Author Archive | Special to redefinED

School choice expands opportunity for Hispanic children

This op-ed, by prominent Florida pastor Nino Gonzalez, originally appeared in Spanish in the latest edition of La Prensa. Here is the English translation.

Pastor Gonzales

Pastor Gonzales

A lot of people misread our poor communities. They think because people are financially poor, they must be intellectually poor. But we know all of our children have the ability to learn at the highest levels, and to live up to their God-given potential. We also know a key to making that happen is matching them to the learning environments that are best for them.

This is why I support school choice. And this is why I am so disappointed with the lawsuit that seeks to kill the Florida tax credit scholarship program.

A year ago, the teachers union filed suit to end the program, which is the biggest private school choice program in America. Never mind that it has been in existence for 14 years and serves 77,000 low-income children, including about 30,000 Hispanic children. And never mind that a judge ruled in May that the union did not have standing to sue, and that its claims of harm to public school students were “speculative.” The union decided to appeal, and its president promised to fight all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.

This is wrong. Freedom and choice are core American values, so why is education an exception? Why does the union want to block poor parents from schools that work for their children? There are no good answers.

The suit is even more wrong when you consider how many Hispanic students struggle. In 2014, only 50 percent of Hispanic 10th graders in Florida passed the reading test they must pass to graduate. The numbers were even worse in Central Florida. In Orange County, 46 percent passed. In Osceola, 41 percent. In Polk, 36 percent.

I don’t bring this up to disparage public schools. Many of them are working tirelessly. But other schools can help our children succeed too. Continue Reading →


Miami-Dade schools face legal tab in charter school retaliation case

From the News Service of Florida

An administrative law judge said Tuesday the Miami-Dade County School Board should pay $233,000 in attorneys’ fees in a case filed by employees who said they faced retaliation for trying to open a charter school.

The legal-fees recommendation by Judge Edward T. Bauer, which now goes to the state Department of Education, stems from an underlying case in which school employees Alberto T. Fernandez, Henny Cristobal and Patricia E. Ramirez alleged they suffered retaliation after seeking to convert Neva King Cooper Educational Center to a charter school.

Bauer’s recommended order said the Miami-Dade County school system “quickly squelched the conversion efforts and, beginning in late April of 2012, reassigned all three petitioners to undesirable work locations.” Continue Reading →


Parent: Education savings account gives us freedom, flexibility, hope

We thought redefinED readers would enjoy the following essay about Florida’s Personal Learning Scholarship Account by Tampa, Fla. parent Mary Kurnik. It originally appeared in the summer 2015 issue of The Old Schoolhouse magazine, and is re-published with the magazine’s permission.

The PLSA is an education savings account (ESA) administered by nonprofits like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. The essay notes only Florida and Arizona have ESAs, which was true when Kurnik submitted the piece last spring. Since then, three more states have adopted ESAs, including Nevada, which created a program that is available to more than 90 percent of its students.

The Kurnik family from left to right: John Stephen, John, Krystyn and Mary.

The Kurnik family from left to right: John Stephen, John, Krystyn and Mary.

By Mary Kurnik

“. . . weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

Dealing with special needs is a family journey, not limited to the child with the diagnosis. My son has unique abilities and learns differently. He happens to have autism.

For years prior to the diagnosis, we were perplexed by John’s speech patterns, motor skills, inflexibility with daily life, and adverse reactions to bright lights, loud noises, and large crowds. During those years, John had testing and therapies, but those were done on a careful schedule and budget. Often late at night, after our children were asleep, my husband and I shed tears over how we would manage to meet John’s short- and long-term needs as prescribed by his doctors. Continue Reading →


Florida House panel approves public school choice bill

By Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida

A bill that would allow parents more freedom to choose where their children go to school was overwhelmingly approved Tuesday by a House panel, even as some critics and educators worried the legislation is moving too quickly.

The measure (HB 1145) – sponsored by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor – was approved by the House K-12 Subcommittee in an 11-2 vote, with two Democrats joining the panel’s nine Republicans in voting for the bill.

It would allow parents to transfer their students to any school in the state that had not reached 90 percent of its capacity, regardless of county lines. It would also require districts to set up a process for parents to request that their children be removed from teachers’ classes.

Supporters have touted the legislation as the logical extension of the state’s school-choice reform movement, while opponents have raised questions about whether the process could be orderly.

Even speakers who were not overtly opposed to the bill raised questions about whether the legislation is too ambitious. Vern Pickup-Crawford, a lobbyist for Palm Beach County schools, said the July 1 effective date of the legislation could force school districts to adjust quickly to the new landscape.

“To try to have this implemented this next school year is something resembling organized chaos,” he said. Continue Reading →


Sweeping school choice, parental rights bill passes Florida Senate panel

By Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida

A sweeping education bill that would allow parents to send their children to schools in other counties and demand their children get new teachers in some situations was approved on a party-line vote Wednesday by a key Senate panel.

The 62-page measure (SB 1552) would, among other provisions, give parents the right to have their children attend any school in the state that hasn’t reached capacity. And if a student is being taught by a teacher that is out of his or her field, a parent could demand that the student be moved to another classroom. The bill also would make a slew of changes to charter school laws.

Over the objections of Democrats, the Senate Education PreK-12 Committee voted 7-4 to approve the bill. Supporters say the legislation would help parents whose children might otherwise be trapped in classrooms or schools that don’t work for them. Continue Reading →


Ed reformers, it’s time to fully embrace private school vouchers

the time is nowEditor’s note: Parental choice supporters released this collaborative statement today, calling on ed reformers to fully embrace vouchers, tax credit scholarships and other publicly funded private options as part of a three-sector approach to providing more high-quality learning options for low-income children. A number of prominent names in ed reform and parental choice circles have already signed on (see the list of original signers here). To add your name in support, go here.

For 50 years, America has struggled to provide low-income students, especially those in inner cities, with high-quality schools. The consequence has been devastating: Generational poverty, disenfranchised neighborhoods, and millions of boys and girls robbed of the American Dream.

But we have not been asleep at the switch. Over this half-century, some of our sharpest minds, strongest backs, and deepest pockets have attempted to solve the problem. Decades of effort have been poured into improving district-run schools. Two decades ago work on a parallel track was launched through the passage of a tax supported voucher program in Wisconsin and the option to create charter schools in Minnesota. The voucher program provided limited access for low-income parents to send their children to private schools, and the charter school legislation provided for the possibility of the development of new public schools with increased autonomy and accountability.

In spite of all of our best efforts, gains in district schools have been modest. Although chartering has produced many outstanding schools, numerous barriers have impeded the creation of a sufficient number of high-quality charter seats. Even with the expanded choice to the private sector, they also have produced modest results. So despite the expenditure of enormous personal and financial resources, it is still sadly true today that far too few needy boys and girls have access to great schools.

Those interested in improving the fortunes of these students should share a mindset: We must double down on our efforts to grow the number of high-quality schools available to low-income children. When so many obstacles stand between our young people and a lifetime of success, we simply cannot and must not support only one of the approaches that are available to us.

We strongly support a “three-sector” approach to reform and improvement.

We must push for transformational changes within traditional districts while working to strengthen the other two options.

There is controversy and opposition to each of the strategies, but, those involving the private sector create the most angst; particularly those that involved publicly supported programs like vouchers and tax credits. Unfortunately, some of this resistance has come from within our own ranks—those supporting other efforts to improve the educational opportunities available to disadvantaged students.

We believe it is time for members of the reform community to reconsider their opposition to these programs and fully embrace the three-sector approach. Many things have changed since Milwaukee’s voucher program initiated this movement 20 years ago—when many people took hardened positions on this issue. Continue Reading →

Democrat: Stop casting school choice parents as villains in public ed

Editor’s note: This post originally ran as an op-ed today in Florida Today, in response to a column by former state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland. It’s authored by former state Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, who is a member of the Step Up For Students board of directors. The state’s tax credit scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

Sen. Lawson

Sen. Lawson

The most significant expansion of Florida’s scholarships for low-income children came in 2010, and the bipartisan spirit was so strong I was allowed as Democratic leader to make the closing argument in a Senate controlled by Republicans.

We found common ground because the Tax Credit Scholarship Program is focused on economically disadvantaged students in a way that strengthens public education.

So it is with considerable disappointment to see the partisan fractures this year, as the Legislature considers more modest improvements. And it is hard to miss the extent to which the Florida Education Association is driving the wedge.

But it is wrong to cast a $4,880 scholarship for 60,000 underprivileged children as an attack on public education. It is, to quote public educator and former House Education Policy Council ranking Democrat Bill Heller, “in the greatest tradition of our collective commitment to equal educational opportunity.”

With 12 years under our belt, we know a great deal about how this scholarship works.

The program serves children whose household income is only 9 percent above poverty. More than two-thirds of them are black or Hispanic. These children struggled academically in the public schools they left. Most importantly, their annual standardized test scores have shown they are consistently achieving the same gains in reading and math as students of all income levels nationally.

Whether these students should take the state, rather than national, test is a fair question. But let’s not pretend as though we have no measure for how well they are performing. We know how scholarship kids are doing at individual private schools, as the schools must report their learning gains if they have a minimum number of scholarship recipients.

Let’s also call an end to the deceit that this program hurts public schools financially, and that “money used for vouchers is taken away from basic public school needs,” as syndicated columnist Paula Dockery stated in her recent column in FLORIDA TODAY. Continue Reading →

Amendment filed to scale back FL school choice scholarship bill

From the News Service of Florida:

The co-sponsor of a measure that would overhaul the state’s de facto voucher program has filed an amendment that would scale back the legislation by removing one of the more controversial elements.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, filed an amendment Tuesday that would strike a proposal to increase the cap on fundraising for the program. The original proposal would have upped the cap to about $30 million above what it would otherwise be over the next five years, assuming the number of students using the vouchers continued to grow. If Diaz’s amendment is approved, the bill would mostly expand the eligibility for the program and boost the amount that each scholarship would cover.

The House could consider amendments to the bill (HB 7167) as soon as Wednesday.

The Senate, meanwhile, has shown no interest in attaching the voucher provisions to a bill (SB 1512) that would help parents pay for education services for disabled children — something that is also included in the House bill. Senators withdrew a stand-alone voucher proposal last month.

Editor’s note: The tax credit scholarship (aka “voucher”) program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.