What our Education Reform Idol contestants accomplished this year on school choice

Guest Blogger

Which of the five states competing to be America's next Education Reform Idol did the most to advance charter schools and private-school choice during the 2011 legislative session? Consider our analysis below, and attend our event Thursday morning (8:30-10:00AM) to see key players in all five states defend their records in front of a panel of ed-reform celebrity judges?Jeanne Allen, Richard Lee Colvin, and Bruno Manno. And click here to cast your vote for Education Reform Idol.

Florida

Florida passed three major choice initiatives this year: A charter-school bill that makes it easier for high-performing charters to expand, a pair of voucher programs for students with disabilities and students in low-performing schools, and a digital-learning bill. The digital-learning bill is especially impressive, allowing students to attend publicly funded digital charters as well as requiring districts to offer part- and full-time digital options in grades K-12.

Illinois

Illinois's Charter School Quality Act allows charter schools to be approved by an independent commission instead of individual school districts. This is expected to be a boon for many rural and suburban would-be charter startups, which have faced fierce opposition from school boards in these areas, and is expected to aid those starting urban charters as well. However, the statewide charter-school cap in Illinois remains a paltry 120.

Indiana

Indiana passed a charter-school bill that has been widely hailed for both increasing the number of charter-school sponsors and instituting a sound system of charter-school accountability. The state also approved a landmark voucher bill this spring, making two-thirds of Indiana families eligible to apply for 7,500 vouchers for the upcoming school year and 15,000 the following year. The state also instituted a rigorous accountability system requiring private schools participating in the voucher program to administer Indiana's Statewide Test for Progress. The pro-voucher community has been divided on the new accountability measures, some arguing that these measures are fairly minor, others arguing that they undermine the independence of private schools.

Ohio

Ohio undertook a handful of reforms to its charter-school laws this year, strengthening the automatic closure (?death penalty?) provision for poorly performing charter schools, which was already one of the toughest closure laws in the nation. While significantly raising caps on the number of schools individual authorizers can sponsor, the state also implemented a smart cap preventing irresponsible authorizers from opening new schools. Ohio's voucher program has also been expanded to 30,000 students this year and next year it will double to 60,000, making it one of the largest in the nation.

Wisconsin

Most notably, Wisconsin expanded the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program?already one of the nation's oldest and largest, at over 20,000 students?to allow middle-class families and additional schools to participate. In the fall, a similar program will open to 500 students in Racine. The state also completely removed its cap on virtual charter-school enrollment, which previously stood at 5,250 students.

Who do you think should be named 2011's Ed Reform Idol? Take the poll:

?Research Intern Josh Pierson

Read why each state thinks they should be considered the 2011 Ed Reform Idol:

Florida

Illinois

Indiana

Ohio

Wisconsin

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