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Student First News – Supporting Quality Education For All Children

We believe that a quality education provides young people with the greatest opportunities for tomorrow, and that includes options like charter and magnet schools. However, we know there are strong forces working to stop these alternatives, and who will politicize and sabotage young people’s opportunities for their own self interests. These are their stories.

 

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Louisiana Gov. Jindal Fights Washington War on School Vouchers

Education | Featured | Success Stories No Comments

By Andrea Billups and Jennifer G. Hickey

A version of this article was originally published in Newsmax.com.

Gov. Bobby Jindal is battling to protect Louisiana’s fast-growing school voucher program from an all-out attack by the Obama administration.

The Justice Department claims the state’s private schools are defying a decades-old federal desegregation order.

In November, a judge ruled the Department could monitor Louisiana’s voucher program, even though 90 percent of the 6,750 students who use the Louisiana Scholarship Program are minority, and 85 percent are black.

The Louisiana Scholarship Program originated in New Orleans in 2008 and Jindal expanded it to other parts of the state in 2012. Now 126 nonpublic schools participate in the program.

Eligible students must come from a family whose income does not exceed 250 percent of the federal poverty threshold. Students must be entering kindergarten or must transfer from a public school that has a poor rating from the state, according to the Louisiana Department of Education.

The Justice Department sued the state in August, first seeking a permanent injunction to stop the program. That request for an injunction was later halted and the DOJ dropped the lawsuit, but the department continues to seek a broader role in monitoring the program, including requiring a 45-day review before each student who receives a voucher scholarship can begin school.

Now Gov. Jindal is pushing back against the federal intervention in his state’s educational system.

Jindal filed a 38-page response to the ruling earlier in January, asking a judge to overturn a 1976 “white flight” case that prohibited giving public funds to all-white private schools. In the filing, the state noted that private schools must be certified by the Justice Department as nondiscriminatory before allowing voucher students to enroll.

“The state strongly believes that it is equally wrong to block scholarship awards to eligible children of other races, but there is a special irony in the fact that the United States would inflict this harm on so many black children and families, all in the name of Brown v. Board of Education,” attorneys wrote in the filing.

Jindal decried the Justice Department’s overreach in a statement, noting he was “shocked” by the DOJ’s attempt to seek racial composition profiles of private schools that take voucher students.

“President Obama’s Department of Justice has admitted it cannot prove that Louisiana school choice is violating desegregation efforts, yet it continues to seek the ability to tell a parent their child cannot escape a failing school because their child is not the ‘right’ race,” Jindal said.

“The Department of Justice proposal reeks of federal government intrusion and proves the people in Washington running our federal government are more interested in skin color than they are in education,” Jindal said.

Some education policy experts say the Justice Department’s involvement in Louisiana can only harm the very children who need help the most.

“To be able to step in and pre-approve a voucher program is breathtaking federal overreach,” says Lindsey Burke, who analyzes education policy for the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

“The Department of Justice is now basically trying to micromanage the program to death,” she said. “The federal government now wants to pre-approve every single voucher in Louisiana. It’s hard to even wrap your head around the audacity of Washington, trying to [require schools] to provide information on every student who applies for a voucher and then have the authority to disapprove it.”

The whole point of desegregation orders decades ago was to ensure that students from every background had equal educational opportunity, Burke told Newsmax.

Vouchers, she added, act as an equalizing pathway to that end.

“So many students, particularly low-income and disadvantaged students, are assigned to schools that fail to meet their needs and in some cases fail to be adequately safe,” Burke said. “This program is an attempt to provide parents in Louisiana to with some say in where and how their children are educated. For many, the government-assigned, government-run public system is not meeting their needs.”

Burke was not alone in criticizing the DOJ’s motive in its filing. Former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, speaking last September at the National Press Club before the lawsuit was dropped, offered that the program had helped to increase achievement in those students who are participating, Politico reported.

“This is purely political, perhaps payback for political elections of the past,” Bush said. “I have no idea why they have made this decision, but I do know for a fact that we need to transform our education system state by state to assure that more than just 25 or 30 percent of our kids are college- or career-ready.”

Bush’s objections were reiterated by House Speaker John Boehner in a letter signed by other lawmakers and sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Boehner noted that 18 states along with the District of Columbia currently were participating in some kind of voucher program, with about 250,000 students enrolled nationally.

“The department’s allegation that the Louisiana Program could impede the desegregation process is extremely troubling and paradoxical in nature,” Boehner wrote. “If the DOJ is successful in shutting down this valuable school choice initiative, not only will students across Louisiana be forced to remain in failing schools, but it could have a reverberating effect and cause other states to feel pressured to shut down similar initiatives that provide countless children the opportunity to receive a better education.”

Whether measurable achievement has occurred in the voucher schools is open to debate, but parents of voucher students in Louisiana seem satisfied with the program. A studyreleased last March by a school choice advocacy group, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, found more than 90 percent said they were pleased with their child’s new school.

And at least one study of the program by the University of Arkansas’s Department of Education Reform found that it has positive effects on racial integration.

Authors Anna J. Egalite and Jonathan N. Mills noted that voucher student transfers “overwhelmingly improve integration in the public schools students leave (the sending schools), bringing the racial composition of the schools closer to that of the broader communities in which they are located.”

They added that in those districts where the DOJ is concerned about desegregation violations, the Louisiana Scholarship Program transfers ”improve integration in both the sending schools and the private schools participating students attend (receiving schools).”

Burke of the Heritage Foundation said she sees a “pattern of hostility” directed at voucher programs around the country to “disrupt and eliminate” private school choice options.

“Louisiana is not the only place where we have seen the administration step in and try to prevent school choice from proliferating,” Burke noted. “Every year we’ve seen this administration try to eliminate funding for the wildly success D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program.”

That program has been in place in Washington, D.C., for nine years and has awarded close to 5,000 scholarships to mainly black students who may take their vouchers and pay to attend higher performing private schools.

The Obama administration has been somewhat open to charter schools, but those are public schools, Burke noted, adding that much of the fealty toward protecting the power base of public schools is rooted in “union labor loyalty.”

“You have the teacher unions that throw tremendous amounts of money in support of this administration,” Burke said.

“The teacher unions have been blockers every step of the way,” she added. “When you look at the history of school choice, you see the unions always trying to put up barriers to school choice and now they have an administration that is supportive of that effort. This is a direct threat to union power — kids choosing private schools that are autonomous.”

Jindal_education

By Andrea Billups and Jennifer G. Hickey A version of this article was originally published in Newsmax.com. Gov. Bobby Jindal is battling to protect Louisiana’s fast-growing school voucher program from an all-out attack by the Obama administration. The Justice Department claims the state’s private schools are defying a decades-old federal desegregation order. In November, a […]

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Obama has surrendered moral authority on income inequality

Education | Enemies and Foes | Featured No Comments

A version of the article was originally published on FoxNews.com

Photo: WhiteHouse.gov

Photo: WhiteHouse.gov

By Rick Manning

Kevin Chavous is a former District of Columbia Councilmember, mayoral candidate, and member of the Obama education advisory committee.  Now, he is an advocate for school vouchers.

The African-American Democrat points to what some would consider a shocking truth when it comes to which politicians support increasing opportunities for inner city underprivileged children when he talks about the constant fight over funding school vouchers in the Districtsaying, “We have a 97 percent graduation rate for children in the Opportunity Scholarship Program in the District of Columbia, 92 percent college enrollment, and two valedictorians, and our biggest problem is fighting Obama.”

Chavous also extolls the House Republican Speaker John Boehner calling him, “… our biggest champion in Congress.”

The question is why would Obama seek to limit successful programs that allow inner city youth to enter a pathway to educational success when African-American voters are the one group that has overwhelmingly supported him?

Why would Obama seek to limit successful programs that allow inner city youth to enter a pathway to educational success?

And maybe an equally interesting question is why Speaker Boehner, who represents a largely white, rural Ohio district would care about breaking the failed education/poverty cycle in the District?

Boehner’s answer can be found back in 2003, when he served as the Chairman of the House Workforce and Education Committee. In introducing legislation to allow a voucher system in the District, the current Speaker issued a stirring call for change,

I am here today because I believe that all children, regardless of their economic background, deserve a safe and productive learning environment. I believe that we ought to trust parents to make the best decisions about their children’s education. I believe that the current system in the District of Columbia is robbing both parents and children of the right to a quality education. And I believe that competition in the education system creates a culture of achievement that will improve the quality of every student’s academic experience.

I refuse to accept the notion that some children are unable to learn, a notion that the President (George W. Bush) has called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Hard words to argue with, particularly as school choice and charter schools have been overwhelmingly proven to be successful in increasing kid’s future opportunities.

Obama and the left’s opposition is more troubling as it essentially is just an accession to teachers union fears that  public schools will lose the competition for students if their monopoly is broken.

After all, what parent would voluntarily send their child to a crummy school, if they could choose a better alternative that increased their opportunities in the future?

In places like Hartford, Connecticut, there is a waiting list of hundreds of kids to attend the Capitol Prep Charter School due to its 97 percent graduation rate, with about two-thirds of graduates going to college.

Incredibly, rather than expand this successful program dramatically, the Hartford School District may choose to deny more students access to this success story as out of town left-wing activists have engaged in wholesale attacks on the school’s principal – Steve Perry.

You see, Perry, a public school employee, has become an outspoken national advocate for alternative education, and he scares the teacher union establishment which controls the school system. In true Saul Alinsky fashion, they are determined to crush him using any means necessary, the children be damned.

50 years ago, LBJ embarked on a liberal spending spree which called the “war on poverty”.  It has failed. Evidence of the failed welfare state is everywhere, with the fact that almost one in six Americans is on food stamps, serving as just one proof.

If our nation truly wanted to wage a compassionate war on poverty, it would fix the education system through vouchers, choice and charter schools. Reforms that have proven successful in elevating children out of the cycle of poverty and the government dependency it creates.

The cynical truth is that the left does not want children raised out of poverty, thriving because they have the education to move beyond the crumbling walls of economic despair.

Dependent voters are reliable voters, and self-sufficient voters are a threat.  How else can you explain why the first black president has consistently fought against providing funds to give the rest of the kids in D.C. the same opportunity to get a quality private school education that his own two children enjoy?

Obama has chosen to consign those at the bottom of the economic ladder to generational failure by opposing proven alternative education options.

By opposing giving people the ability to achieve the American dream by denying them the choice to get out of a failed education system, Obama has surrendered any and all moral authority to talk about income inequality. After all, his presidency relies upon the government dependency that poverty creates.

Richard Manning is the vice president of public policy and communications for Americans for Limited Government.

obama-education

A version of the article was originally published on FoxNews.com Photo: WhiteHouse.gov By Rick Manning Kevin Chavous is a former District of Columbia Councilmember, mayoral candidate, and member of the Obama education advisory committee.  Now, he is an advocate for school vouchers. The African-American Democrat points to what some would consider a shocking truth when it […]

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Bobby Jindal beats Eric Holder, Obama

Education | Featured | Success Stories | Teachers Unions No Comments

By Tom Toth

Since 2008, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s reform efforts to give the opportunity of an excellent education to each student through school vouchers have hit Democrats in the most damaging way possible: Success.

As of the fall semester in 2013, roughly 8,000 Louisiana students in families with economic hardship are attending scholarship schools through the state’s voucher program with improved test scores, graduation rates, and 93 percent satisfaction from parents. The average family income in-state for voucher scholarship applications is $15,564 and nine in ten of participating students are minorities.

Desperate to deter the rest of the nation from following Jindal’s leadership in teacher union-hated alternative education tools, the Department of Justice (DOJ), led by Attorney General Eric Holder and his boss Barack Obama, last August filed a lawsuit against Louisiana’s school voucher program on questionable grounds.

The DOJ alleged that, because the vouchers were being used mostly by minority families, and therefore sending a high amount of minority students to alternative schools with the state vouchers, the program violated federal laws of school integration from the 1960s.

Indeed, Holder and Obama argue that too many poor minorities are receiving a good education by escaping failing schools.

The ridiculousness of the administration’s accusations didn’t go unnoticed; many in the media criticized the merits of the suit, Jindal’s administration was well-prepared to fight it in federal court, and the nation watched Holder and Obama run — with proverbial tails between their legs — from the fight, abandoning their lawsuit only weeks later.

Presumably, the administration calculated that the impending embarrassment of arguing that case in court was worse than the humiliation of abandoning a federal lawsuit.

Whatever the case, Obama’s rep tape regulatory firepower will now try what either the administration’s legal teams couldn’t accomplish or public relations teams couldn’t spin. The DOJ has mandated that Louisiana send the federal government information on all voucher scholarship applications and hold acceptance on said applications for 45 days while administration officials reviewed them. In addition, each school district involved with the program must provide “an analysis of the voucher enrollments … with respect to their impact on school desegregation.”

No such requests from the federal government investigating the disproportionate amounts of minorities attending failing schools in poor districts have been forthcoming.

Programs like Governor Jindal’s are effective, progressive solutions to 21st century education problems in states like Louisiana. Democrats are at a distinct disadvantage to fight for better education results given the millions in campaign contributions that teachers unions account for.

Democrat solutions, therefore, must necessarily also contain union-demanded stipulations such as no teacher accountability or achievement records, unfair seniority advantages for faculty, and damaging tenure requirements from the status quo that are direct contributors to states’ education problems.

Conservatives like Jindal face no such constraint.

Conservatives are free to pursue unbridled innovation with the purpose of giving every child in every school district the opportunity for a quality education, regardless of family income, ethnic background, or zip code. Jindal’s plans are working for Louisiana. Other states will have different solutions to different problems, and Conservatives exclusively own the full field of possibility.

Because of this, the left will pursue any means necessary to stop his leadership and discourage other governors, state legislatures, and school boards from following suit with successful policies that consequently work against Democrat interests.

So far, Conservatives like Jindal are winning.

Tom Toth is the social media director and a contributing editor for Americans for Limited Government.

Jindal_education

By Tom Toth Since 2008, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s reform efforts to give the opportunity of an excellent education to each student through school vouchers have hit Democrats in the most damaging way possible: Success. As of the fall semester in 2013, roughly 8,000 Louisiana students in families with economic hardship are attending scholarship schools […]

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Government School “Accountability” In South Carolina

Education | Enemies and Foes | Featured 1 Comment

South_CarolinaBy Rick Manning

Taxpayer-funded educrats routinely attack free market schools for having “no accountability,” but one of the nation’s worst government-run school districts is showing just how non-accountable – and non-transparent – “public” schools can be.

In Jasper County, South Carolina last month, school district leaders conducted their annual evaluation of Superintendent Vashti Washington, determining her performance to be “satisfactory” – this despite the abysmal performance of her district’s schools on state and national tests.

In 2013, Jasper schools scored a 27.3 out of 100 on state tests – down from 39.5 in 2012. That’s the worst score of any district in South Carolina, which routinely ranks among the worst states in America in terms of SAT scores and graduation rates.

If not results – or even progress toward results – then what did Jasper officials use to justify Washington’s “satisfactory” evaluation?

Parents and taxpayers will never know, because Washington’s evaluation – along with her one-year contract extension and the $15,000 bonus payment she received on top of her $165,000 annual salary (excluding benefits) – was conducted behind closed doors.

Not only that, district leaders refused to put anything on paper for fear of the public uncovering the scam.

“(Past written evaluation forms) resulted in (Freedom of Information Act) demands for the forms, and became embarrassing for the superintendents, so nobody uses forms anymore,” the school district’s attorney told The Jasper (S.C.) Sun.

Wait – isn’t the job of a school district to thoroughly evaluate those charged with educating students?  Not spare these failing leaders “embarrassment?”

“This is the absolute worst-performing government school district in the worst-performing state in America – and its administrators are as dishonest and corrupt as they come,” South Carolina political website FITSNews notes.

Judging by the district’s conduct, it’s hard to argue the point.  Of course it’s not just conservative blogs weighing in on this scandal though.  The local mainstream media is also criticizing the school’s secrecy – and its chronic failure.

“It appears that the board has bought into the superintendent’s bogus argument that the district’s back-to-back ‘F’ grades on federal accountability standards have ‘no meaning’ and are based on ‘bad data,’” an editorial from The (Hilton Head, S.C.) Island Packet observes.

The paper’s editorial added that Jasper officials were displaying “animosity toward the public” by engaging in a process that even its own attorneys agreed was “rigged to be secret.”

Astounding, isn’t it?

Next time you hear someone challenge the “accountability” of parental choice programs, send them this story.  And let them know that if such shenanigans were to take place at a non-government school, parents would have the option of taking their business elsewhere.

Sadly in South Carolina – which has previously rejected universal parental choice programs – parents and students have no alternative.

Rick Manning is the Vice President of public policy and communications for Americans for Limited Government

South_Carolina

By Rick Manning Taxpayer-funded educrats routinely attack free market schools for having “no accountability,” but one of the nation’s worst government-run school districts is showing just how non-accountable – and non-transparent – “public” schools can be. In Jasper County, South Carolina last month, school district leaders conducted their annual evaluation of Superintendent Vashti Washington, determining […]

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Who Could Hate Student Achievement?

Education | Featured | Guest Posts | Success Stories 3 Comments

Capitol_Prep_FrontBy Mario H. Lopez

As submitted to the Hartford Courant

Ask any parent what are the key factors that will help their children achieve the American Dream, and the top answer will almost certainly be a quality education.  Sadly, for generations it seems that there has been a steady increase in bad headlines and alarming stories about the state of education for American children, especially in urban and underserved areas—precisely where it is most critical.

Yet there are inspiring success stories.  In Hartford, one school in particular, Capital Prep, has managed to compile a record that is nothing short of outstanding.

According to the Hartford School District’s website, the entire Hartford School District’s graduation rate was 59.9% in 2011, and the target for 2012 of 62.7%.  By contrast, Capital Prep’s graduation rate in 2012 was ninety-seven percent.

In that same year, about two-thirds (64%) of Capital Prep graduates enrolled in four-year colleges, the second highest level among other schools in the District.  After three years (the latest figures available), 95% were still enrolled in college.

In the 2012-2013 school year, only 12.8% of incoming kindergarteners read and wrote at the state’s established “proficiency” levels, yet by spring this level improved to 59.5%, one of the greatest levels in improvement in the city.

We should not overlook the context of these achievements.   Census records show almost 40 percent of Hartford residents live below the poverty line. According to Hands on Hartford, a local charity, the city’s astounding poverty rate of 33.5 percent makes it the second-poorest major city in the Unites States.  Hartford is 70 percent black and Hispanic.

But I suppose it would not be Christmas season without a Scrooge in the story.  Jonathan Pelto, a liberal ex-politician turned blogger has been working his fingers to the bone.  Since he was ousted from government office 20 years ago, it appears that his newfound purpose is to launch vitriolic attacks against Capital Prep.  What is worse is that this is just one aspect of his efforts to kill education reform in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, neighborhoods in which he likely does not shop, visit, or much less live.

A 1993 New York Times article describes Pelto as being “pushed” from public office, his being fired from political positions with the Democrat Party, his arrogance and lack of being “a team player,” and paints a picture of him sitting around his family’s home “nursing a handful of grudges.” In fact, the state’s Democrat Party Chair said at the time:  “Jonathan’s demise, though part of it is voluntary, is something caused by Jon Pelto.”

Now, Pelto the blogger spends his time railing against education-reform advocates.

Pelto is so obsessed that even the tag-line for A Better Connecticut—an education-reform group— which reads “Every Zip Code. Every Classroom. Every Kid” somehow offends him as he also has criticized this organization and its mission. A quality education for students in “Every Zip Code” may be an honorable goal for some, yet it insults this ex-politician, who is from a rural Connecticut town that is 84 percent white, according to records.

The poverty rate among whites in Hartford is 18 percent, with minority populations hitting 45 percent or more.   And given a poverty rate of almost 50 percent for Hartford residents who don’t finish high school, Pelto’s irrational opposition to reforms that improve the lives of children in these circumstances is nothing short of disgusting.

In recent weeks, Pelto has attacked proposals—and anyone connected with them—to expand a highly successful magnet school program to a nearby public school that is failing, personally deriding school board officials, principals and parents who work tirelessly for a better future for local children.  Keeping minorities poor is not an answer—it is vicious and cruel.

Hartford should move forward with its plans to expand successful magnet school programs across its neighborhoods and provide better education opportunities for children of every race and economic condition, as should other communities across the nation.

With Capital Prep’s positive track record of producing better higher education and career opportunities for kids—and the wealth of social benefits that accompany these achievements—one wonders just who or what is the motivation for such hate-filled attacks.  Our children, whether in Hartford or elsewhere, deserve better.

Mario H. Lopez is president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund.

Capitol_Prep_Front

By Mario H. Lopez As submitted to the Hartford Courant Ask any parent what are the key factors that will help their children achieve the American Dream, and the top answer will almost certainly be a quality education.  Sadly, for generations it seems that there has been a steady increase in bad headlines and alarming […]

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Rhee Opinion – Education Still in Crisis – Philly.com

Featured | Whistleblowers No Comments
Michelle Rhee

Posted: Sunday, September 15, 2013, 1:10 AM

Public schools in Philadelphia opened on time this year, but just barely; the city had to promise to find an additional $50 million to hire furloughed teachers and other staff. And though the doors are open, the School District is still in a state of crisis. It has forecast a budget deficit of more than $300 million, and has had problems accounting for the state money it receives and keeping accurate financial records, according to state audits over the past two decades.

How the city chooses to respond to this crisis will say a lot about whose interests are most important: the adults or the children.

In a crisis, we ought to recognize opportunity. I see a clear opportunity in Philadelphia to use this moment to implement education reforms that will increase transparency in school funding, ensure that available dollars are going toward the programs that have the most impact on student learning, and protect effective teachers and keep them in the classroom. That’s the approach being championed by Mayor Nutter and Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., and it’s the right one.

Others, however, have chosen to use this moment of crisis for their own gain. The leadership of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) chose to approach the problem by flexing political muscle. It put its own interests ahead of the children, and bought TV, radio, newspaper, and online ads attacking Nutter.

A constructive conversation is needed.

Read the rest at http://www.philly.com/philly/education/20130915_Education_Still_in_Crisis.html#J8RofcpPG1PFhuTd.99


Michelle Rhee is founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, and the former chancellor of the Washington school system. She (mrhee@studentsfirst.org) will be co-hosting a teacher town hall on education reform from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Monday at Temple University’s Student Faculty Center Auditorium. For more information, visit www.teachertownhall.org.

 

 

Michelle Rhee Posted: Sunday, September 15, 2013, 1:10 AM Public schools in Philadelphia opened on time this year, but just barely; the city had to promise to find an additional $50 million to hire furloughed teachers and other staff. And though the doors are open, the School District is still in a state of crisis. […]