Archive | Religious education

Voucher-friendly amendments won’t be on Florida’s 2018 ballot

Florida voters will not be voting this fall on whether to make the state constitution more amendable to school vouchers.

The state’s Constitution Revision Commission is still finalizing its proposals for the November ballot. But two proposals that might have drawn the attention of private school choice advocates won’t be in the mix.

One of those proposals would have struck Florida’s so-called Blaine Amendment. The debate around that now-scuttled proposal could hold insights for school choice advocates looking to overturn provisions in state constitutions that bar public aid to religious institutions.

Commissioner Roberto Martinez is a Miami lawyer who supported the proposal. He pointed to programs like a prison substance-abuse program that faced a legal challenge from the Council for Secular Humanism. Courts ultimately ruled the program’s faith-based providers do not violate Florida’s Blaine Amendment.

“I say this with all respect to the judges who were involved in those opinions. They performed legal jiu-jitsu in order to find the programs in effect constitutional, and not in violation of the no-aid provision, even though those programs provided aid to a religious organization,” Martinez said while debating the proposal last week.

If judges had blocked the program — which, he argued, the state constitution technically requires — they could have wound up on a collision course with the U.S. Supreme Court, which last year found it was unconstitutional to exclude religious schools from a program the helped fund safe playground equipment.

Since Florida judges kept the door open for faith-based substance-abuse services, the state’s “no-aid” provision remains safe from a federal challenge that could gut it — at least for now. Continue Reading →

Fla. Hare Krishna school gives lessons in service

A student meticulously counts beads at Bhaktivedanta Academy in Alachua, a Hare Krishna school

Alachua, Fla. – The art projects were distinct from most others. Students at Bhaktivedanta Academy had to use pieces of trash to create artwork weighing less than 50 pounds.

The project, Trashformations, was part of the 19th-annual student recycled art competition sponsored by the Alachua County Commission.

Students at the academy, which is rooted in the Hindu faith, worked tirelessly and won first place for their aquarium they built entirely out of discarded materials. They also garnered a third-place award for a city built out of similar material.

But the students did not complete the project to win awards or receive course credit. They wanted to bring awareness to the community of the need to recycle.

This was not their first community service project. Students at the academy have also collected food items and necessities for families in need, while others visited homebound individuals. Several students recently baked cupcakes, raising $296 for families in Puerto Rico.

David Aguilera, the school’s principal, said community projects are a central part of the Hare Krishna faith. The academy is open to students from diverse religious backgrounds, and it works to instill tenets like community service in all its students.

“The basic principle of Krishna Consciousness is we all have a relationship with God,” he said. “Our life purpose is to reestablish that relationship in loving service.” Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Education bills, guns in schools, flu closing and more

Legislative education bills: The Florida House and Senate release their education bills, revealing differences in per-student spending and the teacher bonuses program. The Senate proposes spending an additional $110 per student, while the House wants $100. Both are below Gov. Rick Scott’s $200 proposal. The Senate also puts $184 million into general operations for teacher pay raises, while the House wants to keep the Best and Brightest bonus program and spend $234 million on it. Other highlights of the Senate proposal include $88 million to remove the limit on the number of traditional public schools eligible for extra money under the Schools of Hope program, almost $18 million for teacher classroom supplies and $40 million for student mental health issues. The House’s 109-page proposal includes new scholarships for 3rd-graders who fail the state reading exam, an expansion of the powers of charter schools and networks, a cutback in computerized state testing and new accountability rules for private schools accepting tax credit scholarships. Gradebook (Senate). Gradebook (House). redefinED. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Meanwhile, the Senate release its higher education budget, which calls for a $383 million boost in spending. Tuesday, the House proposed cutting spending for universities and colleges by $217 million. Tampa Bay Times. WFSU.

Guns in schools: The Florida House Criminal Justice Committee approves bills that would allow people to carry guns in public schools and churches with schools. H.B. 621 would allow designated people, chosen by superintendents or principals, to carry concealed weapons in public schools. Those designated, who could be any school employee or even volunteers, would have to complete 40 hours of proficiency training. H.B. 1419 would allow concealed weapons in churches, synagogues or religious institutions, even if they have schools. Current law prohibits anyone from having a gun in a school. Sunshine State News. WFSU.

Flu closing district: All Gulf County schools will be closed Friday due to the widening flu outbreak. Superintendent Jim Norton says about 20 percent of students have missed school this week with the flu, and the district is running out of healthy substitute teachers and school bus drivers. Schools will be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized Friday. Other northwest Florida counties are also seeing more flu cases. Port St. Joe StarWMBB. WJHG. Destin Log.

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Florida’s ‘Blaine Amendment’ could be erased

By Lloyd Dunkelberger

News Service of Florida

A ban on state support for religious groups would be removed from the Florida Constitution under a proposal approved Wednesday by a Constitution Revision Commission panel.

In a 5-1 vote, the commission’s Declaration of Rights Committee endorsed a measure (Proposal 4) that would eliminate the Constitution’s so-called “no-aid” provision, which prohibits public funding “directly or indirectly” for any church, religious group or “sectarian institution.”

The no-aid provision, which dates to Florida’s 1885 Constitution, has been invoked in recent years in legal fights over using publicly funded vouchers to send students to private schools. A state appellate court in 2004 cited the provision in striking down a voucher program, though the Florida Supreme Court later found the program unconstitutional on other grounds.

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Florida schools roundup: Virtual school, dropouts, charter schools and more

Virtual school outreach: More than 20,000 Puerto Rican students displaced by Hurricane Maria will be offered free access to course offered by the Florida Virtual School, whether they’re at home or in Florida. “I am glad that Florida Virtual School has stepped up to help these families as they rebuild their lives,” says Gov. Rick Scott. “The state of Florida will continue to do all we can to help them during this challenging time.” The state is also encouraging all 67 school districts to accept displaced students. Many districts are already see enrollment of students from Puerto Rico and other areas hard-hit by the hurricane. WJHG. WFLA. WESH. WQAMMiami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. WWSB. WPLG. WUSF.

Dropout dollars: For-profit dropout recovery schools in Florida, Ohio and Illinois are aggressively recruiting at-risk students and counting them as enrolled even after they stop attending school in order to keep collecting public money, according to a review of public records and state auditors. Dropout recovery schools are enrolling an increasing number of struggling students who are offloaded by traditional high schools that want to keep test scores and graduation rates up. ProPublica.

Charter conversion: The Florida Department of Education has begun a process that could lead to the transfer of control of the Madison County Central School to a charter company. The state has informed the district it must reassign some teachers and form a community assessment team by Oct. 18. By Nov. 15, the school board would be presented three options: close the school, bring in an approved charter company to take over the school, or hire a charter company that is managed by the district. Superintendent Karen Pickles says the district-managed charter plan is the only acceptable option. Madison County Carrier.

Charter application: The Marion County School Board will vote Tuesday on a charter school application from Charter Schools USA. The for-profit charter company wants to build the Southeast Marion Charter School, which would start at K-6 with 615 students but add a grade in each of the first two years to top out at K-8 and 745 students. The company plans to build the school with state funds. If it fails, the property would be owned by Charter Schools USA. Ocala Star-Banner.

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Florida schools roundup: Retention and H.B. 7069 suits, DeVos visit and more

Retention lawsuit: Parents who launched a legal challenge against the state’s policies on 3rd-grade retention are now asking a court to dismiss the case. They had challenged the policy that required students to take the Florida Standards Assessments reading test to be eligible for promotion, regardless of their academic performance. But they lost that case, and an appeal for the Florida Supreme Court to consider it, largely on the question of venue. The state contended the suits should have been filed in local courts. Gradebook.

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: Leon County school officials won’t ask the school board to join the lawsuit challenging the state’s new education law, H.B. 7069. The Florida Association of District School Superintendents also says it will not join the suit, saying those decisions are for local school boards. Eleven school boards have voted to join the suing coalition. They say the new law is unconstitutional because the bill covers more than one subject, and it forces districts to share tax money with charter schools while stripping those districts of authority over charters. WFSU.

DeVos visit: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tours a private religious school and a charter school during a stop in Tallahassee, and touted the schools as “examples of what schools should aspire to be.” Her trip extends into today, when she will visit another private religious school. News Service of Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Miami HeraldUSA TodaySunshine State News. WFSU. Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna is critical of DeVos’ trip, saying “it’s insulting that she’s going to visit the capital of the state of Florida, to visit a charter school, a private school and a voucher school.” Tallahassee Democrat. DeVos gave no indication during her trip if the U.S. Department of Education would be receptive to Florida’s request for a waiver from requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Politico Florida.

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Catching up on nationwide private school enrollment trends

Editor’s note (Aug. 23): This post contains significant updates and corrections. The original version erroneously reported a drop in private school enrollment between 2013 and 2015. The error occurred because it compared 2013 data that included Pre-K students with 2015 data that did not. We regret this mistake. The revised post provides accurate year-to-year comparisons.

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.

Here’s what the numbers from the 2015-16 school year show.

Enrollment in private schools reversed its decline. In addition, there were more private schools and more private school teachers.

Between 2013 and 2015, the number of students rose 7 percent, to 4,903,596.

The number of teachers rose faster, by 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 fell in that category.

Enrollment in faith-based schools is growing. But enrollment in Catholic schools was close to flat. It increased by a little more than half of one percent. Enrollment other religious chools grew faster — by nearly 13 percent during the same period. Non-sectarian schools, meanwhile, grew by nearly 10 percent.

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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 →