Florida roundup: Middle schools, magnet schools, teacher unions & more

Middle schools. Choice options – including charter schools that compete with the district’s offerings – come into play as Duval officials rethink their approach to middle school. Florida Times-Union. Hernando County plans to start a new academy for middle-school students who are falling behind. Tampa Bay Times. A military academy aimed at middle school students is close to its enrollment goal. Ocala Star-Banner.


Magnet schools. A science academy teachers youngsters about marine life during trips down the St. Johns River. Florida Times-Union. Graduation marks the end of a difficult year for a Palm Beach County magnet program. Palm Beach Post. A Palm Beach high school is offering space for students who could not find space in the Dreyfoos School of the Arts, the Post reports.

Charter schools. A charter school for students with autism leaves the school district behind and hopes to join forces with a nearby private school. Gradebook.

Alternative schools. The Orange and Seminole County school districts both plan to create new options for students who fall behind in high school. Orlando Sentinel.

Unions. The Florida Education Association endorses Charlie Crist for governor. Sunshine State News. The Pasco teachers union negotiates planning time with the school district. Tampa Bay Times. The Brevard teachers union stakes out positions on a range of statewide issues but has yet to take a position on a local school tax. Florida Today.

Funding. Some advocates are calling for a revamp of the formula used to distribute education funding to school districts. WTSP. School districts worry funding increases might not keep pace with spending demands. Tampa Tribune.

Continue Reading →

100,000 FL students have started applications for tax credit scholarships

Demand for Florida tax credit scholarships hit a milestone late Friday: For the first time in the program’s history, the number of students who have started an application for fall scholarships topped 100,000.

100 000

The number hit 100,000 about 10 p.m. As of 7 a.m. Saturday, it stood at 100,037.

In 2013, the number of students reached 94,105 before the application process was halted early, on June 28.  In 2012, it reached 87,540 before the application period ended Aug. 3.

The tax credit scholarships program is currently limited to low-income families. Changes passed by the state Legislature this year – and awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature – would allow partial scholarships to families with modestly higher incomes, but only after all qualifying low-income families are served. The program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

The number of scholarships has risen rapidly, from 28,927 in the 2009-10 school year to 59,765 this year. The program’s current funding cap of $358 million should allow 67,000 students to be served in the fall.

Not every started application results in a scholarship awarded or used. Some parents won’t finish the applications. Some won’t meet eligibility requirements. Some will be awarded scholarships but never use them. (In the latter case, the money is then channeled into other scholarships.)

Demand for tax credit scholarships became something of a side issue during the recent legislative session, with some questioning the level of demand given the lack of a formal waiting list. Step Up is likely to end the application process in late June again this year.

Where Florida may be heading on course choice

The debate about the next wave of educational choice – allowing students to select not just their schools but individual courses – is likely to surface again in Florida, which already has a course choice program on the books.

The Legislature created the Florida Approved Courses and Tests Initiative in 2013. Under the current law, the initiative is set to go live during the 2015-16 school year, but more legislative changes would likely have to be made before then, including a system for funding the courses.

While the effort has gotten a lot of press because it would allow high school students to take Massive Open Online Courses for credit, there’s more to it than that. Some Florida school districts have already begun experimenting with MOOCs.

But making the leap from using them as a type of course content (the way some teachers might use Khan Academy lectures) to treating them like a full-fledged education provider, and figuring out how to fund, regulate and hold MOOCs accountable can create a broader platform for course choice.

One of the architects of last year’s law, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said the goal is not just to offer MOOCs for credit. It’s to bring in new providers that break the traditional mold.

Imagine students selecting a mix of classes tailored to their interests, some online, some in-person, and moving through them at their own pace. They may be taught by Florida-certified teachers, or adjuncts approved by districts.

“We’re moving away from the JC Penney model of education, to the Amazon model,” Brandes said. “We have an old institution that now has to respond to the changing marketplace.” Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Digital learning, charter schools, single-gender and more

Digital learning. A startup creates tablets that some school districts are using as a low-cost alternative to iPads. Miami Herald.

Tax credit scholarshipsGradebook writes up the teachers union’s opposition to legislation that would expand eligibility for the program and redefinED‘s take on how school choice impacts funding.

florida-roundup-logoSingle-gender. StateImpact dives into the research on the programs.

Charter schools. They’re expected to continue increasing their enrollment in Pasco. Gradebook.

School grades. Falling letter grades mean some districts are poised to lose “high-performing” designations from the state. Extra Credit.

Teacher evaluations. Evaluations are a source of stress for Pasco County teachers and administrators question whether the system will be ready in time. Tampa Bay Times. More from Gradebook.

Superintendents. Hernando’s superintendent gets good marks during his first school board evaluation. Tampa Bay Times. The Lee schools chief is rated average. Fort Myers News-Press. One candidate for the Alachua County post takes another job. Gainesville Sun.

School safety. A Miami-Dade school gets accolades for its anti-bullying efforts. Miami Herald. A Fort Myers principal faces bullying allegations. News-Press. A St. Lucie high school teacher is arrested on sex charges. St. Lucie News-Tribune. Impending cuts could affect Duval security guards. WJXT.

Needy students. A Jacksonville program helps provide weekend meals for students in need. Florida Times-Union.

Fundraising. Dan Marino helps raise money for Bradenton schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Florida funds education options – it’s as simple as that

deskFlorida won’t pay a school to NOT educate a student. I’ll put that another way: the state doesn’t pay for students to not attend a school.

It is a simple and intuitive fact, yet some Floridians – many happen to be parental choice critics – don’t seem to get it.

For 41 years, the Florida Legislature has funded education with a formula based specifically on the cost to educate each student. The just-approved 2014-15 spending plan is no different: It determines the average student will cost $6,937 to educate, multiplies that amount by a projected enrollment of 2,722,134 and arrives at a bottom line of $18.9 billion. Each district is paid accordingly.

Not surprisingly, this means the state won’t pay a school for students educated somewhere else. But look at the responses from Floridians concerned about the newer private options available to lower-income and special needs students:

(As we always note, the scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)

Opposing one type of school choice program because it “diverted” money, takes “tax dollars out,” or leaves public schools with “fewer resources” requires critics to ignore the state’s method of funding K-12 education. Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, course choice, charter schools and more

Single-gender. Separate floors for boys and girls are part of the turnaround plan for a struggling Duval County school. Florida Times-Union.


Tax credit scholarships. The statewide teachers union calls on Gov. Rick Scott to veto legislation expanding eligibility for the program while reiterating myths about a failed constitutional amendment and referring to proposed personal scholarship accounts for disabled children as a “new entitlement.” Sentinel School Zone.

Charter schools. The Pinellas superintendent outlines a plan to take over a charter school aimed at at-risk students. Gradebook. Tampa Tribune.

Course choice. Virtual education and course choice may hold promise for instruction in physics and other sciences, but policymakers should be aware of potential pitfalls, Paul Cottle writes at Bridge to Tomorrow.

Brown v. Board of Education. Civil-rights activists aim for equity and elimination of achievement gaps on the anniversary of the landmark ruling. Miami Herald.

Special needs. Exceptional education students showcase their talents in Wesley Chapel. Tampa Bay Times.

Funding. Palm Beach voters will have to choose between lower property taxes or funding for arts programs on their fall ballots. Sun-Sentinel. The district plans to spend up to $1 million on bus cameras. Palm Beach Post.

Valedictorians. Broward schools will keep the honorary titles for top high school graduates. Sun-Sentinel. A Palm Beach valedictorian is interested in neuroscience. Palm Beach Post.

Facilities. Leon County’s schools superintendent acknowledges an FBI investigation in the wake of reports about the district’s allocation of constructions contracts. Tallahassee Democrat. Largo High School may be poised for demolition, but the again building houses a rich history. Tampa Tribune.

Administration. Hillsborough’s school district plans improvements after meetings with district employees. Tampa Tribune. Tampa Bay Times. A federal complaint against the Pasco superintendent is thrown out. Gradebook.

Testing. A fourth grader writes a song to rally students for the FCAT. Sun-Sentinel.

School safety. Teenagers are arrested after a gang-related incident on a school bus. Tampa Tribune. The family of a student shown in a video getting kicked by a police officer seeks an investigation. Palm Beach Post.

Employee conduct. A Palm Beach County guidance counselor faces DUI charges after getting stopped on the way to work. Palm Beach Post.  Lawsuits dog the Manatee County school district after a criminal case is closed against a former football coach. Bradenton Herald.

Hearing from the parents behind parental choice

The parents behind parental choice are joining every aspect of the movement to remind us: It's about their kids.

The parents behind parental choice are joining every aspect of the movement to remind us: It’s about their kids.

I spend a good deal of my time at work reaching out to parents across the state of Florida. As a grassroots organizer for Step Up For Students (which co-hosts this blog), I value my relationships with parents, grandparents, and guardians who have chosen to enroll their children in our program. They inform my work and I find great value in hearing their stories and concerns. Because of them, I have the greatest job on the planet – empowering parents, encouraging them to use their voice to advocate for their children and the right to choose the school that best fits their needs.

Sometimes I have to attend summits and conferences. This has value, too, especially if sessions are held to improve techniques and tools for organizers like me. Unfortunately, most education conferences are held for other reasons – to discuss policy and issues, and to thank lawmakers for their courage and support.

Again, there is value there. But it’s not really for me.

Therefore, I’ve been on a quest of sorts for a few years now. A quest to bring more parent and teacher advocates to these summits and conventions. I’ve written a few columns for this blog on the subject and have called and emailed and called again to national foundations and think tanks, encouraging them to add some time in each of their summit agendas to include moms and dads and teachers. I’ve said we need to involve more people who are affected by these policies and issues and we must seek their counsel, listen to their concerns, and thank them for their courage and support.

Democrats for Education Reform and Education Reform Now were the first group to say yes.

Last week, DFER and ERN held a summit called Camp Philos in beautiful Lake Placid, NY, where advocates from all over the country gathered to talk about education reform and parental choice. I was thrilled to hear speaker after speaker talk about transferring power from the status quo to families and educators. People who share my political views talked about the importance of grassroots support and parental involvement in everything from mission statements to action plans and every other aspect of this movement.

It’s significant that DFER and ERN set aside 90 minutes for a plenary session/panel discussion about and by parents and teachers. I arranged for the panelists to fly in from Florida and Idaho, and moderated as we talked about their experiences advocating for their children. We discussed ways that organizations can reach out to and involve more parents, and what Democrats can do in particular to help moms and dads understand their options and access what they need.

My panelists told their audience to listen more and build relationships. They said if organizers reach out to just a few parents and tell them what’s happening in their state legislatures and how to get involved, they’ll take it from there. Moms will reach out to other moms and dads will reach out to other dads. All organizers need is a few parents to get many more on board.

It worked in Florida. Continue Reading →

Prepping for the course choice wave

fordham report cover

Don’t look now, but a bigger, faster and potentially more far-reaching wave of educational choice is rolling in as we’re still grappling with basic questions about vouchers, tax credit scholarships and charter schools. Lucky for us, a new guide from the Fordham Institute offers a heads up on the complications with “course choice” so its promise can be fully realized.

Released today and authored by Michael Brickman, Fordham’s national policy director, “Expanding the Education Universe: A Fifty-State Strategy for Course Choice” arrives as school choice begins to give way to educational choice on a more fundamental level.

“Rather than asking kids in need of a better shake to change homes, forsake their friends, or take long bus rides, course choice enables them to learn from the best teachers in the state or nation,” Brickman writes. “And it grants them access to an array of course offerings that no one school can realistically gather under its roof.”

To some extent, course choice is already happening. Students in many places can take dual enrollment courses. Florida offers a vast course menu through Florida Virtual School. Louisiana adopted a course choice program two years ago. It’s just a matter of time before other states and/or school districts seize the day in a bigger way, and some, like Florida, are already taking a closer look.

The bottom line: students will increasingly be able to choose a course here and a course there, from an exploding number of providers. That will increasingly be true no matter what school they’re in.

That’s the upside. The downside? All kind of prickly questions have to be tangled with, from funding and access to eligibility and accountability. Brickman offers a rundown of five big ones, with potential directions, complications, tensions and tradeoffs. For example:

Who can be a provider: “Parents and kids will naturally want the widest possible range. Districts, however, will tend to favor tighter limits, whether out of concern for quality control or to minimize competition with their own offerings. States will also have to balance the desire to serve more children with the political headache that inevitably comes when ‘controversial’ course providers are included. Or they may leave such decisions to districts or entrust them to third parties.”

Who pays them: “Does the child’s school district pay the cost? Does the state? The parents? Who decides what price is reasonable? How many kids can take how many such courses? Who controls this money? Who generates it?”

Then there’s this fun one: “What if Molly takes all but one or two of her courses from course providers? Is she still a student of Madison High School? Does it still confer her diploma? Is it still the school’s job to determine whether she has truly fulfilled state or district graduation requirements? If not the school, then who?”

And some thought school choice was complicated. :)