December 2004 Friedman Report: School Choice Roundup

Published December 1, 2004

A Word on Competition and Testing

“You hear all of the arguments about how demeaning [quantified testing] is to schools, teachers and takes away from classroom learning. I’m an engineer. I don’t know how to solve a problem unless you measure what you’re trying to solve. … I’m a big fan of testing and I’m a big fan of quantitative measures.

“I’m a big fan of competition. Competition is charter schools or private schools. I don’t think the K-12 public school system is capable of reforming itself in a required period of time unless it has some form of competition.” Craig Barrett, Intel CEO
San Francisco Chronicle interview
September 26, 2004

The Education Industry

Although there still is relatively little competition in the K-12 education industry, two companies–Edison Schools and National Heritage Academies–have emerged over the past decade as leaders in providing educational services outside of the traditional public school model.

Almost Twice as Many Students Expected at Edison Schools

Working with school districts and charter school boards, Edison Schools has grown each year since it first began operating schools in 1995. This year’s growth is especially significant, as the company expects to serve more than 250,000 students in 157 schools in 20 states plus the District of Columbia–almost double the 132,000 students served by Edison divisions in the 2003-04 school year.

“Edison is one of the founders of our industry, and its strong growth and diversification this year is evidence of our industry’s momentum, its potential–and most of all, the extraordinary benefits it brings to children across this nation,” said Steve Pines, president of the Education Industry Association.

Over the past decade, Edison Schools has made R&D investments in excess of $40 million to create a school design and support system that together help drive student achievement, according to Edison President Chris Cerf. Edison’s partner schools are achieving academic gains more quickly and more consistently than comparable schools, he added, noting Edison is helping improve the achievement in schools rated “in need of improvement” by the No Child Left Behind Act.

“The men and women of Edison are proud of our business success,” said Edison founder and CEO Chris Whittle, “but what we are passionate about is the student achievement that we have been able to help our clients achieve.”
Edison Schools News Release
September 20, 2004

Rapid Growth Continues for National Heritage Academies

For the fourth year in a row, charter school operator National Heritage Academies (NHA) has been named one of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies by Inc. magazine, which publishes an annual list of the country’s top 500 entrepreneurial growth leaders. Less than 3 percent of the companies that have appeared in the Inc. 500 list over the past 22 years have made the list four or more times.

Since three-quarters of new jobs in the U.S. economy are created by small businesses, the Inc. 500 list provides an early indicator of which companies and industries are pushing the economy forward. Microsoft, Oracle, Intuit, and Domino’s Pizza all appeared on the list before they became industry giants.

“Despite NHA’s rapid growth, our commitment remains unchanged from nine years ago when we were an 11-person company operating a single school with 174 students: to challenge children to achieve their greatest potential,” said NHA President Peter Ruppert. “This recognition is an endorsement that our model of a rigorous curriculum combined with a strong moral focus program and commitment to parental involvement is working.”

Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, NHA serves nearly 27,000 students in 51 public charter schools that the company operates in Indiana, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio. Despite increasing their enrollment by 29 percent over the past year, NHA schools had a waiting list of 6,300 students at the start of the 2004-05 school year. According to a recent independent survey conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide, 96 percent of all NHA parents are satisfied with the education their children are receiving.

The company’s aim is to create up to 200 of the highest quality schools in the country.
National Heritage Academies News Release
October 25, 2004

School Choice Roundup

Connecticut * Florida * Michigan * New York * South Carolina *


Connecticut Town Schedules Hearing on Vouchers

At the urging of former school board chairman David LaPointe, a public hearing was scheduled for November 10 to allow citizens of the Town of Winchester to ask questions and voice their opinions regarding the possibility of implementing a voucher plan for the town’s high school students. Most Winchester-area students attend The Gilbert School, a “quasi-private high school” that acts as the local public school through a contract with the school board.

LaPointe has proposed that Winchester students be allowed to apply to other area high schools as well. He contends a voucher system is viable and would give parents a choice in educating their children.

In researching school voucher programs, board member Joseph Cadrain found the nearby Town of Hartland already administers a school choice program of the kind proposed by LaPointe. Fellow board member Scott Goodell suggested someone from the Hartland Board of Education attend the November 10 meeting.

“In looking at the voucher systems, I didn’t find anything, anywhere, except in the Hartland policy, that could any way work in the Town of Winchester,” Cadrain told the Register Citizen.
Winsted Register Citizen
October 13, 2004


Boca Raton Voucher School in Compliance

After questions were raised about whether voucher payments for disabled students were being made to a Boca Raton school the voucher students might not attend, the Florida Department of Education suspended payments to the school. Payments were recently restored to the private school, the Academic High School, Inc., when a state investigation found the school in compliance with all state laws.

The suspension of payments was prompted by gaps in student attendance records, where it appeared students may not have been in attendance. Therese Klebacha, director of the Education Department’s school choice office, told the Palm Beach Post she found no reason to continue suspending the voucher payments. She suggested, however, the school adopt a daily record-keeping format for improved tracking of individual student attendance.

“We’ve received the necessary information from the school and determined the school is in compliance,” Florida Department of Education spokesperson MacKay Jimeson told the Post.
Palm Beach Post
October 14, 2004


Michigan School Employees Get Choice Option

Over the summer, the Michigan state legislature approved a measure giving public school employees an unusually powerful school choice option for their own children’s education. Public school employees are allowed to enroll their children in the school district where they work and have the per-pupil state funding follow their child to the chosen school–whether the child’s home district likes it or not.

“I think the school board is receptive to this,” Ken Siver, spokesman for the Southfield school district, said in an interview with the Detroit News. “It’s an employee benefit, like in the sense that health insurance is a benefit.”

Richard Kruse, spokesman for the Romulus district, agreed, saying he thought it was a great benefit. “The biggest dilemma a teacher always has is the balance between the school family and the personal family, and this allows them to blend those two things,” he told the Detroit News.

Some people think giving special treatment to the children of school employees is unfair. Rose Bogaert of the Wayne County Taxpayers Association told the Detroit News she was concerned about the number of students who could enter the district.

“The volume would be significant if a lot of teachers chose to take advantage of that,” she said, raising questions about the possibility of having to add more classrooms.
Detroit News
September 26, 2004

DeVos Stand on School Choice Prompts Call for Boycott

Betsy DeVos is chairwoman of the state Republican Party in Michigan and a strong advocate of school vouchers, leading a ballot campaign for vouchers in 2000. She’s also the daughter-in-law of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos.

Some school board members in Macomb County put those pieces of information together recently and decided a boycott of Amway was called for in response to DeVos’s stand, which her critics regard as hostile to public education.

The Warren Consolidated School Board in Macomb County passed a resolution in early October urging the Michigan Association of School Boards not to hold conferences at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids. A similar resolution was approved by the Chippewa Valley School Board.

A similar boycott urged by school boards in 2000 failed, according to Justin King, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan Association of School Boards. He said the new initiative is likely to fail, too.

“It was opposed by our members from the western side of the state,” he told the Detroit News. “They like the convenience of the Amway Grand, and there are no suitable alternatives [in the Grand Rapids area].”

The Warren Consolidated resolution complains Amway officials and the corporation itself give “substantial financial support to private schools”–and none to public schools–with funds that come, in part, from the operating profits of the Grand Rapids hotel.
Detroit News
October 10, 2004


New York City Prohibits NCLB Student Transfers

Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), students who attend schools that are not meeting state standards have the choice of transferring to a better school. In New York City, some 1,600 high schoolers chose the transfer option last year.

This year, 67 high schools are not meeting state standards–but no students will be allowed to transfer out. That’s because of an agreement struck between the city department of education and its state counterpart.

“Stick with your lousy school, that’s the message they’re sending,” Eva Moskowitz, chairwoman of the City Council’s Education Committee, told the New York Post.

According to Deputy Schools Chancellor Laverne Srinivasan, freshmen and sophomore students were offered “school choice” earlier when they went through the admissions process and were given the opportunity to list 12 schools they would like to attend.
New York Post
October 15, 2004


South Carolina Governor Offers Tax Credit Plan

In early October, Gov. Mark Sanford (R) outlined a five-point plan he calls his “Contract for Change.” A major element of the plan is to broaden school choice options for parents through tuition tax credit scholarships, an idea he first introduced last year under the title, “Put Parents in Charge.” Supporters hope the plan will advance in the legislature’s 2005 session.

The tuition tax credit’s prospects could be enhanced by a proposal to change the rules of the state Senate, a new item in the governor’s contract. Sanford blames the current rules for stopping his school choice bill and other important measures in the last Senate session. Senate President Pro Tem Glen McConnell (R-Charleston), who has led an effort to change the rules, said he would support Sanford’s proposal.

“This is an opportunity for what I call positive advancement,” McConnell told the Charleston Post and Courier. “These rules were once based on courtesy; now they are based on opportunity.”

The measure Sanford proposed last year would have allowed families making less than $75,000 a year to receive a credit on property or income taxes for expenses they incurred in educating their children at a non-public school, including a home school, or for the cost of transferring their child to another school district.

“‘Put Parents in Charge’ is a reasonable reform that will place more direct control in the hands of parents and the community,” Tom Swatzel, president of South Carolinians for Responsible Government, told The State in a written statement.

Opponents of Sanford’s tax credit plan claim it will take money away from public schools in what they call “a voucher in disguise.” A campaign to gather 100,000 signatures against the plan is being organized by a coalition of public school teachers, parents, administrators, and school boards.
Charleston Post and Courier
October 13, 2004

The State
October 8, 2004


Milwaukee Voucher Enrollment May Soon Hit Limit

The school voucher program in Milwaukee is thriving–and that is about to create a problem for parents who want their children to participate in it.

Participation in the school choice program is nearing the state-imposed limit of 15,000 students. With an estimated 14,700 students enrolled in the program this year, Deputy State Superintendent Tony Evers expects enrollment to reach the cap next fall. The program provides state-funded tuition vouchers to low-income families who opt to send their children to private schools rather than to the Milwaukee Public Schools.

The state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has proposed a way of determining which students would be allowed to participate once the cap has been reached. The DPI plan would give first preference to current participants and their siblings, and then use a lottery to allocate the balance of seats to remaining applicants. School choice advocates do not agree with proposals to parcel out seats.

“In good faith, I can’t say to you that there’s a system we would support,” Susan Mitchell, president of School Choice Wisconsin, told the Saint Paul Pioneer Press.

As of late October, the Pioneer Press indicated the DPI plan was unlikely to be approved by the state legislature. Even DPI officials were working on the assumption their proposal would not win passage.
Saint Paul Pioneer Press
October 22, 2004