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.