This week in school choice: Control

Travis Pillow

Democrats made it through their week-long national convention without talking much about their plans for public education. Like at the Republican convention the week before, most talk of school choice and educational opportunity happened off the main stage. Still, there were some signals about the shape of education politics to come.

Who would hold sway on education in a Hillary Clinton administration?

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García says:

“She’s going to listen to a lot of people. But we’re going to be in her ear first, talking about things like what English-language learners need, what students in special education need, and what a test measures and what it doesn’t measure,” Eskelsen García told me as she bounced from one event to another here.

Reformers say:

Ben LaBolt, former National Press Secretary for Obama for America, replied: “The Clinton campaign has said they’re going to have a seat at the table for everyone in the party who works in education. That means reformers will have a seat at the table, that means the unions will have a seat at the table.” The important thing, he quipped, is that “the unions don’t get all the seats at the table — just one of the seats.”

And what about President Barack Obama’s legacy of support for charter schools?

Now, a party’s platform is very different from how that party’s nominee, if elected, would actually govern. But to the extent the platform represents Hillary Clinton’s views — and on the campaign trail, she’s shown some signs that it may — she should think again. Charter school populations mirror the Democrats’ base of low-income and working-class African-Americans and Latinos. Attacks on the schools they send their children to are not what they want or need from the political party they call home.

Regardless what happens in the political arena this year, the education reform agenda remains a powerful force.

School choice is here to stay because families want a say in where their children go to school. We are now arguing about the best ways to offer families choice, not whether empowering families is a good idea.

ESAs in court

State Supreme Court hearings on Nevada’s landmark education savings account program fired up people on both sides of the school choice debate.

They rallied both in support of and against Senate Bill 302, a controversial bill that Republicans passed last year to create the state’s new education savings account program, gathering on the courthouse steps as attorneys prepared to deliver oral arguments before the Nevada Supreme Court.

“Our children deserve better than this,” said ESA supporter Jennifer Hainley. She said she wants to use the program to transfer her son from a Clark County school which lacks “the right learning environment.”

Thousands of other parents play the waiting game while the legal battle winds on.

See our coverage of the hearings here, and more from Cato at LibertyKUNR and the Las Vegas Sun.

Tim Keller of the Institute for Justice, which represents parents in one of the cases, weighs in here.

ESAs aren’t likely to hurt public schools in the Silver State; the question is whether they’ll do enough to help low-income families.

Meanwhile…

Conservatives and teachers unions may recently have formed an alliance of convenience around “local control,” but a conservative group is pushing back against unions on implementation of the new federal education law.

“They’re happy to get this at the local level, they think they’re stronger at the local level,” [former U.S. Secretary of Education William] Bennett said of the unions. “That’s why I think they’re giving at least two cheers for ESSA. … When you talk about choice, you know what the unions will say about that.”

Will the number of charter school teachers represented by unions reach a critical mass, prompting a change in position like the one that happened nearly 30 years ago on magnet schools? For that to happen, the NEA, for one, might have to learn to play by different rules.

The Friedman Foundation is now EdChoice.

How expanding private school choice will help poor children in North Carolina.

Budget cuts uproot students from Louisiana’s voucher program.

What Mississippi’s ESAs mean for special needs students.

The Texas Education Agency launches a probe of a charter school network… and the Turkish government may be involved.

The NAACP toughens its stance against charter schools.

A deep dive on the profound struggles of Detroit’s charter sector.

More evidence that, sometimes, performance-based school closures really can work.

When schools must compete… they advertise.

A school choice supporter will preside over the Maryland state Board of Education.

This is what a truly engaging school environment looks like.

This Week in School Choice is our weekly compendium of news and notes from around the country. Sign up to get it in your inbox, and send tips, feedback or pushback to tpillow[at]sufs[dot]org.

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