Author Archive | Travis Pillow

Catching up on nationwide private school enrollment trends

The U.S. Department of Education is out this week with a new report on private school data from across the country. The last such data came out two years ago. Here’s what the numbers from the 2015-16 school year show.

Enrollment in private schools continued to decline. And yet, there were more private schools and more private school teachers.

Between 2013 and 2015, the number of students fell 9 percent, to 4,903,596.

But the number of teachers rose about nine percent, to 481,558.

Meanwhile, the number of schools jumped by nearly 1,000, to 34,576.

This factoid might be related. In the fall of 2013, roughly 36 percent of private schools had fewer than 50 students. Two years later, 46 percent of private schools were in that category.

Enrollment in faith-based schools is still falling. It dropped by just over 6 percent from the fall of 2013 to 2015. But enrollment in “nonsectarian” schools is falling faster. It dropped by more than 18 percent during the same period.

Continue Reading →


The ‘Trump effect’ polarizes school choice, but doesn’t hurt its popularity

Ever since Donald Trump became president, opponents of school choice have tried to tie charter schools, vouchers and scholarship tax credits to the polarizing politician.

A new public opinion survey suggests those tactics might not be working as intended.

Survey researchers with Education Next asked questions about two school choice policies two ways. Half the respondents answered basic questions about whether they supported tax credit scholarships or charter schools. The other half were asked the same questions, after being told Trump supports the policies.

Even after a sharp drop, charter school supporters still outnumber opponents, according to the latest Ed Next poll.

Associating the policies with Trump didn’t change overall support for either policy. But it did tend to polarize issues. Support among Democrats went down, while support among Republicans went up.

Hearing about President Trump’s views doesn’t change overall charter school support. But it widens the partisan divide.

The poll confirms something school choice advocates saw on the ground during last year’s elections. Continue Reading →


How tax credit scholarships are similar to, and different from, other charities

School choice critics in Congress are pushing a proposal to penalize tax credit scholarships in the federal tax code.

In the National Review, Jason Bedrick of EdChoice points out several flaws with their idea.

Among other things, Bedrick notes, there’s no reason to treat tax credit scholarships differently from other charitable contributions, as Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., has proposed. Continue Reading →


Leveling the playing field in public school choice

Some affluent South Florida cities have found a way to carve private niches in the public education system.

The Miami Herald recenty reported some taxpayers may start paying double the state’s normal public-school funding amounts for dedicated spots in highly-sought magnet programs created by the local school district.

And a few cities have found another way to use public school choice to create special perks for their residents. They can create municipal charter schools that give residents priority in admissions.

The Herald reports:

[T]he city of Aventura runs its own K-8 charter school, known as ACES. Aventura is currently in the process of opening a new charter high school — something parents, local politicians and business groups have been advocating for years. They argue that Dr. Michael Krop Senior High School in north Miami-Dade, the public high school serving Aventura residents, is too far away for some families.

Aventura residents will get first dibs at the new high school, which is slated to open in 2019. Although other county residents will be able to apply for empty seats, city manager Eric Soroka said that based on interest from residents, he doesn’t think there will be any.

Instead, some area residents are concerned that the charter high school could segregate the area, pulling affluent Aventura residents out of Krop along with the added resources, like fundraising contributions, that wealthy students tend to bring with them.

“Personally, I think there’s a benefit to having a diverse school population so that especially high school-aged kids can become friends with kids from other ethnicities,” said Aventura resident Ivy Ginsberg. “By saying that all the slots are going to go to Aventura residents only, it’s like giving Aventura residents their own private school.”

Soroka said that’s not the city’s intention. “The only thing we’re providing is another educational choice for our residents at this point,” he said.

Continue Reading →


Choice scholarships revoked for Orlando private school

The Florida Department of Education on Friday suspended an Orlando private school with a history of regulatory violations from the state’s school choice scholarship programs. The department is also moving quickly to remove the school permanently from participation in the programs.

Agape Christian Academy has occasionally landed in the headlines for issues from financial woes to forged fire inspections.

Last year, after discovering fire code violations and improper fire inspection documents, DOE suspended the school from receiving money through Florida tax credit scholarships, McKay Scholarships and Gardiner Scholarships. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner programs.)

DOE allowed the school to continue receiving scholarships last fall only after Agape signed a settlement agreeing to fix the issues and abide by a list of specific new requirements. A modified agreement, signed in April after months of legal disputes, placed the school on “probationary status.”

That agreement outlined that, to remain eligible for the scholarship programs, Agape needed to return more than $178,000 to Step Up and the state — money the school received from scholarship programs while it was not qualified to participate. The agreement also required the school to accept professional development for its staff and to participate in the Measures of Academic Progress assessment program to get a more timely picture of the academic progress of its students. Continue Reading →


Nation’s largest private school choice program tops 100,000 students

The nation’s largest private school choice program has passed another notable milestone. During the coming school year, more than 100,000 low-income and working-class students will enroll in private schools using Florida tax credit scholarships to help pay tuition and fees.

Step Up For Students is a nonprofit organization that helps administer the program. (It also publishes this blog and pays my salary.)

The organization stopped enrolling students on Friday afternoon. Right now, about 101,869 students are enrolled for the coming school year.

*Data for the 2017-18 school year are preliminary and only count scholarships funded by Step Up For Students. Source: Florida Department of Education, Step Up For Students.

That figure comes amid the highest-ever demand for scholarships. More than 177,000 students started the process of applying for scholarships. Step Up has approved more than 23,000 applications for students it does not have the money to serve.

Doug Tuthill, the president of Step Up, said rising demand is part of a larger “culture shift” in public education. Continue Reading →


Can a rural district run its own charter school?

A rural Florida school district has one year to turn around a school that’s struggled academically for much of the past two decades.

If it doesn’t improve during the upcoming school year, Hamilton County High School could be one of the first schools affected by a new state law that ratchets up the pressure on low-performing schools.

But district Superintendent Rex Mitchell may have another idea. According to the Suwanee Democrat, he wants to consider merging the long-struggling high school with a newly constituted elementary school.

Last month, Mitchell told the state Board of Education the district has combined its three elementary schools onto a single campus.

Merging the high school with the just-merged elementary schools could reset its turnaround timeline. Or so officials hope. Continue Reading →


Examining the NAACP’s charter school proposals on the merits

One of the first quotes in a new NAACP report on charter schools comes from a Southern California school leader.

The unnamed educator points to potential common ground: “We must celebrate success wherever it is happening and we must remain vigilant to guard against abuses of the public trust wherever they occur. A bad school is our common enemy.”

A few recommendations in the report and accompanying model legislation drift from that ideal.

They include:

  • A call for a blanket ban on for-profit charters.
  • A call for districts to serve as the only charter school authorizers.
  • A 10-year moratorium on charter schools run by larger management organizations — for-profit or otherwise.

Charter school advocates have issued swift reactions. They range from thoughtful to predictable.

But the specifics of the NAACP’s proposal deserve a closer look. For one thing, similar proposals have emanated recently from other groups, including the nation’s largest teachers union. That suggests these ideas aren’t going away.

Districts as the only authorizers Continue Reading →