BAEO Leader Wants Parents “Overwhelmed” with Opportunities
by Laura J. Swartley
Betty Conley-Denton, founder of the Metropolitan Kansas City Chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), is hopeful for a very changed educational landscape in her home city of Kansas City, Missouri in the next several years.
“I want a city where parental choice is a given,” says Conley-Denton. “Traditional and non-traditional public schools will be of higher quality because of competition. Vouchers and tax credit programs supporting private and parochial schools will be accessible to all parents. Quality teachers will re-enter the market and aspire to participate in education in this city.”
Conley-Denton, a mother of four and long-time public school activist who now is a proponent of school choice, believes these educational options will rejuvenate the inner city, which in turn will benefit all of Kansas City.
Conley-Denton was chair of the School Advisory Council of Westport Communication Magnet School in 1998, where her then 12-year-old daughter, Felicia, was a student. The school was threatened with closure because of high dropout rates and low test scores.
“The school had metal detectors and some of the students were really mean,” explained Conley-Denton. Felicia loved the journalism concentration at the school, but struggled daily to fit in and feel safe. “This was the beginning of the changing of my traditional thought process about public schooling,” said Conley-Denton.
In 2001, she became involved with BAEO after hearing BAEO founder and prominent school choice activist Dr. Howard Fuller speak. Concluding “it’s not enough just to be a member of a national organization,” Conley-Denton decided to found a local BAEO chapter. She attended BAEO leadership training in Dallas, Texas and completed the 15-step process to establish a new chapter.
Although Kansas City has many charter schools, Conley-Denton is dismayed at the lack of educational choices available to inner-city parents. She purchased an older home in the heart of Kansas City many years ago and feels she should not have to move to secure a better education for her children.
Two of her children—Bethanie and Newton—attend a charter school in Kansas City, but “in my quest to provide all my children with quality education, they have changed schools too many times,” said Conley-Denton. She believes vouchers and tax credits would enable parents like her to afford private schools while remaining in their inner-city neighborhoods.
“I want parents to be overwhelmed with choices of quality education in this city,” she said, instead of constantly being frustrated with the lack of educational options available to them now.
Foundations Apply New Dynamic to Education Reform
by George A. Clowes
When charitable donors conclude that one of the organizations they support is mismanaged and its funds are not being used effectively, they are understandably reluctant to make further contributions to that organization, regardless of how much they may support its mission. This response is no different from that of for-profit investors who are averse to putting more of their money at risk when a promised return on investment in a particular venture fails to materialize. For example, no one considers Edison Schools entitled to more investor funds simply because it is involved in the good work of educating children.
However, when three Pittsburgh foundations announced in early July that they were suspending—immediately and indefinitely—all contributions to the Pittsburgh Public Schools because of a lack of confidence that the funds “will be used wisely,” public school officials immediately claimed the foundations were “hurting the kids.”
“They shouldn’t use money as a threat,” board president Jean Fink told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I don’t like being blackmailed.”
The three foundations—the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Heinz Endowments, and the Grable Foundation—didn’t see it that way. Over the past five years, they have awarded $11.7 million to the district. While looking for their improvement efforts to be supported by a committed organization with consistent leadership and clear goals, what they found instead was “bickering, distrust, and chaotic decision making” in the top echelons of the Pittsburgh Public School system.
“The board is divided, the administration is embattled, key personnel are leaving or under attack, and morale appears to be devastatingly low,” wrote foundation officials in a letter to school board members and Superintendent John Thompson. Citing a “sharp decline of governance, leadership, and fiscal discipline” in the district, the foundation officials said it would be “irresponsible” to continue support for the district at this time.
“As investors, we can no longer be confident that any funds we put into the district will be used wisely and to the maximum benefit of students,” wrote Grable Foundation Executive Director Susan Brownlee, Heinz Endowments Executive Director Maxwell King, and Pittsburgh Foundation President and CEO William Trueheart.
“Our organizations will remain engaged in efforts by the larger community to create an effective management and governance structure for the district,” declared the three foundation officials. “Until that happens, however, we will not fund the Pittsburgh Public Schools.”
According to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Sally Kalson, the educational needs of the city’s 38,000 public school children already have taken a back seat to the spectacle of board members and superintendent “bashing each other.” The foundations have tried, without success, to get the district’s leadership back on track. “But some people cannot be moved by reason,” noted Kalson, and the foundations’ latest action is like “hitting a stubborn mule upside the head with a 2-by-4: First, you have to get its attention.”
For more information …
The letter written by the foundation officials to Pittsburgh Public School board members is available on the Internet at http://www.post-gazette.com/downloads/20020710letter.pdf.
SCHOOL CHOICE ROUNDUP
Private School Attendance Up
The share of Alabama schoolchildren attending private schools increased from 8 percent in 1990 to 10 percent in 2000, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census. While a greater percentage of white students (15 percent) attend private schools than black students (3 percent), the survey shows many black parents in urban areas now are choosing a private school for their children. For example, almost 6 percent of black children attend private schools in Jefferson County, which includes the mostly black Birmingham school system.
John Dolly, dean of the College of Education at the University of Alabama, told The Montgomery Advertiser that the recent increases in private school enrollment may be because both black and white middle-income parents share the same dissatisfaction with public schools. Both sets of parents want the same thing, he said: “a good education for their children.”
The proportion of white students in rural areas who attend private schools hasn’t changed since at least 1980, according to Annette Watters, director of the Alabama Data Center at the University of Alabama. However, she argued it was the quality of academics more than race that was increasing private school attendance in urban areas.
“Parents expect their children to attend quality schools, and if the public schools are marginal or on probation or insufficient to your standards, what is your alternative?” she asked The Montgomery Advertiser. “One alternative is to send them to private schools where you can have a bigger voice in what you want.”
The Montgomery Advertiser
August 19, 2002
Vouchers for College Students?
Colorado distributes millions of dollars to each state university campus in general fund operating revenues. What if that money were distributed instead as a $4,300 tuition voucher to each of the 123,000 high school graduates in Colorado who plan to attend college?
That innovative option, which would be the first in the nation, was discussed on June 28 by a Blue Ribbon Panel on Higher Education appointed by Governor Bill Owens.
“I think we would be on the cutting edge,” panel chairman Bruce Benson told The Rocky Mountain News. “With the Supreme Court ruling [on June 27] on K-12 vouchers, it does kind of say it is OK.”
The Rocky Mountain News
June 29, 2002
Gubernatorial Candidate Endorses Voucher Plan
After a state panel leaked its proposal for higher statewide income and sales taxes to provide more funds for Illinois public schools, Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Cal Skinner in late August endorsed a revenue-neutral school voucher plan developed by The Heartland Institute.
Starting with kindergarten and first grade, the plan would phase in two additional grades per year over a seven-year period and provide each student with a voucher for use at private schools. The value of the voucher would be determined by the operating expense of the student’s school district divided by the total number of eligible students in the district.
Skinner, a former GOP state legislator with a reputation for advocating tax reform, questioned the whole idea of increasing state aid to the public schools, noting state aid had been increased by 45 percent over a four-year period with no discernable effect on the quality of the public schools.
“It’s time to look at new ideas that can work, not to recycle tax hikes with no realistic prospect of improving our children’s education,” said Skinner, arguing that competition—not more money—is the way to improve education.
The Heartland Plan would enhance local control not only by placing the responsibility for education decisions squarely in the hands of parents, but also by requiring a local referendum to authorize implementation of the plan in a specific school district. Private schools would be able to charge more than the voucher amount, with parents paying the difference. Where schools charged less than the voucher amount, the savings would be placed in a K-16 Education Savings Account for the student in question.
While Skinner’s Republican opponent, Attorney General Jim Ryan, has been non-committal on vouchers, his Democratic opponent, Congressman Rod Blagojevich, opposes them.
For more information …
details of The Heartland Plan for Illinois and other model voucher legislation are available at: http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=10211#legislation.
Private Schools Increase Share of Enrollments
Private schools in Kentucky substantially increased their share of K-12 enrollment over the past decade, according to calculations performed by School Reform News on new estimates from the 2000 U.S. Census. The calculations show Kentucky’s private school share of enrollment increased from 8.6 percent in 1990 to 11.7 percent in 2000.
When individual U.S. Census 2000 estimates for public and private school enrollment in Kentucky are combined, they show a total enrollment figure of 738,747 K-12 students, an increase of 12.6 percent compared to the total enrollment figure from the 1990 Census. While public and private school enrollment in the Blue Grass State both increased from 1990 to 2000, they did so at markedly different rates: Public school enrollment increased 8.8 percent to 652,151, while private school enrollment increased 53.2 percent to 86,596.
Since the census estimates come from one in six households, they are likely to provide a close estimate of public school enrollment. But the census questions did not inquire about homeschooling, meaning the private school estimates could include some of the more than 13,000 homeschooled students in Kentucky, whose numbers are growing at nearly 10 percent a year.
“I think you’re seeing a whole new generation of people who chose private and home schools well before their children were of school age,” homeschool advocate Martin Cothran told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “People don’t perceive the public schools are focusing on academics the way they ought to, and there’s the religious aspect.”
Religious convictions and passage of the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act caused more parents to choose private schools or homeschooling for their children, according to Scott County pupil personnel director Danny Glass.
August 20, 2002
Cleveland Sees Jump in Voucher Applications
Within two days of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 27 decision, which declared the Cleveland voucher program constitutional, the Ohio Department of Education received 40 new applications for vouchers in Cleveland. By the July 31 deadline, the number of first-time applications had risen to 2,200, up 10 percent over the previous year.
The state will make 5,523 vouchers available this year, an increase of 22.7 percent over last year’s 4,500. However, the number of private schools that will accept vouchers will remain around 50, and some may have no more seats available.
The program has no income limits, but low-income families earning less than 200 percent of the poverty level will be given priority. Vouchers will not be taken away from families with higher incomes who received vouchers in prior years. For example, 72 percent of last year’s vouchers went to low-income families, with the balance going to higher-income applicants.
The participation of higher-income families in the program—albeit at a reduced funding level—doesn’t bother Cleveland City Council member Fannie Lewis, a voucher supporter.
“It should be open to all people,” she told The Plain Dealer. “When you talk about higher income, you have to look at what people need to do with that income.”
The Plain Dealer
August 13, 2002
School Transfer Requests Up 24 Percent
An open enrollment program started five years ago received 11,812 applications this year—an increase of 24 percent over last year—from parents who want their children educated at schools outside the district where they live. The state’s largest school district—the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS)—generated by far the largest number of transfer requests, some 2,505. There were only 11 applications to transfer into the district.
Under the open enrollment program, students can attend any public school district in the Badger State, if there are seats available. Participation has almost doubled since 1998-99, when there were 5,946 transfers. In Milwaukee, city students are allowed to attend suburban schools, with busing provided. A reciprocal provision allows suburban students to attend city schools.
“We consider that as an additional choice for kids,” MPS spokesperson Mark Hoffman told Pioneer Press.
Pioneer Press (Minneapolis)
August 26, 2002