03/2003 The Friedman Report: School Choice Roundup

Published March 1, 2003

Arizona * California * Colorado * Florida * Louisiana * Maine
Minnesota * New Hampshire * New York * Ohio * Oregon
South Carolina * Texas * Utah * Wisconsin


$1,500 Tax Credit Proposed for Homeschoolers

On January 15, Representative Karen S. Johnson (R-18th) introduced House Bill 2260, a measure that would provide a refundable $1,500 tax credit to parents who homeschool their children. If approved, the tax credit would be the largest in the nation for homeschoolers. However, the bill has effectively been tabled for the remainder of the legislative session, apparently in recognition of the fact that the current budget situation may not be the best time to be calling for tax relief.

While expressing some concerns about the refundable element of the proposed tax credit–i.e., providing the full $1,500 credit even to homeschoolers who pay less than $1,500 a year in taxes–the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) suggests the bill is acceptable to most homeschoolers. Homeschoolers regard it as unfair “double taxation” to pay for the public education system while also paying to privately educate their own children.
Home School Legal Defense Association
January 28, 2003


59 Percent of CSU Freshmen Need Remedial Ed

For freshmen who had ranked in the top third of their high school classes, entering the California State University (CSU) system last Fall was a rude awakening. Almost three out of five of them (59 percent) needed remedial education in mathematics and English, according to a new CSU report.

Although that’s better than the 68 percent who required remedial education in 1998, officials suggest part of the “improvement” may be attributed to the recent introduction of a less rigorous mathematics test.

Thirty-seven percent of the freshmen were not proficient in mathematics, down nine percentage points from last year. But 49 percent of freshmen lacked proficiency in English, up three points from last year.

Although 40 percent of CSU’s students come from homes where English is not the primary language, that can’t be used as an excuse, said executive vice chancellor David Spence. He said CSU would pilot a high school program to better identify students in need of remedial help … before they enter college.
Sacramento Bee
January 29, 2003

Alliance Plans Network of Charter Schools

Community leaders seeking to reform the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) have tried a variety of approaches, from vouchers to breaking up the district, all to no avail. Vouchers were rejected twice by voters and a break-up was rejected by district officials. Parents and reformers now have turned to charter schools.

More than 50 charter schools now operate in the Los Angeles area, enrolling 27,800 students from predominantly poor neighborhoods. Charter schools also are expanding rapidly, with LAUSD expecting applications for starting 15 to 20 more charters this year alone. The most ambitious expansion plans come from the Alliance for Student Achievement, a nonprofit group of the city’s civic leaders, which aims to serve 50,000 students within five years in a network of charter schools.

“The charter movement is at a point right now where there are tremendous successes in independent isolated charters,” LAUSD school board president Caprice Young, an Alliance supporter, told The Los Angeles Daily News. “In order to become a real force for change in the broader educational system, they are going to have to learn how to franchise themselves, clone themselves.”

While the LAUSD superintendent was non-committal about the proposal, teacher union president John Perez voiced his disapproval, saying it “sets up private schools with public money.”
Los Angeles Daily News
January 21, 2003


Voucher Plans Advance

In early February, the Senate Education Committee approved Senate Bill 77, a pilot school voucher plan sponsored by Sen. Ed Jones (R-Colorado Springs). The measure would allow low-income children in poorly performing public schools to attend a nonpublic school, using vouchers worth up to $5,200. However, action on Jones’ second voucher bill, Senate Bill 99, was delayed after Sen. Bruce Cairns (R-Aurora) said he could not support the bill unless it allowed for religious considerations in school choice.

Phil Fox, deputy director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, said any voucher program should call for students to take statewide assessment tests.

In the House, the Education Committee approved House Bill 1160, sponsored by Rep. Nancy Spence (R-Centennial), and House Bill 1137, sponsored by Rep. Keith King (R-Colorado Springs). Spence’s measure, designed for low-income students, would establish a pilot voucher program for students to receive state-funded school vouchers so they could attend a private school of their own choice. King’s bill would provide up to $20 million a year in income tax credits to people who donate money to nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships for use in public and private schools.

Opponents contended Spence’s bill would violate the required separation of church and state, but Alex Cranberg, head of a K-12 scholarship program, disagreed. He pointed out that other government programs, such as health care, provide money to hospitals run by religious organizations.

Opponents also charge participating private schools would lack accountability since they would not be required to publish student test scores nor to provide details of how they spent the voucher funds they received.
Casper Star-Tribune
February 1, 2003
February 3, 2003


Bush: Use Vouchers to Reduce Class Size

When Florida voters approved a class-size reduction mandate last November, they also handed Governor Jeb Bush–who had opposed the mandate–the job of getting rid of the Sunshine State’s overcrowded classrooms. The mandate–Constitutional Amendment 9–requires the state to provide enough money to enable public schools to cap classes at the following levels by 2010:

  • Grades K-3: 18 students;
  • Grades 4-8: 22 students; and
  • Grades 9-12: 25 students.

Seeking ways to fold the mandate’s first year $3 billion cost into his 2003-04 state budget, Bush in January suggested giving local school boards the authority to offer vouchers to students in overcrowded public schools so they could transfer to private schools. It would cost the state less to send students to private schools than to educate them in public schools.

“It’s a cost-effective way of dealing with this issue,” Bush told The Miami Herald. “Many [districts] won’t take it, but so what? That option should be there for them to consider.”

Bush’s proposal faces sharp opposition from Democrats and a cool reception even from some of his fellow Republicans. A bill embodying a similar proposal, filed in January by GOP Rep. Stan Jordan, still lacks a Senate sponsor.
Miami Herald
January 24, 2003

Social Promotion Over for Third Graders

Third grade enrollment in Florida’s public schools is expected to balloon sharply next fall as a new law bars teachers from promoting students who score at the lowest level on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). The law aims to meet Governor Jeb Bush’s goal of having all third-graders read. Most teachers oppose having students repeat a grade on the grounds it damages their self-esteem.

When a similar bar was in place for fourth-graders last year, teachers routinely used their discretion to promote all but a few low-scoring students to fifth grade. The new law removes that discretion. Even special education students must now score at the same level required of other students before being promoted.

How many students could be held back? In Broward County last year, nearly a quarter of third-graders scored at Level 1 of the FCAT. In Miami-Dade, it was almost one-third.
Miami Herald
January 20, 2003


Catholics and Governor Seek Vouchers

As part of his legislative agenda for this year, Louisiana Governor Mike Foster will support a plan to allow students to attend private secular or religious schools with state-funded vouchers, according to an outline of his proposals revealed in early February. Andy Kopplin, the Republican governor’s chief of staff, said the vouchers would be limited to students in schools designated as failing by the state’s accountability rating system. Most of those schools are in Orleans Parish.

Participating private schools would be required to embrace elements of the state accountability plan. Requirements would include publishing test scores and administering the Louisiana accountability and testing program to students within three years.

Ten days earlier, Louisiana Roman Catholic leaders had met to discuss plans for capitalizing on last year’s favorable ruling on school vouchers by the U.S. Supreme Court. This year, the aim is to persuade lawmakers to approve vouchers strictly for children in failing schools, which would limit the program largely to New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Once the limited program was in place, efforts would be directed to authorizing vouchers for all children in public schools.

“Any parent could choose and take the voucher to the school of their choice,” said Danny Loar, executive director of Louisiana Citizens for Educational Freedom, a group that backs vouchers as a way to give families more choices in education.

This year’s proposed legislation will be modeled after the Cleveland program that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Under the plan, parents of children in failing schools would get $3,000–half the $6,000 cost per student in Orleans Parish–to use for tuition at another public or private school, or for tutoring at their present school. The other $3,000 would remain with the local school district.

Louisiana has one of the highest private school enrollment rates in the nation, with over 16 percent of students in the Pelican State attending nonpublic schools.
Baton Rouge Advocate
January 23, 2003
WBZR-ABC Channel 2 Louisiana
February 3, 2003


Parents Fight Proposal to Eliminate School Choice

Parents in Holden, Eddington, and Clifton are fighting to keep a school voucher program that has been a state tradition for more than a hundred years. Towns in Maine without a school of their own pay tuition for students to attend a secular private school or a public school in another town. Parents usually make the choice of school, but sometimes a town contracts for all children to attend a specific school.

In School Administrative District 63, parents have made the choice of school for their children, with the town paying the tuition. While children from SAD 63 attend a total of seven schools, more than half choose Brewer High School, a public school, and more than a third choose John Bapst Memorial High School, a private school.

But in January, SAD 63’s board of directors proposed signing a 10-year contract to send all students to Brewer–“to save money,” according to board chairman Don Varnum. While Brewer would charge 95 to 99 percent of the state average tuition for each student, the net cost for a student to attend John Bapst would be approximately 105 percent of the state average tuition. The contract would save SAD 63 about $40,000 a year for the 136 students currently attending John Bapst.

Clare Payne, a John Bapst trustee whose son and daughter attended the school under the school choice program, opposes the change, saying it reduces the freedom of parents to choose their child’s school.

“We moved to Holden 12 years ago, and one of the reasons we moved there is to have a school choice,” Payne told the Bangor Daily News. “Everybody in the national media has been talking about vouchers, and we have our own approved state voucher system.”
Bangor Daily News
January 24, 2003

For more information …

A recent study by the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation found the school choice program in Maine results in improved student academic performance at a significant savings to taxpayers: http://www.friedmanfoundation.org/news/2002-02-05.html.


Education Certificate Would Allow Parents to Choose Schools

New Hampshire State Representative Kenneth Weyler (R-Kingston) is sponsoring a bill to establish an education certificate program in the state department of education to enable parents to send their child to the school of their choice. Parents of all school-age children in grades K-12 would be eligible to receive, upon request, a certificate to be used for necessary education expenses at non-public and homeschools up to the value of the certificate.

The value of the certificate for an individual pupil would be based on the cost of an adequate education in the town where the pupil resides, as determined by the general court in the fiscal year for which the certificate is requested. Certificates could not be redeemed for more than the amount of tuition and fees at the non-public school. In the case of homeschooled students, the redemption value of the certificate could not exceed $1,000.

Among the benefits of education certificates cited by Weyler are:

  • financial freedom for parents to choose schools best suited to their educational philosophy and their child’s needs and talents;
  • competition among schools to improve cost-effectiveness and quality;
  • establishment of diverse learning environments designed to meet children’s individual educational needs.

Although participating private schools would not be permitted to discriminate in enrollment on the basis of race, sex, or creed, the admissions criteria for certificate-redeeming children should be consistent with the admissions criteria the individual schools regularly apply. Moreover, no additional regulations would be imposed on participating schools, which would be permitted flexibility to educate pupils in accordance with the educational mission of each school.
Education Certificate Act (LSR 218)
January 30, 2003


New Education Commissioner Seen As “Change Agent”

When Minnesota’s new Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty appointed former Virginia deputy education secretary Cheri Pierson Yecke as his new Education Commissioner in January, he called her a “change agent.” As a member of the state Board of Education in Virginia, Yecke persuaded the board not to apply for Goals 2000 funds, arguing it would give the federal government too much control over the state’s education standards. She was a strong advocate for Virginia’s Standards of Learning and associated tests.

Yecke also wrote a report card saying there was no correlation between school spending and educational results. In that report card, she advocated a pilot school choice program to allow low-income parents in poor urban areas “to send their children to the school of their choice–be it public, private, or parochial.” Empirical evidence, she noted, showed the value of school choice in increasing student achievement.

When questioned by Minnesota educators about the voucher issue in January, Yecke said Pawlenty isn’t likely to pursue vouchers in the immediate future. However, all school options should be on the table, she added.

During last fall’s gubernatorial campaign, critics claimed vouchers would allow private schools to enroll the best students, leaving failing public schools with the children most difficult to educate. OK, said Pawlenty, then let’s offer vouchers only to children who have failed repeatedly or have special needs their public school can’t meet.
Pioneer Press
January 5, 2003
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
February 3, 2003


Buffalo Plan Aimed at Parents, Competition

Under a new public school choice program, parents in the City of Buffalo, New York will be able to choose which school their child attends this fall. Initially, the program is open only to approximately 4,500 children entering first grade or earlier, but the longer-term plan is to allow all families in the city to choose their children’s schools rather than have City Hall make that assignment.

In the past, attendance zones spawned by a court-imposed desegregation plan often required children to take long bus rides to get to their assigned school. But after the desegregation plan was lifted several years ago, surveys showed parents wanted more say in which school their children attended and wanted an elementary school closer to home.

“If having young children close to home is important, now there is the opportunity to have that,” student placement director Diane Cozzo told The Buffalo News. “If having them close to a parent’s work or day care provider is more important to them, they can have that. If the [educational] program is most important, they can make their choice accordingly.”

The plan is part of a larger effort for the city’s schools to compete successfully with other educational options available to parents, such as charter schools, parochial schools, secular private schools, and suburban public schools.

“For our district to succeed, we need to be able to offer parents a menu of educational opportunities for their children,” said school board member Jan Peters.
Buffalo News
January 2, 2003


Charter School Employees Unionize

On January 17, Summit Academy Canton become the first charter school in Ohio with a union when a majority of the school’s staff voted to join the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE). One of the largest bargaining groups in the state, OAPSE is part of the Coalition for Public Education, which has filed a lawsuit against Ohio charter schools, alleging they are operating under lax and unfair regulations relative to traditional public schools.

“It’s a curiosity to me,” Summit Academy founder and CEO Peter DiMezza told the Beacon Journal. “Are they saying they want this community school to continue and thrive and succeed? If so, why are they involved in a lawsuit that says the opposite?”

OAPSE spokesman Mark Hatch said the union is part of the lawsuit because of concern about the lack of regulations on charter schools. However, he contended having a union would make charter schools more accountable and help alleviate the lack of regulations.
Beacon Journal
January 22, 2003


Parents Want Private Schools, Not Tax Hike

Interest in Oregon’s private schools jumped in the weeks preceding a January 28 statewide referendum on a temporary tax increase. Although voters rejected the proposal, Measure 28, by a 55-45 margin, the predictions of public school budget woes aired in the weeks before the vote apparently resonated with parents and prompted them to look for ways to avoid those problems. Private school administrators reported an increase in applications and phone calls as well as higher attendance at their open houses and increased hits to their Web sites.

“I am hearing parents say they are concerned about the number of school days being cut, and the number of kids in their classes, when they are hearing rumors about class sizes as high as 35 or 40,” the admissions director at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Medford, Bramble Buran, told The Seattle Times.

“We’ve got people thinking about paying tuition who never thought they would be considering it,” noted Ron Sobel, admissions director at the Catlin Gabel School in Portland, where high school tuition is $16,000.
The Seattle Times
January 27, 2003
January 29, 2003


Sanford Stresses Education

In his first State of the State address in January, newly inaugurated Republican Governor Mark Sanford concentrated on themes from his campaign when he addressed education issues. These included increasing the number of charter schools, improving school discipline, and consolidating state education spending. But one campaign theme went unmentioned: providing state-funded school vouchers to allow students at failing public schools to transfer to private schools.

With state revenues estimated to fall almost $1 billion short of state spending, Sanford said it would be misleading to present “a laundry list of new programs, regardless of the budget capacity to support them.” In fact, he warned, “little can be done about so many of the issues that we care about until we address the budget.”
The State
January 23, 2003


Vouchers Gain Momentum

“I think the most important issue facing us in the Legislature is the sad, sorry, despicable, deplorable, horrible, monstrous, state of affairs of our public schools,” declared Texas State Rep. Ron Wilson (D-Houston), speaking to a largely conservative audience at a conference hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation at the end of January.

One of Wilson’s proposals for beginning to address that state of affairs is through school vouchers, and at the forum he promoted legislation he has introduced in the House to create a pilot voucher program to target children in Houston. He believes the Republican leadership in the legislature has improved the chances of his bill being approved. Governor Rick Perry, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, and House Speaker Tom Craddick all are on record as favoring a pilot voucher program.

Under Wilson’s bill, HB 293, eligible students would include low-income children, children entering kindergarten or first grade, and children who have failed state tests. Private schools that accept vouchers could not refuse to enroll a child because of race, religion, residence, national origin, ethnic background, disability, or academic achievement.

Wilson’s bill requires voucher students to take the same tests as students in public schools–the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). Donna Garner, a teacher at Temple Central Christian School in Hewitt, Texas, who taught for 27 years in Texas Public Schools, warns this would result in the private schools abandoning their own curriculum and using the same curriculum as the public schools.
January 13, 2003
WOAI Radio, San Antonio
January 29, 2003


Governor Opposes Tax Credit Plan

Although supporters applauded when the 4-2 vote of a Utah Senate committee on January 29 advanced a tuition tax credit bill to the Senate floor, opponents also chalked up two important gains over the next three days.

The next day, a House committee voted 7-4 in favor of House Bill 195, a precursor of House Resolution 3, which would ask voters in November 2004 if they support a tax break for private education. Educators and lawmakers who oppose tax credits support this bill.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep Sheryl Allen (R-Bountiful), said it is important to get guidance from taxpayers regarding changes in tax policy, but Rep. Jim Ferrin (R-Orem) viewed it differently.

“Promoting this bill is more for the cause of anti-tuition tax credit, instead of what people’s feelings may be,” he said.

The second setback for tax credit supporters came on February 1, when GOP Governor Michael Leavitt declared his opposition to the proposed tax credit. He also warned lawmakers against including the proposal with other legislation.

The tax credit bill, SB 34, is sponsored by Sen. Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan) and would provide parents with a state income tax credit of $3,132 per child for private school tuition. It also would allow individuals and businesses the same amount of credit for donations to private school scholarship organizations. Sen. Thomas Hatch (R-Panguitch) suggested combining SB 34 with a reform bill he is introducing to implement recommendations of the Employers’ Education Coalition, a governor-appointed task force.

“If the system of public education were adequately funded and we had information I thought was reliable on what the outcome of this was going to be, I would be prepared to experiment with tax credits,” Leavitt told The Salt Lake Tribune. “But we are talking about a system that is 40 percent below average.”
The Salt Lake Tribune
January 30, 2003
January 31, 2003
February 2, 2003


Open Enrollment Brings Competition

Under Wisconsin’s open enrollment program, students are allowed to apply to enroll in any three public school districts, taking with them more than $5,000 in state aid from their home district. The program, launched in 1998-99, saw an estimated 12,000 students enrolled outside their home districts this year, taking more than $62 million with them.

In response, some schools are turning to marketing techniques to attract students from other districts while persuading their own students to stay.

“It’s $5,000 per student and, with the budget as tight as it is, that’s income,” Mukwonago School District Superintendent Paul Strobel told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. He has taken out ads in several local newspapers to get the word out to parents outside the district.

In 2001-02, the St. Francis School District received the most money–$825,000–in additional state aid for the students it gained, while the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) took the biggest loss, forfeiting more than $6 million for the students it lost.

After the Waukesha School District lost 90 students in the current school year, school officials responded by producing a new, glossy newsletter. MPS’s Don Hoffman said the district has to market itself.

“If we do not market ourselves, if we do not compete the way charter schools and Catholic schools compete for kids, we are dead in the water,” he said.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
February 3, 2003