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NEWSWIRE: September 30, 2014

Vol. 16, No. 38

EARLY DISMISSAL. Score one for Florida families after a judge threw out a lawsuit against the expansion of the highly rated tax credit scholarship program and the creation of personal learning scholarship accounts (PLSAs) for special needs students. Unfortunately, the tax credit expansion isn’t out of the woods yet, since the union can decide to rework the legal challenge if they so desire, and proceed with a separate lawsuit that seeks to eradicate the tax credit scholarship program entirely, alleging that public revenue is aiding sectarian institutions. Not only would this harm the nearly 60,000 students and counting who receive scholarships, but it would also negatively affect the nearly 1,000 special needs students slated to benefit from PLSAs, making this all the more unconscionable. And as for whether a legal battle like this makes sense to wage in the first place, look no further than New Hampshire, where the State Supreme Court upheld tax credit scholarships for Granite State students.

RALLYING FOR POWER. On Thursday, thousands of New York City parents will rally against the systemic failure of schools to #deliverthepromise of student success. The mix of families from charter and traditional schools is proof that parents are not narrowly advocating for a particular type of school, but rather a range of excellent choices to find the best learning opportunity for their child. And these choices are popular among parents and fiscally efficient, according to a new Friedman Foundation report which finds that school vouchers have saved taxpayers more than $1.7 billion since 1990, with nearly half of that coming from Florida’s McKay Scholarship for students with disabilities. Whether in New York, Florida, or any of the other 36 states holding gubernatorial elections this Fall, be sure you know where candidates stand when it comes to delivering real results for students.

CLIMBING IN COLUMBUS. The release of school grades in Ohio for the 2013-14 school year revealed a handful of Imagine Schools’ campuses that are proving to be successful learning alternatives for students in the Columbus-Groveport area. Two elementary schools in particular not only received As for value-added performance on their state report cards, but also outperformed their traditional district counterparts. The laudatory performances are not only reflective of Imagine Schools’ new academic framework that incorporates best practices, but also the students and educators who are making the most of their decision to be part of a learning environment that’s right for them. With the steady, continuous growth of charter school options nationwide, similar types of innovation, learning gains and cultures of high expectations are thankfully proliferating to meet parental demand. But if tomorrow’s Parent Power Index is any judge, there’s a lot more we could be doing.

ATLANTA’S CULTURE OF CHEATING. The trial of 12 former school employees in Atlanta – which doesn’t include those who have already arranged guilty pleas – is now in its second day, and has already featured heartbreaking testimony. An Atlanta student, now 17 years old, testified that her third grade teacher simply gave answers to test questions she didn’t know, without batting an eye. Imagine giving a struggling eight year-old student a false sense of accomplishment, only to have the rug pulled out from under her the following year. The prosecution is pursuing RICO charges, treating this string of cheating incidents as a widespread, concerted effort. Unfortunately, the problem of cheating is systemic and deeper than previously realized, which is all the more reason for greater accountability and transparency to prevent these issues from happening in the first place.

A UNITING VISION IN PHILADELPHIA. The growth and rise of charter schools in urban settings is well documented. But the achievements of many community-led charters that were the first to provide needed options for underserved families and students is often overlooked. One such urban charter school, founded by civil rights activist Walter Palmer, set out to change the landscape for disadvantaged youth 15 years ago, and created a path for many more charter schools not just in Philadelphia, but throughout the whole state. Palmer’s Leadership Learning Charter School ably served more than 1,000 students with enormous waiting lists for years, and was singularly responsible for ensuring equity funding for students across the city. Such legal challenges took a toll at the Palmer school, however, and putting students first, Palmer announced last night his intention to enter into negotiations with the highly successful and innovative Friendship Public Charter Schools to turn around a school that has seen recent academic and financial struggles. In a statement read to faculty and parents last night, Dr. Palmer, to his credit, put first the interests of the children his school serves and said, “Over the next ten days, we will be finalizing the details for our school and working with the district to align all of our needs. We strive to unite in a vision for the children and families in our community that will ensure the longevity of the school, it’s improved outcomes, and quality learning and leadership environment for years to come.” CER president-emeritus Jeanne Allen was on hand during the transition discussions and noted that “Without this collaboration between like minded organizations who recognize the importance of the community in forging school reform, and without the support of the District, and most especially Superintendent Bill Hite, this turn-around effort would not be possible. It’s a historic and highly valuable district-charter collaboration that is a model for other cities.”

IT COMES DOWN TO POWER AND CONTROL. The Louisiana Association of Educators sees a new opportunity to further deprive families of power and choice with a lawsuit filed attempting to strip funding from state-approved charter schools outside the Recovery School District (RSD). The basis of this lawsuit is that these charter schools receive public dollars from the same fund responsible for disbursing vouchers, which was deemed unconstitutional last year. Sadly, this is yet another veiled attempt at maintaining power and control over education funding under the guise of accountability. Union officials really should spare us their righteous indignation about publicly approved charter schools receiving resources to which the students they serve are fully entitled.

WHO’S GOT PARENT POWER? Find out tomorrow as CER releases the latest Parent Power Index (PPI), giving a nationwide picture of how much power parents truly have over their child’s education, and what actions are needed to expand access to school data and learning options. Important information for parents to take into account as they head to the polls in November, determining which candidates truly have student outcomes in mind!