Friedman Report School Choice Roundup

Published May 1, 2005

Arizona * Maine * Maryland * Missouri
New Hampshire * South Carolina * Wisconsin


School Choice Advances in Arizona

The Arizona Senate passed legislation in March that would give tuition grants of up to $4,500 to private school students. As the bill headed to the House, supporters were optimistic, since an identical bill received preliminary approval there earlier in the month.

KVOA Tucson reported the bill would give an annual “parental education choice grant” of $4,500 for high schoolers and $3,500 for students in lower grades. The grant, which also could be used to defray private school costs, would be phased in slowly: In 2006-07, kindergartners, first graders, and high school seniors would be eligible to participate. Students in other grades would become eligible over the following four years.

Supporters told KVOA Tucson the bill would give students more educational options and improve all schools.

Sen. Albert Hale (D-Window Rock) told KVOA Tucson he opposed voucher legislation last year but supported this year’s version because many of his constituents do, and also because it could improve education.

The State Senate also has approved a proposal that would create corporate income tax credits for private school tuition grant donations. The state already has charter schools, an individual income tax credit for private school tuition grant donations, and open enrollment in public schools.
KVOA Tucson
March 14, 2005


Maine’s School Choice Law Challenged

Eight families who began fighting against a choice-restricting Maine law six years ago recently took their challenge to the state’s highest court. An attorney for the families urged the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to overturn the law that stops public funds from being used for religious school tuition.

Maine has a school choice program for its rural areas, allowing towns that don’t have high schools to give tuition vouchers to their students. Those vouchers are good for any other public or nonreligious private high school. The eight families involved in the lawsuit chose religious schools for their children, and therefore receive no support from their towns–a situation they say is unfair.

Richard Komer, the lawyer representing the families, told the Portland Press Herald, “of the 600 or so families (in the towns), approximately 590 can go to any school they want. Only the ones who chose a religious school are left out.”

Anderson v. the Town of Durham is the third lawsuit in the past 10 years to challenge Maine’s school choice program. Komer told the Portland Press Herald that until 1980, the state’s tuition vouchers included payments for religious schools, but then-Attorney General Richard Cohen deemed the provision unconstitutional.

Komer and his clients are hoping the court will reverse that opinion, saying the issue is one of choice, not religion. No timetable has been set for the court’s decision.
Portland Press Herald
March 25, 2005


Study Recommends Baltimore Vouchers

A recent study indicates the city of Baltimore could save $30 million over the next 10 years by implementing a school voucher program for low-income students to attend private schools.

The study, conducted by the Maryland Public Policy Institute and the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation, outlined a way to gradually build up a voucher program in Baltimore. “Baltimore City’s public school system is in crisis,” Christopher B. Summers, president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, told the Baltimore Business Journal. “These students need the opportunity to choose a system that works for them and an environment they can thrive in.”

The report recommends giving vouchers worth $7,000 per student to families with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty line. A thousand new vouchers would become available each year for the next decade and would be awarded through a lottery. The study notes the $7,000 is less costly than the $9,000 public schools currently spend on each student annually.

Dan Lips, the study’s lead author, is a senior fellow of education policy studies at the Maryland Public Policy Institute and a former education policy researcher at the Cato Institute.
Baltimore Business Journal
March 22, 2005


Privately Funded Vouchers Considered in Missouri

Missouri students may get some help from a bill that would allow them to receive privately funded scholarships to move to a private or better-performing public school. The scholarships would be awarded by nonprofit groups who would receive donations from businesses and individuals.

The legislation has the support of suburban Republicans and urban Democrats, according to the Kansas City Star. The paper notes many people who oppose traditional vouchers support this plan because it is privately funded.

To be eligible for the scholarships, students would have to be enrolled in, or have dropped out of, an unaccredited or provisionally accredited public school district. Sponsors say more than 10,000 students may qualify. In addition, the scholarships would be need-based, following the financial guidelines of the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. Scholarships also would be made available to children with disabilities.

The businesses and individuals who donate to the scholarship funds would receive up to $40 million in tax credits from the state to account for 85 percent of their contributions. Missouri would benefit by paying less money to public school districts whose students choose to go elsewhere.

The Kansas City Star reports the maximum scholarship would be $6,500, while the average scholarship would be $3,800. Those numbers would be adjusted for inflation in coming years.
Kansas City Star
March 9, 2005

New Hampshire

New Hampshire Senate Says “Yes” to Vouchers

The New Hampshire State Senate passed legislation on March 24 to create a voucher system that would permit students to attend religious and secular private schools.

At press time, the bill was moving to the Senate Finance Committee, where financial details and feasibility were to be determined. Sen. Carl Johnson (R-Meredith) told colleagues he sponsored the bill to give needy children equal opportunity for private education, according to Foster’s Daily Democrat.

“Unfortunately, access to private schools is based more on the financial means of a child and not the child’s ability,” Johnson said. “Children of modest family incomes deserve the same opportunities as children of wealthy families.”

Before working out the bill’s financial details, legislators agreed to provide 1,200 vouchers for first graders in the first year of the program, then make vouchers available for up to 16,000 first through eighth graders over the next eight years.
Foster’s Daily Democrat
March 25, 2005


South Carolina Choice Supporters Reach Out to Black Pastors

As the debate over a tuition tax credit bill continues in South Carolina, supporters met with a group of black pastors to find common ground and discuss shared goals.

The Put Parents in Charge Act, which was being debated by a House subcommittee at press time, has drawn attention from both supporters and detractors in the state legislature. The bill would give parents with a taxable income of less than $75,000 a tax credit to pay for homeschooling their children or sending them to a private school or a different public school of their choice.

South Carolinians for Responsible Government is the main backer of the bill, according to the newspaper The State. An affiliated group, Clergy for Educational Options (CEO), hosted the meeting between legislators and about 30 black pastors to discuss Put Parents in Charge and other ways to improve South Carolina schools.

The Rev. Richard L. Davis, a Midlands pastor and leader of CEO, told The State, “The bill has created a climate to talk about educational options. The goal is to make sure African-American kids get the best education to compete the best they can in the world market.”

Opponents say the bill also would benefit white and middle-income parents, but supporters says the program is designed for parents who can’t afford private school tuition, particularly black parents.
The State
March 17, 2005


Milwaukee Receives Record Number of Applications

Milwaukee has received more applications than ever from private schools interested in participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, according to the Department of Public Instruction. The department received 171 applications, some from existing schools and others from new schools that will open in the fall.

The increased interest by private schools does not necessarily mean there will be a high number of participating voucher schools come September. Some will be rejected by the Department of Public Instruction, while others may change their mind about participating before the new school year opens. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 154 applications were filed last year, but just 117 of those schools participated in the program this school year.

The choice program current enrolls 15,035 students. School choice advocates have been rallying, testifying, and organizing in an effort to have the enrollment cap lifted this year.

If the cap is lifted, the Department of Public Instruction expects an increase in both school and student participants. Tony Evers, the department’s deputy superintendent, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “I don’t think having more schools in the program makes the discussion more complicated. It’s already a complicated discussion.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 10, 2005

Sarah Faulkner ([email protected]) is an adjunct fellow with the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation.