All over the country, new private school choice programs are being created, more of the last remaining holdout states are beginning to allow charter schools, and a growing number of students are enrolling in educational options chosen by their parents.
But, on our latest podcast, Jim Blew, who served as the national president of StudentsFirst and will be focusing on California after a merger with the 50-state Campaign for Achievement Now (aka 50CAN), says it’s hardly time to declare victory.
“Creating high-quality alternatives to the traditional system is a very fragile effort that continues to be under attack every day,” he says. “… The reality of running a charter school is that you still feel, every day, that somebody is trying to snuff out your school, and anybody who’s been involved in the [private-school] scholarship programs will tell you the same thing.”
Look no further than current events in Florida.
Blew says that when 50CAN and StudentsFirst join forces, the broad pillars of their agendas – expanding quality school choices and creating accountability policies for teachers and schools – will remain largely the same. But they’ll also vary state-by-state.
The political power of the teachers unions might drive some of those differences, but there are other factors at work.
In some states, Blew says, under-funding of scholarship programs and unimpressive academic performance have undermined the case for private school choice, which means charter schools remain the most viable option to create new and better schools. And his home state of California is feeling a long hangover from multiple ballot initiatives that failed to win approval from voters (and another, quite different proposal that didn’t get off the ground). He says other states – like Florida and Indiana – have created proof points that could strengthen the case for scholarships on both sides of the political aisle in nearby states. But that will take time.
State-level advocacy is arguable more important than ever, since the new federal education law devolves more authority over educational accountability and school improvement back to the states. But Blew cautions against an overly Washington-centric view of education policy. Yes, states are the most important arena for education policy, and while that may be truer now than it ever was, he says, it’s always been the case.
“The ball is very clearly back in their court, but I’d argue it never really was out of their court,” he says. “[The Every Student Succeeds Act] does put more pressure on states to live up to what the country needs.”