Archive | Gardiner Scholarship

Florida schools roundup: Education bill, impact for charters, reaction and more

H.B. 7069 signed: Gov. Rick Scott signs H.B. 7069, the Legislature’s massive $419 million public education bill, at the private Morning Star Catholic School in Orlando. The bill provides $140 million to recruit high-profile charter schools into areas with persistently low-performing schools, requires 20 minutes of recess every day in public elementary schools, sets aside more than $200 million for teacher and principal bonuses, moves standardized state testing to the end of the school year, and expands the Gardiner scholarship program for special-needs students, among other things. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Gardiner program. Orlando Sentinel. redefinED. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. Florida Times-Union. Sarasota Herald-TribuneNaples Daily News. Gradebook. Lakeland LedgerAssociated Press. News Service of FloridaSunshine State News. Florida Politics. Politico FloridaWashington Post. More reaction to the signing of the bill and how its components could affect some school districts. Tampa Bay TimesFlagler Live. Bradenton Herald. Gainesville Sun. Miami Herald. WOKV. Cape Coral Daily Breeze. WJAX. WJHG. WTVT. Why would Scott sign the controversial H.B. 7069 and veto S.B. 374, the higher education bill? Many think it’s political payback to Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, for the Senate’s attempts to override Scott’s vetoes. Politico Florida.

Bill’s impact: Charter schools are the big winners in the education bill. Sun Sentinel. Here are some details of other things that will change with the bill’s signing. Palm Beach Post. Florida districts are starting to look into how to fit 20 minutes of recess into their school days. Gradebook. Continue Reading →


Fla. Senate avoids changes to massive education bill

Attempts to modify or remove funding from parts of a major piece of education legislation fizzled today in the Florida Senate.

As a result, all $419 million in House Bill 7069, including the House’s signature program to draw top charter school operators to academically struggling areas of the state, will likely remain intact as Gov. Rick Scott evaluates the measure in the face of a heated public campaign.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs and Senate education budget chief, set aside attempts to shift funding from the Schools of Hope grant program and a teacher bonus program into the main operating fund for public schools.

He had raised concerns about how the bill would be implemented and made clear today he still hopes those concerns will be addressed at some point.

During a debate on the Senate floor, Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, gave a forceful defense of the measure. He sponsored an expansion of virtual education eligibility that was folded into the bill during the regular legislative session that concluded last month. He rejected the idea, espoused by opponents of the bill, that it was simply force-fed to some Senators “to make a deal” with the other chamber. Continue Reading →


Moms on a mission found school in Ocala

Students at Ocala Preparatory Academy read Farenheit 451 while outside.

Even with a Gardiner Scholarship in hand, Karen Vega grew increasingly worried as she was unable to find a school for her three young boys who have high functioning autism in Ocala, Fla., a small city in North Central Florida.

Although she looked, no school provided a good fit. One even refused to enroll students with the state scholarship for students with special needs. (Step Up For Students, the publisher of this blog, helps administer that scholarship.)

“We were trying to find a school that did not exist,” said Vega.

But when she couldn’t find the right school, Vega teamed up with another mom, AnnMarie Sossong, to create one.

Vega serves as the executive director of the Outreach Autism Services Network, a nonprofit providing support services to parents and students with autism. She had long dreamed of starting a school. Sossong, a 27-year education veteran and mom of an autistic child herself, shared the same dream.

The two moms’ vision for a school aligned, and in August 2016, they founded Ocala Preparatory Academy.

“Serving studentsContinue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: School sales tax holiday, education bill and more

Sales tax holiday: Gov. Rick Scott approves a three-day sales tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers. It’s Aug. 4-6, and gives shoppers a tax break on clothes, school supplies, computers and computer accessories. Scott also approves a three-day sales tax holiday to buy hurricane supplies. In signing the bill, Scott again criticizes the Legislature’s budget and education bills, but gave no indication of whether he would veto either. Palm Beach PostGradebook. News Service of Florida.

Education bill: Parents of Gardiner scholarship students are lobbying Gov. Scott to sign the education bill, which would greatly expand the program that benefits children with special needs. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Gardiner scholarships redefinED.

Interim’s goals: Patricia Willis, the interim superintendent for the Duval County School District, says she will focus on improving third-grade reading and graduation rates. Willis, a former deputy superintendent for the district, will run the system until the school board finds a permanent replacement for Nikolai Vitti, who left last week to lead the Detroit school system. Florida Times-Union.

Reading test results: School districts in Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties all show gains in the Florida Standards Assessments reading test for third-graders. Fort Myers News-Press. Continue Reading →


Scholarship parents weigh in on education legislation with Fla. governor

As Florida Gov. Rick Scott weighs the fate of a massive piece of education legislation in the face of a heated public campaign, parents of special needs children have emerged as a key group urging support. They’re advocating for Gardiner Scholarships to help them better afford access to private schools, curriculum, therapy, and other support for their children.

The wide-ranging HB 7069 includes $30 million in additional funding for the scholarships. The state budget, which lawmakers approved separately, would provide $73.3 million next year – the same funding as the current year.

Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the scholarship program. Step Up administrators report that, as of Monday, 11,029 students have applied for a Gardiner Scholarship for next year. Hundreds, and potentially thousands, of families could be turned away from the program if the additional funding isn’t approved. And many of them have contacted the governor to explain the stakes.

Anna Baumgaertner wrote a letter describing how her seven-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The tumor disrupted her daughter’s working memory. She was labeled as having a mental disability and struggled in school.

With the help of a scholarship, Baumgaertner wrote, “we have been able to provide Zoe with the tutoring, school and therapy she needs to progress at grade level with her peers.”  Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Pre-K report, resegregation, private schools and more

Pre-K access, funding: Florida ranks second in the nation in providing access to pre-kindergarten programs, but just 40th in per-student funding, according to a report from the National Institute for Early Education Research. Florida enrolled about 76 percent of all eligible 4-year-olds, trailing only the District of Columbia, but its per-student funding amount of $2,353 is less than half the national average. Florida also meets just three of the 10 quality measures, the report concludes. Gradebook.

School resegregation: A study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA contends that the proliferation of school choice programs is contributing to the resegregation of public schools in Florida and the rest of the South. The report says 34.6 percent of Florida’s black students and 32.1 percent of Hispanic students attended schools with 90 percent or more minorities in 2014, when the overall student population was 22.3 percent black and 30.9 percent Hispanic. Florida has one of the highest charter school expansion rates, according to the report. Gradebook.

Private school changes: Historically, private schools were often places where white students went to get away from public schools. Increasingly, that is changing, with many private schools now filled with low-income or disabled students who use scholarships from the state to attend. “The historically unfavored are now being favored, are now being accepted,” says Vernard Grant, director of the ACE Student Success Center with the Association of Christian Schools International. redefinED.

Education bill feedback: A slight majority of Floridians is now urging Gov. Rick Scott to sign the education bill. A week ago, about 75 percent of those who had contacted the governor wanted him to veto H.B. 7069. The change of sentiment is widely thought to be attributed to organized campaigns by school choice advocates. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: School choice, education bill, test scores and more

School choice: In a speech Monday night, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says President Trump will offer the “most ambitious expansion of education choice in our nation’s history.” DeVos did not offer details, other than saying states would not be forced to participate. “Our cause is both right and just,” DeVos said. “You and I know the fight will not be easy. The opponents of modernizing our education system will pull out all the stops. They will not go quietly into the night.” Washington Post. Education Week.

Education bill: Broward County teachers join other school officials and education leaders in urging Gov. Rick Scott to veto the education bill, saying the bill will hurt the district’s ability to recruit and retain quality teachers. Sun Sentinel. News Service of Florida.

Reading test scores: Third-graders in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties show improvement on the Florida Standards Assessments reading tests. In Santa Rosa, 74 percent scored at Level 3 or high, an increase from 70 percent last year. In Escambia, 59 percent were at Level 3 or higher, up from 50 percent last year. Pensacola News Journal. Fifty-three percent of Polk County’s third-graders scored at Level 3 or higher in the state reading test, up from 51 percent last year. Lakeland Ledger. Martin, Indian River and St. Lucie counties all had more third-graders reading at grade level or above than they did a year ago. TCPalm. Marion County third-graders improve their reading scores by 5 percentage points over last year. Ocala Star Banner.

Muslim school security: Studies show that Muslim students are increasingly being bullied in public schools. A 2016 Council on American-Islamic Relations report identifies “209 incidents of anti-Muslim bias, including harassment, intimidation, and violence targeting students,” and a 2015 report concluded that “55 percent of Muslim students aged (11 to 18) reported being subject to some form of bullying because of their faith.” For many parents, the solution is sending their children to Islamic schools. redefinED. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Education bill, Bright Futures, testing, recess and more

Education bill: The Florida Association of School Boards has already urged Gov. Rick Scott to veto the Legislature’s education bill, H.B. 7069. Now the group says it wants Scott to also veto the proposed Florida Education Fund Program, which sets per-student spending. The board says 90 percent of the the $240 million increase in the program will go for school enrollment growth and increased retirement plan contributions, and what is left is not enough to “adequately serve our students.” Gradebook. News Service of Florida. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, praises Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami, for being the only Democrat in the Legislature to vote for the education bill. Miami Herald.

Bright Futures: The boost in money for Bright Futures scholarship winners in the education bill would expand the program significantly, but it also renews concerns about fairness in who qualifies. In 2015, about 51,200 students were eligible. Less than 4 percent were black, and 20 percent were Hispanic. “When you pour most of your money into your top-tier scholarship, you are giving that money to upper-middle-class white kids,” says Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, a nonprofit advocacy organization. Tampa Bay Times.

Certification tests defended: Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says the state’s teacher certification exams are useful and appropriate, despite failure rates of 30 percent on some portions and the escalating costs to the test-takers. “We have a lot of research that shows the exams are not flawed,” said Stewart. “I think it’s a reflection of we’ve raised standards for students and, consequently, we need to raise standards for teachers and make sure that they are experts in the content area that they’re teaching.” WFTS.

Daily recess: All public K-5 elementary school students in Marion County will get 20 minutes of recess every day, starting in the fall. Superintendent Heidi Maier made recess an issue in her campaign for the job last fall, and in following through, she wrote: “It is the right thing to do. We have the research which shows recess is needed for kids to retain information.” Ocala Star Banner. Continue Reading →