Origins of Florida’s Tax Credit Vouchers–Or, Don’t Buy a Pig in a Poke

Diane Ravitch requested this article.  As I wrote it, I was struck by what a small, but politically well connected club was behind Florida’s choice movement.  They attracted big money to sell their ideas.  The end result, in spite of the growth of Florida’s tax credit vouchers, shows that: Not all Choices are Good Choices. 

Following Jeb Bush’s 1994 defeat in his run for governor, he dented his image.  According to a Tampa Bay Times report, in a televised debate Bush responded ‘not much’ when asked what he would do for black voters.  Faced with criticism, he launched a charter school in Miami, and the school choice movement in Florida began.

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Religion in schools, how much is too much?

by Pat Drago

For many of us, our faith permeates our lives. Religion, however, not only comes in many forms, it is based on strong emotions, and controversy is as old as mankind.  In modern times, waves of immigration brought people together whose religious faiths differed.  During the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, the issue came to a head over how to teach religion in schools.  President Grant and Senator Blaine proposed a solution, keep schools and religion separate.   A U.S. constitutional amendment failed, but 38 states passed their own version of the Blaine amendment to separate church and state. Florida was one of those states.

Public opinion wafts and wanes over how best to keep a moral center for our children.  The issue has once again reached the Florida legislature when HB 303 Daniels and SB 436 Baxley were filed to allow religious expression in schools.  The bills are framed to prevent districts from penalizing parents, teachers or students who express their religious beliefs in course work, artwork, or other assignments.  The bill goes on to authorize students to pray, organize prayer groups and religious events, and states that districts may not prohibit teachers from participating in student initiated religious activities.

Pat Drago, who was a former senior executive in Volusia County schools, offers some background on the role of religion in schools.

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Perspectives on Florida’s FTC Private School Tuition Programs

Public schools are the foundation of our democracy.  Yet, too often school choice divides rather than unifies communities. Parents want the best for their children, but when are choices good choices?  In this radio interview, Sue Legg and Charles Showalter discuss the issues surrounding the Florida Tax Credit Scholarships.  You can listen to Tuesday’s broadcast here.

Florida Appeals Court Overturns Ruling Supporting OPT OUT Parents

The Florida Appeals Court stated that the Leon County district court did not have jurisdiction over parents’ complaints about third grade retention based upon the Florida Statewide Assessment scores.  Instead, the court determined that the lawsuits should have been filed in local district courts where parents resided.  According to the Orlando Sentinel report, the Appeals Court ruling declared that the state assessment had a laudable purpose to ‘assess whether the student has a reading deficiency and needs additional reading instruction before or after being promoted to fourth grade’.

Sue Legg on Talk Radio about Vouchers

LWVUS announced a partnership with labor talk radio.  Now, the U.S. League has turned to Florida for a story about our tax credit scholarship program.  I did my homework, of course, for an interview on Tuesday, March 7th at 1:30 pm.  You can listen.  Go to their website and select the option best suited for you.  I use the Internet player .

The background for the story is historical and interesting.  Who would believe that President Ulysses S. Grant was a key player in the controversy over the separation of church and state in our schools.  Like any important education issue, the debate never ends.  It does morph as it has in Florida with the implementation of school choice policies.

Little Things Mean A LOT

For years now, small and medium sized mostly rural counties have received a little less per pupil funding than large counties.  It adds up.  Senator Hukill, Chair of the Senate Education Committee wants to fix it.  See SB 1394.

Her county, Volusia, receives .9739 for every dollar allocated for public school students.  Marion County receives even less, .9735.  Very rural counties like Calhoun and Franklin are much lower at about .93 cents on the dollar.  Across all students in the county, the funding loss can run into millions of dollars.

 

 

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Will Kentucky give up integration and go charter?

Kentucky:  United We Stand, Divided We Fall

Seven states have resisted the urge to go to charter schools.  Kentucky is one of them.  They kept bussing plans from the 1970s integration in place between the city of Louisville and its surrounding suburbs.  Yes, there was some complaining, but forty years later children are in classes with diverse socio economic and racial groups.  The latest opinion poll shows an 89% approval rating.  The Atlantic article contrasts Louisville with Detroit where charters abound.  Louisville comes out ahead, hands down.

Desegregation helped the city thrive.  Unlike Detroit, where affluent citizens fled to suburbs and bankrupted the inner city, all sorts of people and businesses flourish in Louisville.  Now their city cohesion is threatened with the introduction of three charter school bills in the state legislature.

Rep. Moffett’s bill 103 allow charters statewide but includes multiple authorizers.  This means that not just local school districts but mayors and universities or others could start a charter school.  Charter schools are essentially private schools that operate with public funds.  How is the public to know the effectiveness of charters?  If there are multiple authorizers, there will be different standards of oversight.  Some states have had charter school operators shop their ideas from one authorizer to another to find the one that will let them in.  The charter industry likes multiple chances to get started, but there are many reasons to keep the oversight and regulation of charters local and systematic.  Here is the take of one charter school proponent on why single authorizers work better.

Rep. John Carney, Chair of the House Education Committee, introduced his version of a charter bill 520 that allows only local school districts to authorize charters.  Disputes would be moderated by the State Board of Education in much the way that Florida operates.  The charters would take the same state accountability tests, follow the same health, safety, financial and transparency laws, and give priority to low income students attending low achieving schools. The staff analysis of this bill points out important concerns about sectarian and online schools, financial impact on public schools, provision for school closure as well as a major constitutional concern.

Targeting charters for low income students in struggling schools can be a trap.  Charters typically siphon off students in these areas who are more likely to succeed thus creating a downward spiral in those neighborhood schools.  It can make a bad situation worse.  The attrition rates of charters is typically high for both students and teachers.  The charter schools themselves fail at a high rate.  After all, the only ‘advantage’ of charters in those areas is that they can require teachers to work longer hours with less pay and no retirement benefits.  This is how the charters fund the extended time needed to improve student learning.  It’s all about money that is in short supply.

Bill 70 introduced by Senator Neal, would limit charters to a pilot project in Jefferson County.  The results of any pilot are clear.  They increase segregation both economically and racially, and they do not improve academic achievement.

If the educational goal is to close the achievement gap, then it will take something more disruptive than charter schools.  It will take a commitment to equity and that costs money.  Equity means that the needs of all children are addressed.

  • It likely will require more time time–a longer school day and school year.
  • It will help families and students to get access at schools to physical, mental and social support services; in other words, a community school concept where existing community services parents use are delivered in schools, not all over town.
  • School populations will be diverse in order to create a climate of possibilities.
  • Instructional strategies will have to be engaging to students with different abilities and interests.  This means that test driven curriculum and teaching strategy must yield to a more hands on, group based approach.
  • School cultures must be supportive and welcoming, not solely competitive for the next advanced class, targeted magnet, or gifted program.  Finding communalities must be as important as identifying exceptionalities.

There may be instances in which local district may benefit from the flexibility to try new instructional programs in a limited setting with a particular group of students.  Often state laws, district and teacher union regulations make these innovation programs difficult to implement.   Here in Gainesville, we have a charter that is affiliated with a psychologist’s clinic to help dyslexic children.  It is a unique approach that would not fit well in the district school, but the charter works with the district staff.  These collaborations can work but they are targeted to specific needs the district recognizes.

What does not work for schools is a whole sale ideology that private enterprise operates better than public responsibility.  In Florida, over a third of the charters operate for-profit, skim millions in self interested real estate and management scams, and compete directly with competent public schools thus weakening both the charter and public sectors.  The educational funding pie gets divided three ways, public, charter, and private tax vouchers which ensures no sector is adequately supported.

One of our mottos comes to mind:  School Choice is a Distraction, not a Solution.

Voucher Students Get Dismal Results

I was particularly interested in this report about Ohio.  For many years the lead author, David Figlio, conducted evaluations of Florida’s tax credit voucher program.  Figlio is a strong advocate for competition.  In Ohio, he stated that competition helped public school students but hurt students with vouchers who attended private schools.

At the risk of being overly harsh, I have to wonder if the purpose of vouchers is to create ‘sacrificial lambs’ i.e. sending some students off to fail in private schools so those remaining in public schools will do better.  Nothing in me wants to believe such an idea, but until the quality of alternative choices is assured, that is the risk parents unknowingly take.

 

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Rotten to the Core: Cheating Children

In 2011, the Miami Herald published an expose on the McKay scholarship program that is supposed to benefit students with disabilities.  The article was called ‘Rotten to the Core‘.  It was followed by a list of private schools that headed its “Fraud Hall of Shame“.  In theory, the Florida legislature corrected the accountability problems and the DOE has posted new regulations.  Not so.

 

 

 

 

 

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New Bill: More Money for Vouchers

The first of an expected onslaught of voucher or ‘voucher like’ bills has been filed:  HB15, Sullivan.  School choice can no longer be ignored.  The proponents have gone far beyond the smoke screen of helping poor children.  Some would argue that now they are helping themselves to public money.  Look at the numbers; you decide.  Is the state giving these children the education they deserve?

 

 

 

 

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