Posts Tagged ‘private schools’

Justice Department vs. Louisiana Voucher Kids

September 25, 2013
  • OPINION The Wall Street Journal
  • September 23, 2013, 7:09 p.m. ET

Eric Holder hauls out a 40-year-old civil rights case to attack minority school choice.

By CLINT BOLICK

School-choice programs have faced no shortage of legal challenges en route to their adoption in 18 states and the District of Columbia. But none of the challenges is so perverse or perplexing as the Justice Department’s motion last month to wield desegregation decrees to halt Louisiana’s voucher program.

As part of its efforts to boost educational opportunities for disadvantaged children, last year Louisiana enacted the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program. The statewide program provides tuition vouchers to children from families with incomes below 250% of the poverty line whose children otherwise would attend public schools that the state has graded C, D or F. This year, roughly 8,000 children are using vouchers to attend private schools. Among those, 91% are minority and 86% would have attended public schools with D or F grades.

Attorney General Eric Holder argues the program runs afoul of desegregation orders, which operate in 34 Louisiana school districts. By potentially altering the racial composition of those schools by taking minority children out of failing public schools, the Justice Department asserts the program “frustrates and impedes the desegregation process.” It has asked a federal court to forbid future scholarships in those districts until the state requests and receives approval in each of the 22 or more cases that might be affected.

If successful, the Justice Department’s motion could thwart school choice—not just vouchers, but charter schools—in hundreds of districts across the country that are still subject to desegregation decrees. And it would deprive thousands of Louisiana schoolchildren, nearly all of them black, of the only high-quality educational opportunities they have ever had.

Such a result would turn the desegregation decrees on their head, for it would inflict grave harm on the very children who are the decrees’ intended beneficiaries. Properly understood, desegregation and school choice share a common aim: educational opportunity.

In its landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court made that paramount goal clear, recognizing “it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.”

After facing massive resistance to Brown, the Supreme Court approved the limited use of racial ratios for student assignments not to achieve enduring racial balance, but as a starting point in desegregating schools. Since then, the court repeatedly has struck down rigid adherence to racial ratios and has insisted that control of schools must be returned to local authorities as soon as vestiges of past discrimination have been eliminated.

But the Justice Department has been slow to cede control even in school districts that have become heavily minority, and districts are reluctant to relinquish federal funds that accompany desegregation decrees. Hence decrees remain in place many decades after the civil-rights abuses that gave rise to them.

Curiously, the Justice Department did not file its motion in any of the ongoing Louisiana desegregation cases. Instead, it seeks an injunction in Brumfield v. Dodd , a case filed nearly 40 years ago challenging a program that provided state funding for textbooks and transportation for private “segregation academies,” to which white students were fleeing to avoid integration. Since 1975, private schools have had to demonstrate that they do not discriminate in order to participate in that program.

The Louisiana Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program restricts participation to private schools that meet the Brumfield nondiscrimination requirements. The program further requires private schools to admit students on a random basis. Thus the program clearly complies with Brumfield. And the Brumfieldcourt has no jurisdiction over the desegregation decrees to which the Justice Department seeks to subject the voucher program.

Nor can any court properly force the state to seek advance approval from the Justice Department for a clearly nondiscriminatory program that advances the education of black children. As the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, when it struck down the “pre-clearance” formula of the 1965 Voting Rights Act regarding federal approval for electoral changes, states cannot be forced to submit their decisions to federal oversight “based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day.”

The Justice Department’s motion has tremendous human implications, personified by Mary Edler, whose grandsons are using vouchers to attend kindergarten and second grade in a Louisiana private school. All of the public schools in their district are graded C, D or F. Thanks to the scholarship program, Mrs. Edler says, “My grandsons are flourishing at Ascension of Our Lord in all aspects. They have small classes and an outstanding principal and staff.” She calls the tuition vouchers a “true blessing”—one that will be lost if the Justice Department prevails.

In its zeal, the Justice Department has transformed a bipartisan education reform program into a partisan opportunity. On Sept. 17, House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders wrote an open letter to Attorney General Holder, calling Justice’s motion “extremely troubling and paradoxical in nature,” given that it hurts the “very children you profess to be protecting.”

On Sept. 18, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was joined by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to denounce the Justice Department’s action. Mr. Jindal challenged administration officials “to come to Louisiana to meet face to face with these moms and dads and their kids and explain to them why [they] don’t think that these children deserve a great education.”

It won’t happen. Because for this Justice Department, desegregation long ago ceased to be about children or educational opportunities. It is about numbers and racial balance. If Justice succeeds in destroying Louisiana’s voucher program, the dreams and opportunities of countless children will perish with it.

Mr. Bolick is vice president for litigation at the Goldwater Institute and represents families and the Louisiana chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options defending the state’s voucher program.

A version of this article appeared September 24, 2013, on page A19 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Justice Department vs. Louisiana Voucher Kids.

Book Reviews: ‘Reign of Error’ by Diane Ravitch & ‘The School Revolution’ by Ron Paul

September 23, 2013

In the debates over reforming public schools and promoting privatization, there’s precious little middle ground.

    • By Trevor Butterworth

We are, by now, familiar with the sense of a crisis in American education. Where America’s public schools once helped to power the economy, they now drag the country down: groves of apathy, stripped of rigor, suffocated by local and federal bureaucracy and self-serving unions. To Diane Ravitch, perhaps America’s best-known educational historian, the rot was there from the beginning: In books such as 2000′s “Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms,” Ms. Ravitch portrayed public schools as playgrounds of progressive-education theorists, frenemies of promise, who loosened children from the grip of knowledge and lowered educational expectations. She became one the most passionate critics of American education, a mixture of W.B. Yeats and a Marine Corps drill sergeant, and an inspiration for supporters of school reform, school choice and rigorous testing—ideals enshrined in No Child Left Behind, the George W. Bush administration’s signature educational initiative, which was built with committed bipartisan support.

And then, having diagnosed a crisis and marched the country up the hill of school reform, Ms. Ravitch had second thoughts: None of this is working, she said; NCLB has turned out to be a mess; accountability, whether of teachers or children, was implemented with all the finesse of a Viking raid on a monastery; and charter schools don’t deliver children into the promised land of innovation and effectiveness. Let’s all march back down again.

Reign of Error

By Diane Ravitch
Knopf, 396 pages, $27.95

Flash Quiz A Washington, D.C., student is drilled on multiplication as part of the Singapore Math curriculum, based on that of the Southeast Asian city-state.

“Reign of Error” ostensibly takes up the question that her previous book—2010′s “The Death and Life of the Great American School System”—failed to address: What should we be doing about American education and what should we avoid doing? Yet much time is expended on restating the same themes, without the humility that accompanied having to originally explain why she had soured on a movement she had done so much to push forward. Ms. Ravitch is no longer writing to explain herself. She is writing for victory, which means crushing a phalanx of enemies, real and imagined.

If there is a crisis in American education, Ms. Ravitch writes, it is only “because of persistent, orchestrated attacks” on teachers and principals. “These attacks,” she writes, “create a false sense of crisis and serve the interests of those who want to privatize the public schools.” In Ms. Ravitch’s telling, these interests represent not reform but a new status quo in education, one created by a vast bipartisan alliance encompassing everyone from the American Legislative Exchange Council to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to the Bezos Foundation, from the Hoover Institution to Hollywood. At the top of the pyramid sit Bill and Melinda Gates, who make the Koch brothers look like amateurs at advocacy funding. Because there is no crisis in American education, in Ms. Ravitch’s view, all these people are destroying the public-school system over an illusion.

The School Revolution

By Ron Paul
Grand Central, 224 pages, $23

It’s certainly provocative to say that there is no crisis in American education. But the crisis/no crisis frame is unhelpful, particularly when it comes to understanding the debate regarding student achievement. Consider American students’ performance in math. In introducing “The Facts About the International Test Scores,” Ms. Ravitch argues that these data are used by critics “to generate a crisis mentality, not to improve public schools but to undermine public confidence in them.” Of the 2011 results from TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), which is seen as the gold standard for international math comparisons, Ms. Ravitch says that the American media presented the results “in a negative light, reflecting the reformers’ gloomy narrative. . . . But the media were wrong. American students performed surprisingly well in mathematics and science, well above the international average in grades 4 and 8.”

Yes, the U.S. performance on grade four wasn’t bad—84% of test takers were able, for example, to do basic addition, as opposed to an international average of 73%. But look more closely at the eighth-grade data and a chasm opens: 49% of Taiwanese students taking the test reached an advanced benchmark and 73% reached a high benchmark; for the U.S., these figures were 7% and 30%, respectively. The U.S. isn’t in the top group of math countries, and we are closer to the bottom scorers. Perhaps this isn’t a crisis, but is it not concerning?

Ms. Ravitch, it should be noted, chooses to characterize the TIMSS data rather than provide the reader with the actual numbers, despite the presence of numerous graphs in the appendix. She also quotes Yong Zhao, a Chinese-born American academic, at length, warning that the Chinese have perfected the art of test-taking and that if America strives to emulate or beat China or any of the nations that do better than us at math, we may “sacrifice the qualities of individualism and creativity that have been the source of our nation’s economic, social, and technological success.”

Really? The TIMSS advanced-math benchmark reflects mathematical reasoning, not rote-learning, skills. Does Ms. Ravitch want us to believe that the better kids are able to reason with numbers, the less creative they will be and the worse our economy will do? The labor market has increasingly paid a premium for analytic and quantitative skills, and, as Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz argued in “The Race Between Education and Technology” (2008), American schools haven’t been able to meet the demand.

When Ms. Ravitch comes to charter schools, she writes that advocates “claim they produce better academic results than traditional public schools and cost less because of lower overhead. Neither of these promises has been fulfilled.” Except, she adds, some charter schools do get consistently high scores, without gaming out weaker students, while providing a refuge for teachers from “overscripted, hyper-regulated, and over-tested public schools.” Before you think that might be a good thing, she warns that these successful charters “seem determined to reinvent the schoolhouse of a century ago” with their “no excuses” discipline. But what’s wrong with that? The evidence from the Harlem Children’s Zone and the Knowledge Is Power Program is impressive—and there is some evidence that these successes can be replicated in the public system. When nine underperforming schools in Houston adopted a no-excuses model, they saw similar gains in achievement (although they did ax half the teaching staff before beginning the experiment).

It is vital to hold the charter movement accountable. The most recent report from the Center for Research and Education Outcomes (Credo) at Stanford University has noted that, while the sector is improving, it needs to raise standards further and close down more underperforming schools. All of which sounds reasonable. But success can’t really win with Ms. Ravitch. You are at best tolerable if you are a nonprofit charter, but you are still contributing to the destruction of “an essential element in our democracy”—that is, the public-school system.

Ms. Ravitch’s mixture of stridency, selectivity and spin is unfortunate because she has many important things to say: Any reform movement that trades with for-profit education puts public money on the line and needs to be scrutinized; a constellation of well-intentioned philanthropies shouldn’t be treated with kid gloves; and the rhetoric of crisis—a default tone for advocates of all stripes—risks burying a complex issue in simplistic thinking. But so does defending public schools at all costs.

Unlike “Reign of Error,” there isn’t much data to untangle in Ron Paul‘s “The School Revolution.” There is, instead, a first principle from which we can deduce the best way to educate our youth: freedom. Freedom teaches personal responsibility; but, warns Mr. Paul, “if the curriculum teaches Keynesian economics, if it reinforces welfare state politics, if it teaches the principle of the autonomous sovereignty of the state, then it undermines” parents who believe in freedom. Ergo, they must home-school—at least until children are able to teach themselves through the Internet.

This view will seem quixotic to many: Given the staggering amount of time and resources expended on remedial education in college, surely we should be more concerned about basic literacy and numeracy than whether America’s children are uncritically respectful of John Maynard Keynes. But Mr. Paul seems uninterested in the hard work of shaping minds. Instead, he is dazzled by the prospect of the Internet providing an end-run around the failed public-school system, something largely intuited from looking at the way kids appear adept at using technology compared with adults and from the spread of e-learning and cyber charter schools. This is painfully naïve, as Ms. Ravitch shows with brutal but reliable data on virtual schooling. A four-year Credo analysis of cyber charters in Pennsylvania, for example, found 100% of attendees performing significantly worse in math and reading than students in public schools.

But why would Mr. Paul read Ms. Ravitch? Why would anyone read these books who didn’t already agree with them? There once seemed to be middle ground in the education policy—indeed, No Child Left Behind was originally co-sponsored by none other than Edward Kennedy. Today the participants in the debate are at war over first principles, about which there can be no compromise. For the reader, this is the political, the ideological, the Manichaean problem with the education debate that education itself can’t seem to fix.

—Mr. Butterworth is a contributor to Newsweek and editor at large for STATS.org.

A version of this article appeared September 21, 2013, on page C5 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Trying to Teach From First Principles.

Romney on DC Vouchers

May 30, 2012

The Republican endorses the D.C. scholarship program.

President Obama has done better on education than on any other domestic issue, especially in supporting charter schools. But campaigns are about contrasts, and on Wednesday Mitt Romney drew a welcome one by supporting school vouchers.

Speaking in Washington, D.C., the GOP candidate endorsed the district’s voucher program that the Obama Administration has tried to kill despite its clear success: “In the Opportunity Scholarships, the Democrats finally found the one federal program they are willing to cut. Why? Because success anywhere in our public schools is a rebuke to failure everywhere else. That’s why the unions oppose even the most common-sense improvements.”

Right on all counts. With their voucher lifeline, D.C. students began outperforming public-school peers in reading and graduating at rates above 90%, as opposed to 55% in public schools. The program is hugely popular among parents and attracts more than four applicants for every spot. It even saves money, as each voucher is worth about half the $18,000 that D.C. generally spends per student.

With White House support, Democrats killed the program in 2009, and the Administration even rescinded scholarships already promised to 216 families. Last year House Speaker John Boehner and Senator Joe Lieberman revived the vouchers, but Mr. Obama’s 2013 budget zeroes out funding again.

Mr. Romney’s voucher embrace marks progress from his days in Massachusetts, when his support for school choice ended at charters. It also reveals how much the education reform debate has advanced, as the choice movement expands and more parents demand better options for their children. New York City charter schools, we learned this week, received 133,000 applications for the 14,600 seats they have available next year.

In any other business or service in America, entrepreneurs would be able to meet that demand. Only in public education are they stymied by union politics. Mr. Romney has the moral and political high ground on vouchers, and we hope he keeps it up.

A version of this article appeared May 24, 2012, on page A16 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Romney on Vouchers.

Strategy: Short-term Goals vs. Long-term Goals

February 2, 2011

These are the long-term goals of Texans for Parental Choice in Education.

Long-term Goal 1

Every family in Texas, who pays taxes for public education and pays for any product or service to further the learning of their school-aged child, would be compensated for that expense with a dollar for dollar credit against their personal public-education-tax, up to some generous ceiling.

Long-term Goal 2

There would be a network of private, charitable, scholarship organizations that gave scholarships to needy students to attend the private school of their parents’ choice, and any public-education-taxpayer, including corporations, could donate to one of these scholarship organizations and be compensated with a dollar for dollar tax credit.

Long-term Goal 3

Finally, the attempts by the enemies of educational liberty to obstruct those liberties would be defeated.

☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺

But now back to the unfortunate reality. ☹ ☹ ☹ How do we get from here to that wonderful vision?

This report is about strategy. What are the logical steps and short-term goals that will lead to the long-term goal described above?

Option 1: All-out Frontal Assault

This strategy would say that, with our conservative legislature, an all-out assault on the unions with a universal property tax-credit bill is the obvious strategy. Unfortunately there are three problems with this strategy.

Problem 1: The ISD Property Tax

During the legislative session of 2009, Rep. Paxton agreed to submit a property tax-credit bill for educational expenses to Legislative Counsel.  To my amazement and frustration, Legislative Counsel never returned a draft.  Not during that session, not during the rest of 2009, and not before October 2010 did I hear from them.  Finally in October of 2010, one of the attorney’s at Legislative Counsel called me directly and told me that because the ISD property tax was complicated by the addition of robin-hood’s complex and perverse formulas for tax-fund flows from district to district and from the state comptroller to districts, it had become so complex that they, the team of lawyers, could not write a ISD property tax-credit law!  That’s right, the law had become so complex and perverse, a law to give a credit off of this tax could not be written.

Short-term Goal 1 for Problem 1: Replace the ISD property tax with a Simple State Tax

The first project is to abolish the ISD property tax and replace it with a simple statewide tax. There aren’t many choices.  A state income tax and a state property tax are both unconstitutional in Texas.  The only two taxes left are a Value-added Tax, which is a hidden tax, or an expansion of the state sales tax.  The expansion of the state sales tax is the obvious choice.  It is simple, visible, voluntary, and flat.

We currently have a state sales tax, but it does not raise enough funds to replace the ISD property tax.  Rather than replacing the ISD property tax by dramatically raising the sales tax rate from its current 6.25%, it is better to broaden the tax.  Texas has many services that do not charge sales tax. By broadening the sales tax to include these un-taxed services, more tax funds can be raised without dramatically raising the tax rate.

Texas does have a state corporate-franchise tax, this tax can be used for a scholarship organization tax-credit, but not a family tax-credit (since corporations don’t have children. :)

Problem 2: The TSTA’s & AFT’s Grassroots Network

The Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA) and the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are the two major ISD employee associations.  In Texas, these associations (unions) cannot call a strike and they cannot make membership a requirement for employment or advancement.  So these unions are not as strong as they are in northern states where they can do these things.  In spite of that these unions are still very powerful in Texas.

The unions oppose charter schools, voucher programs, and tax-credit programs for a very simple reason.  All these innovations represent a direct threat to their income stream of member dues, because teachers in charter and private schools are not members of the TSTA or AFT.  The priority of the unions is not effective learning or even good teachers.  It is member dues.

The main political power of the TSTA & AFT is not money.  Since a majority of ISD employees are members of these organizations, they have a huge grassroots network in every county in Texas and they keep that network politically organized.  Although the elections of 2010 saw a great resurgence of conservatives in Texas, this network of ISD employees is powerful and tenacious.  They have not given up and will not go away easily.  I am sure that they are regrouping and preparing for a counter-attack.

In order to have any long-term success against the unions, we must match their network with our own network of passionate parents, teachers, and citizens who can clearly identify the enemy and are willing to invest time and resources to fight the war for the sake of the kids and the future of Texas.  I believe our grassroots organization has to be bipartisan and much bigger in order to have long-term victory.  How do we build such a network?

Problem 3: The Unions’ Strategic “Con Game”

In addition to their extensive grassroots organization, the unions’ successful strategy for the last 20 years has also included a huge “con game.”  They siphon the public school budget for themselves by adding unnecessary administrators and staff, which increases their member dues, but claim that they are focused on educating the kids and helping the neighborhood.  This lie only works because most low-income parents are suffering in silence, and this silence doesn’t contradict the union lies.

This lie is what the unions effectively hide behind.  If we propose an all out assault with a universal tax-credit program, the unions will complain that, “You right-wing bigots are trying to take the money away from the schools that are helping the poor inner-city kids.”  This lie has worked in the past, and it will work again, as long as the inner-city parents are silent.  How do we give inner-city parents a voice?

Short-term Goal 2 for Problems 2 & 3: Energizing Inner-city Parents with the “Parent Trigger”

If we can energize the sleeping giant of the inner-city parents, we can solve problems 2 & 3 at the same time.  So how do we energize them?

Inner-city parents have only one “education reform” goal.  They want their public school down the block where their child goes to school to improve.  Any goal bigger than that seems irrelevant and overwhelming.  We have to give them a way to change their public school down the block, one school at a time.

The “parent trigger” bill would give inner-city parents a way to organize to improve their public school down the block.  The bill would allow parents whose kids attend one particular public school to collect signatures on a petition to change the school’s management to a private management company free of union ties.  Then the school would be run effectively and efficiently outside of union control.  The name for this privately managed school is a charter school.  Collecting a majority of parent signatures would “trigger” or force the school district to make the conversion.  A small voucher program for the kids that don’t prefer the new charter school could be added.

If the parent-trigger becomes law, then the real job of Short-term Goal 2 begins.  This job is passing petitions in inner-city neighborhoods to energize and organize parents to improve their neighborhood school.  This will take time, but it should be productive because it engages parents at the level that they understand and care about.  This is the process of building the large bipartisan grassroots network required in Problem 2.

When some of the petitions “trigger”, the unions will try to block the charter conversions.  The unions will surely resist this reform because more charter schools mean less union dues.  But they will be opposing the very inner-city parents that they claim to be helping.  This will expose their lie, which gives them no place to hide.  Now the right-wing tea-partiers AND the inner-city parents will be united in their opposition to the unions.  Then we will have a grassroots army large enough to fight for universal tax-credits.

In summary, even though our long-term goal is universal family and scholarship tax-credits, there are two short-term goals that must be accomplished first.

Short-term goal 1 is to abolish the ISD property tax and substitute a broad-based state sales tax.

Short-term goal 2 is to pass the parent-trigger bill and start organizing parents to convert their local school to charter schools.

Both short-term goals can be worked on simultaneously.  When both are accomplished, the groundwork will be completed to move on the universal tax-credits.

Watch Oprah Talk About “Waiting for Superman”

September 28, 2010

Oprah Winfrey has highlighted the problem with failing schools and has told everyone to see the movie, “Waiting for Superman”.  Her show is on the five YouTube videos below.

Visit Fandango to find the theaters and times where you can see “Waiting for Superman” in your zip code.

Inner-city parochial schools are not the only ones struggling.

February 1, 2010

Here are some quotes from an excellent WSJ article about struggling Catholic schools.  The emphases are mine.

The bishop and his flock in Wichita, Kan., embraced a stewardship model that calls upon all parishioners to give 8% of their gross income, which allows the diocese to make all its Catholic schools tuition free.

We can’t wait for vouchers, and we can’t look to the old model of relying on our pastors and bishops to come up with the money and answers,” says Mr. Busch. “If we want Catholic schools for our children and our society, we have to adopt new models that let us compete.”

The NEA’s Democratic Puppets Final Answer? Abandon D.C.’s Poor Kids

December 19, 2009

WSJ Editorial exposes Senator Durbin’s (D-IL) trail of broken promises. Obama signs the bill that phases out the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.  So much for “education reform”.

Why a Universal School Choice Program instead of a Pilot School Choice Program?

July 31, 2009

A Universal School Choice Program gives all parents of K-12 students in Texas an opportunity to choose the best school for their children.

On the other hand, a Pilot School Choice Program only gives a special group of parents school choice, for example low-income parents whose kids go to inner-city academically unacceptable schools.

The Texas School Choice Movement has tried unsuccessfully to pass a pilot program for the last 15 years.  Those who promote a pilot program believe that the legislators typically opposed to school choice can be logically persuaded or emotionally shamed into voting for a pilot program because it is small, and it will help those families with the greatest need for school choice.

The pilot program supporters believe that once the “beachhead” of the pilot program is passed, then the “beachhead” can gradually be expanded toward a universal program.  A common analogy in political circles is “getting the camel’s nose under the tent.”  Once the camel’s nose is under the tent, the camel can easily pull the tent up with its nose.

This “beachhead” strategy might be right for naval invasion or pulling up a tent, but it doesn’t work in a political “war” against a powerful enemy, the teachers unions.  The pilot approach is about persuading or shaming legislators (not voters) into voting for your pilot.

Fundamentally, politics is “civilized war” waged with votes rather than bullets.  The fundamental source of power is committed voters, not “persuaded legislators”.  Time and energy must be focused on convincing voters, not legislators.  When the voters are committed to school choice, then it follows that the legislators will either be convinced or voted out of office. Dedicated voters are the army in political war. Like all armies, they must be motivated, educated, and organized.

But how do you motivate voters if there is no tangible benefit for their effort? A universal school choice program solves this problem, while a pilot program cannot.  When every parent in the “political army” is fighting for a school choice opportunity for their child, they are easily motivated.  Every parent has a “horse in the race”.

The teachers unions already have an army of committed voters. The army is public school employees.  Essentially, the school choice movement has to match our army of voters with its army of voters.  Whoever has the biggest, most dedicated, most organized voters wins.

There is an Wall Street Journal article by Howard Rich that makes my point more eloquently than I.

Why Education Tax Credits instead of Vouchers?

July 29, 2009

I believe that education tax credits are a better way to deliver parental choice in education than school vouchers for the following seven reasons.

With education tax credits,

1. the government doesn’t have to give up money that it already possesses,
2. the funds are never “public money”,
3. the government can’t use the money for other things besides education,
4. tax credits are well established public policy, currently being used to encourage energy efficiency, research & development, etc.
5. private schools will not fear accepting the scholarships,
6. only the funds of the taxpayer using the tax credit go to private schools, not other taxpayer’s tax dollars, and
7. the transition time, from the current system to a widespread school choice environment, is longer, thus making the transition smoother.

Here are the seven advantages in detail.

1.  Education tax credits keep the government from getting the school choice funds, while vouchers take money from the government after it has already received it.  During FDR’s administration in the 1930′s, the government knew that it would be difficult to depend on citizens to write checks to the government to pay for the new (in the 1930′s) payroll tax.  So FDR’s administration invented the payroll deduction system.  It knew that psychologically it is more painful to give up money that you already possess, than it is to not receive it in the first place.

Education tax credits are like payroll deduction for the government.  Since tax credits are deducted from your tax bill before you pay it, the government never has possession of the deducted tax dollars.

However vouchers are not like payroll deduction.  Tax bills are paid in full, so that the government possesses the tax dollars.  Then the government has to write a check (voucher) to the private school from the money that the government already possess.  Psychologically this is much more painful than tax credits.

2.  Education tax credits are never deposited in a government bank account, so the (deducted) money never becomes “public money.” All laws at the federal level (First Amendment) and at the state level (“Blaine” amendments), prohibit “public money” from being used in religious schools.  Since education tax credit money never becomes “public money”, then these laws don’t apply.  This makes education tax credits much easier to defend against litigation trying to strike down the law.  All current education tax credit programs in other states have withstood litigation trying to strike down the programs.

3.  Since the government never possesses tax credit dollars, it cannot use part of the funds for “overhead expenses.”  We all know that accounting procedures used by the government for keeping track of their “public money” are rather “creative.”  Most of the tax revenue that we pay gets lost in the government bureaucracy and is never seen again.  Tax credit dollars never fall prey to the bureaucracy because the government never possesses the money.

Since the government never possesses tax credit dollars, the program is valuable policy simply for shrinking the size of government, regardless of how the funds are used in the private sector.  Education tax credits provide the additional bonus of school choice, a desperately needed policy for the students of America.

4.  Tax credits are established pubic policy, whereas vouchers are not.  Examples of current tax credits are for corporate research and development expenses, hybrid car purchases, and energy efficient homes.  The only established policies remotely similar to vouchers are the GI Bill and food stamps, both of which are very distant relatives.

5.  Many private schools have expressed their fears of accepting voucher money, since it is “public money” to which the government can attach “strings” (restrictive conditions on receiving the funds.)  Education tax credit programs create “Scholarship Organizations,” which are private 501-c3 foundations which awards “private vouchers” (scholarships) to low income students.  Since this is private money coming from a private foundation, private schools will feel much more comfortable about accepting these funds.

6.  Sometimes opponents of vouchers object by saying, “I don’t want my tax dollars spent at XYZ School.”  However, tax credits completely preempt this argument.  When a particular taxpayer takes advantage of a tax credit, it is only his taxes that are being credited, not anyone else’s tax dollars.

7.  There is one aspect of education tax credits that, in the short run, can be perceived as a disadvantage compared to vouchers.  If voucher legislation is passed and qualifying families quickly become aware that vouchers are available, then the program can be used to help many students in a short time.  However, if tax credit legislation is passed, there are no scholarship dollars immediately available for low income families.  In addition to informing low income families about the program, the Scholarship Organizations must be established, and the taxpaying donors must be informed of the opportunity to take advantage of the education tax credit.  So the lag time, between passing the legislation to having it widely implemented, is much longer with a tax credit program.

But I see this “short-term problem” as a long-term advantage.  This long lag time for tax credits means that the opponents of school choice will perceive tax credits as a threat at some point in the future, while vouchers will be seen as an immediate threat.

A concern of the uncommitted voters is the “unknown transition period” from the current policy to a school choice policy.  For example, “What will happen to the kids who currently attend a public school that fails to compete in the school choice environment?”  Since tax credits have a longer lag time, the transition from the current system to a school choice environment is more gradual, which gives more time for public schools to adjust.

In summary, education tax credits have a clear advantage over school vouchers, and this is why my focus is on tax credits.  For more information about education tax credits, read this article by Adam B. Schaeffer at the Cato Institute.


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