04/2003 The Friedman Report: School Choice Roundup

Published April 1, 2003

Arizona * Colorado * Florida * Illinois * Louisiana
Maine * Massachusetts * New York * Texas * Utah
Vermont * Washington * Wisconsin


“No” to Tax Credit Expansion

Three bills that would have expanded Arizona’s education tax credit failed to pass the Senate Education Committee on February 17. The bills were opposed by the Arizona School Boards Association, whose spokesperson Janice Palmer said lawmakers should not be considering more tax credits–which currently lower state revenues by $28 million–when budget woes threaten more than $100 million in public education funding.

Sponsored by Sen. Dean Martin (R-Phoenix) and with a projected cost of $15 million a year, Senate Bill 1355 would have created a $250 tax credit to reimburse teachers for out-of-pocket expenses incurred in purchasing classroom supplies. Senate Bills 1237 and 1306 would have allowed public schools to use tax credit money for classroom instruction costs or reading programs instead of just extracurricular activities.
Arizona Republic
February 18, 2003


Voucher Bills Advance

This year’s session of the Colorado Legislature has produced five school choice bills, three for vouchers and two for tax credits.

Two of the three voucher bills won approval in their respective chambers on February 19. Both bills would permit parents to choose a private school–secular or religious–for the education of their child, with publicly funded vouchers following the child to the school. One garnered unexpected support from the state’s highest-ranking Democrat, Attorney General Ken Salazar.

In the Senate, lawmakers gave preliminary approval to an opt-in voucher plan sponsored by Sen. John Evans (R-Parker). Evans’ bill would allow either the school board or district voters to approve the implementation of a voucher program in their district. The vouchers would be worth up to $4,200 a year.

“Nothing could be worse than children trapped in a system where they do not have choice,” Evans told the Rocky Mountain News.

In the House, lawmakers approved a pilot voucher plan sponsored by Rep. Nancy Spence (R-Aurora), chairwoman of the House Education Committee. The plan, which would be capped at 500 students per district, would apply only to districts where the state has rated more than eight schools “low” or “unsatisfactory” and only to low-income children who had failing scores on the Colorado Student Assessment Program test. Vouchers would be worth 85 percent of the district’s per-student operating revenue.

“If you want to talk about something that will really improve education without hurting the public schools, it’s this bill,” House Speaker Lola Spradley (R-Beulah) told the Rocky Mountain News. The bill won support from unexpected quarters–both from Attorney General Salazar and from the Colorado Children’s Campaign, an advocacy group that hitherto has opposed vouchers.

“I think that it’s important for us to continue to look at what we can do to help the poorest of our kids,” Salazar said in a memo to people who had accompanied him on a fact-finding tour of Milwaukee in January. “I think we ought not to shy away from innovation and experimentation.”
Rocky Mountain News
February 20, 2003
February 22, 2003

The Genius of Competition

“Milwaukee has had a voucher program since 1990. When it was debated on Wisconsin’s State House floor, opponents said choice would empty the public schools and destroy them …

“Many studies have documented increased achievement for those students who have opted out of public schools in Milwaukee and Cleveland. But now we have more meaningful data: Students who remain in their public schools have also benefitted from vouchers. Yes, the genius of competition works.

“[I]n these rough economic times, it makes sense for Colorado legislators to consider choice. Both Milwaukee and Cleveland programs spend fewer tax dollars on children in choice schools than on those who remain in their public schools. If some students can get better education in a choice school, doing so at less cost to taxpayers, then why shouldn’t Colorado embrace choice?”
Steve Schuck
The Denver Post
February 8, 2003


Tax Credit Cap May Be Raised

Thousands of mostly black, low-income students in Florida have used scholarships worth up to $3,500 to transfer from public schools to private schools during the past year. Another 20,000 students are on a waiting list to get scholarships, but the supply is limited because of a $50 million statewide cap on the tax credits used to fund the program. A proposal to raise the cap to $100 million is expected to be introduced in the current legislative session.

The program, authored by Rep. Joe Negron (R-Stuart) in 2000, allows companies to direct up to 75 percent of their taxes to organizations that provide scholarships to children who qualify for the federal free and reduced price lunch program. Parents find a school for their child and then apply for a scholarship. Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties are home to more than 5,000 scholarship students.

But Rep. James Harper Jr. (D-West Palm Beach) argues students would stay in public schools if the scholarship funds were used to improve those schools. Any additional tax credit money should go “to ensure adequate funding in public schools,” he told the Sun-Sentinel.

Negron pointed out that the idea of the scholarships is “to allow low-income parents to select alternatives to public education.” He noted the state already is spending $12 billion a year on the public schools. Another $50 million would increase that by just 0.4 percent.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
February 13, 2003


New Legislature Takes Aim at Choice

When a bill to hobble Illinois charter schools was introduced in last year’s lame-duck legislative session, the proposal died because Senate President James “Pate” Philip (R-DuPage) refused to allow a vote on it.

Now, in this year’s new legislature, new Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) has resurrected the measure as his own Senate Bill 19.

While the intent of SB 19 is to restore some bargaining powers to the Chicago Teachers Union in exchange for lifting the cap on Chicago charter schools from 15 to 20, the bill has several other provisions that would restrict charter school operations. The measure would:

  • require all new Chicago charter schools to be contained on a single campus;
  • impose a 30-month moratorium on Chicago charter schools engaging the services of for-profit management companies, i.e., during the critical start-up period;
  • require that 75 percent of teachers in Chicago charter schools, and 50 percent of teachers in new charter schools outside Chicago, be certified; and
  • require Chicago charter schools to administer not only state achievement tests but also any other tests administered in the Chicago Public Schools.

Two bills attacking the state’s Education Expense Tax Credit Law were introduced in February. One would eliminate the tax credit entirely while the other, House Bill 1120, would limit the tax credit to families near the poverty level, which would take the benefit away from most of the families who can use it now. Introduced by Rep. Michael Smith (D-Canton) and now assigned to the Executive Committee, HB 1120 has generated at least one opponent from Smith’s own party.

“The Education Expense Tax Credit is an important benefit to families choosing the best educational opportunities for their children, and it should not be so greatly restricted,” said Rep. Robert S. Molaro (D-21st District).
Illinois Charter School Facs
February 3, 2002
Illinois Family Institute
February 6, 2003


Voucher Proposal Prompts Opposition

In early February, Republican Governor Mike Foster announced two major education proposals: a takeover plan for the state’s failing schools and a small pilot school voucher program. The takeover proposal would permit state school board officials to appoint universities or private firms to run the schools. The pilot voucher proposal would give the parents of a few hundred students in a few failing public schools the option of sending their child–and the child’s state education dollars–to a private school.

Catholic school leaders also have outlined a proposal that calls for parents of children in failing elementary schools to receive $3,000 vouchers if they choose a private school for their child. While Foster’s proposal requires voucher students to take the LEAP test–the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program–Catholic school officials oppose that requirement.

Pat Bassett, president of the National Association of Independent Schools, raised some other concerns about specific voucher programs in a February 7 speech in New Orleans to about 1,000 private school teachers.

“The reason our schools prevail … is that we are mission-driven organizations,” Bassett told the educators. “And our mission is to educate whatever population you define as your population, whether it’s college-bound or whatever, learning disabled.”

Bassett said his organization agreed with the principle underlying school vouchers, i.e., allowing education tax dollars to follow children to nonpublic schools. However, he warned specific voucher programs often require a school to accept any student who applies, thus undermining the school’s ability to shape its student body.

“And that means you give up the single freedom that we have–the freedom to accept students who are mission-appropriate,” said Bassett. Instead of a voucher plan, he said his organization would support a tax credit program.
February 4, 2003
February 8, 2003
February 21, 2003


Call for State to Accept Supreme Court Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June that it was constitutional for parents to choose to send their tax dollars to religious schools as one of the options in a school choice program. However, Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe argues the ruling doesn’t mean states are required to include religious schools in those options. Consequently, he is continuing to enforce a state law that bars parents from choosing religious schools in Maine’s school voucher program. School choice advocates are seeking to void the prohibition.

In areas of the Pine Tree State without their own public schools, a long-standing voucher program has allowed parents to choose their child’s school and have the education tax dollars for that child follow the child to the school of choice, whether it was public or private, secular or religious. Then in 1981, a new state law was approved to bar voucher funds from following a child to a religious school.

Institute for Justice attorney Clark Neily argues states can no longer exclude religious schools from choice programs without good reason.

“Any time government makes a distinction among viewpoints or races and freedom of expression, it has to have what the court calls a compelling interest in making that distinction,” Neily said. The Institute, along with the American Center for Law and Justice, is representing eight families in a lawsuit filed last fall to overturn the state law, which they regard as religious discrimination.

In February, Rep Kevin Glynn (R-South Portland) took a more direct approach and filed a bill to erase the 1981 law and “end discrimination against religious schools.” The bill received a public hearing before the legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on February 11.
Kennebec Journal
February 11, 2003


School Choice Has Long History

Vouchers date back to the early days of the Massachusetts colony, when taxes were imposed to pay for a Protestant minister to educate the plantation’s children–but those in other sects could apply their tax dollars to pay for their own clergy, notes Boston corporate lawyer and school choice advocate Cornelius Chapman. But in the 1850s, the xenophobic “Know-Nothings” were successful in adding an amendment to the state constitution that barred public funds from going to religious institutions, a provision now under challenge in the courts.

Vouchers are needed now because minority and low-income children have few options if their public school fails them, said Chapman.

“I saw that people in good school systems had little control,” he told the Boston Globe. “If it’s bad for them, how much worse must it be for people who can’t buy a new house or put their child in private school?”

Chapman serves on the board of two charter schools and is founder of both the Coalition for Parental Choice in Education and the Give a Child a Choice scholarship program. He points out choice is a part of other government programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare, and should be a part of public education, too.

“We give people great purchasing power over the various aspects of their lives aside from K-12 education,” he said. “The existence of a government-funded program that would put purchasing power in the hands of the consumer makes the system better.”

If the court case gives the green light to vouchers again in the Bay State, that would please retired State Senator Bill Owens. His early support of vouchers in the 1960s was muted when choice opponents persuaded him it would harm the public schools. Now, having seen little improvement in the public schools, Owens is again a voucher advocate.
Boston Globe
February 17, 2003


Tax Incentives Act Introduced

A broad coalition of New York Republicans and Democrats has sponsored the Educational Tax Incentives Act, a legislative proposal that would allow tax credits for certain educational donations. Introduced in both the Senate (S.1665) and Assembly (A.3590), the bill would permit a 50 percent tax credit for contributions to school tuition organizations, local education funds, or public school entities such as school districts and individual schools, including charter schools.

On personal income tax returns the credit would be capped at $250 for a $500 donation; corporate income taxpayers could contribute up to $50,000 for a $25,000 credit. Contributions for the benefit of a designated student would not be eligible for the credit. Taxpayers who homeschool their children would be eligible for a credit for the purchase of instructional materials.

Based on the Arizona tax credit experience, it has been projected that 75 percent of donations under the New York proposal would go to support public education. Since the measure generates $2 in donations for every $1 in tax credits, a 3:1 public school:private school donation ratio would generate 50 percent more money for public schools than would be lost to the state treasury.
United New Yorkers for Choice in Education
February 27, 2003


Governor Advocates Vouchers

In his State of the State address to a joint session of the Texas legislature on February 11, Republican Governor Rick Perry advocated giving vouchers to parents whose children attend a low-performing public school in the state. He also proposed the Education Freedom Plan, which would give high-performing districts more control over their spending.

“Let’s allow parents of children stuck in sub-standard schools to choose the best school for their child–whether that school is public, private or religious,” said the governor. “I know in this chamber there are Republicans and Democrats willing to take this step. They know what I know: When you give parents a choice, you give children a chance.”

One Democrat willing to take that step is Rep. Ron Wilson (D-Houston). Even before Perry’s speech, the long-time voucher advocate had filed a bill to establish pilot voucher programs in six of the state’s urban school districts. The vouchers could be used at public or private schools.

But Rep. Jose Mendendez, a Democrat from San Antonio, said voucher opponents in the House “will die on this issue” and do whatever is necessary to defeat school choice legislation. Such pledges were welcomed by about 200 teachers and parents from the Edgewood school district in San Antonio, who travelled to Austin on February 19 to lobby lawmakers against supporting Wilson’s bill.

Edgewood is home to one of the largest privately financed voucher programs in the nation, with about 1,600 voucher students who have transferred from public to private schools. Those students represent a loss of $4 million in state aid to the district, complained Edgewood Superintendent Luis Gonzalez.
Austin TV News 8
February 11, 2003
Dallas Morning News
February 20, 2003


Tax Credits in Reform Bill

On February 4, a 20-8 vote by the Utah Senate secured veto-proof approval of SB 34, a tax credit bill sponsored by Sen. Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan). SB 34 would provide parents with a state income tax credit of $2,132* 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.

At the end of a February 19 meeting of the Senate Education Committee, Buttars won approval from the Committee to merge his bill with a $30 million omnibus education reform bill, SB 154. Five days later, a 15-14 vote of approval from the full Senate sent the amended bill to the House for further consideration.

In addition to providing for tax credits, the reform bill SB 154 revises the duties of the state Board of Education, changes the makeup of the nominating committee for state board candidates, alters graduation requirements, and makes modifications to the state Board of Regents. Many of the provisions in SB 154 come from recommendations made by the Employers’ Education Coalition, whose members said the reforms would streamline management, improve accountability, and produce higher-quality graduates.

“It’s time to consider the customer: the employers,” testified Tom Bingham of the Utah Manufacturers Association.

By contrast, “opponents of the bill said they disagreed with its emphasis on a businesslike approach to managing the education system,” according to Salt Lake Tribune reporter Ronnie Lynn.

The House already has had some debate on tax credits. On February 11, representatives voted 41-32 to approve placing a non-binding referendum on the November 2004 ballot, asking voters the question: “Should Utah’s public tax dollars or potential tax dollars be used to fund private education through the use of a tuition tax credit?”
Salt Lake Tribune
February 5, 2003
February 12, 2003
February 20, 2003

February 25, 2003

* In the March 2003 issue of School Reform News, this figure was incorrectly reported as $3,132.

Engaging Parents in the Education of Their Children

“The debate raging in our state over the funding of our children’s education often ignores a vital constituency: the parents. … Parents have little say in the school their children attend, what curriculum they’re taught, who their teacher is, or what values are presented. …

“One principle that both advocates and opponents of Tuition Tax Credits agree on is that parental involvement is a key to student achievement. But when a system leaves parents without control, many resign themselves to being passive observers rather than active participants. By empowering parents to be real consumers, we engage parents in a meaningful way in the education of their children. …

“Previously helpless parents who see their child’s future slipping away will now be able to take action to find the school that best fits their child’s needs. …

“Furthermore, the Utah proposal is fiscally responsible by establishing a lower cost alternative for Utah’s funding of education.”
Jordan Clements
Salt Lake Tribune
February 18, 2003


Bill Addresses “Compelled Support”

One way to broaden the range of educational choices available to parents is to support organizations that award scholarships to help families pay tuition at public or private schools. A measure to encourage such support was recently introduced in the Vermont House as H. 198.

Sponsored by 14 representatives, including House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Howard Crawford (R-Burke), H. 198 would authorize a nonrefundable tax credit of 50 percent of a donation made to a private scholarship organization by an individual taxpayer or a corporation.

Another measure would address the issue of “compelled support” of religion in Vermont. This issue arises out of a situation where parents in the town of Chittenden wanted the state’s voucher program–called “tuitioning” and operated in towns without schools of their own–to pay for tuition at a religious school. The state refused, and the state supreme court agreed, saying the state’s constitution was even more restrictive than the federal one on church-state issues. This means even last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of vouchers does not change things in Vermont.

Under the proposed bill, tuitioning to religious schools would be permitted, but those townspeople who considered this to be “compelled support” of religion would get a refund of the proportionate share of their tax dollars used to support education of tuitioned students at religious schools.

Open Enrollment Proposed

In the Senate, open enrollment was proposed as a means of expanding public school choice. Senators Hull Maynard (R-Rutland), Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland), and Mark Shepard (R-Bennington) sponsored S. 121, which would allow parents to send their children to “any Vermont public school.” The bill calls for the school “of residence” to pay 90 percent of the general state support grant to the chosen school district.
Vermont Education Report
February 17, 2003

February 24, 2003


Promising Start for Charter Bill

On February 19, the Evergreen State’s Senate Ways and Means Committee approved Substitute Senate Bill 5012, a measure to authorize charter schools in Washington. The committee’s action sent the bill to the Senate Rules Committee, which is expected to send the measure to the Senate floor for debate.

If the bill is approved in the Senate, it would go to the House of Representatives, where House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-Seattle) and House Education Chair Dave Quall (D-Mount Vernon) are strong charter school supporters.

Legislation authorizing charter schools has been approved by the state House on four earlier occasions, in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998. In 2000, a charter bill made it to the House Rules Committee but was allowed to die there after then-Senate Education Committee Chair Rosemary McAuliffe (D-Bothell) announced she would not give the bill a hearing in her committee and would treat it as “dead on arrival.”
Education Excellence Coalition
February 20, 2003


Mayor Proposes Vouchers for All

Milwaukee’s voucher program should be expanded to cover all city children, according to Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist. Adding middle-income families to the school choice movement would help keep them in the city as well as helping lock in the benefits of school choice for the poor. Means-tested programs are less secure politically than are universal programs that include families from all income ranges, argued Norquist in a recent op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

“I would never support a course of action solely because it does something for the middle class,” said Norquist, but he pointed out cities need to retain and attract middle-income families to be successful.

“Reasonable property tax rates; donations to organizations that serve the poor; contributions to church and synagogue and mosque and temple; support for cultural and civic causes–all depend on a large, committed middle class, black and Hispanic and white, that lives in the city, owns homes in the city and invests in the city,” explained the mayor.

Expanded school choice already had brought the following benefits to the city’s public school system, wrote Norquist:

  • The teacher union agreed to a new program to “counsel out” problem teachers.
  • Individual schools now have greater responsibility for teacher hiring, school budgeting, and curriculum.
  • Specialty programs, such as Montessori programs, that historically were always oversubscribed, have been expanded.
  • The number of neighborhood schools that students can walk to has increased.
  • Full-day kindergarten has been adopted in some schools.
  • Expanded before- and after-school child care are available in some schools.
  • A record number of charter schools has been approved.

The Milwaukee story proves critics are wrong when they claim vouchers hurt public schools, said Norquist.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
February 6, 2003

Choice Expansion Reveals Legal Tangle

The growth of Milwaukee’s school choice programs has produced some unexpected outcomes regarding the eligibility of various students under the provisions of different school choice laws.

A case in point is with the Woodlands School, a highly regarded private school in Milwaukee serving a diverse body of about 200 preschool through eighth grade students from the city and the suburbs. About half of Woodlands’ students enroll through the city’s voucher program. Recently, largely for financial reasons, Woodlands applied to become a charter school.

As a charter school under the auspices of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Woodlands would receive about $7,000 for each eligible student, regardless of family income. But which students are eligible?

According to state law, the school’s current voucher students in fourth grade and up would be allowed to attend a Woodlands charter school–but the school would receive no money for them for at least the first year, nor would it be able to charge their parents tuition.

Suburban students currently attending Woodlands would be even worse off because state law doesn’t allow them to attend a university-sponsored charter school in Milwaukee. However, if the Woodlands charter were sponsored by the City of Milwaukee, students from the suburbs could attend and the school would receive state funds for them.

“We are going to work out all these issues because we have to,” Woodlands principal Maureen Sullivan told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “The kids are counting on us, and the parents are counting on us.”
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
February 12, 2003

Virtual Tour of Milwaukee

For those interested in learning more about the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation in Indianapolis, Indiana now offers a redesigned version of its Virtual Milwaukee Tour at www.geofoundation.org.

The tour, which features photographs and audio from GEO’s regular fact-finding trips to Milwaukee, gives insight into what parents, principals, community activists, elected officials, public school officials, and voucher opponents have to say about school choice in Milwaukee.

“After 13 years, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program can no longer be called an experiment,” said GEO President Kevin Teasley, noting it is the nation’s oldest targeted voucher program. The program serves more than 10,000 students in more than 100 private or parochial schools. The program offers low-income Milwaukee families up to $6,000 per child to attend the school of their choice. Research shows not only voucher students are benefitting from the program; students remaining in Milwaukee’s public schools benefit as well.
GEO Electronic News
February 10, 2003

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].