Turning the Tide | March 2011
Posted on Wednesday March 23, 2011 | National
MARCH 23, 2011 - Welcome to the March edition of Turning the Tide, the monthly newsletter that keeps you in the know on all things related to the ongoing battle to bring educational options to all children. With spring right around the corner, we’re poised to see a number of school choice programs bloom in state legislatures across the country. Which states are poised for the most growth? Find out below.
March's Champion for School Choice
When Gov. Mitch Daniels saw some lawmakers flee Indiana following their opposition to a host of measures on tap to be debated this session, Daniels did what we here at Turning the Tide wish more elected officials would do—he put kids first. In the spirit of compromise, Daniels asked his fellow Republicans in the State House to table the most controversial bills, so that the really important measures—namely, a House Bill that would establish a scholarship program for low- and middle-income families—could be heard. But when MIA lawmakers changed their tune and said they now opposed the voucher bill, Daniels stood firm, saying that while he was open to taking some proposals off the table, he remains committed to the school choice plan. Now, proponents of the status quo are being asked by their constituents why they’re sitting on the sidelines while many Hoosier students continue to struggle in failing schools. For his outstanding support of educational opportunity, his willingness to work with both sides to find common ground, and—most importantly—his unwavering commitment to putting kids first, the American Federation for Children is proud to name Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels as a Champion of School Choice.
School Choice Mardi Gras
It's an annual tradition in New Orleans, an event that residents get really excited about, the crowds are big, and the news media shows up. We're not talking about Mardi Gras, but something a lot more…wholesome. It's scholarship enrollment time in New Orleans, and parents once again lined up to enroll their children in the highly-effective Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence (SSEE) Program. A record number of parents enrolled—or re-enrolled—their children in the voucher program this year, with organizers anticipating that applications may top 2,100, increasing pressure to expand the program. Meanwhile, Governor Bobby Jindal is leading the fight to expand the program by proposing a 15 percent increase in funding for SSEE, and the Louisiana Federation for Children is gearing up to support that expansion. Check out www.Louisiana4Children.org for more details.
The Big Question in Ohio
In the Buckeye State, the question of the day seems to be: just how much will school choice grow this year? That's a far cry from the questions we were asking during the days of former Gov. Ted Strickland—who led the fight against school choice prior to being defeated last fall—when we wondered: will school choice survive this year? Governor John Kasich has proposed doubling the size of Ohio’s voucher program, the Educational Choice Scholarship (EdChoice) and lifting the cap on charter schools, while legislation from Rep. Matt Huffman would expand the number of low- and middle-income families eligible for scholarships and open up the number of schools eligible to accept scholarships.
Educational Opportunities in D.C. Poised to SOAR Once Again!
What a difference two years makes! In 2009, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) was left for dead after Congress and the President closed down the program to new students. Fast forward to this month, and the new Congress seems to finally be listening to what D.C. residents, local leaders, parents, and students have been saying for seven years—vouchers are working in the nation's capital. Earlier this month, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform passed the bill to reauthorize the OSP onto the full House, where it’s slated to receive a vote before the end of the month. If passed, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act would then be considered by the Senate, where bipartisan support has us optimistic about its chances of reaching the President’s desk. Soon enough, we’ll find out if it gets there, and if it does, we’re hopeful that this time, the President will do the right thing. After all, 74 percent of city residents, along with strong support from City Council members—including the Chairman—countless local education reformers, and the students whose lives have changed all want school choice brought back to D.C. How can anyone say no to that?
Keystone State Clash on Senate Bill 1
Tell us if you’ve heard this before. In February, we told you about Senate Bill 1, Pennsylvania’s proposed voucher program that had the wind of bipartisan support and priority status at its back. Now, a month later, it has been voted out of the Senate Education Committee—again with bipartisan support—and awaits a vote from the Senate Appropriations Committee. As the bill makes its way toward a vote of a full chamber, opponents are doing their best to discredit everything about the scholarship plan, from its constitutionality, whether it will help students, and how much it will cost the state. Our allies have stepped up to reveal the facts of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, however. The astute legal minds at the Institute for Justice have unequivocally made clear that the senate bill is constitutional, State Senator and bill cosponsor Anthony H. Williams has made the case for how vouchers will provide innovation and opportunity to Pennsylvania students, and informed residents are letting their peers know how much money the plan will save the cost-strapped state. By any measure and for every reason, it’s clear that Senate Bill 1 is the right thing to do for Pennsylvania families!
Hoosier Priority: Politics or kids?
As we mentioned, there’s a school choice plan currently stalled in the Indiana Legislature, despite the best efforts of Gov. Mitch Daniels and many state lawmakers to move it forward. But Hoosiers are not sitting idly by waiting for the slow-moving political process—they’re taking action to influence the debate. Folks at School Choice Indiana are letting Indiana residents know that the time to build upon the state’s single existing school choice program is now, and the state is also poised to expand on its growing number of charter school options. In many ways, the fight there mirrors the fight in Pennsylvania, with critics falling back on the same old tired arguments in their attempts to maintain the status quo. But both states have governors willing to put political clout behind the issue, strong-willed legislators who are willing to do what’s right for kids, and strong state coalitions in place that won’t stop until they’ve given all children the right they deserve to pursue a quality education. Oh, and a message for those legislators that thought it was okay to leave the state to avoid a vote on the voucher proposal: it’s time to stop thinking about politics and start thinking about kids. You all have school choice; why is it good enough for you, but not good enough for other families across Indiana?
The Oldest Grows Stronger
The stalemate in Wisconsin has (mostly) come to an end, and now state leaders will turn their attention to, we hope, the future of school choice in the Badger State. In the midst of the clash between unions and state officials, what went largely unnoticed was a plan by Gov. Scott Walker to expand the country’s longest-running school choice program, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. Walker’s proposal would open the program up to a larger population of Milwaukee families and extend it to other corners of the city and state. The governor also committed to expanding virtual and charter schools. We understand that tensions and emotions ran high during the collective bargaining debate, but now it’s time for legislators to focus on helping children and families and start getting things done. (That goes for you too, Indiana!)
Keep in Touch!
The American Federation for Children's annual National Policy Summit will be taking place May 9-10, 2011 in Washington, D.C. To learn more or to register for the event, click here. Also be sure to visit www.federationforchildren.org for updates on school choice news, and follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/schoolchoicenow and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/schoolchoicenow. Nearly 20,000 people have already joined up with us in the realm of social media—stay connected today!
Until next month, best wishes and thanks for your support of the American Federation for Children. We're glad you're in this battle with us—this fight to give kids hope!
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American Federation for Children