10/2003 Friedman Report School Choice Roundup

Published October 1, 2003

Colorado * District of Columbia * Florida * Illinois
Louisiana * Michigan * New Jersey


New Charter Tries Same-Sex Classes

Colorado’s James Irwin Charter Middle School will be trying same-sex classrooms this Fall. The new Core Knowledge school also will require uniforms. Both are attempts to neutralize the effects of peer pressure and boy-girl interaction at the middle school age.

“It’s been going great,” said teacher Diane Detty. “You don’t have the boys showing off for the girls and likewise. The kids who are more reserved are more willing to speak out and participate.”
Colorado Springs Gazette
September 4, 2003


Feinstein Pledges Support for Voucher Plan

The landmark voucher proposal for the District of Columbia gained steam in early September when Democratic Senator and voucher convert Dianne Feinstein (California) promised a ‘Yes’ vote on the plan. In an interview with the Washington Post, Feinstein said she would break party ranks to vote on the measure and the District’s $5.6 billion budget for fiscal 2004.

Feinstein’s defection illustrates “the kind of ferment that was inevitable in the Democratic Party if they are ever going to honestly confront the issue of school choice,” Chip Mellor told the Post. Mellor is president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that has defended voucher programs in courts across the country.
Washington Post
September 4, 2003

Voucher Plan Prompts Exchange

During the August Congressional recess, The Wall Street Journal ran a continuing dialogue among voucher advocates and opponents prompted by positions taken in the fight for school choice in the nation’s capital. Letters appeared from American Federation of Teachers President Sandra Feldman, People for the American Way President Ralph Neas, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana), Friedman Foundation President Gordon St. Angelo, D.C. Parents for School Choice Executive Director Virginia Walden Ford, and Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast.

When Neas wrote to the Journal, impugning the D.C. voucher effort as a right-wing effort with D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams as its pawn, the Friedman Foundation’s St. Angelo replied:

“The Friedman Foundation believes that all parents should be empowered to choose the very best school for their children, and that the very poor will benefit the most from such freedom of choice. It is disingenuous, therefore, to argue that we do not support more choices for poor students in the District. As Milton Friedman has argued, ‘I have nothing but good things to say about voucher programs, like those in Milwaukee and Cleveland, that are limited to a small number of low-income participants.’

“More insidious, however, is the attempt by Mr. Neas to try and paint Mayor Williams with the right-wing brush. Frankly, if Mr. Neas truly cared about the plight of poor students in the District, then he would do everything he could to back a mayor who is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that his students have access to the best possible schools, whether those schools are public, charter or private.”

Ford, of D.C. Parents for School Choice, responded as follows:

“Regarding the spate of letters about Washington’s proposed school voucher plan. … When segregationist politicians blocked schoolhouse doors in Alabama more than 40 years ago, their decision to rob poor children of a quality education was a cruel act of racism. Today, some African-American leaders, Capitol Hill lawmakers and union officials are blocking schoolhouse doors once again. … The District parents in my organization believe the time has long passed to help hundreds of D.C. schoolchildren who are stuck in underperforming schools. …

“Senator Landrieu [an opponent of the proposal] was thoroughly embarrassed in July when the child of a D.C. parent asked her what school her own children attended and she admitted it was Georgetown Day, an elite private school. She further insulted parents by telling them that a school choice program could not help them get their children into Georgetown Day since tuition was too expensive. …

“We can no longer stand by while a few politicians condemn our children to a life of lost opportunities and unfulfilled dreams. The politicians must step away from the door, and let our children go.”
Wall Street Journal
August 14, 2003
August 20, 2003

“Change Cannot Occur Rapidly Enough …”

“Despite steady reform, change cannot occur rapidly enough to provide relief to all public schools. As elected leaders, we cannot tell parents who yearn for an opportunity for their children to delay the same fulfillment we can provide our own children. This is especially so when we have extra assets in our midst: openings in non-public schools. Obviously, the issue of whether federal funds should be allocated to private schools is enormously difficult, but it is an issue that has been settled by the Supreme Court”
— DC Mayor Anthony A. Williams, DC Council Member Kevin P. Chavous, and DC School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz
Washington Post
September 3, 2003


Tax Credit Scholarships Come Under Fire

The accountability of private schools receiving voucher money through Florida’s corporate tax credit scholarship program is continuing to receive intense scrutiny. Earlier this year, it was revealed the Islamic Academy of Florida in Tampa had ties with a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. As a result, the school was removed from participation in the scholarship program. According to Education Commissioner Jim Horne, that response exemplified how the program was accountable.

“While we were fairly confident that the dollars were only used to educate students … we collectively made the decision to take children out of harm’s way,” Horne told the Sarasota Herald Tribune. “To taint the whole program because of that one incident is unfair.”

However, Horne pointed out parental accountability injects the most critical form of accountability into the program: “It’s a powerful accountability measure,” he told El Nuevo Herald in July. “A free marketplace type of accountability made us the most powerful nation on the planet.”

Voucher advocate Tina Dupree of Florida Child suggested parents had a very straightforward measure of accountability: “If your child can read, write, spell and do math, then we know that school has been accountable,” she told the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

Horne launched a statewide series of forums in early August that featured panels of pro- and anti-voucher speakers. At the Miami forum, parents extolled the merits of their newly chosen private schools to the Miami Herald.

“The results are phenomenal,” said parent Renford Williams, whose daughter attends Redemptive Life in Miami.

The Herald reported the Miami meeting turned raucous when Democrat Representative Dan Gelber commandeered the microphone and accused the state of losing control of the voucher program. Horne responded there “are rules in place,” and said the administrators of the program go above and beyond state requirements for accountability.

John Kirtley, chairman of Florida PRIDE, responded to further criticism that the corporate tax credit program hides corporate donor identities and lacks oversight.

“The law requires annual financial and compliance audits, which our fund has already submitted to the Auditor General,” Kirtley told El Nuevo Herald. “Not a penny of tax-credited funds can be used for administration or fund-raising. The income of every family has been documented every year to safeguard the integrity of the program.”

He noted “scholarships are given to parents, not schools,” and 95 percent of the 400 participating schools used a “nationally recognized test such as the Stanford-9 or the Iowa Basic Skills. Parents use test scores and their own knowledge of their children to judge academic progress.”
Sarasota Herald Tribune
August 2, 2003
Miami Herald
August 2, 2003
August 4, 2003
El Nuevo Herald
July 31, 2003
August 4, 2003


Speaking “the Truth” in Chicago

In the midst of a decidedly anti-voucher event, an AFL-CIO forum in Chicago, Democratic Presidential hopeful Joseph Lieberman articulated his stance on school choice. He announced he would support a pilot voucher program in the District of Columbia, a statement that brought a strong negative reaction from the audience.

“I’m going to speak the truth,” Lieberman responded to the hissing and booing crowd. “I’m going to say what I think about what’s best for America.”
August 7, 2003


DC Group Attacks Landrieu on Vouchers

In early September, D.C. Parents for School Choice ran a full-page ad in the New Orleans Times-Picayune criticizing Senator Mary Landrieu’s hypocrisy on the issue of school vouchers. Landrieu had supported vouchers in the past but had turned negative on the D.C. scholarship proposal.

“We always felt that Mary Landrieu was a good friend for parents in D.C. and cared about our children, which made her vote such a terrible disappointment,” Virginia Walden Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, told the Associated Press.

The ad featured a picture of a District school child, with the caption: “My mom wants you to know that Sen. Mary Landrieu doesn’t want me to go to the same school where her children go.”

Landrieu was quoted by the AP as saying: “We need the right kind of scholarship program or none at all.” The Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Fred Skelton defended Landrieu, saying she was only supporting her constituents. However, polling in Louisiana last spring showed significant support for vouchers in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. (See “Louisiana: Foster Offers Voucher Plan,” Friedman Report School Choice Roundup, School Reform News, May 2003.)
The Lafayette Advertiser
September 3, 2003


Public School Choice Continues to Grow

Three times more Michigan residents opted for public school choice in 2001 than in 1997, according to a report from The Heritage Foundation.

Inter-district school choice in Michigan was enacted in 1996 and expanded in 1999. The Heritage study showed 26,000 Michigan students were enrolled outside of their home districts, the Holland Sentinel reported recently.

The Holland Public Schools, a popular choice for parents, have benefitted from public school choice by gaining students. That gain compensates for the hundreds of students the Holland public schools have lost to charter schools. Although neighboring districts have agreements not to market in the other’s area, the state legislature intended the program to spur improvement through competition.

In the absence of direct advertising, features that drive school choice decisions are word-of-mouth, familiarity, and tradition. “My son graduated from there, I graduated from there, we wanted [our daughter] to graduate from [that] school,” reasoned one parent.

Senate Education Committee Chair Wayne Kuipers (R-Holland) questions why marketing is considered a bad idea. “Each district should make its case. Why is that different from any other enterprise? When you’re one enterprise, you have to market yourself,” he told the Holland Sentinel.
Holland Sentinel
August 8, 2003


Poll Shows Strong Support for School Vouchers

A recent poll commissioned by local school choice advocates shows 66 percent of New Jersey families support vouchers. The poll was conducted on behalf of Excellent Education for Everyone (E3) by the Eagleton Institute of Politics Center for Public Interest Polling.

Respondents were asked, “Would you vote for or against a system of giving parents the option of using government-funded school vouchers to pay for tuition at the public, private or religious school of their choice?”

Sixty-one percent of Democrats, 68 percent of Independents, and 76 percent of Republicans said they would vote in favor of vouchers.

Support for vouchers was substantial across a wide range of income brackets, with favorable responses received from 70 percent of respondents making less than $50,000 a year and by 64 percent of respondents making $50,000-$100,000 a year. Minorities in New Jersey’s urban centers were especially supportive. Seventy-five percent of urban responders–72 percent of whom live in state’s special needs, or Abbott, districts–said they would vote for vouchers.
Excellent Education for Everyone
June 6 2003