09/2003 The Friedman Report: School Choice Roundup

Published September 1, 2003

District of Columbia * Florida * New Jersey * New York
Ohio * Oregon * Pennsylvania * Texas * Utah * Wisconsin


Feinstein Endorses Voucher Proposal

In an unexpected Washington Post editorial, California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein stated her support for District of Columbia Democratic Mayor Anthony Williams’ pro-voucher stance:

“I have never before supported a voucher program … [but b]ased on the substantial amount of money pumped into the schools and the resultant test scores, I do not believe that money alone is going to solve the problem. This is why I believe the District should be allowed to try this pilot–particularly for the sake of its low-income students,” she wrote.

“Ultimately, this issue is not about ideology or political correctness,” she asserted. “It is about providing a new opportunity for good education.”

According to Lance Izumi, senior fellow in education studies at the Pacific Research Institute, the conversion of politicians like Feinstein presages the bursting of the dam of the government school monopoly.

“No wonder, then, that the response of the teachers unions [to Feinstein’s support of DC vouchers] has been apoplectic …” he wrote in the Orange County Register. “Refreshingly, however, Sen. Feinstein recognized that it was the union that lacked the wisdom on this issue.”

Izumi asks Feinstein to remember her own constituents, writing, “If it is a moral and civil right to give parents in Washington the ability to choose the best education for their children, then shouldn’t California parents be allowed that same right?”
Washington Post
July 22, 2003
Orange County Register
July 28, 2003


Voucher Enrollment Doubles to More than 1,100

Next year, more than twice the number of Florida students will utilize taxpayer-funded vouchers through the A-Plus Accountability Program, the increase over this year driven in part by a large number of students becoming eligible in the state’s most populous county, Miami-Dade. Five of the state’s nine failing schools are in Miami-Dade, and more than half the state’s total of Opportunity Scholarship applicants reside there.

Although the number of failing schools dropped from 10 to nine this year, the number of voucher students will increase from 556 in the 2002-03 school year to more than 1,100 in 2003-04. An additional 631 students already have applied for the Opportunity Scholarships for next year, and the estimated 1,187 voucher participants could be swelled by students from another 600 families who registered before a July 1 deadline.

Starting July 1, the limit on corporate income tax credits that can be used to fund privately funded school vouchers was raised to $88 million from $50 million.
Miami Herald
July 23, 2003

Participants Provide Feedback on Scholarship Program

In July, Florida Education Commissioner Jim Horne began a three-city tour to get feedback from participants in two scholarship programs that permit students in public schools to transfer their enrollment to private schools.

The two state programs, the McKay Scholarship Program and the Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program, involve more than 25,000 children and more than $100 million in tax credits and tax dollars. Reports of possible misuse of some of these funds have sparked criticism of the programs, with opponents calling for more accountability.

Participants at Horne’s first hearing in Tampa on July 30 included private school administrators and parents, representatives from the Florida Catholic Conference, representatives from the Black Alliance for Educational Options in Washington DC, and John Kirtley, founder and chairman of Florida PRIDE. Kirtley’s organization distributes some of the tax credit-funded scholarships.

After listening to those involved in the programs, Horne said the testimonials showed the programs were working. Ultimately, he told the Tampa Tribune, concerns about accountability should rest with the parents.
Tampa Tribune
July 31, 2003


Education Commissioner Sees Choice as Performance Catalyst

In a recent interview with the editorial board of the Asbury Park Press, New Jersey Education Commissioner William Librera was surprisingly forthcoming with his views on school choice as a means to reform failing public schools.

Addressing the need to improve performance in many school districts across the state, he suggested implementing some form of school choice as a way of speeding up this process. The competition among schools for students could lift the performance of some schools if administrators saw they were losing so many students their schools could be closed down.

“If results are bad, you don’t exist anymore,” Librera said to the newspaper’s editors. “That’s what happens in choice. It’s called a market correction.”
Asbury Park Press
June 4, 2003

Choices Are Changing Buffalo
Type of school 2000 Enrollment 2003 Enrollment Change
Charter schools 320 3,500* +3,180
Catholic schools 8,128 7,094 -1,034
Public schools 45,902 42,082 -3,820
*Anticipated 2004 enrollment
Source: Buffalo News


Buffalo Schools Respond to Increased Choice

As school choice has expanded significantly in Buffalo, New York, public and private education providers there are beginning to promote themselves more aggressively to attract new students and keep the ones they have.

Buffalo’s first two charter schools opened in 2000 with only 320 students between them. This fall, there will be 11 charters schools enrolling more than 3,500 students. By contrast, enrollment in Buffalo Public Schools dropped by 3,800 students from 2000 to 2003, with the city’s Catholic schools also experiencing an enrollment decline of 1,034 over the same period.

The demand for school choice in Buffalo has surged for a host of reasons, including public concern about poor performance on state achievement tests, the availability and popularity of charter schools, and budget cuts in the Buffalo Public Schools. City schools have responded to the demand for greater choice by allowing parents to pick their child’s high school instead of being restricted by school attendance zones.

Among the choices available to Buffalo parents is the BISON Fund, a privately funded voucher program for low- and moderate-income families who want to send their children to private or parochial schools.
Buffalo News
June 19, 2003


Cleveland Voucher Program Expanded

On June 26, Ohio Governor Bob Taft signed into law a budget bill developed by the state legislature that increases funding for the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program by $10.5 million over the next two years, from its current level of $11.9 million. The bill also expands the program to high school grades 9 and 10, permits voucher schools to charge additional fees to wealthier families, and increases the maximum voucher amount from $2,250 to $3,000.

According to the Catholic Conference of Ohio, which helped draft some of the bill’s language, the voucher amount has remained at $2,500 since the program’s inception in 1995.

“What public school district in the state would accept similar treatment?” asked Catholic Conference representative Tim Luckhaupt.

Akron businessman David Brennan told the Beacon Journal legislation would soon be introduced to extend vouchers to other Ohio cities and to higher-income families. Brennan, who chaired the school choice commission that recommended vouchers for Cleveland, now operates a number of for-profit schools.
Akron Beacon Herald
June 29, 2003


Scholarship Program Extended

Since 1999, Children’s Scholarship Fund of Portland has helped more than 500 students from low-income families attend private schools with partial-tuition scholarships averaging $1,350 each. That effort will continue with 230 students next year, according to the Cascade Policy Institute, thanks to donations from voucher supporters to extend the program for another four years.

Most parents who receive the scholarships must still make up the remaining amount of private school tuition out of their pockets, and that’s not been easy with the statewide recession. Many are reporting they cannot make up the difference and are returning their children to public schools.

Participants rate the private schools highly on academics, safety, and discipline, according to a 2001 Harvard research study. But, with an average income of $31,000, many scholarship families sacrifice greatly to pay the difference between tuition and the amount of the voucher.

One mother, who earns $16,000 maintaining inventory at a Christian supply house, manages to send her son to Catholic high school despite the large difference in the $7,000 tuition and the $2,500 scholarship she receives. Joanna Gordon and her family live in a tight, two-bedroom apartment to make ends meet, with one child sleeping in the dining room. But “the kids are getting a marvelous education,” she says.

“I figure I only have this many years to get the kids prepared for the rest of their lives,” Gordon told the Oregonian.

She had been dissatisfied with her children’s experiences in public school and was especially worried about her autistic son, Nicholas. She now sees him thriving at a Catholic school where he has a special education teacher who has studied autism.
Portland Oregonian
July 28, 2003


Education Tax Credit Expanded

On July 28, the Pennsylvania Senate passed an education package (HB 564) that included an additional $6 million for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program (EITC). Four of the $6 million would go for scholarships and $2 million for educational improvements in public schools.

The education package passed by the House included an amendment to increase the EITC program by $20 million. The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia) and supported by Majority Leader Sam Smith (R-Jefferson) and Speaker John Perzel (R-Philadelphia).
REACH Alliance

New Scholarship Organization Under Way

Dr. Alberta Wilson, president of Faith First Educational Assistance Corporation, kicked off her organization’s nonprofit status and incorporation on July 17 with a Grand Opening Ceremony at the University of Pennsylvania. Nearly 300 Philadelphia parents waited, some from noon until nine in the evening, to obtain scholarship applications for which no money is yet available.

“They have faith that God will provide,” said Wilson, who was profiled on these pages earlier this year. (See “An Educator’s Journey,” School Reform News, February 2003.)


Governor Wants Voucher Bill Addressed

Texas Governor Rick Perry has spoken out, saying he wants to see a voucher bill addressed in the state’s legislative special session. The bill Perry has in mind is HB 1624, which would create a pilot program for 11 of the state’s largest urban school districts. The bill passed the House Public Education Committee, before which Milton Friedman testified in May.


Study: Tax Credits Would Cost Less than Charters

Charter schools may have the endorsement of the Utah state legislature as the official state-approved school choice option, but a new study from the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst shows that another option–tuition tax credits–would cost the state less than half as much per pupil.

Earlier this year, the senate passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Chris Buttars that would have provided parents and businesses with a tax credit of up to $2,132 for private school tuition, but the House did not take up the bill for consideration.

Estimates from the study were presented to the Education Interim Committee on June 18. They show the average tax credit would cost the state $1,695 per pupil, compared to $2,846 per pupil in a regular public school and $3,557 per pupil in a charter school.

The projections assume students switch from public to private schools at a rate of 1 percent in the first year of the program, 1.5 percent in the second, and 2 percent in subsequent years. School choice advocates like Elisa Clements, director of Education Excellence Utah, say those rates are conservative.

“We predict a higher switch rate, so the savings to the state will be even greater,” Clements told the Salt Lake Tribune. Her group wants to see a tax credit bill like Buttars’ introduced in next year’s legislative session.
Salt Lake Tribune
July 17, 2003


Governor Vetoes Voucher Expansion

Concerned about a possible veto, a diverse group of Milwaukee’s political and education leaders gathered for a meeting with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters and editors on July 14 to urge Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle not to kill Republican budget provisions to expand Milwaukee’s school choice programs.

Participants in the meeting included Democratic Mayor John O. Norquist; Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr.; Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican; Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan; and school choice advocate Howard Fuller.

School choice provisions in the budget would:

  • Lift the cap on the number of participants in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), which is currently limited to 15 percent of the enrollment in Milwaukee Public Schools;
  • Allow private schools outside of Milwaukee to participate in MPCP;
  • Allow voucher students to stay in the program even if their family’s income rose above the program’s limit;
  • Allow students outside of Milwaukee to attend a Milwaukee charter school.

Ten days after the meeting, Doyle used his veto authority to eliminate all these provisions from the budget. In vetoing the provision to remove the cap on voucher students, the Democratic governor called Republicans hypocritical for inserting what he regarded as a policy change into a budget document. But Norquist, who wanted the cap lifted, questioned Doyle’s argument.

“There is all sorts of policy in the budget–from the governor and the legislature,” Norquist pointed out. “So now there shouldn’t be policy? That’s a lame argument.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
July 15, 2003
July 24, 2003