The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) hosted 52 state legislators from 24 states at its first School Choice Academy in Philadelphia the weekend of September 16-17. The conference, sponsored by the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation and the Alliance for School Choice, was designed to provide an enhanced educational and legislative training opportunity for lawmakers interested in advancing education options.
The legislators joined policy advisors and school choice experts for a full day of seminars on current school choice programs, litigation strategies, research conclusions, and successful policy development. The goal was to identify the facts and myths surrounding school choice issues and to provide lawmakers with the information and tools needed to successfully advance education options across the nation.
Virginia Walden Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, and Dr. Howard Fuller, chairman of the board of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, delivered keynote speeches at separate meal sessions, highlighting the need for school choice in low-income communities with firsthand accounts about their successful battles to promote expanded education options.
“I looked out at the faces of the legislators attending ALEC’s School Choice Academy as I began my speech. As I spoke those faces became more and more animated,” Ford said later. “I felt energy coming from them that encouraged and compelled me to provide information to them that they would need to go back to their states and make getting school choice legislation passed a priority.”
Ford’s new book, Voices, Choices and Second Chances: How to Win the Battle to Bring Opportunity Scholarships to Your State, was donated to all attendees by the Institute for Justice.
“It was extraordinary sharing my story and the stories of the D.C. families with those present,” Ford said. “These were people who genuinely cared and would do something to change how children in this country are educated.”
In the workshops, top policy analysts and experienced legislative leaders bridged the gap between political theory and real world practice. Legislators of varying experience with school choice policy attended the academy, but the event was useful to all attendees, said Virginia State Delegate Chris Saxman (R-Staunton).
Experts Share Experience
“What a great conference!” Saxman said, noting he has sponsored school choice legislation for several years. “I learned so much more about the issue than I ever thought possible, and made a ton of contacts that will significantly help our efforts in Virginia.”
Friedman Foundation Executive Director Robert Enlow and Alliance for School Choice President Clint Bolick taught attendees about the variety of school choice programs across the nation. Wisconsin State Rep. Scott Jensen (R-Brookfield) advised lawmakers on how to draft an effective and successful bill.
Bolick and Clark Neily, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, spoke about defending school choice laws in the courts–from their 2002 defense of the Cleveland voucher program before the U.S. Supreme Court, to their current work defending Florida’s school choice programs before the Florida Supreme Court.
Lori Drummer ([email protected]) is director of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Education Task Force.
For more information …
The education task force of the American Legislative Exchange Council has developed model legislation for school choice and other reforms. See, “Organization Provides Model School Choice Bills for State Legislators,” School Reform News, February 2005, http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=16289.