Enlow: Other States Trying to Emulate Indiana on Vouchers, Charter School Law

The following guest blog is part of our weeklong celebration of National School Choice Week:

Around this time last year, the national spotlight was on Indiana because of a battle in the state capital. No, not right-to-work – the Super Bowl. But in the absence of that spectacle, the nation continues to keep a watchful eye on Indiana for the transformative changes made to its education system – particularly in the area of school choice.

Our state continually ranks at the top in the educational opportunities it provides Hoosiers. With vouchers, Indiana has the largest eligibility window of the other 11 voucher-providing states: 530,000 low- and middle-income students statewide, 9,324 of whom opted for vouchers in the program’s second year. The state has the sixth-best charter school law in the nation, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. And in the Center for Education Reform’s “Parent Power Index,” which compiles a number of education reform measures that empower families, Indiana ranks number one.

Hoosiers should know that other states have tried for years to adopt pieces of the package Indiana approved. And make no mistake, other states need to pass those measures because our country has been woefully lagging, and overspending, in attempting to prepare our young people for college, careers and life.

In 1966, the federal government provided $2 billion for public education (using 2006 dollars). In 2005, that number increased to $25 billion. In 2010, total federal spending on K-12 education reached $47 billion. Meanwhile, data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show a history of education outcomes not keeping pace with those increased expenditures. In 1971, the average score for eighth graders on NAEP’s reading exam was 255 (on a 500-point scale). In 2011, that number stood at 265. For fourth graders over that same time period, the average score bumped from 208 to 221.

School choice, on the other hand, has proved its positive effect on increasing student outcomes at around half the cost. Of the 10 random-assignment studies – considered research’s “gold standard” – conducted on school vouchers, nine showed they positively impact student performance; one found no effect. And among the empirical studies examining school choice’s effect on other schools, all but one found competition improves traditional public schools; again, one found no effect. None concluded there is a negative impact.

That’s why states – this year’s list includes Alaska, Maine, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas – are trying to emulate Indiana. And they must. Such policies may not be as fun as the Super Bowl, but their effects are certainly game-changers for taxpayers, schools, parents, and those who matter most: students.

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Robert Enlow is president and CEO of the Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which is participating in National School Choice Week, January 27-February 2. More than 100 Indiana schools are holding events during the weeklong celebration for school choice.

Chamber Endorses Mary Ann Sullivan for State Senate

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce announced today its endorsement of State Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan (D-Indianapolis) in her general election challenge to incumbent State Sen. Brent Waltz (R-Greenwood) for the Indiana Senate District 36 seat.  The endorsement was made by Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG), the non-partisan political program of the Indiana Chamber.

“It is not an exaggeration to describe Mary Ann Sullivan as one of the hardest-working, open-minded and honorable members of the General Assembly,” said Kevin Brinegar, president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. “Sullivan is passionate about public service and public policy work. She has earned significant, bipartisan support among business and community leaders who believe it is time for a change in representation in Senate District 36.”

Sullivan currently serves in the Indiana House of Representatives, District 97 and was first elected in 2008.  She serves on the Commerce, Small Business and Economic Development Committee, Environmental Affairs Committee and Government and Regulatory Reform Committee. She is also a nationally-recognized leader in charter school and education reform efforts.

“I am honored to be endorsed by the Indiana Chamber, the state’s leading organization representing business,” said Sullivan. “I’m excited about Indiana’s future and I’m ready to continue to work hard to find real solutions and get things done. I’m not interested in the politics of division. I’m interested in working together to grow our economy and improve the quality of life for those I hope to represent. The south side deserves to have a true advocate in the Indiana General Assembly.”

Senate District 36 includes portions of Center and Perry townships in Marion County and a portion of northern Johnson County.

The Indiana Chamber has been the state’s leading business organization for 90 years, representing over 800,000 Hoosier workers through nearly 5,000 member companies across Indiana.

Two Charters: One OK, the Other Not

Traditional public schools sharing space, when available, with charter schools simply makes economic sense. For the New York City teachers’ union, however, that only applies if the charter school is unionized. Find out more about the "blatant hypocrisy."

Eva Moskowitz put New York City’s teachers union in its place this week.

The founder of numerous successful charter schools in the city called out the United Federation of Teachers on the blatant hypocrisy of the union’s opposition to traditional public schools collocating with charter schools.

Moskowitz cites a recent UFT article online that contends Moskowitz’s Success Academy is limiting the growth of Public School 241 in Harlem by sharing the building with the school.

“Nonsense,” Moskowitz wrote. “PS 241 has 113 students – averaging just 19 per grade. Its building was built to serve 1,136 students. It has 61.5 classrooms, almost one per every two PS 241 students.

“With collocation, PS 241 has been allocated 13 rooms. That means it has nine students per room on average. PS 241 could grow by a third and easily fit within its current room allocation. However, just the opposite has been happening.

“PS 241 has shrunk in recent years from 952 students to 113. That is not because of space but because parents have many educational options in Harlem these days, including many charter schools.”

If the misleading UFT story wasn’t bad enough, Moskowitz points out that there are actually two charter schools that operate out of the same building as Harlem’s PS 241, but only the Success Academy is the target of union attacks.

There’s a good reason why, and it says a lot about the UFT’s true priorities.

“Curiously, the UFT article doesn’t mention the other charter school sharing space with PS 241: Opportunity Charter School. Why? After all, if both schools take PS 241’s space, why is only one wrong for doing so? The answer: Opportunity’s teachers are UFT members.

“In fact, the UFT never objects to space-sharing by schools, whether charter or district, whose teachers are unionized. The UFT itself even runs two charter schools that share public school space. Talk about hypocrisy.”

Moskowitz explains that the UFT is lobbying to give parents whose children attend traditional public schools the right to refuse to share space with charter schools. It’s a political ploy that would allow the UFT to exploit teachers’ intimate connection with students and their parents to limit competition from non-union schools.

The union is already taking advantage of that relationship, Moskowitz said, citing a middle school teacher who “assigned all of her middle school students to write an essay about how they could protest Success Academy’s collocation with their school.”

All of the dirty union tricks point to one clear but troubling conclusion.

“Obviously, the UFT’s opposition isn’t about the needs of students,” Moskowitz wrote in the Daily News. “They just don’t want there to be schools whose teachers choose not to be unionized, since that model threatens the UFT’s flow of union dues.

“The UFT wants to use public school buildings, built at taxpayer expense, to advance its own interests.”

Chamber Names Top 5 Successes from 2011 Session

Long overdue education reforms, vital tax reductions to stimulate economic growth and common sense prevailing on illegal immigration represent the biggest victories of the 2011 legislative session, says Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar.

"This was a very good year for pro-economy, pro-jobs bills that will positively impact households throughout the state. And the new education laws put the focus where it should be — on students and increasing their potential for academic achievement; these are the most significant enhancements to the state’s education system in more than 20 years," he explains.

The Indiana Chamber’s list of the five most important victories this session (in alphabetical order) with comments from Brinegar:

Corporate income tax rate reduction (HB 1004) — Decreases Indiana’s rate, one of the highest in the nation, from 8.5% to 6.5%; will be phased in over four years.

"This significantly strengthens Indiana’s already strong business tax climate. Indiana’s corporate income tax was exceedingly high; this reduction will make Indiana more competitive and bring its corporate rate in line with other states. Existing C corporations and their employees will realize the benefits through increased investments in jobs, equipment and company growth."

Illegal immigration policy that’s workable (SB 590) — Makes attempt to determine legal status of immigrants but does not aggressively overreach.

"This new law is much better than what was originally proposed. We can live with it. It’s a far cry from the discriminatory Arizona-style immigration law it started out as, which could have resulted in severe financial ramifications for the state’s economic development efforts. Thankfully, common sense prevailed.

"The ‘three strikes’ provision that could have led to a business losing its operating license and permits was removed, as were most of the law enforcement sections along with the ‘English-only’ requirements for public agencies." Continue reading

Brinegar Speaks on School Choice and Charter School Legislation

The state Legislature passed two sweeping education reforms on Wednesday. Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar comments on their significance:

School Choice Scholarships (HB 1003)
"For too long, thousands of Indiana children from low- and middle-income families have been trapped in assigned public schools that too often fail to provide the desired level of education. Now parents will be able to redirect a portion of state dollars assigned to their children’s education to a school that better fits their children’s needs. This will give those students a better chance for success in school and throughout their lives."

Charter Schools (HB 1002)
"We’ve seen some great charter school successes like Signature School in Evansville and the Challenge Foundation Academy in Indianapolis. By strengthening the charter school law to create more accountability for the authorization process and performance review, the number of quality options for parents and their children will increase. The law also permits under-used public school facilities to be utilized by charter schools, which is a win for taxpayers and prospective students."

Charter Schools Bill Amended & Approved

The following is an update on HB 1002, regarding charter schools:

Authors: Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis), Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan (D-Indianapolis) and Rep. Cindy Noe (R-Indianapolis)
Sponsor: Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn)

Summary: Allows private universities to serve as charter school authorizers.  Creates the Indiana Charter School Board to serve as a statewide authorizer. (Continues authorizing authority for state universities and the Indianapolis mayor.) Makes unused and underutilized public school facilities available for charter school use. Eliminates limits on charter schools approved by the Indianapolis mayor and on virtual charter schools. Increases funding for virtual charter schools from 80% of average state tuition support to 85%. Cancels interest payments on loans from the state that charter schools have acquired as the result of delayed tuition payments. Makes additional changes. 

Chamber Position: Support
Status: The Senate Appropriations Committee made additional changes this week that would increase funding for virtual charter schools to 85% of the state average rather than 90%, as proposed originally. Additional amendments were made to adjust how charter schools receive first semester funds (an ongoing concern that has caused charter schools to incur substantial operating loans) and to improve accountability for charter schools. The committee approved the amended bill on an 8-2 vote, with Sen. Earline Rogers (D-Gary) and Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) joining Republicans in support of the bill; it is now eligible for consideration by the full Senate. 

Update/Chamber Action:  The Indiana Chamber continued to work much of this week in helping to develop an accountability component for charter school authorizers that would raise performance expectations without putting charter schools at risk of future political swings. We believe that the amendment adopted this week accomplishes that balance. As the bill continues to progress, we join Speaker Bosma, the author of this bill, in wanting to see the triggers for conversion charter schools improved. Those triggers, we believe, should focus on some super-majority of parents in the school, rather than a focus on teachers who often do not live in the school boundaries, do not send children to the school and do not pay taxes in the district. We also note some continuing frustration with a small minority of legislators who remain unwilling to acknowledge that charter schools are public schools and who continue to portray these schools as siphoning funds from "real" public schools.  Nonetheless, we continue to be pleased that this substantial bill is progressing and will continue to work with legislative leaders, the Indiana Department of Education and other charter school supporters to continue improving and advancing the bill. 

Hammond Mayor Proclaims Charter School Support

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. authored a spot-on guest commentary on charter schools in the The Times of Northwest Indiana last week.

McDermott wrote about his three-year struggle to obtain a charter school in his community. He offered: "There is no reason that establishing charter schools in Indiana should take so long. Despite arguments to the contrary, charter schools do not undermine local public education. If anything, they serve to showcase how new educational methods and approaches can be applied successfully."

Read the column as McDermott puts his full support behind HB 1002, which would greatly expand charter school authorizing authority — among other initiatives.

Education in Indiana: Charter School Bill Moves to Full House

The following is an update of a very important bill currently being considered by the Indiana House:

Bill # and Title: SB 1002 – Charter Schools
Authors: Speaker of the House Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) and Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan (D-Indianapolis)

Summary: Allows private universities and mayors of second-class cities to serve as charter school authorizers. Creates the Indiana Charter School Board to serve as a statewide authorizer.  (Continues authorizing authority for state universities and the Indianapolis mayor.) Makes unused and underutilized public school facilities available for charter school use. Eliminates limits on charter schools approved by the Indianapolis mayor and on virtual charter schools. Increases funding for virtual charter schools from 80% of average state tuition support to 90%. Cancels interest payments on loans from the state that charter schools have acquired as the result of delayed tuition payments. Makes additional changes.

Chamber Position: Support

Status: House Education Committee considered 15 amendments out of 30 that were filed. Three amendments were accepted, including a substantial amendment developed by the co-authors and two additional amendments offered by Democrats. After eight hours of testimony and debate – five hours last week and three additional hours this week – the committee voted 8-5, along party lines, to recommend the bill’s passage. It is now eligible for consideration by the full House.

Update/Chamber Action: Despite the partisan vote from committee members, it certainly cannot be suggested that this bill has not had extensive consideration and debate. Nonetheless, House Democrats offered a Minority Committee report when the committee action was delivered to the full House. That effort failed, but not before a contentious floor debate in which Rep. Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) and Rep. Pat Bauer (D-South Bend) portrayed the charter bill as an attempt to undermine collective bargaining. (In reality, the bill allows teachers in charter schools to bargain collectively if they so choose; but most charter teachers choose not to join a union.) This bill is likely to draw dozens of proposed amendments and a long, contentious debate as it moves to the full House. The Indiana Chamber will continue working with the bill’s authors and other charter school supporters to analyze amendments, fend off detrimental changes and drive the bill to final passage.  Meanwhile, we are pleased to note the steadfast support of Rep. Sullivan, who was the only Democrat to buck her caucus on the Minority Committee report. We also noted this editorial from Democrat Mayor Tom McDermott of Hammond, who has called for the bill’s passage.

‘Superman,’ Schools and What’s Next

Indianapolis may be leading the country in Waiting for "Superman" viewing parties. And that’s a good thing. I had the opportunity last week to catch the documentary being touted as the key to pushing the education reform battle over the top.

Many of the 200-plus people at the showing I attended did appear to be genuinely moved. Moved by the story of five young students from various big cities whose fates were largely tied to whether they gained the luck of the lottery in order to enter a school that would give them a good education and a chance at a solid future. Moved by the parents who were trying any way they could to create a better life for their children. By the way, it’s not just an urban problem, but a widespread challenge that does not discriminate by locale.

The attendees asked the right questions — primarily centered around "What can we do to help, to make a difference?" — of Indiana schools chief Tony Bennett after the screening. Bennett, as always, brought passion to his remarks and guidance.

Personally, I was not really surprised by what I saw during the documentary or entirely convinced that the well-told stories would be able to live up to its savior-type hype. On reflection, I think that means I’m getting old. I’ve seen too many solid reform efforts go by the wayside, too many political fights get in the way of sound policies, too many instances of people saying the right things, but the status quo prevailing in the end.

But all hope is not lost. I understand the importance of reform and not letting thousands (not just a few) of children fall through the cracks. I do believe now, more than any other time, offers promise. Not because of the movie, but because of the leaders rallying the troops. Kudos to Bennett, to the Indianapolis Star for its focus on education and others determined to change the complacency of adults, an attitude that plagues young people now and potentially for the rest of their lives.

My advice: go see the movie if you haven’t already; check out the "Superman" web site to learn how you can help; and if you’re not convinced there is a problem in Indiana, take this five-question quiz provided by The Foundation for Educational Choice. Yes, you have to submit some contact information to get the answers, but the wake-up call is worth an e-mail or two you might receive in the future. 

A Brave New Education World in Buckeye State

Public policy in Ohio (not unlike many other states) has not been kind to education innovation. But despite the roadblocks, online charters — or virtual schools — have experienced strong growth.

We’ll share some info from the Fordham Institute. While based in Washington, Fordham has its roots (as well as an office) in Ohio and is active as a charter school organizer and energetic advocate for students. It reports:

Despite a moratorium on new charter e-schools (installed five years ago) enrollment in online programs has risen by 46 percent, with 29,000 students now served by such programs.

Ohio must rethink how we use technology in education, and embrace nontraditional, non brick-and-mortar models.

Almost 30,000 students are served by a virtual charter school. Ohio’s credit flexibility plan allows students to earn credit for distance learning, internships, community service, and other educational experiences (and doesn’t require a standard amount of “seat time”).

While undoing seat-time requirements and exploring hybrid models represent uncharted territory for most Ohio educators, there was general consensus that it’s inevitable. This is the pathway down which education is headed – and it’s exciting. The possibilities for using online learning to improve student achievement are exponential, and we’re not taking full advantage of it (yet). Further, a proficiency or mastery-based model makes better sense for students and districts should introduce online learning as an intervention for those students having trouble mastering content. This is good for students, and the messaging is much more palatable than introducing technology in a manner that frightens teachers (they may fear it will take their jobs).

Lastly, online learning “unbundles” teachers’ skills and is more efficient than current learning models. For example, teachers who are adept at teaching AP physics or statistics can teach those courses traditionally and in an online format (and reach hundreds more students) rather than teaching AP courses along with basic courses or myriad subjects, etc. And since the online program presents the content (in various modalities suited to kids), virtual teachers spend less time presenting content and more time explaining, trouble-shooting, and interacting one-on-one with students. Isn’t this what parents and educators want more of?