Turning the Tide | October 2011
Posted on Tuesday November 01, 2011 | National
NOVEMBER 1, 2011 – Welcome to the October edition of Turning the Tide, the monthly newsletter of the American Federation for Children! As we approach the heart of Autumn, we’re reminded that the end of the year is approaching, which means a couple of state legislatures still have a lot of work to do to pass school choice legislation, and not too much time to do it. And even know it’s not an even year, we’ve even got an election recap! It might seem out of place, but trust us—the results (some of which we’re still waiting for) are very important to the school choice movement. Find out how, as well as about all the rest of the exciting news from October, by reading below:
October's Champion for School Choice
She has over 40 years of experience in the public school system as a teacher, principal, and, most recently, a superintendent of the 10th largest school district in the United States. An ardent supporter of public education, she has worked tirelessly to improve public schools on opposite ends of the country, in and out of the classroom. But Arlene Ackerman realizes that many public schools aren’t serving the children in their buildings, and for them, another option is necessary. That’s why the former superintendent surprised many in the education establishment when she forcefully endorsed school choice late last month, even going as far as calling access to a quality education “the civil rights battle of our generation.” She would know, too, having spent the majority of her career working to improve the lives of the very low-income students that are the greatest beneficiaries of school choice programs nationwide. Ackerman says that we can best reform our education system by empowering low-income families via access to charter schools and school vouchers. Much of her vision is encapsulated in Senate Bill 1, the current school choice legislation making its way through the state legislature. Ackerman’s support makes clear that school choice has the backing of folks in all facets of education, and that the people in our movement (TTT included!) want all schools to succeed, public and private. She has a particularly good insight into how we can affect change in our public schools, too, having seen from different levels the barriers in place that prevent reform from taking place. And having worked in a city like Philadelphia, which has significant pockets of poverty but also some true school choice success stories, she’s seen firsthand the contrast that educational options provide—even amongst people in the same community. For her willingness to take on the education establishment, her commitment to helping kids learn no matter what, and her dedication to putting educational outcomes ahead of bureaucratic systems, the American Federation for Children is proud to name former Philadelphia Public Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman as a Champion for School Choice.
Ohhhh…We’re Halfway There!
After months of legislative wrangling, the steadfast support of two of the strongest school choice champions, and hours and hours (and hours) of floor debate, we can finally say that Senate Bill 1 in Pennsylvania has passed a legislative house! But we can’t start counting our chickens quite yet, as even with bipartisan support in one chamber, the larger House still has to pass the bill before Gov. Tom Corbett can sign it, thereby significantly expanding school choice in the Keystone State. The plan calls for the creation of a voucher program for kids in failing schools, an increase in funding for the state’s highly-successful Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, as well as strengthened accountability measures for charter schools. Oh, and did we mention that we owe a thanks to two especially strong champions? Those two senators would be Anthony Williams (D) and Jeffrey Piccola (R), who weathered the storm and setbacks that have transpired since the legislation was originally introduced all the way back in January of this year. (Check out our February TTT to jog your memory!) Members in the House can look to Williams and Piccola for inspiration. While there are many things on which the two don’t agree, they put aside their differences for the greater good of the kids who need help most. Thank you, Senators!
Can you count to 50? That’s what a new crop of public servants are attempting to do after last month’s elections in Louisiana. While a host of school choice candidates were elected or re-elected in legislative races for both houses, of particular importance were also the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) elections. In addition to the host of winners, however, are the school choice supporters who failed to earn 50 percent of the vote on Election Day—meaning that they’ll face Nov. 19 runoffs. So while our friends at the Louisiana Federation for Children (www.lousiana4children.org) spent the weeks leading up to the Saturday (yes, Saturday) election helping maintain and expand school choice coalitions, their work is not over. BESE candidates aiming for a win next month include Chas Roemer, Carolyn Hill, and Kira Orange Jones—all of whom are leading in polls. In the legislature, keep your eyes peeled for news on the outcomes of John Smith’s Senate runoff election and the House runoffs for Don Menard and Ray Garofalo. Be sure to get the word out to your fellow Bayou staters!
A Volunteer Effort for Kids
Even though it’s fall, state legislatures around the country continue to be on fire when it comes to introducing school choice legislation! We guess that makes sense in the case of Tennessee, a state with an average October temperature over 70 degrees. That would also explain the excitement behind a new voucher proposal in the Volunteer State that would help low-income students get a better education. It’s especially important in a place like Memphis, the state’s biggest city, where over 85 percent of families qualify for free and reduced lunch. Leading the charge for the volunteers (get it?) is State Senator Brian Kelsey, who even cited the highly-successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program as a bit of inspiration for the structure of his proposal back home. We’ve already heard Gov. Bill Haslam speak about the importance of education reform in front of a national audience, so with a few more legislators like Kelsey, things look bright for Tennessee, and this time, it has nothing to do with the weather!
Think(ing) Different(ly) About Educational Options
People all across the world were saddened to hear of the death of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs in early October, and with the release of his biography, many previously unknown details of his life are emerging. Still, few are aware of Jobs’ views on a topic that is obviously very near and dear to our heart: education reform. Throughout the last 15 years of his life, Jobs spoke frequently about breaking down the education bureaucracy and letting parents decide which school is best for their children. He specifically endorsed vouchers, and he held a belief that empowering families would lead to students who would want to affect educational change themselves when they grew up. And for all of the passion he had for the products and the company that made him famous, he believed in something bigger when it came to how to truly affect people’s lives. “I really believe in equal opportunity,” he said in 1995. “Equal opportunity to me more than anything means a great education.” An innovator when it came to technology and education? He was someone who was indeed able to “think different!”
Goodbye and Good Luck
There have been many changes within our organization and our partner organizations over the past four and half years, but there has remained one constant that, sadly, will be departing us soon. And those of you who know Andrew Campanella, our soon-to-be former National Director of Communications, know how much of a loss that will be. Andrew will be departing our organization in a few short weeks after almost five years of great work fighting for school choice. But our loss is the gain of another one of our friends—he’ll be joining the great folks at National School Choice Week to serve as their Vice President of Public Affairs. We can’t think of a better person for the job, and while we’re sad to see him go, we’re confident in the ability of our remaining staff’s ability to continue the great work that’s become a hallmark of our Communications staff. And because Andrew will still be working towards the goal of empowering families with educational choices, we’ll still see him here and there. So, for all of us at the American Federation for Children and TTT, we say: thanks, Andrew, and good luck!
Thanks for reading another edition of Turning the Tide, especially because we know you're recovering from all the trick-or-treating candy you scooped up this year. While we may not be able to satisfy your sweet tooth, we do hope that we can satisfy your school choice news and updates fix! Because while Halloween is a once-a-year endeavor, we’ll be back again next month. Until next time, have a great November!
Until next month, best wishes and thanks for your support of the American Federation for Children. We're glad you're in this battle with us—this fight to give kids hope!
Copyright © 2011
American Federation for Children