The week in school choice: Signals

This week, President-elect Donald Trump sent a strong signal when he announced he would choose longtime school choice advocate Betsy DeVos as his education secretary.

She’s drawn praise and congratulations from parental choice supporters (including some who oppose Trump) and concern over her role in Michigan’s charter school debate. But she’s often cited a different state (Florida!) as a model for the nation.

As hyperbolic headlines and speculation swirl, Derrell Bradford tries to focus on what really matters.

As we’ve heard since the DeVos announcement on Wednesday, some education pundits seem to believe that supporting vouchers is dooming the republic; that there is some larger good served by state-run school monopolies where low-income kids have the least leverage and the least opportunity. Though his support of charter schools has been laudable, one of these people, President Obama, currently sits in the White House. I’ve always found the president’s blind spot on private-school choice troubling given his own schooling, which included St. Francis of Assisi and the prestigious Punahou School in Honolulu, which he attended from grades five to 12 — on a scholarship. Though he is not the first political figure to ignore that his own life and success were profoundly affected by a private school, his lapse on this issue may be the most profound given his role as the country’s first black president. I’ve agreed with the president on a great many things, but in denying children the same opportunities we both had, we will disagree violently and always.

Much of Trump’s education agenda still lacks specifics. So what does a conservative plan that promotes school choice without dictating policy to states look like? Congressman Luke Messer talked about that on a recent podcast. DeVos is a longtime ally of Vice President-elect Mike Pence, whom Messer replaced in Congress.


Some parts of Trump’s agenda that aren’t explicitly about education stoke fear among students.

Will teachers unions change course after across-the-board election losses? Probably not. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Homework, new tests, spending oversight and more

florida-roundup-logoHomework fight: Miami-Dade teachers and parents spar at a school board meeting over the amount of homework students are being given. Parents say too much is being assigned, cutting into family time. Teachers say the homework is needed because testing takes too much instruction time away from students. Miami Herald.

Testing transformation: Pinellas County school officials say younger students at struggling elementary schools are doing much better in new literacy tests than students in third, fourth and fifth grades. The differences are most apparent on language arts tests. Officials credit the use of biweekly tests, which are helping teachers see how well they’ve taught to the state standards and to catch students’ weaknesses earlier. Tampa Bay Times.

Spending oversight: The Broward County School District is asking the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Education to oversee the district’s spending of $800 million it is receiving from a voter-approved bond to renovate schools. Sun-Sentinel.

Students from Cuba: The Miami-Dade County School District is preparing for a “potential influx of child and adult learners” emigrating from Cuba after the death of Fidel Castro on Friday, says Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. CNN.

Education secretary: Betsy DeVos, a strong advocate of school choice with deep Florida ties, is nominated to be President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of education. redefinED. News Talk Florida. Politico Florida. Education Week. Groups that oppose the Common Core school standards are unhappy with the selection of DeVos as education secretary, even though she is now saying she does not support the standards. Sunshine State News. What will education in Florida look like with Donald Trump as president? Tampa Bay Times.

Continue Reading →


Trump’s U.S. Education Secretary pick: A choice advocate with Florida ties

President-elect Donald Trump wants a prominent school choice advocate to be the next U.S. Secretary of Education.

His decision to appoint Betsy DeVos, the chairman of the American Federation for Children, is widely being interpreted as a sign the Trump administration, along with a friendly Republican Congress, will use federal policy to aggressively push for expanded educational choice.

DeVos has some notable Florida ties. Among other things, her family owns the Orlando Magic.

And in interviews, including this one, she has often held up the Sunshine State’s choice approach as a model.

“I always cite Florida as, really, the furthest along in terms of providing the widest range of choices and the greatest access to those choices of any state in the country, and from a political standpoint, having real bipartisan support for these choices,” she said in an interview last year with Ed Pozzuoli, a South Florida attorney who’s a big backer of charter schools.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that former Governor Jeb Bush is a fan of the pick. Democrats for Education Reform, meanwhile, sharply criticized some of Trump’s positions but applauded DeVos’ support for charter schools.


Scholarship supporters ask Florida high court to decline school choice case

Power of Choice sign

If a lawsuit challenging the nation’s largest private school choice program succeeds, it could prompt “drastic” changes in Florida law and cast doubt on other policies that encourage charitable giving, lawyers for scholarship parents argue in newly filed court papers.

The parents have intervened in the lawsuit challenging Florida’s tax credit scholarship program. They want the state Supreme Court to deny the statewide teachers union’s request to hear an appeal of two lower court rulings, which held the groups supporting the lawsuit do not have standing to bring the case.

This stage of the case deals only with whether the plaintiffs have standing, and not the constitutional merits of the program.

This school year, the scholarship program helps roughly 95,000 low-income and working-class children afford private school tuition. Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog and pays my salary, helps administer the scholarships.

The program allows companies that donate to scholarship organizations like Step Up to receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits. Both a Leon County circuit judge and a unanimous panel on the First District Court of Appeal ruled the case should be dismissed, noting the Florida Education Association and other plaintiffs could not show the program harms public schools, and that the scholarships are not funded out of the state treasury.

In legal briefs filed today and signed by Howard Coker, a past president of the Florida Bar Association, lawyers for the parents write that courts have allowed church groups to use government buildings and the state to offer tax deductions for charitable contributions. Citing a ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court, they contend that those long-standing practices could face new scrutiny if a court finds tax credits are essentially the same as public funds and allows the Florida lawsuit to proceed. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Speaker rips teachers union, ESOL grant and more

florida-roundup-logoSpeaker attacks union: In his opening address, new Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, condemns the state’s largest teachers union for “destroying the lives” of children by fighting school choice expansion. He said the Florida Education Association’s actions to have the state’s tax credit scholarship program declared unconstitutional are “evil, disgusting and repugnant,” and called on union leaders to drop the lawsuit. House Democratic leader Janet Cruz of Tampa said she didn’t expect Corcoran to “villainize” teachers on the day he was sworn in. Corcoran’s wife Anne is the founder of a charter school in Pasco County. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay Times. Sunshine State News. Politico Florida. WFSU. Florida Times-Union. Miami Herald. News Service of Florida.

ESOL assistance: The Duval County School District will benefit from a $2.2 million federal grant that will help the University of North Florida train 160 more English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) teachers and paraprofessionals over the next five years. The need has exploded in the county. In 1990 there were 600 ESOL students. By 2010 that had grown to 6,000 students representing 130 countries and 100 languages. Florida Times-Union.

New school officials: Two new members and one re-elected one are sworn in as Pinellas County School Board members. All seven members of the board are women. Gradebook. The Pasco County School Board reorganizes, chooses new leadership and immediately hears from parents who are angry about proposed school boundary charges. Gradebook. The now seven-member Lee County School Board is sworn in, elects new leadership and votes to name a new high school Bonita Springs High School. It opens next fall. Fort Myers News-Press. New school board members are sworn in and new leaders chosen in several other school districts. Lakeland Ledger. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton HeraldOcala Star Banner. Citrus County Chronicle. Daily CommercialOrlando Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Florida Times-Union. Florida Times-Union. Florida Today. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: PTA drops out, academies in peril, home visits and more

florida-roundup-logoPTA drops out of suit: The Florida PTA has dropped out of the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s tax credit scholarship program. PTA officials say they still oppose the scholarships, but will direct their focus elsewhere. The Florida Education Association, state NAACP and other groups are continuing an appeal of a court ruling that they do not have standing to sue over the program. Step Up For Students, which sponsors this blog, helps administer the program. Politico Florida.

Nurse shortage: Orange County schools are struggling with a shortage of nurses. The district has just one registered nurse per 3,836 students, which is far below the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation of one nurse per school. Bringing the district up to that standard would cost about $3 million a year. Orlando Sentinel.

Academies in peril: Four single-gender academies are losing money and have until Dec. 12 to submit turnaround plans to the Duval County School District. Valor Academy of Leadership, a middle and high school for boys, and Virtue Arts and Science Academy, a middle and high school for girls, have collectively spent about $330,000 more than they’ve collected as of the end of September. Officials from Profectus Learning Systems, the school’s nonprofit operator, say enrollment isn’t what they expected it to be. Florida Times-Union.

Home visits: Carlton Palmore Elementary principal Badonna Dardis sends flyers to parents offering to visit one student’s home a month. She got 226 responses, which is more than half the enrollment at the Lakeland school. Visiting each of the 226 would take Dardis 18 years. Lakeland Ledger. Continue Reading →


Florida PTA drops out of lawsuit against school choice program

Breaking news from POLITICO tonight:

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s statewide teachers’ union is losing an ally in its quest to eradicate a voucher-like scholarship program thati lets poor kids attend private schools.

The Florida PTA is dropping out of the Florida Education Association’s lawsuit over the 15-year-old program, in which corporations save on their tax bills by funding the scholarships.

The PTA joined the FEA, as well as the state’s chapter of the NAACP and others, in challenging the constitutionality of the policy. But, under a new president and board of directors, the advocacy group representing parents and teachers has decided not to participate going forward.

Full story here.


A new approach to Catholic schooling spreads to South Florida

As Kayla Yaks advanced at St. Luke Catholic School in Palm Springs, Fla., she developed a passion for art and a plan for what she wanted to do after eighth grade.

She’s hoping for a coveted slot at Dreyfoos School of the Arts, one of the most sought-after magnet programs in the Palm Beach County school district.

But Kayla said this year, she noticed some changes at her school – changes that got her thinking beyond high school.

This fall, St. Luke officially became a Notre Dame ACE Academy, part of a national effort to revitalize Catholic schooling.

Kayla Yaks

Eighth-grader Kayla Yaks is learning to set long-range goals, including preparing for college.

There were signs of change students could see. Posters hung around the PreK-8 campus encouraged them to think about a pair of long-range goals: college and heaven. Teachers attended a summer workshop in South Bend, which helped instill a belief that each of their students is capable of reaching both.

There may have been bigger changes happening behind the scenes, but just a few months into the school year, the culture shift had made an impression.

“It showed me that I should have more than one goal, and I can go forward and do something higher than what I just accomplished,” Kayla said.

The emphasis on goal-setting and college attendance would seem familiar to anyone who’s visited a charter school run by an organization like KIPP. But the similarities don’t end there. Continue Reading →