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The Real Threats to Charter Autonomy

In recent remarks, Robert Cane, executive director of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS), issued a powerful warning to the charter school movement in the District of Columbia.

Cane spoke of the momentous progress that has been made over the years in making charter schools promising educational options for DC students, but also of the threats to derail the engine driving much-needed reform in the District.

There’s no denying the strides made in DC’s efforts to create a robust charter school environment and the increased student proficiency as a result, but even the most Parent Power friendly areas still face challenges.

Of all the attacks on the charter movement, Cane says, “the most insidious is the continuous assault on what truly defines charter schools: individual-school control over operations and freedom from burdensome oversight.”

This assault comes through in a number of ways, from the ‘controlled choice movement’ to the burdensome regulations charter schools increasingly endure.

Said Cane, “Over the years legislation and regulations have been proposed that, for example, sought to require every charter school to use the same reading program; to impose uniform truancy and disciplinary policies and procedures on charters; to require every charter regardless of its mission, to adopt  “universal values,” “financial literacy,” and “environmental literacy” curricula.

He continued, “Now getting serious traction nationally, the controlled choice movement would limit choice by empowering the government to centrally engineer school admissions in order to achieve increased racial and socioeconomic diversity or other goals.”

“The idea that central planning of any kind should be applied to the charter schools is more frightening than any moratorium on chartering,” he said.

In Cane’s view, charter autonomy is crucial to improving student achievement:

“The success of the charter schools also shows what all of us already

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School Choice Caucus Meeting

Choice is something that we often take for granted until it is taken away. On some days, the biggest choices we make are what we’re making for lunch or whether we’re going to the gym, on other days, we make choices that can influence the rest of our lives. Parents’ choices not only influence their own lives but also the lives of their children, and that is exactly what the parents who spoke at the Congressional School Choice Caucus meeting on March 25th were fighting for: their ability to make the best possible choices for their children.

The meeting was hosted by Congressman Luke Messer (R-IN), founder and chair of the Congressional School Choice Caucus, and featured parents of children who participate in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). The goal of the caucus is to “expand educational freedom and promote policies that increase high-quality education options for all children.” The four parents who spoke at the meeting highlighted their own experiences with OSP and how it has positively impacted their children. Each parent shared their unique story, but the one common thread throughout the entire meeting was the value of their choice. Parents know how different each of their children are, so why should there be only one system that is perfectly suited to them? Education is not one size fits all.

Congressman Messer stressed his belief that every child should have the opportunity to walk into a classroom where they have a chance to learn, and that is exactly what each one of the parents in attendance wanted for their children. A mother of two who lives in Maryland said, “I wish that I didn’t have to ‘shop’ for schools. But I do and I will, because that is what’s necessary for my children.” Both of her children

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March Madness in York, Pennsylvania

The term “March Madness’ often evokes thoughts of Cinderella storied basketball teams that beat the odds to make a successful run at glory, along with shining moments that completely change the dynamic felt by all the players involved.

But these principles can easily be applied to the developments of New Hope Academy in York, PA, when a recent school board meeting provided a moment more shocking than when the 14th seed Mercer upset number 2 Duke.

In what can only be described as a gutless move, the York County School Board motioned for police to escort New Hope performing arts director Cal Weary out, after refusing to acknowledge Weary because he apparently didn’t sign in to be recognized. So naturally, this somehow warranted police intervention.

“What I would have said to them is this — we are all part of the same community. All we want is fair representation,” Weary said following the meeting. “We’re asking for a seat at the table.” There’s a certain sadness to the silencing of the only side of the table calling for compromise and dialogue.

After refusing to hear from New Hope supporters throughout the meeting, Board member Margie Orr also refused to hear from students, claiming the Board is solely accountable to “taxpayers.” The revealing mindset that school officials aren’t accountable to the students they serve is nothing short of astonishing and appalling.

Since last year, New Hope has been embroiled in a fight to keep its school doors open in the face of local adversity, all the while boasting achievement data that shows remarkable gains posted by students coming from the traditional school setting.

The courts of Pennsylvania will now decide New Hope’s fate, and hopefully there’s room for one more Cinderella Story to beat the odds and show that they belong. New Hope

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