Archive | Education and Public Policy

Schools of Hope — coming to a community near you?

Last week, the state Board of Education set plans in motion that could bring new charter schools to as many as three high-poverty rural areas in North Florida.

It was one of the first tangible effects of the state’s new Schools of Hope legislation.

But a memo distributed by the state Department of Education shows the impact won’t end there.

Another 37 schools across the state are in basically the same position as the three schools that brought plans before the state Board. They’ve struggled for three or more years with D or F performance ratings, and are nearing the end of a state-mandated turnaround process.

If these schools don’t raise their letter grades to C’s, they will have three options for the 2018-19 school year. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Indoor recess, turnarounds, court challenge and more

Indoor recess: When Florida elementary schools reopen next month, they’ll be required to offer students at least 20 minutes of recess a day. But Florida Department of Education officials say recess could be held in classrooms, since there is no requirement that the time for free play be outdoors. Districts are required to report their compliance with the law by Sept. 1. Charter schools are exempt. Associated Press. Lake County School Superintendent Diane Kornegay says giving 20 minutes of school a day for recess leaves the district with 340 minutes a day of instructional time. The state requires at least 300 minutes. Each of the county’s 32 public elementary schools will arrange its own schedule. Daily Commercial.

Turnaround schools: The Florida Board of Education has ordered three school districts to revise turnaround plans for troubled schools. These are the first to fall under the new education law, which gives districts less time to turn around schools and offers three options if they don’t: close the schools, turn them into charters or bring in an outside “partner” to help run the schools. Gadsden County will bring in help for the coming school year, then search for a charter school company to take over Gadsden High in the 2018-2019 school year. Alachua County’s plan to turn around Hawthorne Middle/High School was rejected, and district officials will have to prepare a plan using one of the three options. Hamilton County will have to choose a charter company to take over Hamilton High before next spring. redefinED.

Education challenge: How do you measure if the state has a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools,” as required by the state constitution? That’s what First District Court of Appeal judges seemed to be wondering during a hearing Tuesday in the case challenging Florida’s education policies. A group known as Citizens for Strong Schools brought the suit, arguing troubling racial achievement gaps show the unconstitutionality of the system. The state argues that funding levels are sufficient, that Florida students’ achievements have improved significantly in the past 20 years, and that the constitutional language was political and not a literal standard that judges can interpret. The state won the first round in state court in May 2016. Miami Herald. News Service of FloridaWFSU. Associated Press. Sunshine State NewsPolitico Florida.

District spending: The Duval County School Board is asking district officials for details on how they spent $21 million more than they were budgeted to in the last fiscal year. Some of the causes are known: $3.4 million related to employees taking early retirement, $4.8 million in unbudgeted transportation costs, $1.4 million less from the state for per-student funding and $3.3 million for capital costs. Board members say they want to avoid repeating any mistakes the district may have made. Florida Times-Union. The Polk County School District is still waiting for numbers from the Florida Department of Education in order to present a proposed budget to the school board. District Chief Financial Officer Mike Perrone called the situation “unique,” with the districts typically getting the numbers by the second week in July. Lakeland Ledger. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Charters, turnaround schools, teachers and more

Charter funding: Superintendents from around the state tell members of the Florida Board of Education that the new education bill provision requiring districts to share capital funding with charter schools could result in traditional public schools crumbling. “You really could see the potential unraveling of long-term maintenance and construction for public school systems across the state,” says Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “It is not a good indicator when one of the two largest credit rating agencies declares a negative condition for school systems on the basis of a policy statement out of Tallahassee.” WTVY. News 13.

Appeal denied: The Florida Board of Education declines an appeal by a Clay County charter school to remain open after the school received F grades from the state the past two years. The board cited data showing that students from Orange Park Performing Arts Academy performed “significantly lower” than similar schools, and also pointed out that no other public school in Clay County received a grade below C. redefinED.

Turnaround plans: The Florida Board of Education approves a turnaround plan for the new Gadsden High School, but with conditions: The district must hire a charter company to operate the school by the 2018-2019 school year, fire teachers with unsatisfactory ratings, and provide monthly progress reports to the board. WTXLTallahassee Democrat.

School may close: The Palm Beach County School Board is expected to vote Wednesday to close the half-empty Odyssey Middle School. If it does, the closing would be the first of a traditional public school in the county in more than 25 years. The school opened in 2001 in Boynton Beach at a cost of $21 million. In the past 13 years, enrollment has gone from 1,360 to 730. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →

For this Florida teacher, personalized learning works

Justin Crouch

Growing up, Justin Crouch experienced a personalized education first-hand.

“When I was in third grade I had a teacher that personalized for me and it completely changed my outlook on school,” he said. “Mrs. Coad challenged and pushed me according to my abilities rather than just ‘teaching to the middle.’”

The experience inspired him as a teacher to do the same thing for his own students.

In Crouch’s classroom, personalized learning worked, and test scores back it up.

Prior to implementing personalized learning, Crouch said his students scored in the 70s. After the implementation, they scored 10 percentage points higher. Critics of personalized learning argued results elsewhere in Lake County Schools were mixed.

But Crouch said the right mindset helped his high school social studies students succeed.

“The reason I found success in my classroom is because any decision I made in the classroom always went back to, how is this going to benefit the student? How can a student prove mastery to me through the standards?” Crouch said. “I had to provide them with a clear goal of how they are going to do that. My students knew upfront if you don’t follow through on your end of the bargain there is accountability on the back end.”

Since then, Crouch has moved on to Florida Virtual School. The online enterprise started as an experiment in the late ’90s. It now functions like a statewide school district, with personalized learning in its DNA.

Prior to his work with FLVS, Crouch was involved with the rollout of the personalized learning grant at Umatilla High School from 2014-17. He said the program made a difference for the district and for his students. Continue Reading →

Fla. lawmaker: Time is ripe for universal private school scholarships

Rep. Randy Fine

Emboldened by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, a key Florida lawmaker says he wants to make school vouchers available to every child in the state.

The state already offers tax credit scholarships to low-income and working class students. It offers vouchers and education savings accounts for children with special needs. For early learners, the Voluntary Pre-K offers universal vouchers for public and private preschools*.

Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said he wants to file legislation that would eliminate “the income threshold and open it up to everybody,” so all K-12 students could receive public support to attend any school of their choice.

Fine, a wealthy technology entrepreneur, said he wants every child to have access to the same options as his own kids.

“There is nothing more important we do than educating our kids,” he said. “We spend $24 billion on education. I want every kid to have the same opportunities I did as a child. I am the product of public education and started a number of companies and have a great career. I am making sure my boys have the same opportunities I did. I want to make sure every kid has those same opportunities.”

However, the representative hasn’t decided whether to create education savings accounts, similar to what Gov. Rick Scott proposed in 2011, or more traditional vouchers.

Scott’s proposal struggled to gain traction in the Legislature. But since then, two other states — Nevada and Arizona — have created education savings account programs with universal or near-universal eligibility. Parents can use the money to pay for private-school tuition, homeschool curriculum, public-school courses, college savings and other approved education-related expenses.

If Fine chooses a more traditional voucher program, that would mean simply giving parents vouchers to enable them to put their children in private schools.

School choice advocates across the country hailed last week’s Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer ruling, which held private religious schools should have the right to participate in publicly funded programs.

Vouchers could still face a different constitutional hurdle, however. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in Bush v. Holmes that vouchers violated the state constutional mandate for a “uniform” public school system. Top Florida Republicans, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran, have criticized that decision.

*Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, administers the tax credit and Gardiner Scholarship programs.

Florida schools roundup: Selling the bill, Title I troubles, a top teacher and more

Selling the bill: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, posts a cartoon on YouTube to explain and defend the education bill that was passed last week. Corcoran calls it “#toontruth for anyone who likes the truth in animated video format.” Orlando Sentinel. How the education bills passed in Tallahassee on recess, testing and charter schools could affect St. Johns County schools. St. Augustine Record. Teacher bonuses would be smaller and many more teachers would earn them under the new education bill. Bridge to Tomorrow. The school choice movement is breaking into two camps: one that wants to use choice to improve public schools, and one that wants greatly expand choice by using tax money. Associated Press.

Title I, Medicaid concerns: The Legislature’s decision to distribute federal Title I funding directly to schools and spread it to more schools could have devastating long-term effects on poor students, say district officials. Districts will be forced to cut special programs for low-income students, including after-school and summer school, or shift money from other programs to make up the difference. “A number of our community members and parents are aware of the services we provide in our 63 Title I schools,” said Felita Grant, Title I director for Pinellas County schools. “It would be a shock to them, if this bill goes through, the number of services we would have to cut back on.” Tampa Bay Times. School districts around the country say proposed cuts in the Medicaid program will have a significant impact in schools. Associated Press.

Teachers honored: Diego Fuentes, who teaches music to students with severe disabilities at the Hillcrest School in Ocala, is chosen as one of five finalists for the Department of Education’s 2018 Florida teacher of the year award. Fuentes was awarded $5,000. The winner will be announced July 13. Ocala Star Banner. Palm Beach County’s teacher of the year and school-related employee of the year are surprised with free, two-year leases of BMWs. Palm Beach Post.

Teaching incentives: Experienced teachers are being offered up to $70,000 in incentive pay over three years to work at struggling Carver Middle School in Orlando. More than 100 teachers have already applied, school officials say. Those hired will get an extra $20,000 for the 2017-2018 school year, and $25,000 in each of the next two years. Carver has received two Fs and a D in school grades in the past three years, and nearly 80 percent of its students failed their Florida Standards Assessment exams. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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 →

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.
Continue Reading →