School choice proponents in Kansas won a major victory when State Budget Director Gloria Timmer conceded that State Representative Kay O’Connor’s statewide voucher proposal would save millions of tax dollars in the first year and would require no additional taxpayer funding in the program’s five succeeding years.
Timmer’s concession is a milestone for the voucher movement as it provides an official response to a key argument used against vouchers: that they would “siphon” or “drain” tax dollars from the public school system to reward parents who have already made the decision to send their children to private or religious schools.
“Opponents will now be forced to contend with school choice on its merits,” declared O’Connor, who is also executive director of Parents in Control. “Legislators will no longer be able to hide behind false claims of fiscal responsibility when they side with teacher union bureaucrats instead of the many parents, students, and classroom teachers who support school choice.”
Carefully crafted five years ago, O’Connor’s parental choice bill was specifically designed so that it would not require the state to produce additional funds to cover the cost of using tax dollars for tuition at private or parochial schools. But until now, state budget officials have repeatedly hampered impartial consideration of school choice in Kansas by advising legislators that the voucher program would represent a major new state expenditure.
Material presented to the Fiscal Oversight Committee shows that the program would produce first-year savings of nearly $2.2 million, assuming that only 1,050 students use vouchers. The projections show a net cost of zero to the state in the next five years of the program, with the assumed number of voucher students almost tripling over that time period.
O’Connor questioned the low estimate of 1,050 voucher students used in the first-year projection. Her bill would permit up to 45,000 students to transfer out in the first year of the program. Also, she noted that a 1994 survey had shown 114,000 students were eligible for vouchers and more than 70,000 were interested in leaving their present public school.
Although requests for transfer to private schools would be constrained initially by the fact that only 4,500 seats are currently available in those schools, O’Connor anticipates the creation of much more capacity once the program starts up. But her bill also permits the vouchers to be used at public schools, providing an incentive for good public schools to compete with less-successful schools to attract students and receive more tax dollars.
“This design puts at risk only those schools where parents are unhappy,” explained O’Connor. “Good schools have nothing to fear from this legislation. It’s a win-win situation for everyone–more dollars for good schools, less money for poor schools, and parents get to choose where their children are educated.”
PIC Director’s Corner
We are honored that Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform has joined our advisory board, and that Florida State Representative Steve Wise has become a director of PIC. Also, we’re delighted to report that Robin Israel, our new Office Manager-Secretary-Girl Friday, has taken control of our growing mailing list, with volunteer Joe Botsko filling in wherever needed. Advisory board member John McDonough will keep PIC abreast of relevant news.
Already we have had several inquiries from individuals who want to start a PIC chapter or join one. We expect our first chapter to be up and running soon. To use PIC’s efforts most efficiently, the Board of Director unanimously decided that PIC not only should apply for its 501c(4) status, but also form a PIC Foundation as a 501c(3), and a PIC PAC. Our CPA will advise the next steps.
My primer on school choice, School Choice 101, should be ready for distribution by the summer; we also hope to have a PIC Web site up and running by then. To contact PIC by email, use [email protected].
Merger Would Produce Union Behemoth
If members endorse a proposed merger of America’s two leading teacher unions, the combined organization would become the largest U.S. labor group ever, with 3.2 million members. That possibility became more likely as the presidents of the two unions reached conceptual agreement on a merger in January. Union delegates will vote on the proposal at their annual conventions this summer.
The New Organization, as the merged unions are being called for now, would integrate the 2.3 million members of the National Education Association and the 950,000 members of the American Federation of Teachers. It would also be an affiliate of the AFL-CIO labor coalition.
Education employees will be the core constituency of the New Organization, which “will be rooted in the commitment to improving the well-being of members and the communities they serve,” according to the proposed merger document issued by union leaders in January. “Today, public education . . . is being challenged as never before,” the document asserts.
It is these “challenges”–the call for vouchers and growing concern over low test scores–that appear to be driving the two unions together. In recent published interviews, the presidents of both unions cited “assaults” on public education as the primary reason to merge.
“There are a lot of folks out there united to undermine public schools,” NEA president Bob Chase told Education Week‘s Ann Bradley. AFT president Sandra Feldman said, “We want to save public education and improve it. We really feel this is going to be good for public schools.”