Archive | Education and Public Policy

Fla. Senate advances its version of ‘Schools of Hope’

Sen. Aaron Bean

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved two bills today aimed at providing aid for struggling schools and attracting nationally recognized charters to their neighborhoods.

Together, the bills are similar to the House’s ‘Schools of Hope,’ a $200 million plan to move students from struggling public schools into new schools operated by nationally recognized charter school operators.

But at the same time, the Senate bills have key differences — including an uncertain price tag.

The committee approved SB 796, by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, which aims to attract “high-impact” charter schools to Florida.

The legislation requires charter  school organizations to prove to the state Board of Education they have a track record of achieving results with low-income students. Continue Reading →

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The price of liberty is vigilance

Wendell Phillips. Source: Wikimedia.

“External vigilance is the price of liberty, power is ever stealing from the many to the few,” said American abolitionist Wendell Phillips in a speech in 1852.

Sadly, at least when it comes to school choice, my fellow libertarians and conservatives appear to have misplaced their priorities while standing vigilantly against the encroachment of bad government.

Lindsey Burke, a policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, worries that “furthering federal entanglement in the funding of education through new federal programs would be unsound and would come at the expense of state, local, and parent decision-making.”

Max Eden, a scholar from the Manhattan Institute, worries that a federal program would prohibit scholarship organizations from setting aside funds for specific schools or groups. “This restriction would not only limit donor interest to well under $20 billion a year,” he wrote. “It would also exert pressure on existing state programs to drop their moral mission and conform.”

Free-market conservatives and libertarians have retreated on school choice, leaving Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and President Trump alone holding the banner for a federal program.

Their worries would make sense if the Trump Administration were still contemplating a $20 billion voucher initiative. But there’s good news. Recent headlines suggest the more likely path to federal school choice would a tax credit scholarship program. This is an approach to school choice that relies on private, voluntary contributions rather than direct government subsidies.
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Revised house bill would expand options for charter and virtual schools

Rep. Manny Diaz

The Florida House Education Committee revised a testing bill today to include an amendment that would help charter and virtual schools.

Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, filed a 76-page amendment to HB 773, adding certain aspects of several education bills.

The amendment includes a portion HB 7101 by Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs that would allow high-performing charters to replicate more than once per year if they open in an area served by a persistently low-performing school.

It also includes provisions from HB 833, by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, allowing all students to have access to online courses.

Sullivan’s bill — and the companion bill by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala — would give students in second through fifth grade who did not attend public school the ability to enroll in part-time virtual instruction.

Diaz also added terminology from HB 1111, which would give charter schools more freedom to train teachers and get them certified. The bill would create a new mentorship-based path to a Florida teaching certificate, and allow charter schools and charter school management companies to create their own teacher mentorship programs.

Rep. Larry Lee, D-Port St. Lucie, joined colleagues from both parties who approved the revised bill.

“I am going to be supporting this bill,” he said. “It needs a little bit of work. I am of the opinion that let’s not let perfect get in the way of good.” 

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Florida schools roundup: Schools of hope, budget, bonuses, statue and more

Schools of hope: The Florida House approves a $200 million plan to recruit charter schools as options to persistently low-performing public schools. The so-called “schools of hope” proposal creates a fund to attract charter school companies to enter areas where traditional public schools have received D or F grades from the state for three straight years. There are 115 such schools in Florida now. “This is our ‘Hail Mary’ to the kids of Florida to try to give them better opportunity and a better life,” says Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater. Miami HeraldNews Service of Florida. Sunshine State News. Florida Politics. Sun-Sentinel. Here are some specific details in the schools of hope bill. Politico Florida. The House passes an $81.2 billion budget, which is about $4 billion less than the budget approved by the Senate. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Naples Daily News.

Educator bonuses: The Florida House approves a plan to expand the state’s teacher bonuses program, and include principals in it. The bill widens the pool of eligibility and adds $200 million to the program. The Senate has no money proposed for teacher bonuses, but has indicated a willingness to negotiate an expansion that both chambers can agree on. WFSU.

Capitol statue: The Senate Appropriations Committee approves a measure to place a statue of educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune at the U.S. Capitol, replacing the one of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. News Service of Florida.

Student screenings: Thousands of students in Duval and Clay counties never got the mental health screenings the state paid a Fernandina Beach company to do. Florida Psychological Associates was paid $1 million through Florida State University to do the screenings. The university is now offering to return $200,000 to the state for money it had held back for “indirect costs.” WJAX. Tallahassee Democrat. Continue Reading →

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State board approves pilot program giving principals more autonomy

The State Board of Education today approved plans to give principals at public schools in Broward, Palm Beach and Pinellas Counties greater control over their budgets and hiring.

Last year, lawmakers created the Principal Autonomy Pilot Program Initiative. It allows school districts to offer select principals a charter-like exchange. They get more flexibility, as well as exemptions from certain state and local rules. In return, they would have to meet academic performance goals.

Before signing off on the plans, Michael Olenick, a member of the state board, wanted to know how giving principals greater operational freedom would affect students.

“As a former principal, I had an opportunity to make decisions without receiving permission from the district office,” said Hershel Lyons, chancellor for the state’s K-12 public schools. “It is an opportunity for the principal to make a decision that impacts that individual student immediately and take into account other things that prepare all students along with that.”

In their applications, the districts each picked three schools that would participate, and set targets to raise student achievement. In general, the schools serve large proportions of low-income students of color, and have histories of academic struggles.  Continue Reading →

President’s budget proposes $1.4 billion to expand school choice

President budget coverPresident Donald Trump is proposing to spend more than $1.4 billion to expand public and private school choice.

The president today released a broad outline of his spending plan. The $59 billion education budget would boost funding for the federal Charter Schools Program, set aside $250 million for an unspecified private school choice initiative, and increase federal funding to support low-income students while pushing districts to use it in a choice-friendly way.

The plan received a mixed reaction among education reformers. They generally praised Trump’s support for school choice. But some criticized proposed cuts to other programs, and others expressed skepticism about the federal role in education.

The charter school program supports startup schools, as well as state initiatives designed to improve charter school quality. Florida received more than $58 million of its most recent installment, the largest share of any state. Trump has proposed increasing the $333 million program by $168 million, or roughly 50 percent.

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President Nina Rees issued a statement of appreciation for additional charter school funding.

“In the current school year, more than 200,000 new students are attending charter public schools, bringing nationwide enrollment to more than 3 million students,” she said. “Still, there could be at least another 2 million students whose parents would enroll them in charter schools if they could. Increased funding for the CSP is essential to expanding charter school capacity and reducing the wait for these families.”

Other supporters of charter school grants, like the National Association of Charter School authorizers, said they were “deeply concerned” about cuts elsewhere in the president’s plan. Continue Reading →

Trump cites Florida as a model; school choice critics look elsewhere

As President Trump looked with favor on Florida’s 15-year-old tax credit scholarship last week, some of the reviews seemed to suffer a form of interstate transference.

The formulation went something like this: If Arizona, then Florida.

Take Kevin Carey, the able director of education policy at New America, as one example. After Trump on Tuesday introduced a graduate student who attributed her academic turnaround to the Florida scholarship program, Carey responded in the New York Times with an extended discourse not on the Sunshine State but on the Arizona Tax Credit Scholarship. Carey is troubled that Arizona’s Senate president runs one of the largest scholarship-granting organizations, thinks 10 percent is too much to pay the organizations to administer the program, criticizes the state for allowing scholarship students with higher household incomes, and is worried about the lack of testing and financial accountability requirements.

Those are all reasonable concerns, but none of them apply to Florida. Continue Reading →

Low-income students drive Florida’s success on AP tests

Florida continues to be a national leader on college-caliber Advanced Placement exams, fueled by the success of growing numbers of low-income students.

The Sunshine State ranks No. 4 in the nation in the percentage of graduating seniors who have passed at least one AP exam, according to 2016 data released in a new report from the College Board, the nonprofit that administers the AP program.

At 29.5 percent, Florida outpaces the national average of 21.9 percent and trails only Massachusetts, Maryland and Connecticut, states with far fewer low-income students and far better academic reputations.

AP exams are standardized tests that correspond with dozens of college-caliber high school courses. They are widely viewed as a good gauge of a student’s college readiness and, in some credible quarters, as a good indicator of a state’s educational quality.

The latest results aren’t a fluke. The percentage of graduating seniors passing AP exams in Florida shot up 11 percentage points between 2006 and 2016, putting the state No. 3 in progress over that span. In raw numbers, 47,242 graduating seniors from the class of 2016 had passed at least one, nearly double the number from a decade ago.

Florida’s outcomes are even more impressive given its demographics. Florida has the highest rate of students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch among states in the AP Top 10, and in most cases, a far higher rate. No state has a bigger differential between the relative poverty of its student body and its overall performance on AP exams. (See chart at the bottom of the post.)

Additional AP numbers from the Florida Department of Education show low-income students are leading the charge. The percentage of low-income graduating seniors who passed an AP exam climbed more than 500 percent between 2006 and 2016, and that group made up more than 60 percent of the total growth in AP-passing graduates, according to DOE figures.

The number of low-income Florida students who passed at least one AP exam grew by more than 500 percent between 2006 and 2016. Source: Florida Department of Education data.

Continue Reading →