Fla. Senate panel approves charter school facilities plan, but …

A Florida Senate panel this morning approved a bill that, for the first time, would distribute local tax revenue evenly to charter and traditional public schools.

But it also stalled a measure that would increase districts’ local taxing authority. And school districts argue that measure must be connected to the charter funding proposal.

The ensuing debate raised new questions over how Florida lawmakers plan to overhaul school facilities funding for both charter and traditional public schools.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, sponsor of both bills and chair of the education budget subcommittee, said school districts had reached a desperate point. Property values haven’t fully covered from the Great Recession, and school districts have lost a quarter of their pre-recession taxing authority since 2008. But the state population is growing again, and so are districts’ construction needs.

Simmons cited the testimony of district leaders, who visited his subcommittee a few weeks ago. They described grim rituals like “bucket day,” when they rush to different campuses to catch rainwater leaking from their roofs.

“I believe very strongly … that we are in a crisis situation regarding the capital expenditures in our districts,” he said. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Evaluations, recess, discipline, LGBT sign and more

Teacher evaluations: About 98 percent of the teachers evaluated in Florida during the 2015-2016 school year were rated either “highly effective” or “effective,” according to the Department of Education. Less than 1 percent of the state’s teachers got an “unsatisfactory” rating, and only 1.2 percent were rated “needs improvement.” The numbers have shown little change over the past few years. Evaluations are used by districts for raises and contract renewals, and by the state for determining eligibility for teacher bonuses. Okaloosa County was tops in the state with 97.6 percent of its teachers graded as highly effective, while Putnam County was lowest with just 1 percent. Gradebook.

Daily recess: A survey by the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability reveals significant differences in how school districts offer recess, how often and for how long. Only 11 districts have some recess policy, and only eight of those made daily recess a requirement. Supporters of legislation to make daily recess mandatory in all Florida elementary schools argue the results show the need for statewide legislation, instead of allowing individual districts, schools or even teachers decide. Miami Herald.

Discipline disparity: Black students are twice as likely to be expelled as other children, four times more likely to be suspended and almost three times more likely to be arrested, according to recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Education. And children with disabilities, especially black students with disabilities, are more likely to be disciplined than those without disabilities. Florida is below the national average in arrests and expulsions, higher in referrals and about the same on suspensions. WTVJ.

LGBT sign stays: A Milton High School junior will be allowed to keep a “So gay I can’t even drive straight” sticker in her car window. Rachel Campbell was cited by a school police officer for the sign, calling it a violation of a school policy prohibiting “offensive or obscene” tags or stickers. Campbell said she wouldn’t remove it, and now principal Tim Short says it can stay. Northwest Florida Daily News. Continue Reading →


The week in school choice: A model for the nation?

So much pre-confirmation talk about Betsy DeVos focused on her home state of Michigan.

As education secretary, she’s pointing to a different state — arguably her second home — as a model for the nation.

“Florida is a good and growing example of what can happen when you have a robust array of choices,” DeVos said Wednesday. She noted that 40 percent of the students in Florida go to schools that are different from the one they may be zoned for.

We break down that 40 percent number here.

As she settles into her new role, the new secretary wants to clarify her intentions.

I need to stress that I could not be more supportive of great teachers and great teaching, no matter what kind of delivery vehicle they are teaching through. We have to support great teachers. They just have to be freed-up to do what they do best. I think in many cases they are limited by the top-down, one size fits all approaches, either at the school level, the district level, the state level, or in all too many cases, the federal decree.

DeVos may have made a rhetorical misstep after her widely publicized visit to a D.C. public school. Her critics cast comments intended to suggest education bureaucracy saps teachers’ initiative as an affront to teachers themselves.

She’s preparing for school visits alongside Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers. Here’s what she wishes she’d said in her confirmation hearing.

And still, the din of hyperbole grows louder.

The real action for the school choice movement is in the states

With that in mind…

Washington State charters survive (another) constitutional challenge.

Arizona is on its way to creating a completely universal educational choice program!

Virginia lawmakers have plans revamp their state’s charter school laws, which currently rank among the nation’s worst.

Florida’s education savings accounts could triple in size. Indiana lawmakers are considering a similar program, but the bill suffered a setback.

The time appears ripe for school choice expansion in Missouri.

Alabama’s tax credit program could soon have a broader revenue base.

Education Week has a roundup of other states to watch. We’ve got your weekly rundown of legislative action in Florida.


Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Less money for school recognition, testing and more

Recognition money: The Florida Department of Education is handing out 36 percent less recognition money to schools this year. Last year, 1,673 schools received $134.58 million. This year, 1,226 schools are getting $85.7 million. State officials say the decline is due to the number of schools with A grades falling from 1,184 to 754. Officials attribute to decline to harder Florida Standards Assessments tests and higher standards for individual school grading. Florida Times-Union.

Testing cutbacks: Another bill is filed in the Florida Senate that would push most state-mandated testing to the end of the school year, but this one also calls for an end to five specific exams, state oversight of teacher evaluations and the rules that tie teacher evaluations to student test scores. It also wants a written alternative to computers and allow districts to use national tests like the ACT or SAT instead of the 10th-grade language arts section of the Florida Standards Assessments. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, and Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, would kill the ninth-grade language arts Florida Standards Assessments test and end-of-course exams in Algebra 2, civics, geometry and U.S. history. Orlando Sentinel.

House vs. feds: The Florida House Education Committee will consider a resolution Tuesday that asks Congress to “end all current, and prohibit any further, interference by the United States Department of Education with respect to public school governance.” The resolution also asks Congress to turn Title 1 funding for low-income children and IDEA Part B funding for disabled students into block grants controlled by the states. Gradebook.

Teacher evaluations: There are more than 2,800 teachers in the Manatee County School District, and only three received unsatisfactory evaluations. Two others were told they needed to improve. “Highly effective” was the evaluation 48.1 percent of the teachers received. Fifty percent were judged to be “effective” and 8 percent weren’t evaluated at all, according to Florida Department of Education statistics. Teachers with highly effective ratings in other state districts ranged from 97 percent in Okaloosa County to 6 percent in Putnam County. Teachers suggest the disparity in the numbers points to the pointlessness of the evaluation process. Bradenton Herald. Continue Reading →


Choice notes from Florida’s capital: Week ending Feb. 17

Note: Every week the Florida Legislature is in session, we’ll provide a rundown of school choice-related discussions and developments. Look for future installments on Saturday mornings.

Last week, the Florida Board of Education approved an unprecedented charter school takeover in a persistently struggling rural school district.

Jefferson County could soon be the first district in Florida where every public school is run by a charter organization.

As the House Education Committee learned, the move would also be a rarity in Florida school turnarounds.

Districts are required to make major changes in schools that receive F’s or consecutive D’s from the state. But of 115 schools currently required to make those changes, Jefferson’s are the only turnaround schools districts plan to convert to charters.

During the committee’s hearing, several lawmakers wondered aloud why charter conversions aren’t more common. That’s another reason Jefferson will be worth watching.

Expanding Private school choice Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charter district, incentives, recess and more

Charter district: The Florida Board of Education approves a charter schools company taking over a public school district’s operations. Jefferson County, which had been struggling financially and with enrollment, will combine the elementary and middle/high schools on a single campus. The district hopes to have applications from charter schools companies by the first week in March. It’s the first time a Florida school district has ever ceded operations to a charter school company. redefinED. Tallahassee Democrat. Associated Press. WFSU. The Polk County School Board is considering closing struggling McLaughin Middle School and reopening it under the Bok Academy, an A-rated charter school. Lakeland Ledger.

Charter recruitment: Representatives from four national charter schools companies tell a Florida House committee that they’d like to expand into Florida. BASIS, IDEA, Achievement First and the SEED Foundation all express interest, if the state can set up equitable funding to public districts. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has suggested such changes are being considered. redefinED.

Teacher incentives: Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, the Senate’s pre-K-12 education budget chairman, wants the Legislature to consider bumping the amount of money available for teacher incentives to at least $200 million. Gov. Rick Scott has recommended $58 million for teacher incentives. “I’m not concerned that we’re talking about $200-250 million,” said Simmons. “It’s an investment; it’s not an expenditure, and I think we can find it in an $83 billion budget.” Miami Herald. The statewide teachers union, the Florida Education Association, says the incentive programs are gimmicks, and that it wants better pay for all teachers. Miami Herald.

Recess doubts: Two members of the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee want lawmakers to consider the whole picture of education and the financial implications before approving a bill that would require 20 minutes of recess every day in Florida elementary schools. “This is an important issue, recess, but I think we need to look at it in a more holistic way,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. Gradebook. Continue Reading →


State board approves charter school takeover in struggling rural district

Jefferson County’s newest school superintendent told the state Board of Education she wants to turn the district around, fast.

For the first time ever, a Florida school district is poised to relinquish control of all of its traditional public schools.

Under a plan approved today by the state Board of Education, Jefferson County Schools will combine its lone elementary and middle-high schools on a single campus.

It’s set to recruit a charter school operator to take over the combined institution in a matter of weeks.

“We are excited about this charter school change,” said Superintendent Marianne Arbulu, who was elected to lead the troubled district in November. “I think we have a community united behind this, because it’s just impossible for us to continue the way we’ve been over the last decade.”

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart outlined Jefferson’s state of financial and academic emergency. It enrolls slightly more than 700 students, a decline of nearly 400 from five years ago. It receives the second-highest per-pupil spending in the state, but has spent its way into a fiscal condition that requires emergency oversight. It has some of the lowest student achievement in the state, and has spent the past decade trapped in a cycle of perpetual academic turnarounds. Continue Reading →


Top charter school networks eye Florida expansions

Representatives of four high-profile charter school networks told a Florida House committee they are eyeing the state for future expansions. They also discussed the barriers that might keep them away.

When it comes to attracting top charter school operators, the Sunshine State has a lot going for it.

It’s the third-largest state. Its population is growing — so much so that some districts are rolling out the welcome mat to charters that might help exert growth. Its 20-year-old charter school law is ninth-best in the nation, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. It has more than 650 charter schools and thriving school choice culture. But since charters enroll one in ten of its 2.8 million public school students, it isn’t totally saturated.

Peter Bezanson, of BASIS charter schools, testifies before the Florida House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee.

And yet, the state has struggled to attract the kind operators that appeared before the House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee this week — organizations that draw national headlines for targeting the most disadvantaged students and pushing them toward college.

Each of the charter groups cited potential obstacles that, in one form or another, are on lawmakers’ radar during the upcoming legislative session: Teacher certification rules, school facilities, equitable funding.

BASIS runs academically “hyper-accelerated” charter schools in Arizona, Texas and Washington. Its schools push ninth-graders to take precalculus and require their students to take at least six Advanced Placement exams.  It’s created elementary schools and extended school days to make its demanding academics accessible to low-income students.

CEO Peter Bezanson said Florida is one of the top four states where BASIS eyeing future growth.

“We wanted to be a great choice, a high-quality choice for every kid who is willing to work hard,” he said.

BASIS schools like to hire “subject-expert teachers,” Bezanson said. If teachers are well-trained in a subject like physics and have an ability to connect with students, he said, certification exams and other regulations become needlessly onerous. Continue Reading →