The Oklahoma legislature and its Democratic Governor adopted a law allowing disabled students to use public funds to attend a private school if they wished to do so. Similar laws have been passed in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Utah, and Arizona.
Disabled students have had to fight for decades to receive an adequate education from the public school system. Federal legislation, now called IDEA, was adopted in the mid-1970s to ensure an appropriate eduction for disabled students. Unfortunately, having a legal right to something and actually receiving it are two very different things and many disabled students continue to be denied appropriate services despite their legal entitlements.
That’s why several states have decided to empower families with disabled children with an additional mechanism by which they could ensure receiving an appropriate education — special education vouchers that would allow them to transfer to private schools if they believe that the public schools are not serving them adequately. Oklahoma is the latest state to offer these vouchers but it almost certainly won’t be the last as several other states are considering the idea. And there is good evidence that special education vouchers are significantly improving outcomes.
But, according to Education Week, four Oklahoma school districts have decided not to offer these vouchers that are required by state law. The reasons given for willfully disobeying the state law are varied. One district, Broken Arrow, has suggested that the voucher laws violate the state’s constitution because funds would go to religious schools.
Besides the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court and several states have ruled that these vouchers would not pose this type of constitutional threat, apparently public school district officials in Oklahoma think they know better. And they’ve discovered some new constitutional process by which school officials interpret the constitution rather than the courts.
Actually, it’s not really a new method of deciding who should interpret the constitution, since it was a method well-established by segregationist school officials and governors who believed that they had the power to block black students from exercising their civil rights no matter what the law or courts said. Now it is disabled students who are being blocked at the schoolhouse door.
The willingness of public school officials to publicly flaunt their disobedience of the law is not even very unique in current times. Just two years ago school officials in Georgia decided to disobey the state’s duly enacted social promotion policy simply because they disagreed with the policy. Some of the Oklahoma public school officials similarly believe that they have standing as educators to decide what is best for kids and formulate the policy regardless of what the law and the people who pay them say.
Public school officials get away with this kind of willful violation of the law far too easily. No one will go to jail. No one will lose their job. No one will be sanctioned in any way. And they wonder why having a law to ensure appropriate services for disabled students isn’t sufficient. Maybe it’s because public school officials apparently don’t have to follow the law.
Despite various reports of the death of vouchers, mostly from people wishing that the idea were in fact dead, voucher programs and supporters keep gaining steam.
The Obama Administration, which is phasing out a popular and successful school voucher program in Washington, D.C., at the insistence of teachers unions, refuses to acknowledge that vouchers can play a role in reforming K-12 education. But states and cities are the real engines of reform, and the Pennsylvania developments are another sign that the school choice movement is alive and well.
Greg has a great post today on Pajama’s Media about how school choice is the secret sauce that keeps all other reforms honest. Think of it as a love letter to education reform. : )
Here’s a highlight:
… the biggest political winner in education by far in the past year has been charter schools. I’ll admit I was skeptical at first, but the Obama administration’s pro-charter rhetoric has been more than just talk. Charter caps are being lifted because the administration really does support charters.
Why? I think it’s mainly because a critical mass of their political base on the left has embraced the principle that parents should be put in charge through choice, and I think that has happened precisely because they want a reform that will keep the system honest. More and more people on the left are sick and tired of the empty promises they’ve been peddled for decades: that this time, throwing another huge chunk of money at the blob will fix the schools — and this time, we really, really, really mean it, cross our hearts and hope to die.
The social justice folks on the left just don’t buy it anymore. They now see that the blob has been pulling the wool over their eyes for generations. You can imagine how they’re feeling about that right now. And woe betide you if the wrath of the social justice folks falls upon you; they’re not known for being gentle with those whom they perceive as enemies of social justice.
Case in point: Did you know that the same team of scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners, scruple-at-nothing propagandists who produced An Inconvenient Truth has now made a hard-hitting documentary bashing teachers’ unions and advocating charter schools? And it was the very first film picked up for distribution at the Sundance Film Festival?
… The recent surge in the political fortunes of charter schools has been fueled by the less dramatic but steadily growing success of private school choice: school vouchers and similar policies that allow students to attend private schools using public funds. There are now 24 private school choice programs serving 190,000 students nationwide, up from just five programs in 1996. And private school choice is continuing to gain ground every year with the creation of new programs and expansion of existing programs, even in tough years like 2009.
As my friend Jay Greene likes to put it, vouchers make the world safe for charters. That is, it’s because of the more modest success of vouchers that charters have exploded. As long as vouchers are on the march and are thus a credible threat, triangulating legislators who need the blob’s support can embrace charters without paying too high a price for doing so. If the blob cuts off its support for legislators who back charters, it won’t have anyone on its side when vouchers are on the agenda. Because vouchers are out there, the blob has no choice but to suck it up and pretend to be OK with charters.
The next question, though, is whether charters alone are going to be sufficient to keep the system honest. Charters have ridden to success with the help of a lot of new supporters, but those supporters are a demanding constituency. The social justice folks expect results.
I have an op-ed in today’s Washington Examiner that will also be on City Journal’s web site on how the Obama administration has betrayed its pledge to do what the evidence says works in education. It starts:
In a major address last March, President Obama declared that his administration would “use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars: It’s not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works.” Unfortunately, the test that seems to guide the administration’s education priorities is not whether a policy works, but whether it serves a political constituency.
Consider the administration’s treatment of two federally funded programs: The D.C. voucher program, which it is helping to kill, and Head Start, on which it has bestowed billions more dollars. If the administration actually did care about results, its positions would be just the opposite.
In a new analysis released today by School Choice Wisconsin, University of Minnesota sociologist Rob Warren finds that voucher students in Milwaukee graduate high school at a higher rate than students in Milwaukee Public Schools.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s coverage this morning:
For 2007-’08, Warren estimated the graduation rate in voucher schools to be 77%, and the graduation rate in MPS to be 65%, a difference of 12 percentage points. The information includes comparisons between seven choice schools and 23 public high schools that could provide complete data for all six years studied, and adjusted to account for an expected 5% ninth-grade retention rate in choice schools and an expected 25% ninth-grade retention rate in MPS.
And from the report’s summary we get an idea of how big that difference in graduation rate is:
As Professor Warren illustrates here, had MPS attained the same graduation rate achieved in the MPCP, an additional 3,352 students would have received diplomas between 2003 and 2008. According to the research cited in the Journal Sentinel, the annual impact from an additional 3,352 MPS graduates would include an additional $21.2 million in personal income and about $3.6 million in extra tax revenue.
Warren is careful to note that his analysis does not determine whether vouchers caused the higher graduation rate or attracted students who were more likely to graduate, but he is pretty confident that the voucher students do graduate at higher rates. the public school officials are not so convinced: “You have to take into account things like mortality, and the number of students who move to another school,” St. Aubin said.
Mortality? Is that a plausible explanation for the difference? Warren’s method is similar to earlier work that Greg, Marcus, and I have done in estimating graduation rates and while not absolutely precise is likely to be reasonably accurate. A forthcoming analysis by the School Choice Demonstration Project led by my colleague at the University of Arkansas, Pat Wolf, and with which I am involved will be able to examine this issue tracking individual students over time.
Stuart Buck and I have a post over on the Education Next Blog addressing a letter that Sara Mead of the New America Foundation wrote in response to our article on special education vouchers.
Here’s a taste of our response:
Sara Mead’s letter almost feels like the Monty Python sketch about the “argument clinic.” She’s just contradicting us, not providing an actual argument with contrary evidence.
Of course, she could just say that she isn’t.