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State of the Union Wish List: 2015

Tonight, President Obama will deliver the State of the Union address. The 2014 State of the Union focused on new expectations and opportunity for students, early education, and making college more affordable. It’s likely President Obama will discuss reauthorization efforts of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), in addition to his recently announced plan to expand access to community college.

While that’s all well and good, here are a few of the themes we hope to hear in tonight’s SOTU, as these are the things that will truly drive change in our schools and enable all children access to an education that delivers the promise of student success:

1) Parent Power: President Obama last year told the story of New York student Estiven Rodriguez, the son of a factory worker who couldn’t speak a word of English at age nine, but worked hard and found out he was going to college. These student-centered anecdotes are no doubt inspiring, but so is the role that parents play in the education of their children.

Whether it’s the Arizona mom of a child with special needs who can now use an Education Savings Account (ESA) to obtain critical resources, or the Indiana family who because of a voucher can send their child to a better school, there are many stories of student success that happen because parents are able to choose the learning environment that enables their child to succeed.

2) Innovation: Millions of Americans will be celebrating innovation at over 11,000 events nationwide next week’s National School Choice Week and while its a tall order to expect an explicit mention of charter schools, vouchers or any other school choice avenue, we hope President Obama at least appreciates the challenges that come with both a new century and ever-changing student population. In this context, it would be heartening to hear reference to innovations that are adapting to the growth and diversity of school-aged children.

3) Federal accountability: The ESEA reauthorization process is in full swing, and competing visions on how to properly restore the federal role in education are coming in from all angles.

Accountability means requiring states that use federal dollars to develop high standards, teacher quality, and charter reforms that preserve school autonomy. The feds should expect results, but it’s equally critical that federal desires do not impede the Parent Power policies already taking hold at the state level. Lawmakers must also remember that accountability goes both ways, and the feds would do well to take their role seriously as data aggregator and watchdog so parents get a true sense of how schools are doing.

As usual, Michelle Obama is sure to host a variety of upstanding citizens from all walks of life, but here are some who would sit in CER’s version of the FLOTUS box:

  • David Hardy, CEO of Boys’ Latin Charter School, an institution that serves as a beacon in North Philadelphia and has provided an educational lifeline to young men in need of a rigorous learning environment.
  • Julie Collier, a tireless parent advocate from California who helped found a charter school that best fit the learning needs of her son, after being told by a traditional school teacher, “There’s nothing we can do for you.”
  • State Representative Marcus Brandon, a proud, progressive Democrat from North Carolina who strongly supports the newly created Opportunity Scholarship program, and school choice in general as a way to change the status quo and reverse current injustices in education.
  • Denisha Merriweather… or any student, who now has a brighter future thanks to school choice, especially since the National School Choice Week kickoff happens this Friday in Jacksonville, Florida.

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