Choice Words

Florida
is the next state poised to establish a “parent trigger,” should its
Republican-controlled Senate pass the measure when it reaches the floor during
the final days of a contentious legislative session. Designed largely after California’s model, the
bill adopts all the strengths of the trigger while addressing none of its
shortcomings. While the Golden State is the inspiration for ambitious lawmakers with
itchy trigger fingers, there is no indication they have learned anything from
the awkward and confusing rollout in California.

Instead, Florida legislators are
using taut political muscle
to join California, Mississippi and Texas in
the attempt to empower parents to go so far as to convert a failing school into
a charter—and they’re trying to maneuver the legislation through committee
stops while leaving little time for debate. But if lawmakers try to take this
out of the sunshine, they’re only going to sow the same confusion that has
frustrated Californians.

If lawmakers try to take this
out of the sunshine, they’re only going to sow the same confusion that has
frustrated Californians.

Only the second attempted trigger in California ended in failure two weeks ago.
Organizers at Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto had, at one point, convinced
a supermajority of parents to sign a petition to trigger reforms before nearly
100 of them backed out. The Parent Revolution, which organized the Desert
Trails campaign, says
...

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It’s almost become flippant for Democratic lawmakers to
disparage a school voucher as “a war on public education,” as Virginia
Senator Henry Marsh declared recently
in opposition to a tax credit scholarship
that
passed the state House of Delegates Wednesday
. But if it’s war Marsh sees, a
look at the numbers shows the conflict is pretty one-sided.

It’s almost become flippant for Democratic lawmakers to
disparage a school voucher as “a war on public education.”

Unlike many existing scholarship programs that award an
attractive dollar tax credit for every dollar in contributions, Virginia would allow
individuals and businesses to write off only 65 cents for every dollar they
donate to a nonprofit scholarship organization. And lawmakers capped state
funding for the program at a paltry $25 million a year. Even with these baby
steps, it took Republican Lt. Governor Bill Bolling to cast a tie-breaking vote
last week in an evenly divided 40-member Senate to pass the bill.

The vote was mostly along party lines, showing that Virginia
Democrats learned nothing from members of their party in Florida, particularly
those in the Black Caucus, who since last
year
have urged their brethren to look at this option differently. A
similar program in Florida awards taxpayers a dollar-for-dollar credit for
their donations to a scholarship organization and is currently capped at $175
million. Even at these numbers, the Florida program has...

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The researchers behind the School Choice Demonstration
Project have
given us their last word on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program
, and the
news largely is good for the nation’s oldest school voucher enterprise. A
sample of voucher students made larger reading gains than their counterparts in
Milwaukee Public Schools and voucher students continue to show higher
graduation rates. But more significant may be the implication that higher
standards and accountability are partly responsible for the progress.

By the time the
project gathered data during its final year of study, the schools participating
in the voucher program were required to abide by a number of new regulations.
Besides requirements to adopt curriculum, instructional, and graduation
standards, the participating private schools had to test their voucher students
with the same assessments used in public schools, and each school had to report
the results. At a minimum, these new regulations “played a role” in generating
the achievement gains found in the final year of the study, said Patrick J.
Wolf, the project’s principal investigator and professor at the University of Arkansas.

The results show a need to further
explore the right balance between parental choice and state standards.

“We cannot determine conclusively how big a role the
accountability policy played, however, only that the combination of Choice and
accountability left the MPCP students in our study with significantly higher
levels of...

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The Georgia House this
week took another step
toward exiling last spring’s state Supreme Court
decision prohibiting the state approval of charter schools to the history
books, where it belongs. If the Georgia Senate follows suit, voters will have
an opportunity in November to test whether Chief Justice Carol Hunstein was
correct in her assertion that Georgia
citizens are happy to secure “the now 134-year-old status quo.”

In May, Georgia’s highest court
disbanded the state’s charter school authorizing commission
, ruling that no
publicly funded educational enterprise is permissible unless first engineered
or christened by a local school board. A resolution that passed a supermajority
vote in the House on Wednesday would ask voters to reinstate the commission by
amending the constitution. This is significant, as Hunstein proclaimed that the
constitution limits authority over public education “to that level of
government closest and most responsive to the taxpayers and parents of the
children being educated.”

This resolution puts authority squarely in the hands of the
taxpayer.

This resolution puts authority squarely in the hands of the
taxpayer and recognizes that nothing is more responsive or consequential to a
child’s education than the choice the parent makes on his behalf. The
commission created 16 charter schools before the court ruled it did so in
violation of the constitution, but the commission merely provided families the
lever to make the educational...

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The failure to enact a parent trigger in Adelanto,
California, shows how difficult it is to campaign for the sweeping reform the
law allows, as it should be. If the parents at Desert Trails Elementary want to
either replace the instructional and administrative staff or convert the school
into a charter, it had better have the support of an overwhelming majority of
parents. The campaign had boasted that 70 percent of Desert Trails parents
supported pulling the trigger, but
the Los Angeles Times reported that
nearly 100 later backed out of the petition,
which the school board on
Tuesday threw out.

It should be difficult to campaign for the sweeping reform parent trigger
laws allow.

The effort may not have divided the school, as
a Times headline asserted earlier
this week
, but it certainly led a community of parents to splinter into
factions, including those who wanted to see change at a troubled school but not
a wholesale charter conversion. As more states like Florida
and Michigan
consider their own trigger laws, they should set the bar high to make sure that
transformational change is capable with only a supermajority of parents.

California’s law demands that a simple majority of parents at a low-performing traditional school
can petition for a charter conversion, and most states with trigger proposals
follow that formula. Ben Austin, the executive director of...

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Rick Santorum
The GOP presidential hopeful is both a blessing and a curse for home-schooling advocates.
 Photo by Marc Nozell

The spotlight shining on Rick Santorum’s educational
philosophy is both a blessing and a curse for home-schooling parents and their
advocates. As the Los Angeles Times noted over the
weekend, the Republican presidential hopeful has emerged as the most prominent
home schooler in America, a fact that gives momentum to a movement that is
growing in popularity to include, by some estimates, nearly two million people
nationwide. But the same story also identified Santorum as the GOP leader who
“bashes public schools” and disparages the government’s hand in keeping
education mired in the Industrial Age.  

A greater range of home-school practitioners is making it
harder to draw broad conclusions about the movement, but most commentators and
journalists still see it far enough outside the mainstream to develop anything
more than a caricature. Hence, readers end up with nonsense like
that from Dana Goldstein
, who writes in Slate that liberals who home school
their children are violating their own progressive values by sowing distrust in
public institutions. But however unreasonable it might be for Goldstein to draw
upon extremes, Santorum’s weekend jeremiad only invites...

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A high-performing charter network in Chicago cherished by
Mayor Rahm Emanuel got some lowbrow attention this week. The city’s esteemed
Noble Network of Charter Schools has been charging fees of children who rack up
a sizable share of demerits, and a group that would never be confused as a
friend of charters and choice thought
it would bring some attention to the practice
. The Chicago media have
lapped it up, mocking Emanuel’s previous reference to the school’s “secret
sauce” for student success while pointing now to evidence that Noble is
nickel-and-diming poor kids. But a cursory search through any number of
Catholic school codes of conduct shows that Noble’s policies aren’t so
extraordinary.

A cursory search through Catholic school codes of conduct shows that Noble’s policies aren’t so
extraordinary.

Let’s set aside the fees for a moment and consider the
“sauce” that makes up this particular charter network. State achievement test
data show that Noble beats the public school test score average. Families have
lined up for entry and the school has a long waiting list, despite – or maybe
because of – its strict disciplinary policies. It boasts a 90 percent
graduation rate, compared to 54 percent for Chicago Public Schools, and 91
percent of its graduating seniors go on to college.

It also puts a price tag on misbehavior. The student who
collects four demerits in two weeks...

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As Adam wrote on Monday, the budget proposal that President Obama released this week zeroes out federal support for the D.C Opportunity Scholarship Program, backtracking on a budget deal the White House made with House Speaker John Boehner last year. Yesterday, the Choice Words editor explained Obama's decision and what it means for school choice in a WSJ.com interview, which you can stream below:

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Maybe now’s not the time for charter schools in Florida to
ask for parity in funding, but it’s unlikely that a move to seek local revenues
from school districts would be welcome in even the best of times.

The passions stirred by a
legislative effort in the Sunshine State
to direct local tax revenues to
charter schools show just how hard it is for charters to find equity in school
systems that rely on property taxes to fund most of their needs. A Florida
senate bill would make it mandatory for districts to share as much as $140
million in local tax revenues with charters on a per-pupil basis for
construction and renovation. State law currently allows districts to
voluntarily share that money. Not surprisingly, few volunteer.

A senate education committee passed the bill recently along
party lines, and the reaction from school districts and newspaper editorial
boards was apoplectic. “Wait. Rewind,” read the Orlando Sentinel editorial page.
“Didn’t charter school prophets pledge to do more with less? Wasn’t less
regulation supposed to deliver greater efficiency?”

The charter school must pledge to do more
while others determine how much less it’ll get.

Yet it’s the charter school that must pledge to do more
while others determine how much less it’ll get. A
report released last week from Florida TaxWatch
, an independent think tank
and government watchdog, found that...

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Last
year’s budget compromise between Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner—the
one that resurrected the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program—was quashed
Monday in a single paragraph deep
in the president’s proposed 2013 budget
.

The
president would provide no new funding for the OSP, proposing instead to use
the money available in the program to provide vouchers to currently enrolled
students through the 2013-14 school year—effectively capping the number of
scholarships available at a time when demand is spiking. He then would redirect
$60 million and divvy it among Washington’s
charter schools as well as “the District’s efforts to transform its public
education system.”

Obama’s
proposal shamefully sends the voucher movement back to familiar territory during an election
year.

Despite
the president’s long-held opposition to a scholarship program that has provided
private school tuition assistance to more than 1,600 of D.C.’s most
disadvantaged students, Obama found common ground with Boehner in April in
order to avert a government shutdown and to preserve education initiatives
favored by Democrats. “Life has been breathed into the voucher movement,” the
Brookings Institution’s Grover J. Whitehurst said at the time.

Obama’s
proposal shamefully sends it back to familiar territory during an election
year.

Not
long after he took office, Obama and Congressional Democrats shut down the
voucher program to new students and as recently as last year argued that the OSP
...

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