The Center for Education Reform Encouraged By U.S. Senate Passage of Every Child Achieves Act

Step Closer to Proper Role of Federal Government in U.S. Education

CER Press Release
Washington, D.C.
July 16, 2015

Kara Kerwin, president of The Center for Education Reform (CER), together with CER senior fellow and president emeritus Jeanne Allen, issued the following statement on the U.S. Senate’s passage today of the Every Child Achieves Act (S.1177):

“With appreciation for the bi-partisan approach with which the Senate leadership has deliberated and passed their Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization, we believe we are finally once again on the way to reinforcing the proper role of Washington in education.

“Education is and must remain a national priority, and excellence in education an international imperative. Parents and high-quality educators must be assured that their work and positions of authority count more in schooling than the misguided dictates of the federal bureaucracy.

“We applaud the Every Child Achieves Act for reinforcing the principle of local autonomy and state sovereignty in pursuing the reforms and programs that they believe, through a democratic process, best fit the needs of the students, the communities and the schools that they know best.

“The Center for Education Reform is dedicated to and founded in 1993 on the belief that only by expanding choice and accountability in education can we achieve excellence in every school and for every child. Such tenets have over the last 25 years resulted in increased success at all levels.

“We still believe that money should follow the child and that federal money should honor that principle wherever states have choice programs, and are thus disappointed that the Alexander and Scott amendments failed.

Nevertheless, the Senate’s effort is a great advance, and along with a strong House bill, will correct the overreach of this and subsequent administrations for years to come.”

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Founded in 1993, to bridge the gap between policy and practice, The Center for Education Reform is the pioneer and leading voice for substantive change that transforms learning opportunities and outcomes for America’s children. Additional information about CER and its activities can be found at www.edreform.com.

Senator Scott Delivers Speech on Power of School Choice

Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), an outspoken champion for school choice, delivers a powerful speech as the Every Child Achieves Act, which would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is debated on the Senate floor on July 14, 2015.

Senator Scott’s amendment would allow Title I portability, or in other words, allow funds to follow low-income children, which would give parents a greater choice regarding their child’s education options.

NEWSWIRE: July 14, 2015

Vol. 17, No. 28

DANGEROUS AMENDMENT. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act is still being debated this week in Congress, and CER got wind of an amendment that’s a veiled attempt at destroying charter schools. Under the guise of accountability, union-backed Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has introduced an amendment that would force states to comply with new and onerous regulations that micro-manage charter school operations and finance, as well as dictate under what terms states may and may not hold schools accountable. The amendment would have the effect of putting the federal education department in charge of charter school oversight, requiring states to adopt new and burdensome rules which conflict with current state authorizing preferences and differ state by state. Not only is the proposed charter school language in Every Child Achieves Act already infused with substantial oversight, but this amendment “is just bad policy, period,” says CER President Kara Kerwin. “We urge the U.S. Senate to reject any further attempts at making charter schools operate like the failed public school bureaucracy they were created to change.”

AUTHORIZERS MATTER. Loudoun County, Virginia is getting its second charter school. Why is this news? Because Virginia’s F-rated law makes it extremely difficult to open and operate charter schools in the Commonwealth. WAMU highlights one of the law’s main weaknesses: all chartering power rests solely in the hands of local school boards. Districts typically aren’t friendly towards charter schools, but because some Loudoun board members ran on a platform to expand school choice, a second charter school was approved. It’s dangerous when policies are in place that rely on individuals in power, rather than create the conditions necessary for a structure that puts students and families’ interests first. A constitutional amendment to change this has been introduced, but must get approved by two different General Assemblies to go into effect.

PROFICIENCY GAP. The National Center for Education Statistics compared state performance with 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, and the results indicate states still have a long way to go in implementing high standards. The Foundation for Excellence in Education launched WhyProficiencyMatters.com to shed light on this “proficiency gap” because it creates a false sense of proficiency and achievement. Take Alabama, for example, which ranks 47th on CER’s Parent Power Index, where proficiency gaps between NAEP and state scores are above 50 percentage points for math and reading for fourth and eighth graders. According to Alabama, 88 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading, but according to NAEP, 31 percent of Alabama fourth graders can read at grade level. States must raise the bar on proficiency expectations if our education system is to live up to the promise of delivering an excellent education for every child so that they’re prepared for life beyond K-12.

#TRANSFORMEDREFORM. CER is lucky to get amazing interns, and this summer is no exception. Today, our interns hosted an event at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that they planned and coordinated on their own called “EdReform: Past, Present, & Future.” Panelists included John Bailey, Vice President of Policy of the Foundation for Excellence in Education and Executive Director of Digital Learning Now, Michael Musante, Senior Director of Government Relations of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS), Michael Petrilli, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Jill Turgeon, the Vice Chair of the Loudoun County School Board. Get a recap of the conversation and join in on social media under the hashtag #TransformEdReform. And if you know someone who would make our next great intern, CER is now accepting applications for the fall.

ELECTION 2016. In preparation for the 2016 election, The Seventy Four, a new nonprofit, non-partisan news site, with the American Federation for Children and the Des Moines Register, will be hosting two Education Summits to shine a spotlight on the importance of education and engage elected officials in public discussions surrounding challenges to improve U.S. education. The first summit is set for August 19 in New Hampshire, with a second to follow in Iowa in October. As governors enter the presidential race, find out where they stand on school choice, charter schools, and teacher pay with CER’s Education Fifty.

RALLY ON THE HILL. In just one week, we’ll be joining parents, students, teachers, advocates, and more who will be rallying because they believe parents deserve more power in education. If you’re in D.C. next Tuesday, July 21 at 10:00am, don’t miss the #ITrustParents rally for School Choice. Put on by PublicSchoolOptions.org, the rally will feature CER President Kara Kerwin and CER Board of Directors member Kevin Chavous, Go to publicschooloptions.org/dc-rally/ to RSVP today.

Brown Amendment Bad Precedent for Federal Policy and Bad for Kids

Ohio Senator Pushes Amendment in Every Child Achieves Act to Regulate Charter Schools

Washington, D.C.
July 13, 2015

Under the guise of accountability, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has introduced an amendment to force states to comply with new and onerous regulations that micro-manage charter school operations and finance, as well as dictate under what terms states may and may not hold schools accountable. Brown’s amendment, backed by the national teachers’ unions, is a veiled attempt at destroying charter schools.

“Because most states’ charter laws permit exemptions from onerous bureaucratic rules, charter schools have long been a thorn in the side of entrenched interest groups who have power in the status quo,” said The Center for Education Reform (CER) senior fellow & president emeritus Jeanne Allen. “Despite more than 20,000 students on waiting lists in cities like Columbus and Cincinnati, the good Senator from Ohio has never demonstrated support for charter schooling.”

According to a review by The Center for Education Reform, the Brown amendment would have the effect of putting the federal education department in charge of charter school oversight, requiring states to adopt new and onerous rules which conflict with current state authorizing preferences and differ state by state. A state university, for example, that authorizes and monitors charter schools would have to do more federal compliance reporting for its charter school work than it currently does for its core higher education business, despite proven results.

In fact, charter schools are more successful at reaching and helping students – particularly minority and low-income students – than traditional public schools, according to dozens of studies, such as pathbreaking research conducted by Stanford University economist Caroline Hoxby.

Senator Brown’s amendment would have the effect of dampening those results and discouraging new and innovative models of schooling.

“It’s just bad policy, period,” said CER president Kara Kerwin, who recently visited with policymakers and charter schools in Ohio and found a vibrant and highly energetic charter sector working on accelerating school improvement. “We urge the U.S. Senate to reject any further attempts at making charter schools operate like the failed public school bureaucracy they were created to change.”

The text of Senator Brown’s amendment can be found here.

Proposed charter school language in Every Child Achieves Act is already infused with substantial oversight and can be found here.

NEWSWIRE: July 7, 2015

Vol. 17, No. 27

ESEA. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has gotten as far as it ever has, and the debate about what role the federal government should play in education continues today at 2:30pm on the Senate floor. It’s been stressed that civil rights is the education issue of our time, and as lawmakers debate how to improve education this week, that theme rings even stronger and with more urgency given the myriad of civil rights happenings across the nation in recent months. While the White House isn’t supporting either the House or Senate versions of the bill, Politico reports that the Obama administration stopped short of threatening a veto for the Senate version like it did with the House version, and CER is hopeful the President will sign off on much-needed updates. When it comes to the federal role in education, choice and accountability are key, but particularly in that order. It’s school choice that’s going to be the difference-maker once data and performance are fully known, because tests without choice and consequences are meaningless. Listen to the debate live and follow @edreform on Twitter for key updates as the social media conversation unfolds under #FixNCLB and #ESEA hashtags.

UNIONS. The National Education Association (NEA)’s annual meeting and Representative Assembly ended yesterday, and Mike Antonucci, as always, has the most comprehensive and entertaining roundup of the event’s happenings here. Coming soon is the American Federation of Teacher (AFT)’s annual conference, from July 13-15 this year, and the questions CER posed to reporters years ago to determine if the actions of the unions are consistent with their expressed views and stated objectives are still relevant today. Although, the media has been busy lately covering teachers speaking out in favor of more control over their paycheck dollars, especially in light of the U.S. Supreme Court potentially striking down laws forcing employees to pay union dues. As unions have long surpassed their purpose as a professional association, more and more teachers are getting frustrated being forced to pay money to a group that does not represent their beliefs or values.

ONLINE. As Tennessee Virtual Academy has been forced to limit enrollment to returning students only after the good news of the court ruling allowing the school to remain open, online learning in other states is taking off. In Virginia, parents are excited about the opportunity to enroll students in a new fully virtual program. In Ohio, where there’s been drama with a few bad actors in the charter school sector, more children than ever are learning in virtual classrooms. Online learning can come in many shapes and forms; there are blended options, course choice programs, and fully online schools, and these options can be run by outside providers or can be implemented within the framework of the current traditional public school system. Regardless of the mechanism, online learning is a vital component in Parent Power and improving education in the U.S. today, as it’s opening up classrooms to the world and ensuring students access to some of the best content and educators.

#ITRUSTPARENTS. On Tuesday, July 21 at 10:00am, students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates, and families from around the country will rally on Capitol Hill in support of parents’ rights to access the best education options for their children. The rally, hosted by PublicSchoolOptions.org, will feature CER President Kara Kerwin and CER Board of Directors member Kevin Chavous, in addition to choice champions Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), and Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN). Go to publicschooloptions.org/dc-rally/ to RSVP today.

Teachers Want More Control Over Their Paycheck

As the NEA and AFT gather for their major annual meetings this month, the U.S. Supreme Court could be prepared to strike down laws that force employees to pay union dues.

This would be a game-changer for teachers, as they would no longer be forced to pay money to a group that has outlived its usefulness as a professional membership organization.

In fact, stories about teachers’ frustrations of having to pay money to a group that doesn’t represent their beliefs or values is getting more and more traction in the media. Here are the latest stories about teachers speaking out about their desire to control where their paycheck dollars go:

Apollo-Ridge High School teacher sues PSEA over dues
Ahead Of Supreme Court Hearing, OC Teacher Leading Fight Against Union Dues Speaks To CBS2/KCAL9
Massachusetts Teacher forced to pay $600 to Union despite desire to opt out

Freedom and Independence

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Reflecting on the ensuing American Revolution, British political thinker Edmund Burke had this to say:

“We also reason and feel as you do on the invasion of your charters. Because the charters comprehend the essential forms by which you enjoy your liberties, we regard them as most sacred, and by no means to be taken away or altered without process, without examination, and without hearing, as they have lately been.”

Although stopping short of endorsing American independence, Burke believed that George III was unjustly suppressing the colonial forms of governance that had been created in response to the longstanding British tradition of ‘salutary neglect.’

Needless to say, Burke was referring to charters in a purely legal sense, but ‘charter’ has since obtained a unique connotation when discussing education in America today.

Stripped of its context, the above quotation applies perfectly to charter schools, and how their approved ‘charters’ are indeed, “the essential forms by which” school educators, parents and students, “enjoy their liberties.”

It is for this reason that lawmakers and education officials should “regard them as most sacred, and by no means to be taken away or altered without process, without examination, and without hearing, as they lately have been.”

To be sure, the connection is not perfect, and since it’s being examined devoid of context, this is not to say that those who seek to quash charter autonomy are British monarchy sympathizers. (The official teacher union position on sugar taxes and throwing tea into Boston Harbor is best left undetermined.)

But the principle of independence endures, and it presents an opportunity to highlight that charter school educators consider their freedom to innovate and deliver a quality education to be “most sacred.”

239 years ago, 56 brave men signed a document that extended freedom into every sphere of American society. It is this freedom and independence that has helped the United States earn its reputation as one of the greatest nations on Earth. 239 years later, we work to deliver that promise to education.

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Majority of Americans support school choice, poll finds

by Moriah Costa
Watchdog
July 1, 2015

Public support for school choice is increasing, a poll released on Tuesday by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and Braun Research, Inc. found.

About 62 percent of Americans support education savings account, an increase of 6 percent from last year, the poll revealed.

“As families’ learning needs evolve, ESAs have become the most flexible tool to help parents choose the educational ingredients that work best for their children, especially if their assigned school isn’t serving them well,” Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, said in a statement.

Nevada is the most recent state to expand school choice with a universal ESA bill that allows parents to decide how to spend tax-payer money to pay for their children’s education. The bill allows any public school student who has been enrolled for at least 100 school days to receive up to $5,700 for education expenses for the academic year.

Arizona, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee have ESA programs but it is limited to students with disabilities, military families, and low-income families.

The survey also found that only 36 percent of those polled thought ESAs should be based on financial needs. More than half said they disagreed.

[IN OTHER NEWS: SCOTUS will hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case]

About 42 percent of those surveyed said they thought giving families whose students attend a failing school  a voucher or scholarship is a good intervention. Twenty-six percent thought failing districts should be turned to charter schools, while 25 percent think  school personnel should be replaced. About 18 percent thought failing schools should close.

A 2013 survey from the Center for Education Reform had similar results, with 73 percent of those polled supporting charter schools.

NEWSWIRE: June 30, 2015

Vol. 17, No. 26

UNCONSTITUTIONAL. As battles for civil rights are going on all across the country, a group that should be leading the charge for civil rights is actually playing a role in blocking civil rights for parents and families in Colorado. In 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) together with other organizations, filed a lawsuit against the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Pilot Program, rendering this vehicle intended to give parents the ability to choose the best education for their child inactive. The program has been embroiled in legal battles since, with the latest decision coming from the Colorado State Supreme Court yesterday, ruling the program unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the state’s Blaine Amendment provisions, which place constitutional restrictions on aid to religious schools. Douglas County parents and leaders have said they will take this battle to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2002 ruled that the state of Ohio was within its constitutional power to enact a school choice program for Cleveland children. Although this case differs in that it would be based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment whereas the Ohio case was based on the 1st Amendment, CER stands with leaders and parents fighting for parent and student rights in education, and we’ll be watching as this story unfolds.

UNION MADNESS. USA Today reported that the U.S. Supreme court may be prepared to strike down laws forcing public employees to pay union dues. “Exciting and encouraging news” said a member of the Association of American Educators (AAE), the nation’s largest non-union, professional educators’ organization, as it would eliminate requirements that forcibly collect fees from teachers simply because they choose to work in public schools. Take Massachusetts for example, where Newswire got wind of a young educator who recently decided she did not want to join the local teachers union, but had over $600 deducted from her paycheck anyway. Unfortunately, Massachusetts is a compulsory union state, and when it comes down to it, teachers there don’t have much control over their hard-earned dollars. They can either join the union and have dues deducted from their paycheck, or decide not to join the union and still have dues deducted from their paycheck anyway because law requires them to pay the union an “agency fee.” Gee, what a choice. It’s time the U.S. put their “money where their mouth is” when it comes to treating teachers like the professionals that they are and give them the freedom to decide if belonging to a union matches their own budget and beliefs, especially as CER knows teachers unions long ago outlived their usefulness as professional associations.

ROOTS. At the end of the 2009-10 school year, a rural Michigan district saw the closure of St. Helen Elementary school. The community decided to take matters into their own hands, and in true grassroots fashion, a charter school was born to serve as another option for parents in place of the shuttered school. But the path to create Charlton Heston Academy (CHA) was not an easy one, as the school had to fight to have a cap lifted and figure out how to meet funding and facility challenges, nor is the day-in and day-out work to ensure the school’s 85 percent economically disadvantaged student population has access to an excellent education. Newswire spoke with Jason Sarsfield, VP of the National Charter Schools Institute who grew up in the rural Michigan community and will be returning to his role as Chief Academic Officer for CHA, who stressed that rural poverty comes with its own set of unique challenges and circumstances, but upward mobility is possible when you give children living in poverty the skills and knowledge to take control of their own destiny. Get the full scoop on the school’s amazing story here.

SURVEY SAYS. A survey by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice indicates support for school choice in the form of vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and Education Savings Accounts is on the rise. Specifically, twice as many Americans support school vouchers than oppose them, with respondents citing more freedom and flexibility as their main reasons why. CER President Kara Kerwin was on deck to discuss the findings today at the American Enterprise Institute, stressing the importance of keeping parents informed about education options available to them. Indeed, CER’s own polling points to similar support for school choice, with 74 percent of Americans supporting the term, and 72 percent of Americans supporting the notion of parent choice. It’s difficult to find an issue that most Americans agree on, but the myriad of poll results plus growing number of students in seats of choice are an indication that Parent Power and accountability is it.

ICYMI. While CER has always held the media’s feet to the fire when it comes to getting the facts right and reporting fairly on education issues, it will be interesting to see how the media reports on K-12 education issues in conjunction with the upcoming 2016 presidential election. A new report, Leading the News: 25 years of Education Coverage, by Andrew Campanella reveals that coverage of education policies in presidential election years dropped by an average of 6.5 percent each year since 1992. But it’s clear that with the election getting closer combined with the innate desire by the media to be the outlet that breaks the most interesting news angle on a story that there’s even more room for instances of inaccuracies. For example, Politico “missed the mark on some historical realities in its recent assessment of Jeb Bush’s education work,” CER Senior Fellow and president emeritus Jeanne Allen points out. And speaking of Jeb Bush, Florida is one of the latest states where there have been reports in the media, particularly about charter schools, that are just plain wrong. Thankfully, papers are giving ink to truth-tellers aiming to set the record straight.

Nation’s Only District-Level Voucher Program Ruled Unconstitutional

CER Press Release
Washington, D.C.
June 29, 2015

The Colorado State Supreme Court in a 4-3 vote today ruled the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Pilot Program unconstitutional.

“While the program was limited, only serving 500 students, it’s extremely disappointing that this option is no longer available to parents as a means for them to choose the best education for their child,” said Kara Kerwin, president of The Center for Education Reform.

The program was set up to allow parents to choose where 75 percent, or approximately $6,000, of the district’s per-pupil funding should be sent as a scholarship to a non-religious or religious private school of their choice.

Although the court decided that voucher opponents lacked standing to challenge the Choice Scholarship Pilot Program under the Public School Finance Act, it ruled the voucher program violated the state’s Blaine Amendment provisions, which place constitutional restrictions on aid to religious schools.

The program has been tied up in legal challenges since its creation in 2011. Opponents prevailed in their initial challenge, but the Colorado Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, upholding the constitutionality of the program in late February 2013.

“With a Parent Power Index score of 76 percent, Colorado still has a long way to go in meeting the demand that exists for parents to be able to choose from a portfolio of education options,” said Kerwin. “While the state does permit parents to choose among traditional public schools within the state if there’s room, it’s essential Colorado create more avenues so more parents are able to access excellent learning environments of all kinds. We stand with Douglas County leaders and parents who will continue to fight for parent choice in education by asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider this case.”

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court in the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris case ruled that the state of Ohio was within its constitutional power to enact a school choice program for Cleveland children.