Heartland Institute hosts Charter School Pioneer during National Education Week

February 1, 2013

Heartland Institute hosts Charter School Pioneer during National Education Week

By Nancy Thorner –

As I prepared to attend a Heartland Institute luncheon featuring Ember Reichgott Junge (photo right), author of Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story, I was reminded that the third annual ‘National School Choice Week’ was officially underway. National School Choice Week (NSCW) includes parents, teachers, schoolchildren and administrations, coming together to promote educational choice.

One of the more than 3,600 NSCW events scheduled for the week throughout the nation took place at Chicago’s Union Station on Tuesday night, January 29, when a chartered historic rail car on a 14-city, cross-country tour made a stop in Chicago’s Union Station. Locally the Illinois Network of Charter Schools used the occasion to fire up parents who want access to higher-quality schools.

The Illinois Policy Institute, CEO John Tillman, was likewise a participant in the rally. Ted Dabrowski, Vice President of Policy, represented the Chicago-based, non-partisan think tank and research organization.  illinoispolicy.org/   A You Tube narrated by Dabrowski placed the IPI at the forefront of the school choice movement for years and noted its work with politicians to introduce legislation, including a charter equity funding bill and school voucher legislation.

According to a report in the Chicago Tribune about the Wednesday, January 30, rail car stop:  “Thousands of parents, students, and teachers gathered in the Station’s Great Hall wearing yellow scarves and T-shires to rally for school choice and equal funding for charter schools.”  http://www.wopular.com/charter-advocates-rally-school-closing-critics-pack-meetings

School choice often meets with resistance out of fear that it will remove the best and the brightest from public schools.  Not so according to the The Heritage Foundation where “school choice is something to celebrate because it gives families the power to choose the best schools for their children — helping children to improve educational outcomes and increasing overall parental satisfaction.”   http://blog.heritage.org/2013/01/28/morning-bell-nation-school-choice-week/

As far back as 1983 the national commission on Excellence in Education warned, “. . . the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people.”  Thirty years have past and still too many public schools in the US. are failing to prepare students academically for productive lives, even though spending has risen to record levels.  http://heartland.org/policy-documents/ten-principles-school-choice

The need for school reform is set out in #1 of a series of four published small books by Heartland Institute grouped together under Legislative Principles, “Ten Principles of School Choice” by Joseph L. Bast, CEO of the Heartland Institute and Herbert J. Walberg, Senior Fellow of Education.

Following are the 10 Principles of School Choice listed and discussed as necessary for school reform:  http://heartland.org/policy-documents/ten-principles-school-choice

1.   Allow parents to choose.

2.   Funding should follow the child.

3.   Schools should compete.

4.   Empower school leaders.

5.   Empower teachers.

6.   Give parents adequate funding with incentives.

7.   Allow schools to succeed or fail.

8.   reserve the autonomy of private schools.

9.   Teach democratic values.

10. All parents should be free to choose.

One of many free books available for those who attended the Ember Reichgott Junge Heartland Author Series event was “School Choice, the findings” by Herbert J. Walberg of the Cato Institute n Washington, D.C.

Mr. Walberg makes these affirmative statements for school choice on page 14 and 15:

“Because high levels of knowledge and skill increasingly determine individual and national success, Americans and others are keenly interested in changes in schools that may be effective in increasing youngsters’ achievement” . . . “Strong majorities of parents favor programs that enable parents to choose the schools, public or private, that their children attend, with public funding following the student.  Parents also favor holding schools accountable for results.”   http://store.cato.org/books/school-choice-findings-paperback

Arriving at the new and pleasing headquarters of The Heartland Institute at One South Wacker Drive #2740, I helped myself to the luncheon buffet and then settled in to await the introduction of the scheduled speaker, Ember Reichgott Junge by Jim Lakely, Director of Communications at The Heartland Institute.  In his introduction Lakely related how The Heartland Institute, whose mission it is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems, is unlike other think tank in that it publishes a collection of policy newspaper for legislators and six monthly newspapers that are available through a sign-up at heartland.org.

Continuing, Lakely spoke about the advancement at The Heartland Institute of the “Parent Trigger” which can be found at a Heartland’s Policy brief dated November 1, 2012:  “The Parent Trigger: Justification and Design Guidelines” by Joe Bast and Joy Pullmann.  The idea of the Parent Trigger is that if a majority of parents and guardians of children attending a particular public school sign a petition demanding reform, then the school district must do as the parents ask. Seven states have adopted some version of the Parent Trigger and some 20 states have seen bills introduced. http://heartland.org/policy-documents/parent-trigger-justification-and-design-guidelines

It is interesting to note that Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. expressed support for parent empowerment  (Parent Trigger) on several occasion in his run up to the Nov 2012 presidential election.  Although U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, expressed support for Parent Trigger efforts, there was never an endorsement of such legislation on behalf of the Obama administration.

In introducing featured speaker, Ember Reichgott Junge, Jim Lakely spoke about Jung’s 18 years of service in the Minnesota Senate (1983 to 2000), having been first elected at age twenty-nine.  As a senator, Ember pioneered chartering in Minnesota through its early origin, authoring a law in the Minnesota legislature that finally succeeded over 20 years ago in 1991, despite its tumultuous journey moving forward toward legislative passage in Minnesota.

By all accounts the Minnesota chartering bill should not have happened.  It’s explosive impact, however, onto the national stage has resulted in 70% of the American public now supporting chartering and more than two million students attending more than 5,700 chartered schools in forty-one states and the District of Columbia.

Illinois has 125 charter schools.  110 as located in the Chicago area.

Ember Reichgott Junge delivered a fascinating and detailed account of Minnesota’s first chartered school law, with an emphasis on road blocks in policy making along the way, which dovetailed in her book, “Zero Chance of Passage.”    www.ZeroChanceOfPassage.com <http://www.ZeroChanceOfPassage.com>

The chartering bill passed by a hair in the Minnesota House and Senate by three votes on May 18 – 21,1991, along with the added amendment that was first dubbed a “Killer Amendment.  In question was who had jurisdiction over starting a charter school?  The amendment clarified the issue that only a school board could initiate one.

As related by Ember Reichgott Junge, charter schools evolved, coming from outside the political system to enable people without a political agenda to improve the system.  They allow citizens to take a stand for choice, so they have something other than a school district to deliver education.

Advocated by Junge was to look what works in both public and charter schools and to take the best from each, closing schools if they are not functioning up to optimal educational standards.

A voucher program was not endorsed by Ms. Junge.  She admitted that disapproval of vouchers as a school reform measure was based on her political views as a Democrat.

Ms. Junge credits these three reason why her bill passed, despite strong union opposition:

1.  It was a bi-partisan vote, passing by only 3 votes, with minority Republicans providing the margin needed to pass the bill.

2.  One friendly to charter schools was Speaker of the House.

3.  The chartering bill was passed as part of an omnibus funding bill.

According to Junge, Illinois’s has a very weak chartering bill ranking 28th, because of its CAP on charter schools and its limited authorization of those who can approve new charter schools.

A question and answer period followed.

Posted initially at Illinois Review on Friday, February 1, 2013.




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