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Is Vincent Gray a liar, or just not paying attention?

popquizDC’s Mayor Vincent Gray and other school choice opponents took some time out yesterday, a day that saw a renewal of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program thanks to the CR budget compromise in the House and Senate, to decry what they see is that program’s theft of federal funds from the city’s public schools.

What?!

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program provides supplemental funding for scholarships that are made available to the District’s poorest families, offering them a lifeline out of failing neighborhood schools.

And it doesn’t stop there.

The legislation (supplemental, remember, above and beyond typical funding for DCPS) provides $40 million EXTRA dollars a year to traditional DC public schools and charter schools.

So…

POP QUIZ

This means:

A) He is a liar

B) He has never taken the time read the legislation (then or now) and his staff is lying to him

C) The teachers union contributed handsomely to his campaign war chest

D) He will say anything to appease his supporters, even if it means robbing traditional public and charter schools of tens of millions of dollars, and thousands of kids of their educational future

(Answer: Thee of these answers are correct, but it is unclear as to which three.)

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Obama Administration Flips on School Vouchers

WASHINGTON, DC – In a stunning turn of events, the Obama Administration today reversed course on the issue of school choice and vouchers, detailing an ambitious plan to create national school choice options through a competitive grant program for states.

“Unfortunately, I had not actually sat down and read the research on school choice and achievement for myself,” Obama admitted during a press conference this morning. “I trusted the counsel of those who supposedly had. I can admit when I am wrong, and in this case, I see that offering options to parents is not only changing lives, but, on a large scale, can lift our entire school system to new heights. That’s exactly what this White House is all about.”

Joined at the podium by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the President outlined their proposal to launch a competition that, like its predecessor ‘Race to the Top’, asks states to collaborate with stakeholders to win gobs of cash. Only, this time, according to Duncan, “the stakeholders will not be teachers unions and school boards, but parents and students. We screwed up last time and relied on the input of those we thought had the best interests of kids in mind. We wanted urgency. What we got was a pile of promises that have not only been sitting in limbo for over a year, but in some cases abandoned entirely.”

Duncan also revealed that no outside consultancy would be accepted to boost the chances states have to win. “For ‘Race to the Top’, my staff was reading the same application over and over again. Only the state names changed.”

To prove his point, he brought up the winning applications of Maryland and Hawaii. “Honestly, we were just flipping coins at the end,” he said.

Details of the plan are still being put in place, but

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Looking forward to 2011

champagneWasn’t 2010 supposed to be the Year of Education Reform? ‘Race to the Top’ was going to transform the education landscape, ‘No Child Left Behind’ was to get a facelift, school turnaround options were going to transform our lowest achieving public schools…

How’d all that work out for everyone?

– Maryland and Hawaii winning ‘Race to the Top’ money? For what, exactly? They’ll be battling their unions until 2015 just to move the dial slightly on any of their promises.

– ESEA reauthorization during an election year? Good luck.

– At least we learned a few things about turnarounds, namely that they aren’t going to work unless the culture of a failing school is turned on its head.

Before we get accused of ending a year on a sour note, though, allow us to throw ourselves into the group of hopefuls looking to 2011 as a year that gets things done for our kids and for our schools.

Why the positive change of heart, you ask?

November.

Beginning next Monday, a new Congress just might leave substantive education policy decisions in the hands of those who have been getting the job done all along – Governors and state legislators.

And so, we end 2010 as many began, hopeful that substantive changes will come to our schools in the form of greater choice for parents, real rewards for our best teachers and accountability for those who steer the ship.

To help this process along, we offer up these 10 Education Reform New Year’s Resolutions for state lawmakers:

1. Increase the ability of higher education, mayors and other independent entities to authorize charter schools so more children have access to quality public school options.

2. Eliminate arbitrary and unnecessary caps on the number of charter schools that

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Welcome aboard

rollercoasterDear Michelle,

Welcome to the other side. We need your help. And we need new champions. Learning to tell the difference is an art, though, not a science.

This is the place where – in order to make good calls that benefit reform – you have to distinguish incessantly between what someone says they believe and what they truly will do. We at CER do not spend money on politics, but we do spend our time and energy on educating and activating people to do the right thing. Oh sure, reform is very much in vogue right now, and hundreds of people will crowd a ballroom to hear someone speak. They will applaud and nod approvingly at every word said in defense of students, and in support of a fight to change the status quo for good. Then they will go back to their states and communities and say things like the following, which we’ve heard for 17 years, as if a 45 were scratched so it keeps repeating…

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The Antidote

christie-antidoteGarden State Governor Chris Christie doesn’t mince words, and doesn’t suffer fools. His reaction to a compromised school choice bill, watered down to allow for swift passage in the legislature:

“If you gut the purpose of the program to begin with, what good is it?…

If you compromise yourself away to nothing, then I don’t know what you’ve won…

(Legislators) are irrelevant in this in comparison to the children in 200 plus failing schools in New Jersey who are being stripped of hope…

People wonder why there is violence in our cities. Violence is commited, in the main, at least in my experience, by people without hope.

They wonder why there is drug abuse in our cities. People who turn to drugs are generally people with out hope.

They wonder why families are disintegrating in our cities. Families disintegrate because of the poison of a lack of hope.

And the greatest antidote to a lack of hope is a world class education“.

(Watch his complete response.)

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The hits just keep on coming

dontchangeThe opening of Virginia’s latest charter school (one of only four operating around the state) has been nothing but a roller coaster ride, not to mention a textbook example of the more-often-than-not contentious relationship between school districts and their charter schools when districts hold all the cards under a weak charter law:

Since the start of their dance with Richmond Public Schools (RPS) in the spring of 2008:

Patrick Henry was forced to go through the RPS approval vote process three times

Patrick Henry was initially left out of this year’s RPS budget

Patrick Henry is to be held to higher standards than other RPS schools, but will receive 21 percent less funding

Patrick Henry was “generously” granted leased space from RPS at a cost of $1 per year – facilities which came with a crippling renovation price tag of close to $1 million

Enough already?

Apparently not. Yesterday, a school more than 2 years in the making, one that will offer families a longer school year and a curriculum focus not available in traditional Richmond schools, was faced with the possibility of being on the receiving end of one more hit – the potential refusal by RPS to hire their first principal just as the final preparations for their inaugural school year get under way. (more…)

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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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From the cutting room floor

trash canFour things you are guaranteed not to hear in Wednesday night’s SOTU:

  • “While a little nerve-wracking for us around the White House, November elections by the people of New Jersey and Virginia solidified what will be an exciting opportunity for those states to break from the status quo and embrace the education reforms of their new governors and the incredibly bold leaders they have chosen to steer schools in their states. At the very least, McDonnell has kept Gerard so busy he hasn’t been able to bother me about DC scholarships.”
  • “Frankly, my Education Secretary and I were disappointed with the results of special legislative sessions and bill proposals regarding charter schools. Our crack public affairs team spun things so R2TT would come out smelling like a rose, but, come on. Caps lifted when states weren’t even near them, Louisiana? Strengthening collective bargaining, Illinois? And two little guys out of New England – I’m talking to you Rhode Island and Connecticut – giving charter schools money you had already promised then taken away? Really? I hope that wasn’t used to support your applications. We went to Harvard, you know.”
  • “The one real win in R2TT goes on the scoreboard for teachers. Check this out. In addition to $100 billion dollars to keep them employed through the stimulus, we figured out a way to take it a step further with R2TT and teacher evaluation methodology. You could drive a truck through the holes in state proposals regarding teachers. You should see some of the emails Arne sends me late at night with examples cut straight from the applications. It’s all I can do to keep from falling out of bed. I can’t wait for round two.”
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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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