Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Reminder of Why We Do What We Do

(Education reformers often get so bogged down with the politics of their work that they lose sight of why they're intent on reforming American education in the first place. In our effort to avoid falling into that trap, from time to time we're going to make sure we share some of the stories of success that exist as a result of school choice. Today, we invite you to read one of them.)

Moving to a new school is always tough. But when you’re moving to a new school in a different country and you don’t speak a word of the language, it might seem insurmountable. And that was exactly the scenario facing Mariana Guzman when she moved to Atlanta from Mexico City five years ago.

She only spoke Spanish, and found herself having to acclimate quickly to a completely different environment. Now she’s excelling at the Ivy Preparatory Academy in Atlanta, a charter school she almost never discovered. 

“After I graduated from elementary school, I was deciding where I was going to attend middle school,” Mariana said. “I was scared, learning a new language, meeting new people. My counselor gave us an application for Ivy Preparatory Academy, and it has completely changed my life.”

Mariana’s inspiring story was shared with thousands at the National Charter Schools Conference earlier this month, where she not only took the stage to talk about education, but also to showcase her significant singing talents. The song she sang was in English, too—a skill that was refined thanks to Ivy Prep. “It’s just a great experience,” Mariana said. “It made me realize that miracles do happen.”

Unfortunately for Mariana and her classmates, their school is grappling with the challenge of securing funding for the upcoming school year after the State Supreme Court ruled last month that the Georgia Charter Schools Commission is unconstitutional. Watch a local news report about some of the difficulties facing Ivy Prep as a result of the ruling: 

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

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

School Choice Legislation State-By-State

We're excited to let you all know about a very important document on which we've been hard at work in recent weeks.

Our newly-released comprehensive report analyzes school choice legislation in each state as we approach the halfway mark in 2011.

This year, 42 states have introduced legislation that would enact or expand private school choice programs, including school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs. If enacted, these programs would benefit millions of low- and middle-income families.

This Alliance for School Choice / American Federation for Children memo, School Choice: Legislation State by State demonstrates the tremendous support that exists for school choice across America. We hope that this 24-page compendium of legislation, along with our award-winning School Choice Yearbook, will serve as a resource for you in advancing the cause of educational freedom in your state and across the country. Remember, 2011 is only half over!

Click here to download the report!

Of course, this is a living document. If we've missed something, or if another bill is introduced that we should include, please let us know!

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

Monday, June 27, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: Florida Governor Makes Five School Choice Bills Law

A bit of late-breaking news as the workday draws to a close: Florida Gov. Rick Scott just signed into law five education reform bills, including bills with provisions increasing parental access to school vouchers, charter schools, and virtual schools. One of the bills also allows students in failing public schools to transfer to higher-performing ones.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel has more details:
Scott [said that] "competition makes everybody better. Charter schools are public schools run by outside groups." 
Among the bills supporters is Peter Deutsch, founder of the Ben Gamla charter schools which has three schools in Broward and Miami-Dade, with another three scheduled to open in the fall, including in Palm Beach County. 
"I'm a big believer that charter schools provide big opportunity for choice," Deutsch said. "This legislation really continues in that direction."
You can read the full story, including the provisions included in the bills, here. We'll talk more about what the legislation means for families a bit down the road.

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

Sunday, June 26, 2011

D.C. Scholarship Signup Sheds Light on Plight of Engaged Parents

Elaine Cousins knows firsthand how school choice can change lives.

Her daughter Kristen was awarded a scholarship via the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) six years ago, allowing her to attend a high-achieving private school in the city as opposed to her struggling neighborhood school in the Northeast portion of the nation's capital. Now Kristen is thriving as a college sophomore in Pennsylvania.

So for Cousins, it's not about politics or disputed statistics. For her, school choice means a chance at a better future -- and now, she wants for her son the same opportunity afforded to her daughter. She's tried desperately to enroll him in the OSP since its inception, but limited space has felled those attempts in past years, and the pursuit was made even more difficult when, in 2009, Congress and the Obama Administration stopped allowing new students to receive scholarships.

Yesterday we attended an event at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C. to help Cousins and other low-income District parents sign up to enroll their kids in the highly-successful OSP.

Having served as a lifeline for thousands of children since it was enacted in 2004, the newly-reauthorized and extended program's application deadline is this Thursday, June 30. Hundreds of parents arrived on Saturday morning and throughout the day to sign their children up with the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation, the organization that administers scholarships for the program.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Cousins explained the importance of making sure that her son, Nathan, gets the same opportunity as his sister. Read what the concerned mother had to say after the jump.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Booker Inspires Thousands at National Charter Schools Conference

We spent the last couple of days down in Atlanta for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools' 2011 National Charter Schools Conference. We heard from amazing speakers, discussed ways to expand charter schools and school choice around the country, and rallied to fight back against the recent Georgia Supreme Court decision restricting charter school authorization in the state.

Check out our Twitter feed from June 20-22 to read our take on a number of the events.

Cory Booker addressed 4,000 attendees at the National
Charter Schools Conference in Atlanta, Ga. on June 21, 2011.

The conference highlight, though, was a speech given on Tuesday by Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker. You can watch the entire 20-minute speech here (Booker's portion begins at approximately 58:30), but we've provided an especially excellent portion after the jump (emphasis ours):

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

We're live tweeting the National Charter Schools Conference today and tomorrow!

We're at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools' National Charter Schools Conference in Atlanta this week. To follow along, navigate over to our Twitter feed today and tomorrow, at

Right now we're waiting to hear from Newark Mayor Cory Booker and President Bill Clinton! Stay tuned all day and tomorrow for the latest updates.

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

Friday, June 17, 2011

Wisconsin Legislature Passes Budget Expanding Nation’s Oldest School Choice Program

A group of Milwaukee MPCP participants smile
during one of our many visits to the city.
Thousands of additional Wisconsin children will have access to greater educational options following last night’s passage of budget provisions that will significantly expand the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program—the oldest private school choice program in the nation—in size and scope.

Among the important provisions pertaining to school choice contained in the state’s 2011-2012 budget are:
  • A substantial increase in income eligibility for the program (an increase in over 70 percent of the previous income requirements)
  • The removal of the cap on the number of participants (which previously stood at 22,500 each year)
  • Expansion to the Racine school district (where large majorities supported bringing a school choice in a poll we conducted last month)
  • Participants can now attend schools anywhere in Wisconsin (previously, eligible schools were only those located in the city of Milwaukee)
Together, this expansion is perhaps the biggest change for the nation's oldest school choice program since its inception over 20 years ago. Our chairman, Betsy DeVos, had this to say:
We thank the leadership in the legislature for delivering this victory to low- and middle-income families across Wisconsin. For the past 20 years, thousands of lives have been improved as a result of parental choice in Milwaukee, and now more families in Milwaukee and Racine will have that chance at a brighter future, too.
It was a contentious debate that required all sides to compromise (for example, a proposal to bring school choice to Green Bay was removed prior to the final budget vote). And in the state Assembly the vote didn't take place until 3 a.m. Thursday morning, and only after 13 hours of debate.

But in the end—and on the whole—kids win. And for that, we're thankful. A special note of thanks must be said for Dr. Howard Fuller, whose endorsement of the expansion was integral to its passage. Many thanks to the great work of the folks at School Choice Wisconsin, too.

You can read our full release about the historic expansion here.

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

Thursday, June 16, 2011

More 'Awesome' Bipartisan Support for School Choice in North Carolina

Families of children with special needs in North Carolina have new hope today, thanks to a new tax credit measure passed by the legislature with strong bipartisan support and awaiting approval by the governor.

House Bill 344 passed the House by a 94-20 margin and a 44-5 margin in the Senate. A total of 65 percent of Democratic legislators supported the measure, and Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC) led the effort to generate support for the proposal, rallying thousands of parents on behalf of school choice.

If enacted, North Carolina would become the 14th state or jurisdiction in the United States to provide parents with access to private schools through school vouchers or scholarship tax credits.

Here's PEFNC president Darrell Allison (emphasis ours):
With this strong showing of support within and beyond the legislature, our hope is that this is enough compelling evidence for our governor to support this measure with her signature. With a stroke of her pen, thousands of families will be able to afford placing their special needs children in educational environments that meet all of their needs. Pending the governor’s approval, this will be the first piece of K-12 legislation that gives parents statewide choice regarding public and private education in North Carolina; in a word, awesome.
This comes just a week after the legislature voted to eliminate the state’s 100-school cap on charter schools, a measure that also passed with strong bipartisan support.

Here's the full release about today's news from PEFNC.

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

'A Small Leak Can Sink a Great Ship'

The title is a quote from Benjamin Franklin, perhaps the most famous Philadelphian of all time. And unfortunately, it could also serve as a warning regarding what's at stake if we don't begin fixing our education system in the place he once called home.

Philadelphia has one of America's oldest public school systems. As a result of that age comes experience, which is why the city is home to some of the country's most exemplary public and public charter schools.

But for every kid lucky enough to be zoned to attend Central High School, there are hundreds more who are relegated to failing schools, those of which are sadly common in a Philadelphia school district that ranks as one of the worst in the state.

That's where Senate Bill 1 comes in. It aims to rescue children from those failing schools by granting them vouchers that allow their parents to choose a qualifying private school for them to attend. Targeted specifically towards the low-income children most in need of help, it's at the center of a contentious debate currently going on in the Pennsylvania legislature.

After the jump, watch a stunning video that makes clear what's at stake if these students don't receive help—and fast.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

D.C.'s Big Loss

D.C.'s loss is Arkansas' gain. That's the only way we can describe the departure of Virginia Walden Ford from the District of Columbia after 30 years of advocating for low-income kids here. Virginia is going home to Little Rock at the end of July, and we'll sure miss her.

Last night, we joined Speaker John Boehner, Senator Joe Lieberman, Mayor Anthony Williams, Mayor Marion Barry, former Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, and Juan Williams in celebrating Virginia's legacy of revitalizing education for D.C. kids. 

Virginia at one of the many rallies she attended
in order to save the D.C. voucher program.
The most important attendees last night, though (with all due respect, of course, to our legislative champions!), were the children who've benefited from Virginia's tireless work. These children, all participants in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, spoke of their hopes for great jobs and bright futures. These bright futures were made possible because these kids have the opportunity to escape failing, unsafe schools and use school vouchers to attend some of the District's finest private schools. 

Virginia is nothing short of a miracle worker, a single mom who conceptualized this program, fought for it, continued the fight even after a presidential veto in the 1990s, and never backed down from doing what was right even in the face of opposition, harassment, condescension, or disrespect. She's the type of person who will do anything to win a victory for kids—whether that means wearing her knees out by walking the marble floors of the Capitol with parents for days on end…or making rally signs with friends at her home…or debating on MSNBC, she's always on top of her game. 

Now, if you ask Virginia, she'll eschew this type of recognition and credit. She'd argue, and rightly so, that it was an army of parents—a truly grassroots army—who won the fight for D.C. school choice (and, by the way, won a three-year battle, this year, to see that program reauthorized). She's right, but we know that any effective army needs a strong leader. And Virginia Walden Ford is the portrait of strength. 

In a month or so, Virginia's headed back home now to Arkansas, but she's not retiring. She'll continue the fight for educational equality in the same place where her own journey began, as one of the first children to integrate Little Rock Central High School. And we know what that means: Arkansas' bureaucrats better watch out. 

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

On Senate Bill 1, Budgets, and Saving Pennsylvania's Schoolchildren

In conjunction with NBC's ongoing Education Nation initiative, our friend and Pennsylvania State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) recently sat down with the city's local NBC affiliate to talk about a myriad of education issues—funding, early childhood education, and, of course, Senate Bill 1. Currently making its way through the state legislature, the bill would grant vouchers to low-income students to attend schools of their parents' choosing. Visit our friends at StudentsFirst PA to learn more about the legislation and to find out how you can get involved.

You've got to admire a guy like Williams. He means it when he says he's for all options, from quality public schools to private schools to public charter schools. His record shows it; and while he sometimes has disagreements with those across the aisle and within his own party, he's always willing to work to do what's best for kids.

Refreshing, huh?

The talk shifts to Senate Bill 1 about three minutes in. Check it out below:

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

Friday, June 10, 2011

The View of School Choice From Abroad

While we don't usually chime in about education reform issues outside our 50 states (hence the "American" part of our name), school choice is by no means an idea confined strictly to the U.S. The issue has recently been debated by our friends across the pond, and there are varying levels of successful school choice programs in places like France, Sweden, Canada, and Chile.

From time to time, we'll take a look at their systems—but how do they see ours?

A recent report from Voice of America helps answer that question. Voice of America serves as the official international broadcaster on behalf of the U.S. government, reaching 123 million people each week. They just aired a story about the highly-successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which was reauthorized and extended in April.

Take a look at the video below. How do you think American education (and, specifically, school choice) is perceived overseas? Let us know in the comments section.

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

Thursday, June 9, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: North Carolina Legislature Passes Bipartisan Bill to Lift Charter School Cap

The North Carolina Senate this afternoon passed Senate Bill 8—which would lift the arbitrary cap on the number of charter schools in the state—by a stunning 45-0 margin, followed soon after by a favorable 108-5 vote on companion legislation in the House. The bill now heads to Gov. Bev Perdue's desk to be signed into law.

Here's a statement from Darrell Allison, the president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC):
Yesterday, North Carolina families were shackled by the restrictive cap of 100 charter schools, but today we’re moving in a new direction that will loosen those shackles for many of our children. I want to salute our state leaders for moving on this measure in a bipartisan effort. There’s still much work to be done, including equitable funding for charters and creating a better environment in which how charters are governed. But there’s no denying that today was a truly good day and we look forward to Governor Perdue making this a historic day with her signature once the measure reaches her desk. Though we’re happy where we are, we know that we still have more work to be done, particularly with our grassroots campaign calls to our governor in hopes that she will sign the measure soon so that this public school option can be made available to thousands of families across our state.
 Read the full PEFNC release here.

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

A Baller With a Big Heart

A couple of formal rivals on the basketball court might be able to teach something to our elected officials who struggle to agree on issues of education reform.

It was reported last month that former NBA and University of Michigan basketball star Jalen Rose will be opening a charter school aimed at helping low-income kids in his hometown of Detroit, and new details are now emerging, with the high school slated to open this September on Detroit's Northwest Side.

Watch the video below to learn more:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Partisanship Schmartisanship

You'll often hear about how school choice is a partisan issue. Only Republicans support it, and all Democrats oppose it, right?

While it's true that special interests have politicized what is at its core a question of doing what's right for kids (and it really shouldn't be a question at all), but courageous Democrats have been coming out in droves over the years on the side of helping children and supporting expanded educational options—be it quality public charter schools, high-achieving traditional public schools, vouchers, or scholarship tax credits. We're hopeful that we'll one day reach a point when we can look back and marvel at why we did all this partisan bickering.

In fact, that point might be closer than we think.

In today's Charlotte Observer, two Democratic legislators take a huge step towards that point in a strong endorsement of a bill that would eliminate the state's arbitrary and ineffective cap on charter schools. Here's a snippet:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Some School Choice Advice From…Brangelina? (And Other Celebrities!)

There are many stars of entertainment who have voiced support for expanded educational options. In sports, we’re happy to have an ally in Brian Jordan, the former Atlanta Braves outfielder and Atlanta Falcons safety who attended our 2011 National Policy Summit, as well as the likes of singers Ginuwine and Mya in the music business. But what about in Hollywood?

We can’t say were aware of this until, well, today, but apparently Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt support school choice! They’re even going to be exercising that choice by homeschooling their own kids (which should be quite the workload, considering there are six of them!), according to a recent interview with The Independent, a UK-based newspaper. Jolie spoke about some of her own frustrations with a one-size-fits-all approach to education, the New York Daily News reports:
I wish there was a book every parent could read that tells you how to navigate through the school system, and how to tailor the education system for your children and their interests...I do think we live in a different age and the education system hasn't caught up with our children and our way of life...I feel that there's got to be a new way to tailor things more directly to our children.
It's refreshing to see stars with the stature held by Jolie and Pitt committing themselves to important causes. In addition to being two of the most recognizable stars in Hollywood, the couple is known for their work helping disadvantaged kids via humanitarian efforts overseas.

Support for alternative educational options is key to making sure low-income students are given the same opportunities afforded to more affluent Americans. Just yesterday, it was reported that City Coucilmen in Washington, D.C. who opposed the highly-successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program do not send their kids to the city's public schools, thereby exercising the same choice that they sought to deny the city's low-income families.

While we're on the subject of celebrities, we thought you might enjoy the video below on the struggling Cleveland Public School system featuring, among others, actor Drew Carey!

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

Monday, June 6, 2011

Where, Oh Where, Has the Old NAACP Gone?

There's not much worse than watching an institution that has so frequently been on the right side of history so clearly lose its way. Unfortunately, the NAACP has done just that, and the outcry has been—rightly—loud and clear.

The group's New York chapter has been in the news after it joined a lawsuit with the United Federation of Teachers to stop the closure of almost a half-dozen failing public schools and prevent charter schools from operating in buildings used by traditional public schools.

In sum, they've chosen to protect a status quo that hurts low-income children, instead of fighting against it, as they usually do.

Our own Kevin P. Chavous very eloquently questions the logic of the civil rights organization, and he's not alone—not by a long shot. In addition to his recent op-ed piece, there's been a deluge of articles written by education reformers across the political, geographical, and ideological education reform spectrum, all asking one simple question: why is the NAACP fighting against those it has for decades worked so hard to protect?

Take a look at just a smattering of the pieces written on the subject in recent days.

Rock Solid Ideas for the Granite State

Presidential hopefuls aren't the only folks making noise in New Hampshire this week: school choice supporters are having their voices heard, too. In fact, the New Hampshire General Court has established a committee to study how school choice—vouchers and tax credits—can help students access a quality education.

New Hampshire spends a whopping $11,700 for every student to attend public school in the state, with dismal results: only 39 percent of 8th graders are proficient in math and 43 percent are proficient in reading.

Here’s what leaders in Concord should consider:

Twelve states and the District of Columbia currently operate school choice programs giving more than 190,811 students access to high-quality private schools.  With more than 20 programs spanning the nation, low-income children, special needs children, foster care children, and students attending persistently failing schools have the chance to succeed.
  • School voucher programs allow disadvantaged children to receive scholarships to attend the schools of their parents’ choice. In voucher programs, education dollars follow the student. With 20.5 percent of New Hampshire students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, a means-tested voucher program is a great option for the Granite State.
  • Scholarship tax credit programs allow businesses and individuals to donate to scholarship-granting organizations that help children attend quality schools. Tax credit programs have helped more than 123,500 students across the nation receive scholarships.
The New Hampshire Committee on school choice is opening the door to school choice in the state.  New Hampshire elected officials need only to look around at the programs across the country for effective, highly-accountable programs that help thousands of children access a great education.

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

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Don't Understand the Stakes in Education Reform? It's About Changing the World

Yesterday we told you how AFC board member Kevin P. Chavous often finds the perfect rhetorical messages that encapsulate the importance and urgency of bringing school choice to low-income kids around the country.

Today, we'll show you.

In a collection of his greatest hits, watch as the former D.C. Councilman and board chair of both the Black Alliance for Educational Options and Democrats for Education Reform speaks to the masses about the importance of school choice and education reform. We hate to ruin the ending, but the quote at the video's conclusion sums things up perfectly:
If we can eliminate the sense of impossibility and helplessness from the lives of these children we will change the world.
If you do just one thing today, watch this video, and be sure to pay attention to what he says (just as long as you don't pay attention to his evolving facial hair over the years!).

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Shifting Paradigms in Education

Some in the education reform movement are criticized for the size and scope of their goals. Those most beholden to the status quo are only willing to embrace the most incremental of reforms—if any.

But in truth, we have to think big, or we'll fail to make significant improves that truly help the kids that need it most. Our own Kevin P. Chavous often speaks of the need for "a revolution in education," and we couldn't agree more. 

In a recent article entitled, "Against Barriers to a New Paradigm Shift," author E.D. Kain echoes this sentiment:
"But really, we need reforms. We need to break all institutional barriers to a new way of conceiving education in the first place..."
 He's right. Unless we start—or, in the case of some of the stalwart reformers fighting for school choice, continue—to aim high, we'll never achieve the reforms we seek.

In the spirit of aiming big, here's a video to which Kain links that explains rather cleverly how we can begin to think about education in America:

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