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Should the Senate Confirm King?

Should the Senate Confirm U.S. Education Secretary Nominee?

The Center for Education Reform continues its vigilance on school choice, particularly in Washington DC with the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), an effort we began in 1996 and that finally culminated in success in the 2004-2005 school year.

As the Senate HELP Committee voted 16-6 yesterday on the nomination of John B. King, Jr. for U.S. Education Secretary, CER Founder and Interim-CEO Jeanne Allen spoke with the Wall Street Journal about the power he has to expand DC’s OSP.

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During one of his hearings, Senator Tim Scott pressed King on why his prospective new Department would sit on $35 million in carry-over funds dedicated for the program.

King’s nomination awaits a full vote from the Senate. As good of a man as he is known to be, perhaps it’s time for the U.S. Senate to send the Obama Administration a signal that denying opportunities to students will not stand.

Related News: U.S. Education Secretary Gets Pressed on DC OSP

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Senator Scott Presses Acting Education Secretary King on DC Vouchers

Today at the Senate HELP Committee hearing on the nomination of Dr. John B. King Jr. for US Education Secretary, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), an ardent supporter of school choice, asked King about expanding DC’s Opportunity Scholarship Program (DC OSP), as DC students and families watched.

Here’s the exchange between King and Scott:

SCOTT:  One area that we may have to agree to disagree on is the DC OSP. I know there are parents and students in the audience who have a very passionate position, as I do, on the importance of the DC OSP.

Especially when you look at your commitment to equity and excellence, and the fact that we have a classic example here in Washington DC of a process and a program that has produced numbers and success in a way that’s inconsistent with other schools.

I believe the graduation rate of DC OSP students is around 90%. Other schools in DC are around 62%, some going as low as 38%. The cost per pupil for the DC OSP is somewhere around $9,000-12,000, and for other DC schools it’s over $18,000. So you get about a 50% better graduation rate, and 88% of those students go on to a two-year or four-year college experience.

It seems to me that the administration, and you as Secretary, should take a second look at that program, and look for ways to integrate it and to use to carry over money of $35 million dollars to fund more scholarships. And quite frankly this is not just my perspective but a bipartisan perspective. You look at the support of Senators like Ron Johnson (R-WI) as well as Senators Feinstein (D-CA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) who all have the same opinion of the DC OSP.

What can we do to move the

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Snowe-d under

plowIn an attempt to win back her crown as Miss Congeniality among anti-school-choice Democrats, Olympia Snowe (R-ME) strolled to the well of the Senate yesterday evening to stab her fellow Mainer, Sen. Susan Collins, in the back by voting against the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. Ms. Collins is one of the program’s chief champions. Despite the courage demonstrated by Senators Dianne Feinstein, Bill Nelson, Mark Warner, and Joe Lieberman – who voted FOR the voucher program – Sen. Snowe’s status as the lone Republican vote against the program was anything but courageous. Whether she likes Sen. Collins or not – or whether she wants to curry favor with Democrats or not (she does), Sen. Snowe’s vote today left DC kids… snowed under.

(In another bit of Maine news, yesterday, the state legislature again denied families another form school choice when their Education Committee endorsed an “innovative schools” bill which had all references to charter school removed before moving on to the main body.)

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Lost in space

rocketIn the only public “debate” on the Senate Floor today regarding the highly-successful DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan demonstrated that he’s worn out his welcome in Washington, DC (at least in the non-Congressional parts of town). By telling families that if they want to send their kids to private schools (and thus, get an education) – they need to pay for it and by, strangely, saying that “if North Dakota were a country”, the state’s science scores would be second in the world—he proved himself equally bizarre and out of touch.

Sen. Dorgan thinks public education is something it’s not. He remembers his own school days and thinks classrooms in DC must be reminiscent of his youth in North Dakota. How wrong he is….

The lesson was right in front of him, but perhaps Sen. Dorgan was chatting in the cloakroom with his anti-voucher buddies when a truly esteemed Senator spoke and eloquently described the true need for DC school vouchers. Perhaps he missed the oversized posters that the venerable Sen. Dianne Feinstein brought with her to the well of the Senate today – posters that depicted parents and kids who can’t, as he posited, just “pay for the tuition” themselves – but whose futures have been saved by the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Did he miss it? Or does he choose to ignore it?

So while Byron “Lost in Space” Dorgan prattled on with a strange, troubling analogy – which included the argument that the US has talented astronauts, therefore DC kids do not deserve vouchers – the only man in either chamber of Congress who has actually flown in space, real astronaut Bill Nelson (D-FL), voted in favor of the the DCOSP tonight. We suppose he’s much

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How dare you?

schoolchoicecapitolDespite the adage that you get more bees with honey, I will not sit idly by and allow Congressman Jose Serrano, Democrat from Bronx, NY, write an opinion for The Washington Post that is layered with obfuscation and misperceptions, without calling him on it.

Serrano is suddenly the focus of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program‘s supporters, forced by the unique circumstances of the federal government’s oversight of the District of Columbia, which he manages as chair of a nebulous Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. Serrano is apparently angered that this position begets him calls from all over the nation – from people of all stripes and walks of life, who want children to have what they deserve and rarely get in the District’s traditional public schools – a good education that is also safe, also preparatory for life.

Serrano’s attitude to these calls – and the children affected – can best be considered ignorance. He says that local people should lobby their local leaders, as if their local leaders have the authority to spend federal money. By doing so, he also ignores that local people HAVE lobbied local leaders – tens of thousands of them – and those local leaders have endorsed the program and written Congress about that endorsement. The Mayor, the Chancellor of the city’s schools, a majority of the City Council, the former Mayor, the former City Council Education Chair, the Mayor’s staff. These are not Republicans, as Serrano wants us all to believe. These are Democrats, and predominantly people of color, who understand and care deeply about the people of this city, and who are happy to draw help from anyone who can or would want to help them, regardless of

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A Rush to Judgement

judgeSenator Durbin used Wednesday’s hearing on Washington, DC public schools to broadcast what feels like a last ditch effort on his part to remove continuation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program from consideration, and frankly, making thinly veiled accusations of mismanagement and fraud when he himself admits to lacking all of the details speaks of desperation.

While there may be a legitimate question of the program’s transparency, if that truly is an obstacle to continuation, it is one that can easily be removed. What cannot be questioned is the fact that DC OSP families have seen the education and futures of their students dramatically changed for the better because of their participation.

Perhaps the most scrutinized and vetted federal education reform program in history, mountains of research and hours of testimony before Congress by experts, educators, parents and students should speak for itself, pointing to increased student achievement, safety and satisfaction.

This small $14 million program has proven itself to be effective on many levels, and yet billions upon billions are heaped into pork legislation, pet projects and favors without so much as a raised eyebrow? This year, public schools across the country have been the recipients of the largest influx of monies ever allotted to education. Rather than fighting what works, Senator Durbin and his teachers union supporters would better serve the kids he so strongly “defends” in his war on the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program by thoroughly following the $100 billion pledged to the country’s schools and ensuring that it not continue to fund failing and broken programs.

Save Opportunity

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It's not what you say

homerunIt looks like RNC Chariman Michael Steele beat us to the punch and hit one out of the park for DC kids on last night’s Hardball when he pointed out the disconnect between President Obama’s incredible speech to the NAACP and his near sweeping under the rug of the successful DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.

“You can go to the NAACP and say a lot, but it’s what you do (that matters),” countered Steele when Matthews praised the hardball words of Obama in New York.

Chris Matthews was right on target with the issue, said it was an area he and Steele agreed upon, that “Opportunity Scholarships should be maintained”, and pointed out it was the education Sonia Sotomayor received at Cardinal Spellman High School, a Catholic school in the Bronx, that was a key factor in her success.

Chris Matthews and Michael Steele join a growing list of powerful endorsements for scholarships providing a way out – and a way up – for DC students.

How many more need to speak out before the Administration and Congress listen?

Take a look for yourself (discussion of DCOSP begins at the 6:45 mark).

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If I had a hammer

hammer

(a folk song for DC school choice)

If I had a hammer

I’d hammer in the morning

I’d hammer in the evening

All over this land

I’d hammer out danger

I’d hammer out a warning

I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters

All over this land

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No Admission

no_entranceBad news Fridays are becoming a theme for Sec. Arne Duncan and his public affairs team. News of an April 6th letter to parents serving notice on the potential for their children’s participation in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program for the upcoming school year wasn’t made public until the Washington Post brought the situation to light in a Saturday editorial on the 11th.This letter signaled a surprise move by the Administration to deny any new scholarships for the upcoming year, even though the program is scheduled to continue at least through 2010.

The Department’s sympathy note contained three interesting tidbits:

1) It was dated April 6 – three days after a government evaluation of D.C. OSP showcased the effectiveness of the program. Knowing that no government agency could approve even a small letter without an amazing amount of revision and drafting, the DOE must have chosen not to reveal this (none too small) bit of information in their burial of the report.

2) Further, one sentence in the letter reads: “Enrollment for DCPS begins on April 1, 2009.” First of all, does this hint at the fact that the letter may have been in early drafts prior to April? How long has this plan been in motion? Secondly, this information can’t be helpful to parents. It’s like receiving a 30-day notice after you’ve been evicted – more than a little too late.

3) Co-signed by Jim Shelton (formerly program director of the Education Division at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and East Coast partner of the NewSchools Venture Fund), it is the only official notice we’ve seen of the fact that Duncan has filled the post of Assistant Deputy Secretary for OII. (Thanks for

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Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

wizardofozI have many colleagues who insist that deep down, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is a real education reformer, and is a reflection of an administration that is reform-minded on critical education issues.  Because he hired this or that person, because he talks about charter schools, and because he told the press he thought that children currently in the DC scholarship program should be allowed to finish even if it is discontinued.  There are some who believe he’s “one of us.”

The Denver Post today, like Toto in The Wizard of Oz, pulls back the curtain on the image of Duncan as reformer to reveal some hard truths behind the talking points.  Like many of us, they wanted to know why a Congressionally mandated report on the DC voucher program – providing evidence of success – was released on a Friday, after Congress recessed, and as millions of Americans were leaving for their spring breaks.  Duncan denied knowing about the findings, though senior department officials have had a chance to review them since November.  Even if they deliberately kept it from the Secretary, it still begs the question as to why, knowing the Congress was moving to kill it, did he not ask where the study results were?  As the Denver Post columnist argues, Duncan discards the program as being too small to care about.  He dances around his opposition by advocating that kids already in the program continue — without demanding legislation that would allow that to happen, by the way.  Thus my colleagues’ “hopes” that he’ll come around, that reason will prevail.  They are so blinded by their dreams for this Administration that they find it impossible to believe its people could oppose something so good.

But

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