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NEWSWIRE: March 11, 2014

Vol. 16, No. 10

CHARTER BATTLES: A NEW HOPE. New Hope Academy is a charter school in York, PA, that serves a student body of which 98 percent live in poverty. Since 2007, that student body has had a 93 percent attendance rate, 84 percent have gone on to a post-secondary education, and nearly 23 percent are identified as having special needs. Oh, and not to mention the class of 2011 had a 91 percent graduation rate, and in 2012, graduating seniors received $1.3 million in merit-based college scholarships. And yet somehow this charter school is on the brink of closure. Yesterday, a Commonwealth State Court in Harrisburg, PA, heard closing arguments in the latest chapter of New Hope’s struggle to remain open in the face of local adversity. About 100 students made the trip to Harrisburg to show their support  for the school that has given them the opportunity to excel academically. Last year, the local district voted to close New Hope as it continued to meet academic benchmarks and demonstrate a clear-cut need for another schooling option in a low-income area. As New Hope continues to fight for survival, let this serve as a lesson to PA lawmakers that charter schools flourish best when overseen by multiple, independent authorizers invested in their success. We hope Pennsylvania gets the memo soon that it’s too hard to start and sustain charter schools in the Keystone State.

SAT PATH TO OBSCURITY. Once again, The College Board has decided to make changes to the SAT exam, this time reducing writing and vocabulary standards, which will undoubtedly have a dwindling effect on whatever rigor the exam has left. If the previous changes are any judge, these new modifications will create confusion in terms of testing, and lower expectations for students who, heaven forbid, expand their vocabulary and love of learning. SAT scores are as stagnant today as they were over a decade ago, and lowering expectations will not only make the exam itself more obscure, but the students who are no longer being challenged.

VOLUNTEER TO LEAD ON VOUCHERS. Tennessee families are in search of a leader in the state legislature who will boldly make the case for increased school choice, and champion the voucher proposal currently making its way through the House. If passed, students in the bottom 10 percent of Tennessee’s lowest-performing schools will be eligible to receive a voucher to pursue a better educational opportunity. Although it’s comparatively modest to other successful and more ambitious school choice programs in other states, this bill no doubt represents a step in the right direction for a state in dire need of more choices. It’s critical lawmakers acknowledge the potential for improving educational outcomes for students currently in failing schools, and avoid a repetition of last year’s inaction.

STATE OF THE DISTRICT. Due to a noticeably high amount of snowfall here in the DC area, District of Columbia residents had to wait until today to hear Mayor Vincent Gray’s State of the District Address. It’s fitting Mayor Gray is delivering the State of the District from a school, given the urgent need to advance the reforms seen in the District that have led to improvements in achievement from students at all schools, both charter and traditional. Achievement gains are evidence of the positive ripple effect charter schools and school choice programs have on all students, who for so long have been bereft of good schools. The outperformance of District charter school students on both national and citywide assessments compared with traditional school peers should compel the Mayor to firmly back policies rooted in choice and accountability.

CHALLENGES FOR CAROLINA CHARTERS.  In a state that’s trying to expand choices for students and improve teacher quality measures, there’s certainly more work to be done on the charter school front. The Charter School Advisory Council is meeting today to discuss and make recommendations on 71 charter school applications (out of 170 letters of intent filed) to the State Board of Education, which is the sole authorizing entity in the state. Avid Newswire readers know that having charter commissions of this nature is not best practice, and having multiple, independent authorizers allows for a vibrant, quality charter school sector. Recent media reports have shown charter schools are struggling with administrative issues, a common reason for charter school closures, especially in states without strong charter school policies. So while the pro-reform Governor McCrory made good on campaign promises about school choice, he has been silent about creating an environment where charter schools can thrive and can receive the best possible oversight, so administrative and management snafus can be avoided. 

CHARTER LAWS 2014. This March we will release our much-anticipated 2014 Charter School Law Rankings & Scorecard, which provides an update on important changes to state charter school laws and gauges how well-equipped states are in allowing charter schools to thrive. See where your state stands on last year’s scorecard, and be on the lookout and stay tuned for the latest!

GOLDEN TICKET? The Cato Institute in Washington, DC will be hosting a special viewing of “The Ticket: The Many Faces of School Choice” on Tuesday, March 18. This documentary tours the country, highlighting different forms of how parents and students exercise the freedom of choosing the education that’s right for them. Get your “ticket” to The Ticket by clicking here to register.

SYMPOSIUM 2014 hosted by The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) will be held from March 20-22 in New Orleans. The Symposium will feature informative sessions on school choice mobilization and advocacy, and can’t-miss speakers including, but not limited to, former US Education Secretary Rod Paige and the irreplaceable Howard Fuller. Click here for more information.