Author Archive | Jon East

RedefinED is looking for a new editor

As readers will learn in more detail on Friday, redefinED editor Travis Pillow, an education journalist extraordinaire, is leaving Florida and this blog to set up shop in another hotbed of educational innovation – New Orleans. (Okay, so there’s also an amazing woman, who happens to be an enormously talented educator and Travis’ new fiancée, who provides an even more powerful draw.)

We’d like to think there is another Travis out there somewhere, perhaps even among our audience. So we steal a piece of the blog this morning to advertise ourselves. The position of editor is open, and we are accepting applications.

RedefinED is a seven-year-old education blog with what we view as a national footprint in the arena of school choice. The editor is in charge of all operations of the blog and related social media, including planning, writing, editing and execution of the daily output. In that role, the editor oversees the work of three staff members, including a writer, social media specialist and a part-time daily roundup editor. We seek someone with seasoned writing, editing, interviewing, research and organizational skills and a broad knowledge of education issues. She or he must have a bachelor’s degree in journalism or related field and at least five years of related experience or equivalent combination of education and experience. The blog is published by Step Up For Students, a nonprofit that helps administer four state-authorized scholarship programs in Florida, and we would prefer the editor be based in our administrative headquarters in St. Petersburg.

Those who are interested can apply online here.


Report shows true bottom line on Florida’s public education spending

The most commonly cited price tag for Florida public schools represents only two-thirds of what they actually spend, a new report from Florida TaxWatch shows. The “true cost,” it says, shines a more favorable financial light on public education alternatives.

“To be good stewards of education dollars,” writes TaxWatch president Dominic Calabro, “it is critical that taxpayers have a clear understanding of how much education revenue is available, how that revenue is spent, and what it is spent on. Without this understanding, taxpayers and policymakers will be unable to determine whether their state and local K-12 education investments are cost-effective.”

As the Florida Legislature enters the second week of an annual session that already is punctuated by budgetary duress, the report tackles perhaps the most widely misunderstood funding formula in public education. It’s called the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) and was adopted in 1973 as a way to provide the appropriate balance of state and local funding for basic school operations. Continue Reading →

Trump cites Florida as a model; school choice critics look elsewhere

As President Trump looked with favor on Florida’s 15-year-old tax credit scholarship last week, some of the reviews seemed to suffer a form of interstate transference.

The formulation went something like this: If Arizona, then Florida.

Take Kevin Carey, the able director of education policy at New America, as one example. After Trump on Tuesday introduced a graduate student who attributed her academic turnaround to the Florida scholarship program, Carey responded in the New York Times with an extended discourse not on the Sunshine State but on the Arizona Tax Credit Scholarship. Carey is troubled that Arizona’s Senate president runs one of the largest scholarship-granting organizations, thinks 10 percent is too much to pay the organizations to administer the program, criticizes the state for allowing scholarship students with higher household incomes, and is worried about the lack of testing and financial accountability requirements.

Those are all reasonable concerns, but none of them apply to Florida. Continue Reading →

Does school choice harm public schools? Claims fall apart under scrutiny

One of the most emotionally potent arguments against educational choice – that it cripples public schools financially – is slowly unraveling in a Florida court of law. Teacher union attorneys, who seek to abolish tax credit scholarships for 78,000 low-income children, are stumbling to make the case.

This is no small matter. The claim that scholarships and vouchers and charter schools financially undercut public education has been repeated so often for so long that it tends to get treated as though it were fact. The money is commonly described as being “diverted” or “siphoned” from public schools, pitting choice schools against neighborhood schools and creating understandable anguish for parents who want only for their children to have the best education possible.

The Florida case, McCall v. Scott, is shining an unforgiving light on that assertion. The backdrop is the issue of standing – the typically arcane calculation of whether someone is connected to and harmed by a legal matter the court can resolve. Because the union is challenging a scholarship that involves no direct appropriation of tax dollars, the attorneys are being asked to prove their clients suffer “special injury.”

They are quite conspicuously failing.

In the original complaint, filed Aug. 28, 2014, the Florida Education Association (FEA) attorneys said their clients “have been and will continue to be injured by the scholarship program’s diversion of resources from the public schools.” They bolstered the case with two arguments: 1) The tax-credited contributions that are made to private nonprofits to pay for scholarships reduce state taxes that would otherwise fund public schools; and 2) School districts lose funding for each student who leaves a public school to attend a scholarship school.

During the arguments in trial court, Leon Circuit Judge George Reynolds was openly skeptical. “You could do away with this program tomorrow morning,” he said at one point, “and the budget for the school system might change not one iota.” He then dismissed the case on May 18, 2015, ruling: “Whether any diminution of public school resources resulting from the Tax Credit Program will actually take place is speculative, as is any claim that any such diminution would result in reduced per-pupil spending or in any adverse impact on the quality of education.” Continue Reading →

School choice still rising in Florida: 1.5 million students choose

School choice options in Florida grew last year at more than twice the rate of total enrollment, surpassing 1.5 million students. That means 43 percent of preK-12 students in the nation’s third-most populous state picked their own form of education.

This trend also shows little signs of slowing. Enrollment in charter schools grew by more than 9 percent, and a scholarship program for low-income children continued to grow at double-digit rates. In the past two years alone, 88,527 Florida students have joined the choice movement.

The numbers come from 2014-15 data compiled by the state Department of Education, and speak to a broader transformation that transcends the traditional debate about public-vs-private. Indeed, two of the three most chosen learning options in Florida are provided by school districts themselves – through open-enrollment plans that let parents choose from clusters of schools, and through choice and magnet schools that cater specifically to children’s academic interests and aptitudes. Continue Reading →

Why students benefit when scholarship organizations serve all schools

The resistance to a proposed requirement that state-approved nonprofits provide scholarships to students attending any eligible private school has taken on an unusual fervor in Georgia. Some highly respected national education reformers recently described it as both a “threat to a growing and successful type of educational choice” and “contrary to our nation’s founding ideals.” One even called it “the nuclear option.”

In Florida, we welcome it as part of the law.

Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship, now in its 14th year, stipulates that scholarship organizations “must allow an eligible student to attend any eligible private school and must allow a parent to transfer a scholarship during a school year to any other eligible private school of the parent’s choice.” The intent is obvious. It gives low-income parents an easier shopping experience among the 1,600 participating schools and a smoother path to the one that best meets their children’s needs. After all, one of the program’s core principles is to empower parents.

This is not to argue that the serve-all-schools approach is the only possibility, but the Florida experience certainly belies the apocalyptic claims of opponents in Georgia. The scholarship this year serves 78,154 students with tax-credited contributions totaling $447.3 million. As such, it’s nearly 10 times the size of the Georgia scholarship and is often viewed as a national model. No nuclear fallout so far. Continue Reading →

BAEO enters legal fray to defend Florida tax credit scholarships

A national organization that fights for the academic needs of black students entered the lawsuit over Florida’s tax credit scholarship today. The group, Black Alliance for Educational Options, filed an amicus brief urging the First District Court of Appeal to reject the state teacher union’s attempt to shut down the scholarship and to affirm a circuit judge’s dismissal of the case.

The brief tracks some of the legal arguments offered by lawyers representing the state and scholarship parents, but its tone is more personal. “BAEO knows from recent history that without high quality educational options such as the FTC scholarships, many of these students would never be in a position to enjoy their full panoply of civil rights – those rights can ring hollow for illiterate black students,” wrote Michael Ufferman, the attorney for BAEO.

The tax credit scholarship, passed into law in 2001, is serving 78,014 low-income schoolchildren this year. Of those, 23,268 are black. Their average household income is $23,551, which is 0.6 percent above poverty. Roughly 54 percent live with only one parent.

The Florida Education Association and other groups filed suit in August 2014, asking the courts to declare the scholarship unconstitutional. Leon Circuit Judge George Reynolds dismissed the case on standing in May, ruling the plaintiffs could not show how they or public schools were harmed. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 similarly rejected a challenge to a tax credit scholarship law in Arizona, denying standing, and three other state supreme courts have ruled in favor of the scholarships. None to date has ruled against them.

“If this lawsuit succeeds, the results will be devastating to the nearly 80,000 low-income and working-class, mostly black and Hispanic students who will be kicked out of their schools,” BAEO Policy and Research Director Tiffany Forrester said in a news release. “But it will also be a blow to social justice. Wealthy families have always had choices in education; low-income and working-class families deserve the same.”

BAEO also said in the release it was “very disappointed” the Florida NAACP joined in filing the suit. Two other plaintiffs, the Florida School Boards Association and the Florida Association of School Administrators, have withdrawn since the case was dismissed in circuit court. Meanwhile, a growing number of leading black ministers across the state have joined the cause against the lawsuit, calling themselves the “Florida African-American Ministers Alliance For Parental Choice.”

Earlier this month, attorneys for the state and scholarship families filed response briefs in the First District Court of Appeal. They asked to court to schedule oral arguments for the appeal.

The distorted history of Florida tax credit scholarships

In a new appellate brief asking the courts to throw out a 14-year-old scholarship serving 78,000 of the state’s most economically disadvantaged students, lawyers for Florida’s teachers union have doubled down on a conspiracy theory. These attempts to sow seeds of doubt about the political origins of the Tax Credit Scholarship strike the unusual combination of being both irrelevant and wrong.

The brief, filed 10 days ago in the First District Court of Appeal following a circuit judge’s decision in May to dismiss the case on standing, opens with a bold assertion: “The challenged program is the successor program to the Opportunity Scholarship Program previously invalidated by both this Court and the Florida Supreme Court.”

The claim is similar to those made publicly over the past year by Florida Education Association attorney Ron Meyer, and unfortunately has seeped its way into the broader media narrative around the program. Even in recent presidential campaign stories about former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education record, outlets from The 74 to the New York Post have reported versions of the claim as fact. The Post wrote, without attribution, that: “When a state court nixed the program in 2006, Bush created a new voucher system, funded by private businesses, that withstood a court challenge from teachers.” A column in the Florida Times-Union last week also chimed in: “It became a government program, diverting tax dollars in the form of ‘tax credits’ into a tuition-granting organization only after the voucher portion of Gov. Jeb Bush’s A+ program was stricken by the courts.” Continue Reading →