As executive director of The Parents’ Campaign, Nancy Loome has a responsibility to provide accurate information to the public.
She failed to do that in her editorial, “Public education for sale? Big money
pushing charter school legislation.”
Loome’s statements about Florida and the Foundation for Excellence in Education were misleading at best and require a response.
Loome correctly notes that Florida has made strong academic gains by investing in education reform.
But then she writes: “Yet, Florida’s most vocal ‘education reform’ advocates, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, attribute Florida’s success to school choice.”
Given that I’m the Foundation’s CEO, that baffles me.
At no time has the Foundation promoted choice as a cure-all for public education. In fact, we clearly say that there is no single silver bullet policy to improve education in our country. We support a comprehensive reform agenda, which is outlined on our web site and which our chairman, former Gov. Jeb Bush, discussed in an August speech in Jackson.
School Choice is part of that comprehensive agenda. So is a strong focus on early literacy, rigorous academic standards and coursework, strong accountability measures, an expansion of digital technology in the classroom and policies that attract the best and brightest into the teaching profession.
Loome seems to think we are involved in some nefarious plot to promote a corporate takeover of public education in Mississippi. She notes that members of the Foundation have made multiple trips to Mississippi.
At least the second part of that is true.
Two of our policy experts, Mary Laura Bragg and Christy Hovanetz, have testified in Mississippi at sessions attended by Loome. So she knows they discussed literacy and accountability reforms, not school choice.
Loome also cherry picks data to make her case. She notes there are a higher percent of failing charter schools in Florida than traditional public schools. While this is a true statement, it does not reflect the full picture of charter school performance in Florida.
Charter schools in Florida serve a greater proportion of at-risk students (i.e., low-income, minority or students with disabilities). As a result, they start out with F grades, but most quickly improve. They have to, because Florida law says charters can be closed if they receive two consecutive F grades – a policy that is not applied to traditional public schools.
She also fails to point out the steady improvement in charters and that most are considered high-performing schools. Between the 2002-03 and 2010-11 school years, the percent of charters receiving an A or B grade has grown from 53 to 73 percent, and the percent of failures has dropped from 16 to 6 percent.
The Florida Tax Credit scholarship program for low-income children is hugely popular with parents. Outside research experts report that the competition has improved public schools and that poor-performing students who transfer from those schools
“perform as well or better” in the scholarship schools.
This year, the tax-credit program will save Florida about $58 million, because by law the average scholarship amount is equal to or less than the per-pupil cost of traditional public schools.
We don’t support one option over the other. We simply support a lot of good options.
We don’t care if an excellent school is run by a for-profit company, a non-profit company or a traditional school district. In Florida, two-thirds of charter schools are run by non-profit providers.
Choice is a success in Florida. And yes, we believe that Mississippi and other states would be better off by providing its parents and students with more choices as part of bigger reform agenda.
Loome notes that we take funding from for-profit providers. In fact, more than 90 percent of the Foundation’s budget comes from family foundations or philanthropic organizations dedicated to improving students’ educational success.
We advocate for policies that benefit students, not the interests of one particular non-profit or private entity.
And I can promise you that these policies will very much benefit the children of Mississippi.
Patricia Levesque is the CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Formerly, she served as an education policy director in the Florida House of Representatives and office of then-governor Jeb Bush.