Archive | Education and Public Policy

The messy history of school vouchers, teachers unions and racial segregation

On Martin Luther King Day, it is worth remembering the sacrifices people made to advance equity and desegregate public life in America, including our schools. Unfortunately, some activists have begun exploiting the occasion to retell history.

In the new revisionist stories, modern school choice supporters are close ancestors to the villainous segregationists of the past.

History, of course, is far more complicated. And that’s why it’s worth taking a closer look at some of the scholarship that underpins the misleading narratives about school choice.

Segregationists, it turns out, supported public and private schools alike. And meanwhile, teacher unions in the South ramped up their fights against school vouchers after discovering large numbers of parents used them for reasons other than racial discrimination.

Last year, Duke University historian Nancy MacLean claimed to have uncovered a shocking connection between James Buchanan, a school voucher supporter, and Sen. Harry Byrd’s anti-integration political machine. According to MacLean, Buchanan, a Nobel-winning economist, planted the racist roots of school vouchers by allying with segregationists to pass school vouchers into Virginia law.

A month after MacLean’s book Democracy in Chains was published, the American Federation of Teachers president Randy Weingarten claimed vouchers were the “polite cousin to racial segregation.” Numerous articles began to circulate arguing that school choice and racial segregation were inseparably linked. Continue Reading →


Fla. House panel unanimously backs home education bill

Sullivan portrait


A unanimous Florida House panel approved legislation that would limit requirements school districts can place on homeschoolers.

Rep. Jennifer Sullivan’s bill, HB 731 would also increase homeschoolers’ access to dual enrollment and career education courses.

Sullivan was home-schooled growing up. She said she was inspired to file the bill because of her educational background.

She said superintendents in some school districts are overstepping their authority. The bill comes in response to concerns among parents that districts add hurdles for homeschool registration. That has likely contributed to a decline in homeschooling numbers in some parts of the state, even though statistics show its popularity is growing statewide. Continue Reading →


In memory of Brandon Berman

Brandon Berman

Brandon sat quietly in his wheelchair but grew increasingly agitated as his lawyer, Clint Bolick, answered rapid-fire questions from an aggressive reporter.

His mother, Donna Berman, stood behind him, worrying he might erupt into a fit, or worse, a seizure.

Brandon’s service dog Cody even sensed the frustration and made a noise in defense of his best friend.

“Can we get him out of here?,” Brandon muttered about the reporter.

Another reporter noticed his agitation. “We’ve been trying to get rid of him for years,” he quipped.

Brandon, who had autism, smiled and kept his composure.

Brandon was 16 at the time. He and his mom had come to Tallahassee to attend a hearing for Faase v. Scott. Florida’s statewide teachers union filed the case to halt a 2014 law that expanded the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and created the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSA), a scholarship program for children with special needs.

After years of struggles in public and private schools, Brandon and his mom felt the new program finally offered a path to an education that would work for him. They, along with other parents and students, jumped into the lawsuit to come to its defense.

Lawyers for the teacher unions claimed tax credit scholarships were their primary target. Brandon and other children using PLSAs were simply “collateral damage.” The two programs were linked in a sweeping piece of legislation the union argued violated the state constitution.

Brandon, his fellow intervenors, and the state’s lawyers ultimately prevailed.

Their win set the stage for a series of other legal victories for Florida’s school choice programs. The infant program they helped defend has blossomed into the nation’s largest education savings account program. It’s now called the Gardiner Scholarship, and it supports more than 10,000 students with special needs.  Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Enrollment influx, evaluations, housing and more

Refugee influx: The academic performances of most students who came to Florida schools after Hurricane Maria will not be counted when the state figures grades for districts and schools, says Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. She says the federal government approved the exception for English language learners, which covers most of the nearly 8,000 students who fled the hurricane and have enrolled in Florida schools. Most of the extra students – 7,212 – are from Puerto Rico, and 710 are from other islands. Orange County has gotten the most refugee students, 1,793 for an 0.8 percent increase, while Osceola County has enrolled 1,218, which is a 2.2 percent increase. Housing remains the biggest problem for the refugees, members of the state Board of Education are told. Gradebook. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of FloridaFlorida Politics. Daily Commercial.

Teacher evaluations: Several states, including Florida, have begun to change the way they evaluate teachers. Florida still uses testing and student performance indicators to determine one-third of teacher evaluation scores, but now allows districts to decide whether they want to use a state-approved formula for student growth to determine the other two-thirds. Six other states – Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Oklahoma – now let districts decide what data to use to evaluate teachers. Education Week.

Housing for teachers: Broward County School Board members are considering ways to convince developers to build more housing that teachers can afford. Among the ideas is to waive school impact fees for those developers who build homes for people with incomes of up to $42,700 for a single person or $61,000 for a family of four. “We have a drastic need for teachers and many of them can’t afford to live in the county,” says board member Patti Good. The median home price in Broward is about $355,000, which is more than most teachers can afford. Sun-Sentinel.

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Florida schools roundup: Bonuses suit, amendments, suspensions and more

Teacher bonuses suit: A legal challenge to the state’s teacher bonuses program will be allowed to proceed, a federal judge has ruled. The Florida Department of Education had asked the judge to dismiss a suit, filed by the Florida Education Association, which alleges the state discriminates against older teachers and minorities because it uses teacher scores on ACT and SAT college-entrance exams to help determine eligibility for the bonuses. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle wrote, “These allegations may or may not be true, but they are not implausible, and the truth of the allegations cannot properly be resolved on a motion to dismiss.” News Service of Florida.

Constitutional amendments: The education committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission approves two of three proposals, and postponed consideration of a third. The committee approved proposals to impose term limits on school board members and end the elections of school superintendents. They advance to the commission’s local government committee. Tabled was a proposal to end salaries for school board members. Commission member Erika Donalds, who proposed all three measures, says she’s not sure if she’ll revise the tabled measure. News Service of FloridaGradebookWJXT. WFSU. Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas says a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow schools to comply with class-size limits based on average numbers of students wouldn’t help his district or any others that already allow school choice. WUWF.

District’s suspensions: The number of suspensions in Duval County schools is down for the seventh straight year, but the number of students who got at least one out-of-school suspension rose 7 percent. And the heaviest punishments fell predominantly on black students. Jacksonville’s NAACP wants the district to make cultural sensitivity training mandatory for teachers and school staff. Florida Times-Union.

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When given options, do parents become more informed?

Source: Education Next

Do parents try to become more informed when given the opportunity to choose a school for their child? Researchers Michael Lovenheim and Patrick Walsh try to answer that question in an article published today by EducationNext.

They reviewed more than 100 million searches and 3 million search terms on between 2010 and 2013. The website offers parent reviews, academic results, demographic data and other information about schools.

The researchers looked at areas where new school choice options became available. For example, under the federal No Child Left Behind law (NCLB), schools receiving Title I funds that failed to meet minimum requirements for standardized test performance for two consecutive years were required to offer students the option to transfer to local schools that did meet standards. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Hope Scholarship, enrollment counts and more

‘Hope Scholarship’: Bullied and abused public school students could be eligible next year for a new school choice program being proposed by Florida House Republicans. Under the program, dubbed the “Hope Scholarship,” those students could apply for a transfer to a different public school or for a state scholarship to attend a private school. Nearly 47,000 incidents of bullying, hazing or abuse are reported each year in Florida schools, and most involve violence. The legislation has not yet been written, but House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says the scholarship could be set up like the tax credit scholarship program, which provides scholarships for more than 100,000 low-income students to attend private schools. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer that program. Miami Herald. Orlando SentinelredefinED. News Service of FloridaGradebook. Politico Florida. Sunshine State News. WUSF.

Enrollment uncertainty: Legislators say the effects of the hurricane season are causing uncertainty in estimating K-12 enrollment for the next school year. Officials were working off an estimate of an additional 26,764 students for the 2018-2019 school year, but that was before several hurricanes swept through the islands and displaced thousands. “If you have more students (than the estimate), you spread it thinner,” says Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, talking about the school funding formula. “If you have less students, you don’t get the money.” So far, 12 districts and 19 charter schools are asking the state to delay the usual timetable for counting school enrollment, which is typically this week. If the requests are approved, the counts would have to be done no later than the week of Dec. 11-15. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Almost 150 Puerto Rican students displaced by Hurricane Maria already have registered to attend schools in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Manatee and Polk counties. About 440 have signed up in Orange and Osceola counties. Hundreds, if not thousands more, are expected. WMNF.

Local education agencies: Two charter school companies in Florida are applying to the state to be designated as local education agencies, which would allow them to directly receive federal funding for teacher training, supporting low-income students or helping children with special needs, and gives also them greater control over how they use the money. Somerset Academy, which recently took over the Jefferson County School District, and the United Cerebral Palsy schools, which serve special needs students in central Florida, want to join two other state charter school networks in getting the designation. redefinED.

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Study: Florida’s schools show signs of ‘resegregation’

By Lloyd Dunkelberger

The News Service of Florida

Although Florida is becoming a more racially diverse state, its public-school system is becoming more segregated, a new study from the LeRoy Collins Institute shows.

“Student enrollment trends in Florida over the past decades show growing racial isolation for Hispanic and black students on some measures, with signs of continuous segregation on others,” the study said.

Some 32 percent of Hispanic students and 35 percent of black students in Florida attend “intensely segregated” schools, defined as have a nonwhite student body of 90 percent or greater, according to the study.

One out of every five schools was intensely segregated in the 2014-2015 academic year, about double the 10.6 percent of the schools that fell into that category in 1994-1995. Continue Reading →