Posts Tagged ‘voucher students’

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.

Justice Department bids to trap poor, black children in ineffective schools

September 8, 2013

Washington Post

By Editorial Board, , Published: September 1

NINE OF 10 Louisiana children who receive vouchers to attend private schools are black. All are poor and, if not for the state assistance, would be consigned to low-performing or failing schools with little chance of learning the skills they will need to succeed as adults. So it’s bewildering, if not downright perverse, for the Obama administration to use the banner of civil rights to bring a misguided suit that would block these disadvantaged students from getting the better educational opportunities they are due.

The Justice Department has petitioned a U.S. District Court to bar Louisiana from awarding vouchers for the 2014-15 school year to students in public school systems that are under federal desegregation orders, unless the vouchers are first approved by a federal judge. The government argues that allowing students to leave their public schools for vouchered private schools threatens to disrupt the desegregation of school systems. A hearing is tentatively set for Sept. 19.

There’s no denying the state’s racist history of school segregation or its ugly efforts in the late 1960s and early 1970s to undermine desegregation orders by helping white children to evade racially integrated schools. These efforts included funneling public money to all-white private schools. But the situation today bears no resemblance to those terrible days. Since most of the students using vouchers are black, it is, as State Education Superintendent John White pointed out to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “a little ridiculous” to argue that the departure of mostly black students to voucher schools would make their home school systems less white. Every private school participating in the voucher program must comply with the color-blind policies of the federal desegregation court orders.

The government’s argument that “the loss of students through the voucher program reversed much of the progress made toward integration” becomes even more absurd upon examination of the cases it cited in its petition. Consider the analysis from University of Arkansas professor of education reform Jay P. Greene of a school that lost five white students through vouchers and saw a shift in racial composition from 29.6 percent white to 28.9 percent white. Another school that lost six black students and saw a change in racial composition from 30.1 percent black to 29.2 percent black. “Though the students . . . almost certainly would not have noticed a difference, the racial bean counters at the DOJ see worsening segregation,” Mr. Greene wrote on his blog.

The number that should matter to federal officials is this: Roughly 86 percent of students in the voucher program came from schools that were rated D or F. Mr. White called ironic using rules to fight racism to keep students in failing schools; we think it appalling.

Unfortunately, though, it is not a surprise from an administration that, despite its generally progressive views on school reform, has proven to be hostile — as witnessed by its petty machinations against D.C.’s voucher program — to the school choice afforded by private-school vouchers. Mr. White told us that from Day One, the five-year-old voucher program has been subject to unrelenting scrutiny and questions from federal officials. Louisiana parents are clamoring for the choice afforded by this program; the state is insisting on accountability; poor students are benefiting. The federal government should get out of the way.

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.

Vouchers Also Cost Taxpayers Less

May 16, 2011
  • Wall Street Journal
    LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
  • MAY 12, 2011

Jason L. Riley’s “The Evidence Is In: School Vouchers Work” (op-ed, May 3) might have mentioned what for many might be the most important reason to send kids to private school: the huge savings to taxpayers.

The stunning total taxpayer cost of the inferior Washington, D.C public schools is over $28,000 per student. Even after pulling the special-ed kids’ cost out of the average, the taxpayers are paying about $23,000 per D.C. public-school student.

Contrast that absurd public-school outlay with the cost of a D.C. education voucher—up to $7,500 per student. The actual average D.C. voucher school charges only $6,620 (many are Catholic schools).

Taxpayers save over $15,000 annually in direct costs per D.C. voucher student. Another plus for private schools is that there is no unfunded public-pension taxpayer liability.

D.C. is running a highly restricted voucher program, complete with a lottery to pick the lucky few low-income recipients. Instead, D.C. (and urban school districts throughout the nation) should be moving toward an orderly transfer of the education of our young from government to private schools. That is, we should do so if we care more about the kids and taxpayers than we do about the powerful education labor unions.

Richard Rider

San Diego

Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Mr. President, What’s Up with Superman?

October 6, 2010

Here’s another great WSJ editorial, “Speak Up on D.C. Schools, Mr. President“, about Obama and education reform.  Some highlights:

That deafening roar you hear—that’s the sound of Barack Obama’s silence on the future of school reform in the District of Columbia. And if he doesn’t break it soon, he may become the first president in two decades to have left Washington’s children with fewer chances for a good school than when he started.

The mayor who appointed [DC's] reform-minded schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, went down to defeat.  Even now, when Ms. Rhee’s fate—and that of D.C. school reform—hangs in the balance, Mr. Obama remains mute.

“All he has to do is to say two simple sentences. First, ‘I support anyone who gives D.C. parents more options and more accountability.’ Second, ‘We need to keep D.C. on the path of reform with a schools chancellor like Michelle Rhee,'” …says Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform.

“All presidents have the bully pulpit,” says Mr. Chavous, head of the Black Alliance for Educational Opportunity. “This president in particular has the power to change hearts and minds instantly.”

But will he?

Vouchers Go Bipartisan in Pennsylvania

September 8, 2010

The WSJ reports good news from Pennsylvania. Both the Republican AND Democratic candidates are supporting school vouchers. Highlights:

Last month, and to widespread surprise, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato came out in support of school vouchers for underprivileged kids.

[In] November Pennsylvania voters will get to choose between two candidates who are on record in support of a statewide school voucher program.

The Obama Administration … refuses to acknowledge that vouchers can play a role in reforming K-12 education. But states and cities are the real engines of reform, and the Pennsylvania developments are another sign that the school choice movement is alive and well.

More Evidence of ‘What Works’ for American Education

February 8, 2010

Three highlights from an excellent WSJ article about research in favor of vouchers.

“In 2008 the graduation rate for voucher students was 77% versus 65% for the nonvoucher students…”

The voucher students receive less than half the public funding that the public students receive.

“The Milwaukee program has survived for 20 years despite ferocious political opposition, and it would have died long ago if parents didn’t believe their children were better off for it.”

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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