Archive | Parent empowerment

Army of choice parents is growing in strength

Parents in their orange “parent power” shirts gather outside the Miami-Dade County School Board.

Though 1.7 million students in Florida now choose their schools, their parents’ voices are sometimes ignored by policymakers. We at the Florida Parent Network are changing that, and a new partnership promises to strengthen our army.

The new pact, which combines the organizing and communications efforts of the Florida Parent Network, the Florida Charter School Alliance and Charter Schools USA, breaks new ground in the parental empowerment movement.

In other states, the movement is often splintered between those who advocate for private school scholarships and those who support charter schools – and, for that matter, those who take advantage of other educational options. This agreement signals that Florida is taking a different path.

To date, the Parent Network has drawn primarily from those who choose three different private school scholarships that last year served 139,00 students with economic disadvantage and special needs. FPN has now joined forces with charter schools, which 280,000 students chose last year. Continue Reading →

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Fla. House advances wide-ranging education bill

The Florida House has combined a wide range of education initiatives into a single bill, triggering an intensely partisan debate over the future of public education.

The revised HB 7055, approved this morning by the Appropriations Committee, adds components the House has debated elsewhere to an already-substantial education bill.

Among other things, the initial bill would:

  • Allow school districts to create new “autonomous” public school networks.
  • Create a new scholarship program to help attend public-school students who struggle with reading*.
  • Tighten oversight of private school choice programs.

Some key additions include: Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: A call for reform, teacher pay, KIPP and more

A call for reform: Legislators and local school officials are calling for better oversight of private schools that get millions of dollars from the state’s three scholarship programs. A series in the Orlando Sentinel last week detailed how some of those schools hired uncertified teachers with criminal backgrounds and submitted falsified fire reports for years without the state taking action against them. State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, remains a supporter of the tax credit, Gardiner and McKay scholarships, but agrees that “there’s some place between no regulation and over-regulation.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher pay: Gov. Rick Scott has pushed for higher teacher pay in the past, but now is saying that the decision is out of his hands. “The way our system is set up in our state those decisions are made at the local level,” Scott said during a discussion with teachers. “What I tell everybody is, ‘You have to be active with your school board members, your superintendents.’ ” Associated Press. Scott did say that his budget proposal will include $63 million for teachers to help buy classroom supplies, an increase of $18 million over last year. That would bump the $250 a year teachers receive for supplies to $350. WTLV.

‘Schools of hope’: The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) charter school network is working on establishing a “school of hope” in the Liberty City area of Miami. The tentative agreement calls for the Miami-Dade County School Board to provide KIPP Miami with a facility, and KIPP would receive a state grant to help disadvantaged students and share its training programs with the district. The “schools of hope” program was set up by the Legislature to offer financial incentives so charter companies could move into neighborhoods with persistently struggling schools. KIPP is the nation’s largest nonprofit charter school network. redefinED.

Continue Reading →

Parents, teachers support converting Fla. Gulf Coast school to a charter

When Kevin Jackson learned about a grassroots effort to convert his daughter’s middle school to a charter, he became newly hopeful about improving student achievement. In recent years, the Manatee County school has mostly been stuck at a “C” letter grade or below.

“I am so excited for my community and for the parents,” he said. Lincoln Middle School “has developed a negative stigma as far as the area. Now we get an opportunity to compete with the best.”

Jackson said the charter school would have more flexibility to create programs tailored to students’ needs. About 44 percent of the school’s population is Latino, he said, and every student is on free and reduced lunch.

“A charter would allow us to venture outside the box to give our Hispanic population different resources,” he said.

If the change takes place, Lincoln will join 22 other schools that also converted to charters with a majority vote from parents and teachers.

Florida law allows parents and teachers to convert any traditional public school to a charter by petition. But that rarely happens. In some places, administrators and teachers have faced retaliation for aiding conversion efforts, even though the law protects them.

In Manatee County, however, at some key officials support the change. Their district is home to one past charter conversion, and it looks like a success. Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication did well as an elementary school, and it’s set to add middle grades this fall.

At Lincoln, the principal, a teacher and parents argue such a change will enable the school to better serve its population while providing more autonomy and accountability.

A call to change

Concerns about Lincoln’s performance prompted teachers and parents to come together to lobby for change. Nearly 70 percent of students perform below grade level. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Capital for charter schools, a hack attack and more

Charter schools: Florida charter schools could get an extra $96.3 million from school districts that will now have to share the tax money they collect for capital projects, according to Florida House estimates. That’s nearly 7 percent of the money school districts could have after debt service is subtracted, as H.B. 7069 stipulates. The $96.3 million is a maximum  estimate, says Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. Charter schools need to meet certain academic and financial standards and have been operating for two or more years to be eligible for the money. Miami-Dade and Broward will be among the districts hardest hit in sheer dollars, but tiny Sumter and Franklin counties will have the highest percentages of shared dollars, at 33 and 24 percent, respectively. Miami Herald. Manatee and Sarasota counties are two of the counties that will have share higher percentages of their capital funding with charter schools under the new education law. Sarasota is third in the state at 13.54 percent, and Manatee is 11th at 9.26 percent. Manatee School Superintendent Diana Greene says the district will continue with plans to build three new schools, but the law could have an impact on smaller projects. Bradenton Herald. Wayman Academy of the Arts is one of five charter schools in Duval County to earn an A grade  from the state this year. The school, which draws its students from a poor neighborhood in Jacksonville, now has received every possible grade from the state in its 17-year existence. Florida Times-Union.

District hacked: The St. Lucie County School District’s Twitter account was hacked last week, and several racially charged messages were posted and stayed online for more than nine hours before being removed. The cyberattack was just one of several against school districts around the United States, according to St. Lucie School Superintendent Wayne Gent. School officials are unhappy with the difficulty they had contacting Twitter and its response time. “It took way too long,” Gent said. “It should’ve been done immediately.” TCPalm.

Fighting failure: As the 2016-2017 school year began, another first year of a rebuilding process began at Fairmount Park Elementary School. It had a new principal, new and inexperienced teachers, and a history of failure. Fairmount is located in a poor St. Petersburg neighborhood and in 2014, was one of five city elementary schools labeled a “failure factory.” But this year it had a plan, and better resources, and hope. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: S.B. 374 veto, charters, new report cards and more

S.B. 374 veto: Gov. Rick Scott vetoes the Legislature’s higher education bill, S.B. 374, saying it shortchanges community colleges. “While the bill makes positive changes to several State University System programs, and there are many provisions I think would be good for students, it does so at the expense of the Florida College System,” Scott wrote in his veto letter. The bill, the top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also includes a significant expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship program. That and other programs that expand financial aid won’t be affected this year because they’re also embedded in the overall budget bill, says Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. Scott is urging legislators to make the Bright Futures changes permanent during next year’s session. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of FloridaFlorida Politics. Politico Florida. Sunshine State News. The governor signs 28 other bills, including a measure to study school crossings for potential safety improvements. Palm Beach Post.

H.B. 7069: Despite reports that Gov. Scott will sign H.B. 7069 today in Orlando, State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, is holding out hope that the bill will be vetoed and reworked. Gradebook. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor, says he remains troubled by the secret process used to put together the education bill. Tampa Bay Times. Here’s a summary of some of the things that will happen if H.B. 7069 is signed. Palm Beach Post. Brevard County school officials say they’re behind in the budget process because they still doesn’t know how much money they’ll be getting from the state. Florida Today. The Volusia County School District should receive about $4.5 million more than expected from the state, after the increases approved in the legislative special session, but school officials say they still face a $2.42 million budget deficit. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Charlotte County School District will receive about 1.7 percent more per student than originally expected from the state. Charlotte Sun.

Charters win in court: A circuit judge rules that five charter schools in Indian River County are entitled to their fair share of a tax approved by voters and collected by the school district for operations. The charters have received about 5 percent of the tax since the 2013-2014 school year, as determined by the school board, but contended they deserved 12 percent. The judge agreed, saying the charter schools should receive a proportional amount based on enrollment. The school board will have to decide whether to appeal. TCPalm. The ruling could have implications for Palm Beach County. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: No names in bills, alternative schools and more

Bill drops name: A bill that would prohibit Florida high school students from leaving campuses for lunch won’t bear the name of a Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School girl who was killed in a car crash during lunch off campus in 1999. Sen. Rene Hialeah, R-Hialeah, removed the name of Mayra Capote from his bill at the request of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who said he didn’t want bills named after people because it puts lawmakers in an awkward spot if they want to oppose them. Miami Herald.

Legislative issues: The expansion of school choice programs, cutbacks in testing and the expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship program are among the top issues to watch in this year legislative session, which begins in a week. Orlando Weekly. WFSU.

District denies report: Orange County School District officials deny a ProPublica report last week that the district is using alternative schools to hide struggling, problem students who might otherwise drag down a school’s graduation rate, test scores and grade. Spokespersons for the district and Accelerated Learning Solutions, a for-profit charter school management company that manages five charter alternative schools in the county, say students choose the alternative schools. One of the schools mentioned in the report, Sunshine High School, is up for contract renewal. District staff is recommending the school board approve the renewal at today’s meeting. Orlando Sentinel.

District criticized: Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit group that monitors financial performances of institutions, is criticizing the Broward County School District for construction delays and overruns in its $800 million bond program to upgrade schools. County voters approved the bond in 2014, but many projects expected to be under construction by 2015 still haven’t begun. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Recess, charters, alternative schools and more

Recess bill advances: A bill requiring mandatory daily recess of at least 20 minutes for all Florida K-5 students passes the state Senate Education Committee. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said the bill showed “the power of advocacy, of parents” who pushed legislators to act when local school boards would not. The bill now goes to the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations Committee for consideration. Miami HeraldAssociated PressFlorida Politics.

Charter facilities funding: The Senate Education Committee approves a bill that would send a proportional share of a district’s property tax revenue to charter schools based on enrollment, with more money attached for those schools that have large low-income or special needs populations. But a second bill that would have increase districts’ local tax authority is delayed. Supporters say the measures need to move forward together to allow districts to catch up on construction that’s been backlogged since the recession. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Hidden dropouts: Alternative schools increasingly are being used by public schools as places to hide struggling, problem students who might otherwise drag down a school’s graduation rate, test scores and grade, according to an investigation by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism website. The Orange County School District is one of 83 U.S. school districts that bumped its graduate rate by at least a percentage point between 2010 and 2014 by sending an increasing number of students into alternative schools. ProPublica.

Florida 4th in AP: Florida ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of students taking and passing at least one Advanced Placement course, according to the College Board, the organization that runs the AP program. In Florida’s class of 2016, 29.5 percent passed at least one AP exam. That’s over the national average of 21.9 percent and 11 percentage points better than 10 years ago. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →