Editor’s note: During this holiday season, redefinED is republishing our best articles of 2019 – those features and commentaries that deserve a second look. This is the transcript of a moving speech Orlando parent Shareka Wright gave at Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Feb. 15 education scholarship event at Calvary City Christian Academy and Preschool.
Good morning. These are my two boys. This is Zion, he’s 8. Jayden, he’s 6.
I’m a single mother of three. I drive a garbage truck for the city of Orlando, usually working more than 60 hours a week. I’m doing it to send my two youngest sons to private school. We live paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes I have to choose between buying food and paying tuition.
I chose private school because Zion and Jayden were struggling so much in their public school last year. They were bringing home D’s and F’s. Zion had a substitute teacher for his entire second-grade year and fell way behind. Jayden was bullied in kindergarten by the very kids in his school and was afraid of having his lunch money taken every day.
I found Miracle Grace Academy here in Orlando, and I knew it was the right place for my boys. We applied for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, but sadly we were left on the waiting list. There isn’t enough funding for all the families in Florida who need these scholarships. My boys are among almost 13,000 students on the waiting list this school year. There are 1,200 just in Orange County.
Miracle Grace is wonderful. Zion and Jayden have shown so much improvement. They’re getting A’s and B’s now. They get along with everyone. They have learned discipline and spirituality. But I don’t have the money to keep up with the tuition, and the school’s patience can’t last forever. That is why I’m calling on lawmakers to work with the governor, Ron DeSantis, to fund the scholarship program so that families like mine won’t have to wait and suffer.
Being a single mom of three boys is hard, but I never want my kids to feel like they can’t go to college, they can’t get a better education, where they have to stay in school and be bullied or to stay in school and just have a different sub every 30 days. I do my best. I always tell my boys, “Be better than me. Don’t be below me, don’t stop where I stopped at on achievements. Go higher than me. Make goals. Anything you set your mind to you can do.”
Being a single mom isn’t easy. It’s hard. I always do it because I remember I have three boys that depends on me. All they know is Mother makes the way.
I get up every morning, I thank God. I thank my supervisors. They have worked with me, they have been patient with me because it’s stressful with me having all the stress on my back and operating a heavy garbage truck every day with no accidents, no fatalities. It’s hard.
But to keep these two happy and to try to give them the best in life, and try to make them know that they can go to college, they can become doctors, lawyers, pastors, whatever they put their minds to be, I’ll do it every day with smiles and no regrets.
What would be the likely outcome if the president of the nation’s largest tax credit scholarship program and the president of the state’s largest teachers union were asked similar questions by a reporter at an NPR and PBS member station?
If you think there’d be little agreement, a few sparks, or even a whole lot of fireworks, you wouldn’t be wrong. At least not usually.
But as WFSU Public Media news director Lynn Hatter recently learned, while Doug Tuthill and Fed Ingram may differ on the details, both want to bring parity to education. Both say the state hasn’t gotten serious about addressing equity in public education. And both are passionate about finding ways to provide a quality education to every Florida student.
“Most middle-class families, their kids are able to play sports, they’re able to do afterschool arts programs, they have summer camps, etc.,” Tuthill told Hatten. “Low-income kids don’t have any of those developmental activities.”
Click here to listen to more snippets of Hatter’s interviews with both Tuthill and Ingram.
The number of home education students in Florida grew by 8.3 percent last year, significantly eclipsing the previous year’s gain of 2.7 percent and continuing an upward trend over the past decade, according to the latest annual report released by the state Department of Education.
In the 2018-19 school year, 97,261 students participated in home education programs statewide, an increase of 7,444 from the 2017-18 school year. In the last five years, the number of students in home education has increased by 13,165, or 16 percent, over the 84,096 students reported in 2014-15, with a five-year average of 88,399 students.
Districts with the largest percentage of homeschooled students in 2018-19 were Duval, with 7,258, or 7.5 percent of the district’s total student population; Hillsborough, with 7,117 or 7.3 percent; Orange, with 6,161 or 6.3 percent; Palm Beach, with 5,322 or 5.5 percent; and Broward, with 5,103, or 5.2 percent.
Homeschool enrollment increased in each of these districts from 399 to 967 students over the previous year except for Palm Beach, which saw a 106-student decline.
While the DOE report did not provide demographic breakdowns for homeschooled students, a new report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education highlights the changing landscapes of homeschooling in America. Among the findings: 132,000 black families homeschool their children, constituting about 8 percent of the overall homeschool population; and more than 400,000 Hispanic families home educate, making them about 26 percent of the total population.
By contrast, according to the report, the estimated number of white students in home education declined by more than 200,000 between 2012 and 2016.
The most recent figures from the National Center for Education Statistics indicate 1.7 million students, or 3.4 percent of the school population, participate in home education nationally.
Editor’s note: Throughout her decades-long career as an educator, Yvonne C. Clayton firmly believed — and told anyone who would listen — that every student could learn. Born and raised in a small town about 40 miles east of Tallahassee, she relocated to Pinellas County, where she was a teacher and administrator for more than 30 years. Her conviction that families deserve as many choices as possible for educating their children led her to open Yvonne C. Reed Christian Academy in 1998, where she worked for 12 years. redefinED is honoring Ms. Clayton today by reprising a post and a podcast crafted by Step Up For Students’ director for policy and public affairs Ron Matus, first published in July 2012. You can read a tribute to Ms. Clayton published in The Weekly Challenger here.
There’s no doubt parents are exercising school choice in growing numbers. But teachers and principals, too, are increasingly taking their talents to classrooms beyond traditional public schools.
Yvonne C. Reed-Clayton, 73, of St. Petersburg, Fla., was ahead of the curve.
In 1996, she retired after 34 years as a teacher and administrator in the Pinellas County school system, one of the biggest in the nation. Days later, she became head of a new private school, and two years after that, founded her own.
The reason was simple, she told redefinED. She wanted to help struggling students, particularly black males. And in a private, religious school, she had access to tools – Bible lessons and “prayer corners” among them – that weren’t available in public school.
“If a child was doing something, I’d say, ‘Remember this Bible lesson we had? If Jesus came here right now, do you think he would be happy with you?’ “ Reed-Clayton said in the podcast interview attached below. She continued: “I’m receiving a lot of children in my private school, coming from public school, who were discipline problems. But after I got them, they weren’t. They changed.”
Reed-Clayton’s no-frills school in the economically depressed Midtown area is highly regarded, with a reputation for especially good results in reading instruction and parental engagement. Last year, 61 of 85 students used tax-credit scholarships available to low-income families; 11 used McKay scholarships for students with disabilities.
This week, Reed-Clayton is retiring for a second and final time. To mark the occasion, more than a hundred parents, teachers, former students and community leaders will honor the diminutive, beloved “Ms. Reed” with a party befitting someone who was in the vanguard of the most sweeping educational changes of the past 50 years.
After attending segregated schools in St. Petersburg and Greenville, Fla. (where blind phenom Ray Charles was a playmate), Reed-Clayton was among the first black teachers in Pinellas to teach in desegregated public schools. Even now, as a school choice pioneer, she continues to count herself as a supporter of public schools.
“We have to do what fits for the parent and the child,” she said. “If it’s public school, go to public school. If it’s private school, do that.”
Advocates for school choice and protesters who want more money spent on public schools assembled at the Florida Board of Education meeting Wednesday at Polk State College in Lakeland.
More than a dozen parents and students representing Florida Voices for Choices gathered outside the entrance to the college’s technology building wearing bright orange T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Parent Power” and holding signs that read “Empower More Parents With Choice” and “Choice Helps Public Schools.” They countered a protest organized by groups that argue the state is “starving public schools” of money and have demanded a “moratorium on vouchers and charter expansion.”
Five choice advocates spoke before the board and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. They included Ashley Elliott, a Lakeland native and Florida Tax Credit Scholarship alumnus. Elliott gave a moving account of her life – born drug-addicted to a single mother, adopted by her grandmother who faced health problems while living in poverty.
“By all rights I shouldn’t be here today,” she said.
Elliott said that after struggling in one public school she transferred to another, where she was bullied for wearing the same “hand-me-down clothes” twice in the same week. She got into fights with other students, skipped class, and saw her grades decline to D’s and F’s.
“Not even I believed in myself anymore,” she said “I was destined to become a high school dropout, a disappointment, or worse. Just another sad statistic.”
It was then that a teacher told her about the tax credit scholarship, which allowed her to afford to attend Victory Christian Academy, a private school in Lakeland, where she thrived. She graduated with a 3.3 GPA, and is currently in her second year at Valencia College in Orlando. She said she plans to transfer to the University of Central Florida next spring and major in history.
“None of this would be possible without school choice,” she said. “Just as we have choices in what we eat or our career path, we need a choice in our education. Education is a human right on which our futures depend.”
Private school enrollment in Florida, along with the number of private schools operating in the state, increased over the past year according to the Florida Department of Education’s new annual report.
Compared with the 2017-18 school year, prekindergarten through 12th-grade enrollment grew by 10,129 students, from 370,166 to 380,129, while the number of private schools increased by 39, from 2,650 to 2,689.
The uptick followed a decade-long trend that saw an increase of 67,004 students and 600 schools since 2009-10.
Private school enrollment now tops 15 percent of total school enrollment in five Florida districts: Jefferson and Martin, each with 31.7 percent; Escambia with 19.2 percent; Dade with 17.5 percent; and Duval with 16.3 percent.
While private school enrollment was constant across grade levels, varying from 6.2 percent at 11th grade to 7.3 percent at kindergarten, prekindergarten enrollment in 2018-19 stood at 11.8 percent for a total of 44,801 students.
Private school enrollment has been on the upswing each year since 2011-12, with the most dramatic increase – 22,525 students – occurring between the 2015-16 and 2016-17.
This year’s report is available at http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/7562/urlt/PS-AnnualReport1819.pdf. Links to private school annual reports dating back to 2000-01 are available at http://www.fldoe.org/schools/school-choice/private-schools/annual-reports.stml.