Policy Picnic – January 25, 2017

Please join us for our monthly Policy Picnic led by

special guest Bobbie Jager

 


 

From 2012 “Oregon Mother of the Year” to School Choice Activist

 

January 22-28, 2017 is National School Choice Week. Started in 2011, NSCW has grown into the world’s largest celebration of opportunity in education. The Week is a nonpartisan, nonpolitical public awareness effort.

Held every January, National School Choice Week shines a positive spotlight on effective education options for every child.

The goal of National School Choice Week is to raise public awareness of all types of education options for children. These options include traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.

In honor of National School Choice Week, Cascade Policy Institute is delighted to host guest speaker Bobbie Jager, Oregon’s 2012 “Mother of the Year” and energetic advocate for educational choice for all Oregon children. She will talk about how she got involved in education advocacy and what’s ahead for parents and students in Oregon in 2017.

Last year Bobbie wrote a Cascade Commentary in support of extending Oregon’s public school open enrollment law.

Admission is free, but reservations are required due to space limitations. You are welcome to bring your own lunch; light refreshments will be served.

Reserve your free tickets here.

 

Cascade’s Policy Picnics are generously sponsored

by Dumas Law Group, LLC

dumaslawlogo 80percent

 

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Freedom in Film: Won’t Back Down (2012)

With students everywhere heading to class, we hope you enjoy Part 3 of Cascade’s “virtual” back-to-school School Choice Film Fest.

Social problem films are not generally “feel-good” movies, in the sense that viewers feel comfortable with their feet up, eating popcorn, laughing with the heroes, and hoping for happily ever after. Won’t Back Down (2012) is a bit different. The film makes clear the near-impossibility of a desperate single mother getting her small daughter out of the worst public school in town; but it maintains a buoyant, upbeat vibe.

Here is what Cascade’s Steve Buckstein said about Won’t Back Down when it opened in theaters:

It’s not often that a Hollywood movie both entertains and helps parents learn about another option to improve their children’s education. The film Won’t Back Down…does both.

Inspired by actual events, it’s the story of a third-grade student trapped in a failing public school. Unable to afford a private education, her mother, played by actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, learns about parent trigger laws, now the reality in seven states, which allow parents to take control of such schools and institute improvements.

Gyllenhaal enlists the help of a dedicated teacher in her daughter’s school, played by actress Viola Davis, to jump through the myriad of hoops put in their way. Together, they learn how to fight not only the bureaucracy, but the powerful teachers union, personified by actress Holly Hunter.

The film explores the complex relationships among good teachers, bad teachers, and a union whose leader once famously said he’d represent the interests of schoolchildren when they started paying union dues. Poor parents who want the best for their children are given a glimpse of the educational choices that those with political power are able to make.

Surprisingly, the good guys aren’t all good, and the bad guys aren’t all bad, in this multi-layered drama….

Won’t Back Down was criticized by some as “anti-union” or even “anti-teacher.” But it is actually a relatively gentle take on union/parent/teacher conflicts. The film takes extra care to present the concerns and fears of lifelong public school teachers and union members with sympathy and understanding. The characters are lovable, and the drama is human.

The takeaway can be summed up by the school board member who, casting the decisive vote, says….Well, you’ll have to see the movie to find out.

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Freedom in Film: Waiting for “Superman” (2010)

With students everywhere heading to class, we hope you enjoy Part 2 of Cascade’s “virtual” back-to-school School Choice Film Fest.

The 2010 documentary film Waiting for “Superman” ignited new interest in the desperate desire of low-income parents to get their kids out of failing, one-size-fits-all public schools into better-performing charter schools. The five children poignantly profiled in the film faced barriers to their dreams in the form of too few charter school seats and a lottery acceptance process that made their futures dependent on a roll of the dice.

Charter schools have become a vital education option for thousands of students throughout the U.S. Moviegoers previously unfamiliar with charter schools (public schools with more freedom to be innovative than traditional district public schools) began to understand why parents―especially lower-income parents―want their kids so much to have a chance to attend charters.

Demand for charter schools far outstrips available seats, as Cascade’s 2011 study of Oregon charter school waiting lists found. Opening more charter schools is an important piece of the education reform puzzle. However, immediate, viable, successful alternatives to failing public schools have existed, often right in parents’ own neighborhoods, for decades. In much of the U.S., those options pre-date the American public school system itself.

Private and parochial schools have been a lifeline for low-income kids for generations, and today’s school choice movement seeks to maximize parents’ options for choosing the public, private, online, public charter, or home school that is the best fit for their children. Dozens of states and the District of Columbia have pioneered voucher programs, education tax credit laws, and Education Savings Accounts for parents. Private charity also plays a major role in helping children in need get a hand up early in life.

Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs, may be the most flexible way for states to help children learn in the ways that are best for them. ESAs are not a college savings plan. Rather, if families decide the public schools to which their children are assigned are not meeting their needs, they can leave those schools and instead receive money from the state to pay for approved alternative education options and expenses. Parents can spend the funds on private school tuition, individual courses at public schools, tutoring, online learning, textbooks, educational therapies, and other education-related services and products. They can use a combination of these services based on what they think would best meet their child’s learning needs.

Reforming our public education system is necessary, but low-income kids can’t wait for Superman. When the 2017 Oregon legislative session begins in January, ask your state legislators to empower Oregon children to succeed in whatever education setting works for them by supporting an Education Savings Account law.

And if you haven’t seen it yet, this is a great week to watch Waiting for “Superman.”

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Freedom in Film: To Sir, with Love (1967)

With students everywhere heading to class, we hope you enjoy Part 1 of Cascade’s “virtual” back-to-school School Choice Film Fest.

Nearing the end of his patience, a first-year teacher challenges his scarcely literate students to think seriously about the lives ahead of them. What will happen after high school graduation? One academically indifferent girl supposes she’ll get married, giggling that “everybody gets married.”

Such comfortable assumptions have disappeared since 1967; much else about the lives and troubles of at-risk teenagers hasn’t.

To Sir, with Love stars Sidney Poitier as Mark Thackeray, an engineer who takes a temporary teaching job. The kids are rough, uninterested in school, and oblivious to the possibility that they could become more than they are. The gentlemanly Mr. Thackeray, called “Sir” by his students, is as much a culture shock to them as they are to him.

To Sir, with Love is like a time capsule of the late 1960s: Sentimental optimism contrasts with the grittiness of poverty, illiteracy, teenage rebellion, and rapid social change. There is a sense that Mr. Thackeray’s class is careening wildly toward dead-end or delinquent adulthoods, and he has a few short weeks to reach at least some of his students before they are lost. His greatest asset as a teacher, though, has nothing to do with cutting-edge curriculum or teaching “best practices.”

It is culture. “Sir” is a living example of another world which his students could choose to enter, if only they could see themselves in it. Through him they experience, for the first time, what it is to have dignity. As the teenagers begin to awaken to their own self-worth, they start to grasp why people have manners, respect others, and behave in ways that draw respect in turn. They take interest in the written word and the process of intellectual inquiry.

Education is more than transmission of facts; it’s an invitation to explore the world of the soul, of human creative capacity, and of the physical universe. When students get in touch with their own dignity as human beings, they grasp the meaning of learning. They no longer mark time until school is out; they transform as students and as people.

Great teachers help students discover the grandeur of human existence, potential, and achievement and that they are made for more than superficial pleasures and “easy outs.” To Sir, with Love shows what can happen when the right adult comes into a teenager’s life at the right time―and why that’s so important.

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Improve Education Outcomes Through Education Savings Accounts, Not Measure 97’s Hidden Sales Tax

On the third day of the new school year at Portland’s Madison High School, Governor Kate Brown spoke about her goal to improve educational outcomes for all students. She bemoaned the fact that at 74%, Oregon has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country, and then she noted that “For me this is a very personal issue”:

“My stepson blew out of one of the local area high schools a few years ago. We were very fortunate. We had the resources to provide him with another educational opportunity, but not all families do. That’s why it’s absolutely imperative that we work together to improve Oregon’s high school graduation rates.”*

So how does Governor Brown propose to assist families that don’t have the resources hers had to help their children achieve educational success? Apparently, by supporting Measure 97 on the November ballot, which would be the biggest tax increase in Oregon’s history.

In reality, Measure 97 is a sales tax hidden behind the façade of being a tax on big business. Its passage will actually make it harder for many of the families the Governor wants to help, in the questionable hope that the revenue it generates would be spent properly to give their kids a better chance at graduation from the same schools that have failed so many in the past.

Measure 97 will not only act as a consumption tax on many of the goods and services Oregon families buy every day, but it also will reduce private sector employment opportunities as more than $3 billion are siphoned out of the private sector into the state general fund each year. From there, all this money—which is about what a six-percent retail sales tax would produce—may or may not be spent in ways that would give struggling families the same opportunities that the Governor’s family had when her stepson needed help.

Rather than ask voters to take a $30 billion gamble over the next ten years on a tax measure that may not show any positive economic or educational results for Oregon families, the Governor and voters should consider another way to provide all families with the resources they need to give their children the educational opportunities they deserve. And, this other way will not raise anyone’s taxes, and it will not reduce anyone’s job prospects.

This other way is school choice. Governor Brown’s predecessor, John Kitzhaber, took a major step toward this other way when he signed Oregon’s public charter school law in 1999 that currently allows more than 30,000 students to attend some 127 charter schools for educational opportunities they otherwise would have been denied. All without costing taxpayers or the public school system one additional dime.

Oregon is one of forty-three states and the District of Columbia that offer public K-12 charter school opportunities to their families. Now, the newest wave in the school choice movement is offering Education Savings Accounts in five states, and that number is sure to grow.

Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs, are not a college savings plan. Rather, if families decide the public schools their children are assigned to are not meeting their needs, they can leave those schools and instead receive money from the state to pay for approved alternative education options and expenses. Parents can spend the funds on private school tuition, individual courses at public schools, tutoring, online learning, textbooks, educational therapies, and other education-related services and products. They can use a combination of these services based on what they think would best meet their child’s learning needs.

Each eligible child is able to draw from his or her own personal Education Savings Account maintained by the state and funded by most, but not all, of the money that otherwise would have been sent to the local school district. When properly structured, ESAs require no new taxes and are not a financial burden on the state or local public school districts. They simply allow money already allocated for public education to be used in ways individual families choose, instead of in ways dictated by the ZIP code students happen to live in.

In an improvement over earlier school choice programs such as vouchers, ESAs let families spend only what they want to each year, and save or rollover the balance toward future educational needs. If not all the money in an ESA is spent by the time a student graduates from high school, the remaining funds may be used to help cover his or her higher education costs.

So, let’s not ask taxpayers to gamble that our troubled public schools will somehow get it right this time if we simply give them enough new money out of our pockets with the hidden sales tax in Measure 97. Instead, let’s ask our legislators in Salem to explore a new, truly innovative way to improve educational outcomes for each individual student with personal Education Savings Accounts.


* Governor Brown’s complete remarks at Madison High School were recorded and can be heard on this KXL radio episode of Beyond the Headlines in the first segment of about seven minutes at https://soundcloud.com/kxl-beyond-the-headlines/week-of-8-28-16-episode-130

New Orleans’ Miracle School District

Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated the southeastern United States, displacing more than 372,000 school-aged children. Today, New Orleans’ school population has returned to more than two-thirds its pre-storm level, but a lot has changed for the better in the public school district.

Before Katrina, a Louisiana state legislator called New Orleans “one of the worst-run public school systems in America.” Almost two-thirds of students attended a “failing school.” After Katrina, the state legislature transferred more than 100 low-performing Orleans Parish schools to the Recovery School District. Now, the district has 57 charter schools operating under nonprofit charter management organizations.

According to The Washington Examiner, barely more than half of New Orleans public school students graduated before Katrina. Today, almost all New Orleans students attend charter schools. In the 2013-14 school year, three out of four students graduated on time, and fewer than seven percent attend a “failing school.”

This amazing turnaround is due to the hard work of teachers, administrators, local and state leaders, and parents who rebuilt New Orleans’ public school system from the ground-up, with the vision and determination to create “an all-choice school district with high-quality schools.” The unprecedented success of New Orleans’ Recovery School District serves as a model for education reform efforts across the country. Parental choice, flexibility for educators, and innovation in management really can achieve the impossible.


This article was originally published August 26, 2015.

 

Flexibility Is Key: The Next Generation of Parental Choice Solutions

Families in five states now have access to a special program called Educational Savings Accounts.

Educational Savings Accounts, or ESAs, allow parents to take money the state otherwise would spend on their children in the public system and put it on a restricted use debit card. Parents can spend this money on a wide variety of approved educational options, including private school, individual tutoring, online classes, and other services. Any money not used is rolled over for parents to spend in the future.

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice surveyed Arizona families to see how they are choosing to spend the resources allocated for their kids. The survey found that more than a third of participating families used ESAs for multiple educational purposes, not just private school tuition. It also found that families saved a significant amount of their ESA money for future expenses.

This indicates that ESAs not only expand the learning options available to individual children, but they also encourage fiscal discipline within education spending.

Parents and lawmakers in nearly a dozen states, including Oregon, are working to make this flexible learning option available to more children. The next generation of education reform in America needs to embrace flexibility to meet the needs of every child, and Educational Savings Accounts are proving to be a simple but powerful way to do just that.

Extending Oregon’s Public School Open Enrollment Law Empowers Parents

This week the Oregon State Senate passed an extension of Oregon’s open enrollment law, Senate Bill 1566. The bill extends for three more years the sunset provision of a 2011 law which allows students to attend public schools in different districts from their home residences, as long as the receiving district is accepting transfers. The bill is expected to pass the House before the end of the session.

Oregon’s open enrollment law is a victory for parents, because it gives them more power to choose among Oregon public schools without requiring transfer permission from their local school district—permission that was often denied. Other winners include rural district schools which have worked hard to attract incoming transfer students by focusing on strong academics.

Instead of more bureaucracy, Oregon needs effective accountability in K-12 education by empowering every parent to hold his or her child’s school accountable and to ensure that their children are getting the education they deserve. Oregon legislators should be commended for supporting the Oregon open enrollment law, a relatively easy way to promote accountability and continuous improvement within the public school system. When parents can choose the schools that are best for their children, students have better chances to learn and succeed; and school districts have both the incentives and the opportunities to shine. And that can only be a plus for education in Oregon.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

2016’s Record-Breaking Celebration of School Choice

This week is National School Choice Week. Every January, National School Choice Week highlights the need for effective educational options for all children “in a positive, forward-looking, fun, nonpolitical, and nonpartisan way.”

Planned by a diverse coalition of individuals and organizations, National School Choice Week features special events and activities that support school choice programs and proposals. School Choice Week began five years ago with 150 events. Since then, it has grown into the world’s largest celebration of education reform. The 2016 School Choice Week will feature more than 16,140 independently planned events nationwide.

Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week, explains, “More American families than ever before are actively choosing the best educational environments for their children, which has galvanized millions of additional parents―those without options―to demand greater choices for their own children. National School Choice Week will [provide] a platform for people to celebrate school choice where it exists and demand it where it does not.”

Students have different talents, interests, and needs; and they learn in different ways. The landscape of educational options to meet those needs is far more diverse today than it was even a few years ago. It’s becoming increasingly evident that more choices in education are the way of the future. For more information, visit National School Choice Week online at schoolchoiceweek.com.

Cascade Policy Institute will host a National School Choice Week School Choice Policy Picnic on Thursday, January 28, at noon. Cascade founder Steve Buckstein will discuss the importance of school choice and where we go from here to get more of it in Oregon. Those interested in attending can RSVP online.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

 

 

Oregon Legislature Should Continue Open Enrollment in Public Schools

By Bobbie Jager

This week marks National School Choice Week, and states across the nation have much to celebrate. In the past decade, choice advocates across the political spectrum have worked to pass legislation including full funding for online and charter schools, education savings accounts, scholarship tax credits for children with disabilities, and open enrollment, which allows children to register freely beyond school district borders. School choice advocates in states like Indiana, Colorado, and Florida are also working to break down the walls between the K-12 education system and higher education so students not only earn a high school diploma, but are well on their way to earning an associate’s degree.

 

When our state decided to create a Common School Fund, it was with the belief that a successful society was dependent upon having a skilled and educated citizenry, and that it was in the public’s interest to pay for public education. But the Common School Fund was merely a funding mechanism. It was agnostic on the delivery mechanism.

 

In today’s society, we expect customization and personalization in every aspect of our life. Have you considered that maybe our education system is failing not because we lack funding, but, rather, because we’re still relying on a one-size-fits-all system for 550,000 students with little consideration for the needs of the individual student? Often, Oregon politicians talk about strengthening people’s rights to freely make choices about their lives, yet when it comes to school choice, families in Oregon are severely restricted. The resistance to school choice by education leaders in Oregon isn’t limited to simply expanding new options. Unfortunately, there is a constant effort to undo the few choice options available to Oregon families.

 

In 2011, a bipartisan Oregon legislature successfully increased options by expanding enrollment caps for online schools, creating a modified open enrollment option, and allowing colleges and universities to act as charter sponsors. Once caps were lifted, more Oregon students and their families chose online schooling. In turn, more public schools made online schooling an offering to stay competitive with their public charter school counterparts. The cap, however, is artificial. We should do away with it altogether and let parents have full access to that option.

 

When Oregon enacted open enrollment, hundreds of families across the state made the decision to leave their local school district for one that better suited the needs of their child. Unless the legislature acts in 2016, that choice will expire. Living in such a progressive state, doesn’t it make sense that we would continue to expand choices for parents instead of limit them?

 

Progressive Democrats from around the nation are moving in this direction. For example, former California Senate President Gloria Romero, a Democrat and an educator, passed the nation’s first parent trigger law. The law empowers parents whose children attend public schools that are in the bottom 20 percent of California’s system with one of three choices: implement a turn-around model with the district and new staff, transition the school into a charter school, or vote to shut the school down. Gloria understood empowering parents with choices would help children escape failing schools.

 

As a mother of 13 children, I quickly learned not every child fits into the same educational “box.” My children have attended public schools, including charter schools, private schools, experienced home schooling, and attended international schools when my family was stationed in Saudi Arabia. My kids fill the spectrum from special needs to children identified as talented and gifted. To assume each child is well-served by the exact same educational delivery formula is a recipe for disaster. We now see the results of that thinking in Oregon’s poor graduation rates.

 

My message to Oregon legislators is to look at what Democrats in other states are doing to end inequality in their education systems. Their efforts are based on choice and empowering parents to make necessary changes. Let’s end our practice of tying a child’s educational future to their ZIP code and their income. It’s time to give all Oregon school children the choice for a better future.


Bobbie Jager is the executive director of Building Excellent Schools Together (BEST), a nonpartisan organization committed to parent empowerment and increasing the options for education delivery in our public school system. She was named Oregon Mother of the Year in 2012. Ms. Jager is a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

A version of this commentary was originally published in The Oregonian on January 24, 2016 as Oregon Legislature should preserve open enrollment in public schools.

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