02/2000 School Choice Roundup

Published February 1, 2000

Arizona * Colorado * Connecticut * Illinois * Michigan * Montana
New York * Ohio * South Carolina * Wisconsin


Year-End Push for School Donations

Public and private schools in Arizona launched campaigns to promote a state tax credit during the closing months of last year.

A 1997 law permits taxpayers to take a $200 credit on their state income taxes for donations to public schools, plus a $500 credit for donations to private school scholarship organizations. The U.S. Supreme Court last October declined to hear a challenge to the state supreme court’s ruling that the law was constitutional.

The state’s public schools in 1998 received almost $9 million in donations under the 1997 law. Private school scholarship organizations received more than $1.8 million. With the clarification from the courts, public and private schools now hope that more taxpayers will take advantage of the law to make donations. By mid-December, donations to Scottsdale Unified School District had reached $1 million, up from the $654,000 received in 1998.

Many school districts are sending out forms to explain the tax credit and to help parents and district residents designate how their gifts are to be used. Some district officials have made appeals for funds on television and radio talk shows, while other districts have placed advertisements in school newsletters and local newspapers. A committee formed in the Dysart Unified School District is handing out fliers at stores, restaurants, golf courses, and libraries.
Arizona Republic
December 16, 1999
November 26, 1999


Governor’s Plan Omits Vouchers . . .

Although Colorado Governor Bill Owens had indicated that school vouchers could be part of his legislative proposal for education, Democrats were relieved to find vouchers missing from the reform package the Republican governor unveiled on December 8.

Owens did say that vouchers, or “opportunity scholarships,” might be appropriate in the future.

“If the state fails to provide a decent education for a child, then I believe it not only has a legal obligation, but a moral obligation, to help parents find a decent school for their child, be it public or private or parochial,” he said. The Governor nevertheless limited his current proposals to helping low-income children get to better public schools with federal transportation tokens.

Owens’ $160 million education plan included:

  • ending tenure for new teachers;
  • paying for every 11th-grader to take the ACT college-entrance exam;
  • annually grading all schools on academic performance, safety, teacher qualifications, and efficient use of tax dollars;
  • closing down the 10-15 worst schools and converting them to charter schools.

Denver Post
December 9, 1999

. . . But New Coalition Pushes Vouchers

While not in harmony on specific proposals, a new coalition of conservative lawmakers and minority activists agree that Colorado parents should have more choice in education. They have launched parallel drives for school vouchers.

Republican Senator John Andrews and other GOP conservatives are promoting a statewide voucher bill they plan to introduce this year, while Hispanic activists are working on a pilot voucher plan modeled on the Milwaukee and Cleveland choice programs.

Pierre Jimenez, a long-time Hispanic activists who is deputy director of the governor’s economic development office, envisions the pilot program starting in areas with the worst-performing schools. Andrews said he could support a pilot voucher program for Denver.

Andrews’ own proposal is the School Guarantee Act, whereby parents could request a voucher worth about 80 percent of what the school receives for each student–about $5,000–if they were unhappy with their child’s academic, moral, or physical well-being. Parents would receive the voucher if they remained unhappy after the school had been given two to three months to respond.
Denver Post
November 10, 1999


Governor Supports Vouchers

During the last legislative session, Republican Governor John G. Rowland agreed not to push for school vouchers, which were strongly opposed by teacher unions and Democrats even though polls consistently show that 55 percent of the state’s residents support vouchers. However, late last year, Rowland not only endorsed the idea of providing a greater choice of public schools for parents, but also opened the door for further debate on school vouchers.

“We might be ready for a discussion,” he said, referring to school vouchers, while expressing support for an idea raised by Presidential candidate George W. Bush.

Bush has suggested that students attending the worst-performing schools should be able to use public funds to attend an alternate public or private school.

Connecticut identified the 28 lowest-performing schools in the state last October, but students at these schools are not permitted to leave.

The state has 545,000 students in public schools; about 20,000 of them attend vocational-technical schools of choice. Sixteen charter schools and 18 interdistrict magnet schools provide additional school choice.
Hartford Courant
December 1, 1999


Chicago Expands Military Schools

The Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville, the nation’s only public high school affiliated with the Army, opened last August with an enrollment of about 120 cadets. By the time the school was officially dedicated in November, officials at two of the city’s failing high schools had asked to convert their institutions into permanent military academies.

“These are schools that wanted this military approach and could benefit from it,” Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul G. Vallas told the Chicago Tribune, noting that the two new applicant schools were on academic probation.

It is estimated that the city’s Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps will enroll nearly 10,000 cadets by next year. By next fall, officials estimate that between 12 and 14 percent of the city’s public school enrollment will be in a JROTC program. Vallas said that the military model may be applied in additional failing schools as a means of boosting student achievement.
Chicago Tribune
November 12, 1999


Curb Truancy or Face Jail, Parents Told

If the parents of 66 mainly elementary students in Detroit don’t get their truant children to school, the parents could face up to 90 days in jail, according to a warning given to both parents and students last December by the Wayne County chief assistant prosecutor, George Ward. The idea is part of a campaign to hold adults more accountable for chronic truancy. Some of the students who were warned had missed more than half of the past school year.

“We have to somehow wake people up,” said Ward.
Daily Herald
December 11, 1999


Give Parents More Choices, Says GOP

GOP governors led the nation in welfare reform and now are forging ahead with innovative programs to improve the performance of K-12 education in America, said Montana Governor Marc Racicot, speaking for the party in a weekly Republican radio address on December 11, 1999.

Pointing to successful programs for school choice, discipline, and achievement from several of the nation’s 31 Republican governors, Racicot said that such policies could be shared nationwide.

Schools and parents should have more choices, said Racicot. Schools should be permitted more flexibility in their use of federal education dollars, and an expansion of education savings accounts and charter schools would give parents more choices. But if a school is not meeting the needs of disadvantaged students, parents should have even more access to alternatives.

“If a school fails to improve test scores for disadvantaged students, parents should have the flexibility to apply federal funding for their children toward tutoring, a charter school, or a private school,” maintained Racicot.

Under a “zero-tolerance” safety proposal, teachers would be permitted to remove disruptive children, while students in chronically failing schools could transfer to a safe school.
Deseret News
December 12, 1999


Jews, Christians Promote Vouchers

Christian and Jewish leaders gathered in the state capitol in Albany to make an “interfaith call” for the New York State Legislature and Governor George Pataki to adopt school vouchers or a tuition tax credit system for the Empire State. The religious leaders argued that it is morally right and legally acceptable for parents to have access to public funds to send their children to private or parochial schools.

“It is clear that for many parents economic realities are trampling upon their freedom to choose a school for their children,” said Albany Roman Catholic bishop Howard Hubbard, representing the state’s Catholic church leaders. He was accompanied by the Rev. Ruben Diaz of the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization, who said that “thousands and thousands” of parents want a choice of schools for their children, but poverty robs them of that choice.

Appearing with Hubbard and Diaz was the Rabbi Sholem Ber Hecht, chairman of the National Committee for Furtherance of Jewish Education. Hecht said that opposition to school vouchers and tax credits was based on “religious bigotry” going back to the 1800s, and on a misunderstanding of what church-state separation means.
Boston Globe
December 15, 1999


Voucher Schools More Integrated

A new study from The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions shows that voucher schools in Cleveland, Ohio, are far more racially integrated than their public school counterparts, dispelling the myth that private schools are homogeneous, elite institutions.

Nearly 20 percent of the participants in the Cleveland Scholarship Program attend schools with a racial composition similar to that of the Cleveland metropolitan area (60-40 white-black). Only 5.2 percent of the students in public schools attend similarly integrated schools.

The study, conducted by Jay P. Greene of the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance, also noted that better integration in the voucher schools is achieved without sacrificing the economic and religious diversity of those schools. A Wall Street Journal editorial noted that, despite the expenditure of a half-billion dollars, segregation in Cleveland’s public schools had remained unchanged since a federal judge issued a desegregation order two decades ago.

Voucher critics had warned that choice programs would lead to increased segregation and “balkanization.” For example, David Berliner, former president of the American Education Research Association, warned last May that “voucher programs would allow for splintering along racial and ethnic lines. Our primary concern is that vouchers could end up resembling the ethnic cleansing now occurring in Kosovo.”
Buckeye Policy Note, November 1999
Wall Street Journal, November 19, 1999


GOP Lawmakers Promote Choice

Twenty Republican members of the South Carolina House of Representatives are supporting a bill, H.B. 4335, that would allow parents to transfer their children from a failing public school to another public school in the same district or to a school in a different district. A failing school would be one deemed “unsatisfactory” according to academic standards established by the state in the 1998 Educational Accountability Act.

The bill is given little chance of passage in an election year.

Parents had hoped for more options when a special House committee was created last year to study such alternatives as choice within districts, choice across districts, magnet schools, alternative schools, charter schools, home schools, and school vouchers. Although the voucher option was one that many parents wanted and that the panel discussed extensively, the committee ultimately refused to recommend vouchers for use at private schools and simply opted to create a task force to make further choice recommendations.

Because of the committee’s lack of action on vouchers, Rep. Lewis Vaughn, who had authored a voucher bill, said he would draft a bill to establish Arizona-style tax credits for donations to organizations that would provide scholarships for low-income children to attend private schools.
Augusta Chronicle
December 1, 1999
December 15, 1999


Vouchers Enhance Racial Diversity

Since the Milwaukee voucher program expanded from 802 students in the 1994-1995 school year to 6,194 in 1998-1999, the private schools participating in the program have become more racially diverse, according to a new study compiled by former Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Howard Fuller and consultant George Mitchell.

They concluded that the voucher program had resulted in an increase in minority enrollment in choice schools and that, compared to the Milwaukee Public Schools, a smaller fraction of choice schools were racially isolated. Voucher critics had argued that choice would produce a migration of white students to private schools, leaving public schools and private schools alike even more racially isolated. However, Fuller and Mitchell report that “rather than increasing racial isolation, choice has caused a notable increase in racial balance in Milwaukee’s private schools.”

Private schools in the city were 73 percent white and 27 percent minority before the voucher program was expanded in 1994-1995. By 1998-1999, enrollments were 64 percent and 36 percent minority. During the same period, the proportion of white children in the city’s public schools fell from 22 percent to 18 percent.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
November 26, 1999