Education a Top Priority at State Policy Network Meeting

Published December 1, 2005

More than 300 people attended the State Policy Network’s (SPN) 13th Annual Meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, September 29-October 1–the organization’s largest meeting since its founding in 1992. SPN is the nation’s only organization dedicated to improving the practical effectiveness of state-based think tanks. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) addressed the crowd, stressing the public’s need for competition among schools.

The three-day event included development sessions and policy forums designed to help state-based think tanks better educate local citizens, policymakers, and opinion leaders about market-oriented solutions to state and local policy challenges.

Sanford Calls for Choice

Sanford delivered the keynote address at the opening banquet, which was hosted by the South Carolina Policy Council, the predominant public policy think tank in South Carolina. Sanford said the state has a responsibility to serve its citizens in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

“If you have your principles right in life, good things will follow,” Sanford said. He stressed his commitment to advancing school choice, especially in view of “how unique God makes each child.”

During his remarks, Sanford reminded listeners “nobody spends your money like you do,” a statement met with loud and long applause. He encouraged all state leaders to invest in programs that have proven results, and he urged each state think tank to engage in productive debate with their respective legislatures.

“We felt compelled to host the SPN Annual Meeting in South Carolina, given all the recent school reform efforts going on in the state,” SPN President Tracie Sharp said. “The South Carolina Policy Council and Governor Sanford continue to lead the charge for real education reform.”

Sanford has been a strong proponent of greater educational choice, evidenced by his February 2004 proposal for the “Put Parents in Charge Act,” a tuition tax credit program. Reintroduced for the 2005 session, the bill includes a tax credit for educational expenses, including tuition and donations to scholarship organizations. The bill did not pass before the end of the summer legislative session.

Innovation Grant Awarded

The Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation presented its second annual $25,000 grant to the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, for Innovation in Promoting School Choice. The grant is intended to be used to promote the concept of universal school choice and to spark a constructive dialogue about K-12 education reforms between lawmakers and the public.

By accepting the grant, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii is charged with encouraging new and innovative efforts to promote school choice throughout the state. In exchange, the Friedman Foundation hopes to develop long-lasting partnerships with the think tank as it undertakes efforts to promote education competition.

“The Foundation was very pleased at the number and quality of proposals we received for our 2005 Innovation Grant, and look forward to even more interest for the 2006,” said Brian McGrath, director of programs and state relations at the Friedman Foundation. “We think it is crucial for advocates to continue to look for new and creative ways to promote school choice, and are proud to help SPN members do just that.”

Shared Experiences

The Friedman Foundation also helped develop a variety of conference panels targeting specific trends in education policy.

“The K-12 education reform panels were essential to the SPN Annual Meeting since every state-based think tank is tackling this issue in their respective state,” Sharp said. “We were pleased that the Friedman Foundation could once again partner with SPN on these crucial strategy sessions.”

The panels helped state policy experts learn from other states’ experiences. Sessions included media training, current school choice programs, and trends in pre-kindergarten programs. Royce Van Tassell, executive director of Education Excellence Utah, and Jay Greene, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, led a stimulating discussion about the tactics teacher unions use in opposing education reforms. Van Tassell discussed Utah’s battle for school choice, and Greene shared the findings documented in his new book, Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools and Why It Isn’t So.

Turnout High

“We were really enthused by the high turnout and active participation for the panels,” McGrath said. “There was a lot of interaction between the panelists and the audience, which made for a better learning experience for everyone.”

Next fall, SPN will host a K-12 Education Reform Summit in conjunction with its 14th Annual Meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The goal of the summit is to bring together education reform advocates from across the country for two days of networking and strategizing.

Lori Drummer ([email protected]) is director of the Education Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council.

For more information …

Transcripts of panel presentations at the 2005 State Policy Network annual meeting are available online at