05/2003 The Friedman Report: School Choice Roundup

Published May 1, 2003

Arizona * California * Colorado * Connecticut * District of Columbia * Florida
Louisiana * Missouri * New Hampshire * Ohio * Utah * Wisconsin


Senate Passes New Tax Credit Plan

By a 16-13 vote on March 24, the Arizona Senate approved a tax credit plan that would permit corporations to redirect their tax payments to scholarships for low-income students to transfer from public schools to private schools, both secular and religious. Initially, the program would be capped at $10 million a year, rising to $50 million after four years.

Arizona currently permits individuals to receive a dollar-for-dollar credit of $500 a year for donations to organizations that award private school scholarships. Couples get a $625 credit. These scholarships may go to students already in private schools and there are no income restrictions.

Although tax credits often raise concerns about losses to the state treasury, the measure’s chief proponent, Senator Mark Anderson (R-Mesa), assured fellow legislators the new credit in SB 1263 would be revenue-neutral. According to a budget staff analysis, the state would suffer no net loss because the credits would be limited to about $2,500 per student and the state would save $4,500 in state aid for each student leaving the public schools.

“Competition makes everybody better,” Senator Jack Harper (R-Glendale) told The Arizona Republic, saying he was in support of anything that provides competition for public schools.

Although the House Ways and Means Committee subsequently voted 9-3 on April 1 to approve the measure, Governor Janet Napolitano threatened to veto it.
Arizona Daily Star
March 25, 2003
April 4, 2003


Vouchers Proposed for Compton District

California’s 30,000-student Compton School District, taken over by the state in 1993 for academic and fiscal mismanagement, is still one of the state’s worst-performing districts, and board decisions are still subject to reversal by a state-appointed trustee.

Two proposals to reform the troubled district have been submitted to the California legislature, one giving more authority to the school board and the other giving more authority to parents.

One bill, AB 61, introduced by Assemblyman Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Riverside), would return financial decision-making authority to the school board this year rather than next year.

The second bill, AB 349, introduced by a long-time voucher advocate, Assemblyman Ray Haynes (R-Murrieta), would allow Compton District parents to choose private schools for their children by means of a voucher-style “scholarship” that would be attached to students and travel with them to the secular or religious private school of their choice. The proposal is modeled after Cal Grants, a popular college program that provides grants of up to $9,708 a year to financially needy students.

“What we need in Compton is a revolution,” Haynes told The Los Angeles Times.

The District would be a good test model for the rest of the state, explained Haynes, and the plan would get a five-year trial in Compton before being evaluated and possibly expanded elsewhere. Haynes said he introduced the plan at the request of 50 Compton parents and the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education, a nonprofit think tank based in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Times
March 24, 2003


Bill Would Create Vouchers for College

As well as debating the creation of vouchers for K-12 education this year, Colorado legislators also are considering the creation of vouchers for college students.

During the last week in March, House Majority Leader Keith King (R-Colorado Springs) and Senator Ken Arnold (R-Westminster) introduced House Bill 1336, which would send higher education funds directly to college students rather than to state colleges based on enrollment.

The vouchers would be worth about $4,000 a year for four years and would be available to students who attend state colleges. Students would be responsible for paying the balance of the tuition, approximately $2,400 a year. The bill also includes a proposal to increase tuition at larger universities by up to 5 percent and to decrease tuition at junior colleges by up to 25 percent.

The measure, a recommendation from last year’s report of Governor Bill Owens’ Blue Ribbon Panel for Higher Education, is generally supported by higher education officials since it is expected to increase the number of students who pursue a college education.
Durango Herald
March 24, 2003


PTO, Teacher Union Assail Vouchers

Only five days after Connecticut Governor John Rowland proposed school vouchers in his state budget message on March 4, officials from the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) and Highcrest School PTO were appearing in TV ads broadcast during 60 Minutes to assail the voucher proposal and an accompanying reduction in state education funding.

Under his school choice initiative, the Republican governor has proposed allowing parents of children in “failing” schools to take up to $3,000 in state funds to attend the school of their choice, including public, magnet, charter, or private schools.

The teacher union argued the $3,000 vouchers would “rob local public schools” of critical education dollars and allow the funds to go to private schools. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities also joined the CEA in opposing Rowland’s cuts in the state education budget, focusing mainly on a $27 million reduction in the Education Cost Sharing fund to $1,488 million.
Governor’s Budget Presentation
March 4, 2003
Wethersfield Post
March 28, 2003


Vouchers Inevitable, Cafritz Says

District of Columbia School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz has always made her opposition to school vouchers very clear to friendly and unfriendly audiences alike. However, seeing that school voucher legislation “is certain to pass” the U.S. Congress, Cafritz recently dropped her opposition, characteristically laying out her new views very clearly in a March 29 op-ed piece in The Washington Post.

“We should join the U.S. Department of Education in forging a system that includes vouchers, charter schools, and public schools–one that would afford children in the District the best possible education,” she declared. To accomplish this, she continued, “We must … accept the federally proposed voucher or scholarship program.”

Cafritz also encouraged the replication of high-performing charter schools and proposed working with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick to ensure quality Catholic schools were available in the District.

“One of three adults in this city is functionally illiterate,” said Cafritz, who then delivered an indictment of the present public school system. “Each one was once a child whom we failed to educate, a child we delivered to a life of dependency and an overburdened social service system, a child we excluded from the workforce–a child that we excluded from democracy.”

While the editorial writers of The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal praised Cafritz’s new stance on behalf of DC children, voucher opponents were shocked by her change of heart. District Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, for example, called Cafritz’s proposal “unprincipled and operationally impossible.”
The Washington Post
March 29, 2003; April 1, 2003
Wall Street Journal
April 4, 2003


Florida Continues to Develop New Choice Options

Florida legislators continue to develop new school choice options for students in the Sunshine State, apparently not content with having initiated three innovative school choice programs in recent years: vouchers for students to transfer from failing schools, McKay vouchers for special education students, and vouchers funded by a corporate tax credit program.

  • On March 24, the House Education Innovation Subcommittee approved 4-2 a bill that would permit school boards to use vouchers to lower class sizes, create a voucher program for kindergarten, and double the corporate tax credit program from $50 million to $100 million a year.
  • On March 25, the Florida House approved a bill that would provide $10 million in corporate tax credits to allow soldiers’ children to attend private schools.


Foster Offers Voucher Plan

By the time the Louisiana legislature opened this year’s session on March 31, voucher opponents from teacher unions to school boards already had expressed their concerns about a school choice proposal being developed by Governor Mike Foster. However, a few days after the legislature convened, the Archdiocese of New Orleans released poll results showing widespread support for school vouchers among voters across the state.

The Republican governor’s proposal, introduced on March 28, would allow low-income students in academically failing schools to use a publicly funded voucher for payment of tuition at a private school. For each student, the voucher would be worth the amount of per-pupil state funding provided to the student’s district. In Orleans Parish, this would be about $3,200.

Details of Foster’s proposal were incorporated into House Bill 1337, sponsored by Rep. Carl Crane (R-Baton Rouge), chairman of the House Education Committee. The bill calls for a four-year pilot program starting in 2004-05. To show how much students are learning, participating private schools would be required to test all of their students, using a modified version of the state’s accountability program.

“Accountability is the cornerstone of this governor’s efforts to reform education,” Foster’s education policy advisor, Mike Wang, told The Times-Picayune.

The Archdiocese’s poll, conducted on 600 voters statewide in February, found 89 percent of black respondents and 84 percent of white respondents in favor of students being allowed to transfer from failing public schools to other public, charter, or private schools. Seventy-three percent of respondents said they would support having children from failing schools come to the school their own children attend.

The poll also reported 57 percent of respondents supported “providing a school voucher to parents to pay tuition for whatever school they choose,” including religious schools. Thirty-two percent opposed the idea.

Although Catholic schools have been leading the push for school vouchers in Louisiana, they are opposed to using the state’s standardized testing program. They want voucher students to take the same standardized tests their tuition-paying students currently take.
The Times-Picayune
March 29, 2003; April 5, 2003


Coalition Forms to Fight Choice

Republican lawmakers in Missouri have introduced at least 10 bills related to school vouchers and tuition tax credits already this year, attracting the attention of anti-voucher groups.

More than 24 groups opposed to parental choice options like vouchers and tuition tax credits are forming a coalition called People for Public Schools to fight legislative efforts to implement choice options in Missouri.

“We feel that vouchers and other such schemes undermine public education,” Missouri PTA Vice President Darrell Swofford told the Jefferson City News Tribune.

“There’s not enough money to go around,” said Gary Sharpe, director of the Missouri Council of School Administrators.

Other members of the coalition include the local affiliates of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, labor and civil rights groups, and the leaders of several clergy groups.
Jefferson City News Tribune
March 14, 2003


Paying Parents to Take Their Children Out

A group of Republican lawmakers in New Hampshire has come up with a novel solution for handling the state’s expected increase in student population of 2,500 students a year for the next 10 years: Pay parents to withdraw their children from the public schools.

Doing so would save taxpayers not only the per-student cost of $7,500 a year, but also the cost of constructing schools and classrooms to house the added students–a cost estimated at about $20,000 per pupil.

Under House Bill 603, parents would be offered about $1,700 if they choose to withdraw their child from the public school in their community. According to one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. David Scott, there are five benefits of the bill:

  • It would relieve the pressure and costs to build more public schools.
  • The new competition would provide further incentive for the local public school to improve.
  • Taxpayers would spend slightly less on a per-pupil basis.
  • Local public schools would not lose funds on a per-pupil basis.
  • Parents seeking an alternative education environment for their child would benefit.

“If the public school population remains constant and this increase of students goes to alternative schools, pressure is removed in New Hampshire for spending $50 million per year of taxpayer money for new school buildings,” argued Scott.

The House Education Committee reported the bill as Inexpedient to Legislate, and that recommendation was accepted by a majority House vote on March 25.
Dover Community News
March 21, 2003


Vouchers Proposed for Autistic Children

Of the 228,945 students in Ohio receiving special education, 4,017 are autistic and are being taught in schools throughout the state. The daughter of State Rep. John Peterson (R-Delaware) is one of them.

While Peterson is pleased with the services the Delaware City School District has provided for his daughter, he recognizes other parents across the state may not be quite as satisfied with the services received by their children. Peterson has proposed providing the parents of autistic children with state vouchers so they can seek out alternatives to the services provided by their local public schools.

Under Peterson’s plan, the vouchers would be worth less than the per-pupil amounts school districts currently spend to educate autistic children. If the alternative services parents choose for their child cost more than the voucher amount, the parents would have to make up the difference.

Although the Ohio Association of School Business Officials (OASBO) typically opposes voucher programs, OASBO legislative services director Barbara Shaner told This Week that Peterson’s proposal could be worth discussing.
This Week (Ohio)
March 27, 2003


Leavitt Blamed for Tax Credits Failure

In early March, Utah lawmakers failed for the third time in three years to achieve passage of a bill that would grant tax credits for private school tuition. Backers of the credit blamed the loss on Governor Mike Leavitt, who had threatened to veto the measure.

“Governor Mike Leavitt’s constant veto threats and demagoguery during the past month led to the bill’s demise in the House,” tax credit supporter Jordan Clements told The Salt Lake Tribune.

This year’s effort, contained in Senate Bill 34, would have given tax breaks to parents with children in private schools–a credit of up to $2,132 against their state income taxes–and to businesses, which would have received a credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations.

Although the measure was supported by the governor-appointed Employers Education Coalition, an intense campaign was waged against it by the Utah Education Association (UEA), state education officials, school boards, and Leavitt.

The bill easily passed the Senate but was turned back by the House after being combined with an education reform bill, Senate Bill 154. After being removed from SB 154, the measure failed to attract enough House votes to merit further consideration.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan), said he would bring tuition tax credits back again next year.

“We have a governor who has walked lockstep with the UEA to hold their support for him,” Buttars told The Salt Lake Tribune. “You will never move education forward until you return the fiscal rights to the parents.”
Salt Lake Tribune
March 5, 2003


Gardner Defeated in Milwaukee School Board Election

Voucher advocate John Gardner, a persistent and unique voice for reform on the Milwaukee school board for the past eight years, lost his race for re-election on April 1 to challenger Tom Balistreri, a former high school principal who was strongly backed by the teacher union.

Although four other reformers–Board President Jeff Spence, Joe Dannecker, Barbara Horton, and Ken Johnson–were returned to the board, the loss of Gardner means reformers no longer hold the majority.

Four years ago, Gardner–a self-described “radical left-winger”–easily retained his city-wide seat in a contentious election that focused primarily on school vouchers. This time, the focus was not so much on vouchers as on employee benefits.

The board is facing budget problems because of the soaring costs of health insurance and a supplemental teacher pension put in place five years ago. Gardner said the benefits were “outrageous” and called for eliminating the extra pension, or at least having the teachers themselves, instead of taxpayers, pay for it.

“We’re going to see who has more votes in this race, the parents or the pensioners,” Gardner commented in the pre-election run-up.
Wall Street Journal
March 20, 2003
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
April 2, 2003

For more information …

John Gardner’s report, “Milwaukee’s Public Schools: The Untold Story of America’s Newest Democratic Revolution,” is available from the Web site of Marquette University’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning at www.schoolchoiceinfo.org/hot_topics/pdf/83.pdf. The 34-page report is also available through PolicyBot; search for document #12071.