Wednesday, August 31, 2011

New Findings Reveal Tax Credit Program Outpaces Public School Counterparts While Serving Most Disadvantaged Students

Making news today is a set of new findings from David Figlio, a researcher at Northwestern University and the University of Florida, revealing that students enrolled in Florida's school choice programs are making stronger academic gains than comparable students in public schools.

While the results are not revelatory—at least for those of us who've been working on this issue for a while—they do confirm assertions that the data have been making for some time now: targeted, means-tested school choice works. Especially in a place like Florida, which has in many ways been a pioneer in both its creation for school choice programs as well as the legislature's ability to garner significant bipartisan support, findings have been consistent in showing high marks for student achievement and parental satisfaction, as well as cost-savings to the state.

Gerard Robinson, the state's new education commissioner, said that the results were encouraging while also pledging his continued support to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, the state's flagship and only means-tested program.

Our friends over at Step Up For Students have released a press release detailing some of the most important findings. There are two in particular that stuck out to us.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Wisconsin Protesters 'Stick' New Meaning To The Phrase "Acting Like Children"

[UPDATE 2:57 p.m. EST: A local news station filed a report from the school just prior to the event, and you can view the video below. The station, TMJ 4 News, is also reporting that their is surveillance tape from the school that may be able to identify the perpetrator. Read more here.]

[UPDATE 12:15 p.m. EST: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is also reporting on the incident. Read their story here.]

Although we work everyday to uplift the educational futures of children, there's one thing we try to avoid: acting like children.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said about a rather immature protester in Wisconsin.

Governor Scott Walker and his staff are scheduled to make a routine visit the Messmer Preparatory School in Milwaukee today, but there was just one problem: this morning, everyone was barred from entering through the front door. Not because of a mob of protesters, police tape, or deadbolts. No one could get in because the doors were glued shut.

That's right; the front doors to the prep school were superglued by an unknown—and amazingly childish— protester. There was also another protester near the entrance of the school who warned the school systems president to "get ready for a riot" in advance of throng of promised demonstrators.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Learn the Facts About Louisiana School Choice Programs!


While an odd-numbered year means a low-key summer and fall across the country, there's no such rest for the weary this year in Louisiana. Elections in both the State House and Senate this November mean that candidates are arleady engaging voters, as they'll do over the next three months.

It's no surprise that education will be a major issue in campaigns across the state, especially in the aftermath of attempted funding cuts to the flagship New Orleans voucher program, which allows students in failing schools to attend higher-achieving private schools. Curiously, though, attempts to shutter the program are at odds with public opinion; not only do New Orleans residents support the program, but people throughout the state overwhelmingly support expanding the program to more cities 

But beginning this year, the New Orleans program won't be the only expanded educational option in Louisiana. We take a look at the current landscape of school choice in the Bayou State: 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Never Say "Never," Mr. Secretary

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with moderator 
 John Merrow at today's Twitter town hall event.
During a Twitter town hall held today by Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education took questions via the social networking service regarding a host of education issues.

Of particular note was his response to a question regarding school choice, in which he took an even stronger stance than we've heard from him in the past. While he's never embraced the concept—and it was on his watch that the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program was shuttered in 2009—he has usually engaged in a fair bit of politicspeak, talking less about his opposition to vouchers and more about his unwavering to the public school system.

Today, however, he was unequivocal, saying during the town hall that he would "never support school voucher programs." Here's more:
I want great public education. A seven-year-old doesn't know whether he's going to a public school or a voucher school...we underinvest in public education and we need to put more resources in, not to support the status quo, but to improve.
It's funny that this is a statement about opposition to vouchers, because on a couple levels, it actually helps to reinforce the reasoning behind why we so ardently support vouchers for low-income kids.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

So What Did We Learn from the East Coast Earthquake?

We like to stay topical here at School Choice Now!, so we'd be remiss if we didn't check in on the news everyone on the East Coast has been talking about today: the Virginia Earthquake that shook cities from D.C. across the country.

We're not especially well-versed in dealing with earthquakes out here (tip we learned after the fact: duck and cover, don't run outside!), but we've found a few people who are. Now, you might be asking, what does all of this have to do with school choice? Well, we'll tell you!

Though it isn't a common worry for those in the Mid-Atlantic region, or even in the Midwest, earthquake preparation is a reality for people all across the West Coast—and that includes children. They're taught what to do in the event of a quake, and they take those instructions with them into adulthood.

But what about their schools? Sometimes, they're not as prepared.

Monday, August 22, 2011

How Has the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program Given You Hope? Let Us Know!

We mentioned in a post last week about our annual school supplies event that we're sponsoring an essay/poster contest for students participating in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Interested students can get all the details for the contest and submit their entries at our site, which just went live last week, at

In total, we're giving away 27 prizes, and kids from all grade levels are encouraged to enter. Plus, if your entry is chosen as a winner, it could be featured in one of D.C.'s major local newspapers! Visit or click the flyer above to share your story about school choice has given you hope.

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

Friday, August 19, 2011

In D.C., Students Get Supplies, School Info, And Chance to Share their Unique Stories

Families learned about area schools and received free school supplies.
Yesterday marked the second annual D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program School Placement and Welcome Fair, an event where the parents of Opportunity Scholarship students are briefed on the process of school enrollment and have a chance to speak with representatives from over 40 area private schools before making the decision as to where to enroll their child.

The event, hosted by the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation and the Alliance for School Choice, is an integral resource in giving the District’s low-income parents all the necessary information to help them make the best educational choice for their child.

But for those of us who volunteered at the event, it was even more than that—it was a chance to see firsthand why our work is so important. Families from all across the city proved just how dedicated they are to maximizing their children’s chances for success, and many kids left the event with a new school for the fall. There were even current students from those schools on hand explaining in their own words just how much their lives have changed as a result of their schools.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Indiana Lawsuit Ruling Doesn't Mean Resting on Our Laurels

We told you earlier this week about an Indiana judge's decision not to block the state's new voucher program, which is a great victory for the nearly 3,000 Hoosier state kids who have signed up for the program thus far.

But it's very much worth noting that the ruling was only temporary, and there could be ongoing legal wranglings that will continue to jeopardize not just the program's current students but its future prospects, as well. (The program is set for expansion each of the next two years, ultimately becoming uncapped beginning with the 2013-14 school year.)

One local news station in Indiana asked the fundamental question that should be (but unfortunately isn't for opponents of the program) at the core of the decision whether to continue with the lawsuit:
"If voucher opponents prevail, what will happen to kids who start the year in a private school?"

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Yankees Star Gives Time, Money, and Expertise to New York Charter School Effort

New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira in late 2008.
Things can frequently get heated between both sides in the midst of the fight for school choice, as we saw earlier this year at our annual National Policy Summit. But however angry the sides get when it comes to educational reform and expanded options, it’s safe to say we’re on better terms than at least one group of well-known adversaries: the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

If you’ve never lived in either city, it’s tough to comprehend the level of hatred. But even from a national perspective, you can tell that there’s a great deal of contempt between the two franchises and their fans. It’s rare to find a fan of one of the squads offering any praise for a member of the other.

But no matter what you think of the guys on the field—whether you’re from the Bronx or the very heart of Beantown—it’s hard not to like a guy like Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira (teh-SHARE-uh).

In an era dominated by allegations of steroid-use and disappointing behavior off the field, Teixeira spends his free time doing things that are light on tabloid-fodder but heavy on importance.

Monday, August 15, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: Judge Refuses to Block Indiana School Voucher Law

We've got some breaking—and, this time, great—news to report on the school choice front, that of which should serve as a welcome respite from the tough news from over the weekend that hundreds of Colorado kids will have to scramble to find a new school after the Douglas County voucher law was blocked by a Centennial State judge.

Just over 1,000 miles East of Douglas County, there's been a complete reversal of fortunes, after a judge today decided not to block the Indiana voucher program, which is due to become the nation's most expansive in just two years time. It's great to know that thousands of families in the Hoosier States can rest easier knowing that their kids will be able to go to the school of their parents' choice.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

'Ed Reform Idol' Spurs Valuable Education Discussion (Simon Cowells Not Welcome)

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute this morning hosted a lighthearted event called Education Reform Idol, a play on the American Idol television franchise that aimed to crown "the reformiest state" of 2011. The five contestant states—Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin—were each represented by an elected official with education expertise, an education policy aide, or the leader of an education reform organization in the state (we live-tweeted the proceedings, so check out our Twitter feed here to get a play-by-play).

Congratulations to Indiana, which had State Superintendent Tony Bennett on hand to argue successfully for his state. Followed by the Hoosiers was Illinois in second place, with Florida coming in third. Ohio and Wisconsin tied for fifth place.

Though the states were competing, the atmosphere was cordial and collaborative, with representatives and judges of various political leanings using the forum as an opportunity not only to sell what's happened so far this year, but more importantly, to talk about what steps these reforms have laid and how they are setting the stage for future positive change.

While some states, like Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin passed expansive reforms in the midst of contentious legislative fights, states like Illinois and Florida built consensus to pass strong, but less extensive measures. It was conversations about these issues, among others, that made for a constructive debate about how to best move the ball forward to maximize the ways in which we can help kids in the future.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

In Wisconsin, the System Stands Strong in the Face of Special Interests

The news that incumbents held their majority in the Wisconsin Senate after last night's recall elections was a victory for many folks who weren't even on a ballot.

First, it's great for kids. Thousands of children who will benefit from the state's massive school choice expansion this year don't have to worry about the reforms getting rolled back. Second, it's great for the voters of Wisconsin, who were dragged into a long, arduous, and very costly recall process that thankfully renders the results of next week's elections moot (at least when it comes to control of the Senate majority), meaning they're (mostly) done with the influx of ads from both sides.

But third is the victory for our political system. We told you last month about how the recall effort was not being waged because of some breach of the public trust, a legal transgression, or a moral situation calling into question the judgment of the legislators. This recall came about as a result of a series of legitimate votes that some very powerful interests didn't like.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Partisans Need Not Apply

We frequently try to showcase the growing bipartisan coalition that is making up support for school choice across the country. It's becoming more and more clear that the idea of educating low-income children via vouchers, scholarship tax credit programs, and charter schools does not fall along traditionally-conceived party boundaries.

But our voice has its limits—we are, of course, just one reform-minded organization among many across the country, and mischaracterizations abound like to paint a picture of us as a profit-driven, conservative-owned, politics-driven entity that has a scary agenda.

Well, we do have an agenda—it exists of nothing more than helping kids. We could not care less about the political affiliation of the folks involved, as long as their intent is to give educational options to the kids that need them most. We think that's best accomplished via school choice.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Common Ground In A Most Uncommon Pair of Sources

A leader of a very prominent education organization was recently quoted in a widely-read newspaper in one of America's most well-known cities about alternative learning styles. A former teacher himself, he made a claim with which we couldn't agree more:
"Everybody doesn't learn at the same pace."
And then there's this:
 To suggest that all kids are able to learn using only one medium wasn't realistic years ago, and we don't function that way today.
Can you guess who made those statements? The former comes from National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, and the latter from Heidi Glidden, the assistant director in the education issues department for the American Federation of Teachers. We rarely see eye-to-eye with the nation's two biggest teachers unions on education reform issues (in large part because we're proposing reforms and the NEA is just now coming around to including student performance in teacher evaluations), but on this point, both spokespeople are right on the money.

The comments came in a story about Khan Academy in The Washington Post. Khan isn't exactly a school, but instead it's an expansive, nonprofit online resource that serves as a supplement to education in the traditional classroom setting. Using the web site, kids can get basic tutorials in a host of subjects at their own pace, whenever they need them, and in a way that can be catered to their specific needs.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Setbacks Yet to Stop Pennsylvania's School Choice Champions from Making Case

We've got good news and bad news.

First, the bad: In the midst of a year that has featured numerous successful legislative efforts to create or expand school choice programs across the country, one of the more disappointing outcomes was in Pennsylvania, where, after strong bipartisan support and the backing of the governor, legislation failed to get a vote before either the full House or Senate.

The good news is that the debate is far from over.

The state's House Education Committee yesterday held a public hearing where both the pro- and anti-voucher sides were able to make their cases, and it was a study in why we believe our side's argument is so much stronger. Here are a few excerpts from a story on the hearing in yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Rep. Jim Christiana, sponsor of one bill in the education reform package, said school choice isn't about turning public schools into private ones; it's about letting parents choose where their children will be best educated.
"We're not saying students shouldn't have to take standardized tests. We're just saying the tests should be based on the curriculum you're offering," said Mr. Christiana, R-Beaver. 
..."If the teachers are of an inferior quality, the students will not come," [Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis]told the committee...."These kids are already in schools that are failing. This [current] system that has been in place for 150 years and has worked well for many of us isn't working for these children."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

As Indiana Passes Milestone, One Family Breathes Sigh of Relief

As we celebrate the news that over 1,000 families have applied to be a part of Indiana's new voucher program, we can easily get lost in the numbers game. We want all the program's slots to be filled, but as the numbers increase, it's easy to lose sight of the things that make this work so valuable on a daily basis.

Fortunately, a local television station in the Hoosier State took a look at one of those families among the first thousand who will benefit from the new program (which is the most expansive in the nation's history).

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

2011's School Choice Successes Showcase Movement's Bipartisan Strength

We're just seven months in, and already, 2011 has been a banner year for school choice in the mainstream media. In the past month alone, there's been prominently-featured coverage from The Wall Street JournalThe Chicago Tribune, and today, the Associated Press. Here's the AP headline:

There's no factual inaccuracy there—this has been a remarkably successful year for school choice legislation, and the states with the greatest amount of success are helmed by Republican governors—but it belies an additional, and perhaps more important, point: that these pieces of legislation featured significant bipartisan support.

Below, we've showcased just a smattering of the bipartisan successes that have helped deem 2011 "The Year of School Choice." While not all voucher programs, they're all significant contributions to the cause of expanding educational options.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Pro-Reform Does Not Mean Anti-Teacher

Legendary teacher Annie Sullivan and ed reformer Geoffrey Canada.

Broad strokes work wonders as a rallying cry or to stir the emotions of a constituency, but they're less useful when it comes to accurately communicating the facts.

Such were the circumstances this weekend, as a few thousand teachers and other public school advocates descended upon the nation's capital to march in a "Save Our Schools" rally that aimed to, according to those in attendance, "put the 'public' back in 'public schools.'" Attendees were there to voice their opposition to a host of reforms—the growing emphasis on testing, No Child Left behind, attempts at teacher tenure reform, charter schools, and vouchers—just to name a few.

They were quick to paint a picture of an education reform movement as entirely anti-teacher, something that we here at the American Federation for Children know couldn't be farther from the truth. While there has been emphasis (especially recently) in some parts of the reform movement to tackle things like teacher tenure, merit pay and the so-called "dance of the lemons," we couldn't be stronger advocates for high-quality teachers, of which there are many. Some of us are the sons and daughters of public school teachers, and every single one of us recognizes that great teachers are some of the most important—and most under-appreciated—group of American workers that exist today.