Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The definition of insanity

The Kansas City Star, while reporting on a local State Representative race, noted that campaign material attacked Curt Dougherty of Independence for “voting for vouchers.” Vouchers, as Dougherty notes, are prohibited by the state’s Blaine Amendment, so he couldn’t have voted for a voucher.

This is not just an attack on a particular candidate’s position: it’s just one front in the war against improvement in education. The state of education from urban to rural communities is so dire that not taking reform measures is an attack. It is, in my opinion, ethically equal to doing nothing while a child drowns. We have children who every year are damned to poverty, unable to secure jobs or a college path, and often turn to crime. Many statistics document higher incarceration rates for non-high school graduates. The scope of this problem defines us when we refuse to take measures to give less fortunate children the basic means to pursue their own American Dream, and it damns us in turn when we let the bureaucracy of education dictate what we can and can’t do to help all children get—at the very least—an accredited education.

“That has nothing to do with education money,” Dougherty said, adding that the state has approved tax credits for a wide variety of initiatives, such as automobile assembly and historic preservation.

“These people try to villainize someone with a word, such as ‘vouchers.’”

We can do it for cars, but not kids? When are we going to get over the irrational fears we’ve been fed about education reform and start trying alternatives like scholarship tax credits to see if they can work here like they work in Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Arizona and many other states? They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, expecting different results. By that measure, we’re insane NOT to try a tax credit program for education.

Choices are Made Everywhere...I would Like Some Too!

With many political issues to face during campaigning, I am most of all focused on one's education plans. If someone feels our public education system is going great, they will never get my vote. Then, if someone admits there is a problem, I am listening. Next, if someone will fight for vouchers or education choice for children, they will usually get a check next to their name on the ballot. This is not to say this is my only concern, but one of my main ones. Schools are failing all over the country and the ones that are most affected by it are those children in lower income families or ones with special needs. These children already have disadvantages, why should the lack of educational choices make it that much worse? I am yet to see schools improving with the status quo, isn't it about time to try something new? The idea of choice has been around for many years and is being used in few cities. I understand it takes time for change, takes time for people to warm up to the idea, but that time should be now. Those cities that have forms of choice are seeing substantial improvements in education achievements from their students. Why are so many people fighting it? Some worry about the what-ifs, but what about worrying about the problems now. Doing something the same way over and over again and expecting the same results is not a smart move. Meanwhile, millions of children are losing their chances day by day to become educated and successful citizens.

In this article in the Columbia Tribune/AP, McCain makes his opinions very clear.

Jul 16, 9:45 PM EDT

McCain at NAACP pledges more education options

Associated Press Writer

CINCINNATI (AP) -- John McCain told the NAACP and some skeptical black voters Wednesday that he will expand education opportunities, partly through vouchers for low-income children to attend private school.

The likely Republican presidential nominee addressed the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation's oldest civil rights organization.

In greeting the group, McCain praised Democrat Barack Obama's historic campaign, but said the Illinois senator is wrong to oppose school vouchers for students in failing public schools. It is time, McCain said, to use vouchers and other tools like merit pay for teachers to break from conventional thinking on educational policy.

Obama, he said, has dismissed support for private school vouchers for low-income Americans.

"All of that went over well with the teachers union, but where does it leave families and their children who are stuck in failing schools?" the Arizona senator asked. "No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

If: more failure = more money; then: less money = less failure?

Things that don’t make sense for 200:

“Because the state-funding formula is based on attendance, the district loses money whenever a child enrolls in a charter school. Charters are also publicly supported.”
Now, I’ll admit that the state’s school finding formula is one of the more oblique pieces of legislation in Missouri’s history, but this particular statement from the Post-Dispatch makes me want to pat all the board members on the head and give them lollipops. This is the argument against opening more charter schools—that they cost the St. Louis Public Schools money. I find that farfetched, and hope someone really looks into the fiscal impact of charters on city schools, but regardless: the SLPS has had ample resources from the state and city to make improvements without any lasting, systemic success. So what in heaven’s name would cause board members to believe that money diverted into another school would have any affect whatsoever on the quality of education in our public schools? Given the recent trend, it would be much more reasonable to assume that the less money the district receives, the better academics we’ll see. Why? Because of competition. Competition would force the district to tighten its belt and become more efficient in getting results. I think SLPS would achieve substantially if dollars-per-student was not a given, and they had to earn each student just like the charter schools have to do.
Meanwhile, the board is doing what it always does, no matter who is in charge: behaving as if students are dollars, not individuals with rights. If we, as a city, can offer a better education through the proliferation of charter schools and other alternatives, then by ALL means we should. The board has essentially said: “we don’t want your ***** solutions. Even if you are better able to educate a child, we’re not going to support it if it takes money away from our enterprise. We’re more concerned about our benefit than the benefit that child might get. We’d rather see a child fail in our schools than lose money sop that he can succeed somewhere else.” The effect that charter schools have is no different than the effect of families moving outside city limits and going to Clayton or Brentwood in reaction to SLPS’ loss of accreditation. It is not the fault of charter schools, but up until now SLPS was ensured the money from every family who couldn’t afford to move to a more expensive neighborhood.
I’m sick of it, and I’m sick of money rhetoric. How much more are we going to spend while SLPS asks us to just wait a few more years, a few thousand more children, till they get it right? There are schools already getting it right and getting results.

Study Shows Special Needs Children Benefiting From Scholarship Programs

School choice opponents have several arguments against choice, none of which hold any ground. School choice comes in many sizes and colors, all with their own perks. Opponents of choice try to use the same arguments against each option, with nothing to back it up. Some cities or states have passed a broad sense of choice, others have narrowed down the scope. One area that takes my interest in special needs scholarships. These scholarships can be used by children with special needs to attend either public schools or approved private schools, varying program by program. According to a recent study, The Effect of Special Education Vouchers on Public School Achievement: Evidence from Florida's McKay Scholarship Program" by Jay Greene and Marcus Winters of the New York based Manhattan Institute, Florida's McKay Scholarship Program for special needs children is showing a strong positive impact on the relationship between school choice competition and the academic achievement of these students. The McKay Scholarship for Special Needs Program is the oldest and largest program of its kind in the country. Their study finds that children with special needs who were granted choices to other options, their math and reading scores were higher than those without choice. Children with "Specific learning Disabilities" were the most positively affected by the program, which categorizes the highest percentage of children with disabilities around the country. SLD children are scoring higher now than before McKay came along and children who have easier access to McKay scholarship schools are scoring higher than those who do not.
Greene and Winters took it a step further and analyzed the competitive forces behind programs such as these to see if there would be a scientifically valid correlation between school choice and student achievement. While they make it perfectly clear their study does not give the exact reasoning behind the increase in student achievement, they can say that is it helping. They feel the cause itself is not important to the policy debate. In a nutshell, choice, vouchers, tax credits, whatever you find, instead of harming public schools, they are improving the education the children are receiving.
Since McKay was started, four other states have enacted laws for children with special needs; Ohio, Utah, Arizona, and Georgia have all created some type of special needs scholarship program. I envision many more to be created in the future. Thousands of children are being served by these programs...finally.

Special Needs Children Should Get Better Options

Looks like Virgina is in the same boat as Missouri. We need and want legislation passed that would give children with special needs the opportunity to chose their schools...private or public. The 2008 legislative session, a bill was debated that would do just that. Unfortunately, it did not pass. The blame for this should be on the teacher unions and their fear of school choice. When someone thinks of teacher unions, they may think, well they are teachers, they must be looking for the best solution for the children...Wrong! They are out to serve themselves and the heads of these unions are making huge salaries while the children are still suffering. The unions are strong and powerful, have millions of dollars in lobbying efforts, and make people think they know what is best. Teachers are not fact, I love and appreciate them, however, the unions make it difficult for them by negatively influencing their a little brainwashing powerful machine. Its quite unfortunate.
This article, taken from The Daily Press, discusses the benefits to a choice program for special needs children:

Grants boost special ed

July 2, 2008

Thomas Jefferson, a strong proponent of public education in Virginia, believed that every child should "be in reach of a central school." More than 200 years later, Jefferson's vision has been realized, but the nearest public school is not always the best for every child. This is especially true for children with physical or mental disabilities. Virginia parents tell sad stories of inadequate services at public schools, where students can fail despite having their own individualized educational programs. Dissatisfied parents' current only recourse, besides paying for private tuition on top of their property and other taxes, is a due-process hearing or lawsuit, which is time-consuming, stressful and costly for all involved.

Several states have begun to address these challenges by offering scholarships to special-education students. One of the most successful of these programs is Florida's McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities. Recipients receive scholarships to attend the public or private schools of their choice; scholarship amounts are equivalent to what the taxpayers would have spent on their education in their local public schools. During the 2006-07 school year, it provided scholarships to 18,273 special-needs students becoming the largest educational-choice program in the United States.

For three consecutive years, state Sen. Walter Stosch has sponsored legislation to create a similar program in Virginia, which would provide a grant of up to $10,000 annually for any special-education student to use at a nonsectarian Virginia school of his family's choice.

A program like Stosch's could give Virginia's disabled students and their families more choice to seek out the best education for their individual situations, for example by selecting a school with a small staff that specializes in certain disabilities, such as autism or emotional disturbance. At the same time, such a scholarship program could actually help school districts save tax dollars. According to a study by Susan Aud, if Virginia provides tuition assistance grants of $5,000 apiece to parents of students with special needs, "the average school division would gain a net fiscal benefit of $5,214 from revenue sources that do not vary with enrollment (leaving these funds in school divisions even after students depart), and an additional net fiscal benefit of $6,729 because their reduction in special-ed costs would greatly exceed their reduction in per-student funding." That adds up to $11,943 in financial gain to the school district for each student in the first year of participation.

Special-education spending varies widely across Virginia school districts. Applying Aud's statewide average of $11,943, and assuming a 4 percent participation rate (based on Florida's experience with McKay scholarships), we can paint an impression of how much tuition assistance grants, TAGs, might save individual districts.

Richmond, Norfolk and Newport News each had approximately 5,000 special education students in 2005. If 200 of these students, or 4 percent, left their districts, the district would gain more than $2 million in the year the students departed, based on Aud's figure of $11,943 each. A district the size of Roanoke County, with more than 2,000 disabled students, could gain more than $1 million. A smaller district like Fredericksburg, with around 400 special-ed students, could gain nearly $200,000.

As with any needed service, freedom of choice is vital to quality education. This is especially true for students whose needs require customized instruction. Unlike public schools, which have limited funding to provide special services, private schools have incentives to satisfy families.

Allowing Virginia families to enjoy the same opportunities as their Florida counterparts to use at least part of the funds that would be spent on their children in public schools on education in the setting of their choice would better meet the needs of these students, save taxpayers' money and further the spirit of Jefferson's vision.

Carbone is an adjunct scholar at The Lexington Institute in Fairfax.