Topic: Education and Child Policy

WSJ Inadvertently Flaks for DC Schools

A WSJ editorial recently observed that “the $7,500 [DC school] voucher is a bargain for taxpayers because it costs the public schools about 50% more, or $13,000 a year, to educate a child….”

Um, no. As I reported back in April, it is costing taxpayers $24,600 to warehouse a child in DC public schools this year. The WSJ’s reference to $13,000 is a fantasy no doubt attributable to the use of dated Census Bureau figures that exclude capital expenditures, and that capture neither the spending increases nor the rapid enrollment losses of the past few years (let alone inflation).

If an economically savvy paper like the Journal can fall into this trap…. Oy!

The School Choice Money Angle

The AP story on the New Orleans voucher program that just passed the state Senate illustrates something interesting that all school choice proponents should consider. Opponents of choice in Louisiana appear to be focusing on the financial angle, just as they have elsewhere (italics added):

Opponents point to recent improvements in New Orleans public schools that have been realized since the state and various charter organizations began running them after the hurricane. They say the $10 million would be better spent on public schools.

Opponents also said the cost is likely to balloon as the first-year students progress and more students enter the program. “When we get to the end how much is this program going to cost?” asked Sen. Joe McPherson, D-Woodworth.

The school choice community tends to focus on the human-interest, educational equity, side of things because it seems the most compelling and toughest angle to dismiss.

But we neglect the fiscal side of the equation at our peril. My doctoral research on school choice messaging suggests that emphasizing the financial argument for school choice – that it saves money – is the best way to increase support among the general public.

Most voters don’t have children, but almost all of them pay taxes. And in general, people think school choice reform will cost taxpayers a lot more than we already spend on education. Of course, that just isn’t the case.

School choice great way to save millions or even billions of dollars each year, and we all need to do more to make sure the public knows this fact.

Louisiana Moving on School Choice

The Louisiana Senate passed a voucher program for New Orleans that looks set to become law soon. The House already passed the bill and Gov. Jindal is a strong supporter. Here’s more from the AP:

The plan would cover children in kindergarten through third grade in the 2008-09 school year, with subsequent grades added each year thereafter. Children from families earning up to 2.5 times the current federal poverty level (or about $53,000 for a family of four) would be eligible. If there are more applicants at a school than there are available seats, the school would choose participants randomly.

Although the bill is aimed at up to 1,500 students, backers say there may be only a few hundred slots available at private schools in the city next year.

It’s great that Gov. Jindal is pushing for more school choice in a state that sorely needs it, but his administration and state lawmakers should take a look at a more powerful and more popular way of promoting educational freedom; a broad-based program of personal-use and donation tax credits.

The small tax deduction passed earlier this year was a great first step, but Jindal can and should think much bigger on education tax credits.

Eleanor Holmes Norton Loves Government Schools, Kids … Not So Much

The Wall Street Journal has a great editorial today on the plans that D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and teacher’s-union hacks in Congress have for the city’s voucher program:

Democrats in Congress have finally found a federal program they want to eliminate. And wouldn’t you know, it’s one that actually works and helps thousands of poor children.

We’re speaking of the four-year-old Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that provides vouchers to about 2,000 low-income children so they can attend religious or other private schools. The budget for the experimental program is $18 million, or about what the U.S. Department of Education spends every hour and a half… .

Many of the parents we interviewed describe the vouchers as a “Godsend” or a “lifeline” for their sons and daughters. “Most of the politicians have choices on where to send their kids to school,” says William Rush, Jr., who has two boys in the program. “Why do they want to take our choices away?”

Delegate Norton, Congressional Dems Set to Cut Educational Lifeline, Parents “Befuddled”

The Washington Post reports today that D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is working on a plan to kill the voucher program that enables close to 2,000 children in the District to attend good private schools. Anticipating an expansion of a Democratic majority in Congress and possible takeover of the presidency, Norton believes the program will end next year.

Norton admitted that in her conversations with parents, “They looked completely befuddled” at learning that the voucher program might be killed. I’m sure those parents can’t understand why politicians want to eliminate a small program that lets some lucky students escape from DC’s failing, dilapidated, and often dangerous schools.

These parents don’t understand that the priority for many politicians is giving kickbacks to teachers unions, not the welfare of kids or taxpayers.

Studies consistently demonstrate that choice increases parental satisfaction, student achievement and saves money. As Andrew Coulson noted in a recent oped, the District spends more than $24,000, in contrast to the maximum $7,500 voucher, on each child and still can’t ensure a safe, let alone adequate, education.

“We have to protect the children, who are the truly innocent victims here,” explained voucher opponent Norton, apparently without irony.

Instead of conspiring to send nearly 2,000 children back to one of the worst public school systems in the country, Norton and other Democrats should keep the D.C. voucher program and expand school choice through other methods such as education tax credits. We need to put more power in the hands of parents instead of a corrupt and union-dominated school system.

Killing DC’s voucher program would be a cruel and indefensible exercise in special-interest pandering.

A Free Market Gem in Guatemala

The L.A. Times has a very fine article today on Francisco Marroquín University, Guatemala’s libertarian institution of higher learning, and its founder, Manuel “Muso” Ayau.

Those of us who have visited UFM can testify as to the passion for liberty that fills the place. It’s certainly a free market gem in the midst of Central America.

False Dichotomy

In general, I don’t care what appears on the pages of Parade magazine—everyone’s favorite newspaper insert—but lots of people probably read the thing so when it contains something totally off the mark it’s worth rebutting. This weekend’s edition included a little story on homeschooling, in which Century Foundation Senior Fellow Richard Kahlenberg said that a California appeals court decision prohibiting parents from homeschooling without official teaching credentials “pits those who believe parental rights are paramount against those who place a premium on well-educated citizens.”

Talk about your false dichotomies! Kahlenberg is probably right that many people who say homeschooling parents should be required to have state credentials do so in the name of “well-educated citizens,” but there is no connection between teacher certification and well-educated anything, nor between public schooling and good citizenship. Indeed, state control of education is no guarantee of any quality whatsoever. 

People who want the state to control homeschooling might truly believe that it will produce well-educated citizens, but there’s very little evidence to support that belief.