Charters & Choice

Yesterday was the first day of school in our nation's capital and only 37,000 students showed up for the big day. That's a 17 percent drop from the end-of-year audit conducted last spring; those projections calculated DCPS should expect 44,681 as a final tally (enrollment numbers are not usually finalized for a few weeks while students trickle in at the last minute).

DCPS' enrollment numbers have been dropping for years, so these new stats are no surprise. But there are two new twists. 1. The low numbers mean DCPS administrators are courting parents at BBQs and community events, picking up the long-time tactics of charter school operators, who must recruit their own pupils. And 2. Rhee may wind up losing some funding if approximately 7,000 kids don't trickle in over the next few weeks (the final count is taken Oct 1). Last spring, the DC Council was not convinced DCPS would get the numbers Rhee predicted (41,541), and wanted to hold some funding back until September. In the end, they agreed to use last year's prediction, the aforementioned 44,681, but it turns out the Council was right after all. As DC Council Chairman Vincent Gray told the??Washington Post, "I do doubt the likelihood of getting 7,681 enrolled between now and the first of October."

Laura Pohl

Students at Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) , one of the six charter schools Fordham authorizes in Ohio, file out of school on Monday. Like so many other charters around the United States, CCA holds classes in an unconventional building: the Seventh Avenue Community Baptist Church. Watch Flypaper this week for more photographs and multimedia from CCA.

School-choice foes in the Buckeye State are getting smarter about the strategies they employ to undermine the choice movement.???? Since the birth of charters here in 1998 and vouchers in 2005, opponents--namely Democrats, teacher unions, and the education establishment--have fought a "districts = good, choice = bad" fight.???? But with Democrats, including the President, across the country embracing choice and some of the state's top districts????employing charter schools themselves, that fight can only take local choice opponents so far.???? Rather than accepting school choice as an important component to improving public education, they've now focused their efforts on driving a wedge in the choice movement itself.

We first saw this tactic during the state budget deliberation process last spring, when Ohio House Democrats proposed????different levels of funding for charter schools based on their affiliation with traditional school districts. Charters were pitted against charters in a way they hadn't been in previous budget battles, and the resulting fight wasn't pretty. For example, some school leaders of high performing charters in Cleveland associated with the district were shunned by other charter advocates who saw them as turncoats for urging closer district-charter collaboration at the expense of charters not authorized by school districts. While the House funding plot was ultimately foiled by Senate Republicans, relationships within the charter school community remain bruised.????To be fair, Ohio's charter school community has never marched together the way teacher unions and other education establishment organizations do, but there's no doubt that the...

Guest Blogger

Ohio intern Rachel Roseberry wrote this guest post.

They say the pen is mightier than the sword. In this case, we can only hope. Ohio State Senator Jon Husted (former State Speaker of the House) recently penned a letter to Governor Strickland, the President of the Senate, and the current Speaker detailing Ohio's shortcomings in its personal Race to the Top. He states that he is proposing legislation to correct these deficiencies; namely to lift the various caps Ohio currently has on new charter schools and to revise Ohio's value-added assessments for teachers and principals.

Senator Husted notes that Ohio now has the chance to start making decisive steps towards complying with the Race to the Top guidelines and ultimately to put in place better practice. As our own Terry Ryan says, can we afford to stumble into this federal funding any longer?

After his second attempt to dismantle the state's charter school program was thwarted, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland is trying to paint himself as a supporter of successful schools of choice.???? Following a speech in Cleveland last week, he praised the city's successful Entrepreneurship Preparatory School (known as E-Prep), which has succeeded where Ohio's urban districts have failed in educating poor, minority children and which would have been killed off by the governor's original budget proposal.???? But the governor's praise is disingenuous at best.???? The truth is that Strickland has been a charter foe from day one, and if not for Senate Republicans he would have happily presided over the killing off of most of the state's charter schools, even the best among them.???? In Sunday's Cleveland Plain Dealer former editor Brent Larkin didn't mince words in calling out the governor for his hypocrisy:

Strickland's first budget was clearly hostile to charters. The budget he introduced this year would have broken them. So, too, would the version later passed by the Ohio House. Were it not for charters being rescued by the Republican-run Senate, E Prep would not have survived.

"We might have lasted another year, then we would have been out of business," said Zitzner. E Prep's founder thinks Cleveland schools chief Eugene Sanders appreciates the role schools such as E Prep are playing in educating impoverished youngsters. But that's not enough to offset a hostile state government and a woefully

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Ohio's charter school program dodged a bullet this recent budget cycle (here). Both the state's governor and the House (controlled by Democrats) sought to set-back Ohio's charter school program big-time with many new and costly regulations (including banning for-profit operators from the state) and serious funding cuts for all schools, but especially for e-schools. Long-time Republican choice supporters in the Senate stayed true to their promise to protect charters, and purged the legislation of the most damaging proposals (here).

However, some common sense legislation for increasing charter accountability was put into the new law. Two items in particular are worth pointing out. First, Ohio has had an "academic death penalty" in place for persistently low-performing charter schools since 2006. Under this law two schools closed last school year and 23 others are in danger of closing this year.???? The state's budget ratcheted this death penalty up further and it now looks as if 35 or so schools (about ten percent of all charters in Ohio) are at risk of automatic closure when the state's report cards come out in late August.???? The national media has given much attention recently to California's efforts (here) to close persistently failing charters, but no state has stronger legislation on this front than Ohio now does.

Second, Ohio's new law requires all charter school sponsors to be accountable to the state department of education for their performance. Up until this time, the law had grandfathered many charter...

The Education Gadfly

Join us Wednesday, August 19, for a panel discussion on how the changing education policy landscape is affecting both charter schools and voucher programs. The Obama administration is aggressively pushing to expand the number of charter schools available to American families. Meanwhile, the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program looks to be on its way out and other voucher programs are facing new challenges. Will the voucher movement survive and thrive in this climate? Does it need to? Are charter schools the future of school choice? Has their promise been overstated? The following top experts in the field will share their opinions on these and other key questions:

  • Kevin Carey, Policy Director, Education Sector
  • John F. Kirtley, Chairman, Florida School Choice Fund
  • Gerard Robinson, President, Black Alliance for Educational Options
  • Susan Zelman, Senior Vice President, Education and Children's Content, Corporation for Public Broadcasting

The moderator will be??Michael Petrilli, VP for National Programs and Policy, Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Here are some important details.

"With charter schools ascendant, is there still a future for vouchers?"

Wednesday, August 19

4 PM - 5:30 PM

Light refreshments served

Registration begins at 3:30 PM

Thomas B. Fordham Institute

1016 16th Street NW, 7th Floor

Washington, DC 20036

RSVP to rsvp@edexcellence.net or 202-223-5452.

Video of this event will be available at www.edexcellence.net soon after....

Alex Klein

Quotable

"Sometimes I think, 'What if I'm sitting at the same desk she sat in?'" --Branaijah Melvin, 11-year-old student at Blessed Sacrament, Judge Sonia Sotomayor's K-8 school

NYT: The Children at the Judge's Bronx School

Notable

$103,000,000 : The amount of money the Washington, D.C. public schools failed to pay its 60 charter schools yesterday. The schools are expected to receive between 50 and 75 percent of the money next week.

WaPo: D.C. Missed $103 Million Payment to 60 Charter Schools

Will Compernolle

Quotable

"It's ironic as hell that a budget that gives less funding to schools than the last seven budgets is being cast as a constitutional funding bill. That's funny. That's just funny." --Bill Seitz, Ohio State Senator

Bucyrus Telegraph Forum: Schools face big changes - eventually

Notable

18 : The number of charter schools featured in U.S. News's list of the top 100 high schools in America.

Kansas City infoZine: Poor Economy, Poor Student Achievement Threaten Charter Schools

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As Andy reported last Friday, the DC Council has sent a letter to Secretary Duncan urging him to reconsider the fate of the DC Opportunity Scholarship program. What's interesting is that the issue is picking up additional hints of the long running "taxation without representation" debate that has surrounded DC's disenfranchised state. Currently, the District has no voting representation in Congress, only a (non-voting) delegate to the House of Representatives. The Wall Street Journal explains:

The D.C. Council's letter shows that support for these vouchers is real at the local level and that the opposition exists mainly at the level of the national Democratic Party. Mr. Durbin has suggested that he included the D.C. Council provision in deference to local control. "The government of Washington, D.C., should decide whether they want it in their school district," he said in March. Well now we know where D.C. stands.

We'll have to wait and see if the voucher program becomes the headline issue for DC Votes activists. It seems perfectly suited to the job.

On a more historical note, DC rights issues could change District education in some surprising ways. (Read more about the movement here.) Various unsuccessful DC rights legislation came and went during the tenure of Bush 43; the most recent effort, which is also the most promising, appeared this spring. Even more interesting is that one of the options is returning the District to Maryland, the state that donated the land...

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