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Newswire: May 28, 2013

Vol. 15, No. 21

OPPORTUNITY FORWARD. Just this morning, the North Carolina House Education Committee moved legislation forward that would bring vouchers to the Tarheel State. Following a heated debate, The Opportunity Scholarship Act, HB 944, passed 27 to 21. As one lawmaker said in favor of the bill, “Some think we were elected to represent public schools, but we were elected to represent the people of North Carolina… Parents have a God-given right [to choose.]”

BEANTOWN CHAMPS. Charter schools in Massachusetts turn 20 this year and they are only getting better with age. A new report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) finds that high school students attending Boston’s charter schools are outperforming their traditional public school peers and are more likely to go on to attend four-year colleges. Although, this finding is not surprising since a majority of charter schools in Boston have a college preparatory emphasis and have created a competitive culture that encourages students to succeed. The report also finds that Boston’s charter students are more likely to take AP courses and pass the state graduation exam. It’s clear that Boston’s charter schools continue to be “Champions of School Achievement.”

THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A ‘GOOD’ CAP. Last week, Maine lawmakers killed a bill that would have significantly improved the Pine Tree State’s charter school law. The legislation, introduced by Gov. LePage, would have removed the cap of only ten schools within ten years and allowed for truly multiple and independent charter school authorizers. Outraged by the lack of progress to open and approve schools since charters became legal in Maine in 2011, Governor LePage railed against the commission back in January, stating that Maine needed “people with backbones.” Well, clearly there weren’t enough people with backbones at Thursday’s joint education committee hearing. Let’s hope Maine’s slow approach to charters doesn’t drag on as long as Texas’ 18-year battle over caps, which finally gained some ground over Memorial Day weekend. While the cap on the number of charter schools in Texas was not eliminated for good, the legislature increased the limit on the number of schools from 215 to 305 by 2019. A victory indeed for Texas students, but still not enough in a state where there are over 100,000 students on waiting lists. Sadly, this cap issue will rear its ugly head again in just a few short years in The Lone Star State. A lesson Maine lawmakers and others should be mindful of when debating “Good Cap, Bad Cap.”

DIGITAL DIVIDE. With a single signature, Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois once again put on display his unwillingness to embrace any legislative measure expanding educational choice. In the same state that received an ‘F’ for digital learning on the Parent Power Index©, Quinn and his supporters in the legislature imposed a one year moratorium on new charter schools with virtual learning programs in communities with less than 500,000 residents. In the meantime, a report will be conducted on the effectiveness of virtual learning, which won’t be submitted to the General Assembly until March 2014. This moratorium makes clear Illinois lawmakers don’t want to adapt, choosing establishment interests over innovative ways of educating students.

Digital learning is also slated to be scaled back in Louisiana thanks to the same state Supreme Court ruling that found the funding mechanism for vouchers to be unconstitutional. State Superintendent White vowed to find department funds to ensure access, but widespread offerings of online coursework in the “course choice” program will be affected.

PARENT POWER AT WORK. When a local school district was unable to provide a quality education to her children, mother and military wife Calyn Holdaway decided to take action. When Holdaway moved her family to a new school district in hopes of getting a better education for her oldest son with autism, her two youngest children ended up facing challenges. In what we would call a true act of parent power, Holdaway started a non-profit in her home state of Washington with the goal of opening a charter school in 2014. Thanks to a recently passed law allowing for non-profits to start up to 40 charter schools over five years, Holdaway’s plan for a charter that targets ‘non-traditional learners’ has a chance of becoming a reality. She realizes there will be a lot of opposition to a charter school in the community, but luckily for students in Tacoma in desperate need of an alternative, Holdaway says she isn’t afraid.