The distorted history of Florida tax credit scholarships

In a new appellate brief asking the courts to throw out a 14-year-old scholarship serving 78,000 of the state’s most economically disadvantaged students, lawyers for Florida’s teachers union have doubled down on a conspiracy theory. These attempts to sow seeds of doubt about the political origins of the Tax Credit Scholarship strike the unusual combination of being both irrelevant and wrong.

The brief, filed 10 days ago in the First District Court of Appeal following a circuit judge’s decision in May to dismiss the case on standing, opens with a bold assertion: “The challenged program is the successor program to the Opportunity Scholarship Program previously invalidated by both this Court and the Florida Supreme Court.”

The claim is similar to those made publicly over the past year by Florida Education Association attorney Ron Meyer, and unfortunately has seeped its way into the broader media narrative around the program. Even in recent presidential campaign stories about former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education record, outlets from The 74 to the New York Post have reported versions of the claim as fact. The Post wrote, without attribution, that: “When a state court nixed the program in 2006, Bush created a new voucher system, funded by private businesses, that withstood a court challenge from teachers.” A column in the Florida Times-Union last week also chimed in: “It became a government program, diverting tax dollars in the form of ‘tax credits’ into a tuition-granting organization only after the voucher portion of Gov. Jeb Bush’s A+ program was stricken by the courts.” Continue Reading →

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Florida looks to next round of digital learning policy upgrades

In recent years, Florida has upgraded its digital learning policies. Legislation passed in 2014 required districts to come up with digital classroom plans. The idea was that if they were going to get extra state funding to buy computers or boost their bandwidth, they would need to tie their spending to real changes in the classroom.

Now, some key lawmakers and officials say its’ time for the state’s digital learning policies to move into a new phase.

Sen. John Legg

Sen. John Legg

“It’s not money alone,” said state Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, who chairs the senate Education Committee. “We’re looking at how we integrate technology into the DNA of schools.”

Students arriving at elementary schools have lived their entire lives in a world where smartphones and tablets are ubiquitous, and where computer science is a new form of literacy. That means teachers need to be trained differently, Legg said, and students need more access to courses in subjects like computer science.

John Padget, the vice chairman of the state Board of Education, sounded similar notes last week during the board’s meeting in Gainesville. He cited a recent Gallup poll, commissioned by Google, which found parents seem to value computer science more than their local schools.

Among the findings:

Two-thirds of parents think computer science should be required learning in schools. Parents in lower-income households are even more likely to have this view. Many students expect to learn computer science and to use it in their future career in some way.

Despite this high level of interest, many school and district administrators do not perceive a high level of demand for computer science education among students and parents in their communities. … Less than half of principals and superintendents surveyed say their school board thinks offering computer science education is important.

Continue Reading →

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Florida roundup: Magnet schools, school choice, TFA and more

florida-roundup-logoMagnet schools. A Pasco magnet school principal tells students it’s OK to fail, as long as they learn from it. Tampa Bay Times. A Palm Beach magnet school celebrates its 25th anniversary. Sun-Sentinel.

Charter schools. A successful conversion charter elementary may grow into the middle grades. Bradenton Herald.

School choice. Tax credit scholarship recipient-turned-grad-student Denisha Merriweather writes in the Tampa Tribune that she’s living proof school choice can work. Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post, helps administer the program.

Failure factories. Pinellas schools officials are working to address problems in South St. Petersburg, and parental choice may be part of the answer, Superintendent Mike Grego writes in the Tampa Bay Times.

Weather. Hendry County closes schools Monday amid flooding concerns; other districts remain open. Fort Myers News-Press.

Testing. A testing validity study is expected this week, after a delay. Sentinel School Zone. GradebookOrlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab weighs in on lawmakers considering changes.

TFA. The organization’s new Orange County operation brings 18 recruits to schools. Orlando Sentinel.

Back to school. A school with lots of low-income students gets help with supplies. Bay News 9. A Methodist church extends a helping hand in Brevard. Florida Today.

STEM. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune profiles a teenage science whiz.

Safety. A Tallahassee high school student works to improve relations between students and police. Tallahassee Democrat. A woman under the influence tries to pick children up from school. WKMG.

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This week in school choice: Valid critiques welcomed

We’re awash in tenth-anniversary takes on New Orleans’ schools after Hurricane Katrina. Sadly, some bring us no closer to the complicated truth. A recent New York Times column by business journalism professor Andrea Gabor provides a telling case in point.

It raises a few legitimate points, some of which emanate from within the reform movement. But it provides little support for its central thesis — that the creation of an all-choice system has “hurt” New Orleans’ most vulnerable children.

It drew a forceful response and debunking. Gabor went on to answer her critics. She makes five points. The first three are cautions to keep in mind while analyzing the system’s recent success. The last two raise legitimate issues about the extent to which New Orleans residents, especially low-income black ones, have had a say in the reforms.

None of those points addresses the central flaw of her original argument. A wide range of empirical measures show New Orleans children are better off now than before the storm. There’s a long way to go, but results keep improving. Gabor offers no real support for her claim that changes have “come at the expense of the city’s most disadvantaged children.”

There is work left to be done. Some students still fall through the cracks. Parents could use help navigating the their options in a city where charter schools have largely become the system. Many reformers hope to ensure the next 10 years of change are done “with” rather than “to” the New Orleanians who were most harmed by the old system.

Some critical voices are worth listening to. They helped push for changes to special education, discipline, unified enrollment and other equity issues. But others are simply trying to smear the very idea of systemic reform, to stop it from spreading to other cities.

In the wake of a tragedy, New Orleans school officials managed to cobble together a model that fuses a triumph of liberal urban reform with conservative entrepreneurialism and is spawning new programs focused on the whole child. Critics can help make this new approach more equitable and inclusive, but only when they’re on point.

Meanwhile…

CNN, Slate and Campbell Brown and President Obama visit New Orleans and talk education. Andrew Rotherham calls attention to the real heroes. Continue Reading →

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Florida school boards matter, a lot

Fordham report coverFlorida is home to the most “consolidated” system of of education governance in the country, according to a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The report’s authors base this conclusion on the fact that Florida places much of its state decision-making authority in the Board of Education, and local power rests in the hands of a few, relatively large school districts.

The state’s laws and constitution don’t contemplate the creation of something like an Achievement School District or a Recovery School District — the kind of institution that might run or oversee some schools outside the purview of a traditionally defined district.

The Fordham report looks at the institutions that oversee the education systems in each state. It then tries to gauge whether they place more power at the state or local level, how much public participation they invite (based on factors like the extent to which people have a chance to elect education officials), and whether decision-making authority is concentrated in relatively few hands. Continue Reading →

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Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Winners, losers, and armchair quarterbacks

Mr. Gibbons' Report Card

Jerusha Conner

Relying on an outdated report to criticize charter schools in New Orleans is bad enough, but Jerusha Conner, an an associate professor of education at Villanova University has this notion that competition between charter schools and public schools will help some students become “winners” and leave others to remain “losers.”

She forgets traditional district schools in a competition-free environment still produce “winners and losers,” as she phrases it. There were plenty of losers in New Orleans public schools before the storm.

New Orleans is beginning to demonstrate reform can lift all boats. There is no guarantee that the strong and positive results can be replicated elsewhere, and legitimate questions remain about governance and inclusion.

Villanova University

Still, the real lesson of New Orleans is that reform is never done. Many of the problems Conner decries are being addressed by more recent innovations, like a universal enrollment system, which are designed to ensure equity.

Also, for the umpteenth time, teachers union leader Albert Shanker did not create the “original vision” for charter schools.

Grade: Needs Improvement

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Florida schools roundup: Testing, transportation, Barack Obama and more

florida-roundup-logoTesting. The shift to national assessments may not be all some its proponents hope for, but lawmakers will look into it. Gradebook. More analysis from Bridge to Tomorrow. Testing is a daily occurrence. Miami Herald.

Transportation. New routes don’t seem to solve Palm Beach’s busing crisis. Palm Beach Post. Hernando’s transportation director is under investigation. Tampa Bay Times. A school bus is hit by a dump truck. Pensacola News-Journal. A motorcyclist collides with a school bus. Tampa Tribune.

Dress code. Palm Beach advances a dress code for parents. Palm Beach Post.

Backlash. Hillsborough schools face criticism over shirts sent to teachers that advertised a church. Tampa Bay Times.

Mentoring. Take Stock in Children hopes to offer mentoring and college scholarships to more Manatee students. Bradenton Herald.

Barack Obama. A Bradenton elementary student gets a letter from the president. Bradenton Herald.

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School choice is about more than just scores

There were some interesting exchanges when state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, stopped by the Broward County School Board this week (see the video here). One dealt with the role of charter schools in Florida’s education system, and why parents might choose them even when their children already go to an A-rated school.

School board member Laurie Rich Levinson questioned the purpose of charter schools that open in the vicinity of district schools where students are already doing well.

Levinson

Levinson

“They’re going to open in areas where we have our highest-performing schools, where there’s not a need for a charter school,” she said. If charter schools open right down the street from a high-performing school, “what are we achieving?”

Fresen responded with a case study from Broward’s neighbor the south, Miami-Dade. Charters have opened in Coral Gables, where most existing public schools were already high-performing. Now, he said, while A-rated charter schools may draw students from A-rated district schools, all the schools have been forced to step up their game. District schools now offer language and international-baccalaureate programs they might not have otherwise.

In other words, competition from private and charter schools, which is more intense in Miami-Dade than in most Florida districts, may be adding to the school choice “tsunami” in South Florida. Continue Reading →

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