Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, Broad Prize, charter schools and more

Tax credit scholarships. A bill that would expand access to the program is ready for a final vote in the House. News Service of FloridaAssociated PressTimes/Herald. Palm Beach Post.

Broad prize. The award for urban school districts raises its standards, naming only two finalists for this year’s prize. One of them is Orange County, Fla. Orlando Sentinel. EdWeek.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. A former teacher lodges a complaint about a Hillsborough charter school, alleging it does not use properly certified teachers. Tampa Bay Times.

School safety. Miami-Dade schools hope to tamp rumors that circulate among students with a new text-messaging system. Miami Herald.

Career academies. A Glades construction academy could become a reality thanks to a recent donation. Extra Credit.

Teacher quality. Duval schools prepare a new initiative to lure high-caliber teachers and administrators to high-need areas. Florida Times-Union.

Superintendents. Seminole County’s Walt Griffin gets a contract extension. Orlando Sentinel.

Common Core. A survey shows public opinion on the standards is split. Sunshine State News.

School days. Hernando schools consider six-period days to save money and give kids more time in each class. Tampa Bay Times.

Economic development. Palm Beach County schools and other officials are promoting their school system in an effort to lure new businesses into the area. South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Maintenance. A bell in front of a Manatee County elementary school gets a rare cleaning. Bradenton Herald.

Awards. A newspaper honors 45 high school seniors. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Gainesville students are named Achievement Scholars. Gainesville Sun.

Florida school choice bill ready for final vote in House

School choice legislation that would expand eligibility for the country’s largest tax credit scholarship program and create new personal learning accounts for special needs students is ready for a final vote in the Florida House.

Lawmakers on Wednesday removed a $30 million increase on the caps that limit the growth of the tax-credit scholarship program, though the state’s current law would still allow the program to grow by as much as 25 percent a year.

erik fresen

Rep. Erik Fresen

The change did little to tamp opposition among House Democrats.

They proposed a series of contentious changes during nearly two hours of floor discussion on Wednesday, including a proposed requirement that schools participating in the tax credit scholarship program administer state’s standardized tests. The Democrats’ amendments were defeated, largely along party lines.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, broke with his fellow Republicans to vote in favor of the testing requirement, which also would have required schools with scholarship students to participate in the state’s A-F grading system for schools.  His father, Don Gaetz, is the Senate President, and has called for requiring state assessments for scholarship students, an idea that remains controversial among some school choice supporters.

The House voted down other Democratic proposals, which among other things would have required private schools with scholarship students to hire state-certified teachers, mandated that they teach the state’s education standards and restricted the way scholarship funding organizations that administer the program can use their revenue. Step Up for Students, which co-hosts this blog, is a scholarship funding organization.

Requiring state standards in private schools “would ensure private schools are going to be accepting public money, that they do something similar to the public schools and reach the same standards that we have for those schools,” said Rep. Richard Stark, D-Weston.

Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, said parents chose private schools for a host of reasons, including the kind of learning environment they offer.

“If we are providing an option for those families, then why, I ask you, would we want to make it look just like the school that didn’t work for their child?” she asked.

While the full House could approve the school choice bill as early as Friday, the Senate has so far taken a different approach to school choice legislation after withdrawing its original tax credit scholarship bill from consideration earlier in the session.

Florida is one of seven states where lawmakers this year have considered creating education savings accounts for special-needs students, and competing proposals have gained traction in both chambers.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, the sponsor of the House bill, noted the state already offers McKay Scholarships that allow special needs students to attend private schools. He said the bill is intended to help students whose conditions are so severe that they may not benefit from attending school for a whole day. Parents could use the accounts to pay for other education-related services, including speech therapy.

“It allows incredibly more flexibility to the parents’ use for specific services that they know their child needs,” he said.

Additional coverage: Post on PoliticsCentral Florida Political Pulse, Associated Press, Tampa Bay Times.

FL Senate could increase military commanders’ role in charter schools

The Florida Senate wants to increase the role of military base commanders in creating charter schools on their installations.

At its core, the Senate’s charter school legislation remains short and simple, placing it on a potential collision course with the House, which has proposed a broader overhaul of Florida charter school laws.

MacDillUnder the latest rewrite, approved Wednesday by the Senate Education Appropriations subcommittee, the Senate legislation would allow military commanders to sit on charter school governing boards and to submit applications to open charter schools on their bases.

It would avoid more contentious changes to charter school statutes.

Earlier this year, supporters withdrew an appeal to open a charter school on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa after their plan was rebuffed by the local school district (more background here). They have pledged to rework the application and make another attempt.

The issue got the attention of lawmakers, who already have approved legislation intended to encourage charter schools for military families. Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, said the new charter school legislation would “recognize that there are unique needs at our military installations.”

Democrats proposed a series of other changes to the bill, some them backed by school districts. But they were defeated after Legg and others warned the amendments could make it more difficult for new charter schools to open. The committee heard wide-ranging debate and testimony about various other provisions that are no longer in the bill, but remain part of the House legislation.

“One thing I’ve learned in the Legislature in my now going on 10 sessions is every year we’ll debate a budget, and every year we’ll debate charter schools,” Legg said. “This is the charter school debate of 2014, but it deals with military charter schools, and that’s it.”

Catholic school parents hope to save their school

The desks in Mary Ann Camisa’s classroom are arranged in the shape of a horseshoe, but one sits on its own, in the center.

photo 2The middle spot is reserved for the fourth-grader who is designated the “Christian citizen” – a rotating designation for the student who had come to class the most prepared, or displayed the best attitude.

The seat of honor is a reminder that Pope John Paul II Catholic School in Lecanto, about 80 miles north of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast, is different than the other schools in the area, both public and private. It also helps explain why parents in this exurban stretch of Florida are on edge.

Pope John Paul II is the only Catholic school in Citrus County. And like other Catholic schools around the country, its future is in doubt.

Closure would mean long hauls to Ocala or Spring Hill for those who want to keep their kids in Catholic schools. It would also mean the loss of a community anchor – the same kind of loss, frankly, that public school parents often feel when their neighborhood schools are shuttered or at risk of folding.

“What we have here is intangible,” Camisa, a 22-year veteran of the school, said as her students wrapped up a school day late last month. “It’s the environment. It’s something gets instilled along the way.”

Parents learned in early March that the Diocese of St. Petersburg, faced with flagging enrollment and the need for costly repairs, was on the verge of closing the 29-year-old school. It serves about 150 students from preschool to eighth grade.

Since then, the parents have held rallies and enrollment drives. They’ve started raising money for repairs. They’ve tried to spread the word about scholarships and subsidies that can help families afford a Catholic education. Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Class size, catholic schools, tax credit scholarships and more

Class size. Duval County schools could achieve more flexibility by designating more “schools of choice.” Florida Times-Union.

florida-roundup-logoCatholic schools. A Tampa Catholic school is back “in the black.” Tampa Tribune. Citrus County parents hope to get their school there, too. RedefinED.

Tax credit scholarships. Parents should have more options, one parent writes in the Sun-Sentinel. The Tampa Bay Times and the Palm Beach Post publish editorials denouncing legislation that would expand the program. An amendment set to be heard today on the House floor would remove a proposed increase in the scholarship cap. News Service of Florida.

Crowding. A Pasco County high school abandons a plan that would have had some students taking classes from home during the day. Tampa Bay Times. Escambia schools work on plans for building, repairing and rezoning their schools with the help of a tax voters would need to approve. Pensacola News-Journal.

Teacher evaluations. The Tampa Tribune writes up the VAM-free approaches being tried in Pinellas, and reports the Gates Foundation is now evaluating Hillsborough’s program.

School boards. The Brevard board sets a new school closure policy. Florida Today. An assistant principal enters the race for a Hernando County seat. Tampa Bay Times.

Continue Reading →

Amendment filed to scale back FL school choice scholarship bill

From the News Service of Florida:

The co-sponsor of a measure that would overhaul the state’s de facto voucher program has filed an amendment that would scale back the legislation by removing one of the more controversial elements.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, filed an amendment Tuesday that would strike a proposal to increase the cap on fundraising for the program. The original proposal would have upped the cap to about $30 million above what it would otherwise be over the next five years, assuming the number of students using the vouchers continued to grow. If Diaz’s amendment is approved, the bill would mostly expand the eligibility for the program and boost the amount that each scholarship would cover.

The House could consider amendments to the bill (HB 7167) as soon as Wednesday.

The Senate, meanwhile, has shown no interest in attaching the voucher provisions to a bill (SB 1512) that would help parents pay for education services for disabled children — something that is also included in the House bill. Senators withdrew a stand-alone voucher proposal last month.

Editor’s note: The tax credit scholarship (aka “voucher”) program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

Parents shouldn’t be fighting each other over school choice



Editor’s note: This post first appeared as an op-ed in the Tampa Tribune. Step Up For Students, which administers the state’s tax credit scholarship program, co-hosts this blog.

Eileen Segal is a gracious Florida PTA president who welcomed to her annual conference last summer a contingent of low-income parents who take advantage of a state scholarship for their children.

So she was speaking from the heart in a crowded House committee room last month when she said: “What you’re doing here today is very sad; it hurts my heart. Parents should not fight against parents. We all need to work together because we all want the same thing for our children — the best-quality education.”

Eileen is right, and yet she was part of a PTA group that had come to the Legislature to condemn the educational option that parents of 60,000 of the state’s poorest students have chosen this year. The audience that day was crowded with scholarship parents and their children, who in some cases sat next to PTA parents who stood on the other political side.

The PTA is not alone in this regard. A group called Parents Across Florida has written rather viciously about how the Tax Credit Scholarship for low-income children should be abandoned, even arguing that “vouchers actually strip away parents’ ultimate choice” and that parents want only neighborhood schools and “don’t want to be forced to shop around.” A group called Fund Education Now, which is led by three women who have played a constructive role in fighting for greater investment, has called the legislative effort to expand the scholarship to more underprivileged children “shameless.”

This jarring juxtaposition is hard to miss and harder to explain.

The general politics of school choice is relatively clear. Many of the established education groups reflexively oppose initiatives that are viewed as Republican priorities, which is why Democrats — even those who have supported help for low-income students in the past — are apt to run to the other corner. School boards see it as their mission to fight any program that reduces enrollment in the schools they operate, and the Florida Education Association continues to fight any option whose teachers are not represented by the union. But do parents really have to fight against each other? Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Education legislation, magnet schools, rankings and more

Education legislation. StateImpact takes a look at where key education issues stand – including tax credit scholarships and funding for charter schools – at the midway point of the legislative session.

florida-roundup-logoSchool rankings. The Washington Post ranks six Florida magnet and charter schools in the top 20 on this year’s list of the most challenging schools in the country. More here.

Tax credit scholarships. Florida’s program is the largest of its kind in the nation. WCTV. More from RedefinED.

School boundaries. Despite concerns about the impact charter schools could have on enrollment, Palm Beach County school district officials plan to alter zoning boundaries to relieve overcrowding at some locations. Palm Beach Post.

Magnet schools. A struggling Miami-Dade middle school could soon add a magnet program. Miami Herald.

School recognition. Palm Beach County schools bring in $8.4 million in bonuses this year. Sun-Sentinel. Gov. Rick Scott touts the money during a visit. Palm Beach Post.

Testing. The Utah Board of Education reaches a deal to allow Florida to lease its testing systems. Desert News, via Gradebook.

Closures. The Brevard school board is set to take up new procedures for closing schools in the future. Florida Today.

Continue Reading →