New tensions over Palm Beach charter schools

Tensions over charter schools may be mounting in Palm Beach County.

Last week, the school district set out to overturn a charter school appeal, telling a state court of appeals that school boards have the right to block charters they don’t believe are “innovative.” Now, the Palm Beach Post reports it’s denying other charter school applications — citing a lack of innovation among other issues — and drawing the attention of statewide charter advocates like former state lawmaker Ralph Arza.

“The law says you have to have clear and convincing evidence to deny [a charter application],” said Arza, now spokesman for Florida Charter School Alliance. “They are finding ways to deny charters and in doing so they are becoming ground-zero for anti-charter school action.”

The district has denied other applications, including 15 this year. In 2013, the district received 33 applications and denied 17. The following year 22 applied and none were approved, said Jim Pegg, the director of the district’s charter school office.

But not until December, when Charter Schools USA asked to build a seventh campus in the county, did the board deny an application based on its lack of offering an innovative program. After the state sided with the company, the district appealed in court. A ruling could take two years, Pegg said.

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Florida roundup: Charter schools, athletics, autonomy and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Charter Schools USA appears poised to win approval for four new schools near Tampa. Tampa Bay Times. Palm Beach rejects a series of charter school applications, highlighting tensions. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

Athletics. The perennial legislative debate on high school sports could return on multiple fronts. The Buzz.

Growth. Orange County discusses future campus plans. Orlando Sentinel.

Testing. Panhandle-area superintendents question state assessment results. Pensacola News-Journal. Groups try to push Gov. Rick Scott into the fray. Naked Politics. Orlando Sentinel. A Pasco school district analysis shows results closely track student demographics. Tampa Bay Times. How will testing turmoil affect former Gov. Jeb Bush? Associated Press.

Hypnosis. Victims of a Sarasota principal share bizarre stories. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Sea World. References to the theme park are removed, then restored, on the state Department of Education website. Orlando Sentinel.

Autonomy. Legislation could give some district school leaders more freedom to innovate. Education Week. Continue Reading →


More districts vie for Florida charter school collaboration grants

Florida education officials are growing the pool of school districts that could soon get extra money to recruit and collaborate with “high-impact” charter schools.

School districts in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties won state grants last year to bring national charter school networks into their most disadvantaged neighborhoods. A third, Broward, applied for the money, but the school board there ultimately voted to reject it.

This year, another district could get up to $2.5 million in federal and philanthropic money to attract a top charter school operator.

This year, the state Department of Education invited seven districts to submit competing proposals for round two. Broward could give the grant a second look. Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Orange and Hillsborough County school districts are also in the running. Districts were chosen based on size and need. To be eligible this year, they needed to have 20 or more schools graded D or F.

So far, Orange, Hillsborough and Polk have said they’re interested (see the breakdown below, taken from p. 28 of this presentation to a state House panel).  Continue Reading →


Common schools and the fear of diversity

Horace Mann

Horace Mann (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The first-ever state supreme court ruling finding charter schools unconstitutional continues to stir debate all over the country, and has inspired some choice opponents to raise questions about other charter school laws, including the nation’s oldest.

While there is little reason to think the Washington State Supreme Court’s legal reasoning could spread to many other states, it is the latest illustration of how an idealized past that never was continues to create barriers to a 21st-Century education system.

Opponents try to cast a romantic vision of free, universal public education as a foil against school choice, relying on a mythical conception of “common schools” that has rarely squared with reality.

Getting American common schools to serve all students required more than a century of political turmoil, countless lawsuits and no shortage of attempts — from Dust Bowl-era California farm towns to the Freedom Schools launched by the Civil Rights Movement — to create separate educational opportunities for religious and ethnic minorities who were excluded from, or under-served by, traditional public school systems.

In many ways, the fight for inclusion and equity continue to this day.

“[P]eople too frequently forget that those schools were at different times not open to blacks, religious minorities, or, until the 1970s, students with special needs and disabilities,” Andrew Rotherham and Richard Whitmire wrote in a recent piece for The 74.

Common schools were first popularized in the mid-1830s by Massachusetts education reformer Horace Mann. The idea spread through out the U.S. over the next few decades during a time when anxiety over waves of immigrants, many of them from Ireland and other predominately Catholic countries. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, magnet schools, discipline and more

florida-roundup-logoCharter schools. Lawmakers discuss automatic closure, recruitment of top operators, rural charter schools and more.  Sun-Sentinel. A Broward charter school fires teachers en masse. WPLG.

Magnet schools. Technical glitches delay a magnet-school survey in Pasco. Gradebook.

Private schools. Educators launch a small private school in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. Miami Herald.

Discipline. Pasco acknowledges racial disparities and vows to address them. Tampa Bay Times.

Testing. How much is too much? Gradebook. Educators, officials and advocates grapple with how to score state tests. Orlando Sentinel. Miami-Dade’s superintendent is appointed to a national assessment board. Naked Politics. Superintendents prepare a show of force at the next state Board of Education meeting. Gradebook.

Teacher quality. Incentive pay continues at troubled Duval schools. Florida Times-Union. National Teachers Day was Oct. 5. Miami Herald.

Accountability. Alachua’s superintendent quits a state panel to protest school grading issues. Gainesville Sun.

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Can Florida’s rural communities support charter schools?

While charter schools have proliferated in Florida, nearly a third of of the state’s school districts, most of them rural, don’t have one — a fact that got attention from members of a state House panel discussing charter school legislation.

State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, wanted to know whether home education and virtual schools were more popular with parents who had fewer charter schools available (maps of state data support this idea in some places; in others it’s less clear).

Since districts without charters tend to be rural, parents looking for other options could face a long drive to a neighboring county, said state Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach. She wanted to know if the state could use one of its grant programs to lure charter schools to communities where none exist.

“We’ve got 22 counties that don’t have their first charter school,” she said, and then asked “if there’s a way that we tailor something for those counties… so that we can incentivize and grow choice in counties where there is none.” Continue Reading →


Proposed Fla. legislation aimed at attracting top charter school operators

A Florida House panel is drafting legislation aimed at drawing more “high-impact” charter school networks to the state’s most undeserved neighborhoods.

While the state is home to nearly 650 charter schools and more than 250,000 charter-school students, it’s attracted only a few schools operated by the likes of KIPP and Yes Prep, which have national reputations for helping disadvantaged students.

The proposed legislation, reviewed today by the House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee, would allow those networks to apply for “high-impact” status with the state Board of Education.

Under the bill, high-impact charter schools wouldn’t have to wait three years to qualify for state facilities funding. High-impact schools in areas with “critical” academic needs (meaning they’re served by D- or F-rated public schools) would also be exempt from the administrative fees school districts typically charge. Continue Reading →


‘Diversity. Pluralism. Variety.’


This is the latest post in our series on the voucher left.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democratic icon, was an unabashed supporter of school choice, as we’ve been happy to note.

For years, he led an effort to establish tuition tax credits for parents who send their children to private schools – an effort that never became law but did, at one remarkable moment in 1977, draw 50 co-sponsors, 26 of them Republicans and 24 of them Democrats. Except for a massive expansion of Florida’s tax credit scholarship program in 2010, which won backing from more than 40 percent of the state’s Democratic lawmakers, no major piece of private school choice legislation that we can think of has drawn that level of bipartisan support.Voucher Left logo snipped

But while we’ve noted Moynihan’s passion for choice, it’s worth taking a closer look at his rationale. Nowhere does he lay out his case more clearly than in this April 1978 essay in Harper’s.

For Moynihan, public support for private schools was a matter of historical fact and constitutional authority, and of being clear-eyed about the well-intentioned but still-smothering effects of government bureaucracy.

It was also about staying true to one of America’s most enduring principles:

I take pluralism to be a valuable characteristic of education, as of much else in this society. We are many peoples, and our social arrangements reflect this disinclination to submerge our inherited distinctiveness in a homogenous whole.

Our private schools and colleges embody these values. They provide diversity to the society, choices to students and their parents, and a rich array of distinctive educational offerings that even the finest of public institutions may find difficult to supply, not least because they are public and must embody generalized values.

Diversity. Pluralism. Variety. These are values, too, and perhaps nowhere more valuable than in the experiences that our children have in their early years, when their values and attitudes are formed, their minds awakened, and their friendships formed. We cherish these values, and I do not believe it excessive to ask that that they be embodied in our national policies for American education.

Moynihan, of course, isn’t the only choice supporter who stressed diversity. Those arguments come from all points on the political spectrum. The Cato Institute makes them frequently and convincingly. So do some academics (see here and here). So does this rising political star, and fellow Democrat, from Moynihan’s home state:

“In every state in this country, we talk about diversity,” New York Assemblyman Marcos Crespo said at a gathering of Hispanic school choice supporters in Florida last year. “We talk about the strength of our diverse communities, we talk about the diversity of faith, of cultures and languages that make the United States what it is, certainly New York what it is. But then we don’t translate that very concept into the way in which we provide opportunities. Ladies and gentlemen, one size doesn’t fit all.”

While Moynihan could be quite the maverick (and an inspiration for decades-long debates), he wasn’t a lone wolf when it came to school choice and the Democrats of his era. Continue Reading →