Tag: legislation

The Silver Lining in the Florida School Choice Expansion Loss

Supporters of the Florida Tax-Credit Scholarship (FTS) program are understandably disappointed that the state senate abandoned legislation to expand the program on Thursday. The FTS assists low-income families that want to enroll their children in private schools by offering tax credits to donors of nonprofit scholarship organizations. This year, the state’s only active scholarship organization, Step Up For Students, was able to aid more than 60,000 students but there were not enough funds to aid the more than 30,000 additional applicants. The proposed expansion would have provided enough funds to aid about 6,000 more students. The bill’s withdrawal therefore leaves 6,000 students without the funds they need to attend the school of their choice.

However, the disappointment should be tempered by a large measure of relief. While the legislation contained several praiseworthy changes and eliminated some red tape (including a requirement that would-be scholarship recipients spend a year in a government-run school first), legislative negotiations threatened to add a poison pill that would have severely affected school autonomy and parental choice.

The FTS currently mandates that all participating schools administer a nationally norm-referenced test. Nevertheless, Florida Senate President Don Gaetz insisted that the FTC expansion bill include a provision requiring that scholarship students take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), which is soon to be replaced by a Common Core-aligned assessment.

While the existing mandate is unnecessary because private schools are already directly accountable to parents, it still allows schools and parents some measure of flexibility in deciding how best to measure performance. By contrast, the proposed state testing mandate would have forced all schools into a uniform testing regime. Since tests dictate what is taught, when, and how, this mandate would have induced conformity at the expense of diversity and innovation. As explained in the open letter on choice and accountability that the Cato Institute recently issued along with the Heritage Foundation, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, and others, such mandates undermine the central purpose of educational choice:

Educational choice has also been repeatedly shown to produce far higher levels of parental satisfaction than does centrally planned schooling. That’s because choice empowers parents to find the best education for their children, and test scores are not their only consideration. Research shows that many parents care more about safety and discipline, graduation and college acceptance rates, and moral values.

Dictating uniform standards and tests threatens those other valued features by redirecting educators’ focus from serving families to catering to bureaucrats. It also contributes to a culture of “teaching to the test” that has already resulted in several large-scale public-school cheating scandals.

Children are not interchangeable widgets that can be beneficially fed through their education on the same conveyor belt. Even within a single family, children often learn different subjects at different speeds. Myriad new options are arising in response to that reality that allow students to learn at their own pace in every subject, helping all to fulfill their individual potential — the very antithesis of uniform government mandates.

Fortunately, the FTS already contains an “escalator” provision that allows it to grow over time, albeit not as quickly as it would have under the expansion bill. Hopefully, Florida legislators will take a second look at some of the important reforms that would have expanded access to the program. Meanwhile, other states that are considering scholarship tax credit legislation should learn from Florida’s experience. Design matters.

Support for School Choice Tax Credits Grows Once Implemented

The unanimous decision of the Iowa legislature to expand the state’s scholarship tax credit (STC) program yesterday once again demonstrates that school choice programs grow even more popular once implemented.

Iowa’s STC expansion bill raises the credit cap from $8.75 million to $12 million and expands the types of corporations eligible to receive tax credits for donations to scholarship organizations. The bill adds no new regulations.

Six of the seven states with STC programs enacted before 2010 have subsequently voted to expand those programs. The chart below shows the legislative support and opposition in four of those states. (The expansions in Indiana and Pennsylvania were part of legislation covering other issues so they were excluded from this analysis. The chart includes information for Arizona’s corporate-donor STC program but not its individual-donor STC program, for a similar reason.)

 

Initial Vote For STC Program

Most Recent STC Expansion

State

Year

For

Against

% Difference

Year

For

Against

% Difference

Arizona House

2006

33

26

12%

2012

37

19

32%

Arizona Senate

2006

16

13

10%

2012

20

9

38%

Florida House

2001

76

39

32%

2012

92

24

59%

Florida Senate

2001

33

4

78%

2012

32

8

60%

Georgia House

2008

92

73

12%

2013

168

3

96%

Georgia Senate

2008

32

20

23%

2013

40

11

57%

Iowa House

2006

75

19

60%

2013

97

0

100%

Iowa Senate

2006

49

1

96%

2013

49

0

100%

The most dramatic shift was in Georgia’s State House, which moved in just a few years from a fairly even divide to overwhelming support. Support in Iowa went from overwhelming to unanimous. While Florida’s Senate barely moved, support has grown considerably in the House. Arizona has also had modest increases in support for school choice in both chambers.

A survey by Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance found that 72 percent of the American public already supports scholarship tax credit programs. The survey found even higher support among parents, African-Americans, Hispanics, and registered Independents and Democrats.

There have not yet been any studies measuring whether support in a given state increases after enacting an STC program, but if legislative support is a reliable proxy then the answer appears to be in the affirmative.

Is Birthright Citizenship Challenge “Doomed”? Let’s Hope So

Yet another front has opened in the battle over illegal immigration, this one involving birthright citizenship. According to today’s New York Times and other news outlets, Republicans at the state and federal level are gearing up to re-open the question of whether children born in the United States to parents who are here illegally should be granted automatic citizenship under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

James Ho makes a strong case in this morning’s Wall Street Journal that the 14th Amendment as written after the Civil War was intended to include the children of resident aliens whatever their legal status. The former solicitor general of Texas, Ho describes a series of Supreme Court decisions since then that have consistently upheld the principle that birthright citizenship applies to the children of illegal immigrants. He offers this sobering advice to those who want to retest the case in court:

Opponents of birthright citizenship say that they want nothing more than a chance to relitigate the meaning of the 14th Amendment. But if that is so, state legislation is a poor strategy.

Determining U.S. citizenship is the unique province of the federal government. It does not take a constitutional expert to appreciate that we cannot have 50 different state laws governing who is a U.S. citizen. As a result, courts may very well strike down these state laws without even invoking the 14th Amendment. The entire enterprise appears doomed to failure.

At a Cato Hill Briefing event in October, I spelled out additional reasons why the principle of birthright citizenship has served our nation well since the Civil War amendments. Attorney Margaret Stock reviews the legal and constitutional arguments underpinning birthright citizenship, while I examine the practical policy arguments for not tampering with the established interpretation. (My segment starts at the 25:11 mark.)

What Privacy Invasion Looks Like

The details of Tyler Clementi’s case are slowly revealing themselves. He was the Rutgers University freshman whose sex life was exposed on the Internet when fellow students Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei placed a webcam in his dorm room, transmitting the images that it captured in real time on the Internet. Shortly thereafter, Clementi committed suicide.

Whether Ravi and Wei acted out of anti-gay animus, titillation about Clementi’s sexual orientation, or simply titillation about sex, their actions were utterly outrageous, offensive, and outside of the bounds of decency. Moreover, according to Middlesex County, New Jersey prosecutors, they were illegal. Ravi and Wei have been charged with invasion of privacy.

This is what invasion of privacy looks like. It’s the outrageous, offensive, truly galling revelation of private facts like what happened in this case. Over the last 120 years, common law tort doctrine has evolved to find that people have a right not to suffer such invasions. New Jersey has apparently enshrined that right in a criminal statute.

The story illustrates how quaint are some of the privacy “invasions” we often discuss, such as the tracking of people’s web surfing by advertising networks. That information is not generally revealed in any meaningful way. It is simply being used to serve tailored ads.

This event also illustrates how privacy law is functioning in our society. It’s functioning fairly well. Law, of course, is supposed to reflect deeply held norms. Privacy norms—like the norm against exposing someone’s sexual activity without consent—are widely shared, so that the laws backing up those norms are rarely violated.

It is probably a common error to believe that law is “working” when it is exercised fairly often, fines and penalties being doled it with some routine. Holders of this view see law—more accurately, legislation—as a tool for shaping society, of course. Many of them would like to end the societal debate about online privacy, establishing a “uniform national privacy standard.” But nobody knows what that standard should be. The more often legal actions are brought against online service providers, the stronger is the signal that online privacy norms are unsettled. That privacy debate continues, and it should.

It is not debatable that what Ravi and Wei did to Tyler Clementi was profoundly wrong. That was a privacy invasion.

China Bill All about Saving Lawmakers’ Jobs

The House is expected to vote today on a bill that would allow U.S. companies to petition the Commerce Department for protective tariffs against imports from countries with “misaligned currencies.” Everybody knows the bill is aimed squarely at China.

Advocates of the legislation say it is about jobs, and they are partly right. The bill is about saving the jobs of incumbent lawmakers who are desperate to appear tough on China trade, which they blame for the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs.

As my colleague Dan Ikenson and I have argued at length, in blog posts, op-eds, and longer studies,

Let’s hope cooler, wiser heads in the Senate and the White House save us from this election-season folly.

DREAM Act Would Improve a Bad Situation

The U.S. Senate may vote in the next few days on a piece of legislation known as the DREAM Act. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would offer legal status to as many as 2 million students who are currently in the United States without authorization, many of them Hispanic immigrants who entered the country illegally with their parents.

The act would legalize students who entered the United States at least five years before its passage and were under the age of 16 when they entered. A practical effect would be to make many of these students eligible for in-state tuition at colleges and universities.

The DREAM Act is not a perfect call for those of us who believe in limited government, but in our less-than-perfect world, the act would make a bad situation better. As I wrote earlier this year in a post on the Cato on Campus web site:

Ideally, there would be no reason to propose the DREAM Act if there were more opportunities for legal immigration and if the government were far less involved in providing higher education. Far fewer minor children would enter the country illegally if more work visas were provided for their parents to enter the country legally. In-state tuition and government aid would cease to be a major issue if responsibility for providing higher education shifted more to a competitive private sector.

Given our current system, however, the DREAM Act would somewhat improve a bad situation. It would extend legal status to a group of people who have completed high school, typically speak English well, and are thus able to pursue higher education or better support themselves in the labor market. It would help to maintain a healthy growth rate of the U.S. labor force and provide entrepreneurial spirit associated with immigrants.

The DREAM Act would also extend more equitable treatment to students whose lack of legal status is no fault of their own. Their parents, although undocumented, have usually paid the same sales and property taxes paid by legal residents with similar incomes. The DREAM Act would lift thousands of students out of a legal netherworld and allow them to improve themselves while at the same time contribute to a more productive United States.

The Likelihood of Repealing ObamaCare

The political science blog Rule 22 has a post discussing the likelihood of repealing at least some part of ObamaCare.  Author Jordan Ragusa finds:

  • If “the Republicans regain only the House in the upcoming election…the estimated likelihood of at [least] some repeal during the 112th Congress is 52 percent.”
  • If “Republicans regain both chambers in the upcoming midterm…the estimated likelihood of at [least] some repeal is 59 percent.”
  • If “Republicans regain unified control of government in 2012…the estimated likelihood of some repeal in the 113th Congress is 69 percent.”

Ragusa is predicting only that the odds are better than 50-50 that Congress will repeal some part of the law, such as the expanded 1099 reporting, which House Democrats have already moved to eliminate because small businesses find it so onerous.  He is not laying odds on whether Congress will repeal the entire law or its most important and unpopular provisions (i.e., ObamaCare’s individual mandate).

His post does shed light on the likelihood of repealing the individual mandate, however.  As the below graph shows, the probability of repealing any provision of major legislation rises in each of the next five Congresses (i.e., over the subsequent 10 years).  After that point, the probability of repeal begins to fall.

Note that this graph shows the instantaneous probability of repeal.  The cumulative probability is the area under the curve, and increases monotonically over time.  Thus the probability that Congress will repeal some part of ObamaCare by 2020 is more than 13 percent.

Ragusa therefore concludes:

the newly enacted law will be most “at risk” not in the next Congress, but a decade from now.  So sit tight.

Also noteworthy is that Ragusa presents only the probability of legislative repeal.  The prospect that the courts may invalidate all or part of the law increases the probability that some day, ObamaCare will no longer be on the books.

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