Tag: vouchers

Rev. Joe Darby of the NAACP and I Discuss School Choice

Tomorrow morning, the Rev. Joe Darby of Charleston, South Carolina and I will kick off a dialogue about school choice. As South Carolina’s legislature debates an education tax credit bill, Joe and I will debate the merits of school choice right here at Cato-at-Liberty.org.

Joe is an eloquent, thoughtful guy. I expect it to be very interesting.

Vouchers and Violence

The front page of the tabloid Washington Examiner blares

Violence mars students’ days
Weapons, assaults common at area schools

Now I know that headlines have to be short to fit the space. But a more accurate headline would read

Weapons, assaults common at government-run schools

Fights, sexual assaults, and deadly weapons, described in the article as happening “almost once a day at some area high schools,” are almost nonexistent at private schools. Which is why it’s such a shame that the small number of District of Columbia students who have been granted a voucher to escape the D.C. public schools are going to lose that lifeline if the Democratic majority in Congress gets its way. I once proposed in the Washington Post:

The D.C. school board should declare an educational emergency and offer a voucher good in any private or public school in the District to every student who is assigned to a school that has had a shooting or stabbing or more than one weapon confiscation in the past year, whether on school property or on school buses.

I called it the “voucher trigger provision,” but the Post went with the more sober title “A Right to Safer Schools.”

But the policy shouldn’t be restricted to D.C. students. The Examiner article is in fact not about the D.C. schools; it’s about the suburban schools in Maryland and Virginia. Suburban kids would also benefit from more choice, including the choice to move from dangerous to safe schools.

Rally to Save DC Vouchers Tomorrow. Why?

Tomorrow afternoon at 1pm, supporters of Washington DC Opportunity Scholarships will be rallying in Freedom Plaza to save the school voucher program. Why? That’s easy: Because a federal Department of Education study shows that parents are overwhelmingly more satisfied with it than they are with DC’s public schools. Because the same study shows that the program is raising student achievement above the level in the public schools. Because the children participating in it feel it is giving them a chance to realize their full potential in life – a chance that will disappear if the program is allowed to die, as they have attested in numerous YouTube videos.

The harder question is why Congress – particularly congressional Democrats led by Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) – want to kill the vouchers. Their stated reason is that it robs money from needy public schools and gives it to private schools that are already flush from lavish tuition fees.

But the voucher program not only does not take money away from DC public schools, the language of the law actually includes an extra $13 million annually for DC public schools, above their normal funding stream. As for lavish vs. needy schools, it’s true that there’s a huge gap between what is spent per pupil on public education in DC and the average tuition charged at the voucher-accepting private schools: a yawning $20,000 gap. The current year budget for the District of Columbia allocates $26,555 per pupil for k-12 education – up from $24,600 last year. Meanwhile, the Department of Education study linked to above puts the average tuition at voucher schools at $6,620. So vouchers are getting better results at one quarter the cost.

Clearly, Democrats have other reasons for opposing the voucher program, and this letter from the NEA might have a little something to do with it.

Support For Choice in SC Probably Even Higher Than Reported

I just wanted to follow up on a question Andrew Coulson raised last week about a poll showing a plurality of South Carolina African Americans in support of school choice. Andrew notes:

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.

Certainly opposition from black leadership has probably softened support, but I don’t think that explains the difference in support between the first and subsequent questions. As Andrew notes, the other results peg pro-choice responses consistently at 53 percent.

Here’s the question in full: “Should parents, grandparents or custodial relatives be allowed to receive state scholarships for their children to go to private school if they feel the public school is not meeting their children’s needs?”

First, the description of the tax credit program instead implies a state voucher program. This is bad wording, but probably doesn’t drop support since black support for vouchers tends to be equal or higher than support for credits.

I think the real problem here is the phrase phrase “state scholarships.” This sounds to me like there very well could be conditions, such as academic merit, placed on who is eligible for the “state scholarships.” There are need-based and merit-based scholarships, but they are typically not available to all, and the question is at the very least confusing. This ambiguity, with the suggestion of limited availability, might have softened support/increased undecideds.

In the context of consistent 53 percent support on other, better-worded choice-related questions, I think we can reasonably conclude that poor question wording on the first question likely dropped support for school choice about 10 points.

We really need to be careful with public policy questions … small changes can have a serious impact on the results.

Arne Duncan Wins the Chutzpa Award …

arne-duncan1Arne Duncan has an op-ed in the WSJ today headlined, “School Reform Means Doing What’s Best for Kids: Let’s have an honest assessment of charter schools.”

So how about an honest assessment of how the DC voucher program is doing?

I guess I won’t hold my breath, since Duncan already neglected to bring the findings to light during the debate in Congress and then he tried to bury and spin away the positive results when they did come out. And then he needlessly prevented 200 poor kids from enjoying good schools for at least next year.

President Obama and Duncan’s unwillingness to address the facts show that they have been hypocritical and dishonest on education.

I can’t say it any better than Juan Williams did:

By going along with Secretary Duncan’s plan to hollow out the D.C. voucher program this president, who has spoken so passionately about the importance of education, is playing rank politics with the education of poor children. It is an outrage …

This reckless dismantling of the D.C. voucher program does not bode well for arguments to come about standards in the effort to reauthorize No Child Left Behind. It does not speak well of the promise of President Obama to be the “Education President,’ who once seemed primed to stand up for all children who want to learn and especially minority children.

And its time for all of us to get outraged about this sin against our children.

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.

Rare Duncan-Free Friday

As readers of this blog, and other fine blogs, have no doubt noticed over the last few weeks, Fridays have been kind of popular with the Obama administration for quietly doing questionable education stuff. Well somehow we’ve gotten through this Friday (as far as we know) without Obama and company trying to slip anything past us, leaving us with nothing new to add to recent posts like this one, and this one, and this one.

Look at this as a blessing, and a chance to catch up on all the recent federal edu-action by checking out today’s Cato Daily Podcast featuring yours truly. I give a quick summary of what the Obama administration has promised and done to date, and a prediction of what it will — and won’t — do when edu-push finally comes to edu-shove. It’s a perfect bit of listening for a surprisingly uneventful Friday afternoon.