Just the Facts on School Choice: Understanding School Choice Programs, Part 1

While the age of the internet provides us with access to more information than ever previously imagined, the internet and, as we all know, some organizations are disseminating misinformation. The sheer volume of information and the task of discerning real facts from misinformation can be overwhelming for parents who already are busy with children, work, their children’s school and outside activities, and other family demands. Clarity on the issue of school choice will enable parents to understand the pros and cons, as well as intricacies associated with school choice.

The blog post will define school choice and the options available under school choice programs. There is no partisanship here, just the facts. Sources for information contained in this blog are found at the website for the National Conference of State Legislatures: http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/interactive-guide-to-school-choice.aspx#/

School choice describes programs that enable parents of K-12 students to use public funds to send their children to non-traditional public schools, such as charter or magnet schools, or to private schools, which are either non-denominational or religious. Part 1 will describe the charter and magnet school options under school choice programs.

Charter schools are created by state law and are publicly funded schools. As such, they do not charge tuition. The student body, however, is not limited by geographic boundaries. Charter schools are not operated by the public school system. Rather, charter schools are privately managed with an entity that has a contract with a charter authorizer.

The charter authorizer is an entity that reviews applications for charter schools, negotiates contracts with the charter school, sets benchmarks and oversees operations of the charter school, and decides whether to renew the contract or close the charter school at the end of the contract period.

While the level of autonomy of the charter school varies among states, charter schools have more control over decisions related to budgets, staffing, and operations, and they are exempt from some requirements that are imposed on traditional public schools. State laws dictate the level of autonomy given to charter schools across the nation.

As of November 2016, 43 states and the District of Columbia allow charter schools to operate.

Magnet Schools are operated by public school districts. The students are not restricted by geographic boundaries. While many magnet schools use a lottery system to determine enrollment, some magnet schools impose admission requirements. Most magnet schools incorporate pervasive themes into their programs such STEM or programs for gifted students. As of December 2017, 31 states allowed school districts to operate magnet schools.

Part 2 will discuss private school choices and the funding mechanisms at issue for the private school option.






The Women’s Day March of 2017- Two Perspectives

Notes from St. Louis:

On an uncommonly warm January day in St. Louis, under brilliantly sunny skies, I marched with thousands out of a sense of responsibility too compelling to ignore. The march, of course, was the Women’s Day March on the day following the election of Donald J. Trump to the Office of the Presidency of the United States of America. In contrast, the skies on Inauguration Day were gray and gloomy as rain continued throughout the day in Washington and in much of our country. The weather created a fitting backdrop to the dark picture painted by President Trump in his inaugural address to America, my imperfect and beautiful country. His view of our country, our citizens, our history, our way of life was my motivation to march. His solutions are even more troubling and anathema to American principles and values.

The values and principles referred to are those embodied in our Constitution, which place no branch of government, and certainly no man, above the law. Although I am a self-described moderate, I have believed that prior Administrations acted with the best interests of our country at heart and respected our Constitution. Now, I am distracted from my own daily activities at each new revelation demonstrating that the President and his Administrations either lack a complete understanding of our Constitution or have contempt for our Constitution. So, the question is, do we watch and worry, or do we stay vigilant, be proactive, and take a stand? I choose to stand and take action.

I would also like to add a note from Carolina Olivieri, in Washington, D.C.:

Notes from Washington, D.C.

I participated in the Women’s Day March in Washington on January 21, 2017. What an amazing experience. For an introvert, being in such a large crowd was a bit stressful, but the kindness and respect that all marchers displayed for one another, made my anxiety melt away and my euphoria grow. I was surrounded by people who are united against President Trump and his bully agenda. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, so how could we be in this situation? His ethic’s violations alone should be sufficient to prevent him from ascending to the presidency. For me, the march meant that women really are powerful and will fight to keep and grow our rights.  At this time, how can we slide backward?

How did we get here? Was it a lack of critical thinking? Our votes impact not only us, but also our children and their future. To me, this outcome drills down to education, or a lack thereof. All schools need to be excellent – not just a select few. How can we rally together to ensure that all of our children gain access to high quality education from pre-school through college? Education opens minds and allows one to think critically from different perspectives. Maybe if our citizens had evaluated the candidates more critically from a historical, analytical viewpoint, the current situation may never have arisen. As women, mothers, daughters, and educators, how can we rally together to ensure education is equal for all? So, how do we move forward?


In response to our questions and concerns, Carolina and I are dedicating time to this blog space to help support individuals and  groups that organize a peaceful and compelling resistance to policies that undermine our core American values. The Women’s Day March was a moment in time, and now is the time to start a movement to protect our American values.

It is our mission through this blog to:

  • frame issues;
  • to educate and provide context for others on issues;
  • to ask tough questions;
  • and to support elected officials of BOTH parties who work together to uphold democratic processes and principles, and who demand truthfulness.

Will you join us? We invite you to use the educational resources provided on this website to stay involved, post our blog on your Facebook page, add a comment, or like and share our blog posts. Let’s start an inclusive dialogue on substantive issues.

Thank you!

To Unite America, Trump should Request Confirmation by Senate of Judge Merrick Garland


For most of his career, Donald Trump has exploited opportunities to enrich himself. He has exploited the tax code to shelter millions of dollars from taxation for years, he has exploited the bankruptcy laws to avoid paying creditors on loans made to Trump or his businesses, exploited low income workers at his hotels, exploited women for his amusement. Now, he has exploited an economic stagnation in the United States to vault himself into one of the most powerful positions in the free world, the U.S. Presidency. It was Trump’s exploitation of the fear and anger of American’s who suffer from economic hardship that made his unlikely triumph a reality. The vulnerable underbelly of the U.S is exposed.

Will he now exploit the U.S. people, America’s vast natural, technological and material resources for the benefit of himself and those who are part of his inner circle? That is indeed the type of result seen in other countries around the world that do not respect or practice democratic ideals. Did the fox get into the hen house? How do we reinforce and protect those ideals that lay at the foundation of our democracy, the ideals that were sullied and trampled in this sordid election? What does a Trump presidency mean for us as women, as men, as youth, as Americans?

It does not mean that we go back to our daily lives deflated and defeated. Races in some states were so close that less than a 1% difference separated the two candidates. Republicans do not have a mandate. The results of this election are our motivation. It is our wake up call to exercise our democratic rights of free speech, free assembly, and the right and duty to hold our leaders accountable, and in a non-violent way, to make our voices heard.

Trump’s electoral win is our fork in the road, our critical moment. We have an opportunity to create a centrist movement, moving our country back to the middle where more of us share in the economic benefits of this great country.

So, we accept that Donald Trump has won the election, but we also demand that the policies and actions taken by his administration are transparent and consistent with our Constitution and the duties of the Office of the U.S President.

We demand that his legislative agenda reflect the values of moderate America, not those of extremists. Trump lost the popular vote. The only path forward is through compromise and moderate policies that acknowledge the complexity of the issues rather than rely on simple ideology.

To best ensure the well-being of our democracy and our lives, we must now engage, care, stay aware, and participate in our democracy. We cannot return to our normal lives as we have for our previous elections. Trump spouted extreme statements and incited the expression of views that are inconsistent with our democracy’s principles. He must now persuade his extreme followers and reassure the rest of a nervous nation that those extreme views have no place in the U.S. and will not be tolerated.

How can he do that? To Donald Trump, words are just tools used to further his immediate but transient goals; they are not an expression of his values nor can we rely upon them. Trump has a credibility problem.

To show his good faith and commitment to the people of this country, President Elect Trump needs to extend an olive branch. That olive branch is his support for a vote by  the Senate on the nomination of  Judge Merrick Garland as a Supreme Court Justice. Conservatives have nothing to fear from Judge Garland. In his almost two decades on the D.C. federal appellate court, he has shown judicial restraint and avoided judicial activism and expressly stated that the role of the judiciary is to apply the law rather than to legislate or solve societal problems. In support of his nomination, a conservative jurist on the D.C. Circuit, described Judge Garland as a “brilliant jurist…and someone who works well with others.” With a Congress and country so sharply divided, President Elect Trump’s support for Judge Garland as a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court could earn him the title of a Consensus Builder and the credit for beginning to unite our divided country, if he has the courage to do so.



Changes in Attitudes

I had a wonderful experience when I attended the annual National Association of Professional Women’s Conference in NYC on April 25-26, 2013. It was a positive energy networking affair that focused on empowering and educating women in business. While the conference had many excellent speakers, Arianna Huffington, President and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post, delivered my favorite anecdotes and lines.

Huffington spoke of the important lessons she has learned over the years and what she might tell her younger self.  Among those lessons were to stop listening to the “obnoxious roommate” in our head that constantly puts us down, and to remember that life is an incredible journey. All that really matters is our approach to life.  It was oddly comforting to realize that this amazingly successful woman had faced the same doubts as many of us have faced. But, my favorite Huffington comment was in conjunction with her commitment as a woman and a human to create a more caring workplace and a more caring world. She urged the audience to maintain a healthy lifestyle, to reduce stress levels, and to care about their fellow human beings by being supportive and non-judgmental.

Her challenge to us to be non-judgmental requires courage to change our attitudes about others. Too often, society attempts to compartmentalize individuals with labels such as  Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, stay at home mom or working mom… Each label contains many assumptions. But those assumptions are not based on reality or fact. The assumptions are based on an idea or a preconception defined by interest groups, politicians, or media pundits.  The preconceptions are then exploited by polarizing language that is inflammatory or induces fear. The emotional or fearful responses are then used by interest groups, political parties, and media pundits to promote their agenda.

The polarizing language is used so frequently that we have almost come to accept its presence, similar to the presence of an annoying mosquito.  Polarizing language can be inflammatory such as the characterization of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as a government takeover of our health care system. Or, polarizing language can create fear such as the gun lobby’s statement that any efforts to curb gun violence through legislation will result in a confiscation of guns from law-abiding citizens. When used in this divisive manner, language becomes a weapon because it creates assumptions that thwart communication and suspend rational thought, and that result in misunderstandings, misinterpretations, political deadlock, and even violence.

What if we could read an article about an issue without using the labels that influence our decision about what the outcome must be based on our politics? What if we looked at each issue as a parent does with the intent to achieve the best outcome for their child’s development and welfare? It won’t be easy, but it will be liberating.  Make no assumptions, listen to the opposing sides without taking anything personally, and then rationally think through an issue.  Hopefully, if we practice listening to each other and conversing without hurling insults, then we can bridge divides, reach compromises, and move forward.

Universal Background Checks, A Sensible Step Aimed at Reducing Gun Violence

Universal Background Checks, A Sensible Step Aimed at Reducing Gun Violence

April 5, 2013 · by Tracey O’Brien

Gun laws, including universal background checks, adversely affect only law-abiding citizens. We have heard this refrain from certain legislators on Capitol Hill, opponents of laws aimed at reducing gun violence, and the NRA.  Consider that statement in relation to the following information.

What does the term “universal background checks” require? Under the current federal law, purchasers of guns from licensed gun dealers must submit to a background check. A loophole in the federal law exists, however, which does not require background checks on individuals who purchase guns in a private transaction.

A private transaction is a purchase from anyone other than a licensed gun dealer, whether it is an individual at a gun show, online, or on the corner of a street. Legislation requiring universal background checks attempts to put all guns sales on parity by requiring a background check on the gun purchaser except if the sale or transfer is between immediate family members or licensed dealers.

Many law-abiding citizens purchase their guns from gun dealers and willingly submit to background checks.  What is a background check?  I called a local gun dealer to inquire about the type of information required to perform a background check on me, the length of time a background check would take, and who would retain my personal information. The answer was amazingly simple and direct.

To conduct the background check, a state identification card is required. In my case, a driver’s license was sufficient. Based on my driver’ license information, the gun dealer would contact the FBI who would cross check my driver’s license information against their data base. The duration of the delay prior to the FBI decision could be as little as 3 minutes or up to three days. The FBI will deny the request to approve the gun sale if the background check reveals that the purchaser is prohibited under the law from purchasing a gun. The gun dealer must retain personal information about the buyer for the duration of time gun dealer remains in business. The gun dealer is precluded from disseminating or sharing the information obtained in conjunction with the background check. I was also informed that the FBI is required to periodically purge its files of the personal information received about gun purchasers.

Gun owners who purchase guns from a licensed gun dealer undergo a background check. If a background check reveals that the prospective buyer is a convicted felon, has been convicted of a violent domestic crime, or has been adjudged by a court to be dangerously mentally ill, then the prospective buyer will not be able to purchase a gun from the licensed gun dealer. Yet, those same individuals can purchase a gun in a private transaction, such as online or at a gun show.

If universal background checks were required, online and gun show sales, as well as other private sales, would necessitate a background check. Not only would universal background checks reduce the accessibility and availability of guns to those who are prohibited from owning a gun, but also such checks may even deter individuals from attempting to get a gun.

So, how does the NRA substantiate their position that universal background checks adversely affect lawful gun owners? They argue that law-abiding gun owners may unknowingly break a law by transferring their gun to another, that background checks are an invasion of privacy, and that criminals do not submit to background checks

The NRA argument ignores that we already have background checks on gun sales through licensed gun dealers that account for 60% of all gun sales. We have decided that a small, temporary loss of privacy is justified to prevent the substantial threat posed by criminals, mentally ill, or violent individuals purchasing a gun from licensed gun dealers. Logically, a similar temporary loss of privacy due to background checks on other gun sales, such as at gun shows, on the internet, and other coverable private transactions is also justified.

It is also unlikely that a law will be written that traps the unwitting gun owner in a criminal transaction. Laws can be written with clearly defined exceptions for transfers made by law-abiding citizens so that they are not in danger of inadvertently committing a crime though a gun sale or transfer. The effectiveness of the present loophole for private transactions establishes our success at drafting legislation that excludes certain transactions.

As for the NRA statement that violent individuals do not submit to background checks, such a statement is true. What is not true is the remainder of their argument that therefore, universal background checks will not stop them from purchasing guns.

Violent individuals do purchase guns from places that do not require background checks, like gun shows, and the internet. Therefore, let’s remove these alternative points of purchase as an option for violent felons, violent domestic abusers, and mentally dangerous individuals by requiring background checks for purchases from such places.

We need universal background checks as a way to deter and prevent incidents like Columbine, Newtown, Aurora, and others. We want to create a society that reflects the type of world in which we seek to live and to raise our children; a world that uses common sense and thoughtful solutions rather than fear and violence to solve its problems.

We can begin with the issue of gun violence and universal background checks as a first step.

Contact by email your U.S representative and Senators today to voice your support for universal background checks. Urge them to vote with the will of 91% of American voters who support universal background checks.

Continue reading “Universal Background Checks, A Sensible Step Aimed at Reducing Gun Violence”

Gun Violence in America

On a winter evening, a stillness is felt as one walks past the East Front Capital in Washington D.C. Yet, in that stillness, a microcosm pulses. Commuters walk briskly past the Senate buildings on their way to Union Station to catch a train to home, to a class, or to a second job. Others walk southeast, past the façade of the House buildings on their way to Bullfeathers or another destination. All pass the small plastic shelters that form tents over heat vents under which the homeless huddle during the cold night. Above the street, lights of staffers working into the evening dot the windows in the Senate and House buildings. Their work will intimately touch the lives of all: the old and young, the experienced and inexperienced, the successful and the struggling, the powerful and the powerless. To maintain stability in our complex society, the members of Congress must find common ground on those difficult issues that threaten the stability of our society and our way of life.

Gun violence threatens our families, our society, and our way of life. Consider the statistics: Continue reading “Gun Violence in America”

Newtown, Connecticut

The horrific murders of schoolchildren and staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut are incomprehensible acts of violence and brutality. Words cannot truly convey the sense of loss, pain, and sorrow that filled hearts as people around the country listened to the account of the incident unfold.  Continue reading “Newtown, Connecticut”