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Advocate Voices

podcastED: ‘We will see widespread school choice when we can educate teachers on the truth’

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teacher unions
Rebecca Friedrichs is the author of ‘Standing Up To Goalith’ and joins us for an interview on the latest episode of podcastED.

Rebecca Friedrichs is the fearless California public school teacher best known for being lead plaintiff in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the high-profile lawsuit that – until the unexpected death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016 – was destined to end the union practice of forcibly collecting “agency fees” from non-union members. (Subsequently, last June, Janus v. AFSCME did end the practice.)

But what people may not know about Friedrichs is how much her support for educational choice fueled that crusade.

In her just-released autobiography, “Standing Up To Goliath,” Friedrichs details her rise from rank-and-file teacher to anti-union activist, including the role that choice played. In an interview with redefinED, she offers more insight into the teachers-and-choice piece, including why more teachers aren’t clamoring to expand options that, she says, would benefit them as much as students and parents.

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“We will see widespread school choice when we can educate teachers on the truth,” Friedrichs said in the interview. Once teachers see “that these choice schools really are not bad, that charter schools really do have to close down within a few years if they don’t get the job done, that public schools go on and on and on and on for years even though they’re failing … once teachers know the truth, they’ll be on our side.”

Friedrichs describes herself as conservative. But “school choice” isn’t conservative, she said, no matter how often it’s often portrayed that way by critics and the press.

“That’s just another lie promoted by the unions,” she said. “I don’t care if you’re apolitical, you’re a Democrat, you’re a Republican, you’re a libertarian, you don’t vote. Everybody I know, once they understand school choice, and they realize it’s just what’s best for the child, they’re all for school choice.”

Friedrichs’s support is personal. At different points in her life, she said, she needed educational options for each of her sons. For Ben, her youngest, no option materialized, which left Ben in vulnerable situations and Friedrichs, then a single mom, crying all the way to work. For Kyle, an option did come through, just as drugs and other issues had him spiraling down.

Said Friedrichs, “School. Choice. Saved. His. Life.”

Friedrichs shares more details in the podcast, with a bonus for Major League Baseball fans. Kyle, now thriving as a pitcher in the minor leagues (in the Oakland A’s system), recently got a chance to face future Hall of Famer Mike Trout

You’ll either have to buy Friedrichs’ book or listen to the podcast to find out what happened. 😊

New school choice group launches to advocate for children and families

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Erika Donalds

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A new organization aimed at ensuring families can choose the best education environment for their children launched today with an announcement from the group’s founder and chairwoman.

Former Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds said the School Choice Movement will focus on improving and expanding school choice in all its forms, adding that she became aware as a parent and a school board member that many families have insufficient options for school choice.

“Children are either on a waiting list for a scholarship or a charter school or they don’t qualify for one of the scholarships that are available, and they can’t afford a private school,” Donalds said. “Our goal is to give parents multiple high-quality options for their students.”

Joining Donalds in the effort are former Indian River School Board member Shawn Frost and former Duval County School Board member Scott Shine. Frost, who is a co-founder with Donalds and past president of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members, will serve as the organization’s advocacy director. Shine, who has served as a member of the Jacksonville Ethics Commission, will be a member of the executive board.

The group plans to advocate for school choice and the expansion of school choice options during the upcoming legislative session.

“We now have a governor who is very supportive of school choice and an education commissioner who is a tireless school choice advocate,” said Donalds, whose husband, Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, serves on the Florida House Education Committee and is vice chair of the PreK-12 Appropriations Committee. “We want to make sure the expansion of school choice is No. 1 on the agenda.”

The group also plans to sponsor a speakers’ bureau and appoint regional directors who will fan out across the state in a grassroots effort to talk directly with families.

“We need to find a different way to reach parents with information about their options,” said Donalds, who helped establish Mason Classical Academy, a public charter school in Naples. “We also need to correct misinformation that’s out there about choice schools.

Among the myths Donalds plans to combat: the narrative that choice schools divert money from the public school system; the idea that charter schools underperform traditional public schools; and the notion that charter schools are not held to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools.

“For me, this is a moral issue our society needs to solve,” Donalds said. “Hoping students can play catch-up later in life is not an option.”

Watch the School Choice Movement launch video here for more information.

redefinED also spoke to Donalds after the James Madison Institute luncheon about her new organization. You can listen to that audio below.

 

Ari Bagil: Florida remains leader for students benefiting from school choice

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VIDEO: “I don’t want her to be just a number”

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Celethia Davis, center, and her family pose with Rep. Kimberly Daniels (D-Jacksonville) at Piney Grove Academy’s MLK Day celebration in Lauderdale Lakes.

Celethia Davis, whose daughter, Brianna, is on a wait list for a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, traveled from Jacksonville to Ft. Lauderdale for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ appearance Monday at Piney Grove Boys Academy. The new governor used the backdrop of Martin Luther King Jr. Day to underscore his commitment to expanding educational choice. Davis is hoping Brianna, who is struggling at her neighborhood school, will be able to attend a faith-based, college-prep school.

From the Vault: MLK and God’s schools

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Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in redefinED on Aug. 26th, 2013, as part of a series to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. We are reprising it as the nation prepares to celebrate what would have been King’s 90th birthday.

Coons
Coons

I grew up in a Minnesota city of 100,000 with – in my time – one black family. My introduction to the reality of public school segregation came in 1962 as – now at Northwestern in Chicago – I agreed to probe the public schools of the district on behalf of the U.S. Commissioner of Education. The racial separation was there as expected, but there was one big surprise; I was astonished to find enormous disparities, not only in taxable local wealth – hence spending – among the hundreds of Illinois districts, but even in individual school-by-school spending within the Chicago district itself. I wrote about both problems, sprinkling research with “action” including marches and demonstration both in Chicago and in Selma (prior to the main event there).MLK snipped

My interest in deseg politics had already provoked a law review article on the risks of anti-trust liability for King et al. who were planning boycotts of private discriminators. On the strength of that essay, Jack Greenberg, then director of the NAACP Inc. Fund, invited me to meet with King and his lieutenants at dinner in Chicago to discuss the question. We spoke at length – mostly about boycotts but also about schools. By that time I was already into the prospects for increasing desegregation in Chicago, partly through well-designed school choice.

I won’t pretend that I recall the details of that evening. What I can say is King’s mind was at very least open to and interested in subsidies for the exercise of parental authority – which clearly he valued as a primary religious instrument. I took my older boys next evening to hear him at a South Side church and, possibly, to follow up on our conversation, but he had to cancel. We heard sermons from his colleagues, some to become and remain famous. I did not meet King again.

King’s “Dream” speech does not engage specific public policy issues – on schools or anything else. Essentially a sermon, it is a condemnation of the sins of segregation and an appeal to the believer to hear scripture, with its call for indiscriminate love of neighbor, as the life-task of all who recognize the reality of divine love for us – his image and likeness. It is purely and simply a religious appeal that declares the good society to be one that rests upon benign principles that we humans did not invent but which bind us. I don’t know King’s specific understanding of or attitude toward non-believers, but this document clearly rests the realization of the good society upon its recognition of our divine source and its implication of the full equality of all persons.

Given that premise and the Supreme Court’s insistence upon the “wall of segregation” in the public schools, plus – on the other hand – the right of parents to choose a private religious education, the logic is rather plain.

Private schools live on tuition, and many American families couldn’t afford to enroll then or now. If low-income families were to exercise this basic human right and parental responsibility enjoyed by the rest of us, government would have to restructure schooling to insure access to an education grounded upon, and suffused with, an authority higher than the state. Given the economic plight of so many black parents, the only question would be how to design the system to secure parental choice without racial segregation by private educators.

And that possibility was to be the principal crutch of “civil rights” organizations in hesitating about subsidized choice.

Of course, many of their members were public school teachers who wondered about their jobs. Still, in the early 70’s, both the NAACP and the Urban League were sufficiently interested in parental choice to engage the usual suspects, including myself, to describe solutions to the apparent problem. In 1971, Steve Sugarman and I published a book which was a first crack at designing a structure that would preserve the integrity of the private school while assuring non-discriminatory access. Others made similar proposals. The civil rights groups still dallied.

One political difficulty was media domination of the argument for choice by free-market libertarians who fretted at – and opposed – every suggestion that would in the least diminish private school control of admissions. Their narrow focus forfeited a good deal of centrist support. But the more fundamental problem was the teachers’ unions, which froze at the prospect of competition and gave the civil rights groups plausible (and tangible) reason to balk. One example: in a long private conversation, Cesar Chavez expressed to me his regret that the Farm Workers couldn’t sign on for a popular initiative for school choice in California, because the UFW would risk the annual 200k they enjoyed from the AFT.

The idea thus remained largely a specialty of the market enthusiasts for 30 years. My guess is King could have changed all this, precisely because of his theological focus. The problem has not gone away, and we miss him.

Education choice helped break the cycle of poverty

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By Keith Jacobs

Keith Jacobs credits the IB program, an early form of education choice, as breaking him from a cycle of poverty.

Always look a man in the eyes.  Stand up and give a firm handshake.  Remember your manners.  These simple yet effective rules instilled by my parents have been a pillar in my overall success.  I am blessed to work in a field I love and to help raise two beautiful children who are reaping the benefits of hard work and education.

But how did this journey begin?  My success is a product of how school choice provides opportunities for low-income families to escape the clutches of generational poverty.

I am the second youngest of six kids.  I was raised to believe that the key to success is education.  What was missing was an example of what this success looked like.  Both of my parents worked three jobs, and neither of them attended college.  Growing up in a low-income household in Tampa, I was not afforded the same opportunities as my peers.  While they were focused on new clothes and shoes for school, I was focused on whether I was going to wear clothes that were too small, or if my brother had any clothes that he could hand down to me.

You see, education was an idea, a philosophy.  It was not a tangible reward that I could see and understand given my surroundings.  As a young, black male, the statistics would say I had a greater chance of being dead or in jail than graduating and going to college.  I saw drugs, alcohol, and crime that plagued the streets around my middle school and wondered if there was a way to escape this reality.

Thankfully, the school choice movement that began brewing in the 1980s and ‘90s offered a lifeline: magnet schools. During this time, magnet schools were viewed as competition to traditional schools because they provided an opportunity for students to attend a school outside their neighborhood that met their individual needs.

My parents noticed my intellectual abilities but did not think they had options for me to excel in a high school. For low-income families like mine, the opportunity to attend the best schools seemed unattainable without the financial resources. There was no scholarship program that would have provided me with a quality education outside my ZIP code.  This all changed with school choice.

Going into my freshman year, I applied for an International Baccalaureate (IB) program at a magnet school that was 10 miles away from my house and was accepted.  This gave me a chance to experience what I would not have otherwise been exposed to in a traditional curriculum.

The thing about growing up in poverty is that even though I viewed school with the same enthusiasm as my peers, the difference laid in my ability to understand and adhere to cultural norms that were necessary to succeed in school.  Poverty is a societal ill that is rectified with innovative ways to provide quality education for all students.

Today, these choices come in many forms: magnet schools, charter schools, vouchers and scholarship programs, education savings accounts, even virtual schools and micro-schools. They have proved popular with families. In Florida alone, some 1.7 million students – about 46 percent of all PreK-12 students – attend a school of choice.

Through school choice, I not only graduated from the IB program, I also was able to attend one of the most rigorous universities in the nation, the University of Florida, becoming the first college graduate in my family.  It allowed me to pursue a master’s degree.  Ultimately, it helped me provide a better quality of life for my children and end the cycle of poverty.

While legislators are debating who is cheating whom in education, there are millions of low-income children like I was who just want an equal chance to succeed. School choice gives them what they lack due to their economic circumstances — ownership.

Keith Jacobs is manager of the Charter School Initiative for Step Up For Students.

podcastED: Pastor Robert Ward – Educational choice gives black parents hope

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Pastor Robert Ward, founder of Mt. Moriah Christian Fundamental School in south St. Petersburg.

If anybody doubts the passion for educational choice in black communities, come visit Mt. Moriah Christian Fundamental School in predominantly black south St. Petersburg, Fla. and chat with its founder, Pastor Robert Ward.

Ward started the private micro-school for grades 6-8 in 2011 with three students. Now it has 56. And now it’s routinely turning away children because there are waiting lists, both for the school and for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income students, the largest private school choice program in America. (The scholarship is administered by nonprofits such as Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog.)

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“Parents are beating on our doors to get in,” Ward said in this redefinED podcast. “We actually have stretched even our level of comfort in terms of capacity, to try to turn away as few parents as possible. But we’re very limited in our capacity.”

Dejected parents cry in the lobby, Ward said, “really with the loss of hope for their child.”

Pastor Ward is representative of a core constituency for choice that is blatantly overlooked by critics and the press. In Florida, where choice has taken root like nowhere else, there are hundreds of community leaders like Ward who represent communities of color and who wholeheartedly embrace choice. Like Ward and south St. Pete, those leaders and communities lean heavily towards the Democratic Party.

All but one of the students at Mt. Moriah school are black. All but three use state-supported choice scholarships, including 39 who use tax credit scholarships. Perhaps it’s no surprise, given that the outcomes in the school district that encompasses St. Petersburg are especially bleak for black students.

Black students in Pinellas County perform far worse on state tests than not just white students in Pinellas, but black students in every urban district in Florida. In 2018, for example, 23.9 percent of black 10th-graders in Pinellas passed the 10th grade reading test – the test they must pass to graduate – compared to a statewide average for black 10th-graders of 34.6 percent. (Statewide, 65.1 percent of white students passed. In Pinellas, 64.3 percent passed.)

The tragic trend lines go back to when schools in St. Pete were more racially integrated then they’d ever been (under a court-ordered desegregation plan), and arguably the best funded they’d even been (before the Great Recession.) They’ve persisted, Ward said, “because there’s not enough focus on what the real need is.”

“It goes back to that one-size-fits-all mentality or approach to the learning process,” Ward said. “Unfortunately, that’s just not reality. One size does not fit all. Students come from different backgrounds, different environments, different problems, different issues, that all have an effect on how we behave, how we learn, how we feel in the learning process. So I think we have to take all of that into consideration. And I think we also have to establish an environment where parents feel there’s hope.”

Also on the podcast with Pastor Ward:

  • On why choice should be non-partisan: “Our kids are not Republicans. Our kids are not Democrats. Or independents. Or liberals. Our kids are kids. … My mother and father never focused me on a political position in terms of education. They simply focused me on the importance of education.”
  • On the importance of school staff who are community based: “It’s a huge piece. Because (the parent and teachers) don’t just see each other at school. They see each other in the community. They talk about issues that are going on in the community. They can relate to specific things within the community.”
  • On the benefits of empowering parents through choice: “When you give parents that option, and that ability, it frees up their spirit and their heart. It gives them hope. They light up, because they say, ‘Oh, here’s a place of hope. And I have the power to choose it.’ ”

Lorraine McBride: Wishing more students could benefit from choice, like I did

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By Lorraine McBride

Lorraine McBride

Parental choice is the reason Lorraine McBride is not just another statistic.

I grew up as a minority student who was not finding success in the district school I was zoned for. I was often getting in trouble for playing around and not following the teacher’s directions in the classroom. My peers also influenced my behavior. School officials told my mother I would be placed in a different class because my behavior was too much for the teacher to handle. My mother was displeased. She knew there were more options. My mother asked around and eventually decided that private school would be a better learning environment for me. My mother found a second job in order to provide a quality education for me.

When I reached fifth grade, my mother enrolled me into St. Anthony’s Catholic School, in Dallas, Texas. It provided smaller class sizes, and a high emphasis on morals, religious beliefs and formal education. Those same principles were taught and practiced in my home.

My mother’s sacrifice paved the way for me to obtain my diploma from Bishop Dunne Catholic School. A few years later, I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Broadcast Journalism from Florida A&M University. If my mother had settled for the alternative behavioral classes in my zoned school, I am not sure what path in life I would be on today.

There are millions of parents like my mom who want their children to excel academically. But far too many of them can’t access a school that is the right fit for their children, either because they can’t afford to move to the school zone they prefer, or because they can’t afford private school. Parental choice matters because it is one of the most important social justice issues of our time. It helps level the playing the field for these parents. It helps open doors of opportunity for their children.

Sometimes, the schools that are the best fit for an individual child may be non-traditional schools, in non-traditional environments, with different approaches to teaching and learning. Sometimes, these schools are criticized because they’re different. But I believe it’s the parent’s right to choose. And I trust that parents know better than anybody else what’s best for their precious child.

Parental choice motivates parents to become advocates to change the conditions of their child’s educational experience. Florida and many other states are fighting over how to better serve low-income communities and provide equal educational opportunities. Expanding parental choice isn’t the whole solution, but it’s part of it. My life is proof of that.

My mother had the freedom to choose the best educational environment for me. My holiday wish is for all parents to have that freedom to choose for their children.

Lorraine McBride is community affairs organizer for Step Up For Students, a nonprofit that administers four state-supported educational choice programs in Florida and hosts this blog.

Editor’s Note: This is the ninth in a series of posts where various members of the education choice world share an #edchoice wish. For yesterday’s post, CLICK HERE.

COMING TOMORROW: Our #Wishlist series concludes with Step Up’s Strategic Communications Manager Scott Kent.