What would you fight for?

boy-at-the-boardFriends of ACE,

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about those NBC Notre Dame commercials that ask, “What would you fight for?” In ACE, we’ve always fought for Catholic schools, but the recent debate over the parental choice program in Washington, DC has made it clear to me that the fight for Catholic schools and the fight for parental school choice are, in so many ways, the same fight.

Today I’d like to ask you to join me in this fight, both to keep the DC parental choice program alive and to expand our capacity to provide educational opportunities to poor families. The social justice and education teachings of the Church have always courageously asserted that parents are the primary educators of their children, and that parents must have the right to choose the school their children attend. This is the central value proposition of parental choice. This is why I am so committed to this battle.

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program currently allows 1,700 kids in Washington to go to a school chosen by their parents, and many of those families choose Catholic schools. To qualify for these scholarships, these families’ income must be at or below 185% of the federal poverty line. The average family income is under $23,000, and 99% of recipients are minority. So we’re talking about some of the poorest, most marginalized families in one of the worst school districts in America.

If we’re not going to fight for them, then who will we fight for?

I asked you to get involved last week when I learned that Congress was threatening to end the DC parental choice program. I’m deeply grateful that so many of you responded. We’re now gearing up for what’s sure to be a long, tough re-authorization process, and we will need your continued help.

Over the coming weeks and months, we need to build a network of friends who will be ready to mobilize to fight for these children. We need tenacious advocates for kids who will be willing to write and call and e-mail folks in power on behalf of kids who have none. And we need to leverage every available resource at our disposal to make the case for parental choice to those who will determine its fate.

So what to do? We’ve set up two websites to serve as Fellowship HQ on this issue. You can come here, or, if you’re on Facebook, you can join the ACE Fellowship group there. These spaces will be updated several times each week and will provide news updates, guidance for those of you who are eager to get involved, and resources you can use to learn more about the issue and educate your friends and family.

Most importantly, we’ll use these sites to mobilize our networks, provide direction, and coordinate our efforts when the time is right.  In the meantime, we encourage you to reach out to your networks, ACE and UCCE grads, friends, family, Catholic school teachers and leaders, and anyone that believes in Catholic education and educational opportunity for poor children.

What would you fight for?

I’d love to hear St. Paul answer that question. Near the end of his life, Paul tells his friend Timothy:

I have fought the good fight to the end;

I have run the race to the finish;

I have kept the faith.”

For me, keeping the faith means fighting for the rights of poor and marginalized parents  to seek better schools for their kids.

This is the good fight. I hope you’ll join it.

Fr. Tim

Rev. Timothy R. Scully, CSC is the founder of the Alliance for Catholic Education
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DC Program Overview

DC Children First has provided this helpful PDF that provides a clear and concise overview of the DC Opportunity Scholarship program.

So what can I do?

praying-girlsThe recent passage of the $410 billion omnibus bill ensured that the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program would not continue indefinitely without a fight. In order for the scholarship to continue, it needs to be re-authorized by Congress. We hope that will happen sometime this spring, though as you’ll see in a post below, we have to press our legislators to make this happen.

When we asked our corps of alumni, friends and families to respond to the plight of the DC OSP prior to the omnibus vote, you were generous in offering your time and talents. Many said, “I’m in. What do you want me to do?”

We hope this blog helps answer that question.  As we gear up for a longer fight and prepare for success in helping the scholarship program get reauthorized, we need your tenacious support now more than ever.

What can I do?

Educate yourself: Read the posts on this blog, which we’ll update with news stories every week.  Click on the “Parental Choice 101” tab at the top of the page and read the primers we’ve created that provide an overview of the parental choice issue, the Opportunity Scholarship Program, and the success of Catholic schools. Follow the links on the “Editorials and opinions” tab to learn what others around the country are saying about the issue. Become a voracious reader and an informed advocate for parental school choice!

Educate your social network: Tell your friends, families, coworkers, students and your entire circle how you feel about this issue.  Get your people engaged.  Point them toward the the primers and editorals too. Spread the word!

Make your voice heard: Call, write, and email the people listed on the “Make your voice heard!” tab at the top of this page. Let the folks in power know that you want the Opportunity Scholarship to continue and that you support a parent’s right to choose a good school for their children.

Take a leadership role: Take advantage of one of ACE Fellowship’s outstanding summer opportunities for leadership development (see posting below for more details).  Let the Fellowship know what else you would like to do to help out. What ideas do you have? Who do you know that can get things done in Washington or in your home state? Let us know that you are interested in helping to lead this fight. Contact us at ace.fellowship@nd.edu or call us at 574-631-3165 to let us know how you want to lead.

Let us know what you’re up to: We’re anxious to hear how Fellowship members are working to expand parental choice.  Did you call your senator?  Did you talk to the faculty at your school?  Did your students send postcards to Congress? Tell us about your experience by commenting on this blog to let others know what you’re doing.

Stay plugged in: Bookmark this site and check back often. We will update this blog with new information as it happens. Keep checking this site and others to stay up to date on the reauthorization process.

Thank you for joining the fight.  We appreciate your outpouring of support and interest. With your help, we hope to save the DC OSP and expand parental choice options for all parents who want more for their children.

Summer leadership opportunities

Advocates for Parental Choice Symposium

Are you eager to become a warrior for equal educational access?  This summer, July 5-17, the ACE Fellowship is launching the Advocates for Parental Choice Symposium, the nation’s premier seminar for future leaders of the school choice movement. Week 1 will bring to Notre Dame’s campus the issue’s most influential academics and policy makers for seminar-style courses. Week 2 will provide on-the-ground immersion in the birthplace of the modern parental choice movement, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  For more information or to apply, please contact Steve Calme at scalme@nd.edu

Summer Fellowship Forum

Interested in learning more about an important educational issue affecting Catholic schools? Join us for the Summer Fellowship Forum, July 10-12 on Notre Dame’s campus. This year’s gathering will focus on the issue of parental choice in education. Hear from experts, discuss the issues with other Fellowship members from around the country, and learn how you can help more families access a Catholic education. (And we promise some great prayer and fellowship time, too!) Contact Steve Calme scalme@nd.edu if you have questions or are interested in attending.

Getting up to speed on the DC parental choice situation

wwjdThe New York Times first reported on the threat to the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program in this article on February 27 that nicely summarized the situation.  Since then, the spending bill has passed and the language that threatens the OSP remained intact.  President Obama’s press secretary and Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, have indicated that they may be willing to continue funding the students currently enrolled in the program, but this “grandfathering” approach will still result in the program’s eventual demise.  This March 11th Washington Times article describes the debate in the Senate between Senator Dick Durbin, who opposed the program, and Senator Mike Ensign, who proposed an amendment that would save the program.  And this piece in World Magazine nicely summarizes the political landscape surrounding the program, identifying some of the key Democrats in Congress and the Senate who need to hear from us.

Supporters of the OSP now must push for lawmakers to hold reauthorization hearings, and while there are some indications that House Democrats do not intend to hold these hearings, Senator Joe Lieberman has indicated that he would hold hearings in the Senate committee on Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over some DC matters.

Calling on Obama’s courage

nytlogo379x64In his New York Times op-ed on President Obama’s educational reform plans, columnist David Brooks expresses his hope that the President will stand up for parental choice in DC.

Obama hopes to change incentives so districts do the effective and hard things instead of the easy and mediocre things. The question is whether he has the courage to follow through. Many doubt he does. They point to the way the president has already caved in on the D.C. vouchers case.

Democrats in Congress just killed an experiment that gives 1,700 poor Washington kids school vouchers. They even refused to grandfather in the kids already in the program, so those children will be ripped away from their mentors and friends. The idea was to cause maximum suffering, and 58 Senators voted for it.

Obama has, in fact, been shamefully quiet about this. But in the next weeks he’ll at least try to protect the kids now in the program. And more broadly, there’s reason for hope. Education is close to his heart. He has broken with liberal orthodoxy on school reform more than any other policy. He’s naturally inclined to be data driven. There’s reason to think that this week’s impressive speech will be followed by real and potentially historic action.

Read Brooks’s column in its entirety here.

Fenty joins Duncan to support “grandfathering”

fenty

The Washington Times reports that DC Mayor Adrian Fenty has finally broken his silence on the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.  Fenty said

Political leaders can debate the merits of vouchers, but we should not disrupt the education of children who are presently enrolled in private schools through the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.”

The Times’s headline, “Fenty pushes for school vouchers.” is, however, misleading–in his comments, Fenty is not “pushing” for vouchers.  Instead, he’s pushing to let students currently enrolled in the program be able to keep their scholarships.  This “grandfathering” approach to the program may sound better than the Durbin language in the omnibus bill that would take scholarships away, but it still ends parental choice in DC.  Under Fenty and Duncan’s plan, the program may not burn out but it will still fade away.

Let Mayor Fenty know that you appreciate his support for parental choice but encourage him to support continued funding for the little brothers, sisters, cousins, and neighbors of the kids who are currently enjoying the benefits of the program.