Tuesday, March 20, 2018

New Report Blisters North Carolina for Its School Segregation, Pointing to School Assignments and Charter School Growth As Problems

The North Carolina Justice Center has released a study of school segregation trends in the state over the last decade.  Its highest level findings include:

● The number of racially and economically isolated schools has increased
● Districts’ racial distribution is mixed, but economic segregation is on the rise
● Large school districts could be doing much more to integrate their schools
● School district boundaries are still used to maintain segregated school systems
● Charter schools tend to exacerbate segregation

The Center warns that things could get worse soon: "[I]n 2017, the General Assembly has created the Joint Legislative Study Committee on the Division of Local School Administrative Units, which many advocates fear is an attempt to begin the process of re-segregating urban school districts."

This chart shows the increase in the number and percentage of racially and socio-economically isolated schools in the state.  The increase in poverty concentration is the most staggering, nearly doubling.  While some of this increase is attributable to the fact that the percentage of poor students in the state increased by 23 percent, the increase in high poverty schools dwarfs that number.  In other words, school assignment and charter school policies are exacerbating the problem.


The role of charter schools, however, may be the hardest to swallow.  First of all, North Carolina law originally required that charters reasonably reflect the overall demographics of the district in which they reside.  Even the watered down new version of the law requires that charters make "reasonable efforts" to maintain a study body that matches the district.  Second, charter schools don't even come close.  They appear to do the opposite.  More specifically, as I have pointed out several times, North Carolina's charter system seems to create incentives for "white flight" in districts that are otherwise relatively racially balanced.  This chart furthers my concern.



On a global level, the Center's report found that "[i]n 72 percent of the counties with at least one charter school, charter schools increase the degree of racial segregation in the district, as measured by the racial dissimilarity index."  

March 20, 2018 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Voucher Programs: Are the Promises Realized?

The UCLA Civil Rights Project held a policy briefing at the U.S. Senate earlier this week on vouchers.  The briefing was to assess claims that vouchers will expand and equalize educational opportunities for disadvantaged students.  In addition to an empirical assessment of vouchers, the briefing "provide[d] guidelines for policy development that protect the rights of low-income students and students of color. Research findings will look at the civil rights implications of voucher programs and ask: do vouchers actually expand opportunity or undermine it?"

The briefing included presentations and papers by:

  • Jongyeon Ee on "Private Schools in American Education: A Small Sector Still Lagging in Diversity"
  • Mark Berends on "Lessons Learned from Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program"
  • Mary Levy on "Washington, D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program: Civil Rights Implications"
  • Preston Green on Private School Vouchers: Legal Challenges and Civil Rights Protections

Preston Green's paper (co-authored by Kevin Welner) offers some interesting insights.  He offers this summary:

The past fifteen years have seen an explosion of private school voucher programs. Half of US states now have some type of program that spends or otherwise subsidies private schooling. Yet most civil rights protections that students enjoy when they attend public schools do not follow them to private schools. Some state voucher laws include no protections or only the most basic protections against discrimination. Even the most protective laws include no safeguards against LGBTQ discrimination and no requirement of addressing the needs of students not fluent in English. Further, these laws contain few or no requirements that private schools meet the needs of students with disabilities, and many explicitly state that students waive their services and protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) when choosing to use a voucher.

At a time when the Trump administration and many state policy-makers are pushing for additional growth of voucher policies, it is useful to consider how the shifting schooling landscape impacts such civil rights protections. The basic tendency in the development of voucher law and policy is to initially justify the subsidies in terms of the severe educational needs of students of color and students in poverty attending inferior public schools. As the policies develop, they increasingly move toward general subsidies for private schooling, including support for higher income groups and students who have never attended public schools.  Many of the state restrictions on funding nonpublic or religious institutions have been interpreted away by state courts. These trends call into question the ability of voucher programs to serve the vulnerable student populations for whom they were ostensibly created. 

In this report, we first detail the evolution of voucher policies, from their roots in the Jim Crow Era to their modern-day applications, including the rise of “neovoucher” programs. Next, we examine past legal challenges to vouchers, concluding that both state and federal constitutional challenges have had very limited success but that there likely remain some future legal impediments to voucher expansion. We discuss factors that may influence the legal justifications of vouchers, including the quality of education for students of color in voucher programs. Following this, we delve into some key policy issues that arise from this shift toward greater public funding of private schools, with a particular focus on civil rights concerns. We conclude with a set of recommendations, again focused on civil rights protections.

These recommendations include:

-Ensuring that state voucher laws include straightforward anti-discrimination provisions that require voucher-accepting private schools to avoid engaging in discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, sex, disability, or sexual orientation

-Providing stronger protections for disabled students by requiring voucher-accepting private schools to comply with Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the IDEA

-Securing better services for ESL students by requiring voucher-accepting private schools to comply with the Equal Education Opportunity Act of 1974

-Addressing barriers that impede access for low-income students, including lack of transportation, additional tuition charges beyond the value of the voucher, and private schools’ option not to participate in subsidized meal programs

The various papers are available for download here.


March 8, 2018 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 26, 2018

Charter Schools: The New Separate-But-Equal?

Joseph Oluwole and Preston Green just posted a proactive new paper to ssrn: Are California's Charter Schools the New Separate-But-Equal "Schools of Excellence," or Are They Worse Than Plessy?.  "This article explains how charter schools provide California's black and Latino communities the opportunity to create modern separate-but-equal schools of excellence. However, they also pose a danger. Outside entities that prioritize financial gain are also seeking to offer charter schools to black and Latino communities. Unfettered charter school expansion spearheaded by these groups could further drain educational resources, thus creating a situation that would be even worse than Plessy v. Ferguson."  They conclude with this:

California’s black and Latino children are being educated in public schools that are both segregated and unequal. In that respect, their experience is similar to the one received by black students in the aftermath of the Plessy case. If handled correctly, charter schools could provide a tool for the state’s black and Latino children to create schools of excellence in this setting– just like in the separate-but-equal era. However, their unregulated nature could enable outside entities such as EMOs to create schools that drain resources from the traditional public-school systems, thus creating a situation that would be even worse than Plessy.

Because of this analysis of California’s charter schools, the authors suggest that states enact the following safeguards to protect black and Latino communities. First, states should only permit school districts to be charter school authorizers. As the resource-center debacle shows, authorizers that are not under the control of black and Latino communities might be more interested in financial gain than in serving the educational needs of the students whom they are serving. Second, states should seriously consider banning EMOs from operating charter schools because of this same concern. Finally, states should allow school districts to base chartering decisions on their economic impact to serve all of their students. Communities that serve black and Latino communities already have limited resources. California’s experience with charter school construction financing shows that if districts do not have the power to accept or reject charter schools, they might proliferate in ways that will further financially compromise these districts.

February 26, 2018 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Feds Needs to Get Their Facts Straight and Stop Misleading the Public About Education Funding

In its summary of the White House's proposed budget, the Office of Management and Budget explained why the White House was making cuts to public education programs.  It wrote:

Quality education exists when parents have a voice in choosing their child’s K-12 schools and students have the tools they need to succeed. Decades of investments and billions of dollars in spending have shown that an increase in funding does not guarantee high-quality education. While the Budget reduces the overall Federal role in education, the Budget makes strategic investments to support and empower families and improve access to postsecondary education, ensuring a future of prosperity for all Americans.

On one level, misleading and inaccurate characterizations of this sort are to be expected of political actors with an agenda.  OMB works for the President, so one might argue this is fair game.  On the other hand, I, probably naively, have understood the OMB to be a professional institution or to play a professional role.  One of its jobs is to help prepare the budget for the President.  The other job is the harder one of assessing the effectiveness of programs.  Even if the first job--preparing the budget--is political rather than just an execution function, the second job is empirical and should be apolitical.  Are programs effective?  Are they financially and administratively efficient, achieving their goals, etc.?  Most of the reports from OMB are snoozers, even for the well-educated.  They get into the nuts and bolts of bureaucracy, regulations, and minute statutory provisions to assess whether they are working.

This second professional role is what makes the OMB's statement on education funding so outrageous.  To be fair, one can defend it as technically accurate if one rips it out of context and its plain implications.  It only says that money does not "guarantee high-quality education."  If that is all that it means to imply, it is accurate, but it has simply said the obvious and is wasting ink and internet bandwidth. 

Nothing guarantees high quality education--not new buildings, not the best teachers, not the most integrated schools.  In education, the question is whether, on average, a particular input strongly correlates with high quality education or improved student outcomes.  Quality teachers, for instance, matter a lot.  Would the OMB ever say that "quality teachers do not guarantee high quality education?"  While that statement might be technically correct in some respect, it is an outrageous statement because the implication of the statement is not really that teachers don't guarantee quality; the implication is that teachers don't matter.

The point of OMB's statement regarding school funding is to say that money does not matter in education.  This implication becomes even clearer in the context of the sentences that precede and follow it.  The first sentence is telling us the White House wants to spend money on choice because choice matters most.  The last sentence is telling us that it is cutting money from public education because, again, money does not matter in public education.

Both of these claims are outrageous and demonstrably false.  The research on the effect of funding increases and decreases on student outcomes is growing stronger by the day.  As I have repeatedly hammered in prior posts:

  • A research team lead by Kirabo Jackson published Do School Spending Cuts Matter? Evidence from the Great Recession.  They found "districts that faced large revenue cuts disproportionately reduced spending on non-core operations. However, they still reduced core operational spending to some extent. A 10 percent school spending cut reduced test scores by about 7.8 percent of a standard deviation. Moreover, a 10 percent spending reduction during all four high-school years was associated with 2.6 percentage points lower graduation rates.
  • A prior study by Kirabo Jackson, Rucker Johnson, and Claudia Persico looked at thirty years of data and found that a 20 percent increase in per-pupil spending each year for all 12 years of public school for children from poor families leads to about 0.9 more completed years of education, 25 percent higher earnings, and a 20 percentage-point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty; we find no effects for children from non-poor families. The magnitudes of these effects are sufficiently large to eliminate between two-thirds and all of the gaps in these adult outcomes between those raised in poor families and those raised in non-poor families. 
  • A Kansas legislative study found, with a 99% confidence level, "that the relationship between student performance and district spending was positive, i.e., that a 1% increase in student performance was associated with a .83% increase in spending. . . . 'Kansas students have made great academic strides ... largely due to the infusion of school funding.'”
  • Bruce Baker's review of all the prior studies on point reveals that "On average, aggregate measures of per-pupil spending are positively associated with improved or higher student outcomes. The size of this effect is larger in some studies than in others, and, in some cases, additional funding appears to matter more for some students than for others. Clearly, there are other factors that may moderate the influence of funding on student outcomes, such as how that money is spent. In other words, money must be spent wisely to yield benefits. But, on balance, in direct tests of the relationship between financial resources and student outcomes, money matters."

Thus, it is misleading, at best, to even suggest that money does not affect the quality of education. 

Even if you focus on the word "guarantee" in OMB's statement and concede that money does not guarantee high quality education, we have to be fair and then apply the same reading to the statements about choice.  The implication is that while money does not guarantee high quality education, choice does or choice is more likely to lead to high quality education.  Or we might say that funding does not guarantee quality education, but choice does.  This latter version is impossible to swallow.

If we are talking about the vouchers and charters that the White House wants to spend money on, the answer is that vouchers have not proven to be effective at all and charters have only proven effective in a relatively small percentage of schools.  Most charters perform no better or worse than their traditional public school counter parts. See herehere; here; and here.

This type of statements are to be expected from the current Secretary of Education, but it is troubling when an organization with OMB's mission a) wades into substantive matters it may know very little about and b) makes misleading, if not false statements, about facts that it should be objectively evaluating.


February 14, 2018 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Education Under Siege or Transformation? Don't Let the Rhetoric Fool You

Two weeks ago, the Koch brothers hosted a retreat in Palm Springs to discuss their upcoming agenda.  Their Institute includes about 700 other groups and individuals who donate at least $100,000 per year to support their agenda.  They were also joined by the Governor of Arizona.  Public education appears to be their primary target for reform.  According to the Washington Post,

Changing the education system as we know it was a central focus of a three-day donor seminar. . . . “We’ve made more progress in the last five years than I had in the last 50,” Koch told donors during a cocktail reception. “The capabilities we have now can take us to a whole new level. … We want to increase the effectiveness of the network … by an order of magnitude. If we do that, we can change the trajectory of the country.”  . . . “The lowest hanging fruit for policy change in the United States today is K-12,” said Stacy Hock, a major Koch donor who has co-founded a group called Texans for Educational Opportunity. “I think this is the area that is most glaringly obvious.”

They plan to make their largest offensive in Arizona.  What would have been the largest voucher program in the nation recently failed there.  The legislature settled for a scaled down voucher program rather than one that had the capacity to voucherize the entire education system of the state.  In theory, the public education system could have disappeared over night.  In practice, many parents would probably forego the opportunity of a voucher, and the private system lacks the capacity to absorb everyone anyway, but the legislation would have laid the groundwork to change both.

Now, the Koch Institute is attempting to get a proposal on the November ballot and take the issue to the voters.  They believe they can convince them to voucherize education.  They have the Governor's support.  He said “This is a very real fight in my state. I didn’t run for governor to play small ball. I think this is an important idea.”

"Transformation" is an appealing concept in education, particularly in Arizona.  I would venture to guess that a strong majority in Arizona would like to see the education system transformed.  By most objective accounts, it is in shambles.  Arizona's per pupil funding for public schools currently ranks 47 out of 50 states.  It also ranks at the bottom of the nation in terms of equality between districts.  The Education Law Center's 2017 School Funding Fairness Report grades Arizona's funding distribution as an "F."  Arizona spends the least on students who need the most.  That same report also shows that Arizona is doing almost nothing to fix its low funding levels or unequal distribution.  Arizona ranks 49th in the nation in terms of the level of fiscal effort it exerts to fund its schools.  

The most mind-boggling data, however, comes from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).  This past fall, it released a report showing that, after adjusting for inflation, school funding in Arizona is down 33.6 percent since 2008.  No one else is close.  The next largest cuts are in Florida.  Funding is down 22 percent there.  As I demonstrate here, the funding is down, in large part, because states like these made no attempt to assess what level of cuts education could sustain during the recession.  They simply hacked away at education, arguably using the Recession as an excuse to target education.  This thesis is only further strengthened by the fact that when tax revenues came back to Pre-Recession levels in 2012, they refused to replenish education funding.  They kept it at low levels, hence troubling numbers like those revealed by the CBPP.  Moreover, vouchers (and charters) did not see these types of cuts.  To the contrary, voucher and charter funding doubled, quadrupled, quintupled, and octupled in several states.

So does education need transformation in places like Arizona?  Absolutely.  But for the Koch Institute, transformation means preferencing choice, not improving public education.  

As I detail here, those who want to preference vouchers and charters have been able to capture public policy debates by focusing on the problems of public schools without offering any solutions.  When they do so, state constitutions may be the average students last line of defense.

February 12, 2018 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Data Is Building to Show That Charters Are Making North Carolina Schools More Segregated and More Unequal

Helen Ladd has followed her poignant charter school segregation study with a new one on the financial impacts of charters on the public school system.  Two years ago, she, Charles Clotfelter, and John Holbein released Growing Segmentation of the Charter School Sector in North Carolina.  They found that the state's charter schools were becoming increasingly white, while its charters were becoming increasing populated by students of color.  It was probably the most precise and impactful study on the topic of charter school segregation to date. 

I separately theorized that this particular demographic trend was occurring in North Carolina as a response to relatively high levels of integration in the public schools.  In other states, the typical charge is that charters are predominantly minority and more segregated than the traditional public schools.  While far from perfect, North Carolina's traditional public schools have tended to be some of the most integrated in the nation.  This is partly attributable to the fact that there are 100 counties in the state and only 102 or 103 school districts.  So those who object to integration cannot simply flee to a suburban district--at least not easily.

Charters schools potentially change that in North Carolina.  The so-to-speak dissenters can simply enroll in a local charter now.  This is not to say that all North Carolina charters play this role, but Ladd's work suggests that many do.

Her new study suggests that not only are these charters segregating education, they are draining funds from the regular public schools.  Her abstract states:

A significant criticism of the charter school movement is that funding for charter schools diverts money away from traditional public schools. As shown in prior work by Bifulco and Reback (2014) for two urban districts in New York, the magnitude of such adverse fiscal externalities depends in part on the nature of state and local funding policies. In this paper, we build on their approach to examine the fiscal effects of charter schools on both urban and non-urban school districts in North Carolina. We base our analysis on detailed balance sheet information for a sample of school districts that experienced significant charter entry since the statewide cap on charters was raised in 2011. This detailed budgetary information permits us to estimate a range of fiscal impacts using a variety of different assumptions. We find a large and negative fiscal impact from $500-$700 per pupil in our one urban school district and somewhat smaller, but still significant, fiscal externalities on the non-urban districts in our sample.

This study only adds fuel to theory I offer in Preferencing Choice: The Constitutional Limits.

February 1, 2018 in Charters and Vouchers, Racial Integration and Diversity, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Strange Ideas Found in Voucher Schools' Textbooks Are a Problem Reaching Well Beyond Just the Students Learning Them

Huffington Post's study of the curriculum offerings in private schools that participate in state run voucher and tax credit programs has set the internet ablaze.  Huffington Post identified all of the private schools that receive voucher or tax credit funding--no small task. It then collected information on the textbooks those schools use.  The results were startling in many respects.  The study turned up books that promote some pretty sensational ideals: 

  • In the 1800s, Satan hatched “the ideas of evolution, socialism, Marxist-socialism (Communism), progressive education, and modern psychology” to counter America’s increased religiosity.
  • Women's right to vote and increased participation in the workforce coincided with women acting in increasingly anti-Christian ways, such was disobedience "to their own husbands.”
  • The books sympathize with the South in regard to the Civil War or “war between the states," as they phrase it, and while the acknowledge that slavery was likely a factor in the war, they emphasize other explanations.

These types of ideas were promoted in three particular textbooks/curriculums.  The charts below reveal the frequency with which voucher and tax credit schools use these textbooks.


The implications of the ideas that these books promote cannot be contained simply to the schools in which they are taught.  As I emphasized in 2013 in Charter Schools, Vouchers, and the Public Good,

Increasingly forgotten in these conversations [about school choice] is that the purpose of receiving an education, at least a public education, goes far beyond the teaching of information and skills and the interests of individual students. Public education includes the transmission of social values that lead to social cohesion and the overall betterment of society. Test scores tell us nothing of these values, and private markets are ill suited to deliver them. Whereas private markets respond to consumer preferences, public education seeks to create public preferences. Additionally, given the nature of the democratic values our public education seeks to promote, individually responsive education makes little sense. Public education entails the provision of common experiences under conditions consistent with equal protection, due process, free speech, and religious neutrality. A consumer-based system allows for too much educational variation and opens the door to individual biases that are contrary to public education.

Based on their track record thus far, charters and vouchers, on the whole, are not operating in furtherance of the public good. Rather than promote the public good, they tend to promote the individual good and operate in ways that actively undermine the public good. 

I further explain:

Consider, for instance, an individual-orientated education system that includes elements of school choice. Such a system potentially caters to antisocial behaviors by permitting students with shared antisocial values to choose to coalesce in particular schools or programs. Over the long term, this type of system would undermine social cohesion and counteract the effect of social pressures that might otherwise produce common values.

In contrast, many of the specific values a collective-based concept of education seeks to facilitate are those that mitigate and limit individuals' tendency to adopt antisocial or group mindsets and act on them. For instance, collective-based education promotes the individual's commitment to enhancing the public sphere and common good. Because individuals tend toward self-interest, collective-based education seeks to counteract the tendency toward self-serving interests and affirmatively promote the opposite. Unsurprisingly, collective-based education can generate significant controversy in promoting these values, as doing so only highlights the tension between competing concepts of the public good. Some theorists define the common good not as a society with an expansive public sphere but one with unfettered individual liberty. Collective-based education generally agrees that a core set of individual liberties must be protected, but collective education limits individualism at the point that it seriously threatens group interests.

This is not to say that collective-based education would deny individuals the freedom to adopt antisocial values. If our First Amendment jurisprudence teaches anything, it is that arriving at collective wisdom requires us to protect all individual's ideas, regardless of how repugnant we might find those ideas. And the Court has held that the same principles extend to public schools. Protecting individual freedom, however, is far different from requiring the state to adopt policies and structures that might facilitate and support antisocial values and behavior. At most, the state is obligated to allow individuals to opt out of the public system when their individual values are at odds with public values, but, even then, the state can place limits on the private pursuit of individual values when the private pursuits pose a significant threat to societal well being.

Thus, the irony in Huffington Post's findings is not only are these schools teaching ideas that are at odds with the justifications for providing public education, the public is actually funding these ideas.  Moreover, in doing so, these programs have the potential to undermine public education itself.  I argued in 2013 that these programs could not just further individual choice, but give private individuals the ability to dissent and, as a practical matter, veto larger public policy agendas.  For more, see the full article.

December 8, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 3, 2017

New Federal School Choice Plan Signals Desperation, Not Vision

According to Edweek, Congress's proposed tax plan would allow families to pull up to $10,000 a year out of their 529 college savings account and spend it on K-12 private school tuition (as well as other educational expenses).  The proposal appears to be more an act of desperation than rationality in pursuing public support for private choice in K-12 education.  The Trump administration's earlier proposal to take federal funding for public schools and drive it toward vouchers and charters never got any serious traction.  If anything, DeVos's support for privatizing education made that proposal less popular with the public.  

This new tax provision looks like a pointless attempt to save face or give a very small tax break to a subset of wealthy families.  By design, College savings accounts/529s are a mechanism for saving money in advance to pay for something else later that might otherwise be affordable.  The assumption is that families might not be able to afford college later, particularly since college costs are incurred during a balloon period of just a few years.  Not even a regular savings plan is enough for most families.   The 529 tries to close some of the college cost gap by allowing families to save over the course of their kids' entire pre-college lifetimes, invest that money, grow that money, and be exempt from taxes on that growth.  Most states sweeten that pot a little bit by giving families a small deduction for their initial contributions, which typically caps out at a tax savings of a few hundred dollars each year. 

In comparison to the shielded growth, this state tax benefit is small.  Consider a family that contributed $10,000 a year for 18 years to a 529.  Depending on the state, the family would save around $5000 to $10,000 in total taxes total over the collective period.  No small sum, but spread across that many years, no life changer either--at least for families who can afford to contribute $10,000 a year. 

That $180,000 investment, however, with compound growth, should rise to a value of somewhere between $320,000 to $500,000 (assuming a growth rate of 5 to 9 percent).  That growth is tax-exempt.

So if 529s are such a good deal for college, why do they signal desperation in the context of k-12.  First, for many people, using 529s for K-12 would be equivalent to robbing Peter to pay Paul.  If a family is already contributing as much as it can to a 529, this new measure is not going to expand their financial capacity.  Instead, it allows them to spend college money on K-12.  That flexibility may be meaningful for some families, but on the averages makes very little sense, which leads to point two.

Second, if 529s are funding K-12 education, families are necessarily getting less financial benefit out of the 529s.  Families will be putting money in one year (or one month) just to take it out the very next.  The amount of growth they see will be small at best and there will be no compounded growth (the real benefit of the 529s).  The only families that this new plan would likely benefit would be those who can contribute $20,000 a year to a 529 just as easily as they can contribute $10,000. And unless states raise their deduction caps, this additional investment in 529s would not produce a change in state tax liability.

These high wealth families do not sound like those the Administration has been talking so much about when it discusses choice--those who are trapped in failing public schools and need help exploring other options.  So, at worst, this is just another measure to hand out tax breaks to those who need to the least, but done so under the guise of some noble object.  At best, this is a face saving attempt to get any type of victory the Administration can.  This just so happens to be one of the few school choice policies that can plausibly get through Congress.

November 3, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Is There a Limit to How Much States Can Preference Choice Programs Over Public Education?

This is the subject of my forthcoming paper in Cornell Law Review.  In Preferencing Educational Choice: The Constitutional Limits, I make two primary arguments.  The first that some states' statutory programs preference choice in relation to public education and that doing so in logically inconsistent with their constitutional duties.  The second argument is that the proper frame of analysis for examining the effects of charters and vouchers is at the district level, not the state level.  At the district level, advocates can identify effects that likely do amount to violations of state's duty to deliver adequate or equal educational opportunities.  The abstract offers this summary:

Rapidly expanding charter and voucher programs are establishing a new education paradigm in which access to traditional public schools is no longer guaranteed. In some areas, charter and voucher programs are on a trajectory to phase out traditional public schools altogether. This Article argues that this trend and its effects violate the constitutional right to public education embedded in all fifty state constitutions.

Importantly, this Article departs from past constitutional arguments against charter and voucher programs. Past arguments have attempted to prohibit such programs entirely and have assumed, with little evidentiary support, that they endanger statewide education systems. Unsurprisingly, litigation and scholarship based on a flawed premise have thus far failed to slow the growth of charter and voucher programs. Without a reframed theory, several recently filed lawsuits are likely to suffer the same fate.

This Article does not challenge the general constitutionality of choice programs. Instead, the Article identifies two limitations that state constitutional rights to education place on choice policy. The first limitation is that states cannot preference private choice programs over public education. This conclusion flows from the fact that most state constitutions mandate public education as a first-order right for their citizens. Thus, while states may establish choice programs, they cannot systematically advantage choice programs over public education. This Article demonstrates that some states have crossed this line.

The second limitation that state constitutions place on choice programs is that their practical effect cannot impede educational opportunities in public schools. Education clauses in state constitutions obligate the state to provide adequate and equitable public schools. Any state policy that deprives students of access to those opportunities is therefore unconstitutional. Often-overlooked district level data reveals that choice programs are reducing public education funding, stratifying opportunity, and intensifying segregation in large urban centers. Each of these effects represents a distinct constitutional violation.

Download the full article here.


October 30, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

From No Child Left Behind to Every Student Succeeds: Back to a Future for Education Federalism

Michael Heise's forthcoming article in Columbia Law Review, From No Child Left Behind to Every Student Succeeds: Back to a Future for Education Federalism, is available on SSRN.  He offers this abstract:

When passed in 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act represented the federal government’s most dramatic foray into the elementary and secondary public school policymaking terrain. While critics emphasized the Act’s overreliance on standardized testing and its reduced school-district and state autonomy, proponents lauded the Act’s goal to close the achievement gap between middle- and upper-middle-class students and students historically ill served by their schools. Whatever structural changes the No Child Left Behind Act achieved, however, were largely undone in 2015 by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which repositioned significant federal education policy control in state governments. From a federalism standpoint, the Every Student Succeeds Act may have reset education federalism boundaries to favor states, far exceeding their position prior to 2001.

While federal elementary and secondary education reform efforts since 2001 may intrigue legal scholars, a focus on educational federalism risks obscuring an even more fundamental development in educational policymaking power: its migration from governments to families, from regulation to markets. Amid a multidecade squabble between federal and state lawmakers over education policy authority, efforts to harness individual autonomy and market forces in the service of increasing children’s educational opportunity and equity have grown. Persistent demands for and increased availability of school voucher programs, charter schools, tax credits programs, and home schooling demonstrate families’ desire for greater agency over decisions about their children’s education. Parents’ calls for greater control over critical decisions concerning their children’s education and schooling options may eclipse state and federal lawmakers’ legislative squabbles over educational federalism.

Michael and I agree on a lot in this article.  The title of my article, Abandoning the Federal Role in Education: The Every Student Succeeds Act, largely speaks for itself.  That article traces the federal role in education from the 1960s until today, arguing that the Every Student Succeeds Act entirely reverses the expansion of the federal role in education, which had been building for decades. 

Heise's article, however, goes beyond mine in certain respects, focusing on a factor absent from my analysis: the role of individual autonomy.  In other words, from Heise's perspective, it is not just a fight between the feds and the states.  It is a fight over family decisionmaking as well.  Thus, the return of power to states is not just to serve the interests of state, but that of families.

Interestingly, more recent events add new wrinkles that may require updating of both Heise and my thoughts.  Recent surveys and reports indicate that some family autonomy policies are unpopular, at least to the majority. The shift is abrupt in some instances.  A new survey shows that charter support has plummeted by 12 percent in the last year.  Other reports indicate strong opposition to the current administration's push for more vouchers and charters.  

Disaggregating these shifts is difficult.  It could be that the public dislikes the messenger but not necessarily the message.  Or it may be that the public supports the expansion of choice, but not when it is perceived as being at the expense of traditional public education.  The latter, however, presents an implementation challenge.  To what extent can private choice expand without harming public education?  Minimal to moderate expansions may pose little risk, but a tipping point likely exists, as I detail in a forthcoming article titled, Preferencing Private Choice.

October 17, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, ESEA/NCLB, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Are Alternative Charter Schools Earning Their Paychecks or Just Cashing Them?

A new investigative report by Heather Vogell suggests that alternative charter schools are enrolling as many students as possible, collecting checks for students who may not even be there, and providing less in return than other public schools.  By alternative charter school, she refers to charter schools that enroll students who are at risk of dropping out of school.  Vogell focuses most heavily on those alternative schools run by for-profit management companies.

Vogell's findings are troubling any way you cut them.  In isolation, the results in these alternative charter schools are so objectively low that they look wrong on their face.  In comparison to other public schools serving students at risk of dropping out, the charter school results still look problematic, lagging well behind traditional public schools.

The first problem appears to be inflated enrollment numbers.  Speaking of an alternative charter high school in Ohio, Vogell writes:

Only three of the more than 170 students on Capital’s rolls attended class the required five hours that day, records obtained by ProPublica show. Almost two-thirds of the school’s students never showed up; others left early. Nearly a third of the roster failed to attend class all week. . . [But] the no-shows didn’t hurt the school’s revenue stream. Capital billed and received payment from the state for teaching the equivalent of 171 students full time in May.

If these charters have the corner on any market, it is enrolling no-shows.  They are dominating in Ohio.  "After pulling in students long enough to tap public money, many of the schools fail to keep them in class. In Ohio in 2016, for-profit companies ran nearly one-third of the state’s 94 charter schools for dropouts — but three-fourths of the 20 with the highest absenteeism rates."  

Both the inputs and outputs are lower in these schools.  On the inputs, they provide substantially less access to counselors--potentially the most important resource for students struggling with issues both in and outside of school.  Only 58% of the alternative school students attend a school with a counselor.  Class size are larger and their rate of inexperienced teachers is also more than twice the rate of other schools.

With poor attendance rates and lower inputs, achievement in these schools is predictably low. "About 40 percent of the schools failed to meet state standards in 2015-2016. While Capital High passed overall, meeting state testing and other goals, its students didn’t make satisfactory academic progress. At 92 percent of Ohio’s dropout recovery schools in 2015, the graduation rate was below 50 percent. Capital’s was 23 percent. In 18 schools, including Capital, students skipped at least once every two days."

Two plausible explanations come to me. First, states have essentially given up on these students and would rather enroll them in a charter than a traditional public school because the costs are lower.  While I don't doubt some have given up on these kids, I am not sure the cost-saving theory fits with these particular charter schools.  The state could just let them drop out of traditional public school and not be tasked with paying anyone for them.  The second explanation is that with some legislators favorable toward privatizing education in general and another group of legislators asleep at the wheel, no one is really noticing.  I am sure I am overlooking other explanations, but I find it had to believe that this is what states are paying these schools for.  

For those looking for more detailed data on particular alternative charter schools, the story includes a comprehensive list and info-graphic here.

October 9, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Big Setback for Vouchers in Nevada By Education Law Center

Carson City, Nevada, June 5 - Backed by a strong grassroots campaign, Nevada lawmakers decisively rejected Senate Bill 506, Governor Brian Sandoval's proposal to spend $60 million in public funds to revive an "education savings account" (ESA) voucher program previously declared unconstitutional by the Nevada Supreme Court.1

With the Legislature's biennium session set to end June 5, the defeat of the Governor's bill puts an end to proponents' three-year effort to bring private school vouchers to the Silver State.

The nation's most expansive ESA voucher law, Senate Bill 302, was enacted in the last biennium session in June 2015. The program never got off the ground after a group of public school parents challenged the law in court. The parents in Lopez v. Schwartz argued that the voucher law violated the ban in the State constitution against diverting public school funding to a non-public purpose. In September 2016, the Nevada Supreme Court agreed with the parents and issued an injunction permanently blocking the program.

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June 6, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Trump Budget Would Abandon Public Education for Private Choice

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Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and President Donald Trump participate in a round-table discussion during a visit to Saint Andrew Catholic School in Miami. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Derek Black, University of South Carolina

The Trump administration has announced its plan to transform education funding as we know it. The new budget proposal takes aim at a host of elementary, secondary and higher education programs that serve needy students, redirecting those funds toward K-12 school choice in the form of vouchers, tax credits and charter schools. The Conversation

Public schools that enroll a large percentage of low-income students stand to lose significant chunks of their budget, as well as a number of specialized federal programs for their students. At the same time, the Trump budget will incentivize families to leave not only these schools, but public schools in general.

As a scholar of education law and policy, I note that my recent research on state voucher and charter programs shows that the loss of both money and core constituents proposed by this new budget could throw public education into a downward spiral.

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May 24, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, Federal policy, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Trump Administration Misunderstands the Difference Between School Reform and School Improvement

With regard to education, the Trump administration isn’t so different from its predecessors. The administration promises to improve schools through innovative reform while ignoring the basic building blocks of education: teachers and funding. The specifics are new—an emphasis on charter schools and voucher expansion—but the formula of gambling with educational opportunity is not. President Bush bet on standardized testing and accountability. President Obama pushed the Common Core and statistical teacher evaluations.

Each of these reforms damaged schools in its own unique way. The No Child Left Behind Act narrowed the curriculum, incentivized test manipulation and cheating, and demanded punitive sanctions for schools. By setting goals that very few schools could meet, NCLB quickly fueled the narrative of a failing public-education system. The overall result has been to undermine support for public education itself.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who served under President Obama, used states’ failure under NCLB as leverage to demand Common Core standards and strict teacher-evaluation systems. He assumed these measures could finally deliver on two of NCLB’s initial goals—raising academic standards and improving teacher quality—but the shift to these new measures brought chaos with little payoff for students. As soon as states began implementing the changes, teacher lawsuits, parental protests, and political resistance spread. States claimed that Duncan’s demands were a federal overreach. Teachers claimed that evaluation systems based primarily on student test scores could not reliably rate teachers or provide meaningful feedback on how to improve. Parents argued that the Common Core would dumb down academic content and require more testing. Rather than sort it out, Congress scrapped many of the models advanced under NCLB. In its place, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act. The only animating theory of the act is that Congress must prohibit the federal government from demanding much of anything from states.

The Trump administration’s agenda to expand charters and vouchers threatens to be just as disruptive. School choice is no more a panacea to educational inequities than is standardized testing. While Secretary Besty DeVos argues that market forces and parental choice can regulate school enrollment better than the government, school choice could prove even more dangerous than past reforms if not accompanied by common-sense limits regarding the students who are eligible to leave their current, the schools to which they can transfer, and the cost the traditional public-school system must shoulder. The last few years offer numerous examples of how unregulated choice opens the door to segregation, profiteering, incompetence, and marginal educational opportunities.

Debating the merits of these federal reforms, however, distracts public attention from the simple things that research shows really matter for student outcomes: good teachers and school funding. Neither requires fancy reform. They require basic support for public schools.

Forty years ago, the Connecticut Supreme Court explained what ought to be obvious: Districts with higher property values can “provide a substantially wider range and higher quality of education services,” while those with lower values “have a higher percentage of inexperienced teachers, especially teachers with only one year of experience.” Last month, the Kansas Supreme Court put it more bluntly: “money makes a difference in public education.”

Experience confirms these simple truths. Reviewing decades of data, a recent study found that a 20 percent increase in school funding, when maintained, results in low-income students completing nearly a year of additional education, wiping out roughly half of the achievement gap between low- and middle-income students. A few weeks ago, a separate study found that a 10 percent increase in funding correlates with a 5percent jump in graduation rates in high-poverty districts. With a 99 percent confidence level, a Kansas study showed that “a 1 percent increase in student performance was associated with a .83 percent increase in spending.”

School-funding trends, however, are going in the opposite direction. Between 2008 and 2012, annual cuts exceeding $1,000 per-pupil were routine—the equivalent of an assistant teacher aid in every classroom or the entire science and foreign-language departments combined. In North Carolina and Florida, funding fell from over $10,000 to $7,000 per-pupil in just a few years. Some cuts may have been necessary during the recession, but the recession cannot explain why, in real dollar terms, 31 states spend less on education now than they did before the recession.

The immediate results were teacher layoffs, lower salaries, and larger class sizes. The lingering effect is a dried-up pipeline of new teachers. In California, the demand for qualified teachers was 40 percent higher than the supply in the 2016-2016 school year. The state certified 15,000 teachers, but needed 6,500 more than that. The shortage was even worse in Nevada. Las Vegas alone had 2,600 vacancies to fill, but state produced less than 1,000 new teachers. As is the case elsewhere in the country, these shortages forced the states to put previously uncertified interns in the classroom on the promise that they would finish their coursework in their spare time. In other states, districts resorted to billboard advertisements just to get warm bodies in the classroom.

These cuts and shortages hit low-income and minority students the hardest. Even before the recent cuts, poor and minority students were twice as likely as their peers to have an inexperienced or unqualified teacher. Now they are being asked to do more with less. In Illinois, schools serving predominantly poor student populations receive 23 percent less funding than other schools in the state. A 2015 Education Law Center analysis found that Nevada’s high-poverty school districts received only half the funding as others.

Arizona combines all these problems in a way that may have just signed the death knell for its public schools. Arizona’s funding levels were already the third worst in the nation; its equity levels tied for seventh worst, and its fiscal effort second worst. Three weeks ago, the state passed legislation making every student in the state eligible for a voucher. Students can take 90 to 100 percent of the state money allotted for their local district and divert it to a voucher. With such a poorly funded public system, the legislation incentivizes wholesale abandonment of public education in some locations.

It does not have to be this way. Schools can hire and retain quality teachers if states maintain fair funding for schools. Classrooms can be positive environments if teachers get the support and training they need to respond to students’ needs. But every moment the Trump administration spends on school choice is a moment it ignores these core education needs and emboldens behavior like that in Arizona and elsewhere.

To be fair, the Obama administration supported charter schools. But it never pushed for vouchers or suggested public schools were the enemy of quality education. For Trump, school choice is not a measure to nudge public schools to improve. School choice is an end in itself—one worth sacrificing traditional public schools for if necessary. Trump’s proposed budget doubles down on school choice, while doing nothing for traditional public schools. It cuts funding for after-school programs, teacher recruitment, and literacy assistance for students with disabilities and limited English proficiency. The budget then repurposes those funds toward school choice.

Trump’s rhetoric of education reform has found a receptive audience because America’s public schools are in so much need, not because his particular brand of reform has merit. If Congress ignores the distinction, Trump will make the biggest education gamble to date. The safer and far simpler option is to give low-income schools the additional resources they need to boost graduation rates and cut the achievement gap. This is the way to help every student succeed, leave no child behind, or achieve whatever other catchy phrase Congress might throw at schools. Anything short of that is just an empty promise that will soon enough, like past reforms, disappoint families.

May 1, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

New Jersey School District Forced to Spend $39 Million to Support Private Education While District Runs $15 Million Deficit in Its Own Schools

Lakewood School District in New Jersey has a budget crisis on its hands--a deficit of $15 million for the coming year.  The district is forced to spend about $39 million on non-publication education.  Regardless, to make up the shortfall in the public schools, the district plans to lay off over a 100 teachers and staff, eliminate sports programs, and drastically increase class size.  In a state where the constitution guarantees students a "thorough and efficient" education and its courts have rigorously enforced this right, these cuts are troubling indeed--so much so that the state department of education has said it will not certify the district's budget as being in compliance with that constitutional mandate.  In his recent essay in Asbury Park Press, David Sciarra writes:

Lakewood’s budget crisis is nothing new. The district lurches from year to year, making cuts in essential teachers, support staff, programs and services.

The victims of this tragedy are the 6,000 Lakewood public school children. Virtually all are poor and 95 percent are Latino or black. Twenty-seven percent are limited English proficient and 15 percent require special education.

The cause of Lakewood’s budget crisis is no secret. The district must not only support its public schools but it must pay to transport 30,000 students to private schools and pay for the cost of special education for many of those same private school students.

The drain on Lakewood’s budget from non-public expenditures is enormous. The district is forced to divert nearly $13 million in funds earmarked for public school students to pay for non-public transportation. It also must shoulder $26 million in non-public special education costs.

The state has the power to fix Lakewood’s budget crisis now. It doesn’t need new laws or changes to the school funding formula.

Acting Commissioner Kimberly Harrington has the authority to restructure the budget so it provides Lakewood students a thorough and efficient education. And Lakewood’s state fiscal monitor, Michael Azzara, is empowered to override the board of education if necessary to eliminate the budget deficit.

These state officials must act. First, they must halt the transfer of $13 million in public school funds to subsidize non-public transportation. Keeping those funds in Lakewood’s budget — where they belong — will stop the bleeding and allow the district to maintain essential services to its students.

Second, they must take the operation and cost of special education to non-public school students out of the district’s hands. The state must assume full responsibility to approve and pay for special education in private schools. This would relieve Lakewood of a fiscal and managerial burden it simply can no longer handle.

Let’s face it. The Lakewood budget has become nothing more than a vehicle for funneling vast sums of public school funds to pay for private and religious schools. This must end. Private school students are not constitutionally entitled to a thorough and efficient education. Only Lakewood public school children are.

April 26, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Voucher Mania Spreads to New Hampshire: Is This a Sign That Public Education Advocates in Other States Should Brace Themselves?

That expansive voucher programs found a receptive audience in Nevada and Arizona's legislatures is not altogether surprising. When similar programs gain steam in places like New Hampshire, it is worth taking serious notice.  The AP reports that a sweeping voucher bill breezed through the state's senate.  "The legislation would allow any public school student to use roughly $3,500 in tax dollars to attend a private or religious school or use the money on homeschooling, tutoring or other expenses. It would be one of the nation's broadest school choice bills, similar to programs that have passed in Arizona and Nevada."  Fortunately, the bill has slowed up in the state house.  "The Republican-controlled House Education Committee is likely to retain the bill Tuesday, meaning it won't get a vote until next year."  The governor has also expressed reservations.

Even if this bill ultimately goes nowhere, making it this far is evidence that I underestimated the Trump administration's impact on education policy.  Given the current legislative structure at the federal level, the Secretary of Education has virtually no power to push an affirmative policy agenda.  The Every Student Succeeds Act returns the lion's share of power back to states.  Thus, my working assumption was that the Trump choice agenda would not have a perceptible effect on state policy. States disinterested in choice would ignore the administration.  States that were interested would act, but not because of anything Trump or DeVos said.
The quick spread of particularly expansive voucher programs, however, does not appear coincidental.  The Trump administration did not give states the idea of expanding choice, but it appears to have emboldened them to do things they otherwise would have considered not possible or worth the effort.  If New Hampshire can move a bill through its Senate, I am afraid there is a long list of other states that can go even further.
Stopping that agenda will require local advocates to be prepared to defend the values that justify public education and not get caught off guard by what would normally be long-shot voucher bills.

April 25, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Nevada Pushing Work Around for the Voucher Program Declared Unconstitutional Last Year; David Sciarra Calls It a Trojan Horse

Last year, advocates for public education in Nevada secured a majority victory.  The Nevada Supreme Court found that the state's voucher program violated the state constitution's provisions for supporting public education.  The program funded vouchers with money that the constitution mandates to go to public education.  The Governor has now cooked up a new plan that he thinks solves the problem, but as David Sciarra points out, the new one, as a practical matter, is not really any different.  And if it passes, it threatens to lead the state down the same path as Arizona, which I argued has placed the viability of public education in danger.  Here is David Sciarra's essay, first published in the Las Vegas Sun:

Arizona offers glimpse into threat ESA bill poses to Nevada schools

Gov. Brian Sandoval is pressing lawmakers to revive the private school voucher program blocked last September by the Nevada Supreme Court. The court ruled the program was unconstitutional because it would deplete funds earmarked by the Legislature to operate Nevada’s public schools.

The governor’s bill, SB506, carries forward most features of the prior law. Sandoval wants the per-pupil amount spent on public school students, roughly $5,700, to be deposited into education savings accounts to subsidize private and religious school tuition and pay for other private education expenses. The governor also wants vouchers for any household, even the wealthy. And like the prior law, 100 days of public school enrollment is the only eligibility requirement.

To get around the Supreme Court ruling, SB506 changes the way vouchers are funded.

The funding will not come directly out of public school budgets. Instead, Sandoval proposes a separate appropriation of $60 million over the biennium.

At that level, approximately 2,500 vouchers can be awarded each year, not enough for everyone who signed up under the prior law. So the vouchers will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis.

Lawmakers should flatly reject the governor’s bill. And they need look no further than to Arizona for the reasons why.

In 2011, Arizona enacted an ESA voucher program limited to students with disabilities. Once it got rolling, vouchers were expanded to include students in low-performing public schools.

This year, 3,200 vouchers were funded by Arizona taxpayers, totaling $49 million. The vast majority of the voucher funds are used to subsidize tuition, fees and other expenses charged by religious and private schools.

But Arizona voucher proponents weren’t satisfied. Cheered on by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Gov. Doug Ducey recently signed legislation expanding vouchers again, this time making all 1.1 million public school students eligible. To pass the bill, proponents accepted a cap of 5,500 new students per year and 30,000 students over the next five years. The cost to taxpayers and the public schools could quickly swell to over $100 million or more.

But make no mistake: Voucher proponents are already aiming to lift the caps and throw the program open to everyone.

As in other states, Arizona’s voucher law lacks accountability. Private schools don’t have to administer the same tests as public schools, so there is no way to know if student outcomes are better.

Oversight of voucher accounts is lax. A recent audit uncovered payments for groceries, games and gift cards using voucher funds.

Like those who signed up for Nevada’s vouchers, most Arizona voucher recipients are from affluent neighborhoods, according to an investigation by the Arizona Republic. As a state senator who opposes vouchers noted, the expansion of vouchers will only spur the exodus of affluent white parents from the public schools, leaving those schools to educate students of color, poor students and English language learners with less money.

And public school funding in Arizona, like Nevada, is among the lowest and most inadequate in the country.

So Nevada legislators beware. Gov. Sandoval’s voucher bill is a Trojan horse. His $60 million for vouchers is just the start.

Once voucher proponents get their foot in the door, they will follow the Arizona playbook, demanding expansion in the next biennium session. And, led by DeVos, they will not stop until they achieve their goal of taking down our public schools, without regard to the educational damage inflicted on the children left behind.

April 20, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 14, 2017

New Report Paints California's Charter Schools As Economic Boondoggle That Has Little to Do with Student Need, Cost Efficiency, or Quality

A new report on California's charter schools may be one of the most scathing to date--in part because it does more than examine student achievement.  Achievement studies inevitably raise methodological and interpretation debates.  More simply, it is often unclear whether the studies are comparing apples to apples.  This new study, however, filters charter schools through other more straightforward data and factors: locality need, cost efficiency, and legal compliance.  On these measures, the report suggests that California's charter school expansion is a financial boondoggle.  To use a baseball analogy, the disappointing quality of many of these schools is really just the fourth strike against a policy that should have already been called out. The report's introduction states:

From less than 200 schools in 1998, the California charter school industry has grown by more than 600%, to over 1,200 schools serving nearly 600,000 children, or nearly 10% of the state’s students. One of the sources fueling this growth is an extensive network of government programs that provide public funding or tax subsidies for charter school buildings. Over the past 15 years, California charter schools have received over $2.5 billion in tax dollars or taxpayer subsidized funds to lease, build, or buy school buildings. This report finds that this funding is almost completely disconnected from educational policy objectives, and the results are, in turn, scattershot and haphazard. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent each year without any meaningful strategy. Far too much of this public funding is spent on schools built in neighborhoods that have no need for additional classroom space, and which offer no improvement over the quality of education already available in nearby public schools. In the worst cases, public facilities funding has gone to schools that were found to have discriminatory enrollment policies and others that have engaged in unethical or corrupt practices.  

The reports key findings include:

  • Over the past 15 years, California charter schools have received over $2.5 billion in tax dollars or taxpayer subsidized funds to lease, build, or buy school buildings.
  • Nearly 450 charter schools have opened in places that already had enough classroom space for all students—and this overproduction of schools was made possible by generous public support, including $111 million in rent, lease, or mortgage payments picked up by taxpayers, $135 million in general obligation bonds, and $425 million in private investments subsidized with tax credits or tax exemptions.
  • For three-quarters of California charter schools, the quality of education on offer is worse than that of a nearby traditional public school that serves a demographically similar population. Taxpayers have provided these schools with an estimated three-quarters of a billion dollars in direct funding and an additional $1.1 billion in taxpayer-subsidized financing.
  • Even the worst charter schools receive generous facility funding. The California Charter Schools Association identified 161 charter schools that ranked in the bottom 10% of schools serving comparable populations last year, but even these schools received over $200 million in tax dollars and tax-subsidized funding.
  • At least 30% of charter schools were both opened in places that had no need for additional seats and also failed to provide an education superior to that available in nearby public schools. This number is almost certainly underestimated, but even at this rate, Californians provided these schools combined facilities funding of over $750 million, at a net cost to taxpayers of nearly $400 million.
  • Public facilities funding has been disproportionately concentrated among the less than one-third of schools that are owned by Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) that operate chains of between three and 30 schools. An even more disproportionate share of funding has been taken by just four large CMO chains— Aspire, KIPP, Alliance, and Animo/Green Dot.
  • Since 2009, the 253 schools found by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California to maintain discriminatory enrollment policies have been awarded a collective $75 million under the SB740 program, $120 million in general obligation bonds, and $150 million in conduit bond financing.
  • CMOs have used public tax dollars to buy private property. The Alliance CollegeReady Public Schools network of charter schools, for instance, has benefited from over $110 million in federal and state taxpayer support for its facilities, which are not owned by the public, but are part of a growing empire of privately owned Los Angeles-area real estate now worth in excess of $200 million.

April 14, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Arizona's New Voucher Program Set to Become Largest in the Nation, But It Is Also the Biggest Farce

According to the AP, Arizona just passed a bill that will make every student in the state eligible for voucher.  It may become the biggest voucher program in the nation.  The "program allows parents to take between 90 percent and 100 percent of the state money a local public school would receive to pay for private or religious education. The average student who isn't disabled will get about $4,400 a year, but some get much more."  The funding mechanism and its expected cost to the state is murky.  "The original Arizona plan was estimated to cost the state general fund at least $24 million."  Now, a revised plan and estimate are supposed to save the state $3.4 million by 2022.

What is clear, however, is that Arizona's per pupil funding for public schools currently ranks 47 out of 50 states.  To make matters worse, it distributes those meager funds unequally.  The Education Law Center's 2017 School Funding Fairness Report grades Arizona's funding distribution as an "F."  Schools with moderate levels of student poverty receive only 88 cents on the dollar in comparison to schools with no student poverty.  The comparison is even worse between high poverty school districts and low poverty school districts.  In other words, Arizona spends the least on students who need the most.  

That same report also shows that Arizona is doing almost nothing to fix its low funding levels or unequal distribution.  Arizona ranks 49th in the nation in terms of the level of fiscal effort it exerts to fund its schools.  

These background facts place Arizona's new voucher program in a troubling light.  These cold hard facts show that the state is not really interested in supporting adequate and equal education for its students.  Thus, it is no surprise the state would double down and make matters worse.  If gross inequity and inadequacy in public schools does not bother the state as a general principle, why would robbing those schools of more money be a problem?  Why not just cap the state investment in a students' education, send that student to private school, and tell the family and or the private school that they need to make up the difference?  If things do not work out in the future, that is on the family and the private school.

These background facts also mean that the rhetoric of political leaders lacks credibility.  Speaking of the voucher program, the Governor tweeted: "When parents have more choices, kids win."  If one understands the facts, one understands that this voucher program is not about helping kids in Arizona "win."  It is about raw politics and continuing the longstanding trend of depriving public schools of the resources they need to succeed.  If parents in Arizona want vouchers (or charters), it is not because those policies are normatively appealing.  It is because the state has been robbing them of the public education they deserve.  Many families now surely believe they have no other realistic option.  In short, the state has created the factual predicate of failing public schools to create the justification for its own pet project of privatizing education.  The kids caught up in the mess simply do not matter.

April 7, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Choice Advocates Not Only Want More Money for Vouchers, They Want It with No Strings Attached

Ever since the Betsy DeVos was nominated as Secretary of Education, school choice advocates have been salivating over the possibility that the privatization of education would enter a new expansive era.  Last week, the USA Today interviewed some of the nation's leading advocates of school choice and vouchers who are raising new concerns.  Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute  and Richard Hess of the American Enterprise Institute warn there is a downside to this expansion: the federal government will begin to regulate private schools more.  Hess remarked "when you get a Democratic administration, an Elizabeth Warren administration, and they decide that eligible schools ... need to have anti-bullying programs and other accommodations? We will very quickly wind up and wonder, ‘What were we thinking?’”  Petrilli said many private schools would forgo the funding if they have to abide by these types of regulations.  “They just won’t participate,” he said. “And then what’s the point? You don’t have a program.”

Is this a sign of an evolving school voucher position that not only should the public fund private education, it should fund it with no strings attached?  

That choice advocates could take such a position shows just how far the ground has shifted in a few short months.  This position is incredible on any number of levels.  

First, it assumes an entitlement to public funding for private choice.  The problem is that there is no such entitlement.  If the federal or state government is giving money to private schools or facilitating private choice, it goes without saying that it has the right to regulate that money.  In fact, conditioning federal money is the real reason for giving out federal money to begin with.  The federal government knows that its ability to regulate state and private actors is relatively small.  Thus, it achieves its policy objectives by exchanging money for conditions.  We do this in everything from health care to education.  

Second, state and federal government has funded public education for the past century and a half because it is public education.  The state and federal interest in funding private education is extremely small at best.  The only interest in funding private education is to offset certain costs that might otherwise fall on public education.  In other words, there is no independent reason to fund private education.  

Third, federal funds for public schools come with a long list of conditions. Why we would condition funds in public schools but allow private schools to take them free of conditions? The only obvious rationale I see is a normative preference for private schools over public schools.  Few, however, are willing to publicly fess up to that rationale.  If they did, it would be contrary to the second point.  In effect, the justification for funding education at all would begin to collapse if we preferenced private education over public education.  

Finally, public education is premised on a set of cultural and constitutional norms--non-discrimination, fair process, equal opportunity, social cohesion, and freedom from religious coercion.  As a general principle, private education is neither premised on nor committed to any of these norms.  Without regulation, they would not accept them.  And if they did not accept them, the federal government could not in fairness give them public money.  One might even seriously question whether a new set of constitutional concerns would arise if the federal government did so.  

While the Supreme Court has upheld vouchers for private religious schools, the Supreme Court has also held that the federal government cannot achieve unconstitutional ends indirectly.  For instance, the federal government clearly cannot segregate schools itself.  Could it indirectly achieve segregation through its spending power and have private or state entities do it for the federal government?  The Court has said no.  

Of course, just because private individuals might use public money to segregate or pursue religious ends does not meant that is the federal government's design--hence the prior decision upholding vouchers.  But if we converted into a system dominated by private choice and entirely free of constitutional and cultural norms, the question of whether the government was pursuing a new impermissible design could rise to the fore.

More here.


April 6, 2017 in Charters and Vouchers | Permalink | Comments (0)