State Education Roundup

Published June 1, 2001


Challenge to Scholarship Program Rejected

On April 24, the Florida Supreme Court declined to review the decision of the First District Court of Appeals in the legal challenge to the Florida Opportunity Scholarship Program, which allows students in persistently failing schools to use a publicly funded voucher to transfer to a secular or religious private school.

The appeals court had held it is permissible for the state to use public funds for student tuition in private schools. The Florida Supreme Court vote not to review the decision was 4-1, with two justices not participating for unknown reasons.

The case now returns to Leon County Circuit Court for consideration of other issues, including whether the Florida Opportunity Scholarship Program violates the First Amendment, the state religious establishment provision, and the state constitutional mandate of a uniform and high-quality public education, A lengthy discovery period is anticipated before the case goes to trial.
Institute for Justice
April 26, 2001

More School Choices for Floridians

Two new school choice programs for Florida families appear likely to be signed into law later this year by Governor Jeb Bush.

On April 12, the Florida Senate voted 25-14 to approve CS-HB271, a $50 million plan to give corporations a dollar-for-dollar credit for their donations to nonprofit scholarship organizations that would use the funds to offer $3,500 a year scholarships to children in low-income families. Companies could divert up to 75 percent of their state income tax liability to these organizations, but they would not be permitted to select which children receive scholarships. In March, House legislators passed the bill with scholarships of $4,000, but a reconciled version is almost certain to become law.

Senate President John McKay (R-Bradenton) also recently pushed a bill through the Senate that would allow any disabled student to attend private school if his or her parents are dissatisfied with the child’s public school. The bill also removes caps on the number of students allowed to transfer under a current law that has resulted in nearly 1,000 students switching to private schools. McKay’s bill is now in the House, where it was approved out of committee in late April.

The Florida Education Association warned of skyrocketing voucher costs if more parents took advantage of the program, but the publisher of the Florida Times-Union pointed out that “in reality, there would be no new costs–just a change in where the money would be spent.”
Sun-Sentinel — April 13, 2001
Florida Times-Union — April 26, 2001


Appellate Court Upholds Tuition Tax Credit

On April 4, a three-judge panel of the Appellate Court of Illinois for the Fifth Judicial District unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the Illinois educational expenses tax credit law, affirming a December 1999 ruling by Judge Loren P. Lewis of the Franklin County Circuit Court, which also found the tax credit to be fully constitutional.

Although the constitutionality of the Illinois tax credit law is under attack in two separate lawsuits, all four courts and eight judges that have looked at the law to date have concluded it is constitutional.

In this case, the Illinois Federation of Teachers had argued that the law, which provides a credit against state income taxes for 25 percent of tuition, book fees, or lab fees incurred by K-12 students at public or private schools up to a maximum of $500 per family, violated two provisions of the Illinois Constitution, dealing with the establishment of religion. The appellate court, however, emphatically rejected that argument.

The opinion written by Justice Philip J. Rarick emphasized two key points. First, the court concluded “[t]he credit at issue here does not involve any appropriation or use of public funds.” Rather, the court pointed out the credit “allows Illinois parents to keep more of their own money to spend on the education of their children as they see fit.”

And second, the court concluded the credit did not have the primary effect of advancing religion because it is “equally available to all parents of public or nonpublic school children” and “[f]unds become available to schools only as the result of private choices made by individual parents.”
Institute for Justice
April 4, 2001

For more information . . .

Court Ruling #5-99-0829 is available on the Illinois Court System Web site at under Opinions for the Fifth District Appellate Court.


Hoosier State Forges Strong Charter Bill

On May 2, Indiana joined 37 other states that support charter schools when Democrat Governor Frank O’Bannon signed into law SB165, authored by Senator Teresa Lubbers (R-30), a long-time advocate of charter schools.

The law, seven years in the making, is ranked the seventh strongest in the country by the Center for Education Reform. It does not limit the number of charter schools in the state; it allows state universities, school boards, and the mayor of Indianapolis to authorize charter schools; and teachers in charter schools do not have to participate in collective bargaining. All per-pupil funds follow the child to the charter school, with the exception of capital expenses, which stay with the district from which the student leaves.

The provision allowing the mayor of Indianapolis to authorize charter schools is the first of its kind in the country. The mayor, currently Democrat Bart Peterson, is allowed to authorize five charters per year and to bank the number of charters not authorized in any given year for later use. Many mayors want this power but state legislators have been reluctant to grant them the authority.
Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation
May 3, 2001


Glendening Wins Funds for Private Schools

Although charter schools did not win approval in Maryland’s 90-day General Assembly session that adjourned on April 9, Democrat Governor Parris B. Glendening did win his hard-fought battle to secure a $5 million budget item to help buy textbooks for secular and religious private schools.
The Friedman Report
April 2001


Poll: Money Grab Behind Schools Takeover

In 1996, only one-third of Detroit high school freshmen graduated four years later, and less than one in ten graduates was able to read at grade level. Tests conducted just before the 1999 state takeover revealed that a scant 6 percent of high school juniors in the Detroit Public Schools met state standards in reading, writing, mathematics, and science. And a Detroit News investigation in 1999 concluded, “Incompetence, mismanagement and cronyism by Detroit school officials, employees and contractors, and a system with inadequate safeguards, have devastated a $1.5 billion school construction project” approved by voters in 1994.

Yet a March poll of Detroit residents conducted by EPIC/ERA found that only one-third of respondents say the state takeover was necessary for the city’s school system to improve. More than half of the respondents, 51 percent, say the takeover was simply a money grab by Lansing lawmakers and their suburban supporters to gain control of $1.5 billion in school bond money–even though state lawmakers have no say over how this money is spent.
Detroit Free Press, April 3, 2001
Detroit News, October 3, 1999


House Passes Voucher Bill

On April 5, House lawmakers in New Hampshire voted 182-173 in favor of a voucher bill that would help low-income parents get their children out of low-scoring schools and send them to private non-religious schools or to public schools in other communities. The help would come in the form of a voucher worth between 20 and 80 percent of their children’s state education aid grant.

“It’s an attempt to provide assistance in the most needy cases,” Representative Russell Cox (R-New Castle) told Fosters. But critics said there was a lack of private schools and that the voucher might not provide enough money for the poorest families.
Foster’s Daily Democrat
April 5, 2001


More School Choice Options Proposed

In April, Ohio Republicans proposed several bills that would expand school choice options for Ohio families:

Vouchers in more cities: Senator Bryan Williams (R-Akron) said he would introduce a bill to expand vouchers beyond Cleveland to 35 additional districts where schools have the lowest districtwide scores on state proficiency tests.

Higher voucher value: Under a proposal from Representative James Trakas (R-Independence) and Senator Ronald Amstutz (R-Wooster), the voucher value would be more than doubled by setting it at the minimum aid amount for public school students.

Private vouchers: Williams told The Beacon Journal there also would be a proposal for an income tax credit of up to $1,000 for donations to organizations that provide scholarships for children to attend private schools.
The Beacon Journal
April 4, 2001


College Vouchers Proposed for High School Students

Senator Avel Gordly (D-Portland) has teamed up with Associated Oregon Industries, a business lobbying group, to push Senate Bill 783, a measure that would allow high school juniors and seniors to take college classes with the tuition covered by their high school. Gordly and the business group do not regard their proposal as a voucher; they say it’s about “expanding options” for high school students and could keep some from dropping out of school.

Critics disagree. “The bill as it stands is a voucher and we’re opposed to it,” Oregon School Employees Association lobbyist Tricia Smith told the Statesman Journal. “We’re opposed to taking public money and sending it to private religious institutions.”

John Marshall, lobbyist for the Oregon School Boards Association, agreed, saying “any time when a student can make a unilateral decision to leave the public school system and take the money that comes to the public school . . . that’s a voucher.”
Statesman Journal
April 10, 2001


House Passes Tax Credit Bill

On a voice vote, the South Carolina House approved HB3172, a bill providing tax credits for donations to private organizations that award private tuition scholarships. The bill is pending in the Senate.
A Voice for Choice
April 20, 2001


Declining Teacher Morale Linked to Student Behavior

A survey of Texas teachers published late last year found more than 61 percent of teachers in public schools, and only 36 percent of teachers in private schools, believed teacher morale was becoming worse.

When asked to select the main teacher morale problem at their school, only 14.4 percent of public school teachers cited “insufficient financial compensation,” while 40 percent picked “student attitudes and behaviors” and 31 percent picked “treatment by administrators.” Less than 6 percent cited “lack of parental support.” For teachers in private schools, the numbers citing these same three factors were 29, 33, 23, and 3 percent respectively.

While one-third of private school teachers (35 percent) stated the trend of their school discipline programs was improving, one-third of public school teachers (35 percent) saw their school discipline programs worsening. Less than 11 percent of private school teachers saw student conflict increasing, compared to almost 30 percent of public school teachers.

“The survey supports the conclusion that the environments our public school teachers work in have important deficiencies,” said John Pisciotta, author of the study and associate professor of economics at Baylor University. “The results show that increases in salaries and benefits will not solve the shortage of teachers in Texas,” he continued, noting the main responsibility for improving school environments lay with local school districts and communities.

The study, “Teacher Attitudes in Texas Public and Private High Schools,” was published by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and is available at
Texas Public Policy Foundation
December 2000


Leavitt Signs Paycheck Protection into Law

In March, Governor Mike Leavitt signed into law the “Voluntary Contributions Act,” which restricts public employee labor unions from using the taxpayer funded payroll system to collect funds for use by political action committees (PAC). In the future, government union PACs would have to collect political action funds from their members by personal checks. The bill, House Bill 179, was authored by Representative Chad Bennion. Support for the measure was 42-33 in the House and 17-12 in the Senate.

The Utah Education Association had warned Leavitt to veto the bill or face an expensive constitutional battle. However, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff expressed confidence that HB 179 is defensible in court and that his office will vigorously defend the bill.
The Sutherland Institute
March 21, 2001


New Governor Pushes School Choice

Wisconsin Governor Scott McCallum’s first state budget demonstrated his support of the Milwaukee school choice program by proposing an increase in funding from $49 million for 9,638 students to $68 million for 11,850 students. McCallum also proposed two changes that would expand eligibility for the program:

  • aligning the voucher program with the federal free or reduced price lunch program, which would increase the income limits from 175 percent of the poverty level to 185 percent; and
  • permitting children to stay in the program even if their family income rises above the 185 percent limit.

Choice schools also could opt to give the state standardized tests under another McCallum proposal.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 27, 2001

Union-Backed Candidates Make Gains

Two years ago, all five candidates for the Milwaukee School Board who were backed by the Milwaukee teacher union were defeated. On April 3 this year, the union backed four candidates and all four won, including incumbents Charlene Hardin, a frequent board critic, and Lawrence O’Neil, an independent.

The biggest upset was the defeat of board president Bruce Thompson by Jennifer Morales, director of two education research centers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Peter Blewett, assistant coordinator of the creative writing program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, also defeated an incumbent. Both Morales and Blewett oppose the city’s voucher program.

In the race for state school superintendent, Madison West High School principal Elizabeth Burmaster, who was strongly backed by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, defeated Hortonville English teacher Linda Cross by a 60-40 margin. Cross raised less than $55,000 for the race compared to Burmaster’s $321,000, which was supplemented by independent WEAC ad spending of at least $276,000 on her behalf.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
April 3-4, 2001