Florida roundup: School choice, charter schools, magnet schools & more

School choice. Democratic contender Nan Rich blasts both Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist for supporting vouchers. Sunshine State News.

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. A bill encouraging collaboration on charter schools at military bases heads to Gov. Rick Scott, the Tampa Bay Times reports.  The governor says he’ll sign in it. News Service of Florida. More from the Tampa Tribune. A charter-school students wins Broward County’s spelling bee. Miami Herald.

Magnet Schools. The Pinellas County School Board approved two new magnet schools focused on technology. Tampa Bay Times.

School technology. Collier County schools officials revisit their policy allowing students to bring their own devices. Naples Daily News.

Testing. A discussion about the FCAT replacement, whatever that might be. StateImpact Florida. Orange County officials worry whether they’ll be ready for the new tests in time. Orlando Sentinel.

Construction funding. Polk County school district officials fear a $238 million funding gap for school facilities. Lakeland Ledger.

School safety. The gun bill is back, and gaining traction. Extra Credit. A Broward student is charged for bringing an AR-15 rifle near a high school campus. Sun-Sentinel.

Common Core. The Brevard County School Board adopts new textbooks intended to align with the state’s new standards. Florida Today.

School boards. The Manatee school board votes unanimously to request that the Inspector General investigate possibly malfeasance by board members between 2010 and 2012. Bradenton Herald. More from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teacher pay. Dozens of Orange County teachers rally for raises. Orlando Sentinel.

Bipartisan support for FL school choice plan aimed at special-needs students

A new type of school choice program aimed at serving special-needs students in Florida won bipartisan support during its first legislative committee vote Tuesday.

Rep. Micahel Bileca, R-Miami, chairs the House panel that has proposed individual education accounts for special-needs students.

Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, chairs the House panel that has proposed individual education accounts for special-needs students.

Several Democrats on the House Choice & Innovation Committee joined Republicans in voting 11-2 for “personal learning accounts,” a school choice option that would allow parents with disabled children to use state education funds for a range of education-related services.

Other Democrats, like Ranking Member Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, voted against the bill but held out the possibility they might support it in the future.

“Vouchers are so controversial at times, but I think that you have an honest desire to help the families that were up here today,” Saunders said. “I think there’s a very legitimate need.”

Parents of special-needs children came to Tallahassee to testify on behalf of the proposal, while the Florida PTA and statewide teachers union objected.

Mindy Gould, the PTA’s legislative chair, said the group had “great concerns,” and mentioned a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling that found the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program unconstitutional.

The Bush v. Holmes decision struck down the voucher program, which was created under Gov. Jeb. Bush for students in struggling schools. But justices in the case also indicated that other programs, including those for special-needs students, may be “distinguishable” under the state constitution.

Under the House legislation, individual accounts would be available to parents of children with conditions like autism and cerebral palsy who qualify for the state’s two highest support levels for disabled children.

The accounts could reimburse them for specific kinds of therapy or specialized instruction for their children. Funding would be based on the formula for the state’s McKay Scholarship program, also for students with disabilities. Continue Reading →

FL Common Core foes oppose same tests for school choice scholarships

As if education politics in Florida couldn’t get more complicated.

Opponents of Common Core in public schools are hoping to seize on anti-Common Core sentiment among their counterparts in private schools. The prompt: Calls by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, for tax credit scholarship students in private schools to take the same standardized tests as their public school peers.

In a recent newsletter, the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition wrote:

“Senate President Gaetz is determined to impose Common Core standards on private schools by requiring the state Common Core tests for all voucher/scholarship tax credit students.  He stated these intentions in an interview in the Orlando Sentinel and in his opening day of the legislature speech. (See our report. Senator Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) is carrying this bill, SB 1620, which if changed and passed as Gaetz wants, would prevent up to 330,000 students from being free from Common Core. This is completely unacceptable. Please let him know how much of a problem this really is … “

A bill to strengthen and expand the scholarship program cleared the House Finance & Taxation Subcommittee last week on an 11-7, party-line vote. But the bill did not include testing language, and some House members said they opposed the proposed testing mandate. So far, no test language has surfaced with the Senate bill, either. (Full disclosure: the scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)

Whether Common Core would help or hurt private schools and school choice has been a heated side debate in the fight over the standards. Some private schools clearly oppose the standards, while others are embracing them.

FL Legislature talking charter schools & military families

Update: The bill with the charter school language is headed to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk after the Senate approved it this morning on a 38-0 vote.

Florida lawmakers are set to approve a proposal intended to help military bases offer more education options for children of their personnel.

Sen. Richter

Sen. Richter

The move comes amid a high-profile effort to create a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. The organization looking to create the school withdrew its first application last week after being denied by the Hillsborough County School Board and losing its first state appeal.

A provision added to the  “Florida G.I. Bill” would add new language to the state’s charter schools law, calling for commanders on bases to “collaboratively work with the Commissioner of Education to increase military family student achievement, which may include the establishment of charter schools on military installations.”

SB 860 contains a number of provisions aimed at helping the state’s veterans, from extending hiring preferences to charging them in-state tuition at colleges and universities. The Senate is scheduled to take it up today on the floor. The House passed its version, which also includes a charter schools provision, on the first day of the session.

Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, faced questions from Democrats on the Appropriations Committee last week when he helped add the charter schools provision to the Senate bill. They wanted to know if it would change the process for charter school approvals or affect the MacDill application. (The Florida Charter Educational Foundation withdrew its application later that day, and has pledged to revise and resubmit it).

Richter said the proposal “does not affect the MacDill situation.” It simply “encourages the MacDill base to work with the school district” and “recognizes the unique characteristics of our military families with deployment and certain other circumstances.”

Richter could not be reached for comment Monday. Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Tax-credit scholarships, Common Core, school safety & more

Tax credit scholarships. The Miami Herald comes out against the bill to strengthen the scholarship program. Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino doesn’t like it either. Jewish leaders rallied for tax-credit scholarships last week in Tallahassee, saying they allow more low-income children to attend Jewish day schools, the Jewish Journal reports. The Ocala Star-Banner editorializes lawmakers should pause consideration of the bill.

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Leadership. Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie receives strong school board reviews after increasing choice options, growing digital learning opportunities and creating “an overall culture of performance and accountability,” the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports.

Savings accounts. Proposals creating new options for disabled students will be hear today. Orlando Sentinel.

Wraparound services. A Central Florida high school prepares to add a physician on its campus, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Private schools. A Lecanto Catholic school could close after the school year, and parents are weighing their options, the Citrus County Chronicle reports.

Digital learning. Florida school districts see wide variation in their technology infrastructure and broadband capacity. WFSU. Continue Reading →

A Catholic school network for special-needs students

Students at Morning Star Catholic School in Tampa, Fla., learn how to keep looking ahead with their studies - and in life.

“They’re just children,’’ Principal Eileen Daly says of her students at Morning Star Catholic School in Tampa, Fla. “They come to us to learn what they’re good at and what they can do. … But really we’re teaching them how to do well in school.’’

When Madelyn Tomas was in the third grade, teachers at her public school wanted to retain the speech- impaired student another year. Madelyn’s mom, a school nurse, chose, instead, to move her daughter to Morning Star Catholic School in Tampa, Fla.

Madelyn Tomas says Morning Star helped her not only fit in at school, but excel.

Madelyn Tomas says Morning Star helped her fit in at school, and excel.

“It saved my life, to be honest,’’ said Madelyn, now an eighth-grader who earned straight A’s last semester. “The small class sizes helped me focus. I’ve gone from thinking I couldn’t learn anything to knowing I can learn.’’

That’s the goal at Morning Star, one of six private schools and three programs in the Florida Catholic Diocese system that serves 566 children with special needs. The first Morning Star opened in Jacksonville in 1956 to serve boys and girls with physical needs. Through the years, the schools have broadened that focus based on a growing need to provide more educational opportunities for students with learning disabilities.

“They’re just children,’’ said Principal Eileen Daly, who has been with the Tampa school for 23 years, first as a reading teacher. “They come to us to learn what they’re good at and what they can do. … But really we’re teaching them how to do well in school.’’

Morning Star opened in Tampa in 1958 in a small concrete-block building behind Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church. Most of the school’s 78 students in grades first through eighth have been diagnosed with a speech, language or learning disability. The rest have a combination of physical impairments and developmental disorders, such as autism or Tourette syndrome.

Sixty students receive McKay Scholarships, state dollars that go to families of children with special needs. Another four receive Florida Tax Credit Scholarships for low-income students, which provides $4,880 of the school’s $10,750 annual tuition. (Step Up For Students is the nonprofit that administers the scholarship program and co-hosts this blog).

The school, a nonprofit that receives funding from the diocese as well as the community, also provides its own scholarships. About half of the student body is Catholic, but Morning Star focuses more on academics, said administrative coordinator Paul Reed.

Students are taught in classes with 10 students per teacher. Sometimes, when the school has extra dollars, there’s an aide. There also are SMART boards, laptops and iPad minis in almost every class. Junior high students are allowed to bring their own devices, such as a tablet.

Lessons adhere to the same standards and benchmarks taught at other diocesan schools, but Morning Star students don’t receive grades. Learning gains are measured through the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

Students also are exposed to classes and clubs found in most any school, like student council, yearbook and show choir – “so they can kind of be top dog, where elsewhere they wouldn’t be,’’ Daly said.

Continue Reading →

redefinED roundup: charters in NY, virtual schools in ME, tax credit scholarships in FL


Alaska: A bill will allow citizens to vote to remove a Blaine Amendment from the state constitution but it may not have enough votes to pass (Anchorage Daily NewsAnchorage Press). A mom says public education needs more money not school choice (Alaska Dispatch).

Arizona: House Democrats oppose expanding the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (Tucson Weekly). Proposed legislation may allow hundreds of thousands of Arizona students to become eligible for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (Associated Press).

D.C.: Enrollment at St. Ann’s Academy has fallen to 139 students so the Catholic diocese will shut down the school this fall (Washington Post).

Florida: A bill to expand the state’s tax credit scholarship program passes out of the House Tax and Finance Committee (Sunshine State News, News Service of Florida, Associated Press, Gainesville SunMiami Herald). A Florida mom drives to Tallahassee to speak before the legislature about how much tax-credit scholarships mean to her and her family (redefinED). A Republican lawmaker wants to require all private school voucher students to take the state assessment (Tampa Bay Times, Sun Sentinel). A charter school in Broward County was nearly shut down after failing to obtain the proper building permits (Sun Sentinel). Frank Biden, the brother of Vice President Biden, advocates for charter schools (Post on Politics). A House panel proposes education savings accounts for special needs students (Orlando Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times). Rev. Robert Ward says tax credit scholarships help the poor (Tampa Bay Times). The school board in Palm Beach will consider a plan to allow full public school choice within the district (1230 AM WBZT, Sun Sentinel). Writer Julie Delegal says private school voucher students should take the state test because researchers can’t compare different tests (Florida Today). Jon East from Step Up For Students says the debate on accountability is about which test to use (redefinED). The superintendent of Broward County Public Schools focuses on building bridges with the community and charter schools (Education Week).

Idaho: A bill to create tax credit scholarships advances in the House (Idaho Reporter). Continue Reading →

Florida roundup: Tax credit scholarships, school spending, teacher evals & more

Tax credit scholarships. The Tampa Tribune comes down in favor of the expansion bill. The testing issue for tax credit scholarships is complicated. Gradebook. As she has many times before, Jacksonville’s Julie Delegal says valid comparisons to public school students can’t be made when tax credit scholarship students take similar but not the same standardized tests. Florida Today. GTN TV does a story on the bill. So does Watchdog.orgNews Service of Florida asks Gov. Rick Scott about what he said last year regarding scholarship students and testing. (The scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.)

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. A Q&A with the new principal of the University Prep charter school in St. Petersburg. Tampa Bay Times. WMNF’s “Urban Cafe” show interview the principal of Seminole Heights High School, a charter school for 16- to 21-year-old males who want a “fresh chance” at earning a high school diploma. (Starts about the 8 minute mark.) A Palm Beach County School Board member suggests a multi-million dollar marketing campaign to stem the tide of students leaving for charter schools. Palm Beach Post.

Common Core. Despite claims, many textbooks are NOT aligned to Common Core. Tampa Bay Times. Common Core standards are in use in art classes, too. Tampa Tribune. How the Common Core rollout is going in Florida middle schools. StateImpact Florida.

Pre-K. Kids who participate are more ready for kindergarten than those who don’t. School Zone.

School choice.  Parents, choose carefully. Tampa Bay Times. Probably better, for now, that the Palm Beach County school district expand its existing choice programs rather than go to “full” district choice. Palm Beach Post.

Parents. They must be challenged to help, early and often. Pensacola News Journal.

Accountability. EdWeek logs in Sen. Bill Montford’s “pause” bill.

Teacher evals. VAM scores could lead to unfair ratings. Florida Times Union. The state should chuck its eval system and let districts come up with something better. Tampa Bay Times.

Testing. Some teachers didn’t appreciate the ed commish’s letter on testing for special needs students. Gradebook. Conflict between FCAT and Passover. Gainesville Sun. Continue Reading →