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Posts Tagged ‘Vouchers’

I wrote one week ago about a big victory for education in West Virginia. The Mountain State arguably now has the most extensive system of school choice in the country.

This will be great for parents and children.

There’s a lot of research showing better educational outcomes when families have options other than low-performing, monopoly-based government schools.

Now we have some additional good news.

Kentucky legislators have just overridden the governor’s veto, meaning that students in the state will now have expanded educational opportunities. Eric Boehm of Reason has some of the details.

The new law, originally House Bill 563, allows students in Kentucky public schools to switch school districts, and it creates a new tax-advantaged education savings program for families to use for private school tuition, to pay for tutoring, or to cover other educational expenses. The most controversial part of the proposal was the creation of a $25 million scholarship fund—to be filled by donations from private businesses, for which they would receive state tax credits—that students in Kentucky’s largest counties can tap to help pay for private school tuition. …With the passage of the first school choice bill in state history, Kentucky is now the 28th state with some form of school choice.

Speaking of other states, the Wall Street Journal editorialized about the beginning of a very good trend.

The pandemic has been a revelation for many Americans about union control of public schools… That awakening is helping to spur some welcome reform progress as several state legislatures are moving to expand school choice. One breakthrough is in West Virginia, where the Legislature passed a bill creating the state’s first education savings account (ESA) program. …Meanwhile in Georgia, the House passed a bill last week that would expand eligibility for the state’s voucher program for special-education students. The Senate, which had already passed the legislation, voted to approve House amendments on Monday and the bill is headed to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk. In South Dakota this month, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill that expands eligibility for the state’s tax-credit scholarship program to students already enrolled in private schools. …in Kentucky, where Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a bill last week that would establish a new tax-credit scholarship program. But the state legislature voted late Monday to override the veto… Nearly 50 school-choice bills have been introduced this year in 30 states. It’s a testament to how school shutdowns have made the advantage of education choice more evident, and its need more urgent.

By the way, school choice has existed for a long time in Vermont. Yes, the state that regularly reelects Crazy Bernie has dozens of small towns that give vouchers to students. Laura Williams explains in an article for the Foundation for Economic Education.

Vermont’s “tuition towns”…distribute government education funds to parents, who choose the educational experience that is best suited to their family’s needs. If the school doesn’t perform up to parents’ expectations, they can take their children, and the tuition dollars they control, elsewhere. …Ninety-three Vermont towns (36 percent of its 255 municipalities) have no government-run school at all. …the funds local governments expect to spend per pupil are instead given directly to the parents of school-age children. This method gives lower- and middle-income parents the same superpower wealthy families have always had: school choice. …parents have the ability to put their kids in school anywhere, to buy the educational experience best suited to each child. …A variety of schools has arisen to compete for these tuition dollars. …Eligibility for tuition vouchers actually increased home values in towns that closed their public schools. Outsiders were eager to move to these areas… Having watched these models develop nearby, two more Vermont towns voted in 2013 to close their government-run schools and become “tuition towns” instead.

Rhode Island is another unexpected example. That deep-blue state recently expanded charter schools in Providence.

That’s not as good a genuine school choice, but it gives parents some ability to escape traditional government schools. The Wall Street Journal opined last year on this development.

…this particular hell may have frozen over, as last week the state’s education council voted to expand and open more charter schools to rescue students in the district. About 13% of Providence’s 30,000 students attend 28 charter schools, some in other districts. But demand far exceeds supply. Only 18% of the 5,000 or so charter school applicants were offered a seat this school year, according to the state education department. …The state education council last week gave preliminary approval for more than 5,700 new charter seats in Providence and other districts. Three of four new charters that applied got a green-light to open, pending final approval in the spring, and three existing charters (two of which serve Providence) are expanding. …The teachers union isn’t happy. In a letter to Gov. Gina Raimondo, three union leaders including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten complained… This is the usual rhetorical union trick. Charters are public schools, albeit without the barnacles and costs of union control.

Let’s now add to our collection of evidence about the benefits of school choice.

In an article for National Review, James Piereson and Noami Schaefer Riley discuss the track record of the Children’s Scholarship Fund.

Children’s Scholarship Fund enables low-income children to attend private schools — and thrive. …parents who receive financial aid from the organization…send their children to inner-city private (mostly Catholic) schools. …When it came to how satisfied they were with their children’s education, almost 90 percent graded their school a 4 or 5 out of 5. …Since its inception in 1998, the fund has helped more than 180,000 children attend private schools. CSF’s high-school graduation and college matriculation rates far surpass those of the urban public schools that surround them. In Philadelphia, for instance, 96 percent of CSF eighth-graders graduated from high school on schedule — compared with Philadelphia’s public-school graduation rate of only 62 percent. A study of CSF in Baltimore found that 84 percent of scholarship recipients were enrolled in college five to ten years after completing eighth grade, compared with fewer than half of students from local public schools. Nor are these high-priced private schools. The average tuition at these schools is about $5,300 per year, and the average scholarship award is $2,200.

Why do even low-cost private schools out-perform expensive government schools?

Because they have to deliver a good product. Either that, or parents will take their money elsewhere.

It’s a simple question of incentives, as illustrated by this meme about why private schools have been much better than government schools during the pandemic.

While the obvious argument for school choice is that it delivers better educational outcomes (and at lower cost), it’s worth noting that there are all sorts of secondary benefits.

As explained by W. Bradford Wilcox in an article for the American Enterprise Institute, private schools produce better families.

The public debate surrounding the efficacy of private versus public schools tends to revolve around their relative success in boosting test scores, graduation rates, and college admissions. …But there is more to life than excelling at school and work. For instance, there is the opportunity to be formed into a woman or man of good character, a good citizen, or a good partner and parent. …Until now, however, we have known little about how different types of schools are linked to students’ family life as adults. …In this report, we examine how enrollment in American Catholic, Protestant, secular private, and public schools is associated with different family outcomes later in life. …Adults who attended Protestant schools are more than twice as likely to be in an intact marriage as those who attended public schools. They are also about 50% less likely than public-school attendees to have a child out of wedlock. …Compared with public-school attendees, ever-married adults who attended a secular private school are about 60% less likely to have ever divorced. Catholic-school attendees are about 30% less likely to have had a child out of wedlock than those who attended public schools.

And Corey CeAngelis notes in this tweet that school choice reduces segregation.

And the Wall Street Journal editorialized last December about school choice improving mental health.

Teachers unions have pushed to shut down schools during the pandemic no matter the clear harm to children, just as they oppose charters and vouchers. Now comes a timely study suggesting school choice improves student mental health. Several studies have found that school choice reduces arrests and that private-school students experience less bullying. One reason is that charter and private schools enforce stricter discipline than traditional public schools. …The new study in the journal “School Effectiveness and School Improvement” is the first to…analyze the correlation between adolescent suicide rates and the enactment of private-school voucher and charter programs over the last several decades. They find that states that enacted charter school laws witnessed a 10% decrease in suicide rates among 15- to 19-year-olds. Private-school voucher laws were also associated with fewer suicides, though the change was not statistically significant. The effect would likely be larger if more students received vouchers. …The researchers also looked for any correlation between students who attended private school as teenagers and their mental health as adults. …individuals who attended private schools were two percentage-points less likely to report a mental health condition when they were roughly 30 years old.

Let’s conclude with some excerpts from a strong editorial from National Review. The magazine points out that teacher unions wield power in blue parts of the nation and schools are run for their benefit rather than for the best interests of children.

…the interests of children and their families take a distant second place to the desires of the public-sector unions that dominate Democratic politics around the country and run the show practically unopposed in California. …unionized teachers…have turned up their noses at the children they are supposed to be serving and looked instead to their own two-point agenda: (1) not going to work; (2) getting paid. Randi Weingarten exercises more real practical political power than any senator or cabinet secretary, and her power is exercised exclusively in the interest of public-sector workers and the Democratic Party, which they effectively control. Perhaps it is time for Americans to take back some of that power.

And what’s the way to take back power?

It’s possible to reform labor laws so teachers don’t have out-sized influence. That sort of happened in Wisconsin under Governor Scott Walker.

But that’s difficult to achieve and difficult to maintain.

The best long-run answer is to have school choice so parents are in charge rather than union bosses.

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I’ve posted hundreds of charts over the past several years, including on favorite topics such as tax code corruption and counterproductive government spending.

But arguably the most powerful and compelling chart I’ve ever shared is on the topic of education. Prepared by my Cato colleague, Andrew Coulson, it shows that massive increases in spending and bureaucracy (which accompanied increasing federal involvement and intervention) have had zero impact on educational performance.

Keep that chart in the back of your mind as we consider what George Will has to say about President Obama’s scheme – known as Common Core – to expand federal involvement and intervention.

We have several excerpts, beginning with this passage outlining some of his concerns.

Common Core…is the thin end of an enormous wedge. It is designed to advance in primary and secondary education the general progressive agenda of centralization and uniformity. …proponents of the Common Core want its nature and purpose to remain as cloudy as possible for as long as possible. Hence they say it is a “state-led,” “voluntary” initiative to merely guide education with “standards” that are neither written nor approved nor mandated by Washington… Proponents talk warily when describing it because a candid characterization would reveal yet another Obama administration indifference to legality.

Will then notes that we’ve been sliding down the slippery slope of centralization and Washington control.

The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the original federal intrusion into this state and local responsibility, said “nothing in this act” shall authorize any federal official to “mandate, direct, or control” schools’ curriculums. The 1970 General Education Provisions Act stipulates that “no provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any” federal agency or official “to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction” or selection of “instructional materials by any” school system. The 1979 law creating the Education Department forbids it from exercising “any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum” or “program of instruction” of any school system.

And Common Core is just the latest example.

…what begins with mere national standards must breed ineluctable pressure to standardize educational content. Targets, metrics, guidelines and curriculum models all induce conformity in instructional materials. Washington already is encouraging the alignment of the GED, SAT and ACT tests with the Common Core. By a feedback loop, these tests will beget more curriculum conformity. All of this will take a toll on parental empowerment, and none of this will escape the politicization of learning like that already rampant in higher education.

If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’re aware of other slippery slope examples, such as the tiny income tax in 1913 that has morphed into the internal revenue code monstrosity of today.

Returning to the topic of education, Will warns that the one-size-fits-all approach will undermine the innovation and experimentation needed to figure out how best teach kids.

Even satisfactory national standards must extinguish federalism’s creativity: At any time, it is more likely there will be half a dozen innovative governors than one creative federal education bureaucracy. And the mistakes made by top-down federal reforms are continental mistakes.

I particularly like his warning about “continental” mistakes. You get the same problem with global regulation, by the way.

The bottom line, as Will explains, is that Common Core is yet another example of a failed approach.

What is ludicrous is Common Core proponents disdaining concerns related to this fact: Fifty years of increasing Washington input into K-12 education has coincided with disappointing cognitive outputs from schools. Is it eccentric that it is imprudent to apply to K-12 education the federal touch that has given us HealthCare.gov? …Opposition to the Common Core is surging because Washington, hoping to mollify opponents, is saying, in effect: “If you like your local control of education, you can keep it. Period.”

You won’t be surprised to learn that Cato Institute experts are among the leading opponents of Common Core. Here’s what Andrew Coulson, in a column warning about the negative impact on private schools, has written.

…the Common Core–aligned tests create a powerful incentive for schools to teach the same concepts in the same order at the same time. This would make it all but impossible for schools to experiment with new ways of tailoring education to meet the needs of individual children — they will instead have to resort to expecting that all children who happened to be born in the same year progress at the same rate across subjects.

And another Cato scholar, Neil McCluskey, points out that other education experts also think Common Core is a dud.

The Common Core is opposed by scholars at leading think tanks on the right and the left, including the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institution, the Brookings Institution and the Cato Institute. My research has shown that there is essentially no meaningful evidence that national standards lead to superior educational outcomes. Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Eric Hanushek, an education economist and supporter of standards-based education reform, has reached a similar conclusion, recently writing: “We currently have very different standards across states, and experience from the states provides little support for the argument that simply declaring more clearly what we want children to learn will have much impact.” Hanushek’s conclusion dovetails nicely with Common Core opposition from Tom Loveless, a scholar at the left-leaning Brookings Institution. In 2012, Loveless demonstrated that moving to national standards would have little, if any, positive effect because the performance of states has very little connection to the rigor or quality of their standards, and there is much greater achievement variation within states than among them. In fact, Loveless has been one of the clearest voices saying the Core is not a panacea for America’s education woes, writing: “Don’t let the ferocity of the oncoming debate fool you. The empirical evidence suggests that the Common Core will have little effect on American students’ achievement. The nation will have to look elsewhere for ways to improve its schools.”

We started this post with a very powerful chart, so let’s end with another chart.

It’s not as visually compelling, but it shows that the United States already spends more on education than another other nation.

But if you look at the data is this post, you’ll see that American students are lagging behind their counterparts in other developed nations.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to put kids first. Perhaps we should discard the Bush-Obama approach of centralization and spending and instead choose a better path.

In other words, let’s learn from Chile, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

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Forget the victory over the union bosses in Wisconsin. Yes, that was important, but school choice is an ever bigger threat to the left.

Breaking the government education monopoly would reveal the inefficiency and incompetence of government, while simultaneously threatening the power of the National Education Association, which is a major source of money and power for the left.

Even more important, school choice would give poor kids a much better education, thus increasing their ability to achieve the American dream.

Helping poor people lead better lives, though, is not a priority for the left. If people are less dependent on government, they probably are less likely to reflexively support those who want to make government even bigger.

This is why it is good news that the promise of school choice in Pennsylvania (which I wrote about last year) is about to become a reality.

The Wall Street Journal’s excellent editorial page has the key details.

The most promising development is occurring in Pennsylvania, where a state-wide voucher bill supported by new Governor Tom Corbett is moving through the Republican-controlled legislature. Children in the Keystone State’s 144 worst schools—where students scored in the lowest 5% on recent state exams—would be eligible for a voucher. …in 1996, but unions blocked the idea by claiming that lack of spending was the real education problem. Time has proven that wrong again. According to the Commonwealth Foundation, a state think tank, “taxpayer spending on public schools has doubled to $26 billion per year” over the past 15 years. Pennsylvania taxpayers spend more than $13,000 per student, or “$2,000 more than the national average and more than 39 other states.” In some of the worst school districts, per pupil spending approaches $20,000. Yet scores on national tests have been flat for years, with only 40% of Pennsylvania 8th graders at or above proficiency in reading and math. Even state tests, which have lower standards, show that only about half of Pennsylvania 11th graders are proficient in reading and math.

What’s especially encouraging about the developments in Pennsylvania is that some traditionally left-wing folks have realized that it’s time to put the best interests of kids above the interests of the teacher unions. I particularly admire the role of a black state senator.

Mr. Williams, who is black, has taken some heat for his pro-voucher stance from local civil rights groups. “The NAACP nationally is opposed to this and locally is opposed to this, and they call me all sorts of funny names,” he tells us. “But the truth is that a lot of the people in the NAACP don’t acknowledge that they send their own kids to private schools. They’ve left. They’ve moved away.” Several local labor groups in Philadelphia have also broken with the teachers union and endorsed vouchers. “We believe that children from all economic backgrounds deserve a chance for a bright future,” said John Dougherty of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98. “School choice programs will give them that chance.”

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School choice should be the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Rich people already have school choice, both because they have the ability to live in good school districts and they have the resources to send their kids to private schools. The children of poor people, by contrast, are warehoused in failing government schools. Here’s what Kevin Huffman recently said for the Washington Post.

In this country, if you are middle or upper class, you have school choice. You can, and probably do, choose your home based on the quality of local schools. Or you can opt out of the system by scraping together the funds for a parochial school. But if you are poor, you’re out of luck, subject to the generally anti-choice bureaucracy. Hoping to win the lottery into an open enrollment “choice” school in your district? Good luck. How about a high-performing charter school? Sure – if your state doesn’t limit their numbers and funding like most states do. And vouchers? Hiss! You just touched a political third rail. …We may have done away with Jim Crow laws, but we have a Jim Crow public education system. …Consider the recent results from a test of 15-year-olds around the world. Headlines noted the embarrassing American mediocrity (31st out of 65 countries in math, with scores below the international average). Even worse, our results are profoundly segregated by race. White and Asian Americans are still in the upper echelon. But African American and Latino students lag near the bottom quartile of world standards. As we think about our game plan to “win the future,” our black and Latino students won’t be competing with China and Finland – they’re on track to scrap it out with Bulgaria and Mexico.

But school choice is only part of the answer. If parents lack a commitment to education (or are not even present in the home), then even good schools won’t translate into good students. Walter Williams explains.

The public education establishment bears part of the responsibility for this disaster, but a greater portion is borne by black students and their parents, many of whom who are alien and hostile to the education process. …Violence, weapons-carrying, gang activity and student or teacher intimidation should not be tolerated. Students engaging in such activity should be summarily expelled. Some might worry about the plight of expelled students. I think we should have greater concern for those students whose education is made impossible by thugs and the impossible learning environment they create. Another part of the black education disaster has to do with the home environment. More than 70 percent of black children are born to unwedded mothers, who are often themselves born to unwedded mothers. Today’s level of female-headed households is new in black history. Until the 1950s, almost 80 percent of black children lived in two-parent households, as opposed to today’s 35 percent. Often, these unwedded mothers have poor parenting skills and are indifferent, and sometimes hostile, to their children’s education. The resulting poorly behaving students should not be permitted to sabotage the education of students whose parents are supportive of the education process. At the minimum, a mechanism such as tuition tax credit or educational voucher ought to be available to allow parents and children who care to opt out of failing schools. Some people take the position that we should repair not abandon failing schools. That’s a vision that differs little from one that says that no black child’s education should be improved unless we can improve the education of all black children. …Our black ancestors, just two, three, four generations out of slavery, would not have tolerated school behavior that’s all but routine today. The fact that the behavior of many black students has become acceptable and made excuses for is no less than a gross betrayal of sacrifices our ancestors made to create today’s opportunities.

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I generally focus on fiscal policy and I love low tax rates, so when I say that what happens on school choice in Douglas County, Colorado, may be more important to the future of the nation than what happens with Obama’s plan for higher tax rates next year, that should give you an idea of the critical importance of this education battle.

The union bosses at the National Education Association have been waging a vicious national campaign against competition and choice and have succeeded in limiting school choice to a handful of small systems (largely focused just on the poor) in places such as Milwaukee.

These are great success stories, but the government education monopoly won’t be broken until there is a big, highly visible, school choice success in a large, mostly white, jurisdiction. Douglas County is that example. Here’s an excerpt from a story in today’s Wall Street Journal.

The school board in a wealthy suburban county south of Denver is considering letting parents use public funds to send their children to private schools—or take classes with private teachers—in a bid to rethink public education. The proposals on the table in Douglas County constitute a bold step toward outsourcing a segment of public education…In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case involving a voucher program in Cleveland that public money could be used for private religious schools as long as parents were not steered to any one particular faith-based program and had a “genuine choice” on where to use their vouchers. About 160,000 children in the U.S., mostly low-income or with special needs, use vouchers or scholarships subsidized indirectly by the state to attend private schools, according to the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. …Douglas County School District board members are also considering letting students enrolled in public schools opt out of some classes in favor of district-approved alternatives offered at for-profit schools or by private-sector instructors. Students might skip high-school Spanish, for example, to take an advanced seminar in Chinese, or bypass physics to study with a rocket scientist, in person or online. …The school board is dominated by conservatives, including several who won election last fall on vows to expand educational choices. “These days, you can build a custom computer. You can get a custom latte at Starbucks,” said board member Meghann Silverthorn. “Parents expect the same out of their educational system.” …Douglas County, a swath of tidy cul-de-sacs and look-alike subdivisions, already boasts nine charter schools, two magnet schools and an online school as well as 65 traditional schools—all funded by tax dollars. Students receive high scores on standardized tests and a recent community survey found overwhelmingly positive views about the public schools. Fewer than 4,000 students in the district chose private or home schools last year, according to state statistics. “But we will not rest on our laurels,” board president John Carson said at a recent meeting. …The voucher plan…would give participants about $5,000, enough to cover 35% to 100% of tuition at local private schools.

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Some of my Republican friends were disappointed with last week’s election results in Colorado, but something far more important is about to happen in the Centennial State. Douglas County, which is a significant jurisdiction with 240,000 residents south of Denver, appears to be on the verge of implementing a sweeping school choice system.  Here’s a blurb from the Denver Post:

Douglas County School District officials say an unexpected level of interest in a retreat exploring school choice today and Saturday is forcing them to add an overflow room and a video feed to allow the public to watch the discussion. The school board is investigating a voucher program that would allow students to use public money to help with tuition at approved religious schools and other private ones. The two-day retreat will discuss the findings of a school-choice task force that has been mulling several issues, including vouchers. …The board will officially discuss the school-choice recommendations at a meeting Tuesday night, during which the public will be allowed to comment. No Colorado school district has a voucher program.

Here’s a link to the proposal, but if you just want my summary, I’m told that parents will have a voucher for about $4,500 per child that can be used to finance tuition at any qualifying school. This is more than enough money to cover costs at most non-government schools, and the population is sufficiently large to make this program a dramatic test case.

Keep your fingers crossed that Douglas County officials resist special-interest groups that are seeking to thwart this reform. The teacher unions have been vicious in their efforts to stop this kind of development. If Douglas County succeeds in putting kids first, this could break the logjam and lead to better education policy across the nation.

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When Democrat and Republican candidates for governor in a large state both endorse school vouchers, that doesn’t necessarily mean genuine educational reform will take place, but it surely is a positive sign. If a state like Pennsylvania breaks the grip of the teacher unions and ends the state school monopoly, the impact would be powerful – and nationwide. The Wall Street Journal opines about the meaning of this development and also take a much-deserved shot at Obama, who is phasing out a school choice program in Washington, DC, because he cares more about appeasing unions than helping poor kids get a good education.

Last month, and to widespread surprise, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato came out in support of school vouchers for underprivileged kids. Mr. Onorato said that education “grants”—he avoided the term vouchers—”would give low-income families in academically distressed communities direct choices about which schools their children should attend.” Mr. Onorato’s Republican opponent, state Attorney General Tom Corbett, is also a strong backer of education choice, which means that come November Pennsylvania voters will get to choose between two candidates who are on record in support of a statewide school voucher program. Mr. Onorato, the Allegheny County Executive, adopted his new position at the urging of state lawmaker Tony Williams, a voucher proponent whom he defeated in a May primary. The speculation is that Mr. Onorato, who trails Mr. Corbett in the polls, is looking to attract financial support from pro-voucher businessmen who backed Mr. Williams in the primary. Mr. Onorato could also be responding to the public education reality in Pennsylvania. On state tests last year, only 56% of 11th graders scored proficient in math, and 65% in reading. In Philadelphia, only 48% of public school students read at grade level and 52% reach the standard in math. Clearly, the status quo isn’t working. The Obama Administration, which is phasing out a popular and successful school voucher program in Washington, D.C., at the insistence of teachers unions, refuses to acknowledge that vouchers can play a role in reforming K-12 education.

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