Archive for the ‘Vouchers’ Category

‘How Schools Work’ Review: The Worm in the Apple

August 14, 2018

A former education secretary doesn’t pull his punches when it comes to teachers’ unions; still, the Obama administration didn’t take them on. Naomi Schaefer Riley reviews “How Schools Work” by Arne Duncan.

Striking Chicago public school teachers in 2012.
Striking Chicago public school teachers in 2012. PHOTO: SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES

Political memoirs are rarely tear-jerkers, but Arne Duncan’s look back at his time as secretary of education under Barack Obama may make school reformers want to cry. It’s not so much that Mr. Duncan, who served from 2009 to 2015 after a stint as head of the Chicago public schools, was bad at his job or in any way unprepared for its challenges. In fact, as “How Schools Work” makes clear, he understood a great deal about the problems plaguing American education. But that very understanding makes his cabinet tenure—recounted here alongside other tales from his public life—feel like a painful missed opportunity.

Mr. Duncan’s theme is that our education system is built on lies. He tells the story of volunteering, while he was in college, at his mother’s after-school tutoring program in Chicago, where she helped neighborhood kids with their schoolwork. His principal charge was a young African-American named Calvin, a rising high-school senior who had more than enough basketball talent to play for a Division I team. Mr. Duncan assumed that Calvin, a solid B-student from an intact, hard-working family, just needed some help studying for the ACT ahead of applying for college—until the first day that Mr. Duncan sat down with him and realized that he was reading at the level of a second-grader. Despite a summer of hard work, Calvin wasn’t going anywhere.

“The lies told to Calvin,” Mr. Duncan writes, “were not told to torture him. . . . More often than not they existed to protect resources, or to safeguard jobs, or to control what kids were taught and how or whether they were tested on what they knew.” Calvin was ill-served by a system that kept passing him along to the next grade level when he hadn’t mastered the basic skills of the one before.

‘How Schools Work’ Review: The Worm in the Apple
PHOTO: WSJ

HOW SCHOOLS WORK

By Arne Duncan
Simon & Schuster, 243 pages, $26.99

When it comes to the role that teachers’ unions play in the problems of public education, Mr. Duncan doesn’t pull his punches. Upon taking charge of the public schools in Chicago in 2001, he discovered (with the help of the Chicago-based economist Steven Levitt ) that at least 5% of the city’s teachers were helping their students cheat on standardized tests. He was appalled but felt stymied: “If I’d asked Mayor [Richard] Daley to fire 5 percent of all Chicago teachers, then there would have been hell to pay.” The episode is emblematic beyond its particular circumstances: In what other profession is it acceptable to retain people who you know are falsifying results?

Mr. Duncan notes that for teachers’ unions it’s controversial to say—as Mr. Obama did during the 2008 campaign at the National Education Association’s annual meeting—that school districts should be able “to reward those who teach underserved areas or take on added responsibility. As teachers learn new skills or serve their students better or if they consistently excel in the classroom, that work can be valued and rewarded as well.” This statement in favor of merit pay, Mr. Duncan observes, got candidate Obama “treated to a round of boos.”

Mr. Duncan supports charter schools—though not as vocally as Betsy DeVos, the current education secretary—because, free of union contracts and bureaucratic burdens, they offer an alternative to underprivileged kids stuck in the classrooms of the lowest performing teachers. (He opposes school vouchers because he thinks they steal money from public schools; not surprisingly, the voucher program for poor children in Washington, D.C., repeatedly saw its funding cut during the Obama years.) In the end, the Obama administration either couldn’t buck the unions or didn’t want to.

Oddly, Mr. Duncan’s most publicized fights were with parents. In Chicago, they hounded him for closing failing schools. But he was right: There is sometimes no way to improve a terrible school short of shutting it down; keeping it open because it’s a fixture in the neighborhood does kids no favors.

In Washington, Mr. Duncan made the mistake of criticizing the “suburban moms” who were opting out of standardized testing for their kids, worried that test preparation would stress out their children and get in the way of more enriching classroom activities. But again he was right. If we don’t test kids across the full performance spectrum (including wealthy children on Long Island), Mr. Duncan argues, we won’t know how those at the bottom are really doing

Along the same lines, he defends No Child Left Behind—the George W. Bush-era program that required each state to create assessments at various grade levels—because it disaggregated student data by race, giving a fuller picture of where help was needed. At one point, a parent from a closing school accuses Mr. Duncan of being a racist. He replies: “If I were a racist, then I would leave this school exactly as it is.” As Mr. Duncan’s account makes clear, it would be hard to devise an educational system that is more harmful to racial minorities if we tried.

Mr. Duncan offers a lot of trivial solutions at the end of the book that he says could also improve things—universal pre-K programs, more after-school programs, more counselors to prevent gun violence—but most of these ideas would simply give more jobs to union employees and make it that much harder to achieve real reform. For the most part, though, Mr. Duncan does understand “how schools work.” The tragedy is that he and his boss didn’t have what it takes to make them work better.

Ms. Riley is the author, most recently, of “Be the Parent, Please: Stop Banning Seesaws and Start Banning Snapchat.”

Appeared in the August 14, 2018, print edition as ‘The Worm In the Apple.’

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Trump’s School-Choice Fight

September 19, 2016

His plan to let money follow the child is a moral and political winner.

 

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Sept. 17.ENLARGE
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Sept. 17. PHOTO: REUTERS

If Donald Trump knew that promoting school choice would cause such a ruckus on the left, maybe he’d have weighed in sooner. The Republican nominee has found a winning issue by pitching a plan to “provide school choice to every disadvantaged student in America.” Amen.

During a visit to the Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy, Mr. Trump proposed a $20 billion block grant for states by redirecting federal education money to support charter schools and vouchers. He also endorsed merit pay for teachers and said he’d support local candidates who champion school choice.

Most of the $50 billion or so that the federal government spends on K-12 education is targeted to particular programs like teacher training, and rural and STEM education. About $14 billion in Title I funds are earmarked for disadvantaged students. However, this money doesn’t follow kids to private schools, and states often shortchange charter schools.

Mr. Trump wants to let states use federal funds to boost voucher awards, so parents rather than governments get to choose where the money goes. As he noted in Cleveland, “there is no failed policy more in need of urgent change than our government-run education monopoly.” Judging by the panicky reaction on the left, you’d think he’d proposed eliminating public education.

Hillary Clinton said his block-grant plan would “decimate public schools across America.” Yet $20 billion is merely 3% of what states spend on K-12 education each year and less than the increase in school spending in California since 2012. By the way, charters are public schools—freed of union control.

Mrs. Clinton is showing how far left she has moved on education. President Obama has been hostile to vouchers; recall former Attorney General Eric Holder’s efforts to shut down Louisiana’s voucher program that principally benefits poor black kids. But at least Mr. Obama supported charters, while Mrs. Clinton is now openly hostile to these reform public schools.

Unions and their friends are trying to deflect attention from Mr. Trump’s speech and minority outreach by saying the charter school where he announced his plan received a failing grade on Ohio’s school-progress report card last year. But the charter flunked due to a switch in state tests last year that caused student scores to slump nearly everywhere in the state.

In 2014 about 71% of third graders at Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy were proficient in reading. On the new test 55% rated as proficient. Yet the share of students at Cleveland Arts who scored proficient was still more than twice as high as at Harvey Rice Elementary (which has a similar demographic makeup) down the block. That school got an A on student growth.

It’s ironic that progressives are howling about the charter’s performance on standardized tests, which they usually insist are a poor indicator of school and teacher quality. Why is it that the only schools that unions believe should be held accountable for student performance are those run by their competition? That’s a question Mr. Trump should ask from here to November.

Congressman Paul Ryan Talks Education In WSJ

January 26, 2014

Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin wrote a feature column in the Wall Street Journal this weekend to discuss the “war on poverty” as it turns 50 years old. Congressman Ryan, who worked extensively with the late Jack Kemp in the early 1990’s before becoming a Congressman, is advocating many of the ideals that Kemp spent a career fighting for, such as parental choice in education, and local leadership taking control and solving problems, rather than bureaucrats in Washington far removed from the situation.

The two excerpts below really highlight some smart, innovative thinking when it comes to education. They say sunlight is the best disinfectant, and I think Congressman Ryan shining a light on these ideas in the WSJ is really important. I’m curious to know your thoughts.

One day at Pulaski High School in Milwaukee, a fight broke out between two students. The staff separated them, but one of the students, a young woman named Marianna, refused to relent. She continued to fight—now with the staff—and to cause a stir. Then a call went out over the school radio for “Lulu” to respond. Soon, Marianna began to calm down. Once she arrived, Lulu quickly defused the situation. Of all the people at Pulaski High—all the teachers and administrators—only one person got through to Marianna that day, and it was Lulu.

“Lulu” is Mrs. Louisa, one of five youth advisers in Pulaski High’s Violence-Free Zone program. Along with program head Andre Robinson and site supervisor Naomi Perez, they work as a band of roving mentors. On a typical day, you’ll find them walking the halls in black polo shirts. They chat with students, break up fights and help with homework. Most of them are recent alumni who grew up in the inner city, and they have the scars to prove it. They’ve been part of gangs. They’ve seen violence firsthand.

But they don’t have education degrees or state certification. They have something more important: credibility. The youth advisers understand what the students are going through because they’ve had the same struggles. That credibility creates trust, and so the students listen to them. In the two years since the program started, suspensions at Pulaski High are down by 60%, and daily attendance is up by nearly 10%. Fourteen gangs used to roam the school grounds; today, they’ve all but disappeared. The school tried all sorts of things to keep students safe—more police presence, more cameras. But only this program worked.

Mrs. Louisa, Mrs. Perez and Mr. Robinson aren’t just keeping kids in school; they’re fighting poverty on the front lines. If you graduate from high school, you’re much less likely to end up poor. According to the Census Bureau, a high-school graduate makes $10,000 a year more, on average, than a high-school dropout, and a college graduate makes $36,000 more. Ever since that day at Pulaski High, Marianna has improved her grades and now she is looking at colleges. Yet for all its professed concern about families in need, Washington is more concerned with protecting the status quo than with pursuing what actually works.

Later:

• In education, give teachers more control, and give parents a choice. Some of the most exciting work in education has occurred in Indiana. Three years ago, then-governor Mitch Daniels shepherded through the legislature several bold reforms.

Before the reforms, union-negotiated contracts required teachers to earn compensation based on seniority, not performance, and the contracts dictated all aspects of the classroom experience, from the humidity level in the school to the number of hours a teacher must spend with students. Under the new laws, teachers’ pay is based on performance. In exchange, they have more control over the classroom. Collective bargaining covers only wages and benefits, so teachers can tailor the curriculum to the needs of their students.

Low-income families are also now eligible for tuition vouchers on a sliding scale, and the reforms allow parents unhappy with a low-performing public school to turn it into a charter school with the approval of their local school board.

WSJ: Vouchers Can Help Kids and Big-City Politicians

October 8, 2013

The Wall Street Journal has yet another great op-ed about Education Reform.

Politicians in cash-strapped municipalities can give families choice while saving money.

By Kevin P. Chavous

In his former post as White House chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously remarked: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” What he said next is less remembered: “And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

These words come to mind as municipal governments across the country—from Stockton, Calif., to Jefferson County, Ala., to Mr. Emanuel’s own city—grapple with massively underfunded public pensions, lowered bond ratings, and the prospect of layoffs for thousands of teachers and other public employees. These crises are opportunities for leaders to do things they could not do before.

I see this most clearly in public education. As a former chairman of the education committee on the District of Columbia City Council, I’ve experienced firsthand the tensions between paying bills racked up in the past and honoring the obligations we have to young students in the present and future. It is deeply unfair to settle adult disputes over pension obligations and fiscal mismanagement on the backs of school children who weren’t even alive when the problems were created. In D.C., we chose to put our children first. Other cities can do the same.

How? By unleashing parental choice in education. While public-school systems take the painful steps necessary to remain solvent, public dollars can and should follow students to less costly and higher-performing private schools and public-charter schools.

The word “voucher” is a dirty word to many teachers and administrators in public schools, but it shouldn’t be. With a well-run parental-choice program, elected officials and administrators can significantly reduce the stress on public-school budgets while living up to their obligation to provide great educational opportunities for young people.

In 2004, when I headed the D.C. City Council education committee, we secured federal funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers to low-income students for tuition at private schools that outperformed public schools. We also secured funding to improve the city’s charter and traditional public schools. Between 2004 and 2012, the program received more than 11,000 applications and awarded 4,900 scholarships.

In June 2012, after the Obama administration nearly phased the program out, House Speaker John Boehner and then Sen. Joseph Lieberman reached an agreement with the Education Department to renew the scholarships. As Mr. Boehner said at the time: “Thousands of families have taken advantage of this scholarship program to give their children an opportunity to succeed in life, and there’s strong evidence that it’s both effective and cost-effective.”

In the 2011-12 school year, D.C. students who used the scholarship program to attend private schools had a high-school graduation rate of more than 90%. The city’s charter schools had a graduation rate of 77%, far above the traditional public-school graduation rate of 56%.

Other elected officials across the country are making similar choices. Last year, in the midst of a budget crisis, Louisiana lawmakers expanded the Louisiana Scholarship Program. Begun in New Orleans in 2008, the program provides low-income parents whose children are assigned to a failing school the opportunity to send them to a private school.

This school year, some 8,000 students statewide—91% of them minority—are using vouchers to attend private schools. A survey conducted in February by the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the Louisiana Federation for Children reported that 93.6% of parents were satisfied with their child’s academic progress in the voucher program. The new statewide program includes strong accountability measurements in order to remove schools that do not increase student proficiency.

According to the Louisiana Department of Education, the program is also saving the state’s taxpayers an estimated $16 million a year. The average scholarship last year was about $5,000, while the average amount spent per public-school student was about $8,500.

Empowering communities and families requires leaders with the guts to step out of their political comfort zones. There will be no shortage of defenders of the status quo, teachers unions chief among them. But that’s no reason to let this crisis go to waste.

Mr. Chavous is executive counsel to the American Federation for Children, chairman of Democrats for Education Reform, and a board member of Educational Choice Illinois.

Last year, in the midst of a budget crisis, Louisiana lawmakers expanded the Louisiana Scholarship Program. Begun in New Orleans in 2008, the program provides low-income parents whose children are assigned to a failing school the opportunity to send them to a private school.

This school year, some 8,000 students statewide—91% of them minority—are using vouchers to attend private schools. A survey conducted in February by the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the Louisiana Federation for Children reported that 93.6% of parents were satisfied with their child’s academic progress in the voucher program. The new statewide program includes strong accountability measurements in order to remove schools that do not increase student proficiency.

According to the Louisiana Department of Education, the program is also saving the state’s taxpayers an estimated $16 million a year. The average scholarship last year was about $5,000, while the average amount spent per public-school student was about $8,500.

Empowering communities and families requires leaders with the guts to step out of their political comfort zones. There will be no shortage of defenders of the status quo, teachers unions chief among them. But that’s no reason to let this crisis go to waste.

Mr. Chavous is executive counsel to the American Federation for Children, chairman of Democrats for Education Reform, and a board member of Educational Choice Illinois.

Republican Rx: Parental Choice in Education

November 27, 2012

This column appears at National Review Online:

Republican Rx: Parental Choice in Education
To reach Latino voters, the GOP needs to make it a paramount issue.

By  Lance T. Izumi

In the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s defeat, Republicans are scrambling to find a winning electoral formula. While the punditry class advises the GOP to cave in on immigration and social issues, the bigger and better opportunity for Republicans to increase their voter base and divide the Democrats would be to make parental choice in education a loud priority.

So much of the conventional wisdom dished out by Monday-morning-quarterbacking media grandees is wrong. Pandering to different demographic groups won’t open the voter floodgates for Republicans, because Democrats will always be willing to call the GOP’s bet and raise it. What Republicans need is an issue on which Democrats cannot outflank them and that will appeal to ordinary voters in populous Democratic strongholds. Parental choice in education fits that bill.

Democrats cannot outbid Republicans on parental choice because their paymasters, the teachers’ unions, won’t allow them. President Obama claims to support education reform but opposes full-blown choice options such as voucher programs. His reasons, such as believing that money is better spent on increasing public-school funding and that voucher-scholarship programs don’t improve student achievement, are easily rebutted, as the empirical evidence shows otherwise. More important, the groups that Republicans are trying to win over support wider parental-choice options.

The Washington, D.C., voucher-scholarship program, for example, has strong support among African-American parents in the nation’s capital. Among Latinos, the support for school-choice options is huge and exceeds that of the public in general. According to a May 2012 survey by the American Federation for Children and the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (HCREO), an eye-opening 69 percent of Latino voters in five swing states supported vouchers, versus 57 percent of all voters.

“Unfortunately,” notes Julio Fuentes, president and CEO of HCREO, “a lot of our Latino families come from low-income areas [where] choice is the only way that they are going to be able to achieve that American dream of graduating high school and going on to make something of themselves.” While the Democrat-sponsored DREAM Act focuses on the illegal-immigrant slice of the Latino population, choice options such as vouchers to attend private schools are accessible to all segments of the Latino community. In other words, parental choice is the true dream act for all.

While most Democrats have abandoned their constituents on school choice, most Republicans have supported them. However, that support has often been quiet and low-key.

Mitt Romney supported parental-choice options such as vouchers, but his comments on the issue were limited and didn’t form the backbone of his appeal to Latino and other minority voters. That strategy must change immediately.

Latino voters are more likely than most to say education is a leading issue for them. Yet, says Mr. Fuentes, “The immigration debate from a national level has taken the spotlight, and this educational crisis that we find ourselves in, especially within our Hispanic community, just seems to never be discussed.” Republicans have to show that they care deeply about this critical issue, and there’s no better way to demonstrate that they care than by championing popular and beneficial parental-choice programs.

So here is what Republican leaders and candidates can do: become megaphones for parents and parental choice; immerse yourselves in communities and do the hard work of building choice-based coalitions; participate very publicly in grassroots demonstrations such as National School Choice Week; learn from Republican heroes such as Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, who pushed through landmark choice legislation; and promise not to play it safe, play by conventional rules, or cede the playing field to the other side.

By making parental choice a paramount issue, Republicans don’t have to sell out their principles of freedom and liberty — they just have to amp up the zeal of their belief.

— Lance T. Izumi is Koret Senior Fellow and senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute.

Chicago Democrat Embraces Vouchers

February 25, 2010

A fascinating WSJ article about Rev. James Meeks, a black pastor, who is also a leading voice for the Illinois Democratic Party, choosing to force reform on the Chicago public schools.

Read this quote by Rev. Meeks to understand his wisdom.

The voucher movement seems to have been born, or seems to have been started as a Republican idea. That’s the way Democrats look at it. That’s the way black lawmakers look at it. This is a Republican idea. This is what the Republicans want to push on us. . . . We don’t seem to see public schools not working in your area.

How does “the Reverend Senator” plan to get enough Democrats on his coalition to get [vouchers passed]?

“I’m banking on the difficulty Democrats will have telling these parents, ‘No, you’re not going to have choice. Your kids are locked into these failing schools.'”

Sasha Sidorkin’s Hyper-Vouchers: Analysis & Comparison to Other Proposals

July 20, 2009

This is an editorial by Dr. Alexander “Sasha” Sidorkin from the Dallas Examiner.com.   Dr. Sidorkin also has a book entitled Labor of Learning and a blog entitled “The Russian Bear’s Diaries”.

Hyper-Vouchers: A Radical Solution for American Education

Both New York City schools and Washington, DC schools have pilot programs that pay students to learn. Mexico and Brazil have programs that pay families whose kids go to school. This is, by far, the most radical, and the most promising solution to the educational underperformance of American kids. In my view, these programs are not radical enough, because the sums paid to kids are nowhere near to what the public spends on education.

In the fiscal year 2006, school districts in the United States spent an average of $9,138 per student. New York State’s average is almost $15,000, although the City’s expenditures are a little lower, at about $12,000 in the 2004/2005 academic year (the last available year). We’re talking very serious money. Just imagine that the money would be paid not to schools but to the families directly, if the children can demonstrate learning. If the family has the skills and motivation to teach their own kids, they pocket the whole $15,000 a year. If they cannot, they may hire a tutor or sign up with a school of some sort, and share the learning income with those schools or tutors. Pass a test – get paid.

This would put the incentives to where they belong – with students themselves. We can provide all kinds of incentives to teachers, but if children are not motivated, it is not going to work. Education is not consumption; it is hard work, and it benefits us all more than it benefits about half of all K-12 students. This is why we’re subsidizing it in the first place. We should treat learning as any other job: if the society as a whole benefits from basic education, and is willing to pay money for it, why not pay directly to those people who actually need to learn?  For the educational system to become more efficient, we must stop paying for attempting to teach, and start paying for proven learning.

Is it possible to implement? You bet. ETS and other testing agencies have decades of experience in administering tests on mass scale. Those tests do not need to be primitive testing of facts; they can include sophisticated measures of thinking, writing, and computational skills. Testing centers can be cheaply set up wherever there is internet access; each kid can have an account that keeps track of tests and of money paid to the student.

Will it leave behind poor children? Not at all; in fact, it will put resources into the hands of poor parents, and allow them to find the best educational solutions – with or without schools. We can also index payments in such a way that children with disadvantages such as poverty, non-native speakers, or with disabilities – receive higher payments than those kids with advantages. That will attract more talented teachers and tutors to poorer neighborhood, and create incentives for better specialized services for kids with learning disabilities.

Hyper-vouchers are the way to go. America has a history of radical, bold innovations. It has not been a part of our educational system for a while, but perhaps now is the time.

________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________

Bob Schoolfield’s Analysis and Comparison to other Proposed Solutions

I am surprised the no one has commented on your radical (hyper-voucher) solution to the education mess.  Maybe they thought it was too preposterous (but I don’t) to comment on.  So I will bless you with a comment on your plan.

First, I will describe what I think are the differences between your plan and a traditional voucher plan.  I also want to compare your plan with the education tax credit plan advocated by the Cato Institute.  Then, I will give what I see are the advantages and disadvantages to each plan.

1. Hyper-voucher: The family is “paid” only if the child makes progress on an achievement test.
Traditional voucher: The family gets their voucher regardless of academic achievement.
Tax Credit: The family gets a “private scholarship” from a Scholarship Organization, which may or may not put some academic progress requirement on the scholarship.  The Scholarship Organization is funded by a dollar for dollar tax credit on the “ISD tax”.

2. HV: The family gets hard cash.
TV: The family gets an “education stamp” (like a food stamp) that can only be spent for school tuition and may need to provide proof of attendance.
TC: The family must provide receipts or proof of attendance to get from the Scholarship Organization reimbursements for family educational expenses or monthly payments directly to the school.

3. HV: Money comes directly from government. (public money)
TV: Also, money comes directly from government. (public money)
TC: Money comes indirectly through tax credits. (private money)

Next, the advantages and disadvantages of each system.

1. Hyper-voucher
Advantages:
A. There is a clear financial motivation for the student in partnership with the parents to work hard to meet the achievement test goal.

B. The family has the freedom to choose whatever means is best to achieve the test goal (no strings).

C. Because the state is providing the funds, the program can start in full force after passage.

Disadvantages:
A. How does the family finance the student’s education the first year?
Possible answers:
a. No government provision, i.e. attend public school or finance from family’s current resources.
b. First year the family gets “full pay” unconditionally.

B. How does the state avoid paying double?  If the state pays to educate student in public school, and the family gets paid when student passes the exam, then state has paid double.
Possible answer:
a. Attending public school disqualifies the family from being paid.  This is a strong disincentive for
attending public school and the exodus from public school will be more rapid.

C. There is a strong incentive for the state to make the achievement test very difficult so that they only pay a few families and force the rest back into the public schools.

D. If a student flunks the achievement test, what happens to the student?
Possible answers:
a. Family gets no pay and student must return to public school or be financed from family’s current
resources.
b. Rather than a pass/fail test, it could be a 0% – 100% test and the family gets the students percentage
grade of the “full pay” hyper-voucher.

E. Who designs the test?  Since the stakes of passing the test are so high, you have a temptation to “teach to the test” or even cheat, e.g. tester sells half the answers via a kickback.  Is only one test adequate in high school?  How about a “white collar” test and a “blue collar” test.

F. Will the teachers unions let it pass?  I think not.  If they won’t let vouchers be passed, to which they can attach all types of government strings, they are not going to let unrestricted hard cash out of their bank account with no strings attached.  They will hate it even more when they realize that families have a disincentive to stay in the public school system.  Either traditional voucher or tuition tax credits have a much better chance of passing.

G. The money come directly from a government account so it is “government money”.  Although U.S.Supreme Court has ruled favorably for government money to be used in a voucher system, there are still problems in state courts.  Many states have very restrictive language in their constitutions prohibiting any state funds going to any sectarian school.  These are called “Blaine amendment” after the senator that promoted them in the 1800’s.  Google “Blaine amendment” and you can study the historical context under which they were passed.  Texas has a Blaine amendment, although it is not as restrictive as most of the amendments.  Voucher programs in Florida, Colorado and two in Arizona have been struck down in state courts because of the Blaine amendments.

2. Traditional Voucher
Advantages:

A. Because the state is providing the funds, the program can start in full force after passage.

Disadvantages:
A. The family doesn’t have a clear financial motive to do well in school.  The traditional voucher has no academic restrictions.  Although this is an advantage to the HV, I think it is much less than Mr. Sidorkin believes.  I believe that the primary reason that parents are not involved in their child’s education is because they see themselves as powerless to have any control or ownership of their child’s education.  When the great majority of parents see that they can choose their child’s school, they will take ownership of their child’s education, become more involved, and make sure they get a good education for their voucher.  I believe that most parents don’t want an easy road for their kids such that the kids can’t take care of themselves.

B. The TV is much more likely to have “bureaucratic strings” attached to its redemption by a private school.  This would restrict the use of the TV money much more than the HV.  The HV has only one powerful “academic achievement string” making it less likely to get any other strings.

C. Will the teachers unions let it pass?  It’s much more likely to pass than the HV, especially if the unions can attach a lot of strings in the effort to get their tentacles into the private school industry.

D. The TV has the same “government money” problem that the HV does.

3. Educational Tax Credit
Advantages:

A. The most important advantage of the TC program is that the money comes from private donors, who receive tax credits for their donations.  This money is NOT PUBLIC MONEY.  It is clearly private money and is free from any attack based on the money being public money.  So far every tax credit program in existence has withstood every lawsuit raised against it.

B. The organizations distributing the scholarship money are a private charities, Scholarship Organizations.  Because there can be many such Scholarship Organizations, each can develop their own academic and/or attendance requirements using whichever test they choose.

C. Since the state is not distributing the scholarships, the families are more likely to have plenty of freedom to choose whatever means is best to achieve a quality education for their children.  Private schools will be much more comfortable receiving scholarships from a private charity than from the government.

D. Will the teachers unions let it pass?  Although any of these reforms will meet with teachers union resistance, I believe the TC program has the best chance of passing.  Why?
a. Because tax credits are a well established public policy vehicle.
b. The state doesn’t have to write a check to a family or private school.  It’s much more painful to give
up money that you already possess than to not get money that you anticipated getting.  That is why
payroll deduction works so well for collecting taxes.

Disadvantages:
A.  Because the state is not providing the funds, the program will start slowly and gain momentum over time.  The program has to be sold to donors and scholarship organizations have to be created.

(Advantage E.)  Actually the slow start has an advantage in overcoming teachers union resistance.  They also know that the program will start slowly and may or may not get real traction.  This slow start lowers the threat level of the TC program over the HV or TV.

In summary, I believe that the education tax credit program is the clear winner. I would give second place to the hyper-voucher with the huge disadvantage being that the teachers unions would NEVER let a hyper-voucher program pass the state legislature.  The traditional voucher comes in last.

Grassroots Lession 1

March 13, 2009

Objective: Find out who your State Senator and State Representative are and print or save their contact information.

1. Use your internet browser (e.g., Internet Explorer) to go to this webpage

http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/

2. Type in your address and click “Submit” button.

3. Print or Save this webpage as an MHTML Document.

(For Internet Explorer, look for the toolbar at the top of this window that has “File Edit View Favorites…”. Click “File”; then click “Print” or “Save As…”; find a folder where you want to save the document; change the name of the document (if you don’t like “Who Represents Me—Districts By Address”); then click “Save” button.)

The most important name on this document is the name of your “Texas State Representative”. It is after “Texas State Senator” and before “Texas State Board of Education Member”. Why? Because the State Representative district is the smallest district. Therefore your vote counts more, since there are fewer total votes.

If you finish this lesson, please send me a email so that I can know who has completed what.
Bob Schoolfield
bob@LetsChooseSchools.com

In the next lesson, you will call your State Representative. I will suggest what you can say over the phone.