Archive | Education politics

Florida schools roundup: Budget deal, schools of hope, bonuses and more

Budget deal: The Florida Senate and House reach agreement on an $83 billion state budget. The agreement includes $200 million to attract specialized charter schools to the state to compete with persistently low-performing schools – the so-called “schools of hope” plan – and increases for teacher bonuses and higher education. But the Senate agreed to the House’s demand not to allow higher property taxes to increase K-12 per-student spending. The budget must be completed by Tuesday for the session to end as scheduled May 5. Miami Herald. Naples Daily News. News Service of FloridaGradebook. redefinED. redefinED.

School and cancer: After a briefing about the suspicions of a cancer cluster at the old Bayshore High School property, Manatee County commissioners agree to meet with school board members within the next 30 days to discuss the community’s concerns. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Financial situation dire: The financial outlook for the Hillsborough County School District is bleak, school officials tell school board members. Only about a quarter of the needed cuts have been made, while costs and enrollment are rising and public funds are increasingly scarce. Chief business officer Gretchen Saunders said the district may not even be able to honor its 2013 agreement with the teachers union to raise pay. Tampa Bay Times. The district is deficient in keeping its technology updated, according to a critique from its consultants. The student information system, for example, uses a computer language invented in 1959 and outdated hardware that costs about $1.5 million a year to maintain. Replacing technology will take years, says Patti Simmons, the district’s supervisor of data analysis. Tampa Bay Times. The board approves new start times for the 2018-2019 school year. WFLA.

Smaller campuses: The Orange County Commission approves a plan to allow the school district to build schools on smaller sites. The new rules allow elementary schools to be built on 7 to 11 acres instead of 15; middle and K-8 schools on 12 to 16 acres instead of 25; and high schools on 40 to 50 acres instead of 65. Orlando Sentinel. 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.
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Florida schools roundup: Education bill, autonomy for schools and more

Education bill: The Florida House Education Committee passes H.B. 733, the nearly all-inclusive education bill that would cut standardized testing and make significant changes to the state’s K-12 education system. The bill does not include mandatory recess time for elementary students, which is in the Senate’s proposal. Miami Herald. Sunshine State News. Florida Politics. Included in a 76-page amendment to the bill are several provisions to help charter and virtual schools. redefinED. The feud between House and Senate leaders over the state budget continues, though several still think they can reach an agreement before the session is scheduled to end May 5. News Service of Florida. Sunshine State News.

Autonomy for schools: A bill passed by the House would broaden autonomy for principals from a pilot program in seven districts to the highest-performing 20 percent of all public schools. Under the pilot program, principals at low-performing schools have greater control over hiring and would be freed from some state regulations. redefinED.

Teacher contracts: Two special state magistrates have issued different interpretations to districts about whether they can negotiate contract renewal guarantees for teachers who are rated highly effective or effective. In both cases, the districts told the teachers unions a 2011 law did not allow guaranteed teacher contracts. Unions in St. Johns and Pasco counties wouldn’t agree to a contract without that guarantee. In St. Johns, a magistrate agreed with the teachers union. In Pasco, a magistrate sided with the district. Gradebook.

High school rankings: Pine View School in Osprey is rated the top high school in the state in the latest U.S. News & World Report’s rankings. Design and Architecture Senior High in Miami is second, International Studies Charter High School in Miami third, International Studies Preparatory Academy in Coral Gables fourth, and Westshore Junior/Senior High School in Melbourne fifth. U.S. News & World Report. Miami HeraldNaples Daily News. South Florida Business Journal. Continue Reading →


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 →


Florida schools roundup: Education budgets, schools of hope and more

Education budgets: Leaders in the Florida House and Senate may be $538 million apart in their proposed education budgets, but both seem optimistic there’s enough middle ground to strike a deal. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says talks are collegial and he expects the differences to be “smoothed over.” Senate PreK-12 Appropriations chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, praised several programs in the House budget, particularly the $200 million proposal to create “schools of hope” – charter school options for persistently low-performing schools. “We are all on the same team,” Simmons said. Meanwhile, the Senate passes its $85 billion spending bill. That’s $4 billion more than the House budget, which is expected to be approved in that chamber today. Gradebook. Politico Florida. Support for the “schools of hope” program are divided along party lines. Leading Democrats are blasting the proposal, saying it will shortchange struggling schools that are already burdened by Legislature-imposed restrictions the charter schools do not have. Republicans dismiss the objections, saying the state cannot be content with 70,000 students stuck for years in persistently low-performing schools. Miami Herald. redefinEDFlorida PoliticsSunshine State News. Politico FloridaCapitol News Service. WFSU.

Facilities funding: Two groups with different constituencies are lining up to fight the bill that determines how much state funding traditional public schools and charter schools get for facilities. Democrats are trying to amend Senate Bill 376, which would require school districts to share facilities funding with charter schools. They want to allow local districts to raise more money through property taxes, cap the amount charter schools can get and give local school boards the authority to decide on sharing. Meanwhile, charter school companies are fighting a clause denying funds to charter schools that receive D grades from the state for two straight years. Politico Florida. redefinED.

Chronic absenteeism: Kindergartners have the highest rate of chronic absenteeism of any grade in the Sarasota County School District. Students are judged to be chronically absent if they miss 21 or more days of schools. In the 2015-2016 school year, 8 percent of the district’s kindergartners had at least that many absences. “It really matters because kindergarten is where they’re really learning to read rather than reading to learn,” said Sarah Mickley, a kindergarten teacher at Bay Haven School of Basics Plus. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
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Florida schools roundup: Construction funds, Title I, vouchers’ costs and more

Construction funds: Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet approve issuing up to $233 million in education construction bonds. Now legislators have to reconcile their differences on the amount they’ll commit to the Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) program. The Senate bill uses bonding and calls for $617 million for PECO, including $75 million each for public and charter schools. The House bill does not use bonding and allocates lower overall PECO spending, including $100 million for charter schools and $20 million for public schools. News Service of Florida. The Volusia County School Board considers ways to catch up on deferred school maintenance. District officials say many of the problems that have been temporarily fixed over the past 10 years now need a permanent solution, but they’re not sure they’ll have the money needed. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Title I spending: An amendment recently added to a bill that revises charter schools regulations would limit the amount of Title I funding school districts can spend on administrative overhead and required services for specific groups of students. Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, says the change aligns the bill with others that push more authority to school principals and away from centralized administrations. “We need to figure out how to get those dollars down to the school site, where the student is,” he said. redefinED.

Vouchers’ hidden costs: Many parents who accept state vouchers to help their special-needs children attend private schools are unaware that by doing so, they lose lose some or most of the protections of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). One of them, Tamiko Walker of Port St. Lucie County, whose son has a speech and language disability, found this out after accepting money from Florida’s McKay scholarship, the largest of 10 disability scholarship programs in the United States. “Once you take those McKay funds and you go to a private school, you’re no longer covered under IDEA — and I don’t understand why,” Walker said. New York Times.

ELL success story: English language learners (ELL) at High Point Elementary School are bucking the national trends by equaling or surpassing their peers at other struggling schools in Pinellas County on tests that are considered predictors of how students will perform on the Florida Standards Assessments. ELL students make up about a third of High Point’s enrollment, and about 80 percent of them are Hispanic. “They’re defying some national trends, which is pretty exciting,” said Joyce Nutta, a world languages professor at the University of Central Florida who has been developing teacher training methods at High Point. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Tests, school laundromats, black teachers and more

Testing in schools: The Florida Senate and House remain divided on how to reform the state’s standardized testing process. Both chamber’s bills push testing toward the end of the school year and direct the Department of Education to see whether national tests such as the SAT and ACT can be used in place of the Florida Standards Assessments. But the broader Senate bill would cut back on the number of exams taken overall, allow districts to administer the tests on paper instead of computers, and remove a requirement that teachers be evaluated in part on the results. The House bill doesn’t reduce the number taken, calls for most tests to be taken in the final three weeks of the school year, requires the results be returned to teachers within a week and sets specific instructions on how the results are reported. Orlando Sentinel.

School laundromats: Reducing personal problems as a means to academic success now includes doing laundry for students at some Lake County schools. Laundry rooms have been installed at Eustis Heights and Triangle Elementary schools as part of the district’s School Laundry Program, based on an initiative started in Fairfield, Calif. Students apply for entry into the program. If they’re accepted, they can drop off their laundry in the morning. It’s done by volunteers in time for the student to pick it up at the end of the school day. “The more we can take care of our students’ basic needs, the more we can take care of their academic needs,” said Eustis Heights principal Chad Frazier. Daily Commercial.

Impact of black teachers: Having one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade reduces low-income black boys’ probability of dropping out of high school by 39 percent, according to a study of 100,000 black elementary school students in North Carolina. WUSF. Education Week.

School repairs: Repair projects begin this summer at 10 Palm Beach County schools, says Superintendent Robert Avossa. The projects are being funded by a penny increase in the county’s sales tax, approved by voters in November. The school district gets half the money generated, which is expected to amount to about $650 million over 10 years. First up are weatherproofing at six schools and paving of parking lots, tracks and basketball courts at four schools. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →


When progressives went big for school choice

This is the latest post in our series on the center-left roots of school choice.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, the American left cheered Freedom Schools and free schools, condemned education bureaucracies, and raised a clenched fist for community control of public education. It didn’t hesitate to think big on school choice, either.

A few decades ago, some on the American left viewed school choice as a potential tool for expanding opportunity and promoting equity. An all-star academic team led by Harvard sociologist Christopher Jencks pitched one such proposal with funding from the Office of Economic Opportunity, which was formed to fight President Johnson’s War on Poverty and led by Sargent Shriver (pictured at center, above). Image from

Adjusting for inflation, Ted Sizer’s 1968 proposal for a $15 billion federal voucher program for low-income kids would ring up $105 billion today – making President Trump’s still-fuzzy $20 billion idea pale in comparison. A decade later, Berkeley law professors Jack Coons and Stephen Sugarman fell short in their bid to bring universal school choice to California, but their gutsy campaign still punctuates a historical truth: school choice in America has deep, rich roots on the left.

Some of today’s progressives are enraged about the suddenly serious possibility of school choice from coast to coast. True, Trump’s touch makes progressive support unlikely. True, many conservative and libertarian choice supporters raise their own, more thoughtful concerns. But it’s still stunning to see how much progressive views on school choice have shifted over the course of a few decades.

For skeptical but curious progressives, this 1970 proposal for school vouchers is a worthy read. It was produced by an all-star academic team led by liberal Harvard sociologist Christopher Jencks, and funded by the federal Office of Economic Opportunity. That was the office, the brainchild of Great Society architect Sargent Shriver, that helped lead the charge in America’s War on Poverty.

Back then, vouchers weren’t maligned as a conspiracy to privatize public schools. Proponents, especially on the left, viewed them as a way to expand opportunity, promote equity, honor diversity, empower parents and teachers – and yes, improve academic outcomes.

The 348-page plan from the Jencks team is written in the language of social justice: Why, it asks, do we continue to call some colleges “public” when many people can’t afford them? Why do we call exclusive high schools “public” when only a few students can access them? Why are affluent parents considered competent enough to exercise school choice while low-income parents are denied?

The report brims with views like this: “ … [I]f the upheavals of the 1960s have taught us anything, it should be that merely increasing the Gross National Product, the absolute level of government spending, and the mean level of educational attainment will not solve our basic economic, social, and political problems. These problems do not arise because the nation as a whole is poor or ignorant. They arise because the benefits of wealth, power, and knowledge have been unequally distributed and because many Americans believe that these inequalities are unjust. A program which seeks to improve education must therefore focus on inequality, attempting to close the gap between the disadvantaged and the advantaged.”

The authors sorted through a wide array of potential variations on voucher design, and proposed a multi-year “voucher experiment” that would eventually be tried, sort of, in Alum Rock, Calif. Ultimately, the experiment proved a big disappointment; no district agreed to a plan that included private schools. Still, the report suggests the authors wanted a blueprint that could guide many communities, perhaps as part of a federal initiative. Continue Reading →