The ‘Trump effect’ polarizes school choice, but doesn’t hurt its popularity

Ever since Donald Trump became president, opponents of school choice have tried to tie charter schools, vouchers and scholarship tax credits to the polarizing politician.

A new public opinion survey suggests those tactics might not be working as intended.

Survey researchers with Education Next asked questions about two school choice policies two ways. Half the respondents answered basic questions about whether they supported tax credit scholarships or charter schools. The other half were asked the same questions, after being told Trump supports the policies.

Even after a sharp drop, charter school supporters still outnumber opponents, according to the latest Ed Next poll.

Associating the policies with Trump didn’t change overall support for either policy. But it did tend to polarize issues. Support among Democrats went down, while support among Republicans went up.

Hearing about President Trump’s views doesn’t change overall charter school support. But it widens the partisan divide.

The poll confirms something school choice advocates saw on the ground during last year’s elections. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Charters, funding, back to school and more

Charter school support: Support for the charter school movement is declining in America, according to a recent survey by Education Next, a journal published by Harvard’s Kennedy School and Stanford University. Only 39 percent of of those polled favor opening more “charters – schools that are funded by public money, but usually operated independently of school districts.” That’s down from 51 percent last year. Associated Press.

Back to school: More from districts around Florida that have returned to school or will soon. Florida Times-UnionPalm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. Orlando SentinelSarasota Herald-Tribune. Gainesville Sun. Tallahassee Democrat. Daytona Beach News-Journal. About a quarter of Osceola Magnet School’s students stayed home on the first day of the new school year after the disclosure of a mold problem at the school. School officials are still waiting for the results of air quality tests. TCPalm. WPTV. Ten tips for young teachers from a veteran educator. Palm Beach Post.

School funding protest: The Lake County School Board approves a resolution urging the state to “halt the transfer of education funding from poorer school districts to wealthier school districts.” That district cost differential portion of the school funding formula has shortchanged the district by $57 million since 2004, board members say. “You have 14 counties in the state benefiting from this. The 53 other counties are paying for it,” says board member Bill Mathias. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart,  recently approved a legislative study of the differential. Daily Commercial.

Help for gifted students: Students at 16 high schools in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco who are struggling in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs will get help from a program developed by two academics to support students who they think are often “taken for granted.” The Advancing Coping and Engagement program will provide students with weekly lessons on developing time management skills and connecting with teachers. Tampa Bay Times.

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How tax credit scholarships are similar to, and different from, other charities

School choice critics in Congress are pushing a proposal to penalize tax credit scholarships in the federal tax code.

In the National Review, Jason Bedrick of EdChoice points out several flaws with their idea.

Among other things, Bedrick notes, there’s no reason to treat tax credit scholarships differently from other charitable contributions, as Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., has proposed. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: School arrests, back to school, marijuana and more

School arrests: The Orange County School District and county law enforcement officials agree on a plan to move away from arresting students for minor crimes, and instead will issue them civil citations. They think that will keep more students in school and out of the criminal justice system, which improves students’ odds of graduating. The district had a 6.4 per 1,000 students arrest rate in the 2015-2016 school year, which was less than Pinellas and Hillsborough counties but more than Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Duval. Orlando Sentinel.

Back to school: More Florida districts head back to school this week. Florida Times-Union. Orlando Sentinel. Palm Beach PostTampa Bay Times. Miami Herald. TCPalm. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Tallahassee Democrat. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Keynoter. Key West Citizen. Mold is found at Osceola Magnet School in Vero Beach and while the school opens as scheduled today, students will be moved around the avoid the rooms where the mold was found and will be released an hour and 40 minutes early every day while school officials await the results of air-quality tests. TCPalm. Martin County students who live within 2 miles of their school will be riding buses after all. Parents of 850 students had been notified that busing would end because of state rules. But the school board reversed that decision and the district will transport them when school opens Tuesday. School Board President Tina McSoley said busing will continue until the district can come up with a plan to help students who will be walking to arrive safely. TCPalm.

Medical marijuana: Florida school districts fear that they could be liable for helping students who are prescribed medical marijuana. Many are waiting for guidance from the state Department of Education. The Education Commission of the States, a group that studies education policy in the country, recently advised that schools could lose some federal funding if they help those students since the federal government enforces drug-free workplace policies. Sun-Sentinel.

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Florida schools roundup: Skipping lines, back to school, start times and more

Principal kills fund-raiser: A Parent Teacher Student Association’s idea to raise money by allowing students to skip the lunch line if their parents make a $100 donation has been killed by the principal after some parents protested. Brian Andrews, principal at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland, said in an email to parents that “I do not approve of any donation that is tied to any student advantage or privilege on campus. … Nobody’s a second-class citizen here.” Jil Bevis, president of the PTSA, says “due to a clerical error, the form was inadvertently included in the orientation packets.” Lakeland Ledger. WFLA.

Back to school: Thursday was the first day of school for many Florida districts, and some others start next week. Florida Today. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay TimesFort Myers News-Press. Lehigh Acres CitizenOcala Star-Banner. Lakeland Ledger. Bradenton Herald. Gainesville Sun. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Northwest Florida Daily News. Daily Commercial. Keynoter. Citrus County Chronicle. Charlotte Sun. WFLA. Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough County shows a slight decline in Day 1 attendance, 196,822 this year compared with 197,064 last year. Tampa Bay Times. More than 130 Manatee County students who opted to leave their low-performing school for a better option discover the buses they were supposed to get won’t be running until Sept. 4. “Unfortunately, the state was late in informing our district as to the identity of those students,” deputy superintendent for operations Ron Ciranna told his staff. “Therefore, bus transportation will not be available for these students until transportation hubs can be established.” Bradenton Herald. Hundreds of Martin County students lost their bus privileges because they live within 2 miles of their school, but the school district has no plans to add crossing guards to help them get to school safely. School starts Tuesday. TCPalm.

School start times: The Palm Beach County School Board agrees to research school start times for next year to better accommodate the needs of students and parents. Board member Debra Robinson says the subject has come up before, but that “it’s a conversation worth having again. I’d like to see a smorgasbord of choices for parents to include a choice of start times.” Most high schools start at 7:30 a.m., elementary schools at 8 and most middle schools at 9:30. Sun-Sentinel.

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Leveling the playing field in public school choice

Some affluent South Florida cities have found a way to carve private niches in the public education system.

The Miami Herald recenty reported some taxpayers may start paying double the state’s normal public-school funding amounts for dedicated spots in highly-sought magnet programs created by the local school district.

And a few cities have found another way to use public school choice to create special perks for their residents. They can create municipal charter schools that give residents priority in admissions.

The Herald reports:

[T]he city of Aventura runs its own K-8 charter school, known as ACES. Aventura is currently in the process of opening a new charter high school — something parents, local politicians and business groups have been advocating for years. They argue that Dr. Michael Krop Senior High School in north Miami-Dade, the public high school serving Aventura residents, is too far away for some families.

Aventura residents will get first dibs at the new high school, which is slated to open in 2019. Although other county residents will be able to apply for empty seats, city manager Eric Soroka said that based on interest from residents, he doesn’t think there will be any.

Instead, some area residents are concerned that the charter high school could segregate the area, pulling affluent Aventura residents out of Krop along with the added resources, like fundraising contributions, that wealthy students tend to bring with them.

“Personally, I think there’s a benefit to having a diverse school population so that especially high school-aged kids can become friends with kids from other ethnicities,” said Aventura resident Ivy Ginsberg. “By saying that all the slots are going to go to Aventura residents only, it’s like giving Aventura residents their own private school.”

Soroka said that’s not the city’s intention. “The only thing we’re providing is another educational choice for our residents at this point,” he said.

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Florida schools roundup: H.B. 7069 lawsuit, evaluations, charters and more

H.B. 7069 suit: The Miami-Dade and Palm Beach school boards vote unanimously to join other districts in suing the state over the new education law, H.B. 7069. Broward, Lee, Bay, St. Lucie and Volusia counties also have agreed to join a common lawsuit, and another 10-12 are reportedly considering joining. The districts are unhappy that they have to share local property taxes with charter schools, but have limited authority over those schools. Some board members and board attorneys also say the law violates the state constitution’s rule limiting bills to a single subject. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. WLRN.

District ends use of VAM: The Citrus County School Board eliminates the use of the state’s value-added measure (VAM) in evaluating teachers. VAM is a complicated formula that takes into consideration students’ expected test scores vs. actual scores. Citrus is one of the first districts in the state to end the use of VAM. The district’s method will use student improvement, but also allows consideration of students who are doing well academically even if their test scores aren’t as high as the state expects. Gradebook.

Charters to Florida: The recent $33 million sale of two Florida charter schools to buyers from Oregon was the second part of a seven-school, $100 million deal, says an official from the Colliers International Education Services Group. Achikam Yogev, senior vice president of the company, says he expects more deals to follow. He says the new education law that provides money for charter schools to move into areas with persistently low-performing schools is an indication that state leaders strongly support the charter school industry, making it a solid investment. Bisnow.

Back to school: In calls and text to parents, Hillsborough County school officials are warnings that buses could be up to two and a half hours late today, the first day of the school for the district, and maybe even into next week. Gradebook. Many districts around Florida start school today or Monday. Orlando Sentinel. Fort Myers News-Press. Lakeland Ledger. Bradenton Herald. Ocala Star-Banner. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Port St. Joe Star. WTVTWFLA. WTSP. Tampa Bay Times.

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Choice scholarships revoked for Orlando private school

The Florida Department of Education on Friday suspended an Orlando private school with a history of regulatory violations from the state’s school choice scholarship programs. The department is also moving quickly to remove the school permanently from participation in the programs.

Agape Christian Academy has occasionally landed in the headlines for issues from financial woes to forged fire inspections.

Last year, after discovering fire code violations and improper fire inspection documents, DOE suspended the school from receiving money through Florida tax credit scholarships, McKay Scholarships and Gardiner Scholarships. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner programs.)

DOE allowed the school to continue receiving scholarships last fall only after Agape signed a settlement agreeing to fix the issues and abide by a list of specific new requirements. A modified agreement, signed in April after months of legal disputes, placed the school on “probationary status.”

That agreement outlined that, to remain eligible for the scholarship programs, Agape needed to return more than $178,000 to Step Up and the state — money the school received from scholarship programs while it was not qualified to participate. The agreement also required the school to accept professional development for its staff and to participate in the Measures of Academic Progress assessment program to get a more timely picture of the academic progress of its students. Continue Reading →

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