01/2004 Friedman Report: School Choice Roundup

Published January 1, 2004

Colorado * Connecticut * Illinois * Louisiana * Michigan
Minnesota * New Jersey * Vermont


“Educate Me. I Want to Be Free”

While voucher opponents argued against Colorado’s fledgling school choice program inside the Denver City and County Building on November 12, Dan Haley of the Denver Post‘s editorial board was outside covering a rally by voucher supporters, and realized something had changed. As Denver lawyer Dale Sadler addressed the group of mostly blacks and Hispanics, two young black children held up a sign saying, “Educate me. I want to be free.”

‘[I]t was at this rally, not inside the courtroom,” Haley later wrote, “that the public face of vouchers finally changed from the primarily white conservative lawmakers who have touted them for years to the people who would benefit the most.”

The case for vouchers was being made by black and Hispanic leaders like Sadler, a member of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. They said they were tired of seeing their children at the bottom of the achievement gap, stuck in low-skill jobs, or in prison because of public schools that did not support them.

“We want the choice to send our children to schools … with a track record of sending kids to college,” said Sadler. “We’re tired of second-class citizenry.”
Denver Post
November 13, 2003

Confusion Reigns After Court Halts Voucher Program

When a Denver judge halted Colorado’s new voucher program on December 3, his decision came in the midst of preparations to implement the program for the start of the 2004-05 school year. Eleven school districts had started mailing nearly 70,000 voucher applications to students in low-income families. Some 3,300 children could have participated in the program, with potential expansion to 20,000 children by 2007.

In response to the judge’s ruling, the State Board of Education told the 11 districts it was dropping the plan indefinitely and cancelled more than 70 appeals from private schools that were not approved for participation in the program. However, the Colorado attorney general’s office announced it was filing an appeal to overturn the injunction and would fight for the program all the way to the state Supreme Court.

More than 100 private schools had been preparing to admit voucher students and officials at many of these schools were upset at the sudden halting of the program.

“This law was supposed to open up more opportunities for these kids,” Colorado Christian School principal Wilford Ottey told The Rocky Mountain News. “It basically tells children in Denver and surrounding areas that, if you’re needy, you can’t change schools.”
Rocky Mountain News
December 4-6, 2003


Want Integration? Try Vouchers

With non-Hispanic white students making up only 1,291 of Hartford’s 22,264 public school students, the best level of integration the city’s schools could achieve would be 94 percent minority–“horribly segregated,” according to Jay P. Greene, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. Hartford’s suburbs, on the other hand, are almost “as overwhelmingly white as the city’s schools are black and Hispanic.”

“How can we get students to cross these political boundaries and produce racially integrated schools?” asks Greene. With coercion having little appeal, and with magnet schools unable to make much of a dent in segregation, Greene suggests offering parents vouchers to attend private schools anywhere in the Hartford area, pointing out that vouchers have helped produce better-integrated schools in Cleveland and in Milwaukee.

“Neither of these voucher programs have produced ideal integration, but they have made big steps in the right direction,” he notes.
Hartford Courant
November 30, 2003


Black Columnist Endorses School Choice

Black columnist Mary Mitchell had this to say to politicians after talking to U.S. Rep Danny Davis (D-Illinois) about what could be done about the plight of the black male and after seeing a two-page ad in the Chicago Defender taking U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) to task for opposing school vouchers: Give parents a choice.

“While Chicago Public School officials mock the ‘No Child Left Behind Act’ as being too burdensome, young African-American males are indeed being left behind,” she wrote. There is an all-girls charter in Chicago, she noted, but “the closest thing to an all-boys high school is the juvenile detention center.”

With “alarming statistics” showing nearly half of Chicago’s 20- to 24-year-old black men out of work, “the black race is losing a generation of children to illiteracy, prison, and poverty,” wrote Mitchell. Some parents are able to save their children from “this terrible fate” by sending them to private or parochial schools–which is what 41 percent of elected officials in Congress do.

“[I]f public schools aren’t good enough for the children of politicians like Dick Durbin, Jesse Jackson, and members of the state and national teachers union, why are they good enough for poor black children” asked the ad in the Defender. These are “tough questions,” said Mitchell, who suggested politicians could at least give a choice to parents who valued education.
Chicago Sun-Times
October 21, 2003


Broussard Wins Seat on State Board

Polly Broussard, executive director of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana and a supporter of vouchers, was elected to the Baton Rouge-based seat on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education with a decisive 62 percent to 38 percent victory over her opponent, Buddy Bel, in the election on November 15. However, in a much closer gubernatorial contest, where the vote was just 52:48, another voucher supporter, Republican Bobby Jindal, was defeated by Democrat Kathleen Blanco.

Broussard is open to the use of publicly funded vouchers to allow students in failing schools to attend private or religious schools. She also is a strong backer of the state’s accountability program, where students have to pass tests to be promoted to the next grade and where schools that don’t improve are threatened with punishment. Bel, an Amite City Council member, opposes vouchers and was supported by the state’s two teacher unions, the Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.

Jindal said he would push vouchers if elected governor, saying “children and parents should have more choices.” Blanco dubbed vouchers “disaster relief,” saying they should be put off for several years while the public school system was made stronger. Some of Jindal’s supporters say he should have responded more vigorously to what one called “a barrage of negative ads” from Blanco during the final week of the campaign.
Baton Rouge Advocate
October 24, 2003
November 16, 2003


National Heritage Academies Makes Inc. 500 List for Third Year

For the third consecutive year, the charter school operator National Heritage Academies, Inc. (NHA) has been named one of the fastest-growing private companies in the nation by Inc. Magazine, which annually issues its Inc. 500 list of America’s entrepreneurial growth leaders. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, NHA saw enrollment in its schools grow by 23 percent last year, and now operates 39 public schools with more than 20,000 students in Indiana, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio. It began the 2003-04 school year with a waiting list of 5,700 students.

NHA opened its first charter school in Grand Rapids in 1995. The company’s revenues have grown from $12.4 million in 1998 to $126 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2003. The number of company employees has grown from 11 in 1996 to more than 1,700 in 2002. NHA’s vision is to create 200 of the nation’s finest K-8 schools, with challenging academics, a safe and disciplined environment, a commitment to the teaching of virtues, and partnering with parents to ensure the success of their child.

According to a survey conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide, 95 percent of all NHA parents are satisfied with the education their children are receiving, with 96 percent saying the company delivers on its promise of academic excellence.
National Heritage Academies
News Release
October 13, 2003


Minneapolis Public Schools Respond to Competition

In the past five years, the Minneapolis public school district has lost 5,500 students–1,800 in the last year alone–to competition from charter schools and surrounding school districts through open enrollment. Projections show the district could drop from its current 41,004 students to 32,504 in 2008. Since the state provides district funding on a per-pupil basis, that decline has prompted the board and superintendent to look at how they do business so they can “recapture” students. They want to know what is driving parents’ choices.

“What is it that parents, collectively, want? What part of it are we willing to compete for, and what part of it aren’t we willing to compete for?” interim superintendent David Jennings said to the Star-Tribune.

District officials will be receiving budget forecasts plus the results of a survey of Minneapolis residents and parents, asking why they choose certain schools. According to a district spokesperson, the survey shows parents perceive the city’s schools as lacking quality academic programs, and as chaotic, with discipline problems.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
November 5, 2003


Opposition to Vouchers Called “Racist”

The New Jersey Education Association’s (NJEA) opposition to school vouchers and its failure to support options for urban children is racist, according to Peter Denton, a South Jersey businessman speaking in New Brunswick at the third annual conference of Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), a local advocacy group for school choice.

“This is the 21st century civil rights issue,” he said, “and the NJEA is on the wrong side of it.”

Also speaking at the event was the Rev. Reginald Jackson, pastor of the St. Matthew AME Church in Orange and leader of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey. He said vouchers would improve the public schools through competition.

“We are not against public education,” he said. “We are against a system that says your child has no option.”

Although vouchers are attracting increased support in Newark and Camden, more support is needed in Trenton, where votes on voucher legislation are cast. However, few legislators have been willing to buck the NJEA’s position on school choice. That’s why E3 is turning its attention to the 2004 and 2005 elections–as is the NJEA. Voucher advocate Cory Booker predicted, “it will be an ugly fight.”
Trenton Star-Ledger
October 19, 2003


Anti-Racism Group Calls for School Choice

In October, the Vermont Anti-Racism Action Team approved a resolution asking the state legislature to make funds available for school choice so that a child who has been racially harassed may readily transfer to another school. The state already has a limited school choice program for high school students.

“The reason we are going for school choice is we have been knocking our heads against a stone wall: the refusal of the education administration to own up to the fact that racism exists,” the group’s volunteer director, Paij Wadley-Bailey, told the Boston Globe. “We can’t just sit by and do nothing,” she added. “If one child is harassed in the schools, that is one too many.”

Libby Sternberg, executive director of Vermonters for Better Education, applauded the resolution, telling the Globe that children who had been harassed “shouldn’t have to wait while the school tries to fix the problem.”

The Northeastern Vermont Abenaki Nation issued a statement expressing support for the efforts of the anti-racism group to expand school choice in Vermont, noting that the poorest families more often than not “have been left with most inadequate schools without any alternatives or options.”

“We need to do more to enable disadvantaged families to break the cycle of poverty and to shape their own education according to their own needs,” said the statement from Chief Spirit Water. “It is offensive to our notions of equal justice and equal protection that we can continue, in this day and age, to leave some students with no choices and no options in schools with an atmosphere of hostility or where racial harassment is pervasive.”
Boston Globe
October 18, 2003
The Vermont Education Report
October 27, 2003