Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Teachers Union Trying to Block School Choice Loses in Florida Court

Florida children won in court Wednesday.  In a hearing that lasted approximately 19-minutes, Leon County circuit court judge Charles Francis dismissed the Florida Education Association’s lawsuit to block the state’s innovative Personal Learning Scholarship Account school choice option, finding that the FEA did not have standing to challenge the law.

Although the FEA has 15 days to rework its argument, this ruling means that nearly 1,000 Floridian children will likely be able to use their scholarship accounts this school year.

Florida’s PLSA program is the nation’s second education savings account program. It allows over one thousand Floridian families to fully customize their child’s education with a variety of education tools and services. That is what was at stake on Wednesday.

The FEA had claimed that SB 850 —the law that created the savings accounts —violated the state constitutional requirement that “every law shall embrace but one subject… and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title,” because it contains multiple subjects not expressed in the bill’s title.

But the FEA failed to show how school choice for students would directly harm the teacher’s union. Without this showing, the FEA lacks standing and cannot sue.

According to RedefinED’s Travis Pillow, Ramya Ravindran, counsel for the FEA, had argued that parts of the law “arise under the Legislature’s taxing and spending power.” And the FEA had sued under a Florida law that grants taxpayers standing to challenge Florida laws that go beyond the state constitutional authority to tax or spend.

But Judge Francis was apparently not buying that argument, and his ruling is a big win for students in Florida.

According to Florida’s Step Up for Students, one of the organizations managing the PLSAs, the program has received more than 3,000 applications and has distributed nearly 1,000 accounts. After this ruling, the freeze on the accounts is lifted, and those students anxiously awaiting access to their accounts will finally be able to move forward as they planned this school year.

The Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, which successfully litigated on behalf of education savings account recipients in Arizona, filed a motion of intervention on behalf of five Florida families early in the case.

Similar to Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, Florida’s PLSA allows families of children with special-needs— defined in statute as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Spina bifida, Williams syndrome or Intellectual disability (severe cognitive impairment) and kindergarten students deemed “high risk” because of developmental delays—to fully tailor their child’s education to their child’s unique learning needs.

With Florida’s accounts, the state deposits 90 percent of its per-pupil state funds into a restricted-use savings account for parents to fully customize their child’s education through a variety of pre-approved educational services and products, including private school tuition, tutoring, curricula for home schooling, therapy, textbooks and special-education services. Parents are able to roll-over unused funds from one year to the next, and can even direct unused funds into a college savings account.

Although FEA’s counsel considers the personal learning accounts “a collateral casualty” in the lawsuit, this is not the case for thousands of Florida families who are looking to give their children the best education possible through the customized learning that Florida’s personal learning scholarship accounts provide. With this ruling, the families who now have access to their accounts can do just that.


Independent Muslim schools in London to face new 'Trojan Horse' inquiry amid claims extremists are promoting hardline views in classroom

Independent Muslim schools in London are being investigated amid fears that hardline Islamic extremism is being promoted among pupils and staff,

As many as a dozen private schools in Tower Hamlets, east London, are being looked into by officials over reports that fundamentalism is being spread, MailOnline can reveal.

A Whitehall source said while investigations are in 'their very early stages', there is concern within the Department of Education over a number of fee-paying Muslim schools in the borough which has one of the strongest Muslim communities in the capital.

Unlike the 'Trojan Horse' scandal which saw secular schools in Birmingham being infiltrated by extremists, the affected institutions in Tower Hamlets are all thought to be Muslim.

Five schools were placed in special measures in Birmingham earlier this year after evidence suggested the views of Islamic extremists were being pushed upon pupils and staff.

The Department of Education would not confirm whether Tower Hamlets was specifically at risk, but said it would consider 'any evidence' brought forward.

'All schools are subject to a tough inspection regime and we have been clear we will not hesitate to take firm and swift action if pupils are being let down or placed at risk.

'Keeping our children safe, and ensuring our schools prepare them for life in modern Britain, could not be more important.' 

Earlier this week an address in the area was searched as part of an ongoing police effort to crack down on terror.

Eleven men were arrested across the capital and in Stoke-on-Trent as part of the Scotland Yard effort. 

It comes as Ofsted prepares to publish the findings of 40 snap inspections across the country, launched amid concerns that some schools were not offering a broad enough curriculum.

Jewish, Christian and Islamic schools were among those visited in Luton, Bradford, London and Manchester
Ofsted's damning verdict on Trojan Horse schools (related)

Former terror chief Peter Clarke told ministers earlier this month it was likely allegations of extremist infiltration at the schools involved in the Trojan Horse scandal could be applied to other institutions across the country.

Golden Hillock School, Nansen Primary School, Park View School, Oldknow Academy and Saltley School - which are all run by the Park View Educational Trust - were placed in special measures following complaints.

Giving evidence to the Commons education select committee, he said it was incumbent on the government to investigate the situation.

'I'm not a great believer in coincidence and I would find it very surprising if this was only happening in the few schools that we had the time and opportunity to look at in east Birmingham,' Mr Clarke told the cross-party group of MPs.

'Some of the people who were involved in promulgating these techniques of gaining control and influence in schools have had national roles in various educational bodies and I know have lectured and taken part in conferences in other cities.'

Earlier this month an inquiry into the Birmingham school heard a 'violent, extremist' video was shown in the classroom.

Ian Kershaw, a former head teacher, told the Birmingham City Council that examples of 'bad behaviour' in the school included the film, which was 'completely inappropriate to young people'. 

He described this film as a 'violent, extremist video', and when committee chairman Graham Stuart asked if it was 'jihadist, violent, extremist promotional video', Mr Kershaw indicated that it was.


Australia:  The  balancing act of home schooling regulation

Most parents never progress beyond day-dreaming about home schooling, but it is becoming increasingly mainstream-everyone seems to know at least one home schooling family and most admire their choice.

Statistics for NSW confirm this perception. The number of children registered for home schooling has increased by 64% in five years, from 1,945 in 2009 to 3,194 in 2013. However, these figures underestimate the true size of the home schooling population. According to estimates by the Home Education Association, there could be as many as 12,000 unregistered, home schooled children in NSW.

Whether you see this as a problem depends on where you sit on the parental rights spectrum. At one end is the idea that parents know what is best for their children and should be free to make decisions about their children's education without government interference. At the other end is the notion that since children have a right to a decent education, governments have an obligation to ensure this occurs, and this takes precedence over parental rights. 

Submissions to the parliamentary inquiry into home schooling in NSW cover the full range of views. Many home schooling families and their advocate organisations argue that the registration requirements in NSW are too onerous, and deter families from registering. They argue that home education (their preferred term) is unique and should not be regulated like a school. The NSW Teachers Federation, on the other hand, strongly favours strict regulation, taking the position that public schools provide the best education and that any exception must be justified.

The requirements of home school families are stricter in NSW than in other states: adherence to the NSW syllabus is mandatory and student progress is monitored by home school inspectors (or 'Authorised Persons'). The extent to which this is enforced is debatable; anecdotal reports from home school families claim it is heavy handed, but according to the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES), less than half of one percent of registrations are refused or revoked due to failure to meet requirements.

Currently, home schooling families are doing all the work in their relationship with the state and getting little in return, receiving no educational or financial support. Nevertheless, home schooling is increasingly being seen as a viable option. If this trend continues, government policy will have to strike the right balance and adapt to challenges of providing parents with the flexibility they want and giving children the protection they need.


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