The Friedman Report: School Choice Roundup

Published August 1, 2002

Cleveland Vouchers Fulfill Two Children’s Different Needs

Eleven-year-old Charlotte Reed is on her way to Harvard. To prepare herself for that self-made dream still seven years away, she completes a grueling five to six hours of eighth-grade-level homework each night, for her fifth-grade classes at Birchwood School, a private school in Cleveland.

“I want my kids to have an edge,” said Charlotte’s mother Bobby Reed. “At the same time, I want to be able to live in the city, where my children will be exposed to real life, to a variety of people, and not to the sterile, unreal atmosphere of the suburbs.”

The Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program allows Bobby, the mother of four children aged newborn to 11, to work in a field she loves, community service, and have flexibility to attend to all her children’s needs. She “lives on a shoestring,” but the program allows her children to attend schools that meet their very different needs.

Eight-year-old Jesse, Bobby’s son, is enrolled at Hanna Perkins School, a private school on the east side of Cleveland that has been successful in addressing Jesse’s learning and emotional handicaps.

“A year ago, he was diagnosed with depression,” said Bobby. “Today, he’s a happy boy and he wants to go to school every day.”

Bobby found it extremely difficult to place Jesse in a good school. She spent several thousand dollars having Jesse tested and many exhausting hours visiting schools, including suburban public schools she assumed would be superior to those in the inner city.

“They just don’t have the programs he needed,” she explained. “The public schools have so many disabled kids, the classes are huge, and this entirely defeats the purpose.”

At Hanna Perkins, the student:teacher ratio is 3:1. Since Jesse has made such tremendous progress at the school, Bobby now is searching for a mainstream first-grade program for him at another school for next year. The trouble is, not many schools will accept him with his history of learning and emotional problems.

“I believe if the [Cleveland Scholarship] program were to expand, many groups out there with great ideas about how to educate special-needs children would open schools,” said Bobby. “And this would lead to the public schools being forced to improve their offerings.”

Meanwhile, Bobby’s two oldest children continue in the scholarship program, enabling her to work for the Community Development Program. Ironically, this means she attends PTA meetings at her local public schools even though she has no children enrolled in the Cleveland Public Schools.

At these meetings, she is distressed at the lack of parental involvement. “There are so many over-worked single parents out there. It’s not that they don’t want to spend quality time with their children. There’s no flexibility in their low-wage jobs and there isn’t enough time in the day.”

She encourages parents she meets at the Community Development Center to apply for vouchers and tutoring grants even though participating private schools have long waiting lists.

With her daughter working hard to prepare herself for the Ivies and her son finally becoming more confident, stable, and ready to learn, Bobby is delighted by the recent ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. Although her children are in non-sectarian schools and would not have been affected by a negative ruling, she still worries for the future of the program.

“The program needs to grow,” she said, “so it can stimulate the growth of good schools.”


Institute for Justice Joins Suit to Advocate Choice

The Institute for Justice’s first state chapter has moved to intervene in a lawsuit that seeks additional tax dollars for the education of low-income children in seven Arizona school districts—districts that already have admitted they are failing to provide an adequate education to these children.

Representing the families of children in two of the seven failing districts, IJ is not looking for additional funds; instead, it simply seeks to allow its clients to use the funds already allocated for their children’s education at a school of their choosing.
Institute for Justice


Bought Legislators Don’t Stay Bought, Complains Union

California Teacher Association President Wayne Johnson made no bones about the expected reciprocity between campaign donations and votes in comments he made to the Sacramento Bee in May.

“I want to know who’s been taking our money for years, say they support our issues, and then vote against us. We need to hold these people accountable,” complained Johnson.

Johnson revealed that Governor Gray Davis had asked him and other CTA officers directly for a $1 million campaign donation. Johnson claims he and the other CTA officers present responded with “absolute stone silence.”

But in a stunning defeat for Johnson and the teacher union, a union-backed bill to give the union veto power over education policy (AB 2160) was pulled from the Assembly floor on May 30 when it appeared likely to be defeated, effectively killing it for this legislative session.

Mike Antonucci, of the Education Intelligence Agency, thinks “school reformers all across the U.S. owe Johnson a debt of gratitude” for demonstrating how the public education system is run.

“[Johnson] … informed the public, without evasion, that the union was in the business of buying legislative votes, and wondered aloud if he was getting his money’s worth,” noted Antonucci. “In a rare display of backbone, 40 or 50 lawmakers told Johnson to take a hike.”
The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
May 20, 2002 and June 3, 2002


8,800 Eligible for Vouchers as More Schools Fail

In June, more than 8,800 students in Florida’s Dade, Escambia, Orange, and Palm Beach counties became eligible to receive publicly funded education vouchers to attend private schools when the public schools they attended received a second F grade within a four-year period under Governor Jeb Bush’s A+ Plan for Education. A total of 68 schools earned F grades but for 58, it was the first time they had flunked on the state’s accountability rankings and so students at those schools did not qualify for vouchers.

More schools received F grades this year because of more rigorous grading and higher standards imposed by the state. Now, there is a heavier emphasis on reading scores, more student scores are included—grades 3-10 instead of just 4, 5, 8 and 10—and the state also looks at whether each student’s scores improved or declined during the year.

Schools in the Sunshine State started getting grades in 1999 after passage of the Bush-Brogan A+ Education Plan. Seventy-eight schools got F grades in 1999, 4 in 2000, zero in 2001, and 68 this year. On the plus side, the number of A-graded schools went from 568 in 2001 to 861 in 2002. Lt. Gov. Brogan told the Florida Times-Union he expected the number of F-graded schools to drop in 2003, noting schools in the past had responded to meet new state standards.

Students in double-F schools have the option of staying in their existing school, transferring to a C-rated or better public school, or using a voucher to attend a private school. However, a July 1 deadline on transfer requests gives parents only a very brief timeframe in which to exercise a school choice option.
Florida Times-Union, June 13, 2002
Miami Herald, June 13-14, 2002


Teacher Union Sues Mackinac Center for Quoting Union Chief

When Michigan Education Association (MEA) President Luigi Battaglieri publicly praised the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in front of journalists at a news conference last fall, he didn’t add “But don’t quote me on that.” However, when Mackinac officials quoted Battaglieri’s remarks in a fundraising letter, the MEA sued—not for misquoting the union president, but for not getting the union’s permission to use the quotation. The union is demanding a list of the people who received the Mackinac letter.

“Frankly, I admire what [the Mackinac Center] has done,” said Battaglieri in his September 27 speech.

“This smacks of intimidation,” opined The Detroit News‘ editors. “If the MEA is worried about how its public comments are perceived and used, it can control them the old-fashioned way: By watching what they say.”
The Detroit News, May 25, 2002
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy


Study: School Choice Good for Students and System

Eleven years ago, the Minnesota Education Association issued an alarmist prediction that charter schools would create “elite academies for the few and second-rate schools for the many.” A new report from the University of Minnesota’s Center for School Change reveals just how far off the teacher union warning was.

Minnesota’s charter schools have higher percentages of students from low-income families, students of color, and students with some form of disability than an average district’s public schools, according to the May 2002 report, What Really Happened? Minnesota’s Experience with Statewide Public School Choice Programs.

The report examines four public school choice programs in Minnesota—open enrollment, charter schools, Second Chance Options, and Post-Secondary Enrollment Options—and finds the programs have prompted improvements not only for students but also for the public education system itself. Unanticipated by both critics and advocates of school choice, the greatest growth—from 4,000 students in 1991 to over 100,000 in 2002—occurred in the alternative schools of the Second Chance program, which serves students who are not succeeding in traditional secondary schools.

According to the report, most stakeholders agree the public school choice options have had beneficial effects on students and on the public education system itself. The options also are widely accepted, with almost one in three secondary students (30 percent) participating in the programs.
Center for School Change
University of Minnesota

New York

Spitzer: Remedial Services OK for Parochial School Students

In a 35-page legal analysis, New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has concluded the government can provide publicly funded remedial services to failing students in parochial schools, according to New York Post reporter Carl Campanile. Under Spitzer’s plan, the remedial services would have to be provided by public school teachers.

Remedial services would include:

  • tutoring services for religious school students who are failing the state’s standardized math and reading tests;
  • assistance to special-education students; and
  • funds for computers.

David Zwiebel, vice president of Agudath Israel of America, told the Post Spitzer’s decision means opponents of aid to religious schools “can no longer hide behind the Constitution.”
New York Post
May 30, 2002


Vouchers an Issue in 2003 Elections

The fight over publicly funded school vouchers isn’t going to go away in the Lone Star State, according to Texas Public Policy Foundation President Jeff Judson.

“I think you can expect vouchers are going to be a policy proposal we’ll be hearing about every legislative session from now on,” he recently told the Scripps Howard Austin Bureau. Vouchers have been a legislative issue since 1995, when the legislature approved a voucher bill that was killed during House-Senate negotiations.

Vouchers already have been a part of the campaigns for governor and lieutenant governor, and their rise or fall is tied to which political party ends up controlling the House and Senate after this year’s elections. The GOP currently controls the Senate by a 16-15 margin, with Democrats holding a 78-72 majority in the House. House Speaker Pete Laney (D-Hale Center) has been instrumental in defeating voucher proposals.

In the gubernatorial race, Republican Gov. Rick Perry supports vouchers. His Democratic opponent, Tony Sanchez, opposes them. In the lieutenant governor race, Republican David Dewhurst has been a voucher supporter, while Democrat John Sharp has been an opponent.
Scripps Howard Austin Bureau
May 28, 2002

The Bizarre World of Teacher Pay

The Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank associated with the Democratic Leadership Council, recently released a study titled Better Pay for Better Teaching, which calls for teacher pay differentials based not only on job performance, but also on willingness to teach certain subjects and at certain schools.

The following reports illustrate the obstacles of taking such an approach, or even simply trying to increase teacher pay.


Union Says No to Teacher Tax Break

Louisiana State Rep. Jack Smith (D-Patterson) introduced a bill that would exempt public school teachers and support personnel from state income taxes. The state’s two teacher unions swiftly announced opposition to the measure.

“[The bill] is not in the best interests of teachers. Raising the salaries will keep teachers,” Tom Tate, a lobbyist for the NEA-affiliated Louisiana Association of Educators, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Ferdinand Troullier, a lobbyist for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, told the Baton Rouge Advocate the bill “will open the floodgates,” predicting other state workers would seek the same tax exemption.

“I don’t really care about the teachers’ unions,” said Smith. “This will help teachers keep more money in their pockets.” The independent Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana supports the bill.


Union Says No to Teacher Bonus

The tiny Sherwood Cass School District paid up to $2,000 extra to seven teachers who took assignments in shortage areas, specifically special education and science. In exchange for the cash incentives, the teachers signed two-year contracts to remain in those specialties. The local union, the Sherwood NEA, filed suit, claiming that excluding 70 other teachers from pay hikes violated state law and the local contract.

“From our perspective, any teacher pay issue should be done through negotiation,” Kansas City Federation of Teachers President Judy Morgan told the Kansas City Star.

But the independent Missouri State Teachers Association supports the district. “We’re in favor of doing what’s best for kids, and if giving teachers incentives is one way, we’re for that,” said MSTA representative Todd Fuller.


Teachers Say No to Performance Pay

After Cincinnati Federation of Teachers President Rick Beck and his officers spent 18 months negotiating a pay-for-performance plan, the plan barely received majority approval by union members. Then, last April, Beck was voted out of office by a 3 to 1 margin.

Despite Beck’s safeguard to protect the plan—a 70 percent “no” vote was required for its elimination—the pay-for-performance experiment was scuttled on May 17, before the pay component was ever implemented. The margin—3.7 percent in favor, 96.3 percent opposed, with a 63 percent turnout—should give pause to anyone who thinks any radical experiment in teacher pay could become a national model.

Although CFT President Susan Taylor argued the vote wasn’t against pay-for-performance per se, but just against the current plan, Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency disputes that view.

“If a program with such heavy union involvement could not generate more momentum than 3.7 percent of the membership after two years, there is no reason to believe tinkering around the edges will help,” said Antonucci.
The Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
May 20, 2002 and June 3, 2002