By Christian Barnard • Reason
“Do School Vouchers Only Benefit the Wealthy?” asks an article this month in Governing. Like too many headlines, the implication is that school choice is a scam that disproportionately benefits wealthy students who already live in high-performing districts. The Governing story suggests that Arizona’s education savings accounts (ESAs)––publicly-funded savings accounts that parents can use to pay for private school tuition or other education services for their children––rarely help out those who authentically need assistance, favoring already-privileged children instead.
The article cites a 2017 report from The Arizona Republic which found that 75 percent of the ESA money went to students leaving districts that had an “A” or “B” ranking, and only 4 percent of the money followed students opting out of districts rated “D” or lower.
But these numbers hardly even hint at the full story. Arizona’s ESA program can only be used by specific groups of disadvantaged students. In fact, Arizona Department of Education data from 2017 reveals that 82 percent of ESA recipients were students with special needs, from military families, or students from D/F rated schools. Continue reading
By Lindsey Burke • National Review
“Education Savings Accounts will be our most significant step yet in giving parents and children the ability to choose the education path that is best suited for them,” declared New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu in his latest State of the State address.
A new proposal would make New Hampshire the seventh state to enact ESAs, and potentially the first to provide all families the opportunity to use them. With an ESA, parents who need to find a school or education option that is a better fit for their child can access some of the money the state would have spent on their child in the public system. They can then use those funds to pay for private-school tuition, online learning, special-education services and therapies, private tutoring, and a host of other education-related services, products, and providers. Parents can also roll over unused funds from year to year.
Last spring, the state senate passed a proposal to create a nearly universal ESA option that Sununu correctly boasted had the potential to be “a gold standard for the rest of the country to follow.” Under the state senate’s legislation, any student entering kindergarten or first grade or switching out of a public district or charter school would be eligible to receive an ESA.
The New Hampshire House Education Committee, however, took a more cautious approach. After a series of hearings and work sessions, the committee adopted a significantly scaled-down version of the proposal that would make ESAs available only to families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line, as well as Continue reading
By Lewis M. Andrews • National Review
Talk to the people of Illinois about America’s looming public-pension crisis, and they’ll tell you it’s not looming — it’s already here. This month, a statute went into effect giving Comptroller Susana Mendoza the right to make up for any town or county’s delinquent pension payments by seizing its share of sales, excise, and other taxes collected by the state. The result is that municipalities across Illinois have been scrambling to either cut services or raise taxes.
Mattoon officials have announced that ambulance services will be scuttled to pay pension bills a half-million dollars higher than last year’s, while Springfield’s budget director, Bill McCarthy, says he will have to “reduce other services just to meet pension obligations.” Normal will handle the problem through property-tax increases, while Danville has imposed a separate “public safety pension fee,” which will cost residents up to $267 annually. East St. Louis, which depends almost exclusively on its share of tax money from state’s Local Government Distributive Fund, could soon see its entire budget confiscated to satisfy pension obligations.
With a national pension asset shortfall calculated as high as $6 trillion — and with accelerating benefit payouts to retiring Baby Boomers — Illinois is sadly not the only state where voters are being hit with revenue surcharges or deprived of essential services. Florida localities will have to allocate an additional $178.5 million in their upcoming budgets to pension payments; Continue reading
By Joy Pullmann • The Federalist
Through Saturday it’s National School Choice Week, an annual nonpolitical effort to increase visibility and positive feelings about the idea of families having the primary power to control their kids’ education. Beginning in 2011, President Obama recognized the week, and this year President Trump did, too.
The last approximately five years saw a marked increase in states finally opening the doors to voucher and other parent choice programs after more than 50 years of free-marketers’ advocacy. Although it descends from Founding-era school funding arrangements, Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman was the most significant modern thinker to develop and advocate the concept, most notably with a seminal 1955 essay.
But it took 56 years of making this case to lawmakers and the public before state legislatures’ successful activity on the matter prompted the Wall Street Journal to dub 2011 “The Year of School Choice.” That year, 13 states passed significant education choice measures. The WSJ, however, may have used the moniker too soon, as in 2012 and 2013 state legislatures followed with a fresh bevy of choice program establishment and expansions, to the point that today the majority of states offer some kind of parent-choice program, and many offer several.
Since 2013, however, legislative activity on this matter has slowed. Continue reading
By Charles Fain Lehman • The Free Beacon
The Department of Justice filed an amicus brief Thursday in support of students claiming they were discriminated against after the state of Montana denied them placement in a tax credit scholarship program because the school they attended was a Christian one.
The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, concerns a the Montana Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which allows Montanans to deduct up to $150 of their contribution to a privately run scholarship program. The state department of revenue prompted the suit when it added a rule prohibiting tax credits for contributions to schools owned or operated by “a church, religious sect, or denomination.”
A group of parents brought suit on behalf of their children in December 2015 after they were denied participation in the scholarship program because their children attended a Christian-run school. The suit made it to a state trial court, which sided with the parents; the state then appealed to the Supreme Court of Montana, where DOJ lodged its Thursday amicus.
By Lewis M. Andrews • The Federalist
In 2011, Arizona became the first state to adopt the most flexible school reform yet, an education savings account (ESA) plan. It provides parents who believe their child is poorly served in the local public school with an annual budget they can spend on a wide variety of accredited alternatives—not just private or parochial schools, but tutoring, online academies, special-needs services, and even computer equipment for home schooling.
More recently, five other states have followed Arizona’s lead: Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, and just this year North Carolina. Initially these programs were designed to better serve learning-disabled children, but with the realization that most of its students could be educated independently for a fraction of public-school per pupil spending, Nevada authorized a plan open to any of that state’s children in 2015.
To date, Democrats in the Nevada legislature have held up funding for about 10,000 applicants, but nearly all of Arizona’s K-12 children are now eligible for an ESA worth 90 percent of their district’s per pupil spending. Continue reading
By Joy Pullmann • The Federalist
Despite running two-thirds of states and looming fiscal catastrophes for which school choice is one of the few positive solutions, Republicans have mostly created tiny, overregulated choice programs that, consequently, have few significant effects. After decades of opinion polling have continued to find school choice a popular political position, Republicans have finally decided it’s safe for them to proclaim their support for it — without having taken or promising to take steps that actually would realize their rhetoric.
A new example of this tendency is inside the House GOP’s huge “tax reform blueprint” released last week and under consideration currently, more than a year after presidential candidate Donald Trump promised “major tax reform” if he were elected (presumably a signal to legislators to get some bills ready to roll come Inauguration Day, but obviously not). The current proposal would allow tax-advantaged savings accounts, or 529 plans, now only offered for college expenses to also apply to K-12, including private school tuition. Continue reading
By Marcus Winters • National Review
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos likes to point to Florida’s education reforms from the Jeb Bush era as a potential model for expanding school choice. It’s a reasonable place to start given that adoption of these policies in the early 2000s coincided with outstanding educational improvements in the state. Statewide progress on the National Assessment for Educational Progress, a test administered over time by the federal government, has far outstripped that of the nation and nearly all states.
But the new emphasis on Florida has put a target on the state’s back. Two recent pieces, one in the Washington Post, the other in the New York Times, take direct aim at the state’s two expansive school-voucher policies. Both stories seek to highlight the limitations of the school-choice reforms. Neither is convincing. And both are often highly misleading.
In the Post, reporter Emma Brown takes up Florida’s corporate tax-credit program, which offers vouchers worth up to $5,886 for students from households with income below 260 percent of the federal poverty line. Last year nearly 100,000 students used scholarship, or voucher. If it were a school district, it would be about the size of Baltimore’s. Continue reading
Albert, now 9, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and the public elementary school he attended in St. Martin Parish struggled to meet his needs. So when his mother learned he might be eligible for Louisiana’s school choice program, she applied. He got in.
Albert is in his second year at Holy Family Catholic School in Lafayette, La. He’s doing so well, his two sisters joined him.
Fuselier tells us the public schools her children attended weren’t awful. They weren’t derelict. They weren’t unsafe. But they were big. The teachers didn’t really know the students. They didn’t have the patience to work with Albert. Continue reading