Florida Legislature proposes ESA funding and eligibility expansion, NVESA wonkathon is west bound and down!

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Travis Pillow over at RedefinED has details on the Florida special session budget process proposal for expanding funding and eligibility for Florida’s ESA program. Looking good Billy Ray!

Meanwhile NV ESA wonkathon is loaded up and truckin! New entries from Jonathan Butcher, Tracey Weinstein and Andy Smarick today. Each piece makes important points in my view.

Butcher (quite rightly) warns of the dangers of over-regulation and unintended consequences. Sith lord enforcers overly empowered bureaucrats will inevitably find your lack of faith in their benevolent wisdom…disturbing.

Weinstein raises equity concerns. She has a map (!) showing that Nevada’s modest pre-existing private school infrastructure tends to be clustered in well-to-do areas. Those experimenting with high-quality low-cost private school models-I’m looking directly at you Christo Rey, Acton and Notre Dame ACE Academies- we are firing up the signal!

And you bring something nice to wear…

Seriously though I hope we will see deeply committed efforts to expand the supply of options for disadvantaged children. Seth Rau raised the possibility of using the tax credit program to enhance the buying power of low-income students, which ought to be viewed in a benign fashion so long as the total amount of aid does not exceed the average spending per pupil. In the absence of these programs however, new private school efforts for low-income areas were terribly unlikely. I expect future wonkathon posts to raise additional equity concerns. These deserve careful consideration, especially if the trailer park schools with substitute teachers don’t happen to cluster in the leafy suburbs. The program does provide more funding for low-income children, but I view it as a perfectly legit topic for further discussion as to what level those funding differences ought to be set. This is a question upon which Nevada legislators must deliberate and decide on an ongoing basis.

Andy Smarick sounds a note of Burkean caution:

My bigger worry, though, relates to the rapidity and expanse of possible changes. Fast, fundamental change of longstanding institutions is generally hazardous. What we have today (in education and elsewhere) is the result of trial-and-error processes played out over generations. It is never perfect, but it is robust, and it often possesses wisdom.

I actually don’t expect rapid change. The supply of private school seats will start off quite limited, and our experience with private choice programs shows consistent incremental take-up rates. This program has more allowable uses and broader eligibility than most, but even so we have no reason to expect a blast furnace of participation in the early years. Funded eligibility creating a credible exit option will be crucial, the rate at which parents choose to exercise that option- not as much.

The McKay Scholarship program has been contributing to substantial public school gains among public school special needs children since 2001. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest that only 7% of Florida special needs students directly utilize the program, or that there are more special needs students in Florida public schools today than when the program passed in 1999, more people working in the schools etc. Color me blissfully unconcerned so long as the parents who have their children in the public schools are there by choice- meaning they had other options. Constraints on the supply of private school space just makes it all the better that Florida lawmakers have made ESAs available as well.



6 Responses to Florida Legislature proposes ESA funding and eligibility expansion, NVESA wonkathon is west bound and down!

  1. Greg Forster says:

    I like rapid change! You can have the status quo forever or you can give entrepreneurs a crack at improving it. The status quo in education is not the result of years of trial and error to find out what works, it’s the result of years of trial and error to find out what fattens the Blob.

    Why is this pseudo-Burkean horseshit only ever trotted out to slow down implementation of programs that actually move things in a Burkean direction (i.e. strengthening family control of education)? Where does all this alleged concern about the Burkean side of life go when we actually need it (i.e. when we’re handing more power to technocrats)?

  2. matthewladner says:

    Now Greg- if you are going to beat around the bush and not express your true feelings, I won’t know how to respond. 🙂

    I remember seeing a piece on the 1996 welfare reform after Bubba finally signed the thing. Supporters of the Personal Responsibility Act actually came across as a bit frightened- as in- “I am so glad we did it, but holy cow- we did it….ahhhhh…..I hope we are right about all this stuff…..”

    It turns out they largely were, and that some very noteworthy and vocal critics such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan were basically off base (at least in my view, others may disagree). But in any case, I don’t think the supporters of PRA were wrong to be a little in awe of what they had just done, given that it was a major change in American social policy that would impact (for good or ill) millions of people.

    Now as it turns out we’ve actually been experimenting with private choice programs for 20+ years and can be reasonably confident of how this program will play out over time. The law of unintended consequences however has no exemption for freedom loving reformers, sadly…

    • Greg Forster says:

      I agree those who helped pass the program should be in awe of it. Awe is something we feel toward great things whose greatness makes us feel humble. That is the reverse of trying to slow the program down because you’re afraid of it.

      If you’re not willing to take prudent risks, you need to get out of the helping people business. The most destructive thing you can do for others is refuse to take prudent risks with their affairs.

      • matthewladner says:

        I agree- otherwise you function as a defacto reactionary. Andy discussed this subject on an AEI panel a few months ago. I don’t like wild and poorly thought out plunges off of policy cliffs either (**cough** Obamacare **cough**) but view our long history of small experiments as prologue to inform our actions now. I also view the fact that public funding for K-12 is guaranteed in every state constitution and enjoys overwhelming public support means that we, dating all the way back to MF, have only been discussing the best method for delivery, rather than abolishing a public function.

        In other words, I think we have earned the right to go bigger.

      • Greg Forster says:

        Every state constitution? Really?

  3. matthewladner says:

    It’s not the sort of thing you forget about when you pull together a convention to draft a state constitution. 🙂

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