03/2004 Friedman Report: School Choice Roundup

Published March 1, 2004

Colorado * Florida * Illinois * Louisiana
Montana * New Hampshire * South Carolina * Washington


Despite Ruling, Advocates Push Voucher Bills

Regardless of Denver District Judge Joseph Meyer’s ruling that the Colorado voucher program is unconstitutional, school choice advocates in the Colorado legislature are intent on introducing new voucher bills in 2004.

Rep. Nancy Spence (R-Centennial) is sponsoring a bill that would provide special education students with vouchers for use at private schools. Spence, who cosponsored the currently suspended voucher law, explained to the Denver Post that the new bill will mirror Florida’s McKay Scholarships, except local school boards would manage the vouchers instead of the state Department of Education.

“I want to keep the state out of it,” Spence told the Post. “The local district can talk to a parent about what’s best for their child.”

State Senate President John Andrews (R-Centennial) is pushing for legislators to advance other school choice bills, such as providing tax credits for contributions to private scholarship funds.

“I really think making sure our schools truly benefit all kids, especially those in lesser economic circumstances, is one of the most urgent things for us to do this year,” Andrews told the Post.

The continuing introduction of voucher legislation prompted the Colorado Education Association Journal to run a lead editorial titled “When Is Enough Enough?” The editorial claimed voucher advocates want to destroy public education and privatize K-12 schools.
Denver Post
December 26, 2003


Voucher Students Excel

In Escambia County Catholic schools, most of Florida’s first wave of voucher students have advanced more than one grade level on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills for each of the four years they have been in the program. Roman Catholic school officials said only two of 34 voucher students failed to meet testing goals.

“When I look at the test scores, they are very good,” Sister Mary Caplice, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, told the Pensacola News-Journal. “We’ve seen tremendous success with the voucher students.”

One student, who was performing slightly below grade level when she began Catholic school, jumped six grade levels in three years under the Opportunity Scholarships Program.

“I think the amount of time in a school day that’s devoted to reading and math, particularly in the lower grades, contributes to a child’s success later on,” Caplice said. “We also have high expectations, and we get in touch with a parent when a child is failing and work on a plan to help them succeed.”
Pensacola News-Journal
December 21, 2003


Governor Calls for Board of Education Takeover

In his January 15 State of the State speech, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich called on legislators to eliminate the present state Board of Education and create one that would be under his direct control.

“It’s clunky and inefficient, it issues mandates, it spends money, it dictates policy, and it isn’t accountable to anyone for anything,” Blagojevich said, comparing the current board to an “old, Soviet style bureaucracy.”

Blagojevich attacked the state board for the fact that only 46 cents out of every Illinois education dollar finds its way into the classroom, while suggesting as much as $1.4 billion a year could be reinvested back into classroom instruction if the state could just match the national percentage of funds flowing into the classroom. Many local educators were disappointed the governor did not address their concerns about education funding relying too much on property taxes, but Blagojevich said the state first had to prove it could be trusted to be careful with citizens’ money.

“Like many unaccountable bureaucracies, the Illinois State Board of Education turned into an organization that exists more for the benefit of its own administrators than for the benefit of the children of this state,” the governor said.

The governor’s plan would include streamlining 2,800 pages of administrative rules, allowing school districts to negotiate lower prices with suppliers, including health insurance suppliers, and providing $500 million for new school construction.
Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Tribune
January 16, 2004


Study Shows Success in Pre-K Voucher Program

A recent study of four-year-olds using vouchers to attend private preschool classes showed the low-income students made significant academic gains while in the program.

Conducted by David Blouin of Louisiana State University, the study of the Non-Public Schools Early Childhood Development Program was based on scores of 900 students from 35 nonpublic schools and concentrated on three areas of study:

  • in math, students in the private program at year’s end scored higher than 60 percent of students nationally, versus higher than 22 percent of students before the year began;
  • in language, private school students scored higher than 62 percent of students nationally, versus 26 percent at the beginning of the year; and,
  • in writing, private school students scored higher than 68 percent of students nationally, versus 29 percent at the beginning of the year.

“What this does is say we’re going to give these kids a chance to start at the starting line instead of 50 yards behind it,” Mike Wang, education policy advisor to former Gov. Mike Foster, told the Times-Picayune. “It translates into an opportunity for these low-income students to begin school caught up to their peers.”

Passed by the state legislature in 2001, the program is limited to students from families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

The achievement gains for voucher students were slightly less than those in a similar public school program, but Wang cautioned against a one-to-one comparison of the two programs because of uncontrolled factors. For example, the private schools are not required to hire certified teachers.
Baton Rouge Advocate
New Orleans Times-Picayune
December 12, 2003


Lawsuit Centers on State Education Funding

The Montana Quality Education Coalition trial against the state of Montana regarding sufficient education funding opened in Helena on January 20.

The Coalition contends the current level of state financial support is inadequate, inequitable, and in direct conflict with the Montana constitution’s guarantee of a quality education. The lawsuit asks the court to determine what is needed to reach the education level outlined by the constitution and then provide the resources to attain it.

East Helena Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer testified that insufficient state funds in his district had led to the shedding of highly experienced teachers. But Whitmoyer later acknowledged his schools for the most part have experienced, well-qualified teachers making more than $35,000 a year, with some being the recipients of prestigious awards. He also noted the East Helena district was able to attract teachers despite lower pay.

According to an equity analysis study performed by Lawrence Picus, a University of Southern California professor and national school finance consultant, education funding in Montana is equitable in larger districts but not in smaller ones, especially those with fewer than 150 students.

However, as Helena resident Tom Clinch points out in a Montana Standard op-ed, despite the coalition’s claims of lack of access to a quality education, Montana students consistently score above average on national standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT.
Montana Standard
January 10, 2004
January 21, 2004
January 23, 2004


Voucher Bill Sent Back to Interim Study

In January, school voucher supporters were unable to persuade legislators in the New Hampshire House to overturn a committee ruling sending a school voucher plan to interim study. The plan, recommended for further study last November, resurfaced at the beginning of the year as proponents of House Bill 754 attempted to push the measure to a vote.

According to the editorial board of the Manchester Union-Leader, opponents threw everything they could at the bill, including lies about the sponsors’ motives.

“Such tactics can defeat an incomplete bill such as HB 754,” the board observed. “But eventually voucher supporters will have a bill that will not be vulnerable to such attacks. When that day comes, opponents will have to argue facts. When that happens, vouchers will pass, and poor children will be freed from the educational prisons into which they now are sentenced.”

HB 754 is not expected to resurface until next year.
Manchester Union-Leader
January 16, 2004


Sanford Proposes Universal Tax Credit

In his January 21 State of the State address, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford announced he intends to introduce a universal tax credit in February, arguing success in competing for international jobs depends on the quality of a South Carolina education

“Along with reforms we’ve talked about for charter schools and making sure money gets down to teachers, the goal of this plan is simple: Open up the education marketplace by giving parents more choices,” said Sanford. “In addition to empowering parents, you would improve the quality of public schools.”

Sanford pointed out the state has increased education funding by more than 130 percent over the past 30 years, and yet during those three decades SAT scores for South Carolina have ranked last or next to last in the nation. In addition, the Palmetto State ranks last in the nation in graduation rates, and not a single school district in South Carolina meets the new federal guidelines for adequate yearly progress.

“It demoralizes our educators when the governor says negative things about education progress,” Democratic State Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum told the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. “The facts defy what he said in his speech about our public education system.”
Spartanburg Herald-Journal
January 22, 2004


Seattle School Board Preempts Charter School Vote

The Seattle School Board on January 7 adopted a resolution opposing charter school legislation, an issue expected to be put to a vote in the 2004 session of the Washington legislature.

According to a study by the American Federation of Teachers, which the board cited, charter schools provide fewer services than their public counterparts, spend more on administration, and spend less on infrastructure. However, board member Dick Lilly, the sole opponent of the resolution, said he didn’t want to foreclose any options for school improvement.

“Given the enormity of change that we need to make in schools in order to teach all kids, I don’t want to give up anything that might be useful in our tool kit,” he told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Later in January, a charter school measure sponsored by Sen. Stephen Johnson (R-Kent) failed to pass an initial House Education Committee vote. Changes had been made to the bill to satisfy Democratic opponents, but the changes proved unacceptable to Republican supporters. The measure would allow for the creation of 70 charter schools over six years.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
January 8, 2004
January 23, 2004