Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 13
Josh Ritchie for Education Week
Jessica Florea, 14, plays video games with her brother, CJ, 11, at their Jupiter, Fla., home. Jessica attended two private
schools using publicly funded vouchers, but the first school shut down and the second one asked her to leave.
told Florea that Jessica was no longer welcome. Its director emailed
some readings and assignments for
Jessica to complete, and told Florea
her daughter would have to finish
the school year at home.
"I said fine, that's probably best,
but you need to provide a teacher,"
to support Jessica's home study, Florea said. "I never heard back. I sent
email after email. Text after text."
In May, she emailed a complaint
to Step Up for Students, the nonprofit group that administers the
Gardiner scholarships on behalf
of the state, but Florea said she
never got a response. Ron Matus,
the director of policy and public affairs for Step Up for Students, told
Education Week that the group had
forwarded Florea's complaint to the
state because "investigating those
kinds of allegations is outside our
charge as a scholarship funding organization."
In July, Florea sent her own complaint to the state department,
which responded by explaining
that private schools are solely responsible for "student regulation,
dismissal, and expulsion policies,"
and therefore, the school had not
violated any laws or rules. (State officials didn't respond to Education
Week's request for comment by press
State officials also told Florea to
consider switching private schools,
and that she check schools' accreditation status before enrolling Jessica. The state then said it would
forward Florea's complaint to Step
Up for Students.
Despite a bulging roster of Florida
students attending private schools
with the state's help, there's scant
data and information available to
show how they do.
That laissez-faire approach to regulating the private schools stands in
stark contrast to the state's unsparing rules for public schools.
Private schools receiving state aid
don't have to track or tell the state
how many students graduate from
their schools, nor how many are bullied, expelled, or drop out-some of
the most basic measures of student
Private schools do not receive letter grades based on how well students perform on state standardized
tests as their public school peers do,
and they are not required to be accredited by an independent agency.
A recent Orlando Sentinel investigation found several instances of
private schools fudging health and
safety records, and hiring staff with
criminal backgrounds. The state
was often slow to catch the misdeeds and respond, the newspaper
No Accreditation Required
The vast majority of Florida's private schools are not accredited.
Absent a stamp of approval from
the state, accreditation-a multiyear process carried out by agencies
that conduct independent evaluations of schools-provides a way for
private schools to prove that they
meet certain fiscal, curricular, and,
in some cases, religious standards.
Of 2,214 private schools participating in the state's private school
choice programs, only 629-fewer
than 30 percent-are accredited, according to an Education Week analysis of state data.
States use accreditation to help
regulate private schools that receive
public funding, and nearly half of
private school choice programs nationally require participants to be
accredited, according to the American Federation for Children.
But for many schools, said Robyn
Rennick, the president of a group
that advocates for private schools
participating in the McKay program, going through accreditation
is impractical and burdensome, especially for smaller schools.
And as many proponents of private school choice and experts on accreditation point out, there's a wide
range in quality among accreditation groups and most public schools
are not required to be accredited.
While Florida's public school accountability system is viewed as
among the toughest, its hands-off
approach to private-school choice
programs is not contradictory, said
Patricia Levesque, the chief executive officer of the Foundation for
Excellence in Education and Jeb
Bush's deputy chief of staff for education while he was Florida's governor. The main source of oversight
and accountability in private schools
are parents who regulate them with
the choices they make, she said.
"The goals of choice are not to turn
private schools into public schools,"
said Levesque, whose organization
was working in more than 20 states
last year alone to pass bills related
to private school choice.
In many ways, Florida is in the
middle of the regulatory pack compared to other states, according to
the National Conference of State
Legislatures. Indiana and Louisiana have stricter rules for private
schools taking vouchers. Like its
public schools, Indiana gives grades
to private schools receiving taxpayer
money based on test scores. Schools
that perform poorly get booted from
the voucher program.
Louisiana also requires private
schools in its voucher program to
take the state test, and it doesn't
allow them to pick which students
Levesque points to the nationally norm-referenced tests students
are required to take in the Florida
Tax Credit Scholarship program
that shows low-income students in
the program score about average
when compared to their peers of
all income levels, nationally. And a
new study from the Urban Institute
found that students participating in
the tax-credit scholarship program
enrolled in college at higher rates
than their peers in traditional public schools.
Those studies are proof that Florida's private school choice programs
are working, said Levesque. That,
and the swelling demand for scholarships.
'Precious Little Evidence'
Indeed, there are many stories of
families who have been happy with
their voucher experience. Ebony
Smith of Tampa says the state's
tax-credit scholarships-the largest of Florida's private school choice
programs-has been pivotal for her
family. She used the scholarships-
meant for low-income families and
funded by corporations that get
generous tax credits in exchange for
their donations-to send her three
daughters to private school.
"We did not live in an area where
the public schools were good," said
Smith, a single parent and thirdgeneration teenage mother. Her
oldest daughter recently graduated
from Bard College. Her other two
daughters currently attend college
in Florida. "We broke the cycle of
teen parenthood in my family, and
hopefully, we'll break the cycle of
poverty," Smith said.
But new research on vouchers in
Indiana, Louisiana and Ohio is complicating an already complex debate
over private school choice. More
regulation and oversight doesn't
necessarily guarantee students will
do better in private schools, nor do
low test scores dampen parental
"If anything, it looks like that ...
kids might do worse," said David
Figlio, the dean of the Northwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy, whose study
of Ohio vouchers for low-income
children in low-performing schools
found they performed significantly
worse on state tests than peers who
were eligible for vouchers but stayed
in public schools.
"There are possible explanations:
they're getting a worse education ...
they're getting a different form of
education-and I don't think we really know the truth," he said. "But I
think there's precious little evidence
so far that these kids do better academically."
Erica Florea, Jessica's mom, has
all the evidence she needs to persuade her that private school choice
isn't working. Jessica is now back
in public school where, Florea says,
she is thriving with the support she
"So, three years later, after all this
drama, she was properly diagnosed
and has the proper resources," Florea said.
Data Specialist/Staff Writer Francisco
Vara-Orta and Librarian Maya RiserKositsky contributed to this report.
Coverage of how parents work with
educators, community leaders, and
policymakers to make informed decisions
about their children's education is
supported by a grant from the Walton
Family Foundation, at waltonk12.org.
Education Week retains sole editorial
control over the content of this coverage.
PRIVATE SCHOOL CHOICE IS POPULAR IN FLORIDA
Participation in the state's three voucher-like programs has grown steadily in recent years.
n McKay Scholarship
n Florida Tax-Credit Scholarship
n Gardiner Scholarship *
GROWTH OVER THIS PERIOD
Gardiner Scholarship *
Florida Tax-Credit Scholarship
*Gardiner began in 2014-15
SOURCES: Florida Department of Education and Step Up for Students
EDUCATION WEEK | November 15, 2017 | www.edweek.org | 13
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - November 15, 2017
Education Week - November 15, 2017
E-Schools Adapting to Transgender Students’ Needs
In Florida, Laissez-Faire Approach to Monitoring Private School Vouchers
New Survey Details Effect of Inclusion on Teaching Time
Are States Changing Course On Teacher Evaluation?
News in Brief
Teaching Parents the Right ‘Questions to Ask’ in Schools
Rising Food Allergies A Challenge for Schools
GreatSchools Expands Its Ratings on Schools
Study: Do Parents Need a Reason To Go School Shopping?
SNAPSHOT: Single-Gender Education
New Mexico Offers Teachers A Seat at Policymaking Table
Repercussions for K-12 From Democratic Election Gains
GOP Tax Plans Could Affect K-12 Aid, Teachers’ Pocketbooks
A One-Year Scorecard for Trump On K-12 Campaign-Trail Promises
A Primer on the Teacher Tax Break
Emily Phillips Galloway, Paola Uccelli & Christina Dobbs: The Power of Precise Language
Adam Urbanski, Tom Alves & Ellen Bernstein: Without Teacher Input, Ed. Reform Is Doomed to Fail
William Sterrett: Time Is a Principal’s Most Limited Resource
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Elaine Weiss & Christopher T. Cross: Education’s Golden Rule
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Are States Changing Course On Teacher Evaluation?
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Cover2
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 3
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Report Roundup
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 5
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Teaching Parents the Right ‘Questions to Ask’ in Schools
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Rising Food Allergies A Challenge for Schools
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - GreatSchools Expands Its Ratings on Schools
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Study: Do Parents Need a Reason To Go School Shopping?
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - SNAPSHOT: Single-Gender Education
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 11
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 12
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 13
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 14
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 15
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 16
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - New Mexico Offers Teachers A Seat at Policymaking Table
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 18
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - GOP Tax Plans Could Affect K-12 Aid, Teachers’ Pocketbooks
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - A One-Year Scorecard for Trump On K-12 Campaign-Trail Promises
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - A Primer on the Teacher Tax Break
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Adam Urbanski, Tom Alves & Ellen Bernstein: Without Teacher Input, Ed. Reform Is Doomed to Fail
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - William Sterrett: Time Is a Principal’s Most Limited Resource
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Readers React
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - 25
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Cover3
Education Week - November 15, 2017 - Elaine Weiss & Christopher T. Cross: Education’s Golden Rule