In Florida, 1.5 million students choose

Editor’s note: This week is National School Choice Week, so it’s only fitting that we bring you this statistical snapshot of how deeply school choice has taken root in Florida, arguably the leading state for expanding learning options.

national-school-choice-week-logo1Too many of those who hail Florida as a national leader in school choice miss the breadth of change afoot. Yes, students are choosing charters and tax credit scholarships and vouchers in ever-increasing numbers. But school districts themselves are also helping to create a new normal in public education, and the latest enrollment numbers bear that out.

Get this: 1.5 million students in Florida last year attended something other than their assigned neighborhood school. That’s 42 of every 100 students in PreK-12.

The “Changing Landscape” document below is a project of the Florida Alliance for Choices in Education and Step Up For Students, and it was produced in partnership with the state Department of Education’s Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice. The state tracks a wide variety of educational options in the 67 school districts, and the numbers are eye-opening.

In 2012-13, one of every four K-12 students chose a district-operated school that was outside their neighborhood, whether it be through “open enrollment” polices or to take advantage of a special magnet school or career academy or International Baccalaureate program. At the same time, non-district options experienced remarkable growth from the previous year: charter enrollment up 13 percent, vouchers for disabled students up 10 percent, tax credit scholarships for low-income students up 27 percent. And the biggest voucher program in Florida continued to be for pre-kindergarten, last year serving more than 144,000 4-year-olds in private centers and schools.

These are seismic shifts in the way education is being delivered and can only serve to stimulate more demand. Children who succeed in a school environment that is tailored to their needs will become adults who insist on the same for their offspring. As these numbers tend to suggest, that type of generational change is already under way.

choice landscape


redefinED roundup: vouchers on the legislative agenda, first charter school approved in WA and more

MondayRoundUp_magentaAlaska: Gov. Parnell supports a constitutional amendment that allows the state to fund private schools (Anchorage Daily News). A DC radio show host says the Alaska constitution is clear in its prohibition on funding religious schools (Anchorage Daily News). Not all Republicans in Alaska agree with the governor’s voucher proposal (News Miner).

Arizona: A critic says time is running out for charter schools to prove they are better than public schools (Education Week). Plans are underway to develop 25 new “A rated” charter schools in Phoenix by 2020 (

California: Rocketship’s rapid expansion exposes growing pains (Education Week).

Colorado: Cyber charter schools in the state offer a viable education alternative (The Gazette).

D.C.: National School Choice Week kicks off in the nation’s capital (Watchdog). District officials discuss taking over an embattled charter school for at-risk students after its founders are accused of fraud (Washington Post).

Delaware: A court order keeps a struggling all-girls charter school open for another year to avoid Title IX discrimination against girls (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools).

Georgia: National School Choice Week president Andrew Campenella says the state is a model for school choice (Augusta Chronicle). Parents need expanded school choice options in the state (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Florida: One of the state’s best science teachers works in a charter school (redefinED). Auditors say five charter schools in Broward County are in the red (Sun-Sentinel). The sponsor of a charter school bill in the state legislature is also dean at a college run by the state’s largest for-profit charter school management company (Miami Herald).

Illinois: The Chicago Tribune editorial board argues for more high-quality charter schools. Chicago Reader columnist Ben Jorvasky is an opponent of charter schools but says they’ve become “untouchable” with allies like Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The Chicago Board of Education approves just seven of the 17 charter school applications but charter school opponents are still mad (Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, Huffington Post, NBC Chicago). A panel of school choice and charter school critics say “charter schools don’t make the grade” (Beacon News). Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: STEAM, charter schools, Common Core & more

Science: The next generation of scientists and inventors compete in the Thomas Alva Edison Kiwanis Science and Engineering and Inventors fairs, joining about 700 other Southwest Florida students. Fort Myers News-Press. The Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa helps teach students about science, engineering, art, technology and math through a new STEAMpunk program. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoConflict?: Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, has been named dean of new private university run by the state’s largest for-profit charter school management firm – and, at the same time, leads the charge for a proposed bill that looks at streamlining the charter application process. Miami Herald. More from the Associated Press.

School choice: A Palm Beach County school board members wants the district to allow all students to apply to attend almost any school they want, regardless of where they live. Palm Beach Post. Education is no longer one size fits all, writes Florida Virtual School teacher Esilda Ross for the Pensacola News-Journal. 1.5 million students in Florida last year attended something other than their assigned neighborhood school. That’s 42 of every 100 students in PreK-12. redefinED. The best solution to our nation’s failing education system is empowering parents, writes former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for the National Review.

Education budget: Florida Gov. Rick Scott asks state legislators to boost spending on public schools this fall by $542 million. Associated Press.

Common Core: Educators are wrong to pretend that Common Core State Standards are not coming to schools, writes the Palm Beach Post. We’re pretty much talking about the same standards, writes the Fort Myers News-Press.

Teaching: Those hoping to teach in Florida schools will face a tougher road to the classroom in March when increased passing certification scores go into effect. The Ledger. More from the Associated Press. Special needs teachers aides are among the lowest paid and have few requirements beyond a high school diploma and the passage of a math and reading assessment, finds a Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers investigation. TC Palm. Hernando teachers urge school board members to act on raises. Tampa Bay Times. Three Pasco teachers vie for educator of the year. The Tampa Tribune.

Creationism: According to Slate, 164 private schools that accept the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship teach creationism.

Standardized tests: Let’s hear some solutions from the anti-test crowd, writes Beth Kassab for the Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

Maybe if school choice was like Medicare

School choice supporters have long pointed to government programs that assist people in buying goods or services to draw parallels to vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and (more recently) education savings accounts. Pell Grants, the GI Bill, food stamps and housing assistance programs all essentially function in the same way as education vouchers (some literally are vouchers).

Spurred by a recent newspaper column that was critical of school choice, I’d like to recast another government program as a model for education and choice: Medicare. (The author of the op-ed said she wouldn’t want her Medicare replaced with a voucher).

TPMedicareMedicare, of course, is the government health insurance program that helps cover medical expenses (hospital visits, outpatient care, pharmaceuticals) accrued by Americans aged 65 or older. Indeed, a lot of Americans don’t want to alter Medicare. Even Tea Party Americans famously wanted to keep government out of their Medicare.

We could “Medicarize” education by offering education insurance for every K-12 child. Let’s just call the program “Educare” and imagine it was passed under the Educational Premium Insurance for the Children Act, otherwise known as EPIC (because politicians love acronyms).

Educare would provide coverage for 13 years of education. After the $150 deductible, the insurance would cover 80 percent of tuition and fees – or up to the full public state support, whichever is smaller. The remainder would be the student’s co-pay.


For those interested in income equality and “fairness,” we could limit the maximum co-pay based on household income so lower-income families have a smaller out-of-pocket expense. Or perhaps the deductible would increase for higher household incomes.

Like Medicare, Educare would be good for both public and private institutions. We could even have an Educare Part D which covers education-related expenses such as tutors, textbooks, school supplies and electronic education materials.

School choice opponents would have a difficult time opposing the “Medicarization of education.” More importantly, they may come to realize how similar vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and education savings accounts are to other government programs that many of them love and support.

Time for parents to join forces for school choice

joining forcesWhile working on our upcoming National School Choice Week event that will showcase the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision I noticed some similar behaviors between those who opposed desegregation in that landmark case and the behaviors of those who oppose school choice today.

Anger, hatred, name calling. Shall I go on? People can be very cruel when they feel threatened or disagree.

Growing up in Iowa, I was never subjected to racism or real hatred. There were nice people and there were mean people. Color was never a factor in determining who my friends were. At times, best friends would wind up duking it out at the bus stop and then be best friends again the next day. (Yes, I was one of those who did that.)

Our parents taught us that if you didn’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. If you do something, do your very best or don’t bother doing it all. Most importantly, always – always – do the right thing.

Many things have changed since I grew up in Iowa, but some things haven’t. Parents still value education. Parents still know what’s best for their children.

Over the years, my daughter Jessica has accessed several schooling options. She is currently in a charter school. But back in 2009, when she was seven years old, she began a petition to remove the requirement that students be enrolled in public school for at least one year before they can enroll in a district virtual education program. Many who opposed what Jessica was doing attacked me. They even attacked her! That was my first taste of what the real world was like when dealing with what I later realized was very controversial.

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FL schools roundup: Charter schools, literacy, Common Core & more

Charter schools: Plans for a 2,600-student charter school in Pembroke Pines could be put on hold, thanks to a brewing legal battle between the city and neighboring Southwest Ranches. Sun Sentinel. Broward County school district auditors find that five charter schools ended last school year in “deteriorating financial condition,” spending more money than they took in. Sun Sentinel. Pasco school officials raise concerns about the Legislature’s move to make it easier for charter schools to open and operate in the state. Tampa Bay Times. The Visible Men Academy, an all-boys charter school, receives a $15,750 grant from the Manatee Community Foundation. Bradenton Herald. The claims of some charter or magnet school administrators that they don’t “cherry-pick” students and “have always included all kids” appear to be at odds with the facts, writes William Hahn for The Ledger. Lawmakers look for incentives to attract high-impact charter networks from out of state. redefinED.

florida-roundup-logoTraditional schools: Polk County’s superintendent of schools adds to her list of ideas for improving public schools, including auditing all noncharter public schools. The Ledger. The Escambia County School Board reinstates a local food service company that district officials had recommended for suspension. Pensacola News-Journal. 

Common Core: A Broward County high school teacher posts a year’s worth of algebra II lessons to a new website offering free instruction for the new math and language arts standards. StateImpact Florida.

Literacy: An inflatable planetarium helps West Hernando middle school students learn about nighttime sky, and connect literacy to science and technology. Tampa Bay Times. A Hernando elementary school looks to racing to entice students to read. Tampa Bay Times.

Conduct: Nearly three months after the death of a former Hillsborough high school principal’s wife, a sheriff’s investigation continues as does a separate stalking case against a school district clerk. Tampa Bay Times.

FL considering ways to lure out-of-state charter school operators

Florida might find itself with more KIPP, YES Prep and RocketShip Education charter schools if a legislative proposal makes its way through the 2014 session.

Rep. George Moraitis

Rep. George Moraitis

The House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee has introduced a draft bill for the upcoming session to align charter school applications with the state’s new standard charter contracts (which passed last session). But the bill also includes a provision (page 27) that could give some out-of-state operators a coveted designation that would make it easier for them to expand in Florida.

The “high-performing” designation is reserved for charter school operators who have established a successful record in the Sunshine State. It’s a status approved by the state Board of Education, and one that comes with benefits such as money-saving multi-year contracts, additional student capacity and limited restrictions on opening more schools.

It’s not clear, yet, what criteria the out-of-state networks might have to meet in order to earn the designation, and how it would differ from the requirements for in-state networks. But Florida education leaders have told lawmakers they need the incentives. And some lawmakers say it’s a step toward attracting some of the country’s most successful charter school outfits to some of Florida’s poorest neighborhoods.

“We’re trying to induce people to come into the state to do business,’’ Rep. George Moraitis, a Republican member of the subcommittee, told redefinED. “This would be for excellent operators.’’

For the past three years, the state has focused on reeling in renowned operators. A few, such as The Seed Foundation and KIPP, set up shop. But Florida can and should do more, said State Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Charters, digital learning, school choice & more

Charter schools: The Schools of McKeel Academy in Polk County plan to hire the former superintendent as a consultant, despite his history of issues with personnel. The Ledger. Pasco County looks to revamp charter reviews by letting applicants answer district concerns before the school board renders a final decision. Tampa Bay Times. Bonita Springs may be the latest city to consider opening a charter school. Fort Myers News-Press.

florida-roundup-logoDigital learning: A South Florida entrepreneur wants to teach kids computer code to show them the potential available in the digital world. StateImpact Florida.

School choice: A record number of parents sign up for school assignments in Lee County for the first day of the application period. Fort Myers News-Press.

STEM: Hillsborough County’s award-winning Lennard High Robotics Club needs some community support. The Tampa Tribune.

Florida standards: State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart tells the State Board of Education that the proposed tweaks to Common Core will underscore the state’s ability to set learning expectations for students. Tallahassee Democrat. More on the standards and school grades from Education News.

Principals: More than 600 Broward County principals and assistant principals will get a boost in pay this year. Sun Sentinel.  A Polk County principal receives harsh criticism from a Lakeland High School student who accuses the principal of being sexist. The Ledger.

Sales tax: Brevard County School Board members review a $6 million list of potential budget cuts that could take place in 2015-16 if a proposed half-cent sales tax fails. Florida Today.

Parents: The Palm Beach County school district rolls out its parent academy to help moms and dads navigate their children’s educational future. Palm Beach Post. Parents of Manatee school children take turns signing a letter to the school administrators voicing their concern over potential teacher shortages. Bradenton Herald.

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