Parent: School Choice Voucher is Changing My Son’s Life

The following is the final post in a week-long series of blogs in support of National School Choice Week (Jan. 26 – Feb. 1). This is authored by Patty Scheitler, whose son has benefited from Indiana’s school choice voucher program. (This blog was submitted via Hoosiers for Economic Growth.)

The School Choice Indiana voucher program has opened up many doors for my son. He is able to attend a private high school (Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis), which has already provided him with the tools to succeed. He has very high hopes and dreams of becoming a doctor one day and it would be difficult to reach these goals at the public school he was to attend.

He is now able to take advanced classes, participate in community service projects throughout the city and travel through Brebeuf’s enrichment programs. He has already grown educationally and is challenged appropriately. He has been recommended for a self study program during his sophomore year and is so very excited about it. This opportunity will enable him to qualify for summer programs focusing on medicine and will enhance his chances of being accepted.

The teachers have been amazing and are available, caring and invested in the learning of each student. They take the time to meet and get to know each student on an individual basis and really want to see the student succeed. The voucher program also allows my son to grow as a person. He is exposed to more diversity at his new school and meeting students from all over the Indianapolis area. He has made friends with kids from different backgrounds, religious beliefs and educational experiences.

The main mantra at Brebeuf is “Men and Women for Others” — this quote really explains the feeling my son has at his new school. They really allow the students to reach out to their community and serve in many ways. They feel it is important to grow each student, spiritually, emotionally, physically and educationally. I love this approach and have never experienced anything like it in the public school setting. My son is also given the opportunity to participate in many sports and extracurricular activities. His school really encourages all to participate and most clubs meet during the day instead of after school, which provides more opportunities to participate.

We are so blessed to have received the choice voucher. Every day, my son says how much he loves Brebeuf and is so lucky to be able to attend such a wonderful school!

Klipsch: School Choice a Driver to Build Economic Success in Indiana

The following is the fourth in a week-long series of blogs in support of National School Choice Week (Jan. 26 – Feb. 1). This is authored by Fred Klipsch, former chairman and CEO of Klipsch Group, Inc. — one of the nation’s top speaker companies. He is chairman of the School Choice Indiana board of directors.

I received a solid education through the public school system in Indiana from elementary schiool through college. Both Indianapolis Public Schools and Purdue University provided me with a quality education that prepared me to succeed in business and in life.

Like all things, our public education system has dramatically changed over the last few decades since I was a student, and in my opinion it is no longer delivering the quality education today’s students need to compete in a global economy. At this stage of my life, I sincerely believe that every child, regardless of zip code or income, should have the opportunity to receive the same high quality education that I had. School choice is a tool to provide quality educational options to all parents. By creating competition in the education marketplace, it clarifies the need for public school systems to improve.

Business leaders are sometimes wary of supporting school choice, specifically “vouchers,” and they should not be. Indiana’s voucher program allows low and moderate income parents access to a private school education for their children — an educational option which previously was not available to them. Now parents can choose a quality education for their child in an environment that best meets their educational needs rather than, in many cases, having that child trapped in an underperforming public school.

From a businessman’s perspective, Indiana’s voucher program caps the voucher amount at no more than 90% of public school cost, thereby producing economic savings for the state. School choice is about much more than vouchers, however, and it is about options and competition in the education marketplace. More importantly, vouchers are fulfilling the state’s obligation to provide access to a high-quality education for all children to help deliver the skilled workforce needed for our economy to thrive.

As a nation, we have built our economic success on our belief in free markets. Why, as businessmen and businesswomen, would we not believe that educational success is best achieved through a similar setting? The startling truth is that Indiana students are performing in the middle of the pack when it comes to math and science. As a nation, we are not much better when compared to our global competitors.

We must constantly be working together to improve the quality of education that our young people are receiving, as they are the future business leaders of our state and nation. Supporting policies that provide families with educational options, allow for innovation in the classroom and free our teachers from unnecessary regulations, thereby allowing them to focus on the children, are some of the key initiatives of the education improvement movement. These are examples of why I chose to become more involved in promoting school choice in Indiana — and I urge other business and civic leaders to join me.

Oliver: Bucking Status Quo Critical to Education Innovation

The following is the third in a week-long series of blogs in support of National School Choice Week (Jan. 26 – Feb. 1) from some of Indiana’s leading figures in this ongoing educational effort. This is authored by Dr. Brad Oliver, associate dean of education at Indiana Wesleyan University and a member of the Indiana State Board of Education.

As our country celebrates National School Choice Week, it is important to reflect on the progress Indiana has made to create choice opportunities for Hoosier families. This year, over 20,000 children in Indiana are attending a high quality public, public charter or private school of their choosing.

Indiana’s progress has not been without challenges from those who would seek to preserve a status quo culture in schools over allowing students access to alternative choices for securing a high quality education. Preserving the status quo is not a “winning” strategy for ensuring the long-term prosperity of our students or our state.

So what should be the underlying assumptions behind Indiana’s education policies intended to result in widespread Hoosier prosperity?

  1. Hoosier families should always have the right to decide which school best meets their child’s needs. Parents and guardians make numerous decisions with respect to a child’s welfare and development from birth to adulthood. Given the correlation between a child’s education experience and their future prosperity as an adult, education policy in Indiana must expand current choice and access to innovative, high quality systems of education.
  2. Education innovation is crucial to prosperity and is never achieved by preserving the status quo. Perhaps the greatest outgrowth of education reforms in Indiana are the current conversations to find innovative solutions for ensuring Indiana graduates are college and career ready. Innovation is never the outgrowth of status quo education paradigms, but rather the natural byproduct of competitive excellence. As Indiana seeks to reduce the number of college students requiring freshman remediation and develops seamless transitions for high school graduates to enter high skill, high wage jobs, Indiana’s education reform policies will continue to serve as a catalyst for new, innovative solutions in education.
  3. Participating in responsible, constructive dialogue about education is always the best avenue for serving Hoosier students. In a world dominated by social media and instant access to news and journalistic analysis of public policy, Hoosiers must agree to be intentional in finding appropriate avenues for public discourse on education. Education policy promulgated from adult-centered agendas are polarizing and unhelpful, but education policy developed from bipartisan, student-centered conversations offer the greatest potential to finding long-term education solutions that work.

Indiana’s progress to offer Hoosier families school choice, and the emerging innovative educational solutions that come from competitive excellence, are indeed reasons to celebrate in our state. We should remain resolved to not pass on status quo educational systems of learning to the next generation, but commit to the critical conversations that result in discovering new and alternative education paradigms that contribute to widespread Hoosier prosperity.

Tebbe: Church Celebrates School Choice to Help Parents, Children Thrive

The following is the second in a week-long series of blogs in support of National School Choice Week (Jan. 26 – Feb. 1) from some of Indiana’s leading figures in this ongoing educational effort. Glenn Tebbe is the executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference.

Education of children and youth has been a significant part of the Catholic Church’s ministry in Indiana since before Indiana was even a state or a territory. In 1792 Fr. Benedict Flaget established a school in Vincennes to teach reading, writing, along with basics of the faith to the children in the area. In fact in 1801 the first Indiana territorial Governor, William Henry Harrison, asked that Fr. Rivet establish a school supported by the territorial government; He established Jefferson Academy, which is the predecessor of today’s Vincennes University.

Catholic schools have been serving people from all walks of life and all social economic groups for a long time. And, Catholic, as well as the many other non-public, schools have contributed to the well-being of the people of Indiana and the common good throughout the United States. Catholic schools’ curriculum and teachers have helped countless families and young people become productive and loyal citizens as well as providing the foundation for them academically and spiritually.

A commitment to quality education is one of the hallmarks of the Catholic Church. Moreover, a foundational principle is that parents are the first and most important teachers in a child’s life. While they are the first teachers, they cannot and do not educate and socialize them alone. The community, including faith communities, and the state share this common burden by assisting and collaborating with parents to meet their primary obligations.

Programs and policies such as education choice scholarships, scholarship tax credits and charter schools actualize the collaboration between the parents and the state’s responsibilities. The state must make possible the right of parents to choose appropriate educational opportunities best suited to their children’s needs.

Given the critical role parents and families play in the development of children and in building the common good of society, parents ought to have choices in how and where their children are educated. Legislators and state officials have a moral duty to ensure that all parents, though their own choice, have actual access to quality schools, including public, religious and private that are best suited for their children.

Just as Fr. Flaget did in 1792, the Catholic Church still today takes seriously its responsibility to assist parents in educating and nurturing their children and will continue to do so into the future. We celebrate School Choice Week because the Church has always been there to support the common good, just as it did when it responded to Governor William Henry Harrison in 1801.

Redelman: School Choice Week a Reminder of Indiana’s Progress

The following is the first of a week-long series of blogs in support of National School Choice Week (Jan. 26 – Feb. 1) from some of Indiana’s leading figures in this ongoing educational effort. The first is authored by Derek Redelman — the Indiana Chamber’s vice president of education and workforce policy.

When National School Choice Week started in early 2011, Indiana was an emerging state in the school choice arena – but far from a leader. Ten years prior, Indiana had passed a moderately strong charter school law that, by 2001, had accommodated about 22,000 students; and a scholarship tax credit, passed in 2009, was serving a few hundred students. In total, just about 2% of the state’s entire student population was benefiting from school choice laws.

By the end of 2011, the environment had changed dramatically. Indiana had passed a voucher law that national leaders were calling the most expansive school choice program in the country. Two years later, over 20,000 Hoosier kids are receiving vouchers, and one national organization — the Center for Education Reform — now ranks Indiana No. 1 in its Parent Power Index – a state-by-state measure of parent choices.

For context, consider this: In just two years, Indiana’s voucher program reached participation levels that a decent charter school law had taken 10 years to reach. As a state, some might say that we went from “wannabe” status to the nation’s undisputed leader.

But as we reached that status in relatively short order, so might the pendulum swing the other way with equal rapidity. We needn’t look any further than the defeat of State Superintendent Tony Bennett – arguably the greatest catalyst in our recent transformation – for evidence of that potential.

And thus is demonstrated the continuing or even growing importance of events like National School Choice Week. As the Indiana Chamber will do through a series of guest blogs this week, we must remember the families and the purpose of these important efforts; and we must not withdraw from the leadership that has, in large part, been a core of the business community’s engagement.

Indiana is now THE leader in school choice. But just as we surpassed others to leap into that spot, so might we lose that status without continued effort.

Choice Fans Include Teachers Group

National School Choice Week continues to grow. And so do the ongoing efforts in states to expand the educational opportunities available for young people.

The Heartland Institute reports:

Twenty-nine governors officially recognized National School Choice Week (NSCW) this year, and state legislatures are brimming with voucher and charter school legislation.

For the first time, a teacher association endorsed the week, which brimmed with 3,600 grassroots events. So did an Olympic basketball athlete, CEOs of major companies, and the Jonas Brothers.

The Association of American Educators is the nation’s largest nonunion teacher association. AAE’s members have diverse education backgrounds and largely support school choice. In an annual survey released in February, seven in ten AAE teachers said they support or tend to support Washington DC’s voucher program, Indiana’s tax deductions for private school expenses, and Arizona’s education savings accounts, a voucher-like program for special needs and low-income children.

Legislators in dozens of states have introduced legislation to give more people a flurry of education options. New or expansions to voucher programs are currently alive in big states such as Texas, Alaska, Montana, and Pennsylvania, and smaller ones including Tennessee, Arkansas, South Carolina, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, and Nevada.

And it’s not just red states, as lawmakers in Illinois, Ohio, Iowa, and New Jersey are also debating voucher proposals.

Most of these states are also considering legislation to introduce or expand charter and online schools. Others focusing on these options include Hawaii, Mississippi, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Nebraska.

That’s means about half the states are considering school choice legislation.

 

Brown: Hoosier Parents Deserve Choice in Education

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

Indiana has a lot to be proud of as it relates to education in recent years. We have become the envy of many other states, and a leader in putting the needs of students ahead of the interests of adults. It’s been about two years since Gov. Mitch Daniels led Indiana to enact a comprehensive education reform package, which was designed to enable quality teachers to succeed, empower parents to make choices for their children and allow students an opportunity to thrive in a high-quality school. One of the most notable reforms in this package was the state’s Choice Scholarship Program.   

While I realize that there is no silver bullet to reforming our education system and I remain committed to a variety of effective efforts to improve student outcomes, school choice has become my passion. Choice is a tool that empowers parents and provides students opportunities. Most importantly, it’s a tool that can help a student today – a tool that parents both want and deserve. In fact, today, over 9,000 students have taken advantage of this tool and are benefitting from Indiana’s voucher program. Many more take advantage of charter schools and other options available in this new world of choice in our state.

This week is National School Choice Week and a great opportunity for us to celebrate the increased educational opportunities we are offering our children. I encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity and shine a spotlight on the great things happening in our state. Attend one of the events going on across the state, visit a voucher school and witness firsthand the new opportunities students are receiving, write a letter to the editor or simply email your legislator to thank them for doing what’s in the best interest of students.

However, while we have much to celebrate, this is not a time to sit back and wait. There are over 180,000 students who remain in a “D” or “F” school in Indiana. Until this number is 0, we must not rest. As we head into the 2013 legislative session, legislators begin to consider potential expansions to the Choice Scholarship Program such as the addition of kindergarten to the program. Unfortunately, as it stands today, students must attend public school for TWO years (kindergarten and 1st grade) before becoming eligible to receive a voucher. We must remove these artificial barriers to the program and enable more families to benefit from this opportunity to choose a school that best meets their needs.

This week is a time of celebration, but also a time to remember that there is more work to be done. Please join me in thanking your legislator for all they’ve done, but remind them that we cannot rest until ALL Hoosier students have access to a high-quality option, and an opportunity to become all they can be.

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Lindsey Brown is executive director of School Choice Indiana.

Elsener: A Life in Education Reveals Power, Necessity of Choice

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

I have spent my life working to advance the educational opportunities of the students in my community – as a teacher, principal, superintendent, foundation executive committed to education, and now a university president. Without exception, my experiences have made clear to me that it is in the best of interest of students and their parents/guardians that they have many options available to them to meet their educational needs.

There are undoubtedly many important projects, programs and initiatives that have been pursued in support of education over the years. Yet, I know of none more important than placing the power over how a child is educated in the hands of her parents/guardians. It is true that not every parent/guardian will make perfect decisions, but in the main and over the long haul, they are vastly more knowledgeable and invested in what is best for their child than anyone else – including school officials.

Parents/guardians have seen the number of school options available to them multiply tenfold in recent years – charter schools, parochial schools, private schools and public schools among them. This choice has given parents/guardians great influence over not only the number and variety of options available to them but also the quality of the education offered in each program.

It is evident from watching choice work in the marketplace in Indiana that it has brought many creative schools to fruition and challenged the existing schools (parochial, private, traditional public, etc.) to look for innovative ways to become more attuned to the needs of the students and families they serve. In contrast, social structures that emerge from a monopoly are inherently less innovative and attuned to those they serve. When options are valued and innovation is rewarded, excellent outcomes can and will be achieved, especially when related to the provision of integral social services like education.

Historically, Indiana has struggled to advance educational outcomes to a level that meets the needs of the times. But in recent years, the ground-breaking reforms of state leaders have laid the foundation for a “new spring” of options that will be advantageous not only for students and their parents/guardians but for educators as well.

It has been exciting for me to see so many outstanding educators capitalize on this new ability to start and/or serve in new, pioneering schools and take advantage of the opportunity to use state resources to develop new and innovative approaches for student learning. Great principals, great educators have been given a renewed sense of professional purpose and an openness to engaging an entrepreneurial spirit in the development of programs that strategically address our children’s educational needs. I am fully confident that in the coming years these new options will improve student learning outcomes, attendance levels and graduation rates to such an extent that Indiana will ascend to the top of national educational attainment levels.

School systems that thrive are those which emerge from an environment where parents, students and educators have many options through which to pursue intellectual growth and development. Educational offerings that emerge from a monopoly where one set of adults has singular power over education – its offerings, delivery and cost – will almost certainly lead to stagnation. School choice is the path by which Indiana will see its students reach heights of educational excellence heretofore unforeseen and ensure that the thousands of wonderful educators in our state are allowed to fully engage their many talents to bring innovation and instructional entrepreneurism to our quest to develop every child’s abilities to the fullest.

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Dan Elsener is president of Marian University in Indianapolis.

National School Choice Week: Start the Celebrations!

National School Choice Week, running today through Friday, is an opportunity to highlight and celebrate the laws and programs that help parents choose the best educational settings for their children. Until recently, Indiana was mostly a spectator to that celebration. Today, we’re the focus of it due to Indiana’s 2011 laws creating our state voucher program and significantly expanding our charter school and virtual education laws.

It’s not that Indiana was void of school choice prior to 2011. We’ve had a charter school law since 2001 and we passed an educational tax credit in 2009. Both were significant accomplishments that the Indiana Chamber was proud to have helped lead. But both also demonstrate the critical importance of implementation and “minor” policy distinctions.

We were the 38th state in the country to pass a charter school law; but there were high hopes when, shortly after passage, our new law was ranked the sixth best in the country. Some of those hopes have been fulfilled, especially with the tremendous successes of charter schools in Indianapolis, but a policy decision by State Superintendent Suellen Reed almost stopped that hope dead in its tracks.

Despite language in the original law stating explicitly that funds for charter school students would follow immediately from their previous schools to the charter schools where they enrolled, Reed determined unilaterally that funds could not flow to charter schools until January of each school year when the school funding formula is reset.

The result was that charter schools in Indiana would be forced to operate for six months without any state funds, a challenge that no other public school in Indiana has ever faced. Ultimately, the issue was partially resolved through the creation of a state-backed, low-interest loan program, but the 2002 decision remains even today as a significant barrier to charter school growth in the state.

The 2009 Scholarship Tax Credit has faced its own tough challenges. One of the main ones is the low level of Indiana’s credit – just 50% of the donor’s contribution. It may sound generous, but in other states, where similar programs have thrived far better than ours, the programs offer 70, 80 and even 100% credits. Indeed, Indiana’s 50% credit is the lowest of any such program in the entire country.

Today, we celebrate a voucher law, passed in 2011, that has produced the largest first-year participation rate of any voucher law in American history. The celebration continues, as this year’s participation doubled that of the first year. Yet, even that success is tempered by some coming challenges.

Among them, Indiana’s law is the only choice law in the country that bans kindergarteners from participating. As some lawmakers have said, they think it’s a good idea to require parents to first give a “test run” to the local public schools – even when the parents know plenty about their options. Indeed, the suggestion of such “test runs” is directly counter to core philosophy of school choice – that parents are best positioned to determine the best educational settings for their children.

So we celebrate this week, and we will revel in the fact that states around the country are now chasing us – trying now to replicate the tremendous successes that we had in 2011. Those successes are well worth celebrating, but much work remains to be done.

In the next three days, this space will feature the thoughts of three Indiana leaders who have helped make choice a reality in Indiana. Robert Enlow, president of the Friedman Foundation, will help put Indiana’s role in a national perspective; Dan Elsener, president of Marian University, will share why choice has been a lifelong passion of his; and Lindsey Brown, executive director of School Choice Indiana, will report on the state of Indiana’s choice options.

We hope you’ll join us in this national celebration and will revel, as we will, in the newly minted attention that Indiana has earned. But as we’ll note in a closing column on Friday, the challenges that remain are more than just policy oriented; in many ways, they sit at the core of our political and policy environments.

Meanwhile, check out the web site for National School Choice Week and look especially for the celebrations and other events that are occurring throughout Indiana. You might even find a celebration near you!

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Derek Redelman is vice president of education and workforce development for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

Chalk Up Another Victory for School Vouchers

A rapid expansion of Louisiana’s school voucher program, officially signed into law last week, is the latest in a series of initiatives to expand school choice throughout the country. The Friedman Foundation offers its perspective. Milton Friedman first proposed vouchers in 1955.

Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law today an expansion of Louisiana’s school voucher program, making it one of the largest such programs nationwide.

Vouchers, which allow parents to use government funding for their children’s private school tuition, were first proposed in 1955 by Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, who believed universally available vouchers were the best way to improve education. In 1990, the first voucher program was created in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, though only for low-income families. Last year, Indiana took historic action by making more than half of its student population voucher-eligible. Now, more than half of all Louisiana students will qualify for vouchers.

“States are realizing that school choice works,” said Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Milton Friedman’s legacy foundation. “The more that states can move from limited school choice to universal availability, the greater its benefits will be to those in need. Indiana is witnessing this now. So, too, will Louisiana.”

In Louisiana, vouchers have been available since 2008, but only to New Orleans children and students with special needs in eligible parishes. In the 2012-13 school year, the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program will allow low- and middle-income students statewide to receive vouchers if they are enrolled in public schools graded “C,” “D,” or “F” by Louisiana’s accountability system.

Currently, 18 states, including Louisiana, and Washington, D.C., provide private school choice through vouchers or the tax code. In 2011, called “The Year of School Choice” by voucher supporters, 13 states increased the availability of school choice; eight new programs were created and 11 existing laws were expanded. This year, Florida and Arizona have approved increases to their private school choice programs, while Virginia and New Hampshire—neither of which allow private school choice—have passed scholarship proposals.