2023 Eddies Awards: Best Defense

The Eddies—annual, advocate-nominated and voted awards—feature strategic advocacy that is driving impactful policy change.

This Eddies category highlights campaigns that strategically defended important policy at significant risk and overcame significant odds using innovative tactics; sometimes, the most significant wins are actually holding the line. Nominees in this category provide models for how to deploy sharp strategies to defend policies or efforts that benefit students.

See a complete list of 2023 nominees in all Eddies categories. Staff at PIE Network members and partner organizations, check your inbox for a link to vote in each category. Don’t see it? Email [email protected].

Best Defense Finalists

Cardinal Institute of West Virginia, EdChoice, ExcelinEd, National School Choice Awareness Foundation – West Virginia Hope Scholarship Defense

Non-Network partners: Institute for Justice, Americans for Prosperity-West Virginia, Love Your School-West Virginia, West Virginia Families United for Education, Yes.EveryKid., Stand Together, State Policy Network, Catholic Education Partners

The Hope Scholarship was signed into law on March 29th, 2021. Immediately, the Cardinal Institute shifted its coalition of national and state partners into a defensive posture. Given the heated nature of the debates surrounding Hope’s passage, the coalition knew a lawsuit would be forthcoming and that Hope must be defended in the court of public opinion as much as, if not more than, in the court of law. Beginning April 2021 with a Hope Scholarship eligibility quiz, media appearances, and social media ads, the coalition launched a multi-faceted campaign to raise awareness of Hope and defend it against opposition that spanned 18 months. Members created outreach materials for local events, created a website to explain Hope before the state did, identified parents to participate in litigation, and began preparation for the anticipated lawsuit. On January 19th, 2022, the lawsuit against Hope was filed and a week later the Cardinal Institute hosted West Virginia’s first ever School Choice Fair. This event celebrated growing education freedom in West Virginia, educated families on the Hope Scholarship, and served as a public launch for two local partner organizations founded to empower parents and education providers as they navigate the changing education landscape in the Mountain State. On July 6th, 2022, after children had already been accepted into the Hope Scholarship, an injunction halted its operation. The Cardinal Institute created a statewide storytelling campaign called Hope in the Hills which highlighted the families that the Hope Scholarship would help and who were being hurt by the injunction. Other coalition members also created storytelling campaigns, and one launched a podcast, dedicated to highlighting the growth of education opportunities in West Virginia, called We Have Hope. Coalition members actively participated in litigation and filed amicus briefs on behalf of Hope. On October 6th, 2022, the Hope Scholarship program was upheld as constitutional. Find additional details here.

EdAllies, Great MN Schools, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), National Parents Union – Standing Up for Choice & Cultural Relevance for Historically Underserved Families

Since 2015, the Cruz-Guzman v. Minnesota case has moved through the courts. Plaintiffs point to charter schools as a driver of metro-area school segregation, and potential remedies could limit historically underserved families’ ability to choose the best educational option. In 2023, the Minnesota Supreme Court considered a question with significant implications: does the existence of racial imbalance in a public school violate the state’s Education Clause? EdAllies, Great MN Schools, and the National Parents Union’s Minnesota team, with support from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, worked to ensure parents of color—including those who choose culturally-affirming schools with a high proportion of students of color—would be heard. Early in the case, advocates partnered to develop an issue- specific microsite, http://realvoicerealchoice.org/, and held several community forums. This year, the coalition drafted an amicus brief signed by eight organizations focused on racial justice, led a community press conference, and more. These efforts ensured impacted voices were included in the narrative. Moreover, the amicus brief helped prompt questions for the Supreme Court justices during oral arguments. This work has set the stage for ongoing legal and legislative debates, hopefully centering on school quality, cultural relevance, and agency for historically underserved communities.

Educators for Excellence-Minnesota – Tiered Teacher Licensure Defense Campaign

This year, E4E-Minnesota members’ testimonies persuaded a bipartisan group of legislators to defend tiered licensure pathways for Minnesota educators. With a coalition of local organizations, E4E-Minnesota mobilized educators, parents, students, and other stakeholders to write constituent letters, speak at hearings, and sign petitions to protect these pathways. Tiered licensure changes were first implemented in 2017. These pathways ranged from obvious ones, like allowing licensed teachers to transfer from other states, to innovative measures like licensing for classroom-based staff under a principal-and-peer-evaluation system. Expanding these pathways diversifies the teaching profession; in a 2017 study, half of newly hired Black teachers were certified through an alternative pathway, compared to 22% of all other first-year teachers. In Minnesota schools people of color represent 5.9% of the workforce, but 36.7% of students. With a Democrat-controlled Governor’s office and State Legislature, E4E-MN members expected these pathways to be safe, but in a bid for tighter control on teacher preparation as their top legislative priority, the state teachers’ union lobbied democratic lawmakers to eliminate tiered licensure. In partnership with EdAllies, E4E-MN had a Republican Senator introduce legislation protecting these pathways, and convinced 3 Democratic lawmakers to cross party lines and vote in favor of the bill, which ultimately passed!

ExcelinEd – Tennessee Early Literacy (Retention)

Tennessee’s 2023 session featured an effort to repeal early literacy reform achieved by Gov. Bill Lee’s administration. In 2021, Tennessee legislators passed the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act, which established a comprehensive early literacy policy grounded in the science of reading to mitigate pandemic learning loss. The policy included early literacy principles, proven to improve learning outcomes, including retention and additional interventions for struggling 3rd grade readers. Before session, a widespread effort gained momentum to weaken or repeal the 2021 literacy-based promotion requirements before their August 2023 implementation date. With pressure from local school boards, more than fifteen bills were filed to push Gov. Lee and lawmakers to make concessions, weakening the law. In response, ExcelinEd/ExcelinEd in Action worked alongside state leaders to successfully protect the comprehensive literacy policy. The organizations authored research briefs on the efficacy and long-term benefits of retention and provided critical testimony advocating upholding the state’s 2021 literacy law. Lawmakers preserved the retention requirements and passed new legislation that makes slight changes to the existing law without compromising the law’s original intent.

Nashville Propel, Tennessee SCORE, Tennesseans for Student Success, Tennessee Charter School Center, TennesseeCAN, The Memphis LIFT – Defending Foundational Public Charter School Policies

Prior to the 2023 session of the Tennessee General Assembly, the public charter school sector was impacted by coordinated, vocal opposition and increasingly negative press. Media coverage diverted attention from the positive impact of charter schools on students and focused on expanding school choice outside of urban areas, controversial curriculum choices, and serving non-economically disadvantaged students. Heightened polarization and opposition on both sides of the political aisle raised concerns and threatened to dismantle foundational charter school policies, including the establishment of the state authorizer and equitable funding. Advocates knew these policies would be under attack during the legislative session. The Tennessee coalition of partners aligned before the session began on legislative priorities and strategy to defend and advance key priorities. The coalition worked together to elevate student data and news from the charter sector to demonstrate the positive impact the sector was making on students and communities. No negative legislation passed during the 2023 session that impacted charter schools including attempts to limit the power of the state authorizer and decrease funding for public charter school students. Five anti-charter bills were filed that our coalition opposed. Thanks to advocacy efforts, two of the filed anti-charter bills were never calendared. Of the three other anti-charter bills which were on the calendar this year, they failed in committee or subcommittee. None of the bills were ever brought to a floor vote. Additionally, an important policy was passed that enabled charter schools in Tennessee to preference students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds in their enrollment lotteries.

National Parents Union – Mobilization Against HR 5

The national GOP introduced H.R.5, calling it the “Parents Bill of Rights Act”, it purported to allow for greater transparency into curriculum, spending and public reporting of violence in schools. A poorly disguised continuation of the culture war currently plaguing schools. It was obvious that parent voices were deliberately excluded from the conversation. So the National Parents Union (NPU) showed up. With only three days’ notice, NPU mobilized almost 100 parents from across the country to advocate at the federal level against H.R.5, visiting all 435 House Member offices and to the House Chambers for discussion of the bill. NPU’s policy paper outlining H.R.5’s lack of parent voice representation was entered into the Congressional Record and was submitted into the library of congress as official record. As expected, the bill survived the House vote, but NPU continued the fight, attending on-going meetings and working with Senators to ensure that the bill died in the Senate. The campaign to defeat the bill was successful, opening doors to additional difficult conversations and allowing parents to continue to speak truth to power and hold lawmakers accountable. This action effectively opened the door for parent voice to be heard on the national level.

Texas Public Charter Schools Association – The Best Defense is a Good Offense: Protecting Texas Charter Schools

This session we had many wins on the defensive front in Texas and attribute much of this to the fact that we were strategically offensive in advance.

Proof Points:
• Opponents filed 19 bills designed to make it harder for families to access public charter schools. Not a single one was given a hearing.
• We blocked many anti-charter amendments during a multi-hour debate on our key priority bill, often with only seconds to review the amendment and determine how to quickly defeat it.
• Hearing that the State Board of Education was going to file an anti-charter bill, we ran an offensive priority bill on the same topic and created one-pagers to push back on the myths. While our priority bill only passed the House Committee and did not become law, the anti-charter bill on this topic never even got a hearing or gained any traction. This was a huge defensive win.

Keys to Success:
• We reached out to charter-friendly lawmakers to encourage them to request appointment to the House Public Education Committee, which has been anti-charter in past sessions.
• We built momentum with Capitol Connections Week, an extended advocacy event where we trained nearly 400 advocates and convened 70 meetings with state lawmakers over Zoom. These relationships mattered down the stretch!

The Oakland REACH – Keep Oakland Kids in School, Parents Say NO to an OEA Strike

In progressive cities like Oakland, pushing back publicly against the teacher’s union does not happen, even when many disagree with the union’s tactics. In May 2023, The Oakland REACH launched a bold communications campaign calling out the teacher strikes and their harm and disruption to student learning. Their month-long campaign kicked off with a community petition condemning the strikes that garnered several hundred signatures both locally and nationally. Once the strike started, REACH’s CEO and team of Parent Liberators interviewed with every local news outlet and pushed out daily “anti-strike” communications. Their earned media “reached” nearly 30 million people, and social media presence made over 250,000 impressions. REACH was unable to prevent the 8-day strike, but they were successful in changing the narrative against teacher strikes, making it very unpopular with many parents, who became more outspoken. They were able to influence the quality of the district’s communications to the public, and convinced their local NAACP chapter to issue a statement condemning the strikes. Their communications strategy can be leveraged in future strike threats. A policy was not at risk, but student learning was. REACH built a responsive defense that has laid the groundwork for legislative action and advocacy.

Anna McDaniel-Wyatt

Anna McDaniel-Wyatt

Analyst, Communications & Member Engagement