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 →


Florida roundup: School choice rally, parent trigger, teacher evaluations & more

School choice rally: More than 1,000 turn out in Tallahassee from magnet, charter, voucher, virtual and other school choice sectors (redefinED).

Charter schools. The Broward school district’s former construction chief, forced to resign, now works for Charter Schools USA. Miami Herald.

florida roundup logoSchool rezoning. Boynton Beach version. South Florida Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post.

Teacher conduct. Though criminal charges were dropped, a Palm Beach County band director is suspended for 10 days without pay for allegedly using band funds to bring relatives on a trip to Paris. South Florida Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post.

Teacher evaluations. Orlando Sentinel’s Beth Kassab: “The state’s system for evaluating teachers is nonsense.” Continue Reading →


More than 1,000 rally for school choice in Florida

More than 1,000 school choice supporters from across Florida rallied at the Capitol in Tallahassee Wednesday, in an event that for the first time represented just about every school choice sector.

The parents and students came from magnet schools, career academies, virtual schools, charter schools, home schools and private schools that accept vouchers and tax credit scholarships.

Among their messages: Options matter.

“If your child was in the same situation and he’s not progressing, you have to do what you have to do,” said Eboni Tucker-Smith, who used a McKay voucher to put her son Daquan in an Orlando private school after he struggled in public school. “Now he’s doing great. He started opening up, singing. It brought tears to me.”

“It’s working,” she continued about school choice. “Leave it alone.”

No, don’t leave it alone, said Regina Davis, who has three children in Miami-Dade magnet schools. Expand it.

“I don’t want to be forced to put my child anywhere,” said Regina Davis, who boarded a bus at 3 a.m. to make the rally. “If we can’t get the school system to provide a high-standard education, we’re going to do whatever it takes.”

In less than a generation, school choice in Florida has quietly gone mainstream, with 43 percent of students now attending a school other than their neighborhood school. This year alone, more than 200,000 parents chose magnet schools, at least 150,000 chose career academies, 200,000 chose charters, and 50,000 chose tax-credit scholarships to send their kids to private schools.

Many at the rally said they appreciated the growing list of options, but some said there still weren’t enough. Continue Reading →


Proposed funding changes could weaken virtual education in Florida

Florida Virtual School began as an idea developed in the Florida Legislature. With a $200,000 “break the mold” grant, a small group was charged with attempting something truly disruptive: create the nation’s first online public school. From those early moments 16 years ago to present day, Florida Virtual School has changed the landscape of public education in Florida and nationwide. In 1997, FLVS had 77 students. In fiscal year 2011-12, we had more than 149,000 students in Florida alone.

Virtual-course-chartFlorida Virtual School keeps the student at the center of every decision we make. Seeing every student as an individual is one of the key reasons so many FLVS students achieve and exceed expectations. With our students in the center, FLVS has concerns with the way the language of two Florida House bills, HB 5101 and HB 7029, account for student access and opportunity.

The language used in these bills changes the lens through which the Legislature sees student funding. It moves from addressing unique student needs to a “one-size-fits-all” model that pits district against district. Essentially, the proposed language caps the amount that can be spent on an individual student to a single full-time equivalent (1.0 FTE). This dollar amount is static, and it does not change based upon the number of courses a student successfully completes.

Each student has individual reasons for taking FLVS courses, reasons that vary from acceleration to credit recovery to grade forgiveness and others. Most FLVS students are concurrently enrolled in a brick-and-mortar school, and many take FLVS courses in addition to their six- or seven-period day.

If HB 7029’s and HB 5101’s changes are implemented, the FTE associated with a student taking a full load at a zoned school will be divided between the two (or more) providers of that student’s education, based upon the individual district’s FTE calculation, which varies based upon district. The bill language says “proportionately” but this word is incorrect because FLVS already receives a reduced amount compared to brick-and-mortar schools. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: charter school students, class size tradeoffs & more

Legislature. The Senate Education Committee looks like it’s done for the session, meaning bills like Sen. Jeff Brandes’ micro-credits idea are stranded and maybe dead. Gradebook.

florida roundup logoCharter schools. About 300 charter schools students lobby lawmakers for charter school funding, reports Naked Politics. Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, says he wants to remove a provision in his charter schools bill requiring districts to share unused facilities with charters, reports The Buzz. Pasco district officials debate errors in charter schools applications, reports Gradebook. The teachers at a closed-down Miami-Dade charter school earned state recognition money for an improved school grade, but district officials are having trouble finding them, reports the Miami Herald.

Magnet schools. The Polk school district is considering creating a K-12 arts system with an elementary and middle school in Lake Wales, where all the other schools are community-run charters. Lakeland Ledger.

Class size. Broward’s progress in reducing class sizes to meet state law is resulting in some negative tradeoffs, like ballooning AP classes. Miami Herald. More from the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Continue Reading →


School choice parents to rally at Florida Capitol

About 1,000 people are expected for the rally in Tally.

About 1,000 people are expected for the rally in Tally.

“Where are the parents who support school choice?”

“Where are the parents who support parental empowerment?”

“Where are the parents whose children benefit from education reform?”

These are typical questions from traditional parenting groups, groups that sometimes say they represent Florida parents in all educational matters. They have to ask the whereabouts of moms and dads of more than 1.5 million schoolchildren of choice, because such parents don’t tend to be in their membership files.

To the extent these choice parents are low-income and single moms who choose options such as the tax credit scholarship, they do indeed tend to be less visible in the political sphere.

Get ready, because that’s changing.

Early Wednesday morning, families from all over Florida, from Miami’s inner city neighborhoods to rural Pasco County, will board buses with their children and teachers and travel five to 10 hours to get to Tallahassee for School Choice Day. Organizers expect more than a thousand participants to gather and show lawmakers, traditional parenting groups, and everyone else the real face of parental school choice.

They won’t look like right-wing corporations. There’s a good bet they will be racially and economically diverse. In other words, they will probably look like you and me. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: innovation schools, parent trigger, Florida Formula & more

florida roundup logo

Florida Formula. South Carolina is looking at third-grade retention and other parts of the Florida model. The State.

Parent trigger. The Senate Education Committee passes the parent trigger along – altogether now – party lines. The Buzz, WFSU, Tallahassee Democrat.

Charter schools. StateImpact Florida writes up a bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, that would allow districts to create charter-like “innovation schools.” (The Senate Education Committee passed the bill unanimously.) The Orlando Sentinel notes passages of another charter bill that would beef up accountability requirements.

Dual  enrollment. The DOE picks the College of Central Florida to create a website promoting dual enrollment. Ocala Star Banner. Continue Reading →