Might Greg Rope-a-Dope His Way to Another Win over Jay Mathews?

March 29, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So I have not been keeping track this year, and election years are not usually the best for big reforms. The over under is 7 new or expanded programs. It wasn’t looking good in the early rounds, but slowly but surely Greg just might float like a butterfly and sting like a bee his way to (yet another) win.

Florida expanded their ESA, Mississippi seems poised to do the same. South Dakota’s governor signed a small tax credit program, and today comes word of a small voucher program that may pass in Maryland as the result of a budget deal. Am I missing anything so far?

Forster-Mathews over/under challenge- place your 2015 bets now

November 6, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Election coverage inevitably drifts to beltway drama, but I’m at more than a bit of a loss to understand why. It’s kind of like the nation’s bizarre fascination with 32 football teams running the same offense and defense when a far more interesting and gloriously chaotic brand of football rumbles along in the colleges. My memory gets fuzzy trying to remember the last positive and interesting thing to happen in DC. The action in America is out in the states.

Longtime Jayblog readers will doubtlessly recall the world-famous bet between our own Greg and WaPo columnist Jay Mathews regarding whether parental choice programs were just too politically difficult. They eventually decided to put the over/under for new school choice programs or expansions in 2011 at 7, with the loser picking up dinner.

I can’t remember whether the total got to 21 that year or not. If not, it was close. The school choice movement easily cleared the bar again in 2012. Then in 2013, it was time for a three-peat!  Finally in 2014, the pace slowed a bit nationally in an election year and the Forster-Mathews bar proved too high.

And now?

Only time will ultimately tell, but the elections of 2014 must look pretty bleak if you are burdened in life with reactionary K-12 preferences. Scott Walker for instance not only just won his third statewide election in four years, he’s talking about expanding school vouchers into new districts and providing choice to children with disabilities. Arizona Governor-elect Doug Ducey stated in his victory speech “Schools and choices open to some parents should be open to all parents.”

Out in Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott defeated Republican, Independent Democrat Charlie Crist in an epic battle. It did not escape the notice of some that the tight margin could have been swayed by the parents of the parents of the near 100,000 children participating in Florida’s private choice programs this year.

In Indiana, Republicans added to their already large legislative majorities and the same thing basically happened in Ohio. A few years ago, an observer of Nevada politics told me that the map of Nevada House were drawn such that a Democratic majority would live at least as long as the current map. Well lo and behold, Gov. Sandoval gets reelected with 70% of the vote and the Republicans capture both chambers.

The WaPo produced this handy map:

This same article notes that Republicans hold unified control over both chambers and the chief executive in 24 states compared to 6 for the Democrats.

Don’t ignore Blue states however. Out in New York, easily reelected Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed public support for tuition tax credits. From the linked story:

Mr. Cuomo echoed the assemblyman’s call for the passage of the Education Investment Tax Credit, which would help parents pay for religious schools–which the governor compared to his expansion of the state’s Tuition Assistance Program to cover yeshivas and his public funding of busing for students of Orthodox Jewish schools. Mr. Cuomo claimed such funding is simply equitable and right.

“It’s not charity, it’s not a favor. It’s justice. TAP. Public transportation and the school buses, that was justice. Education tax credit–this is a matter of justice,” he said as the crowd broke into applause. “I want you to understand that’s the way I see it. On a personal level, this is a very important relationship that I honor. And as governor, I have sworn to do justice. And there have been a number of great injustices that your community has endured for a long, long time. And it is my profound wish that we should work together and we should resolve them and bring justice to the community that we deserve.”

This is welcome news, as the private choice movement has made very limited progress overall in the mega-states of California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois aka where a whole bunch of the kids are located. Charter schools however are rolling along in all of those states, and they seem poised to crush private schools at a much higher rate than low-performing district schools. Even Florida’s nearing 100,000 private choice children in private choice programs seems small when viewed in this fashion. The Illinois $500 personal use tax credit comes across as a bit of a cruel joke when put into this context: the state will lavish many thousands of (increasingly hard to come by) dollars on you if you choose to attend a district or charter school, but will give you a $500 tax break if you choose to bear the financial burden of sending your child to a private school if you have a sufficient tax liability.

The Illinois credit may only be a small step in reducing double payment penalty, but it is more than California, New York or Texas has done to date while charters continue to surge. In the end, private schools ought not to be preserved by nostalgic state lawmakers, but rather (if it is going to happen) by the free choice of parents operating on something approaching a level financial playing field. We need both broader and better designed account-based programs.

Finally choice proponents need to be aware that even seemingly shiny legislative majorities spring on you like a bear trap if you mistake them for an actual consensus. Proponents must never forget the need to persuade a broader universe of opinion leaders and the public regarding the justice of their cause.

Okay so with all that said, I will take the over in 2015. What about you?


The Friedman Foundation has a handy-dandy guide to the governors and how they stand on parental choice.


WaPo on the teacher unions spending $60m on races and mostly getting crushed. Money quotes:

“We knew this was going to be an uphill battle,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest labor union. “But I don’t think anybody on our side, and we’ve got some very savvy people, anticipated going over the falls like this. Tectonic plates have shifted. And we’re going to have to come back with a new way of organizing for these kinds of races.”


“The surprising thing is you now have Democrats who are willing to buck the union,” said Howard Wolfson, an adviser to former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), who contributed to Democratic and Republican candidates around the country who want to introduce more choice and competition in public education, and greater accountability for teachers. “You can take reform positions and be successful not only in general elections, but in primaries. It’s a major sea change in the Democratic party that you can now oppose the union and be successful.”



Use the Force MOOC! A 2013 retrospective

December 26, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The after-Christmas but before New Year period is always dominated by “Year in Review” retrospectives, so why not join in on the fun? Here at the Jayblog we dig new options for students and parents, so let’s take a look back at 2013.

Digital learning continues to surge. No one has yet established the free online degree that some nutball predicted in 2009, but events are moving in that direction. Dhawal Shah of EdSurge leads us off with a review of the progress of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in 2013. Shah includes MOOCilicous charts like:




MOOC 2and…


All of this is quite impressive given the first MOOC rolled out in 2011. Shah provides analysis and 2014 predictions, so go read the article. Events seem to be conspiring to take a very sharp pin to a higher education tuition bubble. One cannot help but wonder how long we will go on debating public funding for online high-school courses when, ahhh, Stanford is giving them away for free and you can, well, get college credit for them.  The logical side of Kevin Carey’s brain (the one that writes about higher education) turned in a useful refutation of the hand-wringing over MOOC completion rates.

Remember where you heard it first- the day is coming when more people will be watching university lectures online than Baywatch reruns.

Please note: I did not say it would be any time soon…

On the K-12 front, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools published an evaluation of state charter school laws finding widespread improvement between 2010 and 2013. Bottom line: break out the bubbly. Thirty-five states improved their laws, only one law regressed. Seven states “essentially overhauled” their laws with major improvements-Hawaii, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Indiana, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Colorado. Ten more states-Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio made “notable improvements” in their charter law.

Here at Jayblog we have our annual measure of success in the private choice movement the Forster vs. Mathews school choice dinner bet. Greg either doubled or tripled the standard in 2011, and followed up by easily surmounting it once more in 2012.

In 2013, ooops Greg did it again!  Three-peat!  Two new states (Alabama and South Carolina) joined the school choice ranks, North Carolina went BIG on reform, including two new voucher programs, Ohio and Wisconsin passed new statewide programs, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana and Utah improved existing programs.

So 2013 was a fine year overall for choice, grading on the curve of comparing it to past years. Compared to the needs of the country, this is all still painfully slow, so…

Greg Runs Up More Style Points in 2013

July 25, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

This one slipped past me but not the eagle-eyes at School Reform NewsMissouri joins the school choice fraternity with a tax credit for special needs children. If I have the count correct the record for 2013 now looks like:

Alabama new tax credit programs

Arizona ESA expansion

Indiana voucher program expansion

Indiana tax credit program expansion

Iowa tax credit expansion

Missouri special needs tax credit program

North Carolina statewide low/middle-income voucher

North Carolina special needs voucher

Ohio new statewide low-income voucher

South Carolina new tax credit program

Utah special needs voucher program funding increase and formula funding

Wisconsin voucher program expansion

That looks like three new states: Alabama, Missouri and South Carolina along with some important program improvements/new programs and big goings on in North Carolina. Although there could be spirited debate about the best year for school choice before 2011, the top three years ever are clearly 2011, 2012 and 2013 (not necessarily in that order).

UPDATE: J. Bedrick notes in the comments that the Missouri tax credit language did not ultimately pass, but a similarily named piece did pass in a way confusing to both the newspapers and thus me. Sadly, an anti-BOOOOM.

Greg Earns Even More Style Points Just Moments After Recanting

June 27, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Mere moments after recanting his Common Core opposition, Greg ran up the score on Jay Mathews even more with news that Ohio lawmakers have passed a new statewide voucher program for low-income students.

Don’t stop now Greg! Find something else to recant quick! Tell everyone that you think Firefly was the worst show in the history of television, and maybe we would get nationwide universal school choice!


Greg goes Three-Peat on Jay Mathews

June 27, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I think Greg has three-peated on his bet with Jay Mathews regarding school choice expansion. Here is my count, with a few of these not being totally done deals yet (but close enough):

Alabama new tax credit program

Arizona ESA expansion

Indiana voucher program expansion

Indiana tax credit program expansion

Iowa tax credit expansion

South Carolina new tax credit program

Utah voucher program funding increase and formula funding

Wisconsin voucher program expansion

New program discussions are still ongoing in North Carolina and Ohio.  Even before knowing how these turn out, 2013 already represents a very solid year for the movement with two new states added to the choice family and some significant improvements to existing programs.

UPDATE: Paul Diperna wrote me to note that Alabama passed both a refundable and a scholarship credit- meaning two new programs. Extra style points for Greg.

Jay Mathews Comes Back for More

May 29, 2012

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

True story: At the house of some friends from church, the elder son (about six years old) was explaining the big bandage he was wearing. He told us he had climbed up on the stove in order to reach the cookies that were on top of the refrigerator, accidentally turned on the range with his foot, fell over, and was badly burned.

The following exchange occurred:

ME: Did you learn a lesson from what happened?

HIM: Uh . . . no.

Apparently Jay Mathews didn’t learn anything either after getting badly burned on the stove of my wrath last year.

He’s once again up to his typical stove-climbing antics, still trying to reach the cookies of bipartisan acceptability on top of the refrigerator of political ambiguity. Over the weekend, he wrote:

Instead, the two parties pound each other with an education issue that makes them look tough to their most partisan supporters. That convenient weapon is vouchers, tax-supported scholarships for students who want to attend private schools. Obama has cut funds for a voucher program in the District, so Romney embraces it. “It will be a model for parental choice programs across the nation,” he said in the speech.

The split doesn’t affect the bipartisan approach to schools much because vouchers have no chance of ever expanding very far. There aren’t nearly enough available spaces in good private schools to meet the demand. Any significant growth in vouchers would lead to heavy government interference in private schools and kill any allegiance conservative Republicans had to it.

Let’s take these claims one by one:

vouchers have no chance of ever expanding very far

Uh, yeah, let me just go ahead and link this again. Thanks. If Mathews wants to lose another bet on vouchers’ legislative prospects, he’s welcome to as much pain as he wants.

He links that statement to an older article of his on the DC voucher program, which serves under 2,000 kids. Compare that to the gargantuan sizes of the new Indiana and Louisiana programs (400,000 kids eligible in Louisiana!).

I’m not saying we’ve reached the promised land, but the political trend is very obviously up and not down.

There aren’t nearly enough available spaces in good private schools to meet the demand.

William F. Buckley once asked, speaking about a person whose name escapes me: “What do you think he would do if the devil removed the blinders from his eyes and showed him the world of economics? I say the devil, because God would never be so cruel.”

What do you think Jay Mathews would do if the devil removed the blinders from his eyes and showed him that quantity supplied can change in response to demand?

Any significant growth in vouchers would lead to heavy government interference in private schools and kill any allegiance conservative Republicans had to it.

Yeah, except for the part where there are now 34 school choice programs serving 212,000 students, and this story Mathews is telling hasn’t happened anywhere.

Keep reaching for those cookies, Jay. You’ll get them someday.

(Edit: In the first version of this post, the devil made me write the wrong name in the WFB quote above.)

Iowa Legislature Lines Up Another Enactment

June 30, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Last night, Iowa’s House and Senate passed a budget that expands funding for the state’s tax-credit scholarship program. If the governor signs, as expected, that will bring us to fifteen school choice enactments and officially put us not just at, but over the benchmark for Matt’s “double down challenge”  in my bet with Jay Mathews.

And from what I hear, the next question isn’t whether we’ll get to sixteen. The question is, which state will get to fifteen first, and which will have to settle for sixteen – or seventeen, or eighteen . . .

Louisiana Doubles Down

June 28, 2011

Sorry, I couldn’t find “Louisiana Hold ‘Em”

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Two Wisconsin enactments while I was travelling a week ago – expanding Milwaukee vouchers and creating a new voucher program in Racine – brought my ongoing humiliation of Jay Mathews to a total of 13 school choice enactments (new programs or expansions of existing programs). And that’s not even counting Oklahoma’s “expansion” of its special ed voucher program (the program was “expanded” to include students who were eligible to participate but were being illegally denied access by rogue school districts).

Governor Jindal just doubled us down by signing into law Lousiana’s expansion of its educational tax deduction, bringing us to 14 enactments on a bet that we wouldn’t reach seven.

Here’s the tally so far:

  1. UT Carson Smith expansion
  2. Douglas County, CO new voucher
  3. AZ new ESA
  4. DC voucher expansion
  5. IN new voucher
  6. IN new tax deduction
  7. IN tax-credit scholarship expansion
  8. OK new tax-credit scholarship
  9. FL tax-credit scholarship expansion
  10. FL McKay voucher expansion
  11. GA tax-credit scholarship expansion
  12. WI Milwaukee voucher expansion
  13. WI new Racine vouchers
  14. LA tax deduction expansion

Matt wants to know if there’s a mercy rule for wonk bets. As Ned Flanders once said, “Mercy is for the weak!”

Greg Continues to Run Up the Score on Jay Mathews

June 16, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Another day, another couple of style points for Greg. North Carolina’s legislature passed a tax credit for special needs students with an overwhelming bipartisan majority in each chamber. Down in Louisiana, lawmakers expanded the tax deduction for private school students, also by an overwhelming bipartisan margin.

Jay’s suffering is not done yet. Wisconsin is very near to expanding the size and scope of the Milwaukee program, and creating a new program in Racine, and there is more game to be played in Big-10 country.

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