02/2003 The Friedman Report: State Roundup

Published February 1, 2003

Arkansas * Louisiana * New York * Oklahoma
Rhode Island * Utah * Wisconsin


Opponents Will Consider Voucher Bill

Even voucher opponents indicated they would consider a bill filed for the upcoming legislative session by Arkansas House member Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock) that would provide school vouchers for disabled children to attend the public or private school of their choice. Hutchinson, who filed the bill on January 2, told the Associated Press the measure would help parents enroll their children at two Little Rock schools that serve special needs children: The Arkansas School for the Blind and the Arkansas School for the Deaf.

Last year, together with Dean Elliott (R-Maumelle), Hutchinson introduced a bill that would allow students attending school districts classified by the state as in “academic distress” to receive taxpayer-funded vouchers for use in attending a private school or a public school in another district.
KARK-TV Channel 4 (NBC) KARK.com
January 2, 2002


Voucher Bills Expected in 2003

Observers in Louisiana point to four reasons why some form of school voucher program is likely to be enacted during the 2003 session of the Pelican State legislature:

  • approval of the Cleveland voucher program by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2002;
  • the Louisiana legislature’s approval last summer of a pilot pre-kindergarten voucher program, where parents may use the vouchers at private schools;
  • a December poll of 625 Louisiana voters by Gannett Newspapers, which showed a 48:43 split in favor of publicly funded vouchers to pay for private schools; and
  • results from the same poll, which showed voters consider education the #1 priority for Louisiana’s next governor.

The Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans is drafting a bill that would allow voucher funds to be used for private school tuition. The bill is expected to focus on New Orleans, where 22 of the state’s failing elementary schools are located.

Republican Governor Mike Foster supports vouchers as a tool to enhance parental choice but has insisted they also enhance accountability.
Monroe News Star
December 29, 2002


Most Parents Don’t Know Kids Are in Failing Schools

There are more than 300,000 children in the 331 New York City public schools the state has rated as low performers, but 85 percent of the parents whose children attend those schools don’t know about their school’s low rating, according to a survey of 1,200 people conducted late last year by the Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability. Although Foundation President Tom Carroll was “shocked” and surprised by that finding, parents weren’t.

“The letters sent to parents about the status of their schools are filled with jargon,” Bronx parent Denise Moncrief told the New York Post.

Once informed of the dismal school rating, though, 94 percent of parents said they would likely transfer their child to a better public school, and 97 percent said they would support free tutoring–two options made available under the No Child Left Behind law. But if they could afford it, more than 80 percent of parents would transfer their children out of the public schools altogether and put them in private or parochial schools. An overwhelming majority support using public funds–vouchers–for that transfer.

“I would take public funds to put [my children] in private schools in a minute,” Bronx parent Jeanette Bocanegra told the New York Post. “Please call me when such funding is available.”

But, based on comments from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Bocanegra shouldn’t wait by the phone. Bloomberg said he would consider using school vouchers only after he and his administration had made the public school system perform “dramatically better.”
New York Post
December 18 and 20, 2002

$7,000 Voucher Proposed to Ease Budget Gap

In the face of already high taxes and a $6 billion budget gap, school vouchers could offer New York City a way to save hundreds of millions–even billions–of dollars, New York Sun editors suggested in a year-end editorial. They point out that when philanthropists offered 7,500 privately funded vouchers in 1999, nearly 170,000 students applied–the equivalent of 162,500 today. If those 162,500 students were given $7,000 vouchers to attend private or parochial schools–about $2,500 less than Gotham’s average cost per student–the city would save $406 million.

The cost per student in the city’s Catholic K-8 schools averages $3,200, with high schools costing about $5,800 per pupil, according to the Archdiocese of New York. The Sun editors note the city would spend $6.5 billion less on education if the public school system could educate each of its students for the same cost as the Archdiocese.

The Archdiocese has a total central staff of 28 to administer the system’s 110,000 students. The city’s public schools have ten times as many students–1.1 million–and more than 300 times as many administrative staff–almost 9,000.
New York Sun
December 31, 2002


School Choice Could Ease Budget Woes

If private schools and home schools in Oklahoma already save state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year, why not have them save taxpayers even more, since the state is experiencing a budget crunch? This was the suggestion laid out in December by Brandon Dutcher, research director of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

The parents of Oklahoma’s 14,000-25,000 home schoolers and 31,276 private school students save taxpayers “a small fortune” in operating and capital costs, notes Dutcher. If all of these students–approximately 50,000–showed up at their local public schools tomorrow morning, asking for their free education, the state would have to find another $300+ million a year to keep per-pupil spending at the current level of $6,284. But that’s not all: The cost of adding classrooms and schools for the extra students could easily top $1 billion, since adding new public school seats costs $15,000 to $35,000 per seat.

“Just because the state provides for education doesn’t mean it has to produce all of it,” notes Dutcher. Using information from an OCPA study issued last year–“The Oklahoma Scholarship Tax Credit: Giving Parents Choices, Saving Taxpayers Money”–he suggests passing a modest tax credit would not only give parents more choices, but also reduce overcrowding and ease the state budget crunch.
Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs
December 2002


Pell Honored for Higher Education Vouchers

In the 2001-2002 school year, 16,478 students in Rhode Island received a total of $32.5 million in federal Pell grants. At a December 11 ceremony at Newport’s Salve Regina University, the man behind those grants, 84-year-old former U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell, was honored for his creation and for his support of higher education by an award from the Rhode Island Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Pell grants are the most significant piece of education legislation in the nation’s history, said Robert McKenna, chairman of the board of the Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority. Pell grants, based on need and the cost of the school, are vouchers that students can apply to tuition at any college or university.
The Providence Journal
December 11, 2002

K-12 Vouchers Debated

At a day-long seminar to examine what works in educating at-risk populations, State Education Commissioner Peter McWalters suggested outcomes from public schools and private schools were not truly comparable, since private schools could pick and choose their students. With comparable populations, he said, “I will bet on the public schools every time.” However, based on results presented from voucher experiments, McWalters’ wager might not be a profitable one.

Speaker William Howell, a Harvard University professor and co-author of The Education Gap: Vouchers and Urban Schools, described voucher experiments in New York City, Washington, DC, and Dayton, Ohio, where the programs’ design allowed direct comparison of student achievement gains at private versus public schools. African-American children at the private schools outscored their peers who remained in the public schools.

Valerie E. Lee, a professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, suggested the solution was not to transfer students to private schools but to take what works in private schools and transfer that to the public schools. Nevertheless, if she had a child in a troubled public school and were offered a voucher, she said she would take it “in a minute.”

The event was hosted by RISE, Rhode Islanders Sponsoring Education, and the Star Kids Scholarship Program, organizations that help pay for at-risk children to attend private schools.
The Providence Journal
December 7,2002


Employers Back Tuition Tax Credits

While acknowledging a $117 million shortfall in the 2003 state budget, a coalition of Utah employers in December called for an additional $90 million in new money for education, declaring the state’s public education system to be in “an impending crisis,” as exemplified by not enough money, too many children, a coming enrollment boom, and concerns about the lack of skills of the system’s current graduates. The employers group recommended several school choice options as a means of encouraging competition and improving quality:

  • Expand charter schools;
  • Ease the red tape for inter-school and inter-district transfers;
  • Implement a refundable tuition tax credit that is less than the cost of education for a student in the public schools.

The Coalition started its examination of Utah’s public education system last fall and issued a report in September that identified employer concerns with students’ lack of basic writing and communication skills.

“The most surprising thing was the level of concern employers have about students coming out of high schools,” said Fraser Bullock, chairman of the Employer’s Education Coalition. “They don’t have basic writing and communications skills that employers need. That’s the most important thing.”

According to coalition estimates, tuition tax credits would save the state money for every student that moved to a private school. With each additional student in the public school system costing between $4,120 and $5,000, the up to 100,000 new students expected over the next decade would generate funding requirements of almost $500 million. But with a tax credit worth $2,000 to $3,000–less than the state’s per-pupil funding amount–the state would save money for every child that attended a private school.

While employers back the idea of tax credits, the Utah Education Association, the PTA, and the state schools superintendent oppose the idea.
The Salt Lake Tribune
September 26, 2002
December 14, 2002


Charter Numbers Catching Up to Vouchers

It took the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program 12 years to reach its current level of 11,600 students. By contrast, the city’s charter school program has jumped from just 186 students four years ago to 11,497 in the current school year. One of the major components of that growth has been the conversion of several public schools in Milwaukee to charter status.

Four entities are authorized to approve charter schools in Milwaukee: the city itself; the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS); the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee; and the Milwaukee Area Technical College. MPS has approved about three-quarters of the city’s 31 charters, while the Technical College has approved none.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
December 30, 2002