Tag: South Carolina

2013: Yet Another ‘Year of School Choice’

In 1980, frustrated by the attention given to Paul Ehrlich’s Malthusian doomsaying, economist Julian Simon challenged Ehrlich to a wager. They agreed on a basket of five commodity metals that Simon predicted would fall in price over 10 years (indicating growing supply relative to demand, contrary to the Malthusian worldview) and Ehrlich predicted would rise. In 1990, all five metals had decreased relative to their 1980 prices and Ehrlich cut Simon a check.

In 2011, two education policy analysts made a similar wager. After Jay Mathews of the Washington Post predicted that voters would “continue to resist” private school choice programs, Greg Forster of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice challenged Matthews to a wager, which Mathews accepted: Forster would win if at least seven new or expanded private school choice programs (i.e., vouchers or scholarship tax credits, but not including charter schools) were signed into law by the end of the year. That July, the Wall Street Journal declared 2011 to be the “Year of School Choice” after 13 states enacted 19 new or expanded private school choice programs, nearly triple the number Forster needed to win the bet.

Undeterred, the following year Mathews proclaimed that school choice programs “have no chance of ever expanding very far,” prompting another challenge from Forster. Mathews did not take the bet, which was fortunate for him because in 2012 10 states enacted 12 new or expanded private school choice programs.

Now, for the third year in a row, Forster’s prediction has proved true, with 10 states enacting 14 new or expanded private school choice programs, including:

Most of these laws are overly limited and several carry unnecessary and even counterproductive regulations like mandatory standardized testing. Nevertheless, they are a step in the right direction, away from a government monopoly and toward a true system of education choice.

Of course, that’s why defenders of the status quo have made 2013 the Year of the Anti-School Choice Lawsuit.

South Carolina Adopts School Choice

When South Carolina’s legislature narrowly rejected a school choice proposal last month, it seemed that the education reform movement would have to wait another year to make any progress in the Palmetto State. That changed yeseterday when both legislative chambers approved the conference committee’s state budget, which includes a scholarship tax credit (STC) program for students with special needs.

South Carolina’s legislation is only the latest sign of the increasing popularity of school choice. Last week, Arizona’s legislature voted to expand the types of corporate donors that could participate in its STC program. Earlier this year, Iowa and Georgia expanded their STC programs so that more students could receive scholarships and Alabama enacted a new STC program.

As with Alabama’s STC program, South Carolina’s program is very limited in scope relative to STC programs in other states, particularly New Hampshire. According to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice:

Under the proposal, taxpayers can receive a credit worth no more than 60 percent of their state tax liability when donating to nonprofits that distribute private school scholarships to children with special needs. Scholarships cannot exceed $10,000 per pupil. The statewide limit on tax credits distributed is $8 million. According to 2011-12 data, more than 12 percent of South Carolina students are identified as having a disability that would qualify them for the program.

A cap on donations makes fundraising more difficult for scholarship organizations while a cap on the total amount of tax credits limits the number of students who can participate. And while it is understandable that policymakers would prioritize students with special needs, they are far from the only students who would benefit from expanded educational options. Despite these limitations, South Carolina’s decision yesterday is a great step toward an education system that meets the individual needs of every child.

Which State Will Expand School Choice Next?

With over 150,000 participating students in 12 states, scholarship tax credit (STC) programs constitute the largest and most popular form of private school choice. STC programs have expanded rapidly in recent years with six states adopting them since 2011, including Alabama this year. So which state will be next? After yesterday’s disappointing defeat in South Carolina, the answer may lie on the opposite side of the continent.

Earlier this week, Rep. Liz Pike introduced an STC bill to the Washington state legislature. The bill would provide tax credits to corporations donating to state-approved scholarship organizations that fund children from low-income families and children with disabilities attending the schools of their choice.

Like the STC program that New Hampshire enacted last year, the WA legislation follows the best practices from STC programs around the nation and avoids the flaws of the recent bills in Virginia and Alabama. Washington’s proposed STC program would be capped at $100 million in the first year and includes an “escalator” so that the program will grow over time to meet demand and it eschews unnecessary new regulations. The $5,000 cap on scholarships is high enough to benefit low-income families but low enough that the state still has the potential to save money, as shown in this chart from the Freedom Foundation comparing the maximum scholarship size to Washington state’s total public school spending per pupil: 

How Tax Credits Result in Savings. Image courtesy of the Freedom Foundation.

The bill could go farther still by expanding the use of the scholarships to include educational expenses beyond just private school tuition. For example, under New Hampshire’s STC program, scholarships can cover expenses such as tutoring, textbooks, homeschool curricula, and online learning. Adding a similar provision would move the bill from school choice to educational choice, which would foster greater customization and innovation in the delivery of education.

But even without such provisions, school choice programs have been proven effective at improving student outcomes and adopting one would be a great leap forward for Washington’s education system.

Lobbyist Writes Fact & Evidence-Free Op-ed, Analyst Not Shocked At All

I recently gave testimony on the merits of an education tax credit bill that’s being considered in South Carolina. Molly Spearman, executive director of the S.C. Association of School Administrators, a public school lobbying group, denounces both the bill and my testimony today in The State newspaper.

Ms. Spearman’s comments reveal either a complete disregard for the basic facts and research findings, or an ignorance of those facts, resulting in errors big and small.

On the small side, she refers to me as a “paid consultant from the Virginia-based Cato Institute” when in reality I’m a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, which is based in Washington D.C. And while I am, unsurprisingly, paid a salary by my employer, I received no compensation of any kind in return for my testimony in the South Carolina legislature.

More concerning, Ms. Spearman claims that an education tax credit program like the one proposed in SC “has no research-based support that is works.” Her review of the research on credit programs appears to have consisted of calling someone in the Florida Department of [Public] Education to ask them why they thought academic achievement in Florida has increased.

Ms. Spearman apparently missed the official government study, conducted by academic researcher David Figlio at Northwestern University, which found the credit program significantly improved the academic achievement of public school students. That’s not surprising, since it’s consistent with the seventeen other studies that find private school choice programs improve public school performance.

Ms. Spearman also dismisses the state savings expected from the program based on a shocking misunderstanding of education funding. State savings are based on the amount of the credit and the amount of state funding that changes when a student leaves public school; fixed classroom costs have nothing to do with it. The state will save about $500 per student under this program.

The school districts will save much more; about $5,500 in additional funds for every student who leaves even after subtracting fixed costs. Ms. Spearman acts as if almost no money is saved when a student leaves. Here’s a question; then why do public school demand full funding for each additional new student? It works both ways … if one fewer student saved little money, then one more would add little cost. In fact, an academic study has found that only about 20 percent of student funding in South Carolina is fixed in the short term. In the long-term, there are no fixed costs at all.

Again, this is no surprise; an official government analysis found Florida’s credit saved about $1.50 for ever dollar in credits while improving the academic achievement of public school students. Numerous studies demonstrate large actual and potential savings from private choice programs.

There are more errors in other areas, which is remarkable for a piece under 700 words, but I’ll close with Ms. Spearman’s final thought; “We are falling behind our neighbors in North Carolina and Georgia. We cannot gamble on this legislation.”

How ironic … Georgia adopted  a relatively large education tax credit program in 2008, while North Carolina is seriously considering a tax credit proposal of it’s own this year. South Carolina can’t afford not to adopt education tax credit reform.

Had Ms. Spearman done her due diligence on this education issue, or had she called me and asked, she could have avoided these embarrassing errors.

Ms. Spearman’s article is all the more concerning because she is a former schoolteacher and now leads the S.C. Association of School Administrators. South Carolina’s children and taxpayers deserve far better from their leaders in public education

What if We Ran a Public School System… and No-One Came?

The New Jersey Office of Legislative Services, which estimates the budgetary impact of proposed laws, has just released its analysis of a private school choice bill called the “Opportunity Scholarship Act.” The most remarkable thing about its report is the amount of money it assumes that districts would save for each student they no longer have to teach: $0.

On that assumption, if every student were to leave for the private sector tomorrow, districts would keep right on spending exactly the same amount they spend today. Inefficient though it is, not even state-run monopoly schooling is that bad.

The OLS report does not explain why it assumes that the per pupil savings for students leaving public schools (the “marginal cost”) would be $0. It states that this figure is “indeterminate,” but by not counting it at all is effectively treating it as zero.

In fact, the marginal cost of public schooling is not “indeterminate” at all. Economists “determine” it all the time, and it’s quite easy to do. You simply observe how district spending actually rises and falls with enrollment, using a time-series regression, as I did in 2009 to calculate the marginal cost of public schooling in Nevada (see Appendix A).

Even if the NJ OLS does not conduct a marginal cost estimate specific to New Jersey, they could have done–and should still do–the next best thing: take the marginal cost estimates for other states as a rough guide and estimate the NJ district savings from them. I estimated that Nevada district spending falls by 85% of average per-pupil spending when a student leaves, and Grecu and Lindsay, a couple of years earlier, estimated the figure at 80% for South Carolina.

If they want to be conservative, the NJ OLS could use the lower of these figures, and perhaps also run the numbers for estimates 10% higher and 10% lower.

Any of the above options is preferable to the logical impossibility of their current analysis, which effectively treats the marginal cost of public schooling as $0.

Wisconsin: Post-Mortem & Predictions

Last night’s vote by the Wisconsin-based portion of the Wisconsin Senate has received enormous attention. The scope of collective bargaining by school district and other government employees has been narrowed, and the state will no longer automatically garnish workers’ wages to pay union dues.

This was the right thing to do. But how much of a difference will these changes actually make to the state’s bottom line? As I’ve noted, the presence or absence of collective bargaining is not strongly correlated with school district spending. Instead, unions have won their massively (42%) above- market compensation through well-funded political action; which brings us to the question of automatic paycheck deduction of union dues.

Without automatic dues withdrawals, will public school unions still be able to afford their fantastically successful political activities? There’s no reason to doubt it. Given the huge compensation premium public school employees enjoy over their private sector counterparts, they have a powerful incentive to voluntarily keep funding the political action that helped win it.

Indeed, we can see this already in right-to-work states like South Carolina. Public school employees there have no collective bargaining rights and there is no automatic union dues withdrawal, but the Palmetto State nevertheless has a teachers’ union and an administrators’ association that have spent large sums of money on political action. It’s worked. Despite not being the wealthiest of states, South Carolina still spends roughly $12,000  per pupil on its public schools, and its public school teachers earn more than the state’s median household income. The teacher and administrator groups have also successfully defeated every legislative effort thus far to open up the state’s education system to private sector competition and parental choice.

The only way to rein-in out-of-control public school spending is thus to give both families and taxpayers an alternative to the government monopoly status quo. Cut taxes on folks who pay for their own children’s education, or who donate to non-profit scholarship organizations that subsidize private school tuition for the poor. Many states are doing this already on a small scale. By so doing so on a larger scale, families will have much greater choices and taxpayers will reap enormous savings.

Gambling Raid in Baltimore

The Baltimore police must have solved the city’s violent crime problem. They’ve shifted resources to illegal gambling:

Baltimore County police arrested five men after an undercover detective infiltrated an illegal high-stakes poker game in Edgemere, records show.

Police say “Texas Hold ‘Em” games were held regularly at the Lynch Point Social Club in the 3100 block of Roger Road, where organizers were making as much as $1,500 in profit a night, according to charging documents.

After receiving a tip, officers conducted surveillance at the club and later sent an undercover detective inside, who participated in a game with a $65 buy-in. The detective played for hours — leaving after he lost all his chips, records show.

A tactical unit conducted a raid on the club Feb. 11, seizing poker chips, electronic gambling machines and a surveillance system, among other items. Forty-one people were inside at the time of the raid.

Posted at the Raidmap, where you can find similar “isolated incidents.” A December gambling raid in South Carolina turned into a gun fight when poker players mistook a SWAT team for armed robbers. The family of Sal Culosi, the Virginia optometrist killed in a 2006 gambling raid, just settled its lawsuit against Fairfax County for $2 million. Radley Balko has more on that tragedy here.

Pages