Designing tax credit scholarship programs

sketchingI have written an article about tax credit scholarship plans that will be published in the Journal of Law and Education (Volume 43, Issue 1, Jan. 2014). You can read it here.

The article describes these school choice scholarship plans, which have now been enacted in 12 states. Put simply, funded by state tax credits, these plans enable low- and modest-income families to send their children to private schools in grades K-12. The main purpose of the article is to discuss design parameters that those creating such plans must consider. I address the important issues and show how states have come up with a variety of answers to these questions. I also make some brief legal and economic comparisons between tax credit school scholarship plans and voucher plans, and I discuss Sen. Marco Rubio’s recently proposed federal tax credit school scholarship plan.

The key design questions for these plans (which I consider) are:

1.   What families are eligible for the scholarships (as measured by income and up to what level, and by whether their children are already in private schools)?

2.   How large must or may the scholarships be (and how large are they likely to be if there is discretion)? What do such limits mean for the obligation of the family whose child wins a scholarship to pay tuition in part out of its own pocket?

3.   To what extent are schools that accept scholarship students to be regulated and by whom (in terms of testing regimes, teacher qualifications, and control over admissions)? Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Tony Bennett, per-pupil funding, charter conversion & more

Tony Bennett. Interview with Alexander Russo.

florida roundup logoSchool choice. Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning is forming a high-level task force to examine expansion of district options, reports Gradebook. Miami-Dade is planning to expand its partnership with the academically rigorous Cambridge program from 20 programs in 16 schools to 100 programs in 86, reports the Miami Herald.

Charter schools. Manatee district officials stress the downside to parents considering the conversion of a magnet school to a charter school, reports the Bradenton Herald. More from the Sarasota Herald Tribune. A proposed Somerset Academy charter school, initially shot down by the Palmetto Bay Village Council, will be reconsidered. Miami Herald.

School spending. Florida ranks among the lowest per-pupil. StateImpact Florida. Associated Press.

School grading. Maine, don’t hide your problems. EdFly Blog. Here’s the message a second time, from former Board of Education Chairmen Phil Handy and T. Willard Fair in an op-ed for the Bangor Daily News.

School security. Wellington High in Palm Beach County bans backpacks in the wake of an alleged bomb threat, reports the Palm Beach Post. Orange will begin screening students with metal detectors after a high school student is arrested with a loaded gun in his backpack, reports the Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Towards a united front on school choice



Vouchers, here. Charters, there. Virtual, over there. Politically, school choice sectors have been islands. But there are signs the movement is building bridges to advance common goals.

Florida’s lead here surfaced at this week’s American Federation for Children summit, during a panel discussion on just that topic. In the Sunshine State, charter schools and supporters of vouchers and tax credit scholarships have teamed up to advance legislation, said panelist Jon Hage, founder and CEO of Florida-based Charter Schools USA.

“We realized it was time to join forces,” Hage said. “We felt we were sort of the Army, and they were the Navy … What we’re trying to do is have a common Department of Defense.”

The Florida school choice coalition doesn’t stop at two sectors. Through a group formed in 2010 – the Florida Alliance for Choices in Education – it includes online providers, home-schoolers and district school choice options like magnet schools. In the middle of this year’s legislative session, the group held a rally that, for the first time, brought parents together from across the spectrum.

Panelists suggested the benefits of a united front included strength in numbers, a more focused message and crossover appeal.

In response to a question from moderator Nina Rees, CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Hage said some Democratic lawmakers in Florida were more willing to support charter bills this year because they had supported tax credit scholarships in the past. Plus, the coalition offered a tighter, more compelling argument – one that emphasized school choice options even more and better deflected the usual criticisms. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Common Core, school spending, arts education & more

Common Core. Tony Bennett promises the most aggressive deployment of Common Core in the country. StateImpact Florida.

florida roundup logoTeacher raises. Guidance from the governor’s office, reports Gradebook. Alachua teachers are getting a 2 percent raise., reports the Gainesville Sun.

Teacher conduct. Snoozing teacher, two day suspension. South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Teacher evals. Needs tweaking, says a panel that includes Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. Florida Times Union.

School spending. StateImpact Florida takes a closer look at the state ed budget. The Broward school board decides to outsource most of the facilities department, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel. More from the Miami Herald. Pasco’s still looking for ways to fill a projected $26.4 million deficit, reports the Tampa Bay Times. Flagler’s decision to eliminate some paraprofessionals draws criticism, reports the Daytona Beach News Journal. Continue Reading →


Mike McCurry: School choice centrism is antidote for broken politics



In an American political system ripped apart by partisanship, the school choice movement stands out as a rare example of centrism, former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said Tuesday. But the movement can build even better bridges if it eases up on the name calling and finger pointing, he continued.

“We cannot demonize our opponents,” McCurry told several hundred people at the American Federation for Children summit in Washington D.C. “I hear too often, as I do the work I do at (the Children’s Scholarship Fund), hear people talk about teachers unions in a way that’s frankly ugly. Those people love our children just as much as anyone in this room. They happen to be particularly wrongheaded about the way … to improve their lives. But it’s not because they are ill motivated.”

“We need to recognize that, and have compassion for the people on the other side,” he continued. “Not everything needs to be mud wrestling on CNN with people calling each other names. … We’ve got to nurture the better angels on that side and understand where they’re coming from.”

McCurry worked for liberal Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (himself a strong school choice supporter) early in his career and later for President Bill Clinton. He serves on the board of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which provides privately funded scholarships for low-income students in grades K-8.

The school choice movement’s appeal to all points on the political spectrum is a source of pride, McCurry said. The movement needs to continue doing the hard work of making the center hold, of putting aside differences on other issues to find common ground on kids and education. He suggested it might even model good behavior in other realms. Continue Reading →


School choice opened the door

Denisha Merriweather

Denisha Merriweather

Former Step Up For Students scholarship student Denisha Merriweather, now attending the University of West Florida, received a standing ovation last night after speaking at the American Federation for Children school choice summit in Washington D.C. Here is the text of her prepared remarks. (Full disclosure: Step Up co-hosts this blog.)

Good evening! Thank you, Mr. Chavous, for your kind introduction.

My name is Denisha Merriweather, and I just finished my junior year at the University of West Florida in Pensacola right near the tip of Florida’s Panhandle. I am so proud to stand here before you today knowing that this time next year, I will be graduating college.

The truth is, when I was growing up, college was a dream that I didn’t even know I had. And if it weren’t for an educational option Florida gave me nine years ago, I wouldn’t be here today.

If you were to rewind my life back to my childhood, you would see someone very different. You would see someone who got in fights with her classmates. Someone destined to drop out before she made it through high school. Someone who didn’t even know what college was.

But thankfully, I did not become a statistic. Because of some help I received when I was 12 years old, my life has changed tremendously. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Rick Scott vetoes, teacher pay, ed schools & more

Rick Scott. Gov. Rick Scott vetoes about $400 million in spending and a proposed tuition hike, reports the Associated Press and South Florida Sun Sentinel. (Tampa Tribune columnist Joe Henderson gives him a thumbs up.) Vetoes other ed-related items, reports StateImpact Florida. Vetoes $1.5 million for a STEM project in Pasco, reports Gradebook. Vetoes $14 million for a new building at Gulf Coast State College, reports the Panama City News Herald. Vetoes a $7.5 million “innovation hub” at Florida Gulf Coast University, reports the Naples Daily News. Doesn’t veto a wind tunnel at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, reports the Daytona Beach News Journal.

florida roundup logoDual enrollment. Gov. Scott signs into law a measure that requires districts to pick up the cost. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher merit pay. Pinellas is about to roll out a pilot at seven schools. Gradebook.

Teachers unions. A glimpse at the financial picture for United Teachers of Dade. Intercepts.

Ed schools. The Hechinger Report uses the University of Central Florida as the lead for a story about more scrutiny and accountability coming to colleges of ed.

School spending. Projected layoffs reach 282 in Manatee, including 182 teachers, reports the Bradenton Herrald. About 100 rally to show support for the teachers, the Herald also reports. More from the Sarasota Herald Tribune. Continue Reading →


Gov. Mike Pence: Expanded school choice helps traditional public schools, too

Gov. Pence

Gov. Pence

Speaking to school choice die-hards Monday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence took aim at a common criticism of expanded learning options and encouraged supporters to make teachers part of their case.

“Let’s be very clear in this debate … iron sharpens iron,” Pence told several hundred people gathered at the fourth annual American Federation for Children summit in Washington D.C. “When you empower parents to choose the public, the charter, the private school of their choice, all of education gets better because of competition.”

Pence, one of several keynote speakers for the two-day event, reeled off a suite of ed stats from Indiana. Since the introduction of that state’s voucher program two years ago, test scores and grad rates have continued to rise while achievement gaps have continued to narrow, he said. “The progress we’ve made recently doesn’t appear to be slowing down” because of more choice, he said.

Pence signed an expansion of the voucher program into law earlier this month. He told the AFC audience he’s going to continue to push for more school choice and other reforms because, in part, “I believe in Indiana’s teachers.”

He noted his wife is a teacher, and said some of their best friends are public and private school teachers.

“America has some of the best teachers in the world. Some of the most courageous, decent, caring, selfless men and women in our society are in classrooms today. I submit to you that as we move forward in this debate, we need to speak (about) teachers,” he said. “We believe in giving parents choices because we want them to be able to choose the best school for their children, knowing the teachers will rise to the challenge, as they’ve certainly done in Indiana.”