Archive | Tax credit scholarships

Florida schools roundup: Funding suit rejected, charter schools and more

School funding suit rejected: The First District Court of Appeal rejects a challenge to the state’s public school funding, saying the issue raises political questions that can’t be answered by judges. Several education groups and some parents contend that the state discriminates against minorities and low-income students, which they call a violation of the state’s constitutional duty to provide a “high quality system of free public schools.” The argument was rejected by a circuit court judge last year, leading to this appeal. The groups suing the state say they don’t know if they’ll take the issue to the Florida Supreme Court. The appeal court also ruled that the McKay scholarship, which provides state money to about 30,000 disabled children, is constitutional. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaOrlando SentinelGradebook. Sunshine State NewsPolitico FloridaredefinED.

Charters are public: The Florida Commission on Ethics has decided that charter schools are public agencies, not private ones. In October, the commission deadlocked on an opinion in a conflict of interest case. The opinion concluded that charter schools are not public agencies, but it was not adopted because of the tie vote. Last week, commissioner Matthew Carson cast the deciding vote and said, “Charter schools are public schools in operation, in function and by statute. Seems to me that what would be good for any other public agency under this statute would also be good for a charter school.” Politico Florida.

Charter school accused: A former Broward County charter school once accused of falsifying enrollment numbers to get more money from the state now faces allegations of fraud. New Horizons, now a private school that used to be the Pathway Academy charter school, allegedly falsified records when applying for tax credit scholarship money, and an administrative judge says the school should be cut off from scholarship funds. School officials deny the charges, and plan to file a response to the Department of Education. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship program. Sun-Sentinel.

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Florida schools roundup: School property taxes, immigration and more

Education budget: In his budget proposal, Gov. Rick Scott wants local school boards to keep property taxes at their current levels so rising property values can produce extra funds for school districts. Florida Education Secretary Pam Stewart concurs, saying it’s the only way districts can get the extra funds they need. But the Florida House balked at that suggestion last year, calling it a tax hike, and is expected to resist again when the Legislature convenes next month. Stewart says the districts need the extra money to supplement what they get from the state and help pay for the influx of students from Puerto Rico and other islands that were devastated by hurricanes. “We’d find ourselves unable to do that (get to the $7,497 per-student spending called for in Scott’s budget) if we didn’t leave the RLE (required local effort) at the current level,” she told members of a Senate education panel. News Service of FloridaWFSU. Florida Politics.

Puerto Rican migration: Quality education is one of the primary motivations for Puerto Rican families moving into Florida, and particularly central Florida, according to Orlando real estate consultant Jose Hoyos. “They say, ‘I am here because these public schools are like the private schools in Puerto Rico,’ ” he says. “They don’t mind working here for $10 an hour because their children are getting a good education.” The number of Puerto Ricans in five central Florida counties (Orange, Osceola, Hillsborough, Polk and Seminole) grew by more than 115,000 between 2010 and 2016, U.S. Census reports show. Orlando Sentinel.

Reporting sexual abuse: The Miami-Dade County School Board approves a program to help students at all grade levels to spot inappropriate sexual behavior, and how to report it, and to help parents spot signs of sexual abuse in their children. The board sets a February deadline for having a completed plan on classes and communication. Miami Herald.

Finding gifted students: Educators from Washington state are looking to the Miami-Dade School District as a model for increasing and diversifying the students who are accepted into gifted programs. Miami-Dade uses a two-tier system to determine gifted eligibility: middle-class and affluent students need IQ scores of at least 130, while low-income children or English-learners can get in with scores of 117 if they demonstrate creativity and academic achievement. Plan B was approved by the Florida Legislature in 1991, though not many districts use it because of the expense. Seattle Times.

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Florida schools roundup: Scholarship reforms, Bright Futures bill and more

Scholarship reforms: School choice advocates recommend a series of reforms at a House education subcommittee hearing Wednesday called to discuss concerns about oversight of private K-12 schools that receive money from one of the state’s scholarship programs. Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up For Students, which helps administer two of the programs and hosts this blog, says the state should eliminate the cap on inspections of those private schools, have fire and inspection reports submitted directly to the state, and demand those schools adopt stronger financial reporting requirements. Orlando SentinelredefinED.

Bright Futures: The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approves a bill that would permanently expand Bright Futures scholarships. S.B. 4 would fully fund Bright Futures scholarships for about 41,000 students who have a grade point average of at least a 3.5 as well as a score of 1,290 on the SAT or a 29 on the ACT, and provide 75 percent funding to Medallion scholars. It now goes to the Senate floor. Sunshine State News. Meanwhile, a House committee approves a “Sunshine scholarship” proposal that would cover tuition and fees for students entering the Florida College System whose family income is less than $50,000. Politico Florida.

Virtual teachers’ union: Administrators of the Florida Virtual School are fighting back against a drive to unionize the school’s teachers. “We believe that a union is not needed here at FLVS and that bringing a union into our school can drastically affect our relationship with you,” CEO Jodi Marshall wrote in an email to the staff. “That is why we intend to oppose the union by every legal means available to us.” Gradebook.

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Florida House panel talks beefed-up school choice oversight

Florida can strengthen oversight of its private schools that accept state scholarships without compromising their character.

That was the message a group of national experts and state school choice groups delivered to a state House panel after an Orlando Sentinel investigation raised questions about oversight.

That might require putting more staff in the state school choice office, giving parents better information about what happens in private schools and lifting statutory caps on site visits by Department of Education officials.

Adam Peshek of the Foundation for Excellence in Education explained to the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee how regulation of Florida school choice programs compares to other states. The McKay scholarship program resembles other states’ special needs vouchers. But tax credit scholarship programs tend to be less regulated. Florida is home to “one of the more heavily regulated tax credit programs across the county.”

Some states, like Ohio and Indiana, had extensive regulation of private schools before private school choice programs took effect. Basketball-loving Hoosiers, for example, require private schools to be accredited before they can participate in athletics. States should be wary of adding new regulations, which can prevent quality private schools from participating.

That prompted a question by Rep. Robert Asencio, D-Miami: “Should we consider our regulations on traditional public schools?” Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Bright Futures, union bill, impact fees and more

Bright Futures: Florida Senate leaders want to amend the higher education bill by incorporating the proposed Bright Futures expansion into it. The bill would expand and fully fund Bright Futures scholarships and restore Medallion coverage to pay for 75 percent of tuition and fees. It would also roll the $130 million for the programs into the legislation. Last year the money was put in the general fund and was available for just one year. Legislators are trying to make the expansion permanent. If the bill is approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee today, it moves on to the Senate floor. Politico Florida.

Union bill advances: A bill that could affect Florida teacher unions is approved by the House’s Government Accountability Committee. The bill requires all public-sector unions whose dues-paying membership falls below 50 percent of all those eligible to reapply for certification. The bill exempts unions representing police officers, firefighters and prison guards. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, says it will make unions more accountable. Critics call it a “union-busting” bill. Politico Florida. WCTV. Florida Politics. WFSU. Capitol News Service.

Impact fees: Senate lawmakers continue to work on amending a bill that spells out when government agencies such as school districts can start collecting impact fees from housing developers. Developers want the fees payment as late as possible. The original bill called for fees to be due when a certificate of occupancy is issued. One of many amendments changes the date to when the building permit is issued. It’s favored by government agencies, which want to collect the money sooner so they can start building infrastructure such as schools. Politico Florida.

Teachers honored: Kyle Dencker, a computer science teacher at Timber Creek High School in Orlando, is named the Orange County School District’s teacher of the year. Orlando Sentinel. Five finalists are named for the Hillsborough County School District’s teacher of the year. They are: Jennifer Jackson, 7th grade science, Stewart Middle; Alexa Trafficante, 4th grade, Gorrie Elementary; Bonnie Bresnyan, exceptional student education, Lewis Elementary; Nicole Meyerson, 5th grade, Carrollwood Elementary; and Lisabeth Leist, math, Steinbrenner High. Four finalists also are chosen for diversity educator of the year and for instructional support employee of the year. Winners will be announced Jan. 16. Tampa Bay Times.

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Florida schools roundup: Teacher evaluations, graduation rates and more

Teacher evaluations: Local school boards would be given the power to set evaluation standards for teachers, if a bill filed in the House gets through the Legislature next year. H.B. 427, filed by Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, would allow school districts to opt out of the state teacher evaluation and merit pay plan and give them the option of creating their own standards for evaluating teachers. “It would return the authority back to the local school board, which I think is very important,” says Orange County School Board member Linda Kobert. Florida Politics.

Graduation rates: The U.S. high school graduation rate hit an all-time high at 84.1 percent in 2016, according to data from the National Center for Education. In 2015 it was 83.2 percent. Florida’s graduation rate was 80.7 percent. White students graduated at an 85.1 percent rate, blacks at 72.3 percent and Hispanics at 75.6 percent. Education Week.

Contract negotiations: The Hillsborough County teachers union calls the latest pay offer from the school district disappointing. The district is offering $1.8 million for bonuses to spread among the 20,000 employees represented by the union. The union has asked for the raises school officials promised years ago, which the district says could cost it as much as $17 million and which it says it cannot afford. “This is a pay cut,” says Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, the union’s executive director, who says the offer is $92 per person before taxes and won’t cover the increase in health insurance premiums. “I can’t see that satisfying people.” Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. Negotiations between Brevard teachers and the school district resume, but little progress over raises is made. The district is offering $876 to the highest-rated teachers and $600 to effective ones. Union officials countered with a $1,075 raise for highly effective teachers and $800 for effective ones. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily.

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Florida schools roundup: Shelters, choice, turnaround schools and more

Schools as shelters: A bill is filed that would require any K-12 school that receives construction funding from the state to be available as an emergency shelter or, if it doesn’t meet the requirements to be a shelter, for any other use officials think is necessary. That requirement would include charter schools. H.B. 779 was filed by state Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa. No companion bill has yet been filed in the Senate. Gradebook.

School choice growth: New research suggests that the growth of Florida’s tax credit scholarship program has not led to a corresponding increase in the number of schools that perform poorly academically. Urban Institute researchers conclude: “This analysis indicates that participation in the [tax credit scholarship] program has not shifted toward schools with weaker track records of improving student outcomes, as measured by two broad categorizations. But it provides less guidance on the ideal level of government regulation in private school choice programs.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship program. The program has grown from 50,000 low-income students receiving scholarships in 2012 to more than 100,000 this year. redefinED.

District consultant: The Duval County School Board will spend $480,000 for a consultant to help turn around eight struggling schools. Turnaround Solutions Inc. was founded by James Young, a former Duval principal with experience in turning around failing schools. Three of the schools have less than a year to boost their grades from the state, while the others have until the end of the 2018-2019 school year. If they don’t improve to at least a C grade, state law requires the district to close the schools or allow them to be taken over. Florida Times-Union.

Panel: Turn over school: An oversight committee at Oscar Patterson Elementary School is recommending that the struggling school be turned over to an outside manager. The Bay County school has gotten poor grades from the state the past two years, and under state law the district has to contract with an outside entity to manage the school, close it and transfer the students, or close it and reopen it as a charter school. The recommendation now goes to Superintendent Bill Husfelt. If he agrees with the recommendation, the district must have a signed contract with a management company by Jan. 31, 2018. Panama City News Herald.

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Report breaks down growth of Fla. scholarship schools (corrected)

Update (Dec. 5): This article has been significantly revised to reflect an update of the underlying report published by the Brookings Institution. The author of that report previously miscalculated the growth of schools where a majority of students use tax credit scholarships. This post, and the second chart, have been updated to reflect those corrections.

New data from the Urban Institute look at the question: Is the nation’s largest private school choice program fueling the growth of academically dubious schools?

The think tank earlier this fall released a report showing low-income students who use Florida tax credit scholarships are more likely to enroll in college and obtain associate degrees. Some types of private schools had stronger positive effects. Those included Catholic schools, non-Christian religious schools and schools where fewer than half of students used scholarships.

The program has doubled in size since 2012, growing from just over 50,000 students to more than 100,000. In a follow-up report released this morning, Urban Institute researchers asked whether that meant more students use scholarships to enroll in the types of schools with weaker results.

The answer, according to an article published by the Brookings Institution: Not when it comes to religious affiliations. But the proportion of schools where a majority of students use scholarships has grown. Continue Reading →