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NEWSWIRE: February 3, 2015

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Vol. 17, No. 5

In this special federal policy edition of Newswire, The Center for Education Reform takes a look at some of the most essential parts of redefining the federal role in improving our nation’s schools.

OPPORTUNITY. In a true testament to Groundhog Day, President Obama’s budget request repeated itself by forgoing expansion of the immensely popular D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DC OSP). It’s remarkable that a $4 trillion budget didn’t have room for bolstering a program that is not only popular among low-income families in the District of Columbia, but has resulted in scholarship recipient graduation rates of over 90 percent, nearly 90 percent of whom enroll in college. Conversely, the Obama budget expands Title I by $1 billion from last year, but the federal government should ensure that funding specifically aimed at aiding low-income students is actually going to good use. Expanding the OSP would be a step in the right direction.   

TESTING. The original idea in No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was strong; states submitted plans and were evaluated, and parents could demand data for the first time. This empowered states to set goals and testing structures while being held accountable for federal funds received. However, it’s the implementation and response from the status quo that went awry, which explains the current testing backlash and why Congress is debating the same issue as 15 years ago. In reality, it’s school choice that’s going to be the difference-maker once data and performance are fully known, because tests without choice and consequences are meaningless.

CHARTER SCHOOLS. As with anything else, the feds have been looking for ways to take local and classroom level innovations and apply them nationally, and charter schools are no exception. While it’s one thing to support the “expansion” and “replication” of proven charter policies and models in states, it’s equally, if not more critical, to support the start-ups and individuals seeking to provide a brand new education option. It’s worth remembering that replication wouldn’t be possible had there not been the independent charters in the first place. CER data show charters thrive in states with strong laws. Incentivize states to set up strong charter sectors, and leave the definitions on what constitutes a strong charter to independent authorizers and parental demand.

PARENT POWER. The Senate Education Committee met today on how to promote district-led innovation that best meets the learning needs of students. Among the witnesses was Katie Duffy of the highly successful Democracy Prep in New York, who said in the roundtable discussion with senators and school leaders, “Flexibility is incredibly important when funding innovation.” Duffy was talking specifically about Title I, but this was a recurring theme throughout the discussion about fostering the kinds of innovations that are helping families. One look at CER’s Parent Power Index reveals that the bulk of effective innovation happens at the state level, exhibited by the millions of students taking advantage of school choice programs. There are ways for the feds to responsibly support and incentivize parental empowerment, as long as it does not impede state-level policy.   

CHOOSING EXCELLENCE. Next week, Senator Tim Scott will be hosting a Capitol Hill forum on the freedom to choose education, where CER’s own Kara Kerwin will join fellow reformers to discuss the expansion of choice and information to more families. Click here to see the full agenda.