Dayton’s PACE program, Parents Advancing Choice in Education, plans to award up to 1,000 scholarships to low-income Montgomery County children in grades K-12 for the 1998-99 school year. According to PACE director Theodore J. Wallace, the program is committed to offering each scholarship for at least three years, but is seeking funding to allow recipients to use the scholarships through their high school graduation. Private voucher efforts have generally included only grades K-8.
The PACE scholarships, which will be awarded by lottery, will cover one-half of private or religious school tuition up to a maximum of $1,000 per year for grades K-8 and $1,200 per year for grades 9-12. Annual tuition in the area ranges from $1,300 to $9,130 at private schools, and from $2,500 to $6,600 at public schools. Families must qualify for the Federal Free or Reduced Lunch program to be eligible, and applications are being taken over the phone seven days a week, 24 hours a day, until February 13.
Evaluating the results of the scholarship effort is also part of PACE’s commitment, with a multi-year study planned to track the relative academic performance of scholarship students versus those who applied but did not receive the award. Harvard’s Paul E. Peterson, who is conducting the study, considers Dayton an important benchmark city for analyzing the effects of school choice on student learning.
In the two weeks following the first announcement of the PACE scholarships, almost 500 applications were received. PACE currently has $3.5 million pledged toward its goal of $6 million over a five-year period. More information on the program is available by calling 937/229-4771.
Hispanics Support Choice in Texas
In early December, a statewide Hispanic business and civic organization–the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC–announced its support for education reform in Texas. At the State Capitol in Austin, LULAC executive director Rosa Rosales, state director Angie Garcia, and state representative Henry Cuellar announced their support for legislation that would permit Public Education Grant dollars to be used for students to attend private schools.
“If a school isn’t making the grade, our children deserve a choice,” declared Rosales. “No student should be forced to attend a failing school. No parent should ever be told that there are no options for their child.”
Currently, the PEG program permits students in failing schools to apply for transfer to other public schools . . . but most transfer requests have been rejected. LULAC’s board of directors adopted a resolution that favored changing the PEG program to permit students rejected by a public school to use PEG funds to attend a private school.
Cuellar expressed confidence that the PEG program would be expanded in the upcoming legislative session. “The focus is on the child,” Cuellar noted, adding, “It means a great deal to have LULAC enter the education debate in a positive fashion.”
More Support for School Choice
As a voracious newshound, President Bill Clinton most likely saw the December 8 editorial supporting school choice in his hometown newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, and also the commentary from England’s Economist that in part prompted it.
“Imagine what would happen if public schools openly competed for students,” mused the Gazette, “offering higher standards or different approaches or better teacher or tougher courses. . . . Students and their families would get more choices, and standards would doubtless be raised. That’s how competition works in a free market. But public education is scarcely a free market. Which helps explain why so many kids are locked into poor, isolated schools with no way of escaping.”
“Once upon a time,” the editorial continued, “the public schools in this nation of immigrants educated and assimilated whole generations of children who had scarcely a word of English and came from the poorest of homes. Why not now? Is it because the educantists and the teachers’ unions and the practitioners of politics-as-usual have erected insuperable barriers to real education? What a sordid game they are playing with the lives of the young and poor, who will be old and disillusioned soon enough.”
The Gazette concludes by quoting from a recent Economist commentary: “Many inner-city schools, especially in the British and American capitals, are doing so badly that it is hard to imagine how innovations such as vouchers could make them worse.”
New York Program Expanded
Following the successful award of privately funded vouchers to permit 1,200 students to attend private or religious schools last fall, the New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation announced the program would be extended into a second year, nearly doubling the number of participants. Starting this fall, an additional 1,000 students will be selected from applicants living in the city’s 14 lowest-performing school districts.
Those districts, where children’s reading scores are 20 percentage points lower than in other districts, represent 87 percent of the city’s lowest-performing schools. Children are eligible for the scholarships if they are entering grades 1-6 in one of those 14 districts and if they also qualify for the federal free lunch program. Scholarships are worth $1,400 for a minimum of three years and may be used at private or religious schools.
In the first two days following the announcement of the new scholarships–made by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Congressman Floyd Flake, and Foundation chairman Bruce Kovner–applications were received from 2,345 students–2.3 percent of the eligible population. Some 22,700 applications were received for the 1,200 scholarships awarded last fall. Over a two-month period, 4,824 students–over 10 percent of the eligible population–applied for similar scholarships in Washington, DC.