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:

gao

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:

gao-1

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

gao-4

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:

gao-3

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.


Choice for Foster Kids

January 13, 2015

2013-10-Circle-of-Choice

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The new issue of OCPA’s Perspective carries my article on school choice for the 12,000 foster children in Oklahoma. The state is now adopting massive fixes to address its broken, abusive foster care system:

If Oklahoma is going to adopt sweeping reforms to serve these children better, it shouldn’t just think about homes. It should think about schools. Having failed to care for these 12,000 children when they needed it most, Oklahoma owes them something.

The state wouldn’t have to create a new program:

Oklahoma already has two school choice programs: a special needs voucher modeled on McKay, and a tax-credit scholarship program serving low-income students. Either or both of these programs could accommodate foster children with a slight modification – just write a line into the law saying foster children are eligible regardless of disability status or family income.

Other states have already adopted this practice. Foster children are automatically eligible for two school choice programs in Arizona. “Lexie’s Law,” which is Arizona’s answer to McKay, includes foster children alongside special education students. So does Arizona’s innovative new education savings account law, which gives parents control of their children’s education funding to direct to a school of their choice. Meanwhile, in Florida, foster children of any income level are eligible for the state’s tax-credit scholarship program for low-income students.

And since choice saves money, it wouldn’t cost a dime – an important consideration given that Oklahoma is on the hook for $150 million to clean up its foster care mess.

Of course, only universal choice will get us where we need to go. But it’s not a perfect world, and few people know that better than foster kids in Oklahoma. One line in a new law could give 12,000 kids access to choice on better terms than the ones that prevail in some other programs already.


MS Governor Phil Bryant makes a powerful case for Special Education Choice

March 31, 2014

Governor Bryant 2

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Down the stretch they come in Mississippi, and Governor Phil Bryant weighs in with a powerful case for reform. The bill will pass or die in the next two days, so stay tuned….


Children with Disabilities Have Much to Gain from Parental Choice in the Magnolia State

February 6, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Mississippi legislators are considering a statewide choice program for children with special needs. Florida pioneered choice for special needs students in 1999, passing a pilot program that went statewide in 2001. Since 2001, all of Florida’s special needs students attending public schools have been eligible to take a McKay Scholarship to a public or private school of their choice.

More than a decade later, we find that 6 percent of special needs students use the McKay Scholarship Program directly by using it to transfer. Special needs students choosing to remain in the public school system however still benefit from the McKay program because it is there if they need it.

The charts below show that special needs students in Florida have made remarkable academic progress since McKay went into law. The first chart shows the progress for public school students with disabilities in Florida and Mississippi on 4th grade reading:

Florida vs. MS Spec 4R

Today Florida children with disabilities are now more than twice as likely to show basic reading skills as their peers in Mississippi. You find the same pattern in the 8th grade reading scores:

Florida vs. MS Spec 8R

 

Math scores show the same trend: narrow gaps opening to larger gaps over time. The point of these charts is not to brag about Florida, but to note a crucial source of improvement for special needs students in Mississippi. In the end, choice is no threat to the public schools in Mississippi but rather an opportunity. Florida’s public schools have more students (including students with disabilities), spend more and employ more people than before the onset of choice programs. That’s not the issue. The most important thing of all for special needs children is that the public school system now does a much better job in meeting their needs.

Florida enacted multiple reforms during this same period, so we cannot attribute all of these improvements to the choice program. Statistical analysis of variation in trends among special needs scores in individual Florida schools however confirmed that the McKay program contributed to the improvement.  Florida’s other reforms are also available for consideration.

Choice is not a threat to public schools in Mississippi, but rather a mechanism of the improvement of outcomes to the most disadvantaged students.  We can and should judge policies in large part with regard to how they treat the most vulnerable in our society. Look at the charts above and ask yourself the following question: if you had to be born as a child with a disability, would you want to grow up in Florida’s system of choice or Mississippi’s system of school assignment by zip code?  Would you want choice, or something much closer to “take it or leave it” in your schooling?

If you answered that question the way I expect, the next question is: what can Mississippi do to move ahead of Florida?

The answer- Mississippi should consider an even more advanced form of choice for special needs students than McKay. Choice for special needs students has the ability to empower parents to seek out the right type of education to meet the specific needs of their individual child. The Mississippi proposal draws inspiration from the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program, which is a refinement of the McKay concept. This allows parents to choose to educate their child through a variety of different methods, including public and private schools, certified private tutors and therapists, online education programs and college/university courses. The idea is to give parents the maximum amount of flexibility possible so that they can deliver a customized education to meet the exact needs of their child.

When the federal government passed what became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in the 1970s, a million special education students nationwide had been denied access to public schools. That was wrong, and IDEA stands as an important pillar of civil rights legislation. The law however promised an “Individual Education Plan” for every special needs child, and it failed to deliver the substance of this promise for far too many children.  More than a decade ago, the center-left Progressive Policy Institute and the center-right Thomas B. Fordham Foundation used the analogy of a maze to describe the bog of federally mandated paperwork emphasizing process over results to the frustration of both educators and parents.

You can’t really have an individual education plan without choice over who delivers what sort of education. Today it is time for the states, not the federal government, to take the lead in truly delivering the ability for parents to deliver a really meaningful individual education plan for students. Students, parents and the public school system will all win as a result.

 


Three Things Not to Miss in Wolf’s Post

May 16, 2013

Tyson-Spinks SI cover

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Jay has already linked to Pat Wolf’s devastating knockout of the special ed smear campaign against Milwaukee vouchers. However, it’s such a long piece (there’s so much falsehood to debunk!) that I want to make sure the most important points don’t get overlooked:

  1. Pat catches the Department of Public Instruction lying about how many disabled students are in the voucher program. “Lying” is a strong word, but that is what happened here.
  2. USDOJ faults DPI for not requiring schools to report how many voucher students are disabled, so they can monitor discrimination against disabled students – but the reason is that state law gives them no power to do so, and regulations forbid them from doing so. The purpose of the regulation is to protect against schools using the information to discriminate against disabled students!
  3. “A statistical analysis that my research team conducted during our five-year evaluation of the program confirmed that no measure of student disadvantage – not disability status, not test scores, not income, not race – was statistically associated with whether or not an 8th grade voucher student was or was not admitted to a 9th grade voucher-receiving private school.  Our evidence is consistent with the expectation that private schools are admitting voucher students at random during that critical transition, as the law requires.”

Pat also points out, against the USDOJ’s claim that private schools in the voucher program are covered by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, that the U.S. Supreme Court has twice reviewed and let stand Wisconsin court rulings finding that voucher schools are not government contractors, and students in the program are “parentally placed” not “government placed” in their schools, so the schools are not within reach of laws that apply to government services. In my (non-lawyer) opinion that does not make it a slam dunk that the voucher schools aren’t covered by ADA, because the ADA is such a badly crafted law. But it’s still worth remembering.

Update: This post has been modified because the original version didn’t state point #2 quite right. My apologies!


Wolf on Milwaukee School Choice and Disabilities

May 16, 2013

Pat Wolf does a beautiful job on the Ed Next blog of dispensing with a series of false claims about school choice and disabilities in Milwaukee.  You should really read it.  It’s a work of art.


Two New Studies on How School Choice Impacts Students in Vulnerable Demographic Categories

May 15, 2013

Race Card w watermark

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

At Brookings, Matthew Chingos looks at a huge swath of CCD data and finds no evidence that charter schools increase racial segregation. No surprise there, as readers of Win-Win already know. It’s been a while since I had occasion to trot out the old race card graphic – my sense is that the segregation talking point has had its day in the sun.

In Education Finance and Policy, Rajashri Chakrabarti looks at Florida school data and contributes the latest in a line of studies showing that schools act in self-interested ways, responding to structural incentives, when classifying students into special programs. Chakrabarti finds that schools threatened with vouchers due to low test scores increased the classification of students as Limited English Proficient, removing them from the pool of tested students; however, schools did not increase classification of students into special education, where they would become eligible for McKay vouchers. The obvious conclusion? All students should be eligible for vouchers – then there’s no system to game.

PS Sorry for the awkward headline – I couldn’t come up with anything snappier or any pop culture references. Uh . . . release the kraken!