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Why the racist history of school vouchers matters today

By Casey Quinlan
Policy reporter at Think Progress

President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with his pick for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a rally, in Grand Rapids, Mich., Friday, Dec. 9, 2016 CREDIT: Paul Sancya

President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with his pick for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a rally, in Grand Rapids, Mich., Friday, Dec. 9, 2016 CREDIT: Paul Sancya

On Monday, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote a scathing letter to President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, questioning whether she had the expertise to run the department. Among Warren’s many criticisms of DeVos’ record — her unknown views on many aspects of higher education and civil rights issues, for example — Warren also mentioned the “racially charged history” of voucher programs.

Warren wrote:

 After Brown v. Board of Education and the court-ordered segregation of public schools, many Southern states established voucher schemes to allow white students to leave the education system and take taxpayer dollars with them, decimating the budgets of the public school districts. Today’s voucher schemes can be just as harmful to public school district budgets, because they often leave school districts with less funding to teach the most disadvantaged students, while funneling private dollars to unaccountable private schools that are not held to the same academic or civil rights standards as public schools.” Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Extra pay, middle school marriage and more

florida-roundup-logoPayment questioned: A Broward County School District audit reveals that the district paid a former district police employee about $23,000 over her approved salary in 2015. Jillian Haring was a special assistant to the district police chief, making $60,664. But she was also being paid for other duties that the district did not need, according to the audit. Haring now works in the district’s special education department. Sun-Sentinel.

Middle school marriage: The Bonita Middle School student had an arranged marriage at 13 and was a mother at 14. Now she’s 20, and her 31-year-old husband has been arrested and faces charges of lewd and lascivious behavior. And Lee County school officials are left to wonder how the situation could have gone unnoticed for so long. Fort Myers News-Press.

School choice: At its quarterly meeting, the Florida NAACP debates the role of charter schools. The national NAACP recently passed a resolution calling for “a moratorium on charter school expansion and for the strengthening of oversight in governance and practice.” But there is dissent in the ranks about the issue. WOFL. redefinED.

Magnet programs: While Alachua County’s magnet school programs offer great opportunities for high-achieving students, critics say there are too many barriers for entry for students of different academic backgrounds. School officials say they are working hard to identify and encourage students of all backgrounds to apply. Gainesville Sun.

Legislative priorities: Common Ground, a group of organizations that has called for the end of Common Core standards, now says it wants the Legislature to end the Common Core-aligned Florida Standards Assessments in both English and math. Sunshine State News.

Religion in schools: State Rep. Kim Daniels, D-Jacksonville, writes on her Facebook page that the motivation for filing a bill to protect religious expression in schools is to get prayer back in schools. Daniels is a minister and founder of Kimberly Daniels Ministries International. Florida Politics. Continue Reading →


How Florida stacks up on private school choice

Florida is home to one in six of the nation’s students using a voucher to attend a private school, more than a third of those using tax credit scholarships, and just shy of 70 percent of all students using education savings accounts.

Those stats come from The ABCs of School Choice, the most comprehensive rundown of private educational options in the country.

EdChoice released the latest version of its annual report Tuesday, and it shows Florida remains one of the national leaders in private school —choice  especially for low-income and economically disadvantaged students.

Serving more than 30,000 students with special needs, McKay Scholarships are the nation’s second-largest voucher program. They were recently overtaken by Indiana’s means-tested voucher program.

Graph via EdChoice

Graph via EdChoice

Florida’s Gardiner Scholarships*, also for students with special needs, comprise the nation’s largest education savings account program. A potent rival — Nevada’s ESAs, which could soon be available to nearly all students — was sidelined by a court challenge and remains in legislative limbo. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Choice lawsuit dismissed, charter law upheld and more

florida-roundup-logoChoice lawsuit dismissed: The Florida Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by several groups that were challenging the constitutionality of the state’s tax credit scholarship program. The vote was 4-1. The decision upholds an appeals court ruling that the plaintiffs, including the Florida Education Association and the Florida NAACP, did not have standing to file the suit. About 98,000 low-income children are attending private schools with the help of the scholarships, which are funded by a law that permits corporations to donate money to the program and get a tax credit. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarships. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Tallahassee DemocratGradebook. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaPolitico FloridaredefinED. Florida Politics. Sunshine State News. Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association, wonders who can challenge the Legislature on the tax credit scholarship program. “This ruling, and the decisions by the lower court, doesn’t answer that question,” she said in a statement. “We still believe that the tax credit vouchers are unconstitutional, but we haven’t had the opportunity to argue our case in court.” Florida Politics.

Charter law upheld: An appeals court upholds a Florida law that allows the Board of Education to overturn a local district’s denial of a charter school application. The Palm Beach County School claimed in its suit that the law was unconstitutional because it infringed on local boards’ power to approve or deny charter schools. The Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that the Florida Constitution creates a hierarchy that gives boards local control, but gives the state board supervisory authority. The court also ordered the state’s appeal commission to re-examine the case and send its justification for denial to the state Board of Education for another review. News Service of Florida. Palm Beach Post.

The Trump effect: The Brevard County School District is trying to prepare for the effect President-elect Donald Trump may have on local schools, but say it’s hard to know exactly what it will be. “I’m just very unsure, very, very unsure what the presidential election means to the educational lives of next year’s kindergartners,” says Superintendent Desmond Blackburn. Some of Trump’s stated goals are similar to what the district already does or is moving toward, but few details of how Trump’s plan will be enacted have been released. Florida Today. Teachers unions in Florida and around the country are demonstrating in protests today against the Trump education agenda and the nominated education secretary, Betsy DeVos. Politico Florida.

Metric measurements: Florida high schools will become the first in the United States to use metric measurements for throwing and jumping events in track meets. Metrics have been used for all state high school running events since 1990. The change begins next month, and will be mandatory in 2018, according to the Florida High School Athletic Association. New York Times. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: DeVos, union election, teachers honored and more

florida-roundup-logoSupport for DeVos: Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush lobby for support for Betsy DeVos, whose confirmation hearing to become U.S. education secretary is today. Both call her a champion for school choice and for families. Democrats and teachers unions oppose DeVos, with one union official calling her severely underqualified and the “most anti-public education nominee in the history of the department.” Sunshine State News. Tampa Bay Times. Associated Press.

Union election: A Palm Beach County teacher has been told he cannot run for the union presidency because he let his union membership lapse while taking a semester leave to care for a dying relative. Justin Katz, a 32-year-old social studies teacher at Park Vista High, renewed his membership when he returned to the classroom, but says he was told by the union that the lapse makes him ineligible because the union rules require two consecutive years of membership prior to running.. The union’s outgoing president, Kathi Gundlach, declined to comment. Palm Beach Post.

Teachers honored: Four finalists are named for Miami-Dade County teacher of the year. They are: Nadia German, Ojus Elementary; Rodolfo Diaz, Miami Senior High; Laura Ortiz, Robert Morgan Educational Center & Technical College; and Alfreida Dianne Joseph-Goins, Dorothy M. Wallace C.O.P.E. Center. The winner, and the winner for rookie teacher of the year, will be announced Jan. 26. Miami Herald. Longtime Bay County educator Daurhice Gibson is the winner of the first teacher of a lifetime award from the district. She retired in 2003 after 40 years of teaching. Panama City New Herald.

School boundaries: Despite facing intensive lobbying from parents, Pasco County school officials are not changing the recommendations for the rezoning of two school attendance zones. “While I wish there was a perfect solution, I have not seen one yet,” says school board chairman Allen Altman. The board will hold public hearings on the proposed changes to middle and high schools attendance zones tonight. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →

Special needs lawsuit could have major parental choice implications

The Senate will no longer hold confirmation hearings on prospective Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Wednesday, but another hearing will have at least as much potential to rock the world of public education.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in what could be a landmark special education case. And unlike confirmation hearings, marked by their predictable partisanship, the case has confounded the tribalism that typically marks America’s education debate.

The nation’s largest teachers union and the national charter school association have filed friend-of-the court briefs on the same side. The National Education Association is at odds with several associations of public-school administrators and districts.

Ironies abound. The school district in Douglas County, Colo. argues it shouldn’t have to pay private school tuition for the family of a child with special needs. Yet the same school board is currently petitioning the high court to hear a separate case arguing its unique, district-created voucher program — which could help all students attend private schools at public expense — is constitutional.

At its core, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District deals with bedrock questions about educators’ obligation to help all children meet their potential.

It also highlights society’s evolution when it comes to educating children with special needs, and the ways the existing education system sometimes falls short of its ideals.

According to the Denver Post, Endrew’s parents placed him in a private school that specialized in serving children with autism after he began to show serious behavior issues in the public school he attended.

The district, they argue, should reimburse them for tuition to fulfill its obligation to provide him with a Free Appropriate Public Education – a right spelled out in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, first passed in 1975. Continue Reading →

The missing history from the DeVos debate


Betsy DeVos.

Critics of Betsy DeVos’ nomination as Secretary of Education have promoted a narrative that she is a free-market ideologue opposed to all education regulations.

But a step outside the shadow of the dysfunctional Detroit education system and a look at DeVos’ advocacy for private school choice paints a more nuanced picture.

A paper trail left by DeVos, and the advocacy foundations she led until recently, reveals a history of supporting choice programs that create academic, administrative and financial accountability for organizations that fund scholarships and schools that accept them (see page 24-25). She has also pushed private school choice programs to prioritize disadvantaged students.

“We target programs that are specifically geared to answer the needs of low-income parents and students,” she said during a 2015 interview.

These stances have sometimes triggered conflict with other groups that support vouchers and other forms of private school choice, but favor a more laissez-faire approach. School choice critics often omit differences of opinion that sometimes arise among voucher supporters. While these conflicts tend to be relatively minor in the scheme of things, they highlight competing philosophies and strategic approaches that shape the school choice movement.

A debate over tax credit scholarship reforms during Georgia’s most recent legislative session provides a telling case in point. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Workers comp, reading bill, top foundations and more

florida-roundup-logoWorkers comp: Florida lawmakers worry that a 14.5 percent increase in workers compensation rates will cost state school districts tens of millions of dollars in what is already looking to be a very tight budget year. “You could foresee some type of legislation filed this session, but the fact remains, as we are sitting here today, school districts are worried. And they should be,” says State Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who is also CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. WFSU.

Reading instruction: A bill is filed in the Florida House to improve reading lessons in schools. The bill, filed by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, calls for training teachers in “explicit, systematic, and multisensory reading strategies,” and encourages districts to step in earlier to help struggling readers. A similar bill passed the House in the last session, but died in the Senate. Gradebook.

Top-rated foundations: The Pinellas Education Foundation is rated the best in the country for the third straight year, according to a study by the Caruthers Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank. Other Florida foundations in the nation’s top 50 are Brevard Schools Foundation (8th), Foundation for Osceola Education (12th), Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools (14th), Education Foundation for Collier County (22nd), Broward Education Foundation (32nd), Educational Foundation of Lake County (40th), Polk Education Foundation & Business Partnership (41st), Public Education Foundation of Marion County (43rd), and the Education Foundation of Sarasota County (48th). Gradebook.

Charter capital funds: The Florida Department of Education now proposes denying state construction and maintenance money for charter schools that get an F grade from the state or two consecutive grades lower than a C. The rule was tweaked after an earlier version was challenged as discriminatory against charter schools in poor communities. Charter school advocates say they will continue to fight the rules through an administrative hearing. Politico Florida. Continue Reading →