Verdict in the WSJ: “School Vouchers Work”

May 3, 2011

Wall Street Journal columnist, Jason Riley has a must-read piece in the WSJ today.  The piece features the work of my University of Arkansas colleague, Patrick Wolf, JPGB’s very own Greg Forster, as well as a reference to the competitive effects study that Ryan Marsh and I conducted in Milwaukee.  There are too many highlights, but here is a (big) taste:

‘Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement,” said the White House in a statement on March 29. “The Administration strongly opposes expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and opening it to new students.” But less than three weeks later, President Obama signed a budget deal with Republicans that includes a renewal and expansion of the popular D.C. program, which finances tuition vouchers for low-income kids to attend private schools.

School reformers cheered the administration’s about-face though fully aware that it was motivated by political expediency rather than any acknowledgment that vouchers work.

When Mr. Obama first moved to phase out the D.C. voucher program in 2009, his Education Department was in possession of a federal study showing that voucher recipients, who number more than 3,300, made gains in reading scores and didn’t decline in math. The administration claims that the reading gains were not large enough to be significant. Yet even smaller positive effects were championed by the administration as justification for expanding Head Start….

The positive effects of the D.C. voucher program are not unique. A recent study of Milwaukee’s older and larger voucher program found that 94% of students who stayed in the program throughout high school graduated, versus just 75% of students in Milwaukee’s traditional public schools. And contrary to the claim that vouchers hurt public schools, the report found that students at Milwaukee public schools “are performing at somewhat higher levels as a result of competitive pressure from the school voucher program.” Thus can vouchers benefit even the children that don’t receive them.

Research gathered by Greg Forster of the Foundation for Educational Choice also calls into question the White House assertion that vouchers are ineffective. In a paper released in March, he says that “every empirical study ever conducted in Milwaukee, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Maine and Vermont finds that voucher programs in those places improved public schools.” Mr. Forster surveyed 10 empirical studies that use “random assignment, the gold standard of social science,” to assure that the groups being compared are as similar as possible. “Nine [of the 10] studies find that vouchers improve student outcomes, six that all students benefit and three that some benefit and some are not affected,” he writes. “One study finds no visible impact. None of these studies finds a negative impact.”

Such results might influence the thinking of an objective observer primarily interested in doing right by the nation’s poor children. But they are unlikely to sway a politician focused on getting re-elected with the help of teachers unions.

“I think Obama and Duncan really care about school reform,” says Terry Moe, who teaches at Stanford and is the author of a timely new book, “Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools.” “On the other hand they have to be sensitive to their Democratic coalition, which includes teachers unions. And one way they do that is by opposing school vouchers.”

The reality is that Mr. Obama’s opposition to school vouchers has to do with Democratic politics, not the available evidence on whether they improve outcomes for disadvantaged kids. They do—and he knows it.


April 21, 2011
Maybe this one Greg?
(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
Colorado, Arizona, Washington DC and now…word has arrived that Indiana legislators have sent what will become the nation’s largest voucher program to Governor Daniels for signature. I will update with details when available.
Huge win for the school choice movement, and especially for the Foundation for Educational Choice (nee Friedman Foundation).
4 down, 3 to go…

UPDATE: Friedman Foundation Press Release below. Still requires House approval, but also expands pre-existing tax credit program and creates a new tax deduction for private school expenses. It may soon be 6 down, 1 to go…

Indiana Senate Passes Nation’s Largest Voucher Bill

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — The Indiana Senate today passed legislation that would create the nation’s broadest school voucher program, allowing low- and middle-income families to use taxpayer funds to send their children to the private school of their choice.

House Bill 1003, which was approved by the Senate in a 28-22 vote, would create a new scholarship program enabling families to send their children to the private school of their choice. Scholarship amounts are determined on a sliding scale based on income, with families receiving up to 90 percent of state support.

The Indiana House of Representatives previously approved a similar version of the bill by a vote of 56-42. The Senate version, which adds a $1,000 tax deduction for families that pay out of pocket for private or homeschool expenses, will now go back to the House. If the House agrees to the changes made in the Senate, the bill will proceed to Governor Daniels, who is expected to sign the bill into law.

“This is exciting news,” said Robert Enlow, President and CEO of the Foundation for Educational Choice. “We applaud those legislators who stood tall for kids, and we hope the House will concur as soon as possible so that Indiana families who desperately need educational options do not have to wait any longer.”

If enacted, the voucher would be available to far more students than other programs in the country, where vouchers are limited to low-income households, students in failing schools, or special-needs students. Under HB 1003, a family of four earning up to $61,000 per year would be eligible.

Additionally, the $1,000 tax deduction for private and homeschool expenses has universal eligibility. The bill also improves Indiana’s scholarship tax credit program by increasing the program cap to $5 million, making $10 million in scholarships available to Hoosier families.

FEC Drills Down the Data

February 21, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

If you want to drill down into state level data on school choice, check out the new edition of The ABCs of School Choice from my comrades-in-arms at the Foundation for Educational Choice.

Back when I was head of research for FEC, I used to put together the ABCs publication, and let me tell you – this new version is not your father’s ABCs. They’ve got a ton of new data, such as:

  • How many students used Arizona’s tax-credit scholarships in each year since the program began? How about the personal tax credit in Illinois or Ohio’s EdChoice voucher?
  • How many schools have taken Florida McKay vouchers in each year? How about Milwaukee vouchers?
  • What was the average dollar value of Georgia’s special needs voucher program in each year? How about Louisiana’s failing-schools voucher?
  • Et cetera?

Plus, as always, the ABCs gives you a detailed rundown on how each program works – the rules and regulations, the eligibility qualifications, legal issues, the whole story. Check it out.

The States Are Concealing Teacher Pension Costs of ONE TRILLION DOLLARS!

April 13, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

A new study by Josh Barro and Stuart Buck, co-sponsored by the Foundation for Educational Choice and the Manhattan Institute, finds that states have total teacher pension liabilities of ONE TRILLION DOLLARS!

These days that doesn’t sound like much, does it? We’re getting to the point where raising an alarm about ONE TRILLION DOLLARS is a little like holding the world to ransom for a measly million.

But check out some other points from the study:

  • These teacher pension liabilities are systematically concealed from the public. The states claim they’re on the hook for “only” $332 billion.
  • Not surprisingly, these concealed liabilities aren’t properly funded. Every pension fund is in shortfall – California alone by $100 billion.
  • The funding shortfalls aren’t trivial. The five worst states (by percentage) are less than 40 percent funded. Only five plans in the whole country are 75 percent funded.

The logic is simple: extravegant teacher pension promises cost nothing to make, and the people who make the promises will mostly have moved on to other things by the time the gigantic costs come due. The due date can be held off by dishonest accounting – you don’t need to put a trillion dollars into the pension fund if you just pretend you don’t owe a trillion dollars. When the chickens come home to roost, those in power can shrug their shoulders and blame the irresponsibility of previous administrations. And where will the guilty parties be by then?

It’s the perfect crime.

Robert Enlow on Vouchers and School Safety

February 3, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Robert Enlow, my boss at the Foundation for Educational Choice, writes in this morning’s Chicago Sun-Times that school vouchers are a safety issue:

When Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited the community in October, Holder said the Albert murder was “a call to action” and that youth violence had to come to an end…

In October, Holder said, “We are not going to protect any sacred cows. The status quo is not acceptable.” If that is truly the case, if Chicago parents, community leaders and politicians have had enough bloodshed, justice will no longer be delayed.

If you’re in Chicago Friday morning, or can be, don’t miss the big event the Illinois Policy Institute will be putting on. Rev. Senator James Meeks will be giving a barn-burner of a speech, from what I’m told. You’ll want to hear it.

(Oh, and yours truly will be on stage as well, to talk about this. But come anyway.)

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