Author Archive | Travis Pillow

Court sides with charter schools on funding fairness

If voters approve a tax to fund local public schools, charters are entitled to a fair share.

That’s the upshot of a court ruling issued last week in Indian River County. Voters there approved an extra property tax to levy fund operational expenses for their schools in 2010. At the time, charter schools enrolled roughly five percent of public-school students in the county, so, according to TC Palm, the district allowed charter schools to receive five percent of the funding raised by the tax.

In the years since, charter schools have grown. They now enroll some 12 percent of students in the county. But they still receive the same 5 percent of funding from the discretionary property tax.

Local charter schools contended that distribution was unfair, and took the district to court.

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Fla. governor signs massive education bill

Gov. Rick Scott signs major education legislation during an Orlando ceremony, as state Reps. Manny Diaz, Richard Corcoran, Mike Bileca and Erin Grall look on.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Big changes are coming to Florida’s public education system.

Flanked by House Republican leaders and special needs children, Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation that equalizes funding for Florida’s charter schools, transforms the state’s system for turning around struggling public schools, and boosts funding for special needs scholarships — among dozens of other provisions.

HB 7069 was at the center of a heated public campaign by parents, educators and political activists. The News Service of Florida reported this week that the governor had received 23,440 messages supporting the bill, and 22,734 calling for a veto.

Scott acknowledged the avalanche of “input” he’d received but said he’s convinced the massive 274-page package will help students.

House Education leaders Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah and Mike Bileca, R-Miami confer with former Senate President Andy Gardiner of Orlando.

“It addresses lots of key issues in our education system, and paves the way for every Florida student to receive the world-class education that every student deserves,” he said.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and a host of lawmakers who worked on parts of the bill joined the governor at Morning Star Catholic School, which educates children with special needs.

Mike Bileca, R-Miami and chairman of the House Education Committee, said some of the biggest changes would come in areas where public schools have languished with low academic performance.

The new law speeds up the timetable for districts to turn around struggling schools. It also creates a new Schools of Hope grant program aimed at attracting high-performing charter schools to struggling areas. It could also fund traditional public schools that want to provide wraparound services or create charter-like, college-prep, academics-plus-character cultures.

“We’re going to see our communities in high-poverty areas flourish, and we’re fundamentally going to change the state of Florida for the better,” Bileca said.
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The week in school choice: Becoming the man

Robin Lake of the Center on Reinventing Public Education has a must-read on how her quest to find an appropriate school for her son changed her views on educational choice.

I’m an education researcher and policy analyst, and before that point I’d been firmly opposed to school vouchers, for all the typical reasons: their track record, concern about government money going to religious schools, equity issues and a sense that private schools weren’t accountable to parents in the same way public schools are. The voucher debate has long been cast as one between opponents and supporters of public schools, and I was – and still am – in the latter camp: someone who has always believed that public schools matter, should be funded better and have the potential (and duty) to serve all students well.

But my husband and I started adding up the money being spent on our son, between the various aides, teachers and central office staff. If the district had given us half of what they were spending, we would have been able to afford a good private school that would work well for our son.

This exercise was theoretical – the district wasn’t going to give us money, not without a lawsuit. But it made me realize that I could no longer oppose vouchers on principle. If I would have gladly accepted one, how could I oppose others getting the same opportunity?

Lake understands all school choice options must be accountable to the public — and has, at times, pushed voucher advocates on this point. It wouldn’t hurt to have more people with that outlook inside the private school choice tent, helping to make voucher programs better.

Becoming ‘the man?’

Everyone’s take going into the National Charter Schools Conference focused on the difficult political moment.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos showed up and delivered what may be her best speech since taking the post.

Underrated line: When she called access to a quality education a “basic human right.”

Democratic Congressman (and Colorado gubernatorial hopeful) Jared Polis had criticisms for DeVos before her speech. He was a no-show for a panel talking bipartisan support for charters.

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Virtual charters and the profit motive

For some charter school advocates, poor results in virtual charter schools are raising thorny questions about the role of the profit motive in education.

A new study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes suggests for-profit schools slightly under-perform their not-for-profit counterparts. But it shows the differences are fairly small, and other factors might make a bigger difference.

However, some of the lowest-performing networks identified by the study consist entirely of full-time virtual charter schools. During multiple sessions at a national charter school conference in Washington D.C., attendees wrestled with the implications.

It’s clear access to virtual schools can be a boon for students looking for courses their local schools don’t offer, and those for whom bullying, medical conditions or other circumstances make traditional brick-and-mortar schools untenable.

In part for those reasons, Jonathan Cetel of the Pennsylvania Campaign for Achievement Now said he’s not categorically opposed to profit-making education providers, including in the virtual realm. It’s likely private companies brought much-needed investment that government and not-for-profit groups would never have delivered to a cutting-edge area of education. Continue Reading →


Betsy DeVos to charter schools: Don’t ‘become the man’

Charter schools are not the “one cure-all to the ills that beset education.” They shouldn’t “become the man” or allow the movement to stifle itself with a new bureaucracy. Instead, they should focus on meeting the needs of each individual child.

That was the message U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos brought to thousands of charter school advocates gathered in the nation’s capital.

It was a closely watched speech at what’s been described as a pivotal political moment for the charter school movement. Some of its leaders have taken vocal stands against the Trump Administration and its proposed cuts to federal public education programs.
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New study finds big differences among charter school networks

Not all charter school organizations are created equal. That’s the bottom line of a blockbuster new report by widely cited charter school researchers at Stanford University.

The study, released today by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, looks at how students enrolled in different charter school organizations performed compared to similar “virtual peers” in traditional public schools.

It contains some eye-popping numbers that shed light on the charter school debate in Florida.

The results suggest large-scale management organizations tend to outperform standalone schools. But they also reinforce older findings that students in virtual charter schools tend to lose academic ground, and suggest non-profit charter schools do better than their for-profit counterparts, on average.

The findings might offer new ammunition to advocates for Schools of Hope, an initiative backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran that’s now part of a massive, controversial education bill.

The study shows some high-profile national charter school networks, like KIPP, IDEA Public Schools and Success Academy, lift student achievement in a big way. Those are the kinds of organizations Florida has struggled to attract, though some top lawmakers are eager to change that.

The pending Florida legislation, HB 7069, includes several methods to separate “high-impact” charter organizations from their mediocre or low-performing counterparts. Charter school operators could qualify for state grants and a streamlined application process if they prove they’re in the former group.

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Charter school advocates, including some notable Floridians, gather in DC

This week, charter school advocates are gathering in the nation’s capital in a turbulent political climate.

Some luminaries of the movement have called out the Trump administration for proposing cuts to federal programs that support public education. Others see unprecedented political opportunities for the school choice movement — and specific initiatives like the federal Charter Schools Program.

Nina Rees, the head of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, helped set the stage in The 74.

Democratic supporters of charter schools are understandably concerned about voicing support for President Trump’s proposed increase in CSP funding. They don’t want to be associated with his agenda, much of which they find repugnant. And yet it would be irresponsible to ignore the impact that $500 million in annual CSP funding could have on our ability to give more students access to a great public education.

Republicans, meanwhile, may be tempted to put charter schools on the back burner as they pursue their mission to reduce federal funding and control of education, devolve power to school districts, and promote access to private school choice options. And yet we know that charter schools are doing more, right now, to empower local communities and bring real choices to families in nearly every state in the country. Anyone who takes local control and choice seriously must make charter schools a priority.

There’s no shortage of Floridians present for this year’s national charter schools conference. Many of them will add breadth to an event whose agenda goes well beyond national politics. Here are a few notables. Continue Reading →


Fla. Senate avoids changes to massive education bill

Attempts to modify or remove funding from parts of a major piece of education legislation fizzled today in the Florida Senate.

As a result, all $419 million in House Bill 7069, including the House’s signature program to draw top charter school operators to academically struggling areas of the state, will likely remain intact as Gov. Rick Scott evaluates the measure in the face of a heated public campaign.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs and Senate education budget chief, set aside attempts to shift funding from the Schools of Hope grant program and a teacher bonus program into the main operating fund for public schools.

He had raised concerns about how the bill would be implemented and made clear today he still hopes those concerns will be addressed at some point.

During a debate on the Senate floor, Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, gave a forceful defense of the measure. He sponsored an expansion of virtual education eligibility that was folded into the bill during the regular legislative session that concluded last month. He rejected the idea, espoused by opponents of the bill, that it was simply force-fed to some Senators “to make a deal” with the other chamber. Continue Reading →