Tag: school choice

School Choice Movement in South Carolina

I was in South Carolina yesterday testifying before a state committee in support of a great piece of education tax credit legislation. The turnout and energy down there was impressive.

The fight for educational freedom has dragged on for years in SC, but the movement seems to have grown in strength considerably over that period. Parents are now more organized, homeschoolers and private school groups are more integrated and active, and the votes are a lot closer.

More than 200 supporters showed up to support the bill and testify, and their stories were compelling and sometimes heart-rending. Our public education system just doesn’t work for everyone.

And when I say “doesn’t work,” I mean that a child with severe learning disabilities ends up unable to function in society or a child from a troubled background ends up in jail or dead. There are schools that are serving these kids successfully, and want desperately to help more. A tax credit system would allow them to expand and diversify to help all children reach their potential.

For others, the system doesn’t work in ways less catastrophic, but it still isn’t what’s best for them. That’s why all families should be able to choose the best educational environment for their unique child. Educated children are not widgets manufactured in a factory.

The fight for school choice brings out similar issues in every state, so I’ll be blogging more on the hearing later on today…

The Sunshine State Lives Up to Its Name

Just when I was getting so jaded by federal education politics that I could have been displayed as part of this exhibit, the Sunshine State comes along and brightens my day.

It’s not just that the Florida Assembly voted to strenghten its k-12 scholarship tax credit program yesterday, it’s that the vote was 94 to 23. In addition to almost universal Republican support, the bill garnered the votes of half the entire state Democratic caucus!

As I wrote on this blog last year, “the [school choice] times they are a changin’.”

Democrats in Washington don’t understand that yet. Perhaps they spend too much time with DC’s NEA lobbyiests. Whatever the reason, the long term health of the Democratic Party depends on its celebration  of its pro-school-choice state-level leaders. If the DNC embraces those state leaders and their policies, it will grow a heart, a brain, and a spine all at once, and secure its viability for the long term.

If they don’t, the national party’s current wretched treatment of poor families and cowtowing to education establishment special interests will drag it down to an ignominy from which it will not soon recover.

And as someone who prefers a balance of power between the two major political parties to the dominance of either, I really don’t want to see the DNC ride the NEA’s bandwagon off a cliff.

Plurality of Blacks in SC Support School Choice

A new poll released today reveals that 43 percent of African Americans in South Carolina support private school choice while only 40 percent oppose it. What’s even more interesting, however, is that 53 percent said that “giving parents a tax credit or scholarship to choose the best school for their children — public or private — would improve the state’s dismal high school graduation rate.”

So an additional 10 percent of respondents think the program will work but don’t currently support it. Why? Perhaps because many black religious and political leaders in South Carolina have criticized the concept for years.

Take, for instance, the Rev. Joe Darby, a Charleston Minister I had the pleasure of communicating with a few years ago. Very pleasant guy. Absolutely opposes the education tax credit bill currently before the state legislature, and the whole idea of all parents getting to easily choose between public and private schools.

Why? Well, let’s ask him. I’ve just invited Joe to have a conversation about it on this website. I hope he will agree, because SC is racking up dropouts faster than almost any other state in the nation, and these kids need access to schools that can help them stick it through to graduation and better prepare them for life and work.

What do you say, Joe?

9th Circuit Imitates Marcel Marceau

Last month, I warned that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals would soon be handing the school choice movement a legal setback. Well, it’s here.

As expected, the 9th Circuit has reinstated a lower court challenge to Arizona’s scholarship donation tax credit program. The program allows taxpayers to contribute to non-profit Scholarship Tuition Organizations (STOs) that provide financial assistance to families choosing private schools. The taxpayers can then claim a dollar for dollar credit for their donation.

While this ruling leaves the program intact for the time being, it would almost surely require the tax credit program to be amended if it is allowed to stand. Fortunately, as I noted in my earlier post, the 9th Circuit is overturned as often as a caber at the Highland Games. Its ruling is unlikely to stand if appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At issue is the fact that taxpayers are free to choose the STOs to which they donate their money, and private STOs are free to set criteria for the schools at which their scholarships can be redeemed. There are thus some STOs that offer scholarships only to religious schools. This is essentially the same situation that obtains when taxpayers claim deductions for contributions to non-profit charities. The charities can legally be religious or secular, and they can infuse the services they offer with religion, or not, as they choose. The whole thing is constitutional because it is the taxpayers, not the government, that decides which charity gets their funds. This is all settled law.

To get around the fact that the legal precedents were against it, the 9th Circuit decided to do a compelling impression of Marcel Marceau, pretending to hem itself into an invisible legal box. Specifically, the 9th Circuit decided to pretend that the constitutional restrictions limiting government expenditures (as in school voucher programs) also apply to the private funds at issue under tax credit programs.

That box, of course, does not exist. No government money is spent under the tax credit program, and the tax credits are themselves available on an entirely religiously neutral basis, in scrupulous conformance with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

So here’s my next legal prediction: the constitutionality of the Arizona education tax credit program will ultimately be upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, and opponents of educational freedom will have to resort to some new ploy in their efforts to herd American families back onto the public school plantation.

The California Legislature Is Being Misled

The California Assembly Committee on Revenue and Taxation is holding hearings today on bill AB 279, the “Great Schools Tax Credit Act.” This bill is much like the scholarship donation tax credit program in Florida, which is a bi-partisan success that saves the state $1.49 for every $1 it reduces state revenue.

But you wouldn’t know that if you read the Committee’s remarkably flawed official Bill Analysis.

Among other things, the Bill Analysis glaringly misrepresents Adam Schaeffer’s ”Public Education Tax Credit” paper, incorrectly calls tax credited donations public funds, omits crucial findings from other states that favor credits, and engages in unsubstantiated speculation.

To address its failings, I penned the following letter which is being distributed to the committee today.

Dear California state legislators,

The official Bill Analysis of AB 279 suffers errors of fact and omission, misrepresents the findings of a paper published by my organization, and will mislead legislators unless these problems are corrected. To address these problems, I respectfully submit this letter.

The Bill Analysis characterizes a 2007 Cato Institute paper as arguing that “vouchers and tax credits deliver similar results” (page 7-8 of the Analysis). This is false. The paper in fact argues that:

Vouchers and tax credits are, however, very different mechanisms for delivering school choice and it is those differences that will be analyzed below. The analysis reveals that tax credits are inherently preferable to vouchers across at least five dimensions.

The above text appears on the same page as one cited in the Bill Analysis, so the author of that Analysis can reasonably be expected to have noticed the boldface section title on that page of the Cato Institute paper: “Why Tax Credits Are Preferable to Vouchers.” The dimensions on which tax credits are found to be preferable include program outcomes such as maximizing the diversity of educational options among which parents are able to choose, maximizing parental and community involvement in education, and creating incentives for long term program efficiency. This directly contradicts the characterization of our paper by the Bill Analysis.

The Bill Analysis goes on to claim that AB 279 appears to be “patterned after the Public Education Tax Credit Act model legislation developed by the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Reform.” I would be pleased to claim credit for this if it were true, but since the PETC model legislation combines a scholarship donation credit (such as AB 279’s) with a direct credit for parents to use against their own children’s education, it does not appear that AB 279 was based on our model. It is worth noting that our organization’s name is the Center for Educational Freedom, not the Center for Educational Reform as it is referred to in the Bill Analysis.

Among the more surprising omissions in the Bill Analysis is that it fails to mention the only official government fiscal impact assessment of a scholarship tax credit program: a study released last December by Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability. The OPPAGA study finds that Florida’s program, which is similar to AB 279, saves the state $1.49 for every dollar it reduces state revenue. This 49% annual return on investment represents a staggering windfall for the state treasury at a time when budgets are extremely tight. Not surprisingly, Florida’s legislature is currently considering legislation to expand the base of taxes to which the credits can be applied, to maximize the number of families who can benefit, and hence the state’s savings. This follows the Florida legislature’s increase of the program funding cap by 50% last year, with the support of one third of the state’s Democratic caucus, half of its black caucus, and its entire Hispanic caucus. The program is a bi-partisan success.

The AB 279 Bill Analysis is also confused in its assessment of the legal issues. It asserts that AB 279 “encourages the use of public funds for religious activities and education.” This claim is mistaken, and the Analysis unsurprisingly presents to no evidence to support it. Several court cases in Arizona and Illinois have addressed the question of whether non-refundable education tax credits represent the spending of government money, and all have found that they do not. The money donated to scholarship organizations never enters the state’s coffers, and so is not public money. The supreme court of Arizona, for example, has upheld that state’s scholarship donation tax credit program for specifically this reason, while recently striking down two voucher programs because they do use public funds in contravention of a state constitutional prohibition similar to that in California.

Finally, the Analysis is filled with unsubstantiated speculation about what might happen under scholarship donation tax credit programs, but presents little evidence from the most similar programs – those operating in Florida and Pennsylvania – on what is actually happening. Legislators would be wise to request testimony from people familiar with the actual operation of those programs and from families participating in them. Children’s futures are at stake.

Duncan: “I’m a big fan of choice and competition”

How does U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan live with what must be some of the most painful cognitive dissonance in the history of mankind? I mean how, fresh off of doing all he could to make even more untimely the untimely death of the D.C. voucher program – and opposing private school choice generally – could Duncan say this in a new Time interview:

I’m a big fan of choice and competition, and in our country, historically, wealthy families have had a lot of options as to where to send their children. And families that didn’t come from a lot of money had one option — and usually that option wasn’t a good one. The more options available, the more we give parents a chance to figure out what the best learning environment is for their child.

How could Duncan say all this great stuff about competition and maximizing choice right after what he’s done to private school choice – which maximizes options for the very poor who have typically had none – in the nation’s capital? It is simply impossible to reconcile the words and actions.

Unless, that is, the words don’t really mean what the words, to a normal person, really mean. And to Duncan – like lots of political creatures – they don’t. He offered those gushing words of love for choice and competition in response to a question about charter schools, and in continuing to answer the question went right into this:

To me it’s not about letting a thousand flowers bloom. You need to have a really high bar about whom you let open the charter school. [You need] a really rigorous front-end competitive process. If not, you just get mediocrity. Once you let them in, you need to have two things. You need to give those charter operators great autonomy — to really free them from the education bureaucracy. You have to couple that with very strong accountability.

And finally, it is clear how Duncan twistedly reconciles both killing school choice and competition, and loving school choice and competition: It is all about who is doing the choosing. If schools and potential schools have to compete for the approval of government – of the same smarter-than-thou, bureaucratic apparatchiks who have given us atrocious public schools for decades – then that’s competition Duncan can embrace. But compete based on the approval and demands of the people the schools are actually supposed to serve, the people most interested in schools performing to high standards? In other words, compete for the approval and business of parents, especially without the choices first being fully vetted and approved by parents’ government betters? Well, that just shouldn’t be any choice at all!

Juan Williams Blasts Obama, Duncan on Vouchers

juan-williamsYesterday on Fox News’ Special Report, Juan Williams had this to say about Obama’s silence and Duncan’s hostility to the DC voucher program, recently put on the chopping block by Democrats in Congress:

This is an outrage to me. … This is so important that you give young people a chance to have an education in America and especially in a failing public school system like you have in the District of Columbia. This voucher system is a direct threat to the unions. And so I think everybody on Capitol Hill, that’s getting money from the NEA or AFT, they should be called on the table. They should ask them, ‘where do you send your kids to school? And are you willing to say these kids getting the vouchers…and doing better than the rest of the kids, that these kids aren’t deserving of an opportunity to succeed in America?’ You just want to scream. Why Duncan and Obama aren’t in the forefront of education reform is an outrage and an insult to the very base that voted for them.

But we don’t have to ask President Obama where he sends his kids to school, do we? We already know he sends them to the prestigious private Sidwell Friends school also attended by several of the poor DC voucher students. But those voucher students will only remain classmates of Sasha and Malia for another year or so. After that, they’re out… because Barack Obama lacks the courage, the wisdom, or both to get his own party behind this program – a program that his own education department has shown is a success. Better results at a quarter the cost, and the reaction of our unified Democratic government ranges from outright opposition to malign neglect.

Future generations will look back on these politicians and bureaucrats as the Oral Faubuses of the 21st century. Like Faubus, they will ultimately fail.

Like Faubus, their names will live in infamy.