Kevin Carey Flashes Back to 2009 for a Wild West tax credit tale

March 3, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Kevin Carey is at it again- this time by flashing back to eight year old allegations about the Arizona tax credit program as a dire warning about the dangers of a federal tax credit. When these stories ran in 2009, here is what I had to say about it here on the Jayblog:

When presented with this type of information, the first instinct of some will be to deny it, to hunker down, to accuse our enemies of far greater misdeeds, or to otherwise try to put lipstick on a pig. Good luck with that.  It is blindingly obvious to me that Arizona’s tax credit is system is a good program overall that suffers from specific weaknesses that can and must be addressed.  Otherwise, writing articles like this one will become the journalistic equivalent of using a shot-gun to shoot fish in a bucket.

Since then, things have improved substantially, but Kevin did not get the memo. Here are a few items that Kevin left out:

Subsequent to 2009, the state enacted new legislation to require STOs to both consider financial need in the granting of scholarships, and to report to the Arizona Department of Revenue on the family income of recipients. When you examine the Arizona Department of Revenue Reports, you find that approximately 80 to 90 scholarship funds went to middle and low-income students. This not only is a more progressive distribution than many public schools and school districts, it beats the living daylights out of another Arizona tax credit for public school kids that overwhelmingly goes to advantaged public schools. Quite frankly it is likely that a large majority of private choice funds were going to middle and low-income children before the state required reporting. It’s just nice to have an Arizona Department of Revenue report that confirms it.

Carey wrote “Some states, like Alabama and Indiana, limit tax credit vouchers to low- and middle-income families, or to students who were previously enrolled in public school. But others, including Arizona, do not, subsidizing private education for the well-off.” Two of Arizona’s credits are means tested, and two are not. One of the two that is not means tested exclusively serves children with disabilities. I’ll be for completely means-testing private choice programs the very instant that Kevin gets means-testing passed for district schools. Until such time, let’s note for the record that the Arizona private tax credit programs serve provide far fewer dollars to “well off” kids than say, Scottsdale Unified. Someone please wake me up when the Times runs a breathless expose about rich kids getting exclusive access to fancy and abundantly funded public schools.

In addition to the state taking action, donors apparently expressed their displeasure with what they read about in the East Valley Tribune as well during the next donation cycle (see page 8.) If donors don’t like the way scholarship groups run their business, they have the option of not donating, or donating to other groups. 2010 was a rough year for scholarship groups. Decentralized accountability strikes again!

Reasonable people can disagree about the degree and extent of oversight and other devilish details in a program like this. Even we in the Wild West have to make adjustments on occasion, and the democratic process is ultimately pretty good at hashing these sort of things out. I’ll be happy to make my donation this April to help a low-income parent choose a school for their child.


Competing Against Non-Consumption

September 28, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

HT to good Kevin Carey (the entertaining higher ed version) for drawing attention to this Harvard regression discontinuity analysis of the Georgia Tech $7,000 Masters Degree in Computer Science. Making use of a natural experiment the researchers found that the inexpensive Georgia Tech program was competing against…nothing. In other words, those that applied and did not get admitted did not enroll in a different, more traditional program.

It remains to be seen whether a Georgia Tech online students learn as much as their in person peers or how the market views these sort of degrees. On the learning side, it is not terribly hard to teach students more than what they would have learned in their other program (i.e. nothing) and the amount of knowledge gained per tuition dollar will run laps around the in-person program. The in-person program btw only can accomodate 300 students at a time, while the online program has 4,000.

Much more research to be done. Just as the vast legions of the University of Texas at Austin film school eventually lapped the accomplishments of back east finishing schools for global technocrat film schools (albeit some get to claim scoreboard due to a black swan) just maybe…

It's about numbers boys and girls and they have more!

It’s about numbers boys and girls and they have more!

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…

Colorado State Becomes the First American University to Accept MOOCs for Credit

September 10, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Udasity and EdX have set up a system for proctored final exams for their Massive Open Online Courses. The NYT reports that Colorado State University has become the first institution to accept such a proctored courses for university credit.  The NYT reports that several European universities have already done so. Given that hundreds of thousands of people are taking MOOCs, expect more to follow.

Kevin Carey turned in an interesting report on the Silicon Valley higher-ed tech revolution for Washington Monthly.

Time to switch back to you, K-12 brain…

I’m starting to wonder whether the K-12 Reactionary and the Higher-Ed Revolutionary voices can continue to coexist peacefully inside Carey’s head, but I digress. Massive Open Online Courses are going to productively disrupt both higher education and K-12 while putting a great education at the fingertips of billions.


Silly Season

June 4, 2012

With the approaching presidential elections we enter the Silly Season, when otherwise sensible and knowledgeable people abandon all reason to make some of the most ridiculous arguments to advance the interests of one candidate or another.  I completely understand why smart people make these really dumb remarks — they love hearing themselves talk, the are indulging fantasies of being able to influence events over which they have virtually no actual influence, it is part of their job, etc…

But that raises something that I don’t understand at all: why does anyone pay these people to spout nonsense?  I can’t see that it does anyone any good.  I don’t believe that raving on Twitter makes any difference to how anyone will vote.  I find it hard to believe that anyone derives entertainment value from their dribble.  So why does someone voluntarily hand money to individuals or organizations that revel in the Silly Season?

I think I may have discovered an answer while watching a production of Twelfth Night the other day.  I noticed that everyone keeps handing Feste, the fool, money even though he almost never does what they want.  In fact, he mostly makes fun of his patrons for which they hand him gold.  They often do so just to make him go away.  Andy maybe that is the solution to the mystery of why anyone pays the babbling idiots of Silly Season.  It isn’t because they benefit from the nonsense; it is just that they wish the fools will spout nonsense about someone else.

Of course, the babbling idiots of Silly Season are not nearly as insightful and clever as Feste, so perhaps another example might better illustrate why they are paid.  I was recently walking on Bourbon Street and saw the world’s oldest profession.  As the saying goes, they aren’t paid for their services; they are paid to leave.

And in case you need some examples of the nonsense spouted during the Silly Season here are some:

New York Times blogger, Nate Silver, recently tweeted this spin to the abysmal job numbers: “This jobs report is no big deal. Every economy has a few bad decades.”  Um, OK.  And he also tweeted this: “Per capita global GDP did not grow AT ALL between 2000 B.C. and the Industrial Revolution. We’re just reverting to the mean!”  Unless this was meant to be satire, these are remarkably stupid things for a smart guy to say.

Slate columnist and perpetual windbag, Matt Yglesias, provided this spin: “Impressed by conservatives ability to pretend to believe that Obama is 100% responsible for events 1.5 years into divided government.”  One can just imagine how he would crow about Obama’s genius if the circumstances were opposite.

And Kevin Carey, who is somehow considered an expert despite never having conducted a rigorous study or had any significant experience, offers this talking point: “Romney’s education platform is a sign of how swiftly the consensus Republican position on education has been overwhelmed by… the economic interests of big business.”  I didn’t see anything in his piece showing that Romney’s education proposal served the interests of big business, but he just needed to throw that in there to keep the meme going.

I apologize for citing only only pro-Obama examples because I could just as easily find a steady stream of silliness from the pro-Romney side.  These were just the first few to catch my eye and I’m too lazy to dig up more.  Unlike these ladies of the night, I don’t get paid for blogging and spouting nonsense.

Kevin Carey Gets the Facts Wrong

January 30, 2012

(Guest post by Patrick J. Wolf)

In The Atlantic Online resident cool-kid Kevin Carey sings the “vouchers-are-all-bad-but-charters-are-all-good” song that is the official anthem of the beltway crowd of education reform hipsters.  Carey repeats some points from my own research that school choice results would be even better if parents had more extensive information about schools (but see here for how the mere availability of choice improves parent knowledge about schools) and the supply of choice schools was of consistently higher quality.  Fine.  Carey also claims that private school administrators are rapacious (tell that to the nuns that still run many Catholic schools) and politicians who support school vouchers do so for “obviously partisan reasons” while Mr. Carey only cares about the children.

Unlike Kevin Carey I don’t purport to possess the ability to look inside of people’s souls and conclusively discern their true motives.  Still, his broad-brush claim that all voucher backers are merely trying to “club Democrats” (his words) seems demonstrably inconsistent with the behaviors of voucher supporters such as retiring Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, Senator Diane Feinstein (yeah, she loves to club Democrats), former Democratic Mayor Anthony Williams, Wisconsin State Representative Jason Fields (yet another African-American Democrat who supports vouchers), etc.  I really could go on and present a much longer list, but Kevin Carey only uses single examples to make sweeping generalizations so I’ll simply outperform him by using multiple counter-examples to disprove his universal and unqualified claims.

What disturbs me more than Carey’s reckless accusations is his lack of knowledge of the basic facts surrounding school vouchers.  For example, he states casually that, “To this day, vouchers are only available to small handful (sic) of students.”  The facts are that 27 different voucher or tax-credit funded voucher-like programs serve over 210,000 students.  Even Paul Bunyan’s hands couldn’t hold that many kids.

Carey goes on to state boldly that, “Unlike private schools that pick and choose their pupil (sic), charters are open to all students and allocate scarce openings via lotteries.”  The facts are that many voucher programs do not allow private schools to discriminate in admissions.  In Milwaukee, for example, private schools participating in the voucher program must admit students by lottery but public charter schools in the city can pick and choose their pupils — the exact opposite of what Carey claims.

The D.C. voucher program is “a small, benign, and not particularly effective effort that at its core is nothing more than its name suggests: a program that awards scholarship (sic) to a small group of poor families to partially offset the cost of attending private school”, according to Kevin Carey.  Ignore the fact that this is yet another grammatically incorrect sentence from Mr. Carey.  Is it true?  Well, I know a few things about the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program, having served as the U.S. Department of Education’s independent evaluator of the program and having written six detailed reports on our nation’s only federally-funded school voucher initiative.

Did the D.C. voucher only “partially offset the cost of attending private school” for families, as Carey claims?  In over 99 percent of cases, the D.C. voucher of up to $7,500 was accepted by schools as full payment from the family.  The private schools accepted less than half the per-pupil government resources allocated to D.C. public schools and either provided a highly efficient education to voucher students or, in many cases, covered the extra costs themselves.  Wait a second, I thought Kevin Carey said that private school operators are greedy and avaricious?

Is the D.C. voucher program “not particularly effective”?  Our gold-standard experimental evaluation concluded that the voucher program increased the high school graduation rate of students by 12 percentage points from the mere offer of the voucher and 21 percentage points if a student actually used it.  That makes the D.C. voucher initiative the most effective drop-put prevention program ever evaluated by the U.S. Department of Education.  The same Milwaukee evaluation that Carey references as showing no net achievement benefits for voucher students also reports that Milwaukee voucher students are graduating from high school and enrolling in college at higher rates due to access to private schools through the program.

President Obama proposed in his State of the Union address that teenagers be compelled to remain in school until they turn 18 or graduate.  Who needs such Big-Brother-like compulsion?  When the government provides more students with access to private schools through vouchers the kids stay in school willingly.

Does Kevin Carey ignore the clear and large graduation rate benefits of the D.C. and Milwaukee voucher programs because he thinks it isn’t desirable for low-income minority children to graduate from high school?  If so, then human compassion and a wealth of research proves him wrong.  More likely, Carey ignores the compelling evidence that school vouchers help disadvantaged students go further in school because it is an inconvenient fact that undermines his argument.  He doesn’t want to admit that voucher programs are effective at promoting the most important student educational outcome there is, and he certainly doesn’t want to share that uncomfortable information with his readers.  Move along, nothing to see here.

After lauding school choice only through public charter schools, Carey states that, “…the market will still require strong oversight from public officials to grant the ‘approved’ status Friedman envisioned over a half-century ago–and the willingness to revoke that approval when performance is sub-par,” which is exactly how the Milwaukee voucher program is designed and operates.

Doesn’t Carey read anything?  A report released last year documented that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the government agency that oversees the Milwaukee voucher program, has kicked 35 schools out of the program since 2006.  The average student performance in those schools was dramatically lower than the achievement numbers for the schools allowed to remain in the program.  Voucher programs in the U.S. have exactly the kinds of government accountability mechanisms that Carey falsely claims are missing from them, plus market accountability to boot.

After Kevin Carey’s litany of factual errors, he grandly proclaims the path forward for people, like himself, who actually care about the children.  “We can start by purging the worst rhetoric from the school choice conversation.”  Well, Mr. Carey, before you criticize the splinter in your brother’s eye you might want to work on removing the log from your own.  Meanwhile, readers who want accurate information about school vouchers should, like the Titanic, steer clear of The Atlantic.

Mend It, Don’t End It

November 9, 2010

Kevin Carey responded to my post from yesterday arguing that his opposition to the Arizona tax credit scholarship was inconsistent and not logically compelling.  I’m afraid that his argument remains as inconsistent and unpersuasive as it was before.

He rejects the claim that I attributed to him that tax credits and deductions, in general, are corrupt.  Instead, his argument is now that the AZ tax credit scholarship is “specifically” corrupt.  If that is his argument, then we might wonder why he doesn’t advocate for regulatory reform to keep the program while reducing the potential for abuse.  If tax deductions are not “inherently” corrupt, then we should be able to properly regulate this program to address his “specific” concerns.  In fact, Arizona has already revised its regulatory scheme to address the types of abuses he raised and Carey provides no evidence that the regulations now in place are insufficient.

In addition, if his objection all along was to specific problems with the AZ tax credit scholarship, why did he bother to write at length about how “there’s a well-established process for spending public resources” from which the Arizona program deviates by using tax credits rather than direct appropriations?  Methinks his argument doth shift after I pointed out that the tax code is a very common policymaking method to shape private behavior, and he wouldn’t want to object to the day care tuition tax credit, charitable donation deduction, etc…

And if his claim is that the AZ tax credit scholarship is particularly bad because it creates “private appropriators,”  why does he not have the same objection to charities as “private appropriators.”  After all, the tax credit scholarship organizations are just a specific type of charitable organization.  Like all charitable organizations, they are facilitated in their efforts with private funds by features in the tax code.  All such organizations then “appropriate” money to others.  And there is a potential for abuse with all charitable organizations, including the tax credit scholarship organizations, that we try to control through appropriate regulations.

I can’t imagine that Carey would favor abolishing the tax deduction for charitable giving, so it is unclear why, based on his stated concerns, he should advocate for the elimination of  the private school scholarship tax credit.  Of course, Carey is not motivated by his stated objections, since he would not apply those principles consistently.  Instead, his argument is really just that he opposes private school choice.  I don’t know why he doesn’t just write about that rather than hide behind a convoluted argument about the dangers of tax credits or his inconsistently applied principles of democratic policymaking.

Lastly, I can’t resist responding to Carey’s strange argument about what money belongs to the government.  He writes: “The government doesn’t own all of your money but it does own some of it.”  I agree.  Of course, the part the government owns does not include any of the portions for which I can receive a tax credit.  If his argument is simply that the money I owe the government, after all tax deductions and credits, belongs to the government, then he should have no objection to the AZ tax credit scholarship because that money, by definition, does not belong to the government.  The same is true for money I can keep after tax credits for day care tuition, energy-saving repairs on my house, etc…

Again, his argument has shifted to the point where it no longer advocates for the position he prefers.  Pointing out that there are specific problems with the AZ tax credit scholarship suggests he should favor regulatory reforms, not eliminating the program.  And pointing out that the government owns the money you owe it after all deductions and credits suggests that he should have no difficulty with the AZ tax credit scholarship.

Kevin Carey Opposes the Mortgage Deduction

November 8, 2010

Carey, a pundit at Education Sector, must also oppose the day care tuition tax credit adopted under President Clinton, deductions for charitable donations, and a host of other uses of the tax code to encourage or discourage what people do with their own money.

I say this because it is the logical conclusion that flows from Cary’s post at The Quick and the Ed railing against the tax credit-supported school scholarship program in Arizona whose legality was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court last week.

Carey seems to think that the Arizona tax credit is an unusual and inherently “corrupt” deviation from the “well-established process for spending public resources.”  According to Carey, the normal and appropriate process is:

First, the government raises money through taxes. Then, elected representatives pass a law directing how that money should be spent. One could fill a warehouse with examples of how this process fails to be optimal. But it is open, rational and fair at the core, which is why democracies the world over and throughout history spend money this way.

So if Arizona citizens want to support religious schools with taxpayer money, they should go to the statehouse during budget season and make their case alongside advocates for regular public schools, roads, hospitals, police protection, mental health, higher education, state parks, light rail, and so forth.

Of course, that is one way that democratically elected representatives make policy.  Another very common way to make policy is to use the tax code by offering deductions or credits to shape how people behave with their own money.

If Carey were consistent he would be incensed that promoters of home-ownership or charitable-giving use the tax code to encourage these behaviors with private money rather than having direct government appropriations to home-owners or philanthropists.  He should denounce all tax deductions and credits as a “convolution” and “shell game.”

Carey reserves his venom for school scholarship tax credits, while inconsistently ignoring all other similar uses of tax credits and deductions (most of which I assume he supports), because he particularly hates private school choice.  He hates vouchers with a condescension that is extreme even for DC policy-wonks, as we have noted on JPGB in the past.  The only convolution here is Carey inconsistently arguing against private school choice as a violation of democratic policymaking principles rather than making the direct argument against the merits of private school choice.

Carey does not shrink from making the direct (and frightening) argument that the government owns all of our money except for what it deigns to let us keep:  “Katyal’s premise is that people own every dollar they come to possess. They don’t. They owe some of it the government. It’s not their money; it’s the government’s money.”

Again, if Carey wishes to be consistent he should oppose the charitable giving deduction because that money really belongs to the government, not to individuals who the government is encouraging to support charities.  He should also call for an elimination of the deduction because there are some charities that have misused or unwisely spent the money they have received.  Keeping the deduction but cracking down on abuse clearly wouldn’t satisfy him because he seems unmoved by efforts in Arizona to do that with the tax-credit scholarship program.

Perhaps Kevin Carey should stick to writing about higher education, where he has a number of useful things to say.  When he wanders into the world of K-12 he seems to lose the ability to make logical and consistent arguments.  It is obvious he has not thought through the implication of his argument that would oppose all uses of tax deductions and credits.  He’s so focused on under-cutting private school choice that he fails to consider what his position would mean for home-ownership, charitable giving, or pre-school attendance.  Emerson may have been right that a foolish inconsistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, but that doesn’t mean we can abandon consistency altogether.

Let’s Get Ready to Rummmmmble!

August 24, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I had a chance to watch the Fordham Foundation’s with ice cream ascendant is there a future for chocolate fudge event on charters and vouchers online. John Kirtley scored an early knockout when he noted that in Jacksonville Florida recently there all of 6 charter schools but 90 private schools serving low-income students through the Step Up for Students Tax Credit program. Kirtley then noted that not all 6 charter schools primarily serve low-income children. He likely could have added that not all six are high quality schools, but that would have been running up the score. Kirtley asked his debate opponents how much longer single mothers with children in the schools should have to wait for high quality school options.


Kirtley’s opponents, Kevin Carey and Susan Zelman, raised the predictable totem of “accountability.” This of course is a real issue and a superficially powerful totem, but when you look behind the curtain, the Great and Powerful Oz is just an old man.

I live in a state where 44% of 4th graders scored below basic in 4th grade reading in 2007 and even a little worse in 2005. Who, pray tell, was held “accountable” for that sorry performance? Was a single administrator or teacher fired? Not that I am aware of. Did the public elect a new Superintendent of Public Instruction? Nope- the incumbent was reelected in 2006.

Who was held accountable? Try “not a single human being at all.” Public school “accountability” in short, is a cruel joke with kids as the victims.

Those who want to pretend that giving an all too often dummied down state test tied to a set of often sorry state academic standards constitutes “accountability” have confused their means with their ends. It isn’t the end all be all of accountability, nor is it necessarily really accountability at all.

Done well, I believe standards and testing can be a productive education reform. Choice programs however should be an opt-out of that system into one that is different, but which still contains a vitally necessary level of transparency. Something like the Stanford 10 will work nicely.

Kirtley’s point was the key: if we are really interested in helping disadvantaged children, all options must be on the table. Otherwise, pro-charter but anti-private choice folks do indeed come across like the gradualist white liberal wimps who urged the leaders of the civil rights movement to be “patient.”

Patience can be a virtue, but not when your hair is on fire.

Local Control Only When You Agree with Me

July 28, 2009

Where are the advocates of DC local control now? 

Earlier this month a majority of DC City Council members wrote a letter to Arne Duncan urging the continuation and expansion of the DC voucher program.

And today a new poll of DC voters is being released showing that “74% have a favorable view of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program; and 79% of parents of schoolage children oppose ending the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.” (I’ll add a link to the entire survey as soon as I can find one.  UPDATE:  Here it is.)

Is the same program that Kevin “Too Cool for Private School” Carey called “the voucher program that was imposed on D.C. by Congress“?  Did he mean “imposed” like how Congress imposes millions and millions of dollars on the DC public schools that the new survey finds “76% [of DC voters] rate … as ‘fair’ or ‘poor.”?

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