Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why the Latest Louisiana Fight Highlights the Need for School Choice Expansion

Last week we came perilously close to losing a school voucher program for low-income kids in one of the communities that needs it most.

After the Louisiana House Appropriations Committee cut funding for the highly-successful New Orleans Scholarship Program, advocates mobilized to help save the program, culminating last Friday in an agreement that restores the program's funding.

The legislative bickering over the program's future highlights the disconnect between lawmakers and their constituents. The people recognize the program's success, even calling for school choice expansion expanding in large numbers. A poll released earlier this year by the Louisiana Federation for Children found that support for extending educational options to families across East Baton Rouge Parish is very, very strong. Seventy-two percent of voters support the idea of school choice in their community, and a significant majority goes even further—they want a voucher program in East Baton Rouge like the highly-successful one in New Orleans. Here are some of the reasons why:

And, for the second year in a row, applications for the New Orleans voucher program significantly outpaced spots available during a much-publicized sign-up period during the spring. And in the East Baton Rouge poll, fewer than two percent of survey respondents gave traditional public schools in East Baton Rouge an “A” grade, and a majority described the city's school system as “broken.” In addition, almost six in 10 think that the New Orleans program should serve more than just residents of Orleans Parish. Parents are not only engaged, but their engagement is sending a clear message: more options are needed for their children. Our elected officials need to take note.

It’s time for Louisiana legislators to own up to the promise they made to their constituents to represent their best interests. Otherwise, the same 72 percent who are demanding school choice in East Baton Rouge will be the ones electing new leaders come this November.

Politicians in the statehouse must stop pointing fingers and start implementing some commonsense solutions. The parents of these children care, and if empowered and given an active role in choosing the best educational options for their child, we can improve the situation of thousands of students across Louisiana.

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

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Stars at Night...

The “Lone Star State” may soon become a bright star on the education reform map—if lawmakers succeed in enacting a sweeping new scholarship program that would benefit disadvantaged children while providing public schools with resources to improve.

Promoted by a coalition of reformers, the Taxpayer Savings Grants proposal would allow parents to access scholarships of about $5,143 to send their children to the private schools of their choice. The proposal has no cap on the number of scholarships that can be offered.

You can learn more at: www.TaxpayerSavingsGrants.org

The program is slated to, over time, save Texas taxpayers $2 billion. Moreover, the proposal is structured so that public schools would actually see a significant boost in per-pupil expenditures. That money would go toward boosting the salaries of public school teachers by $2,173 to $12,000 per year, a study shows.

Who will this program benefit the most? Low-income children who are trapped in schools that fail, year after year, with no way to escape. These kids deserve hope, and if history has taught us anything...these families will righfully be first in line to receive scholarships and improve their children's lives.

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

Friday, May 20, 2011

Oh, And One More Thing About Special Needs Scholarships...

In our discussion yesterday about the benefits of special needs scholarship programs, we failed to mention that public support for school voucher (and scholarship tax credit) programs for children with special needs is overwhelming.

Seriously, these types of programs are off-the-charts popular. Case in point: North Carolina.

In the Tar Heel State, school choice advocates, led by the highly effective group Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, are fighting to pass a special needs scholarship tax credit.

They polled public support for the program, and the numbers were astronomical: A February 2011 poll found that 82 percent of likely Democratic voters favor a program that would allow special needs children to attend a nonpublic school that meets their needs.
Yes...you read that right. Likely Democratic voters.

Eighty-two percent support special needs scholarships!


Now, here's the nitty gritty of the bill:

-- The Tax Credits for Children with Disabilities Act, House Bill 344, which passed the Education Committee on April 26, would provide tax credits up to $6,000 for parents of special needs children for nonpublic tuition and other services.

-- North Carolina has nearly 200,000 special needs children in public schools.  Currently, North Carolina pays $8,160 and school districts pay $1,931 per student to attend a public school that often fails students with special needs.  This program will create more educational options to children and be a financial lifeline to hundreds of thousands of families.

-- Experts say that up to five percent of qualified students would take advantage of the tax credit, which would save the state $10 million per year and school districts $9.2 million per year.

Learn more at www.pefnc.org

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

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Truth About School Vouchers and Children with Special Needs

People who want to prevent the creation, growth, and expansion of school choice programs have but three effective weapons on their side: money, manpower, and mythology.

Special interests spend time and money to disseminate innuendo about school voucher programs and scholarship tax credit initiatives, throwing as many rumors at legislators until they identify a myth so lethal that it torpedoes school choice legislation.

No mistruth is as pernicious, however, as the one that is cropping up with regularity this year: that school voucher programs and scholarship tax credit programs somehow don't help children with disabilities. It's an allegation fraught with emotion, but filled with error.

Here's the truth: school voucher programs for students with disabilities have flourished in recent years—and with bipartisan support.

Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Utah offer scholarships to children with special learning needs. In total, these programs allow 25,000 children access to private schools—educational institutions they otherwise would have been unable to attend.

In fact, 35 percent of the existing school voucher (and scholarship tax credit) programs in America are specifically designed for children with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or other special needs classifications.

And, according to a press release issued today by the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice, 16 states are considering special needs scholarship legislation during the 2011 legislative session. This is huge!

In Wisconsin, special needs scholarship legislation is receiving broad support, as evidenced by this video (below) and on this website: http://www.specialneedsscholarshipswi.org/

Nationally, more than $200 million is being spent this year for publicly-funded private school choice programs for children with disabilities. All of the data, including rigorous research and academic comparison studies, indicates that these programs work. One researcher even found that Florida's special needs scholarship program benefits nearby public schools—thanks to healthy, innovation-fueled competition.

But if you want to really know what people think about school vouchers for children with special needs, just ask a parent.

As one parent of a student who receives a special needs scholarship in Utah wrote, "One of my sons was so verbally abused in public school that he became physically sick each morning at the thought of going to school….[School choice] enables my son to attend a school where he can reach his full potential. don't feel I exaggerate when I say that [this program] gave him back his life."

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

Monday, May 16, 2011

When Fighting for Your Children Is A Crime

As legislators in states across the country debate sweeping school voucher and tax credit scholarship proposals that would empower record numbers of low-income families to select better schools for their children, the need for these programs has once again been demonstrated by the prosecution of a mother who faces 20 years in prison for "illegally" sending her children to a better school.

In fact, just months after an Ohio mother was jailed for enrolling her daughters in a school outside of her home district in order to provide them with a better education, news that a Connecticut mother without a current address was arrested for enrolling her son in school is reinforcing the pressing need for more educational options.

The woman, whose last known address was in Bridgeport, Conn., is being charged with stealing $15,686—the value, according to prosecutors, of a year’s education—from the Norwalk public school system, where her son was enrolled. She faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Kevin P. Chavous, a board member of the American Federation for Children and the chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, condemned efforts to prosecute the woman and said that her situation sounds a clarion call for the need to expand school choice across the country.

“It’s deplorable that in the land of the free, parents have to risk that very freedom just to give their children the right of access to a quality education,” Chavous said. “This woman has done what any of us in the same situation would have done. Her only crime was being unsatisfied sitting by as her child failed to get a quality education, and her struggle highlights the struggle of thousands of others across this country who are fighting to give their children a better future.”

The case in Connecticut comes just three months after Kelley Williams-Bolar made national headlines after she was sentenced to 10 days in jail in Akron, Ohio, for sending her daughters to a high-achieving public school in the Copley-Fairlawn School District. Williams-Bolar used her father’s address within the district’s boundaries to enroll her daughters in the school, and the district launched and elaborate and expensive investigation that resulted in her being convicted of falsifying her residency records.

The Williams-Bolar case sparked a bipartisan outcry that has helped spearhead a watershed year of school choice victories across the nation. Since the Williams-Bolar case in January, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has called for a quadrupling of the number of students eligible for the EdChoice voucher program, and legislative victories in Indiana, Washington, D.C., Georgia, Arizona and elsewhere are poised to dramatically expand the number of school choice programs across the country.

Chavous said that the he hopes that the Connecticut case will highlight the need for even greater growth of school choice nationwide.

“Our hope is that the expansion of school choice programs across the country will mean fewer stories about parents being prosecuted for simply sending their children to school,” he said. “No family in America should be forced to the point where they need to break the law to help their kids.”

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

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Wisconsin Rep. Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee) To Lawmakers: "Knock it Off!"

On Tuesday, before the Wisconsin State Assembly passed two pieces of legislation that will expand school choice options to Milwaukee families, the legislative body received a much-needed wakeup call from one of its own.

After introducing a successful amendment that that will ensure that families currently participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) will not lose eligibility—and see their education severely interrupted—if their income rises above the program’s current income eligibility requirements, Rep. Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee) took to task legislators for failing to support a provision that would remove the program's arbitrary student enrollment cap.

"It means nothing to you!" Fields said, specifically directing his ire towards legislators who voted against the measure without actually representing any of the affected areas.

"With all due respect," Fields continued,"knock it off! You all don't give a damn about these kids!"

Fields excoriated both parties for having forsaken Milwaukee's predominantly black population of children. He criticized Democrats for their failure to support a program with demonstrably positive results, and reminded Republicans that the city's children also need their support on other issues of social justice.

Legislation to expand the MPCP, Fields said, has support within the community that would actually stand to benefit from it, with opposition only coming from out-of-touch Assembly members.

“The kids at MPS don’t have a problem with the kids at the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program,” Fields said. “They don’t have a problem with each other. So why do you?”

Fields's words are refreshing for two reasons. First, in a climate of extreme political posturing and rhetoric continually tied to talking points and point-scoring, it's wonderful to see someone speak from the heart about an issue for which they care deeply.

And second, it seems like Fields's words may have had an impact. In addition to eliminating the enrollment cap, the bill, which calls for expanding the program to all of Milwaukee County, passed by a bipartisan vote.

As the State Senate is now considering the measure, we hope they listen the call to "knock it off" and start thinking about kids.

Frankly, it's a sentiment we've all held for a long time.

Thanks to Rep. Fields for having the courage to say it.

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