Author Archive | Travis Pillow

Lawmaker joins Step Up For Students board

Sen. John Legg

A former state lawmaker who helped shape Florida education in policy for more than a decade will join the board of Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps administer two major private school choice programs.

State Sen. John Legg served in the Florida House from 2004 to 2012. He was elected to the state Senate in 2012, and served as chairman of the Education Committee for four years before leaving the Legislature in 2016.

Before he supported the school choice movement as a legislator, Legg supported it as an educator. In 2000, he helped found Dayspring Academy, a high-performing Pasco County charter school where he serves as an administrator. Continue Reading →


‘Schools of Hope’ or ‘high-impact’ charters?

The Florida House and Senate may be poised to move closer together on their ambitious plans to bring more top charter school organizations into high-needs parts of Florida.

The Senate’s Appropriations Committee is set to consider a revision to legislation by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, aimed at attracting “high-impact” charter schools to Florida.

The revised proposal would look something like Schools of Hope by another name. Charter school organizations would have to demonstrate to the state Board of Education that they have a track record of getting results with low-income students.  Continue Reading →


Charter school backers seek new freedoms for district schools


A bill passed last week by the Florida House would free a fifth of the state’s public schools from district bureaucracy.

The “Schools of Excellence” plan has avoided the controversy and press attention of other education proposals. But it will be an issue worth watching in the deal-making of the final two weeks of Florida’s legislative session.

HB 1331, by Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, would give principals at the state’s highest-performing 20 percent of public schools the same freedoms schools in a new principal autonomy program receive. Their leaders would have more control over hiring, and they would be exempt from some state education regulations.

Schools of Excellence would also get more flexibility under the class-size restrictions in the state constitution. And they would be allowed to set their own starting and stopping times for the school day.

Rep. Mike Bileca, R-Miami and chair of the committee in charge of education policy, said the plan stems from a promise to “look for areas to level the regulatory playing field with charter schools.”

In recent years, he and other pro-charter lawmakers have pushed to scale back regulations for district schools on a variety of fronts, from easing class-size rules and construction requirements to promoting new autonomy-for-accountability arrangements. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Schools of hope, special needs scholarships and more

Legislation. Senate President Joe Negron says education funding is among the most difficult spending issues lawmakers will try to resolve this session. Tallahassee Democrat. Budget talks between the House and Senate appear to be at an impasse. The Buzz.

Schools of Hope. Florida House members say attracting charter school operators remains an important part of their plan to transform persistently struggling schools. redefinED. Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano blasts the plan as a “gimmick.” District officials criticize it. Pensacola News-Journal. Activists decry an alleged conspiracy. Tallahassee Democrat.

Failure factories. A principal at a struggling Pinellas County school is caught saying by email that white students should be grouped in classes together, then fails to provide a complete explanation. Tampa Bay Times.

Superintendents. A Duval school board member wants to try to keep district schools chief Nikolai Vitti around. Florida Times-Union. Vitti was hired to make changes. Were they enough? Times-Union. A legal battle over transparency stalls his talks for a new job in Detroit. Detroit Free Press.

McKay scrutiny. Orlando Sentinel columnist Lauren Ritchie argues there’s a lack of oversight in Florida’s McKay scholarship program, which provides vouchers to children with special needs.

Charter school conversion. The Polk County Schol Board is set to discuss a plan in which the Lake Wales charter school system would take over a struggling middle school. Lakeland Ledger.

Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Testing, teacher salaries and more

Testing legislation. The Florida House advances its revamped testing legislation, in what some are calling a legislative “train.” GradebookWFSUSunshine State News.

Teacher salaries. A teacher salary likely won’t cover the cost of living in Miami-Dade. Miami Herald.

Recess legislation. There’s still time to tackle playtime, Florida’s House Speaker says. Times/Herald.

Crowding. Palm Beach high schools are expected to “burst at the seems” next year. But for middle schools, it’s a different story. School choice and competition part of the reason why. Palm Beach Post.

Charter schools. Florida House legislation renews debates over charter schools and municipal zoning. Politico Florida. A Miami-Dade charter school fights a NIMBY battle. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →


Expanding options for military families – Sen. Tim Scott, podcastED

Sen. Tim Scott

Sen. Tim Scott has seen how hard it can be for military families to find educational opportunities for their children as they move from one base to another.

His older brother was a command sergeant major in the U.S. Army. His younger brother is a colonel in the Air Force.

Their experiences trying to find schools for their children helped inspire the CHOICE Act. Scott’s legislation would create pilot scholarship programs on at least five military bases.

“I know firsthand that a parent doesn’t choose the base they go to, and therefore, can only hope and pray that the education is good,” the South Carolina Republican tells Denisha Merriweather, a Florida tax credit scholarship alumna, in our latest podcast interview.

April is the month of the military child, and several states are advancing proposals to create new educational options for military families — or help existing school choice programs better meet their needs.

Georgia lawmakers approved a bill creating open enrollment for families on military bases, while Florida is advancing legislation that would allow military parents to apply for tax credit scholarships year-round. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, immigration, legislation and more

Superintendents. Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho says he believes in standing up for undocumented immigrants because he was one himself. The 74. Duval County School Board declines to make a counter-offer to superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who’s poised to return to his native Michigan and lead Detroit’s embattled public school system. Florida Times-Union. Candidates to lead Flagler County schools meet with the public. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Scholarship bill passes. The Florida House unanimously approves legislation that would expand or enhance Gardiner scholarships and tax credit scholarships. redefinED. Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer both programs.

Charter schools. The Jefferson County School board enters a five-year agreement with charter operator Somerset Academy. Tallahassee Democrat. Can charters get city funding to run summer camp programs? Jacksonville officials debate. Florida Times-Union.

Charter legislation. An under-the-radar charter school bill that would give public school leaders more control over Title I funding clears the House. redefinED. Continue Reading →


Fla. House passes under-the-radar charter school bill

Florida charter schools would have a greater authority over their federal education funding if a bill approved today by the state House finds a path through the Senate.

HB 7101 would increase charters’ ability to form their own local education agencies, or LEAs in federal parlance. That would allow them to receive federal funds for training teachers and supporting low-income students directly, without going through their local school districts.

And districts would have to give all public schools, including charters, authority to decide how most of their federal Title I funding gets spent.

Those are two of many changes in the measure, which passed on a nearly party-line vote, with two Democrats joining Republicans in support.

Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, opposed the bill, arguing charter schools are part of a “separate but equal” public education system. Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, questioned whether allowing charter schools to form LEAs would raise “constitutional” issues. Continue Reading →