School Choice Nuggets

Published July 1, 2000

Starting with this issue, School Reform News will be working with the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation to include news from the Foundation’s new monthly Friedman Report, which provides a state-by-state roundup of school choice developments.

In future issues of School Reform News, news from the Friedman Foundation publication will be integrated into our monthly State Roundup, but to highlight our new relationship, this month’s news from the Friedman Foundation is reported separately.

Voucher Initiative Filed in California

On May 1, a group backed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Tim Draper announced it had submitted 1.15 million signatures to qualify a voucher initiative for placement on this November’s ballot. The requirement is for 670,816 valid signatures. Draper expressed confidence the issue will be on the ballot.

The measure would make all parents of K-12 children eligible for $4,000-a-year vouchers, which they could use to send their children to private or parochial schools.

The California Teachers Association, which spent $16 million to oppose an initiative in 1993 that went down to a 3-1 defeat, vows to defeat Draper’s voucher plan. The NEA affiliate is collecting signatures for an initiative of its own that would require California to spend at least as much per pupil as the national average.

Draper’s initiative is controversial even within the ranks of voucher supporters. Stanford political scientist Terry Moe argues, for example, that vouchers should not be universal at this stage but rather should be carefully targeted to children from low-income homes.

Other reformers, though, believe the benefits of vouchers should accrue to all, not just targeted groups. In New Mexico, Governor Gary Johnson proposes to award all of the state’s 316,000 schoolchildren a $3,500 annual voucher, reasoning that vouchers are “the heart and soul of real educational reform.”

Private School Support in Florida

John Kirtley, a Tampa businessman and Children First CEO America board member, announced he had raised $2 million for private, inner-city schools that agree to accept voucher pupils participating in the state’s A-Plus plan. The schools could use the grants for expansion of facilities, books, computers, or whatever else they needed to get ready to accept the voucher children.

“It’s going to take time and invested capital for private schools to respond and create spaces for students,” Kirtley commented.

Choice Fig-Leaf in Vermont

The Vermont House passed a bill May 4 approving a limited measure of public school choice. Originally introduced in the Senate as S. 203, the bill would initially allow six students per public high school to choose another school in their district. But the state education commissioner could exempt schools if they would suffer supposed hardship from the choice program because of their smallness or financial circumstances.

Libby Sternberg, executive director of Vermonters for Better Education, said some legislators “chose to enact this school choice ‘fig leaf’ to hide from their constituents–during an election year–the naked truth that they have no intention of ever supporting a real school choice program.”

Privatizing Public Schools

With interest growing in privatization because of economic and quality considerations, Vermonters for Better Education has published How to Privatize a Public School in Vermont: A Layman’s Guide. Interest in this subject expanded after residents of the town of Winhall plowed new ground in Vermont in 1998 by instructing their school board to close their local government school and reconfigure it as a private school open to all.

Although Vermont’s school law differs from many other states, the 18-page guidebook may be of wide interest. Vermonters for Better Education can be contacted at 802/773-5240.

Privatization Lawsuit in Baltimore

The Baltimore Teachers Union filed suit April 20 in an attempt to stop the Edison Company from operating three low-performing government schools under contract with the State of Maryland and the city. The state had seized the schools because of their abysmal performance. The union contends the contract diminishes job opportunities for its members.

Vouc-Ed in Chicago

While Illinois legislators have tried in vain to establish voucher programs to expand K-12 choice, The Chicago Tribune reported April 23 that the Chicago schools have been offering their own version of vouchers quietly for the past three years. The vouchers may have evaded controversy because of their vocational nature: High-school students receive public vouchers to attend private or public colleges to take career education classes, as required by the Chicago school system.

Flake Joins Edison

The Rev. Floyd H. Flake, former Democratic Congressman from Queens and a staunch supporter of school choice, is joining Edison Schools as director of its charter schools division. Edison, the largest for-profit school management firm in the U.S., runs under contract 79 public schools enrolling 38,000 students in 16 states. About one-third of those are charter schools. Flake is also a strong proponent of giving parents vouchers enabling them to send their children to private schools.

Support for Charter Schools

The national Charter Schools Development and Performance Institute opened this spring at Central Michigan University. According to the Detroit Free Press, it will offer “one-stop shopping for those starting or running charter schools.” Institute director Mary Kay Shields said the center aims to help charter school organizers live up to their promise of being innovators.