Posts Tagged ‘parental choice in education’

Learn Free or Die

April 26, 2017

 

New Hampshire can put its famous state motto to work on education.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Last month, Arizona became the second state after Nevada to enact universal education savings accounts, or ESAs, which allow parents to spend a state’s per-pupil aid amount on other education options. New Hampshire may soon be the next state to establish a universal right to freedom of education—if Republicans don’t lose their nerve.

In 2012, the Granite State established a modest tax-credit scholarship program, but last year only 178 students—less than 0.1% of statewide public school enrollment—received awards, which average about 15% of $14,909 per-student public school spending. The state Senate opened the school-choice doors last month by passing a universal ESA bill that would give parents who withdraw their kids from public schools 90% of their child’s per-pupil state allocation to spend on private-school tuition, curriculum, tutoring or other state-approved education expenses.

The legislation is now facing resistance in the GOP-controlled House. At a hearing last week, there were questions about inferior accommodations for students with disabilities at private schools. But parents wouldn’t be forced to withdraw their kids from public schools. If they like their local public school, they can keep their child in it. Some Republicans worry about the fiscal impact on rural school districts. But these districts have to rationalize labor and overhead costs eventually due to demographic changes.

State Board of Education Chairman Tom Raffio has argued that ESAs are unnecessary because New Hampshire’s public schools rank among the best in the nation. That’s partly an artifact of the state’s predominantly well-to-do population. Still, only 31% of low-income fourth graders in 2015 scored proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a seven-point decline since 2013. Parents unhappy with results like this should be able to seek alternatives.

Meanwhile in Nevada, a state Supreme Court decision overturning its funding mechanism has their program and about 8,000 parents on hold. GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval ought to veto new spending bills until his Democratic legislature funds ESAs.

It is hard to justify one-size-fits-all-public education in an era that increasingly allows people to exercise choice in most aspects of their lives. Republicans in New Hampshire would be fortifying the state’s motto to live free or die by embracing the freedom to learn.

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Hillary Clinton’s School Choice

August 1, 2016

WSJ Review & Outlook

She used to support charters. Now she’s for the union agenda.

No one would call the 2016 election a battle of ideas, but it will have policy consequences. So it’s worth noting the sharp left turn by Hillary Clinton and Democrats against education reform and the charter schools she and her husband championed in the 1990s.

Mrs. Clinton recently promised a National Education Association (NEA) assembly higher pay, student-loan write-offs, less testing and universal pre-K. She had only this to say about charter schools, which are free from union rules: “When schools get it right, whether they are traditional public schools or public charter schools, let’s figure out what’s working” and “share it with schools across America.”

The crowd booed, so Mrs. Clinton pivoted to deriding “for-profit charter schools,” a fraction of the market whose grave sin is contracting with a management company. Cheering resumed. When she later addressed the other big teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), she began with an attack on for-profit charters.

We remember when Mrs. Clinton wasn’t so easily intimidated by unions. Bill Clinton’s grant program took the movement from a few schools to thousands. In Mrs. Clinton’s 1996 memoir, “It Takes a Village,” she wrote that she favored “promoting choice among public schools, much as the President’s Charter Schools Initiative encourages.” And here’s Mrs. Clinton in 1998: “The President believes, as I do, that charter schools are a way of bringing teachers and parents and communities together.”

But now Mrs. Clinton needs the support of the Democratic get-out-the-vote operation known as teacher unions, which loathe charter schools that operate without unions. The AFT endorsed Mrs. Clinton 16 months before Election Day, and the NEA followed.

Shortly after, in a strange coincidence, Mrs. Clinton began repeating union misinformation: “Most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids,” she said on a South Carolina campaign stop in November. But Mrs. Clinton used to know that nearly all charter schools select students by lottery and are by law not allowed to discriminate. The schools tend to crop up in urban areas where traditional options are worst. A recent study from Stanford University showed that charters better serve low-income children, minority students and kids who are learning English.

There’s an irony in Mrs. Clinton’s pitch that schools should simply share best practices. In 2005 the United Federation of Teachers started a charter school in Brooklyn, N.Y., to prove that unions weren’t holding up success. The school rejected the hallmarks of charter schools like New York’s Success Academy: order, discipline and other concepts progressives view as oppressive. Principals, for instance, were renamed “school leaders.” So how’s that experiment working out? Grades K-8 didn’t meet state standards last year and closed.

Mrs. Clinton’s switcheroo follows the pro-union turn of the Democratic Party platform. This year’s original draft was at least mildly pro-reform, but the final version opposes using test scores to evaluate teachers, encourages parents to opt out of testing for their kids, and endorses multiple restrictions on charters that would make them much less effective.

The education planks caused Peter Cunningham, an assistant secretary in President Obama’s Education Department, to lament that the platform “affirms an education system that denies its shortcomings and is unwilling to address them.” He called it “a step backwards” that will hurt “low-income black and Hispanic children” in particular.

In this election year of bad policy choices, the Democratic retreat from school choice and accountability is the most dispiriting.

School Choice for Special-Needs Students

August 10, 2015

Other children like our son would benefit from having vouchers that increase their options.

The Wall Street Journal

By THOMAS M. CHIAPELAS

My wife, Liz, and I have a 5-year-old son named Sam who, along with his little brother, Pete, is our pride and joy. Sam was diagnosed with autism-spectrum disorder at age 4. The symptoms of ASD vary but are characterized by social deficits and repetitive behavior. His doctor says he is high-functioning, which means that with the right schooling, therapies, teachers and family support Sam could be “mainstreamed” into a regular classroom with his peers in the future.

But getting from here to there is going to take enormous effort, and our local public school has already shown an unwillingness to help. Sam is old enough to attend kindergarten in the fall, but after reading his progress reports and listening to his therapists, Liz and I agreed he was not ready to tackle the added challenges of kindergarten. His language skills are still delayed and he has sensory and social issues that could use another year of work.

Our son was evaluated by the special-education personnel in our public-school district, and we were told he qualified to attend a general education pre-K class for part of the school day and receive therapy in the special-education classroom the other part of the time. We also got him into applied-behavior-analysis (ABA) therapy outside of the school system that was recommended to us by the pediatric neuropsychiatrist who diagnosed him.

So we asked for a meeting with local public-school officials to see if we could keep our son back a year. To our surprise, there were 11 school representatives at the 90-minute meeting, yet not one was qualified to render a decision. We wrote a follow-up letter expressing our disappointment and requested a second meeting.

The second meeting had even more people in attendance and lasted nearly two hours, at the end of which the school administrators said they could not grant Sam an extra year of preschool. Sadly, it was clear to us that pushing him through the system was more important to them than giving him a chance to perform at grade level.

At that point we had no choice but to enroll him in a private, faith-based school where he can repeat his pre-K year and continue an ABA program in the afternoon. We hope this will give Sam the support he needs. This school is aware of his condition and is willing to work with us and our son in conjunction with his ABA therapist to make sure he will be ready for kindergarten.

Thankfully, we could afford to send our son to a nearby private school. But in many families that isn’t an option. For the great majority of children with learning and physical disabilities, the best they can hope for is whatever their local public schools can provide. Too often what is provided is a subpar education that fails to meet the needs of this population. That’s not only unfair, it’s unjust.

That is why, when Americans discuss the need for school choice and vouchers, we should consider students with special needs like our son Sam. Society’s goal should be to give special-needs children their full measure of dignity and opportunity at a school where they can better learn, adapt and thrive. These schools exist, and vouchers can make them more affordable. The schools often are expensive—because it does take more to educate a child with disabilities. But these children, regardless of their parents’ income, deserve a quality education and a chance at life.

A few leaders have pushed back. Jeb Bush is one of them. When he became governor of Florida in the late 1990s he helped to create the state’s McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program. Founded in 1999, the statewide program provides “scholarships for eligible students with disabilities to attend an eligible public or private school of their choice.”

The program is still thriving long after Gov. Bush’s second term ended in 2007, and 28,370 students from 1,248 private schools participated in 2013-14. Students with disabilities ranging from blindness to dyslexia to autism-spectrum disorder received in total more than $180 million in scholarships.

That’s a model that if implemented in more states would help many thousands of kids like our son Sam, and many parents who can’t afford what is often most important in their child’s education: a choice.

Mr. Chiapelas lives in St. Louis.

The Teachers Union Votes Hillary

July 14, 2015

So much for liberating poor kids from failing schools.

Wall Street Journal

July 12, 2015 6:48 p.m. ET

While the media chase the Bernie Sanders rallies, keep your eye on the political crowds that matter. On Saturday the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) endorsed Hillary Clinton—16 months before Election Day.

This counts in the fight for the Democratic Party nomination because the 1.6 million member union boasts it can make a million phone calls and knock on 500,000 doors. Bernie’s Birkenstock irregulars can’t match that political power and money.

The endorsement is even more notable as another sign of Hillary’s left political turn. Democrats in New York and elsewhere have been debating education reform, but by embracing the AFT Mrs. Clinton is choosing the union status quo that opposes school choice and teacher accountability.

Listen to AFT president Randi Weingarten’s endorsement: “Hillary understands that to reclaim the promise of public education, policy makers need to work with educators and their unions. She’s ready to work with us to confront the issues facing children and their families today, including poverty, wage stagnation, income inequality and lack of opportunity.” Translation: Mrs. Clinton will send unions more money without hassling them on tenure and charter schools.

At the AFT executive council meeting in June, Mrs. Clinton sent the same signal by declaring that, “It is just dead wrong to make teachers the scapegoats for all of society’s problems. Where I come from, teachers are the solution. And I strongly believe that unions are part of the solution, too.”

The AFT wouldn’t be backing Hillary this early if it didn’t expect to be repaid in policy if she wins. Poor children will be the losers.

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.

Survey: Black Voters Support Parental Choice In Education

October 14, 2013

Sometimes it takes a little while for stories to find their way to us. Such is the case today.

Back in July, Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) released a report “A Survey Report on Education Reform, Charter Schools, and the Desire for Parental Choice in the Black Community.”

Among the findings was this tidbit:

Parental choice in education as a fundamental concept deeply resonated with Black voters who completed the BAEO survey. Between 85-89% in each state agreed that government should provide parents with as many choices as possible to ensure that their children receive a good education.

Parental choice in education knows no limitations. Only the usual suspects oppose parental choice, those who steadfastly oppose reform every time it’s mentioned. In a case such as this, where basically 85 to 90 percent of those surveyed say they support parental choice, we should not relent in pressing our message of freedom and education to anyone with willing ears.

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.