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Newswire July 25th, 2017

THE GREATEST HITS OF 2017 SO FAR…

…but before we get to that, a couple of late-breaking notes from a mid-summer swirl of ed-related news

SMART ALEC.  It was great to attend the 44th ALEC Annual Meeting that went off in Denver last week. The program featured Education and Workforce Development Task Force meetings on K-12 and Higher Education and a workshop on the data and trends on school choice. Model policies were presented, covering education savings accounts, scholarship tax credits, and the protection of free speech in higher education.  And there was a policy discussion and debate between representatives from the American Federation of Children and the Heritage Foundation the federal role in advancing school choice. (Included in the discussion from Heritage: an option to repurpose a federal Impact aid program into student-centered, parent-controlled education savings accounts that would provide active-duty military families with education choice. Hmmm.)

BLOWIN’ UP ON TWITTER.  As you may have heard AFT president Randi Weingarten went all in on race baiting at the union’s annual summer meeting calling tuition tax credits and the like “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.” Some took exception to her insulting, hateful insinuation and said she should resign. She took exception to the exception. In all seriousness, Weingarten’s warped opinions on this matter are abhorrent and, we hope, in no way reflect the views of union members. This isn’t just a kerfuffle; it’s a thing.  Weingarten needs to go.

We’re waiting for her next blow up.  The Lone Star State’s Senate Education Committee passed two key bills last Friday, including one that would create a scholarship program for students looking to enroll in private school. We’re awaiting Randi Weingarten’s statement calling all who voted for the measures racists.

…And now, back to our previously scheduled programming

A NOTICE FROM SCOTUS.  One of the bigger deals leading up the Summer of 2017 was the Supreme Court’s Trinity Lutheran Decision. Trinity Lutheran had been denied funding from the state of Missouri for a playground surface solely because its school is a religious one. The lower court had relied on the Blaine Amendment that dates back to the 1800’s which prohibits the use of public funds at sectarian institutions. The decision that Trinity Lutheran’s “exclusion from a public benefit is “odious to our Constitution” and “a clear infringement on free exercise” has ramifications for the future of educational choice, further opening the door for parents to decide the best educational opportunities for their children, be they private, religious or public in nature.

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’.  A big deal in California, too, when the makeup of the LA School Board flipped to a majority of charter supporters for first time ever. The election included victories for charter school proponents Nick Melvoin—in District 4 in the West San Fernando Valley, over incumbent School Board President Steve Zimmer who was supported by public service employee unions—and Kelly Gonez in District 6, East San Fernando Valley.

BLUEGRASS MUSIC TO OUR EARS.  Back in March, Kentucky became the 44th state to allow charter schools. Great news, albeit tempered by the fact that the law could have, and should have, been stronger. Still, half a loaf is better than none. The bill allows both local school districts and the mayors of Lexington and Louisville to authorize an unlimited number of charter schools, most of which are not likely to open until 2018-2019.

SPRING THAW. In April, Minnesota passed an Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program. The program enables students to receive $7500 opportunity scholarships, creating more choice for low income and working-class families.

BIG FUN DOWN ON THE BAYOU. In May, Louisiana’s Senate Education Committee defeated legislation that sought to weaken the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP). Senate Bill 13 would have placed restrictions on the eligibility of Kindergarten students entering the LSP. As every student in the program comes from a low-income family with 89% minority representation, the scholarship creates opportunities for Louisiana’s most vulnerable students.

MEANWHILE IN THE HEARTLAND. May also was when the Nebraska School Choice Bill moved forward. The bill, which is expected to go to a vote in January would allow up to $2 million in tax credits in its first year, creating more educational opportunities for more of the Heartland’s children.

SAY “CHEESE.”  In June Wisconsin Badgers were all smiles when the State Assembly followed the Senate’s lead by passing (in bi-partisan fashion mind you) a bill that increases accountability and enhances efficiencies in the state‘s school choice programs. The bill calls for greater financial accountability and also revises the financing formula so that special needs scholarship students receive more funding.

DIAMONDBACK DEALINGS.  In April Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed SB1431 within hours of the legislation passing both the House and Senate yesterday. Now all Arizona children will, over the course of four years, become eligible to apply for the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program that allows education dollars to follow each individual child to the school or learning environment they need.

TOMORROW IS HERE.  In May, Teachers of Tomorrow was approved as alternative route to certification in SC. The program is helping the Palmetto state to address its teacher shortage with a new pipeline of enthusiastic educators.

TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!  To give direction to, and spur action by, the new administration, back in January CER issued “The First Hundred Days: The path to going bold on education innovation & opportunity.” Of course, as with Rome, reform wasn’t accomplished in such a short time so, to hold everyone’s feet to the fire, in June CER presented a scorecard on actions to date, and re-issued its call to action in Beyond the First 100 Days: Transforming government’s role in education. There is a HUGE opportunity to finally achieve substantive education reform at the federal level…if we don’t lose our way. 100 Days is a roadmap that can keep everyone on track.

REDISCOVERING REFORM.  Also in June CER issued Charting a New Coursechallenging the education reform movement to refocus on the real core principle of reform: the right of parents.  The collection of essays explores how school choice and the charter school movements have evolved, or mutated, and now consist of two camps: one that relies on bureaucracies and officialdom to decide what educational options are best for kids, and one that relies on innovators and parents. As previously noted, the former sounds A LOT like the status-quo-education-establishment arguments that have been reform’s bane from the beginning; while the latter sounds like, well, one of the core principles on which reform was founded. Read it here.