Archive | Tax credit scholarships

Florida schools roundup: School costs, repairs, absenteeism, eclipse and more

School costs rise: Lee County school officials are asking the school board to approve an additional $13.9 million to build Bonita Springs High School. The board approved a budget of $49.9 million in April 2016, but the latest estimate of the final cost is $84.9 million. School officials blame a labor shortage, rising costs and changes to the design of the school, which is expected to open in the fall of 2018. Fort Myers News-Press.

School repairs: Marion County school officials say they will receive $164.38 million over the next five years for school repairs to their 51 schools and district offices. But the latest estimate of the cost of all the needed repairs is $530.25 million, leaving the district $365.87 million short. “Our state Legislature has dropped the ball.” says Lake Weir Middle School principal David Ellers. “They are not taking care of the kids.” Ocala Star-Banner. Sarasota County School Board members say they were taken by surprise by renovations planned for the district’s administrative offices. Superintendent Todd Bowden says the work is part of the staff reorganization he proposed in March, and well within the budget the board approved. Board member Eric Robinson says it was unclear what the board was approving. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student absenteeism: The rate of Duval County students considered chronically absent doubled during the 2015-2016 school year. The rate has usually been 6-7 percent of students who miss 21 or more days a month of school, school officials say, but rose to more than 12 percent last year. School board members were shocked by the spike, and asked interim Superintendent Paula Wright to investigate. Florida Times-Union. Chronic absenteeism is also a problem in Palm Beach County, says school board member Erika Whitfield. She says there’s a clear correlation between attending school and graduating. “If we can’t get our students to school on time or to be there, how are we ever going to teach them?” she asks. Palm Beach Post.

Eclipse schedules: School districts around the state are deciding if their students will be permitted to view the solar eclipse Monday, and if they will be, how they might do so safely. TCPalm. Northwest Florida Daily News. Citrus County ChronicleSt. Augustine Record. WUSF. WKRG. WPTV. Cape Coral Daily Breeze.

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The ‘Trump effect’ polarizes school choice, but doesn’t hurt its popularity

Ever since Donald Trump became president, opponents of school choice have tried to tie charter schools, vouchers and scholarship tax credits to the polarizing politician.

A new public opinion survey suggests those tactics might not be working as intended.

Survey researchers with Education Next asked questions about two school choice policies two ways. Half the respondents answered basic questions about whether they supported tax credit scholarships or charter schools. The other half were asked the same questions, after being told Trump supports the policies.

Even after a sharp drop, charter school supporters still outnumber opponents, according to the latest Ed Next poll.

Associating the policies with Trump didn’t change overall support for either policy. But it did tend to polarize issues. Support among Democrats went down, while support among Republicans went up.

Hearing about President Trump’s views doesn’t change overall charter school support. But it widens the partisan divide.

The poll confirms something school choice advocates saw on the ground during last year’s elections. Continue Reading →


How tax credit scholarships are similar to, and different from, other charities

School choice critics in Congress are pushing a proposal to penalize tax credit scholarships in the federal tax code.

In the National Review, Jason Bedrick of EdChoice points out several flaws with their idea.

Among other things, Bedrick notes, there’s no reason to treat tax credit scholarships differently from other charitable contributions, as Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., has proposed. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Teacher shortages, spending, recess and more

Teachers needed: Just days before the school year begins, school districts in west-central Florida still need hundreds of teachers. Hillsborough County has the most openings, 205. Pasco needs 128, Polk more than 110 and Sarasota, Hernando and Citrus counties are also hiring. Pinellas County has just seven jobs left to fill. “You have 67 public school districts in Florida, so we’re all competing for that same small group of students that are graduating from Florida universities and colleges,” says Teddra Porteous, assistant superintendent in Polk County. WFTS. WTSP. Lakeland Ledger. WFLA.

Spending analysis: The Duval County School Board delays an outside audit of the district’s spending, opting first to have the board auditor and district staff do an analysis of how the district spent $21 million more than it was budgeted to last year. Two state representatives had asked for an audit, which board members rejected. Now those members are saying they will likely have an outside audit done after the spending analysis. Board chairwoman Paula Wright says the first analysis should be able to narrow the focus of the second, which should lower its cost. Florida Times-Union.

School recess: Elementary students in Pasco will get their 20 minutes of free, unstructured recess every day. The district’s new student progression plan calls for “at least 100 minutes of supervised, safe, and unstructured free-play recess each week for students in kindergarten through grade 5 so that there are at least 20 consecutive minutes of free-play recess per day,” according to the plan. Decisions on how to make that happen will be made by each school’s principal. Gradebook.

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Nation’s largest private school choice program tops 100,000 students

The nation’s largest private school choice program has passed another notable milestone. During the coming school year, more than 100,000 low-income and working-class students will enroll in private schools using Florida tax credit scholarships to help pay tuition and fees.

Step Up For Students is a nonprofit organization that helps administer the program. (It also publishes this blog and pays my salary.)

The organization stopped enrolling students on Friday afternoon. Right now, about 101,869 students are enrolled for the coming school year.

*Data for the 2017-18 school year are preliminary and only count scholarships funded by Step Up For Students. Source: Florida Department of Education, Step Up For Students.

That figure comes amid the highest-ever demand for scholarships. More than 177,000 students started the process of applying for scholarships. Step Up has approved more than 23,000 applications for students it does not have the money to serve.

Doug Tuthill, the president of Step Up, said rising demand is part of a larger “culture shift” in public education. Continue Reading →


Siblings from Argentina adjust and thrive thanks to school choice scholarships

In a three-year span, Mariel Ubfal’s world fell apart. Her husband died. She moved her family to the United States. Then she watched as her children struggled in school.

The move from Argentina to America came in 2008, three years after Mariel’s husband died from cancer. At the time, all four of her children were under the age of 10. “Leaving was not easy,” Mariel said. “But I knew this was the right decision for my kids.”

Starting over wasn’t easy, either.

Being unemployed and underemployed for the first few years, Mariel struggled to pay bills and, at times, even to feed her kids. As if that wasn’t enough, her children began having behavioral and academic issues in their neighborhood schools – something that never happened in Argentina.

After moving to Miami from Argentina, the Mohadeb kids — Agustin, Barbara, Matias, and Sebastian — attended Hebrew Academy in Miami on Florida tax credit scholarships.

Troubles first hit her three eldest – Matias, Agustin, and Barbara Mohadeb.

Matias hated school because he struggled learning a new language. In eighth grade, he earned D’s and F’s and routinely got into fights. Agustin was held back in sixth grade for poor academics. Barbara failed fifth grade because she did not speak the language.

Mariel felt desperate. She called the school and tried setting up meetings with her sons’ teachers, but that proved difficult.

“Maybe it was the language barrier, I’m not sure, but I wasn’t able to help my kids succeed at their local school,” she said.

Mariel searched for a better option and found a school that felt like home, but couldn’t afford the tuition. Then a friend told her about the Florida tax credit scholarships. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps provide the scholarships to more than 100,000 low-income and working-lcass students.)

It was “the answer to my prayers,” she said.

In 2010, Matias, then 15, and Agustin, then 13, began ninth and seventh grade respectively at Hebrew Academy.

The school is smaller and more family-oriented than their previous schools, Mariel said, and its teachers are more accessible to parents. The curriculum is rigorous and the school has high expectation for student academics and parental involvement, she said.

Progress didn’t happen immediately. Matias’s behavior was terrible in the beginning. At one point, he refused to go to his new school, and Mariel couldn’t get him out of bed. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Funding study, retention motion, charters and more

School funding: Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, approves a study of the school funding formula’s district cost differential (DCD). The request for the study came from Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, and Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, who contend that the DCD has cost school systems in their districts and around the state millions of dollars since it was adopted in 2004. The DCD directs extra money to districts with a higher cost of living. The study will be conducted by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability and the Office of Economic & Demographic Research. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Retention suit motion: The Florida Department of Education is asking a circuit court to dismiss a lawsuit that challenged the state’s third-grade retention law and how it was implemented by several school districts. The Florida Supreme Court recently refused to hear the case, saying the plaintiffs would have to file suits at the county level. Now the DOE says the plaintiffs didn’t exhaust their administrative options before filing the suit in Leon County, and that students who refuse to take the state’s standardized tests have no right to an option of a portfolio review. Gradebook.

Charter schools: A new state law requires local school districts to share local property taxes collected for capital improvements with charter schools. But there’s an exception that will leave a handful of charter schools without any public funds. The amount to be shared hinges on how much debt a district has. Charters in districts with a lot of debt may get no money at all, while charters in districts with little debt will. So districts with little debt and charters in districts with heavy debt are both asking for relief. Tampa Bay Times.

Cities buy their way in: Affluent cities in Miami-Dade County increasingly are starting their own charter school systems or buying seats for local students in magnet programs at other public schools. The practice can increase public school options, but some critics worry it will lead to racial and economic segregation. Steve Gallon, a member of the school board, says such proposals “could result in the creation of systems and structures that could impede such access to poor children and those of color to a world-class education based on their ZIP codes.” Miami Herald.

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Breaking down the latest research evaluation of the nation’s largest private school choice program

The Florida Department of Education this week released its annual evaluation of Florida’s tax credit scholarship program.

Florida State University researchers crunched the numbers on test results for 41,372 low-income and working-class students who used the nation’s largest private school choice program during the 2015-16 school year.

The report from FSU’s Learning Systems Institute largely mirrors results from past years. Scholarship students are disproportionately disadvantaged, both academically and economically. Once they enroll at private schools, they make about a year’s worth of academic progress in a year’s time — at least compared to their peers nationally.

Here is a breakdown of what the report shows.

Scholarship students are among the most disadvantaged.

Compared to children who qualified for scholarships based on income, but did not participate in the program, children who used scholarships were:

  • More likely to be black, and less likely to be Hispanic or white.
  • Less likely to be English-language learners.
  • More likely to qualify for free-or-reduced price lunch (an indicator of economic disadvantage).

Scholarship participants also had lower average test scores in both English and math when they entered the program.

They make about a year’s worth of progress in a year’s time.
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