March 2005 Friedman Report: School Choice Roundup

Published March 1, 2005

Colorado * Florida * Iowa
South Carolina * Utah


More Colorado Students Exercising Right to Choose

During the 2003-04 school year, nearly 36,000 Colorado students attended classes outside their own school district. According to the Rocky Mountain News, that number is the peak of a 55 percent increase over the past three years, and it represents almost 5 percent of all Colorado school children.

Giving parents the right to choose among districts began in 1990 with a three-district pilot program. In 1994, a law was passed that stopped public schools from charging tuition to students from other districts. Today, any student can enroll in any public school in the state, without a fee. The only restrictions are space and transportation, which the students must provide for themselves.

“The whole concept of choice has evolved,” George Straface, superintendent of Adams County School District 50 in Westminster, told the Rocky Mountain News. He thinks choice will continue to grow. “We live in a competitive world. It’s different than it was 10 years ago.”
Rocky Mountain News
January 3, 2005

Colorado Governor Vows He Won’t Retreat

When Colorado Gov. Bill Owens (R) gave his State of the State address in January, he vowed not to retreat on important issues.

The Democrats control both houses of the Colorado legislature for the first time in 42 years. Owens assured his constituents he would work with the Democrats, but he said he also wants to make sure current programs stay in place. Among those programs are public school vouchers and charter schools.

Owens asked the legislature to build a Colorado Achievement Scholarship program. The program would be designed to help students from low-income families attend college. Parents would be notified by public schools when their children sign up for “fluff courses” that don’t prepare them for college.

Owens said he was encouraged the state economy is getting better, but he said funding for education and other projects has been hurt by fiscal restraints.

“We may come from different political parties, but there are major bonds that unite us,” Owens said. “Each of us comes to work under this dome with the goal of doing what is best for our state.”
Denver 9 News
January 13, 2005


Florida Report Says Private School Accreditation Unnecessary

The Florida State Senate Education Committee issued a new report before the legislature’s spring 2005 session. Among its findings: Mandatory accreditation for private schools that accept vouchers is not necessary.

The report says monitoring of accreditation would require too much state oversight, as there are estimated to be more than 1,000 private schools accepting vouchers in the state. In addition, the report says accreditation does not necessarily guarantee a quality education program.

The report notes making accreditation a requirement could force some private schools out of the voucher program because of financial constraints or the inability to meet accreditation standards.

“Imposing excessive accreditation requirements on participating private schools will likely prevent some schools from participating in the programs and stifle parental choice,” the report says.

According to the Palm Beach Post, just under 25,000 students attended private and religious schools last year through Florida’s three voucher programs–McKay vouchers for disabled students, Opportunity Scholarships for students in failing public schools, and Corporate Tax Credit vouchers for poor students.

The Palm Beach Post also reported that roughly 70 percent of the private schools accepting vouchers say they are already accredited through at least one of the 45 accreditation groups in Florida.
Palm Beach Post
January 12, 2005

Florida Supreme Court to Hear Voucher Case

The Florida Supreme Court is ready to hear a case that challenges the 1999 law giving tax-funded vouchers to students in public schools that earn failing grades two years out of four.

The law has been carried out during the appeals process, which has been going on for the past six years. Approximately 700 students currently attend private schools with the contested vouchers. More than half of those students are enrolled in religious schools.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said he believes the vouchers have helped those students and helped improve the public school system.

Clark Neily, a Washington lawyer with the Institute for Justice, is defending the law before the state supreme court. He said he believes the case has national significance. The key issue, he told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, is discrimination. He argues it is just as wrong to discriminate based on religion as it is to do so based on race.
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
January 16, 2005


Iowa Catholic Conference Ready for New Session

The 2005 legislative session is underway in Iowa, and the Catholic community is hopeful many issues important to them will be up for debate.

In particular, the conference is ready for debate over the Nonpublic School Scholarship Tax Credit bill. The House and Senate both passed the measure last year, but it was vetoed by Gov. Tom Vilsack (D). Budget restraints were given as the main reason for the veto, according to the Catholic Conference.

The conference considers the bill important because of what the organization calls “the injustice toward low-income children in Iowa.” Although the state gives parents the right to choose a school for their child, the conference explains, rising tuition rates in private schools are taking that choice away.
Iowa Catholic Conference E-Newsletter
January 14, 2005


Focusing on School Choice in South Carolina

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s (R) Put Parents in Charge Act will come before the legislature this year, in an effort to give students easier access to private, independent, and religious schools. At the heart of Put Parents in Charge are tuition tax credits that would likely be worth about $3,000 per student.

“If children are not excelling and may need a different education, they could be removed from public education and put in a private school with more attention and values-based education,” Shari Few, co-founder and president of South Carolina Parents Involved in Education, told The State, a South Carolina newspaper.

Denver Merrill, communications director for South Carolinians for Responsible Government, agreed. Merrill told The State choice gives “parents the ultimate decision to send children to the school that best suits their needs.”

According to The State, South Carolina has been targeted by the Legislative Education Action Drive (LEAD), a conservative group that supports tuition tax credits. Eric O’Keefe, president of LEAD, O’Keefe said the current political climate in the state, which is conservative, and its increased spending on public education, make it ripe for reform.

“We’re confident Put Parents in Charge is consistent with the state constitution and the U.S. Constitution,” O’Keefe told The State.

E. Ashley Landess, vice president for public affairs at the South Carolina Policy Council Education Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization located in Columbia, called tuition tax credits “a cleaner way” than vouchers. She told The State, “the tax credit stays in your pocket. It’s your money, out of your pocket and straight to the school.”

The bottom line for retired public school administrator Virginia Stokes is that “parents are looking for a place their children can get a good education in a safe environment.”
The State
January 3, 2005


Changes Made to Utah’s Proposed Tuition Tax Credit

Utah State Rep. Jim Ferrin (R) is making some changes to the tuition tax credit bill he plans to propose this year, in an effort to gain the votes of moderate Republicans and get the bill on the desk of Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. (R).

The changes include adding a “means test” that would give the largest tax credit to the lowest-income family and the smallest credit to a moderate-income family, reported the Salt Lake Tribune. Upper-income families wouldn’t be eligible for the program. No specific values have been set for defining the income groups.

In addition, the private schools that participate in the program would be required to give national standardized tests to students and disclose their teachers’ credentials.

Rep. Steve Mascaro, a moderate Republican, told the Salt Lake Tribune, “Everyone on both sides of the ledger continue to throw rocks at each other, and it’s become apparent to me that the only way you will ever know if tuition tax credits work is if, in fact, it is tested.”
Salt Lake Tribune
January 14, 2005

Education Excellence Utah Conference Takes Up Choice

Education Excellence Utah, a group supporting school choice, hosted a conference in January to gear up for the state’s new legislative session. The conference had several speakers, including state Rep. Jim Ferrin (R), local parent Julie Edholm, and keynote speaker Wisconsin State Rep. Scott Jensen (R).

“Tuition tax credits focus on the child, not the system,” Ferrin told the Ogden Standard Examiner. He said he wants to give parents the right to choose the best education for their children.

Rep. Glenn Donnelson (R) told the Examiner, “As a parent, you pay taxes and have no choice in how your children are educated. We need to take the blinders off and look at the whole thing.”

Edholm told the crowd of more than 100 about her own experience with school choice. She and her husband have six children, and another on the way. Because private schooling is so important to them, they chose to live in an apartment rather than a house so they could afford the school of their choice. The family is finally moving into a house, but Edholm said she would make the same sacrifices again.

Jensen worked for school choice in Milwaukee for several years. He has seen the number of students served by the city’s voucher program jump from 1,500 to nearly 15,000. “School choice was the best vote I cast in my life,” he told the Ogden Standard Examiner.

The Salt Lake Tribune quoted Jensen as telling the audience “the first thing we learned is the market works. … Public schools are better off due to private school choice.”
Ogden Standard Examiner
January 11, 2005
Salt Lake Tribune
January 11, 2005

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