Archive | Tax credit scholarships

Jacksonville private school, scholarship fueled student’s emotional turnaround

Malik Ferrell turned his life around at The Potter’s House Christian Academy in Jacksonville.


That’s where Pamela Howard feared her son, Malik Ferrell, would end up after years of struggles at different schools in Jacksonville.

She couldn’t afford to let that happen. Malik needed a caring environment, especially after he and his family were rocked by the murder of his older brother, Derrell Baker.

Pamela had been searching for the right fit for Malik – four different schools in four years.

Finally a friend told her about the Step Up For Students scholarship, which allowed her to send him to The Potter’s House Christian Academy.

(Step Up For Students publishes this blog, and helps administer the tax credit scholarship program in Florida.)

That’s where Malik’s life unraveled – and where he ultimately put it all back together.

“Having the opportunity to go to a private school helped get him on track,” Pamela said. “I cannot even tell you the difference it made in his life.”

At his neighborhood school, Malik made mostly D’s in second grade, then mostly F’s in third grade, which he had to repeat.

Three years and three schools later, at the age of 11, he got a fresh start at The Potter’s House.

Then the unthinkable happened.

Just weeks after Malik enrolled, Derrell, 17, was killed in a drive-by shooting. Police had no suspects. There were no arrests.

Pamela was working full-time at Blue Cross Blue Shield, taking complaints in the executive department. The grief and stress overwhelmed her, and the mother of five went on disability. She now works part-time doing billing at McKesson.

“Seeing my momma cry and my sisters cry, it was … it was just a lot to deal with,” Malik said. “That was my only big brother, so there was nothing for me to look up to.”

Derrell was everything to Malik – best friend, football hero, protector, disciplinarian, role model. Continue Reading →


Report shows true bottom line on Florida’s public education spending

The most commonly cited price tag for Florida public schools represents only two-thirds of what they actually spend, a new report from Florida TaxWatch shows. The “true cost,” it says, shines a more favorable financial light on public education alternatives.

“To be good stewards of education dollars,” writes TaxWatch president Dominic Calabro, “it is critical that taxpayers have a clear understanding of how much education revenue is available, how that revenue is spent, and what it is spent on. Without this understanding, taxpayers and policymakers will be unable to determine whether their state and local K-12 education investments are cost-effective.”

As the Florida Legislature enters the second week of an annual session that already is punctuated by budgetary duress, the report tackles perhaps the most widely misunderstood funding formula in public education. It’s called the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) and was adopted in 1973 as a way to provide the appropriate balance of state and local funding for basic school operations. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Bonuses, science instruction, choice and more

Teacher bonuses: The Florida House education committee approves a revamped teacher bonuses program that would broaden the qualifying requirements and also make principals eligible. Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah Republican who chairs the House’s education budget committee, says the House could approve spending up to $125 million for the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program. That’s about half of the amount the Senate is proposing. Miami Herald. WFSU. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel.

Teaching science: State Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, says his bill that sets criteria for classroom instruction materials is meant to require “quality instructional material” meeting Florida standards, and to provide a way for the public to challenge classroom materials they deem inappropriate. And, he notes, any curriculum changes would have to be approved by the local school board. Critics say the bill opens a door for climate change and evolution critics to influence how those issues are taught, or if they are taught at all. Naples Daily News.

Call for school choice: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York City is calling for a nationwide school choice bill. Dolan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, urged President Trump to“push Congress to make scholarship tax credits available to working-class families.” Seventeen states have tax credit scholarship programs, including Florida, and Dolan said children in the other states “deserve the same opportunities.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Florida program. Crux. Continue Reading →


Trump cites Florida as a model; school choice critics look elsewhere

As President Trump looked with favor on Florida’s 15-year-old tax credit scholarship last week, some of the reviews seemed to suffer a form of interstate transference.

The formulation went something like this: If Arizona, then Florida.

Take Kevin Carey, the able director of education policy at New America, as one example. After Trump on Tuesday introduced a graduate student who attributed her academic turnaround to the Florida scholarship program, Carey responded in the New York Times with an extended discourse not on the Sunshine State but on the Arizona Tax Credit Scholarship. Carey is troubled that Arizona’s Senate president runs one of the largest scholarship-granting organizations, thinks 10 percent is too much to pay the organizations to administer the program, criticizes the state for allowing scholarship students with higher household incomes, and is worried about the lack of testing and financial accountability requirements.

Those are all reasonable concerns, but none of them apply to Florida. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Opt-out ruling, Legislature, scholarships and more

Opt-out ruling overturned: An appeals court overturns a ruling that some state school districts improperly retained third-graders who had opted out of the Florida Standards Assessment language arts test. The appeals court concluded that lawsuits against the state over the retention policy should have been heard in local courts instead of a circuit court in Tallahassee. In August, the Leon County judge ruled largely in favor of 14 parents from several districts who refused to let their children take the tests, then sued districts that held back those students. “The test can only achieve that laudable purpose (assessing reading skills to determine promotions) if the student meaningfully takes part in the test by attempting to answer all of its questions to the best of the student’s ability,” the appeals judges wrote in their opinion. “Anything less is a disservice to the student — and the public.” Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of FloridaWUSF. Associated Press.

State of the state: In his State of the State address to open the 2017 legislative session, Gov. Rick Scott urges lawmakers to approve his increase in education funding for K-12 schools and colleges and universities while also cutting taxes. Sunshine State News. Florida Politics. Associated Press. The transcript of the speech. News Service of Florida.

Leaders’ priorities: Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, expands his priorities for the Legislature’s session to include the bill that protects students’ religious expression in schools. “I think it’s very important that students of any faith or no faith” have a right to free speech, Negron said in his speech on the opening day of the 60-day legislative session. Miami Herald. Negron also says charter schools should get a fair share of state funding for construction and maintenance. Politico Florida. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says his top budget priority for the legislative session is to put an end to the state’s so-called “failure factories,” or underperforming public schools. While Corcoran has not detailed how he’d do that, he’s hinted that adding charter schools is part of the solution. Politico Florida.

Scholarships expansion: A Florida House education subcommittee approves a bill that expands scholarship programs for low-income and disabled students. The amount available for disabled students under the Gardiner and McKay scholarships would jump from $73 million to $200 million, and the number of disabilities covered would be expanded. The bill also increases the per-pupil amount for low-income students who qualify for the tax credit scholarship program. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Gardiner and tax credit scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel. redefinED. Continue Reading →


Fla. House panel backs private school choice bill

Kathleen Dale committee testimony

Kathleen Dale, a Gardiner Scholarship parent, testified gbefore the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation committee.

A bill that would expand or enhance three Florida private school choice programs cleared its first legislative hurdle today with bipartisan backing.

The House K-12 Innovation Subcommittee passed HB 15 on a 12-3 vote.

The measure by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, would triple the size of Florida’s Gardiner Scholarship program, which offers education savings accounts to children with special needs.

It would also broaden eligibility for special needs vouchers, known as McKay scholarships, and increase per-student funding for tax credit scholarships, which help low-income and working-class students pay private school tuition.

Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog and pays my salary, administers the Gardiner and tax credit programs.

The panel heard impassioned testimony from parents like Kathleen Dale. She said complications from throat surgery damaged her son’s brain, causing epilepsy, paralysis, aphasia and intellectual disability. He suffered from dozens of seizures a day, she said.

The family first received a Gardiner scholarship in 2014, and used it to pay for curriculum, art supplies, science kits and therapy that enabled them to teach him at home. In early 2016, Dale’s son gained access to a drug trial that dramatically reduced his seizures. Since then, she said, he’s made three years of progress in a year’s time. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Trump’s visit, Legislature, charter district and more

Trump’s visit: President Donald Trump visits St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando today to promote his support for broader school choice. St. Andrew is part of the Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education academies, a national network working to revitalize urban Catholic education. About 85 percent of the 340 students in the pre-K through eighth-grade school use tax credit scholarships. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the program. redefinED. WFTV. Politico Florida. Myrna Saint-Juste, who sent two children to St. Andrew Catholic School, and her son Marcus Millien, now a student at Bishop Moore High School, were asked to meet with President Trump today when he visits the school. She declined, but Marcus accepted. Orlando Sentinel.

Legislature and education: Legislators want to reduce testing, change the teacher bonuses program and improve the higher education system, among other things, during the legislative session that begins Tuesday. Here are previews of some of the issues being debated. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Sun-Sentinel. The major players in the legislative session are profiled. Tallahassee Democrat.

Bills about teachers: Two bills filed by legislators would change the criteria by which teachers are eligible for bonuses from the state. A bill filed by Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, would lower the SAT and ACT test scores level a teacher would need to be eligible for the state’s teacher bonus, and add several other tests that could be used. A bill filed by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, would expand eligibility requirements to college GPA and to those graduates who commit to teaching in critical teacher shortage areas. Both would also allow school administrators to be eligible for bonuses. Gradebook. A bill introduced by Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, would expand the path to teacher certification, including allowing charter schools to set up their own training programs that would have to be approved by the Florida Department of Education. Legislators want to make it easier to hire people who have expertise in a subject and can prove competency in the classroom but don’t have an education degree. redefinED. Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, files a bill that would prohibit teacher retirements during the school year. Exceptions would be made for illnesses and disabilities. News Service of Florida.

Charter district: Three charter schools companies are competing to take over operations of the Jefferson County School District. They are: Somerset Academy Inc., which operates 16 charter schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties; Lake Wales Charter Schools Inc., which runs six schools in Polk County; and EdFutures, which runs two schools in Volusia County. Superintendent Marianne Arbulu said the school board could make its selection by next week. Politico Florida. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Trump and choice, testing, vouchers and more

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 PostSun-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. Continue Reading →