07/2003 The Friedman Report: School Choice Roundup

Published July 1, 2003

California * Connecticut * Florida * Maine * New York
Ohio * Pennsylvania * Texas * Washington * Wisconsin


Schools Get Vouchers (from Microsoft)

To settle antitrust claims in California, Microsoft Corp. agreed to pay $1.1 billion to consumers and to give whatever was left over to the state’s public schools for the purchase of computer hardware and software. Under the company’s initial proposal, schools would get free Microsoft software or cash to buy other manufacturers’ products.

However, Apple Computer, Inc.–a major supplier of software to U.S. public schools–criticized the agreement, saying it amounted to unfair competition. As an alternative, Apple proposed simply giving the money to the schools and letting them purchase whatever technology product they wanted.

On June 5, Microsoft said the company had dropped the idea of giving its software to schools at no charge. Instead, it would provide schools with vouchers that could be used for the purchase of hardware or software from any manufacturer.

“We certainly listened to industry feedback and acted on it,” Microsoft’s associate general counsel Richard Wallis told Bloomberg News.
Los Angeles Times
June 6, 2003


Board of Ed Discusses Voucher Implementation

On June 10, the Board of Education (BOE) of Winchester, Connecticut discussed the implementation of a voucher system to give students a choice of which high school to attend. The process of setting up such a system would take a few years, according to board member Art Melycher, with input sought from various parties. Several board members looked favorably on the competition vouchers would bring to education in the area.

“As soon as you get a voucher system competition is provided,” the Register Citizen reported BOE member Joe Cadrain saying. “If we don’t do the job then students go elsewhere.”

BOE member David LaPointe agreed, noting, “Competition is good. That’s what American ingenuity is based on.”

Cadrain expressed hope competition would improve the education at The Gilbert School, a private/public school for grades 9-12 where the majority of Winchester public school students enroll after graduating from middle school.
The Torrington Register Citizen
June 11, 2003


Cap on Tax Credits Raised to $88 Million

In the $53.5 billion budget the Florida legislature approved on May 27 is a provision to raise the cap on the state’s corporate tax credit program from $50 million to $88 million. The credits are for donations to organizations that provide scholarships for children to attend private schools. Demand for the scholarships has outstripped the number that can be funded with $50 million a year.

The budget also provides $837 million for the state’s public school system, with more than half of those funds committed to class-size reduction.
May 28, 2003


Voucher Bill Voted Down

The U.S. Supreme Court may have said it is constitutional to include religious schools in school voucher programs, but the Maine legislature isn’t ready to include them in the state’s “tuitioning” voucher program.

In early June, a bill that would have allowed parents to spend state voucher funds at religious schools was rejected 11-2 by the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. The bill, LD 182, subsequently was rejected 89-56 by the House and unanimously by the Senate.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kevin Glynn (R-South Portland), said the state now will be forced to spend money fighting two lawsuits that contend it is religious discrimination to bar religious schools from the state’s tuitioning program.

Long-time Rep. Thomas Murphy (R-Kennebunk) explained to The Bangor Daily News that the prohibition on religious schools was not based on the intent of the legislature but was “slipped in” the code when Maine’s statutes were being re-codified in the early 1980s.
Bangor Daily News
June 6, 2003

The Moral Case for School Choice
“While a system of parental choice and school competition would have a positive effect in improving schools, this argument is beside the point. The purpose of a system of parental choice is to enable parents–all parents–to exercise their inherent right and responsibility to direct the upbringing and education of their children. Even if all schools were high performing, the rationale for a system of parental choice remains. The freedom to choose the education best suited for one’s children is a basic right of all parents, regardless of income.”
2002 Pastoral Letter
Roman Catholic Bishops of New York State


Same Education at 1/6 the Cost

There’s a vigorous debate going on about how to measure the scores of African-American voucher students versus those of similar students in New York City’s public schools. But commentator Richard Rider points out there are some important points voucher critics in particular are missing:

  • The voucher program is privately funded and provides about $1,400 per student; the public school system in New York City costs about $9,059 per “general education student.”
  • Even the analysis critical of vouchers shows the voucher students score no worse than their public school peers, which means a $1,400 voucher is delivering the same education as the public schools at less than one-sixth the cost.
  • Parents of voucher students are much more satisfied with their child’s school than public school parents.

June 9, 2003


Cleveland Voucher Increase Proposed

In the $49.3 billion budget approved by the Ohio senate in early June is a provision to increase the maximum yearly scholarship in the Cleveland voucher program from $2,500 to $3,000 per pupil. The legislature has until June 30 to pass a balanced budget.
The Statehouse
June 5, 2003


GOP Proposes Preschool Choice Plan

Although Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has insisted his early-childhood education plan is non-negotiable, that hasn’t deterred Republican legislative leaders from developing their own alternatives.

Rendell’s plan calls for $309 million of preschool funds to go directly to school districts with at least 35 percent of their students eligible for the federal free and reduced lunch program.

Rather than send the money to the schools and have them develop the prekindergarten services they think low-income families want, Rep. Elinor Z. Taylor (R-Chester) has a different idea. She wants to send the money directly to the low-income parents who are the intended beneficiaries so they can spend the money on the prekindergarten education services they want for their children.

Taylor recently introduced a bill to provide preschool attendance grants for four-year-olds from low-income families. With the grants, parents would have the flexibility to enroll their children full-time or part-time in public or private programs, including programs run by religious institutions.

“Flexibility is a big issue,” REACH Alliance Executive Director Dennis Giorno told The Associated Press. “A lot of parents don’t want to send their kids to full-day programs.”
The Observer-Reporter
June 8, 2003


Voucher Bill May Be Revived

Although a school voucher bill died during the regular session of the Texas legislature, it may be revived during a special session on school finance.

“I think it will come up again, without doubt,” House Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland) told the San Antonio Express-News.

Before the start of this year’s session, Craddick had expected the GOP-controlled legislature to be receptive to a pilot voucher program. But after a plan to create virtual charter schools was rejected in April, prospects for approving a voucher bill diminished, and the session ended without a voucher bill passing. The virtual charter school bill was regarded by critics as a “stealth voucher bill.”

In special session, legislators may yet consider HB 1624, a pilot voucher bill that would give state-funded vouchers to children from low-income and middle-income families to use for tuition at private schools. Initially targeting only 11 of the largest public school districts, the program allows for expansion to all 1,040 of the state’s school districts by 2005.
San Antonio Express-News
April 25, 2003
June 5, 2003


Session Ends with No Charter Law

When the 2003 Washington legislature adjourned on the evening of June 11, lawmakers had approved several business tax reforms designed to attract the production of Boeing’s next-generation jetliner to the state.

But lawmakers left Olympia without taking action on a package of four education bills that included approval of charter schools in the Evergreen State, an outcome reform advocates Fawn and Jim Spady have been seeking since 1995.

The education bills had the support of Governor Gary Locke, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, most Republican lawmakers, and many Democrats. Democratic House Speaker Frank Chopp had repeatedly promised to hold a vote on the bills.

At 10:30 p.m. on June 10, the charter school bill passed the senate on a 27-19 vote, leaving plenty of time for a house vote before the special session adjourned at midnight. However, Chopp failed to call any of the education bills before the session expired. Although Locke immediately called a second special session, the legislature adjourned that session less than a day later, and Chopp did not hold a vote on any of the four bills.
Education Excellence Coalition
June 11-12, 2003


Expansion of Milwaukee Voucher Program Proposed

Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor Jim Doyle has presented his budget plan. The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has developed its budget plan. Now, the GOP-controlled legislature has to take both plans and come up with a final set of decisions. School choice will be one of the decisions they must make.

Doyle proposed no changes to the Milwaukee voucher program in his budget plan. The Finance Committee, however, proposed the following changes:

  • Lift the cap on the number of students allowed to participate; currently, this is 15 percent or about 15,000 students.
  • Allow private schools outside the city limits to participate in the program.
  • Permit students to remain in the program even if their family income rises over time and no longer meets the program’s eligibility criteria.

About 11,600 students currently are enrolled in the program.
Green Bay Press Gazette
June 6, 2003

Teacher Union Lawyer Fined

Teacher union attorney Ed Garvey, who asked the state supreme court to overturn its ruling that Milwaukee’s voucher program is constitutional, was ordered to pay nearly $3,000 for legal fees the state and another group incurred in fighting his motion. On May 23, a Dane County Judge ruled Garvey’s motion was “politically motivated” and “frivolous.”

The motion alleged that one justice–John Wilcox–was biased by voucher supporters’ help in his campaign for the bench in 1997. Wilcox disavowed any knowledge of a mailing voucher supporters sent out that year attacking his opponent, Walter Kelly, but he was fined $10,000 in the incident.

The Landmark Legal Foundation, a pro-voucher group, sought the sanction against Garvey.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
May 24, 2003