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.