TXESA

September 20, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Texas Business Leadership Council and Excel in Ed teamed up to publish a new white paper by yours truly called The Yellow Rose The Achilles Heel of Texas: Improving College Eligibility Rates through K-12 Savings AccountsBottom line: only a minority of Texas public school students get prepared for even a moderately selective college or university, and the percentage moves to catastrophically low levels when looking at the ethnic minority student groups which now constitute a large majority of Texas students. Meanwhile an annual 90k+ of new students per year has been driving resources out of the classroom and into debt, with no end in sight and an aging population that will slow revenue growth and create new costly problems in health care and pensions.

Judging from the number of applications received in the first year of NVESA, enrollment growth in Texas could be substantially slowed by a universal ESA program, which would give the public system a chance to focus resources away from the debt spiral of constantly building new facilities and then surrounding them with portable buildings. We could expect such a system to have the well-established positive effects for both participating and non-participating students, but also represents an opportunity for low-income students especially to save and build assets for future higher education expenses.

 

 


Usual Suspect Mark Pocan spins a Keyser Soze story on GAO Parental Choice Report

September 16, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The American film classic the Usual Suspects (spoiler alert!) features a quick thinking unreliable narrator Verbal (played by Kevin Spacey) who concocts a vivid tale based on material on a bulletin board sitting behind the police officer who is interrogating him. Representative Marc Pocan has used equivalent powers of imagination and a recent GAO report on private choice programs as his bulletin board to spin his own imaginative and deceptive tale.

First the report:

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The report is a straightforward description of the nation’s voucher and ESA programs, and deals with primarily with a state of confusion among school districts as to whether they are obligated to provide “equitable services” to special needs students who participate in private choice programs. It’s a fairly dry 49 page read if you go through the report, although it does have the occasional interesting graphic like this one:

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In any case after a number of pages of descriptive work the report concludes:

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You are welcome- I waded through this report so you wouldn’t have to!

So from this bulletin board material Rep. Marc Pocanconcocts his tale of woe and destruction visiting down upon the states like Biblical plagues from private choice programs in a piece in HuffPo titled omniously Why You Should be Worried About the Rapid Rise of Private Voucher Schools:

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In other words, private choice programs are the most vicious gangster in the history of Pocan’s imagination:

These claims have even less to do with the GAO report than Officer Kujan’s bulletin board relationship with the tale of Keyser Soze.  The only “discovery” in the GAO report-districts are confused about whether they are obligated to provide special education services to students participating in private choice programs in the same fashion they do to other private school students, which is to say, not much to begin with. Thus the report recommends USDoE guidance to districts to dispel confusion because the districts retain discretion on whom to serve.

The real discovery here is that Rep. Pocan is willing to spin long-known facts about private choice programs into a breathless but ineffectual attempt at a hit piece. In order-

  1. Teacher prep has always been different between public and private schools and there is approximately zero evidence that traditional certification produces better learning, but hey if you want state certified teachers the public school system is still there as an option.
  2. Some private choice programs require schools to change their admission policies, but many do not. Let me know when you get the GI Bill to require random admission lotteries into the Ivy League and I’ll start to take you seriously on this. No? How about random lottery admissions for open enrollment transfers between district schools, who currently get to pick and choose at will? The total number of seats available may be greater for lighter touch programs and overly meddling with private schools can and has backfired in a lack of seats in high quality private schools.
  3. Money is following the child, lamest claim in the opponent playbook.
  4. Perceived deficiencies in taxpayer-subsidized public schools to students with disabilities is why parents choose to participate in the first place. Satisfaction surveys of special needs choice programs have been off the charts. Private choice programs expand the options for special needs parents.

Sadly, rather than engage in an intellectually honest debate, Rep. Pocan has constructed a boogey-man story and attempted to claim that the GAO told it to him before he started repeating it. They did nothing of the sort, and silly efforts like this is example number 89,623 of why choice opponents willingly surrender their credibility on a regular basis.


AFC video on the Need for Choice among Native American Children

August 11, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Just in case you need a reminder about just how horrible the federal government has been in education (and to Native Americans more generally) this new video serves as a helpful reminder. The American Federation for Children created the below video on Arizona Senator John McCain’s federal efforts and Arizona State Senator Carlyle Begay’s efforts to expand options for reservation children. I am rooting for America’s Underdogs:


But that was 30 years ago when they used to have a show

August 11, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Barry Manilow’s classic song Copacabana is a very catchy upbeat tune with a sad underlying story about a person living in the past:

Her name is Lola, she was a showgirl
But that was thirty years ago, when they used to have a show
Now it’s a disco, but not for Lola
Still in dress she used to wear
Faded feathers in her hair
She sits there so refined, and drinks herself half-blind
She lost her youth and she lost her Tony
Now she’s lost her mind

For reasons that may become apparent if you read it, this column responding to one published by myself and Lisa Graham Keegan in the Arizona Republic brought the unfortunate image of Lola to mind. Our opponent’s column is a pretty standard recitation of anti-choice talking points, but there is an underlying sadness to it in my opinion.

Arizona lawmakers passed charter schools in 1994 and the first private choice program in 1997.  So thirty years ago districts were effectively Arizona’s only show. We had parental choice back in those days, but it was the old-fashioned kind. If you could afford to buy a house in Scottsdale etc. or to pay for the tuition at Brophy Prep, you had choice in the lost near monopoly era of Arizona K-12. Otherwise, it was unfortunate to be you.

I’ve written on this blog previously just how awful the results were from this era. The NAEP gave us state level data from 1992 and 1994 before our policymakers began any effort to broaden the ability to exercise choice. Only 28% of Anglo 4th graders read proficiently in, er, English in 1992. Arizona still has a lot of work to do, but at least has been trending in the right direction.

I’m not going to bother to point by point this column, but rather to simply focus on a few faded feathers in its hair. Approximately 3,000 children participate in the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program, and the majority of them are children with disabilities. Arizona has a great many individual high schools with more than 3,000 students, and yet in the fever dreams of opponents these kids should be made into scapegoats for all the problems of public education. It’s sad.

Arizona has been leading the nation in 4th to 8th cohort gains on NAEP, but rather than celebrate this fact and seek more, some would rather wallow in learned helplessness, convinced that they can’t do better unless they receive money that the state does not have. It’s sad.

Part and parcel of this complaint is to claim that districts take “all comers” while charter do not. Arizona charters however must conduct admission lotteries while district open enrollment decisions are left entirely to the schools. Fancy district schools are open to “all comers” if you can afford to purchase housing in their attendance zones, otherwise they all to often resemble Aspen vacations or shiny new German sports sedans- wonderful things if you can afford them. We started the process to democratize the opportunity to choose, but some prefer to keep choice as a privilege for the few rather than the birthright of all. It’s sad.

Charter schools have been in operation in Arizona for over twenty years. Some district educators have taken up the challenge to compete and I admire them for it. Others spend their time complaining about charter schools non-stop.  Charter school students score like a New England state on NAEP with a majority minority student population and show even an even larger advantage in the state exam, but….lawmakers didn’t include them in a seldom-read auditor general report, so ah they must be evil.

Some (not all by a longshot!) spend their efforts yearning for a near monopoly era that is never coming back.  In my youth growing up in the South I can remember a few old people who would babble about the “War of Northern Aggression” and whatnot. It’s a bad look to live in the past. There are real and very deep issues to debate when fashioning choice policy but to engage in them seriously one must broaden beyond stale talking points. Quite frankly Arizona districts deserve better advocacy strategies than complaining about the disco ball while yearning for what was more of a stone than a golden age. This “strategy” is unworthy of the dignity of the great many outstanding educators working very hard in Arizona’s improving district school system.

It’s time to lose the faded feathers.

 

 

 


Debunking a Brazen Lie about Education Savings Accounts

July 24, 2016

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(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

An article in the Texas Tribune regarding the push for education savings accounts contained an incredible whopper from the state teachers’ union lobbyist:

Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said education savings accounts are worse than vouchers because there is no good way to control how parents spend the money. The states that have implemented such programs have included no provisions that allow them to reclaim money if parents spend it on “a flatscreen TV or a bag of crack,” he said.

“Who’s to say that a laptop isn’t an educational expenditure, but who’s to say that it is? Who is going to police that?” he said. “Are we going to pay someone at the state level to monitor this program, and how much is that going to cost?”

Frankly, he should be embarrassed to be peddling a lie that is so easily debunked.

*All* of the existing ESA laws in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, and Tennessee contain financial accountability provisions to ensure that parents are spending the ESA funds only on approved educational expenses, which are clearly defined in law.

Like any government program (e.g., district schools), there is bound to be some amount of fraud. Fortunately, due to the tight financial controls, Arizona (the first state to enact an ESA law) has been able to recover misspent ESA funds. Moreover, an independent auditor recently determined than less than one percent of Arizona’s ESA funds were misspent, as the Goldwater Institute reports:

Last year, the state deposited nearly $26 million in families’ education savings accounts. The auditor uncovered misspending that totaled less than 0.8 percent of the distributed funds—an unacceptable amount, because any fraud involving taxpayer money and children is unacceptable. But it’s a manageable amount. The department of education should follow through on the auditor’s recommendations, as the agency stated it would in its response letter, and continue to improve the ways parents and students find quality learning opportunities with education savings accounts.

Arizona parents have spent more than 99% of ESA funds on approved educational products and services, and 100% of ESA parents surveyed in 2013 reported being satisfied with their child’s education.

The Texas teachers’ union needs a new talking point.


Mississippi ESA Update: The Magnolias Are Blooming

July 21, 2016

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(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Back in February, opponents of educational choice criticized Mississippi’s new ESA program for attracting fewer than half the number of students with special needs as there were slots available, claiming that this showed that the program was a “failure.”

Well, surely they will now issue a press release declaring the ESA program a success now that it is oversubscribed for next year. Empower Mississippi has the details:

Yesterday the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) conducted a lottery to award the remaining 175 scholarships for the Special Needs Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program. This year a total of 425 scholarships will be awarded to students in Mississippi.

The lottery drawing, held at MDE’s temporary headquarters at the South Pointe Business Park in Clinton, utilized a random number generator to determine the 175 recipients. There were 304 approved applications in the lottery competing for the available slots. Those that did not receive a scholarship, along with those that continue to apply, will have their name put on a waiting list for future openings.

Last year, in the first year of the program, 251 of the 434 available scholarships had been awarded by the beginning of the school year. Because of the rolling application process, and the available slots, that number increased each quarter last year. This year the program will be at maximum capacity of 425 students at the beginning of the year.

Enrollment in the program has grown by 70 percent over a one-year period and the number of approved applications has increased by more than 120 percent during the same time period.

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Source: Empower Mississippi

Next step: raise the cap on participation!


Going bold in Missouri with Education Savings Accounts

July 19, 2016

(Guest Post by Martin F. Lueken)

Last year, Missouri was one of 18 states that introduced legislation to create an education savings account (ESA) program for families. While it didn’t ultimately become law, it’s stoked the conversation about educational choice in the state and how we can empower families to find schooling options that work for their kids.

Under an ESA program, state officials deposit money into an account for education expenses for children who sign up for the plan. Parents can spend the money on a host of education expenses ranging from books to special needs services, online education, tutoring, SAT and ACT preparation or private school tuition. Parents can also roll over unused funds and use them in the future to pay for college tuition.

Currently, there are five K-12 ESA programs operating in five states – Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, and Tennessee.

ESAs are a new and promising innovation with lots of potential because they move beyond just giving parents a say in what school their children attend. ESAs empower parents to tailor an educational experience that they want for their own children.

In essence, it expands on what Nobel Laureate and economist Milton Friedman’s vision of providing parents with freedom to choose the school that best suits their children’s needs. Going a step further, ESAs allow parents to unbundle educational goods and services and choose the ones that best meet their needs. School choice is getting an upgrade.

Critics of ESAs and other school choice efforts like to allege that the programs will “siphon” resources from public schools or harm students in some way. Fortunately, school choice has been around long enough to have produced a large body of research to learn from.

Researcher Greg Forster, for instance, systematically reviewed 100 empirical studies. His findings: school choice affects all of these areas mentioned above in a positive way. Students who choose score higher in reading and math, are more likely to graduate and are more likely to succeed in college. They also are more likely to learn civic values. Moreover, increased competition from school choice makes students remaining in public schools better off. When students choose, schools also tend to become more integrated. And not a single study found that school choice cost taxpayers any money.

Although greater educational freedom for Missouri families would be reason enough for many to adopt a program, some, including taxpayers and legislators, want to know how an ESA program would affect the state’s bottom line – a legitimate concern. A paper I recently co-authored with Mike McShane, Director of Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute, estimated the fiscal impact of a broad-eligibility ESA program on Missouri taxpayers and public school districts. This program would be funded by tax credits for private donations, in which nearly all Missouri K-12 age children (88 percent) would be eligible. We considered a program that is capped at $50 million in its first year, which is a drop in Missouri’s $5.7 billion K-12 education budget’s bucket.

Using a variety of circumstances to make our estimates, we found that state government and local school districts combined would save between $8 million and $58 million per year under an ESA program. The school districts alone would save $21 million to $40 million per year. The state – which is footing the bill by issuing tax credits – could save up to $18 million annually.

What does this mean? For starters, public school districts would have more resources for each student who remains in public school (as well as other tangential benefits such as smaller class sizes and better matches between Missouri students and schools).

Overall, however, Missourians and their children would have little to worry about and a whole lot to gain. The Show-Me State has tried many things to improve their schools, especially in the areas that struggle the most, with little success. It’s time to go bold, and try something that’s already a demonstrated success. It’s time for Missouri to create an education system fit for the future.

Update: rephrased for clarity

Martin F. Lueken is the Director of Fiscal Policy and Analysis at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.