Voucher expansion proposal gets new life in Florida House
Remember that school voucher bill thought to be on life support? The proposal was given a second chance Wednesday, thanks to a procedural maneuver by a state representative. Many observers thought the proposed expansion of the school voucher program was off the table after Sen. Bill Galvano withdrew the Senate version of the bill (SB 1620) last week. Without a companion in the upper chamber, the voucher bill in the House (HB 7099) stood virtually no chance of becoming law. But late Wednesday, Rep. Erik Fresen combined the voucher language with a separate bill creating education savings accounts for children with special needs. That bill (HB 5103, now PCB EDAS 14-03) has a counterpart being considered in the Senate (SB 1512), and is thus still in play. Fresen, R-Miami, said it made sense to combine the proposals. "The two bills were on separate paths to begin with, but they both fit under the umbrella of school choice," he said. "This bill now covers the entire scope of school choice." Critics said they were disheartened -- but not surprised -- by the move. "They're just not listening to the people," said Jeff Wright, who oversees public policy advocacy for the statewide teachers union. "The public wants its public schools funded, and this is taking away resources." The voucher program, also known as the tax credit scholarship program, provides private-school scholarships to about 60,000 low-income children. The scholarships are funded by private businesses, which receive a dollar-for-dollar credit on their corporate income taxes. The cap on tax credits is currently set at $286 million but is set to grow to $874 million over the next five years. Supporters are hoping to expand the cap at a faster pace. The original proposal would have allowed sales tax revenue to help fund the voucher program. It would have also enabled certain students to receive partial scholarships, and removed some of the barriers to participation in the program. Fresen did not carry the sales tax provision over to the new combined bill. "It was the most contentious point," he said. "We figured if we were going to revive the bill, we should adjust that part." Fresen did not add language requiring scholarship students to take the state exams. Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has said a voucher expansion bill will not be heard in the Senate without that provision. But the House has insisted that such a requirement is both unnecessary and impractical. "The House position has always been different from the Senate position," Fresen said. "All we were doing was consolidating two (House) proposals dealing with school choice." The new combined bill will be heard at a House Education Appropriations Subcommittee meeting Friday. Expect some tweaks to the education savings account provision, which seeks to create accounts for children with profound disabilities. Parents could use the money as reimbursement for tuition at private schools, tutoring, learning materials or services such as applied behavior analysis, speech-language pathology and physical therapy. What happens next will be a high-stakes battle among powerful forces. Expanding the tax credit scholarship is a top priority for House Speaker Will Weatherford. But Gaetz is holding firm on the testing requirement. Adding to the drama: the education savings account provision is important to incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who has a child with special needs. Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, said he was not sure if the combined bill language would be heard in the Senate. "It would still have to have a policy committee meeting, and I'm not planning on meeting again," he said. But Galvano, the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee chairman who spiked the original voucher proposal and is a co-sponsor on the savings account bill, said he was willing to "look at the language." "I still want to make sure there is strong accountability in there," he said.
Does poverty make a difference in VAM? Florida says “no”
By now, many Florida residents are fairly acquainted with the controversial teacher scoring formula known as the value-added model or VAM. The lengthy mathematical equation determines teacher impact on student growth and up to 50 percent of a teacher’s overall score by measuring a student’s expected test score against his or her actual results. And it does so by plugging in several variables apart from instruction that can potentially influence a student’s performance. Florida uses 10 such variables in its model: a student’s disability status; his or her English language learner status; gifted status; mobility; number of subject-relevant courses; attendance; class size; age difference; prior achievement scores; and similarities of prior test scores. But it’s the variable missing from that list that is causing more questions in measurement system already steeped in controversy. Florida’s model does not account for student poverty status.
http://news.wjct.org/post/does-poverty-make-difference-vam-florida-says-no (Andy Ford quoted)
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Giving up on 4-year-olds
A new report released by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, examining the disciplinary practices of the country’s 97,000 public schools, shows that excessively punitive policies are being used at every level of the public school system -- even against 4-year-olds in preschool. This should shame the nation and force it to re-evaluate the destructive measures that schools are using against their most vulnerable children. Black students, for example, are suspended at three times the rate of white students. Minority children with disabilities fair worst of all; the race effect is amplified when disability comes into the picture. More than one in four minority boys with a disability -- and nearly one in five minority girls -- receive an out-of-school suspension. Students with disabilities make up 12 percent of the student population, but 25 percent of those are either arrested or have their disciplinary cases referred to the police. This is distressing enough when it happens to adolescents. But the new data show that disparate treatment of minority children begins early -- in preschool. For example, black children represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment but nearly half of all children who receive more than one out-of-school suspension. The fact that minority children at age 4 are already being disproportionately suspended or expelled is an outrage. The pattern of exclusion suggests that schools are giving up on these children when they are barely out of diapers. It runs counter to the very mission of early education, which is to promote school readiness. It harms children emotionally at an age when they are incapable of absorbing lessons from this form of punishment. And it places those children at greater risk of falling behind, dropping out or becoming permanently involved with the juvenile justice system. Federal civil rights officials do not explain why minority preschool students are being disproportionately singled out for suspension.
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