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Why D.C. Parents NEED School Vouchers

In 4th Grade, Shirley-Ann Tomdio’s life changed forever when she was accepted into the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP), which allowed her to transfer from a failing D.C. public school to Sacred Heart, a private Catholic school. Shirley, the daughter of two Cameroon, African immigrants, used the voucher for nine years.

Shirley testified to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on May 14, 2015 at Archbishop Carroll High School in Northeast D.C. to discuss the possibility of reauthorizing the DCOSP.

“In 2009, I graduated Sacred Heart School as the valedictorian and took my Opportunity Scholarship across town to Georgetown Visitation (Prep School)!” Shirley told federal lawmakers on Thursday. “At Visitation, I made Second Honors my first two years and First Honors in my third and fourth year. I was a decorated member of the track and field team, co-editor of our school’s Art and Literary magazine, a cheerleader for our school’s pep rally, and the Secretary and Treasurer of the Black Women’s Society. In May 2013, I walked across the stage and accepted my diploma.”

The voucher program for low-income children was enacted a year after congress passed the D.C. School Choice Incentive Act of 2003. The program has been extraordinarily successful for the District’s most disadvantaged children. Consider:

The scholarship program has been under assault since President Obama took office. The program ceased to exist in the first year he took office, but came back in 2011 through passage of the bipartisan SOAR Act. Every single year since then, his Administration has proposed to

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Is Vincent Gray a liar, or just not paying attention?

popquizDC’s Mayor Vincent Gray and other school choice opponents took some time out yesterday, a day that saw a renewal of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program thanks to the CR budget compromise in the House and Senate, to decry what they see is that program’s theft of federal funds from the city’s public schools.

What?!

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program provides supplemental funding for scholarships that are made available to the District’s poorest families, offering them a lifeline out of failing neighborhood schools.

And it doesn’t stop there.

The legislation (supplemental, remember, above and beyond typical funding for DCPS) provides $40 million EXTRA dollars a year to traditional DC public schools and charter schools.

So…

POP QUIZ

This means:

A) He is a liar

B) He has never taken the time read the legislation (then or now) and his staff is lying to him

C) The teachers union contributed handsomely to his campaign war chest

D) He will say anything to appease his supporters, even if it means robbing traditional public and charter schools of tens of millions of dollars, and thousands of kids of their educational future

(Answer: Thee of these answers are correct, but it is unclear as to which three.)

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Charting a course for reform

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s terrifically honest keynote address at this year’s Excellence in Action National Summit in Washington, DC:

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Snowe-d under

plowIn an attempt to win back her crown as Miss Congeniality among anti-school-choice Democrats, Olympia Snowe (R-ME) strolled to the well of the Senate yesterday evening to stab her fellow Mainer, Sen. Susan Collins, in the back by voting against the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. Ms. Collins is one of the program’s chief champions. Despite the courage demonstrated by Senators Dianne Feinstein, Bill Nelson, Mark Warner, and Joe Lieberman – who voted FOR the voucher program – Sen. Snowe’s status as the lone Republican vote against the program was anything but courageous. Whether she likes Sen. Collins or not – or whether she wants to curry favor with Democrats or not (she does), Sen. Snowe’s vote today left DC kids… snowed under.

(In another bit of Maine news, yesterday, the state legislature again denied families another form school choice when their Education Committee endorsed an “innovative schools” bill which had all references to charter school removed before moving on to the main body.)

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Welcome to Washington, Mr. Smith

smith-taylorAt one point in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the legendary film by Frank Capra, the lead character (played by Jimmy Stewart) arrives as a new Senator from Illinois and finds himself sitting with his senior peer and the state’s political bosses. They tell him how Washington works, that for the good of his career he must get in line and feed the machine. His political mentor tries to soften the blow by saying,

“You’ve got to face facts, Jeff. I’ve served our state well, haven’t I? We have the lowest unemployment and the highest federal grants. But, well, I’ve had to compromise, had to play ball. You can’t count on people voting, half the time they don’t vote anyway. That’s how states and empires have been built since time began. Don’t you understand? Well, Jeff, you can take my word for it, that’s how things are … Now, when the (bill) comes up in the Senate tomorrow you stay away from it. Don’t say a word. Great powers are behind it, and they’ll destroy you before you can even get started.”

Translation: Vote like we tell you, not how you think you should.

This, not the famous filibuster scene, is actually my favorite. It’s not made-up Hollywood stuff. It really happens this way, amidst a long cast of characters that descend on the new Member of Congress. And every two years, when a new Congress is created from the hundreds of districts our leaders have sprinkled throughout the land to represent us, it’s our job to remind them why we sent them there.

(Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 – Welcome to Washington’s Food Fight, Mr. Smith)

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Letter to Arne Duncan, Next Secretary of Education

duncanYou’ve been called a “great guy” by democrats who think you will help them grow school reform.  You’ve “made a lot of progress,” say university types.  You’re the “compromise candidate,” because the unions have endorsed you.

Now comes the hard part.

Frankly, you’re one of the few national education leaders I do not know, which gives me some rare objectivity in the matter. That, and the fact that my organization has no horse in the race, no member group to protect, no current ties to you at all.

So, let me offer some fresh advice about what you can expect – and what might take you by surprise.

1) Everyone will want to claim you as his own.  Allowing them to do so will compromise your efforts.

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Not your average cover girl

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee seems to be dominating the media these days, and she’s making headlines again this week, gracing the cover of TIME Magazine.

While there’s nothing glamorous about firing nearly 300 teachers and principals, Rhee has made more changes within DCPS in one year than most could even dream about over several decades. She’s not your typical cover girl, as TIME points out. She’s been called a “nightmare” but Chancellor Rhee seems okay with that. “Have I rubbed people the wrong way? Definitely. If I changed my style, I might make people a little more comfortable… but I think there’s real danger in acting in a way that makes adults feel better.”

A piece in today’s Washington Post shows that this new style can work, but with folks like AFT boss Randi Weingarten highly critical of this new trend, it is unlikely to catch on without bold leadership from our elected officials.

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Why A Charter School Should Not Be the Obamas' Choice

This country is great. We’ve just elected the first African-American president, who has brought tremendous pride to many communities, but especially to African-Americans. I’ve seen it myself across the color and political spectrums.

It reminds us that you can have anything you want in America – unless you’re poor, that is.

Nowhere is this more clear than when it comes to schooling your child. Much has been written about where the Obamas might send their babies to school. As they are looking at private schools, their new hometown paper, The Washington Post, is reminding them that there are other people who want such a choice, but the President-elect doesn’t support the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that allows such a choice with taxpayer dollars.

There are others who want him to go to a charter school. One of his biggest fans, Democrats for Education Reform, a group which really believes he will carry their agenda, is pleading for him to choose a charter school in D.C., one of the 62 or so high quality schools currently serving almost 30 percent of the D.C. public school population.

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