PA lawmakers fail to expand school choice

 (Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

As predicted, Big-10 country led the nation in expanding school choice this year. Just to recap, Indiana created the what will become the nation’s largest voucher program and expanded their tax credit. Wisconsin expaned the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and created a new program for Racine. Ohio expanded their failing school voucher and created a new voucher program for special needs students. Michigan removed the cap on university sponsored charter schools after a decade plus long struggle.

Pennsylvania had proposed vouchers, a large expansion of their tax credit program and an expansion of their charter school law. It appears however that the PA legislature will choose to do nothing to expand parental options.

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17 Responses to PA lawmakers fail to expand school choice

  1. Ann In L.A. says:

    Lots of push-back, though. Like this story out of Indiana: http://www.journalgazette.net/article/20111213/LOCAL/312139955

    When faced with the possibility of a charter aimed at low-income kids relocating into a dead school, the school board chose to sell the school and the land to the airport and thus avoid the competition.

    The Fort Wayne Community Schools board voted Monday to transfer the title of a closed elementary school to the Fort Wayne Allen County Airport Authority – a move that complicates a local charter school’s efforts to acquire the property.

    …Johnson Academy has typically catered to low-income students in southeast Fort Wayne, who primarily live in the East Allen County School district.

    Since state money follows the child in Indiana, both FWCS and EACS could lose revenue if their students chose to attend the charter school.

  2. George Mitchell says:

    The failure of the PA bill raises questions: Is it better for a lousy bill to pass or fail to pass? Is (almost) any choice bill worth passing on the theory that eventually it will be strengthened? What does the evidence of the last twenty + years say in answer to those questions?

    • allen says:

      I’m sure opponents of parental choice would heartily endorse the idea that the only bill that should be passed is a ground-breaking bill applicable to every child in the state. That way there’d be nothing in the way of pesky, parental choice law.

      The reality of politics is that you get while the getting is good and for parental choice that means highly-constrained laws which opponents of the law are frantically trying to repeal.

      On the basis of the response of those opposed to any parental choice it’s clear that a lousy bill is worth passing.

      • George Mitchell says:

        Allen knocks down a straw man, i.e., “the only bill that should be passed is a ground-breaking bill applicable to every child in the state.”

      • allen says:

        …and George responds to his own misrepresentation rather then my objection to waiting until all the political ducks are in a row for a “choice bill that’s worth passing”.

        The answer is, as I’ve already pointed out, in politics you get while the getting is good because you may not have another chance to get what you want for a long time or ever. It’s only people for whom the issue is academic that waiting a minute longer then necessary to get any sort of relief might not be quite such a good idea.

      • George Mitchell says:

        “…and George responds to his own misrepresentation…”

        ?

      • allen says:

        “…rather then my objection to waiting until all the political ducks are in a row for a “choice bill that’s worth passing.”

        By the way, built on a decade and a half of success the Michigan legislature just passed law that’ll remove entirely the charter school cap by 2015 and Governor Snyder just signed it into law. Is that a choice bill worth passing?

        In the mean time thousands of Detroit’s poor kids escaped the clutches of the Detroit Public School district. You seem pretty indifferent to their plight arguing for consigning them to the tender mercies of the district hierarchy against the possibility that their salvation might – just might – come at the cost of even better legislation.

        Fortunately the Michigan’s, and other state’s, legislatures have seen fit to provide some merciful relief for what defenders of the current system see as nothing but cannon fodder.

      • George mitchell says:

        To whom is Allen directing this comment?

  3. Matthew Ladner says:

    George-

    Off the top of my head, I’d list MPCP (started tiny and excluded religious schools) and McKay (started as a single district pilot) that started as small but got bigger and better over time. Most of the tax credit programs have been expanded over time. There are other bills that started small/bad and have stayed that way, so it’s a mixed bag.

    I didn’t have much enthusiasm for the PA voucher proposal, but it’s too bad that there was a gigantic increase in the EITC that passed one of the chambers last session that failed to materialize.

    • George Mitchell says:

      Matt,

      You list the MPCP, McKay, and tax credits as (net) positives in a “mixed bag.”

      Well, if the MPCP is a highlight, heaven help us; the financial, regulatory, and political climate is decidedly unhealthy. A previously-united choice political coalition is non-existent.

      Nationally, the % of K-12 students in real choice programs is miniscule.

      The bar is so low that Corbett’s proposal could generate enthusiasm from some quarters.

      George

      • Matthewladner says:

        George-

        It is true that the percentage of children utilizing private choice programs is still very small, but I take the long view on this:

        http://jaypgreene.com/2011/08/18/rational-optimism-on-k-12-reform/

      • George Mitchell says:

        Matt,

        The problem is not confined to the small % of children in private school choice programs. The programs are severely limited in terms of who is eligible, how much funding is provided, and the regulatory framework. Year-in and year-out the leaders of the school choice movement give legitimacy to piecemeal efforts. Supposedly, at some unknown point in the future, these inadequate programs will be changed. It is hard to envision the scenario under which that will occur, absent a fundamental change in the approach of those who purport to lead the national choice movement.

  4. Chad Aldis says:

    Big Ten country–no way. Pennsylvania and Nebraska will always be outsiders. If it were REALLY Big Ten country then it would have gotten done.

  5. matthewladner says:

    George-

    One of my favorite Star Trek the Next Generation episodes had Q lose his godlike powers, demoted to the status of a mere mortal. The crew of the Enterprise is struggling with a planet threatened by having a moon fall out of orbit, and Q breezily announces that the solution is simple: they should simply change the gravitational constant of the universe, and put the moon back into orbit.

    The crew explains to Q that they are incapable of changing the gravitational constant of the universe, putting Q at a loss for what to do.

    Sadly in this case, incrementalism is the graviational constant of the American political universe. This is especially the case when whatever it is you are up to has powerful and entrenched opposition. In this case, school choice faces the most powerful state level opposition.

    I don’t want to make the same mistake that some White liberals used to make by urging southern Blacks to have “patience.” We should never be patient or satisfied. What they ought to have said is: “we are going to fight for this for as long and as hard as it takes. If the fight outlives me, it outlives me, but if so I am going to go down swinging and I hope you will too.”

    If there is a strategy to speed things up, color me interested. If not, I’ll keep hammering away. I hope you will too.

    • George Mitchell says:

      Matt,

      I understand the factors that dictate an incremental strategy. When it comes to school choice, the Milwaukee program was launched with those factors in mind.

      The limitations in every choice and tax credit program since then have been explained by the need to take the best we can get. (Some school choice supporters would dispute that the programs are as limited in scope as I claim.)

      You observe, “If there is a strategy to speed things up, color me interested.” For there to be such a strategy there would need to be a change of approach and outlook on the part of major national leaders in the movement. I don’t see evidence of that, but I could be wrong.

      Most recently, when Wisconsin’s Governor tried to “speed things up,” his effort to make all Milwaukee families eligible was thwarted by a key player in the school choice movement. Milwaukee is a middle class/working class community with a scattering of rich people who already send their children to private schools. Yet Walker’s initiative was cast in Obama-like class warfare terms by supposed school choice supporters.

      Perhaps in their private councils some key players in the school choice movement express concerns about the proliferation of poorly financed and poorly structured programs…programs leave the real potential of choice unexploited.

  6. matthewladner says:

    George-

    One could either celebrate the fact that a serious design flaw of the MPCP was vastly improved, or lament the fact that it is still imperfect. Given the gravitational constant, I’m inclined to do the former despite the fact that means testing is obviously irrational.

    After all, if Bill Gates moves to Milwaukee, should I be more upset if he gets $6,400 vouchers or enrolls his children in public school at $13,000 per child? No one would blink if he chose the public schools…

    I’m much happier to contemplate giving Bill’s kids $6,400 vouchers and poor kids $15,000 vouchers. Let the Gates kids help generate the savings needed to give larger aid to the poor.

    • George Mitchell says:

      While the Milwaukee program was improved this year, my regret involves the source of opposition to a breakthrough change.

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