Putting Education Reform To The Test

John O'Connor


John O'Connor is the Miami-based education reporter for StateImpact Florida. John previously covered politics, the budget and taxes for The (Columbia, S.C) State. He is a graduate of Allegheny College and the University of Maryland.

Who’s Been Giving To Jeb Bush’s Education Group?

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told business leaders gathered in Michigan that education can pull kids out of poverty.

National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA)/flickr

The education foundation started by former Gov. Jeb Bush has released a list of donors.

This week, the education advocacy group started by former Gov. Jeb Bush released a detailed list of donors for the first time. The Foundation for Excellence in Education posted the list on its website.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education conducts research and advocates for states to adopt education policies, including expanding school choice, measuring student, teacher and school progress and adopting the Common Core math and language arts standards. The group has raised $46 million since 2007.

The donor list does not reveal exact amounts, but lists each gift within a range — such as from $10,000 to $25,000. Gifts of more than $1 million did not have an upper range. More than 180 donors have given to the group.

Foundations were the biggest givers, with the Walton Family Foundation donating between $3.5 million and more than $6 million. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave between $3 million and more than $5 million over five years.

Education companies were also frequent donors. That includes: testing and publishing companies like Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Scholastic; technology companies such as K12 and News Corporation — which owns Amplify; and charter school management companies like Academica and Charter Schools USA.

The donor list follows Bush releasing three decades worth of tax records, part of revealing the details of his personal and business life as he seeks the Republican nomination for president. While the Foundation for Excellence in Education released its donor list, a related Florida-based group, the Foundation for Florida’s Future, has not released its donors so far.

Check out our database of Foundation for Excellence in Education donors below. Click on any of the columns to sort:

Financial, Education Firms Big Donors To Jeb Bush’s Foundation

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has disclosed donors to the education-focused non-profit for the first time. It’s part of Bush coming clean with tax returns and other records as part of his presidential campaign.

After leaving the Florida governor’s office in 2007, Bush formed the Foundation for Excellence in Education, with a mission “to build an American education system that equips every child to achieve their God-given potential.” With Bush serving as president, the group attracted $46 million from donors through 2014.

That donor list shows the circular connections as Bush moved from governor to education advocate to corporate board member. Supporters in each of those stages of his career contributed to his educational foundation — which, in turn, sometimes supported causes benefiting its donors. They include Rupert Murdoch’s media giant News Corp., GOP mega-donor Paul Singer’s foundation, energy companies such as Exxon Mobil, even the Florida Lottery.

The voluntary release of the donor names comes less than 24 hours after Bush took the unprecedented step of releasing 33 years of personal tax returns.

Read more at: bigstory.ap.org

After Veto, State May Not Be Able To Spend $60 Million On School Technology

Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of $3 million to study school technology may prevent the state from spending $60 million set aside in the budget for technology.

A $3 million veto by Gov. Rick Scott might become a $63 million budget cut that affects one of the governor’s celebrated priorities – improved technology for Florida’s schools. “We’re in a little bit of a pickle here,” said state Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity. “I have requested a definite clarification.”

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

Gov. Scott Breaks Budget Veto Record

Gov. Rick Scott issued a record amount of budget vetoes Tuesday, including many education projects.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Gov. Rick Scott issued a record amount of budget vetoes Tuesday, including many education projects.

Gov. Rick Scott’s budget veto list broke records Tuesday, and education projects weren’t spared despite Scott’s emphasis on K-12 funding this year.

In total, Scott vetoed $461.4 million from the now $78.7 billion spending plan. Scott signed the plan in private Tuesday and the budget takes effect July 1.

Among the largest items Scott trimmed was $15 million for the University of Central Florida to build a campus in downtown Orlando. Many of the education cuts were for new campus buildings or renovations: $8 million to renovate Norman Hall at the University of Florida; $5 million to buy land for Florida International University; $3 million to treat mold at FIU; $3 million for a new southern campus for Hillsborough Community College.

Scott also eliminated money for programs K-12 school districts rely on, such as $1.5 million for Teach for America. Teach for America plucks recent college grads from campus and runs them through a boot camp training program. Critics say TFA provides inadequate training, but Miami-Dade and other large Florida districts rely on TFA to bolster their teacher roster.

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Lake County School Board Could Ban Corporal Punishment

The Lake County school board could vote later this month on whether to outlaw the use of corporal punishment in schools. The district hasn’t paddled students in years, and was sued over the use of paddling in 1988 by a parent.

If given a final OK in mid-July, the decision would represent a significant break with the past. Lake officials have clung to the increasingly obsolete paddling policy — the district is the last in Central Florida to allow the form of discipline. The board last year decided to keep corporal punishment as an option, but a consensus has now developed that in a modern world populated by potential litigants it’s time to cast aside the paddle.

The goodbye comes with a twinge of regret for one board member.

“I’m not one to spare the rod,” board member Bill Mathias said at a recent workshop, adding that order is sometimes instilled “from the butt up.”

Read more at: www.orlandosentinel.com

Florida’s New School Standards Both “Successful” And A “Disaster”

 Frances S. Tucker Elementary School fifth grade teacher Yaliesperanza Salazar. Math lessons are carefully designed to match Florida's new Common Core-based standards.

John O’Connor / StateImpact Florida

Frances S. Tucker Elementary School fifth grade teacher Yaliesperanza Salazar. Math lessons are carefully designed to match Florida’s new Common Core-based standards.

Florida just completed the first year of one of the biggest experiments in U.S. education.

For the first time this year, every grade in every public school used new math and language arts standards that outline what students should know each year. The goal to have is high school graduates who are ready for college-level classes or the full-time work force.

School district and state leaders generally support the switch. Teacher and parent opinions differ about whether the new standards are an improvement.

But nearly everyone agrees the switch has been imperfect.

“This has been not necessarily a smooth transition,” said Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

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Charter School Applicants Could Have To Disclose Ties To Other Schools

Florida International Academy charter school students in Opa Locka, Florida.

Joe Raedle / Getty News Images

Gov. Rick Scott visits with Florida International Academy charter school students in Opa Locka, Florida in 2011. The school closed last year because of poor academic performance.

The State Board of Education will consider changing the state’s standard contract for charter schools to require applicants to report affiliations with other charter schools. Charter school applicants would also have to report the academic and financial performance of those schools.

The proposal is a response to the rate of charter school closures across the state. A South Florida Sun-Sentinel series tracked the issue in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, finding more than 50 charter schools had closed in the past five year. Overall, nearly one in three Florida charter schools has closed since 1998.

Some schools closed owing school districts hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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Private Sports Academy Getting $2 Million In State Budget

Bradenton’s IMG Academy is getting $2 million in the state budget to expand its campus. The school trains pro athletes in many sports and charges up to $80,000 a year. School officials say the money will help lure sports research jobs to Florida.

When a private, for-profit sports academy known for training international sports stars — and charging as much as $80,000 a year to attend their boarding school — asked for money, state legislators this week quietly pledged more than $2 million to the project. That’s on top of more than $7 million they’ve sent its way the last two years.

Money materialized for the IMG Academy in Bradenton, even as other funding projects for stadiums and sports venues were staunchly opposed by budget hawks. IMG became the exception, lawmakers said, because it has become an international sports juggernaut that is attracting 12,000 athletes a year to train in the region. And that in turn is pulling in tourist and growing Florida’s fledgling sports tourism industry.

Read more at: www.tampabay.com

What To Know As Congress Prepares To Rewrite No Child Left Behind

Thursday the Senate could begin debating a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind. Right now, the proposal would still require annual testing, but Education Week has the rundown on the areas of debate and what amendments to expect.

Among other things, the measure would:

Maintain the annual federal testing schedule;
Provide some flexibility on testing through a limited pilot program that allows states and school districts to develop innovative assessments;
Not include any provision allowing Title I dollars for low-income students to follow them to the school of their choice;
Maintain the requirement that states report disaggregated data for subgroups of students;
Require states to use disaggregated data in their accountability systems, but give them leeway to craft their own such systems;
Require states to identify low-performing schools, but wouldn’t be specific about how many schools states need to target;

Read more at: blogs.edweek.org

Data Helping Colleges Catch Students Before They Drop Out

Virginia Commonwealth University has hired a data firm to help the school find “markers” that indicate when a student is more likely to drop out. The school doesn’t know yet whether graduation rates will improve, but the school has seen the number of students completing courses and re-enrolling improve.

VCU established “success markers” for every major, identifying classes students should be completing at various points on their path to graduation. A chemistry major, for instance, should earn at least a C in general chemistry by the end of the first year, Sykes said. If that student fails or enters sophomore or junior year without finishing that course, he or she would be flagged for counseling.

Advisers can use the school’s early-alert system to search for groups of students who have accumulated a lot of credits but haven’t graduated or those starting to fall below a 2.0 grade point average.

Read more at: www.washingtonpost.com

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