Fla. Senate proposal would bar ‘private enrichment’ from charter school funding

Florida’s charter schools would have financial incentives to serve low-income and special needs students, and be barred from using state facilities funding for “private enrichment,” under a proposal approved this week by a state Senate panel.

The Senate’s plan, which won praise on both sides of the aisle, was unveiled Thursday after the state House of Representatives spent days debating school construction and charter school funding.

Sen. Don Gaetz

Sen. Don Gaetz

The proposal (starting on page 196) wouldn’t necessarily steer more money to charter schools, or change the rules deciding which schools qualify for facilities funding. But it would change the formula for parceling out the money, and place new restrictions on charters that lease private land.

Right now, charter school capital outlay funding is distributed based on factors like when schools opened and whether they qualified for funding in the past.

The Senate has proposed scrapping that formula. Under its plan, all charters that qualify for state capital outlay funding (right now, that’s about 535 of the state’s more than 650 charters) would receive a base amount of facilities funding.

They would receive extra funding if more than 75 percent of their students qualified for free and reduced-priced lunches, or if more than 25 percent of their students qualified for special education services. Those that met both standards would receive double weight. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Budgets, recess, charters, choice and more

florida-roundup-logoEducation budget: A Senate subcommittee approves a bill that would require the state to pay at least half of the proposed increase in K-12 spending. Gov. Rick Scott’s budget calls for a spending increase of $507 million in K-12 spending, but with $427 million coming through local property taxes. Politico Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Palm Beach Post. News Service of Florida.

Recess bill dies: The Senate will not take up the issue of mandatory daily recess in elementary schools. The Senate Education Committee chairman, Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, says the idea should be handled on the local level. Gradebook.

Charter construction: Charter schools that serve low-income or disabled students would get a higher priority for capital funding under a bill passed by a Senate subcommittee. The House version of the bill provides capital money to charter schools with no such stipulations. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. Residents of Golden Gates Estates in Naples want more say about charter school locations. Naples Daily News.

Choice support: The Pinellas County School District ranks seventh in the United States in offering school choice, according to rankings by the Brookings Institution. Other Florida districts in the top 100 are Broward (15th), Lee and Seminole (tied for 16th), Dade and Duval (tied for 18th), Pasco (28th), Orange and Brevard (tied for 32nd), Osceola (43rd), Palm Beach (49th), Hillsborough (51st), and Polk and Volusia (tied for 54th). Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →

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School choice valentines for Florida’s teachers union

Students supporting "Operation Have a Heart" stand outside the Florida Education Association's headquarters.

Students supporting “Operation Have a Heart” gather outside the Florida Education Association’s headquarters. Photo courtesy of Hispanic CREO.

A Hispanic school choice advocacy group is asking Florida’s teachers union to “have a heart.”

Supporters of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options delivered thousands of Valentines Day greetings to the Florida Education Association’s headquarters in Tallahassee, including candy hearts emblazoned with the rallying cry for the state’s tax credit scholarship program: #DropTheSuit.

The statewide teachers union filed a lawsuit challenging the program in 2014. It has since been dismissed by a Tallahasssee judge, and is now being argued on appeal. Right now, nearly 80,000 low-income children use the scholarships to attend private schools.

“I don’t understand why teachers would want to take this away from my children,” Deborah Gomes, a mother of four children on scholarship, said in a statement. “It makes no sense to me.”

In an interview, Gomes, who traveled from Orlando, said she first enrolled her daughter at IEC Christian Academy to get away from bullying. “At this school she was much happier. She was able to perform better. She had a lot more support from the teachers,” she said. “I do believe that each person learns differently, but one thing that every person needs is support.” Continue Reading →

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Top lawmaker on Florida charter school facilities: ‘The system needs reform’

Florida needs to overhaul the way it funds school facilities, and make the system fairer for charter schools, the incoming Speaker of the House said Wednesday.

State Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz, speaks on the House floor during a June special session. Photo via Florida House.

State Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, speaks on the House floor during a June special session. Photo via Florida House.

During questions on the state budget, the chamber plunged into a perennial debate over state funding for public school buildings. Democrats like Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, seized on a recent Associated Press investigation that found charter schools had received tens of millions of dollars in construction funding, but later shut down.

If the state was going to set aside $90 million for charter schools, Dudley asked, would there be any “clawback” provisions or “anything to assure taxpayers” that money for school facilities “will be protected and secure” if charters eventually close?

Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who chairs the Appropriations Committee and is set to become Speaker after this fall’s elections, tried to put the issue in perspective. School districts, he said, raise nearly $2.2 billion a year in local property tax revenue, plus hundreds of millions more in local sales taxes and impact fees. Charter schools, for the most part, do not share in that money, so they rely on funding in the state budget that has eroded over time. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Referendum change, budgets, evaluations and more

florida-roundup-logoReferendum change: A House committee has approved a bill that would require school districts to win 60 percent approval from voters on any local tax increase requests. The bill now moves to the House floor. Its Senate companion has yet to get a committee hearing. Gradebook.

Education budgets: Democrats and Republicans spar over budget details in both the House and Senate. In the House, the focus is on giving money to charter schools for construction costs and upkeep. In the Senate, the debate centers on a plan to open after-school programs to more organizations. Politico Florida.

Teacher evaluations: Many Orange County teachers are angry that the state’s teacher evaluation report shows fewer top-notch teachers than in other large Florida districts. Only 2.4 percent of Orange teachers were judged to be highly effective in the 2014-2015 school year, compared with 80 percent the year before. The state average is 37.5 percent. Orlando Sentinel.

School grades: Palm Beach school officials are expecting fewer county schools to receive an A grade and more to receive an F. The projections were discussed at Wednesday’s school board meeting. Grades should be released soon by the Department of Education. Sun-Sentinel.

Chamber on education: A report by the Florida Chamber Foundation praises the state’s educational progress over the past 20 years. But “Florida’s education system is not yet good enough to meet the challenges of global competition and doesn’t yet provide the level of talent needed by job creators and future employers,” according to the report. Florida Chamber Foundation. Continue Reading →

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Another legal win for tax credit scholarships — this time in Georgia

Another court has rejected a lawsuit challenging tax credit scholarships after finding opponents of the program lacked standing to sue.

The latest ruling (flagged by Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute) comes from Georgia, where on Friday, a Fulton County Superior Court judge issued a double whammy to school choice opponents when she tossed out the lawsuit after concluding the plaintiffs lacked legal standing and rejecting constitutional claims against the program.

In a ruling that echoes recent court decisions in other states, Judge Kimberly M. Esmond Adams held the plaintiffs lacked standing for two reasons — that taxpayer standing does not apply to privately funded programs, and that plaintiffs failed to show the program would harm them.

“Courts that have already considered whether a tax credit is an expenditure of public revenue have answered this question in the negative,” the judge wrote in her 19-page decision, referring to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Arizona v. Winn.

Adams also rejected the argument that plaintiffs, who include a parent and a grandparent of public-school students, would have had to shoulder a greater tax burden to pay for public education if the scholarship program were allowed to continue. “When these children leave public schools with a scholarship, the state no longer has to bear this expense,” she wrote. Continue Reading →

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Charter school, public-school choice measures advance in Fla. Legislature

By Brandon Larrabee

The News Service of Florida

A constitutional amendment that would set up a statewide entity with the power to approve charter schools anywhere in Florida — bypassing local school districts — is headed to the House floor, along with a bill that would allow parents to send their children to any unfilled schools in the state.

Both measures gained approval Tuesday from the House Education Committee on party-line or nearly party-line votes.

The constitutional amendment (HJR 759) was approved on a party-line 9-6 vote after some committee members had left the room when the meeting ran late. The “open enrollment” bill (HB 669) passed, 13-5, with Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, joining committee Republicans in voting for it.

Supporters of the constitutional amendment say it would give potential charter schools an option to launch if hesitant local districts unfairly lock them out. School boards are supposed to approve any charters that meet state requirements, backers of the legislation say, but often take other factors — perhaps even a fear of competition — into account. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Open enrollment, testing, coding and more

florida-roundup-logoOpen enrollment: A bill that would allow any student to enroll in any school that has an opening is headed for a full House vote. Two changes were made to the bill. One would give enrollment preferences to those who live in communities that donated land for the school. The other would require middle and high school teachers to provide a class syllabus to any parent who asks for it. Three other education bills also moved along in the House. One would require daily recess in elementary schools. Another would eliminate the Florida School Board Association’s ability to use taxpayer money to sue the state. The third would ask voters to approve a statewide body to govern charter schools. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. WFSU.

State testing: The Florida Department of Education is warning superintendents that some of their computer systems may not be able to properly run the 2016 Florida Standards Assessments tests. Gradebook. Fort Myers News-Press. Sunshine State News.

Computer coding: A House committee adds $79,326 in appropriations for a bill that would allow students to fulfill their foreign language requirements by taking computer coding. The bill is at odds with the Senate version. Politico Florida. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter construction: A bill that would require districts to finance charter school infrastructure moves ahead in the House. Districts now may use money from property taxes for charter school construction and maintenance, but it’s not mandatory. The bill also places limits on how much school districts may spend, with penalties attached for exceeding those limits. Miami HeraldPolitico Florida. News Service of Florida.

Superintendent loses support: Three of the seven Polk County School Board members say they no longer support School Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy. She was the target of a complaint that alleged sexual harassment, unprofessional conduct and mismanagement. She was cleared, but advised to take sexual harassment training. The board votes Friday whether to fire LeRoy. Lakeland Ledger. Continue Reading →

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