12/2003 Friedman Report: School Choice Roundup

Published December 1, 2003

California * Colorado * Florida
Georgia * Minnesota


Teacher Union Gives Dean Early Endorsement

With eight other Democratic candidates still in the race and the Presidential election still more than a year away, the California Teachers Association (CTA) on October 28 took what CTA president Barbara E. Kerr called a “very rare” move and endorsed Democratic Presidential candidate Howard Dean. The CTA represents 335,000 teachers in California and is a member of the National Education Association, which has 2.7 million members nationwide.

“I don’t remember us ever endorsing in a primary,” Kerr told the San Jose Mercury News. However, Dean shares many of the union’s views on education policy, including its strong opposition to school vouchers.

“Taking public money and putting it into private schools is a big mistake,” Dean declared during a recent fundraising visit to San Jose. “You’re going to get white folks in one school and black folks in another.”
San Jose Mercury News
October 29, 2003


Don’t Restrict Voucher Choices, Says Newspaper

“[P]art of the purpose of voucher schools is to provide an array of choices that are not necessarily embraced by everyone,” the Rocky Mountain News reminded its readers—including school board members—in a recent editorial. The newspaper was responding to the reasons given by a number of Colorado school districts for rejecting the applications of private schools to participate in the state’s new school voucher program.

For example, the Adams School District 50 in Westminster has rejected all schools operated by the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver because of possible limitations on admission of students with special needs. But schools should be judged by the effort they make to accommodate disabilities relative to their size, argued the newspaper. “[I]nability to afford extremely expensive services is not discrimination, and it should not be regarded as grounds for disqualification.” stated the editorial.

The newspaper also pointed out to the Denver and Jefferson County school districts that disapproval of homosexual behavior is not the same as teaching “hatred” of a group, as these districts maintained in rejecting the application of Lakewood’s Silver State Baptist School. The private school’s policy is derived from its religious beliefs.

“We recall that the U.S. Supreme Court said last year that schools could not be excluded from a voucher program on religious grounds as long as they were freely chosen by parents for their children,” noted the newspaper. “In other words, we deplore Silver State Baptist’s policy while defending the school’s right to set it.”
Rocky Mountain News
October 25, 2003

124 Private Schools Apply for Voucher Program

By the October 1 deadline, a total of 442 applications were received from 124 private schools seeking to participate in Colorado’s school voucher plan, which will be implemented in 11 districts in the fall of 2004. With the school choice plan requiring the 11 districts to provide vouchers for up to 1 percent of school enrollment, an estimated 3,323 students could be eligible to use the vouchers. The 124 private schools have 3,424 slots available for new students, according to a Denver Post analysis of voucher school applications.

While some 60 percent of Colorado’s private schools have a religious affiliation, 72 percent of the 124 private schools applying for the voucher program are religiously affiliated. Forty-seven percent are Catholic, 36 percent Christian, and 12 percent Lutheran.
Denver Post
October 28, 2003


Mayor: Failure of Public School System Prompts Calls for Choice

Before the Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) spends another $6 billion in capital expenditures, Surfside Mayor Paul Novack wants to see how the district spent its last $6 billion.

At an ad hoc meeting of Southeast Florida mayors and community leaders on September 15, Novack repeated his call for an independent forensic audit of MDCPS, citing examples of financial mismanagement in the district, defectively built schools, broken promises on building new and renovating old schools, and bureaucratic resistance to change. In his view, calls for charter schools and school vouchers were occurring only because of the failure of the public school system.

“I think what we were saying is that parents and taxpayers are fed up with the status of the school system and we are interested in looking at alternatives,” he told the Sun-Post. His favored alternative is to split the district into three or four smaller districts, with Surfside being part of a nine-city district. He dismissed as “absurd” the concerns of critics who said such a move would defeat integration efforts in South Florida.

“The day you could say that Miami Beach High was all white and rich is over— we’re as diverse as anyone,” he said.

Aventura city commissioner Bob Diamond said his city was in desperate need of additional schools.

“Today, kids in the Caribbean are getting better educations” than in MDCPS, he said, calling the county system “a failure.”
October 30, 2003

Newspaper: Don’t Regulate Tax Credit to Death

Noting that several South Florida newspapers were calling for much more “accountability” for the state’s corporate tax credit scholarship program—i.e., more rules for corporate participants, more regulations for private school participants, and state tests for student participants—the Florida Times-Union took a decidedly different view in an October 1 editorial: “[I]mposing costly, unnecessary regulations on private schools and corporate benefactors would only be an incentive for private schools to give up on the program, which allows corporations a credit for state taxes when they give scholarships to low-income children.”

The editorial pointed out that while some 16,000 low-income children had benefitted from the $50 million program last year, state taxpayers also had been major beneficiaries. The Collins Center estimated savings of $606 million over 10 years, and Florida TaxWatch calculated capital savings of $228 million this year alone.
Florida Times-Union
October 1, 2003


Perdue Proposal Would Rid State of Blaine Amendment

Although Georgia provides a wide range of government-funded services through churches and other religious organizations, its state constitution contains a “Blaine Amendment” prohibiting any “direct or indirect” use of taxpayer money to benefit any “church, sect, cult, or religious denomination.”

To clear up this uncertain legal situation, Governor Sonny Perdue recently proposed to “re-align” the state constitution with federal restrictions by adding the following clarification: “except as permitted or required by the United States Constitution, as amended.”

“I believe if the First Amendment is good enough for the U.S. Constitution, it’s good enough for the Georgia Constitution,” Perdue told a group of North Fulton business leaders on October 7, saying the change was needed so that faith-based institutions could fulfill their missions.

Adoption of a Constitutional amendment would require the approval of two-thirds of both state chambers plus approval by voters in a statewide referendum, which in this case is scheduled for November 2004. While aides to the governor believe the measure can pass the legislature this winter, it is likely to face opposition from teacher groups because it would remove the key remaining legal obstacle to school vouchers.

“If it’s for vouchers, I would be against it,” Senate Minority Leader Michael Meyer Von Bremen (D-Albany) told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
October 8, 2003


Coleman Backs Vouchers for DC

As mayor of St. Paul in 1996, Norm Coleman was the sole elected official standing up in support of an experimental voucher program for the city’s schools. Now, as U.S. Senator for Minnesota, he is supporting the efforts of another mayor, Anthony Williams, to bring an experimental voucher program to his city, Washington, DC.

“I’m not going to push for vouchers for Minnesota kids,” Coleman told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “I’m not going to push for a national program. But I will certainly support the local mayor in his effort to provide greater opportunity for his kids.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
October 13, 2003