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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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National Lawmakers Championing Choice

Today, we celebrate national lawmakers like Rep. Luke Messer and Sen. Tim Scott who understand the importance of creating education opportunities for children, especially those who need it most.

They are champions of DC’s Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP), which has proven powerful in improving education for low-income children in the nation’s capital for over a decade. The average annual income for families who receive opportunity scholarships is less than $22,000, and approximately 98 percent of DCOSP students live in zoned neighborhood schools designated as in need of improvement. More than 90 percent of DCOSP participants graduate from their schools of choice – a much higher rate than DC’s traditional public schools (by at least 30 percent!) – and 88 percent go on to enroll in two or four year higher education institutions.

DC opportunity scholarship Save opportunity

More than 16,000 families have applied to the program since its inception. Data reveals that parents are both highly satisfied with their school of choice as well as the progress their children are making.

However, despite efforts to reauthorize the program in October 2015, the DCOSP was left out of the FY 2016 Omnibus Bill, creating uncertainty for these students most in need of educational attainment and options.

Take action here to ask Congress to make sure the DCOSP continues to be a vital lifeline for students.

This is one of a series of posts highlighting numerous diverse opportunities from towns to nations for National School Choice Week 2016.

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FROM THE DESK OF… Jeanne Allen, Senior Fellow: Recommendations on the GOP Presidential Debate

In the hands of some very seasoned campaign advisors, most presidential candidates take a safe approach to debates. With a relatively short time to get your talking points out, numerous issues to cover and lots of competitors working hard to hog the stage, they are advised to stay focused. But the measure of a candidate is what they do – and say – when programming is impossible. Who these people are and how they’d do as our president is best measured by dealing with issues that every one of us can relate to, the most communal of issues. That’s why I’m hoping that the candidates find opportunities across every issue to demonstrate their understanding that education is the great equalizer, and its connection to the economy and our international competitiveness, our peace, our safety at home and abroad is all connected to how well we educate our youth and our adults. Education is a big field, of course, so I’ll be looking for the guy or gal who is able to talk about education in the context of the most important current events we face today in improving and revolutionizing our schools. In my book, the candidate who touches well on the following three most important themes will win my vote.

Number One: Celebrate charter schools

Charter schools provide choice and diversity to parents and teachers, and challenge the status quo to do better. They are held accountable by performance contracts and in states where charters are largely independent from state and local bureaucracies they thrive. Charter schools are the reason we talk about standards today, have performance pay and teacher quality on the table and have closed some achievement gaps. Charters have helped breathe new life into cities like Washington, D.C. and New Orleans (just two out of

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Why D.C. Parents NEED School Vouchers

In 4th Grade, Shirley-Ann Tomdio’s life changed forever when she was accepted into the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP), which allowed her to transfer from a failing D.C. public school to Sacred Heart, a private Catholic school. Shirley, the daughter of two Cameroon, African immigrants, used the voucher for nine years.

Shirley testified to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on May 14, 2015 at Archbishop Carroll High School in Northeast D.C. to discuss the possibility of reauthorizing the DCOSP.

“In 2009, I graduated Sacred Heart School as the valedictorian and took my Opportunity Scholarship across town to Georgetown Visitation (Prep School)!” Shirley told federal lawmakers on Thursday. “At Visitation, I made Second Honors my first two years and First Honors in my third and fourth year. I was a decorated member of the track and field team, co-editor of our school’s Art and Literary magazine, a cheerleader for our school’s pep rally, and the Secretary and Treasurer of the Black Women’s Society. In May 2013, I walked across the stage and accepted my diploma.”

The voucher program for low-income children was enacted a year after congress passed the D.C. School Choice Incentive Act of 2003. The program has been extraordinarily successful for the District’s most disadvantaged children. Consider:

The scholarship program has been under assault since President Obama took office. The program ceased to exist in the first year he took office, but came back in 2011 through passage of the bipartisan SOAR Act. Every single year since then, his Administration has proposed to

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What makes a person who benefitted from choice repel it?

“Do you have a card?”

She had a huge smile, coming up to me right after I spoke to the NC House Education Committee —the largest, it would seem, in the free world with 53 members (!)– about the need for opportunity scholarships to provide poor children access to quality schools.

“Um, I’ll get you one,” I answered. Then I noticed her sticker on her lapel, which was a circle, with the word vouchers in the middle, and a SLASH through the word.

“Why do you want my card, you clearly don’t agree with me,” I responded.

The inquirer responded – “I just want to know who is paying you; where you get your money.”

Wow. So belief is all about who pays you? I was stunned.

Her name was Elizabeth Haddix, and it turns out Elizabeth works for the UNC School of Law Office of Civil Rights.

During the whole hearing, this man stood behind her, near the door, and cued her with motions and non-verbal hand signals as people were talking. (See minute 44:16 in the video of the hearing below.) He actually looked like the union boss in “Won’t Back Down.” But upon further research, it turns out, he’s the manager of said Office of Civil Rights, and, it would seem, her coach.

It was a quick hearing, and only an hour was allocated for pro- and con-, and the basic introdution of the bill by members, but clearly Elizabeth waited with anticipation to deliver a zinger of remarks… which never came because they had to stop the hearing due to time. Thankfully, the voucher hearing

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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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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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