Archive | Gardiner Scholarship

Florida schools roundup: Spending, bill for scholarships, bathrooms and more

School tax hike: The K-12 education budgets of both Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, count on an extra $400 million-plus that would be raised through rising property values on unchanging local property tax rates. Neither considers that a tax hike. But Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, does, and Wednesday he sent an emphatic message to Scott and Negron: “That’s a hell no. That’s a hell no. We’re not raising property taxes to fund government waste.” Gradebook.

More for scholarships: A bill filed in the House would raise the amount of money students would receive from the state’s tax credit scholarship program and widen eligibility for Gardiner scholarships for students with disabilities. H.B. 15, filed by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, would give low-income students a higher percentage of the current per-student funding to attend a private school. Right now the tax credit scholarship provides 82 percent of the state’s per-student rate. It would go up to 88 percent for elementary schools, 92 percent for middle schools and 96 percent for high schools. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer both scholarships. News Service of Florida. redefinED.

Bathroom access: The Trump Administration rescinds the federal directive allowing transgender students to use school bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. The Obama Administration issued the directive last year. “This is an issue best solved at the state and local level,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said. “Schools, communities and families can find — and in many cases have found — solutions that protect all students.” New York Times. Associated Press.

Higher education: Senate and House committees hear pitches for ideas to include in the higher education budget. Among them: $2.8 million for the University of Central Florida to develop a community schools program to help turn around low-performing schools, $300,000 to fund a robotics competition at Florida Atlantic University for high schools students, an expansion of the amount students receive for Bright Futures scholarships and how they can be used, more vocational training programs and $375,000 for academic mentoring programs for black high school students in the Big Bend area. Senate President Joe Negron says he plans to combine the two main higher education bills into one. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Continue Reading →


Florida House bill would match Senate on special needs scholarships

Sullivan portrait


The Florida House and Senate may be aligned on a measure that would triple the size of the nation’s largest education savings account program.

A bill filed today by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, would boost funding for Gardiner Scholarships* to $200 million, matching a proposal from a key committee chairman in the Senate.

The scholarships provide funding that parents of children with special needs can use for private school tuition, public school courses, homeschool curricula, tutoring, therapy and other education-related expenses.

Like the Senate plan, Sullivan’s bill would make the scholarships available to more groups of students, including children with rare diseases, those who are vision or hearing impaired, and those with traumatic brain injuries.

HB 15 would clarify that it’s illegal to use the scholarships to pay for services that are also billed to Medicaid or health insurance, which could help prevent fraud.

The bill would also make some changes to the state’s tax credit scholarship program, which helps low-income and special needs students pay private school tuition.*

It would increase the amount of scholarship funding students can receive, offering larger increases for students in high school, where tuition tends to be more expensive. It would also strengthen the Department of Education’s legal authority to kick schools out of the scholarship program if they repeatedly fail to submit clean financial audits.

*Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog and pays my salary, helps administer both scholarship programs.


Florida schools roundup: Testing reform, funding, incentives and more

Testing reforms: Under the proposed “Fewer, Better Tests” bills filed Wednesday in the Legislature, all K-12 assessment testing would take place in the final three weeks of the school year, starting in the 2017-2018. S.B. 926 and H.B. 773 would also require results be returned to teachers within a week of testing, and that an understandable report be sent to parents. It also directs the education commissioner to study the feasibility of replacing the Florida Standards Assessments with the SAT or ACT. If the changes are approved, the state would also have to renegotiate its contract with testing vendor American Institutes for Research. Bill sponsors Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah; and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, say the goal of the bills is to reduce stress and anxiety among students, parents and teachers. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida.

Per-student funding: Florida’s spending per student ranks well below the U.S. average among states, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics. In the 2013-2014 school year, Florida spent $8,714 per student. The U.S. average was $10,936. Miami-Dade County spent the most per student among districts, $9,106. Gradebook.

Teaching incentives: Senators on the Florida PreK-12 education budget committee react coolly to Gov. Rick Scott’s $58 million proposal for incentives to recruit and retain teachers. Specifically, senators criticized Scott’s proposal for $10 million in hiring bonuses for new teachers who score in the top 10 percent in their subject-area exam. “It concerns me that we continue to look for the best performers in college — and not the best teachers,” said Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze. Miami Herald.

Gun-free zones: Bills filed in the Legislature this week are aimed at ending gun-free zones in Florida – including at K-12 schools. Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R-Villages, filed S.B. 908 and H.B. 803 to eliminate all restrictions on where people with concealed-carry permits can take their guns. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Testing, charters, student ID cards and more

Testing reform: Three legislators say they will file a bill today that would cut back on state-required assessment testing. The “Fewer, Better Tests” bill’s goals are to cut down on and improve state tests, move the exams to later in the school year, get the test results to teachers sooner, and provide better student score reports. Filing the bill are Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah; and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. Sunshine State NewsGradebook. The Manatee County School Board tables a discussion on a proposal to limit district-required testing. Bradenton Herald.

Charter school takeovers: Members of the House education committee who are discussing district methods of turning around underperforming schools say districts should consider allowing charter school companies to take over operations at those schools. This week, the Florida Board of Education will consider a plan to make the Jefferson County School District a charter district. Politico Florida.

Student ID cards: The Duval County School District will issue new student IDs that are linked to data such as grades, academic progress, attendance and discipline. Students would have to swipe the cards when they get on and off school buses and when they go to classes. The setup cost is $1.1 million, with a $123,500 annual fee. Florida Times-Union.

School recess: The 2016 bill that would have required daily recess at all Florida elementary schools also would have prohibited teachers from withholding recess for misbehaving students. This year that provision has been stripped out of the recess bills, at the insistence of two powerful legislators who say they don’t want to take away teachers’ flexibility. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →


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 →


Florida schools roundup: Potential education cuts, choice push and more

florida-roundup-logoIdeas to cut education: If Florida has to cut its PreK-12 education budget, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says it should end the teacher bonuses and student uniform programs, public broadcasting and many local programs. Stewart was participating in a “what-if” scenario in which the education budget is cut 10 percent. She said one recommendation to cut per pupil spending from $7,204 to $6,943 would have a direct impact on students through staff layoffs and fewer services at schools. The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee meets again Feb. 9. Gradebook.

School choice: School choice advocates in the Florida House say 2017 is their year to make “transformational” gains in choice for the state. “What you’re seeing right now is an opportunity for us to really blow open some of those school choice opportunities, blow open some of those opportunities that may be outside the box that everyone is always trying to block,” House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said. He was speaking at an event marking National School Choice Week. Miami Herald. While it is National School Choice Week, at least one Gainesville teacher is pushing back by calling on the mayor to instead declare it Gainesville Public Schools Week. “The recognition of school choice is a recognition of a system that is attempting to dismantle our public school system,” says Jennifer Kelly, a fourth-grade teacher at Littlewood Elementary. WUFT.

Employees honored: Rudolfo Diaz, a TV production teacher at South Miami High School, is named teacher of the year in Miami-Dade County. Miami Herald. Holly Hill School principal Jeff Reaves is named Florida’s 2017 Innovative Principal of the Year by the Florida Council of Instructional Technology Leaders. He won for his work as principal at Edgewater Public School, where he started coding and robotics clubs, computer and programming courses. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

School threat averted: Two teens are arrested and accused of planning a Columbine-like attack for today on the Villages Charter Middle School. The boys, 13 and 14, are charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Sumter County sheriff’s deputies say the boys admitted planning an attack, and guns were found at their homes. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. Daily Commercial. WTSP. Villages-NewsTwo students are arrested with a stun gun on the campus of First Coast High School in Duval County, according to school police. WJAX. Continue Reading →

How Florida stacks up on private school choice

Florida is home to one in six of the nation’s students using a voucher to attend a private school, more than a third of those using tax credit scholarships, and just shy of 70 percent of all students using education savings accounts.

Those stats come from The ABCs of School Choice, the most comprehensive rundown of private educational options in the country.

EdChoice released the latest version of its annual report Tuesday, and it shows Florida remains one of the national leaders in private school —choice  especially for low-income and economically disadvantaged students.

Serving more than 30,000 students with special needs, McKay Scholarships are the nation’s second-largest voucher program. They were recently overtaken by Indiana’s means-tested voucher program.

Graph via EdChoice

Graph via EdChoice

Florida’s Gardiner Scholarships*, also for students with special needs, comprise the nation’s largest education savings account program. A potent rival — Nevada’s ESAs, which could soon be available to nearly all students — was sidelined by a court challenge and remains in legislative limbo. 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.”

Continue Reading →