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NEWSWIRE: October 29, 2013

Vol. 15, No. 40

CHARTER LAW LESSONS.  We’ve long said that creating charter school authorizing commissions is a policy prescription that actually works against quality charter school growth. First hand evidence of bureaucratizing the process in New Mexico, politicizing it in Maine or building new barriers to entry that have little to do with quality like in Idaho, are just some of the many problems that occur when states create new entities and expect them to be independent and forward-thinking. So the Peach State’s experience this week is sadly just another example of where the Commission’s approval process fails to result in more options for kids.  Despite a hard fought campaign to sanction the Georgia Charter School Commission, only one new school out of 11 proposed will be approved this year. One operator — who is being denied — reports that the Commission felt their proven school model is too controversial. Good choices are controversial for kids?  Time for policymakers to review pending proposals and for the National Alliance to review its model legislation, which gives big credit to states that create such commissions.

UNIVERSITIES STILL BEST MODEL.  State charter commissions that are often beholden to political interests and red tape are less effective at producing quality schools. On the other hand, universities, which already have an infrastructure and are serious about quality, have a proven track record of giving families the proper accountability and schooling opportunities they deserve.  Pennsylvania lawmakers think that by adding a few words about universities authorizing into a proposed bill to allegedly improve charter schooling in the Keystone State is enough. The reason that Pennsylvania bill SB 1085 is bad for educators and families looking for more accountable charter options is because the bill actually makes all aspects of chartering, no matter who the authorizer, beholden to the state education department, an entity designed to regulate, not create charter schools. Furthermore, the law adds unnecessary ethics provisions for charter school boards that are often redundant and can be best addressed with quality authorizing. Charter schools will be able to thrive only when university authorizers are given the proper autonomy and permitted to implement accountability standards as they see fit.

OBSTRUCTING JUSTICE.  The Justice Department is being anything but just in its continued attempts to stop the Louisiana Scholarship Program from helping poor kids get the education they deserve. In the latest installment of the Department of Justice lawsuit saga, DOJ is now opposing an attempt by parents to join the State in defending the scholarship program. Federal attorneys argue that parents do not have standing to legally intervene because the scholarship program itself is not being threatened, even though an injunction has kept it from fully functioning, and there is legal precedence for parents acting as interveners in these types of cases. This latest incident may not be as outrageous as the initial lawsuit, but is representative of the persistent curtailment of Parent Power in Louisiana, and the ability of low-income students to escape failing schools.

BIG OPPORTUNITIES IN THE BIG APPLE. New York college student Lamont Sadler, who is now a college student enrolled in the SUNY network, published an op-ed stating he would not be where he is today without the charter school he attended. As an elementary and early secondary student, Lamont said he struggled early and as a result was placed in classes that were not conducive to his academic and developmental needs. But that all changed when he was selected to attend Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School, which instilled in him not a belief, but a guarantee that he would achieve more and one day go to college. He concludes with what should be a simple request, but will likely go unfulfilled given that the next likely mayor, Bill de Blasio is against charter school creation: that students across New York City are afforded the same opportunity he had to seek out a better option, and ensure a bright academic future. Unfortunately, it looks like those students in need are in trouble absent a real reformer in City Hall.

RAISING ARIZONA PARENT POWER. The growing consensus surrounding policies that promote choice and parent empowerment is holding true in Arizona. A large sample of parents utilizing Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) have reported widespread satisfaction with their ability to spend the percentage of their child’s persistent public education funding, and enrich their educational experience. Parents are able to use funds for purposes such as private tuition, textbooks, additional learning programs, all of which are circumstances that allow education funds to quite literally follow the child. Thankfully, the ESA program recently survived a legal attack when it was upheld as constitutional, allowing it to potentially expand its benefits to eligible students.