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Newswire: May 21, 2013

Vol. 15, No. 20

OPPORTUNITY AHEAD. North Carolina lawmakers deliberated on a proposal earlier today that would bring much needed change to the Tarheel State. Thanks to the bi-partisan work of NC House Members Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg), Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford), Brian Brown, (R-Pitt) and Ed Hanes (D-Forsyth), the Opportunity Scholarship Act (HB 944) is moving forward to provide scholarships up to $4,200 so low-income and middle class families can choose the best school to fit the needs of their children. While the opposition dusted off the same tired arguments that are proven myths, proponents came out in full force. In response to claims that vouchers would only help wealthy families, Rep. Brandon made it clear the proposal does just the opposite, giving low-income families opportunities. CER president Jeanne Allen said in her testimony before the NC House Education Committee today, “I am struck by the amount of opposition by people that have never actually seen vouchers working…The proof is in the pudding…Go talk to students and parents who have benefitted from school choice.” Clearly there’s much more work to be done, but with strong leadership and a continued bi-partisan commitment, there will surely be more opportunity ahead for NC’s children.

OPENING DOORS. A major victory occurred yesterday when DC Mayor Gray announced that 16 former DC Public Schools facilities will be made available for charter schools and other community organizations. With 43% of DC public school students attending charter schools, it’s about time! For years parents and charter leaders have been calling on DCPS to allow charters access to these public facilities. In fact, the lack of facilities support has been one of the biggest challenges for charters in the nation’s capital. While it’s too early to tell whether the process will actually open the doors of these empty buildings to charters, parents and leaders are optimistic.

Just hours later, the DC Public Charter School Board voted to approve only two of nine charter school applications. The actions of the DC Charter School Board to deny seven schools, including what would have been the first blended learning model of its kind in the city – Nexus Academy – came as a surprise to many leaders and parents. The two awarded approval, Lee Montessori and Academy of Hope, had previously been denied by the board but reapplied this year addressing questions and concerns the board cited in their initial denials. Many of those denied last night, vowed to do the same. Observers of the deliberations raised concerns that the applications weren’t debated very long, five to 10 minutes by board members, before votes were cast.

It came as no surprise that Community Academy Public Charter School and Friendship Public Charter Schools both received 15-year renewals last night. Both charter organizations have been pioneers changing educational delivery and outcomes for DC’s most at-risk and low-income students. In his remarks to the board, Donald Hense, founder and chair of Friendship and a CER board member, pointed out that Friendship is one of the only charter schools in DC that accepts any child at any age, in any grade, at any time of year. With a truly “open door policy,” Friendship still has a 90% on-time graduation rate, 100% college acceptance and an over 80% college attendance rate.

CLOSING DOORS. Last week, Buena Vista School District in Michigan let all of its teachers go and closed school in early May because they ran out of money. Problems started when enrollment started declining, as parents found better educational options in charter schools. Instead of trying to figure out what charters were doing better, the district schools stayed the course, gave teachers raises using money they didn’t have, and came up short. Unsurprisingly, this did not go over well with parents who have been frantically trying to figure out how to get their students in other schools with only a few weeks left. After some “political grandstanding” the state is giving extra money to the district so they can stay open throughout the school year. But to what benefit of the students? If the school district is so poorly managed, will they really learn anything in the next few weeks or remain pawns in the district’s game? More proof that new and independent entities are needed to create great schools. Michigan does not have to look beyond its borders.

CER at 20. Register NOW for CER’s 20th Anniversary Celebration on October 9, 2013 in Washington, DC! The Conference, Gala and EdReformies will salute the “Classics of Education Reform” Rat Pack style. Details about this not-to-be-missed event can be found here.