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As USA Today reports, Indiana has just passed the nation’s most sweeping parental choice plan.  Boom.  This is huge.  My man Mitch…

See the details about this exciting legislation here.

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As national school choice week begins, here is a little round-up of some promising legislative and advocacy action going on around the country.

Check out the National School Choice Week website for various activities being planned in your state.

A promising scholarship tax-credit bill gets out of committee in New Jersey, where it was previously stalled for months.

There would be a limit of 3,900 scholarships in the first year, which would expand to 40,000 by the fifth year. The scholarships are expected to be about $8,000 for each elementary school student and $11,000 for each high school student.

Pennsylvania has bi-partisan support to expand school choice in the state.

Greater school choice is being proposed by a bipartisan group of state senators. Among them is Philadelphia’s own Democratic senator, Anthony Hardy Williams, who made school choice a focal point of his platform in his run for governor last year.

Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia announced a push for school choice in this legislative session, and things look promising there to move forward.

The Governor also announced legislation which will establish a tax credit for companies donating to nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships to help lower income students attend nonpublic schools.

The Department of Taxation would be responsible for issuing the tax credits. The Department would be allowed to issue up to $25 million in tax credits in each fiscal year of the Commonwealth.

Mitch Daniels in Indiana is putting forward one of the most aggressive parental choice legislative packages anywhere, with both a non-capped voucher program and a much more robust corporate tax-credit program.  He went to bat for it big time during his State of the State Address, and a recent poll suggest that Indiana voters have his back.

South Carolina has tax-credit legislation in play.

Milwaukee has the possibility of expanding their already very large voucher program.  Messmer Catholic School, the oldest in Milwaukee, continues to grow steadily.  This should be the story of all Catholic schools in Milwaukee benefiting from a more even playing field through the large voucher program.

Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada attacks the historically anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments as he pushes for a constitutional amendment in the upcoming session of the Nevada Legislature to allow for tax dollars to be used in a school voucher program that would include faith-based schools.

And a major national add campaign coincides to bring the issue more national prominence.

There is a lot more going on out there, I am sure, but that’s a wrap for tonight! Read the rest of this entry »

The national education reform organization, Democrats for Education Reform, are opening a chapter in Indiana and are likely to have an outspoken role in the upcoming debate in Indiana.

As the Indystar.com reported:

Every Wednesday morning for several months, a group of local Democrats has gathered for breakfast to address a tremendous problem for their party in Indiana: the idea that Democrats are obstinate roadblocks standing in the way of education reform.

The group has spent hours talking about hot-button education issues such as charter schools, teacher evaluation measures and school turnaround efforts.

But the power of the state teachers union, and the piles of cash it provides to candidates, has led many Statehouse Democrats to block changes that would significantly help students and families in areas represented by many of those same legislators.

…the early-morning group has spent months preparing for the upcoming launch of the Indiana chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, joining a national effort that has spread to several states. They will announce the formation of their group in coming days and plan to start a political action committee that will raise money for reform-minded Democratic candidates for local and state offices.

Though Democrats for Education Reform support school choice, it will be interesting to see how this particular debate plays out in Indiana.  It is likely to be the most contentious of the issues on the table.

 

The first National School Choice Week is coming up and leading politicians are being asked whether they are “in.”

Speaker Boehner is.

A great article yesterday in Ed Week about how the reforms and policies of Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Excellence in Education are setting the standard for reforms in states throughout the country.

Seeming to have a particular influence on my home state of Indiana, this bodes well for those states that are willing to follow Bush and Florida’s example.  Of particular interest is a newly formed league of extraordinary state school chiefs that are keen on following Florida’s example.

In November, the Foundation for Excellence in Education hosted a conference in Washington meant to highlight innovations in teacher evaluation, technology, and other areas, which drew state officials, researchers, and corporate executives from around the country. At that conference, five state schools chiefs—Mr. Bennett, Deborah Gist of Rhode Island, Paul Pastorek of Louisiana, Gerard Robinson of Virginia, and Eric Smith of Florida—announced their formation of a group to support new approaches to paying and evaluating teachers and administrators, school choice, and improved tests and standards, among other goals.

In March I suggested that 2010 might be the year of school choice.  As we prepare to usher in 2011, its a good time to reflect back on what’s happened and what we can hope for and expect for the new year.

The states that seemed hopeful in 2010 were: Illinois, Indiana, Florida, Virginia, New Jersey, and Maryland.

There was action in Illinois, Florida, New Jersey, Maryland, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.  Florida and Oklahoma were the only significant successes.  Florida represents an important victory in the fourth largest state in the union.  With strong bi-partisan support and a huge rally this year, Florida has raised the scholarship allocation and  implemented a floating cap on the number of vouchers allowed, so that as soon as applications come close to the cap, it automatically goes up.  So essentially, there is no cap.  Oklahoma has followed the Florida model in passing a special needs voucher bill, which can likely be the gateway into broader choice efforts.

The rest of the story of 2010 was not so rosy.  Though Illinois and Maryland both had parental choice bills pass the Senate, both died in the House.  This is a partial victory, in that it showed choice is politically viable and raised awareness of the issue.  It is likely that efforts will continue in these states.

Virginia did not introduce a bill, and though New Jersey was pushing for one, Governor Christie stood firm against a watered down version, though didn’t have the votes to get the stronger bill he wanted.

Pennsylvania had a significant set back with a budget reduction to their tuition tax-credit program, but they are fighting to get the funding levels back up and are hopeful to be able to do so in the near future.

So how about 2011?  I’m hopeful.

The States to watch include Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. And let’s not forget D.C.

Colorado: There has been a bubbling up of interest in Douglas county, a suburban area with good public schools, not the norm for a choice experiment.  But there is philosophical support for choice, and supporters think it could plant the seed in Colorado.  Here is a nice article from the Cato Institute.

Florida: As I noted in a recent post, Florida is powering ahead as the biggest and best school choice state in the country.  Increasingly seen as a national model of effective education policy, Florida is poised to continue its path as the leader in providing  educational options to its residents.

Indiana: Also mentioned in a recent post, Indiana is looking VERY GOOD to make major gains in its push for school choice.  Heavily influenced by the successes of Florida and with a perfect political climate to make major changes, Governor Daniels is ready to leave his legacy in Indiana and show what he could do as a Presidential contender.

Illinois: I think we are in for a long fight in Chicago.  But Senator Meeks, who introduced and fought for the bill in 2010 will bring this issue to Chicago’s Mayoral race, making the issue a live one again in 2011.

Nevada: With a Governor supportive of vouchers and a favorable legal context, Nevada could have a new program.

New Jersey: Governor Christie continues to be a powerhouse in Jersey, battling the bully teacher unions and winning.  Though the unions at one point spent $6 million in attack adds in two months, polls suggest that he is winning the war of words by speaking clearly and exposing how the teachers unions operate.  Check out the Youtube videos, which have become something of a sensation, of Christie taking on the teachers unions.

Massachusetts:  Something of a long shot for parental choice, even Massachusetts is making a push for a tax-credit program, another sign that school choice is spreading and increasingly enjoys bi-partisan support and recognition that it works.

Ohio:  Finally having hit the cap in terms of applicants for existing vouchers spots, Ohio may be poised to expand its state-wide voucher program.

Pennsylvania: With both candidates for Governor supporting school choice expansion, Pennsylvania appears to have sufficient bi-partisan support for its tax-credit program to at least regain the funding that was lost, if not to expand funding levels for its scholarships.

Virginia: Likely a top pick for a new program, I think Virginia will make a push for a new scholarship tax-credit bill with strong support from Governor McDonnell.

Wisconsin:  Home of the first voucher program in Milwaukee, rumblings are beginning about a possible expansion to this already very strong program.

DC: And let’s not forget the District of Columbia and the battle over the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.  As I predicted, the D.C. OSP will rise again, hopefully bigger than before.

And there could be more.  A report from the Foundation for Educational Choice reveals that:

Voters in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York decidedly favor charter schools, tax-credit scholarships, and vouchers…

Many of these states are long-shots, but it is notable that efforts are underway in so many states.  I think it is likely that we will see victories in Indiana, Virginia, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Washington D.C. in 2011, and perhaps others.  Between the new political climate, the constant flow of ed reform documentaries and national press, and the growing acceptance of parental choice in states around the country, I’m bullish for 2011.

Two states, Florida and Indiana, are talking about radical school reforms advancing parental choice, and in both cases these changes seem very possible.

The St. Petersburg Times and CBS news have both reported Governor-Elect Rick Scott’s recent remarks at a rally in front of hundreds of students receiving publicly leveraged scholarships.  The Times led off by saying:

Florida Gov.-elect Rick Scott on Thursday blew the door wide open to the idea of a voucherlike program for all students, saying he’s working with lawmakers to allow state education dollars to follow a student to the school his or her parents choose.

He did not use the term vouchers. Others called it an “education savings account.”

But whatever it’s called, the incoming governor, key lawmakers and a foundation tied to former Gov. Jeb Bush are setting the stage for Florida to consider one of the most radical education ideas that it — or arguably any state — has ever considered.

Florida already expends more publicly funded dollars and gives out more publicly supported scholarships than any other State in the Union.  And along with the cocktail of other cutting edge education policies, its leadership in parental choice is making Florida one of the highest performing and fastest improving states in k-12 education in the country.  Matt Ladner at Jay P Greene blog has covered this topic extensively.  But Florida is just getting started.  Its Tax-Credit scholarship program is in the midst of a major expansion, from 33,000 low-income students at present to a projected 80,000 students within the next 4 years and a whopping $400 million dollars annually in scholarship funding.  This more universal “bank-account” approach is just the newest in a string of good policy ideas to empower parents and bring broad choices into the educational system.

In Indiana, Governor Mitch Daniels is talking about a considerable set of education reforms, and among them is a voucher program.  Though its been kept rather quite thus far, the Daily Reporter covered Governor Daniels remarks to the press after a recent Roundtable meeting on new proposed education policies.

Daniels and Bennett didn’t mention controversial private school vouchers until talking with reporters after the Roundtable meeting. Daniels said his agenda will include a bill to allow state money to go to private schools to help low-income students attend. He said he hasn’t firmed up details, including what income level would be required to qualify for vouchers.

Though Indiana already possesses a fledgling tuition tax-credit program, it has been slow in getting geared up in its first year of implementation.  A new voucher program could launch Indiana toward the front of robust parental choice States.  As my Indiana is my home these days, I’m pretty excited about the prospects!

To view the whole film, which is awesome, visit voicesofschoolchoice.org.

A promising outcome of the landslide victory of the Republicans in the House and significant gains in the Senate, is the likelihood that the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program will rise again.  Phased out by the Obama Administration and an antagonistic Democratic Congress, the D.C. OSP offered scholarships for some 1,700 low-income children in D.C., a place with notoriously bad urban public schools, to attend private schools of choice.  For many, this was a ticket out of a failing and potentially unsafe public school into a nurturing school that provided hope for a better life.  It was a tragedy when it was canceled, and helped cause the closing of up to four D.C. Catholic Schools.

With Speaker Boehner, a Catholic school advocate and a D.C. OSP supporter, at the helm, and Rep. Kline likely to take the chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, it looks likely that the OSP will see a new day. I am hopeful, and think it is likely, that it will rise up bigger and better protected than before.

The Washington Times reported on Nov. 9

A spokeswoman for Rep. John Kline, Minnesota Republican and likely chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said her boss and other House leaders continue to support the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program and intend to pursue its revival.

“Congressman Kline is very focused on restoring the program,” spokeswoman Alexa Marrero said.

She added that presumptive House Speaker-to-be John A. Boehner and Rep. Darrell Issa, incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees D.C. affairs, also “remain strong supporters” of the D.C. voucher program.

The National Review published this article online on Nov. 4

An overlooked group of winners from Tuesday’s landslide election is low-income children living in Washington, D.C.  Speaker Boehner is likely to make reviving the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program a priority in the next Congress, setting the stage for an interesting confrontation with President Obama.

Since the 1990s, Boehner has championed policies to expand school choice options for kids trapped in low-performing schools. As the chairman of the Education Committee in 2004, he supported the Bush administration’s successful effort to create a pilot school voucher program in Washington, D.C. He also successfully pressed for school vouchers in the emergency federal aid package to help the many kids who were displaced by the Gulf Coast hurricanes in 2005.

Beyond his work as a legislator, Boehner has been a tireless advocate for inner-city parochial schools. For years, Boehner has co-sponsored annual charity events with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (and other Democratic leaders), raising millions to help struggling parochial schools in Washington, D.C. The events also have provided a preview into the Republican’s softer side (which the country saw first-hand Tuesday night). He’s known for his tendency to choke up when talking about the need to give poor children a chance to attend better schools, and presides over these charity events with a box of tissues close at hand.

I offered a lot of posts on this issue during the drama over the OSP re-authorization, but here is a favorite, the letter from leaders from the University of Notre Dame to Secretary of Education Duncan and Senator Durbin.

An interesting article from the Catholic News Agency on the case before the Supreme Court challenging the Arizona tax credit program.

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that a school voucher program in Ohio which gives parents a tuition grant to be used toward a range of secular or religious schools did not violate the establishment clause. In April 2009, however, a panel of judges on the 9th  U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Arizona tax credit program might still amount to an establishment of religion.

The Obama administration disagreed—noting that the Arizona statute does not privilege religious education, and maintaining that it passes the constitutional test at least as easily as the Ohio vouchers. As the high court heard oral arguments in the case on November 3, Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to agree with the White House’s position.

In a strong gesture of support for the Christian tuition organization, acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Kaytal said opponents of the tax credit had no case. “Not a cent” of taxpayers’ money was even indirectly funding religious schools, the solicitor general observed. “Not a fraction of a cent … As you track the taxpayers’ dollars, it doesn’t actually fund any religious program.”

Thus, the Obama-appointed solicitor general said, challengers of the Arizona law could not bring a complaint as taxpayers, nor could they claim an establishment of religion.

Expect to hear more about this…

…but I don’t think it’s too strong to describe the situation of students in a classroom with an ineffective teacher.

Waiting for Superman has, as many suspected and hoped it would, generated a surge of discussion on education and ed reform.  “Don’t wait for Superman – focus on teachers”, an article in the Boston Globe, takes up one of the common themes in the responses.  The key idea in the article:

Much of the film involves interviews with policymakers who make a compelling case for firing chronically ineffective teachers. Removing the worst teachers is imperative, but it does not solve our most urgent need: making good teachers great.

I still have not been able to see the movie – somehow, South Bend, Indiana, is not one of the metropolitan hot spots included in the film’s limited release – so my commentary is independent of anything that is actually said or not said in WFS. Much of the reaction I’ve read, at least of the type that falls somewhere between mild-skepticism and rabid disapproval, tends to express some variation of this thought: It’s not all the teachers’ fault, and those who hope to bring lasting, far-reaching change in the American education system ought to start throwing their efforts in with the people in the classrooms rather than criticizing them.

I come from a family of teachers, I am a teacher, and I was in fact taught by teachers my entire life.  I love teachers.  Data shows that teacher-effectiveness has a greater impact on student achievement than over-all school performance, class size, or home environment.  The article says, “the policy solutions implied in the film — getting rid of bad teachers and expanding charter schools — will not go far enough to counter educational inequity.”  The authors of the Globe article make a critical and often-overlooked point when they say what our children ultimately need is brigades of great teachers.  They go on to describe some specific measures that could go a long way to helping teachers go from good to great.

I like 90% of what’s being said here.  I’m not quite comfortable, however, with the notion that the single most urgent need is more great teachers.  For one, it is dangerously myopic to suggest there is one thing everyone needs to focus on entirely.  The issues in education are more complicated than that.  There’s no magic bullet.

Secondly, ineffective teachers are an issue that needs to be dealt with immediately, even though they’re not the only issue.  Indulge me in an analogy: a kid falls in a pit of quicksand.  If the adults present stood around and said, “Well, what we need to do is take all this ground around here and make it firmer and more reliable!  Then we won’t have any kids falling into quicksand pits,” they would be correct.

Meanwhile, the kid would be up to his ears, saying, “Um, excuse me.  Hi, yeah, I’m still here getting sucked into this particular pit.”  Some might also wonder why the kid was allowed to fall in the pit in the first place, but that’s not only taking the analogy too far, it’s a separate discussion.

We need great teachers, and we need to find ways to increase teacher quality through whatever effective means are available to us so good teachers can become great teachers.  We’re also obligated to get our kids out of dangerous situations as quickly as possible.  Superman always plucks the hapless victim out of harm’s way before he pummels the villain, right?