Friday, November 30, 2012

Is Tony Bennett Headed to Florida?

Education reformers are still disappointed with Tony Bennett's loss earlier this month in his re-election bid for superintendent of public instruction in Indiana; now speculation has begun on his next gig.

The rumor?

Tony Bennett is headed to Florida to be the next education commissioner.

According to Education Week, Bennett has said that this reelection campaign would be his last run for elected office, but…

Bennett reportedly wants to work on education issues and hasn’t ruled out government jobs—including as state superintendent of another state.  And he’s had some discussions about such opportunities.

"I've said many times, I have an addiction," Bennett said. "It's called driving ed reform policy. It's my drug of choice."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Day 2: The Louisiana Trial

As the second day of trial continues, make sure to read the latest update from the Institute for Justice at the Louisiana Federation for Children’s blog, and also be sure to follow LFC on Twitter!

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

Strong Push for Accountability in Arizona School Choice Program

When Arizona enacted the nation’s first-ever education savings account program in 2011, parents and advocates celebrated another educational choice option for parents of children with special learning needs.

Now that the program has been greatly expanded this year to include children in failing public schools, children of military personnel, and children who are or have been in foster care—that’s an increase of hundreds of thousands of students students in the state who are eligible to participate in the program—both the state legislatures and other educational choice advocates are working to increase accountability measures in the program.

Under the original law, the program met two of eight accountability checks. The Alliance for School Choice measures the level of accountability in programs, and the program originally qualified in the following areas:

  • Administrative: schools who accept a student using an ESA account must not discriminate
  • Financial: allow the state to conduct annual audits via a random sample
 The Arizona Department of Education and the Goldwater Institute are working to increase accountability measures in the program—a positive step forward for the program.

The Goldwater Institute is pushing for legislation that would allow the Department of Education to conduct random quarterly and yearly reviews of accounts, establishing online and hotline fraud reporting services, and establishing a surety bond or insurance for account holders.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Louisiana Voucher Trial Starts Today

The trial to determine the constitutionality of Louisiana’s statewide Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program started today.  Make sure you check in with our friends at the Louisiana Federation for Children for all the latest updates from inside the courtroom.

They're not only blogging about all the happenings of the trial, but we got a few photos from a rally that took place outside the courthouse this morning. Take a look below to see some of the students, parents, media members, and our senior advisor, Kevin P. Chavous, all of whom were on hand this morning.

Another Legal Victory in Support of Educational Choice

Families on Oklahoma are breathing a huge sigh of relief and celebrating a legal victory that upholds Oklahoma’s voucher program designed for children with special needs. In a landslide victory—the high court ruled 7-2—the court said that two school districts could not sue parents participating in the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program. 

The program—passed with bipartisan support in 2010 and signed into law by former Democratic Governor Brad Henry—now serves more than 150 students with special needs.  One of the students whose lives have changed thanks to this program is Ian Buckley:

Ian Buckley attended public school through the third grade with an Individualized Education Program.

With a learning disability and a sensory integration disability, Ian struggled socially in school. Many afternoons, when he was picked up from school, he was upset. Ian did not fit into any peer group at his school.

In July 2010, Ian’s family applied for the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program. With the scholarship, Ian switched to Town and Country School, a private school for children with special needs.

“Socially, he’s a lot more sure of himself now,” said Gerald, Ian’s father. “It’s a great learning environment, and [Ian is] a lot more receptive and is not afraid to ask questions.”

Ian, now in the fifth grade, is thriving at his new school.

“The scholarship made something really terrific feasible,” Gerald said. “The scholarship introduced Ian to the school that he’ll go to for the rest of his school life.”

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

Monday, November 26, 2012

Milwaukee Voucher Program Enrollment Hits New Record

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is reporting that a record-breaking number of students are participating this year in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. Nearly 25,000 students are attending the private school of their parents’ choice thanks to the nation’s longest running voucher program.

These enrollment numbers join a host of other school choice programs enrolling more students than ever before:

Make sure to look for the Alliance for School Choice's 2012-13 Yearbook, to be released in January, which will have all the latest data on each of the 32 publicly-funded private school choice programs around the country.

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

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks to Those Who Inspire

Kevin P. Chavous, our senior advisor, spent some time this week talking about a few education reforms in addition to educational choice.  In an editorial in Take Part, Kevin talks about an intangible factor we must consider when looking at teacher effectiveness—inspiration.

Here's an excerpt:

Don't get me wrong, I have long believed in tenure reform, performance pay, and many of the emerging criteria being used to better judge teacher effectiveness. But I also acknowledge and recognize that truly effective and great teachers can't be judged by these things alone. The best teachers inspire. Inspirational teachers are able to instill and nurture that quality in their students that remains the essence of the human spirit—the will to be better and the desire to do better.     

As we head into Thanksgiving, let’s remember some of the teachers that have inspired us and who today inspire our children.  As Kevin reminds us, there is no better time to thank the great teachers out there who inspire children everyday.

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: Indiana Voucher Program Participation Grows to 9,324

We told you a while back that that more than 9,000 Indiana students are participating in Indiana’s statewide voucher program during the 2012-13 school year, more than twice the number who enrolled in the program during its first year.

And now, the Indiana Department of Education announced last week that the exact number of students participating in the Choice Scholarship Program is 9,324 students—that’s an increase of more than 138 percent. The Indy Star notes that the Choice Scholarship Program is the fastest growing program in history.  And it’s not just enrollment that’s increasing: the number of participating schools increased from 241 last year to 289 schools in the 2012-13 school year.

Check back here throughout the next couple of weeks for more enrollment numbers from programs across the country.

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

The Powerful Voting Block: Latino Voters

At the conclusion of this year's election season, while there was much debate about why candidates won and lost, both parties essentially agreed that the Latino vote was critically important to the election—and will be so in future elections, too.

This year, 23.7 million Latinos were eligible to vote—an increase by more than 4 million since 2006.  As Christina Martinez and Julio Fuentes (the head of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options) write, this election resulted in historic numbers of Latino voters and Latino officials:  Latinos represent 11 percent of voters in 2012—up from 8.2 percent in 2004. And let's not forget that Latino officials serve in the state legislators of 36 states.

As candidates from both parties begin to heavily campaign to Latino voters in coming elections, they should keep in mind the sure place to win support: in education policy.

According to a poll commissioned by the American Federation for Children and HCREO in May 2012, Latino voters in five battleground states strongly support educational choice:

  • Ninety-one percent of Latinos—in five key states—Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Nevada—think voucher or scholarship tax credit programs should be available in some form.
  • A strong majority of Latinos also support specific types of educational options: 69 percent support voucher programs, 71 percent support scholarship tax credit programs, and 70 percent support education savings accounts.
  • An astonishing 80 percent of Latinos support special needs scholarship programs, which can be in the form of voucher programs, scholarship tax credit programs, and education savings account programs.
Latino voters have shown that they support educational options; they have also shown that they vote in large numbers.  Let’s hope elected officials notice and put strong support behind much-needed educational choice.

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

Monday, November 19, 2012

In The Root, Kevin P. Chavous Roots for Educational Choice

American Federation for Children Senior Advisor Kevin P. Chavous wrote today in The Root, the sister site to The Washington Postabout D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s initiative to close 20 poor-performing public schools why that means more educational choice is necessary in the nation's capital. In defending the decision and calling for more accountability, Kevin wrote:

For many young people, neighborhood public schools were the only gateway to economic empowerment. Today, however, the sad reality is that far too many of these historically significant public schools are not serving our kids well — and some need to be shut down. It’s tough, however, when people don’t know what they don’t know.

As a former member of the D.C. Council, Kevin has a lot to say on our K-12 education. Writing that “like it or not, accountability matters in K-12 education,” Kevin argues that we need more educational choice in the District, especially for those students attending poor-performing public schools:

But accountability in our schools is only one side of the large and expansive education-reform coin, one that must be coupled with educational choice to truly pay dividends for our children in the long run.

The educational choices in the District have been growing in recent years with charter schools and the reauthorization of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which allows District children to access a high-quality education today.

An Update from the Courts

A number of opponents of educational choice have taken to the courts to litigate the future of the programs benefiting low-income families across the country. Here's an update on where things stand nationwide:

Indiana: On Wednesday, the Indiana Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the Choice Scholarship Program that was enacted into law in 2012.  Twelve plaintiffs, including the newly-elected state superintendent of public education, have sued the state claiming the program in unconstitutional.  Marion Superior Judge Michael Keele rejected this claim earlier this year and ruled that the program is constitutional.  In the 2012-13 school year, more than 9,000 students are using a Choice Scholarship to attend the school of their parents’ choice. 

Louisiana: After the Louisiana state legislature—with strong bipartisan support—passed the statewide expansion of the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program statewide, the Louisiana Association of Educator sued to prevent the program from going forward. After a delay, the court date on the program is scheduled for November 28.

Oklahoma: In June, a Tulsa judge ruled the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program unconstitutional and there is no word on when the appeal will be heard, though Representative Jason Nelson predicts the program will be heard early next year.  In the 2012-13 school year, 188 students are participating in the program and three new schools are accepting voucher students.

Douglas County, Colorado: The Colorado State Court of Appeals is hearing oral arguments today on the constitutionality of the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program.  The lower court put an injunction on the program from moving forward after the program was created for students living in the Douglas County School District.

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

Educational Choice Prospects in Tennessee

Education reformers around the country have eyes on—and investments in—Tennessee being the next state to greatly expand educational choice.

Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Editorial Support: The editorial board of Memphis’ Commercial Appeal published an editorial in support of vouchers on Thursday, calling on both sides of the voucher debate to “stop and consider: What is best for kids?”  The editorial supports expanding educational choice in Tennessee through enacting a voucher program for children from low-income families:
When you think about the kids first, allowing public money to fund vouchers to any school, public or private, begins to make more sense.

Many issues must be resolved, but the basic notion of letting Memphis kids of all income brackets have a shot at the best education they can find, by using the money the state already has set aside to educate them, is an idea worth serious consideration

  • Political Spending: In the 2012 election cycle, education reform groups outspent the teachers unions in Tennessee legislative races, demonstrating a strong swing toward reform over the status quo.  The Tennessee Federation for Children PAC, a state-based affiliate of the American Federation for Children Action Fund spent nearly $250,000 supported Democrats and Republicans who stand for educational choice. They invested in independent expenditures in 18 general election races, emerging victorious in 15 of those races.
  • Bipartisan Support: The Tennessee Legislature has broad bipartisan support for enacting a voucher program, with strong leaders including Senator Brian Kelsey (R) and Representatives John DeBerry (D) and Tony Shipley (R).
  • Education Task Force: The Education Task Force set up by Governor Bill Haslam to study how a voucher program would work in Tennessee concluded this week with recommendations on options to establish a voucher program.  The report will be delivered to the Governor in two weeks.  While the Task Force has been mum on many details, the group did recommend that a voucher program should be designed for students from low-income families and that participating private schools must be held to high accountability standards.
- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MSG

An Accountability Update

In addition to the progress in 2012—with five new programs enacted and six existing programs strengthened—the educational choice movement has seen a significant increase in accountability standards in private school choice programs across the country.

Among the programs that have seen new accountability standards:

  • Louisiana’s Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program
    • Among other requirements, a participating school that receives a low Scholarship Cohort Index score cannot enroll additional scholarship recipients for the next school year. Scholarship students attending a participating school labeled failing will have first priority admission to attend another participating school the following year. 
  • Pennsylvania’s Educational Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit
    • The new scholarship tax credit program for students attending Pennsylvania’s worst performing public schools requires additional reporting and transparency measures for Scholarship Organizations, including reporting the number of scholarships awarded to students from low-income families.
  • Virginia’s Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits
    • The scholarship tax credit program created in 2012 requires participating private schools to measure annually scholarship students’ progress in reading and math with a national, norm-referenced achievement test and report those results to the state.  Beginning in the program’s third year, those results will be published on the Department of Education’s website.
 Check out the Alliance for School Choice’s 2012 Private School Choice Accountability Update for more information on accountability standards in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C.

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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What do you do when the blood, sweat and tears of your history clashes with the realities of today?

That’s what Kevin P. Chavous, our senior advisor, asked in piece published yesterday on  The Huffington Post.  Looking at how Brown v. Board of Education shaped our education system in the last 60 years, Kevin questions how the educational gap for students of different racial and economic backgrounds continue to plague our country.  In looking for a solution, Kevin writes:

We must ensure that integrated schools and integrated classrooms are available to all students no matter their race or their class, and we must also start embracing and learning from our differences. Folks, we can raise academic achievement across the board while celebrating, not demonizing, the rich diversity of cultures in this country. Integrated schools are a win-win for all students. But we are going to have to teach our kids, and adults for that matter, the importance of appreciating and learning from their peers from different backgrounds. For if we don't, it will be impossible for future generations to succeed in today's diverse society where collaboration is a necessity and separate but equal is no longer a viable alternative.

The Huffington Post isn’t the only place that Kevin has been writing this week.  In Sunday’s Washington Post, Kevin wrote an editorial on what President Obama’s second term will look like and the fate of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Kevin knows firsthand how the OSP has changed family’s lives. He was a supporter of the program as a member of the D.C. Council when the program was created in 2004. And he continues to support the program.

Student Enrollment in Charter Schools Continue to Rise

Little more than a week after voters in Georgia voted to greatly expand charter options in the state and voters in Washington voted to bring charter schools to the Evergreen State, our friends at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a new study showing even more great news for educational choice!

In the 2011-12 school year, the charter school enrollment grew 13 percent over the previous year, according to the report.  And a record number of school districts have at least 30 percent of students enrolled in public charter schools.  In New Orleans, 76 percent of students are in charter schools.  Paired with the statewide expansion of the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program and a new scholarship tax rebate program, the Pelican State continues to expand educational choice.

This trend toward educational choice can be seen across the nation.  Just consider this:

  • Voters overwhelmingly supported elected officials (both Republicans and Democrats) who support educational choice in state elections.  In fact, 83 percent of the candidates endorsed or supported by the American Federation for Children and the American Federation for Children Action Fund were elected.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

An Educational Choice Champion for Indiana’s Families: Tony Bennett

The education reform movement was saddened to learn Tuesday that Indiana State Superintendent of Public Education Tony Bennett lost his seat to challenger Glenda Ritz.

Bennett has gained widespread praise for his education reforms since being elected, which include revamping teacher evaluations, leading state take-overs of struggling public schools, and expanding educational options.  In that last category, Bennett has been hailed for expanding charter schools and leading efforts to create a statewide voucher program. That voucher program, the Choice Scholarship Program, enrolled nearly 4,000 students in the program’s first year and more than 9,000 students in the program’s second year.

Dr. Bennett has dedicated his life to improving the lives of children. Before becoming superintendent, he spent his career working as a teacher, coach, and assistant superintendent. He holds a bachelor's and a master's degree from Indiana University Southeast and received his Ed.D. and Superintendent's License from Spalding University.

Earlier this year, the Alliance for School Choice awarded Bennett its John T. Walton Champions for School Choice Award, which is given to a prominent leader in the school choice movement for groundbreaking and dedicated work for America’s children. 

The election loss is a sad moment for Indiana’s children, but thanks to a strong coalition of advocates and elected officials, we’re certain that educational options will continue to thrive in the Hoosier State. And no matter what Bennett does next, we know he'll be working to improve the lives of children.

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Victories for Educational Choice

Across the country, Democrats and Republicans who support expanding educational choices win elections

Voters in the 2012 elections sent a clear message: they were going to support candidates who stand for educational options and strong reforms.

The American Federation for Children and its affiliated organizations endorsed more than 180 candidates who won their elections.  But beyond the Federation’s election work, education reform played a strong role in this year’s elections.

Here are the highlights from the 2012 elections:

  • Georgia voters pass Amendment 1 to the state constitution, which will allow a key charter school authorizing committee to allow more charter schools to operate in the state.  Thanks to voters in Washington, the state became the 42nd state to allow charter schools, beginning the trend toward creating strong educational choice in the Evergreen State.
  • Indiana elected Mike Pence—a strong supporter of private school choice—to the Governorship.  While serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, Pence supported the only federally-funded voucher program for students in Washington, D.C.
  • In Florida, a strong bipartisan coalition was elected or reelected with a mandate to expand educational options, including Representatives Bruce Antone (D), Cary Pigman (R), and Katie Edwards (D) and Senators Darren Soto (D) and Kelli Stargel (R).

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

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Let’s Elect the Democrats and Republicans that Stand for Educational Choice

Don’t forget to vote today and elect the candidates that stand for children and educational choice. 

Join the millions of Americans who cast a strong “YES” vote for the officials that will support and enact strong, meaningful education reform.  From the local school board election to the presidential election, vote yes on educational choice.

And be sure to check out the list of candidates across the country who we're endorsing in today's elections!

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

Monday, November 5, 2012

On Election Day, Georgia to Move into National Spotlight

Voters in the swing states of Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Colorado—among others—may be reacting to the overwhelming coverage of the election much like little Abigael did.  Yet, voters in other states have hardly seen a political ad yet—and won’t likely before tomorrow’s election.  But the Peach State—which is considered solidly Republican in the presidential race—has had a lot of talk when it comes to the election.

On tomorrow’s ballot, Georgia voters will consider Amendment 1, which would set up a special charter school authorizing commission to approve charter schools at the state level.  The proposed constitutional amendment comes after the state Supreme Court ruled the Commission unconstitutional last year.

The Amendment has brought out a lot of voices both in support and against the Amendment:  The Georgia-state chapter of the Parent-Teachers Association is strongly opposed to the amendment, despite the national PTA being a strong supporter of charter schools, while Kyle Wingfield of the Atlantic Journal Constitution and school choice advocates support the proposed measure.

When Georgia residents go to the polls tomorrow, they should ask what will help students get a great education and expand educational choices.  And as the nation watches whether President Obama or Governor Romney reaches the magic 270, we’ll also be watching to see if Amendment 1 passes—as it should.

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