(Guest post by Greg Forster)
Today, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice releases a report that evaluates how each of the 50 states regulates private schools. While all states regulate things like health and safety, most states go further and impose unreasonable and unnecessary burdens on private schools. This creates barriers to entry, hindering competition and thereby reducing the quality of both public and private schools; it also limits the freedom of parents to choose how their children will be educated. Friedman Foundation Senior Fellow Christopher Hammons graded each state based on how good a job it does of regulating private schools. Scroll down to see the grades.
Accompanying the report, we have compiled lists of all the laws and regulations governing private schools in each of the 50 states. The lists are now available on our website.
Our goal is to educate the public on two fronts. First, we often hear private schools described as “unregulated” by forces hostile to school choice. Private schools are in fact regulated and are accountable to the public for following a large body of laws and regulations. Second, there is wide variation from state to state in the quality of private school regulation. We hope to make the public aware of these disparities so that states with poor regulatory systems will themselves be accountable to the public.
To help ensure the accuracy of our list of private school laws and regulations in each state, we contacted each of the 50 state departments of education, asking them to review our lists and let us know if we had anything missing or incorrect. Each state has an extremely large body of laws and regulations, so any effort to locate all the laws and regulations on a particular topic is very difficult, and we wanted to do everything possible to make sure we didn’t miss anything. As you will see below, some states were more helpful than others.
The Good #1: About one third of the states (18 ) earned a grade in the A or B range. Florida and New Jersey were tied for having the nation’s best regulatory systems for private schools, followed closely by Connecticut and Delaware.
The Good #2: I will admit that I expected most of our e-mails to the state departments of education would be ignored. As it turned out, most of the states – 29 of them – not only got back to us but went over our lists and either said they were OK as is or offered corrections. In fact, publication of the report was delayed so that we would have time to process all the constructive input we were getting from state departments of education. So let me pour myself a big, delicious bowl of crow and apologize to the departments of education in Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. I’m sorry I doubted you, and we greatly appreciate your help.
In addition, Arkansas and Arizona deserve recognition for getting back to us and letting us know that they were unable to help us with our request.
The Bad #1: Almost half the states (22) receive D or F grades for the unnecessary burdens imposed on private schools by their laws and regulations. North Dakota ranked the worst in the nation by a large margin, followed by South Dakota, Alabama, Maryland, New York and Tennessee.
The Bad #2: The departments of education in 17 states did not respond to our attempts to contact them. California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota,
Missouri Mississippi, [oops - apologies to the DOE of Missouri and the schoolchildren of Mississippi] Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Utah, please check whether you still have a department of education.
Mysteriously, Alaska responded to our initial inquiry, but then didn’t respond to our follow-up communications.
Alabama’s department of education deserves special recognition for its efforts to help us. Our request was considered so important that it was ultimately handled by no less than the department’s general counsel.
The department’s first response was to ask where we had gotten our list of Alabama’s private school laws and regulations, and how we were planning to publish it.
I did not ask why they wanted to know, or whom they were planning to pass the information on to once I told them. Instead, I replied that we had compiled our list from the state’s publicly available laws and regulations, and that we were going to post the list on our website and publish a report looking at the laws and regulations in all 50 states.
Their response to that was: “After continued review by appropriate persons and because of the depth of information that you have forwarded to us, it has been determined that this request needs to be reviewed by our SDE Legal Department.” They also asked for more time, which we were happy to give them, as we did for every department that asked for it.
The next and final communication we received was this, which I reprint in its entirety:
I am the General Counsel for the State Department of Education. I have been asked by the Deputy Superintendent of Education, Dr. Eddie Johnson, to review and respond to your request. There are numerous errors contained in the four page document titled ALABAMA. I submit that a further review of our laws and regulations might be helpful. You can access our statutes at www.legislature.state.al.us. The Administrative Code for the Alabama Department of Education can be found at our website, www.alsde.edu/html/home.asp. Thank you for your interest in Alabama.
The message was signed “Larry Craven.” Really.
I offer no speculation as to why Mr. Craven would tell us that our document contained numerous errors, but decline to specify any of them.
If at any time he or any other party will be so kind as to specify anything in our list of laws and regulations for Alabama or any other state that’s wrong or missing, we will gladly make any necessary corrections. In a project of this size, combing through countless thousands of laws and regulations to find the ones relevant to private schools, there would be no shame in having missed some. We make a point of saying so both in the report itself and in a disclaimer that appears on each of the 50 state lists we compiled and put on our website.
That said, this also should be said: we wouldn’t have to comb through countless thousands of laws and regulations, a process inherently subject to this kind of difficulty, if the 50 state departments of education provided this information to the public in an easily accessible format. (Some do, but most don’t.) Our only goal here is to get public-domain information actually delivered to the public. We wish we could say that goal was shared by everyone in charge of running the nation’s education system.
Grades for State Laws and Regulations Governing Private Schools
Edited for typos