06/2003 The Friedman Report: School Choice Roundup

Published June 1, 2003

Alabama * Arizona * Colorado * Connecticut * Florida
Louisiana * New York * Rhode Island * Texas * Wisconsin


Register: State Should Consider Vouchers

Noting that as many as 20 other states are considering vouchers as a way to improve failing schools, the editorial board of the Mobile Register recently suggested “Alabama as well ought to consider vouchers and other forms of choice.”

Indeed, the board continued, the Yellowhammer State should be “more ripe for choice” because of the problems it is having with its education budget, which merit wholesale reform rather than “mere tinkering at the edges.” Polls consistently show large majorities of blacks and Hispanics support the idea of vouchers.

“Children do not deserve to be trapped in failing systems,” argued the board, and so it “makes sense” for the recently approved voucher bill in Colorado to permit low-income children to attend private or religious schools of their choice.

“Parents deserve the opportunity to choose a better future for their children,” the editors opined. “And the public at large will benefit from having parents more engaged in securing an education more suited to their individual children’s needs.”
Mobile Register
April 12, 2003


House Rejects Education Tax Credits

A bill to expand educational opportunities for low-income students was defeated by a 31-27 vote of the Arizona House on April 9. SB 1263, which had already been approved by the Senate, would have allowed corporations to take a credit on their taxes for donations to organizations that provide scholarships for low-income children to transfer from a public school to a private school. From an initial cap of $10 million a year, the credits would grow to $50 million by 2008.

Among the arguments that won the sympathy of a majority of lawmakers:

  • Although the maximum scholarship was capped at 60 percent of the state’s per-pupil funding average of about $4,500, opponents argued the program would not save the state money.
  • House Minority Leader John Loredo (D-Phoenix) argued poor families, being poor, wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the program.
  • Rep. Marion McClure (R-Tucson) argued poor children who did take advantage of the program would be teased by more affluent children.

Arizona Republic
April 10, 2003


Poll Shows Support for Tax Credits

Supporters of tax credits are pointing to the positive results of a recent poll as they push for passage of House Bill 1137, a measure that would create income tax credits for donations to organizations that provide scholarships to help children from low-income families transfer from public to private schools.

The poll was commissioned by the Colorado Alliance for Reform in Education (CARE), a school choice advocacy group. The poll of 603 registered Colorado voters, conducted in March, indicates 63 percent support K-12 tuition tax credits. Support is higher among minority voters, with 82 percent of black voters and 64 percent of Hispanic voters supporting the credits.
Rocky Mountain News
April 26, 2003

College Voucher Bill Killed

Acknowledging he didn’t have the votes to get his bill to create college vouchers out of the Colorado House Appropriations Committee, House Majority Leader Keith King (R-Colorado Springs) asked for the bill to be tabled, effectively killing it for the current session.

The measure, House Bill 1336, would have converted Colorado’s higher education funding from direct grants to colleges into vouchers for college students, who would receive $3,200 annually for four years.

Although the plan received support from many college and university officials, some legislators were concerned the measure would increase the state’s share of higher education funding by $34 million next year. But King said he would try again next year.

Except for Centennial Rep. Nancy Spence’s voucher bill, signed by Governor Bill Owens in April, K-12 tax credit and voucher bills did not win approval in this year’s session of the Colorado legislature.
The Coloradoan
May 1, 2003
Denver Post
May 4, 2003


Town Looking at Vouchers as Money-Saver

The Town Council of Berlin, Connecticut is looking at school vouchers as a possible money-saving measure. Town attorney Tim Sullivan is examining whether such a plan would be permitted and will report his findings back to the council in May.

The issue came up at a recent town hearing, when town councilors said it was cheaper for the town to send children to a private school, St. Paul’s School, than to have them attend Berlin public schools. Town councilor Don Geschimsky noted many other states have voucher systems and, regardless of whether the proposal was “right, wrong or indifferent,” it ought to be looked into.

“If this is legal, we would be the first town in the state to do this,” he told the New Berlin Herald.
New Berlin Herald
April 24, 2003


Voucher Proposals Fail

Among the legislation that failed to pass in the 2003 regular session of the Florida legislature, which adjourned on May 2, were the following proposals:

  • Implementation of a class size reduction amendment to the Florida Constitution that was approved by voters last year; one of the ways lawmakers considered reducing class size was through an expansion of the state’s voucher program.
  • Doubling of the size of a corporate tax credit program that provides private school scholarships to children in low-income families.

Sarasota Herald-Tribune
May 3, 2003


Opposition Kills Push for Vouchers

Two voucher proposals were raised to address the problem of failing schools in Louisiana this year, but no voucher bill was approved.

In Baton Rouge and New Orleans combined, 23 schools were deemed unacceptable due to “dismal scores, poor dropout and attendance rates” as of March 31. By Fall, as many as 103 could be deemed failing, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate. Two options–state takeover and school vouchers–were put forth as responses.

Competing voucher plans were proposed by the Archdiocese of New Orleans and Republican Governor Mike Foster. However, after a House panel on May 1 killed three bills that would have provided state money to send some students to private schools, the sponsor of Foster’s bill said, “I can read the committee. This doesn’t have a chance of passing.” The Baton Rouge Advocate also concluded “the panel’s opposition apparently kills the push for vouchers this year.”

Despite the opposition to K-12 vouchers, a pre-school voucher program has been operating under the radar screen in Louisiana since the fall of 2001–before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the Cleveland voucher program, noted one reporter. Federal welfare money is used to fund the program, which initially allowed New Orleans parents of four-year-olds to choose the best pre-school–public or private, even religious–for their children. The program has since expanded to other parishes and now enrolls 1,000 children. The program is popular and growing, according to The Times-Picayune.
Baton Rouge Advocate
May 1, 2003
March 31, 2003
March 23, 2003


Klein Cool to Business Push for Vouchers

The man who convinced a federal judge more competition was required in the software industry now has to convince New York business leaders more competition is not the answer to the problems they see with public education.

At a recent forum, New York Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg–who are trying to get businesses to donate millions to public schools–recently listened to Conference Board President Richard Cavenagh make a push for vouchers. Cavenagh’s survey of 23 corporate leaders in the city found nearly all support vouchers.

“They believe in competition; Joel has to overcome that,” Cavenagh told the New York Post.

Vouchers aren’t the answer, said Klein, although he wants to give parents more choices with charter schools. He said it’s not possible to grow markets in human services like you can in capital.

“It’s not a market-based situation,” said Klein, who led the Justice Department’s antitrust case against Microsoft.
New York Post
April 17, 2003

Five Catholic Schools to Close

Although New York parents have enthusiastically embraced privately funded scholarship programs like the School Choice Foundation and Angel Scholarships, only a few scholarships are available to help parents pay private school tuition–apparently not enough to keep struggling private schools from closing.

In February, the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens said it would close five schools in June because of dropping enrollments and rising costs.

One of the schools is St. Rita’s in Long Island City. According to principal Mary Sandoz, there are plenty of families in the area who want to send their children to the school, but not enough who can afford the $350 a month tuition. Nearly a quarter of the students at St. Rita’s receive privately funded vouchers.
April 21, 2003


Task Force Recommends More Options

A task force of educators, business leaders, charter school advocates, and union representatives called for the state to provide parents and students with more education options and to use non-traditional schools. These were among dozens of other recommendations–including a statewide curriculum for core subjects and empowering principals–included in the April report of the Governor’s Education Transition Team.

The task force recognized vouchers are controversial, but said the state “would be wise to consider [vouchers] in an open forum and formulate a sound and defensible policy.”

Other choice-related recommendations included removing the cap on charter schools and adoption of a statewide open enrollment policy, or at least interdistrict choice.

“We tend to reject a one-size-fits-all approach to public problems,” noted the report. “But our public school system has essentially been just that–a monolithic system of schools that are very much alike.”
Boston Globe
April 27, 2003


Push to Add More Voucher Schools

Two leading Republican lawmakers are pushing to allow private schools outside of the Milwaukee city limits to accept students from the city’s voucher program. Representative Scott Jensen (Brookfield) and Senator Alberta Darling (River Hills) introduced their bill on April 10.

Currently, there are 90 schools available to voucher students in pre-school through middle school, but only 17 high school options. Enrollment in the voucher program peaks in kindergarten and drops off as grade level increases. School choice pioneer Howard Fuller believes more high schools must be made available. Capacity for high schoolers “is an issue,” he said, “and it will continue to be an issue.”

Meanwhile, 10 new high schools outside Milwaukee Public Schools could be created if the district is awarded a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Some of the grant funds could be used to create as many as 2,000 seats in charter schools or private schools that participate in the voucher program.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
April 10, 2003