Charters & Choice

Mitt Romney’s plan to voucherize (though he doesn’t call it that) Title I and IDEA has considerable merit—but it’s not the only way the federal government could foster school choice and it might not even be the best way.

It’s not a new idea, either. I recall working with Bill Bennett on such a plan—which Ronald Reagan then proposed to a heedless Congress—a quarter century ago.

It had merit then and has even more today, if only because the passing decades have brought so much more evidence that the original versions of these programs don’t do much for kids. As America nears the half-century mark with Title I, we can fairly conclude that pumping all this money into districts to boost the budgets of schools serving disadvantaged students hasn’t done those youngsters much good by way of improved academic achievement, though of course that cash has been welcomed by revenue-hungry districts (and states). Evaluation after evaluation of Title I has shown that iconic program to have little or no positive impact, and everybody knows that the No Child Left Behind edition of Title I—which encompasses AYP and the law’s accountability provisions—hasn’t done much good either. It has, however, yielded...

Georgia voters are fortunate to experience a debate that’s dominated largely by policy wonks. In the fall, they’ll get to decide who has the power to authorize charter schools. The November ballot will ask whether the state and local school boards can share that responsibility. That question shines a spotlight on the issue of local control, and provides an opportunity to rethink what that means.

Citizens of the Peach State have this question before them because their state Supreme Court last year declared the Georgia Charter Schools Commission unconstitutional. Four of the seven justices ruled that only locally elected boards of education could authorize charters. The commission, an independent state panel, had authorized sixteen schools, and it did so over the objections of local boards.

Georgia voters are fortunate to experience a debate that’s dominated largely by policy wonks.

But if voters renew the state’s power to authorize charters (which I hope they will) they’ll do more than just re-establish the charter commission. They’ll be saying that local boards can’t be the only authority to say yes or no to charters. In essence, they’ll be re-affirming the concept of local control.

Voters last affirmed the constitutional language that governed...

The Fordham Foundation is excited to announce that as of July 1 we have three new schools in our sponsorship portfolio. DECA PREP, Columbus Collegiate Academy – West, and Village Preparatory School::Woodland Hills Campus are all now part of Fordham’s sponsorship efforts. These three schools join eight others that we already sponsor, bringing the total to eleven schools throughout the state of Ohio. All three of these schools stem from other high-performing schools, and we have full confidence that they will provide a great education to youngsters in Dayton, Columbus, and Cleveland.

Here is a quick look at each of the new schools.

DECA PREP - Dayton, Ohio
DECA PREP will open this fall as a new K-6 school in Dayton designed to immerse first-generation college-goers into a rigorous and structured elementary academic setting to ensure that they will be successful in high school and college. DECA PREP will incorporate components of the academic model of its sister school, the highly successful Dayton Early College Academy (DECA), which serves grades 7-12 in Dayton and has produced tremendous results over the years. In 2010-11 DECA received an Excellent with Distinction designation from the Ohio Department of Education (the...

Louisiana recently submitted a proposal to that state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that calls for school choice and quality control in the state’s voucher program-- two words that have not been paired together enough here in Ohio. Specifically, the plan calls for a practical accountability system for the state’s voucher program. Louisiana’s K-12 scholarship program awards students who meet a residency and income requirement and who attend a low-performing school a scholarship to attend a private school of their choice. Currently approximately 5,000 students are using a public voucher in Louisiana.

The accountability plan, which would be the first of its kind in the nation, would introduce an accountability system based on a “sliding scale” (i.e. those schools enrolling more voucher students would be held to a higher level of accountability-- an idea Fordham proposed three years ago). Under the new system schools enrolling an average of greater than ten students per grade or forty or more students enrolled in tested grades will have their test scores reported. Schools will then be given points based on their performance, similar to the ones given to the public schools. Schools who receive low scores in the second year...

When first proposed, the Coverdell Education Savings Account(ESA) generated the familiar bombast characteristic of public policies that offset private-school tuition. The late Teddy Kennedy declared, in 1998, that the accounts would “privatize education” because families who saved for private or parochial K-12 schooling could enjoy tax-free gains on their investment. Then-President Clinton argued that only wealthy families would reap the rewards, which would cost the federal government billions, and later made good on his promise to veto the measure when it passed.

From its inception, the Coverdell ESA encouraged families to save.

George W. Bush resurrected the bill when he took the Oval Office, but the late Georgia Senator Paul Coverdell died before he could see his effort enacted into law. A decade has passed and the tax break is scheduled to expire on December 31, 2012. Lawmakers should extend the program’s benefits.

From its inception, the Coverdell ESA encouraged families to save. It never really was a voucher, as Kennedy had claimed. Unlike a tax-credit scholarship, contributions to the Coverdell aren’t tax-deductible. Rather, families enjoy tax-free earnings on their investments so long as they use the money to cover qualified education expenses (which can include religious schooling).


It started as a fairly typical funding-equity lawsuit and ended with a startling Wall Street Journal headline, “Michigan City Outsources All of Its Schools.” The story, about the poor performing and all-but-bankrupt Highland Park school district, raises all kinds of questions about our nation’s public-education system. (More from my colleague Bianca Speranza about implications for Ohio of Highland Park's plan here.) Why is it failing our poor children (which I wrote about last week)? Can it be fixed? Can it be fixed by turning schools over to charter-management organizations (CMOs)? And if we do turn them over to CMOs, do they have to be nonprofits?

As many defenders of the status quo are beginning to realize, the road to improvement cannot be paved with the same defective asphalt.

According to a report by Jenny Ingles in the web-based Take Part, in early July the ACLU and eight students from the Highland Park school district, located just outside of Detroit, filed a class-action suit against the state because students in the district weren’t learning: On a college-ready state exam, 90 percent of the district's eleventh graders failed the reading portion, 97 percent failed the math...

America’s states, cities and schools are hurting big time financially. This is not news but the fact that the bad news keeps coming especially hurts.  For example, just released unemployment numbers show an increase to 8.3 percent as American households lost 195,000 jobs. The underemployment rate – which includes those who are underemployed or who are working part time rose to 15 percent. This economic pain has struck education hard, leaving public school budgets strapped for cash and making business-as-usual more and more difficult. Districts around the country are now starting to take some drastic, and sometimes controversial, actions.

Highland Parks Public Schools, a small district in Michigan that is one the state’s lowest-performers, is on the verge of financial collapse. It made news last week when officials there announced plans to outsource its schools to a private for-profit charter school operator. The district handed over operations to The Leona Group which runs 54 schools in five states; 22 of its schools are in Michigan. The Leona Group will now oversee decisions around the hiring of staff, school curriculum and instruction, as well as school facility and maintenance issues.

What led up to such drastic action and...

Louisiana’s capital newspaper reported this week that two private schools that originally opted into the state’s new voucher program have changed their minds after the teachers union threatened them with legal action. One school is a non-denominational Christian school in suburban Baton Rouge that enrolls about 800 students. It initially set aside four kindergarten seats for the voucher program. The other, a Roman Catholic school in a rural parish ninety miles outside Baton Rouge, set aside six seats in its 200-student school.

So far, not many schools have taken the union’s “offer” to drop out of the voucher program and avoid litigation.

Most Louisiana private schools that chose to participate in the voucher program share these characteristics. They are faith-based and they have reserved a handful of seats for voucher-bearing students. They’ll derive the overwhelming majority of their revenues from tuition-paying students.

The state’s Department of Education had to take this into account when it drafted regulations to hold “voucher schools” more accountable. It decided, sensibly, that private schools enrolling large numbers of publicly funded students will be held to greater public transparency and results-linked accountability than schools enrolling just a handful. If the state imposed the...

Winning the gold for gab

Mike and Rick ponder public perceptions of education spending and whether it’s Rick—not teachers—who needs a dress code. Amber explains why penalty pay works.

Amber's Research Minute

Enhancing the Efficacy of Teacher Incentives through Loss Aversion: A Field Experiment by Roland G. Fryer, Jr., Steven D. Levitt, John List, and Sally Sadoff - Download the PDF

The Louisiana teacher union can’t get the courts to stop private schools from enrolling voucher-bearing students this fall, so they’ve taken to threatening the schools with litigation.

The law firm representing the Louisiana Association of Educators and others in their legal challenge against the state’s new voucher program has sent letters to schools that opted to participate in the program that “it will have no alternative other than to institute litigation” against them unless they opt out.

Two weeks ago, a district judge in Louisiana denied the union’s request for an injunction to block funding to the program, and an appellate court this week threw out the union’s request to overturn that decision. So now the plaintiffs have turned to bullying the schools.

A letter sent by attorney Brian Blackwell to one school asked for a promise not to accept any voucher funds. The alternative, Blackwell said, might be litigation. “We hope that you agree with us that proceeding with a program that is blatantly unconstitutional does not benefit students, parents, public schools or non-public schools,” he wrote.

The tactic worked. The school later wrote to state Superintendent John White that it was pulling out of the program. So...