Robb: Free Your Mind

April 17, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona Republic columnist Bob Robb provided an insightful summary of the choice debate overall while commenting on the ESA expansion fight here in the Cactus Patch, but with broad applicability:

….the debate about vouchers isn’t really about money. The argument that vouchers drain district schools of resources has always been a diversion.

Instead, the debate is rooted in different views of the role of government in educating children.

The government, through the coercive power of taxation, establishes a central pool of resources for the education of students.

Voucher supporters believe that the pool should be used to provide the best educational opportunity for each child as determined by their parents. A proportionate share of the common pool should be available irrespective of whether that choice is a district, charter or private school. The focus should be on what is best for each child individually.

Voucher opponents believe that some children should be used by the government as sociological chess pieces. Their access to the common pool should be limited to the schools voucher opponents believe they should be attending, even if their parents believe it is suboptimal.

As Morpheus put it “What is the Matrix? Control.”

In other words, some people view children primarily as funding units for a system that employs a large number of adults. The other side views students as human beings with a huge diversity of needs and aspirations, a large number of which will not be met in a 19th Century Prussian factory model of service provision with a monopoly on the common pool funds. We have very helpfully moved away from this in Arizona, but each new step seems to elicit a fresh burst of misguided outrage. Robb used the term chess pieces, I prefer “funding units” but “copper tops” might be the most apt term:

 

 

 


Brookings Institution finds that 82% of American families live within five miles of a private school

April 10, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona lawmakers passed a broad expansion of the state’s ESA program last week, meaning that we got treated to every anti-choice talking point you can imagine during the debate, some far more dubious than others. One opponent for instance asserted that the ESA program was reminiscent of a very unfortunate history decades ago when officials kidnapped Native American children from reservation lands and forced them to attend schools in Phoenix, breaking their families up.  As you might imagine, this level of overconfident paternalism bears a scar to this day. Parental choice would of course bring this history to mind if not for the fact that it is in fact the polar freaking opposite of having some idiotic government official decide where your child was going to go to school whether you like it or not.

But I digress…

Transportation lies more in the realm of worthwhile discussion- parents can only choose between schools within transport range. Private schools engage in a variety of formal and informal transportation efforts- including carpools and buses, but the lack of tightly packed attendance boundaries presents challenges as choice schools tend to draw from large areas for students. Brookings has produced a very helpful study finding that 82% of American families live within five miles of one or more private schools.

So let’s take a real world example. A few years ago I blogged on the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education program having partnered with a group of South Tucson Catholic schools. South Tucson has many low-income students and a sadly large number of low-rated public schools, but it also has a number of private schools within walking distance. Transportation is not the main issue in South Tucson- the ability of families to cover the modest tuition costs remain the main obstacle.

The complexity of the ESA program eligibility requirements were another obstacle, although one that has been overcome. This is a Powerpoint slide that ACE used to explain how they went about attempting to qualify children for Arizona choice programs under the formerly Byzantine rules of AZESA:

Having said all of this, not every child will have the same proximity to private schools as the kids in South Tucson. We can hope that additional private schools will open to meet demand, and the ESA does provide options outside of attending private schools. I am also hopeful that the Nevada ESA program will be funded this year, and we can see how including transportation as an allowable account expense works out in practice.

 

 


Governor Doug Ducey signs AZ Empowerment Scholarship Account expansion

April 7, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed the expansion of the ESA program into law, becoming the first Governor to deliver on a sizable expansion of parental choice during the 2017 legislative sessions. The torch has been passed to a new generation of governors.

The other states are invited to hop on in-the water is fine!


BOOM! Arizona lawmakers pass broad ESA expansion

April 6, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona lawmakers passed legislation tonight that will phase in near universal eligibility for ESA program. This will start with public school students in kindergarten and 1st grade, 6th grade and 9th grade in 2017-18, and then add grades from the on ramps (K,1,2 and 6,7 and 9-10 in year 2 and the next year K,1,2,3 and 6,7,8,9,10,11). The bill will also increase academic transparency and improve administration of the program.

Governor Doug Ducey’s stalwart support of expanding options proved crucial to this victory. Huge kudos to the bill sponsor Senator Lesko and Rep. Allen as well legislative leadership in both chambers and the members who took a tough vote in the face of determined opposition. Groups including the American Federation for Children, Americans for Prosperity Arizona, the Arizona Catholic Conference, the Arizona Chamber, the Center for Arizona Policy, Ed Choice, Excel in Ed and the Goldwater Institute all made vital contributions. Senator Worsley also deserves recognition as someone who played the role of honest broker in crafting a compromise that a winning coalition in each chamber supported. We’d all like to live in a world where there was no need to compromise, but that world is not the one we find ourselves in.

The Census Bureau recently announced that Maricopa County (Phoenix metro) as the fastest growing county in the nation-nudging out the Houston area. Enrollment growth is firing up again and the expanded ESA will give parents a broadening array of private educational choices to consider in what is already a robust public choice market. ESAs are an unfolding experiment in liberty, and future legislatures will debate further refinements and improvements, but this is the first big private choice victory of 2017, so…


Jason Riley: The Next Step is Education Savings Accounts

March 1, 2017

 

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Jason Riley weighs in on ESAs, federalism and parental choice in his Wall Street Journal column today:

After years of federal overreach through No Child Left Behind, Common Core and Obama administration “guidance” on lavatory usage, the states—where Republicans now occupy 33 of the 50 governors’ offices—are not only reasserting local control of K-12 education but reimagining it.

In addition to this charter progress, education reformers see prospects for more private school choice in the form of education savings accounts, or ESAs, which they describe as the next step in school choice. Under an ESA system, money that would otherwise go to funding a child’s public-school education is instead placed into a restricted-use bank account, from which the family can withdraw to spend on a variety of education-related services. Like vouchers, ESAs allow the money to follow the child. But ESAs don’t limit education options in the way that vouchers do. Instead, families can use money in the account for tuition, textbooks, tutoring, test preparation, transportation, Advanced Placement courses, online learning and even college savings accounts.

Jason Bedrick, a policy analyst at the research organization EdChoice, told me that along with allowing families to tailor spending to the education needs of their children, ESAs can control costs. “Moving from a coupon or voucher model to a bank-account model helps guard against tuition inflation like we’ve seen in Pell Grants,” he said. With ESAs, “there’s no price floor. If you’ve got a $5,000 voucher, no school is going to charge less than $5,000. With an ESA, there’s a lot more competition because private schools are not just competing against each other and against public schools but also competing against other sorts of education opportunities.” In other words, a parent with an ESA has the ability to hold both public and private schools accountable.


Spontaneous Order, Foreign Aid and K-12

February 28, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Annie Lowrey’s NYT magazine article The Future of Not Working is well worth reading. The article describes a Silicon Valley funded experiment with a universal basic income in Africa. Personally I’m skeptical of the notion that human labor is going to become obsolete, and I am even more skeptical of the idea of a universal basic income when we currently stand tens of trillions short on previously made commitments. Nevertheless, this article is well worth reading to the very end, as it contains a powerful insight. With the benefit of modern cell phone banking account technology, this group has been giving aid in the form of small cash payments instead of whatever the aid organizations happen to want to give out. This allows people to work things out for themselves:

The residents of this village had received money in 2013, and it was visibly better off than the basic-income pilot village. Its clearings were filled with mango plantings, its cows sturdy. A small lake on the outskirts had been lined with nets for catching fish. “Could you imagine sitting in an office in London or New York trying to figure out what this village needs?” Bassin said as he admired a well-fed cow tied up by the lakeside. “It would just be impossible.”

Many popular forms of aid have been shown to work abysmally. PlayPumps — merry-go-round-type contraptions that let children pump water from underground wells as they play — did little to improve access to clean water. Buy-a-cow programs have saddled families with animals inappropriate to their environment. Skills training and microfinance, one 2015 World Bank study found, “have shown little impact on poverty or stability, especially relative to program cost.”

All across the villages of western Kenya, it was clear to me just how much aid money was wasted on unnecessary stuff. The villagers had too many jerrycans and water tanks, because a nongovernmental organization kept bringing them. There was a thriving trade in Toms canvas slip-ons: People received them free from NGO workers and then turned around and sold them in the market centers. And none of the aid groups that had visited the villages managed to help the very poorest families.

The article goes on to explain that cash payments have been abjured in aid programs in the past. It would deprive beneficiaries of the “benevolent guidance” of very well-meaning people, and would also require fewer such people. It however seems entirely obvious that the Kenyan villagers in this article know their own needs much better than the distant would-be do-gooder, and that they are far more capable of making good use of resources. All of this very much brings to mind the Douglas Carswell quote (via Matt Ridley):

The elite gets things wrong, says Douglas Carswell in The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy, ‘because they endlessly seek to govern by design in a world that is best organized spontaneously from below.’ Public policy failures stem from planners excessive faith in deliberate design. ‘They constantly underrate the merits of spontaneous, organic arrangement, and fail to recognize that the best plan is often not to have one.’

Education Savings Accounts anyone?