that applied got a seat. At four of the 185 choice programs, fewer than 1 in 10 students won a seat.”

Vouchers. The League of Women Voters asks if McKay vouchers and tax credit scholarships are constitutional in a Gainesville Sun op-ed.

Parent trigger. Former Board of Education member Julia Johnson responds to critics in this op-ed in the Tallahassee Democrat: “I don’t understand what a critic of parent empowerment meant when she recently wrote that it would use parents like “cheap napkins.’’ But I do know that low-income kids were used as a cheap paycheck and their schools were oftentimes used as a training ground for novice teachers and a depository for ineffective ones.” The Tampa Tribune writes up the debate. Pensascola News Journal columnist Shannon Nickinson doesn’t like it: “How about the state fulfilling its obligation to the public education system, rather than working to pass off that responsibility under the guise of “parental choice.”

Virtual schools. The Miami Herald writes up the bills that will expand digital education. Continue Reading →


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 →