Author Archive | Patrick R. Gibbons

Annotating Think Progress

Today we are trying something new: annotating an article from a different blog, using Genius. Click on the highlighted portions below to read our comments on the article. You may need to have pop up blockers turned off to view the content. We these offer comments to correct the record. The original post can be read here.

Why the racist history of school vouchers matters today

By Casey Quinlan
Policy reporter at Think Progress

President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with his pick for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a rally, in Grand Rapids, Mich., Friday, Dec. 9, 2016 CREDIT: Paul Sancya

President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with his pick for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a rally, in Grand Rapids, Mich., Friday, Dec. 9, 2016 CREDIT: Paul Sancya

On Monday, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote a scathing letter to President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, questioning whether she had the expertise to run the department. Among Warren’s many criticisms of DeVos’ record — her unknown views on many aspects of higher education and civil rights issues, for example — Warren also mentioned the “racially charged history” of voucher programs.

Warren wrote:

 After Brown v. Board of Education and the court-ordered segregation of public schools, many Southern states established voucher schemes to allow white students to leave the education system and take taxpayer dollars with them, decimating the budgets of the public school districts. Today’s voucher schemes can be just as harmful to public school district budgets, because they often leave school districts with less funding to teach the most disadvantaged students, while funneling private dollars to unaccountable private schools that are not held to the same academic or civil rights standards as public schools.” Continue Reading →

School choice growth accelerates in Florida; 1.6 million students choose


The changes in Florida’s educational landscape show no signs of slowing.

On the contrary, more than 1.6 million preK-12 students enrolled in school choice programs during the 2015-16 school year. School choice enrollment increased by more than 74,000 – nearly the same amount as the previous two years combined, according to an analysis of Florida Department of Education data.

Although 45 percent of all preK-12 students in Florida choose schools outside their neighborhood zones, the two most widely used forms of choice are offered by public school districts.  

Enrollment in choice and magnet programs increased dramatically, taking the top spot from open enrollment. Charter schools grew by 19,000 students and are vying with magnets to become the most popular public-school option. Continue Reading →

The missing history from the DeVos debate


Betsy DeVos.

Critics of Betsy DeVos’ nomination as Secretary of Education have promoted a narrative that she is a free-market ideologue opposed to all education regulations.

But a step outside the shadow of the dysfunctional Detroit education system and a look at DeVos’ advocacy for private school choice paints a more nuanced picture.

A paper trail left by DeVos, and the advocacy foundations she led until recently, reveals a history of supporting choice programs that create academic, administrative and financial accountability for organizations that fund scholarships and schools that accept them (see page 24-25). She has also pushed private school choice programs to prioritize disadvantaged students.

“We target programs that are specifically geared to answer the needs of low-income parents and students,” she said during a 2015 interview.

These stances have sometimes triggered conflict with other groups that support vouchers and other forms of private school choice, but favor a more laissez-faire approach. School choice critics often omit differences of opinion that sometimes arise among voucher supporters. While these conflicts tend to be relatively minor in the scheme of things, they highlight competing philosophies and strategic approaches that shape the school choice movement.

A debate over tax credit scholarship reforms during Georgia’s most recent legislative session provides a telling case in point. Continue Reading →

The next Nevada? These are the states to watch for education savings accounts

Nevada’s universal education savings accounts were the most far-reaching educational choice program ever created, but they suffered a setback earlier this year when the state Supreme Court ruled the funding mechanism unconstitutional.

November elections swept pro-school choice Republicans from power. Potential legislative fixes a likely bargaining chip between Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Brian Sandoval, meaning it’s an open question whether the program will ever get funded.

While Nevada’s fate remains uncertian, educational choice advocates are looking to other states to follow up with legislation that might match its scope and ambition.

There’s no question education savings accounts will be on the agenda in state capitals all over the country next year. They’ve been passed by legislatures in six states and signed into law in five. A total 18 states drafted, studied or introduced ESA bills in 2016, and this fall’s elections may have tipped the political balance for educational choice in statehouses around the country.

Observers and education reform experts gathered in Washington last week for the Foundation for Excellence in Education conference had some ideas for states worth keeping an eye on.


The top choice of Robert Enlow, the president of EdChoice, Iowa already has a tax credit scholarship program.

Iowa lawmakers actually drafted a universal ESA bill a whole month before their Nevada counterparts back in 2015. But despite 24 co-sponsors, the proposal never gained traction. Another ESA bill to create a smaller pilot ESA program for 190 students could only make it out of a subcommittee in the Republican-controlled House.

The November elections may have changed the political calculus. Republicans gained control of the state Senate, and now observers across the political spectrum seem to believe some form of ESA legislation is in the works. Continue Reading →

William N. Sheats and pitfalls of democratic control of public education


William N. Sheats was, in many ways, the father of Florida’s public school system. He was also an ardent racist who declared war on a racially integrated private school in North Florida, which he referred to as a “nest of vile fanatics” in an episode that subjected the state to national ridicule.

But perhaps the most fascinating — and troubling — aspect of this complicated figure is this: By the standards of his time, he was a moderate.

Several times during his long run as the leader of Florida’s public education system, he faced threats to his political career because, in the view of his opponents, he wasn’t racist enough.

Sheats was Florida’s first elected education superintendent, serving from 1893 to 1904, and again 1913 until his death in 1922. He worked to modernize Florida’s uniform system of public schools and helped draft the first statewide curriculum. He reformed teacher training and certification, requiring educators to pass exams to prove subject-area mastery. He worked to ensure more public high schools were accredited, and helped pass the state’s compulsory-attendance law in 1919. During his tenure, Florida had one of the best-funded public school systems among southern states and had more accredited high schools per capita than any other state in the region.

But Sheats was also a racist. He once declared access to education would “make the vast number of idle, absolutely worthless negroes industrious and self-supporting.” Continue Reading →

One man’s war on Florida’s desegregated schools

Black and white students at Industrial class. Orange Park school, 1898. Clay County Archives.

Black and white students in industrial class at the Orange Park school, 1898. Clay County Archives.

“We do not refuse anyone on account of race,” Orange Park Normal and Industrial School principal Amos W. Farnham wrote to William N. Sheats in the spring of 1894.

In a letter to Sheats, Florida’s top education official, Farnham described a faith-based institution in Clay County that was racially integrated 60 years before Brown v. Board of Education. Black and white students went to chapel, ate meals and learned together. Boys at the school, he wrote, “play baseball, ‘shinney,’ marbles and other games together.”

Those words would soon spell trouble for the school, its students and its teachers.

Sheats, who would later be hailed as the “father of Florida’s public school system,” was an unrepentant segregationist and racist who launched an 18-year campaign to destroy the upstart school. His staunch opposition to racial integration fueled a decades-long crackdown on dozens of schools — many of them private institutions run by religious aid societies. It also inspired laws that subjected Florida to national ridicule and dashed hopes of racial progress after Reconstruction.

Known as the Sheats Law, a Florida statute barring black and white children from being taught in the same school was struck down in court, 120 years ago next month.

A school with a mission

Orange Park Normal and Industrial School was founded by the American Missionary Association (AMA), a protestant abolitionist society, with a mission to educate the children of freed black slaves.know_your_history_final

The school took its name from the surrounding town, an enclave of northern transplants just south of Jacksonville on the banks of the St. Johns River. It first opened its doors to 26 students, including 16 boarders, in October 1891. By the fall of 1892, its enrollment swelled to 116 students.

The school provided a primary education for grades 1-8 as well as teacher training, vocational training and college preparatory coursework for older students in grades 9-12. In addition to typical courses of the day such as grammar, rhetoric, mathematics and calisthenics, the school also taught music, stenography, typing, agriculture, botany, horticulture, wood-working and printing. Continue Reading →

Report: Florida scholarship students make gains despite disadvantages

Florida’s tax credit scholarship program continues to enroll some of the most disadvantaged students from among the state’s lowest-performing public schools, according to the latest evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program. After they receive scholarships and enroll in private schools, they keep academic pace with all students nationally, based on their standardized test results.

The report is the eighth annual evaluation of the test score progress, and the second conducted by researchers at the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University. Researchers examined the reading and math scores of 34,469 students in 1,285 private schools during the 2014-15 school year. Scholarship students in grades 3-10 have been required to take a state-approved nationally norm-referenced since 2006.

The tax credit scholarship program is administered primarily by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post. It is the largest private school choice program in the country. Of the 69,950 students who received scholarships during the 2014-15 school year, 67 percent were black or Hispanic , and 53 percent lived in a single-parent household. The average household income was $24,135, or only 5 percent above poverty.

FSU researchers measure academic growth for students by comparing their national percentile ranking for one year to the next. A difference of zero reflects that the student has experienced the same academic growth as all other test-takers. In a finding that aligns with previous evaluations, researchers determined “the typical [scholarship] student tends to maintain his or her relative position in comparison with others nationwide. It is important to note that these national comparisons pertain to all students nationally, and not just students from low-income families.”


Researchers found that, on average, low-income students who receive Florida school choice scholarships make comparable gains to their peers at all income levels nationally. Source: FTC annual program evaluation.

Continue Reading →

Special needs scholarship helps student stand on his own

The Kuhn family.

The Kuhn family. Photo used with permission.

For nearly three years, starting before his third birthday, Malachi lived in an orphanage in Adama, in central Ethiopia. Born with spina bifida, a birth defect that causes leg weakness and limits mobility, he had to crawl across the orphanage’s concrete floors.

The orphans shared clothes from a communal closet and he rarely wore shoes causing his feet to become covered with callouses. At night he slept in a crib in a shared room with five other orphans. They ate communal meals prepared by their caretakers over a wood-burning fireplace. With his doctor more than an hour away in Addis Ababa, the capital, he rarely had access to much-needed medical attention.

His caregivers did their best with what little resources they had, but Malachi was only surviving. It seemed impossible that he would one day stand on his own — much less walk, or go to school.

All of that changed last year, when Malachi arrived in Florida where he now lives with two adoptive parents, and, with the help of a revolutionary scholarship program, has begun pursuing an education.

Kamden Kuhn and her husband, Mitchell, decided to adopt a child before they were  married eight years ago. Their faith inspired them to seek out a child in need from a developing country.

“God has rewarded us,” she said. “We can attempt to show love in a similar way.”

The Kuhns spent the next two years on a waiting list for a healthy infant. As they waited, they realized they’d drifted from their mission to adopt a child in need.

Malachi waves goodbye after the Kuhn's first visit to Ethiopia. Photo used with permission.

Malachi waves goodbye after the Kuhn’s first visit to Ethiopia. Photo used with permission.

Each month the adoption agency sent them a “waiting child list” full of older children who were struggling to find homes. One month, they received a description of a four-year old boy with spina bifida named Malachi.

The Kuhns talked to parents with children with special needs to learn about educational opportunities, insurance and medical care. One family friend told them about the Gardiner Scholarship, a state education savings account program for children with special needs. (Step Up for Students, which publishes this blog and pays my salary, helps manage the accounts of students on the Gardiner Scholarship program.)

Continue Reading →