Steve Jobs, school choice lefty

Steve Jobs (photo by Matthew Yohe, accessed from Wikimedia Commons)

Steve Jobs (photo by Matthew Yohe, accessed from Wikimedia Commons)

Five years after his death, we’re still talking about Steve Jobs. The 2015 movie about him just won two Golden Globes, including one for Aaron Sorkin’s script. His quotes still spur stories. His connection to the San Francisco 49ers somehow inspired an angle for Super Bowl 50.Voucher Left logo snipped

So now seems as good a time as any to highlight (as other folks rightly did after his death) that Jobs, the Apple visionary, was a passionate supporter for school vouchers, and to add what hasn’t been explicitly noted, which is that he was, by conventional perceptions, an especially liberal one.

Skeptical? Jobs, the adopted son of a repo man, took a deep, lifelong dive into Eastern religions. He cultivated an organic garden. He was pretty much vegan (and at one point, a fruitarian). In his younger days, he dropped a lot of acid, dropped out of college and went to work barefoot. For years, he avoided deodorant. His company was all in for gay rights. He couldn’t get enough of Bob Dylan. And the kicker to his most famous speech, his 2005 commencement address at Stanford, was a quote from the crunchy-granola “Whole Earth Catalog.”

To be clear, I don’t care if Jobs was “conservative” or “liberal.” But tribal politics being what they are, I know many people do put stock in labels, including folks on the left who have somehow come to believe that expanding opportunity through school choice is out of synch with their “progressive” values. So, for them, it’s worth noting what Jobs, this counterculture kind of guy, had to say about school choice:

I believe very strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher for $4,400 dollars that they could only spend at any accredited school several things would happen. Number one schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to get students.

Secondly, I think you’d see a lot of new schools starting. I’ve suggested as an example, if you go to Stanford Business School, they have a public policy track; they could start a school administrator track. You could get a bunch of people coming out of college tying up with someone out of the business school, they could be starting their own school. You could have 25-year-old students out of college, very idealistic, full of energy instead of starting a Silicon Valley company, they’d start a school. I believe that they would do far better than any of our public schools would. The third thing you’d see is I believe, is the quality of schools again, just in a competitive marketplace, start to rise. Some of the schools would go broke. A lot of the public schools would go broke. There’s no question about it.

It would be rather painful for the first several years, but far less painful I think than the kids going through the system as it is right now. The biggest complaint of course is that schools would pick off all the good kids and all the bad kids would be left to wallow together in either a private school or remnants of a public school system. To me that’s like saying “Well, all the car manufacturers are going to make BMWs and Mercedes and nobody’s going to make a $10,000 car.” I think the most hotly competitive market right now is the $10,000 car area.

It’s worth reading Jobs’ remarks about public education in full (thanks to the Heartland Institute for culling them), because he also says interesting things about unions, monopolies, parents and consumers. For now, a few things worth noting …

First, as Jay P. Greene pointed out after Jobs died in October 2011, the Apple CEO made similar comments as late as 2007. So these snippets above, from a 1995 interview with the Smithsonian Institution, aren’t an anomaly.

Second, Jobs came of age in an era where parental choice wasn’t saddled as it is now with the “right wing” label slapped on by critics and sealed by the press. In fact, he and Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple would have been right there, at the epicenter of a voucher quake, when liberal Berkeley law professors Jack Coons and Stephen Sugarman led a late ‘70s effort to make school choice the law of the land in California. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Recess, construction, commissioner and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool recess: Supporters of daily recess for elementary students are worried that the bill they support still isn’t getting a hearing in the Senate. They blame Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, for the inactivity. Legg, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, says other issues have a higher priority. Gradebook.

Charters and construction: Today, the House Appropriations Committee will consider a bill that would place limits on the money school districts can spend on construction and share local capital projects tax revenue with charter schools. Gradebook. WFSU.

Elected commissioner: A website has been launched to help lobby for an elected education commissioner who will also be in the Cabinet. Fund Education Now created the page to push for an amendment to be decided by voters. Florida Politics.

New SAT concerns: Some experts worry that the new SAT, with its longer and harder reading passages and more words in math problems, will cause problems for some students. Testing begins in March. New York Times. New Boston Post. Should you take the new SAT or the ACT? Huffington Post.

Book removed: Seminole County school officials remove a book from three elementary school libraries after a parent’s complaint. Mariko Tamaki’s This One Summer contains sexual references and obscenities. WFTV. Continue Reading →


Charter school facilities funding plan returns in Florida House

A new legislative proposal could revive a long-simmering and often-distorted debate over how Florida funds charter school facilities.

A proposed rewrite of a school construction bill (HB 873 by Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah) would guarantee most charters in the state an annual funding amount, pegged to the cost of school construction.

If the Legislature doesn’t provide enough annual funding to cover that amount, most charters would receive a share of their local school district’s property tax revenue to make up the difference.

Right now, charter schools rely on annual appropriations from the state budget to pay for facilities and other capital costs. The funding has dwindled over time, even as the number of charter schools in the state has increased.

During the 2011-12 school year, 372 charter schools split $55.2 million in capital outlay funding. This year, 535 schools are splitting an even $50 million. The resulting erosion has put pressure on schools trying to make lease payments or keep up with mortgages, prompting some charter advocates to warn the situation has reached a “desperate point.”

The revised bill, set to be taken up later this week by the House Appropriations Committee, would set a funding benchmark equal to one-fortieth of the estimated per-student cost of school construction. Continue Reading →


Remembering Andrew Coulson

coulsonAndrew Coulson, the gentleman-scholar at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, died yesterday of brain cancer.  Andrew was 48.

I met Andrew in 2008, soon after I became president of Step Up For Students.  I’m sure he was curious about this liberal Democrat and long-time teacher union leader who was now leading the country’s largest private school choice organization.

Andrew and I spoke and exchanged emails frequently during my first few years in this job.  He was a brilliant thinker and extraordinarily polite.  We shared a passion for freedom and equal opportunity, but we did occasionally disagree, and those are the discussions I cherish the most.  He was sure that multiple Scholarship Funding Organizations strengthened tax credit scholarship programs, while I thought the evidence showed the contrary.  We ended up agreeing to disagree. Continue Reading →


Report: Florida tops nation in charter school closures

Florida saw more charter schools shut down than any other state last year, according to a new report from an advocacy group.

The report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools breaks down trends in the charter school movement. It shows that, in a departure from the recent past, the total number of charters in Florida held almost steady in over the past year.

The 38 new charters that opened this fall were offset by 35 that closed during the 2014-15 school year, according to the report. State Department of Education records list another three schools that closed before the current school year began.

Florida might be expected to have a large number of closures since it has 656 charters, the third-most in the country, but the report shows the Sunshine State’s closure rate is disproportionately high. Florida is home to slightly less than 10 percent of the charters operating in the country, but accounted for nearly 14 percent of closures last school year.

Charter school closure graph

A comparison of the percentage of new charters opening last fall and the percentage of charter schools closed last school year. Source: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: School grades, testing, score reports and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool grades: The Florida Department of Education could issue school grades as early as Tuesday. Many think their meaning will be tainted by the controversy over the Florida Standards Assessments tests, which are a major component of the grades. Tampa Bay Times.

Alternative tests: Education experts are split on the benefits of a proposed bill that would give school districts the choice of using tests like the SAT and ACT instead of the Florida Standards Assessments. Politico Florida.

Score reports: Newly designed reports are meant to make it easy for parents to see how their children scored on state testing. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Sunshine State News.

Education bills: Some of the less-publicized education bills are moving in the Legislature. Here’s a look at a few, and where they stand. Gradebook.

Construction spending: The chairman of the House Education Budget Subcommittee brushes aside school superintendents’ denial that they’re wasting school construction money. Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, says he won’t change his plans to press for more accountability. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. WFSU.

After-school funding: Florida Senate leaders are discussing changes to the state’s after-school programs. They want to increase funding but spread it around to more agencies. Agencies that have been providing after-school services, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys & Girls Clubs, worry about the effect on their programs. Miami Herald.

School start times: A study in the journal Sleep links later high school starting times to lower rates of tardiness and discipline issues. THE Journal. Continue Reading →


This week in school choice: Out of the gate

Last year was, by many counts, the year of educational choice. But Scott Jensen of the school choice advocacy group American Federation for Children tracks progress over two-year legislative cycles.

While a record number of states created or expanded private school choice programs in 2015, a total of 25 — including heavyweights from New York to Texas — saw private school choice bills clear at least one legislative chamber.

That number, Jensen says, could rise before the end of this year, meaning: “A majority of the states of America, in this two-year legislative session, will have passed a private school choice bill through at least one house.”

Florida is already on the scoreboard, but it cemented its place earlier this year. Other states already on the board, like Oklahoma, where the governor is pushing hard for education savings accounts, and Arizona, where extant ESAs could soon be universal, may be poised to follow suit.


The politics of school choice may be changing.

Looking at learner-centric educational change … and school facilities plans to match.

Teach for America alums — including many prominent charter school leaders — celebrate 25 years.

Looking back at a 1964 New York school segregation boycott. Looking at the “separate but equal” school systems that remainContinue Reading →


Bills would expand access to college courses in Florida

Florida has long been a leader in offering Advanced Placement, dual enrollment, and other programs that allow students to pursue college credits while they’re still in high school.

But some state lawmakers say access to those options remains limited and uneven. Three bills advanced this week would expand access to college courses.

Collegiate high school overhaul

Sen. John Legg

Sen. John Legg

On Tuesday, the Senate Education PreK-12 committee backed a bill by Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz that would stop school districts from limiting participation in acceleration programs offered by local community colleges.

In 2014, Legg authored a bill that required school districts and community colleges to give students in every Florida county access to a public collegiate high school program, which allowed students to complete up to two year’s worth of college courses before graduation. But Legg said some districts have limited participation.

“Some of the school districts and state colleges have an enrollment cap of 25-30 kids,” he told the committee, which he chairs. “What we wanted to do was make sure there was not an artificially low [limit on participation].”

He acknowledged the college programs can be costly for districts to operate, so SB 1076 would create a bonus system that would offer districts an extra half-student’s worth of state per-pupil funding for every student who completes 30 college credit hours in the revamped acceleration programs. Continue Reading →