Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Legislative Spotlight: North Carolina

Legislation: House Bill 1104

Title: Scholarship Funding Corporate Tax Credit

Primary Sponsors: Majority Leader Paul Stam (R), Representative William Brisson (D), Representative Mike Hager (R), Representative Marcus Brandon (D)

Bill Status: Referred to Committee on Education

The North Carolina legislature is considering House Bill 1104, which would create a scholarship tax credit program that would provide scholarships to students from low-income families to attend the private or public school of their parents’ choice.  The program, which has strong bipartisan support, would be the thirteenth scholarship tax credit program in the nation.  Last year, North Carolina created a tax credit for children with disabilities that allows for a tax deduction on education expenses, including private school tuition.

Program Type
Corporate Scholarship Tax Credit

Student Eligibility
  • Family income cannot exceed 225 percent of the federal poverty level
  • Attended public schools the previous year or entering kindergarten or first grade
Scholarship Funding Organization (SFO) Requirements
  • Certified by the Division of Nonpublic Education of the Department of Administration
  • Apply annually to participate in the program
  • Use at least 91 percent of contributions for scholarships
    • SFOs with fewer than 24 months of certification must use 100 percent of contributions for scholarships
  • Does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, or national origin
  • Make scholarships available to more than one school
  • Submit to the state:
    • Annual financial and compliance audit by certified public accountant
    • Annual report on data of scholarship recipients, donations, and participating schools

Debunking the “Purely Symbolic” and “Fundamentally Rhetorical” Argument against the D.C. Voucher Program

Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) stands with AFC senior advisor
Kevin P. Chavous, parent activist Virginia Walden Ford,
and OSP students at a press conference in March of 2011.
When Kevin Carey of Education Sector called the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) “purely symbolic” and “fundamentally rhetorical” in a piece published recently in The New Republic, he was continuing a false, sad, yet unfortunately oft-used argument against education initiatives that benefit children from low-income families.

Carey's description of the D.C. voucher program as merely symbolic is an insulting description to the more than 1,600 students from some of the city's lowest-income families who, thanks to the program, attend the school of their parents’ choice.  He suggests that the program was created merely to give the "impression" that lawmakers are serious about reforming education.  But this program is about far more than impressions and appearances.  

The OSP helps more than 1,600 students, 92 percent of whom would otherwise be attending a school in need of improvement if not for their scholarship.Since the program was created in 2004, more than 11,000 students have applied to participate. Parents of students who are in the program are satisfied with their child's new school at a rate of 92 percent. By those and many other measures, it's clear that the program works.

As Carey points out, the program has a high graduation rate; but what he fails to acknowledge is that the graduation rate is actually 91 percent—more than 21 percentage points higher than students who applied for and did not receive a scholarship, and more than 30 points higher than the general D.C. public school population. Carey also fails to know the improvement in reading scores exhibited by the students in the program, as discovered by a 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. And according to the program’s administrator, 89 percent of OSP graduates went on to enroll in a two- or four-year college.  The sheer number of parents students interested in the program—despite special interests working to limit its size and scope—coupled with increased academic attainment and achievement levels demonstrate that the OSP is far more than a literary tool.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Facts Fall to the Wayside in Today's New York Times

After reading Stephanie Saul’s attack on scholarship tax credit programs in today’s New York Times, it would be easy to see how a person could come away being weary of the programs. But that's before one considers something that's conspicuously missing from Saul's story: the facts.

Saul highlights the Georgia Scholarship Tax Credit Program—making the Georgia program sound like the pith of the ten scholarship tax credit programs across the nation.  The program serves approximately 8,131 students (which Saul fails to report)—or only 6.3 percent of the 128,792 students who participate in private scholarship tax credit programs.  Thus, the Georgia program only represents a small minority of scholarship tax credit programs nationwide.

She also fails to mention the programs in Indiana, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island, instead only making reference to Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

Some of those other states might have been helpful in showing some context.

The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, for example, serves nearly 40,000 students, yet the program is hardly mentioned in the story.  In fact, Saul does not mention the flagship program until the 16th paragraph, where she writes:

Some states have moved to tighten restrictions after receiving complaints.  In Florida, where the scholarships are strictly controlled to make sure they go to poor families, only corporations are eligible for the tax credits, eliminating the chance of parents donating for their own benefit.  Also, all scholarships are handled by one nonprofit organization, and its fees are limited to 3 percent of donations.  Florida also permits the scholarships to move with the students if they elect to change schools.

This “positive” aspect of the Florida program is shrouded in negative light.  A more balanced way of talking about the program:

The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, created in 2001, serves nearly 40,000 students in the 2011-12 school year.  To be eligible for the program, students must qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program—which in 2011 would require a family income of not more than $41,348 for a family of four.  The program has also been the subject of numerous students from both independent evaluators and the state.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Get your Feet Marching the in Tar Heel State!

Hundreds of school choice supporters will be rallying tomorrow at the State Capitol tomorrow in support of the Opportunity Scholarship Program.  Organized by the Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, students, parents, state lawmakers, and education reform advocates will participate in a presentation on educational options in North Carolina. 

Last year, lawmakers created the Tax Credits for Children with Disabilities, which allows parents to receive a tax credit for educational expenses, including private school tuition.  And this year, lawmakers are again working to create more educational options for students in North Carolina with the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program, a corporate scholarship tax credit program that would  allow children from low-income families to receive scholarships to attend the school of their parents’ choice.

In a symbolic march three times around the General Assembly building—to object to the 30 percent achievement gap between children from low-income families and other students in North Carolina—the rally will show the desperate need for real educational options.

Who: You!
What: Rally to Support the Opportunity Scholarship Act
When: Tuesday, May 22 at 12:15 p.m
Where: Children’s Garden, located on Wilmington Street across from the North Carolina General Assembly

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ten Year Anniversary of Landmark U.S. Supreme Court Decision

Our friends at School Choice Ohio are planning a big anniversary bash for the 10-year historic anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Cleveland School Voucher Program.

Featuring special guest Ken Starr, the event is being held on June 11 in Cleveland Ohio.  RSVP by June 1, at

The Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program is a means-preferenced voucher program serving students living in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.  Created in 1995, the program today serves 5,603 students. 

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

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Support for School Choice: Polling of Likely Voters in Battleground States

The American Federation for Children and the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options led a poll on support for education and school choice in five battleground states.  President Obama and Mitt Romney will be fighting to win Arizona, Florida, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Nevada—all important states in electoral college math.  This survey shows that both should not only make education a major part of the campaign, but should also pay attention to support of school choice among Latino voters.

Beck Research, a Democratic-leaning polling firm conducted a survey of support for school choice across five states from April 17-22.  Surveying 750 likely voters with 117 Latino likely voters, the poll found overwhelming support for school choice.

Education is a top tier issue for battleground voters and Latinos.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Parental Involvement and School Choice

AFC Senior Advisor today testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education to speak about how school choice increases parent and student involvement.

During his testimony, Chavous mentioned the highly successful Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, and the recently expanded Students Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program in Louisiana.  But, he noted that the numbers don’t tell the story of why school choice is the best form of parental engagement; it’s really about the families and faces that are benefiting from school choice around the country.

Answering questions from Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Chavous testified that not only do school choice programs save money, but offer a host of options for families.

“In my experience, when you have more options, you have more parental engagement,” he said. “And we see that in Milwaukee, Florida, Louisiana, and D.C.”

Following Chavous’ testimony, Gwendolyn Eaddy-Samuel, President of the Connecticut Parents Union, spoke about parent trigger legislation in Connecticut.  But Eaddy-Samual also testified as a parent, calling for all educational options tools for parents because they are the ones responsible to ensure that all children receive a quality education.  Eaddy-Samual doesn’t want to be rescued, she said, but instead wants to have access to options so she can make the best educational decisions for her children.

Todd Ziebarth from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools noted that charter schools also offer a high level of parental engagement.  Ziebarth also noted that more states are working to increase access to charter schools.  Operating in 41 states with 5,600 schools educating more than 2 million children, charter schools represent a growing option for families.  In fact, states are working to lift artificial caps, equalize funding, and be implemented in the remaining nine states.

And it wasn’t just the witnesses that were touting school choice and parental engagement.  Rep John Kline, the committee chairman, noted the importance of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and the incredibly touching stories that he heard from parents and grandparents who are thankful to have options beyond the failing public schools.

In the end, Chavous called for lawmakers to depoliticize the issue of education reform.  Calling out both Democrats and Republicans, Chavous told lawmakers to put party ideology aside and put the needs of children first.  

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

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Breakthrough Victories: A Legislative Update

The Wall Street Journal called 2011 “The Year of School Choice,” and we think 2012 is the year for breakthrough victories for children, the theme of the American Federation for Children’s third annual National Policy Summit, held earlier this month.

So what have been the breakthrough victories in 2012?  Thanks to the hard work of advocates, parents, elected officials, and many more, there are 29 private school choice programs across the nation.  And already in 2012, two new programs were created in Louisiana and Virginia and four programs were expanded in Arizona (which expanded two of its programs), Florida, and Louisiana.


Expanded Program: Governor Jan Brewer yesterday signed legislation expanding the Education Savings Account Program.  Created in 2011, the ESA program allowed students with disabilities to use 90 percent of the state funding, taking into account grade and disability to use on a variety of educational tools including tuition, fees, testing, tutoring, and educational therapies.  With the newly enacted expansion, students attending a school or school district rated “D” of “F,” children of U.S. Military personnel, and children in foster care now qualify for the program.  ESAs are considered to be the new frontier of school choice as the program allows parents to decide how to use their child’s education dollars.

Expanded Program: In February, the Grand Canyon State also expanded the nation’s first scholarship tax credit program by doubling the amount that donors can contribute to Scholarship Tuition Organizations.  Under the expanded program, individuals can donate up to $1,000 and married couples can donate up to $2,000.  In 2011, the program was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.


Expanded Program: Last month, Governor Bobby Jindal signed the sweeping statewide expansion of the Students Scholarships for Educational Excellence into law.  The expanded program will allow students from low-income families attending persistently failing schools to attend the public or private school of their parents’ choice.  Passed with bipartisan support, House Bill 976 gives priority to students attending schools rated “D” or “F.”  It is estimated that as many as 380,000 children in Louisiana will be eligible to participate.  Originally created in 2008 for students in Orleans Parish, the program currently serves nearly 2,000 children.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cory Booker Inspires the People of New Jersey—and Oregon

When Cory Booker spoke at the American Federation for Children’s National Policy Summit earlier this month, he not only inspired the room of education reformers, but drummed up support for the Opportunity Scholarship Act currently being considered by the New Jersey Legislature.  But it turns out that news of Cory Booker spreads—like fire (get it?!).

The Oregon Catalyst, a website for conservative Oregonians to discuss policy issues, wrote about Cory Booker inspiring change in the Beaver State.  Steve Buckstein called for supporters to make school choice a reality for students all across the nation.  Not only did he mention that Booker saved a woman from a burning house last month, but called the need to put out other fires: the reality that children are often doomed to failing schools because of their ZIP codes.

Buckstein wrote:

Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker is a larger-than-life figure fighting for what he calls the “Most Important Civil Right of All–equal access to high quality education.”

On May 4th Booker gave an inspiring keynote address before the American Federation for Children, a national school choice organization. He said his strong support for school choice stems from the options he was afforded in his own life–options denied to millions of children because their ZIP codes determine what schools they must attend.

A Black Democrat himself, Booker made it clear he is disappointed that “his president” hasn’t yet joined him in supporting school choice for every family, not just for those he calls “the connected and elected.”

Friday, May 11, 2012

Battleground State: New Jersey

The Garden State has been in a long fight to bring school choice to its disadvantaged students.  And thanks to a broad coalition of supporters, advocates, and elected officials, the Garden State is in a position to enact the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA), a scholarship tax credit program for students from low-income families attending the state’s poorest-performing schools.

New Jersey Education

New Jersey has the highest per-pupil expenditure after New York, spending more than $17,000 per-pupil.    In math, only 51 percent New Jersey fourth graders are proficient.  Among African American students and Hispanic students only 24 percent and 28 percent are proficient respectively.  In reading, only 43 percent of students are proficient, with 25 percent of African American students and 25 percent of Hispanic students performing at grade level.

The Major Players

Governor Chris Christie (R)

The Republican Governor has called for the New Jersey General Assembly to pass school choice legislation before the current session ends in fewer than 50 days.  Governor Christie not only has made the OSA the centerpiece of his education reform package, but he’s advocating for children every day.  Last week, he spoke at the American Federation for Children’s National Policy Summit where he told the crowd that he’s ready for fight for this legislation.  And earlier this year, he called for the resignation of Vincent Giordano, executive director of the New Jersey Education Association for saying life’s not fair to low-income families that are looking to escape failing public schools.

Mayor Cory Booker (D)

This elected official not only rescues neighbors from burning homes, but he calls for children to have access to a great education, no matter the delivery system.  Mayor Booker also keynoted the American Federation for Children’s National Policy Summit, where he spoke about patriotism and the need to provide more for our children.   In fact, he asked how people can be against school choice when they themselves are not willing to send their kids to poor-performing schools.  Known as America’s mayor, we’re happy that Mayor Booker is on the side of children.

Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D)

This newly elected member of the New Jersey Assembly not only supports the OSA, but is speaking out in support of this legislation.  Assemblyman Singleton wrote,

“The OSA, as well as other strategic programs that are intended to enhance the educational opportunities of our children, is the answer. In approving the OSA, we must step outside of our preconceived notions and work toward our common goal of providing the best education for our children who are falling through the cracks year after year.”

Assemblyman Angel Fuentes (D)

A rising star in the General Assembly, Assemblyman Fuentes is not only an outspoken member of the legislature, but has a strong commitment to improving educational outcomes in the Hispanic community.  In fact, Assemblyman Fuentes is a prime cosponsor of the OSA.

Senator Raymond Lesniak (D)

Senator Lesniak has shown his support for New Jersey’s most disadvantaged students via outspoken support for the Opportunity Scholarship Act.  His leadership in the Senate has helped increase bipartisan support for school choice legislation.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Celebrating the EITC (And We’re NOT Talking About the Tax Code...)

If you happened to be in Harrisburg yesterday you might have come across a big birthday celebration.  And while turning 11 might not be an anchor year for many of us, for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC), turning 11 years of age is not only an important milestone, but the program’s supporters used the occasion to call for expanded school choice options in the Keystone State.

Organized by the REACH Foundation, the celebration included appearances by Senators Jeff Piccola (R) and Tony Williams (D), two leaders in the Senate fighting for more education options in the Keystone State.  This bipartisan duo led the fight last year to enact Senate Bill 1, which would create the state’s first voucher program serving students from low-income families that attend persistently failing school districts.  The bill, which passed the Senate last year, but failed in the House, would also expand the EITC program.  And the legislation is still being considered this year.  In fact, the dozen elected officials that attended the celebration, called for expanding educational options in Pennsylvania.

The EITC is a corporate scholarship tax credit program that was enacted in 2001.  In the 2011-12 school year, more than 40,000 students participated in the program.

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

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Public School District Opts In, then Opts Out of Expanded Louisiana Voucher Program

Just as week ago, School Choice Now! told the inspiring story of a public school district thatdecided to open its doors to help students from low-income families attending failing schools by participating in the newly-expanded Students Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program. 

But today, The Advocate today reported that the school district no longer plans to participate in the program. 

On April 26, the School Board voted to accept 30 voucher students entering kindergarten and first grade.  It wouldn't have been the first time the Zachary School District had done something like this -- they have a history of supporting students from around the state.  After Hurricane Katrina, the school district opened its doors to 300 students displaced by the aftermath of the storm.  This was a profound move on behalf of the district, considering that Zachary is the state’s top-performing school district for seven years and is the only A-rated district in the state.

“When it’s all said and done, it will cost more money, but we thought, after the example we had set with (Hurricane) Katrina with adding 300 kids and not losing the quality of education, that we could lend a hand, even to a small degree,” Zachary Superintendent Warren Drake said. “But, the bottom line is we work for the people of Zachary, and they were concerned about the cost.”

But the costs to participate in the voucher program are low.  The arrangement would have added only one student in each kindergarten and first-grade class.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Were you unable to attend our 2012 National Policy Summit?

If so, then you missed an amazing event...but you're not entirely out of luck!

We documented all the highlights of our 2012 Summit, and we want to make sure we share them with you.

At our YouTube page, you'll find links to each of our keynote addresses from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and author/commentator Juan Williams.

We also paid tribute to the late John T. Walton, the namesake for the Alliance for School Choice's annual Champions for School Choice Award, shined a light on the demand for educational options in New Jersey, and reminded folks that Parents Know Best.

There was one more video we showed at our Summit, but instead of telling you about it, we thought it'd be best to take a look yourself. Let's just say that the Summit wasn't themed "Breakthrough Victories for Children" for nothing.

We hope you enjoy!

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

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Public Schools Take Part in Helping Voucher Students

In the 2012-13 school year, hundreds of thousands of Louisiana families will have real educational options thanks to the statewide expansion of the program that Governor Bobby Jindal signed into law in April.    Students from low-income families that attend schools rated “C,” “D,” or “F” will be able to attend the school of their parents’ choice. 

The expanded voucher program, known as the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program, is about providing real educational options to families, since no student should be stuck in a chronically poor-performing school.

But the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence is not just about private schools; it’s about going to great schools—public or private.

The Advocate reported that the Zachary Community School District—an A-rated district—will participate in the expanded program, providing 30 spots to voucher students.   In fact, Zachary is not only an A-rated district, it’s also the top performing district in the state for seven consecutive years.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Piccola Continues Fight for School Choice Before Leaving Office in PA

Pennsylvania Senator Jeffrey Piccola is finishing his last term as state senator, ending a 36-year career in the Pennsylvania legislature.  But before he leaves, he has some unfinished business to tackle: enacting more school choice in the Keystone State.

Speaking with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Piccola told the newspaper that he would like to see an expansion of the state’s scholarship tax credit program, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, and the enactment of a voucher program.

“We’ve provided all the roadmaps and legislative direction that I think the commonwealth needs to go,” Piccola told the paper. “It just needs [Governor Tom Corbett’s] administration and legislative leadership necessary to enact it.”

Last year, the Pennsylvania Senate passed Senate Bill 1, which passed the Senate by a 27-22 vote in October 2011, would provide vouchers to low-income students attending the bottom 5 percent of the state's worst performing school districts. Parents could use vouchers to send their children to private schools.  The measure also included an expansion of the EITC Program.

Keep reading to watch an interview where Piccola discusses his last few months in office.