Being The Change | June 2011

June 30, 2011 – Greetings from Being The Change, the Alliance for School Choice’s monthly newsletter!Now that we’ve been doing this a few months, we’re starting to get into the swing of things, but we still want to hear from you! Let us know what you think, ways we can improve, as well as anything you want us to do more frequently. Remember, BTC is about sharing information with you. With that said, here’s what’s been going on with us and in the states the past month!It’s been an amazingly productive month here at the Alliance, as well as for our allies in the states. We received great feedback for our inaugural newsletter last month, so be sure to keep letting us know what you think! We’re always excited to hear new ideas, so please pass them along as you make your way through our update. Dive in!

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

…make lemonade out of these lemons! What lemons, you ask? We’re talking about the departure of Virginia Walden Ford from Washington, D.C.! Our dear friend Virginia is preparing to head back to her home state of  Arkansas next month  after more than 15 years fighting to give children in D.C. more educational options.  We took time out earlier this month to cosponsor, along with some of our friends, an event that honored Virginia for all of her efforts. Put simply, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) would not exist—let alone would it have in April been reauthorized for an additional five years—without Virginia’s tireless efforts. She fought for school choice long before there was the institutional strength in the movement that exists nowadays, helped the OSP become a reality in 2004, and then helped not only save, but significantly expand the program. It should be no surprise, then, that House Speaker John Boehner (above, with Virginia) and Sen. Joe Lieberman took time out of their busy schedules to wish Virginia the best and thank her for her service to D.C. kids.Read more about reactions to Virginia’s impending departure, but keep in mind that this is less of a “goodbye” and more of a “see you later.” After all, there are thousands of kids in Arkansas trapped in failing schools and in search of a better education. They have no idea what a gift they’re about to receive!

Choice Quotes

The beginning of summer is often a time of great energy and passion, and June fit the mold when it comes to school choice. Many bellies were filled with the fire to speak out about the plight of children who don’t get the opportunities they deserve, and maybe it’s just us, be we think people are listening (or in the case of the quotes below, reading). You’ll probably recognize the names of these folks, so take a look…you’ll be glad you did!

“We have underestimated the profound genius, the infinite capacity, the unbelievable ability of our children. One of the worst sentiments in our nation is this toxic resignation to a school system that fails children. We have become comfortable with, not mediocrity, we have become comfortable with failure. It’s time for a wakeup call.” – Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D), giving a keynote address on June 21 to an audience at the National Association of Public Charter Schools’ annual National Charter Schools Conference in Atlanta, Ga. (To read more about or to watch Booker’s speech, click here)

“Gerard brings to Florida a long and remarkable set of accomplishments in innovation and proven results that will help us continue putting children first, improving our schools and ensuring Florida has the best-educated workforce.” – Florida Gov. Rick Scott  (R), in a statement he made on June 21 after Virginia Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson was named the new Florida Commissioner of Education

“System preservation has emerged as the common refrain from those fighting expanding charter schools and quality educational options for parents. Preserving such a system in its current form would ensure that thousands of low-income minority children fail to get the education they deserve. Ironically, the NAACP has become the protector of the status quo it once fought.” – Former D.C. Councilman and ASC board member Kevin P. Chavous (D), writing on June 3 in The Washington Post after the NAACP and a New York teachers union joined in a lawsuit to prevent the opening of charter schools in the city (read more below)

Change Is Coming!

By the time you next read this newsletter, the Alliance’s web site will cease to exist as you know it. We’re nearing the final stages of our extensive redesign (read: overhaul) of our web site, and we think you’ll like what we have in store. Better navigation, cleaner interface, and a unique way of sharing the amazing school choice success stories from around the country. We’ll be sure to let you know when it’s finished, so stay tuned!

A Contentious Fight Over Charters

It’s been a difficult and at times bewildering month for charter schools in a couple of states. We shared in the surprise when we found out that the NAACP was partnering with the United Federation for Teachers in the effort to keep charter schools out of New York. Historically one of the strongest symbols of fight for those less well off, the institution is now  facing heaps of criticism from a host of black leaders, civil rights activists, and folks from all across the political spectrum. (read more about the backlash here.) And down in Georgia, efforts continue to save the numerous charter schools that had their future cast into uncertainty following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Georgia Charter Schools Commission last month. The National Charter Schools Conference was fortuitously located in Atlanta this year, allowing thousands of activists to take up the cause of Georgians denied. The group’s presence culminated in a rally on June 23 that concluded with fiery words from longtime school choice advocate Dr. Howard Fuller. Click below to watch coverage of the rally and to learn why so many children and families desperately want to keep their schools open.

Implementation Time in Indiana

It seems like it was just yesterday that we were watching the debate among Indiana legislators over whether to enact a sweeping and widespread voucher program. Fast forward just a few months, and now that we’re on the precipice of the enrollment period, many parents are still voicing confusion as to whether their children are eligible, how they go about applying for the program, and a host of other logistical questions. That’s where we come in! Our friends at School Choice Indiana are experts when it comes to the ins and outs of the scholarship process, as is the Indianapolis-based Foundation for Educational Choice, as well as the Indiana Department of Education. The leader of the latter, Dr. Tony Bennett (say that three times fast!), has been a good friend of school choice for a long time. In fact, if not for Bennett—who discussed the issue long before the political winds were blowing in his favor—there would be no program to talk about implementing in the first place. Don’t believe us? Take a look below at Bennett’s “State of Education” address last August, where he made clear his commitment to educational opportunities; a commitment is culminating in the landmark Choice Scholarships Program.

Some Kudos Are in Order!

We’re foregoing our usual “Student Spotlight” to offer up our congratulations to the leadership of two states (though you can still read about a wonderful student we met this month by clicking here). We want to thank lawmakers in Wisconsin and Ohio who, in just about a week’s time, have passed budgets containing two of the largest school choice expansions we’ve ever seen. In the Badger State, it was last Sunday when Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a huge expansion of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the country’s oldest school choice program. The new provisions mean more students can join the program (and in just a few years, the cap will be lifted entirely), the income eligibility has been expanded, and students in the program can now attend schools all across the state. Not bad for a voucher program that began with just a couple hundred students, huh? And in Ohio, Gov. John Kasich is poised to sign a budget bill that will quadruple the state’s largest school choice program, create a new special needs program (making Ohio the first state in the country with four different voucher programs), and raise the the scholarship amounts on another program. The Buckeye State’s flagship EdChoice Scholarship Program will be open to as many as 60,000 students in the next two years, and the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program will offer more generous scholarships. The state’s new special needs program, named after former legislator Jon Peterson, will grant scholarships to up to 13,000 special needs children. More than most states, parents in Wisconsin and Ohio have been fighting a long time for school choice. It’s great to see their hard work paying off.

To every one of you who is fighting to give educational options to kids who otherwise wouldn’t have them, we say thank you. And thanks to everyone who for reading our newsletter, too. We wish you a happy Independence Day, and we’ll talk to you in a month!