Archive | Tax credit scholarships

Florida schools roundup: Culture of leniency, school security, pre-K and more

A district’s discipline: The Broward County School District has developed a culture of leniency that allows students to commit what could be considered criminal offenses with little or no punishment and treats students as first-time offenders even if it’s their 10th offense for the same thing, according to discipline records and people familiar with the process. The emphasis on promoting punishment alternatives, known as the Promise program, provides a public relations boost with fewer arrests, expulsions and suspensions for misbehaving students, but has led to a message that “the students are untouchable. Habitual negative behavior means nothing anymore,” according to notes from a recent faculty meeting. Sun-Sentinel. The district’s response to the siege it’s been under for the shooting and the discipline problems has been to try to withhold information and to release statements that are later shown to be incorrect. Superintendent Robert Runcie has even blocked parents from his Twitter account, saying he won’t tolerate “profanity, hate speech or false information.” Sun-Sentinel.

School security: With a deadline approaching and under financial pressure, the Pinellas County School District is now planning to hire armed guards for some positions as a “stopgap measure” to provide security to all schools. Some school board members say they prefer school resource officers, but that Superintendent Michael Grego’s latest plan is understandable as a temporary solution. Tampa Bay Times. Volusia County officials say the school district and sheriff need to develop a plan on school safety before the county commits any money to help pay for it. The agencies meet today to discuss how to proceed to get an armed officer in schools before they reopen in August. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Two months after it passed, the state’s gun reform law is still a focus of debates in school districts. WFSU. WUSF.

Student preparedness: About 45 percent of the students in the state’s voluntary pre-K program students are not ready for kindergarten, according to a report from the state’s Office of Early Learning. The report also concludes that about 42 percent of the state’s VPK providers should be put on probation for having fewer than 60 percent of their students pass the state’s readiness test, but the office is asking for one more grace year before implementing that provision. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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Two national philanthropists will be feted for supporting K-12 scholarships

An organization that helped lay the foundation for private school choice plans to honor two well-known education philanthropists who supported it from the beginning.

The Children’s Scholarship Fund plans to fete Eli Broad and Julian Robertson with its Champion for Children award at its annual gala on May 15 in New York City.

Broad founded both SunAmerica Inc. and KB Home. He now the heads the Broad Foundations. He and his wife, Edythe, have donated more than $4 billion to philanthropic causes and pledged to give away 75 percent of their wealth. Among other things, they back an annual prize for the nation’s top charter school organization and efforts to improve public education in Los Angeles. Broad recently announced his retirement.

He was part of the Children’s Scholarship Fund’s inaugural advisory board and helped launch the program in L.A. In its first year, the parents of more than 54,000 children applied for 3,750 CSF scholarships awarded in Los Angeles. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Top court takes education suit, school security and more

Top court takes case: The Florida Supreme Court agrees to review a nearly 10-year-old lawsuit that claims the state has failed to meet its constitutional duty to provide a high-quality system of public schools. The case, brought by the group called Citizens for Strong Schools, has already been rejected by a Leon County circuit judge and the 1st District Court of Appeal, and the state had argued against the Supreme Court’s involvement. When the suit was filed in 2009, it alleged that funding for schools was inadequate and that schools were hamstrung by regulations such as standardized testing. The suit was broadened in 2014 to argue that the state’s school choice programs harm public education (Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer two of those programs). The court ordered the plaintiffs to file legal briefs by May 21. News Service of FloridaredefinED.

Securing schools: School officials around Florida are struggling to find ways to comply with the new state law that requires armed security on every campus. Last school year there were about 1,500 school resource officers for about 3,800 state K-12 schools. “The biggest hurdle is not lack of willingness, it’s not even an issue of funding,” says Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “It’s that everyone across the state … is going to be hiring law enforcement at the same time.” Twenty-three of the state’s 67 districts responded to a survey updating their progress at fulfilling the state requirement. Some are considering tax hikes. Some are working with law enforcement to share costs of officers. Some are considering arming school personnel. And some are hiring safety “assistants” who aren’t sworn officers. Tampa Bay Times. The Duval County School Board is expected to vote today on a proposal to hire 103 armed safety assistants to guard elementary schools. WJCT. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Testing, vouchers, home-schooling and more

Alternative tests: The Florida Department of Education is proposing to toughen the passing standards for students who use alternatives to the Florida Standards Assessments 10th-grade language arts and algebra 1 exams in order to graduate. In 2017, more than 35,000 of the 168,000 Florida high school graduates used the SAT, ACT or other tests instead of the FSA. If approved by the Florida Board of Education, the higher standards could be in place as early as Aug. 1. Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook.

Voucher capital: Florida already leads the nation in the amount of tax money given to school voucher programs, and the expansion is continuing. The Legislature just passed a law to pay for students who are bullied to go to private schools, and spends nearly $900 million a year on various scholarship programs for almost 140,000 students. Ohio has the second-largest program, spending about $266 million last year, according to the school choice advocacy group EdChoice. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, recently said in a speech: “You voucherize the entire system and put that power in the hands of parents, you change education.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Despite the charter-friendly atmosphere in the state, two additional voucher proposals won’t make it to the state ballot in November. redefinED.

Home-schooling bill signed: Gov. Rick Scott signs H.B. 731, which restricts the amount of information school districts can require from parents who want to home-school their children. Some parents had complained that certain districts were making it hard to register for home-schooling. Among the 17 other bills Scott signed were ones giving refunds to university students with excess credits who graduate within four years and establishing a statewide program accountability system for school readiness providers. redefinED. WKRG. Florida Politics. Continue Reading →

Loving the Earth, lauding school choice

The students at Mangrove School routinely visit nature parks and beaches. More than half the students beyond preschool use school choice scholarships.

This is the latest in our series on the center-left roots of school choice.

SARASOTA, Fla. — At a nature park bedecked by oaks and palms, a teacher at Mangrove School mimics a wolf call through cupped hands, signaling to scattered students that it’s time to breeze over. “Let’s greet the day,” the teacher says. They all join hands, then take turns facing east, south, west, and north as their teacher offers thanks. To the rising sun. The palms and coonti. The manatees and crabs. Even to the soil.

So class begins at another choice school that defies stereotypes – and conjures possibilities.

On the one hand, Mangrove School is just another one of 2,000 private schools that accept Florida school choice scholarships. On the other, its mission to “honor childhood,” “promote world peace” and “instill reverence for humanity, animal life, and the Earth” is impossible to square with a pernicious myth – on the policy landscape, the equivalent of an invasive species – that school choice is being rammed into place by forces that progressives find nefarious.

“I hear that, and I look around here, and I think it’s very strange,” said Mangrove School director Erin Melia, a former chemist with a master’s degree in education. “I would think it (the perception) would be the opposite. The people most in need of choice are the people left behind.”

Mangrove School started as a play group 18 years ago. Now it has 43 students from Kindergarten to sixth grade, including eight home-schoolers who attend part-time. Nineteen of 35 full-timers use some type of school choice scholarship, most of them the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income students.*

“We’re just trying to be available to as many families as possible,” Melia said.

That’s a standard view among private schools participating in Florida choice programs, including plenty of “alternative” schools. (Like this one, this one, this one and this one). Those private schools serve more than 100,000 tax credit scholarship students alone. Their average family incomes barely edge the poverty line, and three in four are children of color. Yet the narrative about conservative cabals feels as entrenched as ever.

Blame Trump and the media.

Last March, six weeks after he was inaugurated, the most polarizing man on the planet visited an Orlando Catholic school and held up Florida school choice scholarships as a national model. Just like that, they became a bullseye. In subsequent months, The Washington Post, The New York Times, NPR, Scripps, ProPublica, Education Week and Huffington Post all took aim. Every one of them prominently mentioned the connection to Trump and/or Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Ditto for the Orlando Sentinel, which punctuated the year with a hyperbolic series that attempted to portray the accountability regimen for private schools as broken.

Not a single one of those stories offered a nod to the fuller, richer history behind school choice. Or to its deep roots on the left. Or to the diverse coalition that continues to support it. So, again, a reminder: Continue Reading →

A wild balm of a school

Every structure at the boys’ camp site, including this tiki hut, has been built by the campers.

Editor’s note: See a profile of Gator Camp student Ross Perkins here.

Fighting, skipping, smoking pot – Jake Clayton’s freshman year in a public high school was a disaster, with explosive anger issues leading to a school record 44 disciplinary actions. Most days, the skinny kid with the mischievous smile would walk off campus and hang at a friend’s house. He failed nearly every class.

After his expulsion, his older sister discovered an off-beat private school called Gator Wilderness Camp, where troubled boys live on 250 acres with cows and beehives and learn to find paths to success. Could this work for Jake?

Jake’s adoptive mom, Virginia Clayton, was desperate enough to give it a shot. And thanks to a McKay Scholarship, a type of school choice scholarship for Florida students with disabilities, she could afford it.

Today, Jake is 17, months from graduating from his virtual high school, and planning to go to college. “The anger never comes out anymore,” he said. “I’d be in a pretty bad spot if I hadn’t gone to camp.”

Since its founding in 2009, Gator Wilderness Camp has served 139 students – nearly all of them on school choice scholarships – and become another distinctive piece in Florida’s increasingly diverse mosaic of educational options. Most of the roughly 2,000 private schools that participate in the state’s scholarship programs could be described as “mainstream,” but there are plenty of niche schools like Gator Camp. State-supported choice programs allow them to cater to the more specific needs of individual students and parents, and the more specific visions of individual educators.

Greg Kanagy, director of Gator Camp, is one of them. The mild-mannered 50-year-old grew up loving the outdoors in Pennsylvania, and earned degrees in physical education and special ed. He liked the idea of combining the two. “But I didn’t relish the thought of spending 25-30 years inside of four walls,” he said.

Camp director Greg Kanagy

In South Carolina, he worked for a similar school and found a passion for helping at-risk boys. The concept was inspired by a Texan named Campbell Loughmiller, who developed the first camp near Dallas in the 1940s and helped spread the idea around the country. After Kanagy got his master’s in education, the opportunity arose to move his family to the semi-tropical wilds of southwest Florida and start Gator Camp.

There is no sign on State Road 131 in Charlotte County when it’s time to turn off the paved road. That’s intentional. Isolation is key. A couple of miles down a dusty, white-sand road, the “school” sits, surrounded by vast tracts of farmland. The nearest visible neighbor is a sand and shell mine.

“I was a bit afraid of getting my hands dirty,” Jake said, “but I was up for giving it a try.”

The environment helped. It was hot and buggy, but also incredibly peaceful to hear nothing but animals and breezes making their way through the oaks, pines and cypresses.

The camp serves boys in three separate age groups between 10 and 15, with no more than eight campers in each. Most have special needs or disabilities. Many are deeply wounded. Continue Reading →

A private school off the beaten path was the key to a major turnaround

Kelly Perkins was in a full-blown panic when she woke up at 5:15 a.m. and her son Ross wasn’t there. For three days he wasn’t at school, which was nothing new, but he wasn’t answering his phone. She drove the streets of Cape Coral looking for him day and night.

“I come home on the third day and he was sitting on the porch,” Kelly said. “He was hiding with his friends in a golf country club bathroom.”

Kelly was at the end of her rope. Ross, 15, had gone off the rails, and his therapist suggested an out-of-home placement – Gator Wilderness Camp School, an hour north in rural Punta Gorda. That’s what spurred Ross to run away.

Kelly Perkins and her son Ross are all smiles these days.

Kelly didn’t want to send Ross away, but now Ross needed help.

Problem was, even if Ross agreed to camp, Kelly had to figure out how to pay for it.

Luckily, she learned, there was a school choice scholarship that made tuition manageable.

“Without it, I don’t know where we’d be,” she said. “Probably in much more trouble.”Ross was a good student when he was younger. Kelly spoiled him. He had every game system he ever wanted, always had name-brand clothes and shoes.

His hair was a playground. Kelly, a cosmetology teacher with short blond hair and kind eyes, loved to help Ross change his look – hair spikes in preschool, a mohawk in kindergarten. He got his ear pierced on his 10th birthday.

“I went with the mohawk forever,” Ross said with the same Chicago accent as his mother. “I’d wear it up or down in my eyes. I’d dye it crazy colors and shave the sides and wear skinny jeans. I had really great grades, A’s and B’s. So I could do whatever I wanted.” Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Death penalty, walkout, school safety, tests and more

Death penalty proposed: Broward County prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against accused Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz. Cruz, 19, is accused of murdering 17 people at the school on Feb. 14, and wounding 17 others. Cruz’s public defender says he will not contest guilt, but will focus on his troubled past to try to convince jurors to spare his life. Miami Herald. Associated Press. Palm Beach Post. CNN. An attorney for Stoneman Douglas High student Anthony Borges, who was gravely wounded in the shooting, wants both the prosecutors and public defenders off the Cruz case because they endorsed a program in 2016 to “eliminate the school to prison pipeline.” Sun-Sentinel.

National School Walkout: Students at about 3,000 U.S. schools are expected to join the National School Walkout today to protest gun violence. The protest comes one month after the shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Time. Associated Press. The 74. Education Week. Vox. Students around the state plan to participate in the walkout, and schools are deciding how they will deal with it. Palm Beach PostOrlando Weekly. Tampa Bay Times. Pensacola News Journal. Florida Today. Fort Myers News-Press. WLRN. WFTV. WJAX. WFLA. The Florida ACLU is urging superintendents not to interfere with students or punish them if they participate in the walkout. Gradebook. How young is too young to participate in today’s walkout? New York Times. A Lake County School Board member apologizes for calling a Stoneman Douglas student a “crisis actor.” Daily Commercial.

School safety plans: School superintendents are lobbying members of Congress to revise the STOP School Violence Act so it won’t be extended to private schools. “We support a revision to ensure that any resources made available to non-public school settings be funneled through an ‘equitable services’ provision, already in place through the Every Student Succeeds Act,” according to a letter from the American Association of School Administrators. Politico Florida. U.S. House Democrats will hold a forum next week to review ways to prevent violence in schools. Politico Florida. Teachers can already carry guns in 14 states. USA Today. Parents of students murdered at Parkland urge the Constitution Revision Commission to let Florida voters decide on a three-day waiting period and on raising the age limit to buy guns. In Lakeland, the father of another murdered Parkland student asks the Polk County School Board to approve a plan to arm some school employees. Tampa Bay Times. GateHouse. Lakeland Ledger. Members of the public urge the Bay County School Board not to arm school employees. Panama City News Herald. A majority of the St. Johns County School Board members oppose arming school workers. St. Augustine Record. The Citrus County School Board is asking the sheriff to split the cost of adding five resource officers to schools for the rest of the school year. Citrus County Chronicle. Pinellas County School Board members vote to not arm any school workers other than law enforcement officers. Gradebook. Continue Reading →