Fix Schools by Not Fixing Them

December 19, 2014

resized_can-we-fix-it

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA’s Perspective just went online with my article on how to fix schools by not fixing them:

Wanting something too much can prevent you from getting it. In school, we all knew at least one unpopular kid whose desperate, overbearing desire to have friends and be liked was the main reason nobody wanted to be around that person. Sit down with a loved one and say, “now let’s have a really good talk,” and silence will result. The hypochondriac protects himself from germs so well that his immune system is weakened from disuse, and he gets sick…

It’s an insidious trap. The dysfunctions of the system are so bad, we tell ourselves, that we can only fight them if we give money and power to those who will promote the reforms. Once these people have money and power, they set about consolidating their position, working not to improve education but to reinforce their access to money and power. And because they have been anointed as the people whose job is to “fix the public schools,” they tell themselves – sincerely – that they’re building up their own money and power for the sake of improving education. It’s for the children.

I argue that the reason school choice has the best track record of improving public schools is that “improving public schools” is not its formal purpose:

School choice improves public schools precisely because it does not make an idol out of “fixing the public schools.” In fact, it fixes public schools precisely because it establishes that the educational needs of children are more important than the institutional needs of public schools. Instead of taking children for granted as a captive audience, schools must educate children or lose them.


Forster-Mathews over/under challenge- place your 2015 bets now

November 6, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Election coverage inevitably drifts to beltway drama, but I’m at more than a bit of a loss to understand why. It’s kind of like the nation’s bizarre fascination with 32 football teams running the same offense and defense when a far more interesting and gloriously chaotic brand of football rumbles along in the colleges. My memory gets fuzzy trying to remember the last positive and interesting thing to happen in DC. The action in America is out in the states.

Longtime Jayblog readers will doubtlessly recall the world-famous bet between our own Greg and WaPo columnist Jay Mathews regarding whether parental choice programs were just too politically difficult. They eventually decided to put the over/under for new school choice programs or expansions in 2011 at 7, with the loser picking up dinner.

I can’t remember whether the total got to 21 that year or not. If not, it was close. The school choice movement easily cleared the bar again in 2012. Then in 2013, it was time for a three-peat!  Finally in 2014, the pace slowed a bit nationally in an election year and the Forster-Mathews bar proved too high.

And now?

Only time will ultimately tell, but the elections of 2014 must look pretty bleak if you are burdened in life with reactionary K-12 preferences. Scott Walker for instance not only just won his third statewide election in four years, he’s talking about expanding school vouchers into new districts and providing choice to children with disabilities. Arizona Governor-elect Doug Ducey stated in his victory speech “Schools and choices open to some parents should be open to all parents.”

Out in Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott defeated Republican, Independent Democrat Charlie Crist in an epic battle. It did not escape the notice of some that the tight margin could have been swayed by the parents of the parents of the near 100,000 children participating in Florida’s private choice programs this year.

In Indiana, Republicans added to their already large legislative majorities and the same thing basically happened in Ohio. A few years ago, an observer of Nevada politics told me that the map of Nevada House were drawn such that a Democratic majority would live at least as long as the current map. Well lo and behold, Gov. Sandoval gets reelected with 70% of the vote and the Republicans capture both chambers.

The WaPo produced this handy map:

This same article notes that Republicans hold unified control over both chambers and the chief executive in 24 states compared to 6 for the Democrats.

Don’t ignore Blue states however. Out in New York, easily reelected Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed public support for tuition tax credits. From the linked story:

Mr. Cuomo echoed the assemblyman’s call for the passage of the Education Investment Tax Credit, which would help parents pay for religious schools–which the governor compared to his expansion of the state’s Tuition Assistance Program to cover yeshivas and his public funding of busing for students of Orthodox Jewish schools. Mr. Cuomo claimed such funding is simply equitable and right.

“It’s not charity, it’s not a favor. It’s justice. TAP. Public transportation and the school buses, that was justice. Education tax credit–this is a matter of justice,” he said as the crowd broke into applause. “I want you to understand that’s the way I see it. On a personal level, this is a very important relationship that I honor. And as governor, I have sworn to do justice. And there have been a number of great injustices that your community has endured for a long, long time. And it is my profound wish that we should work together and we should resolve them and bring justice to the community that we deserve.”

This is welcome news, as the private choice movement has made very limited progress overall in the mega-states of California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois aka where a whole bunch of the kids are located. Charter schools however are rolling along in all of those states, and they seem poised to crush private schools at a much higher rate than low-performing district schools. Even Florida’s nearing 100,000 private choice children in private choice programs seems small when viewed in this fashion. The Illinois $500 personal use tax credit comes across as a bit of a cruel joke when put into this context: the state will lavish many thousands of (increasingly hard to come by) dollars on you if you choose to attend a district or charter school, but will give you a $500 tax break if you choose to bear the financial burden of sending your child to a private school if you have a sufficient tax liability.

The Illinois credit may only be a small step in reducing double payment penalty, but it is more than California, New York or Texas has done to date while charters continue to surge. In the end, private schools ought not to be preserved by nostalgic state lawmakers, but rather (if it is going to happen) by the free choice of parents operating on something approaching a level financial playing field. We need both broader and better designed account-based programs.

Finally choice proponents need to be aware that even seemingly shiny legislative majorities spring on you like a bear trap if you mistake them for an actual consensus. Proponents must never forget the need to persuade a broader universe of opinion leaders and the public regarding the justice of their cause.

Okay so with all that said, I will take the over in 2015. What about you?

UPDATE:

The Friedman Foundation has a handy-dandy guide to the governors and how they stand on parental choice.

UPDATE PART DEUX:

WaPo on the teacher unions spending $60m on races and mostly getting crushed. Money quotes:

“We knew this was going to be an uphill battle,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest labor union. “But I don’t think anybody on our side, and we’ve got some very savvy people, anticipated going over the falls like this. Tectonic plates have shifted. And we’re going to have to come back with a new way of organizing for these kinds of races.”

and…

“The surprising thing is you now have Democrats who are willing to buck the union,” said Howard Wolfson, an adviser to former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), who contributed to Democratic and Republican candidates around the country who want to introduce more choice and competition in public education, and greater accountability for teachers. “You can take reform positions and be successful not only in general elections, but in primaries. It’s a major sea change in the Democratic party that you can now oppose the union and be successful.”

 

 


Over One Billion Saved

October 1, 2014

McDonalds billions

Watch out, Ronald. We’re catching up!

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Matt seems to have been a little distracted by the Ramones yesterday, so for those who are still wondering, the new study from the Friedman Foundation is a comprehensive financial audit of modern school choice programs. It finds that choice has already saved $1.7 billion. As Matt notes, Friedman produces some pretty awesome slideshows that let you absorb tons of information in two minutes. Check it out below and let us know what you think!

The School Voucher Audit: Do Publicly Funded Private School Choice Programs Save Money? from The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

Long Term Trends in the Fight for Choice

September 22, 2014

Disco Stu trends

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Funny Matt should choose this morning to post thoughts about the future of charters and private school choice. My article on long-term trends in the fight for private school choice was just published by OCPA’s Perspectives. [Update: Oops, link added.]

The most important omen for the long term, though, is the war of ideas and moral legitimacy. Nobody takes the school unions and other guardians of the status quo seriously any more. The mask is off; everyone knows they’re all about the gravy train. Moreover, in milder forms like charter schools, the principle of choice has been almost universally accepted on both sides of the political aisle. How long can people go on supporting charters but opposing private choices, especially as it becomes clear charter schools don’t have enough freedom to reinvent education?

As Matt Ladner likes to say, these days the “cool kids” in education are the entrepreneurs who invent radically new kinds of schools. A few years ago, everyone was atwitter about the revolutionary potential of these “greenfield” experiments. Recently, though, the bloom is off the rose. People are beginning to realize that the world of tomorrow isn’t going to be so easy to build. Where will they turn for the tools they need to truly reinvent education? Universal choice is looking better and better.

Pop culture aficionados are invited to submit their judgment on the quality of my references to Doctor Who.

A shorter version of the article was published as an op-ed in the Edmond Sun.


National School Choice Litigation Week?

August 29, 2014

(Guest Post by A.D. Motzen)

By Friday, school choice advocates were beginning to ask themselves, “what color scarf does one wear during National School Choice Litigation Week?” No, that’s not an official date on the calendar, but it sure seemed like that this week.

The biggest news of course, was the lawsuit filed on Thursday by the Florida teachers union and others to take away the scholarships of 67,000 low-income students. The scholarship tax credit program, enacted in 2001, is the largest in the country and has support of many African American and Hispanic Democratic legislators and community leaders. An overwhelming majority of participants are minority students and the attempt to end a longstanding, successful and popular program makes the lawsuit a highly unusual tactic in the battle of school choice.

Agudath Israel of Florida director, Rabbi Moshe Matz traveled to Tallahassee and spoke at a press conference in opposition to the lawsuit. Rabbi Matz called the lawsuit “shameful” and argued that the program should be lauded and expanded, not litigated.” More than 1000 students attending Jewish day schools are at risk of losing their scholarship if the lawsuit prevails.

On a positive note, the New Hampshire Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling which had prevented the state’s new scholarship tax credit program from being used at religious schools. The court found that the plaintiffs had no standing and could not show how they were harmed by the program.

In other states however, our opponents are not giving up easily. In North Carolina, school choice supporters and lawmakers petitioned the State Supreme Court on Monday to allow students to receive scholarship funds from the Opportunity Scholarship Program while the case is litigated. The case has bounced back and forth between Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood, the North Carolina Court of Appeals and the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Finally, in Oklahoma County District Court on Thursday, a judge ruled against students using the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities (named after the daughter of Democratic Governor Brad Henry who signed the original legislation into law) to attend a religious school. Thankfully, State Attorney General Scott Pruitt promised to appeal the ruling.

So is school choice at risk? Lawsuits are never good. They scare parents and schools from participating in these programs. They waste valuable resources which could have been better used helping promote the programs passed by legislators. However, the reason we see more lawsuits is because more programs are being passed around the country as the movement gains momentum. These lawsuits, especially ones litigating established programs such as in Florida and Georgia, are acts of desperation by those opposed to giving choices to families.

Around the country, more than three hundred thousand students are attending a private school thanks to a scholarship program. Parents, we need you to speak up. Let your legislators and your local news media know that you support these vital programs. With your help we will prevail.


Florida Teachers are Poorly Represented by the Offensive Actions and Attitudes of the Florida Education Association

August 28, 2014

FEA protestors

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Florida Education Association already filed a lawsuit against an expansion of the Florida tax credit program and the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts on procedural grounds. In so doing, the FEA leadership broadly and Vice President Joanne McCall in particular engaged in utter hypocrisy as they had used an identical procedure to get a large teacher pay raise the session before. In the process a FEA official described the special needs students who could benefit from participation in the Personal Learning Scholarship Account program as “collateral casualties.”

So well, if referring to children with disabilities as casualties wasn’t revealing enough about where the well-being of children fall on the priority list of the FEA, today we have a new example from Florida FEA Vice President Joanne McCall. The FEA joined with the Florida School Boards Association in a legal attack on the Florida tax credit program. The families of 60,000 low-income Florida children use this program to finance their education. As mentioned earlier the program has generated a variety of positive evaluations.

Parents feel very strongly about outside groups trying to force their child out of the school they have selected to best meet their needs. Their child’s learning and their network of friends is all being put under assault by this incredibly callous action by the FBSA and FEA.  In a move that should shock no one, a group of these aggrieved parents have protested the FEA’s action outside of their headquarters in Tallahassee.

Here is the response from Twitter for Florida Education Association VP Joanne McCall:

FEA

 

I can’t imagine a more revealing statement. First children with disabilities were “collateral casualties” to the absurd and misguided fears and hatred of the FEA. Now low-income parents who simply want to exercise the same freedom that higher income families take for granted to choose the best school for their child are “hit dogs.” Perhaps it is necessary to dehumanize your victims in your mind before making them into a casualty.

These children and these parents of course are human beings-people with hopes, dreams and aspirations. The only thing accurate about the statement is that the FEA has indeed struck these people. They have cruelly and needlessly introduced fear and uncertainty into their already difficult lives. McCall and her entire organization should be ashamed of what they have done.


BOOOOOOOOOM! New Hampshire Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Tax Credit Program

August 28, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Instant analysis from Jason Bedrick.  Ironically enough the Florida School Boards Association and other members of the public school non-profit industrial complex filed suit again the Florida tax credit today. Florida judges would do well to apply the question of harm (and thus standing) to these litigants, because the reality is that Florida public schools have far more money, more students, and employ more people today than before the Florida tax credit passed. The state appointed academic evaluator (and others) have found that part of the source for the remarkable improvement in public schools originated from the tax credit program.  The districts would have higher enrollment in the absence of the program, but they have local funding to cover their fixed costs and have been dealing with enrollment growth for decades and will deal with more in decades to come.

I’d love to hear a coherent claim of harm in any of this. The New Hampshire Supreme Court was wise and just in drawing this conclusion, and thousands of low and middle income children will have greater options because of it. I hope that Florida’s judges will prove equally adept.


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