Tag: school choice

Terrible Example, Mr. Secretary

Here’s something rich from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan: According to The New York Times, yesterday Duncan smeared South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford as a reform obstructionist because Sanford wants to turn down education stimulus money.

“For South Carolina to stand on the sidelines and say that the status quo is O.K., that defies logic,” said Duncan.

That’s right, Duncan had the gall to frame as a protector of the status quo the same governor who for years has been crystal clear that schooling in his state is dismal and that school choice – which takes power away from politically ferocious, government-schooling special interests and gives it to parents – is the key to real change. It’s also the same desperately sought after reform, by the way, that President Obama and his education secretary are happy to let die a slow – but politically convenient – death in Washington, DC.

And what do Secretary Duncan and his boss have in mind for South Carolina? The same worthless, failed education “solutions” too many politicians have proffered for decades: spend ever more money and talk big about the better results you’ll “demand” but never get. That makes the politicians look like they care about “the children” while really rewarding the politically potent, school-choice-hating, accountability dodging unions, administrators and bureaucrats who live off the status quo and serve not the kids, but themselves.

So let’s get something straight, Mr. Secretary: If you want real change you actually have to do something different, something that attacks real problems, and with his crusade for educational freedom that’s exactly what Governor Sanford has been doing. In stark contrast, so far all the Obama administration has offered is a lot of bluster, and a lot more money for our hopeless education monopoly.  And that, Mr. Secretary, is truly acting like the status quo is O.K.

A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste (after High School)

The South Carolina NAACP is among the most strident opponents of a new education tax credit proposal in that state that would make it easier for families – especially poor families – to choose private schools for their kids.

But the NAACP’s national platform states that:

The NAACP is a leading advocate of equal access to quality education.  In an effort to promote and ensure education opportunities for minority youth, the NAACP offers the following national scholarships: Earl G. Graves Scholarship, Agnes Jones Scholarship, …. These awards help eliminate financial difficulties that may hinder students’ education goals.   

Doesn’t that put the SC NAACP’s position into clear conflict with its parent organization? Actually, no. I deleted the qualifier “higher” before the word “education” in the block quote above. The NAACP strongly supports scholarships for poor kids to attend private schools, so long as the kids are over 18 or so.

A few years ago I debated this bizarre inconsistency with a very candid and pleasant NAACP representative, and his response boiled down to this: ”I lived through the Jim Crow South and I don’t trust a bunch of white Republicans to have our best interests in mind.” Fair enough. We shouldn’t trust politicians of any stripe to have the public’s interests in mind on any issue. We should instead look at what actually works best both here and around the world, and do that.

From the largest shanty town in Africa, to the slums of Hyderabad, India, to the remote rural villages of in-land China, the poor are already choosing private schools in vast numbers. And those schools are significantly outperforming their public sector counterparts at a fraction of the cost. Their stories are told in The Beautiful Tree, a compelling new narrative non-fiction book by scholar and world-traveler James Tooley. Cato is launching the book at noon on April 15th at our DC headquarters. I hope someone from the NAACP will attend.

Oh, and in case it matters to anyone, the lead advocate of SC’s tax credit school choice program is state senator Robert Ford, an African American Democrat. For some reason the NAACP still opposes it.

Who’s Blogging about Cato

A few bloggers who wrote about Cato this week:

  • New York Times blogger Andrew C. Revkin wrote about Cato’s forthcoming full-page ad on climate change that will run in newspapers around the country next week.
  • Wes Messamore helped set the record straight: Cato scholars have criticized the growth of government regardless of who’s in power.
  • Brandon Dutcher posted Cato’s Monday podcast with Adam Schaeffer on universal pre-school.

More on the AZ Supreme Court Ruling

As Andrew Coulson noted earlier, the Arizona Supreme Court struck down two voucher programs today that serve special needs and foster children.

I think some of his points deserve an additional emphasis; this is a tragedy for many of the state’s most needy and vulnerable children but it can be easily fixed. (See who school choice opponents are so determined to send back to an inadequate public school system here).

These children can be quickly and seamlessly supported in their school of choice through an immediate expansion of the state’s two existing education tax credit programs, which have been ruled constitutional.

These children are in desperate need of the education they currently receive at private schools, and lawmakers must ensure that they can continue to attend their school of choice.

Women’s Suffrage Abandoned. “Too Unpopular,” says Anthony.

Reversing his earlier support for private school choice in the District of Columbia, Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews now calls for the end of the DC Opportunity Scholarship program. Why? “Vouchers help [low income] kids, but not enough of them. The vouchers are too at odds with the general public view of education. They don’t have much of a future.”

So private school choice programs work, but because they are not growing quite fast enough for Mr. Mathews’ taste we should abandon the entire enterprise? Why keep striving for total victory when can seize defeat today!

The thing is, major social changes are usually, what’s the word… oh yes: hard. Susan B. Anthony co-founded the National Women’s Suffrage Association in 1869. She died in 1906 – 14 years, 5 months and five days before passage of the 19th Amendment. If a social reform is right and just, it will inspire reformers who will fight for it every bit as long as it takes.

And even those who decide what social reforms to support based on their popularity should take note that school choice programs are proliferating all over the country. And newer tax credit programs, such as Florida’s, Pennsylvania’s, and Arizona’s, are all growing at a faster rate than older voucher programs like the one in Milwaukee. More than that, the politics of school choice have already begun to change at the state level. While Democrats in Congress had no qualms slipping a shiv into the futures of 1,700 poor kids, more and more of their fellow party members at the state level are deciding to back educational freedom.

This Is System Failure …

The Democratic Congress recently signed a death warrant for the DC voucher program and we witnessed some in the center-left media come out swinging in defense of the policy.

Support for school choice is mainstreaming. And while we have seen serious setbacks on voucher policy in recent years, supporters of private schools choice should not be discouraged.

Education tax credits are making huge strides, with new programs multiplying and old ones expanding. And the support is increasingly bipartisan.

So congratulations and thanks to South Carolina State Sen. Robert Ford, the latest high-profile Democrat to support education tax credits:

State Sen. Robert Ford is lending his voice — a black voice rooted in the African-American struggle for equal rights — to the S.C. fight over school choice. To the dismay of his African-American Senate colleagues, the Charleston Democrat is hawking a bill that would give students [an education tax credit or scholarship supported by credits] to go to a private school.

Ford, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor … is making the case that the students who would benefit most from a [tax credit] program in South Carolina are African-Americans who attend poorly performing schools.

“All of us have been defending the system,” Ford said. “It’s time to stop. I’m not pussyfooting with this anymore.”

Ford might be a bit lonely at first in South Carolina, but he stands in good company across the nation.

Florida’s donation tax-credit program became law in 2001 with the vote of a single Democratic legislator. Last year, a third of statehouse Democrats, half the black caucus and the entire Hispanic caucus voted to expand that program.

New or expanded tax-credit initiatives were signed into law by Democratic governors in Arizona, Iowa and Pennsylvania in 2006. That same year a Democrat-controlled legislature in Rhode Island passed a donation tax credit and a Democratic governor and legislature in Iowa expanded the tax-credit dollar cap by 50 percent in 2007.

Last year six states moved a school choice bill through both chambers and five more passed a bill through one chamber. Georgia passed a universal donation tax credit program, and Louisiana passed both a voucher program and an education tax deduction.

Ford is right that the public school system has failed children and taxpayers for decades. Now the system is failing to maintain the only thing that matters to it; political support.

RAND: Charter Schools Raise Ed’l Attainment

I am not a particularly avid fan of charter schools. As I’ve previously written on this blog, I see reason to fear that their long term result will be the growth rather than the contraction of the state schooling bureaucracy. That said, RAND has just published a relatively positive new study about their short-term effects.

While the RAND study finds no significant difference in achievement gains in charters versus regular public schools, it finds that charter students for whom they have the necessary data are 7 to 15 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school and 8 to 10 percentage points more likely to enroll in college, after controlling for student characteristics.

While this is wonderful news, it will be a Pyrrhic victory if charter schools gradually succumb to regulatory encroachment and stultifying unionization, as seems likely.

Fortunately, as I blogged a couple of days ago, there is no need to run this risk. Truly market-like education systems show the same or better effects on students educational attainment, and show significant positive effects on academic achievement, school efficiency, parental satisfaction, eventual student earnings, and other outcomes. Access to such marketplaces can be made universal through tax credit programs that are significantly more apt to resist regulatory encroachment than are state-funded school choice policies, as I document in a forthcoming book chapter for Clemson University.