Thursday, March 27, 2003

School Choice All Around

While all eyes are on Iraq, the school choice movement quietly moves forward . . .

Dateline: Colorado

In what looks to be the first new school voucher program since the Supreme Court ruling, Kevin Teasley from the Greater Education Opportunities sends word that:

After four years of struggle, educational activities, grassroots mobilizing, legislative coaxing, numerous fact trips to Milwaukee, and lots of endless meetings, Colorado will be the next state to adopt vouchers. Today, the Colorado Senate approved House Bill 1160 which allows children in the state's lowest performing schools to take 85 percent of their funding to a private or parochial school of their choice.

Today the Wall Street Journal's John Fund reports on more details of the Colorado program:

The Colorado choice program is quite limited. It tightly restricts the number of eligible students in the early years to 6,000, limits participation to 12 districts where at least eight schools have been rated "low" or "unsatisfactory," and allows only students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches to apply for a voucher equal to 85% of the state's portion of education costs. School districts lose nothing when a student takes his voucher to another school--except public acknowledgement that they failed that student. Just maybe that will prompt them to improve.

The House already approved 1160 and now it is a matter of procedure for the bill to be signed into law by Gov. Owens.

Dateline: Florida

It looks like Florida will be a shoe in again for number one in Manhattan Institute's Education Freedom Index . Governor Bush continues his incremental approach to school choice. There are 15,000 students using the corporate tax credits with the $50 million a year cap to receive scholarships to private schools; several thousand students in charter schools; 10,000 students using McKay special education scholarships for private schools, a few hundred students from failing schools using opportunity scholarships; and now a proposal to satisfy the class-size reduction initiative by using scholarships to send kids to private schools; and finally a bill to use a tax-credits to offer scholarships to soldiers' children.

As the March 25 and Sun-Sentinel reports:

The House answer to the voter mandate to cap class would allow parents of any child entering kindergarten to have a $3,500 state voucher to attend a private school and would also let school districts use vouchers to help reduce class size at any grade level.

As for the military tax credit the March 26 Sun-Sentinel reports:

The House approved a military voucher bill Tuesday after a bitter debate that crossed party lines. It provides $10 million in tax credits to corporations that donate money for scholarships enabling soldiers' children to attend private school. The bill was passed after a one-hour debate pitting veterans against one another and revolving around competing claims of patriotism.

Dateline Arizona

The Goldwater Institute sends word that on, March 24, the Arizona State Senate delivered a victory for proponents of educational freedom. With a bipartisan majority of 16 votes, the Senate passed SB1263, a corporate scholarship tax credit program that could give thousands of low-income, public school students the opportunity to transfer to private schools next fall.

The legislation, based on an idea put forth in a Goldwater Institute research study last spring, would allow corporations to receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donations to fund private school scholarships. Those scholarships would be used to provide school choice for public school students who qualify for the federal free and reduced school lunch program.

Children's First America reports that

The bill now goes to the House, where support is considered to be much stronger than in the senate. "Arizona already has an individual tax credit law in which citizens can direct up to $500 ($650 for couples) of their tax burden to organizations which grant scholarships for families to use at the school of their choice. Unlike the individual tax credit, however, the proposed corporate scholarships would be available only to those students currently enrolled in public schools who are eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program. In addition, figures from legislative budget staffers indicate that the program will be revenue positive, as the state has a net gain of $2,000 per student that transfers. The measure would cap the scholarship fund at $10 million the first year, but that figure would rise to $50 million after four years.

Dateline: Compton

If there is anyplace that needs more competition and choice, Compton is the place. The Los Angeles Times reports on State Assemblyman's Ray Haynes pretty much doomed bill to give kids in Compton a way out.

The Compton experiment would be modeled after the highly popular Cal Grant program for college students, which provides the financially neediest students with grants of as much as $9,708 a year to pay tuition and student fees.

Haynes refused to detail his strategy for getting the bill approved in a Legislature dominated by Democrats who oppose vouchers. But he indicated that packaging the subsidies as scholarships similar to Cal Grant subsidies would make the bill more attractive to Democrats.

The plan would get a five-year test run, starting Jan. 1. The results would be evaluated and decisions made on whether to expand it elsewhere.

As a potential model for the rest of the state, Haynes said, Compton "was a good place to start.... What we need in Compton is a revolution." . . .

Haynes identified the sponsors of his bill as about 50 Compton parents and a nonprofit organization known as the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education, a conservative, religion-based think tank with an office in Los Angeles. It was founded by commentator Star Parker, a one-time Los Angeles welfare mother who wrote the book "Pimps, Whores and Welfare Brats."

"We wanted to submit a bill that had to be taken seriously. We did not want a bill that would be thrown out because it was not constitutionally acceptable or credible," said Timothy McGhee, the organization's director of community affairs.

But Haynes said it will be very difficult to push the bill through the Legislature and get it signed by Gov. Gray Davis, who opposes vouchers. Haynes said he told the Compton parents that it would take lots of work and expansion of their group of 50 parents to "something more like 10,000" for the bill to succeed.

Dateline: Washington DC

President Bush has allocated $75 million in his fiscal-year 2004 budget to fund voucher programs in seven or eight cities, including Washington.

Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake has introduced the five-year, $45 million D.C. School Choice Act to provide vouchers for up to 8,300 students in the D.C. Public Schools. New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg's new bill authorizes $55 million in vouchers over six years.

Dateline: New Hampshire

House Bill 603 offers parents about $1,700 if they choose to withdraw their child from the public school in their community. This would apply to homeschoolers and any parent who removed their child from the public schools.

Dateline: Texas

A bipartisan group of legislators has proposed a pilot school choice bill, known as the Texas freedom scholarship program, to address both academic achievement and overcrowding problems in Texas public schools. Large urban districts where a majority of students are educationally and economically disadvantaged qualify for the pilot program.


For more school choice news, see the March 2003 Privatization Watch education issue, where I explore the growing menu of school choice options across the United States.

For any one who doubts that kids want out, today's New York Times reports that more than 16,000 New York City children have demanded transfers under a federal law that gives parents the right to request to move their child to a better-performing school.

A few thousand kids here and there and pretty soon we are talking about real children and real competition.

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