Two Minute Hate-Florida Science Edition in Hillbilly 3-D Satanovision!!!!!!!!!!

June 8, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Orlando Sentinel columnist Lauren Ritchie displays double-plus good duck-speaking two-minute hate in what has to be one of the most impressive displays of over-confident bias I’ve seen in many, many moons. In fact, this column is nominated for the Two-Minute Hate Hall of Fame! Some of Florida’s media have grown suspicious of science in instruction in Florida’s private choice program. Oh dear. Here’s a couple of excerpts:

Some of these schools — 80 percent describe themselves as “Christian” — use textbooks that claim people lived with dinosaurs. Heck, Noah had a couple in the ark. Some say God saved North America from Catholics and gave them South America instead. Others teach that slaves who “knew Christ” had “more freedom” than nonbelievers who weren’t captive. Babble. Just sheer babble.

The only reason these fringe “Christian schools” are getting away with sucking up millions in education funding is that Florida legislators are afraid of offending them. Elected types are so terrified of the instant howling about “Christians” being “persecuted” that they never seriously considered demanding the course of study in voucher schools meet the same standards taught in public school. They’re just happy to buy votes with millions in cash. Your tax dollars.

Folks, these are neither real schools nor, scholars will argue, are they Christian. They’re just money-making little engines for benighted fraudsters whose only other chance at a paying job is the Sears hardware department.

Do fundamentalists want their kids to learn a bunch of hillbilly science? Handle venomous snakes? Learn that God looks down on Catholics, that America would still have slavery except “some power-hungry individuals stirred up the people”? Knock yourself out. Just don’t expect anyone else to pay for it, and stop calling it “education.” It’s not. It’s more like a 12-year sentence to some anamorphic Sunday school class from hell with no time off for good behavior.

So, there is a problem with all of this. Despite a fog of name-calling (hillbilly from hell!) and questioning of motives (profiteering hillbillies from hell!) Ritchie does not present a whit of evidence that private school students learn less science than public school students.

Fortunately, the National Center for Education Statistics runs a project known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) which can shed light on this subject. Also known as the “Nation’s Report Card” this source has a huge amount of highly respected academic data, including some on Science, in private schools, among parents without college degrees.

NAEP does not provide private school science scores by individual state, but it does by region. We will therefore focus on the South, and the private school scores of students whose parents did not graduate from college. If you are going to find flat-earther profiteering red-neck science with Dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark, or whatever it is Ritchie imagines, this ought to be the place to look.

NAEP tracks four types of Science achievement: Earth Science, Physical Science, Life Science and Overall Science. The 2009 8th grade science exam allowed us to look exactly at what Ritchie denounces: students whose parents did not graduate from college, who attend private schools located in Southern states. How did these kids perform in the various NAEP Science categories compared to their public school peers?

 

You see the same pattern by the way if you compare southern scores for students whose parents did graduate from college in public and private schools in the South. Or if you do these comparisons in Western, Northeast, or Midwestern students. Across four measures of science and four regions of the country and separately for non-college and college educated parents (32 comparisons in all) private school students demonstrated a higher score a mere 32 times out of 32. Most relevant to our present discussion however are the four comparisons in the above chart, among southern students without college educated parents.

Since the author brought up Protestant schools (snake-handling!!!!) it is worth noting that only 15% of Florida tax credit students attend Catholic schools. Unlike other regions of the country, the denominational distribution in American southern states does not lend itself the private school sectors dominated by Catholic schools to the extent seen in other parts of the country. It’s also worth noting that as the state with the (by far) the nation’s largest tax credit program, the nation’s largest voucher program when these data were generated (2009) we can safely assume that Florida kids are over-represented in the Southern sample. Back in 2009, southern private choice programs were few and far between in number and small in size outside of Florida.

In recent years changes in the federal free and reduced lunch program has made it increasingly unreliable as a proxy for family income. This is all the worse among private schools, who often have difficulty accessing the program. We will therefore make use of parental education as an imperfect proxy for family income. Nevertheless, when hunting for hillbilly kids with snake-handling parents suckered by profiteering private school swindlers being taught that the Sun rotates around the Earth in science class, you would be hard-pressed to find a better place to look.

NAEP has private school scores for 8th grade Science from 2011, 2009, 2000 and 1996. The 2011 figures provide no numbers for students whose parents did not college graduate parents attending private school by region, but did provide numbers for college graduate parents in both public and private schools. Private school students had higher scores in three of four regions (one point advantage for public schools in the Northeast). The 2000 and 1996 data do not include a regional variable, but in the national comparisons both students whose parents did not graduate from college attending private schools and college grad private school parents had higher scores than their public school peers in both 2000 and 1996. So I think this basically puts the score at 39 to 1.

Comparisons like the one above do not prove that private schools are better at teaching science than public schools in any way, shape or form. They do however cast substantial doubt on the notion that they do a hugely worse job at teaching science than public schools. If private schools are running profiteering-hillbilly-from-hell science classes, what pray-tell is going on in the public schools?

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Setting the Record Straight on Florida’s Tax-Credit Scholarships

August 30, 2016

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(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Opponents of school choice spend a great deal of time and energy perpetuating all sorts of easily debunked myths about choice programs. In Florida, the state teachers’ union has worked very hard to spread two such myths about the state’s tax-credit scholarship program, which Mark Pudlow of the Florida Education Association calls a “scheme”:

“It’s a scheme because this tax credit voucher [sic] was enacted by the Legislature to circumvent a previous state Supreme Court ruling saying that public money could not go to fund vouchers,” he said. “So the Legislature set up a scheme that would allow certain types of taxes to be ‘donated’ to the groups administering the voucher program. So instead of paying taxes to the state, they were forgiven their tax obligation if they donated the exact same amount of money to the voucher administrators.”

Fortunately, the Daily Commercial gave Ron Matus of Step Up for Students, Florida’s largest scholarship organization, the opportunity to set the record straight:

“The union kept saying the tax credit scholarships were done to circumvent the ruling,” he said. “Their timeline is off. The fact of the matter is the tax credit scholarship program was passed by the legislature and signed into law in 2001, five years before the Supreme Court ruling. The opponent keeps arguing the program drains money from public schools. Every single study that has been done over many years by multiple different parties that has looked at the fiscal impact says it does not harm public schools or drain money from public schools.”

The Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability estimated the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program saved the state $36.2 million in 2008.

Government Accountability stated that while the program “reduces the amount of tax revenues received by the state, it produces a net fiscal benefit.”

This academic year, Step Up for Students will provide more than 90,000 tax-credit scholarships to students so that they can attend the school of their choice. Additionally, they will administer nearly 6,000 education savings accounts. Florida also has a second scholarship organization, AAA Scholarship Foundation, so it’s likely that more than 100,000 Florida students will receive tax-credit scholarships this year.

As Step Up demonstrates, scholarship organizations do much more than just cut checks. They also can provide parents with vital information about their educational options, help connect parents and schools, and–when necessary–they can organize to defend the scholarships from outside attacks. As Jay noted in a recent post, politically viable policies require “constituents who can then be mobilized to protect and expand” them. School choice policies generate those constituents, and as Step Up has amply demonstrated, scholarship organizations can mobilize them.


Lawsuit Losers’ Ostrich Act

August 17, 2016
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Anti-school choice plaintiffs pretending that the court didn’t reject their arguments on the merits.

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

As I reported on Tuesday, a Florida appellate court threw out a challenge to the state’s tax-credit scholarship program. In response, one of the plaintiff groups, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), published a disingenuous and factually challenged blog post whining about the case being dismissed and pretending that the court didn’t actually address the merits of the case. I’ll address their assertions in order:

A Florida court just threw out an appeal brought by Americans United and its allies challenging a school-voucher-like program that provides taxpayer support for religious organizations. As disappointing as that outcome is, it’s doubly frustrating to see a second Sunshine State court fail to even consider the merits of the case.

The program provides tax credits for donations to scholarship organizations that help students attend any private school, religious or secular, so that’s not quite an accurate description of the program.

Moreover, as I will explain below, the court did consider the merits of the case. Although courts often avoid addressing the merits of a case when rejecting the plaintiffs’ standing to bring the case, here the court directly addressed the central issues in the process of dismissing the case on standing.

In case you’re not familiar with tuition tax credits, they are a type of voucher scheme that allows individuals or corporations to donate money to a middle-man “scholarship” organization in exchange for a generous tax credit. The “scholarship” group then writes a check for tuition at a private school. It’s essentially a way to launder government funds through a private entity.

What an odd use of scare quotes. Are these somehow not scholarships? Let’s consult the dictionary. Merriam-Webster defines a “scholarship” as “an amount of money that is given by a school, an organization, etc., to a student to help pay for the student’s education.” So yes, AU scare quotes notwithstanding, these are bona fide scholarships.

But are they “laundered government funds”? According to the unanimous Florida appellate court, the U.S. Supreme Court, and every state supreme court to address the question, the answer is a resounding “No.” The courts all held that a private individual or corporation’s money is their own, and not the government’s, until the government has actually collected it. When people keep their own money through tax deductions, tax credits, or tax exemptions, it remains exactly that: their own money.

Does the AU believe that all churches run on “laundered government money” because their donors receive tax deductions or because they receive 100% property tax exemptions? No? Interesting.

The overwhelming majority of private schools participating in the tax credit program are religious, which goes against the Florida Constitution’s “no-aid” clause, which says: “No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”

Again, as the court ruled, it’s not government money, so the historically anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment (“no-aid” clause) is not implicated. Moreover, the percentage of schools that are religious versus secular is constitutionally irrelevant. The law is religiously neutral. What matters is only that families may choose either religious or secular schools. It makes no constitutional difference whether the majority select one type or the other, or whether the market (responding to demand) supplies more of one type or another.

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected AU’s religious bean counting, including in the landmark Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision more than a decade ago:

Respondents and Justice Souter claim that even if we do not focus on the number of participating schools that are religious schools, we should attach constitutional significance to the fact that 96% of scholarship recipients have enrolled in religious schools. They claim that this alone proves parents lack genuine choice, even if no parent has ever said so. We need not consider this argument in detail, since it was flatly rejected in Mueller, where we found it irrelevant that 96% of parents taking deductions for tuition expenses paid tuition at religious schools. Indeed, we have recently found it irrelevant even to the constitutionality of a direct aid program that a vast majority of program benefits went to religious schools. See Agostini, 521 U.S., at 229 (“Nor are we willing to conclude that the constitutionality of an aid program depends on the number of sectarian school students who happen to receive the otherwise neutral aid” (citing Mueller, 463 U.S., at 401)); see also Mitchell, 530 U.S., at 812, n. 6 (plurality opinion) (“[Agostini] held that the proportion of aid benefiting students at religious schools pursuant to a neutral program involving private choices was irrelevant to the constitutional inquiry”); id., at 848 (O’Connor, J., concurring in judgment) (same) (quoting Agostini, supra, at 229). The constitutionality of a neutral educational aid program simply does not turn on whether and why, in a particular area, at a particular time, most private schools are run by religious organizations, or most recipients choose to use the aid at a religious school. As we said in Mueller, “[s]uch an approach would scarcely provide the certainty that this field stands in need of, nor can we perceive principled standards by which such statistical evidence might be evaluated.” 463 U.S., at 401. [emphasis added]

The SCOTUS majority goes on to note that the other side’s obsession over how many private schools have a religious affiliation ignores that they are but a tiny slice of all the available school choices, including the secular district schools that the vast majority of students attend. Students do not lack secular options.

Returning to the AU blog post, the author claims:

The program also violates the state constitution by taking money away from public schools.

No, the appellate court specifically and repeatedly rejected this argument, noting that any reduction in aid to the district schools is entirely speculative. As the appellate court detailed at length, the AU and their allies proved unable time and time again to demonstrate any harm that the district schools incur from the scholarship program.

Despite those problems, two Florida courts have now kicked the case on standing – that is, the right to sue – saying that the plaintiffs, which include interfaith religious leaders as well as educators, don’t even have the right to bring this case. As a result, neither court weighed in on the actual facts of the case.

Incorrect. As noted above, like the district court before it, the appellate court addressed the main issues that plaintiffs raised:

  1. Does the scholarship program violate the Blaine Amendment? A: No, it relies on private funds so the Blaine Amendment is not implicated.
  2. Does the scholarship program unconstitutionally create a parallel system of public schools? A: No, this is a privately funded and privately administered program, not a separate government school system.
  3. Does the scholarship program harm the district school system? A: No, there is no evidence of any harm to the district schools.

The AU and their union allies don’t like the answers that the appellate and district court gave, so they simply pretend that they didn’t give them.

Since the court didn’t weigh in on the facts, here are some other things to consider: Sometimes “school choice” advocates claim low-income students need government assistance to escape “failing” schools. But here, some parents openly admitted that the public school options available to them are actually good.

Here we have a straw man argument. The question isn’t whether the district schools are “good” but rather whether they’re the best fit for all the kids who happen to live nearby. Even a school that performs very well on average can’t be all things to all students, which is why the system should empower parents to choose the schools that align with their values and work best for their children.

So why do they want help paying private school tuition? The short answer is that many of them want education infused with their faith. […] That’s perfectly fine. But Florida taxpayers should not be forced to contribute to the religious education of any child.

Again, as the court ruled, these are private funds. No taxpayer is forced to contribute to a scholarship organization. If a taxpayer doesn’t want to support religious education, they need only refrain from donating to the scholarship organizations, which is certainly their right.

By contrast, all taxpayers are forced to pay into the district school system, even if they have moral objections to what is taught there. If the AU really cared so much about coercion, they should support entirely privatizing education so that no one is forced to subsidize an education with which they disagree.


The Choice Genie Continues to Flow out of the Florida Bottle

January 25, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

RedefinED has published their sixth look at the changing landscape of Florida education, reporting over 88,000 new choice students over the last two years.

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Florida ESA expansion receives unanimous House support

April 26, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

A bill to expand Florida’s Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts eligibility to children with muscular dystrophy and a wider array of the autism spectrum, and to include 3 and 4-year-old children otherwise eligible for special education services passed the Florida House of Representatives without a dissenting vote last week. The bill’s Senate companion also passed without dissent, and a large increase in the appropriation for the program is in the works, although just how large remains to be agreed upon. That increased funding will be needed given that parents have already begun 10,000 applications for next year, which outnumbers current participants by more than 5 to 1.

So far ESA programs have doubled from 2 to 4, with Mississippi and Tennessee joining the family, and we are waiting on word from Montana. The lawmakers in the states with the pre-existing programs have expanded eligibility in both. Bills in a number of other states remain in play. Delightfully, our experiment in ordered K-12 liberty continues to gain momentum.

Let’s see what happens next.

 

 


The Choice Genie is out of the Florida Bottle

March 24, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Drawing on data from redefinED and the Digest of Education Statistics, I produced the following chart. With 1.46 million students learning in part or wholly at schools other than their assigned public schools, Florida’s choice students outnumber the total public school population of all but about 8 states.

Okay, so it may be around 12 or 15 or so  if we were to account for some inevitable double counting in the figures (I’ve already separated out the McKay and Step Up for Students from the private school number). The choice programs however are just getting warmed up in the Sunshine State.