Archive | Education savings accounts

Bill would boost Florida special needs scholarships


The nation’s largest education savings account program would triple in size under a bill filed yesterday by the Florida Senate’s lead education budget writer.

SB 902 by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, would boost funding for Gardiner Scholarships from $71.2 million to $200 million.

It would also expand the list of conditions that allow students to qualify for the scholarships, which are available to children with specific special needs. The bill would make scholarships available to hearing and visually impaired students, those with traumatic brain injuries and those who are hospital or homebound.

The scholarships are designed to be worth approximately 90 percent of the amount the state would spend to educate a child in public schools. Parents can use the money to pay for private school tuition, homeschool curriculum, therapies, public-school courses, college savings and other approved education-related expenses. Continue Reading →

School choice programs adapt to help young adults with special needs

When people learn Robert Breske is the father of a teenager with Down syndrome, they sometimes tell him they’re sorry. That isn’t what he wants to hear. He’ll tell them children like his soon-to-be-15-year-old son, Bobby, have changed his life — and the world — for the better.

“They are closest things to God,” he said during an event earlier this month at Orlando’s Morning Star Catholic School, a faith-based special education center Bobby attends. “They are that way all through their whole lives.”

Bishop Noonan

Bishop John Noonan blesses a new transition facility for young adults with special needs at Morning Star Catholic School in Orlando.

In recent decades, advances in medicine and early intervention programs have made their lives richer and longer than ever. And that has created a new set of questions for parents like Breske, whose special-needs children will need to prepare for life as adults.

Public policy is starting to adapt. Recent federal legislation created savings accounts that can help adults with special needs pay their living expenses. New Florida laws promote college and career-training programs. And schools, both public and private, have expanded programs aimed at preparing students like Bobby to get part-time jobs and care for themselves.

The elder Breske was helping unveil a renovated house at Morning Star. The structure once housed nuns on the 56-year-old school site, but it’s been converted to help students in its young-adult transition program learn how to cook, clean and live independently. Recent changes to Florida educational choice programs mean similar programs could soon be growing at private schools around the state.

“We all know we’re going to away one day,” Breske said, describing the anxiety many parents feel as their special needs children grow older. “And what’s going to happen to them?”

Camille Gardiner, who also has a son with Down syndrome, said parents like her were less likely to face that question a generation ago. In the 1970s, children born with Down syndrome were only expected to live into their 20s. Now, their life expectancy is about 60. As a devout Catholic, she said, “I have come to realize that being pro-life does not end at the birth of a child. In many ways, that’s where it starts.”

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The next Nevada? These are the states to watch for education savings accounts

Nevada’s universal education savings accounts were the most far-reaching educational choice program ever created, but they suffered a setback earlier this year when the state Supreme Court ruled the funding mechanism unconstitutional.

November elections swept pro-school choice Republicans from power. Potential legislative fixes a likely bargaining chip between Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Brian Sandoval, meaning it’s an open question whether the program will ever get funded.

While Nevada’s fate remains uncertian, educational choice advocates are looking to other states to follow up with legislation that might match its scope and ambition.

There’s no question education savings accounts will be on the agenda in state capitals all over the country next year. They’ve been passed by legislatures in six states and signed into law in five. A total 18 states drafted, studied or introduced ESA bills in 2016, and this fall’s elections may have tipped the political balance for educational choice in statehouses around the country.

Observers and education reform experts gathered in Washington last week for the Foundation for Excellence in Education conference had some ideas for states worth keeping an eye on.


The top choice of Robert Enlow, the president of EdChoice, Iowa already has a tax credit scholarship program.

Iowa lawmakers actually drafted a universal ESA bill a whole month before their Nevada counterparts back in 2015. But despite 24 co-sponsors, the proposal never gained traction. Another ESA bill to create a smaller pilot ESA program for 190 students could only make it out of a subcommittee in the Republican-controlled House.

The November elections may have changed the political calculus. Republicans gained control of the state Senate, and now observers across the political spectrum seem to believe some form of ESA legislation is in the works. Continue Reading →

Jeb Bush: Time to shake up education policy



The incoming Donald Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have a “real opportunity to bring wholesale disruption in education in America,” Jeb Bush told a gathering of education reformers in Washington. And, he said, he hopes they seize it.

Speaking at the start of the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s annual conference, the former Florida governor said the 2016 elections, in which he came up short in a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, reflected a loss of faith in core American institutions, which need to be dramatically reinvented.

When it comes to education, he said, Congress and the new presidential administration should tap into that hunger for change.

“I hope there’s an earthquake as it relates to education funding and education policy,” he said. Continue Reading →

Another left-leaning case for the new definition of public education

Milton Friedman and his free-market ideas may have been anathema to the political left, but he was right about one thing: School choice.

Daniel Grego, the director of Milwaukee’s TransCenter for Youth and an acolyte of the likes of Ivan Illich and Wendell Berry, made that case in the journal Encounter. His argument, outlined in a 2011 article we stumbled upon recently, is worth highlighting, in part, because it reinforces a theme we’ve explored on this blog for quite some time: The left-of-center appeal of educational choice.

“It is time for people on the left to overcome ‘the nonthought of received ideas’ and admit that giving poor families resources is a progressive public policy,” Grego wrote.

The writer helped lead an ill-fated effort, backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to bring more “small schools” to his city. An article in Milwaukee Magazine said he was intent on ending “the longtime war” between public-school supporters and advocates of the city’s pioneering school voucher program.

And while he wound up sharing Friedman’s conclusions about the benefits of educational choice, he followed a different intellectual path to arrive at that position.  Continue Reading →

Survey: Millennials more likely to support educational choice

Members of the generation that arguably has the most at stake in today’s education debate may also be the most likely to support various forms of school choice.

That’s the takeaway from a recent survey by EdChoice. It found millennials (which it defines as adults ages 18-35) are more likely than older generations to support private school vouchers, tax credit scholarships and education savings accounts. They may also be slightly more likely to support charter schools, but the generational divide there is not statistically significant.

EdChoice, previously known as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, oversampled millennials in the latest version of its annual “Schooling in America Survey,” talking to more than 500.

Millennials are more likely than older generations to support educational options. Source: EdChoice.

Millennials are more likely than older generations to support educational options. Source: EdChoice, “Millennial Perspectives.”

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The week in school choice: Now it’s personalized

Facing tricky political calculus, Nevada’s governor is convening state lawmakers for a special session that won’t address the funding issue at the heart of a state Supreme Court ruling that blocked one of the nation’s most ambitious educational choice programs.

A funding fix may now have to wait until next year’s regular legislative session, but some advocates aren’t giving up.

Does the Nevada ruling suggest ESAs are on stronger constitutional ground than conventional vouchers? Perhaps.

Both research and legal precedent demonstrate that the ability to direct ESA funds to multiple education services and products separates ESAs from school vouchers. This is a critical distinction for states to recognize when considering parental choice options. Blaine amendments to state constitutions, such as the provisions in the Arizona and Nevada constitutions, have an ignoble history and should be repealed. Moreover, the distinctive policy design of ESAs makes the accounts well-positioned to withstand legal challenges based on Blaine amendments.


Districts are leading Florida’s foray into personalized learning. They could probably use some support along the way.

Principals and teachers trying to personalize their students’ learning are charged with radically reimagining the classroom. It’s a tall order that requires educators to take risks, move outside their comfort zones, and essentially overhaul much of their jobs. What we’re seeing in the schools we’ve visited for this project makes clear that this work shouldn’t—and often can’t—be done alone.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, here’s what’s at stake in the debate over Massachusetts’ charter school referendum: Continue Reading →

Nevada Supreme Court blocks educational choice program, but advocates see silver linings

Nevada’s Supreme Court struck down one of the most ambitious educational choice programs in the country today.

But it also rejected two key legal arguments against private school choice.

That means that while courts have blocked the Silver State’s new, near-universal education savings accounts, supporters believe the program can soon be revived. And today’s ruling could bolster the constitutional case for school choice programs in other places.

Thousands of families had lined up to use the accounts. But none of them received money from the program because two lawsuits held it in legal limbo.

One case argued ESAs violated a constitutional requirement for the state to provide a “uniform” system of free public schools. The other argued they violated the state’s “Blaine Amendment,” which prohibits the state from using public funds to aid religious institutions.

Justices rejected both those arguments in a 4-2 ruling.

Nevada’s constitution requires a uniform system of free public schools, they wrote, but quoting a previous ruling out of Wisconsin, they concluded that requirement is “not a ceiling but a floor upon which the legislature can build additional opportunities for school children.” Their conclusion jibes with an earlier ruling by Indiana’s high court, which upheld school vouchers in a similar case.

The uniformity argument has been used to attack private school choice programs in other places, including in Florida, where the state Supreme Court blocked a voucher program in 2006. Nevada justices noted there are differences between their state’s uniform public school requirement and Florida’s.

They also ruled ESAs did not violate the Nevada’s Blaine Amendment. Justices held the accounts provide money to parents, who can use the funds to pay for public-school courses, private tutors, homeschooling, and other educational expenses — including tuition at private and parochial schools. Since the accounts are controlled by parents, not the state, the court decided they do not provide unconstitutional public aid to religious institutions. Continue Reading →