04/2004 Friedman Report School Choice Roundup

Published April 1, 2004

Alaska * Arizona * Connecticut * Indiana * New Hampshire
South Carolina * Utah * Vermont * Wisconsin


Pilot Voucher Program Proposed

Alaska State Rep. Vic Kohring (R-Wasilla) offered an education funding proposal that included a voucher plan at a town meeting in Anchorage with about 50 residents from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

The voucher plan would be a pilot school program with a five-year sunset. Other items in Kohring’s plan included adding $40 million to the education budget and consolidating districts of 500 students or less.

Education funding initiatives are being discussed because of budget crunches in the state’s largest school districts. School officials say state per-student funding has not kept up with inflation and the budget for federal testing requirements is underfunded.
Fairbanks Daily News
February 15, 2004


Senate Committee Rejects Universal Vouchers

By a vote of 5-3, the Arizona Senate Education Committee rejected a voucher measure that would have allowed students, regardless of economic standing, to use 80 percent of the state’s annual per-pupil spending to attend the school of their choice.

The bill would have permitted all Arizona residents to use the voucher–worth $3,200–to send their children to a private school. If any money remained after enrollment, it could be used by parents to offset the costs of college tuition. The program would have been phased in over a five-year period, and by 2006 all students attending Arizona’s private schools would have been eligible.

Tim Hogan of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest told the Arizona Republic the universal qualities of the bill seem to indicate lawmakers have been emboldened by the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision on Cleveland vouchers.

The bill’s principal author, Sen. Thayer Verschoor (R-Gilbert), explained his theory: The tuition gift would encourage parents to move their children out of public schools into private schools. For every child who entered private school, the state would save money because $3,200 is 80 percent of the average amount the state spends to educate a child. The state would break even when 85,000 public school students moved to private schools, making up for the $128 million the state would spend on the approximately 40,000 children already in private schools.

Verschoor told the Arizona Republic that eligibility requirements, such as income restrictions or restricting participation to students who attend failing schools, is “discrimination” against wealthy people.

“School choice should be universal,” he said.
Arizona Republic
February 14, 2004
February 16, 2004


Gov. Rowland Announces Voucher Plan

In his annual budget speech on February 4, Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland announced his plan to provide vouchers worth $4,000 to 500 students in the state’s lowest-performing schools.

The proposal requires the state to provide $3,000 of the voucher amount, while the local district would be responsible for the remaining $1,000. Rowland plans to allocate an extra $20 million in his budget for the plan and creation and expansion of other education programs.

“We’re not taking any money away,” Rowland told the Hartford Courant. “The key here is not to create winners and losers.”

The proposal would apply to students in 42 schools that have failed to meet the requirements in reading and math set by the No Child Left Behind Act. If more than 500 students apply for the vouchers, a lottery system would be used to choose participants.
Hartford Courant
February 3, 2004


Study Shows Significant Support for Vouchers

In January, Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy released a public opinion survey gauging public sentiment in the state on several education issues, including support for school vouchers.

The research found:

  • 57 percent of respondents who had knowledge of vouchers support the idea of using them to give parents a choice in their child’s education;
  • 80 percent believe if school fails to meet state standards parents should be able to send their children to another public school;
  • 54 percent of respondents with knowledge of charter schools support the creation of charter schools.

“We look at this as saying there is a large group of people unaware of the issue, and the more we make them aware, the more they favor the issue of school choice,” Robert Enlow, executive director of the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation, told the Indianapolis Star.

“We think there is a good reason for choice,” said Duncan Pat Pritchett, superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools. “But it’s not the silver bullet that should solve all problems.”
Indianapolis Star
February 9, 2004


Slim Loss for Vouchers

On February 5, the New Hampshire House of Representatives missed approving the state’s first voucher program by one vote.

HB 1353, rejected 172-171, would have allowed families of four making up to $73,000 a year to qualify for the program. The value of the voucher could not exceed 80 percent of the state adequacy grant received by the school for each student.

“It’s a sad day for the children and parents at the lower end of the income scale who will be prevented for at least another year from choosing education,” Rep. David Scott (R-Dover) told Foster’s Daily Democrat. “The good news is we only lost by one vote, which shows the momentum is growing. That bill in study will provide the framework for the future.”

Just a few weeks earlier, the House assigned a bill similar to HB 1353 for interim study in the Education Committee.
Foster’s Daily Democrat
February 6, 2004


Majority of Voters Support Tax Credit Plan

A February survey of registered voters in South Carolina found 62 percent support the basic concept of a tax credit plan that would allow middle- and lower-income families the opportunity to decide where their children should be educated.

The study, conducted by South Carolinians for Responsible Government (SCRG), also found an overwhelming majority of South Carolina voters want more options. Of those surveyed, 80 percent feel parents, not the state or local government, should make basic decisions on which school and what kind of school a child attends.

“Our state is ready for education reform,” said SCRG President Tom Swatzel. “This poll clearly shows South Carolinians value parental control of education and want a larger say in how their children are educated. School choice will make both of these ideals central to our education system.”

The poll, conducted by Wilson Research Strategies in December 2003, was a telephone survey of 500 registered voters in South Carolina representing all parts of the state and various economic backgrounds, household demographics, and political affiliations. The study has a margin of error of +/-4.0 percent.
South Carolinians for Responsible Government
February 12, 2004


Plan to Reintroduce Tuition Tax Credits

Utah State Rep. Jim Ferrin (R-Orem) plans to introduce another tuition tax credit bill similar to one that stalled in the House last year.

The new bill would include making the $2,000 tax credit amount available to all students, regardless of family tax liability. Also, it would make the tax credit available to individuals who donate money to private school scholarships for low-income children.

Another proposed bill, from Rep. Marda Dillree (R-Farmington), would make it easier for new charter schools to be approved. The bill would create the state’s 41st school district as a statewide district made up of just charter schools. The school board for the district would have the authority to approve new charter schools.

“I’d like to see some options created,” Layton parent Rebecca Farraway told the Salt Lake City Tribune. Farraway hopes to open a new charter school.

“I really believe parents have grown passive, and they don’t realize the obligation they have to demand the best education for their children,” she added. “I think parents have grown to trust the public school system to do its job.”
Salt Lake City Tribune
January 19, 2004


Testimonies for Choice Outnumber Opposing Views

On February 11, the Vermont House Education Committee began drafting a school choice bill and heard testimony from 41 people on the topic. Of those who spoke, 31 supported choice, 6 opposed it, and 4 were undecided.

Any choice legislation would use as a starting point a bill previously introduced by Committee Chairman Howard Crawford (R-Burke). Crawford’s bill would allow students to attend any public school in Vermont but would limit the number of students leaving the school to 5 percent of the student body. If there were more applicants to a school than available spaces, a lottery would be held to assign seats.

For students who choose to attend another public school, the voucher value would be equal to the state funding level, which is currently $6,800. For students choosing to attend a private school, their parents would receive a voucher worth $5,000 per year for grades 9-12 and $2,500 per year for grades K-8.

Vermont Governor James Douglas has said he considers enacting a public school choice plan a top priority this year.
Rutland Herald
February 11, 2004


Poll Shows Support for Lifting Enrollment Cap

Wisconsin state officials report 154 schools have applied to participate in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, a significant increase over the current 106 participating schools. With 13,260 students now enrolled, some worry the program could soon hit its enrollment cap of 15,000.

“I think this confirms what DPI [Department of Public Instruction] has concluded, that within a year or two the cap is going to be busted,” education consultant George Mitchell told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “A lot of these schools may be trying to get a seat at the table before the cap is hit.”

A recent telephone poll may add fuel to the discussion on expanding the program. The survey, financed by several school choice groups, polled 15,000 voting households and found 51 percent of Milwaukee residents would like to see the enrollment cap lifted. Only 29 percent were against lifting the cap.

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program allows children from low-income families to attend private schools using state-funded tuition vouchers. The cap is currently set at 15 percent of the enrollment in the Milwaukee Public Schools.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
February 10, 2004
February 17, 2004