The A-Plus Literacy Act

The A-Plus Literacy Act

Summary

The A-Plus Literacy Act is inspired by a comprehensive set of K–12 reforms implemented by Florida lawmakers in 1999, and supplemented over the next decade. As a result of these reforms, Florida’s scores on the highly respected National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have soared for all major student subgroups. All 50 states began taking the NAEP exams in 2003, and since that point, Florida students have made the most gains. In 2009, Florida’s Hispanic students outscored or tied 31 statewide averages on 4th-grade reading, and their African-American students outscored or tied eight statewide averages.

This bill is written as an omnibus education reform act. Some may find it most useful to introduce as an omnibus bill, but others may prefer to introduce separate measures depending upon legislative dynamics. Regardless of the number of bills introduced, it is suggested that lawmakers pursue the full package of reforms. High quality research evaluations have found significant gains associated with several different reform elements, but working in concert, these elements can radically improve academic achievement for all students.

Note that this omnibus bill completely incorporates three existing ALEC model bills: the Alternative Teacher Certification Act, the Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act, and the Special Needs Scholarship Program Act. The omnibus bill also includes additional background and drafting notes for all of the chapters.

Chapters of the A-Plus Literacy Act

A-Plus Literacy Act

(1) School and District Report Cards and Grades.

(2) School Recognition Program to financially reward schools for good/improving Report Card grades.

(3) Opportunity Scholarships to provide alternatives for students in schools with poor Report Card grades.

(4) Scholarships for Children with Disabilities. (ALEC Model Bill: Special Needs Scholarship Program Act)

(5) Tax credit scholarships for low-income students. (ALEC Model Bill: Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act)

(6) Alternative Teacher Certification. (ALEC Model Bill: Alternative Teacher Certification Act)

(7) Student Promotion to a Higher Grade.

(8) School and Teacher bonuses for student Advanced Placement success.

Chapter 1. School and District Report Cards and Grades

Section 1. {Title} A-Plus Accountability and Transparency Program Act

Section 2. {Definitions}

(A) “Department” — The state Department of Public Instruction or an organization chosen by the state. 

(B) “School and District Report Cards” — The Department shall prepare annual reports of the results of the statewide assessment program to describe student achievement in the state, each district, and each district and charter school. The Department shall prescribe the design and content of these reports, which must include, without limitation, descriptions of the performance of all schools participating in the assessment program and all of their major student populations as determined by the Department. These reports must also include the median scores of all eligible students who scored at or in the lowest 25th percentile of the state in the previous school year; provided, however, that the provisions of Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. s. 1232g pertaining to student records and any similar state legislation apply to this section.

(C) “School Grades” — The annual report shall identify schools as having one of the following grades:

(1) “A,” schools making excellent progress.

(2) “B,” schools making above average progress.

(3) “C,” schools making satisfactory progress.

(4) “D,” schools making less than satisfactory progress.

(5) “F,” schools failing to make adequate progress.

(D) Each school designated with a grade of “A,” making excellent progress, or having improved at least two grade levels, shall have greater authority over the allocation of the school’s total budget, state categorical funds, any lottery funds, grants, and local funds, as specified in (State Board of Education or Department) rule. The rule must provide that the increased budget authority shall remain in effect until the school’s grade declines.

(E) Designation of School Grades

(1) Each school that has students who are tested and included in the school grading system shall receive a school grade, except as follows:

(a) A school shall not receive a school grade if the number of its students tested and included in the school grading system is less than the minimum sample size necessary, based on accepted professional practice, for statistical reliability and prevention of the unlawful release of personally identifiable student data under 20 U.S.C. s. 1232g and similar state privacy laws.

 (2) The Department can develop an alternate rating system for alternative schools.

(F) A school’s grade shall be based on a combination of:

(1) Student achievement scores on the state annual accountability assessment for all students.

(2) Student learning gains for all students as measured by the state annual accountability assessments.

(3) Student learning gains of the lowest 25th percentile of students in the school in reading and mathematics on the state annual accountability assessment.

(4) The Department shall assign school grades based one half on overall student achievement, one quarter on the learning gains of all students, and one quarter on the learning gains of the lowest 25th percentile of students in the school.

(G) Student assessment data used in determining school grades shall include:

(1) The aggregate scores of all eligible students enrolled in the school who have been assessed on the state annual accountability assessment.

(2) The learning gain scores of all eligible students enrolled in the school who has been assessed on the state annual accountability assessment and who has scored at or in the lowest 25th percentile of students in the school in reading and mathematics.

(3) The learning gain scores of all eligible students.

(4) The term “eligible students” in this subparagraph does not include students attending an alternative school who are subject to district school board policies for expulsion for repeated or serious offenses, who are in dropout retrieval programs serving students who have officially been designated as dropouts, or who are in programs operated or contracted by the Department of Juvenile Justice.

(H) “School Improvement Ratings” — The Department shall develop school awards for schools that improve at least one grade level or maintain an A school grade.

(I) “School Report Cards” — The Department of Education shall annually develop, in collaboration with the school districts, a school report card to be delivered to parents throughout each school district. The report card shall include the school’s grade, information regarding school improvement, an explanation of school performance as evaluated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and indicators of return on investment. The department on its website shall publish each school’s report card annually, and the school district shall provide the school report card to each parent.

(J) “Performance Based Funding” — The Legislature may factor in the performance of schools in calculating any performance-based funding policy that is provided for annually in the General Appropriations Act.

(K) “District Grades” — The annual report shall include a district grade, which follows the same method used for calculating a school grade except at the district level (e.g., in the district for the full academic year, the lowest 25 percent of the students for learning gains, the achievement and learning gains of all students in the district.

(L) “Increasing Standards” — In any year in which 80 percent or more of the statewide aggregate of elementary, middle and/or high schools earn a grade of A or B, the Department shall raise the number of points required to earn a school grade for that level of school by 5 percent statewide.

Chapter 2. School Recognition Program

Section 1. {Findings and Intent} The Legislature finds that there is a need for a performance incentive program for outstanding faculty and staff in highly productive schools. The Legislature further finds that performance-based incentives are commonplace in the private sector and should be infused into the public sector as a reward for productivity.

Section 2. {Basic Elements of the School Recognition Program}

(A) The School Recognition Program is created to provide financial awards to public schools that:

(1) Sustain high performance by earning a school grade of “A,” making excellent progress; or

(2) Demonstrate exemplary performance by improving at least one letter grade or by improving more than one letter grade and sustaining the improvement the following school year.

(3) All public schools, including charter schools, that earn a school grade are eligible to participate in the program.

(4) All selected schools shall receive financial awards depending on the availability of funds appropriated and the number and size of schools selected to receive an award. Funds must be distributed to the school’s fiscal agent and placed in the school’s account and must be used for purposes listed in Section 3 as determined jointly by the school’s staff.  If school staff cannot reach agreement by November 1, the awards will be distributed by the school principal pursuant to subsection (B).

(B) School recognition awards must be used for the following:

(1) Nonrecurring bonuses to the faculty and staff;

(2) Nonrecurring expenditures for educational equipment or materials to assist in maintaining and improving student performance; or

(3) Temporary personnel for the school to assist in maintaining and improving student performance.

(4) Notwithstanding statutory provisions to the contrary, incentive awards are not subject to collective bargaining.

Chapter 3. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Section 1. {Findings and Intent} The Legislature finds that the state should not compel students, against the wishes of the student’s parent, to attend a school found by the state to be failing for 2 years in a 4-year period. The state shall make available opportunity scholarships in order to give parents the opportunity for their children to attend a public school that is performing satisfactorily or to attend an eligible private school. Eligibility of a private school shall include the control and accountability requirements that, coupled with the exercise of parental choice, are reasonably necessary to secure the educational public purpose.

(A) Opportunity Scholarship Eligibility — A public school student’s parent may request and receive from the Department an opportunity scholarship for the student to enroll in and attend a private school in accordance with the provisions of this section if:

(1) The student has spent the prior school year in attendance at a public or charter school graded “F” and that has had 2 school years in a 4-year period of such low performance, and the student’s attendance occurred during a school year in which such designation was in effect;

(2) The student has been in attendance elsewhere in the public school system and lives within the attendance zone of such a school for the next school year; or

(3) The student is entering kindergarten or first grade and lives within the attendance zone of such a school for the next school year.

(4) The parent has obtained acceptance for admission of the student to a private school eligible for the program, and has notified the Department of Education and the school district of the request for an opportunity scholarship no later than July 1 of the first year in which the student intends to use the scholarship.

(B) The provisions of this section shall not apply to a student enrolled in a school operating for providing educational services to youth in Department of Juvenile Justice commitment programs.

(C) For purposes of continuity of educational choice, the opportunity scholarship shall remain in force until the student returns to a public school or, if the student chooses to attend a private school the until the student graduates. However, at any time upon reasonable notice to the Department of Education and the school district, the student’s parent may remove the student from the private school and place the student in a public school.

Section 2. School District Obligations.

(A) A school district shall, for each student enrolled in or assigned to a school that has been graded “F” for 2 school years in a 4-year period:

(1) Timely notify the parent of the student as soon as such designation is made of all options available pursuant to this act.

(2) Offer that student’s parent an opportunity to enroll the student in the public school within the district that has been designated by the as a school performing higher than that in which the student is currently enrolled or to which the student has been assigned, but not less than performance grade category “C.” The parent is not required to accept this offer in lieu of requesting a state opportunity scholarship to a private school. The school districts must provide a parent with information on all options. The opportunity to continue attending the higher performing public school shall remain in force until the student graduates from high school.

(3) The parent of a student enrolled in or assigned to a school that has been designated performance grade category “F” for 2 school years in a 4-year period transfer to a higher performing school in an adjacent district, subject to the availability of space. That school district shall accept the student and report the student for purposes of the district’s funding.

(B) Opportunity Scholarship students attending district schools shall take accountability exams in the district to which they have transferred.

(C) Transportation costs to a higher performing public school shall be the responsibility of the school district from which the student originated. The district may utilize state categorical transportation funds or state-appropriated public school choice incentive funds for this purpose. Transportation to private schools shall be the responsibility of parents.

Section 3. {Private School Eligibility} To be eligible to participate in the Opportunity Scholarship Program, a private school must be a private school operating in <state X>, may be sectarian or nonsectarian, and must:

(A) Demonstrate fiscal soundness by being in operation for 1 school year or provide the Department of Education with a statement by a certified public accountant confirming that the private school desiring to participate is insured. In addition, the owner or owners must have sufficient capital or credit to operate the school for the upcoming year serving the number of students anticipated with expected revenues from tuition and other sources that may be reasonably expected. In lieu of such a statement, a surety bond or letter of credit for the amount equal to the opportunity scholarship funds for any quarter may be filed with the department.

(B) Notify the Department of Education and the school district in whose service area the school is located of its intent to participate in the program under this section by May 1 of the school year preceding the school year in which it intends to participate. The notice shall specify the grade levels and services that the private school has available for the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

(C) Comply with the antidiscrimination provisions of 42 U.S.C. s. 2000d.

(D) Meet state and local health and safety laws and codes.

(E) Accept scholarship students on an entirely random and religious-neutral basis without regard to the student’s past academic history; however, the private school may give preference in accepting applications to siblings of students who have already been accepted on a random and religious-neutral basis.

(F) Employ or contract with teachers who hold a baccalaureate or higher degree, or have at least 3 years of teaching experience in public or private schools, or have special skills, knowledge, or expertise that qualifies them to provide instruction in subjects taught.

(G) Comply with all state statutes relating to private schools.

(H) Accept as full tuition and fees the amount provided by the state for each student.

(I) Adhere to the tenets of its published disciplinary procedures prior to the expulsion of any opportunity scholarship student.

Section 4. {Obligations of Program Participants}

(A) Any student participating in the Opportunity Scholarship Program must remain in attendance throughout the school year, unless excused by the school for illness or other good cause, and must comply fully with the school’s code of conduct.

(B) The parent of each student participating in the Opportunity Scholarship Program must comply fully with the private school’s parental involvement requirements, unless excused by the school for illness or other good cause.

Section 5. {Opportunity Scholarship Funding and Payment}

(A) The maximum opportunity scholarship granted for an eligible student shall be a calculated amount equivalent to the total state and local funding for the child including all applicable funding weights, or the or the amount of the private school’s cost of educating the child, whichever is less. Fees eligible for reimbursement from the scholarship shall include textbook fees, lab fees, and other fees related to instruction, including transportation.

(1) Following annual notification on July 1 of the number of participants, the Department of Education shall transfer from each school district’s appropriated funds the calculated amount and authorized categorical accounts to a separate account for the Opportunity Scholarship Program for quarterly disbursement to the parents of participating students.

(2) Upon proper documentation reviewed and approved by the Department of Education, the state shall make opportunity scholarship payments in four equal amounts no later than September 1, November 1, February 1, and April 1 of each academic year in which the opportunity scholarship is in force. The Department of Education shall make initial payment after verification of admission acceptance, and shall make subsequent payments upon verification of continued enrollment and attendance at the private school. Payment must be by individual warrant made payable to the student’s parent and mailed by the Department of Education to the private school of the parent’s choice, and the parent shall restrictively endorse the warrant to the private school.

(B) No liability shall arise on the part of the state based on any grant or use of an opportunity scholarship.

Chapter 4: Special Needs Scholarship Program Act

Note: This chapter precisely mirrors the Special Needs Scholarship Program Act adopted as amended by the Education Task Force July 16, 2009 and approved by the ALEC Board of Directors August 2009.

Section 1. {Title}

The Special Needs Scholarship Program

Section 2. {Definitions}

(A) “Program” means the Special Needs Scholarship Program created in this subchapter.

(B) “Eligible Student” means any elementary or secondary student who was eligible to attend a public school in [state] in the preceding semester or is starting school in [state] for the first time with an Individualized Education Plan, including but not limited to students who are mentally handicapped, speech and language impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, visually impaired, dual sensory impaired, physically impaired, emotionally handicapped, specific learning disabled, autistic, or hospitalized or homebound because of illness or disability.1

(C) “Parent” includes a guardian, custodian, or other person with authority to act on behalf of the child.

(D) “Resident school district” means the public school district in which the student resides.

(E) “Department” means the state Department of Public Instruction or an organization chosen by the state.2

(F) “Participating school” means either a public school outside of the resident school district, a school run by another public entity, or any private school that provides education to elementary and/or secondary students that has notified the Department of its intention to participate in the program and comply with the program’s requirements.3

Section 3. {Basic Elements of the Special Needs Scholarship Program}

(A) Any parent of an eligible student shall qualify for a scholarship from the state for their child to enroll in and attend a participating, private school if:

(1) The student with special needs has had an Individualized Education Plan written in accordance with the rules of the Department;

(2) the student has been accepted for admission at a participating school; and

(3) the parent has requested a scholarship from the state before the deadline established by the Department.4

(B) The Department shall inform the resident school district that a student with special needs has requested a special needs scholarship. The resident school district shall provide, within three business days, the Department with a copy of the student’s most current Individualized Education Plan.

(C) Upon receipt of the eligible student’s request for a scholarship, the Department shall review the Individualized Education Plan drafted by the student’s public school to determine the amount of the scholarship. The Department shall provide the student’s parent with a timely written explanation of its determination for the amount of the scholarship.

(D) The maximum scholarship granted to an eligible student shall be an amount equivalent to the cost of the educational program that would have been provided for the student in the resident school district. Although the scholarship amount is a function of a student’s Individualized Education Plan, the participating school is not required to abide by the Individualized Education Plan. The parent and the participating school will mutually determine the best services and educational plan for the student.5

(E) The amount of the Special Needs Scholarship shall be the lesser of the amount calculated in Section 3(C) and (D) or the amount of the participating school’s estimated costs for serving the student. The costs of any assessment by the participating school of the student’s special needs may be included in the scholarship amount.

(F) A participating students shall be counted in the enrollment of his or her resident school district. The funds needed to provide a scholarship shall be subtracted from the state school aid payable to the student’s resident school district. 6

(G) The Special Needs Scholarship shall remain in force until the student returns to a public school or graduates from high school or reaches his or her 21st birthday, whichever comes first.

(H) At any time, the student’s parent may remove the student from the participating school and place the student in another participating school or in a public school.

(I) A participating school may not refund, rebate, or share a student’s scholarship with a parent or the student in any manner. A student’s scholarship may only be used for educational purposes.7

Section 4. {Responsibilities of Resident School Districts}

(A) A resident school district shall annually notify the parents of a student with special needs of the Special Needs Scholarship Program and offer that student’s parent an opportunity to enroll the student in a participating school of their choice.

(B) The resident school district shall provide a participating school that has admitted an eligible student under this program with a complete copy of the student’s school records, while complying with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (20 USC 1232g).

(C) The resident school district shall provide transportation for an eligible student to and from the participating school under the same conditions as the resident school district is required to provide transportation for other resident students to private schools as per current law. The resident school district will qualify for state transportation aid for each student so transported.

(D) The public school district in which the eligible student participating in this program resides shall count the pupil in its enrollment for state aid purposes.

(E) If the parent of an eligible student participating in this program requests that the student take the statewide assessments, the resident school district shall provide locations and times for the student to take all statewide assessments if they are not offered at the student’s participating school.8

Section 5. {Responsibilities of the Department of Public Instruction}

(A) The Department shall adopt rules and procedures regarding:

(1) the eligibility and participation of private schools, including timelines that will maximize student and public and private school participation;

(2) the calculation and distribution of scholarships to eligible students and participating schools;9 and

(3) the application and approval procedures for eligible students and participating schools.

(B) No liability shall arise on the part of the Department or the state based on the award or use of a Special Needs Scholarship.

(C) The Department may bar a school from participation in the program if the Department establishes that the participating school has:10

(1) intentionally and substantially misrepresented information required under Section 6;

(2) routinely failed to comply with the accountability standards established in Section 6;

(3) failed to comply with Section 3(I); or

(4) failed to refund to the state any scholarship overpayments in a timely manner.

(D) If the Department decides to bar a participating school from the program, it shall notify eligible students and their parents of this decision as quickly as possible. Participating students attending a school barred by the Department shall retain scholarship program eligibility to attend another participating school.

Section 6. {Accountability Standards for Participating Schools}

(A) Administrative Accountability Standards. To ensure that students are treated fairly and kept safe, all participating, private schools shall:

(1) comply with all health and safety laws or codes that apply to private schools;

(2) hold a valid occupancy permit if required by their municipality;

(3) certify that they comply with the nondiscrimination policies set forth in 42 USC 1981;11 and

(4) conduct criminal background checks on employees. The participating school then shall:

(a) exclude from employment any people not permitted by state law to work in a private school; and

(b) exclude from employment any people that might reasonably pose a threat to the safety of students.12

(B) Financial Accountability Standards. To ensure that public funds are spent appropriately, all participating, private schools shall:

(1) Demonstrate their financial accountability by:

(a) annually submitting to the Department a financial information report for the school that complies with uniform financial accounting standards established by the Department and conducted by a certified public accountant;13 and

(b) Having an auditor certify the report is free of material misstatements and fairly represents the costs per pupil. The auditor’s report shall be limited in scope to those records that are necessary for the Department to make payments to participating schools on behalf of parents for Special Needs Scholarships.

(2) Demonstrate their financial viability by showing they can repay any funds thatmight be owed the state, if they are to receive $50,000 or more during the school year, by: 14

(a) filing with the Department prior to the start of the school year a surety bond payable to the state in an amount equal to the aggregate amount of the Special Needs Scholarships expected to be paid during the school year to students admitted to the participating school; or

(b) filing with the Department prior to the start of the school year financial information that demonstrates the school has the ability to pay an aggregate amount equal to the amount of the Special Needs Scholarships expected to be paid during the school year to students admitted to the participating school.

(C) Academic Accountability Standards. To ensure that schools provide academic accountability to parents of the students in the program, all participating schools shall regularly report to the parent on the student’s progress and ensure that the person providing special education or related services holds the appropriate license issued by the Department.15

(D) Participating School Autonomy. A participating, private school is autonomous and not an agent of the state or federal government and therefore:

(1) the Department or any other state agency may not in any way regulate the educational program of a participating, private school that accepts a Special Needs Scholarship;

(2) the creation of the Special Needs Scholarship Program does not expand the regulatory authority of the state, its officers, or any school district to impose any additional regulation of private schools beyond those reasonably necessary to enforce the requirements of the program; and

(3) participating, private schools shall be given the maximum freedom to provide for the educational needs of their students without governmental control.

Section 7. {Responsibilities of Scholarship Students and Parents}

(A) It shall be the responsibility of a parent to select their child’s school, apply for admission, and apply for a Special Needs Scholarship.

(B) Any student participating in the program must comply fully with a participating school’s written code of conduct and shall remain in attendance throughout the school year, unless excused by the school for illness or other good cause. However, a parent may transfer an eligible student to a public school or another participating school at any time. The scholarship amount shall be prorated between participating schools according to the period of attendance at each school.

(C) A parent’s decision for their student to participate in the program constitutes a private placement for purposes of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Section 8. {Evaluation of the Special Needs Scholarship Program}16

(A) The legislative service agency may contract with one or more qualified researchers who have previous experience evaluating school choice programs to conduct a study of the program with funds other than state funds.

(B) The study shall assess:

(1) the level of participating students’ satisfaction with the program;

(2) the level of parental satisfaction with the program;

(3) the percentage of participating students who were victimized17 because of their special needs status at their resident school district compared with the percentage so victimized at their participating school;

(4) the percentage of participating students who exhibited behavioral problems at their resident school district compared with the percentage exhibiting behavioral problems at their participating school;

(5) the class size experienced by participating students at their resident school district and at their participating school; and

(6) the fiscal impact to the state and resident school districts of the program.

(C) The researchers who conduct the study shall:

(1) apply appropriate analytical and behavioral science methodologies to ensure public confidence in the study;

(2) protect the identity of participating schools and students by, among other things, keeping anonymous all disaggregated data other than that for the categories of grade level, gender, and race and ethnicity; and

(3) provide the legislature with a final copy of the evaluation of the program.

(D) The relevant public and private participating schools from which students transfer to participate in the program shall cooperate with the research effort by providing student assessment results and any other data necessary to complete this study.

(E) The legislative service agency may accept grants to assist in funding this study.

(F) The legislature may require periodic reports from the researchers. The researchers must make their data and methodology available for public review while complying with the requirements of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (20 USC Section 1232g).

Section 9. {Effective Date} The Special Needs Scholarship Program will be in effect beginning with the fall semester of the next school year.

Chapter 5: The Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act

Note: This chapter mirrors the Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act, adopted by the Education Task Force on December 4, 2004 amended on July 16, 2009, and approved by the ALEC Board of Directors on August 27, 2009, with one minor revision in Section 4(A)(6) – see drafting notes for details.

Section 1. {Title}

The Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act

Section 2. {Definitions}

(A) “Program” means the Great Schools Tax Credit Program.

(B) “Eligible student” means a student who:

(1) is a member of a household whose total annual income the year before he or she receives an educational scholarship under this program does not exceed the income standard used to qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch under the national free or reduced-price lunch program established under 42 USC Section 1751 et seq. Once a student receives a scholarship under this program, the student will remain eligible regardless of household income until the student graduates high school or reaches 21 years of age;1

(2) was eligible to attend a public school in the preceding semester or is starting school in [state] for the first time;2

(3) Resides in [state] while receiving an educational scholarship.

(C) “Low-income student” means a student who qualifies for a free or reduced-price lunch under the national free or reduced-price lunch program established under 42 USC Section 1751 et seq.3

(D) “Parent” includes a guardian, custodian, or other person with authority to act on behalf of the child.

(E) “Department” means the state Department of Revenue.

(F) “Qualifying school” means either a public school outside of the resident school district, or any private school that provides education to elementary and/or secondary students and has notified the Department of its intention to participate in the program and comply with the program’s requirements.4

(G) “Educational scholarships” means grants to students to cover all or part of the tuition and fees at either a qualifying private school or a qualifying public school, including transportation to a public school outside of a student’s resident school district.

(H) “Scholarship Granting Organization” means an organization that complies with the requirements of the state’s school scholarship tax credit program and provides or is approved to provide educational scholarships to students attending qualifying schools of their parents’ choice.

(I) “Test” means either the state achievement test or nationally recognized norm-referenced test chosen by the participating school.

Section 3. {Basic Elements of the Great Schools Tax Credit Program}

(A) A taxpayer who files a state income tax return and is not a dependent of another taxpayer may claim a credit for a contribution made to a scholarship granting organization.

(B) The tax credit may be claimed by an individual taxpayer or a married couple filing jointly in an amount equal to the total contributions made to a scholarship granting organization for educational scholarships during the taxable year for which the credit is claimed up to 50 percent of the taxpayer’s tax liability.5

(C) The tax credit may be claimed by a corporate taxpayer in an amount equal to the total contributions made to a scholarship granting organization for educational scholarships during the taxable year for which the credit is claimed up to 50 percent of the taxpayer’s tax liability.5

(D) A corporate taxpayer, an individual taxpayer, or a married couple filing jointly may carry forward a tax credit under this program for three years.6

Section 4. {Responsibilities of Scholarship Granting Organizations}7

(A) Administrative Accountability Standards. All scholarship-granting organizations shall:

(1) notify the Department of their intent to provide educational scholarships to students attending qualifying schools;

(2) demonstrate to the Department that they have been granted exemption from the federal income tax as an organization described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code;

(3) distribute periodic scholarship payments as checks made out to a student’s parent or guardian and mailed to the qualifying school where the student is enrolled. The parent or guardian must endorse the check before it can be deposited;

(4) provide a Department-approved receipt to taxpayers for contributions made to the organization;

(5) ensure that at least 90 percent of their revenue from donations is spent on educational scholarships, and that all revenue from interest or investments is spent on educational scholarships;

(6) ensures that the maximum scholarship shall be no more than 80% of the total average local and state aid provided for children in district schools.20

(7) ensure that at least X percent of first-time recipients of educational scholarships were not continuously enrolled in a private school during the previous year;9

(8) cooperate with the Department to conduct criminal background checks on all of their employees and board members and exclude from employment or governance any individual(s) that might reasonably pose a risk to the appropriate use of contributed funds;10

(9) ensure that scholarships are portable during the school year and can be used at any qualifying school that accepts the eligible student according to a parent’s wishes. If a student moves to a new qualifying school during a school year, the scholarship amount may be prorated.

(10) publicly report to the Department by June 1 of each year the following information prepared by a certified public accountant regarding their grants in the previous calendar year:

(a) the name and address of the student support organization;

(b) the total number and total dollar amount of contributions received during the previous calendar year; and

(c) the total number and total dollar amount of educational scholarships awarded during the previous calendar year, the total number and total dollar amount of educational scholarships awarded during the previous year to students qualifying for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program,11 and the percentage of first-time recipients of educational scholarships who were enrolled in a public school during the previous year.

(11) ensure scholarships are not provided for students to attend a school with paid staff or board members, or relatives thereof, in common with the scholarship granting organization.

(B) Financial Accountability Standards.12

(1) All scholarship-granting organizations shall demonstrate their financial accountability by:

(a) annually submitting to the Department a financial information report for the organization that complies with uniform financial accounting standards established by the Department and conducted by a certified public accountant; and

(b) having the auditor certify that the report is free of material misstatements.

(2) All participating private schools shall demonstrate financial viability, if they are to receive donations of $50,000 or more during the school year, by:

(a) filing with the scholarship granting organization prior to the start of the school year a surety bond payable to the scholarship granting organization in an amount equal to the aggregate amount of contributions expected to be received during the school year; or

(b) filing with the scholarship granting organization prior to the start of the school year financial information that demonstrates the financial viability of the participating school.

Section 5. {Program Oversight of Participating Schools}

(A) Each scholarship granting organization shall collect written verification from participating, private schools that accept its scholarship students that those schools:

(1) comply with all health and safety laws or codes that apply to private schools;

(2) hold a valid occupancy permit if required by their municipality;

(3) certify that they comply with the nondiscrimination policies set forth in 42 USC 1981;13 and

(4) conduct criminal background checks on employees and then:

(a) exclude from employment any people not permitted by state law to work in a private school; and

(b) exclude from employment any people that might reasonably pose a threat to the safety of students.14

(B) Academic Accountability Standards. There must be sufficient information about the academic impact scholarship tax credits have on participating students in order to allow parents and taxpayers to measure the achievements of the program, and therefore:

(1) each scholarship granting organization shall ensure that participating schools that accept its scholarship shall: 15

(a) annually administer either the state achievement tests or nationally recognized norm-referenced tests that measure learning gains in math and language arts to all participating students in grades that require testing under the state’s accountability testing laws for public schools;

(b) allow costs of the testing requirements to be covered by the scholarships distributed by the scholarship granting organizations;

(c) provide the parents of each student who was tested with a copy of the results of the tests on an annual basis, beginning with the first year of testing;

(d) provide the test results to the Department or an organization chosen by the state16 on an annual basis, beginning with the first year of testing;

(e) report student information that would allow state to aggregate data by grade level, gender, family income level, and race; and

(f) provide graduation rates of participating students to the Department or an organization chosen by the state in a manner consistent with nationally recognized standards.

(2) the Department or an organization chosen by the state shall:

(a) ensure compliance with all student privacy laws;

(b) collect all test results; and

(c) provide the test results and associated learning gains to the public via a state website after the third year of test and test-related data collection.17 The findings shall be aggregated by the students’ grade level, gender, family income level, number of years of participation in the scholarship program, and race.18

Section 6. {Responsibilities of the Department of Revenue}

(A) The Department shall adopt rules and procedures consistent with this act as necessary to implement the program.

(B) The Department shall provide a standardized format for a receipt to be issued by a scholarship granting organization to a taxpayer to indicate the value of a contribution received. The Department shall require a taxpayer to provide a copy of this receipt when claiming the Great Schools Tax Credit.

(C) The Department shall provide a standardized format for a scholarship granting organizations to report the information in Section 4(A)(10) above.

(D) The Department shall have the authority to conduct either a financial review or audit of a scholarship granting organization if possessing evidence of fraud.

(E) The Department may bar a scholarship granting organization from participating in the program if the Department establishes that the scholarship granting organization has intentionally and substantially failed to comply with the requirements in Section 4 or Section 5.

(F) If the Department decides to bar a scholarship granting organization from the program, it shall notify affected scholarship students and their parents of this decision as quickly as possible.

(G) The Department shall allow a taxpayer to divert a prorated amount of state income tax withholdings to a scholarship granting organization of the taxpayer’s choice up to the maximum credit allowed by law, including carry-over credits. The Department shall have the authority to develop a procedure to facilitate this process.19

Section 7. {Responsibilities of Qualifying Schools}

(A) All qualified schools shall be required to operate in [state].

(B) All qualifying schools shall comply with all state laws that apply to private schools regarding criminal background checks for employees and exclude from employment any people not permitted by state law to work in a private school.

Section 8. {Effective Date} The Great Schools Tax Credit may be first claimed in the next calendar year.

Chapter 6: The Alternative Teacher Certification Act

Note: This chapter precisely mirrors the Alternative Certification Act. The ALEC Education Task Force adopted this model bill at the States and Nation Policy Summit December, 2005, and the ALEC Board of Directors approved it in January, 2006.

Section 1. {Short Title} This act may be cited as the Alternative Teacher Certification Act.

Section 2. Be it enacted by the legislature that the Education Code, relating to the authority of the state to certify persons to teach who are not graduates of teacher education programs, is amended by adding [section] to read as follows:

(A) Certificates of license to teach in the public schools of the state shall be granted as follows:

(1) By the state board, under rules and regulations prescribed by it,

(a) Upon the basis of college credit;

(b) Upon the basis of examination;

(2) By the state board, under rules and regulations prescribed by the state board, to any individual who presents to the state board a valid doctoral degree from an accredited institution of higher education accredited by a regional accrediting association. Such certificate shall be limited to the major area of postgraduate study of the holder;

(3) By the state board, under rules and regulations prescribed by it, on the basis of a national level or regional certification which has been validated in the individual’s endorsement area and earned by passing a national or regional examination designed to assess the individual’s skills in the area in which the individual seeks certification.

(4) By the state board, upon an appropriate background check, to any person who possesses a valid teaching certificate from another state or certification as contemplated under subdivision three (3); provided that the certificate holder shall annually complete the state board’s requirements for such level of certification.

(B) The board shall issue a master teacher certificate in the appropriate area of endorsement to an applicant who meets the requirements for education and experience as set forth in [section] and demonstrates quality teaching. Any teacher who holds national level certification shall be deemed to have satisfied the requirements for master teachers.

(C) Upon completion of a comprehensive mentoring program and satisfactory principal recommendations during the initial year of teaching, the individual may progress to the next level of certification.

Section 3. {Severability clause}

Section 4. {Repealer clause}

Section 5. {Effective date}

Chapter 7: Student Promotion to a Higher Grade

Section 1. {Title} The Reading is Fundamental Literacy Program

Section 2. {Intent} It is the intent of the Legislature that each student’s progression to be determined, in part, upon proficiency in reading; that district school board policies facilitate such proficiency; and that each student and his or her parent be informed of that student’s academic progress.

(A) “Reading Deficiency and Parental Notification” — It is the ultimate goal of the Legislature that every student read at or above grade level. Any student who exhibits a substantial deficiency in reading, based upon locally determined or statewide assessments conducted in kindergarten, grade 1, grade 2, or grade 3, or through teacher observations, must be given intensive reading instruction immediately following the identification of the reading deficiency.

(B) Each student’s reading proficiency must be reassessed by locally determined assessments or through teacher observations at the beginning of the grade following the intensive reading instruction. The student must continue to be provided with intensive reading instruction until the reading deficiency is remedied.

(C) Beginning with the 20XX-20XY school year, if the student’s reading deficiency, as identified in paragraph (a), is not remedied by the end of grade 3, as demonstrated by scoring at Level 2 or higher on the state annual accountability assessment in reading for grade 3, the student must be retained.

(D) The parent of any student who exhibits a substantial deficiency in reading must be notified in writing of the following:

(1) That his or her child has been identified as having a substantial deficiency in reading.

(2) A description of the current services that are provided to the child.

(3) A description of the proposed supplemental instructional services and supports that will be provided to the child that are designed to remediate the identified area of reading deficiency.

(4) That if the child’s reading deficiency is not remediated by the end of grade 3, the child will not be promoted to grade 4 unless he or she meeting a good cause exemption.

(5) Strategies for parents to use in helping their child succeed in reading proficiency.

(6) That while the state annual accountability assessment is the initial determinate, it is not the sole determiner of promotion and that additional evaluations, portfolio reviews, and assessments are available.

(7) The district’s specific criteria and policies for midyear promotion. Midyear promotion means promotion of a student at any time during the year of retention once the student has demonstrated ability to read at grade level.

(E) Elimination of social promotion — No student may be assigned to a grade level based solely on age or other factors that constitute social promotion.

(F) Good Cause Exemptions — The district school board may only promote  students not meeting the academic requirements for good cause. Good cause exemptions shall be limited to the following:

(1) Limited English proficient students who have had less than 2 years of instruction in an English Language Learner program.

(2) Students with disabilities whose individual education plan indicates that participation in the statewide assessment program is not appropriate, consistent with state law.

(3) Students who demonstrate an acceptable level of performance on an alternative standardized reading assessment approved by the State Board of Education.

(4) Students who demonstrate, through a student portfolio, that the student is reading on grade level as evidenced by demonstration of mastery of the state standards beyond the retention level.

(5) Students with disabilities who participate in the state accountability examination and who have an individual education plan or a Section 504 plan that reflects that the student has received intensive remediation in reading for more than 2 years but still demonstrates a deficiency in reading and was previously retained in kindergarten, grade 1, grade 2, or grade 3.

(6) Students who have received intensive remediation in reading for two or more years but still demonstrate a deficiency in reading and who were previously retained in kindergarten, grade 1, grade 2, or grade 3 for a total of 2 years. Intensive reading instruction for students so promoted must include an altered instructional day that includes specialized diagnostic information and specific reading strategies for each student. The district school board shall assist schools and teachers to implement reading strategies that research has shown to be successful in improving reading among low-performing readers.

(7) Requests for good cause exemptions – Requests to exempt  students from academic requirements for promotion to the next grade shall be made consistent with the following:

(a) Documentation shall be submitted from the student’s teacher to the school principal that indicates that the promotion of the student is appropriate and is based upon the student’s record. In order to minimize paperwork requirements, such documentation shall consist only of the existing progress monitoring plan, individual educational plan, if applicable, report card, or student portfolio.

(b) The school principal shall review and discuss such recommendation with the teacher and make the determination as to whether the student should be promoted . If the school principal determines that the student should be promoted, the school principal shall make such recommendation in writing to the district school superintendent. The district school superintendent shall accept or reject the school principal’s recommendation in writing.

(G) Successful progression for retained readers — Students retained must be provided intensive interventions in reading to ameliorate the student’s specific reading deficiency, as identified by a valid and reliable diagnostic assessment. This intensive intervention must include effective instructional strategies, participation in the school district’s summer reading camp, and appropriate teaching methodologies necessary to assist those students in becoming successful readers, able to read at or above grade level, and ready for promotion to the next grade.

(1) Beginning with the 20XX-20XX school year, each school district shall:

(a) Conduct a review of student progress monitoring plans for all students who did not score above Level 1 on the reading portion of state exam and did not meet the criteria for one of the good cause exemptions. The review shall address additional supports and services, as described in this subsection, needed to remediate the identified areas of reading deficiency. The school district shall require a student portfolio to be completed for each such student.

(b) Provide students who are not promoted with intensive instructional services and supports to remediate the identified areas of reading deficiency, including a minimum of 90 minutes of daily, uninterrupted, scientifically research-based reading instruction and other strategies prescribed by the school district, which may include, but are not limited to:

(i) Small group instruction.

(ii) Reduced teacher-student ratios.

(iii) More frequent progress monitoring.

(iv) Tutoring or mentoring.

(v) Transition classes containing 3rd and 4th grade students.

(vi) Extended school day, week, or year.

(vii) Summer reading camps.

(c) Provide written notification to the parent of any student who is retained that his or her child has not met the proficiency level required for promotion and the reasons the child is not eligible for a good cause exemption. The notification must include a description of proposed interventions and supports that will be provided to the child to remediate the identified areas of reading deficiency.

(d) Implement a policy for the midyear promotion of any student retained who can demonstrate that he or she is a successful and independent reader, reading at or above grade level, and ready to be promoted to grade 4. Tools that school districts may use in reevaluating any student retained may include subsequent assessments, alternative assessments, and portfolio reviews, in accordance with rules of the State Board of Education. Students promoted during the school year after November 1 must demonstrate proficiency above that required to score at Level 2 on the grade 3 state accountability exam, as determined by the State Board of Education. The State Board of Education shall adopt standards that provide a reasonable expectation that the student’s progress is sufficient to master appropriate 4th grade level reading skills.

(2) Provide students who are retained with a high-performing teacher as determined by student performance data and above-satisfactory performance appraisals.

(3) In addition to required reading enhancement and acceleration strategies, provide parents of students to be retained with at least one of the following instructional options:

(a) Supplemental tutoring in scientifically research-based reading services in addition to the regular reading block, including tutoring before and/or after school.

(b) A “Read at Home” plan outlined in a parental contract, including participation in “Families Building Better Readers Workshops” and regular parent-guided home reading.

(c) A mentor or tutor with specialized reading training.

(4) Establish a Reading Enhancement and Acceleration Development (READ) Initiative. The focus of the READ Initiative shall be to prevent the retention of grade 3 students and to offer intensive accelerated reading instruction to grade 3 students who failed to meet standards for promotion to grade 4 and to each K-3 student who is assessed as exhibiting a reading deficiency. The READ Initiative shall:

(a) Be provided to all K-3 students at risk of retention as identified by the statewide assessment system used in Reading First schools. The assessment must measure phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

(b) Be provided during regular school hours in addition to the regular reading instruction.

(c) Provide a state-identified reading curriculum that, at a minimum, the following specifications:

(i) Assists students assessed as exhibiting a reading deficiency in developing the ability to read at grade level.

(ii) Provides skill development in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

(iii) Provides scientifically based and reliable assessment.

(iv) Provides initial and ongoing analysis of each student’s reading progress.

(v) Is implemented during regular school hours.

(vi) Provides a curriculum in core academic subjects to assist the student in maintaining or meeting proficiency levels for the appropriate grade in all academic subjects.

(vii) Establish at each school, where applicable, an Intensive Acceleration Class for retained grade 3 students who subsequently score at Level 1 on the reading portion of the state accountability exam. The focus of the Intensive Acceleration Class shall be to increase a child’s reading level at least two grade levels in 1 school year. The Intensive Acceleration Class shall:

(a) Be provided to any student in grade 3 who scores at Level 1 on the reading portion of the state accountability exam and who was retained in grade 3 the prior year because of scoring at Level 1 on the reading portion of the state accountability exam.

(b) Have a reduced teacher-student ratio.

(c) Provide uninterrupted reading instruction for the majority of student contact time each day and incorporate opportunities to master the grade 4 state standards in other core subject areas.

(d) Use a reading program that is scientifically research-based and has proven results in accelerating student reading achievement within the same school year.

(e) Provide intensive language and vocabulary instruction using a scientifically research-based program, including use of a speech-language therapist.

(f) Include weekly progress monitoring measures to ensure progress is being made.

(g) Report to the Department of Education, in the manner described by the department, the progress of students in the class at the end of the first semester.

(viii) Report to the State Board of Education, as requested, on the specific intensive reading interventions and supports implemented at the school district level. The Commissioner of Education shall annually prescribe the required components of requested reports.

(ix) Provide a student who has been retained in grade 3 and has received intensive instructional services but is still not ready for grade promotion, as determined by the school district, the option of being placed in a transitional instructional setting. Such setting shall specifically be designed to produce learning gains sufficient to meet grade 4 performance standards while continuing to remediate the areas of reading deficiency.

(H) Annual report — In addition to the above requirements, each district school board must annually report to the parent of each student the progress of the student toward achieving state and district expectations for proficiency in reading, writing, science, and mathematics. The district school board must report to the parent the student’s results on each annual state accountability assessment. The evaluation of each student’s progress must be based upon the student’s classroom work, observations, tests, district and state assessments, and other relevant information. Progress reporting must be provided to the parent in writing in a format adopted by the district school board.

(1) Each district school board must annually publish in the local newspaper, and report in writing to the State Board of Education by September 1 of each year, the following information on the prior school year:

(a) The provisions of this section relating to public school student progression and the district school board’s policies and procedures on student retention and promotion.

(b) By grade, the number and percentage of all students in grades 3 through 10 performing at Levels 1 and 2 on the reading portion of the annual state accountability assessment.

(c) By grade, the number and percentage of all students retained in grades 3 through 10.

(d) Information on the total number and percentage of students who were promoted for good cause, by each category of good cause as specified above.

(e) Any revisions to the district school board’s policy on student retention and promotion from the prior year.

(2) The Department of Education shall establish a uniform format for school districts to report the information required. The format shall be developed with input from district school boards and shall be provided not later than 90 days prior to the annual due date. The department shall annually compile the information required along with state-level summary information, and report such information to the public, Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

(I) State Board Authority and Responsibilities:

(1) The State Board of Education shall have authority to enforce this chapter.

(2) The department shall provide technical assistance as needed to aid district school boards in administering this section.

 

Chapter 8. School and Teacher Bonuses for Advanced Placement Exam Success

Section 1. {Title} The AP Success Bonus Plan

Section 2. Calculation of additional full-time equivalent membership based on College Board advanced placement scores of students.

(A) A value of 0.X full-time equivalent student membership shall be calculated for each student in each advanced placement course who receives a score of 3 or higher on the College Board Advanced Placement Examination for the prior year and added to the total full-time equivalent student membership in basic programs for grades 9 through 12 in the subsequent fiscal year.

(1) Each district must allocate at least 80 percent of the funds provided to the district for advanced placement instruction, in accordance with this paragraph, to the high school that generates the funds.

(B) Teacher Bonuses. The school district shall distribute to each classroom teacher who provided advanced placement instruction:

(1) A bonus in the amount of $50 for each student taught by the Advanced Placement teacher in each advanced placement course who receives a score of 3 or higher on the College Board Advanced Placement Examination.

(2) An additional bonus of $500 to each Advanced Placement teacher in a school designated with a grade of “D” or “F” who has at least one student scoring 3 or higher on the College Board Advanced Placement Examination, regardless of the number of classes taught or of the number of students scoring a 3 or higher on the College Board Advanced Placement Examination.

(3) Bonuses awarded to a teacher according to this paragraph shall be in addition to any regular wage or other bonus the teacher received or is scheduled to receive.

(C) Annual Appropriation — The additional full-time equivalent membership authorized under this paragraph may not exceed 0.X per student. Unless a different amount is specified in the General Appropriations Act, the appropriation for this calculation is limited to $XX million annually. If the appropriation is insufficient to fully fund the total calculation, the appropriation shall be prorated.

Background and Drafting Notes

Context and Overview

In passing their comprehensive, linked reforms beginning in 1999, Florida lawmakers embraced a comprehensive, multifaceted approach to improving academic achievement focused on early childhood literacy as the gateway to learning.

The central Florida reform involved increasing transparency: assigning all schools and districts a letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F. The other reform elements combined to spur improvement as well. Parental choice programs for children attending failing schools, low-income students and children with disabilities gave potential exit power for the least advantaged children. A strong charter school law and virtual education statutes provide universally available options. Florida embraced far-reaching alternative teacher certification paths to improve teacher quality, and curtailed the social promotion of children.

Florida lawmakers have continued to update their reforms over time. Those interested in the latest policy innovations in Florida can contact the Foundation for Excellence in Education. The Foundation can assist with technical issues, provide sample rules created by the Florida State Board of Education and other assistance.

Chapter 1. School and District Report Cards and Grades

Florida’s School Report Card system assigns all schools and districts a letter grade based upon an elegant but powerful formula grading schools one half on overall scores, one quarter on the gains of all students, one quarter on the gains of the bottom quarter of students.

People instantly and intuitively understand letter grades, and this system served as the lynchpin for the reforms by increasing community support and interest in improving schools.

Chapter 2. School Recognition Program

The Florida school grading system created both incentives for improvement (cash bonuses for schools) and the chance for parents to remove their children from failing schools (Opportunity Scholarships).

In the current economic climate, it may prove challenging for states to provide additional funding for school improvement. Furthermore, many legislators may justifiably believe that their states already provide too much funding to district schools already.

If however your state can successfully establish a rigorous A-F grading system, at that point you may want to condition a large portion of any future funding increases through the recognition program. Rather than sending more money into the system for largely the same results, as has been common, school districts can earn additional funding.

Chapter 3. Opportunity Scholarship Program.
This chapter reflects the Florida policy, but could potentially be improved upon. For example, a two out of any four year period for receiving a grade of “F” could be raised to a higher standard, such as students who attend a school receiving a single grade of F.

Chapter 4: Special Needs Scholarships

These notes are intended to provide guidance to legislators on some of the key policy questions they will encounter in drafting and debating school choice legislation.

Please note: Most states that have passed a special needs scholarship program have chosen to name the program after a child with special needs or an advocate for such children.

1. The definition for an eligible student in this model legislation includes all special needs students living in the state and initially enrolled in a public school regardless of their household income. Because the scholarship amount is based upon the cost of the Individualized Education Plan developed at the resident public school, the authors chose not to make students presently attending private schools eligible for the program. As a result, there may be a savings for the taxpayers when eligibility is so limited because a scholarship covering private school costs will often be less than the costs of state and local support provided to special needs students attending a public school. Given the likely savings, legislators could extend scholarships to some special needs students already attending private schools without increasing state spending. States may also want to consider whether or not to include gifted students in the program.

2. This bill designates the Department of Public Instruction as the agency regulating the Special Needs Scholarship Program. The intent was to name the existing agency in the state that is responsible for public school finances and private school regulation. Alternatively, legislators may choose to create a new small agency to oversee the program if they are concerned about the hostility the program would face from the existing state education department.

3. This model legislation allows students with special needs to use a scholarship to attend a public school outside their district as well as a private school. The authors support giving parents the widest possible array of choices so that they can choose the school that best meets their child’s special needs. Making sure parents can choose either a public or private school is not only the right policy but also the best legal strategy. The U.S. Supreme Court and various state courts have all cited this broad array of choices as an important part of the reason they have found school choice programs constitutional. The courts have reasoned that these scholarship programs are not an inappropriate subsidy of religious institutions because the purpose was secular (the education of children) and the parents were given many options including public schools, charter schools, private secular schools, and private religious schools. If a state already has some form of public school choice for students with special needs, then this legislation should be made compatible with the existing program. In fact, if a state already has a broad array of school choice options available to parents of special needs children, then a state may be able to add an option for just private schools without encountering constitutional questions.

4. This model legislation empowers parents solely to determine whether their child’s needs are being met by his or her existing public school and whether their child should be transferred to another public or private school. The authors believe deeply that this determination should reside with the parents and not the Department, the school district, or some panel of educators. These government agencies have a financial stake in the decision and will be reluctant to approve the transfer of a student with special needs to another public or private school. By placing the determination in the hands of the parent, this approach ensures that the person making the decision is the one with the greatest interest in the child’s progress, avoids expensive and unproductive legal battles, and forces the resident public schools to meet the needs of these children or lose them to another public or private school.

5. This model legislation bases the scholarship amount on the amount that would have been spent on the student under their Individualized Education Plan at the resident school district. It is important that the new public or private school selected by the parents not be required to follow the Individualized Education Plan crafted at the resident public school since that school disappointed the parent. The new school should be free to craft a better plan to meet the student’s special needs, even though the scholarship amount will be based upon the old plan.

6. Optimally, a scholarship should equal the federal, state, and local dollars that would have been available for the child at his or her resident public school. Unfortunately, tapping federal dollars will bring some unwanted federal regulations to choice schools. As a result, few private schools would be willing to participate in the program. Similarly, legislators should be aware that using local dollars may violate the state constitution in some places (such as Colorado) and may be politically unviable in other states. Therefore, this legislation draws the funds for scholarships solely from state funds and then subtracts the costs from the state aid paid to the resident school district that has not met the student’s needs. This will have the helpful side effect of reducing the financial incentive for resident school districts to over-identify or overspend on special students with special needs.

7. This model legislation is silent about whether schools can charge students with special needs tuition and fees in excess of the scholarship amount. Allowing this would encourage greater participation by schools where costs exceed the scholarship amount. Some also believe direct payments from parents would encourage stronger ownership and involvement in their children’s education. However, legislators may wish to place a cap on the tuition and fees that a poor student might be charged to ensure that all families can afford to participate in the program. Regardless, legislators should make sure that the amount of the scholarship plus the tuition and fees charged to the student do not exceed the school’s costs for educating a student. Any payments above cost to a religious private school would be considered an impermissible subsidy of religion.

8. The model legislation allows parents to request that their child be given the statewide assessments so that they can mark their child’s progress. The legislation does not require testing of students with special needs.

9. It is important that the Department calculate the scholarship in strict accordance with the definitions in the legislation. If the Department cannot be trusted to do this objectively, a more detailed description for determining the size of the scholarship should be written into the law.

10. The legislature may wish to develop an appeals process for schools that have been barred from the program for violations of Section 5(C).

11. Under 42 USC 1981, private schools are already prohibited from discriminating with respect to race, color, and national origin. In addition, if private schools are recipients of federal funds, they are subject to nondiscrimination requirements under 42 USC 2000d (race, color, national origin) and 29 USC 794 (disability). If you choose to include language banning discrimination in hiring based on race, color, national origin, or disability, take care not to interfere with the ability of religious institutions to hire individuals who share their religious beliefs.

12. The model legislation provides schools with the tools they need to ensure that students will be safe. The schools are required to conduct criminal background checks on existing and potential employees, and then they are given the flexibility to determine from this information whether the employee might pose a risk to students. This language is valuable in two cases: 1) a small number of states prohibit discriminating against felons in hiring even for sensitive positions in schools, and this language would give schools clear authority to dismiss or not hire individuals who pose a risk to student safety; and 2) some religious schools see rehabilitation as part of their mission. In this case, the schools could hire someone with a criminal background who they believe is no longer a threat to students, such as someone who committed nonviolent crimes or has decades-old violations followed by a clean record. This language would give schools the responsibility to do background checks and the power to exclude potential risks from the school.

13. The purpose of the financial information report is to make sure that the Department can ascertain the costs of educating a student at the school and to ensure public funds are used appropriately. The legislation does not call for an independent audit because this would be unnecessarily expensive and invasive for many private schools.

14. The model legislation provides for two methods for schools to demonstrate financial viability to ensure that public funds are secure. The first method employs a market-based means of demonstrating viability. Private companies that issue surety bonds have a financial interest in making sure that the schools can repay any funds that might be owed the state. They will therefore conduct the checks necessary to protect their financial interest as well as the taxpayers’ financial interests. Surety bonds can be expensive (one to three percent of the amount covered) or invasive for some institutions so the legislation allows schools to demonstrate by some other means that they have the financial wherewithal to pay back any amount they might owe the state. This might include things like personal guarantees, reserve accounts, or escrow accounts.

15. The model legislation does not require that students with special needs take standardized assessments because of the special educational challenges these students face. Instead, the legislation requires the school to regularly report to the parents on the student’s progress and it gives the parents the option of having their children take the statewide assessments given to other students.

16. It is crucial that the legislature give this study oversight responsibility to a trusted objective nonpartisan source like a legislative service agency. Unfortunately, a 13-year longitudinal study is likely to be quite expensive. Accordingly, the legislation allows the legislature (or a legislative service agency) to accept private grants to completely fund such a study. In some states, the legislature is not allowed to accept such grants and another trusted agency will have to be selected. It will be tempting for legislators to further define the details of the study but they should take care not to dictate the methodology or the results in order to maintain the credibility of the research.

17. Victimization includes but is not limited to being bullied, teased, or threatened with violence.

Additional Note:

It is fairly common for legislators to consider including severability clauses in new legislation. Legislators should make sure that if such clauses are included and exorcised, the remaining legislation produces a program that is workable and achieves the original intent of the bill.

Chapter 5: The Great Schools Tax Credit Program

The Florida legislature created the Step Up for Students Tax Credit against the Corporate Income tax with an initial statewide cap of $50 million. In subsequent years, lawmakers increased the cap on the credit several times, until in 2010 they created a provision to increase the cap and increase the cap by twenty percent automatically when reached the previous year.

Florida is one of the seven states not utilizing a personal income tax. This limited Florida choice advocates to a corporate income tax. Given this is an exception rather than a rule, and it is highly desirable to create a personal donation credit if possible, this chapter uses ALEC’s Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act as a baseline. This act contains other advantages over the Florida legislation as well, such as completely lacking a cap.

The present chapter amends the Great Schools Tax Credit Program in two ways to make it more precisely mimic the Florida Step Up for Students Program. First, the chapter introduces a means test at Free and Reduced lunch eligibility. Bill sponsors should carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of such a means test, as discussed in a drafting note below.

Second, the Florida Step Up for Students Program included a maximum scholarship amount. Independent analysis of the Step Up for Students program concluded that it saves the state of Florida hundreds of millions of dollars in addition to providing parental choice. A limitation on the size of the tax credit scholarship may be useful in avoiding ambiguity in the fiscal note process and justifies avoiding a cap.

Following are Drafting Notes to facilitate tailoring this bill for your state.

1. The definition for an eligible student is limited to those children in a household whose annual income does not exceed an amount equal to 2.5 times the income standard used to qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program (FRL). The authors chose this standard for several reasons: 1) the FRL program is familiar to both schools and many parents; 2) the verification procedures are simple and familiar to school administrators; 3) the income guidelines are used for a number of existing state and federal programs; 4) the federal government annually adjusts the income guidelines; and 5) the income guidelines are adjusted for family size.

The authors chose to use a multiple of this familiar income standard to recognize that many low- and middle-income families cannot afford the choice of a private school. Experience suggests that most parents’ ability to choose a private school is quite limited until the household income approaches $75,000 for a family of four. We have chosen a multiple of 2.5 times the FRL standard to reflect this reality. Legislators may wish to use different multiples of this standard but should keep in mind the financial burden many middle-class families face in paying for private schools.

2. The definition for an eligible student in this model legislation includes students presently enrolled in a private school. Drafted this way, the tax credit will necessarily reward many families who are already financing their child’s education at a non-resident public school or a private school. For this reason some states with a scholarship tax credit program have chosen to place a cap on the total dollar amount of scholarships eligible for the tax credit. Alternatively, legislators wishing to draft a bill with a more modest fiscal impact may want to limit eligibility to students who attended a public school in the last year or are starting school in their state for the first time. In this case, there may actually be a savings for state taxpayers since a scholarship covering private school costs in many cases will be less than the cost of state support provided to students attending a public school.

3. This model legislation creates an additional class of eligible students who are from low-income families. Scholarship granting organizations are required to make sure that an appropriate proportion of their scholarship assistance reaches the poorest families in the state (see Section 4 (A)(6)). This ensures that assistance reaches the families who are least able to afford the school of their choice.

4. This model legislation allows students to use a scholarship to attend a public school outside their district as well as a private school. The authors support giving parents the widest possible array of choices so that they can choose the school that best meets their child’s needs. Making sure parents can choose either a public or private school is not only the right policy but also the best legal strategy. The U.S. Supreme Court and various state courts have all cited this broad array of choices as an important part of the reason they have found school choice programs constitutional. The courts have reasoned that these scholarship programs are not an inappropriate subsidy of religious institutions because the purpose was secular (the education of children) and the parents were given many options including public schools, charter schools, private secular schools, and private religious schools. If a state already has open enrollment or some other form of public school choice, then this legislation should be made consistent with the existing program. In fact, if a state already has a broad array of school choice options available to parents, then a state may be able to add an option for just private schools without encountering constitutional questions.

5. The bill limits the tax credit an individual, married couple, or corporation can claim to 50 percent of their tax liability. While most states have chosen to implement a dollar cap on the tax credit available to each entity, this methodology is more equitable since it adjusts the cap to treat all taxpayers proportionately the same. The authors chose 50 percent because, in general, states spend about one-half of their income tax receipts on education. Allowing taxpayers to claim a tax credit for more than 50 percent of their liability opens the program up to charges that money is being diverted from non-education programs to support private schools.

6. The bill allows a taxpayer to carry forward any unused tax credits for up to three years. Individual incomes and corporate profits are often quite volatile. As a result, taxpayers may not have a liability against which to claim a credit in certain years. Yet the need for scholarship assistance by a student is likely to be relatively constant. Therefore, it is important to allow taxpayers to carry forward unused tax credits into other tax years to ensure that taxpayers have an incentive to continue to contribute to scholarship granting organizations even in years in which the taxpayer has no tax liability.

7. The model legislation requires the establishment of scholarship granting organizations to protect scholarship recipients, frustrate attempts at fraud, and measure the impact of the program without heavy government regulation of private contributions and private schools. We prefer rigorous self-regulation by taxpayers and independent regulation of private school participation by SGO’s in lieu of intrusive government regulation.

8. The goal of this legislation is to provide every parent with the opportunity to send their child to the school that best meets their child’s needs regardless of their family’s income. The need for scholarship assistance is obviously greatest among low-income families. This requirement ensures that a proportionate amount of the scholarship assistance is given to the families financially least able to send their child to the school of their choice.

9. The goal of the program is to expand the number of families who can afford to send their children to the school of their choice. Therefore, legislators may wish to require that a certain percentage of the scholarship assistance go to children who were not already in private schools. This will also hold down the costs of the program and increase the efficiency of the financial incentive for expanding choice. This requirement will be particularly important in states that choose to place a total dollar cap on the tax credit program since a limited amount of tax credits could be claimed for scholarship assistance to students previously attending private schools.

10. The purpose of the criminal background checks is to protect both the contributors and recipients of scholarship assistance from potential fraud or mismanagement of the funds. The legislation gives the scholarship granting organizations the responsibility to do background checks, which gives them the power to exclude potential risks from the organization and alleviates liability issues for their employment decisions.

11. Collecting information regarding how many scholarship students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch will give policymakers a sense of the students that are being served by scholarship tax credit programs. These income guidelines are broadly known and already used in private schools.

12. The purpose of the financial information report and the demonstration of financial viability is to protect both the contributors and recipients of scholarship assistance from potential fraud or mismanagement of the funds. The model legislation provides for two methods for participating schools to demonstrate financial viability to ensure that scholarship funds are secure. The first method employs a market-based means of demonstrating viability. Companies that issue surety bonds have a financial interest in making sure that the schools can repay any funds that might be owed to the scholarship granting organization. They will therefore conduct the checks necessary to protect their financial interest as well as the financial interests of the contributors and recipients. Surety bonds can be expensive or invasive for some institutions so the legislation allows these schools to demonstrate by some other means that they have the financial wherewithal to fulfill their scholarship obligations. This might include things like personal guarantees, reserve accounts, or escrow accounts. The legislation does not call for an independent audit because this would be unnecessarily expensive and invasive for these private organizations.

13. Under 42 USC 1981, private schools are already prohibited from discriminating with respect to race, color, and national origin. In addition, if private schools are recipients of federal funds, they are subject to nondiscrimination requirements under 42 USC 2000d (race, color, national origin) and 29 USC 794 (disability).

14. This language is valuable in two cases: 1) a small number of states prohibit discriminating against felons in hiring even for sensitive positions in schools, and this language would give schools clear authority to dismiss or not hire individuals who pose a risk to student safety; and 2) some religious schools see rehabilitation as part of their mission. In this case, the schools could hire someone with a criminal background who they believe is no longer a threat to students, such as someone who committed nonviolent crimes or has decades-old violations followed by a clean record. This language would give schools the responsibility to do background checks, the power to exclude potential risks from the school, and the liability for their employment decisions.

15. The authors believe that empowered parents are the best way to achieve academic accountability. Clear and consistent information about the academic performance of participating students will help empower parents and will also provide the public and policymakers with the information they need to evaluate the effectiveness of the program and participating schools. Therefore, all participating schools should be required to annually administer either the state achievement tests or nationally recognized norm-referenced tests that demonstrate learning gains in math and language arts. Most private schools already administer such norm-referenced tests so this provision should not be seen as burdensome. It is important, however, to give schools the ability to choose between a state test and the nationally recognized test. Many private schools would simply refuse to participate in the program if they were forced to administer the state tests, because it implies that they are no longer independent of the state. The reason many opponents to school choice promote state testing of private schools is, in fact, because they want to discourage school participation and quietly destroy the program.

Participating schools should provide the parents of each student with a copy of the results and should provide the results to the state or an organization chosen by the state, as described in Endnote 16, in a manner that protects the identity and privacy of individual students. The purpose of this testing requirement should be to provide each parent with a measure of their student’s progress and to allow the taxpayers to measure the achievements of the program. The number and scope of the tests should be carefully limited to ensure that there is sufficient information to demonstrate the achievements of the program without being so exhaustive or prescriptive as to end up dictating the curriculum at participating schools. If legislators would like an extensive longitudinal study, refer to Endnote 18 and its suggested language to create such a review.

16. If legislators are concerned about the hostility the program would face from the existing state revenue department, they may choose to create a new small agency or contract with a private nonprofit organization to oversee the academic accountability responsibilities of the state. Allowing an organization chosen by the state to oversee this program allows for the flexibility to implement market-based models of academic accountability.  In these cases, test results could be reported to a consumer organization, such as GreatSchools.net, where parents can assess participating schools’ test results and compare schools to which they may send their children.

17. The purpose of administering tests is to create transparency in participating students’ academic progress and to demonstrate learning gains. These learning gains can only be demonstrated when the public has access to more than one school year. When this information is made public in the first year, the media and opponents often attack school choice programs, noting that participating students are not performing as well as their public school counterparts. This effect is natural because often the students who participate in choice programs are not doing well in public schools and are academically far behind their participating school counterparts, and it will take them a few years to catch up to grade level.

It is important to note that there are multiple ways to achieve the goal of academic accountability in school choice programs. Policymakers must consider the goal of releasing the academic data in order to choose the most effective reporting process. For instance, if the goal is to see how the program is affecting participating students’ learning gains, scores of participants statewide should be evaluated and released.  If the goal is to evaluate participating school outputs as a tool to help parents choose the best school, scores should be released by participating school. You might also consider a sliding scale approach, where the more participating students a school enrolls, the greater its obligations for transparency and accountability.

18. Legislators sincerely wishing to demonstrate the program’s academic success to taxpayers could require a scientific evaluation of the program using the testing data established in Section 5(B). It is crucial that the legislature give the oversight responsibility for this study to a trusted objective nonpartisan source like a legislative service agency or a trusted research university department. We have provided model language for such an independent evaluation of the program in Section X below. The outlined research would evaluate not only whether students who participate in the program are better off but also, more importantly, whether the competition from private schools improves the performance of public schools. The outlined longitudinal study includes a comparison of students in the choice program with a similar cohort in the public schools for at least five years of their education. Unfortunately, a longitudinal study is likely to be quite expensive. Accordingly, the legislation allows the legislature (or a legislative service agency) to accept private grants to completely fund such a study. In some states, the legislature is not allowed to accept such grants, and another trusted agency would have to be selected.  It will be tempting for legislators to further define the details of the study, but they should take care not to dictate the methodology or the results in order to maintain the credibility of the research.

19. The legislation allows the Department to establish a mechanism that facilitates regular contributions from a taxpayer’s income tax withholdings to a scholarship granting organization in anticipation of the taxpayer claiming a tax credit. This would likely encourage greater contributions to scholarship support organizations.

20. Following is the original language from Section 4(A)(6):

6) spend each year a portion of their expenditures on scholarships for low-income eligible students equal to the percentage of low-income eligible students in the county where the scholarship granting organization expends the majority of its scholarships;

Chapter 6: The Alternative Teacher Certification Act

Teacher quality is crucial to the improvement of instruction and student performance.  However, certification requirements that correspond to state-approved education programs in most states prevent many individuals from entering the teaching profession.  To obtain an education degree, students must often complete requirements in educational methods, theory, and style rather than in-depth study in a chosen subject area.  Comprehensive alternative certification programs improve teacher quality by opening up the profession to well-educated, qualified, and mature individuals.  States should enact alternative teacher certification programs to prepare persons with subject area expertise and life experience to become teachers through a demonstration of competency and a comprehensive mentoring program.

Chapter 7: Student Promotion to a Higher Grade

In 2003, Florida lawmakers took action to curtail the social promotion of children failing to demonstrate basic literacy skill by the end of the 3rd Grade. Specifically, lawmakers required parental notification when children fail to display age appropriate literacy skills and required interventions. When children repeatedly display low levels of literacy skills on examinations, Florida law makes the default for the child to repeat the 3rd grade, absent some good cause exceptions.

The Manhattan Institute conducted a high-quality statistical evaluation of Florida’s retention policy, which compared retained students both to students scoring just above the retention threshold, and separately, to those students advancing with an exemption. In both cases, the retained students made greater gains than the two comparison groups after one year, and the gains increased after two years. The bottom line conclusion: retained students learned acquired the literacy skills needed to academically advance, while the comparison groups did not.[1] While retention is a difficult policy, it is important to remember that it is the exempted students, not the retained students, who ultimately suffer.

New York City Chancellor Joel Klein passed a retention policy informed by the Florida reform, which also received a positive evaluation from the RAND Corporation.[1]

Florida’s retention policy encouraged a greater focus on early literacy development and early intervention. Since the advent of the policy, both the number of students scoring low enough to be subject to the policy, and the number of students retained, has declined by 40 percent.[1] An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Chapter 8. School and Teacher Bonuses for Advanced Placement Exam Success

Florida created a bonus program for schools and teachers as an incentive to get students to pass one or more Advanced Placement Exams. The state created a funding weight increase per student passing one or more Advanced Placement tests with a score high enough to receive college credit. In Florida, the base funding amount equaled $700 per student passing an AP exam. The state directed funds through the formula and the law required a minimum of 80% of those funds go directly to the schools, rather than to the district.

In addition, the program provides an additional increase in funding for students earning AP credit at a school graded D or F, and specifies that the teacher shall earn a bonus of $50 up to a maximum of $2,000 out of the $700. In the last decade, the number of African Americans and Hispanics passing AP exams in Florida has tripled. Florida has the highest Hispanic AP passing rate in the nation.

Compensation for AP exam success can serve as a paradigm shift by inviting schools to earn additional funds, rather than simply receive them.

The model bill leaves funding weight amounts as “X” in order to allow sponsors to vary the amounts based upon individual state circumstances. Note also that Florida provides similar funding for International Baccalaureate programs under the same program. Lawmakers can consider whether they wish to include IB or other internationally benchmarked programs as a part of a system of school bonuses.

Approved by the ALEC Board of Directors, January 7, 2011. 

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