Charter Trade-offs … Is Public Choice Killing Private Schools?

Typically, charter schools are lumped together with the movement for private school choice, but there is increasing evidence that charter schools hurt private schools and may close off the path to educational freedom.

The Washington Post reported this weekend that Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl is proposing to convert 8 of the 12 inner-city Catholic schools known as the Center City Consortium into secular charter schools:

Soon after he arrived in the District in June 2006, Wuerl said he heard from Catholic education officials that the inner-city schools were no longer financially viable. Part of the reason was that many poor families were choosing charter schools, which are free.

“One by one, families left to go to charters … and it was a kind of steady drifting away,” said Monsignor Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Roman Catholic Church in Southeast Washington, whose parish school, which dates to the 1920s, would be converted to a charter.

The charter school drain on private school enrollment is not limited to DC. A 2006 report from the National Charter School Research Project, for instance, finds that 20 percent of Michigan charter school students came from private schools.

These results should come as no surprise. Private schools struggle under a massive disadvantage compared with government schools; they have about half the public sector’s per pupil revenue and parents have to pay tuition on top of taxes for the government system. That’s a high hurdle to clear to attract customers.

The big advantages they have are diversity in curriculum and mission and freedom from the counter-productive regulations that often bog down government schools. And because they operate at such a financial disadvantage to government schools, private schools need to make sure they offer something parents can’t get from their state-run counterparts.

Charter schools add significantly to the disadvantages of private schools; charters get most of the higher funding that regular government schools do, but for now, at least, more autonomy and freedom to diversify. In the long term, there is no reason to believe that charter schools will not succumb to the same regulatory ratchet effect that has hamstrung the public schools. The local public schools of the late 1800s had more autonomy than charter schools do today – and look what happened to them….

Supporters of educational freedom – the freedom to choose the best option, whether public, independent, or religious – need to carefully consider the serious trade-offs involved when supporting charter school policies. If they don’t, they may be looking at a 99% government school monopoly in 20 years time, instead of the 90% monopoly that exists today.

Petraeus and Iraq: The Story vs. the Headlines

Headline writers at several major newspapers have chosen to highlight Gen. David Petraeus’s proposal to reduce the number of troops in Iraq by 30,000, essentially returning the presence there to pre-surge levels.

  • “Petraeus Backs Partial Pullout,” proclaims the print edition of today’s Washington Post.
  • “Petraeus Eyes Troop Reductions,” blares the Washington Times.
  • USA Today’s lead story appeared under the slightly more qualified headline “General Plans Cut in Troops as Tension Rises over Timing.”

But these headlines obscure the true story behind Petraeus’ and Amb. Ryan Crocker’s testimony yesterday and today. Greg Jaffe and Neil King, Jr., at the Wall Street Journal do a better job of fixing on the essential unanswered question: How quickly will the pullout proceed beyond July?

Members of Congress have tried to get at this issue, but Petraeus and Crocker have – so far – deftly parried these questions. Not knowing the answer, we are forced to rely on a speculative but, I think, ultimately accurate assessment by Karen DeYoung and Tom Ricks on the front page of the Post:

“If Gen. David H. Petraeus has his way, tens of thousands of U.S troops will be in Iraq for years to come.”

Will he get his way? It will be up to the next president to decide. George Bush has already made up his mind: for as long as he is in the Oval Office, we’re staying.

You Know It’s a Dark Hour When…

…you’re having wistful fantasies about staff meetings. In all seriousness, though, there’s great news: once imprisoned by Iran, Wilson Center scholar Haleh Esfandiari is back at home in Washington–and back at work at the Wilson Center. But as she says, during her stint in Evin prison, she was indeed dreaming about being back at Wilson Center staff meetings:

I had blocked, you know, thinking about my husband, my daughter, my grandchildren, the house; I blocked all that out because that would have led me to despair. So, for eight months, or for the four months in prison, I didn’t think about it.

I dreamt of my first staff meeting at the Wilson Center. (Laughter.) I seriously did. I really did that, I said, OK, I would [not] tell anybody I’m in town … I would open the door Monday morning at 9:00, walk in to the staff meeting and everybody [would say], “She’s here!”

Full transcript of Esfandiari presser here. (.pdf)

Ramesh Ponnuru Joins the Anti-Universal Coverage Club

From his excellent article [$] on health care reform in the most recent issue of National Review:

No matter how cheap free-market reform made basic insurance policies, some people, chiefly the young, would not buy them. Republican reformers are divided about what to do about these holdouts. Some of them believe that they should be forced to buy insurance, so that they would not visit emergency rooms and send everyone else’s premiums higher. Others argue that the premium increase is small, and the risks of mandatory coverage large. The Urban Institute estimates that uncompensated care is less than 3 percent of health spending. Eliminating that cost through forced coverage would require the government to define a basic benefits package, which would be an invitation to provider groups to lobby the government to re-create the mandates that state governments have piled on insurance. My own view is that, in a fairly free system, the holdouts should be left to do as they please.

Click here for more on the Anti-Universal Coverage Club.

British Tories vs. Freedom

Margaret Thatcher is probably shaking her head with disgust that the Tories have become so vapid that the Party apparently is poised to support a ban on appliances such as plasma TVs because they use “too much” energy. The Sun also reports that the Tory working group wants to use a new measure of GDP based on nebulous indicators of happiness (which is probably a wise step since actual GDP probably will shrink if the Conservative Party ever wins another election and gets the chance to implement its nanny-state agenda):

The Conservatives will propose banning plasma screens and other energy-guzzling electrical goods in a report to be unveiled next week. The proposals target white goods like fridges and freezers, as well as TVs, personal computers and DVD players that use too much energy or operate on stand-by. …The group will also suggest scrapping Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of the nation’s success in favour of a model that measures people’s happiness drawn up up by Friends of the Earth. Under the proposals, a cap could be set on the energy use of each electrical appliance, and those exceeding limits could be banned from sale in the UK. …The proposals are set to be unveiled on Thursday in the final report of the Tories’ Quality of Life Policy Group, chaired by former Environment Secretary John Gummer and green activist Zac Goldsmith, a Conservative spokesman confirmed.

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Nanny-State Food Police Run Amok in Los Angeles

In an effort that probably is facilitated by behind-the-scenes payments from already-established restaurants seeking to stifle competition, the LA City Council is looking to ban new fast-food restaurants in some neighborhoods. An article in the LA Times explains that state politicians already are micro-managing school menus, while a Republican member of Congress – seeking to out-do Democrats in concocting new responsibilities for the federal government – actually has a bill that somehow would seek to make nutritious foods more available to poor people:

Los Angeles officials, among others around the country, are proposing to limit new fast-food restaurants – a tactic that could be called health zoning. The City Council will be asked this fall to consider an up to two-year moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in South L.A., a part of the city where fast food is at least as much a practicality as a preference. …”

While limiting fast-food restaurants isn’t a solution in itself, it’s an important piece of the puzzle,” said Mark Vallianatos, director of the Center for Food and Justice at Occidental College. This is “bringing health policy and environmental policy together with land-use planning,” he said. “I think that’s smart, and it’s the wave of the future.” …

A California law banning sugary drinks and limiting the fat and sugar content of foods sold in middle and high schools took effect in July. And the state enacted legislation last year to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables to be sold in corner stores in lower-income communities. Rep. Mary Bono (R-Palm Springs) introduced a bill in Congress in June that, among other things, would try to increase the availability of nutritious foods in economically depressed areas.

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