Florida schools roundup: Vouchers, immunizations, bonuses and more

Religious schools and vouchers: Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions this week could have implications for the constitutionality of vouchers for religious institutions. Monday, the court ruled that Missouri could not exclude private religious schools from a playground grant program. Tuesday, the court ordered the Colorado Supreme Court to reconsider a decision that the state’s Blaine Amendment prohibits public funding of religious institutions. redefinED. Education Week. Associated Press.

Voucher studies: Long-term studies in Louisiana and Indiana show that former public school students who keep private school vouchers for several years eventually catch up and sometimes pass their peers in reading and math tests. Earlier, shorter-term studies have shown that those students tend to lag behind their public school peers. redefinED.

Immunizations upheld: Parochial schools can require students to get immunizations to be admitted, the First District Court of Appeal rules. A parent filed the appeal after the Holy Spirit School in Jacksonville refused to admit his child without immunizations. News Service of Florida.

Teaching bonuses: The Manatee School for the Arts is offering bonuses of up to $3,000 fill two 6th-grade math teaching positions, plus higher than expected salaries. The district has sent recruitment letters to the most highly rated math teachers in school districts around the state. Bradenton Herald. Continue Reading →


The longer students keep vouchers, the better their results

Results in Louisiana and Indiana’s voucher programs took a step in the right direction this week, with the release of one study and the leak of another.

Voucher critics made the two large statewide school choice programs into targets over the past year. Studies looking at just a few years’ worth of data found students fell behind their public-school peers on reading and math tests after accepting a voucher to attend a private school.

The drip-drop of negative findings countered what had been a steady stream of studies showing private school choice programs didn’t harm — and sometimes helped — student test score gains. A gathering narrative argued vouchers harm student achievement.

The new Indiana and Louisiana results reflect students’ progress over a longer time period. And they call that narrative into question.

They show voucher students who remained in private schools for a few years eventually caught up to their private school peers. Some even posted achievement gains over time.

This highlights a consistent trend in other voucher studies, including a recent re-examination of voucher data from Washington D.C. When students leave public schools to accept private school scholarships, they tend to lose ground initially. Over time, their test scores get better as they adjust to new schools.

Schools take the time to adjust to new students, too. Private schools in much of Louisiana and Indiana had to figure out how to serve an influx of low-income and working-class students who couldn’t previously afford tuition. And sometimes schools have to adjust to new standards, tests or regulations that come with scholarship programs.

The new results have drawn predictable reactions from teachers unions and school choice advocacy groups. They might not bring a clear-cut victory for either side of the debate. But they lend fresh credence to arguments from people like Lousiana School Superintendent John White, who argued partisans should give vouchers time to work before jumping to conclusions about their academic impact.

 New years of data

Indiana’s low-income voucher students see positive outcomes in reading and no difference in math after four years, according to updated findings that still have not yet been formally published. They were first divulged on public radio by Professors Mark Berends and Joseph Waddington and later released by Chalkbeat.

As with previous research, the authors found a decline in student performance in the first year. But they also found as years go by, student achievement in private schools begins to climb.

“The longer that a student is enrolled in a private school receiving a voucher, their achievement begins to turn positive in magnitude — to the degree that they’re making up ground that they initially lost in their first couple of years in private school,” Waddington stated in an interview with NPR. Continue Reading →


U.S. Supreme Court gives legs to anti-Blaine Amendment crusade

Speculation swirled after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Missouri could not exclude private religious schools from a playground grant program.

Did justices signal they set their sights on a legal obstacle to school vouchers? Even informed legal scholars disagreed.

But the high court sent a much clearer signal this morning.

Justices granted a petition by the Douglas County, Colo. school board. The school district wanted the high court to review a ruling that hobbled its local voucher program. State courts argued vouchers violate the Blaine Amendment in Colorado’s constitution, which bars public funding of religious institutions. Continue Reading →


Gov. Rick Scott signs private school choice legislation

The nation’s largest private school choice program will offer more generous scholarships to participating students. And the largest education savings account program will be able to serve more children.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Monday signed school choice legislation supported by a majority of the Legislature’s Democrats and all of its Republicans. The governor has long supported school choice and had already approved a more-contentious education bill.

HB 15 strengthens the Gardiner Scholarship program, which provides education savings accounts for children with special needs, and the tax credit scholarship program, which helps 98,000 low-income and working-class students pay private school tuition.

Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer both programs.

During a special session, lawmakers revised the budget to send more funding to public schools at Scott’s behest. The governor also approved that funding increase Monday.

Tax credit scholarship amounts have long been pegged to public-school funding. Right now, a scholarship is worth about 82 percent of the state’s core per-pupil public school operating funding, or about $5,900.

The new law would allow students in secondary schools, where tuition costs tend to be higher, to receive more funding.

  • Elementary school students could receive 88 percent of the per-student average in the Florida Education Finance Program for public schools, or $6,421.
  • Middle school students could receive 92 percent, or about $6,712.
  • High school students could receive 96 percent, or about $7,004.

The measure also broadens the conditions that allow students to qualify for Gardiner Scholarships. Students with rare diseases and those with vision or hearing impairments can now qualify.

The new law includes provisions to improve the administration of the two private educational choice programs. Military families will be able to apply for tax credit scholarships year-round. Double-billing the same services to Medicaid and the Gardiner Scholarship program is outlawed, a new safeguard to help prevent fraud.


Florida schools roundup: Education bills signed, politics, hiring freeze and more

Bills signed: Seven education bills are among the 29 that Gov. Rick Scott signs into law. They are: H.B. 3A, which boosts per-pupil spending in K-12 schools by $100 a year; H.B. 15, which expands Gardiner scholarship eligibility and funding for students with special needs; H.B. 989, which allows any resident to challenge textbooks and materials used in school; H.B. 1109, which allows private school students to participate in some public school extracurricular activities; H.B. 1239, which hikes the penalties for injury-accidents resulting from a school bus passing violation; H.B. 899, which relates to transitional educational programs; and H.B. 781, which revises rules on school grades for feeder schools. News Service of Florida. Associated PressGradebook. WCTVPolitico Florida. Last week Scott signed H.B. 749, which allows charter school and Florida Virtual School employees to be eligible for state employee adoption benefits. Palm Beach Post.

Educational politics: How much of a factor will the recently enacted education bill, H.B. 7069, be in next year’s elections? The architect of the bill, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, thinks the answer is a lot. Corcoran, who is widely thought to be a candidate for governor, recently tweeted: “The bill is virtually 100% public school funding. It will be an issue in 2018. A referendum on who cares more about low income education!” And U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat who is expecting a challenge from Republican Gov. Rick Scott, bashed Scott’s signing of the bill in a recent letter asking for support. Gradebook.

Hiring freeze lifted: The less-than-1-month-old Hillsborough County School District hiring freeze has been lifted for teachers. It remains in effect for all non-classroom personnel except school bus drivers. Gradebook. Continue Reading →


Ga. Supreme Court the latest to reject tax credit scholarship lawsuit

Another state high court has rejected a lawsuit challenging tax credit scholarships that help students pay private school tuition.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:

Under an opinion by the Supreme Court of Georgia, the program that provides tax exemptions to those who contribute to scholarships for students to use at private schools, including religious schools, will remain in place.

With today’s decision, the high court has unanimously upheld a Fulton County court ruling that says taxpayers who challenged the program as unconstitutional had no standing, or right, to bring their constitutional challenge.

“Plaintiffs’ complaint fails to demonstrate that plaintiffs are injured by the program by virtue of their status as taxpayers,” Justice Robert Benham writes for the Court. “Consequently, plaintiffs’ taxpayer status fails to demonstrate a special injury to their rights so as to create standing to challenge the program.”

Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: What’s new next year, tax hike, D.A.R.E. and more

What’s new next year: The new school year will bring changes to schools in Florida, from kindergarten to college. Among them: 20 minutes of required recess every day for elementary students, an end to the algebra 2 end-of-course exam, some standardized tests done on paper instead of computers and conducted later in the school year, more money and flexibility with Bright Futures scholarships, no required career class in middle schools, students will be permitted to bring sunscreen to school, and student-athletes will have an easier time opting out of physical education classes. Sun Sentinel. Bright Futures scholarships winners will get $6,000 this year instead of $3,000, plus $300 for books each semester and money for summer school. It’s just for this year, though, since Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the higher education bill that would have made the changes permanent. Orlando Sentinel.

Tax hike for charters: Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna says the district may have to ask voters for a tax hike to cover the $750,000-$800,000 in construction funds that now will go to charter schools under the provisions of H.B. 7069. “We may end up going to voters about increasing (sales tax) a half penny so that we can continue to build schools when needed and renovate those in need of repair,” said Hanna. Tallahassee Democrat.

Restarting D.A.R.E.: Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell wants to restart the D.A.R.E. anti-drug education program for 5th-graders in county schools in the 2018-2019 school year. The Drug Awareness Resistance Education ended in Lake schools in 2013 because of budget problems, and after studies showed it had little impact on students. But Grinnell says the program has evolved to include life skills, conflict resolution and making good choices. Orlando Sentinel.

Guns at schools: Duval County School Board member Scott Shine says parents should be held accountable when their children take guns to schools. “These are not kids who went out looking for a gun to do something,” Shine says. “These are kids who found a gun or it came to them. … People are all worked up about guns in schools but, quite frankly, parents are just leaving their guns laying around.” Florida Times-Union. Continue Reading →


Scholarship, Kingdom Academy spurred turnaround for Miami student

Henezy Berrios

Eleven-year-old Henezy Berrios’ sparkling brown eyes crinkle in the corners when she smiles, which is just about all the time. She has boundless, contagious enthusiasm. She loves to dance and crack jokes.

She’s the girl that everyone in school likes.

But you would have hardly recognized her in first grade at her neighborhood school in Miami. She was quiet and withdrawn, afraid to ask for help, made fun of because she couldn’t read.

The D’s and F’s and diagnoses of ADHD and dyslexia set off alarms for her mother, Liliana Arguello. She resolved to find a better fit for Henezy’s education, and thanks to a Step Up For Students scholarship was able to access a private school called Kingdom Academy. Continue Reading →