The Florida Legislature Renames Florida ESA for Senator Gardiner over his humble objection

October 20, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

In this time of cynical politics it is refreshing to see something as fantastic as this floor debate in the Florida Senate.  Earlier this year the sponsor of a bill to expand Florida’s ESA program for special needs children offers an amendment on the floor to rename the program after Senate President Gardiner, a special needs father and advocate and the original sponsor of the legislation. Gardiner objected and appealed to the Senator to drop his amendment, noting that he had promised to send the bill over to the Florida House without amendment.  Not to be thwarted, the Senators secure a release from this promise from the Speaker of the Florida House, and then the Senate co-sponsors the amendment 39-0.

There is still some good in this world Mr. Frodo- and it is worth fighting for.

UPDATE: I am told that after all of this Senator Gardiner still refused to allow the program to be named after him, so the legislature named it after his family instead.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of the Nevada ESA Ruling

September 30, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I’ve read a few school choice related Supreme Court decisions over the years, but I’ve never seen anything quite like the ruling that the Nevada Supreme Court made yesterday. To this untrained reader, it appears to be a determined exercise in cutting the baby.

The decision reads very cleanly until the matter of standing arises. Standing involves being able to demonstrate some personal harm, and the Court implicitly acknowledges a lack of harm on the part of the plaintiffs by creating an exception to standing out of whole clothe in the ruling:


So…..I am inferring from this that under the standing requirements that existed for every previous case in the history of the state of Nevada, that the Nevada Supreme Court would have felt compelled to acknowledge the obvious truth that the plaintiffs had claimed harm when in fact none actually existed. I’m no lawyer, and I don’t play one on television, but I’m also astonished that the Court felt free to willy-nilly change standing requirements unilaterally and in the late stages of an important case.  If you can explain to me how this makes the least bit of sense, and it not entirely arbitrary and capricious, please feel free to educate me in the comments.

Having performed this incredibly one sided act of mental gymnastics, the court moves on to consideration of constitutional issues. First up, our old friend the “uniformity clause.” Quite rightly, the Court squashes this bug of a claim under their boot:


Jolly good, moving on to sectarian purpose Blaine claim. This is where the Court makes a potentially very far-reaching conclusion:


Note that this was an argument that Nick Dranias and I made in our paper for the Goldwater Institute that made the case for the Arizona ESA as a replacement for the voucher program for children with disabilities: that once a set of mutual benefits between a parent and the state had been realized that funds deposited into an account were private rather than public funds. Jason does a great job of expounding on this point in his Cato post on the decision and how this precedent is followed in other policy areas. No one can claim that a state worker cannot use their salary to pay for Catholic school tuition for instance- as the check from the state is exchanged for the labor of the worker and thus becomes private funds. Likewise in an ESA, the state realizes the benefit of paying for a traditional education for the child, and the parent realizes the benefit of flexibility under the rules of the account.

The Arizona ESA decision implicitly recognized this argument, but the Nevada decision explicitly embraces it.

After that we get back into agony, with the court sifting through a complex mess of requirements and dates of bills passing. Basically in the end the court emphatically holds that ESAs are constitutional, but finds that the way the legislature funded the ESA program was itself not constitutional. Basically the program exists but currently has no funding.

So where does this leave things?  It leaves the 7,000+ students who applied for NVESA out in the cold. As the Wall Street Journal noted today, a looming special session on building a football stadium for an out of state billionaire also represents an opportunity to fund the educations of thousands of Nevada children.

Let’s see what happens next.




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:


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:


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


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:


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.