A closer look at the partisan split on private school choice

Who supports vouchers? Depends who's asking, and how.

Who supports vouchers? Depends who’s asking, and how.

Last week’s Education Next poll revealed a surprising partisan divide over private school choice, in which Democrats were actually more likely than Republicans to support vouchers. It also showed that partisan split has held for years, and seems to be widening over time. That got us wondering: Is this some kind of outlier?

This week, PDK International released its annual survey of public opinion on schools. Its results shed little light on this question, since it now delves much more deeply into big-picture questions about the purpose of American schooling, but avoids questions about charter schools, vouchers, or parental choice in education. As a result, we have to dig in to other recent polls.

Last year, EdChoice, nee the Friedman Foundation, found stronger support for vouchers than Ed Next. It also found support for vouchers was stronger among Republicans (64 percent) than among Democrats (54 percent). Among independents, it was strongest of all (66 percent). That survey asked the question this way:

A school voucher system allows parents the option of sending their child to the school of their choice, whether that school is public or private, including both religious and non-religious schools. If this policy were adopted, tax dollars currently allocated to a school district would be allocated to parents in the form of a “school voucher” to pay partial or full tuition for their child’s school. In general, do you favor or oppose a school voucher system?

Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Retention ruling appeal, pay, enrollment and more

florida-roundup-logoRetention appeal: The Florida Department of Education and two schools districts are appealing a judge’s ruling last week against the state’s policy for retaining third-graders. Leon County Judge Karen Gievers said the state was wrongly holding back third-graders who do poorly on the state Florida Standards Assessments tests or opt out from taking them. She ordered the state and six districts that were sued to allow students to present a portfolio of work to demonstrate their readiness for fourth grade. Orange and Hernando counties joined in the appeal. Orlando Sentinel. Meanwhile, the Hernando County School District promoted three students who were involved in the lawsuit, but did not assign them to their school of choice. Tampa Bay Times.

Superintendent pay: The Lake County School Board is prepared to pay a new superintendent up to 23 percent more than it’s paying the retiring one. Current Superintendent Susan Moxley makes $159,000 in base pay, and received $17,000 in bonuses. She is retiring June 30, 2017, and the board is willing to pay her successor a base rate of $195,000, with performance bonuses up to $34,000. Daily Commercial. Orlando Sentinel.

School enrollment: Enrollment jumps to 27,163 in the Alachua County School District, up 3 percent over last year, and some schools are over capacity. Idylwild Elementary, with a capacity of 575 students, now has 800, up from 750 last year. Gainesville Sun. At the 10-day count, the Highlands County School District shows a slight increase in student enrollment over last year. When school opened, enrollment was down 100. Highlands Today.

Parking artists: Seniors at West Orange High School in Winter Garden are permitted to paint their personal parking spots to express their personalities and other favorite things. The designs have to be approved by school officials. Teen Vogue. People. StreetArtNews. Continue Reading →


Empower teachers to empower students – Gerard Robinson, podcastED



Over the past few weeks, the NAACP has faced constant pushback from education reformers and school choice advocates for its proposed stance against charter schools. Some of that pushback has come from Gerard Robinson, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, who recently wrote a series of blog posts unpacking the proposal

However, on our latest podcast, he says it’s important to remember where the civil rights organization is coming from. The organization’s advocacy forced many public schools to integrate for the first time, he says, and helped pave the way for him to become a state education chief in Virginia and then in Florida.

“When they say they want to make sure that public schools are open to all kids, they’re speaking from a standpoint of knowing it wasn’t always that way, and that if they see that kind of spirit cropping back up, they’re going to attack it,” Robinson tells Denisha Merriweather, a former tax credit scholarship student who’s now a family advocate at Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog. “In their world, they see charter schools as part of that. I don’t.” Continue Reading →


The week in school choice: The rights of children

Less than a week ago, California’s high court dealt a pair of blows to efforts to improve public education through litigation, declining to hear cases dealing with funding equity and the state’s teacher tenure laws.

The next day, backers of the tenure fight moved into a new arena, arguing in federal court that a lack of access to charter schools and other options violates Connecticut students’ right to a high-quality education.

[Students Matter founder David] Welch said Tuesday that while he was disappointed in that outcome, he was pleased with the way the tenure challenge — known as Vergara v. California — had generated debate over reforming tenure laws both in California’s legislature and in education and policy circles nationwide.

And he said he hopes the Connecticut lawsuit has the same rippling effect.

Many who agree with the arguments in these cases still question whether they’ll truly guarantee students’ right to a high-quality education. It may be worth looking at other avenues to codify such a right.


New polling by Democrats for Education Reform suggests efforts to raise the charter school cap in Massachusetts have the support of rank-and-file Democrats. But the state party opposes them. A similar disconnect also shows up the new, national poll from Education Next. Both findings suggest the negativity about charters isn’t working. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Retention decision, choice ratings and more

florida-roundup-logoRetention decision: A judge says the state erred in automatically holding back third-graders who do poorly on the state Florida Standards Assessments tests or opt out from taking them. Leon County Judge Karen Gievers says the state and six districts that were sued must provide students the option to present a portfolio of work that demonstrates their readiness for fourth grade. Gievers stopped short of ordering the state and districts to promote 14 students who were held back. Another hearing will be held today for students from Hernando County who were not given the option to present a portfolio. News Service of Florida. Associated PressOrlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay TimesWFTV. WFSUSunshine State News. Politico Florida. The retention lawsuit has rekindled an old argument: Should third-graders who struggle with reading be held back? “The overwhelming majority of the research concludes that the practice does not help most students and ends up harming many,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, a nonprofit that works to prevent the misuse of standardized testing. Tampa Bay Times. States with high opt-out rates could face penalties from the U.S. Department of Education. Education Week.

Florida tops in choice: The American Federation for Children ranks Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program as the top school choice program in the United States. The national advocacy group cites Florida’s accountability, its wide availability, its inclusion of disabled students, its limits on administrative expenses and the dollar-for-dollar tax credits for companies. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the programs. redefinED. The Lake County School District has 1,462 students getting tax credit scholarships, a 24 percent increase over last year, and some school board members worry about how the district could absorb those students if opponents of the program successfully appeal a recent court ruling. Daily Commercial.

Recess movement: The parent-driven movement to provide students more time for free play at school is spreading across the United States. Several Florida districts have changed recess policies after lobbying from parents, and Rhode Island just initiated a law requiring 20 minutes of recess a day. Independent Journal Review. Continue Reading →


Florida school choice program ranked tops in the nation

FTC national rankingFlorida is home to the top school choice program in the country, according to a new report by a national advocacy group.

The American Federation for Children ranked 27 private school choice policies, which include tax credit scholarships as well as school vouchers and education savings accounts. Florida’s tax credit scholarships rank no.1, and are closely followed by Indiana’s statewide vouchers and Nevada’s new tax credit scholarships.

The group wants states to make their programs available to large numbers of students, including those in the middle class, but to prioritize the needs of the most disadvantaged children. And it backs accountability measures, like public reporting of academic results, but wants to limit other regulations that might undermine schools’ autonomy.

On those scores, Florida’s program (which my employer, Step Up For Students, helps administer) earns high marks. Among other things: Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Scholarship growth, homework, gifted and more

florida-roundup-logoScholarship growth: More than 92,000 Florida students are now receiving scholarships for private schools through the state’s tax credit scholarship program. That’s an increase of about 17 percent over last year’s 78,664 students. Another 5,844 will benefit from Gardiner Scholarships for students with special needs. That’s an increase of about 18 percent over last year. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer both programs. redefinED. Gradebook.

Homework guidelines: School is back in session, which means homework is back too. But how much is too much? Rule-of-thumb guidelines approved by the National PTA and National Education Association call for a maximum of 10 minutes of homework a day, multiplied by a child’s grade level. Fort Myers News-Press.

A path to gifted: A black father in Palm Beach County recounts what he had to do to get his twin sons into the overwhelmingly white gifted programs in their schools. Eric Davis says, “My biggest thing is, there are a lot of bright, young African-American students out there. They don’t get the same opportunities. Their parents don’t know the same secrets, the land mines to get into the programs – but they shouldn’t have to.” Palm Beach Post.

Contract negotiations: The Pasco County teachers union asks the school district for a 4 percent raise on the opening day of negotiations. The district is countering with an offer of a 2.65 percent increase, on average. The difference in the proposals amounts to $918,000. Gradebook. Continue Reading →


Historic growth for Florida scholarship programs

Florida's tax credit scholarship program has grown by more than 13,000 students this school year. *Figures are preliminary and do not include a second scholarship organization.

Florida’s tax credit scholarship program has grown by more than 13,000 students this school year. *Figures are preliminary and do not include a second scholarship organization.

In the new school year, the nation’s largest private school choice program is seeing the largest growth in its 15-year history.

This fall, there are more than 92,000 low-income and working-class children enrolled in private schools with the help of Florida’s tax credit scholarship program. That’s up nearly 17 percent from the end of last school year, when the program served 78,664 students.

Meanwhile, the number of children enrolled through in the Florida’s newest private educational choice program — Gardiner Scholarships for students with special needs — has already increased by more than 900 from the 2015-16 school year. Since applications for that program are still open, it could continue to grow.

*Figures are preliminary and do not include students served by a second scholarship funding organization.

*Figures are preliminary and do not include students served by a second scholarship funding organization.

Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog and pays my salary, helps administer both the Gardiner and tax credit scholarship programs in Florida. Another nonprofit organization, the AAA Scholarship Foundation, also offers scholarships under both programs, but has not yet released its enrollment numbers for the 2016-17 school year. Last year, it provided 451 tax credit scholarships and 256 Gardiner scholarships.

Meanwhile, the McKay scholarship program, which provides vouchers to students with special needs, served more than 30,000 students last year. Numbers for the current year are not yet available, but if recent trends hold, it’s likely the total number of children participating in Florida’s three K-12 private school choice programs will climb north of 125,000. Continue Reading →