Being The Change | August 2011

August 31, 2011 –Greetings from Being The Change, the monthly newsletter of the Alliance for School Choice! With students signed up, supplies gathered, and children across the country getting ready for the 2011-12 school year, we at the Alliance want to make sure you’re ready for the back to school rush, too!  This school year begins with a brand-new school choice landscape featuring many new programs and expansions, and it’s also important to keep in mind that states will also be considering expanding and creating new programs as the end of the year nears. But before we jump too far ahead and start talking about fall, we’ll try to catch you up on what’s gone on during the Dog Days of summer!

It’s August, so Stop What You’re Doing And…

…read our useful fact sheets! In the midst of back to school fever and a renewed conversation about the best reform measures, they’re one of the best resources out there when it comes to knowing exactly why school choice programs so effectively serve the students who take advantage of them. Opponents frequently claim that school choice programs don’t work, but we have the evidence that proves otherwise. Our fact sheet on academic achievement in school choice programs examines the gains made by students as a result of choice, as well as the overwhelming level of parent satisfaction for those enrolled in the programs. Not to mention the data that shows improvement among public schools in areas where school choice exists, something that makes clear that choice does not hurt public schools—in fact, it raises all educational boats in the communities where the most choice is present. And while student achievement matters most, there are other reasons to get behind the movement—some that are especially salient nowadays. In the midst of a struggling economy, school choice programs provide the added benefit of saving states significant amounts of money. All across the country, governors are struggling to figure out how to close huge budget gaps, and for many of them, part of the solution exists in school choice. You can consult our fact sheet on how school choice affects state budgets to learn more. But for skeptics, this talk of savings likely begs an additional question: how exactly are these programs saving money (especially if they’re resulting in higher levels of achievement)? That answer lies in our twin fact sheets that dive into how soundly-constructed voucher and scholarship tax credit plans, respectively, can help the bottom line. Check them out here andhere. You can also consult the one stop shop to find all of this literature—as well as loads more back to school info—at the American Federation for Children’s Back to School page.

Choice Quotes

This month featured debate over litigation to block school choice, more and more people touting the progress and growth of programs on the national stage, and a high-minded response to a pretty lowlife move by some protesters. And people say August is supposed to be one of the more uneventful months!

“The General Assembly is constitutionally empowered to promote education by ‘all suitable means’ and the current preliminary ruling supports the choice of thousands of families to select the education option that is best for their child. As this matter progresses, I remain confident that the Choice Scholarship Program is on sound constitutional footing.” – Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma (R), speaking on August 15 in response to a judge’s ruling that halted a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s new voucher program. The temporary injunction means that students who have enrolled in the program for this school year will still get to attend their schools with Choice Scholarships.

“More threatening to the status quo are scholarship programs that allow parents to choose private schools for their children…Although scholarship programs like federal Pell Grants, the G.I. Bill and similar state programs are common at the postsecondary level, so far similar programs have rarely been enacted for K-12 education, where monopolistic public-school systems are the norm.” – Richard Komer, a senior attorney at theInstitute for Justice, writing on August 29 in a Wall Street Journalarticle discussing the long-term strength of school choice.

“People ought to start acting like adults. You’ve got little kidwho have no clue what you’re even talking about, and you make something political when it isn’t; that’s just flat-out wrong.” – Br. Bob Smith, president of Messmer Catholic Schools in Milwaukee,speaking on August 26 in response to an incident in which protesters super glued shut the doors of a school planning to welcome Gov. Scott Walker. (Read more about the incident in one of the sections below.)

What Does Your School Mean to You?

That’s the question we’re asking students enrolled in one of the country’s most successful programs, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) in the nation’s capital! Specifically, we’ve launched an essay and poster contest where we want to find out why OSP students love their school and the scholarship program. Entries can take place in the form of an essay of no more than 450 words or a poster that visually conveys the answer. to read all the details and to enter the contest. Oh, what’s that? You want to know about the prize? Well, there are actually 27 of them. That’s right, 27 prizes in all. We here at BTC are trying to think of a reason not to enter, and the only things we can come up with is if you don’t like winning things or telling great stories. But unless those descriptions apply to you (or, of course, if you’re not a D.C. OSP participant), what are you waiting for? And if you’re a parent or another stakeholder, spread the word to make sure as many kids as possible get a chance to inspire others with their stories. (And we’re sure they won’t think our prizes are too shabby, either!)

A Day of Glue(m) in Milwaukee

There are countless people on both sides of the school choice debate who genuinely want what’s best for children (there’s just a disagreement as to how to achieve that goal). Most of the discourse surrounding the issue is civil and respectable. But sometimes, folks go so far off the rails that we seriously ask questions as to whether they care at all about the kids they’re affecting. And unfortunately for students in Wisconsin, we had many of those questions to ask last week. Not only did protesters disrupt classes and distract students as Gov. Scott Walker arrived at a Milwaukee school to read to kids, but hours earlier, they super glued the front doors of Messmer Preparatory Academy shut. Yes, you read that right—they glued the doors shut. Forget the awful message this sends to kids about how to engage civilly in the political process, but what about the safety issues? What if the kids would have had to leave the school quickly? There are so many reasons that this was “flat-out wrong,” as Brother Bob Smith, president of Messmer Catholic Schools, said on the day of the protest (you can see a full quote from Smith in our “Choice Quotes” section above), but as they say, seeing is believing. Watch below to really get an idea of what happened (many thanks to the MacIver Institute for the video)

Symbiotic Scenarios for School Choice

While thousands of children and families are benefiting from enrollment in school choice programs this year, they’re not the only ones who stand to gain—the schools themselves do, too. One need only look at how the infusion of choice in Indiana and Ohio has helped schools to see the symbiotic nature of these relationships in action. In the Hoosier State, schools with enrollment struggles that were on the brink of closure just two years ago are thriving as a result of increased enrollment thanks to the state’s Choice Scholarship Program. And the state’s public schools stand to benefit, too, as articulated by Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. And in Ohio, an extension of the enrollment period for the state’s EdChoice voucher program has helped numerous schools, a large proportion of which are located in Cincinnati—a city home to a significant population of low-income families (more than one out of every five people is below the poverty line). But now, thanks to increased private school enrollment, many of those families will send their children to high-achieving schools that are more likely to grow to help even more kids in the future. Take a look at a news report from Cincinnati’s WCPO News to learn more:

Student Spotlight for August: Meleik Lunsford

One of thousands of parents who has watched her child struggle in Pittsburgh Public Schools in recent years, Meleik Lunsford’s mother, Neika Williams, decided after Lunsford’s last year of middle school that he needed a change. Four years later, Lunsford is prospering at Urban Pathways charter school, where he is a part of an environment that focuses on engaging and motivating students. Although Williams says that it was initially a gamble to take her son out of the city’s traditional public school system, she has no regrets about the decision today, thanks in large part to the strides her son has taken and the environment provided by the kids around him. “It’s just so much different,” Williams tells the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. At her son’s old schools, she says, “kids are running around cussing each other out.” Meleik’s mother says she is also more pleased with the nature of communication between her and Meleik’s teachers, who she says are especially passionate about their jobs. And there may soon be more opportunities for even more turnarounds like those Meleik has made. Legislators are currently discussing a proposed expansion to the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, as well as the creation of a brand-new voucher program for low-income families.  We can look to kids like Meleik to see just how meaningful choice in education can be, and an inspiration for providing parents with all options for their kids.

We appreciate you reading Being The Change and working to help kids prosper, and we can’t wait to talk with you again at the end of September. Have a great month!