I’ve just discovered that my calculation of DC education spending per pupil was wrong, and I have to publish a correction.
I wrote back in March that total DC k‑12 spending, excluding charter schools, was $1,291,815,886 during the 2008-09 school year. That still appears to be correct. But to get the per‐pupil number I divided total spending by the then-official enrollment count: 48,646. It now turns out that that number was rubbish. PRI’s Vicki Murray just pointed me to this recent DCPS press release that identifies a new audited enrollment number for the same school year: 44,681 students.
If that number excludes the 2,400 special education students that the District has placed in private schools, then DC’s correct total per pupil spending is $27,400.
If the new audited enrollment number does include the students placed in private schools, then DC’s correct total per pupil spending is $28,900.
Hmm. Let me think. What was that average tuition figure at the private schools serving DC voucher students.…? Oh yes: $6,600, according to the federal Department of Education.
In case you don’t know, that’s the program in which, after three years, voucher‐receiving kids are reading two grade levels ahead of their public school peers — also according to the Dep’t. of Education (see the linked study, above).
It is also the program that President Obama has doomed to die, because of the, uh…, because, um…, why did he do that again?!?!
Blogging for the Newark, N.J. Star‐Ledger, politicial science prof. Thurman Hart presents this objection to school vouchers:
[T]he effect of it would be that state, and maybe federal funds, would be used for the expressed [sic] purpose of teaching Catholic dogma. My opposition to that has nothing to do with my status as an Episcopalian — I don’t want All Saints Episcopalian Day School in Hoboken to get state funds to teach Episcopalian dogma
There is merit to his concern. Many of this nation’s early immigrants had fled compelled support for religion and other infrigements on their freedom of belief in their mother countries. But there is a way to avoid these problems while simultaneously ensuring educational freedom and choice for all: education tax credits.
These programs cut taxes on families who cover the cost of their own children’s education, and on individuals and businesses who donate to non‐profit scholarship funds for lower‐income students. If you choose to participate, you also choose the institution that gets your money — either the school you send your own children to or the scholarship orgnization that receives your contribution. In the latter case, you simply pick the scholarship fund you think is doing the best job helping low‐income families.
If you don’t want to fund a religious education for Catholics or Muslims, you don’t have to. You can choose a secular scholarship fund or one serving Episcopalians, Jews or Hindus. For those not particularly sensitive to the religiosity of other families’ schooling, there are scholarship funds that make no religious distinctions at all.
This is a way to unite like‐minded donors and parents without the use of compulsion, and without inhibiting the very freedom and clear sense of mission that are the entire raison‐d’etre of school choice. It is also in the best spirit of individual liberty and cooperation among free people that we will be celebrating early next month…
My son’s station car is an old Ford Explorer AWD which, despite being a V‑6, was rated at about 15 mpg. Approaching 100,000 miles, the SUV’ s resale value is very low.
The House approved a bill to give him a $3,500 voucher to buy a car that is supposed to get only 18 mpg, or $4,500 if it gets 20 mpg. Only 18 – 20 mpg? That’s not moving us much closer to President Obama’s pie‐in‐the‐sky 35.5 mpg goalpost is it?
Consider how easy it would be to game this giveaway program by using that $4,500 voucher to buy a big SUV or V‑8 muscle car.
First of all, with Chrysler and GM dealerships folding, it should be easy to buy a mediocre Chevy Cobalt or Dodge Caliber for about $10,000 more than the voucher.
What you do next is sell that boring econobox, even if you end up with $1,000 less than you paid — that still leaves you with $3,500 of free money, courtesy of taxpayers.
As this process unfolds, the flood of resold small cars will make it even harder for GM, Chrysler and Ford dealers to get a decent price for small cars, because of added competition from new cars being resold as used.
That’s their problem, not yours.
So, take the $9,000 net from reselling the crummy little car plus the $4,500 from Uncle Sam. Then use that $13,500 to make a big down payment on a used Cadillac Escalade, Toyota Tundra pickup or Corvette.
File this under “unintended consequences” (my own file is running out of space).
I’ve been reading the debate between our own Andrew Coulson and Rev. Joseph Darby with interest, not least because it is an extreme rarity to find an opponent of school choice with the courage and good faith to engage in such a public debate on the topic.
That said, something Rev. Darby wrote in his response caught my attention because of its parallels with the modern fight over school choice:
The first schools established for African-Americans following the Civil War were private schools. They sometimes, however, exclusively accepted the children of the black upper and middle economic classes while excluding the children of former slaves who struggled economically to survive. Public schools for African-Americans were decidedly and intentionally inferior, and the irony is that the opponents of quality public education in Charleston, South Carolina in that era included affluent African-Americans who saw good public schools as a threat to their private schools.
Too little is said about an uncomfortable contemporary truth: the irony is that the opponents of school choice across this country include affluent African-Americans who see good private schools as a threat to their public schools, their livelihoods, and their political and economic power.
There is a class divide in the African American community. If you take a look at the economics of urban areas, you will find that schools provide a large percentage of good middle and upper-middle class jobs for African Americans. If you look at the polling data, it is low-income blacks who are most supportive of school choice. And yet black elected officials are overwhelmingly opposed to choice.
And if you look at the black leadership class that runs our cities and failing public schools, you will find that many send their children to schools other than those in which they teach or those in the city they lead. I hold up as the most prominent example our first black president, Barrack Obama, who opposes private school choice policies and yet has always sent his own children to private schools.
Rev. Darby suggests, “a mass exodus to private schools will weaken public schools by leaving behind parents who have the least ability to advocate for or assist their children, and remove positive peer role models from struggling students.” If this is indeed true then the greatest damage has already been done to public schools by the likes of President Obama and other parents with the means to choose private schools for their children.
Why do Rev. Darby and other government school advocates not excoriate President Obama and other school choice opponents who patronize private education? Why are Rev. Darby and others not working assiduously to ban private schools altogether?
Why, in the final analysis, does Rev. Darby’s logic hold for the poor but not for the wealthy?
Below the fold I have more on these claims.
The USA Today editorializes this morning in support of the DC voucher program and school choice in general. That’s a shift from last year when Robert Enlow of the Friedman Foundation had to respond to their dismissal of vouchers. From the enlightened board:
As an Education Department spokesman says, “The unions are not happy.” But 20 million low‐income school kids need a chance to succeed. School choice is the most effective way to give it to them.
The shift of center‐left elite opinion on school choice is a hugely important development, as I noted with the first wave of mainstream media attention to the DC voucher program’s death‐sentence:
When elites unite on mainstream issues, the public’s response is relatively nonideological and lopsided. School choice is progressively mainstreaming, slowly but surely moving from a polarized elite debate to one where the intensity and support is weighted in favor of school choice.
When an issue that used to be considered free‐market fringe is embraced as a moral litmus test for politicians by liberal editorial boards, the issue‐argument has been won. That’s certainly not to say the policy war has been won, but an important battle toward realizing that goal has been.
The opposition’s intensity and moral certitude is bleeding out one program at a time. School choice is no longer an abstract proposition; faces and lives are attached to the 24 private school‐choice programs in 14 states and the District of Columbia. In the past four years, four education tax‐credit programs have passed that serve at least low‐income children…
School‐choice opponents might have won the battle over vouchers in the District, but they are losing the larger war. They have inadvertently revealed what’s truly at stake; not funding issues or public school ideology, but our promise to all children of a fair shot at success in life.
Choice opponents are on the wrong side of right and the wrong side of history.
The South Carolina legislature is currently considering a tax credit bill intended to give parents an easier choice between public and private schools. It would do this by cutting taxes on parents who pay for their own children’s education, and by cutting taxes on anyone who donates to a non‐profit Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO). The SGOs would subsidize tuition for low income families (who owe little in taxes and so couldn’t benefit substantially from the direct tax credit). Charleston minister Rev. Joseph Darby opposes such programs, and I support them. We’ve decided to have this dialogue to explain why. Our initial comments were posted Tuesday. The next installment is here.
Rev. Joe Darby
Since this is a “dialogue,” let me focus on something that Andrew said in his first installment — that public education “…has failed because it lacks the freedoms and incentives that drive progress in every other field.” I take that as a defense of the “free market,” where competition allegedly leads to quality and success. I don’t think that the “free market” is the best model for education. To quote African Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop John Hurst Adams, one of my mentors, “the free market has limitations when it comes to the human condition, because it’s an amoral concept that ‘lets the market decide’ who swims and who gets swept away.” That’s applicable to the standard argument that private school choice would improve public schools through “competition.”
The first schools established for African‐Americans following the Civil War were private schools. They sometimes, however, exclusively accepted the children of the black upper and middle economic classes while excluding the children of former slaves who struggled economically to survive. Public schools for African‐Americans were decidedly and intentionally inferior, and the irony is that the opponents of quality public education in Charleston, South Carolina in that era included affluent African‐Americans who saw good public schools as a threat to their private schools.
Public funds going to private schools would revive that tradition, for every tax dollar that “follows” a child to private schools in tough economic times will lead to understaffed and under‐equipped public schools. Public school funding is set by legislators who are well aware that their constituents without children in the schools are loathe to fund them, and who’ve catered to those constituents by cutting funding for public education. There can be no true “competition” between public schools that only receive public funds and private schools that would have public and private funds at their disposal, for the free market turns on available capital.
The economic crisis now rocking markets in our nation and the world is also instructive. That crisis was, at least in part, created by policies that deregulated the free market and promoted not only innovation, but sheer greed which crafted a shaky, “house of cards” economy that has collapsed and taken people down with it. The lesson now, as it was during the Great Depression, is that unregulated free market activity can have disastrous results. I believe that the current financial crisis is also an element in the push for Private School Tuition Tax Credits. Many private schools are hurting because parents who can no longer afford high tuition are considering public school alternatives — private schools are hungry for the “bailout” that the pending South Carolina legislation would provide.
America makes the lofty claim in our Pledge of Allegiance to be “one nation under God.” If we’re serious about that, then we should heed the words of the Jesus who is seen as the Messiah by Christians and as God’s prophet by Jews and Muslims. He said that the Creator’s standard for right behavior includes equitable treatment for all people. That equity is at the heart of public education but is not a factor in free market competition, where the vagaries of the market decide outcomes and impact success in life. I said so six years ago in one of my conversations with my friend Mark Sanford, the Governor of South Carolina. He laid out his argument for private school choice over more funding for public schools in familiar, logical and compellingly Libertarian free market terms, but he never answered one question that I asked — why can’t we provide good public schools because it’s simply the right thing to do?
The Rev. Darby is senior pastor of the AME Morris Brown Church in Charleston, and First Vice President of the Charleston Branch of the NAACP.
Glad you brought up the objective studies, Joe, but you only mentioned one of them. I recently collected every scientific study I could find comparing outcomes between public and private schools (Journal of School Choice, vol. 3, no. 1). I came up with 65 studies that compare student achievement, cost‐effectiveness, parental satisfaction and other measures. The results overwhelmingly favor private schooling. What’s more, the least regulated, most‐market‐like school systems stand out as the best of all (here’s an earlier version of the paper).
Interestingly, there’s one study I couldn’t include because it wasn’t released ’til a few weeks ago. It’s the 3rd year DC voucher study (the successor to the one you mentioned), and it shows that students who’d been attending private schools for the full 3 years are 2 school‐years ahead of their public school peers in reading! Even including the kids who’ve only been in the program for 1 year, the vouchers are now producing significant gains.
And there’s no evidence that school choice weakens the public schools. Professor Jay Greene looks at this question in his book Education Myths. He finds that public schools either improve under school choice programs, or are unaffected. So even the families that don’t choose to attend private schools will likely be better off, and certainly no worse off, than they are now.
Who would be the biggest beneficiaries of the SC education tax credit bill? Low‐income kids. As noted in the preamble at the top of this column, only low‐income families would be eligible for tuition aid from Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs). The amount of aid each family could receive from an SGO is not capped, so that assistance can be allocated based on individual need. Pennsylvania already has such a tuition‐assistance program, serving over 40,000 students with bi‐partisan support.
Parents who earn enough to owe state taxes would be eligible for direct tax credits to offset their own kids’ education costs, but those credits are explicitly capped (at around $2,800, if their kids are not zoned to attend a “failing” public school — more if they are).
It’s certainly reasonable to wonder how poor families would cope with transportation and any non‐tuition costs, but we can just look at how scholarship tax credit programs are working in states like Pennsylvania and Florida: some schools provide transportation, some are within walking distance, some families form carpools, and others use public transportation. Tens of thousands of poor children manage to get to their private schools under these programs every day, and to obtain uniforms for the schools that require them. Many others do so even without scholarships.
As for wanting to start by fully funding public schools… we’re already there. The 2007-08 budget for Charleston public schools lists total expenditures at over $548 million (p. 21) for 40,202 students (p. 4). That’s $13,650 per pupil — more than the state and national averages, which are both about $12,000. These numbers are vastly higher than the median U.S. private school tuition, which the Department of Education reported as $3,500 in 2003-04 [the most recent year available]. And only about a fifth of private school revenue comes from sources other than tuition. Even if tuitions have doubled since then, they’d still be barely half of Charleston’s per pupil spending.
I’ll have to wait ’til next time to address your concern about the history of school choice, since I’ve run out of word count. In the meantime, here’s a thought:
There’s nothing wrong with trying to fix the public schools. But you don’t lock kids in a burning building while you try to put out the fire.
Andrew Coulson is director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, and author of Market Education: The Unknown History.
The USA Today takes note of the fact that support for school choice is growing among Democratic, often black, politicians:
While vouchers will likely never be the clarion call of Democrats, they’re beginning to make inroads among a group of young black lawmakers, mayors and school officials who have split with party and teachers union orthodoxy on school reform. The group includes Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and former Washington, D.C., mayor Anthony Williams.
I’d only add that this broadening support is hardly limited to black Democrats, and that support for education tax credits is spreading even more quickly among Democrats. And while choice might never become a Democratic “clarion call,” it just might become the new consensus among serious education reformers in both parties.
For instance, a Democrat‐controlled and, I assume, mostly white legislature in Rhode Island passed a donation tax credit. And Democratic governor and legislature in Iowa raised their tax credit dollar cap by 50 percent in 2007. The paper mentions black mayor Corey Booker’s support for school choice in New Jersey, but the white, former Democratic state party chair, and current state Senator Ray Lesniak is also pushing for a donation tax credit bill.
The model case is Florida. When the Florida legislature passed its education tax credit program to fund private school choice in 2001, only one Democrat supported the measure. Last year, the state legislature expanded the program with the votes of one third of statehouse Democrats, half the black caucus and the entire Hispanic caucus.
In the past few weeks, nearly a third of Senate Democrats and half of House Democrats voted to significantly expand the program’s revenue base. Virtually all Republicans did the same, and Republican Governor Crist is expected to sign the bill soon. In all, 43 percent of state Democratic legislators in Florida voted in favor of education tax credits.
The toothpaste is out, and the teachers unions can’t put it back in with all the dues money in the world.