An Idea Has Consequences
“… Fifty years on, it’s increasingly clear that the dream offered in Brown v. Board of Education will never be realized without an injection of Milton Friedman’s ideas about school choice …
“… Next to prevailing in the war on terror, it’s hard to think of an issue of more fundamental importance to our nation than a public education system that gives all children a real crack at the American Dream. And in a seminal essay in 1955, Mr. Friedman provided the key. The title was ‘The Role of Government in Education,’ and the operative sentence was this: ‘Governments could require a minimum level of education which they could finance by giving parents vouchers redeemable for a specified maximum sum per child per year if spent on ‘approved’ educational services.’
“… Today, amid the wreckage of the unaccountable and unresponsive public school monopolies we see in our great cities, we can recognize these words for what they were: the intellectual equivalent of the shot heard round the world. After decades of dormancy and half-hearted attempts to try them out, Milwaukee became the first city to institute a real voucher program–and the public schools responded by improving …
“[W]e’re seeing more and more experiments. Earlier this year the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation rated 13 state programs …
“[T]he march toward choice has about it today the aura of inevitability. As Mr. Friedman tells us, ‘What Brown ordered was an end to ‘separate but equal.’ But you can’t end ‘separate but equal’ without ending compulsory assignment to a public school.’ From the vantage point of Brown we can now see that vouchers have become the cornerstone for a fundamental civil right.”
Wall Street Journal
May 17, 2004
Arizona House Rejects Voucher Bill
With a vote of 30-27, the Arizona House of Representatives on May 25 rejected Senate Bill 1109, which would have established a Statewide Educational Choice Scholarship Program to provide vouchers for children to attend a private school chosen by their parents. While proponents of the bill argued the resulting competition would prompt the public schools to improve, opponents raised concerns about the public schools getting less money.
The measure would have capped the voucher value at 80 percent of the average statewide per-pupil expenditure in the state’s public schools, with the program phased in by grade level over a period of five years. Eligibility would have been limited to families with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. If the voucher did not cover the full amount of tuition and fees, schools could charge additional amounts to parents.
May 25, 2004
House Bill Summary for SB 1109
Fresno, Calif. Mayor Endorses Vouchers
During his annual State of the City address in May, Fresno, California Mayor Alan Autry announced his support for school vouchers. While praising city accomplishments in other areas, he focused his speech on education, saying, “to fail in the education of our children is to forfeit the future of our city.”
Saying he would pursue state and federal legislation to provide vouchers for the most at-risk children, Autry told the audience of more than 700 that his oath of office obligated him to work for the overall health of the community.
“If I retreated from my commitment to educating our kids and standing for and fighting for a quality education of every child, I would be in violation of that oath and should be removed from office,” he said, according to The Fresno Bee.
Fresno County Schools Superintendent Pete Mehas told The Fresno Bee he disagrees with Autry’s desire for school vouchers, noting voters across the state and in Fresno County had rejected a voucher initiative at the polls in 2000.
The Fresno Bee
May 21, 2004
D.C. Public Schools Can’t Spend Extra Federal Money
The D.C. Public School system (DCPS) was allotted an extra $13 million as part of the package assembled by lawmakers to win passage of a pilot voucher plan for the District. The additional funds were to be used for improving student achievement, developing a more effective teaching staff, and promoting public school choice within the District.
But now Congressional leaders won’t allow DCPS to spend the extra money because they say school administrators haven’t come up with a spending plan that directs the funds to their intended uses.
“DCPS did not provide sufficient justification concerning the allocation of these funds,” said Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the District, in a written statement. DeWine told the Washington Post he intends to withhold the $13 million until a new school superintendent is hired.
D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams supported DeWine’s stand, noting he and his staff had requested more specific plans from the schools but had been told to “bug out.” Williams has been pushing for the creation of a mayorally appointed schools chancellor in the District, citing DCPS’s lack of accountability.
“It’s astounding that it’s so hard to give the school system $13 million,” Williams’s deputy chief of staff, Gregory M. McCarthy, told the Post. “After we make enormous pleas for overall support for the city and support from Congress, it really is a black eye when the schools can’t get a plan up there that can pass muster.”
May 20, 2004
Study: Vouchers Improve Public School Performance in Fla.
Public schools in Florida that were forced to compete for students because of vouchers made extraordinary gains on the state’s standardized tests compared with other public schools, according to a new peer-reviewed study conducted by Manhattan Institute researchers Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters.
Florida grades its public schools A-F, depending on their performance on the state’s FCAT test. If a school receives two Fs in a four-year period, it is exposed to voucher competition because students at the school are eligible to use vouchers to transfer to private schools or other public schools. The closer a school is to getting two Fs in four years, the greater the amount of voucher competition.
Greene and Winters grouped schools by the grades they had received from the state during the previous four years and then compared their average gains in academic achievement on the Stanford-9 math test. The researchers found the gain in academic achievement between 2002 and 2003 increased as the school’s four-year grades got closer to two Fs–i.e., as voucher competition increased:
- Schools with at least two Fs made average test score gains of 5.9 percentile points above those made by all other Florida public schools;
- Schools with one F in the past three years made average test score gains of 3.5 percentile points above other public schools;
- One-time voucher schools that were now at least four years away from two Fs showed a test score decline of 1.8 percentile points compared to other public schools.
Iowa Governor Vetoes Scholarship Tax Credit Bill
Although approved in the Iowa legislature with strong bipartisan support, a bill to establish a School Tuition Organization Tax Credit in the Hawkeye State was vetoed on May 14 when it went to Governor Thomas J. Vilsack (D) for signature. The bill, Senate File 2295, would have allowed an income tax credit for voluntary cash contributions to school tuition organizations for educational scholarships or tuition grants to children in nonpublic accredited schools. The bill provided a credit of 75 percent of the actual contribution, with a maximum credit of $700 per single individual and $800 for a married couple.
SF 2295 required tuition organizations to prioritize the allocation of scholarships to students from families with incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. In addition, one-third of the students receiving scholarships at each school must be students who did not attend a private school in the year before first receiving the scholarship.
“As long as our public school system needs resources, priorities dictate that incentives to encourage support for private schools should not be encouraged,” said Vilsack, “particularly when they reduce future available resources.”
Sara Eide, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, pointed out to School Reform News that the program would provide a net gain for the state treasury by the fourth year. She also noted Catholic schools already save the state more than $250 million every year.
Governor’s Veto Message
May 14, 2004
Iowa Catholic Conference
Louisiana House Committee Defeats Voucher Proposal
In a decisive 12-1 rejection of House Bill 1288 on May 20, the Louisiana House Education Committee killed any remaining hope the Archdiocese of New Orleans may have had for putting the ongoing funding of an existing pre-K school voucher program under the protection of state law this year. The state-funded program currently allows some 1,500 low-income students to attend private preschool. The program will remain funded next year through an $8.5 million allocation that Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) included in her budget.
HB 1288 was sponsored by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Jefferson), who also saw the committee reject another of his proposals, House Bill 366, which would have provided vouchers to students attending failing schools in Orleans Parish.
Kirby Ducote, lobbyist for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans, told The Times-Picayune that the pre-K voucher program was the only hope of low-income parents in some parts of New Orleans. For example, he said, there are no academically acceptable public schools in St. Peter Claver’s parish neighborhood.
May 20-21, 2004
Expansion of Minnesota Tax Credit Fails by Two Votes
In April, Minnesota State Senator Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen) introduced a bill to expand the state’s Education Tax Credit/Deduction Program, known as “Take Credit for Learning.” The existing program allows families with annual incomes of up to $37,500 to take a dollar-for-dollar tax credit on their state income taxes for a range of educational expenses–but not for tuition.
As well as allowing educational expenses to include tuition, Ortman’s bill, Senate File 2702, would remove the current $2,000 cap on the credit and dispense with the requirement to itemize expenses by child. That would allow parents to claim $1,000 for each child in grades K-12, with no limit. A total of $480,000 was earmarked in the bill to cover the cost of expanding the program in 2005.
“Our tax code should reflect [a] family’s choice and assist them if private schools or home schooling better meets their children’s needs,” argued Ortman, saying the credit assists families whose needs are not met by the public school system.
However, when the Ortman amendment was taken up for adoption on April 29, it failed by two votes, with senators voting along party lines.
Partnership for Choice in Education
Minnesota Senate Floor Coverage
April 29, 2004
Yecke Rejected as Minn. Education Commissioner
Despite pledges of support from several Democrat-Farmer-Labor (DFL) senators and a promise from Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson (DFL-Willmar) not to bring her nomination up for a floor vote unless it would pass, Cheri Pierson Yecke found her nomination as Minnesota’s Education Commissioner rejected in a 35-31 party-line vote of the DFL-controlled Senate in the early hours of May 16.
Yecke, Virginia’s former education commissioner and the choice of Governor Tim Pawlenty (R) for the position in Minnesota, had helped rewrite the state’s curriculum standards in language arts, math, science, and social studies. It was her stand on the social studies standards that generated controversy among educators.
“The majority of parents and the public want to see history standards that reflect the greatness of the country,” Yecke had said, according to The Washington Times. “I don’t believe in the hate-America agenda, and it would be inappropriate to have that agenda in our standards.”
After the rejection vote, Yecke told the Pioneer Press she was “shocked” that “people who gave their word” had voted against her. Pawlenty condemned the DFL senators, saying they had done “a grave disservice to our state.”
“By rejecting Commissioner Yecke on a party-line vote, they have rejected innovation and accountability for our state,” he said in a statement.
Twin Cities Pioneer Press
May 17, 2004
May 20, 2004
New Hampshire Won’t Get Vouchers This Year
In May, after several failed attempts to pass a voucher bill this year, New Hampshire legislators were left with only House Bill 727, which proposed creating a committee to study school choice. Still hoping to pass a voucher bill this year, House negotiators came to a House-Senate conference committee meeting on May 17 with a proposal to add a voucher amendment to HB 727. Even those hopes were dashed when their Senate counterparts informed them a voucher amendment would be defeated in the Senate.
“As we sit here today I don’t think we have the votes in the Senate to pass this,” said Sen. Dick Green (R-Rochester), according to Foster’s Daily Democrat. “I want to see this go forward, but the political reality is if we bring this to the Senate, we will not have the votes.”
The original HB 727 had contained a voucher plan proposed by Green. It called for vouchers for low-income K-8 students to use at religious and secular private schools. The program would be phased in over seven years, with the number of participants increasing from 1,200 in the first year to 14,000 by the seventh year. The voucher would be worth up to $3,600.
Foster’s Daily Democrat
May 20, 2004
Black Clergy Group Endorses Vouchers for New Jersey
Polls show some 60 percent of African-Americans nationwide support school choice, and in New Jersey’s poorest districts, 72 percent of parents support vouchers. Yet these impressive support levels have not led to the implementation of voucher programs. A coalition of black clergy leaders in New Jersey wants to change that and on May 24 in Trenton announced plans for organizing a grassroots movement to push for school choice.
The ministers, led by the Rev. Reginald T. Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council, called on state lawmakers to approve a school voucher plan where funds follow the child to the school of his or her parents’ choice. Jackson also called for reform of the teacher tenure system and decried the persistently poor performance of urban public schools.
“For the 26 years I have been in New Jersey, there have been a host of public school reform proposals, a multitude of major state supreme court rulings, and billions of dollars spent to achieve parity and improve test scores,” said Jackson, according to a Trenton Star-Ledger report. “Yet, the fact remains, that with few exceptions, urban schools and most minority students still do not meet minimum state standards or receive a quality education.”
Conditions are at a crisis level in urban public schools, said the Rev. Clenard Childress, senior pastor of New Calvary Church in Montclair. Childress is also chaplain at the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center.
“If something is not done in the next two years, we will lose a whole generation,” said Childress, according to the Star-Ledger.”It’s time to admit the public schools are failing our children and to look for solutions.”
May 25, 2004
New York Tax Credits Would Generate $500 Million A Year
An Educational Tax Incentives bill under consideration by the New York Senate Finance Committee could generate $500 million a year in donations benefitting public and private schools, according to the New York State Department of Taxation. The lion’s share, $400 million, would go to public schools, with the balance going to private schools.
The bill, S 1665, was introduced by Senator Serphin R. Maltese (R-Queens) last year and has 18 cosponsors. After being passed by the Investigations Committee on April 27, 2004, the bill was reported to the Finance Committee, which is headed by Senator Owen H. Johnson (R-Babylon). Passage by the Finance Committee would send the bill to a full vote of the Senate.
The bill provides a 50 percent tax credit for donations to any public school, public school education fund, or private school scholarship fund. It also covers homeschooling expenses. For individuals, eligible expenses and/or donations are capped at $500; for corporations, eligible donations are capped at $50,000.
“The legislation would … help support an increased number of parents who would choose to educate their children either at home or in an independent or religious school,” according to a statement from the New York State Catholic Conference. “Supporting these parents would help the already over-burdened public schools by lowering their class size and lessening the demand on limited public funding.”
New York State Catholic Conference
April 26, 2004 Statement
Citizens for Educational Freedom
Oklahoma Poll Shows Strong Support for Vouchers
Less than half (45 percent) of Oklahoma parents would choose to send their child to a public school if they were given a voucher or tax credit to cover the tuition at a private school, according to a new poll of 400 Oklahoma registered voters. Half (50 percent) would choose to send their child to a private school if offered a voucher or tax credit, with 34 percent choosing a church-affiliated private school and 16 percent choosing a secular private school. Six percent were undecided. (Figures add up to more than 100 percent due to rounding.)
When asked whether they favored or opposed providing tax credits to companies or individuals for donations to fund private school scholarships, more than half the respondents (52 percent) said they favored the idea, while 43 percent were opposed.
When asked which action they believed was more important to improve public education in Oklahoma, 58 percent of respondents said “Raising standards and accountability,” while only 35 percent said “Increase funding.”
The survey, which has a margin of error of +/-4.9 percent, was conducted on May 10-12, 2004 for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs by Cole, Hargrave, Snodgrass & Associates.
Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs
May 26, 2004
So. Carolina Governor Will Fight for Education Tax Credits
On May 12, the South Carolina House Ways and Means Committee voted to adjourn debate on an education tax credit measure known as the Put Parents in Charge Act, effectively killing the bill. The act had been proposed earlier this year by Governor Mark Sanford (R) as a way to improve public schools, expand educational opportunities, and put parents back in control of their children’s education. Sanford will continue to fight for the bill, according to spokesman Will Folks.
“You can either be loyal to the current education bureaucracy in place or loyal to the goal of better educating kids in South Carolina,” Folks told the Post and Courier.
Sanford’s proposal would allow families making less than $75,000 annually to receive a credit on property or income taxes for expenses incurred for private education, home schooling, or the cost of transferring a child to another school district. While some opponents said the bill was an attack on public schools, Rep. Lewis Vaughn (R-Greer) said the issue is about allowing parents to make the decisions when it comes to their child’s education.
“All we are doing is letting people keep some of their tax dollars so they can send their child to the school of their choice,” Vaughn told the Post and Courier.
Charleston Post and Courier
May 13, 2004
Wis. Activists Push to Lift Enrollment Cap on Vouchers
On April 29, the Alliance for Choices in Education (ACE) and School Choice Wisconsin kicked off a “Lift the Cap” campaign to persuade Governor Jim Doyle (D) to support eliminating or raising the statutory limit on enrollment in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP).
Last year, Doyle vetoed legislation to eliminate the cap, which limits enrollment in the voucher program to 15 percent of student enrollment in the Milwaukee Public Schools, or about 14,800 students. With the number of voucher students growing by more than 1,000 a year, the Department of Public Instruction estimates MPCP enrollment will reach the cap by the 2005-06 school year. At that point, seats in voucher schools would have to be rationed.
Rationing will hurt public schools and families as well as private schools, according to Howard Fuller, chairman of ACE.
“Rationing will deprive thousands of low-income families from choosing where their children attend school,” he said. “Rationing will create uncertainty for more than 100 schools that need to know enrollment to plan, and rationing also will complicate budgeting and enrollment planning at the Milwaukee Public Schools.”
The goal of the “Lift the Cap” campaign is to educate people in Milwaukee about the impact of the cap and to demonstrate that limiting parental choice hurts the city. Within 10 days of the campaign’s kick-off, more than 3,000 yards signs, 3,600 window signs, and 45 large banners had been distributed in neighborhoods throughout Milwaukee.
Alliance for Choices in Education
May 11, 2004