Archive | vouchers

A voucher smear lacking evidence

The 1990 launch of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program marked the dawn of the modern school voucher movement.

It was the product of an unlikely collaboration. Conservative acolytes of free-market economist Milton Friedman in the administration of Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson aligned with progressive black Democrats like the late state Rep. Polly Williams*.

The motivations of the two camps make sense. Conservative reformers drew upon ideas Friedman had promoted for decades. Williams wanted new options for disadvantaged Milwaukee children she represented.

And yet, opponents of today’s private school choice programs continue to assert the ideas shaping today’s voucher programs have other, far more sinister, origins — specifically, short-lived, shameful attempts by Southern whites to create private “segregation academies,” with tuition funded from public coffers.

The Center for American Progress is out today with a report titled “The Racist Origins of Private School Vouchers.”  Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Waivers, religious expression, charters and more

State seeks ESSA waivers: The Florida Department of Education is seeking waivers to the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in its draft for public comment. The state wants a transition period for students who aren’t fluent in English, a waiver on reporting student learning gains, and a waiver on the rule that requires school grade changes if 95 percent of every subgroup doesn’t participate in testing. The public can submit comments here until July 31. Orlando SentinelGradebook.

Religious expression: School districts around the state are starting to prepare for the implementation of the new freedom of religious expression in schools law. Students will now be permitted to include religious beliefs in their schoolwork, and pray at school. Some educators expect little change, since the law already permits those things. Others worry that the law will encourage some teachers to veer into religion-based instruction that ignores commonly accepted facts. Many districts are waiting for guidance on the issue from the Florida Department of Education before writing local policies. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter marketing: An Orange County charter school has budgeted almost $250,000 of taxpayer money over three years to advertise for students. The K-6 Renaissance Charter School will open later this summer on the south side of Orange County, with 661 students expected. To help fill those seats, the school has budgeted $148,725 for marketing in 2017-2018, $55,539 in 2018-2019 and $40,498 in 2019-2020. A spokesperson for Charter Schools USA, the for-profit company that was hired by Renaissance to run its schools, says the ad spending is “smart marketing,” and added, “Parents choose charters for a variety of reasons. We have to market it to let parents know it is there.” Orange County School Board member Linda Kobert says, “Charters have a different set of rules. The school district, the state of Florida, and the taxpayers have no say in how charters spend those taxpayer dollars.” WFTV.

Meal policies reconsidered: Schools across the United States are reconsidering how they deal with students’ meal debts. This month, the U.S. Agriculture Department is requiring districts to inform parents about school meal payments at the start of a school year, and encouraging districts to contact parents directly about delinquent accounts so children don’t go hungry. Several states are going one step further, prohibiting meal shaming or denying food to delinquent students. Associated Press. The Clay County School District is hiking prices for school meals next year. Breakfast at all schools will be $1.50, up 25 cents. Lunch at elementary schools will be $2 for, 25 cents more, and $2.25 at secondary schools, up 15 cents. Florida Times-Union. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Vouchers, immunizations, bonuses and more

Religious schools and vouchers: Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions this week could have implications for the constitutionality of vouchers for religious institutions. Monday, the court ruled that Missouri could not exclude private religious schools from a playground grant program. Tuesday, the court ordered the Colorado Supreme Court to reconsider a decision that the state’s Blaine Amendment prohibits public funding of religious institutions. redefinED. Education Week. Associated Press.

Voucher studies: Long-term studies in Louisiana and Indiana show that former public school students who keep private school vouchers for several years eventually catch up and sometimes pass their peers in reading and math tests. Earlier, shorter-term studies have shown that those students tend to lag behind their public school peers. redefinED.

Immunizations upheld: Parochial schools can require students to get immunizations to be admitted, the First District Court of Appeal rules. A parent filed the appeal after the Holy Spirit School in Jacksonville refused to admit his child without immunizations. News Service of Florida.

Teaching bonuses: The Manatee School for the Arts is offering bonuses of up to $3,000 fill two 6th-grade math teaching positions, plus higher than expected salaries. The district has sent recruitment letters to the most highly rated math teachers in school districts around the state. Bradenton Herald. Continue Reading →

The longer students keep vouchers, the better their results

Results in Louisiana and Indiana’s voucher programs took a step in the right direction this week, with the release of one study and the leak of another.

Voucher critics made the two large statewide school choice programs into targets over the past year. Studies looking at just a few years’ worth of data found students fell behind their public-school peers on reading and math tests after accepting a voucher to attend a private school.

The drip-drop of negative findings countered what had been a steady stream of studies showing private school choice programs didn’t harm — and sometimes helped — student test score gains. A gathering narrative argued vouchers harm student achievement.

The new Indiana and Louisiana results reflect students’ progress over a longer time period. And they call that narrative into question.

They show voucher students who remained in private schools for a few years eventually caught up to their private school peers. Some even posted achievement gains over time.

This highlights a consistent trend in other voucher studies, including a recent re-examination of voucher data from Washington D.C. When students leave public schools to accept private school scholarships, they tend to lose ground initially. Over time, their test scores get better as they adjust to new schools.

Schools take the time to adjust to new students, too. Private schools in much of Louisiana and Indiana had to figure out how to serve an influx of low-income and working-class students who couldn’t previously afford tuition. And sometimes schools have to adjust to new standards, tests or regulations that come with scholarship programs.

The new results have drawn predictable reactions from teachers unions and school choice advocacy groups. They might not bring a clear-cut victory for either side of the debate. But they lend fresh credence to arguments from people like Lousiana School Superintendent John White, who argued partisans should give vouchers time to work before jumping to conclusions about their academic impact.

 New years of data

Indiana’s low-income voucher students see positive outcomes in reading and no difference in math after four years, according to updated findings that still have not yet been formally published. They were first divulged on public radio by Professors Mark Berends and Joseph Waddington and later released by Chalkbeat.

As with previous research, the authors found a decline in student performance in the first year. But they also found as years go by, student achievement in private schools begins to climb.

“The longer that a student is enrolled in a private school receiving a voucher, their achievement begins to turn positive in magnitude — to the degree that they’re making up ground that they initially lost in their first couple of years in private school,” Waddington stated in an interview with NPR. Continue Reading →

U.S. Supreme Court gives legs to anti-Blaine Amendment crusade

Speculation swirled after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Missouri could not exclude private religious schools from a playground grant program.

Did justices signal they set their sights on a legal obstacle to school vouchers? Even informed legal scholars disagreed.

But the high court sent a much clearer signal this morning.

Justices granted a petition by the Douglas County, Colo. school board. The school district wanted the high court to review a ruling that hobbled its local voucher program. State courts argued vouchers violate the Blaine Amendment in Colorado’s constitution, which bars public funding of religious institutions. Continue Reading →

The door to private school choice is already open

Once again, prohibitions on funding religion don’t stand in the way of school choice.

In the latest case, a Montana court ruled religious schools could participate in a tax credit scholarship program.

A group of moms backed by the Institute for Justice had challenged regulations that kept religious schools out of the program.

The Associated Press reported the ruling late last month:

[District Judge Heidi Ulbricht] found that the program is funded through tax credits, not appropriations, and the constitution does not address the use of tax credits. “Non-refundable tax credits simply do not involve the expenditure of money that the state has in its treasury,” Ulbright wrote.

Continue Reading →

Testing Choice

I get The New York Times. Each morning, it identifies the world’s battlegrounds — military and ideological, political and economic. I discount and forgive its plainly “liberal” bent. If I owned a paper, it would have a tone of sorts.

But there are limits. One, I suggest, is the duty of all media, at an ethical minimum, to recognize, if only to dismiss, plausible arguments on all sides of any public issue. Readers deserve to know the writer’s pre-judgments.

The Times is a collection of heady folk; one expects the best from them. Sadly, along with most of their profession, they have remained silent on the strongest argument for extending to the lower-income parent the same power of choice among all educators that is available, and so precious, to our middle- and upper-income classes.

In April, the Times offered its view on the efficacy of one form of empowerment for the non-rich under the headline: “Vouchers Found to Lower Test Scores in Washington Schools.” The article discussed a study originating from the anti-voucher Obama Department of Education; it found that vouchers for choice of private schools by poor families in D.C. were followed by slightly lower scores on required tests. The Times cited a few concurring studies but strangely failed to note that these reports contradict two dozen other professional analyses.

But that particular form of selective reportage is not the only concern here. Much more troubling is the Times writer’s assumption that test scores are the litmus test for success in school, and that, if scores slightly declined, there would be no justification for letting poor parents make those choices so dear to the rest of us.

The test score infatuation is still widely shared by the media. Historically, it stems in considerable part from the purely economic argument for choice so welcome to the utilitarian minds of the ’60s and even today. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: School sales tax holiday, education bill and more

Sales tax holiday: Gov. Rick Scott approves a three-day sales tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers. It’s Aug. 4-6, and gives shoppers a tax break on clothes, school supplies, computers and computer accessories. Scott also approves a three-day sales tax holiday to buy hurricane supplies. In signing the bill, Scott again criticizes the Legislature’s budget and education bills, but gave no indication of whether he would veto either. Palm Beach PostGradebook. News Service of Florida.

Education bill: Parents of Gardiner scholarship students are lobbying Gov. Scott to sign the education bill, which would greatly expand the program that benefits children with special needs. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Gardiner scholarships redefinED.

Interim’s goals: Patricia Willis, the interim superintendent for the Duval County School District, says she will focus on improving third-grade reading and graduation rates. Willis, a former deputy superintendent for the district, will run the system until the school board finds a permanent replacement for Nikolai Vitti, who left last week to lead the Detroit school system. Florida Times-Union.

Reading test results: School districts in Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties all show gains in the Florida Standards Assessments reading test for third-graders. Fort Myers News-Press. Continue Reading →