Archive | Private Schools

Catching up on nationwide private school enrollment trends

The U.S. Department of Education is out this week with a new report on private school data from across the country. The last such data came out two years ago. Here’s what the numbers from the 2015-16 school year show.

Enrollment in private schools continued to decline. And yet, there were more private schools and more private school teachers.

Between 2013 and 2015, the number of students fell 9 percent, to 4,903,596.

But the number of teachers rose about nine percent, to 481,558.

Meanwhile, the number of schools jumped by nearly 1,000, to 34,576.

This factoid might be related. In the fall of 2013, roughly 36 percent of private schools had fewer than 50 students. Two years later, 46 percent of private schools were in that category.

Enrollment in faith-based schools is still falling. It dropped by just over 6 percent from the fall of 2013 to 2015. But enrollment in “nonsectarian” schools is falling faster. It dropped by more than 18 percent during the same period.

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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 →


Siblings from Argentina adjust and thrive thanks to school choice scholarships

In a three-year span, Mariel Ubfal’s world fell apart. Her husband died. She moved her family to the United States. Then she watched as her children struggled in school.

The move from Argentina to America came in 2008, three years after Mariel’s husband died from cancer. At the time, all four of her children were under the age of 10. “Leaving was not easy,” Mariel said. “But I knew this was the right decision for my kids.”

Starting over wasn’t easy, either.

Being unemployed and underemployed for the first few years, Mariel struggled to pay bills and, at times, even to feed her kids. As if that wasn’t enough, her children began having behavioral and academic issues in their neighborhood schools – something that never happened in Argentina.

After moving to Miami from Argentina, the Mohadeb kids — Agustin, Barbara, Matias, and Sebastian — attended Hebrew Academy in Miami on Florida tax credit scholarships.

Troubles first hit her three eldest – Matias, Agustin, and Barbara Mohadeb.

Matias hated school because he struggled learning a new language. In eighth grade, he earned D’s and F’s and routinely got into fights. Agustin was held back in sixth grade for poor academics. Barbara failed fifth grade because she did not speak the language.

Mariel felt desperate. She called the school and tried setting up meetings with her sons’ teachers, but that proved difficult.

“Maybe it was the language barrier, I’m not sure, but I wasn’t able to help my kids succeed at their local school,” she said.

Mariel searched for a better option and found a school that felt like home, but couldn’t afford the tuition. Then a friend told her about the Florida tax credit scholarships. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps provide the scholarships to more than 100,000 low-income and working-lcass students.)

It was “the answer to my prayers,” she said.

In 2010, Matias, then 15, and Agustin, then 13, began ninth and seventh grade respectively at Hebrew Academy.

The school is smaller and more family-oriented than their previous schools, Mariel said, and its teachers are more accessible to parents. The curriculum is rigorous and the school has high expectation for student academics and parental involvement, she said.

Progress didn’t happen immediately. Matias’s behavior was terrible in the beginning. At one point, he refused to go to his new school, and Mariel couldn’t get him out of bed. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Teacher pay, funding formula, tax holiday and more

Teacher pay: Teachers at Memorial Middle School in Orlando will be paid $20,000 more this year as the Orange County School District tries to entice top teachers to turn around the persistently low-performing school. If a state grant can’t be obtained, the district will cover the extra costs. Officials say teachers at five other struggling schools also would get the extra pay if the district gets the grant. Only teachers rated effective or highly effective are eligible for the extra pay, and they’ll have to work an extra 30 minutes a day. Orlando Sentinel. Florida ranks 43rd among states and U.S. territories in average teacher pay at $47,256, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from May 2016. The only states with lower pay than Florida are Arkansas, Idaho, West Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona, South Dakota, Mississippi and Oklahoma. Alaska is No. 1 at $74,122. Tallahassee Democrat.

Funding formula fight: Volusia County School Board chairwoman Melody Johnson makes a personal appeal to the Pasco County School Board to join the fight against the state’s district cost differential (DCD) portion of the school funding formula. She says 55 of the state’s 67 counties have lost money to the DCD, which gives urban districts more money to cover the higher costs of living. Johnson says Pasco has lost $53 million since 2003. Pasco board members asked Superintendent Kurt Browning to investigate and make a recommendation. Gradebook.

Back to school: The back-to-school sales tax holiday begins at 12:01 Friday and runs through 11:59 p.m. Sunday. The National Retail Federation says the average family with children in K-12 schools spends $687 on clothes and school supplies. News Service of Florida. Sunshine State NewsLakeland Ledger. Bradenton Herald. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. Keynoter. WFLA. WTSP. Florida schools open soon, and some new laws focused on school traffic are in effect. Palm Beach Post. Do school dress codes discriminate against girls? WFSU.

School branding: In an era of school choice, school branding is becoming increasingly important, say some school officials. Education Dive.

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For 83 years, a North Fla. private school helped black students excel

Far from the public eye, a North Florida private school for black students survived for 83 years against the odds.

From its humble beginnings as a log cabin in 1868 until its closure in 1951, Fessenden Academy endured thanks to the grit of the students and the entrepreneurial verve of its leaders. Over the decades it fought to preserve its academic identity, won praise for the achievement of its students, weathered the mysterious disappearance of a key leader and survived to become one of the longest-lived educational institutions of an era when missionary aid societies and wealthy industrialists swooped in to fill a void left by the public school system.

Its achievements were all the more remarkable given that a crucial part of its mission — the education of black children — was not only neglected by the public, but made difficult by politicians seeking to enforce racial segregation and white supremacy. And yet, it successfully courted the support of the some of the same public officials who oppressed similar institutions during the Jim Crow era.

Florida's state constitution of 1885 erased the gains black Floridians made following the Civil War and constructed a single-party state built on the idea of white supremacy.

Although it’s not always considered part of traditional Dixie, racial tensions ran high in Florida and life for black residents was harsh. According to Historian David H. Jackson Jr., there were more lynchings per person in Florida between 1880 and 1930 than anywhere else in the South.

White residents, hostile to the idea of using tax dollars to provide an education for black students, were slow to build public schools for the black community. They fought to keep tax dollars from black and white residents segregated.

Florida's first elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, William N. Sheats, wrote racial segregation into the state's constitution. Over the course of his tenure, he forbade public schools from hiring teachers educated at racially integrated colleges, labored to shut down Florida's first desegregated private school and ordered the arrest of three Catholic sisters for the crime of teaching black students.

More than a third of the 20th century would pass before a majority of black students in Florida had access to a public school. Religious aid societies like the American Missionary Association (AMA) and wealthy benefactors stepped into that void to provide black students an education while the political majority would not.

This is the story of Fessenden Academy, a private school in rural Marion County, Florida, that educated black students for 83 years and became the last secondary school in the United States operated by the AMA.

From humble beginnings

Union School, as it was originally called, began in a humble log-cabin constructed entirely by local black families and financed by Thomas B. Ward in 1868. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charter audits, discipline disparities and more

Discipline disparities. Black students make up 44 percent of Duval County's student body, but account for some 80 percent of its suspensions. Florida Times-Union.

Charter school audits. State financial audits find internal weaknesses at 94 charter schools. Gainesville Sun.

Private school ordinance. A prestigious Miami-Dade private school runs afoul of a city-imposed enrollment cap. City of Pinecrest officials learned Gulliver Prep had understated its enrollment by more than 100 students. Miami Herald.

HB 7069. Pasco County school board members aren't contemplating joining a lawsuit challenging a major education law. For one thing, they worry about political consequences. At most, they're in what one member calls "wait and research mode." Tampa Bay Times. St. John's County legislators, including likely future House Speaker Paul Renner, discuss the bill at a local forum. St. Augustine Record.

School improvement. School board members call for change at two long-struggling Volusia County schools. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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Florida schools roundup: Help for failing schools, H.B. 7069 challenge and more

Help for failing schools: Ninety-three failing Florida schools can apply to the state for up to $2,000 more per student to fund such services as after-school programs and community partnerships, the Department of Education announces. The schools are eligible through the “schools of hope” provision of H.B. 7069 because they have received grades below a C from the state for the past two years. They have less than a month to apply, and only 25 will get the money because of a cap limiting payouts to $58 million of the $140 million set aside by the law. The rest will go to charter schools that set up within 5 miles of the failing schools. Miami Herald.

H.B. 7069 suit: The Palm Beach County School Board votes unanimously to support a proposal to sue the state over the new education law, H.B. 7069. Board attorneys were directed to research the best way to challenge the law, which increases money for charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools and limits local districts’ authority over charters. Board members say they may not join a proposed lawsuit by Broward and St. Lucie counties. Board member Frank Barbieri says separate suits could make a defense harder for the state. “If we are going to sue, which we certainly should, we should make it as difficult and painful for the state Legislature as they have made it for us to operate this school district, the highest performing large urban school district in Florida,” he said. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. The Florida Charter School Alliance says Palm Beach County Superintendent Robert Avossa signaled an intention to “wage war” on charter schools when he urged the school board to join the lawsuit. Lynn Norman-Teck, executive director of the alliance, says the board should remember that charter schools and their students are in the public school system. Palm Beach Post.

Duval may join suit: Duval County School Board members ask Jacksonville’s city attorney to investigate how much it would cost to sue the state over H.B. 7069 or join the current movement toward a suit by Broward and St. Lucie counties, the likelihood of success, and whether the city would join the board in the suit. At least six Duval schools are in danger of being closed or turned over to charter companies under the new law. Other districts that have discussed joining the suit are Pinellas, Palm Beach, Sarasota, Manatee and Alachua. Florida Times-UnionWJCTWJXT.
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Florida’s private schools are growing at a faster rate

Florida’s private schools saw their biggest enrollment growth in 15 years.

Enrollment grew by 22,525 PreK-12 students in the 2016-17 school year. That’s a 6.5 percent increase over the previous year and the second-highest enrollment growth since 2000. According to the new report from the Florida Department of Education, private school students now make up 11.6 percent of all preK-12 students in Florida.

Enrollment ranged from 0 students in rural Liberty County to 76,022 in Miami-Dade. Continue Reading →