Archive | School Choice

The ode to ‘government schools’

Editor’s note: A series of attacks tying school choice to segregation has prompted rebuttals from conservative and libertarian writers. Here, Professor John E. Coons, who occasionally sparred with Milton Friedman in the early years of the school choice movement, responds from a different perspective.

Recently, the New York Times featured a guest column and cartoon demonizing the empowerment of low-income families to choose private schools. Written by one Katherine Stewart, it features recall of tidbits from and about racial segregationists of the 19th century and of the 1950s following Brown v. Board. The author makes plain, in almost Trump-like prose, that, to her, the whole effort to liberate the poor from compulsory assignment to a “government school” resonates with racism. I am surprised by the Times‘ featuring such a screed; to be sure, the paper has consistently opposed choice for the poor, but one would have expected comment at a superior level.

The editorial prefers the label “public” for those schools operated by the state. (My own favorite tag: “state schools.”) The term “public” is, of course, interesting and ambiguous. Our sidewalks are “public” – anyone can walk or stand (or recline?) on them. The park is public. It welcomes all, standing or sitting. (Though some charge a fee. Relevant?) Our courts are ordinarily public, and I suppose one can visit police stations, though briefly. Are they public? Our legislator’s office, the public library, the fire department, the Army post, the skating rink — you name it. What makes for “public?” Continue Reading →


The ‘Trump effect’ polarizes school choice, but doesn’t hurt its popularity

Ever since Donald Trump became president, opponents of school choice have tried to tie charter schools, vouchers and scholarship tax credits to the polarizing politician.

A new public opinion survey suggests those tactics might not be working as intended.

Survey researchers with Education Next asked questions about two school choice policies two ways. Half the respondents answered basic questions about whether they supported tax credit scholarships or charter schools. The other half were asked the same questions, after being told Trump supports the policies.

Even after a sharp drop, charter school supporters still outnumber opponents, according to the latest Ed Next poll.

Associating the policies with Trump didn’t change overall support for either policy. But it did tend to polarize issues. Support among Democrats went down, while support among Republicans went up.

Hearing about President Trump’s views doesn’t change overall charter school support. But it widens the partisan divide.

The poll confirms something school choice advocates saw on the ground during last year’s elections. Continue Reading →


How tax credit scholarships are similar to, and different from, other charities

School choice critics in Congress are pushing a proposal to penalize tax credit scholarships in the federal tax code.

In the National Review, Jason Bedrick of EdChoice points out several flaws with their idea.

Among other things, Bedrick notes, there’s no reason to treat tax credit scholarships differently from other charitable contributions, as Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., has proposed. Continue Reading →


Leveling the playing field in public school choice

Some affluent South Florida cities have found a way to carve private niches in the public education system.

The Miami Herald recenty reported some taxpayers may start paying double the state’s normal public-school funding amounts for dedicated spots in highly-sought magnet programs created by the local school district.

And a few cities have found another way to use public school choice to create special perks for their residents. They can create municipal charter schools that give residents priority in admissions.

The Herald reports:

[T]he city of Aventura runs its own K-8 charter school, known as ACES. Aventura is currently in the process of opening a new charter high school — something parents, local politicians and business groups have been advocating for years. They argue that Dr. Michael Krop Senior High School in north Miami-Dade, the public high school serving Aventura residents, is too far away for some families.

Aventura residents will get first dibs at the new high school, which is slated to open in 2019. Although other county residents will be able to apply for empty seats, city manager Eric Soroka said that based on interest from residents, he doesn’t think there will be any.

Instead, some area residents are concerned that the charter high school could segregate the area, pulling affluent Aventura residents out of Krop along with the added resources, like fundraising contributions, that wealthy students tend to bring with them.

“Personally, I think there’s a benefit to having a diverse school population so that especially high school-aged kids can become friends with kids from other ethnicities,” said Aventura resident Ivy Ginsberg. “By saying that all the slots are going to go to Aventura residents only, it’s like giving Aventura residents their own private school.”

Soroka said that’s not the city’s intention. “The only thing we’re providing is another educational choice for our residents at this point,” he said.

Continue Reading →


Choice scholarships revoked for Orlando private school

The Florida Department of Education on Friday suspended an Orlando private school with a history of regulatory violations from the state’s school choice scholarship programs. The department is also moving quickly to remove the school permanently from participation in the programs.

Agape Christian Academy has occasionally landed in the headlines for issues from financial woes to forged fire inspections.

Last year, after discovering fire code violations and improper fire inspection documents, DOE suspended the school from receiving money through Florida tax credit scholarships, McKay Scholarships and Gardiner Scholarships. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner programs.)

DOE allowed the school to continue receiving scholarships last fall only after Agape signed a settlement agreeing to fix the issues and abide by a list of specific new requirements. A modified agreement, signed in April after months of legal disputes, placed the school on “probationary status.”

That agreement outlined that, to remain eligible for the scholarship programs, Agape needed to return more than $178,000 to Step Up and the state — money the school received from scholarship programs while it was not qualified to participate. The agreement also required the school to accept professional development for its staff and to participate in the Measures of Academic Progress assessment program to get a more timely picture of the academic progress of its students. Continue Reading →


Nation’s largest private school choice program tops 100,000 students

The nation’s largest private school choice program has passed another notable milestone. During the coming school year, more than 100,000 low-income and working-class students will enroll in private schools using Florida tax credit scholarships to help pay tuition and fees.

Step Up For Students is a nonprofit organization that helps administer the program. (It also publishes this blog and pays my salary.)

The organization stopped enrolling students on Friday afternoon. Right now, about 101,869 students are enrolled for the coming school year.

*Data for the 2017-18 school year are preliminary and only count scholarships funded by Step Up For Students. Source: Florida Department of Education, Step Up For Students.

That figure comes amid the highest-ever demand for scholarships. More than 177,000 students started the process of applying for scholarships. Step Up has approved more than 23,000 applications for students it does not have the money to serve.

Doug Tuthill, the president of Step Up, said rising demand is part of a larger “culture shift” in public education. Continue Reading →


Siblings from Argentina adjust and thrive thanks to school choice scholarships

In a three-year span, Mariel Ubfal’s world fell apart. Her husband died. She moved her family to the United States. Then she watched as her children struggled in school.

The move from Argentina to America came in 2008, three years after Mariel’s husband died from cancer. At the time, all four of her children were under the age of 10. “Leaving was not easy,” Mariel said. “But I knew this was the right decision for my kids.”

Starting over wasn’t easy, either.

Being unemployed and underemployed for the first few years, Mariel struggled to pay bills and, at times, even to feed her kids. As if that wasn’t enough, her children began having behavioral and academic issues in their neighborhood schools – something that never happened in Argentina.

After moving to Miami from Argentina, the Mohadeb kids — Agustin, Barbara, Matias, and Sebastian — attended Hebrew Academy in Miami on Florida tax credit scholarships.

Troubles first hit her three eldest – Matias, Agustin, and Barbara Mohadeb.

Matias hated school because he struggled learning a new language. In eighth grade, he earned D’s and F’s and routinely got into fights. Agustin was held back in sixth grade for poor academics. Barbara failed fifth grade because she did not speak the language.

Mariel felt desperate. She called the school and tried setting up meetings with her sons’ teachers, but that proved difficult.

“Maybe it was the language barrier, I’m not sure, but I wasn’t able to help my kids succeed at their local school,” she said.

Mariel searched for a better option and found a school that felt like home, but couldn’t afford the tuition. Then a friend told her about the Florida tax credit scholarships. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps provide the scholarships to more than 100,000 low-income and working-lcass students.)

It was “the answer to my prayers,” she said.

In 2010, Matias, then 15, and Agustin, then 13, began ninth and seventh grade respectively at Hebrew Academy.

The school is smaller and more family-oriented than their previous schools, Mariel said, and its teachers are more accessible to parents. The curriculum is rigorous and the school has high expectation for student academics and parental involvement, she said.

Progress didn’t happen immediately. Matias’s behavior was terrible in the beginning. At one point, he refused to go to his new school, and Mariel couldn’t get him out of bed. Continue Reading →


Arts academies inspire rare political unity on school choice

Yesterday, the New York Times published a profile of an illustrious public arts academy in Miami-Dade County.

It suggests magnet schools like New World School of the Arts can unify different camps in the often-fraught school choice debate.

Though Democrats and Republicans are at sharp odds over the direction, funding and effectiveness of public education and school choice, schools of the arts often bridge the partisan divide.

Many of them are magnet schools, which grew out of a hard-fought battle: desegregation. The hope was that by removing geographic barriers to admission, magnet schools would attract students with a special interest, be it science and technology or the arts, from both high-performing and underperforming schools.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools have long pushed to expand options. Their superintendent once memorably declared his intent to ride the "tsunami of choice," rather than fight it. And there's some oft-overlooked overlap between school choice advocates and advocates for arts education. Continue Reading →