Florida lawmakers look for ways to stop charter failures without creating barriers

In the upcoming legislative session, the Florida Legislature is likely to grapple with an issue that’s come up repeatedly in recent years. How can they stop financially shaky charter schools that suddenly shut down, without creating barriers to legitimate schools?

In a recent interview, Rep. Manny Diaz, who chairs a key panel on school choice issues, said lawmakers are looking for ways to make sure upstart charter schools are financially secure.

“You’re going to have to have a base of support. You’re going to have to have some people involved who can raise some money,” he said. “I think that will eliminate a lot of the issues that we’ve been seeing.”

Next week, Florida lawmakers will have their first discussion about reviving some of the charter school and school choice issues that went unresolved during this year’s legislative session. Tuesday’s meeting of the House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee will offer a first look at what’s to come when the next legislative session starts in January.

An idea that’s been floated in recent years would require new charter schools to secure a $250,000 surety bond or line of credit from a bank. If a school suddenly failed, there would be a financial cushion to ensure taxpayers aren’t on the hook. That concept raised concerns among mom-and-pop charter advocates during a meeting of charter school operators and district authorizers in Fort Lauderdale.

“If this was a requirement when we opened 16 years ago, we would have never been able to open, and we have been a high-quality, high-performing school for 14 years,” Maritza Aragon, the principal of the Youth Co-Op Preparatory Charter School in Hialeah, said. She added that “$250,000 for a nonprofit — a real, small, beginning nonprofit — is unrealistic.”

Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Accountability, teacher quality, polling and more

florida-roundup-logoAccountability. Florida school boards come out swinging on school accountability. Gradebook. Southwest Florida and Bay County superintendents air frustrations. Fort Myers News-Press. Panama City News Herald. Standards, testing and accountability emerge as election issues. Politico Florida.

Testing. Collier, Leon and Wakulla students do well on state assessments. Naples Daily News. Tallahassee Democrat.

Teacher quality. The application period closes on a contentious bonus program. Gradebook.

Legislation. Senate Education Appropriations Chairman Don Gaetz tells a Jackson County Rotary Club he will fight for a local school-construction appropriation and try to revamp the state’s testing and accountability systems. Jackson County Floridian.

Public opinion. Hispanics would rather talk about education than immigration, Julio Fuentes writes in the Washington Examiner. (He is on the board of Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog).

Athletics. Private-school stereotypes aren’t all true. Leesburg Daily Commercial.

Transportation. Bus woes continue in Boca. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Making academic progress at an ACE Academy

shawnayShawnay Glenn’s neighborhood school seemed like a good fit as she began her formal education.

Prekindergarten through first grade were good years for the little girl with the big smile, her mother recalled. But by second grade, there were signs of struggle.

“We started getting called in for conferences,’’ Melody Rodriguez said. “I had always heard, ‘She’s wonderful. We love her.’ ’’

But now teachers also were telling her Shawnay was having a hard time with reading and math.

So the single mom devoted more time toward sharpening Shawnay’s skills. They shared books and focused on telling stories to bolster Shawnay’s reading comprehension and memory. They practiced addition and subtraction relentlessly. Still, a third-grade state assessment showed Shawnay wasn’t improving – she was falling further behind.

“And I said to myself, ‘If she’s struggling now, in elementary school, what’s going to happen in middle school?’ ’’ Rodriguez said. “I’ve got to see if I can turn this around.’’

Mother and daughter continued to study together. But when Shawnay started sixth grade, they agreed to try something new. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Testing, accountability, charter schools and more

florida-roundup-logoTesting. The first round of state standardized test results is out. Gradebook. StateImpact. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel. Tampa Tribune. Orlando Sentinel School Zone. Palm Beach Post. Fort Myers News-Press. Lakeland Ledger. TC Palm. Bradenton Herald. Gainesville Sun. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Panama City News Herald. Leesburg Daily Commercial. Depending how cut scores are set, more students could fail. Florida Times-Union. Rethinking biology end-of-course tests. Bridge to Tomorrrow. How closely are math scores tied to socioeconomics? Bridge to Tomorrow.

Accountability. Superintendents push legislative changes. GradebookA Palm Beach Post editorial sides with them.

Charter schools. Pitbull’s SLAM charter chain expands into Nevada. Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Special needs. A student with autism goes missing, prompting a district apology. Florida Times-Union.

Discipline. Suspensions drop in Hillsborough. Gradebook.

Parental involvement. Schools highlight the importance of dads. Sun-Sentinel. Orlando Sentinel. Naples Daily News. Daytona Beach News-JournalBradenton Herald. Tallahassee Democrat.

Continue Reading →


Federal education officials call attention to charter school oversight

District annd charter school officials

The Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools hosted a gathering with district officials in Fort Lauderdale.

Florida was not among the states that shared in the $157 million in charter school grants announced this week by the federal government, but the message that went out with the money might still resonate here.

In a letter to state education officials, the U.S. Education Department called for better supervision of charter schools and their sponsors — an issue that’s been getting attention from Florida’s charter school advocates and district authorizing offices.

“Effective monitoring of charter authorizers is critical for both reducing poor management practices and increasing the number of high-quality charter schools operating across the United States,” top federal education officials wrote in their letter.

Improving screening and supervision of charter schools was one of the main topics on the agenda as district and charter-school leaders gathered last week in South Florida. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Blue Ribbons, teacher bonuses, test results and more

florida-roundup-logoAwards. Ten Florida public schools, including six charter schools, win National Blue Ribbon honors. redefinED. Sentinel School Zone. Gradebook. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.

Test results. The first round of state assessment results comes out today. Gradebook. School Zone. Palm Beach Post.

Teacher quality. Teachers bemoan the deadline to apply for bonuses. StateImpact.

Teachers unions. Santa Rosa’s union responds to debt claims from the statewide association. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School accountability. The Florida PTA weighs in. Gradebook.

Student activities. A Miami Gardens middle school launches a student paper. Miami Herald.

Challenges. Some say schools are pushing too many students into tough courses. Orlando Sentinel.

Termination. A parent complaint could lead to three school employee firings. St. Augustine Record.

Continue Reading →


Ten Florida schools — six charters — win National Blue Ribbon honors

Ten Florida public schools won national honors for academic excellence today, as the U.S. Department of Education announced this year’s National Blue Ribbon Schools. See the nationwide list here.

Six of the schools are charters, including one Broward-based school that is part of the Florida State University school system.

Miami-Dade Public Schools also appear to be over-represented, with four of the state’s 2015 Blue Ribbon schools, including three charters.

Two of those schools are run by Academica, one of the state’s largest charter school management companies, which also had a school among last year’s recipients. One of its schools on this year’s list, Mater Performing Arts & Entertainment Academy, is also Florida’s only Title I school to receive the Blue Ribbon honor this year.

Here’s the list of ten Florida schools. Charters are marked with an asterisk. Continue Reading →


Proudly alternative & pro school choice

To help children grow into independent, compassionate adults, Suncoast Waldorf and other Waldorf schools emphasize art, a reverence for the natural world, a do-it-yourself resourcefulness. They like to have fun too.

To help children grow into independent, compassionate adults, Suncoast Waldorf and other Waldorf schools emphasize art, a reverence for the natural world, a do-it-yourself resourcefulness. They like to have fun too. (Photo courtesy of Suncoast Waldorf.)

This is the latest post in our series on the diverse roots of school choice.

If the Suncoast Waldorf School in Palm Harbor, Fla. is part of a right-wing plot, it’s good at hiding it. Its students cultivate a “food forest.” Its teachers encourage them to stomp in puddles. Its parents sign a consent form that says, I give permission for my child, named above, to climb trees on the school grounds …

And yet, the unassuming, apolitical little school is solidly school choice. Sixteen of its 60 students in grades K-8 last year used tax credit scholarships to help defray the $10,000 annual tuition. And to those familiar with the century-old vision that spawned the Waldorf model – a vision whose first beneficiaries were the children of cigarette factory workers – there’s nothing unusual about it.Voucher Left logo snipped

School choice scholarships make Waldorf “more accessible to a diverse group of families,” said Barbara Bedingfield, the school’s co-founder. “This is what we want.”

“Alternative schools” like those in the 1,000-strong Waldorf network help upend myths about choice being hard right. This small but thriving corner of the education universe is especially resistant to labels, but there is a nexus between many of these schools and ‘60s-era, counter-culture reformers like John Holt (think “unschooling”) and Paul Goodman (think “compulsory miseducation”).

“Thirty-plus years ago, school choice was almost entirely a cause of the left,” is how writer Peter Schrag described it in 2001, writing for The American Prospect. “In the heady days of the 1960s, radical reformers looked toward the open, child-centered schools that critics like Herb Kohl, Jules Henry, Edgar Friedenberg, Paul Goodman, and John Holt dreamed about. Implicitly, their argument had the advantage of celebrating American diversity and thus obviating our chronic doctrinal disputes about what schools should or shouldn’t teach.”

Then and now, the contrarian outlooks of this species of ed reformer are often libertarian and left, both embracing of “progressive” goals and distrustful of government’s ability to deliver. Generally speaking, they aren’t fond of government-dictated standards, testing, grading, grade-level configurations or anything else subject to imposed uniformity. But they are willing to consider the potential of tools like vouchers to give parents the power to choose schools that synch with their values.

Suncoast Waldorf sits on two acres of live oaks, a leafy oasis off a busy road in Florida’s most urbanized county. It blossomed 17 years ago, just as the Sunshine State began blazing trails on the school choice frontier.

To help children grow into independent, compassionate adults, it emphasizes art, a reverence for the natural world, a do-it-yourself resourcefulness. Standardized testing is out (except for what’s required by state law for the scholarship program). So are letter grades and iPads. So is Common Core. Continue Reading →