Why Charlie Crist will continue to back school choice

In his term as governor, Crist not only signed a major expansion of tax credit scholarships in 2010 but was a persistent voice for the students – poor and mostly of color – who take advantage of it. This photo shows him at the bill signing. That's former Democratic state Sen. Al Lawson on the left.

In his term as governor, Crist not only signed a major expansion of tax credit scholarships in 2010 but was a persistent voice for the students – poor and mostly of color – who take advantage of it. This photo shows him at the bill signing. That’s former Democratic state Sen. Al Lawson on the left.

If parental choice is to be an educational litmus test for Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-Democrat, then he might surprise the politicos who are tracking the 2014 gubernatorial race. There are legitimate reasons to believe Crist, who formally entered the race on Monday, will support at least some forms of private school choice. The way he has embraced scholarships for low-income students is the best clue.

In his term as governor, Crist not only signed a major expansion of tax credit scholarships in 2010 but was a persistent advocate for the nearly 60,000 students – poor and mostly of color – who now take advantage of it. As such, the public record is replete with enthusiastic endorsements. At the 2010 bill signing ceremony, which included Republican and Democratic legislators, Crist called the scholarship “extraordinary” and said the bill “gives families the power to do the most important thing they do – make sure they find a school that fits their child’s needs.” At a rally in 2008 at Potter’s House Christian Academy in Jacksonville, he said the scholarships “are helping us diversify our education system to achieve greater results and provide our children and future workforce with a world-class education.” At an event in Fort Lauderdale in 2009, he told supporters “I am confident we will continue to provide more educational opportunities and options.”

Perhaps most notable, though, was his speech to more than 5,500 students, families, educators and advocates who rallied March 24, 2010 at the State Capitol in support of tax credit scholarships. As a matter of disclosure, Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, organized that rally. It also produced this three-minute video about the event that provides context. The governor was clearly energized by the crowd, and his full remarks can be viewed in this clip.

“I’m so proud of the progress that we have made in education in Florida,” Crist said for openers, “And it’s all because of you and because of great teachers and great principals and choice. The power of choice in education is unstoppable. God bless you for pushing it.”

He continued. “We must make sure that every student gets an excellent education in the Sunshine State, and that’s exactly what you’re here about,” he said. “It is never a one-size-fits-all approach. Florida’s greatest strength is our great diversity, and every student should have an education that suits you. And your parents should have the power of choice no matter what the economics might be.”

In perhaps his most prescient comment, Crist spoke to bipartisan support: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m so proud to tell you that regardless of party Florida stands for you. There is no partisan politics about kids. It’s all about doing what’s right first and foremost. There it is – school choice is nonpartisan. You’re not kidding. It really is. As long as we put the children first, we cannot get it wrong. We’re going to continue to do that, continue to fight for you to make sure that you have the power of choice.” Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Career ed, early learning, Common Core & more

Magnet schools: A Polk County Recording Arts Academy has students creating music for everything from the homecoming dance to commercials. The Ledger.

florida-roundup-logoCareer Ed: Wakulla County high school students work toward an automotive service certification in a new career education program. Tallahassee Democrat.

Common Core: Senate President Don Gaetz on the new education standards: “You can’t dip them in milk and hold them over a candle and see the United Nations flag or Barack Obama’s face. They’re not some federal conspiracy.” Tampa Bay Times.

Early learning: A new report finds Florida children are not receiving an early start in developing their learning skills and will have a hard time catching up. Naples Daily News.

School spending: Palm Beach County school district money woes stall renovations at a historic West Palm Beach school building. Palm Beach Post.

School name: The advisory committee chairman of a Duval County high school named for a Confederate soldier doesn’t mind keeping the school’s name the same. Florida Times-Union.

Class size: A move by Brevard County School District officials to intentionally violate Florida’s class-size requirements meets with a mixed bag of contempt and support. Pensacola News-Journal. Continue Reading →


Florida Senate president: Common Core “not some federal conspiracy”

From the News Service of Florida:

Sen. Don Gaetz

Sen. Don Gaetz

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, defended the Common Core State Standards against attacks by some conservative activists who fear the standards could lead to federal overreach in the state’s education system.

Answering a question from the audience after a speech on education policy Monday, Gaetz dismissed some of the concerns that were raised by conservatives during a series of public hearings on the Common Core standards, which are based on national benchmarks developed by state officials.

“You can’t dip them in milk and hold them over a candle and see the United Nations flag or Barack Obama’s face,” Gaetz said. “They’re not some federal conspiracy.”

The Senate president did leave open the possibility that the standards might be tweaked as a result of the public hearings if they’re not strong enough in some areas. “I think the common core standards are good, solid standards. … So if there are ways that we ought to raise standards in order to reach higher and expect more of our students and more of our educational system, then let’s do that,” Gaetz said.


Common Core ruffles homeschoolers

Homeschool pioneer Brenda Dickinson can’t say whether she’s for or against Common Core State Standards. She wants to see the the curriculum first. But she does see reason for worry. Common core

How the national benchmarks are taught and measured might shape textbooks and even college entrance exams – and, through those means, spill over into the fiercely independent world of homeschooling.

Brenda Dickinson

Brenda Dickinson

“Our kids have always done well on those tests,’’ said Dickinson, who co-founded a statewide advocacy group for homeschoolers in Florida. “But it depends on how closely it’s tied to what’s being taught. If we don’t know what’s covered or how it’s covered,’’ that could hurt students who homeschool.

With more than a million homeschoolers nationwide, such concerns are among the growing pockets of uncertainty surrounding Common Core. Touted by supporters as a push for more rigorous academics, critics, many of them Tea Party conservatives, have turned the standards into a political hot-potato mired in fears of federal control.

Homeschool parents are an incredibly diverse group who choose to educate their children at home for a variety of reasons. For some, it might be for religious or moral beliefs, or for more flexible schedules. For others, it better meets their child’s learning needs or allows them to bypass state assessments.

While some aren’t threatened by Common Core, others bristle at what they see as a possible infringement on their freedom to educate their children the way they see fit.

“We are definitely hearing more concerns from parents about the Common Core,’’ said T.J. Schmidt of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a Virginia-based nonprofit that defends parents’ rights to educate their children at home. “But it’s not so much the standards themselves. There’s more of a fundamental concern – the national aspect.’’ Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: DOJ anti school choice suit stumbles, charters threatened in PA and more

MondayRoundUp_magentaArizona: The Friedman Foundation profiles the parents utilizing the new Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program (Center for Education Reform). What is the difference between a district school and a charter school? A school district official explains (Daily Courier).

Colorado: Amendment 66 will increase taxes and add $950 million in funding to public education but also bring charter school funding nearly up to par with the traditional district school (New York Times, Durango Herald). Krista Kafer, the director of Colorado’s Future Project, says spending more money on education isn’t enough and the state needs innovation like school choice (Denver Post). Jeb Bush and Michael Bloomberg make big donations to the Denver and Douglas County school board races to support school choice candidates (Denver Post).

Connecticut: School officials in Hartford recommend the low achieving Clark Elementary School be converted into an Achievement First charter school (Hartford Courant).

D.C.: Romona Edelin, executive director of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools, believes charter schools have revived public education in the District (Afro.com).

Florida: Gov. Rick Scott honors a private school teacher working at a Jewish school that serves 160 students from the tax-credit scholarship program (Sun Sentinel). Florida Virtual School has seen declining enrollments but its district-run franchises are seeing growth (redefinED). The Orange County School District is investigating a charter school which threatened to expel students if they failed the FCAT (Miami Herald).

Georgia: The new charter school commission approves one application and denies seven during its first meeting (Atlanta NPR, Forsyth News). The Georgia Charter School Association says that charter schools in the state are doing slightly better than traditional schools on most standardized tests (WABE 90.1 FM).

Idaho: Rural school teachers are turning to blending learning to supplement their instruction (Education Week).

Louisiana: The court hears the U.S. Department of Justice’s arguments on why parents should not be allowed to intervene in the DOJ’s anti-voucher case (Associated Press). The court ordered the DOJ to turn over documents related to segregation court orders over the last 40 years but the DOJ says the request is too burdensome and requests a delay (Times Picayune). The DOJ is trying to end a voucher program that helps minorities and reduces segregation (City Journal). Charter schools operating as “alternative schools” serve a very different student population and the state is still trying to figure out how to assess their effectiveness (The Advocate). Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Magnet schools, charters, Common Core & more

Magnet schools: A Broward County high school’s Aerospace Technologies and Design program teaches students to design, build and fund rocket-building projects, just like NASA. Sun Sentinel. Once a struggling school, this Palm Beach County magnet has become one of the premier public high schools in the country. Palm Beach Post. A new Advanced Placement Academy challenges traditional students to push themselves further. Fort Myers News-Press.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: The Orange County school system is investigating a charter school that wrongly threatened to dismiss students for failing the FCAT. Miami Herald. A Marco Island Charter Middle School student wins an essay contest, and a college education. Naples Daily News. Pasco’s superintendent recommends approving a charter for students with learning disabilities. Tampa Bay Times. Pinellas and Pasco school districts plan to oppose the new law requiring standard contracts for charter schools. The Tampa Tribune.

Dual language: The Palm Beach County school district brings in 15 teachers from Spain to help the district’s dual language program for the next three years. Sun Sentinel.

Common Core: So far, the Department of Education has received almost 16,000 emails and online comments concerning the new standards, including a 74-page document from former state Board of Education member Roberto Martinez. The Buzz. The Pasco County school board considers adopting a resolution supporting the standards. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher pay: Last-ditch efforts to prevent Orange County teachers from waiting another four months for salary increases appear headed for failure. Orlando Sentinel. Among the 11 largest public agencies in the county, the Polk County School District has the highest percentage of employees that make less than $50,000 a year. The Ledger.

SAT: The average SAT scores for Palm Beach County’s Class of 2013 dips slightly from the previous class of graduates, as did the number of county students taking the college entrance exam. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →


10 myths about faith-based schools

myth v. realityWe’ve heard the myths before. Parents can’t receive public support for their children to attend a faith-based school because that would violate constitutional restrictions. Faith-based schools are selective and homogenous. Faith-based schools shred the social fabric and civic unity. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the myths persist. And, in doing so, they continue to hamper efforts to bring faith-based schools fully into the panoply of choices from which all parent should be able to choose – and which compose public education in the 21st Century.

In its first report to the nation, “Religious Schools in America: A Proud History and Perilous Future,” the Commission on Faith-based Schools lists 10 of these myths – along with the facts that dispel them. The commission is a product of the American Center for School Choice, which co-hosts this blog. Its aim: To cast a brighter spotlight on the value and plight of faith-based schools, which are declining in urban areas where they have long been part of the solution in educating low-income children. The commission is holding a leadership summit in New York City on Nov. 19, where the report will be released. We’ll bring you more information in future posts. In the meantime, we thought the 10 myths worth sharing on their own.

Myth: Providing public support to families to choose a faith-based school violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Fact: The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that providing publicly supported scholarships directly to parents, either through tax credit scholarships or vouchers, is constitutional and 17 states now have such programs in operation.

Myth: Religion has never been a significant part of American education.

Fact: Religion was the foundation of education in America from Colonial days into the early 20th century, with states passing laws requiring Bible reading in public schools as late as 1930. Public schools based on religion are not constitutional, but many American families still want to access a faith-based school for their children’s education.

Myth: Few countries provide support for parents to choose a faith-based school as part of their public education systems.

Fact: Actually, in the Western Hemisphere, only Cuba and the United States do not routinely provide public support for parents to make that choice. Most democracies have incorporated faith-based schools among the choices that are open to parents when selecting a school for their children. Continue Reading →


Private voucher schools hit by funding change to Florida Virtual School

In a new twist on the legislative funding changes crimping Florida Virtual School, private schools that accept state-funded McKay Scholarships for special needs students may now lose money when McKay students take FLVS classes.



Private schools learned last week about the possible fallout, which could result in students dropping Florida Virtual School courses or parents paying for what traditionally has been offered for free.

Many of the 1,200 private schools that accept the scholarships, which on average range between $3,977 and $7,019, don’t charge parents more for tuition, said Robyn Rennick of The Coalition of McKay Scholarship Schools. So they likely will withdraw students from FLVS courses or ask parents to make up the difference.

“Was this really what the Legislature intended when they changed this statute – hurting the parents of kids with disabilities?’’ the coalition asked in a notice to school operators Monday.

Of the roughly 27,000 students who receive McKay Scholarships, 790 are enrolled in FLVS classes. At many of the high schools that accept the scholarships, students are taking driver’s education and health courses offered by FLVS, Rennick said.

FLVS officials, who have watched enrollment plummet since the funding change, said they’ve already heard from private school administrators who say the proposed cuts will cause financial hardships and lead to withdrawal of students currently enrolled in FLVS.

“This is yet another unintended consequence of the new funding model – denied choice for children with disabilities working hard to get the best education they can possibly get,’’ Florida Virtual School spokeswoman Tania Clow said.

Department of Education officials plan to discuss the issue Friday morning during a regularly scheduled internal meeting. They declined comment Thursday. Continue Reading →