Thursday, December 29, 2011

What's at Stake for School Choice in 2012

We’re not too into new year’s resolutions here at School Choice Now!, but we’re always looking forward, and we’re excited about the education reform prospects in 2012.  With the breakthrough year that was 2011, which included seven new and 11 expanded private school choice programs, we’re working hard to make sure that in 2012, we can keep the momentum going.

Every state has the chance to create a publicly-funded private school choice program, but here are the states to watch in 2012:

  • New Jersey: With the support of Governor Chris Christie and championed by Senator Thomas Kean, Jr. (R) and Assemblyman Angel Fuentes (D), the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA) would create a five-year corporate tax credit scholarship program allowing low-income children stuck in failing schools to attend the school of their parents’ choice.  The post-election legislative session ends on January 9, but neither legislative chamber has voted on the OSA.  If the legislature doesn’t take up the bill in the lame duck session, we’re committed to making sure that the bill is a priority in the 2012-13 legislative session. Take a look at a video below that capture's just what's at stake in New Jersey:

    • Pennsylvania: The Keystone State had a year of highs and lows in terms of educational choice.  But 2012 is another shot at creating real educational reform.  Senate Bill 1, which passed the Senate—but was not taken up in the House—created a statewide voucher program for children in the bottom five percent of Pennsylvania schools and increase funding for the state’s popular Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program.  The governor supports the bill and with bipartisan support in the legislature, it’s time the two chambers work to get a bill passed.
    • North Carolina: With a great first step accomplished in 2011 (the state created an individual tuition tax credit for parents of students with special needs), the state is looking to create more educational options with equal opportunity scholarships via a corporate scholarship tax credit program.

    Wednesday, December 28, 2011

    The Top 10 Moments of 2011: A School Choice Retrospective

    As the year comes to a close and we look toward creating even more educational options in 2012, let’s take a look back at what many are calling the banner year in school choice to see the top 10 moments in 2011:

    10. Program Saved: Louisiana restored funding New Orleans’ Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program.  As special interests worked to defund this program, supporters that won’t stand for the status quo fought back, and demand for choice grows beyond the Big Easy. This vital program serves more than 1,600 low-income students stuck in failing schools.

    9. Steps Forward: The Tar Heel State took a significant step toward empowering parents and giving educational options to students across North Carolina by enacting the Tax Credit for Children with Disabilities, which gives parents up to a $6,000 credit for sending their students to the school of their choice. The bill was supported by 65 percent of Democrats in the legislature. That’s not all; the state also removed its cap on charter schools!

    8. A New Choice: Arizona began the year with three school choice programs, and in 2011, the Grand Canyon State created a brand new type of school choice program.  With Empowerment Scholarships Accounts (also called education savings accounts), education dollars truly follow the child in this program designed for children with special needs.

    7. Progress, Progress, Progress: The Buckeye state creating a new program and expanded two existing ones this year.  Ohio created the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program named after a 2011 Champion for School Choice award recipient, quadrupled the number of Educational Choice Scholarships, and increased the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program scholarship amounts. 

    6. Support from the Court: The U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that scholarship tax credit programs were constitutional. Families across eight states can breathe a sigh of relief with the knowledge that their programs are safe.

    Thursday, December 22, 2011

    On the Cusp of a New Tide, a Look Back at 2011's School Choice Champions

    Did you know that the American Federation for Children names a “Champion for School Choice” in each of our Turning the Tide monthly newsletters?

    It's true! It's an award we give to someone who is committed to putting kids first, to fighting for educational options, and never letting the status quo be good enough for families. Over the past year, we've identified a bipartisan (and even some non-political) crop of some of the most staunch school choice supporters across the country. They come from everywhere, and have worked in all parts of state and federal government -- or, in one case, on the hardwood!

    So, exactly who was it who received the title this year?

    Eleven leaders from across the nation and from all walks of life were recognized for their commitment to providing educational options to low-income children.  From Indiana to Pennsylvania -- and even our nation’s capital -- we once again applaud these leaders for putting kids first. You can read each one of our past newsletters, from both 2010 and 2011, by clicking here, and you can check out this year's winners below.

    Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    Small-Scale Voucher Effort in India Could Be Model to Transform Education System

    Students take exams outside of a school building in India.
    We here at School Choice Now! have tried to give you a look at issues broadly related to school choice, and while our name might indicated otherwise, we're interested in how successful models of educational options abroad can help shape sound policy here at home.

    And it looks like we're not the only ones.

    In India, officials are looking to voucher programs in the United States and elsewhere to give them insight into how to structure similar programs in the world's second-most populous country. In fact, this has been an ongoing effort -- since 2007, the country's Centre for Civil Society (CCS) has been managing a voucher program that has given scholarships to 408 students in 68 wards in Dehli, India's second-largest metropolitan area.

    Voucher amounts are only 3600 rupees (just under $70 here), which might not seem like much, but consider this:  spending is so low in Indian schools that, on average, 59 percent of the schools have no drinking water and 89 percent have no toilets. With that in mind, a 3600-rupee scholarship is a significant amount, and the voucher program is achieving a remarkably large return on that investment.

    Academic gains by voucher students are particularly notable for outpacing both students at schools run by the Indiana government as well as students studying at private schools. Check out the details, courtesy the India Education Diary, which interviewed CCS president Dr. Parth J. Shah:
    While the government has a constitutional mandate to educate every child, it cannot accomplish this task by building more government schools. It has to remain a sponsor and facilitator, and let edupreneurs execute the task of delivering the service. This will bring choice of schools even to the poor while improving the quality of education delivered through competition.
    Sound familiar? If so, it's because it is.

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011

    Court Fight Over Successful Voucher Program Continues in Indiana

    Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, the voucher program signed into law by Governor Daniels earlier this year, helps almost 4,000 low- and middle-income students go to the school of their parents’ choice.  The broadest voucher program in the nation, the program allows families to choose the best educational options for their children.

    But opponents and special interests—those who are more interested in the status quo than maximizing positive outcomes for children—are fighting a legal battle to get Indiana’s voucher program repealed, despite numerous challenges across the country in recent years that have upheld the constitutionality of school choice programs.

    Yesterday, a Marion County judge heard arguments from both sides on the constitutionality of the program and will issue a ruling in 30 days. Lasting more than two hours, opponents of the program (including the Indiana State Teachers Association) argued that the program is unconstitutional, and if a ruling by a Marion County judge earlier this year is any indication, they’re wrong.

    That’s also the opinion held by Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who says the Choice Scholarship Program is putting education choice in the hands of parents.

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    In Virginia, Massie Seeks Critical Mass on School Choice

    Virginia Del. Jimmie Massie is among those hoping to bring
    comprehensive education reform to the Commonwealth in 2012.
    Virginia Delegate Jimmie Massie, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates since 2007, is leading the way to bring real educational options to the Old Dominion State.

    In fact, Massie has already led Virginia part of the way to comprehensive reform, by sponsoring a bill last session that would allow low-income students to receive scholarships to attend the school of their parent’s choice. And while House Bill 2314 passed the House 54-45 last year, it failed in the Senate.

    But Massie, Governor Bob McDonnell, school choice supporters, and families across Virginia are not giving up.

    That’s because Massie is expected to introduce similar legislation this year in order to bring real education options to the Dominion State.

    “Too often students aren’t able to reach their full potential because the school they attend is not the best fit and their families can’t afford to send them to a nonpublic school,” Massie said in January 2011.  “By providing this tax incentive […] we will be able to provide school options for students and their parents, in order for them to get the education they deserve, at no cost to the state. This legislation will go far to expand the educational opportunities available to students in Virginia.”

    Friday, December 16, 2011

    Volunteers Forego Vouchers in Favor of Governor's Task Force

    Well, it looks like students in the Volunteer State may have to wait another year.

    Governor Bill Haslam says he isn’t ready to bring vouchers to the state, but instead will set up a task force to study how vouchers would work in Tennessee.

    The task force will have nine members, including Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Collierville)—one of the original sponsors of school choice legislation earlier this year—Richard Montgomery (R-Sevierville), chairman of the House Education Committee, former Senator Jamie Woodson of Knoxville, and State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who will chair the committee.

    The group is tasked with seeking “to provide meaningful education options to disadvantaged students," according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

    To save the task force some time—and so they can get right to work on creating real educational options for disadvantaged students today—we thought we’d get a head start on what vouchers could mean for Tennessee:

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    A Disappointing Outcome in Pennsylvania

    Students all across the Keystone State were last night forced to take a giant step backward when it comes to educational options, as the Pennsylvania House of Representatives failed to pass—or even vote on—legislation that would create and expand much-needed educational choices.

    What did the Pennsylvania legislature have the opportunity to do?

    To provide scholarships to low-income students stuck in the state’s worst-performing schools; to expand the highly-popular Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program; and to create a state commission that would authorize charter schools, providing yet another options for Pennsylvania families.

    In the Senate, similar legislation—which passed in October with bipartisan support—would grant scholarships to students in the bottom five percent of Pennsylvania schools and expand the highly-popular Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program.

    But in order to become law, families across the state needed the House to act.

    And although it looks like the House of Representatives won’t be able to get the job done this year, the state’s elected officials still have a commitment to students to provide them with a quality education to all students

    The Governor’s office is on the same page, according to The Patriot News:
    We expect the House leadership to live up to their commitment to the children of Pennsylvania and the governor to run and pass a school-choice bill as quickly as possible.
    And we are not letting anyone give up on that commitment to our children.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    Singleton Signals Strong Support for OSA in New Jersey

    NJ Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-7).
    New Jersey Assemblyman Troy Singleton has only been in the legislature for a couple of months, and already, he's standing up for educational options in the Garden State.  In an editorial published in today’s Times of Trenton, the newly-minted lawmaker—who took over after the resignation of former Rep. Jack Conners in September—spoke out strongly in favor of the Opportunity Scholarship Act:
    The OSA, as well as other strategic programs that are intended to enhance the educational opportunities of our children, is the answer. In approving the OSA, we must step outside of our preconceived notions and work toward our common goal of providing the best education for our children who are falling through the cracks year after year.
    So, just who is Representative Troy Singleton?

    Well, he’s a Democrat representing District 7, which includes Beverly, Burlington, Edgewater Park, and Riverside, New Jersey. Originally born in Philadelphia, Singleton was born in Willingboro and now resides in Palmyra with his wife and three children.

    After winning his seat in the special election earlier this year, he's joined the growing list of Democratic OSA supporters.

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    In Midst of Impending Court Fight, Arizona Families Prosper With School Choice

    Although Aaron McLemore, a student participant in Arizona's
    Empowerment Savings Accounts Program, has thrived as a result of
    school choice, the future of the program remains in jeopardy.
    An Arizona lawsuit filed to prevent special needs students from participating in a new form of school choice is likely headed to the state Supreme Court.

    The Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program allows children identified as having a disability to receive 90 percent of state funding to use on a variety of educational tools including tuition and fees, textbooks, educational therapies, tutoring, and college courses.

    This program, commonly called an education savings accounts or ESA, puts parents—not schools or bureaucracies—in charge of education dollars.

    But opponents, including the Arizona School Boards Association and the Arizona Education Association, want to prevent this program from moving forward.  Instead of putting the power in the hands of parents (who know their children best), special interests want the status quo for special needs children.

    The Institute for Justice (IJ) has taken the case, Niehaus v. Huppenthal, on behalf of participating families and supporters of school choice.  According to the IJ , ESAs are constitutional because they offer a wide variety of educational choices.

    The Goldwater Institute has also joined in the fight to help families.

    But while lawyers battle it out for educational choice in the courts, we must remember that this program helps real families; just ask the McLemores.

    Friday, December 9, 2011

    With Renewed Faith in Their Program, D.C. Families Celebrate the Holidays

    Students from Kuumba Learning Center perform during the
    annual D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Holiday Party.
    More than 570 families participating in the highly-successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) attended an annual holiday party hosted by the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation yesterday.

    Parents and kids turned out to celebrate the holidays with arts and crafts, music from OSP students, and lots and lots (and lots) of food.

    The party included music performances by OSP students.  A band from Calvary Christian Academy opened the evening, while families also heard carols from the Nannie Helen Burroughs School and a djembe drum performance by students from Kuumba Learning Center.

    And an OSP freshman attending St. John’s College High School played “The First Noel” on the violin.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    Something to Sing about in the Peach State

    Grammy-winning singer Marvin Sapp wowed a
    packed, reform-minded church in Georgia yesterday.
    What does an award winning and Grammy nominated musician have to do with education reform?  In Georgia—a lot.

    Marvin Sapp—the eight-time Grammy nominated gospel singer from Grand Rapids, Mich. spoke last night at "Educating our Future: The Fight for Georgia’s Children," hosted by the Center for an Educated Georgia and the Alliance for School Choice.

    The event, an informational forum about education reform and how the community can get involved, drew nearly 1,000 supporters.

    Sapp, who sang two songs at the event, spoke about his strong support for education reform, as well as his plans to open the GREAT School, a charter school focused on the arts in his home town of Grand Rapids.

    Originally a passion of his late wife, Sapp has continued to pursue opening a charter school following the death of his wife last year.

    “The reason I came here is two-fold,” said Sapp, referring to participating on a panel discussion on education reform and, of course, singing a couple of hit songs for the excited crowd.

    Wednesday, December 7, 2011

    Right Now In Georgia: Award-Winning Singer Marvin Sapp Discusses Education Reform

    We'll have much more to bring you from the event tomorrow, but right now, we wanted to give you a sneak peak at the full recap we'll be providing tomorrow on a special even we're co-hosting starring legendary gospel singer Marvin Sapp. The full details can be found here, but read below for some perspective on why we're so excited about the event, courtesy our own David Morgan:
    You have to have a great messenger when you’re trying to do something radically different. 
    Education impacts us all. When you have a well-educated society, that’s just a win-win for everybody involved…We want to make sure that children and families have every opportunity available to get a good education and are not deprived due to geography or income. 
    I believe in strong public education and I also believe that families should have options. That makes a huge difference.
    We'll bring you a full update of all the songs and important discussion tomorrow, so stay tuned to this space to  get the full recap.

    - American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG 

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    On The Pages of the Grey Lady, a Flawed Take on School Choice

    After a summer of high-profile stories on school choice in the editorial pages of national newspapers, the issue is making mainstream waves again after an article in Sunday's New York Times by Natalie Hopkinson that proclaimed the failure of educational options, specifically in Washington, D.C. While the piece focuses solely on charter schools, the faulty argument could easily be applied to broader forms of choice, too -- that is hurts the middle class and helps perpetuate segregation among low-income schools in the nation's capital.

    The facts, however, could not be further from that assertion.

    It is not school choice that's to be blamed for low performance and a growing achievement gap; after all, school choice -- be it charters, or the city's high-performing D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program -- didn't exist long into the District's significant declines in achievement. School choice is to blame, however, for helping close that gap. Choice is too a culprit in helping improve the performance of traditional public schools, and we should stick it to school choice when we consider that students enrolled in the Opportunity Scholarship Program are more than 30 percentage points more likely to graduate than students in the traditional public school system. That's not to mention the fact that more than half of all D.C. public school students are now enrolled in a charter school.

    If these options were so bad, why would families continue utilizing them, and seeing their performance improving?

    Monday, December 5, 2011

    The Institute for Justice Opens Schoolhouse Doors in Indiana

    Our friends at the Institute for Justice had a busy summer, helping to defend Indiana's new Choice Scholarship voucher program against attempts by special interests to stop the new plan. We told you in mid-August when a Marion County judge decided against blocking the voucher program, but that decision didn't come in a vacuum; it was the result of a strong effort from various school choice champions to make the case for the legality of the program.

    And foremost among those champions was IJ. Now, they're out with a new publication that speaks to Indiana's place in the long history of the courts' support for school choice. In "Opening the Schoolhouse Doors," by IJ's Angela C. Erickson, read how they helped the Hoosier State stay on the cutting edge of the national movement to expand educational options to families who need them.

    You can download the full PDF of the publication here. And be sure to read more about the document on the IJ website.

    - American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

    Friday, December 2, 2011

    Two-Day HCREO Event Highlights Need for School Choice in Southwest

    Elected officials joined education reformers from around the country in thunderous applause, as they took to their feet to cheer a young Arizona Hispanic student after hearing the young scholar's inspiring story.

    It was just one of the many moving stories told this week in Arizona, where a two-day conference hosted by one of the most unwavering of school choice allies aimed to address one of the seminal educational problems facing the country.

    The event, hosted by the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (HCREO), brought together reformers from around the country, elected officials from several states in the Southwestern U.S., and local parents and students eager to discuss how they could all get more involved in providing Hispanic children with educational options.

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    In the Backyard of the New Jersey Legislature, Thousands Rally to Demand School Choice

    Rev. Reginald T. Jackson speaks before a crowd of thousands at a rally for 
    the Opportunity Scholarship Act in Trenton, NJ, on Dec. 1.

    "We vote you in!"

    "We'll vote you out!"

    The chant was at first a bit difficult to hear, but after a few refrains—and a steady increase in volume—the message to the men and women working in the building in front of the crowd couldn't be denied.

    That was the scene today at the New Jersey State Capitol in Trenton, where over 2,000 students, parents, education advocates, and legislators joined together to express their unwavering desire for school choice in the Garden State.

    The rally was in favor of the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA), the legislation currently being considered in the state legislature, which convenes at the very place where Thursday's rally was held. The OSA would create a tax credit scholarship program for low-income students trapped in the state's worst-performing school districts, finally giving their parents the opportunity to send them to high-quality schools.

    We were on hand in Trenton today, and the atmosphere was electric. We did our best to give live updates of the action through the cold Jersey winds, and you can check out our Twitter feed for many of the updates here.

    Wednesday, November 30, 2011

    Rallying Together to Bring New Jersey Kids Hope

    If you were in Jersey City, NJ, today, you might have heard the noise of the status quo, as various special interests gathered to oppose giving hope to children via New Jersey's proposed Opportunity Scholarship Act.

    But if we have anything to say it, our voices will be much, much louder.

    That's because tomorrow, we're joining with allies from all across the state to rally in favor of the legislation, which would grant scholarships to Garden State students trapped in failing schools. We'll be taking our cause right to Trenton, too, with the hope that the state's legislators will be listening in the building behind us. Many of the legislators who have pledged support for the bill, as well as national education reform leaders from all across the country, will be there too.

    Interested in joining us? Our great friends at We Can Do Better New Jersey have all the details, and can answer your questions and have ways for you to get involved.

    Of course, we'll give you the full recap of the rally tomorrow afternoon. But you locals shouldn't have to worry about that, because we should see you there!

    - American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

    Monday, November 28, 2011

    Amid Court Proceedings, Allies Reach Out in Arizona

    The United States Supreme Court, where an Arizona case upheld
    the constitutionality of scholarship tax credits earlier this year.
    It's been a busy week in Arizona, and things aren't letting up in the days ahead.

    First, there was the news early last week that an Arizona court dismissed one of the plaintiffs' claims in a lawsuit aiming to stop students from participating in Arizona's Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program.

    And then, today, parents of students enrolled in the groundbreaking program took to court to defend additional claims from the plaintiffs. (In this case, a group of special interests intent on maintaining the educational status quo for Arizona families.)

    You can learn more about the history of Arizona's court battles, as well as Monday's developments, by clicking here.

    But it's not all about court wranglings out in the Grand Canyon State. The next two days will also feature some of the best that Arizona school choice champions have to offer, as the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (HCREO) is teaming up with reformers around the country to address one of the most pressing educational problems facing the state.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    Happy Thanksgiving from the Federation and the Alliance!

    From everyone here at the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice, we want to wish you a very (early and) happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

    We'll be taking the rest of the week off to enjoy the holidays with our friends and family, and we hope you do, too.

    Thank you for all your hard work this year in helping bring educational options to the kids who need them most.

    - American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    A Statement from the American Federation for Children and Alliance for School Choice on the Passing of Ted Forstmann

    It was just a week and a half ago that we brought you the inspiring story of the Children's Scholarship Fund, the brainchild of the late John T. Walton and Ted Fortsmann. The Wall Street Journal was profiling Fortsmann and his amazing organization, which has helped hundreds of thousands of low-income kids get a good education since Fortsmann and Walton started it in 1999.

    Today, we're sad to be writing about Fortsmann again. The philanthropist and education reformer died yesterday at the age of 71. Our chairman, Betsy DeVos, released a statement expressing her sadness upon learning the news of Fortsmann's death:
    On behalf of the entire American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice, I want to express my heartfelt sadness upon learning of the passing of our friend Ted Forstmann yesterday.  

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    Farewell to A Great School Choice Friend!

    On this Friday, we share a bit of bittersweet news from our friends at School Choice Ohio regarding their great executive director, Chad Aldis:
    COLUMBUS, Ohio (Nov. 16, 2011) – School Choice Ohio today announced that Executive Director Chad Aldis will be stepping down from his position with the organization to begin a new role with a national education reform organization. 
    “School Choice Ohio is grateful for Chad’s leadership and for his steadfast commitment to expanding school choice in the state of Ohio for the past four years,” said School Choice Ohio Board Chair Matt Cox. “He has helped position this organization to become a national leader on school choice, and we look forward to building on this solid groundwork as we continue our work to ensure that every child has access to a quality education.”  
    Under Aldis’ leadership, School Choice Ohio has become an established advocate for school choice of all types and a resource for the media, legislators, and business leaders on education reform. The organization also serves  as an information source for thousands of Ohio families who are seeking the best educational environment for their children. 
    “I have enjoyed my time at School Choice Ohio working to help secure school choice for thousands of Ohio families who need it the most,” said Aldis. “It has been rewarding to work with and advocate on behalf of parents who are committed to finding a better educational option for their child.”

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    The Next Generation of School Choice Champions

    Many of the folks who have been fighting to give kids educational options have worked in this movement for many years—just take a look at the Alliance for School Choice's John T. Walton Award Winners to get an idea of some of the most committed school choice champions.

    But another group of those engaged in helping kids through school choice weren't even around (or were still crawling around) when the first private school choice program in America was enacted, over two decades ago. For them, the fight has been a more recent one, meaning less perspective and awareness of the long, hard work that preceded them.

    You might think that that would dampen their interest and engagement in bringing kids school choice.

    But you'd be wrong.

    Recent days and weeks have ushered in a flurry of commentary from young people on why school choice is so important. Some of them were beneficiaries of the scholarships that rescued them from failing schools, and others weren't.

    The one thing they all have in common, though, is a realization that it's going to soon be up to a new generation of leaders to carry the torch for educational equality for all.

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    In Light of Recent Abuse, It's Time We Stand Up for Our Kids

    Yesterday we brought you an unfortunate story of a Chicago teachers union leader making inappropriate and disparaging remarks about Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in front of a crowd (and laughing about it). Pretty bad, right?

    Well, it's nothing compared to this.

    Rarely does a story bring about such a universal reaction—disgust, anger, sadness—as the one we're about to show you. NBC's Today Show first reported on the story of 14-year-old Cheyanne, a special needs student from an Ohio town about 40 miles southwest of Columbus. It's a story of being bullied, something far too many children encounter every day in schools all across the country. But this time, it's different.

    The bullies were the teachers.

    That's right—it's not students, but instead a teacher and her aide who proceed to call the girl dumb, a liar, and chastise her for "hav[ing] no friends." They make fun of her appearance, her parents, and even give her an "F" on a test without even bothering to grade it.

    It took a secret tape recorder carried by Cheyanne to prove that what she was reporting to her father was actually happening, and even after administrators heard them, only the teaching aide was fired (and not immediately, either). And despite the fact that these sad events took place last school year, the teacher in the case was only put on administrative leave two days ago.

    Let that sink in for a second.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    The Chicago Teachers Union President's Sad, Embarrassing Rant

    A truly unfortunate video that's been making the rounds today shines a light on some terrible tactics used by special interest leaders out there who fight to maintain the status quo in their opposition to school choice and other education reforms.

    Oftentimes, reform opponents have legitimate concerns with voucher and scholarship tax credit programs.

    Other times, they're only out to launch public and proud attacks against others.

    It was the latter case last month in Seattle, where the president of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), Karen Lewis, engaged in an absolutely embarrassing, childish, and despicable rant at an event that was supposed to be about social justice.

    But when you hear what Lewis has to say, you'll realize that there's nothing justified—or dignified—about any of it.

    Watch the video below, posted by the Education Action Group, to see four minutes that feature attacks the on everyone from the president to the education secretary to kids with speech impediments (and keep in mind that there's some inappropriate subject matter, so view accordingly).

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    Over A Decade Later, the Lasting Legacy of School Choice Champions Lives On

    The deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page devoted his column this week to a creation of two of the most committed men when it comes to giving educational options to low-income kids: Ted Forstmann and the late John Walton.

    Ever heard of the Children's Scholarship Fund? If so, then you're familiar with one of Forstmann and Walton's most innovative education reform ideas. In the years since it was created in the late 1990s, nearly $500 million in scholarships has been provided to over 120,000 low-income children to attend schools that their parents chose for them.

    Few private organization share so closely a mission with ours—to give low-income kids the same opportunities afforded to those who are well off. CSF, however, is a rare ally truly empowers families and parents with the ability to choose the learning environment most suited for their children, who they know most.

    But back to today's column, about the fund and the continued plight of kids trapped in failing inner-city schools. In many ways, this year's sweeping school choice victories are the result of the hard work that Forstmann and Walton were engaged in far before it was popular, and far before over 200,000 children were benefiting from school choice all around the country.

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Strong Support Among Non-Union Teachers for School Choice

    Stay tuned to this space in the next couple of weeks, as we'll be unveiling a fair amount of public polling research that speaks to current opinions on school choice as well as how those ideas have evolved over time.

    In the meantime, though, we came across a survey released last week from the Association of American Educators. The AAE is one of the largest non-union teachers associations nationwide. It's made up of teachers at traditional public schools, public charter schools, and private schools.

    People who oppose educational options for low-income kids often attack our movement as anti-teacher, forgetting that we believe teachers to be the backbone and lifeblood of strong education in this country. And, they musn't forget that the every one of the educational options for which we advocate is filled with teachers too.

    That's all a long way of getting to the point of this post...that teachers support school choice too! The AAE surveyed its members on a host of education reform topics, finding strong support for many of them, including extremely high numbers when it comes to school choice.

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    PEFNC Chief Talks Refreshingly About School Choice in the Tar Heel State

    Last week the University of North Carolina Law School hosted a discussion titled The State of Education in North Carolina: Addressing the Constitutional Implications. There were a number of prominent names in the education reform and civil rights spheres on hand, including the following group:
    • Dean Boger, moderating
    • Matthew Ellinwood, North Carolina Justice Center, Policy Advocate Education Law Project
    • Dr. Terry Stoops, John Locke Foundation, Education Studies Director
    • Neal Ramee, Tharrington Smith, Education Lawyer
    • Darrell Allison, Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, President
    • Mark Dorosin, Center for Civil Rights, Senior Managing Attorney
    Each of the folks above has a specific area of expertise and significant experience discussion the plight of public education in America as well as ways to improve it, but one person in particular has been a longtime friend of the Federation and the Alliance, in a state where we're working to bring even more choice that already exists.

    That man is Darrell Allison, the president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. Always a man with a gift for eloquence in making the case for expanded educational options, Allison was particularly clear about why school choice is so important during his talk at UNC Law last week.

    Monday, November 7, 2011

    Media Misses Mark on Indiana Voucher Coverage

    News last week that Indiana's Choice Scholarship Program enrolled nearly 4,000 students, the most ever by a first-year voucher program, was met with mixed coverage from media outlets across the Hoosier State.

    Some newspapers attempted to hear arguments from people on both sides of the debate, others showed the objective success of the enrollment numbers, while others enlisted help of wire services that stick to the hard news aspects of the story.

    The story on television, however, was not quite as balanced. Local Lafayette, IN news station WLFI TV gave coverage to the story when the enrollment numbers were released last Thursday, but only seemed to find time to interview those who complained of the money their districts were losing as a result of those kids getting a better education. Take a look at the video:

    Friday, November 4, 2011

    Former Education Secretary Urges Business Community to Spearhead Education Reform

    (From L-R) Former Education Secretary Rod Paige, CEG
    Director Jerri Nims Rooker, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.
    ATLANTA - Former Education Secretary Rod Paige yesterday joined local and national education experts at an event which engaged business leaders in expanding educational options for Peach State families, highlighting the importance of improving education for Georgia’s economic future.

    The event, titled “ROI: Education is Your Business,” was sponsored by the American Federation for Children, the Center for an Educated Georgia at Georgia Family Council, the Georgia Charter Schools Association, and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. It featured remarks by Governor Nathan Deal and a strategy session hosted by and featuring prominent business leaders discussing education reform.

    Paige urged attendees, which included several state legislators, to make education a primary focus of the Georgia business community. He cited lagging achievement statistics and a growing gap among demographic groups as hurdles to recruiting businesses and an educated, skilled workforce.

    “No society can long survive, no culture can long flourish, no economy can long prosper, when it leaves behind as many children to poverty and ignorance as we are doing now in this great country," Paige said. "We simply must muster up the courage to face the brutal fact that how our education system is working is not working.”

    Focusing on education in Georgia, Paige said the state’s large achievement gap between blacks and whites was equivalent to two grade levels.

    "It is even below the national graduation rate," he said. "And like the rest of our nation, there is a 25-point difference between the performance of our African-American students and their Anglo peers. We have a problem.”

    Paige, who served as Secretary of Education during President George W. Bush’s first term, said that that the keys to increasing Georgia’s economic standing are changing what does not work in our current public education system and allowing educational innovation through expanded education options for those who need them  most.

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    Nearly 4,000 Enroll In Indiana's First-Year Voucher Program

    There's great news out of Indiana today: Nearly 4,000 were approved to participate in Indiana's Choice Scholarship Program, despite a truncated application window and this being the first year the program was offered.

    We teamed up with a host of our allied organizations to tout the great numbers. Here's what we had to say:
    “It’s terrific to see that so many families have taken advantage of this exciting new opportunity,” said Lindsey Brown, Executive Director of School Choice Indiana. “Students are already benefiting from this important program and the stories that we’ve heard from parents and principals have been very encouraging.” 
    Nearly 85 percent, or 3,326, of voucher recipients are on the free and reduced lunch program. Fifty three percent of program participants represent minority families, including 24 percent African-American and 19 percent Hispanic. 
    According to the DOE, 69 percent of students approved for vouchers are from metropolitan areas, 16 percent are from suburban areas, and 15 percent are from rural and town areas. Children from 185 Indiana school districts are participating in the program, with no school district accounting for more than 17 percent of the total scholarship recipients. The largest number of voucher approvals by city includes: 644 students from Indianapolis, 393 from Fort Wayne, 374 from South Bend, 139 from Anderson, 131 from Gary, and 121 from Evansville. 

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    At the Century Mark, The Top 5 Blog Posts (So Far)

    This entry marks a mini-milestone of sorts for us, as it represents our 100th blog entry here on School Choice Now! Considering the following we've gathered for an endeavor that began just a few short months ago, we wanted to thank you for continuing to return to our blog, and we hope we'll continue to provide interesting and thoughtful content that will keep you coming back.

    Now, with that...what have y'all enjoyed most? Some of the posts probably might not surprise you, but some will. It's not shock that you seem to enjoy posts about well-known figures, as well as posts that are passionate. You like hearing about breaking news, and stories that are more man-bites-dog than dog-bites-man usually do well, too.

    But enough summarizing. Take a look at our list below of our Top 5 all-time blog posts (so far).

    5. "Agnostic As to the Delivery Mechanism" (July 12, 2011)

    What Was It? Inspired by a quote from Michelle Rhee, we made clear that our support was not for a certain system of education, but for an education system that works. We don't care what it's called or how it's structured as long as it works. The reality is that school choice is a proven reform, hence the commitment we have to expanding it across the country.

    Why Was It So Popular? This was a line that stuck out to us back in the spring, before we even launched our blog. When Rhee said it at our 2011 National Policy Summit, it hit back directly at critics who try to make our fight a partisan or ideological one. In a world where every public school was great, we wouldn't need vouchers and scholarship tax credits. But until that day, we will fight to give kids hope.

    4. BREAKING NEWS: Bipartisan Ohio Voucher Plan Passes Out of House Education Committee (September 21, 2011)
    What Was It? After a summer of school choice successes nationwide, the first day of fall continued the trend with the passage of a means-tested voucher bill in the Ohio House's Education Committee.

    Why Was It So Popular? We love breaking news, and we think you do, too. This was an especially exciting piece, because the vote was a relative surprise and the measure would have wide-ranging effects for low-income kids across the Buckeye State. There's yet to be a vote on the bill in the House, but we'll keep you updated on the legislation's prospects.

    Monday, October 31, 2011

    Arizona Families: Interested in an ESA? Find Out How to Get One This Spring!

    Do you live in Arizona, or know families who do? If so, you should know that the application period for spring term Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) is now open through Nov. 15.

    What's even more pressing is the fact that there will be an information session for the program tomorrow, Nov. 1, beginning at 12 p.m. pacific time in Phoenix. Here's a bit more information for those interested:
    Sponsored by State Senator Rick Murphy and House Majority Whip Debbie Lesko and signed by Governor Jan Brewer last legislative session, ESAs are currently providing 75 Arizona families with the opportunity to send their children to the school of their choice. 
    Parents have until Tuesday, November 15 to apply for an ESA for the spring term. For applications and more information about the accounts, parents are encouraged to visit the Arizona Department of Education’s website at 
    An information session on the program will also be held this Tuesday, November 1, 2011 from noon – 3pm PDT at the Arizona Department of Education, located at 1535 West Jefferson, Room 417, Phoenix, AZ 85007.
    Click here to get all the details about info session and the application period, click here.

    Thursday, October 27, 2011

    Charter School Expansion Taking Shape in Wisconsin

    Wisconsin had one of the most remarkable years when it came to school choice, and things aren't done for the Badger State.

    Yesterday the Wisconsin Finance Committee advanced important legislation that would significantly expand charter schools across the state. Here are the details:
    The legislation (SB 22/AB 51), which passed the committee on a 12-3 vote, creates a state charter school authorizing board that can approve new charter schools in Wisconsin. 
    The American Federation for Children, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Milwaukee Charter School Advocates, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and Wisconsin Charter Schools Association, have advocated for the charter school expansion throughout the 2011-12 legislative session. 
    “We applaud SB 22’s authors for introducing this legislation and working with community leaders on strengthening it,” said Brian Pleva of the American Federation for Children. 
    The first AFC-supported amendment allows operators of high-performing charter schools that are located in school districts with otherwise low graduation rates to more easily create more high-quality public charter schools. 
    “We believe that when public charter schools like Milwaukee College Preparatory School and Bruce Guadalupe Community School have already demonstrated success,” said Brian Pleva of the American Federation for Children, “the legislature should be helping them create more high-quality classrooms for students.”
    You can read the full release here. We'll be sure to keep you updated as the legislation advances.

    - American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

    Wednesday, October 26, 2011

    BREAKING NEWS: Pennsylvania Senate Passes Sweeping School Choice Expansion

    About 15 minutes ago (and after over four hours of debate), the Pennsylvania Senate passed Senate Bill 1, which will create a voucher program for failing schools and increase funding for the state's Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program.

    Here's a portion of our release:
    The American Federation for Children—the nation’s voice for school choice—calls on the House of Representatives to follow the Senate’s lead and pass the plan, which is an amended version of Senate Bill 1, a proposed school choice expansion introduced earlier this year. The bill, which passed 27-22 today with bipartisan support, would grant scholarships to students in the bottom five percent of Pennsylvania schools and also increase funding for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program by $25 million next year and an additional $25 million in 2014. 
    Championed by Sens. Jeffrey Piccola (R) and Anthony Williams (D), the legislation now moves onto the House for consideration. If passed in the lower chamber and signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett—who unveiled a similar education reform plan earlier this month—it would give thousands of additional Pennsylvania students the opportunity to attend the school of their parents’ choice. 
    “The Senate, backed by the leadership of Sens. Williams and Piccola, has taken an important step towards greater educational equality for Pennsylvania kids,” said Betsy DeVos, chairman of AFC. “We’re grateful for their hard work, but now the responsibility rests with the House to make sure that it hasn’t been in vein.”
    Read the full release here. This is great news for Pennsylvania families. Now it's on to the House!

    - American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

    Tuesday, October 25, 2011

    PA Senate to Vote on School Choice Bill Tomorrow; Contact Your Legislators!

    We have some good news out of Pennsylvania today; the Senate Education Committee passed an amendment to Senate Bill 1 that includes the provisions that Gov. Tom Corbett outlined earlier this month.

    It was a 9-2 vote, with bipartisan support in favor of the measure's passage. The amendment, just like Senate Bill 1 itself, was sponsored by Sens. Jeffrey Piccola (R) and Anthony Williams (D), the bipartisan tandem that has led the school choice fight in the Pennsylvania legislature. The amendment calls for, among other things, the creation of a failing schools voucher program and an expansion of the existing Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program.

    We wrote about the developments earlier today, specifically calling on the full Senate to vote in favor of the plan when it's scheduled to go before the chamber. Here's what our chairman, Betsy DeVos, had to say:
    Under these provisions, kids who are in the most difficult educational environments will finally have the opportunity to prosper that every child deserves. That is why it is of paramount importance to thousands of struggling Pennsylvania students that the State Senate passes the amendment to Senate Bill 1. We applaud Sens. Williams and Piccola for their efforts, and urge their colleagues to follow their lead.
    But our words of encouragement aren't enough to get the legislation passed. To make sure that happens, we need the involvement of everyone, including you.

    Our friends at Students First PA are mobilizing citizens across the Keystone State to let their elected officials know how important school choice is to their communities. They're reminding people to tell the Senate that children in failing schools have waited far too long—it's time to give them hope now.

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    Catch Up on All of Louisiana's Weekend Election Results!

    It was Election Day in Louisiana this past weekend, where residents
    voted on State House and Board of Education races.
    [UPDATE 10/25 12:01pm EST]
    The Louisiana Federation for Children ( is out with a new release detailing all the school choice supporters who won elections on Saturday, as well as who needs support leading up to the runoff election on Nov. 9. Check it out here.

    Election Day on a Saturday? No, we're not talking about Australia or New Zealand, where it's common practice; we're talking about Louisiana!

    Elections in State House of Representatives and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) races were held this past Saturday, and many school choice supporters and opponents were defending their turf and/or looking unseat an incumbent.

    Our friends over at the Louisiana Federation for Children ( worked through the weekend and covered what happened. Here's a quick portion of the wrap-up:
    The Louisiana Federation for Children (LFC) today commended the efforts of Gov. Bobby Jindal, the GOP Victory Fund, Sen. David Vitter's Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority PAC, and the PACs of Louisiana Association of Business & Industry for their instrumental role in electing school reform supporters. 
    In addition to these critical efforts, the bipartisan LFC PAC played a crucial role in dozens of legislative and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) races, supporting both Democratic and Republican candidates. These efforts combined to defeat school choice opponents and elect school choice supporters, while raising the profile of education reform and school choice throughout the state.
    The full release is here. You can also read some national coverage of the elections here, here, and here.

    Friday, October 21, 2011

    Bruised But Not Beaten, Philadelphia Child Receives New Hope

    Yesterday we read a heartbreaking story about Menduawor Comgbaye, a six-year-old in Philadelphia who was being physically abused by classmates at his public school, and the difficulties his father had in getting the school to address the harm being done to him.

    Menduawor was beaten up so bad that he once had to go to the emergency room, where he was treated for abdominal injuries and his family filed a police report.

    Here's an excerpt from the sad tale:
    Comgbaye, interviewed at the family home, said he could not believe this was happening to his son - not in a neighborhood school, not in the United States, not after fleeing war-torn Liberia. 
    As he spoke, his son came into the living room. 
    "They keep beating me up," he said. "They pushed me, and I was bleeding."Comgbaye said the incidents occurred in the classroom, in the hallways, and outside the school. 
    The family contacted Menduawor's teacher, who responded with a note that never received any follow up. Despite receiving assurance after an incident earlier this year that a particularly mean bully would be punished for his actions, the bully joined two accomplices in beating up Menduawor after school, the very same day the incident initially occured.

    The result? Menduawor came home in worse shape than ever. A letter to the superintendent has yielded no response, and the principal failed to adequately punish the boys involved.

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    School Choice is the Education Reform Foster Kids Need

    U.S. Sen. Mary Landreau (D-LA) was one of the legislators
    involved in yesterday's town hall meeting to help foster care children.
    In a town hall meeting yesterday in Florida, lawmakers sought to help foster care children excel academically by looking at a variety of education and welfare reforms. Among their considerations were ways to improve communication between federal agencies, state agencies, and local school districts. A laudable goal, certainly, but one that leaves out an important component of foster care that could pay lasting dividends, too.

    The participating leaders failed to mention school choice as a viable option for children in the foster care system.

    Children in foster care frequently change schools and living situations and often fall behind academically.  According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, 25 percent of foster care children do not receive a high school diploma or GED after they age out of foster care.

    That's worse than or equivalent to students in a large number of our country's struggling school districts, many of which are in the midst of having a conversation about school choice. If it can be applied to students in the public school system, kids in the foster system should have a shot at better opportunities, too.

    U.S. Sen. Mary Landreau (D-LA), who participated in yesterday's town hall online from Washington, D.C., spoke about why there continue to be so many hardships facing foster kids:
    It's not because they don't want to work hard, it's because if you had to move four times in elementary school and five times in high school you might fall behind as well. It's emotionally very difficult.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011

    Guess Who Voiced Support for Vouchers Almost a Decade and a Half Ago?

    Vice President Joe Biden
    (Official Vice Presidential Portrait, 2009)
    One of the more disappointing educational developments we've seen since the current presidential administration took over was, of course, the ending of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program back in 2009. And though the program was reauthorized earlier this year, support and funding for the program is always perilous, and the political winds of the day often dictate whether it will be a target, despite its overwhelming success since it was enacted back in 2004.

    That's in part why we've been so disappointed about the lack of response from the current crop of Republican presidential candidates to our school choice survey. Though a few have followed up and expressed interest in returning the survey, nobody has made their views public—a worrisome indication to us that we can never rest on our laurels about the future of the program.

    Not only can we look to the program's recent history as evidence of the that fact, but going back a decade before reveals just how malleable our elected officials' views on school choice can be over the years.

    After all, if the fight over school choice with the president had taken place 14 years ago, there might have been a bit more support at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.—or, at the very least, at the Naval Observatory.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    BREAKING NEWS: Wisconsin Senate Blocks Further School Choice Expansion

    Earlier this month initial steps were taken to try to prevent the further expansion of school choice in Wisconsin, despite the fact that public schools were already improving as a result of expansions earlier this year and the enrollment cap has been reached in the first year of the new program in Racine.

    Now, the State Senate has passed legislation making it impossible for future expansion of vouchers in the state.

    We're highly disappointed in this news for a few reasons; first, it flies in the face of polling data that shows strong support for school choice expansion into Green Bay. Second, it fails to see that the demand for school choice is there.

    But third, and perhaps most important, is that we're seeing a reversal of the very political will that was so necessary to help expand school choice in Wisconsin in the first place. What's troubling is that many of the very legislators who championed budget provisions creating the Racine program also, sadly, favored this arbitrary measure that shuts out thousands of families from having access to the educational opportunities they deserve.

    Monday, October 17, 2011

    "Accountability is the partner of choice"

    Sometimes, it's best to let someone else's work speak for itself. This is one of those times.

    We've routinely stressed the importance of accountability in creating and implementing strong school choice programs. Some on the other side accuse us of being less than committed to the goal, a charge that couldn't be less far from the truth. In reality, school choice cannot work unless schools and programs are accountable; otherwise, the very parents we seek to empower are left unable to exercise the control over their children's educational futures they deserve.

    Terry Ryan, the vice president of Ohio programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, penned a pitch-perfect opinion piece in this past weekend's Columbus Dispatch that highlights the inextricably linked nature of these two issues.

    Friday, October 14, 2011

    Volunteers Next Up To Give Parents School Choice

    The heavy lifting in state legislatures around the country has largely slowed, but that doesn't mean that the successes of "The Year of School Choice" are over just yet.

    We told you earlier this week about the potential school choice expansion in Pennsylvania, and there are still prospects for New Jersey to pass the Opportunity Scholarship Act in the Garden State. But now, Tennessee has its sights set on giving vouchers to low-income kids to attend private schools.

    The early talk of a program is taking place largely in Memphis, the state's lowest-performing large school district.  There, 30 percent of students fail to graduate, a fact that has caused State Senator Brian Kelsey to act. He has introduced a bill that would give $5,400 scholarships to students in the means-tested program, a boon for students in a city where private school graduation rates drastically outpace those of kids in public schools.

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    A Fiery School Choice Champion Reminds Us and Others Why We Fight

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie giving the keynote speech at our
    2010 National Policy Summit in Washington, D.C.
    Back before he was being mentioned as a potential candidate for president, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie keynoted our first annual National Policy Summit during the spring of 2010, where we discovered just how passionate an advocate for school choice he was. And although it wasn't a part of the recent national conversation surrounding his ultimately non-existent White House bid, school choice continues to be one of the issues for which he's most passionate.

    Don't believe us? Watch a video below of Christie on a New Jersey radio show earlier this month, where the governor articulates so strongly why it's so important to try alternatives to the education status quo. The caller on the show uses a routine argument—that the problem isn't the schools, but instead issues for kids at home.

    And you know what? The caller is right about part of that equation, and Christie concedes as much. Many kids who are trapped in failing schools are also the victims of a home life that lacks the amount of parental involvement they need to strive. Sometimes it's because a child comes from a single-parent household, or they're a foster child, or their parents are working so hard to "stay above water financially," as Christie puts it, that they don't have the time to stay as engaged as they'd like in their child's life.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    Misleading Coverage of Pennsylvania's Proposed School Choice Expansions

    Gov. Tom Corbett speaks to students at Lincoln Charter
    School prior to announcing his education reform package. (AP)
    Yesterday we brought you the news of the new education package from Gov. Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania, a package that includes the creation of a means-tested voucher program for children in failing schools as well as an expansion of the existing Educational Improvement Tax Credit program.

    We were naturally pleased to see a school choice expansion aimed at helping low-income kids, and the choice provisions have already received some high-profile bipartisan support as well as the backing of legislators in both houses.

    And editorial boards from around the state have begun to weigh in, and their early reviews are mostly positive, too.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    BREAKING NEWS: Pennsylvania Governor Unveils Sweeping School Choice Package

    There have been whispers he was going to make a big announcement for days now, but today we finally saw what Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett had in store for his big education package, and we're pretty excited.

    The four-part plan calls for the following:
    1. The creation of a means-tested voucher program aimed at students in the state's worst-performing districts
    2. A significant expansion of the existing Educational Income Tax Credit program
    3. A commission charged with oversight of charter schools and enforcing strict accountability measures, as well as financial advisory duties
    4. A plan to include student achievement in evaluating teachers across the state

    Thursday, October 6, 2011

    Think Different: A Lesson in Education Reform and Life, from Apple's Steve Jobs

    "I really believe in equal opportunity. Equal opportunity to me
    more than anything means a great education." - Steve Jobs
    News today has been dominated by the sad passing of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who died yesterday at the young age of 56 from what, by most accounts, seems like complications from a long battle with pancreatic cancer. His wife and four children are in our thoughts today, as we reflect on the life of someone who truly had an impact on the day-to-day lives of people spanning multiple generations.

    Jobs was an extremely private man (that's in part why his death yesterday came as such a surprise; few knew how ill he'd been in recent weeks), and beyond his trademark unveiling of new Apple products (and his characteristic "one more thing" line before the reveal of the big product), appearances at technology conferences, and the occasional, sometimes remarkable commencement address (the most notable being a 2005 speech to the graduating class that you can watch below), he kept things pretty close to the vest.

    But occasionally, Jobs would chime in about the issues of the day, and in the same way he was an innovator when it came to consumer electronics and the computer industry, he had a a way of understanding the complexities of some of the most significant problems facing our country.

    Among those was, not surprisingly, education.

    The Will of the People: How the Green Bay Packers Serve as a Model for Education Reform in their Community

    Opponents to school choice in Green Bay earned a victory earlier this year (and no—we're not talking about the Packers; at least not yet) when the Wisconsin state budget that passed with sweeping school choice expansions failed to include a proposed voucher expansion into Green Bay. Still, even without measure, significant expansions in Milwaukee and Racine made 2011 one of the most successful years for school choice since the original inception of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program over 20 years ago.

    But what wasn't lost on us was the fact that the legislature failed to act democratically for a city that is so predicated upon democratic ideals.

    We mentioned the Green Bay Packers somewhat in jest, but the reality is that the Super Bowl Champions are a perfect example of how the people play a role in determining the operations of their town. Unlike any other major professional sports team in the United States, the Packers are publicly-owned by the people of Green Bay. They even have annual shareholders meetings just like any other publicly-traded company. Put simply, the people of the city have an unprecedented amount of control in determining the outcomes of their lone professional sports franchise.

    It's unfortunate, then, that those people don't have the same say in their educational system.

    We told you last month about the strong support for school choice expansion among the people of Green Bay and Racine, and yet, despite that support, the Racine voucher program was stuck with a remarkably low cap (that was, not surprisingly, reached relatively quickly) while Green Bay residents are not able to take advantage of vouchers at all.

    Now, opponents are taking an additional step to forego the will of the people, working to eliminate any possibility that private school choice could reach Green Bay—despite the fact that the people want school choice in their community.

    Tuesday, October 4, 2011

    Highlighting the Important Need for Effective Implementation

    One of the most important components in constructing the most useful and well-run school choice programs around the country is implementation—ensuring that, once programs become law, scholarships are granted to the students who need them, monies are spent wisely, and parents are kept aware of all the options at their disposal.

    Among the foremost organizations charged with carrying out these duties is the Alliance for School Choice, where their efforts, along with the likes of School Choice Indiana, were instrumental in helping that state's new voucher program enroll nearly 4,000 students in a shortened signup period—making it the most successful first-year voucher program in history.

    But sometimes we come across news reports that have us asking: how many people could have benefited from a Choice Scholarship this year that didn't even know they existed?

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    As The Tide Turns...

    Many of you probably read our monthly e-newsletter, Turning the Tide. But did you know that TTT is almost a year and a half old?

    We began the newsletter back in April of 2010, just a few short months after the American Federation for Children came into existence. Now that we seem to have found our sea legs, we wanted to give you the opportunity to look back at all of our past editions of TTT, as well as take at the honorees of the flagship feature of our newsletter: our monthly "Champion for School Choice."

    The Champion for School Choice award is given to an elected official who has stood out as an especially stalwort supporter of educational options. In September, however, we decided to go a different route, and we awarded our first-ever Champion for School Choice award to a non-elected official. Who was the historic honoree for September? You'll have to check out our most recent edition to find out, but we'll give you a hint: we've told you about him before.

    Friday, September 30, 2011

    Take a Look at the New and Improved Alliance For School Choice Website!

    If you're reading this, we take you to be at least mildly web-saavy. And if that's the case, then you'll be happy to hear the following news: our partner organization, the Alliance for School Choice, has launched a new website!
    The brand-new homepage for the website of the Alliance for School Choice.
    Folks who had the old address bookmarked need not worry—they're still located at the same address, at But among the features included on the new site, besides a brand-new, much sleeker look and feel (as well as access to the Alliance's award-winning 2010-11 School Choice Yearbook) is some stuff we think you'll like.

    They will now have constant news updates, frequently-refreshed information on Alliance work around the country, up-to-date info about current school choice programs across America, and what parents need to know about programs and how they can get their children involved.

    Thursday, September 29, 2011

    One-Fifth of America's Chief Executives Convene for NBC Education Summit

    There were many opinions under one tent (literally) at this week's Education Nation Summit, the second annual event hosted in New York City on Monday and Tuesday by the folks at NBC. It sometimes made for a few odd exchanges—like, for example, when reform-minded Michelle Rhee shared the stage with AFT President Randi Weingarten. Reason TV captured a portion of that conversation, as well as a few other highlights from the summit, in the video below:

    Wednesday, September 28, 2011

    Bureaucratic Bullying in Arizona

    Earlier this year, teachers unions and the education establishment jumped on the anti-bullying bandwagon with gusto, and for good reason. The rationale behind the anti-bullying movement is rational: making sure that children and their parents are safe, secure, comfortable, and free to learn. It's hard to disagree with the sentiment, right?

    But this week, the unions themselves became the bullies, in a big way.

    In Arizona, the teacher-funded Arizona Education Association (AEA) and the taxpayer-funded Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) filed a lawsuit to remove more than 100 children with special needs from the private schools of their parents' choice.

    What did these children with special needs do to deserve a lawsuit? Their parents decided to apply for an Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA), allowing them to tap into their own tax dollars to send their children to private schools (or other educational settings) that best meet their children's needs. ESAs are "outplacements," the process by which school district officials send children with disabilities to receive services from qualified private providers. Except with ESAs, parents—not bureaucrats—select the outplacement. And so, given their top-down mentality about educating kids, and their fear of empowered parents, the AEA and the ASBA filed suit to strip these families of their rights.

    Tuesday, September 27, 2011

    A Rare Moderate Shares Her Views on School Choice

    Michelle Bernard in 2008 at the Democratic
    National Convention in Denver, Colo.
    Most of you probably know Michelle Bernard from her appearances on cable news, her leadership at the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy, and her propensity to stick by her views even in the face of opposition from audiences in her demographic groups. Even though she sometimes get flack for it, Bernard is truly noteworthy in her ability to stay a true moderate in a time of both political parties moving to the extremes.

    So, as we debrief from our time at Education Nation—for which there will be a more elaborate post tomorrow—we thought we'd show you a great video that Bernard did with Reason in the summer, in which she explains the roots of her passion in education reform and school choice, also calling for "a broader coalition of people who are dedicating themselves to school choice and comprehensive education reform."

    Monday, September 26, 2011

    AFC is at NBC's Education Nation in New York City!

    We'll be at NBC's Education Nation event in New York today! We want to make sure you're kept abreast of all the interesting developments and discussions from folks involved in the education reform fight, so we'll be sharing what we see with you! Head on over to their website to learn more about some of the people who will be in attendance, but keep your eyes on our Twitter page throughout the day for news and updates!

    - American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG