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NEWSWIRE: June 30, 2015

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Vol. 17, No. 26

UNCONSTITUTIONAL. As battles for civil rights are going on all across the country, a group that should be leading the charge for civil rights is actually playing a role in blocking civil rights for parents and families in Colorado. In 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) together with other organizations, filed a lawsuit against the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Pilot Program, rendering this vehicle intended to give parents the ability to choose the best education for their child inactive. The program has been embroiled in legal battles since, with the latest decision coming from the Colorado State Supreme Court yesterday, ruling the program unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the state’s Blaine Amendment provisions, which place constitutional restrictions on aid to religious schools. Douglas County parents and leaders have said they will take this battle to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2002 ruled that the state of Ohio was within its constitutional power to enact a school choice program for Cleveland children. Although this case differs in that it would be based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment whereas the Ohio case was based on the 1st Amendment, CER stands with leaders and parents fighting for parent and student rights in education, and we’ll be watching as this story unfolds.

UNION MADNESS. USA Today reported that the U.S. Supreme court may be prepared to strike down laws forcing public employees to pay union dues. “Exciting and encouraging news” said a member of the Association of American Educators (AAE), the nation’s largest non-union, professional educators’ organization, as it would eliminate requirements that forcibly collect fees from teachers simply because they choose to work in public schools. Take Massachusetts for example, where Newswire got wind of a young educator who recently decided she did not want to join the local teachers union, but had over $600 deducted from her paycheck anyway. Unfortunately, Massachusetts is a compulsory union state, and when it comes down to it, teachers there don’t have much control over their hard-earned dollars. They can either join the union and have dues deducted from their paycheck, or decide not to join the union and still have dues deducted from their paycheck anyway because law requires them to pay the union an “agency fee.” Gee, what a choice. It’s time the U.S. put their “money where their mouth is” when it comes to treating teachers like the professionals that they are and give them the freedom to decide if belonging to a union matches their own budget and beliefs, especially as CER knows teachers unions long ago outlived their usefulness as professional associations.

ROOTS. At the end of the 2009-10 school year, a rural Michigan district saw the closure of St. Helen Elementary school. The community decided to take matters into their own hands, and in true grassroots fashion, a charter school was born to serve as another option for parents in place of the shuttered school. But the path to create Charlton Heston Academy (CHA) was not an easy one, as the school had to fight to have a cap lifted and figure out how to meet funding and facility challenges, nor is the day-in and day-out work to ensure the school’s 85 percent economically disadvantaged student population has access to an excellent education. Newswire spoke with Jason Sarsfield, VP of the National Charter Schools Institute who grew up in the rural Michigan community and will be returning to his role as Chief Academic Officer for CHA, who stressed that rural poverty comes with its own set of unique challenges and circumstances, but upward mobility is possible when you give children living in poverty the skills and knowledge to take control of their own destiny. Get the full scoop on the school’s amazing story here.

SURVEY SAYS. A survey by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice indicates support for school choice in the form of vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and Education Savings Accounts is on the rise. Specifically, twice as many Americans support school vouchers than oppose them, with respondents citing more freedom and flexibility as their main reasons why. CER President Kara Kerwin was on deck to discuss the findings today at the American Enterprise Institute, stressing the importance of keeping parents informed about education options available to them. Indeed, CER’s own polling points to similar support for school choice, with 74 percent of Americans supporting the term, and 72 percent of Americans supporting the notion of parent choice. It’s difficult to find an issue that most Americans agree on, but the myriad of poll results plus growing number of students in seats of choice are an indication that Parent Power and accountability is it.

ICYMI. While CER has always held the media’s feet to the fire when it comes to getting the facts right and reporting fairly on education issues, it will be interesting to see how the media reports on K-12 education issues in conjunction with the upcoming 2016 presidential election. A new report, Leading the News: 25 years of Education Coverage, by Andrew Campanella reveals that coverage of education policies in presidential election years dropped by an average of 6.5 percent each year since 1992. But it’s clear that with the election getting closer combined with the innate desire by the media to be the outlet that breaks the most interesting news angle on a story that there’s even more room for instances of inaccuracies. For example, Politico “missed the mark on some historical realities in its recent assessment of Jeb Bush’s education work,” CER Senior Fellow and president emeritus Jeanne Allen points out. And speaking of Jeb Bush, Florida is one of the latest states where there have been reports in the media, particularly about charter schools, that are just plain wrong. Thankfully, papers are giving ink to truth-tellers aiming to set the record straight.

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