03/2000 School Choice Roundup

Published March 1, 2000

Georgia * Illinois * Michigan * New York
North Carolina * Ohio * Pennsylvania * Texas * Wisconsin


GOP Senators Announce Voucher Plan

Although the education reform bill Georgia Governor Roy Barnes introduced on January 13 included a provision for children in failing schools to transfer to another public school, a group of Republican state senators considered the proposal inadequate. They introduced their own plan to expand the transfer option to private schools.

Under the GOP proposal, low-income children in schools graded as failing by the state Board of Education would be eligible for vouchers good not only for tuition at private schools but also for books, uniforms, and transportation.

“Unfortunately, today, way too many children are being left behind in failing schools,” said Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson. He was joined at the news conference by a group of parents and religious leaders, including Alveda King, daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The governor’s plan did not offer “a true route” out of a failing school, said Senator Clay Land, arguing that a child’s school should be chosen by parents, not the government.
Florida Times-Union
January 15, 1999


Failing Schools Could Get Vouchers

Illinois teacher union officials are newly upset with state schools superintendent Glenn W. “Max” McGee.

When McGee was appointed in 1998, he expressed a negative view about school choice, but his views appear to have changed.

Last November, McGee pointed out that the state’s education system simply was not good enough when Illinois companies like Walgreens, Baxter, State Farm, and Motorola “must interview as many as 20 candidates for one position.” In December, McGee suggested trying vouchers for school districts that couldn’t or wouldn’t do the job.

“Why the flip-flop?” asked Anne Davis, president of the Illinois Education Association, pointing out that McGee had said on numerous occasions he was against vouchers. She questioned whether the superintendent had been pressured by Illinois State Board of Education Chairman Ronald Gidwitz, an advocate of vouchers.

While Davis argued there were only “a handful” of school districts that could be labeled “worst,” McGee’s remarks in November made it clear he was concerned about the performance of more than a few Illinois public schools. Recent state tests reveal, for example, that almost three out of five Illinois eighth-graders cannot meet new state standards in math. McGee called the results a “wake-up call” to all educators.
Daily Herald
December 19, 1999
Herald & Review
November 11, 1999


Detroit Schools Review Outsourcing Options

In January, Detroit school officials began a 60-day review to determine if the district could save money by hiring private companies to perform up to 15 central office functions.

The aim is to have district staff focus on academics instead of such administrative tasks as accounting, bus service, custodial service, employee benefits, food service, payroll, personnel records, recruiting, risk management, security, technology maintenance, and vending machines.

“The emphasis of the program is really to make sure that all of the systems are cost-effective,” according to school district spokesperson Stan Childress. He said the outsourcing effort is linked to plans to implement site-based management, where school principals, rather than the district’s central administrative staff, make decisions.

Savings will go into programs that directly affect student academic performance. While financial benefits have varied, school districts in cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, and Dayton already have privatized some services.
Detroit Free Press
January 12, 2000


Privatize Failing Schools, Says Giuliani

With New York City in possession of all but nine of the 105 public schools designated by the state as poorly performing, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani on January 11 called on the city’s Board of Education to contract with private school management companies to run some of the troubled schools.

Giuliani noted that other cities and boards of education had adopted this approach in recent years to take over a variety of school functions. It would allow private companies to “compete with the board and see who does a better job,” he said.

For example, the largest and most successful school management company, Edison Schools Inc., operates 79 schools across the country, from traditional public schools to newly created charter schools. The company’s approach includes lengthening the school day and providing students with computers. Edison’s chairman, Benno C. Schmidt Jr., last year chaired a panel for Giuliani to study changes to the City University of New York.

Not surprisingly, the city’s teacher union quickly condemned the Mayor’s proposal. United Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten claimed school privatization had produced, at best, results no better than local public schools and, at worst, “dismal failures.”
New York Times
January 12, 2000


70 Percent Dropout Rate for Black Males

Members of the Durham chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People temporarily halted a meeting of the city’s school board on January 13 with a protest about the disproportionately high suspension and dropout rates of black male students.

A recent study by The News and Observer showed that, after four years, 70 percent of the black male students who had entered Durham high schools in 1994-95 had dropped out.

School officials insisted that a 52 percent dropout rate was a more accurate estimate. Nevertheless, the Rev. Curtis Gatewood, head of the local NAACP chapter, said the NAACP could not sit by while black males dropped out or were suspended in such high numbers. Gatewood attacked a new district plan to place suspended students in an “Intervention Center” where they could keep up with their school work, saying the measure unfairly targeted black children.

On the same day, a statewide advocacy group reported that, compared to their white counterparts, North Carolina students who are black, Hispanic, or Native American have higher dropout rates, higher expulsion rates, and lower scores on achievement tests. Echoing the NAACP’s concerns, the North Carolina Justice and Community Development Center warned that public schools could easily lose the support of minorities unless the state moved aggressively to close the education gap.

The state already has tightened promotion requirements, and state officials said the Center’s call to delay ending social promotion would only postpone closing the gap.

The Center’s report warned that school leaders could find minority parents lobbying for tuition vouchers if public schools fail to keep the support of parents of all races.
The News & Observer
January 14, 2000


Board Irked by Member’s Support of Choice

Provoked by a series of reports on charter schools and vouchers in the Akron Beacon-Journal that he regarded as part of “a concerted effort by vested interests . . . to discredit parental choice at every turn,” Copley-Fairlawn school board vice president John R. Keim wrote a letter to the newspaper in support of charter schools and vouchers.

Although he clearly identified himself as “a member of the board” rather than a spokesperson for the board, his action so irked his fellow board members–who oppose school choice–that they passed a resolution saying it was “unethical” for Keim to have identified himself as a member of their board.

Keim, who found out about the resolution just before the start of the board meeting, said the letter clearly was intended to represent his own views, not the board’s. He noted it would have been dishonest and misleading not to have identified himself as having a vested interest in education.

“The board considers school vouchers and charter schools to be detrimental to the best interests of the Copley-Fairlawn City School District and its children,” stated the resolution, which passed on a 4-1 vote, with Keim dissenting.
Akron Beacon-Journal
January 5, 2000


Education Top Concern in Philadelphia

Reiterating that “quality education is the number-one priority,” Philadelphia Mayor John Street started his first day on the job on January 4 by pledging support for school superintendent David Hornbeck; declaring his intention to meet with Governor Tom Ridge as soon as possible to discuss school issues; and signaling his intention to revamp the city’s Board of Education.

Under the terms of a new charter approved by voters last November, the mayor has the power to appoint and fire school board members at will.

A poll released two days later showed that city residents also believe the mayor’s top priority should be to improve education, with almost half believing the city’s schools are getting worse. This marks the first time in three years that polled residents have ranked improving education above reducing crime.

The poll was conducted by Greater Philadelphia First, an alliance of local business CEOs. The survey also showed that 71 percent of area residents favor increasing state aid for education by about $1,900 per pupil so that city schools can spend as much per student as suburban schools do.

Although Street, a Democrat, opposes school vouchers, he has indicated a willingness to compromise if it means getting more money for the city’s schools. That approach finds favor with City Council President Anna C. Verna, who said at Street’s inauguration, “we must be open to every educational model and use that which is most successful.”

Street will meet in late January to discuss school funding with GOP Governor Ridge, a voucher proponent.
Philadelphia Inquirer
January 5, 2000
January 7, 2000


175,000 Students in Failing Schools

The number of Texas public schools considered by the state to be failing their students fell from 281 in the 1998-99 school year to 198 in 1999-2000, making as many as 175,000 students eligible for transfer from these schools to other public schools in the fall.

Under the state’s Public Education Grant program, students assigned to a low-performing school may move from that campus to another school in their home district or in another district. Low-performing schools must inform parents of their child’s eligibility for transfer by February 1 and also must explain to parents how to execute a transfer. Last year, only 548 children used the transfer option.

Texas has 7,458 public schools, attended by an estimated 3.9 million students. A school is judged to be failing its students if it receives a low-performing rating during at least one of the previous three years, or if more than half of the students in the school failed one or more sections of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills in two of the previous three years.
Austin American-Statesman
January 9, 2000


Milwaukee Public Schools Become Less Diverse

Confirming the results of an earlier study by Howard Fuller and George Mitchell, a new report from the Public Policy Forum shows that Milwaukee’s private schools became more diverse during the growth of the school choice program from 1995 to 1999, while the city’s public schools became more racially polarized.

The report also points out that this was a period when overall enrollment at private schools dropped from 27,816 to 27,208 and the number of white students in the city fell from 61,512 to 50,942. The Milwaukee Public Schools experienced an overall growth in enrollment during the period studied.

“Private schools should not, therefore, rely entirely on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program to solve their enrollment woes,” concludes the report.

The total number of children aged from birth to 19 in Milwaukee dropped from 183,461 in 1995 to 179,716 in 1999, according to school census data. Private schools educated 15.2 percent of those students in 1995, dropping to 15.1 percent in 1999. Milwaukee’s public schools increased their share of students from 58.3 percent in 1995 to 62.4 percent in 1999. Over this period, the percentage of students not in school dropped from 26.6 percent to 22.4 percent.

In 1995, the ratio of African-American to white students in Milwaukee’s private schools was 16.4 percent to 72.6 percent. In 1999, the ratio was 21.7 percent to 64.3 percent. For the city’s public schools, the ratio changed from 59.4 percent to 22.4 percent in 1995 to 60.5 percent to 18.5 percent in 1999.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
December 28, 1999