Union Says “Yes” to Candidates Who Say “No” to Vouchers
California Teachers Association President Wayne Johnson told his State Council delegates that the union’s first challenge for 2002 will be to help re-elect Gov. Gray Davis.
“This is a tough sell with a sizable percentage of our membership,” said Johnson, even though 86 percent of the State Council, the purported representatives of those members, voted to endorse Davis almost a full year before the election. So why do it? CTA Executive Director Carolyn Doggett explained the union’s criteria for endorsing a governor:
1) Opposition to vouchers
2) Support for an increase in school funding, particularly for teacher pay
3) Support for collective bargaining
4) Support for increased retirement benefits
5) Support of positive educational initiatives
Doggett cited Davis’ backing of a school bond measure as a “positive education initiative.”
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
March 4, 2002
Court Says “No” to Tuition Tax Refund
A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously denied the claim of California parents for a partial tax refund for tuition paid to Jewish day schools, upholding an earlier decision of the U.S. Tax Court. The couple, Michael and Marla Sklar, wanted to deduct 55 percent of their children’s school tuition, claiming that was the proportion devoted to religious education and thus a charitable donation to a religious organization.
The Internal Revenue Service permits followers of the Church of Scientology to claim deductions similar to the one claimed by the Sklars. Although the Court raised questions about how the IRS had treated the claims for religious training by Scientologists, the panel held that payments for which a taxpayer receives consideration are not deductible.
February 13, 2002
Tax Credit Would Help Public and Private School Students
A foundation begun two years ago by energy executive and philanthropist Alex Cranberg has awarded $2 million in private scholarships, enabling 555 children to attend 107 private schools.
Now there’s a bill (HB 1309) in the Colorado legislature that would fund educational assistance programs that would help needy children who want to choose private schools or who remain in government schools. Forty percent of the aid would go public school students, for such purposes as tutoring or education supplies, and the remainder would go for private scholarships.
The bill is sponsored by the chairman of the House Education Committee, Nancy Spence (R-Centennial), but opposed by the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Stan Matsunaka (D-Loveland). Matsunaka said private schools receiving state aid but not having to abide by teacher certification and other government rules “would be a problem for me.” Cranberg argues schools should exist for children, not children for the system.
“I want public schools to be successful,” he said. “More to the point, I want children to have a good education, wherever they get it from.”
The Friedman Report
Voucher Proposal May Be Gaining Favor
In the budget plan he presented earlier this year, Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland proposed a limited school voucher plan that would permit parents of children in substandard schools to receive a voucher worth up to $4,000 towards tuition at a private school. Although the Republican governor has included some type of voucher plan in previous budgets, the plans have gone nowhere.
But Dean Pagani, Rowland’s spokesperson, said more people are beginning to look at the voucher debate from the child’s point of view.
“A child only has one chance to get a good education, and why should he be forced to go to a substandard school just because of the neighborhood he lives in?” Pagani asked. “In the past, the arguments focused on protecting the public schools.”
The Citizens Alliance for Public Education, which has opposed vouchers in Connecticut for the past six years, is ready to battle them again.
“Rather than abandon the public schools, we need to fix them,” argued the Rev. Fidelia Lane, president of the Alliance. I think the public schools are a lot better than many people think they are.”
New London Day
February 28, 2002
More Choices This Fall, Thanks to Bush Education Bill
Because Georgia already has a school accountability system in place to rate the performance of its schools, children at 436 low-performing schools in the Peach State will be among the first in the country to take advantage of school choice provisions in President George W. Bush’s education reform package. The cost of transferring the children to other schools in their districts will be picked up by the failing school. This is just what Atlanta parent Shankia Towers is looking for to get her three children out of their failing neighborhood school.
“I don’t have the money to send them to private school or to move to a ritzy part of town,” she told AP reporter Barnini Chakraborty.
Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” Act enables children in schools that have been low-performing for two years to transfer to another school in the district, with the failing school picking up the transportation costs. After being low-performing for three years the school must provide outside tutorial services, and after five years the school could be reconstituted with new staff.
Savannah Morning News
March 22, 2002
March 23, 2002
Corporate Tax Credit is “Voucher” to Foes
A Democratic legislator from Chicago is sponsoring a bill that would grant corporations credits of up to $100,000 a year on their state income taxes for donations they make to scholarship organizations that help low-income families send their children to private schools. The government education establishment has vowed to defeat the measure.
“If it looks like a voucher and walks like a voucher, it’s a voucher, and we’re fighting it,” commented George King, a spokesman for the Illinois Education Association teacher union. He claimed it was “public money trying to be funneled through a conduit to private and parochial schools, and we think it’s earmarked for public schools.” As “public money,” it should be going to public schools, he said.
The sponsor, Representative Joseph Lyons, urged a broader perspective: “If we shut down all the Catholic schools tomorrow, what would the public schools do? Private schools and parochial schools serve a purpose. They keep pressure off the public schools.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the Big Shoulders Fund, started by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in 1986 to assist inner-city Catholic schools serving disadvantaged children, would be one scholarship program the tax credit would benefit. At one of the Big Shoulders schools, St. John De La Salle School, only one-tenth of the families that would qualify for aid under the proposed new program are currently receiving scholarships.
“We are a surviving school,” said the principal, Linda Bond. “It’s becoming a very difficult thing for us now because of the recession. We need the support of corporations.”
As if to emphasize Bond’s point, the Chicago Archdiocese announced that two more elementary schools will be closed at the end of this school year.
The Friedman Report
CEF Names New Executive Director
Adrian Brigham, head of the Chicago Chapter of Citizens for Educational Freedom, has been named CEF’s executive director. After starting his career in sales and sales management, since 1980 Brigham has operated his own successful business involving audio-visual equipment rental. He still owns the company but has turned much of the day-to-day management over to others so he can devote his full schedule to CEF.
“The time has never been better to advance the cause of school choice,” he said.
CEF is a national grassroots organization established in 1959 and dedicated to the belief that every child, regardless of race, religion, or income, should get the very best education available—a goal CEF believes will be attainable when parents reclaim their right to choose the school and the teachers that are best for their children without financial penalty.
For more information about Citizens for Educational Freedom, visit its Web site at www.educational-freedom.org or contact Adrian Brigham at [email protected].
Parents’ Choice Newsletter
Pro-Voucher “Poster Child” Reich Now Denounces Vouchers
Running in the Massachusetts gubernatorial primary, former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich joined four other Democratic candidates in opposing school vouchers. He said he was “unutterably opposed to vouchers” and the idea of using them at private schools, although he was in favor of increased funding for poor children so they could choose a better public school.
“I am against vouchers and I am against any mechanism that drains resources from our public schools,” Reich declared on January 23. “Let me be absolutely clear on that.”
Eighteen months ago, Reich was basking in media attention because of his embrace of progressive school vouchers, where poorer children would be given larger vouchers to attend private secular schools. Although he then proposed placing some restrictions on participating privates schools, he warned against burdening private schools with too much regulation.
“It’s unbelievable to me that there’s this belief that our problems with public education can be resolved by making private schools more like public schools,” he said at the time, characterizing himself as “the liberal poster child for the pro-voucher movement.”
October 29, 2000
February 8, 2002
Losing Students, School Drops Boycott of Choice Program
In 1996, the state of Michigan created a Schools of Choice program—involving just public schools—whereby parents can select their children’s school district under certain conditions, one being that a district agrees to accept transferring students. Southfield Public Schools was one of the government systems that boycotted the program.
“For years we resisted it, the whole thing of schools competing,” commented district spokesman Ken Siver. “That’s the governor’s agenda.”
But then something happened to change that: Southfield discovered it was losing students, and, with them, state aid. So Southfield decided to become a Schools of Choice district after all. “We were sitting on our principles of why we wouldn’t be involved in Schools of Choice,” said Siver. “But the reality of the world is you can sit on your principles or you can get in the game. Why should we allow ourselves to be picked off?”
According to the Detroit Free Press, about two-thirds of Michigan school districts now participate, and more than 33,000 children attend school in a district other than their home one. Parents’ reasons range from convenience to work to more substantive considerations, such as the special programs districts are creating to attract transferring students.
The Friedman Report
Vouchers Proposed to Close Achievement Gap
The achievement gap between minorities and Anglos in New Mexico is huge and may have widened over the past 30 years, according to a new report by The Albuquerque Partnership, a coalition of 40 agencies, neighborhood associations, and individuals seeking to solve social problems.
During the past year, Anglos scored 51.6 percent higher than their Hispanic classmates on the TerraNova standardized tests. In 1972-73, the scores of Anglos were only 23 percent higher on a different measure, the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills.
Partnership director Moises Venegas believes the time has come to use public vouchers to help disadvantaged children overcome the achievement gap.
“I’m not necessarily against public education,” he told the Albuquerque Journal. “But public education hasn’t been able to educate the urban low-income student and/or Hispanic, black, [or] Native American student very well. If you haven’t been able to do it, let someone else try, please.”
Governor Gary Johnson has championed vouchers, but the state legislature has refused to pass either universal or targeted vouchers. While agreeing change is needed, House Education Committee chairman Rick Miera (D-Albuquerque) doesn’t think vouchers are the answer. Parent Elaine Sanchez disagrees. She drives her son cross-city every day in search of better education.
“To me, it seems like it’s always the low-income [students] that are in the failing schools,” she said. “To me, whatever is going to make my son learn, I will do it.”
The Friedman Report
Johnson’s Last Call for Vouchers Goes Unheeded…
New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson called for a phased-in voucher program as part of a comprehensive education reform package to overhaul the state’s public schools. Presenting his proposals to the legislature in January, the Republican governor stressed the reforms could be accomplished at no new cost to taxpayers because the investment already had been made, with nearly $600 million having been added to the public schools’ budget over the past seven years.
“Now, I believe, is the time to require the educational system in New Mexico to perform,” he said, outlining student achievement, parental involvement, teacher support, and system accountability as the four major areas of reform. “And it is time to demonstrate that it is giving taxpayers a good return on their investment by showing us that our children are learning.”
The governor’s voucher plan would be phased in over five years, first serving those students most in need of a choice of schools, but eventually providing all of New Mexico’s students with the opportunity to attend their choice of pubic or private schools “in order to best suit their individual needs and interests.” Initially, vouchers would be offered to students from low-income families who attend Albuquerque public schools with high dropout rates, low test scores, and a high incidence of violence and school vandalism. More families would become eligible in subsequent years as income level ceilings are raised.
Vouchers would have a value of $3,000 but could not exceed the tuition and fees normally charged by the selected private school except in the case of special education students. Appropriate amounts of the district’s transportation and at-risk funding would be assigned to each voucher student.
To eliminate accounting confusion and facilitate per-pupil membership funding, a static identification number would be assigned to each pupil to track mobility and academic progress. The Democratic-controlled legislature quickly dismissed Johnson’s proposals.
Office of the Governor
State of New Mexico
…But Democrats Introduce Voucher Bills, Too
Although Governor Gary Johnson’s voucher proposals have been voted down every year they have been proposed, this year his voucher bill had some unexpected company on the way to defeat—two school choice bills sponsored by Democrats. This is the first time Democrats have supported school choice legislation in New Mexico.
Senator Manny Aragon (D-Albuquerque), the former Senate President Pro Tem, introduced the Student Options Act (SB 443), which would provide a voucher for dropouts and for families who qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program in Albuquerque. Aragon’s constituents, mostly low-income Latino families, earlier this year voted against giving more money to the Albuquerque Public Schools. Before dying at the end of New Mexico’s 30-day legislative session, Aragon’s bill had moved farther and faster than any other school choice legislation.
Senator Roman Maes (D-Santa Fe) introduced the Education Tax Credit Act (SB 300), which would allow corporations, individuals, or other entities to claim tax credits of up to $100,000 for donations to organizations that provide scholarships to low-income families. The bill was tabled after a Senate Education Committee hearing.
Out-of-District Students Hunted Down Like Common Criminals
Administrators in Linwood, New Jersey are taking extraordinary measures to keep children out of their public schools. The school board there hired a $200-per-hour private investigator to “gather evidence against students who are suspected to be living outside the district, including following them to see where they spend the night, if necessary,” reported the Associated Press.
Other northern New Jersey districts post private eyes at school bus stops to trail students on their way home. The Linwood district claims to have nailed 15 “illegal students” this year alone.
In East Providence, Rhode Island the district attendance officer took tips from teachers and school bus drivers to investigate some 27 suspected “illegal students.” Robert P. Rodericks admits he sometimes waits for parents to pick up their child, and then he follows them home.
Last August, the Education Intelligence Agency detailed similar problems in Connecticut and New York, where there was a “black market in school choice,” with parents falsifying their place of residence in order to get their children into suburban schools.
“These parents also want better learning environments for their children, but they can’t afford or won’t pay tuition,” wrote reporter Mydria Clark of the Hartford Courant.
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
March 18, 2002
Education Tax Credit Introduced
An education tax credit measure was introduced in both the New York Senate and Assembly on February 11. The bill, the Educational Tax Incentives Act (S.6274 and A.9801), seeks to encourage New York taxpayers to support education by providing a tax credit against their state income tax.
The 22 sponsors of the bill are made up of both Democratic and Republican legislators from New York City and the suburbs as well as upstate districts. The bill’s sponsors are Senator Serphin Maltese (R-Queens) and Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Kings).
School Choice Party Formed
The School Choice Party was formed as a new political party late last year; its leaders have decided to go forward with the process of circulating petitions to get their candidates on the ballot this November.
If the School Choice Party were to attract 50,000 votes in November, it would qualify as an official political party in New York State, with a line on every ballot for the following four years. The party could endorse incumbent elected officials, support challengers from other parties, or choose to put up its own candidates for local, state, and federal offices.
For more information about the School Choice Party, call 718/783-0592; write P.O. Box 021787, Brooklyn, NY 11202-1787; or e-mail [email protected].
Oklahoma Legislators Block Schoolhouse Door
Oklahoma’s black and Hispanic parents have some very compelling reasons for wanting to get their children out of the state’s public schools and into an alternative private school: Among black fourth-graders in the Sooner State, only 9 percent are proficient in reading and just 3 percent are proficient in math. Among Hispanics, 14 percent are proficient in reading and 9 percent in math.
Since many parents lack the financial resources to send their children to private school, Rep. Kevin Calvey (R-Del City) earlier this year offered legislation that would have provided a means to create scholarships for low-income K-12 students to attend private schools. His bill, HB 2676, would give a tax credit to individuals and businesses who donated to organizations providing such scholarships.
Although House Revenue and Taxation Committee chair Clay Pope (D-Loyal) gave the bill a fair and open hearing on February 20, only he and three Republican members voted for the bill; six Democrats voted “No,” and the remaining GOP Committee member was absent.
“Civil rights opponents like George Wallace used to block the schoolhouse door to prevent blacks from entering,” commented Brandon Dutcher, research director for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. “On February 20, six Oklahoma legislators blocked the schoolhouse door to prevent students from escaping.”
Public School Choice Program Provides Few Options
A public school choice program created in 1995 allows students in Texas to transfer from low-performing public schools to a better campus in another district, if they provide their own transportation. The receiving district gets the state education funding the student’s home district would have received, plus a 10 percent bonus. But of the 141,000 Texas students enrolled in such schools last year, only 200 transferred to other schools.
That’s because, while students are free to leave bad schools, other schools—even those with empty seats—aren’t required to put out the welcome mat for them. And most don’t.
“As long as you give school districts the choice of whether or not to serve children in need, you’re not going to make much progress,” commented Allan Parker, founder of the Texas Justice Foundation.
When parent Barbara Senter couldn’t find a school to take her son under the program, she sent him to live with grandparents in another district during the week, and he attends school there.
“It shows we do have school choice in Texas,” noted Parker. “That choice is called moving.”
Dallas Morning News
February 4, 2002
Tuition Tax Credit Bill Fails
A measure to provide a $2,116 tax credit for private school tuition passed out of a Senate committee on February 6, ready for debate in the full Utah Senate. However, the bill’s sponsor, Senator Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan), killed the proposal just before the end of the legislative session in March because he did not have time to solidify support for the measure.
The bill would have extended a tax credit of up to $2,116 to families with taxable incomes less than $30,000 and also to donors to nonprofit organizations providing scholarships toward private school tuition. Corporations and individuals could be donors, and public schools would have received $1,000 for each student who transferred to a private school.
Buttars and his supporters said the tax credit would force public schools to improve as they compete for students, but public school educators charged it attacks public education. Although opponents disagree, Buttars said the math behind his bill is “simple. It’s third grade division and multiplication.”
The state would lose about $3,000 for each student who opted out of the system—the $2,116 credit plus $1,000 for each student transferring out—but it would still come out $2,000 per student ahead because it costs more than $5,100 to educate each student in the public schools each year.
“If the credit encouraged 10,000 new students not to enter the public system, taxpayers would save $20 million a year—not to mention the cost of building new schools,” noted the editors of The Salt Lake Tribune. “The per-pupil expenditures would rise in school districts since they would get $1,000 for each child who opted out of their system.”
It’s not “an elitist scheme cooked up to subsidize the wealthy,” note the editors. The income limits exclude children from well-off families who already are enrolled in private schools, and the neediest students have the greatest potential to benefit from the scholarship organizations.
The Salt Lake Tribune
February 6-9, 2002
School Choice Bill Voted out of Committee
In early March, the Vermont House Education Committee voted 6-5 along party lines—Republicans for, Democrats against—to move forward a comprehensive school choice bill, H.716, The bill contains both open enrollment and tax credit elements.
The current version of H.716 now contains an expansive open enrollment program for all public schools in Vermont with money following the child using a combination of block grant and local district money. A previous version contained a voucher-like component that would have allowed the block grant to follow students to private schools. With about 3,500 students attending private schools, this could have cost the state between $12 and $17 million.
To facilitate parents’ choices of independent schools, the bill includes a 50 percent tax credit for donations to Education Assistance Organizations, which would then give scholarships and grants to students attending approved or recognized independent schools.
Rep. Howard Crawford (R-Burke), committee chairman, says he feels good about getting the bill out of committee, but sees some significant obstacles ahead, particularly the section on support of Educational Assistance Organizations.
Another school choice bill, H.597, introduced in the Vermont House in January with 41 sponsors, would allow special education students to use vouchers if they are unable to meet achievement goals in public schools. A bill introduced in the Senate in January, S.227, would reimburse parents for expenses related to choices in education.
Vermont Education Reports
January through March, 2002
March 1, 2002
For more information …
The Ethan Allen Institute has prepared a Policy Brief on H.716, available on the Institute’s Web site under ‘Policy Briefs’ at www.ethanallen.org. The text of the bill is available at www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2002/calendar/hc020312.htm.
Voucher Critics Spurn Public Schools
Radio ads run earlier this year for the Vermont-National Education Association feature a teacher from the Mount Mansfield Union High School and tell listeners that public schools in Vermont “keep getting better.” However, Libby Sternberg of Vermonters for Better Education points out in a Burlington Free Press commentary that the president of the Vermont-NEA has chosen to transfer his child from Mount Mansfield to a private parochial school.
“What’s good for the head of the teachers union should be good for low-income Vermont parents as well,” says Sternberg.
Sternberg notes 12 percent of other Vermont-NEA members also have their children in private schools. In addition, several other vocal Vermont opponents of school choice have sent their own children to private schools. Many were educated in private schools themselves.
For example, almost half of Vermont’s state senators went to private schools. Among those who went to exclusive private academies are two outspoken critics of vouchers: Sen. Jean Ankeney (D-Chittenden) and Sen. Peter Shumlin (D-Windham). Shumlin was one of three senators who held a press conference last summer to denounce the Ethan Allen Institute’s voucher proposal. Public schools, he argued at the press conference, make up the foundation of our democracy.
Vermont Education Report
January 14, 2002
Cutting Voucher Program Would Increase State Spending
In March, the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 to reject a proposal from State Senator Russell Decker (D-Schofield) to reduce the maximum Milwaukee school voucher amount for 2002-03 from $5,784 per student to $2,000 for elementary and middle school children and $3,000 for high school students. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Decker’s proposal would eventually increase state costs and shift more school aid to the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).
According to the Bureau, if the smaller voucher amount caused 75 percent of choice students to transfer back to MPS, state costs would rise by $6.8 million, and $15.4 million in school aid would be transferred to MPS from all other school districts. That’s because the state pays only 55 percent of the per-pupil cost of students in the voucher program, compared to 83 percent of the per-pupil cost of students attending MPS.
In fact, the state would be more than $2,000 per student ahead even if it funded 100 percent of the cost of a voucher student versus 83 percent of an MPS student.
This is not the first time Decker has proposed cutting funding for the Milwaukee voucher program. When he made a similar proposal last year, a survey by the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University showed that 44 private schools would close if the measure were approved.
School Choice Advisor