School choice valentines for Florida’s teachers union

Students supporting "Operation Have a Heart" stand outside the Florida Education Association's headquarters.

Students supporting “Operation Have a Heart” gather outside the Florida Education Association’s headquarters. Photo courtesy of Hispanic CREO.

A Hispanic school choice advocacy group is asking Florida’s teachers union to “have a heart.”

Supporters of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options delivered thousands of Valentines Day greetings to the Florida Education Association’s headquarters in Tallahassee, including candy hearts emblazoned with the rallying cry for the state’s tax credit scholarship program: #DropTheSuit.

The statewide teachers union filed a lawsuit challenging the program in 2014. It has since been dismissed by a Tallahasssee judge, and is now being argued on appeal. Right now, nearly 80,000 low-income children use the scholarships to attend private schools.

“I don’t understand why teachers would want to take this away from my children,” Deborah Gomes, a mother of four children on scholarship, said in a statement. “It makes no sense to me.”

In an interview, Gomes, who traveled from Orlando, said she first enrolled her daughter at IEC Christian Academy to get away from bullying. “At this school she was much happier. She was able to perform better. She had a lot more support from the teachers,” she said. “I do believe that each person learns differently, but one thing that every person needs is support.” Continue Reading →

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Top lawmaker on Florida charter school facilities: ‘The system needs reform’

Florida needs to overhaul the way it funds school facilities, and make the system fairer for charter schools, the incoming Speaker of the House said Wednesday.

State Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz, speaks on the House floor during a June special session. Photo via Florida House.

State Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, speaks on the House floor during a June special session. Photo via Florida House.

During questions on the state budget, the chamber plunged into a perennial debate over state funding for public school buildings. Democrats like Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, seized on a recent Associated Press investigation that found charter schools had received tens of millions of dollars in construction funding, but later shut down.

If the state was going to set aside $90 million for charter schools, Dudley asked, would there be any “clawback” provisions or “anything to assure taxpayers” that money for school facilities “will be protected and secure” if charters eventually close?

Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who chairs the Appropriations Committee and is set to become Speaker after this fall’s elections, tried to put the issue in perspective. School districts, he said, raise nearly $2.2 billion a year in local property tax revenue, plus hundreds of millions more in local sales taxes and impact fees. Charter schools, for the most part, do not share in that money, so they rely on funding in the state budget that has eroded over time. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Referendum change, budgets, evaluations and more

florida-roundup-logoReferendum change: A House committee has approved a bill that would require school districts to win 60 percent approval from voters on any local tax increase requests. The bill now moves to the House floor. Its Senate companion has yet to get a committee hearing. Gradebook.

Education budgets: Democrats and Republicans spar over budget details in both the House and Senate. In the House, the focus is on giving money to charter schools for construction costs and upkeep. In the Senate, the debate centers on a plan to open after-school programs to more organizations. Politico Florida.

Teacher evaluations: Many Orange County teachers are angry that the state’s teacher evaluation report shows fewer top-notch teachers than in other large Florida districts. Only 2.4 percent of Orange teachers were judged to be highly effective in the 2014-2015 school year, compared with 80 percent the year before. The state average is 37.5 percent. Orlando Sentinel.

School grades: Palm Beach school officials are expecting fewer county schools to receive an A grade and more to receive an F. The projections were discussed at Wednesday’s school board meeting. Grades should be released soon by the Department of Education. Sun-Sentinel.

Chamber on education: A report by the Florida Chamber Foundation praises the state’s educational progress over the past 20 years. But “Florida’s education system is not yet good enough to meet the challenges of global competition and doesn’t yet provide the level of talent needed by job creators and future employers,” according to the report. Florida Chamber Foundation. Continue Reading →

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Another legal win for tax credit scholarships — this time in Georgia

Another court has rejected a lawsuit challenging tax credit scholarships after finding opponents of the program lacked standing to sue.

The latest ruling (flagged by Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute) comes from Georgia, where on Friday, a Fulton County Superior Court judge issued a double whammy to school choice opponents when she tossed out the lawsuit after concluding the plaintiffs lacked legal standing and rejecting constitutional claims against the program.

In a ruling that echoes recent court decisions in other states, Judge Kimberly M. Esmond Adams held the plaintiffs lacked standing for two reasons — that taxpayer standing does not apply to privately funded programs, and that plaintiffs failed to show the program would harm them.

“Courts that have already considered whether a tax credit is an expenditure of public revenue have answered this question in the negative,” the judge wrote in her 19-page decision, referring to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Arizona v. Winn.

Adams also rejected the argument that plaintiffs, who include a parent and a grandparent of public-school students, would have had to shoulder a greater tax burden to pay for public education if the scholarship program were allowed to continue. “When these children leave public schools with a scholarship, the state no longer has to bear this expense,” she wrote. Continue Reading →

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Charter school, public-school choice measures advance in Fla. Legislature

By Brandon Larrabee

The News Service of Florida

A constitutional amendment that would set up a statewide entity with the power to approve charter schools anywhere in Florida — bypassing local school districts — is headed to the House floor, along with a bill that would allow parents to send their children to any unfilled schools in the state.

Both measures gained approval Tuesday from the House Education Committee on party-line or nearly party-line votes.

The constitutional amendment (HJR 759) was approved on a party-line 9-6 vote after some committee members had left the room when the meeting ran late. The “open enrollment” bill (HB 669) passed, 13-5, with Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, joining committee Republicans in voting for it.

Supporters of the constitutional amendment say it would give potential charter schools an option to launch if hesitant local districts unfairly lock them out. School boards are supposed to approve any charters that meet state requirements, backers of the legislation say, but often take other factors — perhaps even a fear of competition — into account. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Open enrollment, testing, coding and more

florida-roundup-logoOpen enrollment: A bill that would allow any student to enroll in any school that has an opening is headed for a full House vote. Two changes were made to the bill. One would give enrollment preferences to those who live in communities that donated land for the school. The other would require middle and high school teachers to provide a class syllabus to any parent who asks for it. Three other education bills also moved along in the House. One would require daily recess in elementary schools. Another would eliminate the Florida School Board Association’s ability to use taxpayer money to sue the state. The third would ask voters to approve a statewide body to govern charter schools. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. WFSU.

State testing: The Florida Department of Education is warning superintendents that some of their computer systems may not be able to properly run the 2016 Florida Standards Assessments tests. Gradebook. Fort Myers News-Press. Sunshine State News.

Computer coding: A House committee adds $79,326 in appropriations for a bill that would allow students to fulfill their foreign language requirements by taking computer coding. The bill is at odds with the Senate version. Politico Florida. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter construction: A bill that would require districts to finance charter school infrastructure moves ahead in the House. Districts now may use money from property taxes for charter school construction and maintenance, but it’s not mandatory. The bill also places limits on how much school districts may spend, with penalties attached for exceeding those limits. Miami HeraldPolitico Florida. News Service of Florida.

Superintendent loses support: Three of the seven Polk County School Board members say they no longer support School Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy. She was the target of a complaint that alleged sexual harassment, unprofessional conduct and mismanagement. She was cleared, but advised to take sexual harassment training. The board votes Friday whether to fire LeRoy. Lakeland Ledger. Continue Reading →

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Florida House panel approves charter school capital funding overhaul

A Florida House panel this afternoon signed off on a measure that would allow charter schools to receive more money for facilities, but not before setting off a debate about district finances and school construction costs.

Rep. Erik Fresen

Rep. Erik Fresen

As revised by the House Appropriations Committee, HB 873 would shift some school district property tax revenue to charter schools in years when state appropriations for charter school capital outlay fell below a certain amount. House legislative staff estimate charters would receive more than $60 million in property-tax revenue under a plan that sets aside $90 million in state Public Education Capital Outlay funding for charters next school year.

The bill also aims to rein in what House Education Appropriations Chairman Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said were more than $890 million in school construction cost overruns over the past decade.

But leaders in some districts said they’d managed their money responsibly and were still struggling to pay for buildings and other capital spending amid rapid population growth. Kurt Browning, the superintendent from the Pasco County school district, told the committee that nearly 87 percent of his district’s property tax revenue earmarked for capital spending is used to pay construction bonds in his fast-growing county.

“We have gone to great lengths of being very conservative with construction of our schools,” he said, adding: “We have a great bond rating, but we have maximized our ability to borrow money.” The district, he said, would have a hard time scraping together local money to share with charter schools. Continue Reading →

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Steve Jobs, school choice lefty

Steve Jobs (photo by Matthew Yohe, accessed from Wikimedia Commons)

Steve Jobs (photo by Matthew Yohe, accessed from Wikimedia Commons)

This is the latest in our series on the Voucher Left.

Five years after his death, we’re still talking about Steve Jobs. The 2015 movie about him just won two Golden Globes, including one for Aaron Sorkin’s script. His quotes still spur stories. His connection to the San Francisco 49ers somehow inspired an angle for Super Bowl 50.Voucher Left logo snipped

So now seems as good a time as any to highlight (as other folks rightly did after his death) that Jobs, the Apple visionary, was a passionate supporter for school vouchers, and to add what hasn’t been explicitly noted, which is that he was, by conventional perceptions, an especially liberal one.

Skeptical? Jobs, the adopted son of a repo man, took a deep, lifelong dive into Eastern religions. He cultivated an organic garden. He was pretty much vegan (and at one point, a fruitarian). In his younger days, he dropped a lot of acid, dropped out of college and went to work barefoot. For years, he avoided deodorant. His company was all in for gay rights. He couldn’t get enough of Bob Dylan. And the kicker to his most famous speech, his 2005 commencement address at Stanford, was a quote from the crunchy-granola “Whole Earth Catalog.”

To be clear, I don’t care if Jobs was “conservative” or “liberal.” But tribal politics being what they are, I know many people do put stock in labels, including folks on the left who have somehow come to believe that expanding opportunity through school choice is out of synch with their “progressive” values. So, for them, it’s worth noting what Jobs, this counterculture kind of guy, had to say about school choice:

I believe very strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher for $4,400 dollars that they could only spend at any accredited school several things would happen. Number one schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to get students.

Secondly, I think you’d see a lot of new schools starting. I’ve suggested as an example, if you go to Stanford Business School, they have a public policy track; they could start a school administrator track. You could get a bunch of people coming out of college tying up with someone out of the business school, they could be starting their own school. You could have 25-year-old students out of college, very idealistic, full of energy instead of starting a Silicon Valley company, they’d start a school. I believe that they would do far better than any of our public schools would. The third thing you’d see is I believe, is the quality of schools again, just in a competitive marketplace, start to rise. Some of the schools would go broke. A lot of the public schools would go broke. There’s no question about it.

It would be rather painful for the first several years, but far less painful I think than the kids going through the system as it is right now. The biggest complaint of course is that schools would pick off all the good kids and all the bad kids would be left to wallow together in either a private school or remnants of a public school system. To me that’s like saying “Well, all the car manufacturers are going to make BMWs and Mercedes and nobody’s going to make a $10,000 car.” I think the most hotly competitive market right now is the $10,000 car area.

It’s worth reading Jobs’ remarks about public education in full (thanks to the Heartland Institute for culling them), because he also says interesting things about unions, monopolies, parents and consumers. For now, a few things worth noting …

First, as Jay P. Greene pointed out after Jobs died in October 2011, the Apple CEO made similar comments as late as 2007. So these snippets above, from a 1995 interview with the Smithsonian Institution, aren’t an anomaly.

Second, Jobs came of age in an era where parental choice wasn’t saddled as it is now with the “right wing” label slapped on by critics and sealed by the press. In fact, he and Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple would have been right there, at the epicenter of a voucher quake, when liberal Berkeley law professors Jack Coons and Stephen Sugarman led a late ‘70s effort to make school choice the law of the land in California. Continue Reading →

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