Being The Change | July 2011

July 29, 2011 –Welcome back to Being The Change, the monthly newsletter of the Alliance for School Choice! This is the time annually when we at the Alliance are busy doing some of the most important work we’ll do all year: getting parents information about how they can sign their children up for school choice programs. That’s especially important this year, with a new program in Indiana, huge expansions in Ohio and Wisconsin, and a reauthorized program in the nation’s capital. The number of new options is unprecedented, so there’s much to be done. Thankfully, we’re not doing this alone—we have amazing allies, help from state governments, and of course, you. Before we dive in this month, remember that you are often the best tool at informing your community about the options available to them.

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

…SPREAD THE WORD about new or expanded school choice programs! (What, you didn’t think we were going to talk all about it in the intro and leave you hanging, right?)  Know any Indiana residents? Let the Hoosiers out there know that their main school choice stop, which provides information on how to apply for the state’s brand-new voucher program as well as the existing scholarship tax credit program. Sponsored by the great folks at School Choice Indiana, it explains eligibility requirements, answers frequently asked questions, and much more. The application deadline in Indiana is September 6, but some schools have earlier registration deadlines, so remind folks to check! People in Milwaukee or Racine who want to apply for the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program have a set of rolling deadlines that are fast approaching, so they should visit this link to get all the details, as well as to contact officials for more information. In the Buckeye State, School Choice Ohio is the one-stop-shop for all things related to applying for any one of the state’sfour voucher programs (more than any other state!), including the brand-new Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program and the newly-expanded EdChoice Scholarship Program. Families should head here to get all the details, and should also be reminded that EdChoice’s expansion has resulted in a second application period. Parents have until August 15 to take advantage of it. Any application questions should be directed to us, and if we can’t answer them, we’ll at least know someone who can. Oh, and while we’re talking about applications, we can’t forget to tell you about the highly-successful event we cosponsored, along with theBlack Alliance for Educational Options, to sign families up for the reauthorized D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program earlier this month. More than 2,000 families applied in July alone, and kids like those in the photo above will be better off as a result.

Choice Quotes

Most schools take a break for the summer, but the debate surrounding how to improve those schools doesn’t stop for June, July, and August. This month the featured a final farewell from a great friend in the nation’s capital, an expression of urgency in the Northeast, and an explanation of what school choice expansion will mean in the Midwest.

“I understand that most of our children will always attend the public schools, but I also know and see that many of our urban public schools are failing our children. The past few weeks, we have given diplomas to thousands upon thousands of low-income and minority children, even though they don’t have an education.” – Rev. Reginald Jackson, the director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, writing on July 3 in The Newark Star-Ledger. Jackson was excoriating New Jersey lawmakers for ending their legislative session without a full vote on the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Act.

“In those two areas, it’s to take underperforming schools and take low- and middle-class families and give them another option, not only for the option at those choice schools, but what we’ve found over time is that it’s helped increase the performance of the Milwaukee schools in the past that were underperforming. It has helped bring them up as well; it has improved graduation rates, and ultimately I want to see more people graduate.” – Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, speaking toWKBT TV on July 21 about the reasoning behind the expansion of school choice in Milwaukee and nearby Racine.

“In the mid-1960s, I was among the more than 130 students picked to desegregate public high schools on a large scale in Little Rock. Our nation has made great strides in improving education for all children since then; but our work is far from finished. Success is not defined by waiting lists and lottery systems; success is providing all children with an education that will prepare them for a productive and fulfilling life.” – Virginia Walden Ford, the executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, writing on July 15 in The Washington Examiner. After more than 10 years fighting for school choice in D.C., she will be moving back to her hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas at the end of this month.

No Debt Doldrums Around Here

If you’re like most Americans, you’ve probably heard more than you can handle about the ongoing fight between the two parties in Washington, D.C. about raising the debt ceiling. We’re not going to weigh in on that here, but with all the talk of debts and deficits, revenues and spending, we here at BTC just wanted to let you all know that school choice is means big savings. We’ve done our homework and analyzed the results, and it’s clear: these programs saves states lots of money. Specifically, school voucher programs are great for states’ bottom lines, as are scholarship tax credit programs. And to see the benefit of these programs in action, click here for all the details. So if people are talking about ways we can do a better job of living in our means, let them know that not only does school choice help kids, but  it can help accomplish our fiscal goals, too. And here’s one fact that you can take to the bank: if we increase student graduation rates in our nation—which school choice programs do—America will see a $3 trillion increase in economic growth over the next decade.

Racine’s Race to Make the Case

We told you above about how parents can apply for the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program—which, thanks to its expansion to Racine, is now something of a misnomer. But a less-considered part of what states must deal with upon expanding their programs is the hoops through which schools must jump to make themselves eligible for the students actually receiving the vouchers. It’s the task that many Racine schools are facing right now, as a looming August 1 deadline stands between many institutions and their desire to serve a broader, more diverse set of children. And while expansions and reauthorizations have taken place in other states, only in Racine does the well have to be built from the ground up. But, administrators are persevering, and despite the “scramble”—as one administrator put it—they’ll do what it takes to make sure kids get the choices they deserve. Watch a recent news report from Wisconsin that details the challenge:

An “Experiment” in Education Reform

A number of prominent education reform movies made headlines last year, foremost among them being the hit Waiting for “Superman.” Throw in the charter schools-focused The Lotteryas well as 2009’s The Cartel, and you might think you’ve satisfied your ed reform movie fix. Not so fast! You’d be wise to check out an absolutely fascinating look at how education reform and options in New Orleans have changed the city in a post-Katrina landscape, in a film out by Ben Lemoine called The Experiment. It even features a couple of recognizable names to those of you who have been following the debate along with us here at the Alliance for some time now. Check out the to learn more and, if you’re in the New Orleans area, to find out about how you can attend a screening of the acclaimed film. Many of the aforementioned movies have served as a great way to engage the casual observer on the issue of school choice, and this film is no different. Watch the trailer by clicking below, and maybe—just maybe—you’ll be able to bring a few new friends into the school choice fold.

Student Spotlight for July: Blake Boesl

Blake’s family has always hoped for more opportunities than were provided to them with their local public school. You see, Blake is autistic, and while that hasn’t impaired his intelligence, his ability to learn visually, or his photographic memory, it has made keeping up academically in the school environment difficult. As more time has passed, he’s fallen behind his peers, forcing Blake’s family to pay thousands of dollars for additional academic help and therapy. But now, Blake and thousands of other kids have hope. With the advent of Empowerment Savings Accounts (ESAs), the first-of-its-kind school choice program that took effect last week in Arizona, Blake’s parents will no longer have to bear the brunt of the fact that his public school isn’t meeting his needs. “The schools, they are cooking cutting for every kid and Blake isn’t getting the right custom fit he needs at his age bracket,” Blake’s mom told the Goldwater Institute. “The cooking cutter thing is not going to work for Blake.”  The law creating the ESAs gives parents of special needs children accounts with 90 percent of their local district’s per-pupil spending. They can use the money for a myriad of educational purposes, and if the funds aren’t all used up by the time the student finishes high school, they can also be used for college. It truly empowers families in an unprecedented way, something that will likely benefit Blake for a long, long time.

We hope you were as inspired by Blake’s story as we were. Stories like his—and thousands of others that go untold—are what make us proud of the work education reformers are doing every day all across the country. Thank you for reading Being The Change, and we hope you can keep cool during these sweltering temperatures. Until next time, have a great August!