January 2005 Friedman Report: School Choice Roundup

Published January 1, 2005

California * Colorado * New Mexico * New York * Texas
Utah * Virginia


California Test Scores Influence Real Estate Market

California’s Academic Performance Index (API) allows home buyers and real estate agents to identify homes that are not only in the best school districts, but also close to the best schools in those districts. As a result, even slight variations in API score can have a dramatic effect on home prices, according to a recent article in the San Jose Mercury News.

For example, a real estate agent told Mercury News reporter Dana Hull that the same home in the Fremont Union High School District could vary in price from $780,000 to $1 million depending on which high school attendance area it was in.

The API, updated annually, ranks all of the state’s public schools based on how well students in each school perform on standardized tests. Although the state wants all schools to score above 800, many home buyers set higher targets for the school their child attends. When Aparna Seethepalli and her husband were looking for a new house recently, they looked for homes near schools with a score of at least 920. They have two young children.

“Education is very important to us, and API scores were the best measure for us to say ‘This is a good school,'” Seethepalli told the Mercury News.

Realtors are aware of this growing trend. Jack O’Connell, a former teacher and the state superintendent of public instruction, told the Mercury News, “Realtors ask questions about API that are as technical as any questions I get from local superintendents.”
San Jose Mercury News
October 29, 2004


Cyberschool Enrollment Up in Colorado

Many Colorado K-12 students are taking advantage of alternatives to traditional education. According to the Denver Post, Colorado will spend $23.9 million on cyberschool education this year, up from just $1.08 million in 2000-01.

Over the past five years, the number of students attending online or virtual schools in the state has risen dramatically, from just 166 in the 2000-01 school year to 4,237 this year. The state’s largest online school, the Colorado Virtual Academy, has more than 2,000 students. The second largest online school in the state, Branson Alternative, has 940 students.

According to Troy Mayfield, district superintendent in the Branson Reorganized 82 School District, the needs of nontraditional students are being met by these cyberschools. Nontraditional students include children who have been expelled, children who are bullied, teen mothers, and children whose parents don’t want them in regular schools.

“You can’t make anything a ‘one size fits all,'” Mayfield told the Denver Post.

In 2000, Branson’s enrollment had fallen so low there were concerns it would be shut down, but online enrollment revived the district. The 940 online students far exceed the 46 students who attend the traditional school in the district.

On the other hand, Rick Monte, superintendent of the Briggsdale School District, lost 12 percent of his budget when several students in his district opted for online schooling. He told the Denver Post the increase in cyberschool attendance was a challenge for traditional schools to “do better.”
Denver Post
November 9, 2004


New Mexico Group Discusses Education

The Albuquerque Partnership recently conducted a brainstorming session at its seventh annual Community Education Forum and Fair to come up with ideas for improving education, particularly for low-income and minority children. Participants included parents, teachers, school administrators, policy makers, and other leaders in the community. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish (D) was a keynote speaker at the event.

The aim of the brainstorming was to develop a consensus on which issues to pursue in New Mexico’s January 2005 legislative session, according to Moises Venegas, executive director of The Albuquerque Partnership. The Albuquerque Tribune reported tax credits, expanding school choice options, and parental involvement were among the issues discussed.

Four local schools presented their success stories at the fair. Two, Lowell and Whittier elementary schools, once had student performance that was ranked among the poorest in the state. For the past two years, the schools have delivered improved test scores.
Albuquerque Tribune
November 12, 2004


Chancellor Admits Problems with New York City Schools

Parents in New York City have been complaining for months that a confusing new high school selection process was forcing their children to attend poor schools. But in a November 18 speech to City Council members, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein defended the Education Department’s school selection process and said the city’s high schools themselves were the problem since most parents didn’t want their children to go to them.

“Most of our students and parents do not want to go to a large majority of our high schools,” Klein said, according to the Daily News. He went so far as to characterize some of the high schools as “dumping grounds” for improperly educated students.

Klein explained that 86 percent of the city’s 316 schools were not “highly sought after,” which means few students selected them for attendance this year. For example, with a capacity for 2,246 students, South Shore High School in Brooklyn received applications from only 68 students. By contrast, Cardozo High School in Queens had only 1,000 seats available but received applications from 3,889 students.

“Unless we get serious about creating new choices … this is not a choice program. It’s a lip-service program,” Klein said, according to the Daily News.
New York Daily News
November 19, 2004


Texas Report Calls for Education Finance Reform

A recent report drafted by the Governor’s Business Council has given Texas leaders renewed hope for renovating the state’s education finance system in the next legislative session. Gov. Rick Perry (R) called the report “promising.”

Titled “From Good to Great: The Next Phase in Improving Texas Public Schools,” the report outlines the failures of the current school system and proposes possible solutions. Failures include poorly performing schools, high dropout rates, and high school graduates who are unprepared for college. Proposals include school vouchers, increased funding for charter schools, and merit-based teacher pay.

Business leaders are reluctant to spend more tax dollars on public education without plans also to improve the public schools, according to Charles Miller, a businessman from Houston who helped produce the report.

“What we need to do is make it [public education] better,” he told the Houston Chronicle.
Houston Chronicle
November 18, 2004


Tuition Tax Credits Boosted in Utah

Two Utah lawmakers are working on separate bills that would offer tax credits for private school tuition.

Rep. Jim Ferrin (R-Orem) is working on a bill similar to one he introduced in the past legislative session. That measure provided a tax credit worth up to $2,000 for half of the cost of private school tuition.

The plan offered by Rep. Steve Mascaro (R-West Jordan) would establish a seven-year pilot program for tax credits and reimburse public schools for any lost revenues. Private schools would be required to meet accountability standards similar to those established for public schools.

“I see this as another way to address educational funding problems,” Mascaro told the Deseret Morning News. “To me, you’ve got to test it. I don’t know how else we’re going to be able to look the public in the eye and tell whether it’s good.”

The two lawmakers plan to meet to see if they might be able to combine their ideas and together present one bill for school choice.

In the meantime, a new study of tax credits by a politically neutral group provides support for tax credits, showing they would save the state money. The study was conducted at the state’s request by researchers from Utah State University and Southern Utah University.

According to the study, savings of as much as $1.3 billion could be achieved over the next 14 years if as few as 15,000 students used tuition tax credits. According to study coauthor Roberta Herzberg, a professor at USU, tax credits are a “well-justified policy.

“We do need to come to grips with the cost of education,” said Herzberg, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. “Benefits include parental empowerment [in terms of school choice]. There would be savings under most circumstances. Doing nothing is not an option.”
Deseret Morning News
November 12, 2004
Salt Lake Tribune
November 10, 2004


School Choice Catching on in Virginia

Five years ago, Edward L. Kelly, superintendent of Virginia’s Prince William County School District, instituted specialty programs in different high schools and allowed students to transfer to out-of-boundary schools. This year, 3,209 district students took advantage of the transfer policy, up from 2,484 last year.

Specialties offered by different county schools include programs that focus on the arts, math and science, computer technology, and foreign languages. These are provided as additions to the standard curriculum. All of the programs are offered to students on a space-available basis, with no screening test for enrollment. Seats are awarded by lottery.

“We’ve gone past the point where you can say everybody’s got to get the same education,” Kelly told the Washington Post. “It’s almost to the point where high schools are small universities.”

The Porter School is the county’s newest elementary school and it offers yet another choice to parents: A school with a restrictive dress code for students and a volunteer work requirement not only for students but also for parents. Principal Darci Whitehead told the Washington Post there are waiting lists in every grade except fifth, and she continues to receive calls from interested parents. Washington Post
November 14, 2004