Archive | Religious education

Florida schools roundup: Special session, testing, prayer case and more

Special session: A proposal to change the way K-12 schools are funded fails in the Senate, and the chamber appears to be closer to agreeing to the House’s spending plan for K-12 education. But the special session could collapse over a dispute about spending for higher education. Speaker Richard Corcoran says the House will not join the Senate in overriding Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of about $75 million in projects for colleges and universities, as Senate President Joe Negron has demanded. His escalating feud with Negron over education priorities and the agreement Scott and Corcoran reached last week is threatening to sink the special session. Today is the final scheduled day. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay TimesPolitico FloridaMiami Herald. News Service of Florida. Palm Beach PostFlorida Politics. Gradebook. redefinED. Sunshine State NewsPolitico Florida.

State testing results: Florida sophomores post a 62 percent pass rate on the Florida Standards Assessments algebra 1 exam, up 7 percentage points over last year’s performance, say Florida Department of Education officials. There was no change in the 50 percent pass rate on the language arts exams. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Department of Education. WJXTHere are reports on testing results, and potential effects of those results, from districts and schools around the state. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Florida Times-UnionGradebook. GradebookBradenton Herald. Fort Myers News-Press. Gainesville SunOcala Star Banner. Florida Today. Lakeland Ledger. TCPalm. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Flagler Live. Panama City News Herald. WFLAOnly 11 percent of Florida’s high school seniors who had to retake the algebra 1 end-of-course test passed it, according to the Florida Department of Education. GradebookPolitico Florida.

Prayer court decision: A federal judge rules against a Tampa Christian school that claimed its free speech rights were violated when the Florida High School Athletic Association did not allow it to broadcast a prayer before a football game. The FHSAA denied Cambridge Christian School’s request to use a stadium loudspeaker for a prayer before a state championship football game in 2015, saying allowing it would have implied an endorsement of the message. The federal judge’s decision concluding the school had no right to broadcast the prayer concurred with the recommendation from a magistrate judge in February. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Veto override, special session bickering and more

Education bill: The Florida Senate votes to override Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of the K-12 education bill. Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, says the vote is “an insurance policy” to keep schools operating after June 30 in case no agreement can be reached on education spending during the special session. That seems increasingly possible, as Senate and House leaders continue to bicker over details of the bill and other issues. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. News Service of FloridaFlorida Politics. Miami Herald. Associated PressPolitico Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, proposes using $215 million earmarked in H.B. 7069 for teacher bonuses and charter schools to increase funding for public schools. Miami HeraldPolitico Florida. redefinED. School officials in Volusia, Flagler, Lee and Levy counties like some aspects of the education bill, but are urging Gov. Scott to veto it primarily because of the additional money that would go to charter schools. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Fort Myers News-Press. Cedar Key Beacon. Manatee County school officials worry about the education bill’s restrictions on how districts can spend federal Title I money. Bradenton Herald.

Early-release days: Brevard County school officials want to move early-release days from Wednesdays to Fridays. They say the proposal would help students who are dual-enrolled at Eastern Florida State College, which doesn’t hold classes on Fridays. The district and the teachers union must agree on the proposed change. Florida Today. WKMG.

Ex-principal defended: Pinellas County School Board member Linda Lerner defends a principal who made racially charged comments and has since retired. Lerner says Christine Hoffman, formerly the principal at the mostly black Campbell Park Elementary School in St. Petersburg, made a mistake by telling the staff working on student class assignments that the school’s “white students should be in the same class.” Lerner said: “Sometimes white people say something racially insensitive. … One mistake should not ruin a career.” Gradebook. Continue Reading →


Private schools enroll ‘the historically un-favored’

Private school leaders (Gant, second from left and Grammer, first from right) talk including at the American Federation for Children gathering.

From think tank reports to protests that greeted Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in Indianapolis, a common thread binds many of the most stringent objections to vouchers and other school choice programs.

The arguments go something like this. Private schools don’t serve all students. They exclude vulnerable students. They contribute to racial segregation, and, in the wake of Brown v. Board, hatched voucher-like programs to evade integration.

Leaders of private schools that have begun to enroll tens of thousands of students who use vouchers to pay tuition see things differently. Most private school choice programs are aimed either at low-income students or those with special needs. Turning to these programs to boost enrollment has prompted some private schools to re-examine their identities as exclusive institutions.

“We’re in a new phase,” Vernard Gant, director of the ACE Student Success Center with the Association of Christian Schools international, said during a panel discussion hosted by the American Federation for Children. “Most of the growth that we’re now seeing in the Christian school movement is now happening among this very diverse student population.” Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Budget fight, choice, top teachers and more

Budget battle: Gov. Rick Scott again hints that he’s considering vetoing the $83 billion state budget, calling it the result of “backroom deals.” “I am beginning to review the budget and I have the option of vetoing the entire budget or vetoing the items that circumvented the transparent process and do not have an acceptable return on investment for hardworking taxpayers,” said Scott. Governors often use line-item vetoes, but not since Lawton Chiles in 1992 has a governor vetoed the entire budget. Scott began signing bills Tuesday. Palm Beach Post. Tampa Bay Times. WFSU. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham calls the budget “education-eviscerating,” and she joins school districts and officials in calling on Scott to veto it. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. Florida PoliticsLakeland Ledger. Gradebook. Here are nine ways Florida schools will change if the education bill is signed into law. Tampa Bay Times. Several legislators missed the vote on the education bill because they were eating lunch or using the bathroom. Miami Herald.

School choice bills: School choice was a winner in this year’s legislative session. Among the bills passed were financial incentives to attract charter schools, more money for tax credit scholarships, broadened eligibility for scholarship money students with disabilities, and money to charters for construction. redefinED. WFSU.

Other education bills: Among the less-noticed education bills that were passed during this legislative session were measures to expand scholarship programs for low-income students and those with disabilities, a state study of best practices for middle schools, and rules allowing parents and community members to challenge classroom textbooks and materials. Some that didn’t pass include an attempt to allow computer coding class to be counted as a foreign language requirement, a move to bring minimum teacher salaries to the national average, and a bill to end mandatory retention of third-graders based on state reading tests. Gradebook. Lake County School Board members express disappointment that the Legislature didn’t provide more relief from standardized testing. Daily Commercial.

Budget-cutting: Changes in the way the state distributes federal Title I funds will force Duval County school officials to cut deeper than they’d like in programs at their high-poverty schools. Previously, the funds came into the district, which could then decide where best to spend the money. Under the education bill passed by the Legislature, the money will be spread around to more schools and go directly to the schools. Florida Times-Union. Volusia County school officials say they have a $7 million gap between expected revenue and expenses for the 2017-2018 school year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. School officials in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties say they expect to cut 5 percent out of their budgets because of the education bill. WEAR.

Teachers honored: The Department of Education names two of the five finalists for the 2018 Florida teacher of the year award. Tammy Jerkins, a pre-calculus teacher at Leesburg High School, and Michael Miller, a fifth-grade teacher at Kissimmee Elementary School, each were awarded $5,000. The winner will be announced July 13. Orlando Sentinel. Daily Commercial. Continue Reading →

In the face of threats, lawmakers look to enhance Jewish schools’ security

Rep. Randy Fine

When considering whether to re-enroll their children in the Hebrew Academy of Tampa Bay, several parents expressed reservations to Sulha Dubrowski, the school’s educational director.

The parents were concerned about security following bomb threats at 167 Jewish community centers in 38 states since the beginning of the year, Dubrowski said.

“They feel more secure in a public school because their kids won’t be singled as Jewish,” she said. As a result, one family ended up disenrolling their child because of security concerns, according to school officials.

Dubrowski said Hebrew Academy, Tampa Bay’s only Montessori Jewish day school, was the target of a bomb threat in January 2016. Since then, it tightened security, but because of budget constraints she is unable to hire a security guard, a request parents have made.

She said she hopes to install gates around the entire school property.

In the coming weeks, as they negotiate differences in their rival spending plans, state lawmakers will decide whether to offer security funding for similar measures at Jewish day schools across the state. Continue Reading →

One man’s quest for market-driven education

In a PBS documentary, Andrew Coulson asks why education is so different from other industries — like shipbuilding.

In a new PBS mini-series, a leading libertarian embarks on a worldwide quest in search of functioning markets in education.

Spoiler alert: He doesn’t find many.

But the late Cato Institute scholar Andrew Coulson does find cause for optimism in his swan song, School Inc., as he scans the globe for places where the best schools are free to grow and serve more students.

He examines America’s elite private prep schools, which “have the quality, demand, technology and time to grow into national networks. They just don’t.” Why? They’re more interested in maintaining traditions than scaling up.

He looks at top charter school networks, which are built with scale in mind. But he finds philanthropists don’t consistently back the best. “There’s a lot of scaling up in the charter sector,” he says. “But it’s indiscriminate.”

He heads to South Korea, where extracurricular hagwons turn the best teachers into big-time entrepreneurs, but notes with concern that this marketplace is fueled, in part, by the country’s high-pressure, test-driven college entrance system. He marvels at India’s flourishing low-cost private schools, but laments the rise of government regulations that have forced many of them out of business. He notes Chile’s voucher system and rising achievement scores, but worries school choice has become a target of a Marxist backlash against the legacy of right-wing strongman Augusto Pinochet. Continue Reading →

School choice in flyover country

School choice can’t work in rural areas? Tell that to Judy Welborn (above right) and Michele Winningham, co-founders of a private school in Williston, Fla., that is thriving thanks to school choice scholarships. Students at Williston Central Christian Academy also take online classes through Florida Virtual School and dual enrollment classes at a community college satellite campus.

Levy County is a sprawl of pine and swamp on Florida’s Gulf Coast, 20 miles from Gainesville and 100 from Orlando. It’s bigger than Rhode Island. If it were a state, it and its 40,000 residents would rank No. 40 in population density, tied with Utah.

Visitors are likely to see more logging trucks than Subaru Foresters, and more swallow-tailed kites than stray cats. If they want local flavor, there’s the watermelon festival in Chiefland (pop. 2,245). If they like clams with their linguine, they can thank Cedar Key (pop. 702).

And if they want to find out if there’s a place for school choice way out in the country, they can chat with Ms. Judy and Ms. Michele in Williston (Levy County’s largest city; pop. 2,768).

In 2010, Judith Welborn and Michele Winningham left long careers in public schools to start Williston Central Christian Academy. They were tired of state mandates. They wanted a faith-based atmosphere for learning. Florida’s school choice programs gave them the power to do their own thing – and parents the power to choose it or not.

Williston Central began with 39 students in grades K-6. It now has 85 in K-11. Thirty-one use tax credit scholarships for low-income students. Seventeen use McKay Scholarships for students with disabilities.

“There’s a need for school choice in every community,” said Welborn, who taught in public schools for 39 years, 13 as a principal. “The parents wanted this.”

The little school in the yellow-brick church rebuts a burgeoning narrative – that rural America won’t benefit from, and could even be hurt by, an expansion of private school choice. The two Republican senators who voted against the confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine – represent rural states. Their opposition propelled skeptical stories like this, this and this; columns like this; and reports like this. One headline warned: “For rural America, school choice could spell doom.”

A common thread is the notion that school choice can’t succeed in flyover country because there aren’t enough options. But there are thousands of private schools in rural America – and they may offer more promise in expanding choice than other options. A new study from the Brookings Institution finds 92 percent of American families live within 10 miles of a private elementary school, including 69 percent of families in rural areas. That’s more potential options for those families, the report found, than they’d get from expanded access to existing district and charter schools.

In Florida, 30 rural counties (by this definition) host 119 private schools, including 80 that enroll students with tax credit scholarships. (The scholarship is administered by nonprofits like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.) There are scores of others in remote corners of Florida counties that are considered urban, but have huge swaths of hinterland. First Baptist Christian School in the tomato town of Ruskin, for example, is closer to the phosphate pits of Fort Lonesome than the skyscrapers of Tampa. But all of it’s in Hillsborough County (pop. 1.2 million).

The no-options argument also ignores what’s increasingly possible in a choice-rich state like Florida: choice programs leading to more options.

Before they went solo, Welborn and Winningham put fliers in churches, spread the word on Facebook and met with parents. They wanted to know if parental demand was really there – and it was.

But “one of their top questions was, ‘Are you going to have a scholarship?’ “ Welborn said. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Charter schools bills, reading, religion and more

Charter schools plan: State Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, says the House proposal to turn over failing schools to charter schools “creates a separate but unequal system” that violates the Florida and U.S. Constitutions. The so-called “schools of hope” bill calls for traditional schools with D or F grades for three years to become charter schools. “These schools have failed these kids long enough,” said Rep. Manuel Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. “These are kids trapped in generational poverty, and for us to create this illusion it [schools of hope] is a separate system? It’s not.” The House Appropriations Committee passed the bill, which now goes to the full House for a vote. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. redefinED.

Charter facilities funds: The House Appropriations Committee passes a bill that would nearly double the amount of money set aside from local property taxes for charter schools facilities. But a lobbyist for Charter Schools USA, Chris Moya, says the bill may actually reduce the money available for charters because districts can subtract the amount spent on debt service before the rest of the money is divided, and because sharing formula favors charters that enroll low-income students. Moya argues that the Legislature should “stop thinking about funding institutions or districts or even schools, and really think about funding the student.” The bill now moves on to the House vote. redefinED.

Extra reading narrowed: High-level readers at the 300 lowest-performing elementary schools in the state would no longer have to attend the extra hour of required reading under a Florida House bill that has been approved by the appropriations committee. Students who achieve Level 4 or 5 on the state language arts test would have the option of skipping the reading hour. Students who achieve Level 3 or below are required to attend. The bill would also give schools the option of fitting in that hour instead of requiring it to be an extra hour of school. The changes are at odds with the Senate version of the billGradebook.

Class sizes: The House approves a bill that changes the way class sizes are calculated to meet the requirements of a 2002 voter-approved amendment. If approved, schools could use a schoolwide average instead of counting individual classes. A similar bill is moving through the Senate. Associated Press. Continue Reading →