Today's news -- February 23, 2017




Dismal results from vouchers surprise researchers *

The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education was a signal moment for the school choice movement. For the first time, the nation’s highest education official is someone fully committed to making school vouchers and other market-oriented policies the centerpiece of education reform. But even as school choice is poised to go national, a wave of new research has emerged suggesting that private school vouchers may harm students who receive them. The results are startling — the worst in the history of the field, researchers say. While many policy ideas have murky origins, vouchers emerged fully formed from a single essay published in 1955 by Milton Friedman. Most of the new programs heeded Friedman’s original call for the government to enforce “minimum standards” by requiring private schools that accept vouchers to administer standardized state tests. Researchers have used this data to compare voucher students with similar children who took the same tests in public school. Many of the results were released over the last 18 months, while Donald Trump was advocating school choice on the campaign trail. The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading. The next results came a few months later, in February, when researchers published a major study of Louisiana’s voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school. They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point. In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math. Three consecutive reports, each studying one of the largest new state voucher programs, found that vouchers hurt student learning. The new evidence on vouchers does not seem to have deterred the Trump administration, which has proposed a new $20 billion voucher program. DeVos’  enthusiasm for vouchers, which have been the primary focus of her philanthropic spending and advocacy, appears to be undiminished.


When accountability is both unaccountable and meaningless


So far, DeVos is just what her critics feared


Trump rescinds rules on bathrooms for transgender students


Ros-Lehtinen calls Trump change to transgender bathroom rules “lamentable”


House plan would bolster school choice programs

A wide-ranging House bill filed Wednesday would increase the amount of money given to students under the state's school-voucher program and make more children eligible for scholarships aimed at students with disabilities. The legislation (HB 15), filed by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, would increase payments in the voucher-like Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Payments for children in private elementary schools would be as much as 88 percent of the public school per-student funding amount. It would be 92 percent for children in middle school and 96 percent for those in high school. Maximum awards under the program now amount to 82 percent of the per-student funding for public schools. The House bill also would make changes, similar to a Senate measure (SB 902), to the "Gardiner scholarships" meant to help parents pay for educational services for children with disabilities. It would increase spending on the program to $200 million, make students with a wider range of conditions eligible and allow the scholarships to be used to pay for more services, including therapies involving music, art and horsemanship.


Lawmakers seek reduction of federal Title I, IDEA rules

For its first bill of the 2017 session, the Florida House Education Committee decided to focus on fighting federal regulations rather than on testing, recess or other matters that have dominated discussion throughout the state. "We're going to boldly go where no man has gone before," vice chairman Rep. Bob Cortes said, riffing on the fact that the committee bill number 1701 matched the registry number of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek. Cortes observed that the measure, a memorial urging the U.S. Congress to convert Title I and IDEA funds into block grants, would hold no force of law. It would, however, show the strong sense of Florida lawmakers that the federal government has too much influence over the way the state and school districts spend the money aimed at helping low income and special needs students. The $772 million Florida receives in federal money, compared to its $20 billion overall education budget, "is really not justifying the level of scrutiny we're seeing," Cortes said.


On school property taxes, Corcoran tells Scott and Senate: “Hell, no”


Bay schools seek “common sense” in testing (Alexis Underwood quoted)


Pasco school workers' contract talks head to special hearing (Kenny Blankenship quoted)


Recess bill wins approval in Senate committee


D.C. charter teachers seek to unionize


Lawmakers eye higher education projects


Higher education budget chair favors vocational training


Flores proposes college scholarship for 50 children of farm workers


Presidential candidate: “I was wrong” about FGCU


Report: State households struggling to meet basic needs

For all the talk of an economic rebound in Florida, there's a big problem that too often stays out of the state's spotlight. More than 4 of every 10 households in Florida — 3.3 million of the state's 7.5 million households — are struggling to make ends meet. That 44 percent includes not only the 14.5 percent of households that earn less than the federal poverty level but another 29.5 percent of Florida households that are part of the working poor. These are folks ranging from fast food workers, the bulk of tourism industry employees, home health care workers and even teachers who find their modest paychecks still make it tough to meet basic needs. Two years ago, the United Ways introduced ALICE, which stands for "Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed," to better define the large population of residents who are working, earning more than the federal poverty level, but still have difficulty affording the necessities of housing, food, child care, health care and transportation. Back then, with Florida still recovering from a deep recession, the initial report found that 2.6 million households in Florida were ALICE. "When we first put out the report two years ago, the numbers were shocking," says Deanna Wilsey, chief marketing officer at United Way Suncoast, which serves most of the Tampa Bay area. The report is expected to be issued every two years to help track the progress of Florida's vast and vulnerable population. Today's report shows tiny improvements in the state's ALICE households as the Florida economy continues to distance itself from the last recession. But the gains have been slow and modest at best.


Lottery fight between Scott and House could be costly


Scott says fellow Republicans spreading fake news


Scott's PAC slams Corcoran as "career politician" in new video


Scott could be big loser in fight over Enterprise Florida


Visit Florida's breakup with Pitbull almost complete


So I guess Twitter is Florida's new field of honor


Should local governments have less power? Some lawmakers think so.


Scott must stop raiding housing trust funds


Judges look at Sunshine Law in workers' comp case


Gun injuries and deaths among Florida kids have spiked


Trump’s new deportation rules could cost the economy trillions


Immigrants hide, fearing capture on “any corner”


Police fear Trump immigration orders may handcuff effort to fight gangs


Trump's immigration crackdown bad for Florida


Students vote yes on referendum to make FSU a sanctuary campus


Trump’s tough deportation stance worries Palm Beach immigrants


Undocumented woman with brain tumor forcibly removed from Texas hospital


Ryan tours Texas border area where Trump wants a wall


Maryland Democrats to Muslim, immigrant constituents: “We need your voice”


Islamophobia grows louder in North Carolina


GOP realizing trashing the health-care system might not be a great idea


Repeal of health law faces obstacles in House, not just in Senate


At a town hall in Trump country, an America that’s pleading to be heard


Don't take away health care, Obamacare defenders urge Bilirakis at town hall


Frankel faces constituents from both sides of political aisle at town hall


Tough questions for Carter at town halls in Georgia


Louisiana senator’s town hall goes completely off the rails


In New Jersey, a record crowd at town hall presses Lance to get tough on Trump


Divisions of labor


Republicans are facing the ire of the anti-Trump movement this week. Will it last?


Republicans’ dream of tax reform is in big trouble


Pence says he and Trump will deliver tax relief by summertime


Some Fed officials support moving faster to raise interest rate


The Pruitt emails: EPA chief was arm in arm with industry


Automakers call on EPA chief to ease fuel-efficiency standards


In first month of Trump presidency, State Department has been sidelined


Tillerson looking for ways to raise his public profile


Chief digital officer steps down from White House job over background check


Trump’s “Apprentice”-style hiring is upending Washington


Trump is losing his war with the media


Why Trump’s frequent golfing is even more hypocritical than it seems


Pence makes stop at Jewish cemetery in Missouri where gravestones were toppled


American Muslims raise money to repair vandalized Jewish cemetery


The new American anti-Semitism


GOP senator says she’s open to seeking Trump’s tax returns as part of Russia probe


The death of compassion





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