Questions about Figlio study of Florida Schools

posted Sep 1, 2012, 3:12 AM by Bill Duncan


Northwestern University Professor David Figlio released his annual study on Florida’s voucher schools.

The article that the Tampa Bay Times ran on Aug. 23 repeated the conclusion of voucher proponents but did not consult with education experts, other researchers or metrics experts on the subject.

Given the apples-to-oranges-to-moldy-peaches nature of Figlio’s comparison, the headline “Voucher students make academic gains similar to other students” is tenuous at best.

House passes expansion of Fla. voucher program, Commett, 3/8/12

posted Mar 9, 2012, 8:19 AM by Bill Duncan


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida House has passed an expansion of Florida's voucher program that lets low-income children attend private schools at taxpayer expense.

Wednesday's 92-24 vote sent the bill (HB 859) to the Senate.

The program is supported by business tax credits. It would raise a cap on the credits from $175 million to $229 million for the next budget year. After that it would go up 25 percent whenever credits approved in the prior budget year are equal to or greater than 90 percent of that year's cap.

Passage came after the House defeated a motion to also give such tax credits for contributions to public schools.

It also would allow vouchers for kindergarten through third grade students who qualify for free or reduced price lunches.

Nearly 35,000 students now participate.

The Florida Statute

posted Feb 15, 2012, 5:43 PM by Bill Duncan

“Direct certification list” means the certified list of children who qualify for the food assistance program, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program, or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations provided to the Department of Education by the Department of Children and Family Services.

(j) “Unweighted FTE funding amount” means the statewide average total funds per unweighted full-time equivalent funding amount that is incorporated by reference in the General Appropriations Act, or any subsequent special appropriations act, for the applicable state fiscal year.

1. A student is eligible for a Florida tax credit scholarship under this section if the student qualifies for free or reduced-price school lunches under the National School Lunch Act or is on the direct certification list and:
a. Was counted as a full-time equivalent student during the previous state fiscal year for purposes of state per-student funding;
b. Received a scholarship from an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization or from the State of Florida during the previous school year;
c. Is eligible to enter kindergarten or first grade; or
d. Is currently placed, or during the previous state fiscal year was placed, in foster care as defined in s. 39.01.
2. student may continue in the scholarship program as long as the student’s household income level does not exceed 230 percent of the federal poverty level.
3. A sibling of a student who is continuing in the scholarship program and who resides in the same household as the student shall also be eligible as a first-time tax credit scholarship recipient if the sibling meets one or more of the criteria specified in subparagraph 1. and as long as the student’s and sibling’s household income level does not exceed 230 percent of the federal poverty level.

A scholarship organization must:
(d) Must provide scholarships, from eligible contributions, to eligible students for the cost of:
1. Tuition and fees for an eligible private school; or
2. Transportation to a Florida public school that is located outside the district in which the student resides or to a lab school as defined in s. 1002.32.
(e) Must give priority to eligible students who received a scholarship from an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization or from the State of Florida during the previous school year.
(f) Must provide a scholarship to an eligible student on a first-come, first-served basis unless the student qualifies for priority pursuant to paragraph (e).
(g) May not restrict or reserve scholarships for use at a particular private school or provide scholarships to a child of an owner or operator.
(h) Must allow an eligible student to attend any eligible private school and must allow a parent to transfer a scholarship during a school year to any other eligible private school of the parent’s choice.


(e) The parent shall ensure that the student participating in the scholarship program takes the norm-referenced assessment offered by the private school. The parent may also choose to have the student participate in the statewide assessments pursuant to s. 1008.22. If the parent requests that the student participating in the scholarship program take statewide assessments pursuant to s.1008.22, the parent is responsible for transporting the student to the assessment site designated by the school district.


(8) PRIVATE SCHOOL ELIGIBILITY AND OBLIGATIONS.An eligible private school may be sectarian or nonsectarian and must:

(c) Be academically accountable to the parent for meeting the educational needs of the student by:
1. At a minimum, annually providing to the parent a written explanation of the student’s progress.
2. Annually administering or making provision for students participating in the scholarship program in grades 3 through 10 to take one of the nationally norm-referenced tests identified by the Department of Education. Students with disabilities for whom standardized testing is not appropriate are exempt from this requirement. A participating private school must report a student’s scores to the parent and to the independent research organization selected by the Department of Education as described in paragraph (9)(j).
3. Cooperating with the scholarship student whose parent chooses to have the student participate in the statewide assessments pursuant to s. 1008.22.
(d) Employ or contract with teachers who have regular and direct contact with each student receiving a scholarship under this section at the school’s physical location.

(9) DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION OBLIGATIONS.The Department of Education shall:

(i) Maintain a list of nationally norm-referenced tests identified for purposes of satisfying the testing requirement in subparagraph (8)(c)2. The tests must meet industry standards of quality in accordance with State Board of Education rule.
(j) Select an independent research organization, which may be a public or private entity or university, to which participating private schools must report the scores of participating students on the nationally norm-referenced tests administered by the private school in grades 3 through 10.
1. The independent research organization must annually report to the Department of Education on the year-to-year learning gains of participating students:
a. On a statewide basis. The report shall also include, to the extent possible, a comparison of these learning gains to the statewide learning gains of public school students with socioeconomic backgrounds similar to those of students participating in the scholarship program. To minimize costs and reduce time required for the independent research organization’s analysis and evaluation, the Department of Education shall conduct analyses of matched students from public school assessment data and calculate control group learning gains using an agreed-upon methodology outlined in the contract with the independent research organization; and
b. According to each participating private school in which there are at least 30 participating students who have scores for tests administered during or after the 2009-2010 school year for 2 consecutive years at that private school.
2. The sharing and reporting of student learning gain data under this paragraph must be in accordance with requirements of 20 U.S.C. s. 1232g, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and shall be for the sole purpose of creating the annual report required by subparagraph 1. All parties must preserve the confidentiality of such information as required by law. The annual report must not disaggregate data to a level that will identify individual participating schools, except as required under sub-subparagraph 1.b., or disclose the academic level of individual students.
(n)1. Conduct random site visits to private schools participating in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The purpose of the site visits is solely to verify the information reported by the schools concerning the enrollment and attendance of students, the credentials of teachers, background screening of teachers, and teachers’ fingerprinting results. The Department of Education may not make more than seven random site visits each year and may not make more than one random site visit each year to the same private school.


(a)1. Except as provided in subparagraph 2., the amount of a scholarship provided to any student for any single school year by an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization from eligible contributions shall be for total costs authorized under paragraph (6)(d), not to exceed annual limits, which shall be determined as follows:
a. For a scholarship awarded to a student enrolled in an eligible private school:
(I) For the 2009-2010 state fiscal year, the limit shall be $3,950.
(II) For the 2010-2011 state fiscal year, the limit shall be 60 percent of the unweighted FTE funding amount for that year. [DNHPE NOTE: Florida's state aid per student is approximately $6,600 in 2012]
(III) For the 2011-2012 state fiscal year and thereafter, the limit shall be determined by multiplying the unweighted FTE funding amount in that state fiscal year by the percentage used to determine the limit in the prior state fiscal year. However, in each state fiscal year that the tax credit cap amount increases pursuant to subparagraph (5)(a)2., the prior year percentage shall be increased by 4 percentage points and the increased percentage shall be used to determine the limit for that state fiscal year. If the percentage so calculated reaches 80 percent in a state fiscal year, no further increase in the percentage is allowed and the limit shall be 80 percent of the unweighted FTE funding amount for that state fiscal year and thereafter.
b. For a scholarship awarded to a student enrolled in a Florida public school that is located outside the district in which the student resides or in a lab school as defined in s. 1002.32, the limit shall be $500.
2. The annual limit for a scholarship under sub-subparagraph 1.a. shall be reduced by:
a. Twenty-five percent if the student’s household income level is equal to or greater than 200 percent, but less than 215 percent, of the federal poverty level.
b. Fifty percent if the student’s household income level is equal to or greater than 215 percent, but equal to or less than 230 percent, of the federal poverty level.

State Representative Takes Action on McKay Scholarship Abuses, Bradenton Times, 12/3/11

posted Feb 1, 2012, 12:56 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Feb 1, 2012, 12:57 AM ]


State Representative Takes Action on McKay Scholarship Abuses
 State representative Rick Kriseman (D-St. Petersburg) recently sent a letter recommending changes that would address the fraud-plagued McKay Scholarship Program. A recent expose´ in  Miami New Times referred to the program’s exploitation as a “perverse science experiment, using disabled school kids as lab rats and funded by nine figures in taxpayer cash.” The article uncovered an even bigger problem – many unregulated private charter schools in Florida are lacking a valid curriculum, while still collecting our tax money.


The McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program is meant to provide Florida students with special needs the opportunity to attend a participating private school or public school of their choice. The program has grown in the last 12 years since it was introduced under then-Governor Jeb Bush, and has been funded by approximately $148.6 million in past 12 months. There are 1,013 participating schools; 64 percent of which are religious. The program awards an average of $7,209 per eligible student.


Registration for the scholarship relies mostly on the honor system and there is practically no oversight of how the money is spent. The Department of Education has investigated 38 schools suspected of McKay fraud, in 25 cases, the allegations have been authenticated. Fraud cases have included providing funding to schools that don’t exist, administrators that forge attendance documents for students that aren’t enrolled, and schools employing a staff with criminal records.


There is no accreditation requirement for McKay schools. Without curriculum regulations, the DOE can’t be refunded, even if schools are exploiting their scholarships

......click the link for more

Diane Ravitch on Florida Voucher Scandle

posted Feb 1, 2012, 12:35 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Feb 1, 2012, 1:05 AM ]

And here is the latest voucher scandal. When Jeb Bush was governor of Florida, he pushed through a voucher program. The state courts struck down one part of the voucher program, the part for students in failing schools. But the courts did not eliminate the McKay Scholarships, which enabled students with disabilities to get vouchers to attend any school. Just this week, the Florida press revealed that some of the deregulated voucher schools are fly-by-night operations, conducted in storefronts, churches, and dingy homes, staffed by administrators and teachers with criminal records. They found students who spent their entire day filling out workbooks or hanging around a gymnasium watching television. One school had a class, described as “business management,” which consisted of shaking cans on street corners. Florida has pumped over $1 billion into this voucher program and Governor Scott wants to expand it to more deregulated schools.

Florida School Accountability Reports

posted Jan 28, 2012, 6:00 AM by Bill Duncan


Florida has an elaborate rating system for all public schools, A-F

Step Up for Students page on FTC results

posted Jan 28, 2012, 3:50 AM by Bill Duncan


By the numbers:
(as of January 2012) 

38,032 scholarship students
1,185 participating schools
79 percent of schools are faith-based
70 percent of students are in grades K-5
56 percent of students in single-adult households
12.3 percent above poverty (average household income was $24,250)

Report: Florida’s low-income tax credit students making academic gains, 8/11

posted Dec 31, 2011, 4:43 PM by Bill Duncan

Report: Florida’s low-income tax credit students making academic gains


A new report on the academic performance of low-income students receiving Tax Credit Scholarships in Florida finds they are making modestly larger gains in reading and math than their counterparts in public school.

That conclusion from 2009-10 test data is encouraging for those of us who work to provide these learning options, which served 34,550 low-income students statewide last year. But the report, released today and written by respected Northwestern University researcher David Figlio, is also a reminder of the inherent complexities of judging whether these programs work.

Figlio has both a brilliant mind and 13,829 test scores with which to work, and yet his report is filled with qualifiers and provisos and cautionary notes. That’s largely because the scholarship program is so different from the typical public education option. In this case, students are attending more than 1,000 private schools where, on average, four of every five students pay their own tuition. The average scholarship enrollment in each school, for 2009-10, was only 28 students.

That kind of school profile tends to serve as an asset to the economically disadvantaged students, but not necessarily for the standard approach to academic oversight. Since these are mostly private-market schools, the state won’t allow them to administer the state test, known as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). But the law does appropriately require every scholarship student to take a nationally norm-referenced approved by the state Department of Education, and most students take the well-regarded Stanford Achievement Test.

These tests do allow Figlio to make direct national comparisons, so we know without qualification that the typical scholarship student scored at the 45th percentile in reading and the 46th percentile in math. We also know that their year-to-year gain from 2008-09 to 2009-10 was the same as students of all income levels nationally, which is a solid piece of academic evidence

Where things get more muddled is in trying to compare to low-income students in Florida public schools. As odd as this may sound, the two groups are substantially different. And they are different in ways that tend to be counterintuitive.

First, Figlio has looked at the state test scores for students prior to choosing the scholarship and has determined for three years running that these students are among the lowest-performing in the public schools they leave behind. “Scholarship participants have significantly poorer test performance in the year prior to starting the scholarship program than do non-participants,” he wrote. “… These differences are large in magnitude and are statistically significant, and indicate that scholarship participants tend to be considerably more disadvantaged and lower-performing upon entering the program than their non-participating counterparts.”

Second, the scholarship students are poorer. Eligibility to enter the program is the same as eligibility for free or reduced price-lunch, which is 185 percent of poverty. But household income for every scholarship student is verified every year, and income is checked for only 3 percent of public school students. So we know the average scholarship student household income in 2009-10 was only 118 percent of poverty. By comparison, we know that in a recent review of school lunch audits, 62 percent of the public school students refused or failed the income audit.

Third, the racial makeup is different as well. The new scholarship students in 2009-10 were more likely to be black (48 vs. 33 percent) and less likely to be white (21 vs. 27 percent).

So, Figlio turns to “regression discontinuity” and is prone to saying things like this: “the results must be interpreted with considerable caution.” Among his more concrete assertions, he writes that: “The estimated effects of program participation on math performance are statistically significantly positive at conventional levels… and the estimated effects on reading performance are significantly positive in the case of reading.” He adds: “These differences, while not large in magnitude, are larger and more statistically significant than in the past year’s results, suggesting that successive cohorts of participating students may be gaining ground over time.”

In sum, the report is neither definitive nor an endorsement. But it does add genuine value to our understanding of how these underprivileged children are faring. It tells us that struggling students are choosing the scholarship and that in the most recent year they were marginally outperforming their public school counterparts.

Given the size and reach of Florida’s program, any evaluation tends to receive close scrutiny. So we should add some other points of context as well. We know from a state-commissioned survey in 2009 that fully 95.4 percent of scholarship parents rate their school as “good” or “excellent.” We know from a 2010 academic study on competitive effects that public schools most impacted by the scholarship program are actually performing better as well. And we know from a 2008 state watchdog agency report that the scholarship saves $38.9-million a year that can be used to improve traditional public schools. These are all pieces of the policy puzzle, as we continue to examine whether this option for the poorest of our schoolchildren strengthens public education.

Florida Voucher Programs - summary by Nat. School Boards Assn

posted Dec 31, 2011, 10:59 AM by Bill Duncan


Florida Voucher Programs

Florida was the first state to create a statewide private school voucher program. In January 2006, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the state's original voucher program, enacted in 1999, violates the state constitution. The Florida Legislature also has created two other voucher programs: one for children with disabilities (McKay) and a corporate tuition tax credit program that operates much like a voucher program (Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program).

McKay enrolls 21,054 students for the 2010-2011 school year at a cost of about $152 million, while the corporate tax credit program enrolls 32,946 students with $140 million donations for 2010-2011. A 2007 study found that despite the growth of the McKay program, it has not proven that it works. The state collects little information from participating students and McKay schools are not required to report student outcomes.

In May 2011, state legislature voted to put on the 2012 ballot a state constitutional amendment that would repeal the “no-aid” ban on religious schools. If passed, it would allow religious schools to receive state funds and revive the voucher program ruled unconstitutional in 2006.

Study: Florida voucher students making slightly bigger gains than peers in public schools

posted Dec 31, 2011, 10:50 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Dec 31, 2011, 10:54 AM ]


AUGUST 31, 2011
Study: Florida voucher students making slightly bigger gains than peers in public schools

Low-income students attending private schools in Florida with tax-credit vouchers appear to be making slightly bigger academic gains than similar students in public schools, according to standardized test scores analyzed for the latest in a series of state-ordered studies.

The best statistical estimates “indicate that participation (in the voucher program) is associated with small improvements in reading and mathematics, relative to public school students who applied for participation in the program, though these differences are not always statistically significant,” writes well-respected Northwestern University researcher David Figlio, who was hired by the Florida Department of Education to study the program. “The results are consistent with a finding of small but positive differences between program participants and non-participants.”

There isn’t much difference between Figlio’s latest findings on voucher student performance, released this morning, and his earlier ones, which generated a lot of ink. And there probably won’t be much difference in the reaction.

Critics will say there’s more proof vouchers are over hyped. Supporters will say there’s more proof vouchers are giving low-income kids a good education – for a fraction of the cost.

New state education commissioner Gerard Robinson was quick to tout the results in a press release put out by Tampa-based Step Up for Students, which administers the voucher program. “I am encouraged by the findings in the latest Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program report,” Robinson said. “The upward trend demonstrated in the report illustrates that scholarship students are keeping pace with, and sometimes exceeding, their public school peers in both reading and mathematics. I look forward to continuing to offer support to a program that provides our lower income families with learning options they historically could not access.” (The redefinED blog, run by the Step Up folks, offers its take on Figlio's report here.)

Figlio offers a lot of caveats, nuance and words of caution. Among his other findings:

* As a whole, voucher students tend to come from less advantaged families than students receiving free- and reduced-price lunches in public schools.

* As a whole, voucher students tend to be among the lowest-performing students in the public schools they left, with significantly lower test scores than other voucher-eligible students. Figlio’s report says that trend has become stronger, not weaker.

* In 2009-10, the typical voucher student scored at the 45th national percentile in reading and the 46th national percentile in math, about the same as the prior year.

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