EduClips: From a Parental Dress Code in Houston to Questions Over a New Parcel Tax in Los Angeles, School News You Missed This Week From America’s 15 Biggest Districts

EduClips is a roundup of the week’s top education headlines from America’s 15 largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. Read previous EduClips installments here.

Miami-Dade County — As Legislature Mulls Raising Scholarship Standards, Critics Say Minority Students Would Suffer: Bills moving through the Florida legislature would raise the required test scores for a popular scholarship, prompting questions about the disproportionate effects such measures have on students of color. The bills propose raising the scores needed to qualify for merit-based Bright Futures scholarships. For students who would receive the “Academic” scholarship, which covers full tuition and fees at state universities and colleges, the required SAT score would rise from 1290 to around 1330. For the second-tier “Medallion” award, which covers 75 percent of tuition and fees, the benchmark would climb from 1170 to about 1200. State Senate bill sponsor Sen. Kelli Stargel has noted that the College Board took away the quarter-point penalty for wrong answers in 2016, which led scores to rise nationwide. The change, Stargel said, is in keeping with the “integrity” of the scholarship’s purpose, which is to reward only students whose scores fall within a certain percentile compared with the national average. But in Miami-Dade County alone, 45 percent of the high school seniors, or about 770 kids, who are currently eligible for the “Academic” Bright Futures scholarship would no longer qualify for the full-tuition award if the change were applied to current students, according to the district. Sixty-three percent of black students and 46 percent of Hispanic students who currently qualify for that scholarship would lose eligibility, versus 40 percent of white students. (Read at the Tampa Bay Times)

Houston — High School Adopts Controversial Dress Code — for Parents: “A Houston Independent School District high school has a new dress code. But it’s not for students, who already have a school uniform; it’s for their parents,” reports the Houston Chronicle. According to a memo from Carlotta Outley Brown, principal of James Madison High School, the school will send away parents if they arrive wearing pajamas, leggings, hair rollers or bonnets. While some said the guidelines are necessary to maintain a dignified atmosphere, the Chronicle reports that others have taken issue, saying the rules codify deeper issues tied to class, gender and race. The new policy was issued the day after KPRC-TV (Channel 2) reported that a parent attempting to enroll her daughter had been turned away because of her attire. (Read at The Houston Chronicle)

Los Angeles — Business Community: Let’s See Reform Before Enacting $500 Million Parcel Tax: Representatives of Los Angeles’s business community say they object to a measure that would introduce a first-ever $500 million annual parcel tax before they have seen evidence of reform. The heads of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, Los Angeles County Business Federation, Valley Industry & Commerce Association and Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association said they take serious issue with L.A. Unified floating Measure EE without “collaborating with their organizations, proving its accountability or mandating that revenue from the tax be spent solely in the classrooms.” The executives say that L.A. Unified has continually failed to make internal reforms that curb its deficit spending and improve student outcomes, choosing instead to use new money to keep itself from falling off the proverbial fiscal cliff. To prove its commitment to accountability, the district’s school board voted unanimously to create an “independent taxpayer oversight committee” to publicize how the district allocates revenue from the tax and report progress in student achievement. (Read at The74Million.org)

Orange County — At Orlando’s Florida Virtual School, Questions Surround New President’s Dubious Knighthood: Florida Virtual School’s new top executive uses a British title and claims knighthood from an ancient order, but the Orlando Sentinel reports that there are questions about her title’s legitimacy. “Lady Dhyana Ziegler, as she likes to be called, says she was knighted as a “dame of justice” in a ceremony at England’s Cambridge University in 2008 by an order of the ‘knights of justice,’” the Sentinel reports. She served on the board of trustees for the Orlando-based school for 19 years before being named interim president in March. At her request, school officials use the title “lady” when addressing her, according to former employees. The title also appears in school documents. But Ziegler bases her title on an organization that is one of many “fake” orders that often charge money “for a completely worthless piece of paper,” said Guy Stair Sainty, who has published books on orders of knighthood and chivalry and works to debunk orders that pretend to be legitimate. (Read at the Orlando Sentinel)

New York City —As He Flirts With 2020 Presidential Bid, de Blasio Touts School Record: Despite a recent poll finding that 76 percent of New Yorkers don’t think he should pursue the Democratic nomination, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has traveled the country in recent months as he flirts with a possible 2020 presidential run. The city’s public school system has been among his most reliable talking points. As Chalkbeat recently reported, de Blasio finds himself on the ascendant side of many education policy debates today. He eschewed closing schools, and instead poured nearly a billion dollars into trying to improve them. He has pushed to reduce suspensions and introduce restorative justice practices — a favored cause of civil rights and community groups. And he rolled out an ambitious and costly pre-K program and ceased open hostilities with the city’s main teachers union. But de Blasio also has real liabilities when it comes to his education record. He’s been reluctant to tackle segregation issues head on, and Chalkbeat notes that “Renewal, his program for boosting struggling schools, has shown such mixed results that the mayor is ending it at the end of this school year. The charter sector, although capped for now, serves predominantly low-income families of color who have voted with their feet to attend the privately run schools.” (Read at Chalkbeat)

Hawaii — Hawaii Charter School Leads State in Vaccination Exemptions: Fred Birkett, principal of the Alakai O Kauai Charter School, which has 130 students, knows there is a new list on which his school is ranked No. 1 in the state. But, as Honolulu Civil Beat reports, “he wishes it wasn’t.” It is a statewide ranking of all 36 Hawaii charter schools, ranked by percentage of students exempted from common vaccinations. Alakai O Kauai had the highest exemption rate, at 40%, with many parents opting their kids out for religious reasons. Janet Berreman, the state’s district health officer on Kauai, which in general has disturbingly high rates of non-vaccination, is now working to persuade families and school administrators to vaccinate. (Read at Honolulu Civil Beat)

Clark County — Critics Raise Questions About Employment of Retired Personnel in Las Vegas: A Facebook post from a former Las Vegas school police officer, detailing an anonymous letter blaming “substitute administrators” in the human resources department for sucking dollars out of the school system, has raised questions about the employment of retired personnel. This school year alone, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports, the district has paid $84,129 as of April 11 to 10 different substitute administrators in human resources who’ve already retired from the district — meaning they’re already collecting a pension. All but two work solely on “special projects.” (Read at the Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Noteworthy Essays & Reflections

CHARTER SCHOOLS — Opinion: New Analysis Shows How a $13 Billion Funding Gap Between Charter Schools & Traditional Public Schools Hurts Underserved Students (Read at The74Million.org)

RACE — The Disciplines Where No Black People Earn Ph.D.s (Read at The Atlantic)

EARLY EDUCATION — Opinion: Early ed should adopt these 3 ideas from Montessori schools (Read at The Hechinger Report)

STUDENT LOANS — An Idea for Student Loans: Get Rid of Them (Read at National Review)

CHARTER SCHOOLS — Democrats, Support Charter Schools (Read at The Wall Street Journal)

Quotes of the Week

“Parents, we do value you as a partner in your child’s education. However, please know we have to have standards.” —Madison High School Principal Carlotta Outley Brown, announcing that the school will turn away parents if they show up at the school wearing bonnets, pajamas, hair rollers or leggings, among other clothing items. (Read at The Houston Chronicle)

“The motivation was choice. We couldn’t get choice for choice’s sake. We couldn’t get choice for poor kids. But if the school is violent or dangerous … I could get a majority vote for that.” —Former representative Bob Schaffer, a Republican from Colorado, on how the “unsafe school choice” provision made it into federal education law. (Read at The74Million.org)

“I don’t want to be No. 1 on that list.” —Fred Birkett, principal of the Alakai O Kauai Charter School, ranked No. 1 in the state for charter schools whose parents have obtained exemptions from vaccinations against common childhood diseases for their children. (Read at Honolulu Civil Beat)

“We could give them $500 million a year or $5 billion a year, and they still have no plan on how to fix themselves.” —Valley Industry & Commerce Association President Stuart Waldman, on plans to institute a $500 million parcel tax to support Los Angeles schools. (Read at The74Million.org)

“You walk into a school and you are almost in a military zone. Is that conducive to education?” —Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor of health science at Ball State University. (Read at The New York Times)

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