Raising the Bar on the Forster-Mathews Bet

April 1, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Thus far I am aware of a tax-credit improvements in Alabama and Arizona, new special education scholarship programs in Arkansas and Mississippi, and many other measures pending in many other states. I think it is safe to say that Greg will once again defeat Jay Mathews in the over/under of 7 enactments.

WSJ choice

 

While we celebrate yet another Greg victory, it may be a good time to pose a different question for ourselves: how many states have enacted a choice program or a combination of choice programs sufficiently robust to see a growth in private education in the face of a strong charter school law? A Rand Corp study found private schools will lose one student for every three gained by charter schools in Michigan.  We would not expect to find an exact match for this nationwide, but charter schools do by definition draw upon the universe of would-be choosers: parents who are looking for alternatives outside of their zoned district school. It makes sense that they would have a larger impact on private education.

If we assume the Michigan finding to be roughly equivalent to a national average, then we can proceed to check the tape. First charter school enrollment by state:

Charters school enrollment

Next private choice program enrollment by state (from the Alliance for School Choice Yearbook):

Private choice students 1

 

And…

Private choice students 2

So how many states have one-third or more as many private choice students as charter school students? Indiana is matching private choice students with charter school students despite a strong charter law thus far, and so is the leader in the clubhouse. Florida barely met the 1 private choice for 3 charter school students standard between the combination of the corporate tax credit program and the McKay Scholarship program. Without new revenue sources however growth in the Florida tax credit will stall in the next few years even as statewide student growth continues. Moreover Florida charter schools have almost certainly drawn a relatively advantaged group of students from private schools (charter schools have universal eligibility). The private choice programs have been aiding only low-income and children with disabilities and providing significantly fewer resources than those students receive in public schools (smaller tax credit scholarships in the case of low-income children, no local top-up funds in the case of McKay students).

Florida lawmakers have been busy improving the ability for high quality charter operators to open new schools (as they should) but balked last year at providing new tax credit revenue sources. Absent some large policy changes Florida will soon slip below the 1 to 3 ratio.

Iowa met the standard because of a healthy and growing tax credit program and a weak charter school law (3 total schools), so give them an *. Wisconsin meets the bar with the combination of private choice programs and a charter school program that (last I heard) is still bottled up in Milwaukee, so kind of an * too.

The Illinois and PA programs would require some sort of estimate regarding the price elasticity of demand for private schooling, but I’ll just heroically guess that charter schools have the better end of the deal in those states. Arizona and Ohio have more than three charter students for every private choice student. Other states like California, Michigan, New York and Texas seem content to watch their charter school sector batter their private school sectors into gravel.

Bear in mind that this comparison would look even more lopsided if we counted dollars rather than students. For instance the average tax credit scholarship in Arizona runs around $2,000 while the average charter school receives around $7,000 per pupil. Very few of the private choice programs come near to matching the per pupil level of subsidy provided to charter, much less district schools. Emblematic of this failure was the choice of 12 Catholic schools in Washington D.C. to give up the ghost and convert to charter schools after a (poorly designed) voucher bill had passed.

The goal of the private choice movement should not be to preserve a preexisting stock of private schools per se, but rather to allow parental demand to drive the supply of school seats. Those District of Columbia Catholic schools did not convert to charters because the parents were clamoring for it, but rather because the Congress had offered almost twice as much money per pupil to do it. States like Texas invest hundreds of millions of dollars per year into a charter sector that draws disproportionately from private schools while providing parents who would prefer a private education for their child nothing but the prospect of struggling to pay their school taxes and private school costs simultaneously.

Seen in this context, many private choice victories seem worthy but incremental. Incremental change is the equilibrium point of American politics, but the choice movement needs more Indiana style successes. Once more unto the breach dear friends…


The New School Choice

March 31, 2015

schoolchoiceweek

(Guest Post by Greg Forster)

The new issue of OCPA’s Perspective carries my article on how more recent school choice programs are moving us slowly but surely closer to universal school choice:

The huge wave of new school choice programs enacted in 2011-13 went far beyond earlier programs in expanding student eligibility pools, providing larger vouchers, and reducing unnecessary regulations on participating schools. Education savings accounts, probably the best program design yet devised, have been enacted in Arizona and Florida; as I write, new programs have just been approved by legislative chambers in Virginia and Mississippi. These programs, while still limited in eligibility, give parents much more control over education dollars than traditional school choice.

I argue there are both educational and civic reasons to embrace universal choice:

Two of the great pillars of our country are equal rights and freedom for diverse beliefs. Neither of these pillars is consistent with a government school monopoly, nor with the educational oligopoly of limited school choice.

A monopoly or oligopoly exists by stamping out the rights of challengers in order to protect the privileges of the powerful. When educational entrepreneurs are denied the right to start new schools on equal terms with dominant providers, all of us lose. A society where the education of children is controlled by the few is a society that doesn’t respect equal rights.

And the education of our children is at the very heart of how we all live out our most central beliefs about life and the universe. Our country can never fully live up to its commitment to freedom for diversity until we undo the monopolization of education. Part of the reason we created the government school monopoly in the 19th century was bigotry and a childish fear of religious diversity. It’s long past time we, as a nation, grew up. Let’s leave those fears behind us, in the nursery of our national history.


Florida Number One in Education Freedom, AZ #2, Indiana #3

February 25, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The John Locke Foundation has published a study called the First in Freedom Index that ranks states for freedom on various aspects- including fiscal freedom, education freedom, regulatory freedom, health care freedom and a weighted index of all of the above- overall freedom (fiscal freedom counts for 50% of the overall index). Here is the overall ranking:

Overall Freedom

And here is the education freedom map:

education freedom

Notice anything about the 1st, 2nd and 3rd ranked states on both maps?

Let me just throw down the gauntlet now. While yes, we may have our share of eccentrics here in Arizona, and maybe some other state’s fair share too, we will not stand for losing freedom rankings to anyone! Not to you Florida, and don’t think we don’t see you trying to sneak up on us both Hoosiers! It is ON!


The 123s of the ABCs

February 3, 2015

Print

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

We are now up to an astonishing 51 school choice programs in 24 states plus DC. We are one state short of having private school choice in half the states. Who wants to put us over the top?

Check out all the latest stats on all these programs in the 2015 edition of The ABCs of School Choice, just released from Friedman.


Only 31 of 84 Archdiocese of New Orleans Schools Participate in Louisiana Voucher

January 28, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

In a positive article about the role of parental choice programs on Catholic schools nationally in the National Catholic Register comes a bit of confirmation on the recent Kisida, Wolf and Rhinesmith study:

Such increases in enrollment bring with them questions. First, not all Catholic schools — even those located in the same diocese — choose to participate. In the Archdiocese of New Orleans, only 31 of the 84 schools participate.

“There are a variety of reasons that schools don’t participate,” said Jan Lancaster, archdiocesan superintendent of Catholic schools. “Many have their own financial aid and scholarship programs in place to accommodate families that cannot afford to pay tuition. Others have waiting lists and are at capacity.

“Some don’t want to participate because of the mandates that are imposed on participating schools from the Louisiana Department of Education.”

Among these demands, she said, are testing and audits.

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/vouchers-provide-much-needed-infusion-of-students-to-catholic-schools/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter#ixzz3Q94WsHqa


Learning from our mistakes in expanding parental choice

January 21, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Kisida, Wolf and Rhinesmith survey of attitudes of private school leaders in Florida, Indiana and Louisiana released today by AEI has a ton of important information. I commend the authors for releasing it, as the data gathered reveals the cost of attempting to regulate private schools participating in private choice programs.

In particular, the evidence seems to point in the direction of requiring schools to give a test tied to the state curriculum, requiring a great deal of paperwork, and only making low-income students from the lowest performing school eligible represents creates a powerful incentive for schools not to participate. In other words, Louisiana should examine the results of this study carefully and make some significant adjustments if they would like more of the 70 percent of private schools that chose not to participate to make seats available. Let’s just go ahead and put it on the table that the 30 percent of participating schools likely have financially desperate organizations over-represented, and the 70% of non-participants probably have higher percentages of stable organizations and high quality seats.

One of the charts deals with schools already participating in the choice- notice the enthusiasm for increasing participation in reasonably regulated Florida as opposed to the disinterest in Louisiana. A net 55% of Florida participating schools plan to increase participation, against 8% in Louisiana.

 

FL IN La 1

 

Florida does make provision for standardized testing, but allows schools to choose their own test. Florida law has an ongoing third-party academic evaluation of the trends in scores for the program. Indiana also mandates state testing, but had effectively done so years before the creation of the choice program. Every state has varying levels of regulation and laws that apply to private schools irrespective of whether or not they have a choice program, meaning that the impact of a heavy-handed will vary from state to state based on this and other factors.

The authors also surveyed non-participating schools. Let’s look at the gory details from Florida and Louisiana. First Florida:

FL Private schools 1

Take a look at the fourth item down from the top. Ok- now Louisiana:

La private schools 1

 

So 23 percent of Florida non-participating schools said that concerns about independence, character and identify played a major role in their decision to keep out of the program, whereas 46% of Louisiana schools said it played a major role. Eleven percent of Florida schools said it played a minor role, whereas an additional 26% of Louisiana schools said the same. Overall 72% of Louisiana non-participants expressed concerns about their independence under the program.

Notice the first item as well- Florida private school leaders seem relatively confident that Florida lawmakers won’t go off the deep end in the future. Louisiana private school leaders seem to think that their lawmakers have already gone off the deep end. Most Florida private schools participate in the choice program, and seem anxious to provide more seats for low-income students. Many Louisiana private school leaders meanwhile have (understandably) adopted the stance of “thanks but no thanks.”

We create these programs in order to expand opportunities for students. Policymakers must carefully balance the public’s interest in academic transparency with the interest in private schools in maintaining their distinctive character and independence. Opinions of this subject are diverse, but far too many in my view have been consumed with a simplistic notion that giving the state’s (often subpar) test somehow equates with “accountability.” The word means being held responsible, but there is a whole bunch of state testing going on, but precious few being held responsible for much. Private schools already commonly use tests like the Stanford 10 and Iowa Test of Basic Skills and I’ve yet to see anyone make a convincing case that these tests won’t do just fine in providing transparency without saddling private schools with a state mandated curriculum.

Just as a quick thought experiment, suppose every state in the union ditched their state test (some of which are decent and some of which may as well be He-Man and the Masters of the Universe coloring books) and replaced it with one of the national norm tests. How would “accountability” be diminished? If you have a coherent answer please leave it in the comments. If you have an undying irrational attachment to the eternal beauty and truth of state tests uber alles, don’t bother unless you can explain why.

I know a few of the decision makers in Louisiana, and can attest that the road to this hell was paved with good intentions. No one woke up in the morning, stretched and yawned, and said “I want to create a choice program for disadvantaged kids that 70% of the private schools in the state won’t touch with a ten-foot pole.” That is not at all what happened, but the end result has been the same.

You live and learn- it is time to learn.

 


Ed Reformers are Not a Smarter Version of the Government

January 21, 2015

Ed reformers all agree that the current system of public education is horribly broken.  But many are pursuing reforms that are likely to re-create the same dysfunctional system they oppose.

When they observe a problem their inclination is to fix it by prohibiting or regulating it.  If parents might pick bad schools in a choice system, the solution is to  impose regulations that prevent schools from being bad and prohibit those that are nevertheless bad from participating.  The regulations impose paperwork burdens on schools.  And so that officials can judge school quality, some reformers favor requiring participating private schools to take the state test based on the state curriculum.

If regulating schools to success were the solution, our public school system would be wonderful.  They have no shortage of regulations and prohibitions, all designed by well-meaning people to make those schools perform well.  So, why do some reformers believe it will turn out differently with heavily regulated choice systems?  Well, because they’ll be in charge and they are smarter.  They’ll design the regulations more appropriately.  They’ll implement them more judiciously.  They’ll only impose the regulations we really need.

A new study by my colleagues Brian Kisida, Pat Wolf, and Evan Rhinesmith gives some indication of how things go wrong when you impose a heavy, public-school-like regulatory burden on private choice programs.  In Louisiana, which provides exceptionally low funding for choice students, imposes a heavy regulatory burden, and requires students to take the state test based on the state curriculum, only a third of the state’s private schools are willing to participate in the choice program.  In Florida’s more lightly regulated program that requires schools to administer a standardized test of their choice, around 60% of the private schools are willing to participate.

Kisida, Wolf, and Rhinesmith surveyed the private schools and found that the heavy regulatory burden and state testing requirements were major factors in deterring schools from participating.  And in Louisiana few private schools expressed an interest in expanding the number of students they are willing to take, while in Florida the majority are looking to add students.

If you offer schools a heavy regulatory burden, little money, and the requirement to administer a test based on a curriculum they do not normally teach, you drive two-thirds of them away.  And it isn’t a randomly selected one-third that is willing to put up with this bad deal.  They are more likely to be the worst schools that are most financially desperate for students and revenue.  The better schools are attracting privately paying students, so why should they take publicly funded students for less money and with more hassle?  Louisiana’s regulations were intended to prevent bad schools from participating in the choice program, but they are having the opposite effect.

With a higher private school participation rate, Florida is attracting better private schools and getting better results.  Quality research shows that the Florida’s tax credit supported choice program is improving achievement for the students who participate as well as improving the performance of traditional public schools with whom they compete.

If we impose public-system-like regulations on choice programs we will end up with choice programs that look a lot like the public system, including their dysfunction.  As Orwell warned us, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

 

 

 


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