Author Archive | Travis Pillow

Florida state board sets higher bar for charter school facilities funding

The Florida Board of Education this morning approved a higher academic bar for charter schools that receive state facilities funding.

The rule would deny capital funding to charters that earn multiple D’s through the state’s A-F accountability system.

The state Department of Education revised the proposal after groups like the Florida Association of Independent Public Schools challenged it before the state’s administrative law court.

After the revisions, charter schools would still have to meet the higher academic standard to get access to the Charter School Capital Outlay, but it won’t take effect until the 2017-18 school year.

Members of the advocacy group indicated they still opposed the new rule.

“This seems like Deja Vu All over again,” said Mark Gotz, the president of School Development Group, which helped finance Miami Community Charter School in Florida City. “Charter schools are public schools and need to be treated equally and equitably.”

That argument piqued the interest of state board members who signed off on the previous version of the rule. Continue Reading →


Somerset chosen to run charter school turnaround in rural North Florida

Jefferson County charter school vote

Jefferson County school board members unanimously approve charter applications by Somerset Academy.

MONTICELLO, Fla. – After a 5-0 Tuesday night vote, the Jefferson County School Board brought Florida’s smallest school district into uncharted territory.

It’s now poised to start negotiations with Somerset Academy, which could soon lead a conversion into Florida’s first all-charter school system.

The board approved a trio of charter school applications. If contract negotiations go smoothly, Somerset will operate an elementary, middle and high school, housed on a single campus and led by a single principal.

The state is home to dozens of charters converted from traditional public schools, but converted charters have never encompassed an entire school system. Somerset and the school district will have to hash out new arrangements for expulsions, transportation and employment terms for teachers.

Douglas Rodriguez, a consultant advising Somerset, said the charter organization plans to interview current Jefferson teachers and decide by next month which ones will stay. The charter group also plans an ambitious recruiting effort across North Florida and nationwide. A promised new pay schedule could boost a current teacher’s salary by nearly $10,000. Rodriguez said the plan would help draw recruits to a rural community that lies just east of the state capital and two state universities.

“We are going to make the Jefferson County teachers the highest-paid teachers in the state of Florida,” he said. Continue Reading →


Bill would give Florida home schoolers more access to college, career courses


Home education students would have more access to college classes and career education programs under a bill approved this morning by a Florida House panel.

HB 1391 would allow homeschoolers to take career education courses offered by school districts. Public schools would be able to receive state per-pupil funding for courses they take.

The bill, along with a counterpart in the state Senate, would also require school districts to accept parents’ home education registrations if they meet the requirements in state law.

Several parents told the committee that some districts have begun asking for information — like birth certificates and proof of residence — that go beyond what the law requires.

“They’re taking the mindset, as we’ve tried to resolve this issue locally, that the law doesn’t say they can’t ask for additional documentation,” said David Bosworth, a Broward County parent who’s taught six children at home. As a result, he said, families can get stuck in administrative limbo trying to create home education programs for their children, even if they meet the requirements spelled out in state law.

The House bill also included provisions that would create textbook allowances for home school students who take dual enrollment courses at colleges or universities. Bill sponsor Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, took those portions out of the bill today because they required money from the state budget.

But he said hoped the removal would be temporary. He said he wants to put home school students on equal footing with their counterparts in public schools, who don’t have to pay for dual enrollment textbooks. Continue Reading →


Fla. district poised to pick charter school network for unprecedented turnaround

A struggling rural North Florida district could soon choose one of the state’s largest charter school networks to lead an unprecedented turnaround effort.

Somerset Academy is the only organization still in the running to operate Jefferson County, Fla.’s public schools. The school board is set to vote on the charter group’s application Tuesday.

Depending on the local board’s vote, the state Board of Education might address the issue when it meets Wednesday in Tallahassee.

Somerset is a nonprofit network associated with the management company Academica. It runs a total of 50 schools serving nearly 17,600 students, according to its website.

The network would run a turnaround effort unlike any Florida has seen. The state Board of Education approved the move in response to more than a decade of academic and financial turmoil in Jefferson County schools.

Continue Reading →


Fewer charter schools are opening because fewer are applying

Last month, fresh charter school numbers had several observers asking: Why are fewer charters opening?

A new report from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers offers some clues. In short, it finds fewer groups are applying to open new schools.

Over the past five years, the approval rate for charter school applications nationwide has hovered right around 35 percent. But the total number of applications has declined.

charter school application graph

The approval rate for charter school applications has hovered right around 35 percent, but fewer schools are applying to open. Chart via NACSA.

Why are fewer groups applying to open new charter schools? The authorizers group says that’s a question for future research.

“As the sector continues to think through why growth is slowing, our findings suggest figuring out what’s driving the decline in charter applications will be a central part of the answer,” M. Karega Rausch, NACSA’s vice president of research and evaluation, said in a press release. “That’s why we think it’s important to dig deeper into the data and find out why fewer applications are being proposed and what’s helping—or hindering—strong applications.” Continue Reading →


New freedoms may be coming for Florida’s top-performing public schools

Erin Grall


Florida’s highest-performing public schools would get greater operational freedom under a measure approved today by a state House panel.

HB 1331 would ease regulations for “Schools of Excellence” — public schools whose academic performance ranks among the state’s top 20 percent in their grade range at least two out of three consecutive years.

Principals in those schools would get more freedom to make their own budget and staffing decisions. Their teachers would get credit toward continuing-education requirements for their certifications. The schools would be free of district or statewide mandates on the amount of time they must devote to reading instruction. Like charter schools and district-run schools of choice, they would have more flexibility under state class-size mandates.

“It would encourage innovation,” bill sponsor Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, told the House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran first floated the concept several months ago.

Continue Reading →


Fla. lawmakers face conundrum on charter school facilities funding

Top Florida senators say they’re prepared to create a stable, predictable funding source for charter school facilities.

But the road to get there remains uncertain, even after a second Senate panel voted today to advance a measure that would require school districts to share local property tax revenue with charters.

Charter schools in Florida receive the same operational funding as traditional public schools. But when it comes to money for facilities, they rely on annual appropriations from the Legislature. That funding has stagnated even as charters continue to grow, and it’s far below what traditional public schools receive.

On Tuesday, Senate President Joe Negron told reporters that’s unacceptable.

Education funding should follow the child to whatever public school they attend, he said. And the era of funding charter school construction through annual appropriations in the state budget — primarily through the dwindling Public Education Capital Outlay — must end.

“It’s competing with other dollars that, to me, should be for universities and community colleges and schools in other areas,” he said.

Senate bill 376, approved this morning by the panel in charge of education spending, would require school districts to give charter schools a proportionate share of their local property tax revenue reserved for capital projects. Continue Reading →


Fla. House panel backs private school choice bill

Kathleen Dale committee testimony

Kathleen Dale, a Gardiner Scholarship parent, testified gbefore the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation committee.

A bill that would expand or enhance three Florida private school choice programs cleared its first legislative hurdle today with bipartisan backing.

The House K-12 Innovation Subcommittee passed HB 15 on a 12-3 vote.

The measure by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, would triple the size of Florida’s Gardiner Scholarship program, which offers education savings accounts to children with special needs.

It would also broaden eligibility for special needs vouchers, known as McKay scholarships, and increase per-student funding for tax credit scholarships, which help low-income and working-class students pay private school tuition.

Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog and pays my salary, administers the Gardiner and tax credit programs.

The panel heard impassioned testimony from parents like Kathleen Dale. She said complications from throat surgery damaged her son’s brain, causing epilepsy, paralysis, aphasia and intellectual disability. He suffered from dozens of seizures a day, she said.

The family first received a Gardiner scholarship in 2014, and used it to pay for curriculum, art supplies, science kits and therapy that enabled them to teach him at home. In early 2016, Dale’s son gained access to a drug trial that dramatically reduced his seizures. Since then, she said, he’s made three years of progress in a year’s time. Continue Reading →