September 2004 Friedman Report: School Choice Roundup

Published September 1, 2004


Competition Just Makes Sense

“The latest in a series of studies affirming school vouchers, by the Manhattan Institute, found this year that vouchers even bolstered public schools in Florida by giving them incentives to improve. Competition just makes sense, which is one reason why both Republican Gov. Bill Owens and Democratic Attorney General Ken Salazar endorsed my voucher bill, which became law in 2003. Meanwhile, a survey conducted this spring by the firm Public Opinion Strategies found a majority of Coloradans approves or strongly approves of our state’s voucher program, which enables economically disadvantaged parents to give their children a private-school education.”
Colorado State Representative Nancy Spence (R-Centennial)
Chairman, House Education Committee
Letter to The Denver Post
July 2004

Making Miami-Dade Schools “Really Competitive”

Reporter Tony Cox: “You know, you’re entering a state where school vouchers have become the rage. A major reason given for your departure from New York was your apparent disagreement with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani on the issue of vouchers. How will you handle that idea in Florida?”

Incoming Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Rudolph “Rudy” Crew: “Well, it’s not a matter of handling the idea of vouchers. Vouchers are in Florida. There is not doubt about that. The difference in that situation in New York was that they were not in New York, and I was being asked to promulgate that idea, and I, frankly, would not, did not, and I don’t believe necessarily that a person who is an advocate for the public school system at the same time should be an advocate for options against the public school system. So I don’t have that problem particularly in Florida. That’s sort of water under the bridge, and my intent right now is to be a force for driving a really high-performing school system so that it is really competitive with any other options that parents would have in the Miami-Dade community.”
The Tavis Smiley Show
National Public Radio
June 8, 2004

“Who Am I Supposed to Believe, You or My Union?”

“Recall that the Opportunity Scholarship pilot program was narrowly focused to provide options for struggling students in poorly performing schools. Participation was limited to students in school districts containing at least eight poorly performing schools, and only to students who were struggling academically and came from low-income families.

“This factually undisputed explanation is necessary to combat the tidal wave of disinformation spread by virulent opponents of vouchers, primarily the teachers union. The day the [Colorado Supreme Court] ruling was announced, a caller to Jon Caldara’s KOA radio program trotted out the tired old argument that vouchers take ‘the cream of the crop’ from local schools.

“When confronted with the fact that this program applies only to poor, struggling students, and invited to ‘read it for yourself,’ the caller retorted, ‘Well, who am I supposed to believe, you or my union?'”
Colorado State Senator Mark Hillman (R-Burlington)
Majority Leader of the Colorado Senate
Rocky Mountain News
July 12, 2004

Voucher Cap Could Hurt

“The voucher program is supposed to boost choice for parents of students now trapped in bad public schools. Yet the cap–now at about 14,800 students–would serve to limit choice. For the first time since the program’s inception, otherwise eligible students would be denied participation. This result alone amounts to a persuasive argument for lifting the cap. …

“The cap also imperils a splendid offshoot of private-school choice: private investment in inner-city school buildings. Less certainty about a school’s enrollment numbers and the lack of expansion of the overall voucher program would likely combine to dampen such expenditures.

“Unfortunately, most Milwaukee Democrats in the Legislature have ill-served their low-income constituents who benefit from school choice. And Gov. Jim Doyle has already twice vetoed bills to raise the cap. In an education package he presented in the last week of the legislative session, however, he showed some wiggle room. He proposed raising the cap from 15 percent of MPS enrollment to 15.5 percent–not enough to head off disaster, but possibly a sign of welcome openness on this issue. Doyle and Milwaukee Democrats ought to be leading the effort to lift substantially or eradicate the cap on enrollment in the voucher program.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
June 21, 2004

District of Columbia * Florida * Maine * New Jersey * Texas
Utah * Wisconsin *



DC Parents Go Shopping for Schools

On June 21 and 22, the families of more than 500 recipients of the District of Columbia’s first tax-funded voucher program swarmed the Thurgood Marshall Center Trust building on 12th Street NW to meet with representatives from 44 of the 50 participating private schools, learn what the different schools have to offer, and begin the application process. The vouchers are worth up to $7,500 per child.

The school fair at the Marshall Center was just one of the steps voucher applicants went through in the quest for better education. Of the initial applicants, a total of 1,249 low-income students were selected by lottery to receive the vouchers. Two hundred of 1,249 students already attend private schools but meet the program’s income guidelines, while the other 1,049 recipients attend public school or will start kindergarten this fall.

For some children, there may be an additional lottery if the school they applied to has more qualified applicants than seats, according to Sally Sachar, president and chief executive of the nonprofit Washington Scholarship Fund, which was selected to run the voucher program. She told the Washington Post she was “absolutely thrilled” with the outcome of the two-day fair.

So was parent Sally Shorter, who signed up her two children for the St. Francis de Sales School on Rhode Island Avenue NE. Without the voucher, she could not afford to pay tuition at the Catholic school.

“It is such a great opportunity,” Shorter told the Washington Post.
Washington Post
June 23, 2004


Voucher Programs Boom in Florida

Despite being ruled unconstitutional by Leon County Judge Kevin Davey two years ago this August, Florida’s Opportunity Scholarship program is still growing and could potentially triple in size this fall to 1,800 students. Davey’s decision was appealed by the state, which put the ruling on hold until the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee issues a decision.

When the judges took the case, they said it “shall be expedited,” but the appeal is now the oldest unresolved case before the court. While the judges have pondered the case, Florida’s voucher programs have grown substantially.

The Opportunity Scholarships program, which provides students in persistently failing public schools the opportunity to use a voucher to transfer to a private school, was created in 1999 as part of Gov. Jeb Bush’s A+ education package. Only 58 Pensacola students took advantage of the program in 1999. By the time Davey issued his ruling in 2002, 435 children were using Opportunity Scholarships. The number of participants grew to about 600 in the 2003-04 school year and the parents of an additional 1,182 students have said they intend to use the vouchers in 2004-05.

In 2000, the Florida legislature created the McKay Scholarship program to allow disabled students to use their special education funds as vouchers at private schools. That program has grown more rapidly than the Opportunity Scholarship program, with 12,396 children currently using McKay vouchers.

In 2001, the Florida legislature created the Corporate Tax Credit program to provide funds for poorer children to attend private schools with tuition paid by vouchers. In 2003-04, the program already had almost as many participants–11,552 children–as the McKay program.
Palm Beach Post
July 16, 2004


Concerns Raised over Future of Tuitioning in Maine

The Maine School Choice Coalition is raising concerns about the future of the state’s century-old tuitioning program, prompted by a proposal from Maine’s Commissioner of Education to impose additional rules and regulations on participating private schools.

Under the tuitioning program, parents in towns without a high school are eligible to use a voucher for their child to attend a non-religious private school or a public school in another town. The public schools are paid their established tuition rate, and private schools are paid either the tuition rate established by the sending town or the state average per-pupil secondary student cost. Sending towns also may choose to pay higher tuition rates to private schools.

On July 9, Maine’s Commissioner of Education, Susan A. Gendron, announced a two-day session would be held in August to develop additional rules for private schools. According to Gendron, the rule-making process would include the following areas:

  • Expulsion and due process rights for students whose private school tuition and other costs are paid with public funds;
  • Certified administrators required for approved private schools;
  • The protocol/procedures by which private schools that enroll publicly funded students will demonstrate to the state Department of Education that they will abide by all state and federal constitutional, statutory, and regulatory provisions related to admission, provision of education, accommodation, special education, discipline, or issuance of a high school diploma.

“[This] could make independent schools, particularly town academies, de facto ‘public schools,'” commented Jay Brennan, associate headmaster for Institutional Advancement at Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine.
Maine School Choice Coalition
July 16, 2004


Parents Rally for School Choice in New Jersey

Kicking off a statewide campaign for school choice with a rally outside City Hall in Camden on June 17, a group of about 50 parents and community leaders demonstrated in support of school vouchers and called for more alternatives to the city’s troubled school system. The 18,000-student district has been under state oversight for the past five years and has poor test scores and a high dropout rate.

With Camden’s three charter schools having limited space, alternatives to the public schools are few for families who cannot afford to send their children to a private school. The group that organized the rally, Newark-based Excellent Education for Everyone, aims to expand parental options in education with school vouchers, education tax credits, and charter schools.

“My kids are trapped in two Camden schools, and I can’t get them out,” parent Ivan Foster told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “This is why I support school choice.”

Although the state had approved a $175 million economic recovery plan for Camden, the Rev. Reginald Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, said the plan wouldn’t succeed unless Camden’s schools improved.

“Citizens are not coming to a city where the citizens don’t have an education,” he said.

A month later, on July 13, City Hall was the site of another gathering of about 40 parents and children testifying before a city council committee charged with investigating violence, truancy, and dropouts in the city’s public schools. Parents complained about violence in the schools, unresponsive administrators, graduates who were unable to read, and unsatisfactory treatment of special education students. Some parents said they kept their children out of school because of attacks on them.
Philadelphia Inquirer
June 18, 2004
Camden Courier-Post
July 15, 2004


Texas Gov. Perry Reiterates Support for Vouchers

When a special legislative session on Texas public school finance started in April this year, Republican Governor Rick Perry voiced his hope that a school voucher bill would be approved during the session, but none emerged. Perry reiterated his support for school vouchers at the state GOP convention in June, where he told delegates all children deserve school choice.

“Our children deserve the best education possible, whether in a public school, a private school, or in a home school,” Perry said. “For all their talk about being ‘pro-choice,’ the liberals don’t seem to mean it when it comes to the choice in a child’s education.”

Perry argued that children raised in affluent circumstances already have the opportunity to get a good education, and that children growing up in less-privileged circumstances need a similar opportunity.
San Jose Mercury News
June 4, 2004


USU Selected to Study Tuition Tax Credits for Utah

If Utah families could claim tax credits for private school tuition, how would public school funding be affected? Would schools save money or lose money? The Utah legislature allocated $150,000 for a study of this question and in June, the Legislative Management Committee selected Utah State University to provide answers for the upcoming session.

USU won the project over two other national organizations that have previously conducted studies of tax credits but have affiliations with groups that have taken positions on school choice. One applicant, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, analyzed tax credits for the Utah School Boards Association, a group that opposes tuition tax credits. The other applicant, New Hampshire-based PolEcon, completed a study on the fiscal impact of school choice for The Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation.
Salt Lake Tribune
June 16, 2004


Terminating Milwaukee Vouchers Could Boost Taxes by $100 Million

Ending the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP)–as the state teacher union wants to do–could raise property taxes by as much as $100 million a year in school districts outside Milwaukee, according to a June 15 report from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) to Wisconsin Assembly Speaker John Gard (R-Peshtigo).

The LFB report examines the impact of terminating MPCP based on various assumptions abut how many voucher students would transfer to the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). If all MPCP students transferred to MPS, school districts outside Milwaukee would lose up to $100 million in state aid, according to the report. Replacing that aid would require a $100 million property tax increase.

“Wisconsin property taxpayers need to know that ending school choice will have a direct and negative impact on their tax bills,” said Susan Mitchell, president of School Choice Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization that provides information about parental choice programs.

The LFB report contradicts what the state teacher union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), has been telling Badger State voters in a series of mailings, said Mitchell. In those mailings, WEAC claims vouchers and charter schools harm school districts across Wisconsin.

“This new LFB report is more independent evidence that WEAC is simply wrong,” said Mitchell. “Sadly, WEAC knows the truth and still chooses to mislead Wisconsin taxpayers.”
School Choice Wisconsin
June 24, 2004