Charters & Choice

Louisiana voters are used to making the hard decisions about public education that divide their lawmakers. With any luck, they’ll have the chance to make those hard decisions again.

After all, it’s the voters and families of the Pelican State who are waiting in line for the public school alternatives that lawmakers have made available but can’t seem to fund adequately. Consider Louisiana’s new Course Choice program, which allows students to shop around for courses—virtual and otherwise—not offered in their zoned school. State schools superintendent John White said earlier this week that there was a wait list of 1,000 students who wanted to take part, with 100 new applications arriving daily.

But White will have to scrounge for dollars if he wants to accommodate everybody. He had to find $2 million to pay for the 2,000 slots he set aside initially, and he figured he’d need to find another $1.5 million just to meet current demand.

Why the funding dilemma? The state Supreme Court declared in May that a constitutionally protected source of public funding is off limits to this decidedly different way of educating the public. The “minimum foundation” for public education in Louisiana—which this...


The Washington Post profiled Josh Powell, a homeschooled young man, who—having never written an essay or learned that South Africa was a country—had to take several years of remedial classes at a community college to get back on track with his peers. Citing worry for his eleven younger siblings, all still being homeschooled by their parents, young Mr. Powell (now a Georgetown undergrad) urges that homeschooling to be subject to accountability. But just what kind of accountability? That’s a tricky question. This is a fascinating case—and a very touchy subject.

There’s a waiting list of about 1,000 students who want to take part in Louisiana’s new Course Choice program, which currently allows 2,000 youngsters to shop around for courses, virtual and otherwise, that are not offered in their home school. State Superintendent John White says that 100 applications pile in every day and that, to accommodate everybody, he’ll have to scrounge for money. The state Supreme Court has already ruled that a constitutionally protected source of public funding is off limits. White estimates that he’ll need another $1.5 million just to meet the current demand.

After reaching a long-awaited teachers’ contract in April, Hawaii’s...


More than 100,000 students in Ohio attended a public charter school during the past school year. Most of these students come from urban areas, as state law requires that a start-up charter school locate within the boundaries of either a “Big 8” urban district or a low-performing district. The charts below show the decade-long growth of charter schools, as well as the current percentage of students attending charters within Ohio’s urban areas.

Chart 1 shows the charter school growth in Ohio’s Big 8 urban areas over the past 10 years. None of the 8 cities’ charter sector has declined in enrollment (by way of contrast, all of these cities’ traditional districts have declined). The growth rates, however, vary across the cities. Columbus’ charter school sector has exploded, nearly quadrupling in student enrollment size. Cleveland and Toledo’s charter sectors have also expanded at a brisk pace, both more than doubling their enrollment. Meanwhile, Youngstown and Dayton’s charter schools grew at a considerably slower pace than their counterparts.

Chart 1: City’s charter schools grew at a varying pace in past decade – Percent change in charter school enrollment, 2003-04 to 2012-13.

SOURCE: Ohio Department of Education - ...


By the Company it Keeps: Tim Daly

Derrell Bradford is a fighter for low-income kids, and he has the compelling personal story to back it up. He’s a prized possession of the ed-reform community.

Derrell Bradford Better Education for Kids

Derrell’s been dedicating his many talents to the State of New Jersey for some time now, recently as executive director of Excellent Education for Everyone, the state’s school-choice advocacy group, and now as head of Better Education for Kids, an advocacy outfit focused primarily on educator effectiveness.

But he’s much more than muscle; Derrell is a highly talented communicator. He’s a regular presence on major TV shows, and he’s a regular radio commentator. And he’s a truly gifted writer. When he’s representing the cause, we’re winning.

I’ve known Derrell for years now; we ran in the same school-choice circles for some time. But I got to know him much better during my time working for the New Jersey Department of Education. Not only was he a vocal...


That charter schools struggle to find and finance adequate building space is a problem that has received well-deserved attention lately, but few reporters and analysts have documented the challenges charters face in entering the multi-trillion-dollar municipal bond market.

So a hat-tip goes to longtime charter and reform leader Nelson Smith for drawing attention to a worthwhile report from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which found a lack of consensus among underwriters and investors as to what drives credit strength in the charter sector.

As they expand, more charters are turning to municipal bond markets to finance their building projects. When schools issue bonds, an investor essentially loans them money in return for regular interest payments until the bond “matures,” at which point the school repays the principal. School districts and other government entities issue bonds all the time, but many lenders continue to see charters as risky investments.

That perception has consequences for charters, which end up paying higher rates than schools districts, if they can find investors at all. And it’s a perception that seems to be based on a faulty picture of what makes a charter school viable for the life of a...


This summer in Ohio has been oppressively hot and (for some reason) rainy. So for those who want to stay cool in the AC, or are looking for beach reading, here are several timely and insightful pieces that relate to education. Read on for our review of these reports and articles, and click on the links to access the entire article! -Angel Gonzalez

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Are Recent College Graduates Finding Good Jobs?

Aaron Churchill

We’ve seen the reports: the 22-year old, newly-minted college graduate—steeped in debt—who’s working at the corner coffee shop. But are these anecdotal reports worst case scenarios or are do they illustrate an emerging trend for college grads?  In a few charts, Richard Deitz from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York looks at what the U.S. Census Bureau and Labor Statistics data say about recent graduates and their employment. Deitz shows that while unemployment rates for recent grads are at a 25-year high, the unemployment rate of recent graduates (roughly 6 percent) remains lower than that of the general working-age population (8 percent).  Now, when it comes to underemployment, recent graduates are in dire straits, depending on their major. Nearly half (46 percent)...


The perseverance of a mother can bring the shortcomings of many school-choice programs into sharp focus.

Consider a woman named Mary Rehberg from Green Bay, Wisconsin, who knows there’s not much chance she’ll get a voucher for her son in Wisconsin’s newly expanded choice program—but she’s applying for one anyway. The state expanded the Milwaukee and Racine programs to serve all of the Badger State (population 5.5 million), but lawmakers capped the expansion at 500 vouchers.

“The numbers are hopelessly against us getting a voucher,” Rehberg told a reporter last week after attending an information session about the program at a local Catholic school along with 100 other parents. “But by applying we can demonstrate to our state representatives how serious we are about this program.”

History might even be on her side. The Alliance for School Choice has reported that legislatures in six states expanded their voucher and tax-credit scholarship initiatives last year after demand for those programs spiked and waiting lists swelled with thousands of names. But expansion was typically done incrementally. Waiting lists remain high in many cases, including at the nation’s largest private-school-choice program, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.



After twelve productive and happy years of working for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Ohio, I am moving with my family to Boise, Idaho to lead that state’s charter school network. I have loved working for Fordham in Ohio and am confident that the Institute is well positioned to thrive in the months and years ahead, both nationally and in the Buckeye State. I have also enjoyed the many friendships that I’ve developed in Dayton, Columbus, Cleveland and elsewhere around the state. Ohio is blessed with some fantastic educators and committed school reformers. These people do what they do for the sake of their communities and their kids, not for personal gain. It has been a privilege to live and work with so many dedicated leaders from across the political spectrum.  Education reform in Ohio is too important—and too challenging— to be just a Republican or Democrat thing, and it has worked best when it has enjoyed bipartisan support. This is just one of the things I have learned during my dozen years in Ohio.

Here are twelve more personal lessons and conclusions, offered in no particular order that others might want to consider:

1) Ideas matter over the...


For a state in which charter school performance has outpaced student gains at traditional public schools, Tennessee should have a better charter law. The dearth of authorizers and the lack of adequate funding for classrooms and building space led the National Alliance for Public Charters Schools to rank the Volunteer State thirty-third out of forty-three in its analysis of charter laws. Imagine what Tennessee charters could do without one hand tied behind their backs.

That’s the assertion the Tennessee Charter School Incubator (TCSI) should put to lawmakers now that it has direct access to the legislature. This week, TCSI announced that it was merging with the Tennessee Charter School Association to create a first-of-its-kind organization that both lobbies for and establishes quality charter options. If there is a group that can convince Tennessee’s more timid lawmakers to adopt the better policies they have avoided, it’s TCSI.

The Incubator has been busy since 2009 developing “reform ecosystems” in Memphis and Nashville, bringing together charter schools, school districts, venture capitalists, and nonprofit groups that might not ordinarily consort with one another. In addition to recruiting effective charter leaders and providing support for schools, it has been successful in helping to...


The Louisiana voucher program is like a toddler learning to walk in a house set with booby traps. Now one year old, it has been bruised by court defeats, bullied by unions, and mocked for its meager academic accomplishments. Even comedian Bill Maher recently poked fun at the fact that just 40 percent of voucher-bearing students could report grade-level achievements.

Statue of Evangeline, Louisiana
The Louisiana voucher program is like a toddler learning to walk in a house set with booby traps.
Photo by John Horton

With the exception of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship, no other school-voucher program has endured so many growing pains. But critics have bludgeoned the Louisiana program because they can. Few private-school-choice initiatives are as transparent as the Pelican State’s; sunshine allows us to see how students are performing in Louisiana, whereas most other voucher and tax credit scholarship programs are opaque.

That kind of openness may, when performance suffers, give critics a lot of grist. But it could eventually yield benefits for students...