Tag: private school choice

Universal Dependence or Universal Access?

There’s a rift within the U.S. school choice movement as to whether private school choice programs should cover every child or focus only on the poor. Fortunately, the cause of this disagreement is not so much that the two sides have different goals but that they have different assumptions about what will achieve those goals. And the nice thing about assumptions is that they can very often be tested against the real-world evidence. What actually works better: universal access to the education marketplace, or universal dependence on a government program? That’s the question I try to answer over at the RedefinEd blog today, in a post responding to veteran voucher campaigner Howard Fuller.

Michelle Rhee Endorses Private School Choice…Sort of

Former DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee declares in a new op-ed that she endorses private school choice for low-income families, but adds: “I’m not for school choice for its own sake. I am for choice because it can, directly and indirectly, provide better opportunities for low-income children—not simply more opportunities.”

I’m not sure I understand her. Is Rhee saying that given two alternatives: one in which parents have many different educational choices and one in which they don’t, she inherently prefers the option that gives parents no choice if test scores are not impacted either way? Why not prefer choice for its own sake, as well as for its academic benefits?

Rhee then goes on to say that private schools receiving government funding should be under government oversight, and be required to do such things as administer standardized tests in order to ensure “accountability.” But isn’t this precisely the sort of “accountability” to which state-run schools are already subjected in minute detail, and which has coincided with stagnation or decline in academic achievement for two generations (depending on the subject) and a catastrophic productivity collapse? It’s worth noting that it is the freest, least regulated, most market-like education systems that consistently produce the most effective, efficient schools.

It’s a short op-ed, providing little room for Rhee to explain how she came to hold the particular policy views she espouses regarding private school choice. It will be interesting to learn more.

Behold the Astoundingly Amazing Brand-New Teacher-B-Gone Safety System® from Fordham Industries!

Voiceover: Are you tired of trying to use private school choice policy to remove mediocre, incompetent or just plain dangerous teachers from public schools? Just look at how clumsy that can be!

This poor school choice supporter is struggling just to get enough kids into private schools so that the public schools notice and start firing bad teachers! What a waste!!! Fordham Industries pitch-man extra-ordinaire Public-Mad Mike Petrilli has a better way!

Petrilli: “Rather than use choice to set in motion a chain reaction that ends with the removal of bad teachers from the classroom, why not go right at the bad teachers themselves?”!

Voiceover: Don’t waste your time with systemic reforms helping some kids today and all kids tomorrow! Just buy in to Teacher-B-Gone Safety System® and see your public school systems shine!!!*

*Fordham Industries makes no claims as to political feasibility, impact on educational freedom, immediate assistance to children in failing schools, parental rights, religious educational options, pedagogical diversity, educational innovation, public value conflicts, size of the tax burden, fairness to private school families, student achievement, or civic values. Offer not valid in any states.

“You’ve Got to Admit It’s Getting Better…”

“…a little better all the time.”

Some school choice supporters and philanthropists began to suffer burnout a few years ago, disappointed that private school choice programs had not yet scaled up massively a decade-and-a-half after the first modern program was launched in Milwaukee. That disappointment is likely to give way in the coming years to new hope, and looking back a generation from now, 2010 may well be seen as a turning point in the history of educational freedom.

Last week, a private school choice bill sponsored by a Democrat (the Rev. James Meeks), passed the Democratic-controlled Illinois Senate. Even if this particular bill isn’t enacted into law, the impact of its passage in the Senate will reverberate around the country. Also in the past week, the Florida Senate passed a major expansion of its education tax credit program that would allow that program to expand every year in which demand for it has grown. Should current trends continue, that would allow it to become the biggest private school choice program in the country in a matter of years. It, too, was defended on the Senate floor by African American Democrats. And just a few weeks before that, a Democratic filmmaker saw his pro-school-choice education documentary picked up by Paramount Pictures.

It’s not even April yet!

2010 is shaping up to be a very good year indeed.

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.

Vermont Could Save Millions with Private School Choice

The Ethan Allen Institute has just published a report suggesting that Vermont could save $80 million a year by voucherizing its education system. What’s most interesting is how generous the prospective vouchers would be: $10,000 for K-6, and $14,900 for grades 7-12. How could such a system save money? The main reason is that Vermont was already spending $14,000/pupil on public schools across all grades four years ago. Taking into account the inevitable increase since then and the effects of inflation to 2009 dollars, the state is no doubt spending well over $15,000 per pupil today, so EAI’s ample voucher funding would still cost far less than the status quo.

The only problem is that, as the EAI report notes (see p. 10), Vermont’s state supreme court has ruled against state funding of sectarian schools. So tax credits would be a better option for that reason, among others.

GAO: Dept. of Ed. Suffers Oversight Deficiencies

A report released today by the federal government’s non-partisan General Accounting Office finds deficits in the Department of Education’s financial and program oversight. According to the GAO, “These shortcomings can lead to weaknesses in program implementation that ultimately result in failure to effectively serve the students, parents, teachers, and administrators those programs were designed to help.”

The GAO’s findings are consistent with the longstanding pattern: for forty years, Americans have steadily increased spending on public schools without any resulting improvement in student performance by the end of high school (see the figures here and here).

The Obama administration has touted its $100 billion in education stimulus spending as a key to long term economic growth. What the data show, however, is that higher spending on public schools over the past two generations has not improved academic outcomes. And economists such as Stanford’s Eric Hanushek have shown that it is improved academic achievement, not higher public school spending, that accelerates economic growth.

So if the administration is serious in wanting education to boost the American economy, it must support reforms that are proven to significantly raise achievement, such as those that bring to bear real market freedoms and incentives – programs like the DC private school choice program that the administration has decided to kill despite its proven effectiveness.