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 →


Florida charter school group: So much misinformation about Common Core

An advocacy group for charter school parents in Florida is warning its parents about widely circulating myths regarding Common Core State Standards. While the recent newsletter from Parents for Charter Schools doesn’t endorse Common Core, it does attempt to dispel what it says are a few misleading statements – and in tone, its language echoes that of Common Core supporters.

parents for charter schools logo“There is so much misinformation out there and we all know that knowledge is power,” says the newsletter, which is posted on the group’s facebook page. “Some of the more common myths are that we will bring the standards down to the lowest common denominator. This (is) just not true. The standards will be brought up (to) the higher standards.”

The charter school parent group’s statements are another intriguing tidbit in the battle over Common Core, which has fuzzed up traditional lines between education factions. It also further complicates, at least in Florida, a side skirmish over whether the standards will help or hurt school choice.

As we’ve reported before, many private schools in Florida are embracing Common Core as part of a parental engagement effort led by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. Many Catholic schools in Florida and beyond have also warmed to the standards, though with a faith-based twist and with more reticence recently as political heat over the standards has risen. Continue Reading →


Online enrollment shifting from Florida Virtual School to school districts

While enrollment has plummeted at Florida Virtual School, the nation’s largest online learning provider, its franchises with local school districts are experiencing unprecedented growth.

flvsBetween July 1 and the first week of October, the 55 Florida districts that operate franchises with Florida Virtual School saw course requests soar from 58,3o6 in 2012 to 96,656 in 2013 for a 66 percent increase, according to FLVS data. Over the same time span, FLVS reported an 11 percent drop with approved course requests going from 311,077 to 276,424.

In some districts, the franchise growth is massive. In Alachua County, course requests jumped from 465 in 2012 to 3,217 this year. Broward went from 4,079 to 17,029.

The shift is a sign that the new state education funding calculation did hit FLVS hard, but it doesn’t appear it has kept students from continuing to enroll in online courses overall. Total course enrollments for FLVS offerings within franchises and the provider are up 1 percent, from 369,383 in 2012 to 373,080 in 2013.

With a Florida Virtual School franchise, districts pay FLVS $50 per half-credit for the provider’s courses and receive student support and teacher training. FLVS also provides administrative, curriculum and technical support. The arrangement allows districts to use their own teachers and keep state funding received for each student in-house.

The funding change was approved by legislators and Gov. Rick Scott last spring. Before, districts received their full per-student allocation even when a student took a course through FLVS, which also received funding. Now, the district receives six-sevenths of the allotment and FLVS gets one-seventh.

Lawmakers contend the measure is more equitable, preventing the state from paying for the same student more than once. But some admit the funding change led to unintended consequences, with some districts blocking students from signing up for Florida Virtual and others pushing students to their franchises first.

During a legislative committee meeting last month, Holly Sagues, FLVS’ chief policy officer, said the continued drop in course requests led to layoffs and a halt in course development. The move could wind up costing the state-funded agency $40 million, she said.

The Senate Education Committee has requested an update on legislative changes to digital learning and other programs during a meeting next week.

The chart below, provided by FLVS, shows overall course request increases in franchise programs across the state. Okaloosa, with only three this school year, no longer has a franchise.

FLVS franchise data


Florida schools roundup: Charter schools, career ed, special needs & more

Charter schools: Nine people apply to serve on the local advisory board of a struggling St. Petersburg charter school. Tampa Bay Times.

florida-roundup-logoCareer Ed: Escambia County students tour a Gulf Power plant, part of a program to encourage them to seek energy jobs. Pensacola News-Journal.

Special needs: Young people with autism, attention-deficit disorder, muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome and other disabilities share their experiences with Palm Beach County elementary students. Sun Sentinel. A Hillsborough County middle school uses the buddy system to help students with special needs, and their classmates. Tampa Bay Times.

School safety: A circuit judge criticizes Duval County public schools for being unsafe. Florida Times-Union.

School boards: Palm Beach County school board members terminate lobbyists’ contracts worth $381,000. Palm Beach Post. Longtime Seminole County school board member Diane Bauer dies. Orlando Sentinel. Broward School Board member Katie Leach unexpectedly resigns. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →


Of civics and ‘sects’: debunking another school choice myth

The critic should not imagine this escapist attitude to be the specialty of the occasional occult and exclusivist faith-based school. Most of us can find it in the mirror.

The critic should not imagine this escapist attitude to be the specialty of the occasional occult and exclusivist faith-based school. Most of us can find it in the mirror.

The American Center for School Choice is committed to the empowerment of all families to choose among schools public and private, secular and religious. As in all programs of government subsidy – food stamps are an example – there will be limits on the product that can be chosen; the school preferred by the parent must meet academic standards and respect civic values. Taxpayers will not subsidize the choice of any curriculum encouraging hatred or violence.

Until the 1950’s public schools could, and did, broadly profess a religious foundation for the good society; and both history and serious contemporary research report the powerful contribution of religious private schools to civic unity. Nevertheless, skeptics of parental school choice for lower-income classes are inclined to worry: are faith-based schools perhaps separatist in their influence simply by teaching – in some transcendental sense – the superiority of believers? The critics’ principal target is an asserted practice of some religious schools to claim a favored access to eternal salvation for their own adherents.

If this allegation is an issue, it is not one for the lawyer; so long as a school teaches children to respect the civil law and their fellow citizens here on earth there could be no concern of the state. It is unimaginable under either the free exercise or establishment clauses of the 1st Amendment (plus the 14th) that government – federal or state – could undertake to censor the content of teaching simply because it includes the idea that the means of eternal salvation are accessible only to some. The State’s domain is this life only, and our governments have so far properly refrained even from asking such an inappropriate question of any school.

The content of religious teaching could become relevant to government concern – and subject to regulation – only insofar as it bore upon matters temporal. Racial distinctions by employers suggest a rough parallel; the school cannot discredit the aptitude of non-believers for strictly earthly vocations or civic participation. It may not teach that Catholics tend to make unsatisfactory mathematicians, or that Jews can’t cook. It may not warn its children to avoid personal relationships with children of non-believers. But note that such a limitation upon temporal stigma is not a restraint unique to religious schools; it is a standard curb on the teaching of the purely secular institution, whether this be Andover or P.S. 97. There is really nothing peculiar here to the faith-based school.

Thus, though the opponent of school choice is correct to worry about schools teaching the temporal inferiority of any group, he is bound in sheer logic to broaden his concern to include educators public as well as private. Just which category of school, by design or choice, most plainly radiates the earthly inferiority of particular groups would be a delicate political issue for the secular critic himself. The obvious candidate for this odious role would be the white suburban public school. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Private schools, charters, digital learning & more

Private schools: Dana Sostchin, a first-grade teacher who has taught for more than 20 years at Yeshiva Elementary School in Miami Beach, receives a Governor’s Shine Award from Gov. Rick Scott. Jewish Journal.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools: A new Brevard County K-5 charter school focuses on the classics,  with literature and Latin lessons. Florida Today. The governing board of University Preparatory Academy, Pinellas’s newest charter school, meets today. Tampa Bay Times.

Dual enrollment: Polk County high school students taking part in a dual enrollment program with Southeastern University get to tour the campus. The Ledger.

Digital learning: Two Pinellas County high schools get to expand their digital technology programs thanks to a $14,500 grant. The Tampa Tribune.

Common Core: Department of Education officials have received nearly 13,000 public comments on Common Core State Standards. Tallahassee Democrat.

Afterschool: Pinellas County schools make a final push to enroll students in the district’s new afterschool tutoring program, Promise Time. The Tampa Tribune.

Teacher pay: Miami-Dade teachers will vote on a $70 million deal that will provide raises of at least $1,100 to 21,000 instructors. Miami Herald. Lee County teachers approve a $1,700 raise for effective and highly effective teachers. Fort Myers News-Press. Continue Reading →