Wishing for more school choice, competition & parent power in education



Editor’s note: This is the last post in our school choice wish series. See the rest of the line-up here.

Our education system in America from top to bottom not only needs to change, it needs a complete and dramatic overhaul. While it’s easy for those who control educational decisions at the state and local level to stick with what is most familiar, and to simply request more and more taxpayer funding to do things the very same way they have always done them, this has not worked. We are falling behind the rest of the world.

So this Christmas, my wish list, as a taxpayer, father, policy maker, and school choice proponent, is this:school choice wish 2014 logo

1. We must start listening to parents and stop telling them we know what is best for their children. Parents want to send their kids to the very best schools, not to the schools some bureaucrat tells them they can attend.

2. We must stop wasting precious taxpayer money fighting school choice in court. Florida is fighting entrenched special interests over parental choice, and this is ridiculous! Associations that purportedly represent the interests of teachers, school board members, school administrators, and parents initiated this litigation. Hanging in the balance are 70,000 students who love the tax credit scholarship schools they attend. They do not want their scholarships taken from them by the guardians of the status quo.

3. We must focus on making all of our schools better, rather than fixating on quashing competition from any and all other education providers. Competition forces us all to improve, and competition will make the public schools better.

We simply must evolve or our system will implode.

Countries around the world are spending less per pupil and achieving better outcomes than we are. In order to compete, we must innovate and empower parents to choose the right school for their children. The future of the public school system in America depends upon our willingness to listen to our constituents. Continue Reading →


Happy New Year!

Happy New Year 2

May the seeds of parental choice continue to bear fruit in 2015.

In the meantime, the final post in our wish list series runs tomorrow. Thanks to all 10 guest bloggers who took time out to contribute such strong reads for the holidays. We are grateful.

Our regular publication schedule resumes Monday. See you then!


Wishing educators were recognized for expanding school choice too

Gary Beckner

Gary Beckner

Editor’s note: This is the ninth post in our school choice wish series. See the rest of the line-up here.

School choice policies are making daily headlines across the country. While we often highlight the successes of individual schools and students, teachers are largely left out of the broader choice conversation. This holiday season, it’s my wish that educators are recognized as essential contributors to this important movement in American education.

The fact is every educational setting is a choice. District schools, private and parochial schools, public charter schools, and virtual schools – these are all choices in action. As we adapt to a dramatically changing education landscape, educators everywhere are embracing these new teaching environments, with tens of thousands of teachers educating millions of students nationwide.school choice wish 2014 logo

This new renaissance in education is both shaking up our classrooms and fundamentally altering the face of the teaching profession. Dedicated, professional teachers should be given credit for their role in supporting and participating in choice settings. In sharing their talents in these new and exciting education environments, teachers are helping to create a brighter future for students who need personalized options.

Educators on the front lines know a one-size-fits-all system does little to address the unique needs of all our students. Students learn differently, just as teachers have their own strengths and weaknesses. In adapting to system of choice, professional educators are realizing these advances are not only meeting needs for students, but also providing professional opportunity.

While some try to promulgate a myth that teachers are not in favor of choice policies, thousands of teachers support this new direction and are teaching in choice schools every day. According to Association of American Educators (AAE) membership surveys, teachers are warming to these ideas.

Specifically, 69 percent of survey respondents support the Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) that awards need-based annual scholarships to eligible District children. The program has received notable bipartisan support in Congress and is considered one of the most prominent choice systems in the country. There is an understanding amongst educators that options for students are beneficial and that educators, in turn, can also reap rewards.

Take AAE Member Amy Rosno for instance. Continue Reading →


Judge dismisses lawsuit challenging Florida school choice legislation

Special needs presser

John Kurnick and other parents announce their intervention in the lawsuit challenging Florida school choice legislation at a July press conference.

The Florida Legislature and parents of special needs students won a legal victory over the statewide teachers union on Tuesday, as a Leon County judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging school choice legislation passed earlier this year.

Lawyers for the Florida Education Association argued lawmakers violated the state constitution when they passed SB 850, which created new Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts for special needs students and expanded eligibility for the Florida tax credit scholarship program.

The case turned on the issue of standing. Judge Charles Francis had already ruled once that the case should be dismissed, but he gave the teachers union’s lawyers a chance to rework their legal arguments. They contended they had standing to bring the case because they were taxpayers and suffered a special injury because expanding the tax credit scholarship program would hurt funding for public schools.

Francis ruled Tuesday that the plaintiffs, including a Southwest Florida public-school teacher, did not have standing to challenge the law as taxpayers and could not show the new law caused them any “special injury.” As a result, he decided the case – Faasse v. Scott – should be dismissed.

Continue Reading →


Wishing the school choice menu truly included faith-based schools



Editor’s note: This is the eighth post in our school choice wish series. See the rest of the line-up here.

This year, I wish for education policy that embraces authentic educational pluralism.

In a 1991 speech, Father Andrew Greeley — a renowned sociologist who conducted some of the most important research on the beneficial effects of Catholic schools for disadvantaged kids — lamented that the first school voucher would arrive on the day that the last Catholic school closed. Thankfully, Father Greeley’s predictions about the prospects for parental choice have proven overly pessimistic. Today, 20 states and the District of Columbia have parental choice programs that enable some parents to use public funds to enroll their children in private schools, including faith-based schools.

school choice wish 2014 logo

Father Greeley’s concern about the trajectory of urban Catholic schools was not unfounded. In the last decade alone, nearly 1,500 Catholic schools have closed, mostly in urban communities. These are the very schools that research has demonstrated excel at educating poor minority children. For example, minority students in Catholic schools are 42 percent more likely to graduate from high school, and more than twice as likely to graduate from college than their public school counterparts. Research also strongly suggests that private schools appear to do a better job at preparing students to be engaged members of a diverse, democratic society.

Faith-based schools, however, are more than just educational institutions. They are important community institutions. My own research with Margaret Brinig demonstrates, for example, that Catholic schools promote the development of social capital — the social networks and mutual trust that form the foundation of safe and cohesive communities. This research links Catholic school closures in Chicago and Philadelphia to a breakdown in neighborhood social cohesion that leads to increased neighborhood disorder and even serious crime.

Parental choice is therefore not just good education policy, it is good community development policy. Empowering parents to enroll their children in private and faith-based schools opens the doors of high-quality educational options for children who desperately need them, and also can help stabilize critical community institutions.

The education reform movement has justifiably embraced the expansion of high-quality charter schools, and I celebrate policies that make it possible for low-income students to attend them. But private and faith-based schools, especially but not only urban Catholic schools, have long been, and remain, a critical piece of the education reform puzzle. Continue Reading →


A parent’s wish: Stop the lawsuit against school choice scholarships

Wevlyn Graves: "Don't take away the hope I have for Ezra."

Wevlyn Graves: “Don’t take away the hope I have for Ezra.”

Editor’s note: This is the seventh post in our school choice wish series. See the rest of the line-up here.

If I had one school choice wish this holiday season, I would wish … hmmm … I wish that the people who filed the lawsuit against the tax credit scholarship program in Florida would find true understanding. True understanding that would help them see that this lawsuit could demolish the hopes and dreams of thousands of parents.

I am one of them. I wish for them to understand what I understand, that the school my 9-year-old son attends thanks to a scholarship is necessary for his success and his future.school choice wish 2014 logo

Ezra does very well in the Methodist School Center, because of the small classroom size and the personal unique attention he receives. It is extremely important that he continues to understand that his teachers care, and that he is safe when I drop him off at school every day. It is important for me, as his parent, to feel comfortable communicating with his teachers to ensure his success.

Because I am raising a young black male, it is my duty to combat all the stereotypes that can stunt his educational growth. I know I can do that best in the school he is attending now. I’ve heard that some people can determine how many prison beds are needed in the future by looking at the educational standing of young boys in the third grade. It is heartbreaking for me, as the mother of a young black male, to think about this school-to-prison pipeline. Well, my son in the third grade. He currently has four A’s and one B. I know he is learning.

The Step Up scholarship helps lower-income families find the best possible education fit for their children. This scholarship helps my family because I can’t currently work. I have a newborn daughter with a heart condition called Tetralogy of Fallot or “blue baby.”  So while I take care of the needs of one child, the school choice scholarship along with the school staff helps me take care of Ezra. I am truly thankful for the support I have received from Step Up and the Methodist School Center while my daughter recovers from heart surgery. It is reassuring to know my son is being cared for and educated properly while I’m away.

Please, if you are reading this article and have something to do with the lawsuit, please find some understanding this holiday season. Continue Reading →


My school choice wish: Waking the sleeping giant

Jason Crye

Jason Crye

Editor’s note: This is the sixth post in our school choice wish series. See the rest of the line-up here.

My school choice wish is more children, particularly Hispanic children from low-income and working-class families, have access to educational options that will help them flourish. Unfortunately, statistics show there is a lot of rocky ground to plow before my wish is granted.school choice wish 2014 logo

Hispanics lag behind their counterparts in nearly every meaningful education statistic. For example, recent figures show the Hispanic graduation rate has improved to 76 percent, while the Hispanic dropout rate is the lowest it has been in decades at 14 percent. It is mildly encouraging that these numbers are heading in the right direction, but they are clearly not where they should be.

To achieve my wish, the education reform community, including organizations like my own, school leaders, elected officials, and other advocates, must continue to help parents engage in the public square. They must continue to stand up for the reforms that poll after poll shows are supported throughout the country.

This is exactly what I saw earlier this month at the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options conference in Miami. It was so heartening to see education advocates, community activists and business leaders from around the country all focusing on the crisis we are facing, and standing together for common-sense solutions. It was also gratifying to see how partisan political differences have been put to the side when it comes to policies that work for our children.

I heard Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, all supporting the expansion of school choice programs like charter schools, vouchers, tax credit scholarships and education savings accounts. One of them, Assemblyman Marcos Crespo of New York, a Democrat, spoke at a press conference after a student named Valentin movingly told us how a school choice scholarship changed his life.

Said Crespo: “I hope that as the rest of this conference progresses that we can continue to build this network and demonstrate that there are a lot of us who believe in real success and not just our own interests, or partisanship, or labels. Our goal is to be judged by the Valentins of the world, and not by you know, who our traditional political friends are, or how much they’ve invested in our campaign. It’s not about that. It’s about Valentin.”

There is a sleeping giant in American politics. It’s the parents, who, when armed with the facts, demand excellence from the schools their children attend; who, when necessary, will march to show their strength in numbers; and who will vote to change the status quo. Many of those voters are Hispanic. Indeed, 66,000 Hispanics turn 18 years old every month, and an increasing number of them have been affected positively by various education reforms.

I look forward to a future when voters are more informed about the positive impact of school choice. I look forward to a future when parents are made aware of their educational options and have the freedom to choose the school where their child can succeed.

In the meantime, I know it is my responsibility, and the responsibility of all education reform advocates, to do everything possible to engage parents and educators. We must help children today so we can achieve that brighter future together.

Jason Crye is executive director of Hispanics for School Choice.

Coming Monday: Wevlyn Graves, Florida parent of a tax credit scholarship student.


Wishing for the sprouting of education reform, near and far



Editor’s note: The U.S. is hardly the only place on the planet where parental school choice and education reform are hot topics, as Boston University Professor Charles Glenn reminds us in this post. Glenn is an associate of the American Center for School Choice, which co-hosts this blog, and has studied educational freedom in detail in dozens of countries. This is the fifth post in our school choice wish series. See the rest of the line-up here.

Every day, almost obsessively, I go online to read the latest news from Ukraine in the Kyiv Post.  It’s not that I have any solution to the military threats (and the slow but inexorable death toll of two or three Ukrainian soldiers and a few civilians each day) posed by Russia and its allies in the Donbas, or to the economic crisis, or to the struggle to eliminate corruption in government and the economy in a nation that has not yet completed the necessary post-Soviet reforms.school choice wish 2014 logo

All I can do in December is hang a blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag on my house in Boston to show my solidarity with friends in Kyiv and Lviv, and inquire whether they are able to stay warm enough as Putin blackmails their country over gas and oil.

But, like bulbs in the cold earth of my wife’s garden, I know the determination to create a healthy democratic society is deeply rooted in Ukraine. I know that reform of the education system is one of the key elements in the long-term success of that project of national awakening. And I know, even as the cold settles down in Kyiv and in Boston, that spring is coming, and that education reforms are coming as well.

In September, my friend Jan De Groof of Antwerp and I were privileged to spend a few days in Ukraine with those who are committed to these reforms, and we have been asked to return when they conclude the time is right for us to advise on specifics of building a healthy, accountable, and pluralistic education system.

The recent elections and formation of a government committed to a wide agenda of reforms is a source of great encouragement. News of these reforms is what draws me back to the Kyiv Post, despite all the discouraging and painful news that dominates each day.

Education reform in Ukraine has a long way to go, though there are many centers of excellence. Continue Reading →