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Newswire: June 16, 2015

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Vol. 17, No. 24

VIRTUAL POWER. And no, we’re not talking in hypotheticals here, but about the real power of online learning to close the achievement gap. One of the nation’s largest providers of online education, K12 Inc., released data revealing three of its biggest managed online virtual charter academies, Arizona Virtual Academy, Georgia Cyber Academy, and Texas Virtual Academy, are making progress when it comes to narrowing the gap between poor and non-poor kids, as defined by free or reduced-price lunch (FRL) status. And not to mention, these schools also serve larger percentages (62 percent to be exact) of economically disadvantaged students compared to their state average or even the national average of 50 percent. Although there are some instances where achievement gaps remain between FRL-eligible and non-eligible students, FRL students are still making important gains – it just means their peers are too. Just goes to show what the power of choice in education can to do improve education for ALL of our kids.

MORE CHOICES NEEDED. The state with one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation and ranks #39 on CER’s Parent Power Index, Connecticut, released a 41-page report evaluating its “choice programs,” which it defines as public charter schools, interdistrict magnet schools, and the Open Choice program, based on student achievement on state tests. The Connecticut State Department of Education report reveals mixed results, along with data indicating that having choices does indeed improve outcomes for students. The problem, however, is that the kinds of choices Connecticut parents are afforded is severely limited, as there are no vouchers, tax credit scholarships, or Education Savings Accounts, and the state’s D-rated charter school law prohibits growth. It’s time for Connecticut leadership to step up to the plate and give parents a portfolio of options to be able to choose the best fit for their child.

POLICY MATTERS. Last week, the Louisiana legislature voted to fully fund the state’s scholarship program. Great news that lawmakers continue to push for what’s in the best interest of our kids, but now it’s time for them to go further and make changes to this C-graded voucher program and solve funding issues so kids’ futures aren’t held in the balance each year, hoping for funds to be reappropriated. In order to accelerate the pace of education reform, we must truly understand the importance of good policy. And it’s clear that Louisiana’s policy could be improved to meet the parental demand that exists, with more than 13,000 Louisiana students applying for a voucher for the 2014-15 school year and 7,632 using the voucher to enroll in a school of choice.

COURT BATTLES. Last summer, CER condemned the directive from the Tennessee Education Commissioner to un-enroll 626 students from the Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA), denying them their school choice rights. Legal battles have been waging since then, and thankfully, news came last week that TNVA will be allowed to remain open, as a Davidson County Chancery Court ruled in favor of TNVA families wanting another option for their children. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the South the status quo is fighting hard to prevent parents from having options. In Florida, the teachers union filed an appeal to fight the state’s tax credit scholarship program despite a judge throwing out the lawsuit. In North Carolina, the State Supreme Court still has yet to rule on the constitutionality of the state’s voucher program, which was allowed to serve students this year. And in Washington, D.C. today, oral arguments took place in the U.S. District Court on the District of Columbia’s motion to dismiss the case brought against them for chronically underfunding charter schools. If District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan allows the case to proceed to the merits by failing to grant the District’s motion, it could make a huge difference to the 45 percent of District students who attend charter schools, which have been shortchanged by $770 million in funding since FY 2008.

SCHOOL’S IN SESSION. It’s the start of summer for most, but not for the 30 ‘students’ from a diverse array of backgrounds and organizations throughout the U.S. who have been selected to join the first EdReformU™ History of Charter Schools course, an advanced program created to help students achieve knowledge of the genesis of charter school laws, how the varying policies were first enacted and the impact of one state upon another and on communities within and across state lines. Visit university.edreform.com to learn more and apply for future programs this fall.

#NCSC15. The National Charter Schools Conference is less than a week away! CER is excited to be on the ground in New Orleans from June 21-24 with educators, advocates, service providers, and leaders all working to make a difference so that more kids have more access to public charter schools that deliver the promise of an excellent education for all students. Let us know you’re there by tweeting @edreform! Can’t wait to see you in the Big Easy!