Author Archive | Travis Pillow

Hope Scholarship, school choice oversight bills clear Fla. Senate panel

A Florida Senate panel advanced a proposal to create a new educational choice scholarship for victims of violence, harassment or bullying.

The sponsor, Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, made changes to SB 1172 that would address some concerns opponents raised when the House advanced its Hope Scholarship legislation in November.

Public-school principals would have 30 days to investigate incident reports from parents. If the charges were “substantiated,” victims would become eligible for a scholarship to a private school*, or a transfer to a public school of their choice.

Still, some critics argued lawmakers should focus on toughening up the state’s existing anti-bullying policies, rather than create a new scholarship program.

“Wouldn’t removing the bully make the school safer for all students … as opposed to removing that individual who was bullied?” asked Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale. Continue Reading →


Fla. Senate proposes new Schools of Hope approach

High-performing public-school principals could create mini-networks of “franchise” schools within districts under a new plan the Florida Senate is set to take up later today.

The proposal would offer a new approach for districts trying to turn around persistently low-performing schools. A contentious school turnaround law passed last year gives them three options. They can close persistently low-performing schools, convert them to charters or hire external providers to run them.

A “franchise model school” would be a fourth option. Districts could give the reins of a low-performing school to a principal with highly effective performance reviews. Those principals would run the franchise schools in addition to the schools where they already worked. They would have the discretion to pool resources between their schools as they saw fit.

The franchise schools would be eligible for state Schools of Hope grants. The funding, roughly $140 million this year, is intended to help lure top charter school operators to struggling areas and support low-performing district schools that want to transform their academics and offer more support services to students.

The franchise proposal is part of an amendment to SB 1434, which could soon become a wide-ranging measure. It would address several issues from the debate that led to HB 7069 last year. For example, it would revive a Senate proposal intended to stop profit-making by charter school real estate investors.

The Senate Education Committee is slated to discuss the proposal at 3:30 p.m.


Fla. constitution proposal would open door to more state-sponsored public schools

Entities other than school districts could be allowed to start or sponsor public schools under a proposal making its way through the state Constitution Revision Commission.

Right now, the state constitution gives 67 county-wide school districts near-exclusive authority to operate all free public schools in their geographic areas.

A proposal amended Friday by the commission’s education committee would add a new provision to the state constitution allowing the Legislature to create alternative avenues to establish public schools. The proposal by Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board member, was initially intended to allow multiple charter school authorizers.

But Patricia Levesque, a longtime education reformer, amended the proposal so it wouldn’t apply only to charters.

“I think we should be thinking in a broader fashion,” she said.

State law already allows the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, Florida Virtual School (which operates like a statewide school district) and lab schools at state universities, Levesque said. She wanted there to be a solid constitutional basis for creating more options like that in the future. Continue Reading →


Former Fla. Supreme Court Justice: Time to nix Blaine Amendment

Florida’s prohibition on public aid to religious institutions grew out of anti-Catholic bigotry. It’s also outdated, a former state Supreme Court justice told a panel working revisions to the state’s governing document. And it likely violates the U.S. Constitution.

Former Chief Justice Raoul Cantero, now a lawyer in private practice, urged the education committee of the Constitution Revision Commission to support a proposal that would erase Florida’s Blaine Amendment.

The “no-aid” provision has come up in lawsuits against voucher programs that fund scholarships to religious schools. It’s been used to challenge groups providing substance abuse counseling in state prisons. But a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year suggested federal justices think blanket prohibitions on public funding of religious institutions are unconstitutional. Continue Reading →


School choice-related proposals coming before Fla. constitution revision panel

The education panel of Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission will consider some of its most closely watched proposals on Friday.

A handful of them could have big school choice implications. Here’s a quick guide to the debate.

Charter districts

In recent years, the state Legislature has given more district schools the same freedom from state regulations that charter schools enjoy. A handful of schools are participating in a principal autonomy program in which they exchange autonomy for accountability. The Schools of Excellence program gave similar regulatory freedom to roughly the highest-performing one-fifth of public schools in the state.

A proposal by Roberto Martinez (a former state Board of Education member) would push this concept further. Entire school districts that maintain a letter grade of B or higher for three straight years would get the same exemptions that charter schools receive from state education laws. Their local school boards would remain the “governing board” of the local school system, and they would keep that freedom unless the district’s letter grade slipped below a C, or hit multiple grades below B in a three-year period.

For a little context, if the proposal took effect right now, 38 of Florida’s 67 countywide school districts, including the six largest — Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Orange and Duval — would qualify.

The proposal is certainly in line with current trends. The pendulum is swinging away from top-down regulation of public schools. Continue Reading →


Districts: charter school parts of HB 7069 ‘collectively’ violate state constitution

Thirteen Florida school boards have challenged six separate provisions of the state’s sweeping new education law in court.

But court documents filed last week add a new argument to the mix. In a motion for summary judgement, the districts’ lawyers argue that even if some of those changes pass constitutional muster on their own, they’re part of a larger package that unconstitutionally undermines the authority of local school boards.

Among other things, the lawsuit takes aim at provisions in House bill 7069 that allow charter organizations to form their own local education agencies, create a more aggressive school turnaround system and allow Schools of Hope to bypass the normal charter school application process. Continue Reading →


Florida House unveils plan to strengthen private school choice oversight

The Florida House Education Committee this morning unveiled its proposal to strengthen oversight of Florida’s three K-12 private school choice programs.

The draft legislation comes after an Orlando Sentinel investigation that brought scholarship programs under scrutiny, and a legislative hearing on private school oversight.

Among other things, the House’s proposal would:

  • Require private schools to disclose their teachers’ qualifications on their websites.
  • Prevent private school administrators from transferring authority to their relatives to evade regulations, an issue raised in the Sentinel‘s reporting.
  • Require local officials who perform school health and fire inspections for private schools to submit the reports directly to the Department of Education, rather than having schools submit them. This would prevent cases like that of Agape Christian Academy, a troubled Orlando private school that forged safety records and created years of headaches for the department.
  • Lift the cap on school inspections and require schools to receive an inspection from the department before they participate in scholarship programs.
  • Subject more private schools to the financial oversight system that applies to schools that receive more than $250,000 in scholarships.

The House panel greeted the proposal with minor, technical questions and did not take a vote. Chairman Mike Bileca, R-Miami, said it wasn’t yet clear if the draft would become a separate bill, or get merged into other education legislation.

The state Senate’s education committee has scheduled a Monday hearing on an oversight proposal by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the Florida Tax Credit and Gardiner Scholarship programs.


Florida state board sets ‘Schools of Hope’ in motion

Starting next month, Florida will open a new avenue for charter school organizations with a track record of lifting achievement for disadvantaged students.

Under a rule approved unanimously by the state Board of Education, charter organizations will be able to apply to become Hope Operators. They’ll then be able to start entering performance-based contracts with school districts with persistently low-performing schools, with a streamlined application process. We outlined that process here.

Approved charters will then be able to start applying for state grants and facilities loans through the $140 million Schools of Hope program.

Parts of the Schools of Hope program still face a legal challenge brought by 13 Florida school districts. A separate lawsuit, now pending before Leon County circuit court, takes aim at the entire statute authorizing the program. Continue Reading →