Florida House unveils major school improvement overhaul

Legislation unveiled this week in the Florida House — and tied to a new $200 million funding proposal — aims to move students from “persistently low-performing schools” to “schools of success” run by charter school operators with proven track records.

At the start of the legislative session, House Speaker Richard Corcoran vowed to eliminate “failure factories,” struggling schools that borrow a moniker from a Pulitzer-winning series in the Tampa Bay Times.

Until now, it had been unclear exactly how his intention would translate into legislation.

The House Education Committee is set to hear the proposed bill Thursday morning. It would set more aggressive requirements for turning around academically struggling public schools. If schools earned Ds or Fs from the state, their districts would have to begin implementing turnaround plans immediately, submitting them to state officials in September, months after school grades were released.

If those schools didn’t raise their grades to a C in a few years, districts would have to make bigger changes: Closing the school, converting it to a charter, or bringing in an outside operator.

As lawmakers heard during hearings earlier this year, those options are available to Florida school districts under the state’s existing school improvement law. But they seldom take those measures on their own. An ultimatum from the State Board of Education recently led to the Jefferson County School board choosing a charter operator to take over its persistently struggling schools, but that district’s actions are unprecedented.

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Florida scores well in new ranking of state charter school laws

Florida continues to score highly in the annual ranking of charter school laws in states around the country.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranked Florida eighth in the nation in the latest analysis of state charter school laws.

“Florida continues to move forward with offering high-quality charter schools as an option for the families of the state, and with the Legislature’s continued support, we think we can move toward the number one spot,” said Robert Haag, president and CEO of the Florida Consortium of Public Charter to Schools, in a statement. “To show the current scope of the charter school movement in Florida, in 1996, our state had one charter school with a couple hundred students. Today, there are 654 operating charter schools in Florida with 282,924 students enrolled.” Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: K-12 funding, recess, choice, charters and more

K-12 funding: The Senate Budget Committee proposes a boost of $790 million in spending in the next school year for Florida’s K-12 public schools. Almost 68 percent of that would come through higher property taxes for local districts. Gov. Rick Scott has proposed an $815 million increase for K-12 schools, also with 68 percent of the boost coming from local property taxes. House leaders, who have said they won’t accept any tax increase, propose an increase of $251.3 million. The House budget’s chief priority is $200 million to attract charter school networks into areas where traditional public schools have struggled. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida. Politico FloridaFlorida Politics.

Recess bill: The Florida House K-12 Innovation Subcommittee makes significant changes to the mandatory recess bill, then passes it. The original bill called for at least 20 minutes of unstructured but supervised recess every day for the state’s elementary school students. The amended bill changes the daily requirement to at least twice a week, lets schools count recess time toward physical education requirements, and removes the recess requirement for fourth- and fifth-graders. Miami HeraldSunshine State News.

School choice: The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee approves a bill that would increase the money students can receive through the state’s tax credit scholarship program. But removed from the bill was an expansion of eligibility and triple the money for Gardiner scholarships for students with disabilities. Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer both programs. The subcommittee also stripped the bill of a provision that would have allowed McKay scholarships for students with special needs even if they hadn’t attended a public school for an entire school year. redefinED. News Service of Florida.

Charter schools: The House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee approves a bill that could make it easier for high-performing charter schools to expand, give charter networks the ability to received federal funding directly, allow school districts an extra 30 days to review charter applications, and make public schools accountable for the academic performance of students who transfer to private or alternative charter schools. Ralph Arza of the Florida Charter School Alliance says his group supports nearly all the bill, but said alternative charters should be held responsible for students who transfer from traditional schools. redefinED. The committee also approves a bill that would require school districts to proportionately split local property tax revenues with charter schools after the money districts set aside for construction debts is deducted. The state’s 556 charter schools would receive about $148 million, or nearly double what they now get. redefinED. Continue Reading →

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Fla. House committee passes bill steering facilities funding to charters

Byron Donalds, R-Naples

The Florida House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee approved a committee bill that would require school districts to split their local property tax revenue with charter schools.

The bill passed with Republican backing and opposition from Democrats. The contentious debate delved into issues such as school choice and equitable funding.

A legislative staff analysis estimates the measure would raise about $147.9 million a year for charter schools, nearly double the $75 million that 556 charter schools currently share from the state budget.

The bill would create a stable funding source for charter schools, which would no longer rely solely on year-to-year appropriations. At the same time, it would avoid cutting into the money districts must set aside to pay off existing debt.

Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, who explained the bill, said it would even the playing field so both charter and public school students receive closer to equal funding.

The bill drew concerns from some school districts, whose representatives said their construction budgets are spread thin.

Wendy Dodge, legislative affairs director for Polk County schools, said her district is relatively large, with 29 charter schools. But it has lots of rural areas. After setting aside $17.5 million for debt service, the district has about $27.5 to pay for repairs of its existing buildings. It has hundreds of millions worth of identified needs.  Continue Reading →

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Fla. House panel backs private school choice bill after spending changes

Scholarship parent Tiffani Hinds testifies before the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

Private school choice legislation received bipartisan backing this afternoon from a Florida House panel.

As approved by the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee, HB 15 would increase the funding each student receives through the state’s tax credit scholarship program. Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the program.

The committee removed from the bill provisions that would have expanded the conditions that would allow students to qualify for Gardiner scholarships and tripled funding for the program, which provides education savings accounts for children with special needs. (Step Up also helps administer Gardiner scholarships.)

Legislators also removed a provision that would have allowed students to receive McKay scholarships — vouchers for special needs students — without attending public schools for an entire school year.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, said the provisions had to be removed to maneuver through the state budget process. She said she hoped to revive them as lawmakers revise their spending plans. Continue Reading →

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Charter school CEOs criticize President Trump’s budget proposal

The CEOs of three charter school operations criticize President Trump’s budget proposal for cuts to public education in an op-ed in USA Today.

While thankful Trump’s budget would boost funding for the federal Charter Schools Program, they write they oppose cuts to other public education programs.

We cannot support the president’s budget as currently proposed and we are determined to do everything in our power to work with Congress and the administration to protect the programs that are essential to the broader needs of our students, families and communities. Budgets are statements of priorities, and this one sends a clear message that public education is not a top priority.

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Fla. House panel approves wide-ranging charter school bill

Cortes in committee

Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs

A Florida House panel this morning gave a bipartisan nod to wide-ranging changes to the state’s charter school laws.

Among other things, a proposed bill approved today would make it easier for academically high-performing charters to expand in areas where existing public schools struggle, allow charter school networks to form “local educational agencies” that can receive federal funding directly, and give school districts 30 additional days to vet charter school applications before school boards vote on them.

One of the most-discussed provisions, however, would hold public schools accountable for the performance of high schoolers who leave for private providers or alternative charter schools. The proposed change comes after the state Board of Education and multiple media outlets started investigating whether school districts boosted graduation rates by steering students into alternative education programs.

Ralph Arza of the Florida Charter School Alliance said his group supports almost the entire bill.

But he argued that when students move to alternative charters — which often don’t receive letter grades under the state’s accountability system — their new schools should be accountable for their performance.

“If you’re playing for the Miami Dolphins, your stats don’t go to the New York Jets,” he said.

The proposed change is “well-intentioned,” he added, but for many students who struggled for years in traditional schools, alternative charters are “their last hope.” Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Testing, facilities funding, coding and more

Testing bill stalls: The Senate Education Committee temporarily postpones a vote on SB 926, the so-called “Fewer, Better Tests” bill to revise the state’s assessments program. The bill would push all testing to the final three weeks of the school year, require results back in a week, and order the Department of Education to study whether the ACT and SAT tests could be substituted for the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA). Several critics of the bill says it would do nothing to eliminate tests, despite its nickname, and could force the student passing rate down by tying the FSA passing scores to those of the more rigorous National Assessment for Educational Progress test. Miami HeraldOrlando Sentinel. Tallahassee DemocratNews Service of FloridaSunshine State News. WFSUGradebook.

Facilities funding: A bill filed in the Florida House would require school districts to proportionately split local property tax revenues with charter schools after the money districts set aside for construction debts is deducted. An analysis of the bill indicates that the state’s 556 charter schools would receive about $148 million, or nearly double what they now get. To qualify, charter schools would either be required to have 50 percent or more of its students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, or avoid consecutive years with a school grade below a B. redefinED.

Computer coding: The Florida House Pre-K-12 Quality Subcommittee deletes mention of allowing computer coding classes to fulfill foreign language requirements from HB 265. It’s the second straight year the idea has run into opposition in the House. The amended version of the bill emphasizes ways the Department of Education can push computer coding classes in public schools. Miami Herald.

School material challenges: The Senate and House both pass bills (SB 1210, HB 989) that would make it easier for parents and community members to see what materials and books are being used in schools and to challenge them if they find the materials objectionable. Gradebook. Continue Reading →

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