How private schools expand opportunity in Florida’s charter school deserts

The nation’s largest private school choice program provides dozens of additional school options to children living in Florida’s charter school deserts.

A recent report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found the Sunshine State is home to 20 areas where three or more contiguous Census tracts have more than 20 percent of the population living below the poverty level, and no charter schools that serve the elementary grades.

Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog and helps administer Florida’s tax credit scholarship program, built on that analysis. We found dozens of private schools in those areas that accept the scholarships, which help low-income and working-class people pay tuition. Both Fordham’s and Step Up’s analyses rely on visual inspections of maps and school locations.

Dozens of private schools in charter school deserts accept Florida tax credit scholarships. This graph covers five major regions of the state but does not include every “desert” region in Florida.

The power of private school choice to complement charters and other public-school options may be most pronounced in the western part of Orlando. It’s home to two ZIP codes where a staggering 2,357 children use tax credit scholarships to pay private school tuition.

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Florida schools roundup: 3rd-grade reading scores down, housing and more

Reading test results: The state’s 3rd-graders posted slightly lower scores on the Florida Standards Assessments reading tests this year, according to results released by the Florida Department of Education. Twenty percent of the state’s 3rd-graders – more than 44,000 students – post a Level 1 score, which puts them at risk of repeating the grade. Last year it was 19 percent. About half of the affected students are promoted using the state’s retention law exemptions or by attending summer reading camps. Fifty-seven percent of the 3rd-graders posted a Level 3 score, which is considered at or above grade level, down from 58 percent last year but up from the 53 percent in 2015. The test scores also factor into the formula for school grades, which come out later this summer. Orlando SentinelGradebook. Ocala Star-Banner.

Housing for teachers: Suggestions in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties that affordable housing for teachers be built on school campuses is getting a chilly reaction from teachers. “I mean, who wants to live where they work?” asks Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of the United Teachers of Dade. Other teachers union officials agree, and suggest a better solution would be to pay teachers more so they could afford mortgages or rents in south Florida. WLRN. Continue Reading →


Remember this school choice Democrat

This is the latest post in our series on the center-left roots of school choice.

U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan was a popular Democrat who favored school choice. In 1978, he started working with Berkeley law professors Jack Coons and Stephen Sugarman on a plan to put school choice on the statewide ballot in California. An early poll showed 59 percent of voters were in support.

All of us know Lincoln was assassinated. But not many know the twist of fate that left historians asking: What if? Had it not been for a clown of a cop named John Frederick Parker – who was supposed to be protecting the president at Ford’s Theatre, but instead slipped next door to the Star Saloon – America after the Civil War may have coursed in dramatically different directions.

The history of school choice has its own forgotten twist of fate.

It involves Berkeley law professors, a murderous cult, and U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan, a school choice Democrat. Given relentless attempts by choice critics and the press, in this age of Trump and hyper-tribalism, to portray choice as right-wing madness, it’s worth revisiting Ryan and what happened 40 years ago. Would white progressives still view choice as a Red Tribe plot had white progressives been the first to plant the flag? And in big, blue California to boot?

In 1978, Berkeley law professors Jack Coons and Steve Sugarman laid out a social justice case for school choice in “Education by Choice,” a book that also offered a detailed policy blueprint. The prevailing system of assigning students to schools by zip code, they argued, was elitist and dehumanizing to low-income families. Their sweeping alternative included private school vouchers and independent public schools (which we now call charter schools). It also included visions of a system that would allow parents to build their kid’s educational programs a la carte, like today’s education savings accounts.

Coons and Sugarman wanted to plant seeds, not spark an instant revolution.

But then, serendipity.

Congressman Ryan, enjoying his third term representing the San Francisco Bay area, was a former public-school teacher and a product of Catholic schools. “Education by Choice” moved him. As fate would have it, his cousin went to church with Coons. So he had her invite Coons to dinner.

Ultimately, the professor and the congressman decided they’d try to get the California Initiative for Family Choice on the statewide ballot. All they needed was enough signatures. Ryan agreed to be the face of the campaign.

Choice couldn’t have found a better spokesman. Before Ryan was elected to Congress, he was a state lawmaker who practiced what one newspaper called “investigative politics,” and his aide Jackie Speier – now U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier – called “experiential legislating.”

Ryan worked as a substitute teacher to immerse himself in high-poverty schools. He went undercover to experience Death Row at Folsom Prison. As a Congressman, Ryan trekked to Newfoundland to investigate the slaughter of baby seals, and even laid down on the ice to save a seal pup from a hunter.

It’s not a stretch to think Ryan’s popularity would have rubbed off on the ballot initiative.

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Florida schools roundup: Reading scholarships, school security and more

Reading scholarship rules: The Florida Department of Education releases draft rules for the new reading scholarship for struggling 3rd- and 4th-graders. Students who score below 3 in reading on their Florida Standards Assessments tests are eligible for up to $500 for tutoring or reading materials. Parents apply directly to the nonprofit scholarship-funding organization Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, then pay for the tutoring or reading materials and seek reimbursement. redefinED. Gradebook.

School security: Two Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students testify to the House Democratic Task Force on Gun Violence on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Both plead for “meaningful” gun legislation. “There’s been a lot of talk, especially around here, about putting America first,” said Stoneman Douglas junior Alfonso Calderon. “I agree, let’s put America first and put the gun lobbies and the NRA second. I don’t understand why this is such a difficult conversation to have.” Sun-Sentinel. Escambia County school officials will conduct random metal detector screenings at schools. WEAR. Holmes Beach and Palmetto appear likely to help the Manatee County School District pay for school resource officers, and Bradenton is now considering the request. Manatee County has said it won’t help. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Volusia County School Board is told it would need to hire 44 armed guards to cover every school for 2018-2019. The presentation of the final plan is scheduled at the June 12 board meeting. Daytona Beach News-Journal. A ban on backpacks is extended to all Manatee County high schools and middle schools for the final three days of the school year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Several St. Johns County School Board members say they think it’s law enforcement’s responsibility to provide security at schools. The board meets with county officials June 6 to discuss the options. St. Augustine Record. Continue Reading →


Fla. constitutional ‘framers’ want to weigh in on education adequacy lawsuit

News Service of Florida

Some members of Florida’s 1998 Constitution Revision Commission are seeking to file a brief in the Florida Supreme Court as part of a legal battle about whether the state is meeting its constitutional duty to provide a high-quality system of public schools.

Describing themselves as the “framers” of a 1998 ballot measure that put the duty in the Constitution, the former commissioners filed a motion Tuesday asking for approval to file a friend-of-the-court brief. A footnote in the motion indicates 10 former commissioners want to join in the brief, including former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, former Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan and former House Speaker Jon Mills.

Mills represented the groups suing the state during earlier stages of the case. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: No special session, lawsuit support, taxes and more

No special session: There won’t be a special legislative session to reconsider education funding, according to the latest polling results from Department of State officials. Polling doesn’t end until Thursday, but already 52 Republican members of the House have voted against having a special session, while 36 Democrats voted for it. Three-fifths of each chamber must support the request, made by two Democratic representatives, to require a special session. So supporters needed 70 votes in the House, and the most they can now get is 65. Eleven senators have voted yes, and nine have voted no. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida.

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: Ten members of the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission are asking to file a friend of the court brief on behalf of the school districts challenging the constitutionality of the Legislature’s 2017 education law, H.B. 7069. The 10 say they are the framers of the 1998 ballot measure that inserted a clause into the constitution that requires the state to provide a high-quality system of public schools, and they want to convey their intent behind the amendment to the Florida Supreme Court. Among the 10 are former attorney general Bob Butterworth, former Supreme Court justice Gerald Kogan and former speaker of the House Jon Mills. The state is objecting. News Service of Florida.

School taxes: The Orange County Commission approves a request from the school board to place a special school property tax referendum on the Aug. 28 primary ballot. The tax has been approved by voters in 2010 and 2014, and a yes vote in August would keep it in place another four years. School officials estimate the tax would raise $622 million through 2023, and the money would be used for teacher raises, academic programs, the arts and extracurricular activities. Orlando Sentinel. Martin County commissioners approve the school district’s request to put two tax measures on upcoming ballots. A half-mill property tax hike for teacher pay and security goes onto the Aug. 28 ballot, It would raise about $11 million a year for four years. A half-cent sales tax increase for school construction will go to voters Nov. 6. It would raise about $112 million over seven years. TCPalm. Continue Reading →


Florida proposes rules for first-of-its-kind reading scholarship program

Starting next school year, Florida public elementary-school students who are disappointed in their reading test results may have a new option to help raise their score.

The state Department of Education released a draft rule last week to carry out the state’s new Reading Scholarship Account program.

Students in grades three through five who score below a Level 3 (generally considered a passing score) in reading on their third- or fourth-grade Florida Standards Assessments can apply for the scholarships, worth $500, while supplies last. Lawmakers set aside $9.7 million for the program. Continue Reading →


A new legal battle over Florida charter school capital funding rules

Another charter school is tangling with the Florida Department of Education, arguing its D letter grades shouldn’t cause it to lose state capital funding.

Kids Community College’s Orange County school received consecutive D’s from the state in both the 2015-6 and 2016-17 school years. New department rules, adopted last year, disqualify the school from state facilities funding.

Those rules did not take effect without controversy. Several small charter school operators challenged the proposed rules and forced the department to delay them. As a result, the new rules took effect for the 2017-18 school year.

However, the school argues its letter grades from previous years should not be used to disqualify it from funding this school year.

“DOE’s determination using the school grade for the 2016-2017 school year is a misapplication of the rule,” the school argues in a request to appear before the state Division of Administrative Hearings. Continue Reading →