Archive | vouchers

Florida schools roundup: Scholarship oversight, tests, charter ban and more

Scholarship oversight: Florida’s school scholarship programs serve about 140,000 students and redirect almost $1 billion a year to private schools, but state regulation of those schools is so weak that many employ teachers who aren’t college graduates, falsify safety records but continue to stay in business, and fail to educate students without suffering the consequences public schools face, according to a newspaper’s investigation. The number of students using tax credit, Gardiner or McKay scholarships has more than tripled in the past decade. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel.

Testing the tests: The Florida Department of Education hires a company to evaluate whether the SAT and ACT tests can replace the state’s 10th-grade language arts Florida Standards Assessments and algebra I end-of-course exams. The Legislature required the review as part of the new education law, H.B. 7069. The assessment is expected to be finished in time for Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to make a recommendation on the substitution by Jan. 1. Meanwhile, Stewart says the department won’t decide on whether to delay the spring assessments testing window until after the hurricane season is over. Gradebook.

Charters schools: For the first time, the 50 or so charter schools in Palm Beach County were banned from this year’s “Showcase of Schools,” an event to show parents some of the most popular programs offered in county schools. School Superintendent Robert Avossa says the charter movement is “about spurring competition. So if that’s the case, why would you invite the competition to your event?” The incident is the latest in the escalating fight between district officials and charter schools. Palm Beach Post. The Florida Commission on Ethics rules that charter schools are not public agencies, but instead are more similar to business entities. Politico Florida.

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Study: FL private school choice students more likely to get to college, get degrees

The “triply disadvantaged” students who participate in the nation’s largest private school choice program enroll in college and obtain degrees at higher rates than like students in public schools, and those rates climb the longer the students use the scholarship, according to a first-of-its-kind study released this morning by The Urban Institute.

The college enrollment rate overall is 15 percent higher for the low-income students who use Florida tax credit scholarships, the study found. That climbs to about 40 percent higher for students who use a scholarship at least four years.

The longer students participate in the Florida tax credit scholarship program, the more likely they are to enroll in college, compared to peers who do not receive scholarships. Chart by Step Up For Students, using data from the Urban Institute.

Meanwhile, scholarship students are 8 percent more likely to obtain associate degrees. That number rises to 29 percent for those who secured scholarships in earlier grades and used them at least four years.

Annual evaluations of standardized test results in the scholarship program have consistently found the average student who uses the program to attend a private school makes roughly one year’s academic progress in one year’s time.

They’ve also found students who use the scholarships tend to be more disadvantaged than other lower-income students who don’t use them.

Urban Institute authors Matthew M. Chingos and Daniel Kuehn describe scholarship students this way: “They have low family incomes, they are enrolled at low-performing public schools (as measured by test scores), and they have poorer initial test performance compared with their peers.”

Studies have looked at long-term outcomes for other programs that help disadvantaged students pay private school tuition.

They found students in Washington, D.C. and Milwaukee were more likely to graduate high school or attend college, respectively, if they received a voucher.

But researchers haven’t looked as much at college enrollment among students who received scholarships from big, statewide programs. The Urban Institute report is unprecedented in its scale. It looks at more than 10,000 students across the nation’s third-largest state. It uses data from the Florida Department of Education, as well as Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps administer the scholarships.

Unpacking the findings Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: More join H.B. 7069 suit, bills, guns at school and more

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: The Orange County and Polk County school boards unanimously agree to join other districts in suing the state over the new education law, H.B. 7069. Members of both boards believe provisions governing charter schools are unconstitutional. At least 10 school districts have agreed to join the suit and are contributing money for legal fees. Orlando Sentinel. Lakeland Ledger. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WJHG. Rapidly growing central Florida school districts are unhappy that they now have to share money collected locally for capital projects. The growth of charter schools could reduce the need for districts to build new schools, but that’s a tradeoff that still doesn’t seem fair to the districts. “They (charter schools) are coming and relieving us with overcrowding and growth,” says Lake County School Board chairman Marc Dodd. “We wouldn’t need to solve the problem if we had the funding to build those schools. They are coming to solve a problem the state created.” redefinED.

Education bills: Two bills are introduced in the Legislature that would affect school board members. Sen. Gregory Steube, R-Sarasota, files a bill that would limit school board members to a pair of four-year terms. The other, filed by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, would allow two school board members to meet privately, without public notice, “so long as no official acts are taken and any public business is not discussed.” Gradebook. Steube also files a bill that would change eligibility for student transportation to schools. Right now, no student who lives within 2 miles of his or her school is eligible for busing unless he or she can prove the walking route is hazardous. Steube’s bill would shrink that distance to 1.5 miles. Gradebook.

Guns at schools: The Lee County School Board will consider a proposal to allow anyone to bring guns to school as long as the owner is legally allowed to have the weapon and keeps it in a locked case in a vehicle while on campus. The board may vote as soon as Sept. 5. “It’s just letting honest people do honest things in a prudent manner,” says board member Steven Teuber. “In my mind, I don’t believe it puts our district any farther in harm’s way in any way.” Alecs Dean, a firearms consultant, says the proposal would violate federal law, which bans firearms within 1,000 of a school. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK.

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A voucher smear lacking evidence

The 1990 launch of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program marked the dawn of the modern school voucher movement.

It was the product of an unlikely collaboration. Conservative acolytes of free-market economist Milton Friedman in the administration of Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson aligned with progressive black Democrats like the late state Rep. Polly Williams*.

The motivations of the two camps make sense. Conservative reformers drew upon ideas Friedman had promoted for decades. Williams wanted new options for disadvantaged Milwaukee children she represented.

And yet, opponents of today’s private school choice programs continue to assert the ideas shaping today’s voucher programs have other, far more sinister, origins — specifically, short-lived, shameful attempts by Southern whites to create private “segregation academies,” with tuition funded from public coffers.

The Center for American Progress is out today with a report titled “The Racist Origins of Private School Vouchers.”  Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Waivers, religious expression, charters and more

State seeks ESSA waivers: The Florida Department of Education is seeking waivers to the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in its draft for public comment. The state wants a transition period for students who aren’t fluent in English, a waiver on reporting student learning gains, and a waiver on the rule that requires school grade changes if 95 percent of every subgroup doesn’t participate in testing. The public can submit comments here until July 31. Orlando SentinelGradebook.

Religious expression: School districts around the state are starting to prepare for the implementation of the new freedom of religious expression in schools law. Students will now be permitted to include religious beliefs in their schoolwork, and pray at school. Some educators expect little change, since the law already permits those things. Others worry that the law will encourage some teachers to veer into religion-based instruction that ignores commonly accepted facts. Many districts are waiting for guidance on the issue from the Florida Department of Education before writing local policies. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter marketing: An Orange County charter school has budgeted almost $250,000 of taxpayer money over three years to advertise for students. The K-6 Renaissance Charter School will open later this summer on the south side of Orange County, with 661 students expected. To help fill those seats, the school has budgeted $148,725 for marketing in 2017-2018, $55,539 in 2018-2019 and $40,498 in 2019-2020. A spokesperson for Charter Schools USA, the for-profit company that was hired by Renaissance to run its schools, says the ad spending is “smart marketing,” and added, “Parents choose charters for a variety of reasons. We have to market it to let parents know it is there.” Orange County School Board member Linda Kobert says, “Charters have a different set of rules. The school district, the state of Florida, and the taxpayers have no say in how charters spend those taxpayer dollars.” WFTV.

Meal policies reconsidered: Schools across the United States are reconsidering how they deal with students’ meal debts. This month, the U.S. Agriculture Department is requiring districts to inform parents about school meal payments at the start of a school year, and encouraging districts to contact parents directly about delinquent accounts so children don’t go hungry. Several states are going one step further, prohibiting meal shaming or denying food to delinquent students. Associated Press. The Clay County School District is hiking prices for school meals next year. Breakfast at all schools will be $1.50, up 25 cents. Lunch at elementary schools will be $2 for, 25 cents more, and $2.25 at secondary schools, up 15 cents. Florida Times-Union. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Vouchers, immunizations, bonuses and more

Religious schools and vouchers: Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions this week could have implications for the constitutionality of vouchers for religious institutions. Monday, the court ruled that Missouri could not exclude private religious schools from a playground grant program. Tuesday, the court ordered the Colorado Supreme Court to reconsider a decision that the state’s Blaine Amendment prohibits public funding of religious institutions. redefinED. Education Week. Associated Press.

Voucher studies: Long-term studies in Louisiana and Indiana show that former public school students who keep private school vouchers for several years eventually catch up and sometimes pass their peers in reading and math tests. Earlier, shorter-term studies have shown that those students tend to lag behind their public school peers. redefinED.

Immunizations upheld: Parochial schools can require students to get immunizations to be admitted, the First District Court of Appeal rules. A parent filed the appeal after the Holy Spirit School in Jacksonville refused to admit his child without immunizations. News Service of Florida.

Teaching bonuses: The Manatee School for the Arts is offering bonuses of up to $3,000 fill two 6th-grade math teaching positions, plus higher than expected salaries. The district has sent recruitment letters to the most highly rated math teachers in school districts around the state. Bradenton Herald. Continue Reading →

The longer students keep vouchers, the better their results

Results in Louisiana and Indiana’s voucher programs took a step in the right direction this week, with the release of one study and the leak of another.

Voucher critics made the two large statewide school choice programs into targets over the past year. Studies looking at just a few years’ worth of data found students fell behind their public-school peers on reading and math tests after accepting a voucher to attend a private school.

The drip-drop of negative findings countered what had been a steady stream of studies showing private school choice programs didn’t harm — and sometimes helped — student test score gains. A gathering narrative argued vouchers harm student achievement.

The new Indiana and Louisiana results reflect students’ progress over a longer time period. And they call that narrative into question.

They show voucher students who remained in private schools for a few years eventually caught up to their private school peers. Some even posted achievement gains over time.

This highlights a consistent trend in other voucher studies, including a recent re-examination of voucher data from Washington D.C. When students leave public schools to accept private school scholarships, they tend to lose ground initially. Over time, their test scores get better as they adjust to new schools.

Schools take the time to adjust to new students, too. Private schools in much of Louisiana and Indiana had to figure out how to serve an influx of low-income and working-class students who couldn’t previously afford tuition. And sometimes schools have to adjust to new standards, tests or regulations that come with scholarship programs.

The new results have drawn predictable reactions from teachers unions and school choice advocacy groups. They might not bring a clear-cut victory for either side of the debate. But they lend fresh credence to arguments from people like Lousiana School Superintendent John White, who argued partisans should give vouchers time to work before jumping to conclusions about their academic impact.

 New years of data

Indiana’s low-income voucher students see positive outcomes in reading and no difference in math after four years, according to updated findings that still have not yet been formally published. They were first divulged on public radio by Professors Mark Berends and Joseph Waddington and later released by Chalkbeat.

As with previous research, the authors found a decline in student performance in the first year. But they also found as years go by, student achievement in private schools begins to climb.

“The longer that a student is enrolled in a private school receiving a voucher, their achievement begins to turn positive in magnitude — to the degree that they’re making up ground that they initially lost in their first couple of years in private school,” Waddington stated in an interview with NPR. Continue Reading →

U.S. Supreme Court gives legs to anti-Blaine Amendment crusade

Speculation swirled after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Missouri could not exclude private religious schools from a playground grant program.

Did justices signal they set their sights on a legal obstacle to school vouchers? Even informed legal scholars disagreed.

But the high court sent a much clearer signal this morning.

Justices granted a petition by the Douglas County, Colo. school board. The school district wanted the high court to review a ruling that hobbled its local voucher program. State courts argued vouchers violate the Blaine Amendment in Colorado’s constitution, which bars public funding of religious institutions. Continue Reading →