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Answering the call…

The nation will never forget watching the levees break, the fear and pain on the faces of the people trapped, the destruction, countless lives lost too soon. Ten years ago to the date, a storm, an act of God, broke down almost every system and structure that was supposed to keep the great people of New Orleans safe.

There is no question that those systems and structures were severely flawed and broken before the storm. But one in particular – the traditional public schools – literally had tens of thousands of students falling through the cracks. Before the storm, every effort to bring substantive reform to education was fought and defeated by special interests. At the time, CER was intricately involved with the dozen or so folks locally trying to bring about substantive change.

When news of Hurricane Katrina hit, we were all glued to our televisions in horror, outraged that Americans were suffering because of it. There’s a lot of speculation as to the reasons why – flawed government, brutally failed efforts to evacuate – the list goes on.

On August 29, 2005 I made a phone call. What about the hundreds of families of the dozen or so charter schools we personally knew and worked with – were they safe? Dr. James (Jim) Geiser, the former director of Louisiana Charter School Association, now Senior Program Consultant at University of Georgia, answered the call!

Jim and several charter leaders and families made it to Baton Rouge. If my memory serves me right, a charter operator in Louisiana’s state capital gave them refuge.

I’ll never forget Jim’s words, “It’s all gone… You can’t even imagine the destruction. We’re desperately trying to find students and their families to make sure they are safe.”

I could hear the pain in his voice while he was multitasking to

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Growing and Sustaining Catholic Schools: Lessons From Philly

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 2.13.55 PMAccording to a new report, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will have happy news to share with Pope Francis when he comes to visit in September.

Across the United States, Catholic schools have been suffering declining enrollment, but Faith in the Future has announced that the Philadelphia system of Catholic schools are now projecting growth in the number of students they serve. Additionally, the high school system, previously in deficit, is now reporting a surplus in funds, which are being reinvested back into the schools themselves.

While Pennsylvania Catholic schools have also generally benefited from the state’s two tax credit scholarship programs, which allow parents who might not otherwise be able to afford to send their kids to Catholic schools to choose that option. While public policy solutions are important to keep on the table, as they could have a huge impact on the ability of the religious school sector as a whole to remain solvent, Catholic school leaders can’t wait for the next governor to make school choice his or her priority; the crisis is real and now.

In 2011, The Center for Education Reform issued a policy alert taking a critical look at the issues facing struggling Catholic schools, suggesting that the future success of Catholic schools will be tied directly to the ability of Catholic school leaders to integrate faith missions with business skills, and embracing the kinds of changes taking place in the education marketplace at large.

And indeed, the Faith in the Future report notes part of the reason for significant progress has been “reinforcing business process in pursuit of a new growth strategy.”

Acknowledging that it is still early, Faith in the Future believes they are

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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.

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Nevada leaps forward nationally with education savings accounts

by Glenn Cook
Las Vegas Review-Journal
June 7, 2015

Nevada as a trailblazer in education? Underachieving, Third-World Nevada setting a new national standard in school policy that other states are destined to follow?

Believe it. And it never, ever would have happened if a Republican Legislature and governor weren’t in power.

The sweeping education reform agenda passed by Nevada lawmakers and signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval included a groundbreaking school choice provision: nearly universal education savings accounts, or ESAs. Starting next year, parents will be able to withdraw their children from public school, gain control of the tax revenue that funded their enrollment, and spend that money on an educational program that’s best suited for them. ESAs are much better and more flexible than school vouchers for two reasons.

“First, the ESAs move from school choice to educational choice. Not all learning takes place in a classroom. By changing the education funding mechanism to reflect that reality, Nevada will allow parents to better tailor their children’s education to meet their unique learning needs,” said Jason Bedrick, policy analyst for the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.

“Second, whereas the entire amount of the voucher had to be spent in one place at one time, the ESA funds can be spent on multiple educational products and services, and families can save unspent funds for the future. … Overnight, Nevada has become the most interesting state for education reform.”

ESAs exist in Arizona, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi, but they place restrictions on eligibility. Across the country, parents only gain the power of choice based on their income or whether their child’s school performs poorly. Nevada’s ESA law only requires that students first be enrolled in public school to take advantage.

“By not setting conditions on the types of families able to take advantage of this program, Nevada leaders

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Heartland Daily Podcast – Kara Kerwin: School Choice in Montana and Beyond

by Heather Kays
June 1, 2015

In this edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, Managing Editor of School Reform News Heather Kays speaks with Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform, about Montana’s fight for school choice.

They discuss the reasons the school choice movement has been so slow to make progress in Montana, and how other states rank nationally when it comes to school choice and giving parents power over their children’s education.

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The Power of Choice: Who’s blocking ‘choice’ in the Rochester City School District?

By Berkeley Brean
NBC 10 Rochester (WHEC.com)
May 20, 2015

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If a family in the city had the money to move to the suburbs for the good suburban schools that would be a choice. But what about the families in the city that don’t have the money to make that move? What choice do they have?

If they don’t win the charter school lottery, their children have to enroll in the worst ranked school district in the state. That’s why News10NBC traveled to Washington D.C. which is the capital of school choice.

We looked into who is blocking choice in Rochester. It’s the people who control the school system the way we know it now, according to the public school reformers we spoke with.

Jade Yates wants to make music and she wants that music to help people. Yates says, “I know a lot of people are going through a lot of things and depression and I think music really helps people.”

Jade is in the eleventh grade at Richard Wright Charter School in Washington D.C. It’s a charter focused on journalism and media arts. Going there was a choice her mother made.

Mother April Goggans says, “I think choice is just that. I think a lot of times parents feel shackled to their school in the neighborhood.”

Doctor Marco Clark is the founder and principal at Richard Wright. He makes a promise to every parent that their child will be accepted to a college.

“The question I ask is, ‘will the public schools do that?'” says Wright. “Do they make that type of promise? Are they bold, do they have the audacity to say things that charters and schools of choice actually have the opportunity to do? We stand by our

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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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Charter schools must play bigger role in U.S. education

by Kara Kerwin
Macon Telegraph
May 4, 2015

Today in the U.S. there are approximately 3 million students being served by nearly 7,000 charter schools across 43 states and the District of Columbia. We’ve come a long way since the first charter school opened its doors in Minnesota back in 1991, but I ask myself as we celebrate National Charter Schools Week, have we come far enough?

Across the country students are stuck on charter school wait lists — with most schools reporting wait lists of nearly 300 students each — and demand continues to outstrip supply, suggesting that charter schools could grow significantly faster to serve more students if the policy environments were more supportive.

For 19 years, The Center for Education Reform has evaluated state charter school laws to address these fundamental issues with a thorough review of what the words of laws actually mean in practice, not just on paper. Interpretation and implementation vary depending on how the regulations are written, and frankly, who’s in charge.

Charter school growth does continue at a steady, nearly linear pace nationally, especially in states with charter laws graded “A” or “B,” but an even more accelerated pace would allow charter schools to play a more central role in addressing the demands and needs of our nation’s students. Even the top five charter school laws in the nation — The District of Columbia, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan and Arizona — while earning “As,” are still 10 or more points away from a perfect score.

Public charter schools are an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to giving parents power over their children’s education and the freedom to choose the best environment for their children’s unique individual learning needs. Parents deserve access to a portfolio of excellent education options — from public charter schools, to

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Education Advocates React to Newly Released NAEP Scores

by Heather Kays
The Heartland Institute
April 29, 2015

The latest 8th grade U.S. history, civics, and geography results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), released Wednesday, April 29, showed no significant change from the last assessment in 2010.

For 2014, the NAEP scores show only 18 percent of students scored proficient in U.S. history, 23 percent in civics, and 27 percent in geography.

Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom describes the NAEP scores released today as “bleak.”

“The scores weren’t particularly surprising,” said McCluskey. “We’ve known for quite some time that American students have pretty poor historical, geographical, and civic knowledge, and nothing has happened since 2010 that should have radically changed that. Indeed, the focus on mathematics and reading, to the possible detriment of history and civics, may have been amplified a bit with the move to Common Core standards, though since the advent of NCLB math and reading have been essentially the first and last words in school ‘success.’”

School Choice as a Solution

Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform says parents need additional educational options for their children if scores such as these are ever to improve.

“It’s appalling that not even 30 percent of our nation’s 8th graders are proficient in subjects like civics and history that are so fundamental to our nation’s founding and democracy,” said Kerwin. “If we don’t act now and take bold steps to empower parents and accelerate the pace at which they have access to opportunities that dramatically change their children’s learning outcomes, we will not be able to move our nation forward.”

Underachievement in the Middle Class

Koret Senior Fellow and Senior Director of Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute Lance Izumi, says the unimpressive NAEP scores are an indication many parents believe their

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Newswire: April 28, 2015

Vol. 17, No. 17

CHOICE IS POWER. This editor of Newswire had the pleasure to sit down with a mom yesterday to talk about her son’s education and the impact making a choice has had on his life. Barbara left D.C. in the mid-90s to escape the violence and chose to move to suburban Virginia to give her kids a fighting chance. Her youngest son was struggling in a big suburban school, where the achievement gap is only growing among white and black students. She decided to move back to D.C. recently because she has witnessed how school choice has changed her community for the better, and now her son is thriving and has aspirations for college. Congress passed the controversial D.C. School Reform Act in 1996 to bring dramatic change to the nation’s capital and #edreform has done just that. Barbara said that “people aren’t inherently bad, but they make bad decisions when they have no choice in the matter.” She noted the people in her community haven’t changed since the mid-90s, but school choice has empowered them to make better decisions and aspire for something greater. The nation is watching Baltimore clean up from yesterday’s destruction caused in large part by young schoolchildren that have no choice in a city where violence looks a lot like D.C. did twenty years ago. Meanwhile, advocates continue to battle the status quo in Annapolis who believe “small progress” and a political win are more important than taking the bold and controversial steps as D.C. once did to empower parents in Baltimore and throughout Maryland.

FUNDING FIASCOS. In Connecticut, lawmakers are toying with children’s futures by eliminating funding for two already approved charter schools, Capital Prep Harbor School in Bridgeport and Stamford Charter School for Excellence. Dr. Steve

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