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Christie wins endorsement of black ministers, who call for school vouchers

By Salvador Rizzo |July 8, 2013
The Star-Ledger

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie’s strong support of school vouchers today earned him the endorsement of Bishop Reginald Jackson, one of New Jersey’s most influential black ministers.

Jackson, the executive director of the New Jersey Black Ministers Council and a Newark community leader, described himself as a Democrat and noted that he endorsed Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine in 2009 when Christie first ran.

But Jackson today said state Democratic lawmakers have disappointed him by refusing to pass the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a bill that would give children in low-performing urban schools a publicly funded scholarship to attend a private school or another public school instead. (more…)

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Gov. Jindal, Liberal Think Tank Promote School Choice ‘Consensus’

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal took the stage at a center-left think tank Tuesday to promote school choice and competition as a bipartisan, “consensus issue.”

“Equal opportunity in education should not be a conservative or liberal position, it should be an American position,” said Jindal, who chairs the Republican Governors Association. Since Republicans lost key November elections, Jindal has stepped forward as a party leader, and is frequently named a 2016 presidential contender.

His Washington DC remarks keynoted the release of a Brookings Institution index ranking more than 100 large U.S. districts by choice and competition. The state-run New Orleans Recovery School District ranked No. 1, and was the only district to receive an A. This year, Jindal led Louisiana, one of the worst-performing states academically, into a choice-oriented system based on reforms that doubled New Orleans achievement in five years.

National Model
Louisiana now has the largest voucher program in the country, a multitude of charter school authorizers, and an innovative “course choice” program that allows students to take state-paid individual classes such as welding and Chinese for credit outside their assigned schools. Teachers unions have challenged several of these provisions in court.

“I hope what we did in Louisiana can be done across the country,” Jindal said.

Brookings education director Grover Whitehurst introduced and seconded Jindal’s bold support for giving parents the keys to their children’s educations.

“Introducing choice and competition into K-12 education is a path that has not been taken—except by a few places in the country—and we think it is promising,” he said.

Dearth of Choices
A lack of choice has caused U.S. education to deteriorate, Whitehurst said: low high school graduation rates and mediocre academic performance compared to the rest of the world despite the highest education spending outside Luxembourg.

He said policymakers have three choices: Ignore school performance, implement “top-down accountability” like No Child Left Behind, or take a third and optimal option.

“Think about how the rest of our economy works, and think about a system of K-12 education much like our secondary system,” he suggested. “People shop for schools, make choices, and schools prosper or fail depending on their ability to retain and attract students.”

The accompanying report notes that approximately half of parents have chosen their child’s school by considering districts when buying a house, paying private tuition, or homeschooling. Despite this, it concludes, “many more parents wish to exercise choice than are currently able to do so.”

Whitehurst envisioned a system where “schools that are unpopular wither like the restaurant where no one wants to eat.”

Competition Index
“The Education Choice and Competition Index,” uses four metrics to evaluate school systems: The amount of choice, availability of information, ease of choosing a school, and whether public funds follow individual students. The best systems, Whitehurst said, let families “shop to the top.”

Whitehurst fingered four reasons to support school choice. First, “parents overwhelmingly want it.” Second, equity: only wealthy families can currently afford better schools. Third and fourth, he said, “the research is clear” that competition improves school performance and prompts innovation.

Unequal Public Education
Jindal skewered the “nostalgic” view that U.S. education is fair and equal.

“It is completely dishonest to pretend today that America provides equal opportunity in education,” he said. “If you’re a low-income parent residing in an urban area in America, your child probably attends a failing school. You have no options.”

He and Whitehurst agreed that choice-based education is far better for children than top-down accountability schemes popular with Republicans and Democrats alike. That model produces “cookie-cutter schools” that are at best “good enough” but not excellent, Whitehurst said.

“Why wouldn’t we give [students] the choice with their parents’ own tax dollars to pick the better school next door? These kids don’t have time to lose,” Jindal remarked.

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New Poll Shows Tennessee Voters Favor Private School Vouchers

PRESS RELEASE

NASHVILLE, Tenn., June 5, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — Nearly 60 percent of Tennessee voters support school vouchers, or opportunity scholarships, according to a survey released today by the Beacon Center of Tennessee and Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. This comes as a task force appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam meets next week to analyze how such an initiative fits into Tennessee’s overall education agenda. (more…)

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Evidence that vouchers work

School vouchers have stalled in the Pennsylvania legislature, and President Obama’s budget proposes to end the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which allows children from low-income families to attend private schools with government aid. This is despite a U.S. Department of Education evaluation led by one of us (Wolf) that found the Washington program boosted the high school graduation rate by 21 percent. (more…)

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Education reform on agenda

Teacher tenure, school vouchers likely to be acted on this fall

NEW BRUNSWICK — New requirements for student achievement, changes to charter school laws, teacher tenure reform and a proposed school voucher program all could be acted upon by the state later this fall, state education leaders said Wednesday.

Legislative negotiations and action will commence shortly after next week’s election and continue until the end of the state Legislature’s term in January, the leaders told a group of representatives from suburban school districts.

The lobbyists and association leaders, along with a state official, did not offer specific details during a meeting of the Garden State Coalition of Schools at Rutgers University, but instead presented a broad outline of measures being debated behind closed doors.

Gov. Chris Christie has declared that this year he is determined to push through a number of education reform measures.

David C. Hespe, chief of staff at the state Department of Education, said officials there were working on rewriting standards expected to spell out what high school students are expected to know to be ready for higher education or for a career.

Hespe did not specify exactly what those news standards would entail or how they would be enforced, but said they would be a substantial change from current standards and would broadly affect instruction throughout the state’s public schools.

Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, who did not attend the session, has said that he would like to require high school students to pass one or more rigorous tests before obtaining a diploma. The current high school test is considered written roughly on an 8th grade level.

Hespe also said he expects the legislators to discuss a series of bills aimed at revamping New Jersey’s charter schools law.

Various bills which have been proposed include a requirement that communities must approve a new charter school through a vote, which Cerf opposes. Others deal with academic accountability and financial transparency.

Ginger Gold Schnitzer, a lobbyist for the state’s largest teachers union, said the union was proposing adding a fourth year before teachers obtain tenure. That would consist of a residency program in the first year in which mentors would coach new teachers.

Schnitzer said the union, the New Jersey Education Association, was open to discussing ways to get rid of poor performing teachers as well.

“Nobody wants to keep ineffective teachers in public schools,” Schnitzer said. “Not the NJEA, not the teachers. … Now let’s talk about how to get there.”

Michael A. Vrancik, director of government relations for the New Jersey School Boards Association, noted that one bill likely to see discussion would set up school improvement panels, headed by school principals, who would sort through annual evaluations of teachers.

That would take local school boards and superintendents out of the discussion as to whether specific teachers were performing to standards or not. “It changes the equation in a dramatic way,” Vrancik said.

Several participants said they expected a smaller version of a school voucher proposal to be debated again in the Legislature.

The Garden State Coalition of Schools represents some 200 suburban school districts.

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N.J. approves of Christie’s education proposals — to a point

Poll: Public likes merit pay, limited tenure, vouchers, charter schools

Most New Jerseyans support education reforms proposed by Gov. Chris Christie, such as tenure reform and voucher programs, according to a Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll released on Monday.

The public also supports some form of merit pay based on student performance, but is uncertain that current state tests are the best ways to determine that. (more…)

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Spotlight: Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) doesn’t back away from the notion that she’s the main roadblock to a school voucher bill ever passing New Jersey’s legislature.

And the former East Orange school board president doesn’t deny that she balked at moving the proposed Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA) in the final days of this legislative session, despite some predictions that the OSA would slide through with enough support from Democrats. (more…)

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Braun: Grassroots group campaigns against school vouchers, unchecked expansion of charters

TRENTON — The school privatization wars have slogged into a summer stalemate, stuck in a sort of trench warfare that, for the moment at least, rendered the big guns of the most powerful political figures in the state useless against a grassroots campaign that appears to have won the hearts and minds of New Jersey residents. (more…)

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