Oklahoma “Expands” Its Special Ed Vouchers

June 6, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I missed this when it was signed into law a couple weeks ago, because it’s not what you traditionally think of as “expanding” a school choice program. But in addition to its new school choice program, Oklahoma has (ahem) “expanded” its existing voucher program for special needs students:

House Bill 1744 by State Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City) and State Sen. Patrick Anderson (R-Enid) changes the law so school districts will no longer administer the program. Instead, the Department of Education will administer it.

“Last year, several school districts failed to provide scholarships to eligible special needs students, flagrantly violating the law,” said Nelson. “Thanks to the modifications in this bill, the State Department of Education will administer the program rather than local school districts. This will provide consistency and certainty for students and parents who choose to participate in the program.”

Last year, lawmakers voted allow a student with a disability (such as those with Down syndrome or Autism) who has an individualized education program (IEP) to receive state-funded scholarships to attend a private school. The scholarships come from the amount of money already designated for the education of those children.

After the program went into effect last August, several Tulsa-area schools voted to break the law, leading lawmakers to adjust the program this year. [ea]

A little bit like Eisenhower sending federal troops to “expand eligibility” for schools in Little Rock.

Does this bring me to twelve enactments in my bid to run up the score on poor Jay Mathews? Alas, no. In the set of definitions we agreed to for purposes of the bet, “expanding” a program means “increasing the eligible student pool, or increasing the amount of funds available to support the program (on either a per-student or global basis).” As I wrote to Mathews at the time: “That’s in your favor because I’m agreeing not to count, say, relaxation of burdensome restrictions on participating schools as an expansion.”

It also means sending in the cavalry to force the powers that be to obey the frikkin’ law also doesn’t count.

Stay tuned! The year’s not done yet…

Running Up the Score: Choice Goes to Eleven

May 20, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Matt Ladner’s awesomeness goes to eleven! And so does school choice with the expansion of Georgia’s tax-credit scholarship program making eleven school choice “enactments” this year.

Jay Mathews bet me we wouldn’t have seven enactments, and we now have eleven. Where do you think he’ll buy me dinner?

Running Up the Score: Make That Ten

May 20, 2011

Thou shalt not dismiss the viability of school choice!

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Earlier this week I celebrated the Oklahoma Eight Ball, the first school choice program passed after the Indiana Triple Play gave me the seven enactments (new or expanded programs) needed to win my bet with Jay Mathews.

Or so I thought! Somehow I missed the Florida Twofer. Florida expanded funds available for its tax-credit scholarship program and made a larger population of students eligible for the McKay voucher program for special needs students(thus expanding the total size of the program because McKay has no cap on total participation).

That puts my score at ten out of seven.

At least six states are still in play according to my sources: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Jersey, and South Carolina.

Time to Run Up the Score

May 17, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The Indiana Triple Play put me over the top for a total of seven school choice “enactments” this year, winning my bet with Jay Mathews on whether school choice is politically viable. So what comes next?

Now is the time on Jay P. Greene’s Blog when we run up the score!

Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the Oklahoma Eight Ball:

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin today signed into law the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act, which will provide tax credits to individuals and businesses that donate to nonprofits that distribute private-school scholarships to eligible families.

“This legislation is another victory in a year of nationwide progress toward the goal of giving families access to effective educational options for their children,” Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Foundation for Educational Choice, said. “More parents now will have the power to choose the best education for their children. Most importantly, more children will have the chance to receive an education that prepares them for success in life.”

Nine more states – nine! – remain in play for possible enactments this year.

Will Jay be spared the embarrassment of even more enactments? Ask the magic Oklahoma Eight Ball:

Indiana Triple Play Delivers the Win

May 5, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand that’s seven.

Gov. Daniels has just signed into law three – count them – three school choice “enactments” according to the terms of my notorious bet with the Washington Post‘s Jay Mathews.

  1. A new voucher program – bigger than any existing school choice program
  2. A new tax deduction for education expenses (including private schooling)
  3. An expansion of Indiana’s existing tax-credit scholarship program

Add that to the list of previous enactments this year…

  1. Utah’s Carson Smith voucher expansion
  2. Douglas County, Co. new voucher program
  3. Arizona new ESA program
  4. DC voucher expansion

…and that smells like a really fancy dinner at one of Milwaukee’s finest restaurants.

In the comments here, “allen” suggests that whether or not there’s an “end zone” in the war or terror, we should definitely seek to “run up the score.” I heartily agree – and I’m not above running up the score on Mathews, either.

A little bird tells me these states are still in play for enactments this year:

  1. Oklahoma
  2. Florida
  3. Georgia
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Ohio
  6. Pennsylvania
  7. Texas
  8. New Jersey
  9. North Carolina
  10. Iowa

I’ll take Texas with a grain of salt – sorry, Matt, but we’ve been promised a program in Texas too many times over too many years for me not to be skeptical. But hey, as you put it, 2011 is already setting a new standard for education reform. Why not Texas, too?

Fact: Chuck Norris can enact a Texas voucher in every state.

Kong & Mario image HT The Pitch

Three Down, Four to Go

April 14, 2011

Will Greg choose this one?

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program has officially been reauthorized! Combined with the new Colorado voucher program, and the new Arizona ESA program, Greg has 3 of his required 7 new programs/program expansions.

Stay tuned for further developments…

Me and Mathews – It’s BACK On!

April 4, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Jay Mathews and I are rebooting our somewhat troublesome bet. We’re starting over from scratch. This time, rather than counting legislative chambers, we’re going to count “enactments” of school choice. Any time a new school choice program or expansion of a school choice program (defined the same way as before) is enacted, that counts as one.

I have to get to seven enactments in 2011 to win.

We’re currently at four:

    1. AZ new program

    2. AZ program expansion

    3. CO new program

    4. UT program expansion

I’m getting out a little ahead of the Arizona governor, here, but those bills are both slam dunk at this point.

I warned Jay that Indiana is looking pretty good, so it’s really a fight over whether I can get two wins in places like Wisconsin, Oklahoma and D.C. He’s cool with that.

Commence handicapping!

Well . . . That Was Easy!

April 1, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I made the bet thinking I had three. I turned out I had five. By the time the bet went live on the blog I had seven.

Then, in the comments, Matt brings to my attention that both Utah houses passed a major financial expansion of the Carson Smith voucher program on March 10. And Scott notes that Minnesota’s House passed a new voucher program on March 30.

I won the bet in half a day!

Me and Jay Mathews: IT’S ON!

April 1, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Last week I challenged Jay Mathews of the Washington Post to a bet:

Tell you what, Jay. Let’s make a bet. You say there won’t be “a wave of pro-voucher votes across the country”…[W]e’ll set a mutually agreed on bar for the number of voucher bills passing chambers this year. If we hit the bar, you have to buy me dinner at a Milwaukee restaurant of my choice. But if we don’t hit the bar, I buy you dinner at a DC restaurant of your choice. That’s pretty lopsided in your favor, dollar-wise. How about it?

Today I’m proud to announce that Jay has accepted the bet!

The terms, exactly as I offered them to Jay over e-mail:

Here’s what I propose. I win the bet if at least ten legislative chambers pass bills in 2011 that either create or expand a private school choice program. Otherwise you win. Just based on my experience in the movement, I think if we got that many chamber passages, it would mark 2011 as a banner year for choice.

Definitions: A “private school choice program” is a program that funds attendance at private schools using public funds, either directly (by vouchers) or indirectly, through the tax code (as is the case with many school choice programs these days). That means charter schools don’t count. This is the definition we use here at the foundation. “Expanding” a program means increasing the eligible student pool, or increasing the amount of funds available to support the program (on either a per-student or global basis). That’s in your favor because I’m agreeing not to count, say, relaxation of burdensome restrictions on participating schools as an “expansion.”

Jay’s succinct response: “It’s a bet!”

Well, I didn’t plan it this way, but during the time I was working out the details and deciding how many programs to propose for the bet, and then communicating with Jay, there were a few votes on school choice programs!

When I proposed the bet to Jay earlier this week, I had missed the votes in Arizona a couple weeks ago. I thought we only had three of the ten passages needed for me to win the bet – the Virginia House, the Oklahoma Senate and Douglas County, Colorado.

When Matt clued me in on the Arizona votes, I realized that we were already at five out of the ten passages needed for me to win:

    1. VA House new tax-credit scholarship program (February 8 )

    2. AZ Senate tax-credit program expansion (March 8 )

    3. AZ House tax-credit program expansion (March 10)

    4. Douglas County, CO new voucher program (March 15)

    5. OK Senate new tax-credit scholarship program (March 16)

Then what happens?

    6. IN House new voucher program (March 30)

    7. U.S. House voucher expansion (March 30)

We got to seven votes before I even announced the bet! So much for my plans to make this a big, drawn out, suspenseful thing. The whole shooting match is going to be over before I even get three blog posts out of it. And here I made these cool ruler graphics and everything!

Here’s one other thing that’s bothering me. Was it unethical for me to make the bet with Jay without revealing to him that Indian is the official ethnic food of Jay P. Greene’s Blog?

Fear the Win-Win!

March 25, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

At the beginning of a very kind column praising my new report on the empirical evidence on vouchers, Jay Mathews indicates that for some strange reason, he’s afraid of me and my school-choice posse:

Do I really want to get beaten bloody again by school vouchers devotees?

Come on, Jay. I’m not a dangerous man. I would never beat anyone bloody. I’m soft and harmless. I’m a perfectly ordinary bunny rabbit. A cute, fluffy, harmless bunny rabbit.

Well, okay, I have been known to bite. With big, sharp, pointy teeth. But just to stretch my repertoire, I’ll take the soft approach this time.

Jay acknowledges the evidence:

Greg Forster, a talented and often engagingly contrarian senior fellow at the Foundation for Educational Choice, has expanded a previous study to show that nearly all the research on vouchers, including some using the gold standard of random assignment, has good news for those who believe in giving parents funds that can be used to put their children in private schools. Students given that chance do better in private schools than similar students do in public schools, the research shows. Public schools who are threatened by the loss of students to private schools because of voucher programs improve more than schools that do not have to worry about that competition, the research also shows.

Yet he thinks we shouldn’t support vouchers because . . . well, I’ll let him explain:

I see nothing morally, economically or politically wrong with vouchers. I have never thought that they drained public schools of vital resources. I think a low-income family that gets the chance to choose a private school that suits their child should do so.

But I think such programs have limited growth potential because there are never going to be nearly enough empty spaces in private schools to help all the students who need them. Forster and other voucher advocates say this will change when voucher programs become universal. Then, entrepreneurs will be able to convince investors that they can create a new generation of private schools with the new wave of voucher students.

I think they are wrong about that. The young educators who have led the robust growth of charters prefer to work in public schools. Many voters will continue to resist sending their tax dollars to private schools, particularly with the pressures to cut back government spending that are likely to be with us for many years.

So that’s two arguments. Entrepreneurial startups won’t attract talented education refomers, and voters won’t support the programs.

It’s true that the leading-edge school reformers, the people Matt calls “the cool kids,” prefer to work in public schools. As I’ve written before, you can already see how that strategic choice is leading to dead end after dead end. The school choice movement needs to start building bridges to these people and showing them that in the long run, only school choice can provide the institutional support they need to sustain the kind of reforms they want.

As for politics, school choice has always polled well (for a discussion of the research and methodological issues, see here). The American people are not, in fact, uncomfortable with allowing religious institutions to participate in publicly funded programs on equal terms alongside other institutions. There was a time when they were (see “amendments, Blaine”) but that bigotry has receded.

Oh, and as for pressure to cut spending, school choice saves money. Tons and tons of it. That has always been one of our biggest assets in the political fight – that’s why the Foundation for Educational Choice produces state-focused fiscal studies year after year, to show each state how school choice would save taxpayer money while delivering better education.

The political obstacle to choice has never been the public at large. It has always been the blob, with its huge piles of cash fleeced indirectly from taxpayers, and (perhaps more important) its phalanx of highly disciplined volunteers and voters. A minority of the voters can control the outcome if they are single-issue voters when the rest of the public takes into account the whole panoply of problems confronting the body politic. And when you threaten to derail a gravy train, it tends to make the passengers into single-issue voters.

But the tide is changing. The cynical selfishness of the blob is more and more visible to more and more people. Reform has already won the war of ideas. That does not mean the ground war is won. The unions are still big, rich, and powerful. But they are no longer sacred. They have lost their mystique. No one thinks the unions speak for kids anymore; no one even thinks the unions speak for teachers anymore. And in the end, that’s what counts.

As Jay has put it, the unions are now the tobacco lobby. Or, as I have put it, they’re Bull Connor. That’s why school choice is now poised for a series of big political wins.

Jay is skeptical – pointing to the greater success of charters, he thinks vouchers won’t make big gains this cycle. As readers of JPGB know, the answer to the charter argument is that vouchers make the world safe for charters. As for whether vouchers make big gains this year, we’re about to find out.

Tell you what, Jay. Let’s make a bet. You say there won’t be “a wave of pro-voucher votes across the country.” Me and my posse at FEC will go back and count up the number of school choice bills (private choice, not charters) that passed state chambers in 2008-2010. Then we’ll set a mutually agreed on bar for the number of voucher bills passing chambers this year. If we hit the bar, you have to buy me dinner at a Milwaukee restaurant of my choice. But if we don’t hit the bar, I buy you dinner at a DC restaurant of your choice. That’s pretty lopsided in your favor, dollar-wise. How about it?


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