Archive | Tax credit scholarships

Expanding options for military families – Sen. Tim Scott, podcastED

Sen. Tim Scott

Sen. Tim Scott has seen how hard it can be for military families to find educational opportunities for their children as they move from one base to another.

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. Continue Reading →


Florida House backs private school choice legislation unanimously


The Florida House this afternoon unanimously passed legislation that would strengthen two private school choice programs.

HB 15 would increase per-student funding for tax credit scholarships. Children would be able to receive larger scholarships in high school, where private school tuition tends to be more expensive.

The bill would also allow military families to apply for the school choice program year-round.

Maximum scholarships in a branch of the program that reimburses transportation expenses for children attending public schools across district lines would increase from $500 per student to $750.

The measure would also expand the list of conditions that allow students to qualify for Gardiner scholarships, which provide education savings accounts for children with special needs. Continue Reading →


One man’s quest for market-driven education

In a PBS documentary, Andrew Coulson asks why education is so different from other industries — like shipbuilding.

In a new PBS mini-series, a leading libertarian embarks on a worldwide quest in search of functioning markets in education.

Spoiler alert: He doesn’t find many.

But the late Cato Institute scholar Andrew Coulson does find cause for optimism in his swan song, School Inc., as he scans the globe for places where the best schools are free to grow and serve more students.

He examines America’s elite private prep schools, which “have the quality, demand, technology and time to grow into national networks. They just don’t.” Why? They’re more interested in maintaining traditions than scaling up.

He looks at top charter school networks, which are built with scale in mind. But he finds philanthropists don’t consistently back the best. “There’s a lot of scaling up in the charter sector,” he says. “But it’s indiscriminate.”

He heads to South Korea, where extracurricular hagwons turn the best teachers into big-time entrepreneurs, but notes with concern that this marketplace is fueled, in part, by the country’s high-pressure, test-driven college entrance system. He marvels at India’s flourishing low-cost private schools, but laments the rise of government regulations that have forced many of them out of business. He notes Chile’s voucher system and rising achievement scores, but worries school choice has become a target of a Marxist backlash against the legacy of right-wing strongman Augusto Pinochet. Continue Reading →


A scholarship to a rural Catholic school made this student’s turnaround possible

Eventually, Jodi Haley said, she had enough. She felt she had no choice but to remove her son Jessie from his neighborhood school.

She was fed up with his failing grades, crushed every time she saw him cry about school, bewildered by the mysterious headaches he came home with every day.

All of that went away when Jessie got back on track at a little Catholic school, where Jodi credits a scholarship for opening the door.

In their town of Frostproof, Jodi said, the neighborhood school just wasn’t working for Jessie, even though it had been a good fit for his three older brothers.

“He was really struggling and it was heartbreaking,” said Jodi, a divorced mother of six who works as a technician for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “(My fear was) that he would eventually quit school and then go down a bad path.”

At the end of Jessie’s third grade year, school officials told his mom he would have to be retained because he was so far behind. Around the same time, he was diagnosed with dyslexia. Jodi knew her son needed help, immediately.

From left, Pat Carrol, Dr. Anna Adam and Patricia Gutierrez celebrate Jessie Haley’s Turnaround Student award.

Coincidentally, she came across a flier for St. Catherine Catholic School in nearby Sebring. The principal at the time, Dr. Anna Adam, tested and evaluated Jessie.

Now principal at a Catholic school in New York City, Dr. Adam can vividly recall the anguish on Jessie’s face when she met him. He was sweet and polite, but the uncertainty in his eyes and smile revealed how quiet and painfully shy he could be in the classroom.

“He came in as pretty much a non-reader,” Dr. Adam said. “But I didn’t want to retain him. I think if he would have been retained he would have been absolutely crushed, and we would have lost him. That would have been the end of him. He just would have curled up in a hole and gone away.”

Dr. Adam was confident she and her staff could work with Jessie, and Jodi’s heart soared. Not only had she found the right school, but they also told her about the Step Up For Students scholarship that enabled her to afford the tuition. (Step Up For Students administers Florida’s tax credit scholarship program and publishes this blog.) Continue Reading →


School choice in flyover country

School choice can’t work in rural areas? Tell that to Judy Welborn (above right) and Michele Winningham, co-founders of a private school in Williston, Fla., that is thriving thanks to school choice scholarships. Students at Williston Central Christian Academy also take online classes through Florida Virtual School and dual enrollment classes at a community college satellite campus.

Levy County is a sprawl of pine and swamp on Florida’s Gulf Coast, 20 miles from Gainesville and 100 from Orlando. It’s bigger than Rhode Island. If it were a state, it and its 40,000 residents would rank No. 40 in population density, tied with Utah.

Visitors are likely to see more logging trucks than Subaru Foresters, and more swallow-tailed kites than stray cats. If they want local flavor, there’s the watermelon festival in Chiefland (pop. 2,245). If they like clams with their linguine, they can thank Cedar Key (pop. 702).

And if they want to find out if there’s a place for school choice way out in the country, they can chat with Ms. Judy and Ms. Michele in Williston (Levy County’s largest city; pop. 2,768).

In 2010, Judith Welborn and Michele Winningham left long careers in public schools to start Williston Central Christian Academy. They were tired of state mandates. They wanted a faith-based atmosphere for learning. Florida’s school choice programs gave them the power to do their own thing – and parents the power to choose it or not.

Williston Central began with 39 students in grades K-6. It now has 85 in K-11. Thirty-one use tax credit scholarships for low-income students. Seventeen use McKay Scholarships for students with disabilities.

“There’s a need for school choice in every community,” said Welborn, who taught in public schools for 39 years, 13 as a principal. “The parents wanted this.”

The little school in the yellow-brick church rebuts a burgeoning narrative – that rural America won’t benefit from, and could even be hurt by, an expansion of private school choice. The two Republican senators who voted against the confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine – represent rural states. Their opposition propelled skeptical stories like this, this and this; columns like this; and reports like this. One headline warned: “For rural America, school choice could spell doom.”

A common thread is the notion that school choice can’t succeed in flyover country because there aren’t enough options. But there are thousands of private schools in rural America – and they may offer more promise in expanding choice than other options. A new study from the Brookings Institution finds 92 percent of American families live within 10 miles of a private elementary school, including 69 percent of families in rural areas. That’s more potential options for those families, the report found, than they’d get from expanded access to existing district and charter schools.

In Florida, 30 rural counties (by this definition) host 119 private schools, including 80 that enroll students with tax credit scholarships. (The scholarship is administered by nonprofits like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.) There are scores of others in remote corners of Florida counties that are considered urban, but have huge swaths of hinterland. First Baptist Christian School in the tomato town of Ruskin, for example, is closer to the phosphate pits of Fort Lonesome than the skyscrapers of Tampa. But all of it’s in Hillsborough County (pop. 1.2 million).

The no-options argument also ignores what’s increasingly possible in a choice-rich state like Florida: choice programs leading to more options.

Before they went solo, Welborn and Winningham put fliers in churches, spread the word on Facebook and met with parents. They wanted to know if parental demand was really there – and it was.

But “one of their top questions was, ‘Are you going to have a scholarship?’ “ Welborn said. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Education budgets, schools of hope and more

Education budgets: Leaders in the Florida House and Senate may be $538 million apart in their proposed education budgets, but both seem optimistic there’s enough middle ground to strike a deal. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says talks are collegial and he expects the differences to be “smoothed over.” Senate PreK-12 Appropriations chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, praised several programs in the House budget, particularly the $200 million proposal to create “schools of hope” – charter school options for persistently low-performing schools. “We are all on the same team,” Simmons said. Meanwhile, the Senate passes its $85 billion spending bill. That’s $4 billion more than the House budget, which is expected to be approved in that chamber today. Gradebook. Politico Florida. Support for the “schools of hope” program are divided along party lines. Leading Democrats are blasting the proposal, saying it will shortchange struggling schools that are already burdened by Legislature-imposed restrictions the charter schools do not have. Republicans dismiss the objections, saying the state cannot be content with 70,000 students stuck for years in persistently low-performing schools. Miami Herald. redefinEDFlorida PoliticsSunshine State News. Politico FloridaCapitol News Service. WFSU.

Facilities funding: Two groups with different constituencies are lining up to fight the bill that determines how much state funding traditional public schools and charter schools get for facilities. Democrats are trying to amend Senate Bill 376, which would require school districts to share facilities funding with charter schools. They want to allow local districts to raise more money through property taxes, cap the amount charter schools can get and give local school boards the authority to decide on sharing. Meanwhile, charter school companies are fighting a clause denying funds to charter schools that receive D grades from the state for two straight years. Politico Florida. redefinED.

Chronic absenteeism: Kindergartners have the highest rate of chronic absenteeism of any grade in the Sarasota County School District. Students are judged to be chronically absent if they miss 21 or more days of schools. In the 2015-2016 school year, 8 percent of the district’s kindergartners had at least that many absences. “It really matters because kindergarten is where they’re really learning to read rather than reading to learn,” said Sarah Mickley, a kindergarten teacher at Bay Haven School of Basics Plus. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Tests, school laundromats, black teachers and more

Testing in schools: The Florida Senate and House remain divided on how to reform the state’s standardized testing process. Both chamber’s bills push testing toward the end of the school year and direct the Department of Education to see whether national tests such as the SAT and ACT can be used in place of the Florida Standards Assessments. But the broader Senate bill would cut back on the number of exams taken overall, allow districts to administer the tests on paper instead of computers, and remove a requirement that teachers be evaluated in part on the results. The House bill doesn’t reduce the number taken, calls for most tests to be taken in the final three weeks of the school year, requires the results be returned to teachers within a week and sets specific instructions on how the results are reported. Orlando Sentinel.

School laundromats: Reducing personal problems as a means to academic success now includes doing laundry for students at some Lake County schools. Laundry rooms have been installed at Eustis Heights and Triangle Elementary schools as part of the district’s School Laundry Program, based on an initiative started in Fairfield, Calif. Students apply for entry into the program. If they’re accepted, they can drop off their laundry in the morning. It’s done by volunteers in time for the student to pick it up at the end of the school day. “The more we can take care of our students’ basic needs, the more we can take care of their academic needs,” said Eustis Heights principal Chad Frazier. Daily Commercial.

Impact of black teachers: Having one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade reduces low-income black boys’ probability of dropping out of high school by 39 percent, according to a study of 100,000 black elementary school students in North Carolina. WUSF. Education Week.

School repairs: Repair projects begin this summer at 10 Palm Beach County schools, says Superintendent Robert Avossa. The projects are being funded by a penny increase in the county’s sales tax, approved by voters in November. The school district gets half the money generated, which is expected to amount to about $650 million over 10 years. First up are weatherproofing at six schools and paving of parking lots, tracks and basketball courts at four schools. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: DeVos Q&A, teacher evaluations, projects and more

DeVos Q&A: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos talks about undocumented students, the variety of education options, Title 1 funding, bilingual education and more in a question and answer session during a visit to Florida last week. Miami Herald.

Teacher evaluation changes: The Brevard County School District is making changes in the way it evaluates teachers and administrators. The district is eliminating the Professional Growth Plans, cutting back on classroom observations and killing the deliberate-practice portion in evaluations of administrators. “We think there are much better ways to evaluate and assess instruction while giving teachers more time to focus on our babies,” says Superintendent Desmond Blackburn. Florida Today.

Making over schools: The Miami-Dade County School District is about halfway done with a $1.2 billion project to update the looks of schools and their technology. Glass walls, open spaces, interactive whiteboards and wi-fi are in, while rows of desks in boxy classrooms, narrow hallways and dim cafeterias are out. The changes are financed by a bond voters approved in 2012. Miami Herald.

Bond projects database: The Broward County School District is launching a website in May that will have details about every school construction project in the district’s $800 million bond program. Listed will be projected costs, a completion date and any changes for every school project. Voters approved the bond to repair schools and update technology in November 2014, but construction still hasn’t started on many projects that were scheduled to begin in 2015. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →