Archive | Bipartisanship

Blue-state lawmakers look to Florida’s model of educational options

New York State Assemblyman Marcos Crespo talks about the importance of educational opportunity.

New York State Assemblyman Marcos Crespo talks about the importance of educational opportunity.

Valentin Mendez said his struggles began when he moved into sixth grade at public middle school in Miami.

He was bullied. He couldn’t focus. He began to flounder academically. His mother, Jeannethe Ruiz, said he also struggled with English. His problems got so bad at one point that she pulled him out of class for two weeks, and started casting about for other options.

That’s when she found out about La Progresiva Presbyterian School in Little Havana, and the Florida tax credit scholarship program  a model that policymakers around the country are learning about during a two-day gathering for education advocates in Miami.

Without the scholarship, tuition would likely have been out of reach for their family. Mendez said his mother works at a gas station, his father at a tire shop, putting in long hours that have motivated him to perform in school.

“They want me to have a better life,” he said. “I’m glad that I’m in a school now where I can make them proud.”

Ruiz and Mendez spoke at a press conference at the start of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options’ annual summit, which has drawn lawmakers, including some from deep-blue states, who say they’re intent on expanding educational options back home.

Illinois state Sen. Martin Sandoval called the Florida program, which is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog, “a national model, one that I am going to be studying for the next few days and weeks.”

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Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Who grades the graders? Did school choice win in the mid-terms?

MrGibbonsReportCardCenter for Reinventing Public Education

The Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) is an education research and policy analysis think tank at the University of Washington, Bothell. The organization’s research finds statistical support for charter schools and for reforming the way public education is operated and funded.

Back in August, CRPE released a working paper on the impact of charter schools on student achievement. Its meta-analysis of high-quality studies found charters tend to have a small but positive impact on student achievement in math, but no additional impact in reading.

By the end of September, the National Education Policy Center released a review of CRPE’s analysis, calling CRPE’s conclusion “overstated” and “exaggerated” and concluding the report offers “little value for informing policy and practice.” (Readers of this blog may already be familiar with NEPC’s reflexive bias against charter school and school choice studies).

Well, get out your popcorn because CRPE just released a devastating counter-critique. CRPE accuses NEPC of quoting selectively, implying arguments not present, inaccurately presenting the research and several serious technical errors. In total, CRPE counts 26 errors within NEPC’s 9-page analysis.

Grade: Satisfactory


School Choice Movement

Yogi Berra once quipped, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially ones about the future.” While true, it doesn’t stop political pundits from attempting to predict the future based on (sometimes unreliable) exit poll data. Following the drubbing Democrats (and the once powerful education unions) received in the mid-terms, many of those pundits began wondering if education choice would lead minorities, especially African Americans, over to the Republican camp.

Just check out some of the speculation (Exhibit 1, Exhibit 2, and Exhibit 3) about how the school choice issue hurt Democrats and helped Republicans (at least in Florida).

But whether Republicans can use education and school choice to win over black voters isn’t the right question. The better, and more important, question is whether the school choice movement can finally win over more Democrats…

Grade: Satisfactory


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Spending per pauper: An education funding stat that makes no sense

price per pauperThere are many in Florida who believe the state doesn’t spend enough supporting K-12 education. It wouldn’t be too difficult to make such a case given the fact that the U.S. Census Bureau ranks Florida 39th for per-pupil spending (table 11, page 11) while the U.S. Department of Education places Florida 38th.  Florida’s ranking even falls to 42nd if you include capital and debt expenditures.

So why are some critics ignoring those straightforward “dollars per student” statistics in favor of more convoluted measurements like “education revenues per $1,000 of personal income”?

Several groups in Florida use that statistic to claim the state ranks 50th in education spending. The U.S. Census Bureau’s measurement of “education revenues per $1,000 of personal income” (table 12, page 12) does place Florida 50th, but it is fairly meaningless measurement if your goal is to prove not enough money is spent on K-12 education. This is best demonstrated by the fact that the last-place region on this statistic is Washington, D.C.

Being 51st (D.C.) should be worse than placing 50th (Florida), but when looking at straightforward “dollars spent per student” figures, D.C. spends over $28,000 per pupil (including capital funds and debt). That is nearly three times more than Florida. If the goal is to get Florida to spend more, why cite a statistic that has the biggest education spender dead last?

So how can a region be ranked No. 1 on one measurement, but dead last on another at the exact same time? Continue Reading →

redefinED roundup: de Blasio to the rescue? Vouchers increase property values and more news

MondayRoundUp_magentaAlabama: Judge Gene Reese issues a stay on his own injunction against the Alabama Accountability Act school choice program (, Montgomery Advertiser, redefinED, American Federation for Children). The decision to lift the injunction takes uncertainty away from low-income families ( Jeff Reed, public relations director for the Friedman Foundation, says school choice thrives in the state even with the lawsuit (One News Now).

Arizona: Eileen Sigmund, president of the Arizona Charter Schools Association, and Glenn Hamer, the association’s vice chairman, say charter schools provide some of the best education in the state and are still looking to improve (Arizona Republic).

Connecticut: Education leaders in Bridgeport drop the idea of suing the state over approving six charter schools in the area after the city attorney says the district has no basis for a lawsuit (Stamford Advocate).

Delaware: Lawmakers debate education savings accounts (, Choice Media, Education Week). The News Journal editorial board supports school choice if parents pick charter schools but not if parents want vouchers or education savings accounts to choose private schools.

Florida: The Florida PTA, state teachers union and Florida NAACP urge the governor to veto a school choice bill that includes expansion of tax credit scholarships (the scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog). (Tampa Bay Times, Orlando Sentinel).

Idaho: Terry Ryan, president of the Idaho Charter School Association, says over 19,000 children attend charter schools in the state, making support for it a winning proposition for elected Republicans (Idaho Education News). Continue Reading →

redefinED roundup: Charter schools and civil rights, debating the merits of charters, and can parents be trusted?

MondayRoundUp_magentaAlabama: Cameron Smith, vice president of the Alabama Policy Institute, shows readers the students who benefit from the Alabama Accountability Act (

Arizona: Gil Shapiro, a spokesman for FreeThought Arizona, says parents can’t be trusted to home-school or choose a good school for their child (Arizona Daily Star). Linda Thomas, a member of the Oracle School Board, says parents can be trusted to pick a good school (Arizona Daily Star).

California: Larry Aubry at the Los Angeles Sentinel says charter schools are civil rights failures because they are more segregated than traditional public schools. Avery Bissett, a student at Chapman University, says vouchers would provide the state an inexpensive experiment on how to improve public education (Orange County Register).

D.C.: Scott Pearson, director of the D.C. Public Charter Schools Board, says charter schools have helped to improve public school performance (Washington Post).

Georgia: During a debate among Democratic candidates for the open state school chief position, state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan said she will “buck the Democratic party for the best interest of children” and supports charter schools and tuition tax-credit scholarships (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Florida: Denisha Merriweather, a former tax-credit scholarship student, tells her story (redefinED). Ron Matus, the editor of redefinED, dispels the myths surrounding the tax-credit scholarship program (Pensacola News Journal). Scott Maxwell, a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, says public schools lose when students are allowed to transfer to private schools. Chris Guerrieri, a middle school teacher in Jacksonville, opposes private school vouchers because students aren’t forced to attend private schools (St. Augustine Record).  Jac Wilder VerSteeg, a journalist based in Palm Beach County, says parents don’t know best when it comes to their own child’s education (Sun-Sentinel). The Orlando Sentinel reaches out to readers and finds 51 percent support expanding school vouchers. Two private schools have been barred from receiving McKay vouchers for reporting students that never enrolled (Miami Herald). Virtual learning labs become more popular in Lee County (NBC 2). Education leaders in Miami-Dade approve what may become the state’s largest charter school (Miami Herald). Continue Reading →

Howard Dean, school choice guy

It’s not new news that progressive icon Howard Dean likes charter schools. Or that another big-name Democrat likes charter schools. Or that another big-name Democrat is all aboard with school choice (Cory Booker, Joe Trippi, Mike McCurry … ). But until that expanding list starts to dent the narrative that parental school choice is a Koch Brothers scheme, well, we’ll keep highlighting them. 🙂

The latest is what Dean said at a recent appearance at a college in Vermont. He told the audience his son taught for Teach for America in New Orleans, then continued:

“And his kids that he was teaching in the 9th grade … were essentially illiterate. Now this is 40 years after the civil rights movement, 40 years after African Americans and whites were supposed to have equal opportunity under the law. These kids had no equal opportunity. They were being starved by a corrupt school board, and a culture that had never valued them as much as they valued white kids. I was furious. I was so angry, in a moment I converted my whole philosophy of education, to we had to try anything we could to get inner city schools better.”

“And inner city schools are being reformed by people in your generation who are joining Teach for America. There are principals … tons of them, all over the country, who are not yet 30 years old. It’s the charter school movement. There’s some things I don’t like about the charter school movement. They’re not all created equal. For profit charters are clearly worse than non profit charters. But the charter school movement is transforming inner city education. It is getting kids through high school with diplomas that never would have had a chance even five years ago.”

Plenty of thoughtful folks would disagree with Dean about for-profits in education. And we can only hope his eye-opening led him to revisit his opposition to vouchers, too. But in the big picture, it’s clear Dean is representative of a trend: growing bipartisan support for a growing array of options. Continue Reading →

Democrat: Stop casting school choice parents as villains in public ed

Editor’s note: This post originally ran as an op-ed today in Florida Today, in response to a column by former state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland. It’s authored by former state Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, who is a member of the Step Up For Students board of directors. The state’s tax credit scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.

Sen. Lawson

Sen. Lawson

The most significant expansion of Florida’s scholarships for low-income children came in 2010, and the bipartisan spirit was so strong I was allowed as Democratic leader to make the closing argument in a Senate controlled by Republicans.

We found common ground because the Tax Credit Scholarship Program is focused on economically disadvantaged students in a way that strengthens public education.

So it is with considerable disappointment to see the partisan fractures this year, as the Legislature considers more modest improvements. And it is hard to miss the extent to which the Florida Education Association is driving the wedge.

But it is wrong to cast a $4,880 scholarship for 60,000 underprivileged children as an attack on public education. It is, to quote public educator and former House Education Policy Council ranking Democrat Bill Heller, “in the greatest tradition of our collective commitment to equal educational opportunity.”

With 12 years under our belt, we know a great deal about how this scholarship works.

The program serves children whose household income is only 9 percent above poverty. More than two-thirds of them are black or Hispanic. These children struggled academically in the public schools they left. Most importantly, their annual standardized test scores have shown they are consistently achieving the same gains in reading and math as students of all income levels nationally.

Whether these students should take the state, rather than national, test is a fair question. But let’s not pretend as though we have no measure for how well they are performing. We know how scholarship kids are doing at individual private schools, as the schools must report their learning gains if they have a minimum number of scholarship recipients.

Let’s also call an end to the deceit that this program hurts public schools financially, and that “money used for vouchers is taken away from basic public school needs,” as syndicated columnist Paula Dockery stated in her recent column in FLORIDA TODAY. Continue Reading →

Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Unions unite for school choice, public school choice gains ground in FL

MrGibbonsReportCardNew York Unions

Unions uniting for school choice? You might think you woke up in an alternate dimension but no, this news comes from New York.

Earlier this week, leaders from several unions, including the New York City police and fire unions, called for the state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to pass a school choice program which will help fund $150 million worth of private education for students of need.

The proposed bill isn’t devoted exclusively to private school choice, and perhaps that sweetened the pot.  It will allow tax credits to be issued for teacher reimbursements; classroom projects; art, music and sports instruction; as well as scholarships for private schools. Half of the $300 million in available credits will be reserved for public schools, leaving $150 million for private school scholarships.

The teacher unions still oppose school choice, and the bill. But this represents a monumental shift in thinking among union members on education policy.

Grade: Satisfactory


Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Duval County Public Schools

Nikolai Vitti wants to win students back to Duval County public schools. His plan would allow parents open enrollment access to any public school in the district. According to the Florida Times-Union, this would be the “first blanket, open enrollment policy of its kind” of any major urban district in Florida.

Vitti told the newspaper: “For me the conversation begins with empowering parents. I believe the parents are best situated to make the right decisions for their child. They’re likely to invest more in their child’s education and to own the process more if they have a choice.”

That all sounds good to me, but we will still need to read the fine print when it emerges later. How long will the open enrollment window last? How long before transportation is provided to choice schools? Will parents get to change their mind during the middle of the school year? District open enrollment policies are often fairly limited. At the same time, more choice is better than no choice.

Grade: Satisfactory

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