2019 Game Changing Policy
August 13, 2019

Policy Advances that Raise the Bar for Advocates

This page has been updated to reflect the 2019 winner, as well as the nominees.

The Eddies!—annual, advocate-nominated awards—celebrate excellent policymaking and advocacy campaigns across the country.


Below is the 2019 winner and nominees for Game Changer of the Year—a PIE Network member or partner campaign that set a new precedent, offered a leading model, raised the bar for other states, or had other national implications for advancing the work of reform.

See a complete list of winners, nominees, and finalists in all categories here.

2019 Game Changer of the Year

Top Finalists

Additional Nominees

Colorado Succeeds

Supporting Multiple Pathways by Incentivizing Industry Credentials

Colorado is known for having a highly educated workforce, especially for careers that require a STEM background and technical skills. However, many employees are recruited outside of the state given the gaps that exist in our current K-12 system. In order to shore up the skills gap in Colorado, in 2016 Colorado Succeeds supported The Career Development Incentive Program, which provides financial incentives for school districts for every student who earns an in-demand industry credential. Thanks to strong leadership from legislators, over the past two years 9,000 credentials and courses have been awarded across 30 districts. In the 2019 legislative session, Colorado Succeeds went back to the Capitol to highlight school district credential gains and grow the incentive fund. As threats to the funding loomed, CO Succeeds worked hard to gain bi-partisan support, share stories of success for students across the state, and pushed legislators to understand the importance of building multiple pathways for students in high school. Thanks to supportive champions, a nearly $3 million increase is now in the state budget for the next school year. Advocates are excited to see how many more students they can reach across the state and provide them with rigorous and relevant learning tied to in-demand career pathways in STEM and high-skilled jobs.

Educate Texas, Texas Aspires, Teach Plus Texas, Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium, InvestEdTX Coalition (including Stand for Children Texas and more)

Strategic and Equitable School Finance Reform

The Texas Legislature passed historic school finance reform, injecting $6.5 billion into education and increasing the state’s share of education dollars from 38 percent to 45 percent. The funding focuses on proven methods of advancing student achievement for the highest need students. The passage of HB 3 demonstrates that bold, equitable, strategic, and bipartisan school finance reform is possible, even in a politically-polarized red state.  This law has the power to inspire legislatures across the country.

PIE Network leaders advocated for this legislation from multiple angles. Educate Texas focused on evidence-based recommendations to raise teacher compensation through thoughtfully implemented strategic compensation, additional teacher supports, and pathways to and through postsecondary education. Texas Aspires also pushed for strategic compensation that would reward effective teachers and encourage them to teach in hard-to-staff schools and subject areas, particularly focusing on proof points like the work of Dallas ISD’s TEI and the ACE program. Over an 18 month period, the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium (TEGAC)—now part of the Educate Texas team—and its 50 members commissioned school finance data (including polling data on Texas voters’ attitudes about school finance), developed policy recommendations, hosted a series of ten school finance regional convenings with business leaders across the state, developed and implemented a comprehensive school finance communications plan, and provided outreach and thought partnership to members of the School Finance Commission and Texas legislators to support this historic legislation.

The InvestEdTX Coalition, whose steering committee included the Commit Partnership, Teach Plus Texas, the Dallas Citizens Council, the E3 Alliance, Good Reason Houston, the Greater Houston Partnership, the Austin Chamber, and the Texas Business Leadership Council,  brought together stakeholders from across the state well in advance of the legislative session, including education reform organizations—including PIE Network members Stand for Children Texas and Texas Aspires—business groups, and teachers. Teach Plus Texas Policy Fellows and others advocated for pre-K funding, additional dollars for the highest need students, mentoring for new teachers, and funding for districts that choose to adopt strategic compensation systems for excellent teachers. The coalition established decision-making rules, shared values, and trust up front, and conducted well-organized weekly meetings that leveraged the unique contributions of all of its members. Meetings included shared information, common advocacy tools, and project plans that allowed for strategic outreach. The coalition focused on numerous methods of influence, including a media strategy, outreach to legislators, and grassroots organizing. The group included a core decision-making group and a larger coalition of participating members. Therefore, the coalition was nimble, and able to respond to the rapidly-changing environment. Finally, the policies that the coalition advocated for were research-based, and proven to make a difference for the most important stakeholder—students.

Foundation for Florida’s Future

Empowering Low- and Middle-Income Families in Florida with the Power of Choice

Florida lawmakers gave thousands of low- and middle-income families the power to choose the best educational fit for their child through the Family Empowerment Scholarship program. The program will provide approximately 18,000 students with scholarships—worth about $7,000—in the first year and add around 7,000 enrollment slots each year after. The program has statewide and national significance for two reasons. First, it is the first formula-funded private choice program enacted in Florida in more than 15 years, making growth dependent only on family demand. Second, the program allows families making up to 300 percent of poverty ($77,250 for a household of four) eligible to participate, meaning more teachers, first-responders, nurses, etc. will be able to participate. Enacting this program took tremendous effort from policy and communications team members, leading coalition management and lobbying efforts among other activities.

Stand for Children Washington, Black Education Strategy Roundtable, Partnership for Learning, Democrats for Education Reform Colorado, and BEST NC

Reduce Barriers to Advanced Course Access for Underrepresented Students

Advocates in Washington, Colorado, and North Carolina led separate, breakthrough campaigns that addressed a single issue: traditionally underserved students are placed in advanced courses less frequently than their peers—even though they are equally prepared. These concurrent campaigns, led independently by each state-based organization, highlight the power and synergy of leaders making smart policies serve their students.. And while the policy in each state looks different, their mission is the same—reduce historic barriers to advanced course access for underrepresented students.


Stand for Children Washington, Black Education Strategy Roundtable, and Partnership for Learning

Washington is the first state to adopt an automatic enrollment policy for advanced math, English, and science classes in all high schools. Led by Stand for Children Washington, a coalition of advocates built upon six years of work, beginning with the 2013 Academic Acceleration Incentive Program, which encouraged adoption of the policy with grants for school districts. Since then, fifty districts have adopted the policy and the majority have seen gains in enrollment by students from systemically underrepresented populations. A simple switch from “opt-in” to “opt-out” will help identify a far greater number of talented students ready for college level coursework.



Policy makers created a grant program to incentivize districts and schools to create an auto-enrollment policy and provide funding for schools and districts that choose to implement auto-enrollment. This legislation passed 100-0 in the state legislature with over 80 co-sponsors. It focuses on students as early as third grade, and students can be automatically enrolled in any advanced course they have shown proficiency in. The bill has changed the conversation in Colorado to focus on the “participation gap” of students in poverty enrolling in advanced coursework. 



In 2018, North Carolina became the first state to pass a statewide automatic enrollment policy for advanced math courses. The policy, which applies to students in grades 3-12, requires school districts to place students earning the highest level on the End-of Grade tests in math to be placed into an advanced math course the following academic year. In the first year of implementation, an estimated 10,000 students were appropriately “placed up” into an advanced math course as a result of this policy.

In 2019, North Carolina passed a second piece of legislation to strengthen the automatic enrollment policy. This new law requires annual reporting on policy implementation including tracking how this policy may impacts the number of economic disadvantaged students and students of color completing advanced math coursework. The 2019 policy also requires school districts that have not traditionally offered high school level math for high-achieving eighth-grade students to begin offering those courses by the year 2020-21. Both the 2018 and 2019 policies passed unanimously with bipartisan sponsorship.

Tennessee CAN, American Federation for Children, Beacon Center of Tennessee, and Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd)

Creation of an Education Savings Account program

In Tennessee, students in Memphis and Nashville attend some of the state’s consistently low-performing schools in the state. For nearly a decade, a coalition in the state has been fighting to give these students more options, empowering them with the same choice and access to a great education that some of their more privileged peers may take for granted. During the 2019 legislative session policymakers voted to create the Education Savings Accounts (ESA) Pilot Program, providing low-income students access to a private school choice program and a chance to receive a high-quality education for the very first time.

From electoral work, communications, grassroots support, direct lobbying, and policy expertise, the success of this campaign was truly a coalition effort after more than 10 years of fighting for options for low-income students.  Although the goal of the ESA Pilot Program is to allow parents to customize their child’s education by directing funding to the schools, courses, programs and services of their choice, it faced stiff opposition in the state legislature with challengers raising concerns about the scope and impact. Knowing the significance of this landmark legislation, advocates built a successful campaign to rally support for the ESA Pilot Program and secured a major win.

Over the next few years, up to 15,000 low-income students will be eligible for an ESA, which can be used to pay for private school tuition, tutoring, therapies, books and other approved educational expenses. Lawmakers from other states are engaging coalition partners to learn from the effort and bring it back to their capitols and their students.

Additional Nominees

PAVE (Parents Amplifying Voices in Education)

2019 Budget Wins for Parent Priorities

PAVE helped secure historic funding in a difficult budget year: 

  • In 2018, parent leaders led the coalition that successfully advocated for an additional $10.56 million for Out of School Time Programs, resulting in a total investment of over $20.25 million. Importantly, this funding was sustained in the FY20 budget, showing that policymakers heard the voices of parent leaders and are committed to their priorities. 
  • There was also a 3.9 percent increase to the base amount of the per pupil funding formula for FY20. This was the third year in a row that parents helped increase per pupil funding.
  • $13.7 million in new funding for mental health was included in the FY20 budget to support the needs of every child in every ward and community.

PAVE’s work also directly informed parent-driven legislation that calls for cross-sector school budget transparency, including reporting requirements on programmatic spending and at-risk funding, a common chart of accounts for all schools, and meetings that include the public in budget decisions. While this legislation has not yet been voted on, it was unanimously co-sponsored by all 13 members of the DC Council. Further, the fact that the Statement of Beliefs written by parents about transparent citywide school budgets was mirrored so closely in proposed legislation is a win in itself. 

Stand for Children Oregon

Increased Investment (and Accountability) in K-12

The 2019 legislative session was a banner year for Stand for Children Oregon. Stand Oregon worked in coalition with the state’s teachers union and other associations to shape policy that is grounded in improving outcomes for students in the opportunity gap. 

After seeing early successes from Measure 98 (a measure Stand Oregon wrote and passed in 2016), Oregon’s Governor and legislative leadership tapped Stand Oregon to structure the Student Investment Account (SIA). The SIA is a new fund that would provide an additional $1 billion in funding for K-12 education to improve outcomes for students in the opportunity gap. Stand Oregon’s framework shaped the use of new funds (class size reduction, student health and safety, well-rounded education, and expanded learning time); planning requirements; the state’s approach to technical assistance and accountability for better outcomes. The SIA is the largest targeted, categorical investment in education in Oregon’s history.  

Stand Oregon also secured over $300 million for the expansion of Measure 98, nearly doubling the state’s previous investment. 

This work an example of a monumental shift in state policy in a state that is consistently ranked 49th in high school graduation rates.

Tennessee Charter School Center, TennesseeCAN, SCORE, Tennesseans for Student Success

Strengthening Charter Sector through New State Commission & Increased Facilities Grants 

During the 2019 legislative session, a coalition of advocates comprised of the Tennessee Charter School Center, SCORE, TennesseeCAN, and Tennesseans for Student Success dedicated their efforts to persuade lawmakers to make important changes to charter school policies impacting school authorization, funding for facilities, and state-level support and oversight. This coalition rallied to launch an advocacy campaign to ensure legislators understood how the new charter school polices would provide more high-quality public school options– and what that would mean for Tennessee students. Due to the substantial number of new policymakers in the state legislature (around a quarter) and other high-profile pieces of education legislation, educating and building context for legislators was especially critical. The coalition’s effort paid off in a significant way. Investment in charter school facility needs was doubled to total $12 million this school year, and legislation creating a statewide charter school commission allowed Tennessee to adopt a national best practice by creating a nine-member body whose sole focus will be to ensure high-quality charter schools can operate throughout the state.

The new charter school commission will be able to approve new charter schools on appeal from all local districts across the state. Under existing law, only denied applicants from a few school districts could seek operating authority from the State Board of Education. By creating an independent charter commission tasked with practicing high-quality authorizing and granting the State Board of Education with the responsibility of holding all authorizers to high standards, Tennessee’s advocate coalition helped ensure the state’s charter sector is strong and poised for growth.

Thomas B. Fordham Institute-Ohio, Ohio Excels, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd)

Reform of Ohio’s Charter School Policies, Including Fair Funding for High-Performing Charter Schools

For fifteen years, Ohio has been viewed as the “wild west” of the charter movement, with a cascade of scandals and lackluster student achievement. 

In 2014, Fordham-Ohio sponsored a CREDO study showing the horrible performance of the state’s charters, and, in a report authored by Bellwether, offered recommendations for reform. A year later, the legislature enacted many of these proposals. It worked: the number of authorizers went from 67 to 35, dozens of low-performing charters closed. In 2019, a new CREDO study showed marked improvement in Ohio’s charter sector. 

But charters were still vastly underfunded. In partnership, Fordham-Ohio, Ohio Excels, NAPCS, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) advocated for the governor and legislature to support additional funding for high-performing charters. This year’s state budget did just that boosting funding by $60 million over the biennium, or $1,750 per low-income pupil. This will go a long way to erasing the funding gap and helping Ohio’s top charters to serve more students. Ohio has demonstrated the charter sector’s remarkable ability to self-correct and put the needs of students first.

Learn more about the 2019 winners, finalists, and nominees in each category.

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    Ashley Schmidt

    Ashley is PIE Network's Senior Director of Member Engagement & Communications

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