Archive | Gardiner Scholarship

Florida schools roundup: Schools of Hope, Hope Scholarship and more

Schools of Hope extension: A Florida Senate committee is considering a plan that would give school districts another option for trying to turn around persistently low-performing schools. Right now, the state gives districts three options for those schools: close them, convert them to charter schools or hire an outside operator to run them. A fourth option would allow districts to place principals with highly effective performance reviews in charge of the struggling schools as well as their own. Those principals would be given the authority to make changes and pool resources between the schools. The schools, which would be called “franchise model schools,” would be eligible for money from the $140 million Schools of Hope program. redefinED.

Hope Scholarship: The Florida Senate Education Committee approves a revised version of the bill offering scholarships for students who are bullied or victims of violence. Principals would have 30 days to investigate claims from parents. If the claims are substantiated, the victimized students would be eligible for scholarships to attend private schools, or they could transfer to a public school of their choice. The committee also approves a measure that would increase oversight of the state’s K-12 private school choice programs. Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer Florida’s tax credit and Gardiner Scholarship programs. It would also help administer the Hope Scholarship program if lawmakers create it. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Associated PressSunshine State News. Politico Florida.

Choice in Florida: Almost 1.7 million Florida preK-12 students attended a school outside their attendance zone in the 2016-2017 school year, according to an analysis of Florida Department of Education statistics. That’s an increase of 207,000 students using school choice in the past five years. Step Up For Students did the analysis. redefinED.

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Florida schools roundup: Scholarships oversight, court challenge and more

Scholarship oversight: The Florida House Education Committee is proposing new rules governing private schools that accept state scholarships. The legislation, still in draft form, would require state visits to all private schools before they can participate in one of the state’s three K-12 scholarship programs, compel schools to provide a list of teachers and their credentials to parents, make it more difficult for the schools to falsify fire and health inspection reports, and increase financial oversight. But private schools could continue to to hire teachers without college degrees. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando SentinelredefinED.

Argument against law: The school districts challenging six provisions in the new state education law argue in a motion for dismissal that even if some of the provisions are judged to be constitutional, they’re part of the larger package that unlawfully undermines the authority of local school boards. The districts cite several cases that they say affirms districts’ authority over Florida’s public schools, and forbids the Legislature from creating “parallel,” publicly funded alternatives. redefinED.

Proposed amendments: The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) meets today to consider amendment proposals, including several that could affect the state’s school choice movement. Among them: one that would extend relaxed regulations now enjoyed by charter schools to traditional public schools that receive state grades of B or above for three straight years; getting rid of the state’s restriction on public funding of religious activity; eliminating limits on the Legislature’s authority to create educational programs; and allowing the Legislature to create non-district charter school authorizers. redefinED. By allowing members to engage in secret talks, the CRC risks the invalidation of all its work, according to a dozen open government advocacy groups. Those kinds of private policy discussions are “just part of the process,” says CRC member Erika Donalds. Politico Florida.

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Florida House unveils plan to strengthen private school choice oversight

The Florida House Education Committee this morning unveiled its proposal to strengthen oversight of Florida’s three K-12 private school choice programs.

The draft legislation comes after an Orlando Sentinel investigation that brought scholarship programs under scrutiny, and a legislative hearing on private school oversight.

Among other things, the House’s proposal would:

  • Require private schools to disclose their teachers’ qualifications on their websites.
  • Prevent private school administrators from transferring authority to their relatives to evade regulations, an issue raised in the Sentinel‘s reporting.
  • Require local officials who perform school health and fire inspections for private schools to submit the reports directly to the Department of Education, rather than having schools submit them. This would prevent cases like that of Agape Christian Academy, a troubled Orlando private school that forged safety records and created years of headaches for the department.
  • Lift the cap on school inspections and require schools to receive an inspection from the department before they participate in scholarship programs.
  • Subject more private schools to the financial oversight system that applies to schools that receive more than $250,000 in scholarships.

The House panel greeted the proposal with minor, technical questions and did not take a vote. Chairman Mike Bileca, R-Miami, said it wasn’t yet clear if the draft would become a separate bill, or get merged into other education legislation.

The state Senate’s education committee has scheduled a Monday hearing on an oversight proposal by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the Florida Tax Credit and Gardiner Scholarship programs.

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Florida schools roundup: School oversight, merit pay, testing and more

Private school oversight: A bill is filed for the legislative session beginning today that would tighten some standards for private schools receiving state scholarships. Under the bill, filed by state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, private schools would be required to hire only teachers with at least a bachelor’s degree. The proposal would also tighten financial accountability, ban school owners with recent bankruptcies from receiving scholarship money, increase school inspections by the state and make it more difficult for schools to submit falsified fire or health inspection reports. Simmons says his bill is an attempt to strike a balance between too much regulation and not enough. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher merit pay: Two Republican legislators want to delete the requirement in state law that student test scores be used to evaluate teachers. The bills, filed by Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, and Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, would give schools boards the option of using student test scores in evaluations. “We don’t think student test scores should be tied to our evaluations,” says Plasencia. “It’s frustrated many teachers, and it’s driven some really good teachers out of the profession, a lot of them early.” Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher test-taking: The rising numbers of teachers failing the state’s newly revised Florida Teacher Certification Exam prompts state Rep. Robert Asencio, D-Miami, to file a bill that would require the Florida Department of Education to appoint a task force to study whether the test is appropriately measuring teacher competency and other issues. “Whenever we have such a high failure rate we have to figure out what’s going on,” says Asencio. WPTV.

Legislative session: Gov. Rick Scott delivers his final state of the state speech today at the opening of the legislative session. It’s expected to contrast his first one in 2011, when he called for sharp cuts in education spending. News Service of Florida. Associated PressTampa Bay Times. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WCTV. Politico Florida. The Senate is expected to pass a higher education bill Thursday that would permanently expand Bright Futures scholarships, and will consider a bill that would require high school students to complete a financial literacy course in order to graduate. News Service of Florida.

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Florida schools roundup: Legislative preview, possible sanctions and more

Legislative preview: Fighting over the state budget is expected to dominate the Legislature in this election year. The top education issues being considered are potential revisions in H.B. 7069, which boosts charter schools, expanding Bright Futures scholarships and a bill providing scholarships for bullied K-12 students. Other issues include a bill requiring completion of a financial literacy course to graduate, an effort to expand computer coding, the use of schools as emergency shelters and a bill that would allow some employees to carry guns into schools. Tampa Bay TimesTallahassee Democrat. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Associated Press. Palm Beach Post. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Schools face sanctions: Thirty-one Florida private schools face possible sanctions for failing to file financial reports as the state requires by the Sept. 15 deadline. The law requires any private school that receives $250,000 or more in Florida Tax Credit Scholarships for low-income students or Gardiner Scholarships for students with special needs to submit reports to the nonprofits that administer the scholarships. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer both scholarship programs. redefinED. A troubled Pine Hills private school will close if it can no longer receive money from the state’s scholarship programs, the school’s attorney tells the Department of Education. Agape Christian Academy filed false fire inspections, hired people with criminal records and failed to pay its employees, according to records, leading to a state ban on any state scholarship money going to the school. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart will make a decision on the school’s appeal of the ban. Orlando Sentinel.

Private school restrictions: A bill is filed that would prohibit individuals who have filed for bankruptcy within the past five years from operating private schools that accept students who receive state scholarship money. Filed by Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, the bill would apply to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, which serves more than 100,000 students. Orlando Sentinel.

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In memory of Brandon Berman

Brandon Berman

Brandon sat quietly in his wheelchair but grew increasingly agitated as his lawyer, Clint Bolick, answered rapid-fire questions from an aggressive reporter.

His mother, Donna Berman, stood behind him, worrying he might erupt into a fit, or worse, a seizure.

Brandon’s service dog Cody even sensed the frustration and made a noise in defense of his best friend.

“Can we get him out of here?,” Brandon muttered about the reporter.

Another reporter noticed his agitation. “We’ve been trying to get rid of him for years,” he quipped.

Brandon, who had autism, smiled and kept his composure.

Brandon was 16 at the time. He and his mom had come to Tallahassee to attend a hearing for Faase v. Scott. Florida’s statewide teachers union filed the case to halt a 2014 law that expanded the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and created the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSA), a scholarship program for children with special needs.

After years of struggles in public and private schools, Brandon and his mom felt the new program finally offered a path to an education that would work for him. They, along with other parents and students, jumped into the lawsuit to come to its defense.

Lawyers for the teacher unions claimed tax credit scholarships were their primary target. Brandon and other children using PLSAs were simply “collateral damage.” The two programs were linked in a sweeping piece of legislation the union argued violated the state constitution.

Brandon, his fellow intervenors, and the state’s lawyers ultimately prevailed.

Their win set the stage for a series of other legal victories for Florida’s school choice programs. The infant program they helped defend has blossomed into the nation’s largest education savings account program. It’s now called the Gardiner Scholarship, and it supports more than 10,000 students with special needs.  Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: ESSA, active shooter training, bonuses and more

ESSA plan: After federal education officials recently raised questions about Florida’s plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, the state asks for an extension beyond the Jan. 4 deadline to rework the plan. State officials say they are still reviewing the letter federal officials sent that questions the state’s plans to measure how individual groups of students perform and to consider progress made by English-language learners when holding schools accountable for student learning and progress. “We acknowledge that USED may not be able to provide a final determination within the 120-day period in the law,” Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart wrote in her request for an extension. “Our focus is the successful completion of the 2017-18 school year as school districts continue to recover from Hurricane Irma and embrace the nearly 9,000 students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as a result of Hurricane Maria.” Politico Florida.

Active shooter training: The University of Central Florida is using video game technology to help train teachers on how to react to an active shooter scenario. The $5.6 million technology was developed by the Homeland Security Department and the U.S. Army, and is similar to the program used to train soldiers in combat tactics. “With teachers, they did not self-select into a role where they expect to have bullets flying near them. Unfortunately, it’s becoming a reality,” says chief project engineer Tamara Griffith. “We want to teach teachers how to respond as first responders.” Associated Press.

Bonuses mistakenly paid: Twenty-seven Leon County School District employees wrongly received about $180,000 from the state’s Best and Brightest teacher bonuses program, according to a recent report from the Florida auditor general. The audit showed that 21 teachers who received $143,155 in bonuses were not rated as “highly effective,” a requirement to be eligible for the payments. Another six who received $40,902 weren’t eligible because they didn’t meet the state’s definition of a classroom teacher. All must repay the district, which in turn will send the money to the state Department of Education. The audit also raised concerns about a lack of competitive bidding to select health insurance companies and the security of personal information for students. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.

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Florida schools roundup: Scholarship fund, Scientology, sales tax and more

Scholarship fund empty: The state’s Gardiner scholarship, which is awarded to students with special needs, has exhausted all its available funding for the first time since it began in 2014. About 10,500 students are receiving the scholarship this year, and another 1,270 have been approved but are on a waiting list. “We have definitely exhausted every last dollar, every last penny,” says Gina Lynch, vice president of operations for Step Up For Students, which helps administer the program and hosts this blog. “There is healthy demand for the program.The program allows families to pay for a wide range of education-related expenses, from therapy and homeschool curriculum to public school courses and private school tuition, for qualifying children with special needs.” redefinED.

Schools and Scientology: Several Florida private schools participating in school choice scholarship programs use learning concepts developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, reports the Huffington Post.

Sales tax squabble: Members of the Manatee County School Board still can’t agree on a date for an election asking voters to increase property taxes for schools, how to sell the referendum or even how much to assess voters. The squabbling has led board member Dave Miner to call for the removal of Scott Hopes as board chairman. Miner says Hopes misled the board about his support for the special election when he was chosen as chairman just two weeks ago. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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