11/2003 Friedman Report: School Choice Roundup

Published November 1, 2003

Arizona * Colorado * District of Columbia * Florida
Montana * New Jersey * Utah * Wisconsin


U.S. Supreme Court to Review Tax Credit Case

In an unexpected move, the U.S. Supreme Court has granted review in the Arizona tax credit case. A decision is expected by June 2004.

Opponents of Arizona’s 1997 income tax credit law didn’t give up fighting the law when they lost in the state courts with the Arizona Supreme Court’s 1999 ruling in Kotterman v. Killian. Instead, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which objects to the tax credit being applied towards tuition at a religious school, filed a follow-up suit on First Amendment grounds in federal court. The credits total about $28 million a year.

Arizona filed a motion to dismiss the case under the Tax Injunction Act, which forbids lawsuits challenging taxes in federal court if they can be challenged in state court. Since the issue already had been challenged in tax court, the district court dismissed the ACLU lawsuit, but that decision was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Earlier this year, the Ninth Circuit Court rejected arguments from Arizona that the federal courts have no authority in state tax matters, and decided federal judges have jurisdiction to declare a state tax statute unconstitutional. Some 25 states and Guam have joined the case to support Arizona’s view that this is a state jurisdictional matter.

“The Ninth Circuit is notorious for its disgraceful and repeated usurpation and total disregard for the law as it is written,” U.S. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Arizona) told the Arizona Republic. Franks was instrumental in creating the tax credit program and believes the U.S. Supreme Court “will overturn this Ninth Circuit recklessness.”
Institute for Justice
October 1, 2003

Arizona Republic
October 2, 2003


More than 300 Private Schools Apply

By an October 1 deadline, at least 340 private schools had applied to participate in Colorado’s new voucher program, which is being implemented in 11 school districts in the state. The Denver Public Schools (DPS) saw the largest number of applications–81–with Aurora Public Schools receiving 55 and Northglenn-Thornton receiving 43. On October 2, Denver school board members approved the first two applications and will review the other 79 in early November.

DPS superintendent Jerry Wartgow won praise from the editors of The Rocky Mountain News for how much he had managed to achieve in his first two years on the job. In particular, they noted how he and the school board had embraced the idea of meeting public demand for quality neighborhood schools and school choice.

“Under Wartgow,” the editors wrote approvingly, “… there’s been no more whining from the Denver district about vouchers. The superintendent’s attitude is straightforward and sensible: If the district does a good job in creating first-rate neighborhood schools, it’ll have nothing to fear from private-school competition.”

School choice also was embraced by all eight candidates vying for one of four open seats on the Poudre School District Board of Education at a candidate forum in early October. Although vouchers received a mixed response, candidate Perry Lorenz said they are a natural extension of school choice and would be helpful in relieving overcrowding in public schools.
Rocky Mountain News
October 2-3, 2003

The Coloradoan
October 2, 2003


Teacher Union Chief Supports Universal Vouchers

During a recent interview with Washington Monthly writer Siobhan Gorman, National Education Association President Reg Weaver was criticizing President George W. Bush’s voucher plan for Washington, DC on the grounds it would help only a limited number of students.

Since she regarded that argument as rather perverse–i.e., if vouchers can’t help everyone, no one should get them–Gorman called Weaver’s bluff and asked if he would support vouchers if every student in the District of Columbia had access to one.

“If they would give [all] 67,000 students a voucher, yeah,” was Weaver’s startling reply.
Washington Monthly
September 2003


Judge Asked to Halt Voucher Program

The use of Florida’s voucher law should be halted because the state isn’t complying with the conditions established in August 2002 by Circuit Judge Kevin Davey, argued a lawyer for voucher opponents in a motion filed on October 1.

Davey had ruled last year that the 1999 law violated the state constitution by spending tax dollars on religious institutions. However, he said the program could continue if the state set aside funds to reimburse the public schools from which students transferred to private schools.

During the first three years of the program, only a few students at two Pensacola schools were eligible for vouchers. In 2002, the number jumped to about 9,000 and further increased to 13,700 this year. However, only 631 of the eligible students actually use vouchers. Although the state set aside $2.5 million in 2002, and added another $350,000 to the fund this year to bring the total up to $2.8 million, attorney Ronald Meyer argues the state should set aside $2.8 million this year in addition to the $2.5 million last year.

The state Department of Education believes its interpretation of Davey’s condition is correct, according to department spokesperson Frances Marine.
Naples Daily News
October 2, 2003


“Why Do Some Families Want Vouchers?”

When Eric Feaver, president of Montana’s largest teacher union, penned a guest editorial in The Billings Gazette to urge the state’s Congressional delegation to reject the voucher plan for Washington, DC, he argued not only that voucher schools had ongoing problems with waste, fraud, and abuse of public funds but also that voucher schools cherry-picked their students, didn’t have to meet a range of state regulations, weren’t required to have quality teachers, and at best were “not significantly competitive with public schools.”

That was too much for Billings resident Danielle Emery, who responded with what the newspaper called an “erudite rebuttal.” For Feaver to imply that private schools provide a poor quality education is “breathtakingly disingenuous,” wrote Emery.

“Around here,” she continued, “‘voucher schools’ go by other names–Billings Catholic Schools, Trinity Lutheran School, Billings Educational Academy and Billings Christian School. It’s hard to believe that Central [Catholic] High School is inferior when over 90 percent of its graduates are college-bound. In addition, there is a very strong network of home educators both here and nationwide, and those kids win the spelling bees, geography bees and science fairs in disproportionate numbers.”

The real problem, argued Emery, is “Why do some families want vouchers? Parents want accountability and responsiveness from all educational systems. In private schools, they get what they want or they vote with their feet … Baseless attacks on the quality of private education will not help address the problems facing public education.”
The Billings Gazette
September 2, 2003
September 7, 2003


Camden Again Calls for Vouchers

The Camden City Council voted 5-1 on September 11 to ask the state of New Jersey to allow children eligible for transfers under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act to transfer to a public school outside the district or to a private school. Last year, the council unanimously passed a resolution asking the governor and legislature to make a school voucher program available to families with children in the city’s public schools. (See “Camden Is First to Call for Vouchers,” School Reform News, September 2002.)

Students at 13 Camden schools are eligible to transfer to other schools because the schools failed to meet NCLB standards. Students at three Camden schools designated as “persistently dangerous” also are eligible to transfer out. But students at East Camden Middle School–which is designated both failing and dangerous–are out of luck because all four other middle schools in the district are failing, too.

“We need to try something else, because we can’t lose our children,” Camden resident Lonnie Hicks told the Courier-Post.

But Camden Education Association President Claraliene Gordon opposed the voucher program, saying those who support such a move just want children to abandon the public schools in Camden.

“There are no dangerous schools in Camden,” insisted the teacher union president. “The schools in Camden are the safest habitat for the kids.”

According to the Courier-Post, the district reported 1,269 violent incidents in 2001-02 and is “the largest, poorest and most violent school district in New Jersey.” A few days after the council’s vote, the newspaper’s editors endorsed the voucher proposal, saying parents shouldn’t be asked over and over again to wait until Camden slowly improved.

“If their children can get a good education in another school or district, they should be allowed to do so,” declared the Courier-Post editors.
Camden Courier-Post
September 12, 2003
September 15, 2003


Tax Credits Proposed to Cope with Enrollment Boom

With Utah’s school enrollment expected to swell by an estimated 100,000 students over the next decade and overwhelm the state’s tax base, state Rep. Jim Ferrin (R-Orem) recently offered a proposal for relieving some of the pressure that would place on public schools: Provide an income tax credit for parents whose children are enrolled in private schools. Ferrin plans to sponsor a tax credit bill in the 2004 legislative session.

“Tax credits are the cheapest way to finance the education of students,” Ferrin told The Salt Lake Tribune in September.

Since it’s likely the value of a tax credit would be set at less than the value of the state funding per pupil–currently $2,132–a child educated in a private school using a credit would cost the state less than having the child educated in a public school. However, opponents claim tax credits and vouchers take public funds away from public schools.

A few days after Ferrin’s announcement, Salt Lake City lawyer Maxwell A. Miller noted he had made a similar proposal to then-Governor Norm Bangerter and a legislative committee 15 years earlier when he was in the Utah attorney general’s office. To address the education crisis the state would face, he had argued for “empowering the opt outs” with a voucher or tax credit and thus reducing the costs to public schools.

“My proposal went over like a lead turkey,” he said, and “the crisis is here, staring us in the face.”
Salt Lake Tribune
September 25, 2003
September 28, 2003


Assembly Approves Voucher Program Expansion

On October 1, the Wisconsin State Assembly approved a school choice bill to make three major changes to the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which enables children from low-income families in Milwaukee to attend private schools with a state-funded voucher paying for tuition. The changes would:

  • Dispense with the participation cap, which currently limits the number of voucher students to 15 percent of the enrollment in the Milwaukee Public Schools, or about 15,000 students;
  • Permit students to remain in the program even if their family income increases above the maximum allowed for initial enrollment;
  • Allow private schools outside the City of Milwaukee and in Milwaukee County to participate in the program.

If the bill is also approved by the Senate, it will go to Gov. Jim Doyle for signature. Doyle vetoed a voucher expansion plan that was part of a budget package sent to him in the Spring, saying he would rather see the voucher proposals as separate bills. Now that lawmakers have done so, Doyle told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “Now is not the time to be expanding choice.”

A choice-related bill that will soon be on the governor’s desk is a plan approved by both Assembly and Senate to conduct a long-term evaluation of Milwaukee’s voucher program, using standardized test data, graduation rates, and other indicators of academic achievement. Although the analysis would be designed and conducted by the state’s Legislative Audit Bureau, the project would be privately funded.

It is not clear if Doyle will sign the bill, since he dislikes a provision that allows choice schools to opt out of the testing.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
October 1-2 , 2003