Let a Thousand Magnolias Bloom: ESA Enrollment in Mississippi

February 5, 2016


(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Citing low enrollment and bogus “research” that excludes the mountain of random-assignment studies, one anti-choice group says Mississippi’s education savings account program for students with special needs is a “failure.”

Of the more than 50,000 children with special needs in Mississippi public schools, 251 were qualified and approved to receive vouchers. Of those, only 107 appear to have used them, .0018 of one percent of Mississippi’s children with special needs.

The research claim clearly doesn’t hold water (unsurprisingly, the only gold standard study they cite is the recent one from Louisiana) but what about the low enrollment? Is this a program that parents don’t really want? Or perhaps there just aren’t enough private school seats for parents?

First, it’s pretty rich that a group that opposes educational choice cites low enrollment as a reason it is “failing.” If enrollment was high, do you think they would see that as a sign of success?

Second, the ESA program is still in its first year. As Empower Mississippi demonstrates in this helpful chart, programs that start small can grow significantly over time:

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 10.05.01 AM

As Empower Mississippi notes, detractors were probably quick to declare Florida’s McKay scholarships a “failure” when only two students used them in the first year, but after experiencing 1,505,100% growth in the next decade and a half, I doubt anyone is making that case anymore.

That said, detractors might be right that there aren’t enough private school seats right now. However, one of the purposes of educational choice is to expand the market. Greater demand should spark greater supply, if the price is right. Unfortunately, that’s a big “if.” The Magnolia State’s ESAs are currently funded at only $6,500 per year. Funding is tied to the state’s base student cost rather than the cost for students with special needs, as Arizona does.

If Mississippi lawmakers want to see greater supply in private school seats for students with special needs — and empower parents to use the ESAs to tailor their child’s education using tutors, online courses, educational therapy, etc. — then they should make sure that the ESAs are adequately funded.

[UPDATE: Grant Callen of Empower Mississippi wrote to let me know that I got one very important detail wrong: the image I used originally was of a Japanese Magnolia, not the North American Magnolia that is Mississippi’s state flower. I stand corrected!]

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin calls for ESAs in OK State of the State

February 1, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Text here, ESA quote:

Finally, I’m 100 percent supportive of Education Savings Accounts. 100 percent.

All students learn differently and should have the opportunity to attend a school that has the best environment for each student to be successful. This can be accomplished through

Education Savings Accounts, while still protecting school finances.

Senator Clark Jolley and Representative Jason Nelson have legislation on this issue. Send it to me and let’s give students and parents a better chance for educational success than they have today.

I do recognize these are some of the hardest things I’ve ever asked for your help to accomplish as governor. But they’re also some of the most important. We were sent here to lead, and we need to lead now more than ever. We have smart, capable people in this room and throughout state government. We can do this.

Ludacris Endorses ESAs

January 28, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Our pal Mike P. may be feeling a bit squeamish about ESAs, but rapper/actor LUDACRIS is ALL IN BABY! From the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

“Regardless to social status, all children should be able to access a great school,” said Ludacris. “Education savings accounts empower all children to be able to access a great education.”



January 27, 2016


No drink, drank or drunk…no pointing….and you have to take a shot with each triangulation hemisphere fallacy!

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Mike Petrilli created a taxonomy of school choice factions which is kind of fun. I agree with a good deal of it, especially the part about the interesting conversations now being between choice supporters rather than between choice supporters and opponents. Some of Mike’s take however strongly evokes Greg’s classic series of Hemisphere Fallacy posts: Faction one claims that the earth is a sphere, faction two insists that the earth is flat, so the real answer is obviously that the world is actually a hemisphere! Somewhere along the way these posts turned into a drinking game.

So in the taxonomy, Mike identifies JPGB as an oasis for “Purists,” identifies a more nebulous group of “Nannies” and then others as “Realists.” Mike identifies himself in the “Realist” camp.

Triangulation nudges one to exaggeration in order to create middle space to inhabit. Mike describes Purists as holding charter schools with suspicion, but a quick search through the JPGB archives will reveal dozens of reviews of charter school research, celeNAEPtion posts etc. for every “get off my lawn kid and take that Recovery School District with you!” post. Mike also describes ESA supporters as “utopian.” Someone put a link in the comments if you have seen otherwise, but I think the consistent theme in the ESA discussion has been their virtues vis a vis older models. I’ve made a consistent effort to describe our unfolding ESA experiment as a learning experience. I see an entirely reasonable path for real benefits, but I have never promised anyone a Workers Paradise or the New Jerusalem.

Or **ahem** “No Child Left Behind.”

I see questions over regulation within a system of parental choice to be an entirely appropriate topic for discussion and debate. It’s worth noting that from the very outset of the parental choice movement Milton Friedman called both for standardized testing and a certain degree of regulation. So in my mind thinking about this as a spectrum would make sense, but if I made a taxonomy it would look like:

Separation of School and State Extremists

Jeffersonian Freedom Fighting Sons of the Great Milton Friedman

Nanny State Busy Bodies

After careful consideration I place myself in the Jeffersonian Freedom Fighting Sons of the Great Milton Friedman…what?!? I did WHAT?!? Oh fine…




Take Your Lithium and Put Your Helmet On

January 22, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

After some boilerplate chest beating over the injunction granted in Nevada, which is under appeal, NVESA opponent Shelia Leslie has the following to say in the Reno News Review:

In Washoe County, our crowded schools are about to get worse thanks to the large businesses attracted by the state’s economic development giveaways and their new employees’ thousands of children. As predicted, the committee tasked with choosing which taxes should be raised to build more schools has decided to ask voters to agree to a substantial increase in local sales and/or property tax in November, raising $600-800 million.

Tray Abney, a lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce, is worried about his son who attends an especially crowded south Reno elementary school. He told KUNR, “We can’t fit the kids we have now, much less the Tesla kids and the Switch kids and the other kids that are coming here.” So much for the arguments that growth pays for itself and that these new subsidized jobs are for people who already live here.

The tax proposal seems unlikely to pass unless the school district’s superintendent, Traci Davis, and the companies most responsible for the sharp uptick in projected students are willing to put their “skin in the game.”

Davis and Tesla could voluntarily offer a “claw-back” on the ridiculously generous taxpayer-funded handouts they demanded and were provided by the school board and the Legislature. Davis could give back her five-month longevity bonus, her attorney fees, and her back-dated extra salary compensation. That gesture might start the healing that is necessary for the taxpayers to regain confidence in the district’s leadership.

Tesla’s billionaire executive, Elon Musk, and his stockholders could offer to build an elementary school or two instead of insulting us with their $37.5 million “donation” to Nevada’s schools, since we’ll have to wait 20 long years before realizing any sales tax from their megafactory.

If they’re not willing to help fund new schools, why should we?

Right, so let me see if I can get this straight. Nevada schools are already overcrowded with many schools surrounded by trailer parks staffed by substitute teachers who often don’t have so much as a BA degree. Check. The willingness of taxpayers to pay billions of dollars for new facilities has limits, including apparently the author who has begun to fantasize about “voluntary claw backs.” Check. The Census Bureau projects continued enrollment growth for as far as the eye can see. Oh and by the way your Baby Boomers are retiring and will need additional health spending and generate less tax revenue. Check, check, check…and check. So obviously a scholarship program that would have allowed 4,000 students to seek an alternative to said overcrowded system this year for less overall money per pupil must therefore be stopped at all cost!

Ground control to Major Kong….you might want to think this over a bit more.


The Three Bees release New Study on Tax Credit Funded ESAs

January 21, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Jason may have not yet developed the shameless self-promotion bug that afflict the rest of us here at JGPB, so I’ll mention for him that he has a new study out along with Jonathan Butcher and Justice Bolick (ah….I just love the sound of that…) on tax-credit ESAs.

The Three Bs make a strong case on the desirability of converting existing tax credit programs over to multiple uses, and also correctly note possible constitutional advantages under some state constitutions for a tax credit approach. The technology for allowing multiple uses for funds looks to be better and cheaper than one might expect (account management/oversight technology is fairly advanced) which may allow for oversight within the admin fees typically allowed by scholarship tax credit programs.

The Three Bs did not directly address the topic of scale. The mighty Florida tax credit program currently looks likely to reach the practical limits of its ability to scholarship children somewhere below 100,000 out of Florida’s 2,500,000 students. This might change if new taxes can be added to credit, but the mechanics of creating a credit against some taxes seems somewhere on the speculative to work-in-progress spectrum at present.

Thus I enthusiastically support conversion of existing tax credit programs to multiple uses, and under some state constitutions, it might be a very good idea to choose this option over a state funded model. Outside of those circumstances, I’d recommend taking your chances with a state funded model if aiming for more than a pilot project.

Florida Renames ESA to Honor Senator Gardiner

January 14, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Florida legislature strikes first in 2016- expanding their special needs ESA program and renamed them the Gardiner Scholarship program after the Florida legislature’s tireless champion for special needs children. RedefinED reported on the floor debate in the Florida Senate:

“This is a bill that people come up to us with tears in their eyes and talk about how it’s changed their life,” Gardiner said, calling attention to a girl with special needs who was seated in the back of the chamber.

“She said, ‘I just want to go to college,’” Gardiner said. “Your bill will provide that path, from cradle to career.”

Senate President Gardiner, the original sponsor of the Florida ESA law, follows in the footsteps of former of another special needs father and former Senate President John McKay in crafting an innovative program to serve the needs of Florida’s special needs students. Senator Gardiner is deeply deserving of the honor that the Florida legislature has bestowed upon him, just as Senator McKay was before him.

Greg btw is one signature away from 1 down, 6 to go in piling up yet another victory over Jay Mathews.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,016 other followers