06/2004 Friedman Report: School Choice Roundup

Published June 1, 2004

Arizona * Colorado * Florida * Minnesota * New Hampshire
Rhode Island * Texas * Wisconsin


Legislator Introduces National Education Tax Credit Program

Rep. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) introduced legislation at the end of March that would provide a tax credit for teachers who incur personal expenses in educating their students, as well as for individuals and corporations who donate money to any type of K-12 school or school tuition organization.

Under H.R. 4034, “The National Education Advancement and Teacher Relief Act,” teachers would be able to receive a 75 percent tax credit worth up to $500 for out-of-pocket expenses incurred for qualified classroom expenses. In addition, individuals could receive a $500 credit–$1,000 for joint returns–for donations to schools or tuition groups. Corporations could receive a maximum credit of $100,000 that would not be subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax.

“This bill will direct more dollars to education,” DeMint told Talon News. “By creating a significant incentive for generous and voluntary individual and corporate contributions to education, all types of schools–public, private, charter, and home schools–will receive additional funding.

“This legislation also increases local control and parental involvement and choice in education,” he explained. “Keeping more education dollars in our own communities and out of the federal bureaucracy in Washington will strengthen education at all levels.” Talon News
April 1, 2004


D.C. Program Experiences Growing Interest

A recent Washington Post editorial reported that D.C. Parents for School Choice had provided the Washington Scholarship Fund with the names of more than 1,400 families representing 3,000 students who would like to be considered for the District’s new voucher program. The editorial points out this response completely contradicts the critics who argued residents opposed the idea of school vouchers.

“If ever there was evidence of a demand among parents for educational options, this is it,” the editorial said.

“Even before D.C. Parents for School Choice delivered names to the scholarship fund, it was plain that parents in the nation’s capital were looking for alternatives to the troubled D.C. public schools …” the editorial continued. “Parents are looking for something other than a public school system plagued by cost overruns, mismanaged payrolls, and an administration incapable of purchasing enough toilet paper and books. This fall, hundreds more low-income District students, armed with federally funded vouchers, will search for another educational home.”

Students eligible for the voucher could receive up to $7,500 a year for tuition. Washington Post April 21, 2004


Tuition Tax Credit Program Exceeds Projections

In April, the Arizona Department of Revenue (DOR) reported the School Tuition Tax Credit program helped more than 19,000 students attend the school of their choice in 2003, surpassing the projections made in a December 2003 Goldwater Institute report.

According to the DOR report, from 2002 to 2003 the number of scholarships awarded grew by 21 percent, while taxpayer donations increased by more than 11 percent. The growth rate of the program in 2003 was nearly double the 2002 rate, suggesting the program could save the state even more money than expected. Goldwater Institute
April 8, 2004


Lawmakers Block Revival of Voucher Program

On April 23, members of the Colorado House of Representatives voted 33-32 to defeat a bill to give poor children vouchers to attend private schools. The bill was aimed at answering the objections of a Denver judge who blocked the program, which passed last year and is currently on hold pending a court appeal.

Some Republicans crossed party lines to vote against the bill.

Rep. Gayle Berry (R-Grand Junction) objected to this year’s bill because she felt if the state alone paid for the voucher, without contributions from the local district, then less money would be left for those students who remain in public schools.

The bill would have created vouchers with values ranging from $2,000 to $5,000 a year, depending on student grade-level and how much funding the state provides the school district.

Sponsor Rep. Nancy Spence (R-Centennial) said children won’t be able to get vouchers before the new school year begins.

“How long are you going to leave them in the same system, year after year, that is failing?” she asked lawmakers.

Currently, 11 districts received low or unsatisfactory academic performance ratings, which would qualify them to take part in the voucher program. Daily Camera
April 24, 2004


GI Vouchers Await House Vote, with Senate Future Uncertain

A measure that would provide school vouchers for the children of military families is making its way through the Florida legislature. The House version of the bill, H.B. 549, which is championed by Iraq veteran Rep. Carey Baker (R-Eustis), made any child of any current or former member of the military eligible for a $3,600 voucher. Although H.B. 549 met with widespread support in the House, it faced tougher questioning in the Senate.

With opponents calling for reform of existing voucher programs before the creation of new ones, Baker agreed to pare down the scope of the House bill by removing veterans and leaving only active members of the military, the reserves, and the National Guard. Baker estimated the change would reduce the number of eligible children from approximately 100,000 to 60,000. The House bill also was amended to prohibit home-schooling groups and correspondence schools from receiving McKay vouchers for disabled children.

The Senate Education Committee briefly considered the scaled-back legislation before committee chair, Sen. Lee Constantine (R-Altamonte Springs) delayed the vote. Although the Senate bill, S.B. 1544, has other committees to clear after the Education Committee, Baker told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune he was confident the legislation would become law. Palm Beach Post
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
April 14, 2004

Pre-K Voucher Program Debated

Florida legislators are working to create the largest state-funded pre-kindergarten program in the country. In 2000, 59 percent of Florida’s citizens voted to approve an amendment requiring the state to create by 2005 a voluntary, free, high-quality education program for all four-year-olds.

Thus far, members of the House and Senate have not been able to reach agreement on exactly how to fulfill the mandate. The challenge lies in giving public, private, and faith-based programs sufficient autonomy, while putting in place accountability measures and performance standards.

“It is probably one of the most challenging issues I’ve ever been involved in,” Sen. Lisa Carlton (R-Osprey) told the Miami Herald.

“Because we don’t have enough spaces in the public schools, it’s necessary for Florida to partner with the private sector,” she explained. “On the other hand, if you create too much regulation, too many prescriptive standards, the private sector is going to say, ‘I don’t need this.'”

The Herald also reported that Patrick Heffernan, president of Floridians for School Choice, is urging the state to allow education providers to continue to choose the curriculum and teacher standards and leave accountability for a child’s performance to parents.

“Don’t judge quality by input, by [education] degrees or the size of the classroom,” Heffernan told the Herald. “Judge them by how well prepared these children are when they are finished.” Miami Herald
April 5, 2004


School District Warned: Change to Survive

With 5,500 students lost to charter schools and other competitors over the past five years and with thousands more expected to leave if the trend continues, the Minneapolis public school system must change some of its operations in order to survive, warned the Minneapolis Star Tribune in an April 16 editorial.

Other Minnesota school districts are facing similar enrollment shifts, with about one in six students (18 percent) across the state attending some kind of contract, alternative, charter, private, or homeschool program.

“Minneapolis school board members and the new superintendent they choose must consider new ways to govern, administer, and deliver education,” the editorial recommended. “They must preserve successful methods and embrace change. Instead of viewing charter schools as threats that siphon students away, they should learn from the successes in those programs, replicate what works, and include and promote them as a public school choice.”

Surveys suggest the changes the district needs to make for Minneapolis parents to reconsider the public schools do not involve rocket science. The two major concerns expressed by parents about city schools are the quality of academic programs and the lack of student discipline.

“Most families want the same things for their children: a good education delivered in an orderly, welcoming, safe environment,” the editorial noted. “Public schools must provide this or students will opt out.” Minneapolis Star Tribune
April 16, 2004


Senate Revives Voucher Legislation

In February, a voucher bill failed to pass the New Hampshire House by just one vote, 172-171. On April 22, another voucher bill was approved by just one vote by the New Hampshire Senate Education Committee, which voted 11-10 to send the measure to the full Senate.

The prospects for the latest bill look promising in both chambers, according to House Education Committee Chairman Steve L’Heureux.

“The key here is that we’ve never had this, and we can argue for years about this issue, but until we do it, until we pass something, until we see how it works, we’ll never know,” he told the Concord Monitor.

The new bill would provide vouchers to families with household incomes of up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, with priority going to those at 200 percent and below. The maximum voucher amount made available would be about $3,600 for a family of four making $18,000 or less a year.

In the program’s first year, 1,200 vouchers would be available to students in first and second grades, with the program expanding each year to reach 14,000 students in grades 1-8 after seven years. High school students and children currently enrolled in private schools would not be eligible.

“We know local public schools should not try to be all things for all students,” Sen. Dick Green (R-Rochester), chairman of the finance committee and bill sponsor, told the Concord Monitor. “As we know, low-income parents often don’t have a choice.” Concord Monitor
April 23, 2004


Group Urges Legislators to Enact Tax Credit

The Catholic Schools Parents Association testified before the Rhode Island Senate Finance Committee that the 30,000 students who attend independent or Catholic schools save the state an estimated $600 million in education costs every year.

The hearing was in regards to a bill sponsored by Sen. Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Providence) that would offer a dollar-for-dollar tax credit up to $200 for donations made by individuals ($250 for married couples) to a tuition scholarship program. Corporations would get a 75 percent tax credit of up to $100,000 or 90 percent if the business makes a two-year commitment.

“Low- and middle-income families cannot afford tuition anymore,” Bruce Daigle, director of the Catholic Schools Parents Association, told the Providence Journal. “Many are forced to withdraw their children from Catholic schools.”

Rhode Island already has experienced a 9 percent drop in enrollment in its urban Catholic schools, according to Daigle. The Diocese of Providence recently announced two schools would be closed because of declining enrollments. Daigle also explained that because of the closures, the public school system could see as many as 150 new students this fall.

“This bill will ease the burden on inner-city schools,” he said. Providence Journal
March 24, 2004


Governor Announces Support for Pilot Voucher Program

In April, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced he would not object to the inclusion of a pilot school voucher program in any package of legislation designed to address the financing of public education.

Perry called lawmakers into special session in April to find an alternative to the share-the-wealth school finance system that has been dubbed “Robin Hood.” During an Austin news conference, Perry said his plan currently contains no provision for vouchers, but he is open to the idea.

“Look, I’m a proponent of a school choice pilot program–always have been,” Perry told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “If it becomes debated, gets placed on a piece of legislation, we’ll look at [that] entire piece of legislation.

“And I would hope that a legislator who saw the opportunity to put 2.5 billion new dollars into public schools, to give a 17 percent decrease in residential [property taxes] in the state of Texas would not be giving thought to killing a piece of legislation because there was one small item in there they disagreed with.”

Perry’s goal for the special session is to increase the state’s contribution to public schools by $2.5 billion, while cutting property taxes. Fort Worth Star-Telegram
April 17, 2004


Voucher Students Maintain Achievement Gains

A follow-up to a study conducted three years ago shows Milwaukee’s voucher program has prompted sustained achievement gains for the city’s public elementary schools.

Harvard University economist Caroline Hoxby, who conducted both studies, concluded the school choice program spurred public schools to improve the quality of education they provide. The study was published in the Swedish Economic Policy Review.

“Adding the new years of data allows us to see that the good results have lasted,” Hoxby told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “A lot of people thought that this was a blip that was going to go away.”

Some Milwaukee school administrators agree with Hoxby’s conclusion. They have reported that the growth of the voucher program after the 1998 court decision–which allowed participation by private schools with a religious affiliation–has prompted them to compete more aggressively for the city’s students.

Hoxby’s argument is that vouchers can spur improvements in public schools by threatening to take away students and the money that comes with them.

Martin Carnoy, a professor of education and economics at Stanford University, disagreed with Hoxby’s analysis. He argued Hoxby’s findings result from an anomaly of one or two years when test scores in some Milwaukee public schools showed marked improvement above those in a control group of Wisconsin schools outside Milwaukee. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
April 13, 2004