Turning the Tide | April 2011
Posted on Thursday April 28, 2011 | National
APRIL 28, 2011 - Welcome to the April edition of Turning the Tide, our monthly newsletter examining school choice programs across the country. We’re busy gearing up for our second annual National Policy Summit next month. Since you last heard from us, a number of exciting developments have taken place that are poised to offer thousands of children the chance at better educational opportunities. What exactly has been going on, and where? We’re glad you asked! Find out all the details below.
In politics, it’s easy for many to follow the crowd. Especially in a body as large as the U.S. House of Representatives, it’s typical to see our elected leaders forego difficult votes and instead obey the wishes of the party leadership. But U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski, who represents Chicago’s South Side, isn’t your typical politician. The Illinois Democrat holds the distinction of being the only member of his party in the House to vote in favor of the SOAR Act—the measure to reauthorize the highly-successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program—when it came before the U.S. House late last month. Despite public opposition to the plan from both his party’s leader in the House and the president, Lipinski cast a vote that had less to do with politics and much more to do with what was best for the schoolchildren of the District of Columbia. And when the measure passed and Lipinski saw the faces of the children and families that were getting a chance at a better future, he called it one of the warmest receptions he’d ever received for any vote during his entire political career. For his courageous vote in the face of intense political pressures, his ability to see past traditional and often antiquated party breakdowns, for his unwavering support for low-income kids, and for mirroring the bipartisan cooperation that has become a hallmark of state school choice advocacy, the American Federation for Children is proud to name U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski as a Champion of School Choice.
Indiana Joins the Party!
Hoosier families are riding high these days, as they’re celebrating yesterday's passage of landmark school voucher legislation. A new plan creating a Choice Scholarships voucher program and expanding the state’s existing scholarship tax credit program has passed both houses of the state legislature, meaning that the school choice options available to Hoosier families will grow extensively beginning next school year. We told you last month about the tremendous leadership role that Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels played in making school choice a focal point of the legislative session, and now all that awaits is his signature on the bill before the state ushers in the most expansive voucher program in the country. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t also recognize the work of House Speaker Brian Bosma, Rep. Robert Behning, and David Long, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. The three of them shepherded House Bill 1003 through the legislature and garnered support for the plan in the midst of a highly politicized time in the state. The victory also wouldn’t have been possible without State Superintendent Tony Bennett, Fred Klipsch and the great folks at School Choice Indiana, and the Indianapolis-based Foundation for Educational Choice.
Victory at Last!
It took perseverance, lots of sweat, tears, years of hard work, countless setbacks, and a House Speaker willing to make it his priority, but, on April 15, we were able to say what we haven’t been able to say in over two years: school choice is back in the nation’s capital. With the passage of a historic budget deal, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program was restored and expanded for five years, utilizing a unique federal three-sector approach to education reform that will also provide additional funds for the District’s traditional public schools and public charter schools over that same period. Thousands of low-income families in D.C. will now regain access to high-achieving schools, and all of the city’s schoolchildren will benefit as a result. We here at TTT think it’s rare to find a program that truly benefits everyone involved, but, if there exists one, this is it. We, along with our local allies, thank Speaker John Boehner, Senator Joe Lieberman and the rest of the members of Congress who fought so hard to bring back the program. The families of D.C. thank you, too!
Sounds of the Summit
With all this positive school choice news going on, where is the movement heading? Timing has never been our strong suit here at TTT, but we think there’s no better time than now to consider registering for the American Federation for Children’s 2011 National Policy Summit, taking place Monday, May 9, and Tuesday, May 10, in Washington, D.C. At School Choice Now: Empowering America’s Children, the leading education reformers from across the nation will be gathering to discuss how to best provide educational opportunities to the children who need them most. The voices that will be present at the summit include Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, well-known pollster Dr. Frank Luntz, and former D.C. Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, along with numerous Democratic and Republican state legislative leaders. Get all the details here, and keep in mind that there are even more prominent names joining us that we’ve yet to announce. Stay tuned to www.FederationForChildren.org for the latest, and be sure to register today – space is almost full!
A New Frontier in School Choice
Out West, residents of Arizona are used to being pioneers, and they’re certainly paving the way for a new frontier in school choice with the introduction of education savings accounts. A recently-signed piece of legislation gives parents of special needs children unprecedented engagement in shaping the educational future of their children. The bill creates Empowerment Scholarship Accounts for parents; funds in those accounts can be used for tuition, tutoring, and even a child’s college education. It’s a watershed victory for special needs students in Arizona that can help them throughout their entire educational lifetime, and—we hope—will serve as a potential model for other states to adopt. In addition, Arizona is on the cusp of expanding its existing scholarship tax credit programs after Governor Jan Brewer initially vetoed legislation to accomplish that goal. We’re hopeful that this time, the governor makes the right decision. If she does, it’s kids who will benefit!
Forging Their Own Path
Colorado might be landlocked, but when it comes to education, one Centennial State district is venturing boldly into uncharted waters. While most school choice programs require legislative action to take shape, the Douglas County school board last month approved a pilot program that would make as many as 500 students from the suburban Denver district eligible for vouchers to attend private schools of their parents’ choosing. Though it’s one of the state’s highest performing school districts, the development is notable because it could set a precedent for individual school boards to institute their own school choice programs, breaking away from being tied to the whims of the politics of state legislatures. Interestingly, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten recently named Douglas County when asked which school districts across the country are models for others to follow. We’re not insinuating anything, but it’s worth noting…
Choice in Action
It’s easy for some to get caught up in the politics and legislative battles about school choice and forget why we’re doing all of this in the first place: because of the kids. With that in mind, we’re using our growing presence in the social media sphere to highlight the success stories of kids who are benefitting from school choice. Click here or click the link on the left side of our Facebook page to read the stories of kids whose lives have changed as a result of educational opportunities, and to find out how you can contribute to changing the lives of other kids like them. Check back periodically, as we’ll be highlighting the stories of more children as time goes by.
Thanks so much for reading this edition of Turning the Tide! We appreciate your continued engagement in the fight to bring educational options to kids around the country. We’ll see you next month, and, in the meantime, remember to visit www.FederationForChildren.org for the latest on the battle for school choice!
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!
Copyright © 2011
American Federation for Children