Posts Tagged ‘waiting list’

Will Unions Cripple Kentucky’s Belated Charter-School Effort?

March 2, 2017

Opponents of reform are pushing a weak bill that maintains the local school boards’ monopoly.

An elementary school in Stanton, Ky., Feb. 18.

An elementary school in Stanton, Ky., Feb. 18. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Kentucky is one of only seven states that doesn’t allow charter schools, making it something of an educational backwater. Republicans have been trying to pass charter-school legislation since 2009, only to be stymied by Democrats, who had a lock on the governorship and state House.

But charters’ time in the Bluegrass State may have finally arrived. In 2015 Republican Matt Bevin, a charter-school champion, was elected governor. Then last year Republicans seized control of the Kentucky House for the first time since 1921 and unseated Speaker Greg Stumbo, a staunch opponent of school choice. Republicans now hold large majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly—64 of 100 seats in the House and 27 of 38 in the Senate.

Even teachers unions and local school boards seem resigned to the inevitability of allowing charter schools. To limit the damage to their interests, they’re trying to exploit divisions among Republicans to keep charters tightly contained by conceding regulatory authority to the local boards.

Kentucky schools rank about average nationwide, though large disparities exist among districts. Last year 77% of middle-school students in the Cincinnati suburb of Fort Thomas scored “proficient” on state math tests. Four miles away in Newport, only 30% did. For Jefferson County (Louisville), the figure was 39%.

“We have a great city, a beautiful downtown, trails,” says Lynn Schaber, a Newport mom whose second-grade son attends a Montessori school. “But people aren’t happy with the school system. As they say around here, it’s trikes, no bikes. People move out of the city once their kids get older than 3 because of the poor schools.”

Like many suburban and rural districts in Kentucky, Newport has only one elementary, middle and high school. Parents in low-performing districts who can afford it send their kids to private schools or move to districts with better schools like Fort Thomas, where the median home price is about twice that of Newport. Thus, public schools and cities become segregated along socioeconomic, and in some cases racial, lines. Nearly 90% of Newport students qualify for free or discounted lunches, compared with about 15% in Fort Thomas.

Such gaping inequities are driving support for charter-school legislation that would bring Kentucky’s education system into the 21st century. Last month state Rep. Phil Moffett introduced a bill that would allow local school districts, college governing boards, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, the Louisville and Lexington mayors, and the state Board of Education to authorize charters.

Multiple authorizers would enable students to travel outside their home districts to attend a charter. By contrast, district authorizers could limit enrollment to students within their bounds. This would be a huge impediment to charter growth in rural and suburban areas where there are fewer students. Newport’s system-wide enrollment is just 1,600 students—fewer than in some big-city high schools.

Mrs. Schaber has joined five other parents to devise plans for a charter school that will enroll students from six small cities across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. She notes that parents frequently move between the cities, depending on their job and housing. So it makes sense to form a regional charter.

Charter opponents are pushing a weaker bill that would vest local school boards with the sole power to authorize and regulate charters. That would let those boards, typically controlled by the unions, throw up roadblocks. While charters could appeal district decisions to the state Board of Education, the process would be cumbersome and costly. Only charters backed by well-heeled donors would have the resources to navigate and battle the education bureaucracy.

The experience of other states is instructive. Iowa, Kansas and Virginia don’t allow multiple authorizers and have few charter schools. Arizona, Minnesota and New York do, and have an abundance. Charters in the latter group of states are among the highest-performing nationwide.

The weaker bill would also require charters to participate in and contribute to the state’s insolvent public pension system, among the worst funded in the country. So they could be forced to pick up the retirement tab for union teachers in traditional public schools.

Local school boards have lobbied Republicans to reject legislation with multiple authorizers and instead back the diluted bill, which they say will hold charters more accountable. “People love their local school board,” says Mrs. Schaber. “They want to support it.”

That may be, but allowing local school boards to regulate their competition is fundamentally unfair. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled last year that a law allowing Amtrak to regulate freight trains that compete for track time could not be sustained under the Fifth Amendment: “Giving a self-interested entity regulatory authority over its competitors violates due process.” The same principle should apply when children’s futures are at stake.

Ms. Finley is an editorial writer for the Journal.

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The ‘Shaming’ of Betsy DeVos

February 28, 2017

The education secretary should use what her critics fear most: the bully pulpit.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Feb. 23.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Feb. 23.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Here’s a suggestion for America’s new secretary of education: Forget about federal education policy.

Not that policy isn’t important. But if Betsy DeVos wants to make her time count, she’d do best to use what her critics fear most: her bully pulpit. Because if Mrs. DeVos does nothing else in her time but lay bare the corruption of a system failing children who need a decent education most—and shame all those standing in the way of reforming it—she will go down as an education secretary of consequence.

“The temptation for an education secretary is to make a few earnest speeches but never really challenge the forces responsible for failure,” says Jeanne Allen,founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform.

“But the moms and dads whose children are stuck in schools where they aren’t learning need better choices now—and a secretary of education who speaks up for them and takes on the teachers unions and the politicians on their own turf.”

Excellent advice, not least because education is (rightly) a state and local issue and Secretary DeVos has neither the authority nor the wherewithal to transform our public schools from Washington. What she does have is the means to force the moral case out into the open.

New York City would be a good place to start. In Bill de Blasio, the city boasts, if that is the right word, a mayor who fancies himself the nation’s progressive-in-chief, along with a schools chancellor who has all the credentials Mrs. DeVos is accused of lacking, including experience teaching in public schools.

Unfortunately, these credentials haven’t done much to help students. Only 36% of New York City district-school pupils from grades 3 to 8 passed math, and only 38% English. For black students the numbers drop to 20% proficient in math and 27% in English. As a general rule, the longer New York City kids stay in traditional public schools, the worse they do.

It can’t be for lack of resources. Figures from the city’s independent budget office list New York as spending $23,516 per pupil this school year, among the most in the U.S. And instead of closing bad schools, Mr. de Blasio has opted for the teachers-union solution: More spending!

The result? More than two years and nearly half a billion dollars after his “Renewal” program for chronically failing schools was announced, there’s little to show for it.

How might Mrs. DeVos respond? How about a trip to the South Bronx, where she could visit, say, MS 301 Paul L. Dunbar, St. Athanasius and the Success Academy Bronx 1 grade and middle schools. These are, respectively, a traditional public middle-school for grades 6-8, a K-8 Catholic school, and a pair of Success charters serving K-7.

Imagine how Mrs. DeVos might change the conversation by speaking publicly about the differences among these schools? Or by meeting with neighborhood kids languishing on the 44,000-long wait list for a seat at a city charter? Or by asking the non-Catholic parents at St. Athanasius, whose children are there because of a scholarship program, to talk about the difference this school is making in their children’s lives?

Mayor de Blasio would howl. The teachers unions would show up to protest. But the furor a DeVos visit provoked would underscore her point about just whose interests are being sacrificed—and provide a tremendous force equalizer for outgunned parents and reformers taking on the education establishment.

Now imagine Mrs. DeVos making this same kind of visit to other cities where the public-school systems for decades have effectively been consigning their poor and minority students to a future on the margins of the American dream: Baltimore, Detroit, Fresno, Calif., etc. And not just the cities: Rural districts have their own share of complacent pols of both parties who need to be called to account.

Certainly the teachers unions and the Democrats they hold in their pockets account for the core of the opposition to the choice and accountability. But the GOP has made its own grim contributions to our two-tiered public-school system. This includes in Illinois in 2010, when nearly half the Republicans in the state House provided the margin needed to kill a Chicago voucher program.

In “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy has to be reminded that the ruby slippers she wears must be very powerful or the Wicked Witch wouldn’t want them so badly. Mrs. DeVos finds herself in a similar position. She will do well to remember that the nastiness of her confirmation was in fact a backhanded recognition by her foes that they have lost the moral argument.

“The opposition to change is not polite and always on the offense,” says Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools in New York. “Betsy’s going to need to play offense or we will lose another generation of children.”

Write to McGurn@wsj.com.

Charter-school parents march in New York to secure a civil right: education.

October 11, 2013

The Brooklyn Bridge

It’s too bad every New Yorker who plans to vote in the city’s mayoral election Nov. 5 couldn’t be at the Brooklyn Bridge Tuesday morning. They would have seen the single most important issue in the race between Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota. It’s not stop-and-frisk.

Thousands and thousands of charter-school parents with their young children—most looked to be in the first to fourth grades—marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall to save their schools.

When Bill de Blasio won the Democratic nomination for mayor, the first question many asked was whether Mr. de Blasio’s intention to heavily regulate the police department’s stop-and-frisk program would put the city’s years of low-crime calm at risk.

But this big Brooklyn Bridge march of mothers, fathers and kids alters the calculus of next month’s vote. The crime issue, though important, is ultimately about self-interest.

By contrast, most New York voters—especially better-off white voters who’ve already made it here—have no direct stake whatsoever in New York City’s charter schools. They do, however, have a stake in the integrity of their political beliefs.

For decades, New York’s inner-city schools sent wave after wave of students into the world without the skills to do much more than achieve a minimal level of lifetime earnings, if that. This failure, repeated in so many large cities, remains the greatest moral catastrophe in the political life of the United States.

In New York, 20,000 parents and children marched on Oct. 8 in support of charter schools.

In 1999, the charter-school movement began in New York City with a handful of schools given independence from years of encrusted union rules and city regulations that made real learning virtually impossible in the city’s chaotic schools. The project flourished. Now nearly 200 charter schools teach some 70,000 students.

When the legislative limit on new charter-school openings arrives, New York’s next mayor will have to lobby the Albany legislature hard for permission to expand these lifeboats for the city’s poorest kids. So let’s put the politics of the mayoral election this way: Some 20,000 black and Hispanic parents and their kids would not have traveled from their neighborhoods—77% of the city’s charters are in Harlem, the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn—to march across that famous bridge if Bill de Blasio were not running for mayor. They think Mr. de Blasio is going to kill the charter-school movement in New York City. And they think this is a civil-rights issue.

One thing these 20- and 30-something parents have in common with their counterparts who live in Brooklyn’s Park Slope or Manhattan below 96th Street is that they weren’t even born when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech in 1963. But for them, you couldn’t miss that the dream described 50 years ago at the Lincoln Memorial was alive on the Brooklyn Bridge.

A lady with a bullhorn: “What do we want? Choice! When do we want it? Now!” A sign: “Let my children learn.” And bringing the politics to the present, one sign said simply: “Charters for the 99%.”

Many voters in the parts of Manhattan or Brooklyn that have good public- or private-school options will still vote for Bill de Blasio, either because they don’t spend much time on these out-of-area moral dilemmas or they think: It can’t be that bad, can it? Bill de Blasio won’t actually kill these people’s schools, will he?

Yes, it can be that bad.

In a now-famous statement, Mr. de Blasio recently said of charter-school pioneer Eva Moskowitz: “There is no way in hell that Eva Moskowitz should get free rent, OK?” What this means is that Mr. de Blasio, under pressure from the city’s teachers union, will start demanding rent payments from public charter schools that now operate rent-free in the same buildings occupied by traditional public schools.

If the next mayor makes the charters pay rent in the city’s expensive real-estate market—essentially imposing a regressive tax on them—over time the schools’ budgets will suffocate and they’ll start to die. It will be a slow death, so Mr. de Blasio’s voters won’t notice what’s happening in Harlem, Brooklyn and the South Bronx.

The city’s charter movement has attracted innovative school operators such as KIPP, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, Harlem Village Academies and others. For the parents who win the annual lottery to get their kids into these schools, the result is an educational environment of achievement, discipline and esprit—what any parent wants. Given Mr. de Blasio’s intentions, these innovators will start to leave the city. One of the best things New York City has ever done will go away.

Sounds melodramatic? You bet it is. Why do you think those people were on that bridge?

How Democratic politicians like Bill de Blasio and the unionized teachers’ movement ended up so at odds with the city’s black children will fall to future historians to explain. But that’s where they are. What remains to be seen, and will be seen Nov. 5, is how many New Yorkers are in that same place.

Write to henninger@wsj.com

A version of this article appeared October 10, 2013, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Bill de Blasio and Civil Rights.

Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

What Are We Going to Do With Those Failing Charter Schools?

November 14, 2012

Often great concern about failing (academically unacceptable) charter schools is shown by special interest groups that have a vested financial interest in protecting the ISD system status quo.  These groups never show concern for failing schools in their ISD system.  Let’s look at some numbers for low-income students in Travis County obtained from the TEA website.

During the 2010-11 school year, 3 charter schools were failing. There were 230 school-lunch-program students attending these failing schools.  This represented 5.9% of all the school-lunch-program students attending charter schools in Travis County.

For comparison during this same school year, Travis County had 12 ISD public schools that were failing.  There were 7,300 school-lunch-program students attending these failing schools.  This represented 8.8% of all the school-lunch-program students attending ISD public schools in Travis County.

So is the problem worse at charter schools or ISD schools?  In total numbers, low-income students in failing ISD schools is 7,300 versus in failing charter schools is 230.  But even as a percentage, ISD’s 8.8% is worse than charter’s 5.9%.

ISD defenders should worry about their big problem and be thankful that the charters have a smaller problem.

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.

Watch the Dramatic House-Floor “Parent Trigger” Debate

May 27, 2011

If you would like to watch the dramatic debate on the evening of May 23 between Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio), and the House Representatives of AFT and the San Antonio public school superintendents, follow these instructions.

1. Go to this Texas Legislature Online link.

2. Click on the video link labeled

Date – 05/23/2011, Time – 2:00p.m. – 11:44p.m.

(You will need to download “RealPlayer” to view the video, if you don’t already have it on your computer.)

3. After clicking the correct video link, a video window should open up showing the floor of the Texas House.  It is best to maximize the window to your full screen in order to more accurately move to particular points in the video.  At the top of the video window you should see “Monday, May 23rd 2011 2:50pm”.  If that does not appear at the top of the video, you have clicked the wrong video link and should close this video window, go back to the initial link and start over.

4. The video will look very blurred.  Don’t attempt to adjust your video viewer controls.  The goal of this video is to give you rough information about who is speaking, what they are saying, and some sense of the non-verbal cues that the speaker is showing.

5. You will see in the lower right corner a number showing the time duration of the video.  This video is 8(hours):49(minutes):55(seconds) in duration.  Now wait about 1 minute watching the video to make sure you have the audio on and at a good volume for your ears.

6. Don’t Panic!!  You don’t have to sit in front of your computer and watch everything that happened in the House chamber on the evening of May 23.

7.  Click on the pause button to pause the video.  Look in the lower right corner.  In front of 8:49:55 you will see 34Kbps 1:xx /, where xx is a two digit number.  This number counts up from 0:00 to 8:49:55.  It is the duration point on the video.  This number is not the time on the House chamber clock.  Rather, it shows how much time has passed on the video to reach this duration point.

8. You can change the duration point on the video by dragging or clicking ahead or behind of the button sliding on the “duration track” at the bottom of the video that visually shows where the duration point is.  If the video “freezes” for more than thirty seconds, click the square “Stop” button and it will unusually “un-freeze”.  I will give you specific duration points on the video that are important to the debate we are interested in.

9. Okay, I hope you non-techies have patiently and successfully gotten through the first eight “challenges” of this project.  Now for the good parts.

10. The duration point where the debate on SB 738 begins is duration point 5:34:45.  Move the button on the duration track to a duration point as close to, but less than 5:34:45.  Now run (or un-pause) the video and watch the drama as Rep. Mike Villarreal presents and defends the amendment that he wants to add to the SB 738 to give more parental empowerment to the bill.  The full debate ends at duration point 6:40:40 when Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher (D – San Antonio) submits a “point of order” that finally kills the amendment, in spite of having the amendment and the entire bill passed on two record votes.

11. After you have watched the entire debate, which lasts 1 hour and 6 minutes,  there are a few significant moments (duration points) that I want to highlight.

12. The first significant moment is the beginning of the debate where you see Rep. Villarreal desiring to help the parents and children suffering in failing schools.  I wouldn’t have believed it were true if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.  Less than a month ago, I saw him berate a novice testifier on a franchise tax credit bill by referring to tuition tax credits as “tax-credit vouchers”.  Something dramatic has happened in the last year.  At dur. pt. 6:34:10, Rep. Villarreal explains what has happened.  The oldest of his two children began school last year. He and his wife were committed to using the public schools in their district, but his child’s assigned school was academically unacceptable.  So with his political influence he persuaded the San Antonio ISD Superintendent Robert James Duron (who will reappear later in this drama) to convert his child’s school into a campus charter school.  But instead of saying “I got mine, screw the rest of the peons” like President Obama has done, Rep. Villarreal has had the virtuous character to say, “I’m not satisfied with improving just my child’s school.  I’m going to use my political power to fight for all Texas children trapped in failing public schools.”  He has suddenly catapulted himself  to be the most important member of the House and maybe the entire Texas legislature for the cause of education reform.  For the first time in at least 10 years, Rep. Villarreal has made education reform a bi-partisan issue in the Texas Legislature!  He is an intelligent and courageous Democratic champion of the parent seeking a good education for their child.  I think that this transformation may be more important than the fact that SB 738 finally passed (without Villarreal’s amendment).  Please use this link to encourage and thank Rep. Villarreal for fighting the good fight on May 23.

13. At dur. pt. 6:10:05, Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) speaks in defense of the amendment and in support of Rep. Villarreal.  Rep. Patrick spent many years as a public school teacher and ISD school board member.  She has received awards from groups associated with the public school system.  She was elected to the House in a contentious primary where she defeated the incumbent, who was known as the education reform leader in the House and Chairman of the House Public Education Committee, with the help of all the public school status quo groups.  She has had the reputation of being one of the stalwart status quo leaders, even if it wasn’t deserved.  I confess that that was my opinion until I saw her walk to the microphone and defend Villarreal’s amendment.  Now I cannot says where she stands with regard to education reform, but clearly she is open-minded about some level of education reform.  That is good news for education reformers.

14. At dur. pt. 6:14:22, Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) provides a refreshing, but curious, note.  He eloquently describes how school choice benefits all children both in and out of the public school system by holding school administrators accountable by the pressure of market forces.  But after clearly winning the debate, he reenter the real world and says that he won’t use his vote to support what he knows to be true out of fear of retribution from the status quo political power groups.  I believe that we can at least thank Rep. Strama for his debating eloquence and candor about his political fears.

15.  At dur. pt. 6:37:55, Rep. Joe Farias (D-San Antonio) begins his creatively obscure logic about how Rep. Villarreal’s amendment will not benefit, but perhaps hurt the students in San Antonio’s failing schools. Notice carefully at dur. pt. 6:39:25 where Rep. Farias admits the reason he is disparaging the amendment.  He was instructed to do so by “Dr. Duron”.  He is referring to Dr. Robert James Duron, the superintendent of San Antonio ISD, the largest school district in Bexar County.  Duron has been handsomely paid to manage this school district.  His annual base pay has been $266,494 as of Oct. 2009, up from $254,998 for the two previous years. This does not include his generous benefit package.  Unfortunately he hasn’t managed as well as he has been paid.  For both the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years his district was rated academically unacceptable.

Remember, Dr. Duron is the man who instructed Rep. Farias to stop an opportunity for the parents in his district to repair the problems that Duron is responsible for fixing.  For those of you who would like to contact Dr. Duron about this situation, I provide you this link.   

If you have made it to the end of this post, I thank you and comend you for your interest in education reform.  Let’s help Rep. Mike Villarreal make his dream a reality for all of Texas.

Victory for the Parents and Children in Texas’s Low-Performing Schools!

May 26, 2011

Yesterday SB 738 was sent to the Governor’s Desk because of the hard work of its author, Sen. Florence Shapiro of Plano, and Rep. Mike Villareal of San Antonio.

This bill empowers parents of the children who attend a low-performing school to be directly involved in the process of improving their children’s school.  Before the passage of SB 738, these parents had no voice or involvement in improving the school that was inadequately serving their kids.  But now, this blatant disregard of parental authority has been corrected.

Rep. Mike Villareal deserves a special honor in this victory.  

He submitted an amendment to improve the bill by empowering the parents to start the turn-around of their low-performing school several years earlier.  With great patience and gentleness, he withstood repeated attacks from members of his own party to block this improvement to the bill.  In the end, Rep. Villareal could not prevail over those who defended the status quo.

I believe we have a new standard bearer for education reform in the Texas House.  All members of the House that say they want the best for the education of Texas’s children should line up in support of Rep. Villareal and follow his courageous example.

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

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on unions and the urgency of school choice.

May 15, 2011

Notable & Quotable

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaking at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, April 29:

It’s easy for the union members . . . sending their kids to some of the best schools in New Jersey to pontificate about how those [other] children should wait until the schools improve in their neighborhood. I have a daughter in the second grade right now, our youngest. She’s only got one year in the second grade. How long are we going to make her wait? To third or fourth or fifth? When she’s so far behind she has no hope of ever catching up? This is not a problem with an infinite time frame to fix. Every year we don’t fix it we’re losing more children. Irretrievable in many instances. So I’m for choice not as the solution to the problem in public schools but as a building block. I think we should forget about how a school starts and worry about how it performs.

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

Big Business Conspires With Labor to Kill Vouchers in TN

May 13, 2011
  • Tennessee’s Chamber Maids

Nothing is worse for freedom and opportunity than when big business conspires with big labor. Behold the spectacle in Tennessee, where the Chambers of Commerce in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Nashville have joined with the teachers unions to kill education vouchers.

That proposal, which has already passed the state senate, would give thousands of low- and middle-income parents in failing school districts private school options. The Tennessee Equal Opportunity Scholarship Act would provide vouchers of between $4,000 and $5,000 per child to families with an income up to roughly $42,000 a year and who live in one of the four largest school districts, including Memphis and Nashville.

In an April 27 letter repeating nearly every discredited voucher myth peddled by unions, the CEOs of the local chambers advise lawmakers to oppose the bill. The letter claims that private school funding “diverts resources away from public school improvement,” that “there is no empirical data demonstrating that vouchers improve student achievement,” and that private schools lack “accountability” and won’t be subject to “high academic standards.”

That last complaint is tragicomic given that Memphis schools typically rank among the nation’s five worst with fewer than half of black males graduating from high school. A 2010 progress report under the No Child Left Behind program found that 52% of Tennessee third graders flunked math and reading tests and 75% of eight graders failed math. How could private schools possibly be worse?

As for the “empirical data,” nearly a dozen studies have found high parental satisfaction with voucher schools or higher graduation rates. Perhaps the chamber CEOs should talk to the mostly minority parents in Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., where vouchers have been very popular. And no, the scholarship plan doesn’t rob public schools of scarce dollars. The vouchers are capped at 50% of the per-student costs of the public schools.

The Tennessee chambers aren’t nearly as opposed to public money going to private institutions when they receive the checks. A study by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research discovered that over the past several years the Chattanooga Chamber has received $450,000 in state and local funds. The Nashville Chamber has received nearly $3 million in taxpayer subsidies.

We doubt a single child of officials in these chambers of commerce attends a school in the poor parts of Memphis or other places where dreams die before high school. Yet these captains of industry are willing to deny that choice to others. Business executives who really want to make the U.S. more competitive ought to stop contributing to lobbies that want to preserve the dreadful status quo.

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