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.

Your View: More Choice in K-12 Schools

Education is once again among the dominant Indiana General Assembly topics. Our recent poll question asked your top priority among the following (all five options received between 11% and 30% of the vote):

  • Expand voucher opportunites (30%)
  • Increase overall funding (22%)
  • Leave Common Core standards alone (15%)
  • Preschool funding for students in need (22%)
  • Other (11%). Specifics focused on increasing accountability, restoring traditional public schools and ensuring high levels of learning for all students

A large number of K-12 education bills remain in play at the Statehouse, not to mention proposals on higher education and workforce development. It's promising to see the attention devoted to such important issues. We hope the end results match the intentions.

Check out the new poll question (top right) regarding potential enhancements at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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.

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.

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.

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

Now is the Time for School Choice

The School Scholarship Program is designed to provide real school choice opportunities for thousands of low-and middle-income families. Shouldn’t Indiana parents have more choices to access the quality schools they want for their children?

Please contact your state legislators today to urge them to "support the School Scholarship Program to provide more school choices for Indiana families." 

Today, tens of thousands of Indiana families have few or no choices in finding schools that meet their children’s needs. They feel trapped in assigned schools that all to often are failing to provide a quality education. In fact, nearly 25,000 children in this state are trapped in chronically failing schools.

The School Scholarship Program would allow thousands of low-and middle-income families to access a portion of the per-pupil funding spent on their children in their assigned public schools and use those funds to pay tuition at the public or private schools of their choice.

For the first time, families could choose their own schools and have per-pupil funding follow them.  The program would introduce real competition and empower parents to choose the best school settings, public or private, for their children.

The School Scholarship Program is strongly supported by Gov. Daniels, Supt. of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett and legislative leaders. However, the plan is currently on hold due to the Democrat walkout in the House.

Enough is Enough! Get Back to Work, Folks

It’s time for the rhetoric and political theater to stop. It’s time for members of the Indiana House to return to work and do the job – helping to govern our state – they were elected to do.

Over 250 pieces of legislation have come to a standstill because of the House Democrats’ walkout. Important proposals to grow our state’s economy, to create jobs, to keep the state fiscally sound – and to even pass a budget – are all in jeopardy.

The legislative proposals that led to the House shutdown:

  • Education reforms to improve teacher evaluations, introduce performance pay, limit collective bargaining to wages and benefits, and increase accountability. These should not be partisan issues at all.  In fact, President Obama and leading groups like Democrats for Education Reform actually support these efforts.
  • Funding schools based on a per-pupil formula, not guaranteed funding levels at shrinking school districts.
  • School choice vouchers and expanded public charter school options, so Hoosier families can have more access to quality schools for their kids.
  • Protecting the rights of workers to secret ballot votes in union elections, a core democratic principle.
  • Open and fair competition for public construction projects. Just as public projects shouldn’t be forced to be non-union, they shouldn’t be forced to be "union only."
  • Right-to-work (which is now off the table this year), even though it’s the single most effective step Indiana could take to attract jobs and 70% of Hoosiers support it.
  • In other words, the House has been brought to a standstill to protect the status quo in K-12 education and to preserve special privileges and powers of organized labor. It’s as simple as that.

These are important issues and good and honorable people can disagree about them. However, the democratic process cannot work if elected officials refuse to participate in the process. 

Call to action: Please take a moment to contact state representatives to tell them it is time to end this destructive walkout and get back to work. You can send a quick e-mail via our online grassroots system or call (800) 382-9842.

School Choice Voucher Bill in House

Legislation to create the state’s first school choice "voucher" program for low and middle-income families is before the Indiana House.  Please share this message with your employees and colleagues.

House Bill 1003 would create the Choice Scholarship Program to allow lower-income families to take a portion of the per-pupil funding being spent on their child in their assigned public school and use it to pay tuition and fees at the public or private school of their choice.

The proposal is part of the K-12 education reform package being advocated by legislative leaders, Gov. Daniels and Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett. Thousands of Indiana students, for the first time, could choose their own schools and have per-pupil funding follow them.

The plan is under assault from teacher unions and much of the public school establishment because it would introduce real competition and empower parents to choose the best school setting, public or private, for their children.

If you support providing parents with more school choices, your state legislator needs to hear from you today!  Please contact your state legislator today to urge passage of HB 1003.