November 2004 Friedman Report: School Choice Roundup

Published November 1, 2004


Colorado * Florida * Georgia * Illinois * Maryland
New Mexico * Utah * Wisconsin


Colorado Teacher Union Offers College Credit for Political Support

A Colorado teacher union local, the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA), offered its members one semester hour of college credit at Adams State College in Alamosa if they would participate in a political rally on October 9 and help distribute literature for union-endorsed political candidates and issues, according to Pam Benigno, director of the Education Policy Center at the Golden-based Independence Institute.

Peggy Lamm, chairperson of the Adams State College Board of Trustees, said no such agreement had been made. She confirmed the union’s offer to its members but told Benigno the college had never responded to the union’s request.

“Adams State College never approved credit for this event, nor did we intend to,” said Lamm.

Benigno learned of the alleged plan from the husband of a Jefferson County teacher. He said a JCEA representative had left a phone message soliciting his wife’s participation in the October 9 event.

“It’s inappropriate, to say the least, that a teachers’ union would offer academic credit as a way to entice teachers to promote the union’s political agenda–and in the process cheapen the value of academic credit,” said Benigno.
Independence Institute
October 1, 2004


Delayed Payments Test Florida’s Scholarship Schools

A delay in the delivery of scholarship checks from the state Department of Education (DOE) had many private school teachers and administrators in Lee County, which includes Fort Myers, scrambling to cover their budgets in early September.

According to DOE officials, the recent barrage of hurricanes and accountability measures were responsible for the delay. Before checks are mailed, DOE is required to verify with schools that students are not dual-enrolled in scholarship programs. With schools closed because of the hurricanes, verification was delayed beyond the normal payment date of September 1. As a result, some teachers aren’t getting paid and some administrators are using their own money to pay bills.

“We want to make sure there’s accountability in the system,” DOE spokesman MacKay Jimeson told the Ft. Myers News Press. “Obviously, this is a challenging situation for everyone in the state.”

In December 2003, an audit of state scholarship programs found some private schools were receiving checks for students who didn’t attend the schools. In addition, some students were receiving scholarships from more than one program. In the case of the McKay Scholarships for disabled students, payments can be as much as $17,000 a year.

While some schools–particularly larger schools, those with foundation backing, and those with few McKay Scholars–were able to ride out the delayed payments without much difficulty, many smaller schools did not have much flexibility. For example, Susan Hansen’s school in Fort Myers, the Denicole Private School, receives about 20 percent of its revenue through the McKay program.

“We’re on a very strict budget here and it does impact us,” Hansen told the Ft. Myers News Press. “I’m having to use my personal credit card for certain things.”

Robyn Rennick, president of the Coalition of McKay Scholarship Schools, plans to work with DOE officials to ensure schools don’t experience such delays in the future.
Ft. Myers News Press
September 16, 2004

Charters Absorb Most Student Growth in Broward

Unlike previous years, there wasn’t much growth in this year’s K-12 student enrollment in Broward County–just 1,352 students, or 0.5 percent. Official figures released on September 21 showed total enrollment at 272,691, up from 271,339 in the 2003-04 school year. Broward’s traditional public schools didn’t see much of that increase, because most of it went to the county’s charter schools.

In the current school year, 13,561 students attend Broward’s 27 charter schools, up from 5,776 students in 2000-01. Another 18 charter school applications are on tap, according to county charter school coordinator Betsy Donate. If present enrollment trends continue, traditional public schools could see a smaller student count in three to four years.

Charter schools are easing crowding problems throughout Florida, according to Jay P. Greene, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute’s Education Research Office in Davie, Florida.

“Surprisingly, the average school enrollment size in Florida has been declining, not increasing, and that’s because of charters,” Greene told the Miami Herald. “Whatever their academic merits are, they are a huge pressure-relief valve.”
Miami Herald
September 21, 2004


Georgia Program Shows All Students Benefit from Vouchers

When vouchers spur competition among public and private education providers, it benefits the quality of education for all students, regardless of race or family income, according to a study by two Georgia State University researchers.

The researchers, Gary Henry and Craig Gordon of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, say their work provides some of the strongest non-ideological evidence to show that school vouchers are effective and do work.

Henry told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he had been asked by state policy-makers about proof that vouchers work, and in the past had told them they should be “ruthlessly empirical” and not to consider vouchers in the absence of evidence.

“Up to this point, I didn’t feel we have much evidence to support it,” he told the Journal-Constitution. “Now, I think the pendulum may be swinging.”

Henry and Gordon examined the state’s 11-year-old pre-K program, which is essentially a preschool voucher program. It provides lottery-derived funds for parents to choose a preschool classroom for their four-year-olds from among 3,152 classrooms across the state. Some 46 percent of the classrooms are offered by for-profit firms, 42 percent by public schools, and about 12 percent by non-profit groups.

The researchers compared the performance of pre-K students in areas where there was no competition–i.e., where pre-K classes were offered only by public schools–with the performance of pre-K students in areas where there was competition among public, for-profit, and non-profit providers. Henry and Gordon found that students in areas without competition were outperformed by students in areas with competition, regardless of which provider was selected–for-profit, public, or non-profit.

The report will be published in the next few months.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
September 9, 2004


New Chicago Charters Shortchanged on Funding

After initially supporting Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s plan to create about 65 new charter and contract schools as part of his 100-school Renaissance 2010 public school reform initiative, potential charter and contract school operators reacted with dismay on September 27 when they saw the reduced amount of discretionary funding the plan was allocating to participants.

According to state school report data, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) spent about $8,500 per student last year, although the district’s current $4.8 billion budget puts total spending at about $11,000 per student. The Renaissance 2010 plan provides just $5,500 per elementary school student and $6,500 per high school student.

An unanticipated aspect of the reform plan was the announcement that these base amounts would be reduced by a $425 per-pupil deduction for CPS building rental and another $750 or $1,000 per student for elementary or high school building maintenance fees. This would leave elementary schools with just $4,325 per pupil and high schools with just $5,075 per pupil.

“It’s unworkable,” Perspectives Charter School Chairman Rod Joslin told the Chicago Tribune. “There are a lot of people who are mad about this.”
Chicago Tribune
September 28, 2004

FY2004 Chicago Public Schools Budget


Maryland Lt. Gov. Calls for More School Choice

Shortly after its creation on September 27 by executive order of Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), the Governor’s Commission on Quality Education was launched by Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R). Declaring classroom choices must go beyond traditional public schools, Steele called for expanding and strengthening the state’s new charter school law to offer more choices for students.

However, Steele noted the Ehrlich administration will not be promoting school vouchers, even though the governor supported vouchers as a member of Congress.

“It’s not something I’m pushing or the governor is pushing,” Steele told The Baltimore Sun. “Maryland is not ready.”

The commission drew immediate criticism from the Maryland State Teacher’s Association (MSTA) for not having a teacher union representative appointed to the panel, even though two commission appointees are MSTA members. Steele said he did not want to go through the traditional educational establishment.

“This commission will study Maryland’s system through the eyes of children,” he told the Sun. “Not unions. Not administrators. Not curriculum writers.”

One of the commission’s first tasks will be to ensure that new money allocated to education under a 2002 law–amounting to an additional $1.3 billion a year by 2008–is spent wisely. Steele pointed some school districts underperformed even though they had money, while other school districts performed at very high levels even though they didn’t have much money.

“I am looking to this group to develop an agenda for Maryland, a true agenda, for how we educate our children,” Ehrlich told the commission, noting that money was just one component in the delivery of a quality education.
The Baltimore Sun
September 28, 2004


New Gifts Will Fund 400 Scholarships in New Mexico

In August, Educate New Mexico (ENM) received three grants totaling $774,000 to provide tuition scholarships in the 2004-2005 school year. Two of the gifts–one from the Children’s Scholarship Fund for $704,000 and one from The Stranahan Foundation for $10,000–are matching grants that require ENM to secure matching funds locally. The third gift is a $60,000 grant from the Daniels Fund.

The recent donations will allow ENM to provide school choice to more than 400 students during the 2004-05 school year. These students will attend more than 100 independent schools across the state. ENM scholarships, awarded by lottery, are valued at $1,000 per student for grades K-6 and $1,500 per student for grades 7-12.

For four years, ENM donors have provided 622 scholarships to children, allowing them to attend the school selected by their parents. More than 6,000 qualified students from family applicants are on the ENM lottery waiting list.

Educate New Mexico’s mission is to help New Mexico families of modest income exercise their right to a quality education by promoting parental choice and providing financial assistance.
Educate New Mexico
August 26, 2004
August 30, 2004


Tax Credit Supporters Active in Utah Elections

Tuition tax credit advocates in Utah have outspent the state’s largest teacher union by nearly 60 percent in support of candidates who share their views, according to state political action committee reports.

Between January and September 15, the Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) PAC spent $170,260 compared to $106,500 spent by the Utah Education Association (UEA) PAC. However, the UEA PAC has $422,000 left to spend, compared to just $17,250 available to the PCE PAC.

“We can never match the UEA in dollars, but we feel our message is more compelling and draws more support among the general populace,” PCE Executive Director Elisa Clements Peterson told the Deseret Morning News.

Because a large portion of PCE PAC’s donations come from out-of-state, the UEA maintains the PCE PAC does not represent the interests of Utahns. Peterson disagrees.

“Polling that we’ve done and others have done indicate that Utahns very much want choice … a movement that is sweeping across the nation,” she told the Deseret Morning News. “It’s not an outside special-interest group; it’s a shared interest in putting the control of children’s education in the hands of parents where it belongs.”

According to a Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll, GOP gubernatorial nominee Jon Huntsman Jr., who supports helping parents of disabled children with vouchers to attend private schools, has a 10 point lead over Democratic candidate Scott Matheson, who does not support tuition tax credits. Deseret Morning News
September 26, 2004


Milwaukee Voucher Students Have Higher Graduation Rates

Graduation rates for Milwaukee students who use vouchers to attend private schools are higher than the graduation rates of students who attend the city’s public schools, according to a new study by Manhattan Institute researcher Jay P. Greene, a leading national authority on high school graduation rates.

In addition, the study showed voucher students have higher graduation rates than students in Milwaukee’s selective public high schools, where students are likely to be more advantaged than the choice students, since vouchers are available only to children from low-income families.

The findings of the study, sponsored by School Choice Wisconsin, show the following graduation rates for the graduating class of 2003:

  • a 64 percent graduation rate for Milwaukee students who used vouchers to attend private high schools;
  • a 36 percent combined graduation rate among students who attended the 37 Milwaukee public high schools for which data are available; and
  • a 41 percent combined graduation rate among students who attended Milwaukee’s six academically selective public high schools.

The fact that students in the choice program graduate at a much higher rate than do students at Milwaukee’s selective high schools suggests “differences in student background are unlikely to account for the superior achievement of voucher students,” said Greene.

Greene obtained similar results when he used an alternative method of calculating graduation rates, which tends to confirm the accuracy and reliability of the study’s results. The main method used by Greene was to compare the number of students enrolled in ninth grade in the fall of 1999 to the number of students awarded regular high school diplomas in the spring of 2003. This method of calculating graduation rates is widely accepted by education researchers.

“These graduation-rate results are consistent with earlier random-assignment research in Milwaukee and other cities showing that students experience significant academic benefits from being able to attend a private school with a voucher,” concluded Greene. “Confirming earlier research may not silence critics of Milwaukee’s school choice program, but it ought to reassure other observers of the program that it does produce substantial benefits.”
“Graduation Rates for Choice and Public School Students in Milwaukee”
Jay P. Greene
Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
September 28, 2004