Charter school facilities funding plan returns in Florida House

A new legislative proposal could revive a long-simmering and often-distorted debate over how Florida funds charter school facilities.

A proposed rewrite of a school construction bill (HB 873 by Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah) would guarantee most charters in the state an annual funding amount, pegged to the cost of school construction.

If the Legislature doesn’t provide enough annual funding to cover that amount, most charters would receive a share of their local school district’s property tax revenue to make up the difference.

Right now, charter schools rely on annual appropriations from the state budget to pay for facilities and other capital costs. The funding has dwindled over time, even as the number of charter schools in the state has increased.

During the 2011-12 school year, 372 charter schools split $55.2 million in capital outlay funding. This year, 535 schools are splitting an even $50 million. The resulting erosion has put pressure on schools trying to make lease payments or keep up with mortgages, prompting some charter advocates to warn the situation has reached a “desperate point.”

The revised bill, set to be taken up later this week by the House Appropriations Committee, would set a funding benchmark equal to one-fortieth of the estimated per-student cost of school construction. Continue Reading →


Remembering Andrew Coulson

coulsonAndrew Coulson, the gentleman-scholar at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, died yesterday of brain cancer.  Andrew was 48.

I met Andrew in 2008, soon after I became president of Step Up For Students.  I’m sure he was curious about this liberal Democrat and long-time teacher union leader who was now leading the country’s largest private school choice organization.

Andrew and I spoke and exchanged emails frequently during my first few years in this job.  He was a brilliant thinker and extraordinarily polite.  We shared a passion for freedom and equal opportunity, but we did occasionally disagree, and those are the discussions I cherish the most.  He was sure that multiple Scholarship Funding Organizations strengthened tax credit scholarship programs, while I thought the evidence showed the contrary.  We ended up agreeing to disagree. Continue Reading →


Report: Florida tops nation in charter school closures

Florida saw more charter schools shut down than any other state last year, according to a new report from an advocacy group.

The report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools breaks down trends in the charter school movement. It shows that, in a departure from the recent past, the total number of charters in Florida held almost steady in over the past year.

The 38 new charters that opened this fall were offset by 35 that closed during the 2014-15 school year, according to the report. State Department of Education records list another three schools that closed before the current school year began.

Florida might be expected to have a large number of closures since it has 656 charters, the third-most in the country, but the report shows the Sunshine State’s closure rate is disproportionately high. Florida is home to slightly less than 10 percent of the charters operating in the country, but accounted for nearly 14 percent of closures last school year.

Charter school closure graph

A comparison of the percentage of new charters opening last fall and the percentage of charter schools closed last school year. Source: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: School grades, testing, score reports and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool grades: The Florida Department of Education could issue school grades as early as Tuesday. Many think their meaning will be tainted by the controversy over the Florida Standards Assessments tests, which are a major component of the grades. Tampa Bay Times.

Alternative tests: Education experts are split on the benefits of a proposed bill that would give school districts the choice of using tests like the SAT and ACT instead of the Florida Standards Assessments. Politico Florida.

Score reports: Newly designed reports are meant to make it easy for parents to see how their children scored on state testing. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Sunshine State News.

Education bills: Some of the less-publicized education bills are moving in the Legislature. Here’s a look at a few, and where they stand. Gradebook.

Construction spending: The chairman of the House Education Budget Subcommittee brushes aside school superintendents’ denial that they’re wasting school construction money. Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, says he won’t change his plans to press for more accountability. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. WFSU.

After-school funding: Florida Senate leaders are discussing changes to the state’s after-school programs. They want to increase funding but spread it around to more agencies. Agencies that have been providing after-school services, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys & Girls Clubs, worry about the effect on their programs. Miami Herald.

School start times: A study in the journal Sleep links later high school starting times to lower rates of tardiness and discipline issues. THE Journal. Continue Reading →


This week in school choice: Out of the gate

Last year was, by many counts, the year of educational choice. But Scott Jensen of the school choice advocacy group American Federation for Children tracks progress over two-year legislative cycles.

While a record number of states created or expanded private school choice programs in 2015, a total of 25 — including heavyweights from New York to Texas — saw private school choice bills clear at least one legislative chamber.

That number, Jensen says, could rise before the end of this year, meaning: “A majority of the states of America, in this two-year legislative session, will have passed a private school choice bill through at least one house.”

Florida is already on the scoreboard, but it cemented its place earlier this year. Other states already on the board, like Oklahoma, where the governor is pushing hard for education savings accounts, and Arizona, where extant ESAs could soon be universal, may be poised to follow suit.


The politics of school choice may be changing.

Looking at learner-centric educational change … and school facilities plans to match.

Teach for America alums — including many prominent charter school leaders — celebrate 25 years.

Looking back at a 1964 New York school segregation boycott. Looking at the “separate but equal” school systems that remainContinue Reading →


Bills would expand access to college courses in Florida

Florida has long been a leader in offering Advanced Placement, dual enrollment, and other programs that allow students to pursue college credits while they’re still in high school.

But some state lawmakers say access to those options remains limited and uneven. Three bills advanced this week would expand access to college courses.

Collegiate high school overhaul

Sen. John Legg

Sen. John Legg

On Tuesday, the Senate Education PreK-12 committee backed a bill by Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz that would stop school districts from limiting participation in acceleration programs offered by local community colleges.

In 2014, Legg authored a bill that required school districts and community colleges to give students in every Florida county access to a public collegiate high school program, which allowed students to complete up to two year’s worth of college courses before graduation. But Legg said some districts have limited participation.

“Some of the school districts and state colleges have an enrollment cap of 25-30 kids,” he told the committee, which he chairs. “What we wanted to do was make sure there was not an artificially low [limit on participation].”

He acknowledged the college programs can be costly for districts to operate, so SB 1076 would create a bonus system that would offer districts an extra half-student’s worth of state per-pupil funding for every student who completes 30 college credit hours in the revamped acceleration programs. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Principal power, a reading plan, charters and more

florida-roundup-logoPrincipal power: Principals in seven Florida counties would get more authority and money to turn around underperforming schools under a bill passed by a House committee on Thursday. Broward, Duval, Jefferson, Madison, Palm Beach, Pinellas and Seminole counties could apply for $100,000 under the program and $10,000 for each participating principal. Politico Florida.

Reading program: University of Florida researchers are asking the state for money to start an intensive reading program for underachieving students. The program teaches students decoding, a process that includes seeing words, breaking them into individual sounds and then articulating the sounds. A test in October at two failing St. Petersburg elementary schools showed significant improvement by students, according to a reportPolitico Florida.

Charter school funding: Charter schools should get state money for construction and building maintenance because they don’t qualify for local money, according to House Appropriations Committee chairman Richard Corcoran. The House budget would give charter schools $90 million and public schools $50 million, The Senate bill has no such money for charters. Politico Florida.

Recess mom Q&A: Angela Browning, a paralegal with three children in Orange County schools, helped start a movement by moms to have recess restored to elementary schools. In this Q&A, she discusses why she got involved and why it’s important. Education Week. Continue Reading →


Thanks to school choice, ‘the cycle of poverty is ending in my family’

Denisha Merriweather testifies before the House Education and Workforce Committee during a hearing on school choice.

Denisha Merriweather testifies before the House Education and Workforce Committee during a hearing on school choice.

Denisha Merriweather has told the story of school choice changing the trajectory of her life countless times. On Wednesday, for the first time, she brought that story to Congress.

She told the House Education and Workforce Committee that she moved from school to school constantly as a child, struggled to read and master multiplication, was picked on and got into fights, and seemed on a path to follow the path of her biological mother and other relatives who dropped out of school. That all changed when she moved in with her godmother, who found her a private school that would push her to become the first in her family to graduate from college — and a scholarship that placed the Esprit de Corps Center for Learning in Jacksonville, Fla. within reach.

“The cycle of poverty is ending in my family because of the Florida tax credit scholarship,” she said. “I received a quality education, and because of my example, my siblings are now seeing how to take advantage of educational opportunities that come their way.”

School choice (particularly charter schools) got a boost in the sweeping rewrite of federal education law approved late last year, and could be on Congress’ radar again this year, as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program comes up for renewal. Continue Reading →