Turning the Tide | September 2011
Posted on Friday September 30, 2011 | National
SEPTEMBER 30, 2011 – Welcome to the first fall edition of Turning the Tide! The leaves are beginning to change and temperatures are beginning to drop, but with fall legislative sessions starting back up, there’s a rise in prospects for expanding school choice in a number of states across the country. Work on existing legislation from earlier in the year continues, and we’ve even already seen the passage of an expansive plan at the committee level in the Midwest. Plus, students are settling back into school, and early indications are that those kids participating in school choice programs are off to a fast start. Want to learn more? We thought so! Read on!
September's Champion for School Choice
During his 13-year professional basketball career as well as his days as an integral part of the University of Michigan's captivating Fab Five in the early 1990s, Jalen Rose was known for leaving his heart out on the court. But now, four years after hanging up his jersey for good, Rose is devoting his heart to something else entirely: education reform. And while we here at TTT are big basketball fans, our hearts are set first and foremost on helping kids, too! That's why we're so excited to see all the great work Rose has done in the past four months. It all started in June, when we told you that Rose would be opening a charter school in his hometown of Detroit. Aimed at helping low-income kids in the Motor City, he spent the summer getting the building on the city's Northwest side ready for the 2011-12 school year. And as the calendar marched towards the fall, it became clear that Rose hadn't jumped into education reform on a whim—he had a deep-seeded belief in the power of education to transform the lives of children. Now, the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy is giving kids in one of the cities hit hardest by the current economic downturn a chance to explore new academic areas, learn how to work together in teams, and become leaders themselves. But Rose's goals in education reform go far beyond a single school. He's now working to bring more professional athletes into the education reform fold, and he even testified at the Michigan State Capitol earlier this month in support of school choice. His work in expanding educational options has even garnered support from former on-court rival Grant Hill. For a guy whose life changed on the day he was offered a scholarship to attend college, Rose recognizes the importance it can have in a young child's life. He knows the difficulties plaguing the city's public schools, and he's determined to save as many children from failure as possible. For an earnest desire to give back to his community, a belief in power education has to shape a life, and for using the platform he has to promote the best of causes, the American Federation for Children is proud to name former NBA star Jalen Rose as a Champion for School Choice.
Whose Side Are They On?
But while some folks are standing up for kids, elsewhere across the country, it’s kids who are being pushed around. In Arizona, just a few weeks into the launch of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) for children with special needs, a tandem of special interests are ganging up on families to protect their own self-interests. The Arizona Education Association and the Arizona School Boards Association are suing to revoke ESAs, which give parents unprecedented control over how money for their child’s education is used. More than 100 families have already signed up for the program. It’s one thing to oppose a policy—everyone is entitled to their opinion—but when that opposition begins to leave families confused and fearful about whether their child can continue in the school they chose, things have crossed a clearly-marked line. There’s almost a sad irony involved in watching two organizations that (rightly) spoke out forcefully against bullying earlier in the year, only to engage in that very tactic against the most defenseless of victims. Lawsuits should never trump the well-being of children, and to disrupt their environment months into the school year is only to set them up for failure. Do you agree? If so, sign our petition to let the special interests know that, once and for all, they need to Put Kids First!
Friendly Competition Bears Fruit for Public Schools
We here at TTT are no math whizzes, but we know one thing: there are more to some numbers than meet the eye. That is to say, the number of students involved in a school choice program is not indicative of how many students are being positively impacted by its existence. Take, for example, the newly-created program in Racine, Wisconsin, based on the highly-successful Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. Even with a cap of just 250 students (already reached in this, its first year of existence), the Racine program is poised to benefit thousands more. Why? The Racine Unified school system is already creating a committee to improve its system in order to retain students; something it admits is a direct response to the voucher program. We’ve known for some time that competition improves the performance public schools, but this is a great example of the public school system being transparent about the fact that competition is the reason. And with much bigger programs in states all around the country, other public school systems will be looking to Racine to see how it attempts to make improvements to keep kids. The beauty of it is that while there are still limited school choice options for some families, school choice helps raise all educational boats.
Kicking the Tires and Lighting the Fires
As mentioned earlier, the Ohio House Education Committee passed House Bill 136 last week, though there’s no word on when the full body will consider the bill. But what we do know is this: after some summer sun to assess our progress and look back on all the successes of the first half of the year, legislators have not returned to their respective state capitals restrained by any lingering summer lethargy. The debate in Ohio has already begun in earnest, but the Buckeye State isn’t the only one where lawmakers are back at it trying to pass school choice legislation. Foremost among them is Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett—who was a keynote speaker at our annual 2nd annual National Policy Summit back in May—has called getting a school choice bill passed his “number one” priority for the fall legislative session. And we hope he’s right, because Pennsylvania has one of the more promising opportunities to pass school choice legislation; it has significant bipartisan support in the legislature and in leadership positions, a strong cast of local allies who are able to fuel grassroots support for the cause, as well as a governor who has been outspoken recently about the need to get something done before the year ends. We here at TTT call on lawmakers to move swiftly and pass legislation to create a statewide voucher program for low-income kids and expand the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. Low-income kids in Pennsylvania need help—right now!
Studying Up on School Choice
We started off our month with some good news (and no, we’re not talking about the return of Dancing With the Stars!) out of Florida. A new study from a respected researcher at the University of Florida and Northwestern found that students benefiting from the state’s school choice programs are making stronger gains than their comparatively disadvantaged counterparts in Florida public schools. Our friends at Step Up For Students gave a great analysis (PDF) on the big takeaways, and we blogged about our initial thoughts when the release came out. But we’ve talked much in the past about how school choice leads to better academic outcomes for kids—that’s not new. What’s interesting is what the study does to combat a frequent criticism of school choice from uninformed opponents. Anti-school choice rhetoric often includes the accusation that school choice programs are “cherry picking” the best kids from traditional public schools to unfairly and artificially inflate their academic successes. The reality, however, couldn’t be farther from the truth. It turns out that Florida school choice programs are making gains despite the fact that “scholarship participants tend to be considerably more disadvantaged and lower-performing upon entering the program than their non-participating counterparts.” That’s right—school choice increases achievement faster among children that are farther behind. That should give opponents something to chew on!
School’s In—And Not Just for Kids!
We traveled to Atlanta, and then to Baton Rouge, and in about a week’s time, we’ll be in Milwaukee for our third Campaign Training School! Any attendees at our first two schools know how valuable they can be, and we don’t plan to make our Wisconsin go-round any different. That’s why you should join us on October 7 for all the ins and outs about how to bring education reform and school choice to your own campaign—or, if not your own, to a campaign near you! And we’ve already got our location for the following month lined up too—on November 11 (Happy Veteran’s Day!), we’ll be in Columbus, Ohio. And if you think the Midwest is getting all the love, worry not; we’ll be back in Atlanta before the year is over, so keep your eyes peeled for information related to upcoming dates, times, and locations. Our Wisconsin lineup of speakers and presenters is set, and you should definitely trust us when we say you will not be disappointed. Come on, has TTT ever let you down? (Wait, don’t answer that…) Our resident campaign school guru, Adam Rogalski (firstname.lastname@example.org), is the man you should contact for more information, or if you’d like to attend one of our schools.
Just the Facts
A reminder to everyone out there looking for short, to-the-point primers on all aspects of school choice: download our fact sheets! You can find the full slate of them here, a place that we hope will become a valuable resource for you in spreading the word about why school choice works, how it saves money, and why it’s so important that we continue to fight for it. We have information specific to voucher programs, scholarship tax credit programs, as well as special needs programs. You can find down-to-the-student numbers on how many participants there were last year, as well as put this year’s substantial growth into perspective. We think they’ll be as useful to you as they’ve been to us, so be sure to take a look, spread the word, and download our fact sheets today!
We’ve reached the end of another month, and if you’re still reading this, you’ve reached the end of another edition of Turning the Tide! Stay plugged in throughout the month by visiting our website, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube pages (links below), as well as our blog, at http://federationforchildren.blogspot.com. Until next time, have a great October!
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