Florida schools roundup: Schools of hope compromise, budget and more

Schools of hope: A compromise on the “schools of hope” bill is drawing support from previously opposed Democratic lawmakers. The $200 million measure was introduced by the House to offer incentives to highly regarded charter school companies to open schools in areas where traditional public schools are persistently low performing. While details of the compromise are not known, some Democrats involved in the process say it’s a mixture of the original House bill and a Senate suggestion that more money be made available to public schools before charters are recruited. “I think we’re 80 percent there” on a final compromise, says House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes. Miami HeraldPolitico FloridaWFSU. Teachers and education activists protest the legislation at a news conference in Tampa. “Diverting $200 million in our taxpayer money away from our children’s public schools to unaccountable private companies is a terrible plan,” said Michelle Prieto, coordinator for the group Mi Familia Vota. Florida Politics.

Budget agreement: Senate and House leaders announce a deal on an $83 billion budget that blends the educational priorities of both chambers. Details are being worked out in conference committee. Associated PressPolitico Florida. Public school leaders make a last-minute push for more K-12 funding. Politico Florida.

Virtual open enrollment: The House passes a bill allowing Florida students to attend any virtual charter school in the state that is authorized by a school district. Right now, students can only attend the virtual school in the district in which they live. Many consider the bill as the natural extension of the state’s new open enrollment law, which allows any student to attend any public school that has space available. redefinED. Continue Reading →


Bills would create open enrollment for Florida virtual charter schools

Florida students might soon be able to attend virtual charter schools authorized by any school district in the state, no matter where they live.

The potential change has moved through the Legislature with ease, though it remains unresolved as the annual lawmaking session approaches its May 5 end date.

A bill that passed the House this week on an overwhelming 115-1 vote would extend the state’s public-school open enrollment law to virtual charters.

The open-enrollment law, passed last year, allows parents to transport their children to any public school in the state that has room for them.

But separate laws govern virtual charters and district-controlled virtual instruction programs, which are local virtual schools run by private online learning companies. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Schools of hope, state budget, Title I and more

Education bills: House leaders are considering changing the so-called “schools of hope” legislation to allow school districts to compete with charter school companies for part of the $200 million fund created by the bill. Originally, the bill was conceived as a way to recruit highly regarded charter companies to open schools in areas with persistently low-performing traditional public schools. “What we’re arguing for is an equitable playing field, where we would have the ability to be able to compete for the dollars that are set aside,” said Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie, who helped pitch the plan to legislators. Politico Florida. A Senate committee spent just nine minutes to describe, amend and approve its version of the “schools of hope” bill. “These issues have been discussed around here, and we’re just putting them in the conference posture,” says Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Miami Herald. School officials expect the “education train” bill to continue to morph in the final days of the legislative session, which could mean further changes to the state’s standardized testing. St. Augustine Record.

Budget discussions: Negotiations continue between Senate and House leaders on an $83 billion budget, and details are slowly emerging. The proposed deal allots $200 million for the “schools of hope” proposal and $200 million to expand the Best and Brightest teacher bonuses program, but won’t allow increases in property tax revenue for schools. Per-student spending would be increased only slightly. But, says Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, “It would be a mistake to only count in the education budget what comes directly through the FEFP (Florida Education Finance Program, the formula that determine per-student spending). I think there are other educational opportunities that we’ll give to our constituents, and I think that improves the overall quality of our system.” Florida Politics. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. The budget agreement comes only after extensive one-on-one talks between Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes. Tampa Bay Times.

Title I concerns: School officials and educational consultants have concerns about the way the Florida House education bill would distribute federal Title I funds, which are intended to help low-income students. The House bill calls for Title I funds to be spread more evenly among schools, including charters. Cheryl Sattler, a Tallahassee consultant on federal education funding, says the bill would mean fewer dollars for children in low-income schools and fewer resources for preschools. “Low-achieving schools couldn’t expect help,” she says, “so they will stay low-performing.” Gradebook.

Financial literacy: The Senate passes a bill requiring Florida students to take a financial literacy course to graduate from high school. Senators name it the “Dorothy L. Hukill Financial Literacy Education Act” to honor the Republican senator from Port Orange, who has missed the session as she has undergoes cancer treatment. “This has been a bill that Sen. Hukill’s worked on since the day she came to the Florida Senate. I can’t even count the number of conversations that I have had with her about this bill since she’s been here with us,” said Sen. Jack Latvala. Florida Politics. WFTV. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →


A parent provides much-needed nuance on vouchers and special needs

We need more nuance on how school choice programs jibe — or don’t — with federal civil rights protections for children with special needs.

In a guest column for The 74, Ana Garcia, a veteran Florida public-school teacher and mother of a child with special needs, offers a valuable perspective.

Recent articles in The New York Times and Education Week highlighted the trade-offs parents face when they pull special needs children out of public schools and enroll them in private schools with the help of vouchers or scholarship programs. They found some states don’t do enough to inform parents that when they accept a voucher, they often waive their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Garcia writes that vouchers are no panacea when it comes to improving educational opportunities for children with special needs. But in her experience, the federal law hasn’t been, either. Continue Reading →


Lawmaker joins Step Up For Students board

Sen. John Legg

A former state lawmaker who helped shape Florida education in policy for more than a decade will join the board of Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps administer two major private school choice programs.

State Sen. John Legg served in the Florida House from 2004 to 2012. He was elected to the state Senate in 2012, and served as chairman of the Education Committee for four years before leaving the Legislature in 2016.

Before he supported the school choice movement as a legislator, Legg supported it as an educator. In 2000, he helped found Dayspring Academy, a high-performing Pasco County charter school where he serves as an administrator. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Budget deal, schools of hope, bonuses and more

Budget deal: The Florida Senate and House reach agreement on an $83 billion state budget. The agreement includes $200 million to attract specialized charter schools to the state to compete with persistently low-performing schools – the so-called “schools of hope” plan – and increases for teacher bonuses and higher education. But the Senate agreed to the House’s demand not to allow higher property taxes to increase K-12 per-student spending. The budget must be completed by Tuesday for the session to end as scheduled May 5. Miami Herald. Naples Daily News. News Service of FloridaGradebook. redefinED. redefinED.

School and cancer: After a briefing about the suspicions of a cancer cluster at the old Bayshore High School property, Manatee County commissioners agree to meet with school board members within the next 30 days to discuss the community’s concerns. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Financial situation dire: The financial outlook for the Hillsborough County School District is bleak, school officials tell school board members. Only about a quarter of the needed cuts have been made, while costs and enrollment are rising and public funds are increasingly scarce. Chief business officer Gretchen Saunders said the district may not even be able to honor its 2013 agreement with the teachers union to raise pay. Tampa Bay Times. The district is deficient in keeping its technology updated, according to a critique from its consultants. The student information system, for example, uses a computer language invented in 1959 and outdated hardware that costs about $1.5 million a year to maintain. Replacing technology will take years, says Patti Simmons, the district’s supervisor of data analysis. Tampa Bay Times. The board approves new start times for the 2018-2019 school year. WFLA.

Smaller campuses: The Orange County Commission approves a plan to allow the school district to build schools on smaller sites. The new rules allow elementary schools to be built on 7 to 11 acres instead of 15; middle and K-8 schools on 12 to 16 acres instead of 25; and high schools on 40 to 50 acres instead of 65. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Fla. Senate advances its version of ‘Schools of Hope’

Sen. Aaron Bean

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved two bills today aimed at providing aid for struggling schools and attracting nationally recognized charters to their neighborhoods.

Together, the bills are similar to the House’s ‘Schools of Hope,’ a $200 million plan to move students from struggling public schools into new schools operated by nationally recognized charter school operators.

But at the same time, the Senate bills have key differences — including an uncertain price tag.

The committee approved SB 796, by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, which aims to attract “high-impact” charter schools to Florida.

The legislation requires charter  school organizations to prove to the state Board of Education they have a track record of achieving results with low-income students. Continue Reading →


The price of liberty is vigilance

Wendell Phillips. Source: Wikimedia.

“External vigilance is the price of liberty, power is ever stealing from the many to the few,” said American abolitionist Wendell Phillips in a speech in 1852.

Sadly, at least when it comes to school choice, my fellow libertarians and conservatives appear to have misplaced their priorities while standing vigilantly against the encroachment of bad government.

Lindsey Burke, a policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, worries that “furthering federal entanglement in the funding of education through new federal programs would be unsound and would come at the expense of state, local, and parent decision-making.”

Max Eden, a scholar from the Manhattan Institute, worries that a federal program would prohibit scholarship organizations from setting aside funds for specific schools or groups. “This restriction would not only limit donor interest to well under $20 billion a year,” he wrote. “It would also exert pressure on existing state programs to drop their moral mission and conform.”

Free-market conservatives and libertarians have retreated on school choice, leaving Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and President Trump alone holding the banner for a federal program.

Their worries would make sense if the Trump Administration were still contemplating a $20 billion voucher initiative. But there’s good news. Recent headlines suggest the more likely path to federal school choice would a tax credit scholarship program. This is an approach to school choice that relies on private, voluntary contributions rather than direct government subsidies.
Continue Reading →