Archive | School Choice

Florida schools roundup: Reading tests, achievement plan, budgets and more

Reading test results: About 90 percent of the state’s high school seniors who had to retake the Florida Standards Assessments language arts test have failed, according to the Florida Department of Education. Last year the number was 84 percent. Students must pass the test to be eligible to receive a diploma. The nearly 16,000 who failed this year can keep retaking the test until they post a passing score. Gradebook.

Achievement plan approved: The Pinellas County School Board approves a plan to eliminate or greatly narrow the achievement gap between white and black students within 10 years. The plan, worked out between the school district and the Concerned Organization of the Quality Education of Black Students, will also settle a long-running lawsuit over the education of black students by the district. The agreement addresses graduation, student achievement, advanced coursework, student discipline, identification for special education and gifted programs and minority hiring. District officials also have committed to providing quarterly progress reports and responding in a more timely manner with reliable information. Tampa Bay Times.

Education bill: More reaction from various groups, education officials and politicians on the Legislature’s education bill, which has yet to be sent to Gov. Rick Scott for consideration. Once it lands on Scott’s desk, he’ll have 15 days to act. Gradebook. Florida Politics. Politico Florida. Miami Herald.

Trump’s education budget: President Trump’s proposed budget would boost programs of school choice, especially charter schools, and cut spending for special education, teacher development, after-school programs and career and technical education. Associated PressEducation Week. NPR. Continue Reading →


Jeb Bush receives ‘overdue’ school choice award

INDIANAPOLIS – With an award described as “overdue,” a national school choice advocacy group recognized Jeb Bush for his contributions to the movement.

The former Florida governor received the John T. Walton Champions for School Choice award from the American Federation for Children today at its annual gathering.

A past recipient of the award — John Kirtley, the chairman of Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog — said Bush summoned him to Miami shortly after he started a Tampa-based offshoot of the Children’s Scholarship Fund in 1999. The governor recognized that the thousands of parents on the waiting list for scholarships could become foot soldiers in Tallahassee.

That conversation led to the creation of Florida tax credit scholarship program, now the largest private school choice program in the nation, in 2001. Continue Reading →


DeVos pushes ‘most ambitious’ school choice expansion ‘in our nation’s history’

INDIANAPOLIS – Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told a friendly crowd that President Trump will release a spending plan today to support “the most ambitious expansion of education choice in our nation’s history.”

But a lot of questions remain about how the federal government might achieve that expansion.

Speaking Monday at the American Federation for Children’s annual policy summit, DeVos offered few details about what a national plan would look like. But she outlined a series of principles.

School choice options would have to be accountable to parents, not officials in Washington. The new administration would avoid “creating a new federal bureaucracy or … bribing states with their own taxpayers’ money” — a subtle jab at Obama-era initiatives like Race to the Top.

States would decide whether to participate in the new federal push. DeVos said declining to create new options for their residents would be a “terrible mistake,” but one for which state-level politicians would have to defend.

“The future is bleak for millions of students if we only continue to tinker around the edges of education reform,” she said. “The time has expired for ‘reform.’ We need a transformation — a transformation that will open up America’s closed and antiquated education system.” Continue Reading →


How Florida blocks ‘double-dipping’ on school choice scholarship donations

A headline in The New York Times carries a damning allegation: In some states, contributing to a school choice nonprofit can earn donors a “profit.”

The allegation is based on a new report by the national association of school district superintendents. It argues in some states, donors can contribute to a nonprofit organization that funds private school scholarships. For every dollar they donate, their state tax bill is reduced by a dollar. Then, those donors can turn around and claim a federal tax deduction for their charitable contribution. As a result, they wind up better off financially than if they hadn’t donated at all.

That money-making scenario is illegal in Florida, home of one of the oldest — and, by far, the largest — tax credit scholarship programs in the nation. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog and pays my salary, is the largest scholarship granting organization in Florida.)

The Times and the superintendents association both note “double dipping” isn’t possible in every state. But neither bothers to mention that Sunshine State statutes specifically prohibit it.  Continue Reading →


One big piece of education legislation illustrates broader battle

The massive education bill Florida legislators approved on the final day of their annual session has stirred more passion than any in recent years.

Charter school advocates and House members are actively campaigning for HB 7069. School district leaders are calling on Gov. Rick Scott to veto it. Parents and education activists have spoken up on both sides.

A key theme binds many key concepts in the 278-page bill — a theme that has shaped education agendas in the Florida Legislature for several years, and defines battles that will continue after the politicking over this proposal subsides.

If approved, the bill would represent a power shift. It would move control away from district central offices and place it in the hands of individual school leaders. Charter schools would have more equitable funding. More district schools would have charter-like freedoms. In high-poverty schools, principals, not districts, would decide how to spend federal Title I funding to help their low-income students.

A key backer of the proposal, Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, is a former public-school administrator. He recalls turnaround efforts, in which central office bureaucrats would stream in and out of the school building, looking over educators’ shoulders, providing little in the way of actual “support.”

He said districts should embrace a new approach. They need to hire high-caliber school leaders and make sure they’re in sync with their communities. Then, stop micromanaging them. Let them control their own budgets. Give them the authority to pick the best teachers. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Education bill, teacher certification, aid and more

Education bill: Gov. Rick Scott hasn’t announced whether he intends to veto all or parts of the budget or education bills, but some Republicans close to him think he will veto the education bill to force the Legislature to renegotiate education spending and cuts made in tourism marketing. Politico Florida. More educators from around the state are urging Scott to veto the education and budget bills. Miami HeraldOrlando SentinelDaily Commercial. Public News Service. WTVJ.

Teacher certification: The Florida Department of Education’s proposed changes in teacher certification are being put on hold at least until the 2018-2019 school year. Implementing the changes for next school year could have put hundreds of teachers into the “out of field” category. The delay allows districts time to help those teachers qualify for “subject matter expert” certification. Gradebook.

Financial aid boost: State and federal governments have approved increases in financial aid for students going to or already in college. At the state level, the Legislature bumped up the funds available for the Bright Futures Scholarships, and students can now use them for summer classes. Pell grants for college students will also be available for the first time for summer classes. News Service of Florida.

Interim superintendent: The Duval County School Board cuts a potential field of interim superintendents from seven to three, and will conduct interviews Wednesday. Those being considered are Earl Lennard, who was Hillsborough County superintendent from 1996-2005; Pearl Roziers, assistant superintendent in Duval and head of the district’s school choice program; and Patricia Willis, who was a Duval deputy superintendent from 2007-2012. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti leaves next week to become head of the Detroit school system. Florida Times-UnionWJXT. WKOV. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Selling the bill, Title I troubles, a top teacher and more

Selling the bill: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, posts a cartoon on YouTube to explain and defend the education bill that was passed last week. Corcoran calls it “#toontruth for anyone who likes the truth in animated video format.” Orlando Sentinel. How the education bills passed in Tallahassee on recess, testing and charter schools could affect St. Johns County schools. St. Augustine Record. Teacher bonuses would be smaller and many more teachers would earn them under the new education bill. Bridge to Tomorrow. The school choice movement is breaking into two camps: one that wants to use choice to improve public schools, and one that wants greatly expand choice by using tax money. Associated Press.

Title I, Medicaid concerns: The Legislature’s decision to distribute federal Title I funding directly to schools and spread it to more schools could have devastating long-term effects on poor students, say district officials. Districts will be forced to cut special programs for low-income students, including after-school and summer school, or shift money from other programs to make up the difference. “A number of our community members and parents are aware of the services we provide in our 63 Title I schools,” said Felita Grant, Title I director for Pinellas County schools. “It would be a shock to them, if this bill goes through, the number of services we would have to cut back on.” Tampa Bay Times. School districts around the country say proposed cuts in the Medicaid program will have a significant impact in schools. Associated Press.

Teachers honored: Diego Fuentes, who teaches music to students with severe disabilities at the Hillcrest School in Ocala, is chosen as one of five finalists for the Department of Education’s 2018 Florida teacher of the year award. Fuentes was awarded $5,000. The winner will be announced July 13. Ocala Star Banner. Palm Beach County’s teacher of the year and school-related employee of the year are surprised with free, two-year leases of BMWs. Palm Beach Post.

Teaching incentives: Experienced teachers are being offered up to $70,000 in incentive pay over three years to work at struggling Carver Middle School in Orlando. More than 100 teachers have already applied, school officials say. Those hired will get an extra $20,000 for the 2017-2018 school year, and $25,000 in each of the next two years. Carver has received two Fs and a D in school grades in the past three years, and nearly 80 percent of its students failed their Florida Standards Assessment exams. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →


‘I’m a parent first and a teacher second’

Heidi Gonzalez was aware of the warning signs. Her daughter Samantha had just started sixth grade at her neighborhood middle school in Miami, and already she was going down the wrong path.

Bad grades. Bad behavior. Falling in with the wrong crowd.

As a 10th grade teacher who worked with at-risk students at a public high school, Heidi knew veering off course in middle school could lead to much worse later. So she spent lunch breaks researching private schools near their home, determined to find a better environment. A Florida tax credit scholarship made it possible for her to consider them. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the scholarship program.)

Samantha Delgado went from D’s and F’s at her neighborhood school to honor roll at Miami Christian.

“I’m very lucky,” Heidi said, “to have caught it on time.”

It wasn’t an easy choice. Heidi knew she might hear whispers at work. She had spent years working in public schools. But this was her sweet little Sammy, and the sudden changes were alarming.

“I’m a parent first and a teacher second,” Heidi said. “So she’s my daughter and I’m going to do whatever is best for her despite wherever I’m working. It doesn’t matter what other people say, what the community says, what society says. At the end of the day you’re bringing that kid home with you. It’s your problem to solve.”

Sammy was Heidi’s “little angel” until middle school. Report cards with D’s and F’s and poor conduct prompted constant bickering. Samantha’s piercing brown eyes would roll with indifference every time her mom tried to give her guidance. Continue Reading →