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Poll finds support across demographics for school choice

RealClear Opinion Research found black voters especially favor concept.

Re-posted from a story posted December 6, 2019 to Florida Politics Blog

By Jacob Ogles

A new poll shows growing support for school choice.

RealClear Opinion Research survey looked at school choice broadly and tested specific policy proposals.

The poll found 69 percent of registered voters support the concept of school choice, and the same number favor the ability to send children to schools beyond their zoned public school. About 70% of registered voters support a federal tax scholarship.

Advocates touted the results as a sign of growing support for educational scholarships, with one suggesting Florida was leading the way on the issue.

“Once again, a new round of nationwide public polling in 2019 confirms that school choice is incredibly popular with voters in every category, especially a federal tax credit proposal like the Education Freedom Scholarships,” said John Schilling, President of the American Federation of Children.

“This is a unifying issue among voters and policymakers should take action. The polling clearly shows that parents want more and better educational options for their children, and as we’ve seen in states like Florida and Arizona, they will become intensely passionate about candidates who support school choice.”

Respondents were specifically asked if they support a proposal in Congress where individuals and businesses could donate to a nonprofit fund granting organizations in states the ability to award scholarships to students who want to attend public, private, career or technical schools of their choice.

That’s similar to how the state-managed Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program operates

The survey found the strongest support for this voucher program among voters age 45 to 54, where 74 percent favored the policy. The lowest support came among those ages 18 to 24, but 66% of that group also favored a tax scholarship program as described. And 71 percent of black voters were supportive, the highest level of any racial demographic.

The poll found 73 percent of Republicans favor such a program, compared to 69% of Democrats and 68% of independents.

Among those who have children in public schools, 75 percent favored a voucher program. Among those in nonpublic schools, the support was higher, about 78 percent. Those without kids enrolled in school right now showed about 68 percent approval for the program.

As far as the concept of school choice, pollsters asked specifically about giving parents the right to use tax dollars designated for their child’s education in whatever public or private school best suited their needs. There, support was not as high as the scholarship program, but was still strong, with about 68% of respondents favoring the concept.

Here, the strongest support by age group came from those age 35 to 44, of whom 72 percent voiced support.

Here, about 76 percent of Republicans, and 77 percent of Republican primary voters, favored the school choice concept, while 64 percent of Democrats felt the same.

The poll still found a plurality of voters favor traditional public schools, just over 30 percent. But nearly 70 percent favor some other option. Almost 22 percent favor a private secular school, around 19 percent a private religious school, more than 13 percent a public charter school, about 11 percent home-school and 6 percent some type of virtual school.

The just-released poll was conducted Sept. 21-24 and sampled 2,014 U.S. registered voters. Pollsters report a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

 

Separating Truth from Fiction as Charter Schools Transition from Shiny Theory to Gritty Reality

Posted as part of "The Lens – Bringing vision and clarity to education policy"

Re-posted from an online column posted by the Center for Reinventing Public Education on November 1, 2019.

By Robin Lake

Long known as uncomfortable truth-tellers in education reform, the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell has for years tracked the problems that arise as charter schools have made the transition from shiny new idea to gritty reality.

For nearly 30 years charter schools have built a track record of success, particularly for low-income children of color in big cities. But individual schools and the system itself have also encountered unpleasant surprises and failures.

The results are a net positive for students, but there is much room for improvement. Separating the facts from the myths about charter schools could help these experiments in public education live up to their potential, so we offer this series of blog posts as a baseline for a new, honest discussion about the reality of charter schools in America today. Our aim is for this series to help clear the air and make room for the next big improvements in both charter schools and public education in general.

These conversation starters will be posted in this space, about once a week for the next month, with additional installments to follow. We’ll examine the evidence to answer questions such as:

  • Have charter schools increased public segregation?
  • Have they failed to deliver on the promise of innovation?
  • Have charter schools hurt nearby public schools by being a financial drain?
  • Are they magnets for fraud, waste, and abuse?
  • Do charter schools threaten communities and social cohesion?

No large-scale activity can operate without problems, and many of the same issues also apply to district-run schools. Yet opponents cite them as reasons to hobble existing charter schools and cap the growth of new ones. 

In the real world, some charter schools are poorly run, some school leaders misuse money and fudge performance reports, and some teachers do a bad job and treat students unfairly. However, other charter schools have truly inspirational leaders, are developing innovative new programs that could help every public school do better someday, while some are sending nearly all their students to college, and both charter schools and traditional public schools have good stories and bad ones to tell.

Charter schools would cease to exist if millions of families didn’t consciously choose them for their children. The question for policymakers should be how to properly govern them—to prevent abuse, protect vulnerable students, encourage excellence, and ensure charter growth has positive—not harmful—implications for children in other public schools. 

We hope these posts will restore balance and bring data to the debates over the risks and benefits of charter schools. Readers looking for pro- or anti-charter polemics will be disappointed: charter schools, both individually and as a movement, make real contributions but also have real problems.  As our future blog posts will show, most of these problems are endemic to all public education, not just to charter schools. Fixing them should be a priority for everyone. 

 

 

Modernizing the Federal Charter Schools Program

Re-posted from an online column posted by the Center for American Progress and dated October 28, 2019.

By Neil Campbell

Twenty-five years ago, Congress created the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) as part of 1994’s Improving America’s Schools Act, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. Just a few years earlier, in 1991, the country’s first charter school law was enacted in Minnesota, with the idea quickly spreading to California in 1992. The very next year, six additional states passed laws allowing the creation of public charter schools. With bipartisan support in Congress and requested increases from each presidential administration since 1994, the program has grown from an initial $4.5 million appropriation to $440 million in fiscal year 2019.

There are now more than 7,000 charter schools educating more than 3.2 million students in 43 states and the District of Columbia—a significant jump from the fall of 1994, when there were only 64 charter schools in operation. The aim of the CSP was to open up new charters and then evaluate how schools described as “a mechanism for testing a variety of educational approaches” fared. States with charter school laws could apply for funding to make “grants to charter school developers to plan their education program around the results the school aims to achieve.” Even as the number of charter schools has grown significantly, the program’s focus on opening new schools has continued into the present day, with as much as $377 million—or 85 percent of CSP funding—in FY 2019 being dedicated to the operators of new charter schools.

However, the charter sector in 2019 is much different than it was back in 1994. Policymakers should acknowledge this change and modernize the CSP accordingly to reflect the current strengths and challenges of the charter sector. In addition to grants to open new schools and facilities financing assistance, the CSP should reflect a balanced approach to charter school policy focused on encouraging the smart growth of excellent schools, improving the quality of existing charter schools, and confronting challenges in the charter sector. Using this approach, federal policymakers can support states and local communities in reaching the goal of public schools having a good seat for every child.

Encouraging smart growth

While only 6 percent of public school students nationwide are enrolled in charter schools, the percentages tend to be much higher in the country’s largest cities. For example, in Los Angeles, more than 25 percent of public school students are enrolled in charters; in Philadelphia, nearly a third of public school students are enrolled in charters; and in Washington, D.C., slightly less than half of public school students are enrolled in charter schools. These significant market shares—coupled with stagnating growth in total K-12 school enrollment in cities such as Denver and declining overall enrollment in cities such as Chicago, Baltimore, and Detroit—raise the political and educational stakes for communities when they open new public schools. Charter schools do not operate in silos, and the decision to open new schools can have an impact on both traditional public schools and charter schools already in operation. At the same time, charter schools in urban areas have shown achievement gains when compared with traditional public schools, and for this reason, increasing the number of high-quality charters can be an important strategy for providing every student with a great school. Yet it is critical to take a smart approach to growing the charter sector.

In addition to providing grants to open new charter schools and for facilities financing assistance, the CSP should make investments to support smart growth, including the following:

  • The CSP should create communitywide analyses spanning traditional school districts and the charter sector in order to project enrollment patterns and research what kinds of educational programs parents want for their children. As deemed appropriate, these grants could be made to mayors, to districts that serve as charter authorizers along with representatives of the charter sector, and to consortia of districts as well as charter authorizers and operators. The analyses should apply an explicit equity lens based on race, income, disability, and home language in order to help districts, charter authorizers, and charter school operators understand whether there are unmet needs in particular neighborhoods and whether there is a need for specialized programs to improve equitable access to opportunities for underserved students. For example, this could highlight significant interest in dual-language offerings or programs that focus on career and technical education.
  • The CSP should provide grants to consortia of districts and charter schools in order to launch and support unified enrollment systems and therefore improve equitable access to charter schools and other public schools of choice. By using fair and efficient algorithms, conducting extensive outreach, and using carefully considered lottery rules, unified enrollment systems can simplify the enrollment process for both families and schools.
  • The CSP should invest in programs to support early-growth charter networks. Nearly two-thirds of charter schools are independently managed, but many philanthropic and federal investments in these schools are focused on the growth of successful nonprofit charter management organizations (CMOs). Helping interested independent schools strengthen their organizations to prepare for growth is not just about providing school start-up funding; federal funding should also build on initiatives such as the Emerging CMO Fund and the Charter Network Accelerator to widen access to resources and build capacity at community-created schools and charters led by Black, Latinx, and Native leaders.

Helping existing charter schools improve

Researching the impact that charter schools have on student outcomes is challenging. Study  results that look at charters using enrollment lotteries may not be generalizable to schools that are not oversubscribed and thus do not use lotteries. Moreover, studies that compare seemingly similar students could miss important differences between them. Yet a theme common to all of these studies is that there is marked variability in the success of charter schools, with some seeing tremendous success and others failing to outpace traditional public schools.

One response to this variability has been to invest in expanding the most successful schools. While such expansion is important, there are also thousands of other schools that could be serving students better. Therefore, another strategy for improving the quality of existing schools should be to target investments so that they address some of the unique challenges that charter schools face. Millions of students are already enrolled in charter schools. Many of these schools are independently run and are in communities that want an increased say in how their schools operate. These investments could include the following recommendations:

  • The CSP should provide grants to consortia—including districts, charter schools, associations, and authorizers—in order to support special education cooperation. Developing the expertise to successfully serve students with disabilities is a challenge for all schools but can be particularly acute for charters and small school districts that may not enroll many students with low-incidence disabilities, who require highly specialized services and supports. Cooperation agreements with local districts, regional service providers, or collaboratives with other charters could help charters to access expertise that would help improve outcomes for such students. In 2017, the Center for American Progress published a report with the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) that profiled examples of districts and charter schools pursuing similar efforts.
  • The CSP should provide grants to consortia of charter schools or charter school associations in order to improve economies of scale for small charter operators. In addition to the special education challenges detailed above, many charter operators are not able to access the same pricing for curricula, supplies, support services, or technology as larger districts and networks. Developing partnerships with institutions of higher education or other community partners could also prove challenging. However, by creating or expanding the capacity of collaborative organizations, charter schools could free up resources to invest elsewhere in their programs.
  • The CSP should provide grants to states in order to make curricular resources from the most successful charter operators widely available. Many small charters and schools may not be able to develop their own high-quality curricular resources. A number of charters have already shared their expertise. However, grants to states could allow them to develop and share resources as well as best practices from the most effective charter operators across a wider array of subject areas and grade spans. 

Confronting challenges in the charter school sector

The founding premise of charter schools is that they have increased autonomy. By committing to meeting the academic requirements and other goals in their charters, these schools free themselves from many of the rules and regulations that exist for traditional public schools. Many have used this flexibility, for example, to lengthen the school day or year and to develop specialized programs for high-need students; however, some operators have taken advantage of this flexibility for financial gain. A 2018 CAP report on for-profit virtual charter schools highlighted academic underperformance at these schools and the exorbitant executive compensation at the largest operator in the sector. Another troubling example comes from two Indiana virtual charter schools with inflated enrollment data that were shut down this past summer. The state is possibly seeking the return of up to $40 million in funding the schools received for students who were not actually enrolled. 

These gaps in policy can allow bad actors to damage the reputation of the entire sector. They need to be addressed in order to protect taxpayer resources as well as the educations of current and future students. To confront these challenges, state-level requirements could be added to the CSP State Entities competition, including the following: 

  • The CSP should ban incentive compensation for student recruitment and enrollment, similar to legislation and regulations in place for institutions of higher education. Families should be able to select schools that are the right fit for their children without receiving high-pressure sales pitches from people with money on the line.
  • The CSP should establish clear conflict of interest requirements so that the leaders of charter schools and their board members cannot enrich themselves through real estate, management, or other contracts with the schools they are responsible for leading.
  • The CSP should require that management contracts for charter schools ensure that critical decision-making authority remains with the school’s board. They should also ensure that the school’s board has transparent access to financial and other data; that contracts are severable so that a change in management companies does not mean that the school has to close; and that equipment and supplies bought with public funds are owned by the school. 

Conclusion

As the federal Charter Schools Program enters its second quarter-century, it is supporting a very different charter sector than when it was launched in 1994. There are now more than 7,000 charter schools—although net growth in the sector has slowed noticeably in recent years for a range of reasons, such as caps on the number of charter schools in some states and difficulties finding and affording suitable facilities. During the past 25 years, high-performing CMOs have grown to educate hundreds of thousands of students, but so have much lower-performing for-profit virtual charter schools.

Fortunately, using the recommendations outlined above, policymakers can modernize the CSP by taking a balanced approach to charter schools that focuses on encouraging smart growth, helping existing charter schools improve, and confronting the challenges in the charter sector.

Neil Campbell is the director of innovation for K-12 Education at the Center for American Progress.

 

 

 

FCPCS Honors 2019 Champions at State Conference

PHOTO: Winners of 2019 Florida Charter School Champions Awards, Presented by the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools (FCPCS).

ORLANDO, Fla., (November 15, 2019) -- The Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools (FCPCS) has honored winners of its 2019 Florida Charter School Champions Awards, which were presented at the recent Florida Charter School Conference in Orlando.

For the eighth consecutive year, FCPCS received nominations in several categories, including charter school teachers, charter school leaders, charter school governing board members and charter school preferred partners.  A new category, “Charter School Innovators” was added for 2019.  Winners received their awards at an evening awards reception and presentation.

Winners of Champions Awards for charter school teachers were Alan Androski of James Madison Preparatory High School in Madison, Fla., Lorna Cohen of Countryside Montessori Charter School in Land O’Lakes, Jennifer Gay of Hope Charter School in Ocoee and Karima Grayson of SunEd High School in Margate.

Champions Award winners in the category of charter school leaders were Kim Guilarte-Gil, Principal of Somerset Academy South Miami, Alan Hall, CEO and Principal of San Jose Schools in Jacksonville, Victoria Laurrari, Principal of Pinecrest Academy North in Miami, Carla Lovett, CEO of Palm Bay Education Group in Panama City, Dee-ette Naukana, Principal of SunFire High School in Fort Lauderdale, Corey Oliver, Principal of Somerset Jefferson K-12 in Monticello and Allen Quain, Principal of Hope Charter School in Ocoee.

Champions Awards for charter school governing board members were presented to David R. Kraner, President of the Board of Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto and Brent Appy, Treasurer of Burns Science and Technology Charter School in Oak Hill.

Winning Champions Awards in the new category of “charter school innovators” were Raquel Espinosa, valued consultant to FCPCS, Dana Greatrex, Community Coordinator for Burns Science and Technology Charter School in Oak Hill, Marianne Keller, Board Chair of Building Hope in Washington, D.C., Julio Robaina, founder of the City of Hialeah Educational Academy, and Henry Rose, Chair of Parents for Charter Schools.

Awards were given to two preferred vendor partners of Florida charter schools. The two Preferred Partner Award winners were E-Rate Advantage and Curriculum Associates.

Finally, FCPCS President Robert Haag presented a special Champions Award to Becky Katz for “her exemplary service and support to the Florida Consortium and all of our member schools.”  Becky Katz is the longtime Director of Operations and Marketing for FCPCS.

About the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools

Celebrating its 20th Anniversary as an organization driving the charter school movement in Florida, the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools (FCPCS) is the leading charter school membership association in the state, with a membership of nearly 75 percent of all operating charter schools.  Since its inception in 1999, FCPCS has been dedicated to creating a national model of high quality, accredited public charter schools that are student-centered and performance-driven.  FCPCS provides a wide array of technical support, mentoring, training, networking, and purchasing services to its membership, as well as serving as an advocate for all Florida public charter schools.

 

U.S. Department of Education Honors Four Member Schools of the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools (FCPCS)

FCPCS Congratulates its Member Schools Honored as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C., (October 7, 2019) -- Four member schools of the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools have been recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2019 by the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C.

Three of the award-winning schools are located in Miami.  They are Mater Academy East Charter Middle School, Mater Academy East Elementary Charter School and Pinecrest Academy (North Campus).  The fourth school is Choices in Learning Elementary Charter School in Winter Springs, Fla.

The four Florida charter schools were among 362 public and private schools recognized for their overall academic performance or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

"The Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools congratulates the winning schools,” said Robert Haag, President of FCPCS.  “We are proud of their accomplishments and of their membership in FCPCS.”

Each winning school receives a flag that identifies that school as a National Blue Ribbon School for 2019.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, the flags “affirm the hard work of students, educators, families and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging content.”

The winning schools are:

  • Mater Academy East Charter Middle School, Miami, offers first-class academic programs to enable students to become productive citizens who are prepared to address the challenges of the twenty-first century.
  • Mater Academy East Elementary Charter School, Miami, provides a loving, caring, and supportive educational environment that furthers a philosophy of respect and high expectations for all students, parents, teachers and staff.  The school's mission is to accomplish this by providing students with the necessary skills to reach their highest potential. 
  • Pinecrest Academy (North Campus), Miami, provides a challenging curriculum where academic excellence, character development, and individual growth are nurtured in a safe environment that involves the active participation of students, teachers, parents and community members. 
  • Choices in Learning Elementary Charter School, Winter Springs.  It is the mission of Choices in Learning Elementary Charter School to inspire and educate lifelong learners through a cooperative learning community. 

About the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools

Celebrating its 20th Anniversary as an organization driving the charter school movement in Florida, the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools (FCPCS) is the leading charter school membership association in the state, with a membership of nearly 75 percent of all operating charter schools.  Since its inception in 1999, FCPCS has been dedicated to creating a national model of high quality, accredited public charter schools that are student-centered and performance-driven.  FCPCS provides a wide array of technical support, mentoring, training, networking, and purchasing services to its membership, as well as serving as an advocate for all Florida public charter schools.

 
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