National School Choice Organization Celebrates Its First Anniversary

Published May 1, 2005

Despite being only a year old, the Arizona-based Alliance for School Choice has emerged as one of the nation’s leading school choice organizations, providing proven grassroots strategies and model legislation.

After its inception on May 17, 2004, the alliance’s state team spent the rest of the year working to develop contacts and assess legislative prospects for 2005 in more than a dozen target states. In a few, such as Arizona and Missouri, where prospects have emerged only recently, the group also helped establish school choice frameworks to support future legislation.

“There is no more urgent priority in our nation today than fulfilling the promise of equal educational opportunities for every schoolchild,” declared Clint Bolick, president and general counsel of the alliance. “We have accomplished a great deal in our first year, but we have only barely begun.”

The nation’s 10 publicly funded school choice programs–including newly enacted but not yet implemented programs in Utah (see “Utah Enacts Scholarship Program for Special-Needs Students,” page 1) and Florida–enroll some 80,000 children in private schools and expend approximately $240 million annually in public funds. The alliance strives to increase both the number and effectiveness of school choice programs, thereby increasing the competitive pressure on public schools to reform and improve.

Along with its sister lobbying organization, Advocates for School Choice, the alliance helped build foundations for legislative efforts in nearly a dozen key states in the past year, including Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin. Some, such as the push for special-needs scholarships in Utah, have already proven successful; it is still too early to tell about the others.

Model Legislation Written

When policymakers propose school choice legislation, they typically begin by modifying existing laws from other states to suit their own purposes. The trouble with that approach is that all of the nation’s existing school choice programs could be improved.

To correct that problem, the alliance struck a partnership with the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation to create model school choice bills reflecting best practices. Recognizing that one school choice model won’t fit every school, parent, or child, they took care to include extensive drafting notes that policymakers could use to craft the bill best suited to their constituents’ needs.

The resulting model bills covered six forms of choice: universal tax credits; scholarship tax credits; special-needs vouchers; means-tested, sliding-scale vouchers; universal vouchers; and virtual schools. Once the models were vetted by a panel of experts, including the alliance’s board of directors, they were submitted to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is distributing them to thousands of legislators across the nation. (See “Organization Provides Model School Choice Bills for State Legislators,” School Reform News, February 2005.)

In addition, the alliance provided direct grants and technical assistance to support existing school choice programs in Florida and Milwaukee, and to help successfully implement the pivotal District of Columbia program in its first year. The D.C. program added approximately 1,000 schoolchildren and more than $7 million in public funds to existing school choice programs.

Leadership, Unity Sought

In the 15 years since the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program kicked off the modern school choice movement, it has not always moved in a coherent direction. The alliance is working to change that by creating a national infrastructure for the school choice movement. It hopes to act as a unifying force, to establish a national strategy based on best practices, and to work closely with other school choice organizations on the state and federal levels.

The alliance has forged close working relationships with the Friedman Foundation, Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (Hispanic CREO), and dozens of other pro-school choice organizations at national and state levels.

“Hats off to the Alliance for School Choice on its anniversary,” said Robert C. Enlow, executive director of the Friedman Foundation. “In just one year it has made a real impact around the country, and we at the Friedman Foundation look forward to many more years of working together to promote educational freedom.”

Task Forces Developed

Another problem facing the school choice movement, according to Bolick and others at the alliance, has been the lack of a central forum in which to address issues. To address that concern, the alliance launched a series of task forces, inviting leading school choice strategists and stakeholders to join in order to forge solutions to difficult issues facing the movement.

Each task force produces a white paper outlining a strategic plan for growth in its particular area. The first three task forces met in Phoenix over the past year to discuss:

  • Offensive litigation strategies. After more than a decade of fighting off legal challenges to school choice programs, the alliance brought together a task force of legal academics, litigators, and activists to develop counterattack strategies. The task force produced a series of recommendations on voucher-remedy lawsuits and actions under the No Child Left Behind Act and is currently working with activists–particularly in states where the school choice movement is strong but legislative prospects are weak–to spark school choice by using creative litigation tactics.
  • Scholarship tax credit bill design. The school choice movement has three different scholarship tax credit programs, one each in Arizona, Florida, and Pennsylvania. They have not been evaluated in an effort to derive best practices. Because half of the states targeted for 2005 are working to develop scholarship tax credit programs, the alliance felt the need to determine best practices was urgent. It brought together activists from states with existing programs and from states that are considering them to distill lessons and produce guidelines for future programs.
  • Accountability. The alliance’s accountability task force represents leading academics and activists, as well as the Christian, Catholic, and independent school communities. Members work together to develop consensus on financial accountability, program assessment, and related issues. A series of meetings and a white paper on that topic are scheduled for 2005.

Laura Devany ([email protected]) is director of communications at the Alliance for School Choice.

For more information …

The model school choice bills developed by the Alliance for School Choice are available on its Web site at