Archive | Religious education

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 →

Parents, the president and private school choice

Renee Oliver greets her daughter, Zoe, after meeting with President Donald Trump at St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando.

ORLANDO – Renee Oliver started sending her children to St. Andrew Catholic School in 2004. At the time, it drew Catholic families from surrounding communities in the western part of Orlando. But it remained financially out of reach for many who lived nearby.

Over the years, that’s changed.

The nation’s largest private school choice program has enabled schools like St. Andrew to open their doors to hundreds of families who couldn’t previously afford tuition, including some from its predominantly black neighborhood of Pine Hills.

“The school community came to reflect the community that it was in,” Oliver said.

She had to support her family on a single income after an on-the-job injury forced her husband out of work. Tax credit scholarships helped her send three of her five children to St. Andrew.

When President Donald Trump came to visit the school on Friday, she told him similar options should be available to all families.

Started in 2002, the tax credit scholarship is administered by Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog and pays my salary. It helps nearly 98,000 students across Florida — and the vast majority of students at St. Andrew — attend private schools.

While he hasn’t backed a detailed plan, Trump made a pitch to expand similar programs across the country. Parents like Oliver joined him around a table with Sen. Marco Rubio. The president expressed interest in the lawmaker’s efforts to create a nationwide tax credit scholarship.

At one point, Trump turned to Denisha Merriweather, a Florida scholarship alumna he highlighted during his recent address to Congress.

“We want millions more to have the same chance to achieve the great success that you’re achieving, right now,” he said.


Latrina Peters-Gipson, St. Andrew’s principal, is a product of Catholic schools. She developed a love of education as a college student in New Orleans. Weeks into her first year as a full-time classroom professional, Hurricane Katrina struck. Her family lost almost everything. The storm destroyed the Hyatt hotel where her husband worked. The hotelier helped her family relocate to Orlando. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Legislative issues, Trump’s visit and more

Legislative session: Vouchers, recess and capital funding for charter schools are among the hot education topics in this year’s legislative session, which begins Tuesday. Sunshine State News. School testing will again be a prominent issue during the session. Several bills have been filed to cut back on the number of tests, and to give options to the Florida Standards Assessments. News Service of Florida. Teacher bonuses are among the key education issues that will be debated by the Legislature. Tallahassee Democrat. The way the state calculates school funding may get another look from lawmakers this year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Lake County school leaders say they oppose school vouchers, worry about recruiting and retaining teachers and don’t like the state’s current standardized testing process. Superintendent Diane Kornegay, school board member Kristi Burns and teachers union president Stuart Klatte made the remarks at an education forum last week. Daily Commercial. The Polk County School District is asking legislators to close the gap in per-student funding among districts. Polk ranked 64th out of 67 in per-student funding from the state this school year. Winter Haven News Chief. Senate and House leaders come to an agreement on the rules for the budget-making process for the legislative session. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida.

Trump’s visit: President Donald Trump praises students and educators at St. Andrew Catholic School during a visit Friday. Trump used the stop to promote school choice, and urged members of Congress to pass a bill to fund school choice for disadvantaged young people, including minority children. Orlando SentinelCatholic News Agency. Associated Press. WCSI. WFTV. Fox News. New York Times. News 13. redefinED. A profile of Denisha Merriweather, the University of South Florida graduate student who was held up by the president as an example of how school choice can help struggling students succeed. Washington Post.

Commission choices: Gov. Rick Scott appoints 14 people to the state Constitution Revision Commission. Several of the appointees have ties to education: Pam Stewart, Florida education commissioner; Marva Johnson, state Board of Education chairwoman; Nicole Washington, a trustee at Florida A&M University; Belinda Keiser, vice chancellor of Keiser University; Darlene Jordan, a member of the state university system’s Board of Governors; and Jose “Pepe” Armas, a trustee for Florida International University. Politico Florida. Gradebook. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Retention suit, school bells, demographics and more

Retention challenge: Parents who challenged the state’s third-grade retention policy – and won – are back in court this week. A circuit court judge ruled in August that the state and some districts were not offering a portfolio option for promotion of students who didn’t take the state assessment tests or didn’t pass them. The state appealed, and the case moves to the First District Court of Appeal Tuesday. Gradebook.

No bell tolls for them: Seminole High School in Pinellas County has ended the tradition of ringing a bell to change classes. School officials say it’s an effort to put more responsibility on students to manage their schedules. “It’s changed the tenor of the school because kids like being treated like adults,” said principal Tom Brittain. “How many colleges ring a bell?” Tampa Bay Times.

District demographics: There are now more Hispanic students in Palm Beach County public schools than whites or blacks. Of the 190,240 students in the district, 33 percent are Hispanic, 32 percent are white and 28 percent are black. The demographic shift has Superintendent Robert Avossa proposing to expand dual language programs, where subjects are taught in both English and Spanish. Sun-Sentinel.

Charter schools: More than 3 million American students are now enrolled in 6,900 charter schools, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. That’s up almost threefold in 10 years, but is still just 5 percent of total U.S. school enrollment. Education Week. Pembroke Pines’ charter school system, which opened in 1998, now has eight schools, 6,000 students and requires no subsidy from the city. It was the model by which the Cape Coral Municipal School Authority was started in 2004. Fort Myers Beach Observer. Continue Reading →