Author Archive | redefinED staff

Ed reform, divided Dems & paths to common ground

The recent ruling in Vergara v. State of California once again highlighted growing tensions in the Democratic Party between two key constituencies: Teachers unions on the one hand; low-income, black and Hispanic families on the other.

DONKEY1aIs there a path to reconciliation? We asked folks who have thought about that a lot. Next week, we’ll run their responses.

Here’s the prompt:

In the Vergara decision, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu took a clear-eyed view of teacher employment policies that too often saddle low-income students with the least effective teachers. “The evidence is compelling,” he wrote. “Indeed, it shocks the conscience.” Yet those policies have long enjoyed full-throated support from teacher unions and their Democratic allies.

A similar rift exists over educational choice. Blacks and Hispanics are embracing charter schools, vouchers, and tax credit scholarships, which parental choice supporters see as expanding opportunity and empowerment of low-income families. But teacher unions, facing loss of market share and political power, are fighting every step of the way.

Democratic lawmakers are increasingly caught in the middle, and increasingly torn. Straddling the divide is becoming more and more difficult as more and more black and Hispanic parents benefit from charters and vouchers – and publicly raise their voices in support.

So, what’s the solution? Can Democrats continue to stiff-arm minority constituencies on ed policy without repercussion? Is there real risk in black and Hispanic voters turning to the more reform-friendly confines of the Republican Party? How long before something gives?

Should/can Democrats write off the teacher unions? Should the ed reform community more actively recruit reform-friendly Democrats for primary challenges? Or should they more aggressively push unions to modify their organizing model to better align with a public education system that is becoming more customized and decentralized?


Read the Dem Divide series below

Gloria Romero: Money leads Democrats to put teachers unions over poor kids
Ben Austin: Democratic leaders will follow parents on ed reform, eventually
Richard Whitmire: Houston & D.C. offer paths for ed reform Democrats
Joe Williams: Suburbs hold key to resolving Dem tensions over school choice
Myles Mendoza: Rahm Emanuel offers lesson for Democrats on ed reform
Rep. Marcus Brandon: African-Americans must blaze own path on school choice, ed reform
Doug Tuthill: New type of teacher union is key to relieving Democratic tensions


Parents of students with special needs set to battle FL teachers union

Parents of students with significant special needs, including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, are taking on the Florida teachers union over a new educational choice program. Six families from across the state on Thursday are filing a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed July 16 by the Florida Education Association.

The teachers union is seeking to nullify SB 850, the bill passed by the Legislature last spring that created a new type of K-12 scholarship called a Personal Learning Scholarship Account. The scholarship accounts are limited to students who fall into eight disability categories, and the Legislature set aside enough money to serve roughly 1,800 students.

The families are being represented by Clint Bolick, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute who is nationally known for his work on school choice cases.

SB 850 also modestly expanded the state’s tax credit scholarship program for low-income students. Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog, is authorized to administer both programs.

A press conference on the filing is scheduled for 11 a.m. today in Tallahassee. For updates, check back here and/or follow @redefinEDonline and @travispillow on Twitter.


FL Senate leader: If teachers union wins, vulnerable kids lose

Sen. Gardiner

Sen. Gardiner

“Vulnerable children” on one side. “Union bosses” on the other.

Florida’s incoming Senate president, Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, drew that sharp distinction in an op-ed Friday that blasted the Florida teachers union for filing suit last week against SB 850, the bill that created the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts for students with significant disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.

“These children and their families may not be a union priority, but they are my priority,” Gardiner wrote in the Tampa Tribune.

Gardiner. who has a son with Down syndrome, led the charge for creation of PLSAs. He noted that the personal connection made the bill a priority for him, then called it “deeply regrettable” that the teachers union would try to stop it.

It was not long ago when many students with disabilities were set aside in public education because it was assumed they could not learn or could not share classrooms with other students. It was the advocacy of parents that ended these discriminatory and damaging policies.

For this reason, I think it is deeply regrettable that before the first parent could even submit an application for a PLSA, the Florida Education Association – our statewide teachers union – filed a lawsuit to block it.

The union bosses can spin the lawsuit however they want. But the bottom line is this: They view every opportunity that gives parents freedom to make education choices as a threat to their power. They are advocates for the union, not your children.

Signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, SB 850 also modestly expanded the tax credit scholarship program for low-income students. (Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog, is authorized to administer both parental choice programs.) Gardner pointed to the lawsuit’s potential impact on both groups of children, and vowed to defend them.

“The good news for Florida families is that we will not turn our backs on these children. As long as I am in the process, the Senate will work to empower parents, particularly the parents of our most vulnerable children. We will not be deterred by union bosses, union politics or union lawyers.”


Teachers will thrive with school choice


Students and parents aren’t the only ones who benefit from school choice. Teachers do, too. We routinely hit on that point, and Doug Tuthill hammered it home last night on conservative news outlet The Blaze.

Here is what Tuthill, the president of Step Up For Students (which co-hosts this blog), said when asked by host Will Cain about his past as a teacher union president:

“I’ve always been an empowerment guy.  And I got into education, and I got into teacher unions, because I really wanted to empower teachers. But what happens is, teachers are really disempowered in an overly regulated system. … I wish the teacher unions in the country would embrace choice because at the end of the day, it’s good for teachers and for parents.” School choice “allows them to be innovative, entrepreneurial,” Tuthill continued. “And right now, you can’t in the current system.”

The bulk of the interview focused on something we’ve been talking a lot about over the past week – the changing definition of education accountability in an era where parental choice is becoming the norm. The Heartland Institute’s Joy Pullman weighed in on the topic this week in The Federalist, pointing specifically to recent goings-on in Florida, and Cain cited her take during the interview. By all means, click and check it out. :)


redefinED roundup: de Blasio to the rescue? Vouchers increase property values and more news

MondayRoundUp_magentaAlabama: Judge Gene Reese issues a stay on his own injunction against the Alabama Accountability Act school choice program (, Montgomery Advertiser, redefinED, American Federation for Children). The decision to lift the injunction takes uncertainty away from low-income families ( Jeff Reed, public relations director for the Friedman Foundation, says school choice thrives in the state even with the lawsuit (One News Now).

Arizona: Eileen Sigmund, president of the Arizona Charter Schools Association, and Glenn Hamer, the association’s vice chairman, say charter schools provide some of the best education in the state and are still looking to improve (Arizona Republic).

Connecticut: Education leaders in Bridgeport drop the idea of suing the state over approving six charter schools in the area after the city attorney says the district has no basis for a lawsuit (Stamford Advocate).

Delaware: Lawmakers debate education savings accounts (, Choice Media, Education Week). The News Journal editorial board supports school choice if parents pick charter schools but not if parents want vouchers or education savings accounts to choose private schools.

Florida: The Florida PTA, state teachers union and Florida NAACP urge the governor to veto a school choice bill that includes expansion of tax credit scholarships (the scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog). (Tampa Bay Times, Orlando Sentinel).

Idaho: Terry Ryan, president of the Idaho Charter School Association, says over 19,000 children attend charter schools in the state, making support for it a winning proposition for elected Republicans (Idaho Education News). Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: Catholics push for school choice, education races in ME and SC and more news

MondayRoundUp_redAlabama: Scott Beaulier, chair of the Economics and Finance Division at Troy University, says there is a large body of evidence supporting vouchers but the U.S. Department of Justice and others keep getting in the way ( The Alabama Education Association spent $7 million to defeat school choice and education reform supporters (Associated Press).

Colorado: A new study on public school transfers shows middle- and upper-class students are more likely to request transfers to another public school than less affluent students (Education Week). ACE Scholarships releases a study on the impact of scholarships on students in the state (

Connecticut: Education leaders in Bridgeport complain that the expansion of charter schools is hurting the district’s ability to predict student enrollment and estimate a budget (Connecticut Post).

D.C.: District lawyers claim a charter school funneled millions to a for-profit company to do work that charter school officials were already doing (Washington Post).

Delaware: A new bill will allow the Delaware Board of Education to restrict charter schools to geographic areas and by grade and academic emphasis if the board deems the charters will affect nearby public schools (Delaware Online). Republicans propose a voucher program allowing full scholarships for Free and Reduced Price Lunch students and 25 percent scholarships for students in families earning up to $110,000 annaully (WDDE 99.1 FM).

Florida: Palm Beach County wants a special property tax to fund arts education but the new tax won’t benefit the 13,000 students attending charter schools in the county (Sun-Sentinel). McKay Scholarships offer special needs students a way to find a different school that works well for them, but Fund Education Now, a group suing to enforce school uniformity, wants special ed students to have the exact same standards, instructions and method of teacher training at all schools (Sun-Sentinel). The state’s graduation rate improves (Education Week, redefinED). Continue Reading →