Posts Tagged ‘Parent Trigger’

Triggering School Reform—and Union Dirty Tricks

February 28, 2012

In California, parent power brings out the worst in the education establishment.
By DAVID FEITH

Where’s the toughest battlefield in American education these days? Certainly New Orleans and Harlem host controversially high concentrations of charter schools, while New Jersey and Louisiana boast governors who challenge teachers unions with verve. But for downright nastiness, Southern California is ground zero.

SoCal earns this dubious distinction largely because of the educational establishment’s rage over “parent trigger,” a reform that’s been on California’s books since January 2010. It’s a “lynch mob provision,” declared Marty Hittelman, president of the powerful California Federation of Teachers. Why? Because it gives unprecedented rights to parents whose children are stuck in failing public schools. If more than 50% sign a petition, they can force a school closed, shake up its administration, or turn it into a charter.

The first parent trigger was pulled in December 2010 at Compton’s McKinley Elementary School. Immediately, McKinley teachers began leaning on parents to rescind their signatures—first at a PTA meeting, then by pressuring their kids during school. Soon the school district insisted that parents validate their signatures by appearing at McKinley with official photo identification—naked intimidation of those who were undocumented immigrants and a violation of the First Amendment, said Los Angeles Superior Court. Yet the district persisted, soon rejecting every parent’s signature on technicalities that are still tied up in court a year later.

Which brings us to the latest brawl, in the small Mojave Desert town of Adelanto, 80 miles northeast of L.A. That’s where a second group of California parents recently submitted a trigger petition—for Desert Trails Elementary, where two-thirds of sixth-graders failed state exams in English and math last year. The 450-plus parents looked poised to succeed until Tuesday night, when the educational empire struck back.

At a public meeting, the Adelanto school board announced that, upon review, the trigger petition represented only 48% of parents—not the 70% that petitioners claimed when they filed last month. The loss of nearly 100 signatures, it turns out, was the result of a systematic and legally questionable pressure campaign waged against parents.

“About two weeks ago, the California Teachers Association flew in a cadre of paid operatives from Sacramento,” says Ben Austin of Parent Revolution, the liberal activist group that conceived of parent trigger and has supported the campaigns in Compton and Adelanto. “Suddenly parents were accosted in the parking lot by CTA operatives blocking cars from moving until the driver agreed to take a flier plastered with lies.” Operatives also went door-to-door across Adelanto.

Mr. Austin says many parents were told that if they didn’t rescind their signatures, Desert Trails would be closed within days. Others heard that all the teachers would be fired, and still others had their picture taken for refusing to rescind. One parent on Thursday told Parent Revolution’s lawyers that she withdrew her signature after being told that if she didn’t, other parents “were going to pocket all the money once they took over.”

In almost all cases, those spreading such misinformation refused to identify themselves. That was the experience of Desert Trail parent Jeffrey Hancock at his front door last weekend.

“They never said what organization they were with, and wouldn’t give their names. Just that they were ‘partners of Desert Trail parents,'” Mr. Hancock says. “We asked them specifically for their names because when they first knocked on the door we thought they were church people.”

Mr. Hancock adds that he and his wife were far less vulnerable to intimidation than were other parents. “Some of their citizenship is at stake—they might not be legal citizens—so it made them nervous.” He adds, “They were threatened with the INS.”

If this is true, it wouldn’t be the first time: In early 2010, Spanish-language fliers surfaced in several L.A. neighborhoods warning parents that if they voted to convert a public school into a charter, they “might be deported.”

CTA spokesman Frank Wells acknowledged that his union sent representatives to Adelanto, but he said their primary purpose was to hold information sessions for Desert Trails parents. The door-to-door rescission campaign was “parent-led,” he told the L.A. Times, and “as far as us going around and telling people to do something one way or another, the answer is no.”

Messrs. Austin and Hancock maintain their suspicions, largely because almost every one of the 97 rescinded signatures materialized over four days last week. That’s either a feat of superhuman community outreach, or the work of people whose jobs give them ready access to the names and addresses of Desert Trails families.

Whodunit aside, there’s a more fundamental question about the Adelanto rescission campaign: Was it legal? After last year’s Compton melee, the California State Board of Education published detailed regulations for the parent-trigger process. Those regulations clearly state that “parents and legal guardians of eligible pupils shall be free from . . . being encouraged to revoke their signature on a petition.” Says Mr. Austin: “The regulations are the game-changer here—they say rescissions are illegal. But we’re going to have to sue and set that precedent.” Sounds like a solid case.

Win or lose, the Adelanto experience holds several lessons for parent trigger. First, some quarters of the education establishment will oppose parent power no matter its packaging. In contrast to the Compton effort, the Adelanto trigger drive was announced publicly in advance, and parents sought to negotiate terms with district officials rather than bring in an outside charter to take over the school. This soft approach evidently meant nothing to the union.

But the Adelanto model highlights that parents in the future might be able to work around hostile unions altogether, instead exercising leverage over district officials. “At Desert Trails,” Mr. Austin points out, “parents aren’t thinking of trigger as an end in itself”—say, the path to a charter school—”but as a tool to get power to bargain. That’s transformative.”

A Second CA “Parent Trigger” Petition Blocked by School District

February 23, 2012

Parents Fail in Bid to Turn California School into a Charter

School-district officials in a Southern California town rejected an attempt by parents to convert their low-performing elementary school into a charter school, the second time an effort to use California’s new “Parent Trigger” law has been blocked.

A group of parents of students at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., turned in a petition last month that they said had the signatures of nearly 70% of the school’s parents. Under the state’s Parent Trigger law, passed in 2010, parents can force a district to close a school, convert it to a charter-—a public school run by a nongovernment group—or replace the principal and the teachers if at least 50% of the parents sign a petition. Similar legislation was passed in Texas and Mississippi last year and is being considered in other states.

During a school-board meeting Tuesday night in Adelanto, district officials said that 97 parents had withdrawn their signatures because the parents said they were duped into signing the petition or misunderstood its intent. This left the group about a dozen names short of the bar.

The school board, by law, has given the parents 60 days to try to verify the names of at least 50% of the parents at the 650-student school. The parents say they will try again.

The effort in Adelanto was only the second time parents had tried to take advantage of the California law. A petition initiated last year by parents in Compton has been tied up in a lengthy court battle with the school district.

Teachers unions have generally opposed the trigger laws, arguing that troubled schools need more resources rather than sweeping staff changes or closing. Parents leading the Adelanto petition have said that their calls for change in Desert Trails went unheeded for years. School district officials said some of the overhauls the parents sought would be costly and difficult to implement.

Write to Stephanie Banchero at stephanie.banchero@wsj.com

Watch the Dramatic House-Floor “Parent Trigger” Debate

May 27, 2011

If you would like to watch the dramatic debate on the evening of May 23 between Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio), and the House Representatives of AFT and the San Antonio public school superintendents, follow these instructions.

1. Go to this Texas Legislature Online link.

2. Click on the video link labeled

Date – 05/23/2011, Time – 2:00p.m. – 11:44p.m.

(You will need to download “RealPlayer” to view the video, if you don’t already have it on your computer.)

3. After clicking the correct video link, a video window should open up showing the floor of the Texas House.  It is best to maximize the window to your full screen in order to more accurately move to particular points in the video.  At the top of the video window you should see “Monday, May 23rd 2011 2:50pm”.  If that does not appear at the top of the video, you have clicked the wrong video link and should close this video window, go back to the initial link and start over.

4. The video will look very blurred.  Don’t attempt to adjust your video viewer controls.  The goal of this video is to give you rough information about who is speaking, what they are saying, and some sense of the non-verbal cues that the speaker is showing.

5. You will see in the lower right corner a number showing the time duration of the video.  This video is 8(hours):49(minutes):55(seconds) in duration.  Now wait about 1 minute watching the video to make sure you have the audio on and at a good volume for your ears.

6. Don’t Panic!!  You don’t have to sit in front of your computer and watch everything that happened in the House chamber on the evening of May 23.

7.  Click on the pause button to pause the video.  Look in the lower right corner.  In front of 8:49:55 you will see 34Kbps 1:xx /, where xx is a two digit number.  This number counts up from 0:00 to 8:49:55.  It is the duration point on the video.  This number is not the time on the House chamber clock.  Rather, it shows how much time has passed on the video to reach this duration point.

8. You can change the duration point on the video by dragging or clicking ahead or behind of the button sliding on the “duration track” at the bottom of the video that visually shows where the duration point is.  If the video “freezes” for more than thirty seconds, click the square “Stop” button and it will unusually “un-freeze”.  I will give you specific duration points on the video that are important to the debate we are interested in.

9. Okay, I hope you non-techies have patiently and successfully gotten through the first eight “challenges” of this project.  Now for the good parts.

10. The duration point where the debate on SB 738 begins is duration point 5:34:45.  Move the button on the duration track to a duration point as close to, but less than 5:34:45.  Now run (or un-pause) the video and watch the drama as Rep. Mike Villarreal presents and defends the amendment that he wants to add to the SB 738 to give more parental empowerment to the bill.  The full debate ends at duration point 6:40:40 when Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher (D – San Antonio) submits a “point of order” that finally kills the amendment, in spite of having the amendment and the entire bill passed on two record votes.

11. After you have watched the entire debate, which lasts 1 hour and 6 minutes,  there are a few significant moments (duration points) that I want to highlight.

12. The first significant moment is the beginning of the debate where you see Rep. Villarreal desiring to help the parents and children suffering in failing schools.  I wouldn’t have believed it were true if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.  Less than a month ago, I saw him berate a novice testifier on a franchise tax credit bill by referring to tuition tax credits as “tax-credit vouchers”.  Something dramatic has happened in the last year.  At dur. pt. 6:34:10, Rep. Villarreal explains what has happened.  The oldest of his two children began school last year. He and his wife were committed to using the public schools in their district, but his child’s assigned school was academically unacceptable.  So with his political influence he persuaded the San Antonio ISD Superintendent Robert James Duron (who will reappear later in this drama) to convert his child’s school into a campus charter school.  But instead of saying “I got mine, screw the rest of the peons” like President Obama has done, Rep. Villarreal has had the virtuous character to say, “I’m not satisfied with improving just my child’s school.  I’m going to use my political power to fight for all Texas children trapped in failing public schools.”  He has suddenly catapulted himself  to be the most important member of the House and maybe the entire Texas legislature for the cause of education reform.  For the first time in at least 10 years, Rep. Villarreal has made education reform a bi-partisan issue in the Texas Legislature!  He is an intelligent and courageous Democratic champion of the parent seeking a good education for their child.  I think that this transformation may be more important than the fact that SB 738 finally passed (without Villarreal’s amendment).  Please use this link to encourage and thank Rep. Villarreal for fighting the good fight on May 23.

13. At dur. pt. 6:10:05, Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) speaks in defense of the amendment and in support of Rep. Villarreal.  Rep. Patrick spent many years as a public school teacher and ISD school board member.  She has received awards from groups associated with the public school system.  She was elected to the House in a contentious primary where she defeated the incumbent, who was known as the education reform leader in the House and Chairman of the House Public Education Committee, with the help of all the public school status quo groups.  She has had the reputation of being one of the stalwart status quo leaders, even if it wasn’t deserved.  I confess that that was my opinion until I saw her walk to the microphone and defend Villarreal’s amendment.  Now I cannot says where she stands with regard to education reform, but clearly she is open-minded about some level of education reform.  That is good news for education reformers.

14. At dur. pt. 6:14:22, Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) provides a refreshing, but curious, note.  He eloquently describes how school choice benefits all children both in and out of the public school system by holding school administrators accountable by the pressure of market forces.  But after clearly winning the debate, he reenter the real world and says that he won’t use his vote to support what he knows to be true out of fear of retribution from the status quo political power groups.  I believe that we can at least thank Rep. Strama for his debating eloquence and candor about his political fears.

15.  At dur. pt. 6:37:55, Rep. Joe Farias (D-San Antonio) begins his creatively obscure logic about how Rep. Villarreal’s amendment will not benefit, but perhaps hurt the students in San Antonio’s failing schools. Notice carefully at dur. pt. 6:39:25 where Rep. Farias admits the reason he is disparaging the amendment.  He was instructed to do so by “Dr. Duron”.  He is referring to Dr. Robert James Duron, the superintendent of San Antonio ISD, the largest school district in Bexar County.  Duron has been handsomely paid to manage this school district.  His annual base pay has been $266,494 as of Oct. 2009, up from $254,998 for the two previous years. This does not include his generous benefit package.  Unfortunately he hasn’t managed as well as he has been paid.  For both the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years his district was rated academically unacceptable.

Remember, Dr. Duron is the man who instructed Rep. Farias to stop an opportunity for the parents in his district to repair the problems that Duron is responsible for fixing.  For those of you who would like to contact Dr. Duron about this situation, I provide you this link.   

If you have made it to the end of this post, I thank you and comend you for your interest in education reform.  Let’s help Rep. Mike Villarreal make his dream a reality for all of Texas.

Victory for the Parents and Children in Texas’s Low-Performing Schools!

May 26, 2011

Yesterday SB 738 was sent to the Governor’s Desk because of the hard work of its author, Sen. Florence Shapiro of Plano, and Rep. Mike Villareal of San Antonio.

This bill empowers parents of the children who attend a low-performing school to be directly involved in the process of improving their children’s school.  Before the passage of SB 738, these parents had no voice or involvement in improving the school that was inadequately serving their kids.  But now, this blatant disregard of parental authority has been corrected.

Rep. Mike Villareal deserves a special honor in this victory.  

He submitted an amendment to improve the bill by empowering the parents to start the turn-around of their low-performing school several years earlier.  With great patience and gentleness, he withstood repeated attacks from members of his own party to block this improvement to the bill.  In the end, Rep. Villareal could not prevail over those who defended the status quo.

I believe we have a new standard bearer for education reform in the Texas House.  All members of the House that say they want the best for the education of Texas’s children should line up in support of Rep. Villareal and follow his courageous example.

Vouchers Also Cost Taxpayers Less

May 16, 2011
  • Wall Street Journal
    LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
  • MAY 12, 2011

Jason L. Riley’s “The Evidence Is In: School Vouchers Work” (op-ed, May 3) might have mentioned what for many might be the most important reason to send kids to private school: the huge savings to taxpayers.

The stunning total taxpayer cost of the inferior Washington, D.C public schools is over $28,000 per student. Even after pulling the special-ed kids’ cost out of the average, the taxpayers are paying about $23,000 per D.C. public-school student.

Contrast that absurd public-school outlay with the cost of a D.C. education voucher—up to $7,500 per student. The actual average D.C. voucher school charges only $6,620 (many are Catholic schools).

Taxpayers save over $15,000 annually in direct costs per D.C. voucher student. Another plus for private schools is that there is no unfunded public-pension taxpayer liability.

D.C. is running a highly restricted voucher program, complete with a lottery to pick the lucky few low-income recipients. Instead, D.C. (and urban school districts throughout the nation) should be moving toward an orderly transfer of the education of our young from government to private schools. That is, we should do so if we care more about the kids and taxpayers than we do about the powerful education labor unions.

Richard Rider

San Diego

Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on unions and the urgency of school choice.

May 15, 2011

Notable & Quotable

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaking at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, April 29:

It’s easy for the union members . . . sending their kids to some of the best schools in New Jersey to pontificate about how those [other] children should wait until the schools improve in their neighborhood. I have a daughter in the second grade right now, our youngest. She’s only got one year in the second grade. How long are we going to make her wait? To third or fourth or fifth? When she’s so far behind she has no hope of ever catching up? This is not a problem with an infinite time frame to fix. Every year we don’t fix it we’re losing more children. Irretrievable in many instances. So I’m for choice not as the solution to the problem in public schools but as a building block. I think we should forget about how a school starts and worry about how it performs.

Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Big Business Conspires With Labor to Kill Vouchers in TN

May 13, 2011
  • Tennessee’s Chamber Maids

Nothing is worse for freedom and opportunity than when big business conspires with big labor. Behold the spectacle in Tennessee, where the Chambers of Commerce in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Nashville have joined with the teachers unions to kill education vouchers.

That proposal, which has already passed the state senate, would give thousands of low- and middle-income parents in failing school districts private school options. The Tennessee Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act would provide vouchers of between $4,000 and $5,000 per child to families with an income up to roughly $42,000 a year and who live in one of the four largest school districts, including Memphis and Nashville.

In an April 27 letter repeating nearly every discredited voucher myth peddled by unions, the CEOs of the local chambers advise lawmakers to oppose the bill. The letter claims that private school funding “diverts resources away from public school improvement,” that “there is no empirical data demonstrating that vouchers improve student achievement,” and that private schools lack “accountability” and won’t be subject to “high academic standards.”

That last complaint is tragicomic given that Memphis schools typically rank among the nation’s five worst with fewer than half of black males graduating from high school. A 2010 progress report under the No Child Left Behind program found that 52% of Tennessee third graders flunked math and reading tests and 75% of eight graders failed math. How could private schools possibly be worse?

As for the “empirical data,” nearly a dozen studies have found high parental satisfaction with voucher schools or higher graduation rates. Perhaps the chamber CEOs should talk to the mostly minority parents in Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., where vouchers have been very popular. And no, the scholarship plan doesn’t rob public schools of scarce dollars. The vouchers are capped at 50% of the per-student costs of the public schools.

The Tennessee chambers aren’t nearly as opposed to public money going to private institutions when they receive the checks. A study by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research discovered that over the past several years the Chattanooga Chamber has received $450,000 in state and local funds. The Nashville Chamber has received nearly $3 million in taxpayer subsidies.

We doubt a single child of officials in these chambers of commerce attends a school in the poor parts of Memphis or other places where dreams die before high school. Yet these captains of industry are willing to deny that choice to others. Business executives who really want to make the U.S. more competitive ought to stop contributing to lobbies that want to preserve the dreadful status quo.

 Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Research Shows That Vouchers Work – Teacher Unions Keep Obama From Agreeing

May 4, 2011

Wall Street Journal

MAY 3, 2011

The Evidence Is In: School Vouchers Work

A study published last year found that D.C. voucher recipients had graduation rates of 91%. That’s significantly higher than the public school average of 56%.

By JASON L. RILEY

‘Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement,” said the White House in a statement on March 29. “The Administration strongly opposes expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and opening it to new students.” But less than three weeks later, President Obama signed a budget deal with Republicans that includes a renewal and expansion of the popular D.C. program, which finances tuition vouchers for low-income kids to attend private schools.

School reformers cheered the administration’s about-face though fully aware that it was motivated by political expediency rather than any acknowledgment that vouchers work.

When Mr. Obama first moved to phase out the D.C. voucher program in 2009, his Education Department was in possession of a federal study showing that voucher recipients, who number more than 3,300, made gains in reading scores and didn’t decline in math. The administration claims that the reading gains were not large enough to be significant. Yet even smaller positive effects were championed by the administration as justification for expanding Head Start.

In any case, the program’s merits don’t rest on reading scores alone. In a study published last year, Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas found that voucher recipients had graduation rates of 91%. That’s significantly higher than the D.C. public school average (56%) and the graduation rate for students who applied for a D.C. voucher but didn’t win the lottery (70%). In testimony before a Senate subcommittee in February, Mr. Wolf said that “we can be more than 99% confident that access to school choice through the Opportunity Scholarship Program, and not mere statistical noise, was the reason why OSP students graduated at these higher rates.”

The administration downplays these findings. But the students who attend D.C. public schools are overwhelmingly black and poor, and the achievement gap has a particularly devastating impact on their communities. High school dropouts are eight times more likely than someone with a diploma to wind up behind bars. Some 60% of black male high school dropouts in their 30s have prison records. And nearly one in four young black male dropouts is in jail or juvenile detention.

Mr. Obama says he wants to help all students—not just the lucky few who receive vouchers. But that’s an argument for offering more vouchers to those in need, not for reducing school choice. Policies ought to be weighed against available alternatives, not some unattainable ideal. The alternative to a voucher for families in D.C. ghettos and elsewhere is too often a substandard public school.

The positive effects of the D.C. voucher program are not unique. A recent study of Milwaukee’s older and larger voucher program found that 94% of students who stayed in the program throughout high school graduated, versus just 75% of students in Milwaukee’s traditional public schools. And contrary to the claim that vouchers hurt public schools, the report found that students at Milwaukee public schools “are performing at somewhat higher levels as a result of competitive pressure from the school voucher program.” Thus can vouchers benefit even the children that don’t receive them.

Research gathered by Greg Forster of the Foundation for Educational Choice also calls into question the White House assertion that vouchers are ineffective. In a paper released in March, he says that “every empirical study ever conducted in Milwaukee, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Maine and Vermont finds that voucher programs in those places improved public schools.” Mr. Forster surveyed 10 empirical studies that use “random assignment, the gold standard of social science,” to assure that the groups being compared are as similar as possible. “Nine [of the 10] studies find that vouchers improve student outcomes, six that all students benefit and three that some benefit and some are not affected,” he writes. “One study finds no visible impact. None of these studies finds a negative impact.”

Such results might influence the thinking of an objective observer primarily interested in doing right by the nation’s poor children. But they are unlikely to sway a politician focused on getting re-elected with the help of teachers unions.

“I think Obama and Duncan really care about school reform,” says Terry Moe, who teaches at Stanford and is the author of a timely new book, “Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools.” “On the other hand they have to be sensitive to their Democratic coalition, which includes teachers unions. And one way they do that is by opposing school vouchers.”

The reality is that Mr. Obama’s opposition to school vouchers has to do with Democratic politics, not the available evidence on whether they improve outcomes for disadvantaged kids. They do—and he knows it.

Mr. Riley is a member of The Journal’s editorial board.

 Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Churches Start Getting Involved With School Choice

April 30, 2011

The Wall Street Journal
HOUSES OF WORSHIP
APRIL 29, 2011

Churches for School Choice

Education reform is becoming the civil rights movement of this century.

By MICHEAL FLAHERTY

Compton, Calif.

It is late on the Wednesday night of Holy Week. The choir at Compton’s Holy Redeemer Church is rehearsing a beautiful gospel song in the sanctuary for their Easter Sunday service. In a tiny office attached to the church, Linda Serrato and Christina Sanchez are welcoming a steady stream of parents carrying sleeping bags.

Among them is K.W. Tulloss, the pastor at Weller Street Baptist Church in Los Angeles. An avid sports fan, Mr. Tulloss has given up a seat at the Lakers playoff game for a seat on a bus making an eight-hour, overnight trek to Sacramento to lobby state legislators on education reform.

Mr. Tulloss is the chairman of Parent Revolution, a grass-roots organization that has shocked the education establishment in California with a simple premise: Parents should have more say in the fate of their neighborhood schools. That’s because they are the one group in the education debate without a conflict of interest—their interests are entirely aligned with their children’s.

Parent Revolution has made national news in its ongoing attempt to use California’s new “parent trigger” law, which allows parents to transform a failing school by, among other things, replacing it with a charter school. Parents have already filed a charter petition in the Compton Unified School District, where only 47% of students graduate and less than 2% go to college. It is this injustice that enrages Ms. Serrato and Ms. Sanchez, both 20-somethings who attended Los Angeles public schools and then graduated from Stanford and Yale, respectively.

People like Mr. Tulloss and Pastor Kerry Allison of the Church of the Redeemer see education reform as the civil rights movement of this century. Mr. Tulloss stresses to his congregation that the issues that are most important to them—jobs, poverty, public safety—are all linked to education. Mr. Allison explains it this way in his church’s statement of faith: “We believe that every child is a precious heritage of the Lord and we are committed to loving, learning and lifting each child one mind at a time.”

Support for California’s parent-trigger law is coming not just from the pulpit but from the pews as well. Mary Najera, the lead organizer for Parent Revolution, has just returned from screening the documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman'” to 70 parents at the Catholic Charities in Boyle Heights. A daughter of Mexican immigrants and mother of two, she plans on scheduling a number of other screenings at churches throughout Los Angeles as a primer on education reform for church-going parents.

Of course not all of the churches in Los Angeles are united in their support of parent trigger. But supporters refuse to sit on the sidelines. They are motivated by the words Martin Luther King wrote on scraps of paper in that Alabama jail cell: “Wait has almost always meant never. . . . Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

The support of many people of faith in Compton reflects a larger awakening among believers nationwide who see the disparity in educational options as one that can no longer be overlooked in light of the biblical mandate to fight for fairness and justice for all of God’s children. Tony Campolo, a leading evangelical author, has said that, “If Saint Francis were alive today, he would say each child in the public school system is sacramental. . . . To neglect them is to neglect Jesus Himself.”

Many of the people involved in Parent Revolution, regardless of their faith, credit one man of faith for changing the tide on education reform: Barack Obama. It was President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative that incentivized the California legislature to create the parent trigger. And many of the community organizers are veterans of his successful presidential campaign.

In “Dreams From My Father,” President Obama wrote about the obstacles to change for children in Chicago’s public schools: “The biggest source of resistance” to education reform, he wrote, “was rarely talked about. . . . Every one of our churches was filled with teachers, principals, and district superintendents. Few of these educators sent their own children to public schools; they knew too much for that. But they would defend the status quo with the same skill and vigor as their white counterparts of two decades before.”

As pastors like Messrs. Allison and Tulloss are telling their congregations, including teachers and school employees: You can’t profess one thing about equality for all God’s children on Sunday and then not practice it from Monday through Friday.

Mr. Flaherty is president and co-founder of Walden Media, which co-produced “Waiting for ‘Superman.'”

US Supreme Court: Scholarship Tax-Credits Are OK!

April 5, 2011

Supreme Court OKs Arizona’s Tax Break for Private Schools

Associated Press

WASHINGTON—A Supreme Court divided along ideological lines said Monday that ordinary taxpayers cannot challenge government programs that use tax breaks to direct money to religious activities.

The court ruled 5-4 in favor of an Arizona scholarship program for private schools that has mainly benefited religious schools in offering a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the income tax bill of people who participate.

The decision cheered supporters of school choice and dismayed civil libertarians who said it will be harder to use federal courts to claim violations of the Constitution’s prohibition on direct government aid to religion.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the court’s majority opinion that held that the Arizona taxpayers who challenged the program have no stake in the dispute that would allow them to take their case to federal court.

For more than 13 years, Arizona has allowed residents to send up to $500 to a tuition scholarship organization that they would have otherwise paid the state in taxes on their incomes. The state has passed up nearly $350 million in income tax payments over the life of the scholarship program, and the bulk of that money has gone to private religious schools.

But because the program operates as a tax credit, instead of a direct appropriation of government money, “contributions result from the decisions of private taxpayers regarding their own funds,” Justice Kennedy said in an opinion that was joined by the four conservative justices.

The taxpayers who object to the program have no connection to the money involved, Kennedy said. The Obama administration argued aggressively for the outcome the court reached Monday; it also took the view that the challengers had no standing to sue.

In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said the distinction was meaningless. “Appropriations and tax subsidies are readily interchangeable,” Justice Kagan said in her first dissenting opinion since joining the court in August. “What is a cash grant today can be a tax break tomorrow.”

And she predicted that lawmakers elsewhere would adopt the “roadmap” Justice Kennedy provided to subsidize religion without facing judicial review. The court’s other three liberal justices signed on to her dissent.

Supporters of the Arizona program said they hope that Justice Kagan is right. Monday’s ruling and a 2002 decision that upheld the use of vouchers “should give state legislatures wide discretion in adopting school choice programs,” said Tim Keller, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the Institute for Justice. The group represented both religious and secular scholarship organizations that receive the tax money.

“School choice programs are not about aiding religion. They’re aimed at helping individual families,” Mr. Keller said.

Monday’s ruling has no effect on the more common voucher programs. Arizona adopted its unusual arrangement because its state constitution prohibits direct aid to private schools, a lawyer for the state told the court during arguments in November.

The American Civil Liberties Union led the challenge to the program.

There is a general prohibition on taxpayer challenges to the government spending of tax revenue. But a 1968 Supreme Court decision created a narrow exception to allow for challenges to programs that promote religion.

In this case, the San Francisco-based federal appeals court agreed with the ACLU that the lawsuit could proceed under that high court ruling. Justice Kennedy’s opinion Monday said otherwise.

“It’s a very disappointing decision that ignores precedent, defies logic and undermines the role of the courts in preserving the core constitutional principle that government may not subsidize religion,” said Steven R. Shapiro, the ACLU’s legal director.

Mr. Shapiro said the only bright spot was that the court rejected a more significant outcome, overruling the 1968 decision.

Justice Antonin Scalia, in a brief opinion joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, urged the court to “repudiate that misguided decision.”

The consolidated cases are Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, 09-987, and Garriott v. Winn, 09-991.