Raising the Bar on the Forster-Mathews Bet

April 1, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Thus far I am aware of a tax-credit improvements in Alabama and Arizona, new special education scholarship programs in Arkansas and Mississippi, and many other measures pending in many other states. I think it is safe to say that Greg will once again defeat Jay Mathews in the over/under of 7 enactments.

WSJ choice


While we celebrate yet another Greg victory, it may be a good time to pose a different question for ourselves: how many states have enacted a choice program or a combination of choice programs sufficiently robust to see a growth in private education in the face of a strong charter school law? A Rand Corp study found private schools will lose one student for every three gained by charter schools in Michigan.  We would not expect to find an exact match for this nationwide, but charter schools do by definition draw upon the universe of would-be choosers: parents who are looking for alternatives outside of their zoned district school. It makes sense that they would have a larger impact on private education.

If we assume the Michigan finding to be roughly equivalent to a national average, then we can proceed to check the tape. First charter school enrollment by state:

Charters school enrollment

Next private choice program enrollment by state (from the Alliance for School Choice Yearbook):

Private choice students 1



Private choice students 2

So how many states have one-third or more as many private choice students as charter school students? Indiana is matching private choice students with charter school students despite a strong charter law thus far, and so is the leader in the clubhouse. Florida barely met the 1 private choice for 3 charter school students standard between the combination of the corporate tax credit program and the McKay Scholarship program. Without new revenue sources however growth in the Florida tax credit will stall in the next few years even as statewide student growth continues. Moreover Florida charter schools have almost certainly drawn a relatively advantaged group of students from private schools (charter schools have universal eligibility). The private choice programs have been aiding only low-income and children with disabilities and providing significantly fewer resources than those students receive in public schools (smaller tax credit scholarships in the case of low-income children, no local top-up funds in the case of McKay students).

Florida lawmakers have been busy improving the ability for high quality charter operators to open new schools (as they should) but balked last year at providing new tax credit revenue sources. Absent some large policy changes Florida will soon slip below the 1 to 3 ratio.

Iowa met the standard because of a healthy and growing tax credit program and a weak charter school law (3 total schools), so give them an *. Wisconsin meets the bar with the combination of private choice programs and a charter school program that (last I heard) is still bottled up in Milwaukee, so kind of an * too.

The Illinois and PA programs would require some sort of estimate regarding the price elasticity of demand for private schooling, but I’ll just heroically guess that charter schools have the better end of the deal in those states. Arizona and Ohio have more than three charter students for every private choice student. Other states like California, Michigan, New York and Texas seem content to watch their charter school sector batter their private school sectors into gravel.

Bear in mind that this comparison would look even more lopsided if we counted dollars rather than students. For instance the average tax credit scholarship in Arizona runs around $2,000 while the average charter school receives around $7,000 per pupil. Very few of the private choice programs come near to matching the per pupil level of subsidy provided to charter, much less district schools. Emblematic of this failure was the choice of 12 Catholic schools in Washington D.C. to give up the ghost and convert to charter schools after a (poorly designed) voucher bill had passed.

The goal of the private choice movement should not be to preserve a preexisting stock of private schools per se, but rather to allow parental demand to drive the supply of school seats. Those District of Columbia Catholic schools did not convert to charters because the parents were clamoring for it, but rather because the Congress had offered almost twice as much money per pupil to do it. States like Texas invest hundreds of millions of dollars per year into a charter sector that draws disproportionately from private schools while providing parents who would prefer a private education for their child nothing but the prospect of struggling to pay their school taxes and private school costs simultaneously.

Seen in this context, many private choice victories seem worthy but incremental. Incremental change is the equilibrium point of American politics, but the choice movement needs more Indiana style successes. Once more unto the breach dear friends…

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.

Alabama Lawmakers Pass Tax Credits for Children Attending Failing Public Schools

March 1, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Wow– Alabama lawmakers are officially the Cinderella kids, coming out of nowhere to shock the school choice world with an unexpected victory with the creation of two new tax credit programs for children attending failing public schools.

Here is a link to the bill, with the tax credit programs starting on page 14.

Anrig’s Premature Epitaph Four Years Later

June 27, 2012

 (Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Some of you will recall Greg Anrig’s Washington Monthly article combining a teacher union talking point reading of the evidence on school choice with some grousing in the school choice ranks to declare school vouchers as “An Idea Whose Time Has Gone.”

Having trouble remembering? Fortunately the Century Foundation. Mr. Anrig’s employer, has quite helpfully preserved a record on youtube. You can be the 125th or so person to watch the video:

Hmmm….”grinding to a halt…” But wait, there is more-part deux!

There’s even more video on youtube, but these two constitute plenty of rope. I’ve never met Anrig, but I’d be willing to bet that he’s a decent chap who loves his mother, his country and his alma mater. He isn’t the first person nor will he be the last to make a bold but utterly mistaken prediction. I almost feel bad about writing this post.

Almost but not quite…

After all, Andrew Rotherham sagely predicted at the time that Anrig would regret writing the article. So here is a map of the states with private choice programs on the date of Anrig’s Washington Monthly piece:

After the win in New Hampshire yesterday, the map looks something like the one below. Mind you, this underestimates the progress of the parental choice movement, as several states created multiple programs.

Erase the Dots that can be Connected to Draw a Banjo

May 23, 2012

 (GuestPost by Matthew Ladner)

The New York Times published an overtly hostile front page story on tuition tax credits yesterday. Others will doubtlessly pick apart the story in terms of accuracy and there are a number of obvious distortions that I spotted in a single casual reading. It’s lazy journalism to quote a school choice opponent as suspecting malfeasance, for instance, when that same person could turn such an organization in to state authorities to face an organization death sentence. If that is of course if such person had any evidence rather than mere idle speculation.

But I digress. I find myself largely in agreement with John Kirtley’s reaction– which is to say that design features in a tax credit program are very important. I however wish to be a bit more direct than John. If school choice supporters don’t pay close attention to design features, especially regarding financial accountability and academic transparency, they leave enough dots lying around for someone to draw the following picture:

Whether this picture is “fair” or not (it certainly isn’t) is beside the point. The point is that parental choice supporters ought not to leave themselves open to such attack.

Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.



Arizona Passes the First New Private Choice Program of 2012

February 29, 2012

 (Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the first new private choice program of 2012 into law today. The new law will create a new individual tax credit the same size as the current one ($500 for an individual and $1000 per couple) that will operate under the rules of Arizona’s corporate tax credit (i.e. means tested and aimed at students transferring from public schools). Individual taxpayers will be able to make donations under both credits each year. Arizona lawmakers are also considering an expansion of eligibility of the Education Savings Account program to students attending low rated schools.

Governor Jindal is gearing up for what sounds like a broad choice program. Florida lawmakers are considering an increase in their tax credit program, Virginia has a chance to join the ranks of choice states.

After the 2011 blowout, perhaps Greg’s original bet with Jay Mathews would make for a high but obtainable bar for a good year for private choice in 2012. Greg’s bet is to legislative monitoring what the NCAA tournament is the college basketball.

Archbishop Charles Chaput Calls for Action to Expand PA Parental Choice

January 31, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput released the following statement last Friday and published in today’s Philadelphia Archdiocesan publications, including every parish bulletin being distributed at Mass and published online.

Archbishop’s weekly column: Catholic Schools Week – How you and I can help

Monday, January 29, begins Catholic Schools Week. It’s a time to honor the unique value of Catholic education. Here in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, we have a long record of dedicated service by the women and men who teach in our classrooms and run the “business” of Catholic schools. That record includes the legacy of thousands of women and men religious and diocesan clergy. In the single academic year of 1963-64, more than 4,100 religious and 1,600 laypersons taught more than 263,000 students enrolled in our schools. Today, scores of our pastors make extraordinary commitments of parish funds to keep our schools open and excellent.

Unfortunately, schools run on resources, not simply good will and heroic service. Our schools can no longer count on unlimited Church support. The resources simply don’t exist. Many of our parishes are financially strained. The archdiocese itself faces serious financial and organizational challenges that have been developing for many years and cannot be ignored.

So where does that leave us? We can honor Catholic Schools Week this year by actually doing something about the fiscal problems hurting our schools. We need to press our lawmakers, respectfully but vigorously, to pass school choice.

First, we need some clarity: School vouchers do not mean “government support for religious schools.” That argument is flatly false. No vouchers go to any school, religious or otherwise. Vouchers do, however, return the power of educational choice to parents, where it belongs. In doing so, vouchers make all schools more accountable for the quality of education they deliver. Parents get the voucher. Parents choose the school. This makes perfect sense. And if a school offers a poor education for young people, parents will rightly vote with their feet — and their vouchers. Of course, most Catholic schools do the opposite: They offer a strong education, in a safe environment, with a focus on developing good moral character. That’s why parents are so upset when they close.

Some people argue that school choice legislation only helps families in poor areas. Helping the poor is obviously vital, and vouchers would accomplish that. But vouchers would also assist many more families than the poor. If vouchers are approved, they will free up what’s known as EITC funds — Educational Improvement Tax Credit funds — along with other grant and scholarship monies for many thousands of other school families. In effect, the positive impact of vouchers translates to millions of dollars of additional educational resources potentially available to a wide range of school families each year — including Catholic school families.

Now here’s an unhappy fact: In 2011, the bishops of Pennsylvania made the passage of vouchers one of their priority legislative issues. People like Bob O’Hara in our statewide Catholic bishops’ conference and Jason Budd in our archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education worked hard to mobilize Catholic support. Their efforts failed — and not because they didn’t try, but because too few people in the pews listened. Very few Catholics called or wrote their state senators and representatives. Even fewer visited their offices to lobby as citizens. Despite this, vouchers passed in the state senate, before stalling in the house. One non-Catholic school choice activist — who has poured years of his time and millions of dollars of his own resources into fighting for vouchers as a social justice issue — was baffled at the inability of Catholics to mobilize around an issue so obviously vital to the public interest and so clearly helpful to the survival of their own schools.

In the coming week I’ll be writing every state senator and representative in the territory of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to press them to support school vouchers. And I’ll continue doing it until vouchers pass. I hope my brother bishops and pastors across the state will do the same. More importantly: Our Catholic people need to do the same. Elected officials do listen, and they act when the noise gets loud enough. If nothing else, the crisis of Philadelphia’s Catholic schools is an unpleasant but finally very healthy wake up call. The bill for our failure to pass school choice over the past decade has come due. Now we’re paying for it.

When vouchers stalled, yet again, in the Pennsylvania house last fall, a frustrated Catholic school teacher friend of mine said “Catholics are suckers.” I don’t believe that. But then, I’m new in town. If we Philadelphia Catholics love our Catholic schools, and we obviously do, then the time to get active and focused is now. We need to begin pressing our state lawmakers to pass the school choice legislation — including vouchers and expanded EITC credits — that’s currently pending in Harrisburg. And we need to do it this week, today, right now. I plan to do that. I hope you’ll join me.

For more information on school choice, and to contact your legislator, please visit:  http://tinyurl.com/PASchoolChoice

Florida Tax Credit Analysis find Participant Gains

August 31, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

A careful analysis of test score gains by David Figlio of Northwestern University has found a modest but statistically significant gains for Florida tax credit students. The data in this study are messy, and Dr. Figlio admirably goes about sorting through the various issues in an even-handed fashion.

Figlio employs a regression discontinuity design to analyze the data, and his finding of a small but statistically significant academic gain fits quite comfortably with the larger random assignment literature, which find small year to year gains which accumulate over time.

One of the under-appreciated features of the random assignment literature: the studies usually fall apart after three or four years due to attrition in the control group. Our window into the academic benefits of choice is therefore limited. Figlio’s employment of a different analytical technique provides confirms previous findings, and may (?) open the door to longer term assessment. The challenges with the data described in this paper, however, suggest that it may not be easy.

Money quote from the study, with a definite echo of previous random assignment studies:

These differences, while not large in magnitude, are larger and more statistically significant than in the past year’s results, suggesting that successive cohorts of participating students may be gaining ground over time.

Good discussion of the results over at RedefinED, including a discussion of the baseline results (tax credit students are poorer and less Anglo). Emerson also puts this study in the context (Figlio also found positive public school effects associated with the Step Up for Students program).

So, the Step Up for Students program has now been found to help improve public school results, help improve participant academic gains, generates high levels of parental satisfaction. Sounds like a rock solid justification for expansion to me.


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