Editor’s note: Today, redefinED continues to review pieces published previously on school accountability. This post, which originally appeared in June 2016, features former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in an interview conducted by a student who attended school on a tax credit scholarship.
All parents should have access to “consumer reports” on schools in their area — public or private, magnet or charter — and be able to choose among them. Once their children are enrolled in a school, they should get meaningful updates on how well they’re doing.
It might seem simple, but for too many parents, that’s not how the school system works, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says in a new interview.
The former Florida governor has returned to his role as chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and has recently begun outlining a national education agenda.
He sat down recently in his Miami office with Denisha Merriweather, a former tax credit scholarship student, who is now seeking a master’s degree in social work at the University of South Florida. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the scholarship program.)
Merriweather asked how schools could help low-income parents make better decisions about where to send their children.
“There ought to be a report card for any school that has any government money, directly or indirectly, going to it, and the report card ought to be easy to understand,” Bush said.
Parents, he said, should also receive detailed information on how well their children are doing, not just in subjects like reading and math, but on other skills like staying on task.
This might seem like an obvious prescription. But only a few school systems in the country have created the kind of system that really allows parents to make informed choices from the full range of potential options. In communities like New Orleans, which have created such systems, parents often take the opportunity to shop around, and many choose move their children to different schools.
“That information is not available for most parents, particularly for low-income parents. But if they had it, they’d make the right choice for their kids, all the time,” Bush said. “I trust a parent, irrespective of their level of income, over a massive school district. It’s not that the people inside the school systems are bad, but they’re not the parent. They’re not the mom.”
“We should already be doing this,” he added. “This is 2016, for crying out loud … We have the tools to do this. The system resists it, because there’s a lot of economic interests at stake.”
See Bush’s full answer in the clip below.
His older brother was a command sergeant major in the U.S. Army. His younger brother is a colonel in the Air Force.
Their experiences trying to find schools for their children helped inspire the CHOICE Act. Scott’s legislation would create pilot scholarship programs on at least five military bases.
“I know firsthand that a parent doesn’t choose the base they go to, and therefore, can only hope and pray that the education is good,” the South Carolina Republican tells Denisha Merriweather, a Florida tax credit scholarship alumna, in our latest podcast interview.
April is the month of the military child, and several states are advancing proposals to create new educational options for military families — or help existing school choice programs better meet their needs.
Georgia lawmakers approved a bill creating open enrollment for families on military bases, while Florida is advancing legislation that would allow military parents to apply for tax credit scholarships year-round.
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 Sentinel. Catholic 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.
Trump and choice: President Donald Trump called education “the civil rights issue of our time” during his speech to Congress Tuesday. He urged legislators to “pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school that is right for them.” Education Week. Los Angeles Times. Florida’s Denisha Merriweather is cited during Trump’s speech as someone whose life was turned around because of school choice. redefinED. The 74. President Trump will visit Saint Andrew Catholic School in Orlando Friday, where he is expected to talk about school choice. Saint Andrew has 295 students who use the tax credit scholarship. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarship. Orlando Sentinel.
Testing debate: Standardized testing will again be a focus of the legislative session that begins Tuesday. Critics want to cut back on the exams, or give students the option of taking different tests. Others think the testing system in place is necessary and needs to be preserved in some form. News Service of Florida.
Voucher study: A new study finds little evidence that school voucher programs significantly improve student achievement or school district performance. The study, written by Martin Carnoy, a Stanford University professor and research associate at the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, included evaluations of Florida programs. He wrote that the lack of evidence “suggests that an ideological preference for education markets over equity and public accountability is what is driving the push to expand voucher programs.” Washington Post.
Teachers honored: Evangeline Aguirre, who teaches in the English for Speakers of Other Languages program at Palm Beach Central High in Wellington, is named the Palm Beach County School District’s teacher of the year. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. Maria Torres-Crosby, a sixth-grade English teacher at Memorial Middle School. is named the Hillsborough County School District’s teacher of the year. Tampa Bay Times.
Tonight, when President Donald Trump addresses Congress, one of his invited guests will be a school choice alumna from Florida.
Denisha Merriweather has been a prominent spokeswomen for the school choice movement. Among other things, she’s testified before Congress and addressed a panel at the Republican National Convention.
She’s a political independent who grew up in Jacksonville’s Eastside neighborhood. She struggled in school and turned her academic career around with the help of a Florida tax credit scholarship. She’s now pursuing a graduate degree in social work at the University of South Florida and working as an advocate with Step Up For Students, which administers the scholarship program and publishes this blog.
Is this a hint at the president’s agenda? Reports have indicated he’s interested in a national tax credit scholarship program — which would make stories like Merriweather’s possible in states like New York and Michigan, where private school choice faces major political and constitutional hurdles.
And his new Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, has repeatedly cited Florida, and its tax credit scholarship program specifically, as a model for the nation. The program currently helps more than 90,000 low-income and working class students afford private school tuition.
Florida State Sen. Darryl Rouson went to Catholic schools from first grade through college. He wants low-income families from his district to have the same opportunity. He’s sent his own children to public schools, so he wants Florida’s public school system to be as strong as possible.
During a podcast interview with Denisha Merriweather, a Florida school choice alum now studying to become a social worker, Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, explains how his life experience has informed his view that supporting school choice and supporting public education are not in conflict.
“I want a high-quality, fully funded public education, but at the same time, I do not believe that one size fits all,” he says.
Rouson joined the Senate after a narrow win in a hard-fought Democratic primary. Education issues figured prominently in the race. His district encompasses the segregated neighborhoods of South St. Petersburg, an area whose academic struggles were chronicled in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series by the Tampa Bay Times.
After she accepted a scholarship* to enroll in a private school, Denisha Merriweather changed the course of her life. She wound up becoming the first in her family to finish high school and college. Now a graduate student at the University of South Florida, she said her success has inspired others in her family to go back to school, or pursue a GED, or encourage her younger siblings to do well.
Merriweather has told this story before, including before Congress, and this morning she took her message to Cleveland, where she joined U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Indiana, and Betsy DeVos, the chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, on a panel discussing school choice and innovation at the Republican National Convention.
Messer, who chairs the school choice caucus in Congress, said waves of anger and insecurity are sweeping through American politics, and have animated some supporters of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and erstwhile Democratic contender Bernie Sanders.
“You’re seeing an uprising of everyday people, who somehow in their hearts know that they’re not being well-served by existing institutions,” he said, adding: “To be able to take your shot at the American dream, you have to have access to high-quality education. We are falling far short of that as a nation.”