Friday, September 30, 2011

Take a Look at the New and Improved Alliance For School Choice Website!

If you're reading this, we take you to be at least mildly web-saavy. And if that's the case, then you'll be happy to hear the following news: our partner organization, the Alliance for School Choice, has launched a new website!
The brand-new homepage for the website of the Alliance for School Choice.
Folks who had the old address bookmarked need not worry—they're still located at the same address, at But among the features included on the new site, besides a brand-new, much sleeker look and feel (as well as access to the Alliance's award-winning 2010-11 School Choice Yearbook) is some stuff we think you'll like.

They will now have constant news updates, frequently-refreshed information on Alliance work around the country, up-to-date info about current school choice programs across America, and what parents need to know about programs and how they can get their children involved.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

One-Fifth of America's Chief Executives Convene for NBC Education Summit

There were many opinions under one tent (literally) at this week's Education Nation Summit, the second annual event hosted in New York City on Monday and Tuesday by the folks at NBC. It sometimes made for a few odd exchanges—like, for example, when reform-minded Michelle Rhee shared the stage with AFT President Randi Weingarten. Reason TV captured a portion of that conversation, as well as a few other highlights from the summit, in the video below:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bureaucratic Bullying in Arizona

Earlier this year, teachers unions and the education establishment jumped on the anti-bullying bandwagon with gusto, and for good reason. The rationale behind the anti-bullying movement is rational: making sure that children and their parents are safe, secure, comfortable, and free to learn. It's hard to disagree with the sentiment, right?

But this week, the unions themselves became the bullies, in a big way.

In Arizona, the teacher-funded Arizona Education Association (AEA) and the taxpayer-funded Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) filed a lawsuit to remove more than 100 children with special needs from the private schools of their parents' choice.

What did these children with special needs do to deserve a lawsuit? Their parents decided to apply for an Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA), allowing them to tap into their own tax dollars to send their children to private schools (or other educational settings) that best meet their children's needs. ESAs are "outplacements," the process by which school district officials send children with disabilities to receive services from qualified private providers. Except with ESAs, parents—not bureaucrats—select the outplacement. And so, given their top-down mentality about educating kids, and their fear of empowered parents, the AEA and the ASBA filed suit to strip these families of their rights.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Rare Moderate Shares Her Views on School Choice

Michelle Bernard in 2008 at the Democratic
National Convention in Denver, Colo.
Most of you probably know Michelle Bernard from her appearances on cable news, her leadership at the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy, and her propensity to stick by her views even in the face of opposition from audiences in her demographic groups. Even though she sometimes get flack for it, Bernard is truly noteworthy in her ability to stay a true moderate in a time of both political parties moving to the extremes.

So, as we debrief from our time at Education Nation—for which there will be a more elaborate post tomorrow—we thought we'd show you a great video that Bernard did with Reason in the summer, in which she explains the roots of her passion in education reform and school choice, also calling for "a broader coalition of people who are dedicating themselves to school choice and comprehensive education reform."

Monday, September 26, 2011

AFC is at NBC's Education Nation in New York City!

We'll be at NBC's Education Nation event in New York today! We want to make sure you're kept abreast of all the interesting developments and discussions from folks involved in the education reform fight, so we'll be sharing what we see with you! Head on over to their website to learn more about some of the people who will be in attendance, but keep your eyes on our Twitter page throughout the day for news and updates!

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: Bipartisan Ohio Voucher Plan Passes Out of House Education Committee

We're excited to report some breaking news from the Buckeye State this evening. The Ohio House Education Committee passed House Bill 136—a plan that would create a statewide, means-tested voucher program—by a 12-10 vote on Wednesday night, setting the stage for the full State House to vote on the legislation this fall.

The bill calls for the creation of the Parental Choice and Taxpayer Savings (PACT) Scholarship Program, which would grant low- and middle-income Ohio students scholarships to go to private schools of their parents' choice. If enacted, Ohio would be the first state in the entire country with five school choice programs.

Our friends at School Choice Ohio were instrumental in this, the first step towards expanding educational opportunities to even more kids throughout the Buckeye State. The state is already home to the flagship EdChoice Scholarship Program, as well as three additional voucher programs helping students with autism, special needs, and low-income children in the Cleveland area, respectively.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Shameful Comparison

There are people on both sides of the school choice divide who care passionately about kids. Some rationally think things are best done one way, while others have a different point of view—all the while, still working towards the ultimate goal of helping children.

And then there are other people, who have lost touch with reality to the detriment of everyone involved.

Folks frequently talk about the souring nature of our political discourse across the country, but this is a new one, even for us. In a recently-published letter by the Northwest Indiana Times, a citizen writes in with the shocking comparison: supporters of vouchers are like terrorists.

Yes, you read that right (and it sadly comes without any twisting of words or hyperbole on our part). Just over a week after commemorating the 10th anniversary of the most tragic terrorist attack in American history—an attack that callously took the lives of nearly 3,000 people—someone had the gall to compare a legitimate side of a policy debate to the murder of innocents for warped despicable political purposes.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Education Reform Hits The Great Plains

Happy Friday! As we head into our weekend, we're reminded that the education reform movement is strong, healthy—and spreading. Now, new reforms are on their way to the Sunflower State. And it is largely thanks to the work around the country, in places that have instituted widespread and heralded reforms, that Kansas begins its education reform discussion with a model as to how to best maximize how the state can help kids.

Fresh off his State of Education speech earlier this week, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett spoke about how he's not content with his reforms only helping Hoosier State students:
We have to put our focus on the children and quit focusing on just the dollars. Redesign Kansas education so that kids not achieving can achieve like their peers who are achieving.
Now that states are beginning to see the earlier dividends being paid by new initiatives like the voucher program in Indiana, they're realizing that the status quo no longer has to stand in their way of expanding educational options for low- and middle-income families, either.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Inspiring Stories from Pennsylvania Kids Who Are Ready to Make A Difference

We're often asked why we're involved in the work we do, and while the specific responses may vary, our core belief is simple: we want to help kids. School choice—whether it be via open enrollment, public charter schools, or private school scholarships—is the key to helping thousands of students towards the education they deserve.

The results of those opportunities are apparent throughout our society—from classrooms to boardrooms to the halls of government, including the White House.

Sometimes it gets us thinking: where will the kids who are benefiting from school choice now end up in 20 years? We don't know the answers, but we can already see the seeds being planted for the next great scientist, public servant, executive, teacher, or philanthropist.

It's always interesting to see celebrities before they were famous; we like to think of this as something of a reversal of that. While we don't know exactly how, we know that these kids are going to make an impact on the world.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Applying Lessons Learned Abroad at Home

Earlier this week, local news station NY1 profiled a new charter school in Manhattan that applies the ideals of student-driven learning based on the premise that "every student learns differently." But while many choice schools embrace that notion based upon evidence from their community, or with a varied curriculum that has the freedom to more pointedly teach certain kids, "Innovate Manhattan," as it is called, got its inspiration from somewhere else: Sweden.

That's right—while the school has a curriculum, students develop a work plan and specific goals that allow them to work through that curriculum at their own pace. They have specific teacher mentors, known as "coaches," who meet one-on-one with them daily to ascertain how we'll they're working towards meeting those goals.

An unlike the criticism levied at so many other education reform measures, there's no knocking a Swedish model that has proven highly-successful in multiple European countries. (A model that shares some things in common with England's free schools.)

School Choice Transparency is a Worthy Commitment—But Only if Info is Honest

A new measure was recently adopted in Milwaukee that will separate the portion of property tax levies citizens pay for the city's flagship Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). Referred to by some as a "voucher tax," the argument from those who pushed to have the MPCP portion broken out is an interesting one. Because a small percentage of education funds to go schools participating in the voucher program, they say, it amounts to a "tax" on residents because it does not directly fund schools that are part of the city's struggling public school system.

Not only is the nomenclature misleading, but the the motivations behind the measure are not to make the tax code more transparent, as many of its proponents have alleged. Instead, they aim to imply that the existence of the voucher program is costing residents more money when, in reality, it's actually saving them significant sums.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New Poverty Statistics Make Clear the Dire and Immediate Need for School Choice

On the heels of news released today that the nation’s poverty rate hit 15.1 percent last year—the highest level in 17 years—we’re gaining more and more insight into the plight of the large swath of the nation’s low-income families.

The total number of people living below the poverty line of $22,314 is at the highest level in the recorded history of the statistic. But those numbers apply to everyone. Things get even worse when you dig a bit deeper:
  • Although all demographic groups saw  equal or higher proportions of people living in poverty, rates are significantly higher for Hispanics and blacks, who saw the largest increases from the previous year
  • The poverty rate for children sits at a staggering 22 percent
  • Among Hispanic children, the poverty rate is 35 percent. Among black children, it’s an unfathomable 39 percent
According to Joan Entmacher, the vice president of the National Women’s Law Center, there exist a host of fundamental problems about the environments in which so many recession-ravaged families are growing up:
Behind today’s grim statistics are real people who are finding it harder than ever to…give their children a chance at a better life.
More than any set of sweeping data in recent history, these statistics sound a vociferous clarion call about the need to save our country’s children—predominantly minority, predominantly urban-dwelling, and low-income—from the difficulties that lie ahead on the path down which they’re traveling.

And how can we best do that? By improving the education these kids are receiving.

Monday, September 12, 2011

On Eve of Education Speech, Indiana Leaders Pledge Support to Kids, Not Systems

As Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett prepares for his second State of Education address tomorrow night, we wanted to give you a preview of what he'll be discussing based upon some recent local news reports across the Hoosier State.

Today we've linked to one that is of particular note, in part because it gives us insight into not only Bennett's vision for the state's educational future, but also shines a light on the man behind it all—Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

In addition to the short interview clip with Daniels, the report wraps up with words that make clear that the governor is in this fight for the right reasons (emphasis ours):
Next year the cap on vouchers goes up to 15000. Daniels says he doesn't know if applications will reach that number either. In fact, he says he doesn't care. He says his goal was always simply to give parents a choice, and what he'd really love would be for the public schools to improve so much that parents wouldn't want to use the vouchers anymore.
That's right—despite what opponents may say, he's not in this to hurt public schools, but he's also realistic about the fact that many kids today aren't getting what they need from them. That's the kind of attitude we'd love to see among more of our leaders across the country.

Click here to watch the full story.

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

Friday, September 9, 2011

Want to Reform Our Country's Schools? Think Outside the Box.

It's Friday, so we want to send you into your weekend with a little bit of lighter fare.

We in the education reform movement often discuss the importance of being willing to try new things—to buck the status quo, go in a different direction, and break free of the bureaucratic and institutional barriers in place that sentence thousands of kids to suffering schools every day.

We've been doing things the same way in education for a long time, and the return on our investment is only decreasing. In order to reverse that trend—and give all of our country's children the chance they deserve to succeed—we must think outside the box.

For us, of course, that means making sure that low-income kids get the same chance that is afforded to wealthy families. A quality education in this country should be something that no child has to live without.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Colorado's Charter Collaboration

So much of the talk in Colorado lately has centered on the debate surrounding vouchers in the Denver suburb of Douglas County that many of the strong academic gains that have taken place elsewhere across the Centennial State have been overlooked.

Excluding Douglas County, Colorado isn't home to any school voucher or scholarship tax credit programs, but the state has one of the most robust networks of high-achieving charter schools in the nation.

And while the rhetoric regarding the DougCo program can often get heated, many of the teachers and administrators out west have developed a civil, effective, and mutually-beneficial way of collaborating.

But it's not just charter schools working with private schools: charters in Denver are strong in large part because of the state's traditional public schools. Here's an excerpt from a local news story on the success of West Denver Prep Charter School in the context of the local district (emphasis ours):
Gibbons says in other urban areas across the country, charter schools and district schools are often at odds.

"A great deal of energy is spent, sort of the us-versus-them, kind of back-and-forth conflict around charter schools and traditional schools," Gibbons said.

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg says district leaders don't want to waste a lot of time on what he calls "politics."

"Whether they are district-run schools or charter schools, we want all of our schools to be great schools in our neighborhood serving all the kids," Boasberg said. 
Just think of all the things that could be accomplished if both sides were willing to put politics aside and instead work to provide great schools for all of our kids. And this isn't just some pie-in-the-sky flowery wish as to what can happen. The video below explains how collaboration and achievement go hand in hand.

State Superintendent Touts New Enrollment Numbers for Indiana Voucher Program

At Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' education roundtable yesterday, State Superintendent for Public Education Tony Bennett said that parents have applied for more than half of Indiana's 7,500 vouchers this year, a remarkable number considering the application period lasted for just a few weeks.

And in the early-goings, it seems like the program is accomplishing the goals put forth at the outset: a total of 85 percent of the voucher students comes from low-income backgrounds, and 15 percent of voucher recipients live in small towns or rural areas. Here's what Bennett had to say at the governor's roundtable:

There is a broad geographical spread that says poverty has no boundaries in Indiana. But we are also saying that demography does not determine a student's destiny.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Recent Surge of School Choice Gains Is Only the Beginning of More to Come

Although other education reform topics often dominate the national conversation (teacher tenure and the debate surrounding standardized testing seem to dominate the headlines), the tide is turning when it comes to school choice. In addition to being dubbed "The Year of School Choice" by the Wall Street Journal—which is, if we're counting, the largest paper in the United States in terms of circulation—the subject of the strong national wave of progress and specific program highlights have been common as the year has progressed.

The Journal also spoke with prominent education expert Jay P. Greene later in the month, and let's not forget the discussion of the shifting political landscape on the issue by Institute for Justice senior attorney Richard Komer from the beginning of this week.

It's not just the WSJ, though.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Supply and Demand in Wisconsin

Back in the late spring, as lawmakers in Wisconsin were determining the extent and scope of a proposed expansion of vouchers in the state budget, we joined with our friends at School Choice Wisconsin to do what is sadly becoming something of a novel approach in politics, despite the fact that it should be standard procedure.

We asked the people what they thought.

While opponents to school choice made claims about why expansion wouldn't be good for the community, they never thought (or decided not) to ask citizens their opinion. But we did, and what we heard wasn't surprising.

Our poll showed that majorities in both Racine and Green Bay supported expanding the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program to their cities, with the proposal earning strong support across ideological lines. And among parents with children who would stand to benefit from school choice, almost two-thirds supported expansion.

So it was curious to us when the final measure included in the budget failed to expand choice to Green Bay and placed an arbitrary 250-student cap on first-year enrollment the Racine program.

Fast forward three months, and you can now see why we were scratching our heads.