Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rallying Together to Bring New Jersey Kids Hope

If you were in Jersey City, NJ, today, you might have heard the noise of the status quo, as various special interests gathered to oppose giving hope to children via New Jersey's proposed Opportunity Scholarship Act.

But if we have anything to say it, our voices will be much, much louder.

That's because tomorrow, we're joining with allies from all across the state to rally in favor of the legislation, which would grant scholarships to Garden State students trapped in failing schools. We'll be taking our cause right to Trenton, too, with the hope that the state's legislators will be listening in the building behind us. Many of the legislators who have pledged support for the bill, as well as national education reform leaders from all across the country, will be there too.

Interested in joining us? Our great friends at We Can Do Better New Jersey have all the details, and can answer your questions and have ways for you to get involved.

Of course, we'll give you the full recap of the rally tomorrow afternoon. But you locals shouldn't have to worry about that, because we should see you there!

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

Amid Court Proceedings, Allies Reach Out in Arizona

The United States Supreme Court, where an Arizona case upheld
the constitutionality of scholarship tax credits earlier this year.
It's been a busy week in Arizona, and things aren't letting up in the days ahead.

First, there was the news early last week that an Arizona court dismissed one of the plaintiffs' claims in a lawsuit aiming to stop students from participating in Arizona's Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program.

And then, today, parents of students enrolled in the groundbreaking program took to court to defend additional claims from the plaintiffs. (In this case, a group of special interests intent on maintaining the educational status quo for Arizona families.)

You can learn more about the history of Arizona's court battles, as well as Monday's developments, by clicking here.

But it's not all about court wranglings out in the Grand Canyon State. The next two days will also feature some of the best that Arizona school choice champions have to offer, as the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (HCREO) is teaming up with reformers around the country to address one of the most pressing educational problems facing the state.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving from the Federation and the Alliance!

From everyone here at the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice, we want to wish you a very (early and) happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

We'll be taking the rest of the week off to enjoy the holidays with our friends and family, and we hope you do, too.

Thank you for all your hard work this year in helping bring educational options to the kids who need them most.

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Statement from the American Federation for Children and Alliance for School Choice on the Passing of Ted Forstmann

It was just a week and a half ago that we brought you the inspiring story of the Children's Scholarship Fund, the brainchild of the late John T. Walton and Ted Fortsmann. The Wall Street Journal was profiling Fortsmann and his amazing organization, which has helped hundreds of thousands of low-income kids get a good education since Fortsmann and Walton started it in 1999.

Today, we're sad to be writing about Fortsmann again. The philanthropist and education reformer died yesterday at the age of 71. Our chairman, Betsy DeVos, released a statement expressing her sadness upon learning the news of Fortsmann's death:
On behalf of the entire American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice, I want to express my heartfelt sadness upon learning of the passing of our friend Ted Forstmann yesterday.  

Friday, November 18, 2011

Farewell to A Great School Choice Friend!

On this Friday, we share a bit of bittersweet news from our friends at School Choice Ohio regarding their great executive director, Chad Aldis:
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Nov. 16, 2011) – School Choice Ohio today announced that Executive Director Chad Aldis will be stepping down from his position with the organization to begin a new role with a national education reform organization. 
“School Choice Ohio is grateful for Chad’s leadership and for his steadfast commitment to expanding school choice in the state of Ohio for the past four years,” said School Choice Ohio Board Chair Matt Cox. “He has helped position this organization to become a national leader on school choice, and we look forward to building on this solid groundwork as we continue our work to ensure that every child has access to a quality education.”  
Under Aldis’ leadership, School Choice Ohio has become an established advocate for school choice of all types and a resource for the media, legislators, and business leaders on education reform. The organization also serves  as an information source for thousands of Ohio families who are seeking the best educational environment for their children. 
“I have enjoyed my time at School Choice Ohio working to help secure school choice for thousands of Ohio families who need it the most,” said Aldis. “It has been rewarding to work with and advocate on behalf of parents who are committed to finding a better educational option for their child.”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Next Generation of School Choice Champions

Many of the folks who have been fighting to give kids educational options have worked in this movement for many years—just take a look at the Alliance for School Choice's John T. Walton Award Winners to get an idea of some of the most committed school choice champions.

But another group of those engaged in helping kids through school choice weren't even around (or were still crawling around) when the first private school choice program in America was enacted, over two decades ago. For them, the fight has been a more recent one, meaning less perspective and awareness of the long, hard work that preceded them.

You might think that that would dampen their interest and engagement in bringing kids school choice.

But you'd be wrong.

Recent days and weeks have ushered in a flurry of commentary from young people on why school choice is so important. Some of them were beneficiaries of the scholarships that rescued them from failing schools, and others weren't.

The one thing they all have in common, though, is a realization that it's going to soon be up to a new generation of leaders to carry the torch for educational equality for all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In Light of Recent Abuse, It's Time We Stand Up for Our Kids

Yesterday we brought you an unfortunate story of a Chicago teachers union leader making inappropriate and disparaging remarks about Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in front of a crowd (and laughing about it). Pretty bad, right?

Well, it's nothing compared to this.

Rarely does a story bring about such a universal reaction—disgust, anger, sadness—as the one we're about to show you. NBC's Today Show first reported on the story of 14-year-old Cheyanne, a special needs student from an Ohio town about 40 miles southwest of Columbus. It's a story of being bullied, something far too many children encounter every day in schools all across the country. But this time, it's different.

The bullies were the teachers.

That's right—it's not students, but instead a teacher and her aide who proceed to call the girl dumb, a liar, and chastise her for "hav[ing] no friends." They make fun of her appearance, her parents, and even give her an "F" on a test without even bothering to grade it.

It took a secret tape recorder carried by Cheyanne to prove that what she was reporting to her father was actually happening, and even after administrators heard them, only the teaching aide was fired (and not immediately, either). And despite the fact that these sad events took place last school year, the teacher in the case was only put on administrative leave two days ago.

Let that sink in for a second.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Chicago Teachers Union President's Sad, Embarrassing Rant

A truly unfortunate video that's been making the rounds today shines a light on some terrible tactics used by special interest leaders out there who fight to maintain the status quo in their opposition to school choice and other education reforms.

Oftentimes, reform opponents have legitimate concerns with voucher and scholarship tax credit programs.

Other times, they're only out to launch public and proud attacks against others.

It was the latter case last month in Seattle, where the president of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), Karen Lewis, engaged in an absolutely embarrassing, childish, and despicable rant at an event that was supposed to be about social justice.

But when you hear what Lewis has to say, you'll realize that there's nothing justified—or dignified—about any of it.

Watch the video below, posted by the Education Action Group, to see four minutes that feature attacks the on everyone from the president to the education secretary to kids with speech impediments (and keep in mind that there's some inappropriate subject matter, so view accordingly).

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Over A Decade Later, the Lasting Legacy of School Choice Champions Lives On

The deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page devoted his column this week to a creation of two of the most committed men when it comes to giving educational options to low-income kids: Ted Forstmann and the late John Walton.

Ever heard of the Children's Scholarship Fund? If so, then you're familiar with one of Forstmann and Walton's most innovative education reform ideas. In the years since it was created in the late 1990s, nearly $500 million in scholarships has been provided to over 120,000 low-income children to attend schools that their parents chose for them.

Few private organization share so closely a mission with ours—to give low-income kids the same opportunities afforded to those who are well off. CSF, however, is a rare ally truly empowers families and parents with the ability to choose the learning environment most suited for their children, who they know most.

But back to today's column, about the fund and the continued plight of kids trapped in failing inner-city schools. In many ways, this year's sweeping school choice victories are the result of the hard work that Forstmann and Walton were engaged in far before it was popular, and far before over 200,000 children were benefiting from school choice all around the country.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Strong Support Among Non-Union Teachers for School Choice

Stay tuned to this space in the next couple of weeks, as we'll be unveiling a fair amount of public polling research that speaks to current opinions on school choice as well as how those ideas have evolved over time.

In the meantime, though, we came across a survey released last week from the Association of American Educators. The AAE is one of the largest non-union teachers associations nationwide. It's made up of teachers at traditional public schools, public charter schools, and private schools.

People who oppose educational options for low-income kids often attack our movement as anti-teacher, forgetting that we believe teachers to be the backbone and lifeblood of strong education in this country. And, they musn't forget that the every one of the educational options for which we advocate is filled with teachers too.

That's all a long way of getting to the point of this post...that teachers support school choice too! The AAE surveyed its members on a host of education reform topics, finding strong support for many of them, including extremely high numbers when it comes to school choice.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

PEFNC Chief Talks Refreshingly About School Choice in the Tar Heel State

Last week the University of North Carolina Law School hosted a discussion titled The State of Education in North Carolina: Addressing the Constitutional Implications. There were a number of prominent names in the education reform and civil rights spheres on hand, including the following group:
  • Dean Boger, moderating
  • Matthew Ellinwood, North Carolina Justice Center, Policy Advocate Education Law Project
  • Dr. Terry Stoops, John Locke Foundation, Education Studies Director
  • Neal Ramee, Tharrington Smith, Education Lawyer
  • Darrell Allison, Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, President
  • Mark Dorosin, Center for Civil Rights, Senior Managing Attorney
Each of the folks above has a specific area of expertise and significant experience discussion the plight of public education in America as well as ways to improve it, but one person in particular has been a longtime friend of the Federation and the Alliance, in a state where we're working to bring even more choice that already exists.

That man is Darrell Allison, the president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. Always a man with a gift for eloquence in making the case for expanded educational options, Allison was particularly clear about why school choice is so important during his talk at UNC Law last week.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Media Misses Mark on Indiana Voucher Coverage

News last week that Indiana's Choice Scholarship Program enrolled nearly 4,000 students, the most ever by a first-year voucher program, was met with mixed coverage from media outlets across the Hoosier State.

Some newspapers attempted to hear arguments from people on both sides of the debate, others showed the objective success of the enrollment numbers, while others enlisted help of wire services that stick to the hard news aspects of the story.

The story on television, however, was not quite as balanced. Local Lafayette, IN news station WLFI TV gave coverage to the story when the enrollment numbers were released last Thursday, but only seemed to find time to interview those who complained of the money their districts were losing as a result of those kids getting a better education. Take a look at the video:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Former Education Secretary Urges Business Community to Spearhead Education Reform

(From L-R) Former Education Secretary Rod Paige, CEG
Director Jerri Nims Rooker, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.
ATLANTA - Former Education Secretary Rod Paige yesterday joined local and national education experts at an event which engaged business leaders in expanding educational options for Peach State families, highlighting the importance of improving education for Georgia’s economic future.

The event, titled “ROI: Education is Your Business,” was sponsored by the American Federation for Children, the Center for an Educated Georgia at Georgia Family Council, the Georgia Charter Schools Association, and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. It featured remarks by Governor Nathan Deal and a strategy session hosted by and featuring prominent business leaders discussing education reform.

Paige urged attendees, which included several state legislators, to make education a primary focus of the Georgia business community. He cited lagging achievement statistics and a growing gap among demographic groups as hurdles to recruiting businesses and an educated, skilled workforce.

“No society can long survive, no culture can long flourish, no economy can long prosper, when it leaves behind as many children to poverty and ignorance as we are doing now in this great country," Paige said. "We simply must muster up the courage to face the brutal fact that how our education system is working is not working.”

Focusing on education in Georgia, Paige said the state’s large achievement gap between blacks and whites was equivalent to two grade levels.

"It is even below the national graduation rate," he said. "And like the rest of our nation, there is a 25-point difference between the performance of our African-American students and their Anglo peers. We have a problem.”

Paige, who served as Secretary of Education during President George W. Bush’s first term, said that that the keys to increasing Georgia’s economic standing are changing what does not work in our current public education system and allowing educational innovation through expanded education options for those who need them  most.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Nearly 4,000 Enroll In Indiana's First-Year Voucher Program

There's great news out of Indiana today: Nearly 4,000 were approved to participate in Indiana's Choice Scholarship Program, despite a truncated application window and this being the first year the program was offered.

We teamed up with a host of our allied organizations to tout the great numbers. Here's what we had to say:
“It’s terrific to see that so many families have taken advantage of this exciting new opportunity,” said Lindsey Brown, Executive Director of School Choice Indiana. “Students are already benefiting from this important program and the stories that we’ve heard from parents and principals have been very encouraging.” 
Nearly 85 percent, or 3,326, of voucher recipients are on the free and reduced lunch program. Fifty three percent of program participants represent minority families, including 24 percent African-American and 19 percent Hispanic. 
According to the DOE, 69 percent of students approved for vouchers are from metropolitan areas, 16 percent are from suburban areas, and 15 percent are from rural and town areas. Children from 185 Indiana school districts are participating in the program, with no school district accounting for more than 17 percent of the total scholarship recipients. The largest number of voucher approvals by city includes: 644 students from Indianapolis, 393 from Fort Wayne, 374 from South Bend, 139 from Anderson, 131 from Gary, and 121 from Evansville. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

At the Century Mark, The Top 5 Blog Posts (So Far)

This entry marks a mini-milestone of sorts for us, as it represents our 100th blog entry here on School Choice Now! Considering the following we've gathered for an endeavor that began just a few short months ago, we wanted to thank you for continuing to return to our blog, and we hope we'll continue to provide interesting and thoughtful content that will keep you coming back.

Now, with that...what have y'all enjoyed most? Some of the posts probably might not surprise you, but some will. It's not shock that you seem to enjoy posts about well-known figures, as well as posts that are passionate. You like hearing about breaking news, and stories that are more man-bites-dog than dog-bites-man usually do well, too.

But enough summarizing. Take a look at our list below of our Top 5 all-time blog posts (so far).

5. "Agnostic As to the Delivery Mechanism" (July 12, 2011)

What Was It? Inspired by a quote from Michelle Rhee, we made clear that our support was not for a certain system of education, but for an education system that works. We don't care what it's called or how it's structured as long as it works. The reality is that school choice is a proven reform, hence the commitment we have to expanding it across the country.

Why Was It So Popular? This was a line that stuck out to us back in the spring, before we even launched our blog. When Rhee said it at our 2011 National Policy Summit, it hit back directly at critics who try to make our fight a partisan or ideological one. In a world where every public school was great, we wouldn't need vouchers and scholarship tax credits. But until that day, we will fight to give kids hope.

4. BREAKING NEWS: Bipartisan Ohio Voucher Plan Passes Out of House Education Committee (September 21, 2011)
What Was It? After a summer of school choice successes nationwide, the first day of fall continued the trend with the passage of a means-tested voucher bill in the Ohio House's Education Committee.

Why Was It So Popular? We love breaking news, and we think you do, too. This was an especially exciting piece, because the vote was a relative surprise and the measure would have wide-ranging effects for low-income kids across the Buckeye State. There's yet to be a vote on the bill in the House, but we'll keep you updated on the legislation's prospects.