Archive | Charter Schools

Florida schools roundup: Graduation options, suit, schools of hope and more

Graduation path options: A Florida legislator files a bill that would offer alternative paths to a high school degree for those students who earn enough credits to graduate but don’t pass the state algebra 1 and language arts tests. State Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Beverly Hills, wants those students to be able to use an industry-recognized certification or a portfolio of school work to earn a standard diploma. Gradebook.

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: When 13 state school districts filed suit against the state’s new education law, H.B. 7069, the largest district in the state was conspicuous by its absence. Miami-Dade County school officials have strongly criticized the law, but decided not to join the suit. Instead, school board members will lobby legislators to amend the law to address their concerns. “We made a very clear determination that ongoing dialogue, ongoing collaboration — until it was determined that it has been exhausted — is prudent,” says board member Steve Gallon. If the options are exhausted, Gallon says, the board will take another look at joining the lawsuit. WLRN.

Schools of hope: Two Bay County schools that were named “schools of hope” by the state Board of Education this week have different plans for the extra money they will receive. Springfield Elementary will spend its $903,424 grant on mental health services and counseling, and classroom support for teachers. Lucille Moore Elementary officials plan to use their $1,022,048 grant to boost parental involvement and engagement in students’ education, among other things. Eleven schools of hope were designated by the state. Each receives an extra $2,000 per student to provide provide such additional services as tutoring, counseling, more teacher coaches and salary supplements for teachers to run student clubs. Panama City News Herald. WJHG.

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Florida schools roundup: ‘Schools of hope,’ waivers, scholarships and more

‘Schools of hope’: Just 11 struggling Florida schools are designated “schools of hope” by the Florida Board of Education. More than 50 schools applied, and the state’s new education law set aside about $52 million to provide extra funding to as many as 25 schools. Each of the 11 schools will get $2,000 extra per student to provide such additional services as tutoring, counseling, more teacher coaches and salary supplements for teachers to run student clubs. The “schools of hope” are Lucille Moore and Springfield elementaries in Bay County; Homestead Middle, Lorah Park Elementary, Miami Carol City Senior High, West Homestead K-8 and Toussaint L’Ouverture Elementary in Miami-Dade; Gove Elementary, West Riviera Elementary and Palm Beach Lakes High in Palm Beach; and Idyllwilde Elementary in Seminole County. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says she will allow the schools that didn’t get chosen to amend and resubmit their applications. She said the next round will add no more than 14 schools to the program. News Service of Florida. Palm Beach PostGradebook. Politico Florida. WLRN. Florida Times-Union. State Board of Education member Gary Chartrand says the state needs to quickly complete its rules for implementing charter school legislation. The charter companies the state hopes to recruit are starting to make decisions now about where to open new schools, and need to know the rules before expanding into Florida. redefinED.

Waivers requested: The Central Florida School Boards Coalition, which represents 13 school districts, is asking the state to grant waivers for class size violations penalties because of the influx of students from the islands who were displaced by hurricanes. The coalition is also asking for more time to count students, more money to educate the displaced students and for “flexibility” on the state’s school accountability rules. School districts in the coalition are Brevard, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lake, Manatee, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Polk, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia counties. Orlando Sentinel.

‘Schools without rules’: An Orange County private school with a troubled past took in $5.6 million in state scholarship money in five years even as it falsified fire safety inspections, hired people with criminal records and didn’t pay some of its teachers. Last summer, the state finally banned Agape Christian Academy from the scholarship programs for 10 years. Orlando Sentinel. A private school operator in Brevard County continued to benefit from the state scholarships even after one of his three schools was closed when he was charged with felony lewd or lascivious molestation. Orlando Sentinel. Here’s a list of private schools in Florida that have students who get scholarships from the state though the tax credit, Gardiner or McKay scholarship programs. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner programs. Orlando Sentinel.

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‘Time is of the essence’ for Florida charter school recruitment


Florida needs to hurry up and hash out its landmark charter school legislation, a key member of the state Board of Education said today.

Gary Chartrand is a longtime backer of KIPP Jacksonville. For years, he’s called for the state to recruit more charter school organizations with similar missions, and similar national profiles, to high-poverty, academically struggling areas.

He said the new Schools of Hope law gives him hope that can finally happen. The legislation creates a revolving loan plan, a grant program and a streamlined application process for charter school operators with proven track records that want to open within five miles of a persistently struggling school. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Scholarship oversight, tests, charter ban and more

Scholarship oversight: Florida’s school scholarship programs serve about 140,000 students and redirect almost $1 billion a year to private schools, but state regulation of those schools is so weak that many employ teachers who aren’t college graduates, falsify safety records but continue to stay in business, and fail to educate students without suffering the consequences public schools face, according to a newspaper’s investigation. The number of students using tax credit, Gardiner or McKay scholarships has more than tripled in the past decade. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel.

Testing the tests: The Florida Department of Education hires a company to evaluate whether the SAT and ACT tests can replace the state’s 10th-grade language arts Florida Standards Assessments and algebra I end-of-course exams. The Legislature required the review as part of the new education law, H.B. 7069. The assessment is expected to be finished in time for Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to make a recommendation on the substitution by Jan. 1. Meanwhile, Stewart says the department won’t decide on whether to delay the spring assessments testing window until after the hurricane season is over. Gradebook.

Charters schools: For the first time, the 50 or so charter schools in Palm Beach County were banned from this year’s “Showcase of Schools,” an event to show parents some of the most popular programs offered in county schools. School Superintendent Robert Avossa says the charter movement is “about spurring competition. So if that’s the case, why would you invite the competition to your event?” The incident is the latest in the escalating fight between district officials and charter schools. Palm Beach Post. The Florida Commission on Ethics rules that charter schools are not public agencies, but instead are more similar to business entities. Politico Florida.

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Breaking down the lawsuit challenging Florida’s major education law

Yesterday, thirteen Florida school boards filed their long-awaited lawsuit challenging a massive new education law approved earlier this year.

The 25-page legal document takes aim at six individual provisions of House Bill 7069. But one sentence on the second page sums up what the legal battle is about:

Under this far-reaching law, the State has encroached on the authority vested by the Florida Constitution in locally elected district school boards to operate, control, and supervise the local public schools located in their respective jurisdictions.

In other words, the school boards argue they are defending their power under Article IX, Section 4 of the state constitution to control all free public schools in their geographic areas.

That power is not absolute. Courts have held the state Legislature and Board of Education have authority to regulate, and even overrule local school boards.

The lawsuit, however, claims the new law oversteps the state’s authority. Here is a breakdown of the specific arguments

Capital outlay funding

This portion of the lawsuit largely mirrors a case the Palm Beach County School Board filed last month. It challenges provisions requiring school districts to share local property tax revenue with qualifying charter schools on a roughly even per-student basis.

“Locally elected district school boards, including Plaintiffs, thus are stripped of all authority, judgment, and discretion about the best use of these funds, which they are constitutionally authorized to levy,” the lawsuit contends.

The suit also argues the new law violates Article VII, Sections 1 and 9. Those sections of the Florida constitution limit property taxing authority to specific local governments — including school boards. The districts argue charter schools and the state don’t have that authority. And therefore, they contend, the law “unconstitutionally directs that funds legally levied and collected by school boards be reallocated to charter schools without any control by, or even input from, the locally elected school boards.”

Schools of Hope
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Florida schools roundup: H.B. 7069 lawsuit, amendments, safety and more

H.B. 7069 suit filed: The lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new state education law, H.B. 7069, has been filed in a Leon County circuit court. Thirteen school districts are suing over the law, which requires districts to share local property tax money with charter schools but limits the authority local boards have over those schools. School boards in Alachua, Bay, Broward, Clay, Duval, Hamilton, Lee, Orange, Pinellas, Polk, St. Lucie, Volusia and Wakulla counties voted to join the suit. Palm Beach County also is suing over the law, but in a separate caseOrlando Sentinel. Naples Herald. WBBH. WLRN.

Constitution and education: Dozens of education proposals are among the 700 changes suggested during meetings of the state’s Constitution Revision Commission, which convenes every 20 years to take a look at and potentially amend the constitution. Some of the proposals deal with every angle of an issue. For example, there are proposals to make all school superintendents elected, to make them appointed, or to do away with them altogether. There are amendments about charters, class sizes, funding and mandates, proposed both by commissioners and the public. Proposals must be approved by a majority of the commission by Dec. 14 to get onto the November 2018 ballot. Then, 60 percent of voters must approve the amendments for them to be added to the constitution. Tampa Bay Times.

Jewish school safety: Gov. Rick Scott says he will propose $1 million in the state budget to improve security at Jewish schools. There has been a wave of threats against Jewish schools and community centers in the past year, and the Legislature put $654,000 into a pool earlier this year for those schools for bulletproof glass, fencing and video cameras. “I know many Floridians have been horrified by the threats against our Jewish schools and communities,” says Scott. “We have absolutely zero tolerance for these hateful and anti-Semitic acts.” The proposal has other religious groups wondering why they aren’t being offered funds. Miami HeraldSun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. WQAM. Sunshine State News. Tallahassee Democrat. WPEC.

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Charter school attacks focus on international intrigue while ignoring results

A Florida League of Women Voters attack on a Jacksonville charter school last week would have been more persuasive if it had not so brazenly played a Muslim card and not so blatantly ignored the school’s documented academic success.

The guest column, published Friday in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Fort Myers News-Press, provided a granular critique of the real estate practices at River City Science Academy in Jacksonville. League president Pamela Goodwin drew extensively on previously reported connections to Turkey.

Some will remember accusations targeting Turkish exile Fethullah Gulen for backing a failed government overthrow in his home country a year ago. Many quickly became concerned that a network of approximately 170 American charter schools operated by his followers, a dozen right here in Florida, could be involved.

Due to HB 7069 and other laws, Florida is unable to protect itself against a Ponzi scheme operating in our school system. Gulen schools are required to rent or buy property from other Gulenist interests and hire associated construction firms. To see how this works, consider the case of River City Science Academy in Jacksonville.

Some mainstream news media, including The New York Times, have covered the Gulen involvement in U.S. education, and it’s gotten traction among charter school critics. But the Turkish government is working to perpetuate this storyline. In 2015, it hired a British law firm to dig up dirt on dissidents in the Turkish American diaspora, some of whom operated charter schools in the U.S.

An odd nexus has formed between the administration of President Tayyip Erdoğan, its agents in the United States and American charter school critics. They’ve produced a hard-hitting documentary film, published articles in left-wing publications, started anonymous investigative blogs and ginned up the occasional local controversy.

It’s hard to say which attacks truly trace to the Turkish government, and which ones stem from more ordinary opposition research by the usual suspects in education politics. There is certainly no reason to think the League would allow itself to be caught up in such international intrigue. After all, Ms. Goodman’s basic contention is pretty straightforward. She says the charter school’s buildings are owned by private investors who might make money, and that real estate developers who worked on the school facility have ties to the people who run the school.

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Florida schools roundup: Waiting for aid, blaming the abused, displaced and more

Still waiting for aid: Thirteen years after Hurricane Ivan hit Florida, the Escambia County School District is still waiting to hear about claims it filed with FEMA. The district’s not alone. A review of claims shows that dozens are still pending from Ivan, Katrina and other storms that have affected the state and its schools since 1999. The majority are from 2004 and 2005, when eight hurricanes hit the state from multiple directions. Associated Press.

Blaming the abused: A review of abuse cases filed against the Palm Beach County School Board in the past few years has a common denominator: In its defense, the school district has always fully or partly blamed the abuse victims. In one case the victim was 6 years old. In another, 7. In three others, the children were 9. The strategy of assigning the person who brought the suit at least part of the blame has been used by Conroy Simberg, a Hollywood law firm that represents the district to try to reduce the damages the district has to pay, not to assign blame to the victims, says Dale Friedman, an attorney with Conroy Simberg. Several board members say the tactic is outrageous and want to ban it. The board will vote this week on a proposed settlement of more than $3.5 million for four abuse victims. Sun-Sentinel.

Displaced students: Florida school districts are asking both the federal and state governments for aid to accommodate the thousands of students displaced by hurricanes and expected to enroll in state K-12 schools. But they are pessimistic. Orange County Public Schools spokesman Scott Howat says the odds of getting additional state money are zero unless the Legislature intervenes. The state says districts must see an enrollment influx of at least 5 percent to qualify, and individual schools must see a 25 percent growth. Nearly 30,000 people have arrived just from Puerto Rico, according to a spokesperson in Gov. Rick Scott’s office. The 74. Education Week. NPR. Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel.

Free meals extended: Lee, Collier and Monroe counties will continue to offer free meals at schools through Nov. 30. The free meals began after Hurricane Irma swept through the state. The three districts have 191 schools and 138,000 students. Fort Myers News-Press.

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