The new issue of OCPA’s Perspective carries my article on school choice for the 12,000 foster children in Oklahoma. The state is now adopting massive fixes to address its broken, abusive foster care system:
If Oklahoma is going to adopt sweeping reforms to serve these children better, it shouldn’t just think about homes. It should think about schools. Having failed to care for these 12,000 children when they needed it most, Oklahoma owes them something.
The state wouldn’t have to create a new program:
Oklahoma already has two school choice programs: a special needs voucher modeled on McKay, and a tax-credit scholarship program serving low-income students. Either or both of these programs could accommodate foster children with a slight modification – just write a line into the law saying foster children are eligible regardless of disability status or family income.
Other states have already adopted this practice. Foster children are automatically eligible for two school choice programs in Arizona. “Lexie’s Law,” which is Arizona’s answer to McKay, includes foster children alongside special education students. So does Arizona’s innovative new education savings account law, which gives parents control of their children’s education funding to direct to a school of their choice. Meanwhile, in Florida, foster children of any income level are eligible for the state’s tax-credit scholarship program for low-income students.
And since choice saves money, it wouldn’t cost a dime – an important consideration given that Oklahoma is on the hook for $150 million to clean up its foster care mess.
Of course, only universal choice will get us where we need to go. But it’s not a perfect world, and few people know that better than foster kids in Oklahoma. One line in a new law could give 12,000 kids access to choice on better terms than the ones that prevail in some other programs already.
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.
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!
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:
The Oklahoma legislature and its Democratic Governor adopted a law allowing disabled students to use public funds to attend a private school if they wished to do so. Similar laws have been passed in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Utah, and Arizona.
Disabled students have had to fight for decades to receive an adequate education from the public school system. Federal legislation, now called IDEA, was adopted in the mid-1970s to ensure an appropriate eduction for disabled students. Unfortunately, having a legal right to something and actually receiving it are two very different things and many disabled students continue to be denied appropriate services despite their legal entitlements.
That’s why several states have decided to empower families with disabled children with an additional mechanism by which they could ensure receiving an appropriate education — special education vouchers that would allow them to transfer to private schools if they believe that the public schools are not serving them adequately. Oklahoma is the latest state to offer these vouchers but it almost certainly won’t be the last as several other states are considering the idea. And there is good evidence that special education vouchers are significantly improving outcomes.
But, according toEducation Week, four Oklahoma school districts have decided not to offer these vouchers that are required by state law. The reasons given for willfully disobeying the state law are varied. One district, Broken Arrow, has suggested that the voucher laws violate the state’s constitution because funds would go to religious schools.
Besides the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court and several states have ruled that these vouchers would not pose this type of constitutional threat, apparently public school district officials in Oklahoma think they know better. And they’ve discovered some new constitutional process by which school officials interpret the constitution rather than the courts.
Actually, it’s not really a new method of deciding who should interpret the constitution, since it was a method well-established by segregationist school officials and governors who believed that they had the power to block black students from exercising their civil rights no matter what the law or courts said. Now it is disabled students who are being blocked at the schoolhouse door.
Public school officials get away with this kind of willful violation of the law far too easily. No one will go to jail. No one will lose their job. No one will be sanctioned in any way. And they wonder why having a law to ensure appropriate services for disabled students isn’t sufficient. Maybe it’s because public school officials apparently don’t have to follow the law.