Choice notes from Florida’s capital – Week ending 2/24

It seems the key players agree this should be the year Florida finds a way to fund charter schools facilities fairly.

But there are big questions about how, exactly, state lawmakers will make that happen.

A key state senator unveiled a proposal that would allow school districts to boost property taxes, and steer a portion of that money to charter schools.

The catch: That approach was contained in two bills. Only one, which would steer money to charters, made it out of its first committee hearing this past week. The other, which would increase districts’ taxing authority, was held back amid concerns it would be tantamount to a tax increase, anathema to many conservatives in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

In the House, Speaker Richard Corcoran said any tax increase would be a non-starter. That could doom the Senate’s approach. School districts say they can’t afford to share property tax revenue with charter schools unless they get the extra taxing authority.

But Corcoran also said he supports the goal of improving charter school facilities funding. He told reporters it’s high time to “bring finality to that debate” and “recognize they’re all public schools.” He declared his intent to do so more than a year ago.

How the House plans to do that is not yet clear.

One possible solution emerged in an unlikely place: Gambling legislation. The House’s gaming bill would extract a guaranteed $3 billion in revenue over seven years from the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s casinos. It would earmark a third of that money, or an average of roughly $142 million a year, for “schools that serve students from persistently failing schools.”

What does that mean? Continue Reading →

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The number of charter schools may be leveling off, but why?

A recent report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools raised a question: Has charter school growth stalled?

The alliance’s data shows 329 charter schools opened this fall around the country, while 211 closed. That means the number of charter schools increased by just 118. California and Texas accounted for more than half the national increase.

Just a few years ago, the compounding growth of charter schools was so great, it was possible to imagine an all-charter public school system. But political and economic forces may be conspiring to slow that trend. The number of students enrolled in charter schools continues to rise, and has now surpassed 3 million nationally. But if fewer new charter schools are opening, those numbers, too, could soon level off.

Robin Lake of the Center on Reinventing Public Education unpacks some of the factors that may drive the numbers. Authorizers may be getting more stringent, giving fewer charters the green light to open. Highly qualified teachers may be harder to come by, and so may school buildings — or funding to pay for them.

A closer look at Florida may shed some light on the national trend.

Since 2014, the number of charter schools in the state has been stuck just above 650. That’s despite the fact that dozens of new schools open each year.

This fall, 26 new charter schools opened. But they largely replaced 23 charters that closed during the 2015-16 school year. The previous year, 38 new charter schools opened, replacing 37 that had closed. (The national alliance count has a slightly different count, but its numbers tell the same story.)

And yet, this graph, which Adam Miller of the Florida Department of Education recently presented to the House K-12 Innovation Subcommittee, shows the number of students enrolled in charter schools continues to rise.

charter school growth graph

The number of charter schools in Florida has leveled, though enrollment continues to grow. Source.

Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Charters, recess, bathrooms, food truck and more

Gambling and charters: Under a gambling bill filed in the Florida House, a third of the estimated $400 million revenue from the state’s agreement would go to charter schools, a third to K-12 teacher bonuses, recruitment and training, and a third to recruiting and retaining higher education faculty. The House bill would protect the status quo for gambling in the state, while the Florida Senate’s bill would greatly expand slot machines and Indian gaming. Miami Herald. Politico Florida.

Recess movement: While some educators and legislators say they’re concerned that mandating daily recess for all the state’s elementary schools could hurt classtime flexibility for teachers, there does not appear to be an organized movement to block the measure. State Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, said, “there’s no one that’s actively lobbying against” the effort. Miami Herald.

Bathroom access: School leaders around Florida say they will continue to protect the rights of transgender children despite President Trump’s decision to rescind a directive that urged schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender they identify with. But districts without specific policies are looking for direction on ways to accommodate transgender students within the law. Orlando Sentinel. Miami Herald. Sun-SentinelTampa Bay Times. WPLG. WFTV.

District’s food truck: The Alachua County School Board has bought a food truck for $154,000, and will move it around between schools to try to get students interested in eating healthier food. The truck is expected to be ready for service by mid-April. Gainesville Sun. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Spending, bill for scholarships, bathrooms and more

School tax hike: The K-12 education budgets of both Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, count on an extra $400 million-plus that would be raised through rising property values on unchanging local property tax rates. Neither considers that a tax hike. But Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, does, and Wednesday he sent an emphatic message to Scott and Negron: “That’s a hell no. That’s a hell no. We’re not raising property taxes to fund government waste.” Gradebook.

More for scholarships: A bill filed in the House would raise the amount of money students would receive from the state’s tax credit scholarship program and widen eligibility for Gardiner scholarships for students with disabilities. H.B. 15, filed by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, would give low-income students a higher percentage of the current per-student funding to attend a private school. Right now the tax credit scholarship provides 82 percent of the state’s per-student rate. It would go up to 88 percent for elementary schools, 92 percent for middle schools and 96 percent for high schools. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer both scholarships. News Service of Florida. redefinED.

Bathroom access: The Trump Administration rescinds the federal directive allowing transgender students to use school bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. The Obama Administration issued the directive last year. “This is an issue best solved at the state and local level,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said. “Schools, communities and families can find — and in many cases have found — solutions that protect all students.” New York Times. Associated Press.

Higher education: Senate and House committees hear pitches for ideas to include in the higher education budget. Among them: $2.8 million for the University of Central Florida to develop a community schools program to help turn around low-performing schools, $300,000 to fund a robotics competition at Florida Atlantic University for high schools students, an expansion of the amount students receive for Bright Futures scholarships and how they can be used, more vocational training programs and $375,000 for academic mentoring programs for black high school students in the Big Bend area. Senate President Joe Negron says he plans to combine the two main higher education bills into one. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Continue Reading →

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Florida House bill would match Senate on special needs scholarships

Sullivan portrait

Sullivan

The Florida House and Senate may be aligned on a measure that would triple the size of the nation’s largest education savings account program.

A bill filed today by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, would boost funding for Gardiner Scholarships* to $200 million, matching a proposal from a key committee chairman in the Senate.

The scholarships provide funding that parents of children with special needs can use for private school tuition, public school courses, homeschool curricula, tutoring, therapy and other education-related expenses.

Like the Senate plan, Sullivan’s bill would make the scholarships available to more groups of students, including children with rare diseases, those who are vision or hearing impaired, and those with traumatic brain injuries.

HB 15 would clarify that it’s illegal to use the scholarships to pay for services that are also billed to Medicaid or health insurance, which could help prevent fraud.

The bill would also make some changes to the state’s tax credit scholarship program, which helps low-income and special needs students pay private school tuition.*

It would increase the amount of scholarship funding students can receive, offering larger increases for students in high school, where tuition tends to be more expensive. It would also strengthen the Department of Education’s legal authority to kick schools out of the scholarship program if they repeatedly fail to submit clean financial audits.

*Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog and pays my salary, helps administer both scholarship programs.

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NOLA-style charter transformation coming to rural North Florida

GAINESVILLE – Last week, the Florida Board of Education approved a plan that would consolidate the two public schools in Jefferson County, Fla. and convert them to a charter school.

As the board voted, Bill Brumfield, the newly elected school board chairman, breathed a sigh of relief.

Bill Brumfield, a school board member and former superintendent in Jefferson County, addresses the Florida Board of Education.

“Thank God,” he said.

Thursday’s vote ended months-long saga to win approval for a plan to turn around the struggling North Florida district.

And it sent one of the state’s most impoverished and persistently struggling rural school systems down an uncharted course.

State board members remarked that Jefferson is preparing to launch a miniature version of the great experiment in New Orleans, in which the school district handed the operation of nearly all its public schools over to charter school providers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans “is a model, potentially, that can offer some hope” about what can happen when charter schools work with a district to raise student achievement, board member Rebecca Fishman Lipsey said, “especially where there’s high levels of poverty.”

Right now, four charter school operators may be candidates for the job. They include a network associated with one of Florida’s largest management companies, the organization that revitalized public schools in a small Central Florida town, and a mom-and-pop Palm Beach County charter school founded by a Jefferson County native.

Over the next two weeks, the district will court these organizations, and try to find one that’s up to the task.

“We’re turning over to a charter school to save the district, for the children’s sake,” Brumfield told the state board, which rejected three earlier, state-mandated turnaround plans, deciding the district couldn’t get the job done on its own.

Brumfield said parents, many of whom he’d taught over four decades as an educator, were ready for a big change.

“They all want this. They want something new,” he said. “They see Governor’s Charter [Academy] over in Tallahassee, and they want something like that, but in their community.”

Decades of struggle

Jefferson County’s school system is an outlier in many ways. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Recess, charters, alternative schools and more

Recess bill advances: A bill requiring mandatory daily recess of at least 20 minutes for all Florida K-5 students passes the state Senate Education Committee. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said the bill showed “the power of advocacy, of parents” who pushed legislators to act when local school boards would not. The bill now goes to the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations Committee for consideration. Miami HeraldAssociated PressFlorida Politics.

Charter facilities funding: The Senate Education Committee approves a bill that would send a proportional share of a district’s property tax revenue to charter schools based on enrollment, with more money attached for those schools that have large low-income or special needs populations. But a second bill that would have increase districts’ local tax authority is delayed. Supporters say the measures need to move forward together to allow districts to catch up on construction that’s been backlogged since the recession. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Hidden dropouts: Alternative schools increasingly are being used by public schools as places to hide struggling, problem students who might otherwise drag down a school’s graduation rate, test scores and grade, according to an investigation by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism website. The Orange County School District is one of 83 U.S. school districts that bumped its graduate rate by at least a percentage point between 2010 and 2014 by sending an increasing number of students into alternative schools. ProPublica.

Florida 4th in AP: Florida ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of students taking and passing at least one Advanced Placement course, according to the College Board, the organization that runs the AP program. In Florida’s class of 2016, 29.5 percent passed at least one AP exam. That’s over the national average of 21.9 percent and 11 percentage points better than 10 years ago. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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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 →

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