Mike McCurry: School choice centrism is antidote for broken politics



In an American political system ripped apart by partisanship, the school choice movement stands out as a rare example of centrism, former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said Tuesday. But the movement can build even better bridges if it eases up on the name calling and finger pointing, he continued.

“We cannot demonize our opponents,” McCurry told several hundred people at the American Federation for Children summit in Washington D.C. “I hear too often, as I do the work I do at (the Children’s Scholarship Fund), hear people talk about teachers unions in a way that’s frankly ugly. Those people love our children just as much as anyone in this room. They happen to be particularly wrongheaded about the way … to improve their lives. But it’s not because they are ill motivated.”

“We need to recognize that, and have compassion for the people on the other side,” he continued. “Not everything needs to be mud wrestling on CNN with people calling each other names. … We’ve got to nurture the better angels on that side and understand where they’re coming from.”

McCurry worked for liberal Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (himself a strong school choice supporter) early in his career and later for President Bill Clinton. He serves on the board of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which provides privately funded scholarships for low-income students in grades K-8.

The school choice movement’s appeal to all points on the political spectrum is a source of pride, McCurry said. The movement needs to continue doing the hard work of making the center hold, of putting aside differences on other issues to find common ground on kids and education. He suggested it might even model good behavior in other realms. Continue Reading →


School choice opened the door

Denisha Merriweather

Denisha Merriweather

Former Step Up For Students scholarship student Denisha Merriweather, now attending the University of West Florida, received a standing ovation last night after speaking at the American Federation for Children school choice summit in Washington D.C. Here is the text of her prepared remarks. (Full disclosure: Step Up co-hosts this blog.)

Good evening! Thank you, Mr. Chavous, for your kind introduction.

My name is Denisha Merriweather, and I just finished my junior year at the University of West Florida in Pensacola right near the tip of Florida’s Panhandle. I am so proud to stand here before you today knowing that this time next year, I will be graduating college.

The truth is, when I was growing up, college was a dream that I didn’t even know I had. And if it weren’t for an educational option Florida gave me nine years ago, I wouldn’t be here today.

If you were to rewind my life back to my childhood, you would see someone very different. You would see someone who got in fights with her classmates. Someone destined to drop out before she made it through high school. Someone who didn’t even know what college was.

But thankfully, I did not become a statistic. Because of some help I received when I was 12 years old, my life has changed tremendously. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Rick Scott vetoes, teacher pay, ed schools & more

Rick Scott. Gov. Rick Scott vetoes about $400 million in spending and a proposed tuition hike, reports the Associated Press and South Florida Sun Sentinel. (Tampa Tribune columnist Joe Henderson gives him a thumbs up.) Vetoes other ed-related items, reports StateImpact Florida. Vetoes $1.5 million for a STEM project in Pasco, reports Gradebook. Vetoes $14 million for a new building at Gulf Coast State College, reports the Panama City News Herald. Vetoes a $7.5 million “innovation hub” at Florida Gulf Coast University, reports the Naples Daily News. Doesn’t veto a wind tunnel at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, reports the Daytona Beach News Journal.

florida roundup logoDual enrollment. Gov. Scott signs into law a measure that requires districts to pick up the cost. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher merit pay. Pinellas is about to roll out a pilot at seven schools. Gradebook.

Teachers unions. A glimpse at the financial picture for United Teachers of Dade. Intercepts.

Ed schools. The Hechinger Report uses the University of Central Florida as the lead for a story about more scrutiny and accountability coming to colleges of ed.

School spending. Projected layoffs reach 282 in Manatee, including 182 teachers, reports the Bradenton Herrald. About 100 rally to show support for the teachers, the Herald also reports. More from the Sarasota Herald Tribune. Continue Reading →


Gov. Mike Pence: Expanded school choice helps traditional public schools, too

Gov. Pence

Gov. Pence

Speaking to school choice die-hards Monday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence took aim at a common criticism of expanded learning options and encouraged supporters to make teachers part of their case.

“Let’s be very clear in this debate … iron sharpens iron,” Pence told several hundred people gathered at the fourth annual American Federation for Children summit in Washington D.C. “When you empower parents to choose the public, the charter, the private school of their choice, all of education gets better because of competition.”

Pence, one of several keynote speakers for the two-day event, reeled off a suite of ed stats from Indiana. Since the introduction of that state’s voucher program two years ago, test scores and grad rates have continued to rise while achievement gaps have continued to narrow, he said. “The progress we’ve made recently doesn’t appear to be slowing down” because of more choice, he said.

Pence signed an expansion of the voucher program into law earlier this month. He told the AFC audience he’s going to continue to push for more school choice and other reforms because, in part, “I believe in Indiana’s teachers.”

He noted his wife is a teacher, and said some of their best friends are public and private school teachers.

“America has some of the best teachers in the world. Some of the most courageous, decent, caring, selfless men and women in our society are in classrooms today. I submit to you that as we move forward in this debate, we need to speak (about) teachers,” he said. “We believe in giving parents choices because we want them to be able to choose the best school for their children, knowing the teachers will rise to the challenge, as they’ve certainly done in Indiana.”


Teacher finds freedom, fresh perspective in virtual school

Wife and mother Carlene Meloy left the Pinellas County school district nine years ago for a teaching job with Florida Virtual. There were some tradeoffs, but after four years "I don't think I would ever go back.''

Wife and mother Carlene Meloy left the Pinellas County school district nine years ago for a teaching job with Florida Virtual Schools. There were some trade-offs, but after four years “I don’t think I would ever go back.”

When Carlene Meloy answers her front door on a recent weekday afternoon, she looks like any other stay-at-home mom in blue jeans and a T-shirt.

Husband Chris is away at work. In a few hours, their two kids will be home from school. Until then, a barefoot Meloy juggles laundry and dinner with her other job as a teacher at Florida Virtual School.

teachers and choice logo“I can grocery shop in the morning,’’ she said, and be back in front of her computer in time for a 1 p.m. high school leadership class. If her daughter, Camryn, needs to go to the community center for a theater class, “I can use the Wi-Fi’’ to stay connected to students.

It’s that flexibility that convinced Meloy, 38, to leave the local school district four years ago and work for the nation’s largest online education program.

Meloy is among a growing number of educators across the country that has discovered school choice is an opportunity not only for parents and students, but for teachers, too. No longer are their options defined by school boards or unions – or traditional school calendars.

Today, teachers willing to embrace choice and, maybe, take a bit of a risk, can find satisfying careers in charter schools, private schools and online education. The bonus: a job that gives them more of a say in customizing lesson plans, including ones that adhere to personal religious beliefs; and access to cutting-edge technology that, to some extent, allows them to set their own schedules.

“Now that I look back, I realize I felt stuck,’’ Meloy said of her old job, where she often had to rush from her fourth-grade classroom to take her son, Cole, to baseball practice. “I really do not have the stress that I did in a brick-and-mortar school.’’ Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Dual enrollment, school audits, Rick Scott & more

Teachers unions. The rise of Fedrick Ingram, new president of the the Miami-Dade teachers union. Miami Herald.

florida roundup logoTeacher conduct. Ocala Star Banner: “Teacher suspended for bonk with a banana.”

Dual enrollment. A mandate that school districts pick up the tab for dual enrollment students is putting districts in a tough spot. Fort Myers News Press.

Rick Scott. Gov. Rick Scott must decide on several high-profile education issues, including virtual school funding and the future of state-mandated tutoring for low-income students, reports News Service of Florida. He’s going to veto a proposed tuition hike, reports the Times/Herald.

School atmosphere. A Palm Beach County School District investigation finds an elementary school torn apart by a feud between the principal and a school board member, reports the Palm Beach Post. The Florida Commission on Ethics dismisses two complaints against the board member, including one filed by the principal, the Post also reports.

Bullying. State officials work with the Walton County school district to combat bullying, reports the Northwest Florida Daily News. Pasco Superintendent writes in this op-ed for the Tampa Bay Times that bullying prevention is a moral imperative.

School closings. Citing cost concerns, Manatee plans to close a small high school for struggling students. Bradenton Herald. Continue Reading →


redefinED roundup: Charter schools in Texas, voucher funding in Louisiana, school choice in South Carolina & more

Texas: House lawmakers approve a plan to expand charter schools statewide (Associated Press).

MondayRoundUp_yellaPennsylvania: The state’s director of open records says  charter schools are the No. 1 violator of the law (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). Philadelphia public school officials recommend closing Discovery Charter School due to a dispute over enrollment caps and other concerns (NewsWorks). The School Reform Commission approved the renewal of five charter school contracts, with all agreeing to abide by a new enrollment cap (The Notebook).

Louisiana: State Superintendent John White warns of the fallout from the recent Supreme Court ruling on voucher funding, revealing the state needs to find an extra $29 million for the current school year (Times-Picayune). White also contends that the ruling will result in a $12 million refund for the public school system (Shreveport Times). More from Education Week. Charter Schools USA and National Heritage Academies look to build four charter schools in the Lafayette Parish (The Advertiser). The education department received applications for more than 100 charter schools (Times-Picayune).

Ohio: Lawmakers introduce a bill that would require Columbus schools’ property-tax dollars be shared with charters, and give the mayor the power to sponsor charter schools (Columbus Dispatch).

Maine: Democrats push bills that impose a moratorium on virtual charter schools and require charter schools function as nonprofit organizations (Bangor Daily News). More from the Kennebec Journal. The Education Committee votes along party lines to reject virtual schools (Portland Press Herald). Gov.  Paul LePage wants to allow colleges and universities to authorize charter schools (Maine Public Broadcasting Network).

Florida: A magnet elementary school is considering becoming a charter school to save arts and music classes from district budget cuts (redefinED). A bill that won approval on the last day of the legislative session will open up public school funding to private virtual schools (Tampa Bay Times). Duval County Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says he miscalculated the impact that funding for charter schools would have on next year’s school budget (First Coast News). Continue Reading →


Florida offers answers to North Carolina’s questions about school choice

Editor’s note: This op-ed was published on the Raleigh News & Observer website last night.

The debate over a private learning option for poor schoolchildren in North Carolina has a familiar ring to it because Florida faced similar fears a dozen years ago. But a targeted and accountable scholarship can strengthen our commitment to equal educational opportunity by giving more tools to the students who face the greatest odds.

Don’t trust me, a lifelong progressive Democrat and former teacher union president who now leads the nation’s largest scholarship program for low-income students. Look instead at the track record in a state with a scholarship that is similar to the plan being offered by a bipartisan coalition of N.C. House members. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship can provide at least a few answers:

The scholarship serves the students who struggle the most. Scholarship opponents say that the most disadvantaged students are the most likely to remain in public schools. But the experience in Florida is just the opposite. As the state’s independent researcher noted in the latest report: “Program participants tend to come from lower-performing public schools prior to entering the program. Likewise, as in prior years, they tend to be among the lowest-performing students in their prior school.”

• These same students are making solid academic progress. According to the results of their nationally norm-referenced tests, these students who were losing ground prior to choosing the scholarship are now achieving the same gains in math and reading each year as students of all income levels nationally. “In other words,” said the latest report, “the typical student participating in the program gained a year’s worth of learning in a year’s worth of time.”

• Traditional public schools are not hurt financially. One N.C. community organizer recently wrote: “At their core, vouchers are about taking public money and giving it to private schools.” But in Florida, five different independent agencies over the past decade have reached the same conclusion: The scholarship saves tax money that can help public schools. That’s because the scholarship is substantially less than the cost of public education, and most of its recipients would have otherwise attended public school. The Florida Revenue Estimating Conference pegged the savings this year at $57.9 million. Continue Reading →