Tag: charter school

K-12 Education Tax Credits Save Millions

The latest fiscal impact review of Arizona’s scholarship tax credit programs estimates that they saved between $44 million and $186 million last year.  The programs offer individuals and businesses dollar-for-dollar tax credits if they make donations to non-profit K-12 scholarship-granting organizations. Those organizations, in turn, provide private school tuition assistance.

This is much higher than the savings estimate offered by the Arizona Republic last month, as the AZ Republic story linked above is quick to point out. I deal with the reasons for the discrepancy below, but first, here’s the crucial fact that the Republic has missed yet again: if the tax credit programs were significantly expanded, such as by raising the donation caps, the state would undeniably save many hundreds of millions of dollars annually. In fact, if the share of AZ schoolchildren participating in the program rose to just 40 percent, taxpayers would save billions of dollars a year – even if the size of the individual scholarships had to triple to achieve that result.

The Republic’s failure to report that inescapable and rather important fact does it no credit.

Now, on to the reason for the discrepancy in savings numbers. The body of the story hints at it: the Republic’s estimate assumed that private school enrollment would have been flat or increasing without the tax credit program, while the latest estimate does not.

As I pointed out at the time, the Republic’s assumption is demonstrably mistaken. Official AZ statistics show that enrollment in private schools peaked before the tax credit program had gotten under way, and had begun to decline as a result of rapid growth in the (tuition-free) charter school sector. So the Republic’s savings estimate was almost certainly too low.

As the author of the latest study admits, his assumptions about the true number of students who have migrated to private schools as a result of the program are speculative, but at least they are reasonable and not obviously erroneous, as the Republic’s were. In any event, the savings from a much larger migration to the private sector are not in doubt.

We Are not Seeing the Bell Curve’s Toll

Ben ChavisLast week, I posted a chart on this blog showing the percent change in federal education spending and student achievement since 1970 (achievement has been flat while federal education spending has nearly tripled).

After laughing out loud when he saw it, IQ expert and Bell Curve author Charles Murray mused that “such a huge proportion of a child’s educational prospects are determined by things other than school (genes and the non-school environment) that reforms of the schools can never do more than produce score improvements at the margin.”

But consider the accomplishments of Ben Chavis, who spoke at Cato last Friday. When he took over the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland in 2001, it was the worst school in the district. Under his leadership (imagine a hybrid of Socrates and Dirty Harry), the school’s scores rose dramatically year after year. Within seven years, it had become the fifth highest-scoring middle school in the state – though continuing to enroll a student population that is overwhelmingly poor and minority.

It was not a freak occurrence. Chavis did it again, and again: creating a second AIPCS middle school as well as a high school, both of which are also among the top schools in the state, and both of which also enroll chiefly low income minority students.

Murray has made a compelling case over the years that IQ is real, strongly tied to academic achievement, and determined in significant measure by nature and home environment. But academic achievement is also powerfully determined by schooling. Typical U.S. test score data camouflage the significance of schooling because so many schools are so amazingly bad at maximizing academic achievement – especially for poor minority students.

But Chavis – and others before him and alongside him today – have shown how to do it: instill in the school environment those cultural characteristics necessary for academic success that are missing in the home.

In a free enterprise school system that would automatically disseminate and perpetuate great schools like Ben’s, average test scores would rise dramatically above their current levels. The Bell Curve would be shifted dramatically to the right.

Waiter, Cancel That Order of Crow

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post writes today that she feels compelled to “eat at least a spoonful of crow.”

Her menu selection is driven by her assessment of President Obama’s “education reform” accomplishments to date.

The term “education reform” is meaningless. All it implies is that, in whatever small way, things will be done differently from the way they have been done in the past. Not necessarily better, or worse, just differently. Even the president’s painfully vague campaign message (“Hope and Change”) at least indicated that the sought-after change was supposed to be in a positive direction. “Reform” doesn’t even convey that – let alone giving any indication of the nature, rationale or evidence for the change.

So, yes, the president is “reforming” certain aspects of education. But whether it’s higher-ed, pre-k, or the qualified expansion of charter schools, the new form does not seem noticeably better than the old one.

The New Puritanism

H. L. Mencken described puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

The new puritanism is the fear that someone, somewhere, may be learning.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has a story today in which public school educationalists wring their hands over the fear that suburban whites may be getting a good education in charter schools. This, somehow, is perceived to be a bad thing for urban minority kids.

Um. No.

What is bad for any child is a paucity of high quality education options from which to choose. The focus of policymakers should be on ensuring that more and better education options are constantly coming within reach of all children, regardless of the contents of their parents’ wallets, the pigmentation of their skin, or their ethnic background. This, the research shows, can most reliably be achieved by harnessing the freedoms and incentives of a competitive education marketplace.

Can the charter school system create such a marketplace? Can it relentlessly spawn new excellent schools and scale up the established ones to reach a mass audience? For a discussion of those questions, drop by Cato on October 2nd.

From MSNBC to Cato — America’s Top Models

Next Sunday, MSNBC will feature a sort of townhall meeting on how great schools can pull kids out of poverty. Though headlined by Bill Cosby, perhaps the most electrifying panelist will be charter school principal Ben Chavis. On October 2nd at noon, you can come to Cato to see Ben live, and ask him how we can replicate his stunning success. Also joining us will be Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews, who’ll talk about the growing KIPP network of (now 82!) charter schools. Other than perhaps KIPP’s founders, nobody knows more about them than Jay. I’ll be simultaneously acting as cheerleader (I love these schools) and devil’s advocate (I’m skeptical that they can be brought to the masses within the charter sector).

To register, just visit the event page here:  “America’s Top Models: Can the Nation’s Best Charter Schools Be Brought to Scale?”

Incidentally, Ben has been called the most politically incorrect man in America, so Cato disavows all responsibility for any heads that explode during the course of his presentation.

I Have to Admit, I Was Wrong

I’ve just discovered that my calculation of DC education spending per pupil was wrong, and I have to publish a correction.

I wrote back in March that total DC k-12 spending, excluding charter schools, was $1,291,815,886 during the 2008-09 school year. That still appears to be correct. But to get the per-pupil number I divided total spending by the then-official enrollment count: 48,646. It now turns out that that number was rubbish. PRI’s Vicki Murray just pointed me to this recent DCPS press release that identifies a new audited enrollment number for the same school year:  44,681 students.

If that number excludes the 2,400 special education students that the District has placed in private schools, then DC’s correct total per pupil spending is $27,400.

If the new audited enrollment number does include the students placed in private schools, then DC’s correct total per pupil spending is $28,900.

Hmm. Let me think. What was that average tuition figure at the private schools serving DC voucher students….? Oh yes:  $6,600, according to the federal Department of Education.

In case you don’t know, that’s the program in which, after three years, voucher-receiving kids are reading two grade levels ahead of their public school peers — also according to the Dep’t. of Education (see the linked study, above).

It is also the program that President Obama has doomed to die, because of the, uh…, because, um…, why did he do that again?!?!

Who’s Blogging about Cato

Bloggers from all over are discussing Cato’s research and commentary. Here are a couple we found:

  • Net Right Nation editor Adam Bitely has linked to Cato commentary and analysis regularly over the past few months.
  • At the Show-Me Institute Blog, Sarah Brodsky wrote about charter schools, citing a Neal McCluskey’s post about the drawbacks of charter school education programs.

Let us know if you’re blogging about Cato by emailing cmoody [at] cato [dot] org.

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