Tag: DC Vouchers

Obama on DC Vouchers. No ‘June Surprise.’

Reports circulated yesterday that President Obama had reached an agreement with House speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) to not only sustain the DC school voucher program for another few years but to eliminate the legislative cap on student enrollment—theoretically allowing it to grow without limit. Based the program’s performance to date, this would dramatically improve the graduation rate city-wide, likely boost performance academically, and save hundreds of millions of dollars from the bloated DC K12 budget.

But I didn’t write about it, because I didn’t believe it. Sure enough, later in the day, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan offered a clarification. Far from allowing unlimited growth in the program, the president only intended to allow another 85 students to participate—and still opposes the program in principle.

There is simply no way—no way—that President Obama could support an unlimited expansion in this successful, fantastically cost-effective education program. If he did, he would demoralize the most powerful force within the Democratic Party, the teachers’ unions, in the run-up to this fall’s election. Clearly he has no intention of doing that, given his recent advocacy of using federal dollars to grow the public school workforce (despite the fact that public school employment has already grown 11 times faster than enrollment over the past four decades).

We have a president who, for political reasons, cannot throw his full support behind the only federal education program in the nation’s history that is constitutional, successful, and cost-effective.

Resurrect DC Choice, Bury the Lede

A Washington Post story from a couple of days ago touts survey results showing a majority of DC parents – 53 percent – finally giving the DC public schools a decent grade. That is, to be fair, a big story. But it certainly isn’t the most overwhelming finding in the survey. That you find mentioned deep in the article:

This year, Congress approved an extension of a federal program that provides vouchers to help students from some low-income D.C. families attend private or parochial schools. The survey found that nearly 70 percent of parents with children in the system support such tuition aid. Overall, nearly two-thirds of residents back vouchers, with positive sentiment higher among African Americans.

Perhaps even more interesting is that support for charter schools – the “it” choice reform because charters are still public schools – is downright tepid in comparison:

Residents remain ambivalent about the rapidly growing public charter sector, which serves 28,000 students. Forty-one percent consider the independently operated charters better than regular public schools; 42 percent say they are about the same. The favorable rating rises to a slight majority, however, among residents younger than 30.

The people of DC overwhelmingly want real, private-school choice. That’s the news about DC education that everyone should know!

Burke v. Pelosi

Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation has a good post today dissecting Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s recent press release on DC school vouchers.

If anything, Burke goes a little easy on Rep. Pelosi, comparing the maximum value of the vouchers  ($7,500) with the published figure for DC public school spending ($17,600). As it happens, the public school spending figures published by the Department of Education (and the Bureau of the Census) are always badly out of date. That means they don’t take into account the continuing trends of rising overall spending and falling enrollment in DC public schools (let alone inflation). When you break down the DC K-12 education budget for the 2008-2009 school year, as I did in this Excel spreadsheet, it comes out to just over $28,000 per pupil. It’s almost certainly higher today.

What’s more, the average voucher amount is closer to $7,000, so DC schools are underperforming the private voucher schools while spending four times as much per pupil.

Despite this, Rep. Pelosi, President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and over 90% of Democrats in the House and Senate oppose the DC voucher program. It’s almost as if politicians care more about special interests and ideology than they do about kids and reality.

DC Vouchers Solved? Generous Severance for Displaced Workers

Colbert King argues that DC should continue the opportunity scholarships private school choice program on its own dime, instead of complaining that Congress is killing it off. He starts off with a refreshing dose of realpolitik: “It should come as no surprise that Democratic congressional leaders are effectively killing the program. They, and their union allies, didn’t like it in the first place.” Too true. This is what disgusts many Americans about politics, but hey, that’s the reality.

But then he seems to descend into uncharacteristic naivete with this:

If the city likes vouchers so much, why shouldn’t the District bear the cost? The answer is as clear as it may be embarrassing to voucher proponents: D.C. lawmakers don’t want to ask their constituents to shoulder the program’s expense.

That is NOT the answer. DC lawmakers are familiar with DC’s budget. DC’s FY 2009 budget, as I show in this Excel spreadsheet file, allocated $28,170 per pupil for k-12 schooling. And the average voucher amount is not $7,500, as King claims. That’s the maximum. The average is $6,620 one quarter of what the district is spending on k-12 schooling. So operating the voucher program entirely out of the District of Columbia’s own budget would not cost a dime. And if expanded, it would save DC tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars.

So DC lawmakers are most certainly NOT afraid of asking constituents to pay for it – it would more than pay for itself. What DC lawmakers must be afraid of is that DC schools have become a massive jobs program instead of an educational program. They must fear that if the voucher program were expanded it would put many non-teaching staff out of work – including perhaps some of their own supporters.

Well how about a realpolitik solution to that problem: offer displaced workers 18 months of severance pay at something like 75% of their current salary. That would give them plenty of time to find other work, and it could be paid for from the savings of students migrating from public schools to the voucher program. This would mean that taxpayers would not see savings in the first couple of years, but after that the District would be able to offer taxpayers generous tax cuts while also offering kids significantly better learning opportunities.

Surely the details of such a deal could be hammered out by experienced politicians and negotiators. Because, really, the status quo is insane. Why keep paying $28,000 for a worse education than the voucher program is providing for $6,600? That is sheer madness.

DC Residents Want Private School Choice

As Adam Schaeffer mentions below, a new poll commissioned by the Friedman Foundation and others reports that the vast majority of DC residents are in favor of the DC opportunity scholarships voucher program and are critical of the decision of congressional Democrats, President Obama, and ed. sec. Arne Duncan to phase out the program.

Many on the city council have already voiced their support for the program as well.

This begs a question: Why doesn’t the DC government just create its own private school choice program and save itself a boatload of money in the process?

DC spends about $28,000 per pupil on k-12 education right now. The federal vouchers, at an average of $6,600 each, are rather more cost effective, in addition to producing much better academic achievement after students have been in the program for a few years. 

So most folks in DC want it. It would save the city massive amounts of money. And it would do great things for kids.

What are the mayor and the city council waiting for?

Education Reform’s Moon Shot Moonshine

In today’s Washington Post, education secretary Arne Duncan describes the administration’s $4.5 billion “Race to the Top” fund as “education reform’s moon shot” — a watershed undertaking that will transform the way children learn and dramatically improve outcomes. No doubt he believes that. But since he also seems to believe that he brought about dramatic academic gains in Chicago — something that I and others have shown is not the case — the secretary’s beliefs should be taken with a grain of salt.

“Race to the Top” funds will be used to reward states that pursue education policies favored by Duncan and President Obama, and, by extension, to punish states that don’t. It is obedience training writ large. States that Duncan felt were going in the wrong direction in recent weeks, like Rhode Island, were rapped on the nose: keep it up, and we’ll withhold millions in education funding kibbles, they were told. States like Colorado have already been brought to heel. “We all know Colorado needs this money,” Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien told the Washington Post, and she and other state officials have poured over Duncan’s every word to ensure that they follow his commands to the letter.

And what commands Duncan and Obama are giving! High on their agenda is bringing the nation’s schools into lock step when it comes to standards and testing. They promise, with little evidence, that this will drive educational excellence. Meanwhile, just this month, British schools secretary Ed Balls terminated that nation’s decade-long national math and reading strategies, saying that: “I think the right thing for us to do now is to move away from what has historically been a rather central view of school improvement through national strategies.” If central planning were a panacea for education, why are the Brits — who have years of experience with it — turning away from it?

And if the president and his education secretary really cared about evidence-driven education reform, they would not have decided to kill the D.C. opportunity scholarships program that gives low income families in the nation’s capital access to private schools. Children in that program for three years read two grade levels ahead of their peers who remained in public schools. And that’s according to Duncan’s own Department of Education.

Obama and Duncan may well train state education leaders to follow their commands, but there’s no reason to believe those commands will improve American schools.

Obama’s Audacious NAACP Speech

President Obama’s audacious — some might say condescending — speech to the NAACP yesterday leaves me cold. What’s most chilling is the speech comes from a person who opposes helping poor parents assume the most important responsibility of all, choosing the best school for their child.

From the president:

To parents, we can’t tell our kids to do well in school and fail to support them when they get home. For our kids to excel, we must accept our own responsibilities. That means putting away the Xbox and putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour. It means attending those parent-teacher conferences, reading to our kids, and helping them with their homework…

It also means pushing our kids to set their sights higher. They might think they’ve got a pretty good jump shot or a pretty good flow, but our kids can’t all aspire to be the next LeBron or Lil Wayne. I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers, not just ballers and rappers. I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court Justice. I want them aspiring to be President of the United States.

This, from the man who supports killing the DC voucher program, the ONLY education reform empirically proven to work through multiple random-assignment studies. These are thousands of young lives we are talking about.

This, from a man who sends his daughters to one of the most expensive private schools in the country, rather than the miserably failing and unsafe schools in their backyard.

Make no mistake, President Obama knows exactly what he’s doing and what his action and inaction means:

So, I know what can happen to a child who doesn’t have that chance. But I also know what can happen to a child who does. I was raised by a single mother. I don’t come from a lot of wealth. I got into my share of trouble as a kid. My life could easily have taken a turn for the worse. But that mother of mine gave me love; she pushed me, and cared about my education; she took no lip and taught me right from wrong. Because of her, I had a chance to make the most of my abilities. I had the chance to make the most of my opportunities. I had the chance to make the most of life.

Yes, Mr. President, and you received a scholarship to attend that wonderful school. That scholarship helped you to become president. It would be nice if you supported funding the same kinds of opportunities for other children in need.