The Department of Justice has retreated somewhat in their attempt to disrupt Louisiana’s school choice program. Previously, they had sought an injunction against the program to end it on very flimsy legal grounds. Their actions have gained them some notoriety, especially after state and independent studies have shown that Louisiana’s voucher program actually promotes integration, which is the exact opposite of the claim on which their suit is based. Outrage from the media and the United States House of Representatives ensued over this indefensible action. Realizing their position was hopeless, DOJ has retreated to the position that they do not seek to end the program, but rather they seek the power to review every individual student receiving a voucher and intervene to stop that from happening if they so choose… oh yes, Louisiana hasn’t done anything wrong. In fact, it’s obvious to everyone that their program is promoting integration, but the DOJ wants this power just to make sure Louisiana stays on the straight and narrow… right…
This is a gross overreach of federal power that has nothing to do with civil rights. If it is about civil rights, it’s about the DOJ taking away people’s civil rights by keeping poor and oftentimes minority students in failing schools. No, rather, DOJ is attempting to harass and intimidate school reformers in the hopes of ending the expansion of school choice. They are doing the bidding of the special interest groups in the administration’s political party. It has nothing to do with the law.
This Friday, November 22nd, the two parties of this dispute will meet in court for a hearing. The DOJ at this point is seeking a consolation prize since they know they cannot hope to legally end school choice in Louisiana. It is unlikely they will receive the expansive powers of “review” that they desire, which is still a comical overreach.
Announcing the keynote speaker at the Inaugural School Choice Wisconsin Convention on December 5th...
Rachel is a parenting expert, author, blogger, political pundit and television personality. She got her television start on the granddaddy of reality show's, MTV's The Real World.
Her television credits are large and diverse. Currently, she is a recurring guest on NBC's Today Show where she does parenting and relationship segments. For the past 14 years she has been a recurring guest host on ABC's The View, appearing more than 25 times. She has also been a guest on Dr. Phil, FOX and Friends, The Hannity Show, The Mike Huckabee Show, Politically Incorrect, EWTN's The World Over Live and CNN, where she is a frequent on-camera commentator on parenting, politics and culture.
Rachel writes for The Today Show blog, TodayMoms.com. She also writes for National Review Online, The Huffington Post, The American Spectator, Catholicvote.org, and NBCLatino.com among others.
Currently, Rachel is the national spokesperson for The Libre Initiative, an organization that educates and advocates for the economic empowerment of Hispanics through limited government, entrepreneurship and self-reliance.
Her book, published in 2009 by Penguin, is called "Stay Home, Stay Happy:10 Secrets to Loving At-home Motherhood".
In 2008 Rachel co-hosted the series "Speaking of Women's Health" on the Lifetime Network with the Legendary Florence Henderson.
Rachel has a degree in Economics from Arizona State University and a Masters degree in International Affairs from the University of California, San Diego.
She lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Congressman Sean Duffy and her six awesome kids.
The Department of Justice, a couple months ago, sued to end the Louisiana school choice program. I blogged about that ill-intentioned petition soon after it was filed. Now, stating that, “Congress is vested with oversight of the Justice Department,” thirty United States Senators have written a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that he answer their questions about this unusual lawsuit. Their questions are:
1. In 2012, 5,766 needy children won the opportunity to escape a failing school through Louisiana’s Scholarship Program. The Justice Department’s petition seeks to block 570 of those children from obtaining a meaningful education, based solely on the color of their skin. Some children, the petition argued, should be trapped in failing schools because they are African-American, others because they are white. How is this consistent with the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection regardless of race?
2. Justice Department officials have, on more than one occasion, appeared before Congress and testified that the Department’s resources are stretched thin, and prosecutors sometimes have to make decisions on how best to deploy those resources. Why is this litigation a wise use of scarce taxpayer dollars?
3. The Justice Department argues in its petition that the loss of six black children from Cecilia primary school—which amounts to less than one percent of the student body—should be blocked. Imagine those six black children left Cecilia primary school for a reason other than the Louisiana Scholarship Program. Imagine that their parents found more lucrative jobs and were able to afford private school out of their own pockets.
a. Would the Justice Department have the legal authority to block these children from leaving Cecilia school in order to preserve the “racial balance” between the school and parish?
b. Would the Justice Department have the legal authority to ask the court to bus in six other African-American children into the failing school to restore its “racial balance”?
4. The two examples the Justice Department cites in its petition, Cecilia primary school and Independence primary school, involve miniscule changes to the student population, 6 students (less than one percent of the student body) and 5 students (just over one percent of the student body). Is any change too small? What if only one black student received a scholarship from Cecilia? Would the Justice Department have the authority to block that student from a better school?
5. Did anyone in the Justice Department take any account of politics or have any conversations concerning politics, including the positions of teachers unions, in deciding to file its petition?
The senators are requesting that these questions be answered by no later than November 6th.
As I and many others have previously noted, it is the pinnacle of irony and cynicism that Holder is suing to preserve Louisiana’s “racial balance” when school choice has been proven in numerous studies to reduce racial segregation. Senator Tim Scott, who is African-American, signed the letter to Holder and said in an accompanying statement that he would “call for Attorney General Eric Holder to explain why the Department of Justice has sued to trap needy children in failing public schools based on skin color alone.”
“Regardless of race or background, every child deserves the opportunity to succeed,” Scott said. “I know firsthand the importance of empowering parents to provide their children with the best education possible. Parents should be able to choose a school based on the opportunity it provides. That flexibility is good for kids across the board.”
It is unclear what power, if any, these senators have to thwart Holder’s efforts. Their oversight power is limited by their minority position in the Senate. One can hope, that these sane voices will prevail in drawing attention to the DOJ’s absurd and politically motivated overreach. In the meantime, it remains to be seen what the courts will decide.
In a previous blog post, I gave a general overview of school choice in some of the best national education systems in the world. These countries were, for the most part, relatively rich. Earlier this month, Karthik Muralidharan of the University of Caliornia at San Diego and Vekatesh Sundararaman of the World Bank released a paper, The Aggregate Effect of School Choice: Evidence from a Two-stage Experiment in India, which provides further evidence for the benefits of school vouchers. While it has implications for education everywhere, it is especially relevant to the poor and developing world.
The Indian parliament adopted the Right to Education Act in 2009. That act gives all children between the ages of 6 and 14 the right to an education. The act mandates quality standards for private schools and that 25% of a school’s seats be reserved for the poor, minorities, and lower Hindu castes. Moreover, the act reimburses the privates schools for their per-student cost or the per-student cost in the average government school; whichever is less. The elite private schools find this to be a huge burden because the subsidies will not cover the cost of tuition whereas the low-income private schools in the slums will get full reimbursements from the government. With a population of over 1.2 billion people, India could soon become, upon successful implementation of this act, the largest choice school system in the world.
This is good news for the people of India. The Muralidharan/Sundararaman study was done in Andhra Pradesh, India. It was done before the implementation of the Right to Education Act, which is ongoing and did not begin officially until 2010. The Azim Premji Foundation, therefore, funded the vouchers. They used a randomized control trial to allocate vouchers between a control group and an experimental group. The study found that private schools achieved the same or better results depending on the subject and did so at a much lower cost. School choice is also a natural fit for India. 58% of urban school enrollment and 32% of rural enrollment in India is in private schools. Many of these are low-income families paying small fees to private schools with lower costs per-pupil than public schools. However, these private schools achieve greater results than India’s extremely dysfunctional public school system. Government owned firms usually perform worse than private ones, and this difference is exacerbated in developing countries, which tend to have poorly managed public sectors. According to the study authors, public money for private education in India is “a rare example of a policy that improves equity, and efficiency, and does so at a lower cost than the status quo.”
School Choice has long been known to be beneficial to low-income students in the United States. Now, we can see that this extends to the poor of the developing world as well.
Wisconsin has been at the cutting edge of education reform ever since introducing the first school choice program in the nation in the 1990s. Last school year, there were 24,941 students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and 520 (500 full time equivalent) enrolled in the Parental Private School Choice Program (Racine). This school year, the enrollment cap has been removed on the Racine program and a new statewide expansion with a 500-student cap has been created. So without taking growth in the Racine and Milwaukee programs into account, we can expect at least 25,961 students to be enrolled in the school choice program in Wisconsin. This is, and our numbers have always been, the highest in the nation.
However, it is possible that there is a new head of the education reform class from the Midwest. The new enrollment data for Indiana is in and they have 20,047 students enrolled through their school choice program. Yes, Wisconsin is still on top, but consider this: Last year, Indiana had 9,324 choice students. The year before, when choice was first introduced in Indiana, they had 3,919 students. To put that in perspective, the Milwaukee program was introduced for the 1990-1991 school year. In three years, Indiana has gone from 0 students in the 2010-2011 school year to 20,047 now. If Indiana’s choice program continues to grow at this rapid rate, it will be the largest school choice program in the country next year.
The growth in Indiana’s program (the first statewide choice program in the nation) will surely be helped by the fact that its choice schools have outperformed other schools on the state exam, the ISTEP, which most private schools administer, including many who don’t accept choice students. Indiana is unusual in having this extensive testing for both public and private schools, including those that do not have state-financed students.
In his 2011 state of the state address, which preceded Indiana’s adoption of the school choice program with the broadest eligibility in the country, Governor Mitch Daniels spoke these words:
“We must begin to honor the parents of Indiana. We must trust them, and respect them enough, to decide when, where, and how their children can receive the best education, and therefore the best chance in life…For families who cannot find the right traditional public school, or the right charter public school for their child, and are not wealthy enough to move near one, justice requires that we help. We should let these families apply dollars that the state spends on their child to the non-government school of their choice.”
Indiana is taking the lead in ensuring that all of their children have access to the best education available, regardless of where they live or how much money their parents make. It is up to the rest of the country to follow their lead. Wisconsin right now has the most choice, but Indiana has laid the foundation for many more families to choose the best education for their child. Each state will continue to make strides toward giving as many parents as possible as many choices as possible for their child’s education. Of course, I hope that Wisconsin continues to lead the nation, but the competition is getting tougher. Fellow Wisconsinites, Indiana has made incredible strides. Now, the ball is in our court. Let’s lift the artificial and arbitrary statewide enrollment cap and let parents, not government bureaucrats, decide where to send their children to school.
According to information compiled by the Friedman Foundation, the United States is unusual in that in most states, we do not provide funding for nongovernment schools chosen by parents at the K-12 level. Here is the breakdown of the countries with the highest K-12 achievement in the world and have some form of school choice:
Hong Kong, which is ranked 2nd on the PISA exam, has a voucher program, but only for three to six year old students in kindergarten. It was implemented in 2007.
Finland provides public funding to all private schools, most of them at 100% and the remainder at 90%. Advocates for education reform often lionize Finland because it consistently appears near the top of rankings of international test scores. The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI) in a recent report, “How to Correct Our Schools of Ed,” held up Finland as an example of what the teaching profession should be. In Finland, the teachers are extremely well qualified. The teaching profession is held in high esteem and to high standards like the law and medical professions. They are the top students with the best grades and only one out of ten candidates are admitted to the profession. Finland places a greater emphasis on teachers with knowledge in the subjects they are teaching rather than knowledge of education. This allows Finland to give teachers greater autonomy to develop curriculum on their own. Teachers’ grades are also held in high esteem and there is much less standardized testing. This trust placed in teachers is apparently warranted as Finland scores higher than any country (except select students in Shanghai and Hong Kong) on the PISA, an international standardized test. WPRI recommends that we raise our standards for admittance to schools of education among other things so that we too funnel only our best and brightest into education and can give our teachers the level of autonomy they need to succeed. Right now, that is not the case.
In the 4th rank on PISA, after Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Finland, is Singapore, which offers school choice among public schools.
South Korea is in 5th place. In Korea, private schools are almost completely financed by the government. Twenty-one percent of South Korean students are in government-funded private schools.
New Zealand, in 8th place, has private school vouchers.
So does Taiwan in 9th place.
Australia is ranked 10th, and 25% of their students are in government-funded private schools.
In the Netherlands, school choice is a constitutional right. This is so public funding is available to students attending religious schools. The Netherlands had a long struggle in the 19th century over funding for Catholic and Protestant schools which was resolved in their constitution in 1917, putting religious and public schools on equal financial ground while allowing complete autonomy and religious instruction to the private schools. A whopping 76% of students in the Netherlands attend a government-funded private school, and the Netherlands has a long history of parent preference for religious education. The Netherlands is ranked 11th on PISA.
Estonia is ranked 14th on PISA and they have both private school vouchers and tuition tax credits for private school tuition.
Germany is number 15. They have both vouchers and tuition tax credits. In Germany too, the system is set up to allow children to attend religious schools at government expense.
Belgium is 16th in the world ranking and not only has school choice, but has school choice as a constitutional right. Article 24 of the Belgian constitution states, “all pupils of school age have the right to moral or religious education at the Community’s expense.” Belgium’s universal school choice system was enacted in 1958 to avoid conflict between Catholic and Protestant schools. It was called the “School Pact.”
Poland is ranked 18th and they have school vouchers.
Norway at 20th does as well.
Scotland is ranked 21st and has tuition tax credits.
England is tied with Scotland at 21 and provides public funding for children to attend religious schools. Research by Stephen Gibbons, Stephen Machin, and Olmo Silva has shown that religiously controlled, state funded schools in England have a large positive impact on achievement. The Friedman Foundation notes that this was not the case for nonreligious choice schools.
Denmark is ranked 23rd and 11% of their students attend a private school at government expense.
France, at 25th, has school vouchers and 16.8% of their students attend government-funded private schools.
Ireland is ranked 25th and school choice there is a constitutional right. Ireland essentially has a government funded, church run school system. Catholic schools make up 91.1% of all schools in Ireland. The local dioceses run them but capital costs, teachers’ salaries, and a per-student fee are paid to the school by the government. Another 5.7% of Irish schools are Anglican, with the same arrangement. 2.3% are multi-denominational, 0.4% are Presbyterian, 0.3% are interdenominational, and the rest are Muslim, Methodist, Jewish, Quaker, etc.
And finally, the 27th highest scoring students in the world are from the United States of America! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! The United States, as most of you know, has both school vouchers and tuition tax credits in a few states, with the largest concentration of students in the Milwaukee program. MIL-WAU-KEE! MIL-WAU-KEE! MIL-WAU-KEE!
As you can see, school choice systems are well represented in the top 27 highest performing countries. This is no coincidence. International studies have confirmed studies that have taken place in the United States showing the benefits of school choice. Analyzing PISA scores from 22 countries, Dronkers and Robert found that students at private government-funded schools have higher achievement than comparable students “at public schools with the same social composition.” West and Woessman found “private school competition attributable to past Catholic policies generates higher student achievement in mathematics, reading, and science today.” Just like in the United States, competition also increased the performance of public school students. The study also found that competition increased efficiency of individual school spending.
Other countries, though lower in PISA ranking than the United States, have increased student achievement through school choice according to studies done in Sweden, Chile, Columbia, and Israel.
You can find more national rankings and research on international school choice at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
It is difficult to argue about the merits of the school choice program because its opponents, with the consent of certain media outlets, are willfully ignorant of basic facts about the program and seek to spread this ignorance/misinformation to the wider public. For example, Scot Ross, the director of a liberal advocacy organization, wrote an editorial in the Cap Times, the entire premise of which was that the evil Gov. Walker is allowing choice students to over-pay for tuition using “your tax dollars.” There’s at least one major problem with Ross’s analysis: the state of Wisconsin doesn’t do that at all. The voucher amount is for a maximum of $6,442, or the cost of the education, whichever is less. A simple Google search would have led Ross to the website of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and this statement:
“How much is the state aid per student in the Choice program and what can the school spend that state aid on?
In the 2013-2014 school year, the estimated state aid amount for a student enrolled full-time in the Choice program at a particular school (defined as enrolled in the Choice program and in attendance on both the 3rd Friday in September and the 2nd Friday in January) is $6,442 or the private school's operating and debt service cost per student, whichever is less. The private school is required to hire an independent financial auditor to determine the operating and debt service cost per student at the school. (For example, if a school is spending $3,000 per student, after adjustments the school will in the end receive $3,000 per Choice student, however, the estimated state aid amount is $6,442 per student if the school is spending $7,000 per student.) The private school may spend the state aid for any educational purpose.”
Ross is allowed to blatantly spread incorrect information, masquerading as some sort of expert. He is given a microphone to shout his could-not-be-less-informed-about-what-he’s-writing-about opinion from the rooftops. There was an era in this country, people much older than me tell me, when news organizations had an obligation to do basic fact checking of things they publish. Now, the rule for many seems to be “Does this fit our agenda? Good, let’s send it out.”
This fictitious claim made by Ross is part of a wider narrative that there are people who are profiteering from the school choice program, as if that were even possible. All of the schools in the choice program are held to rigorous accounting standards by the state of Wisconsin. Their staff is paid less than their public school counterparts (The Journal-Sentinel found MPS teachers make over six-figures including benefits). The children served by the school choice program are by definition low-income. There is no one, rich or otherwise, making money from school choice. However, there is a huge amount of special interest money going to block school choice. The people who favor the status quo feel that they will lose business if students leave public schools for choice schools. To them, it is not the interests of the students that matter, but their own financial interests. These people have a financial interest in seeing that students have no choice but to stay in failing public schools, all the while accusing the underpaid non-profits who serve low-income children of being “defenders of the rich.” This is a strange way they are using words. Orwellian, in fact.
From Wisconsin Eye: On September 18, 2013, Senior Producer Steve Walters discussed school choice with Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin; Ray DuBois, president of St. Francis Xavier Catholic School System; Rebeccka Greunke, Xavier High sophomore; and Matthew Kussow, executive director at WCRIS. The interview took place at Xavier High in Appleton.
In an editorial for the La Crosse Tribune, Kurt Nelson explains that independent schools are “the most accountable schools in the state,” that they welcome more accountability to participate in the choice program, and that the current accountability proposal does not hold all schools equally accountable.
“A recent proposal that choice students be included in the state report card system is problematic for choice schools. Our choice students will take the required state assessment (WKCE) in grades 3 to 10. However, the current proposal would use only those scores to create a misleading state report card for the entire school system.
Out of 1,005 total students, Aquinas Catholic Schools has enrolled 21 choice students this year. The number of those students enrolled at grade levels that take the WKCE represents fewer than 1 percent of our entire student body. Using that data to create a report card for Aquinas Catholic Schools will not be an accurate representation of our student body. The approach of comparing a small subset of one school’s population to the entire population of another school is fundamentally flawed.
Religious and independent schools embrace accountability, and we do not object to it. Those of us who are participating in the choice program already have accepted many state accountability measures in exchange for participation in the program. If the state wants additional measures to allow direct comparisons between schools that receive public funding, it must ensure that those measures present a fair, accurate and complete picture of each school’s performance.”
I recently read an article by Paul E. Peterson, a professor at Harvard, and his colleague, Eric A. Hunushek, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. In the article, the authors claim on the basis of their research that student achievement as measured on international standardized tests causes economic growth. International tests show that 32% of U.S. high school students are proficient in Math compared to 49% of Canadians. If we were to raise our level a proficiency as high as Canada’s, the authors conclude that we would see additional economic growth totaling $77 trillion dollars over the next eighty years. This is the equivalent of adding 20% to the paycheck of every worker, every year. Interestingly, the authors conclude that spending more years in school does not, in and of itself, lead to higher economic growth. When the researchers controlled for test-scores, they found that years spent in school had little impact on economic growth. They concluded, “If you aren’t learning anything at your desk, it doesn’t matter how long you sit there.” The study also found that the U.S. spends more money per pupil on education than most other countries and that there is no correlation between spending increases and student performance.
This could be disconcerting for some people because years spent in schools and money spent by the government on education are two of the most common proxies used to determine quality of education. The authors cite class size reduction as an “expensive but ineffective” policy, while calling “better accountability, more school choice, market-based teacher compensation and retention policies” practices than can “boost achievement without adding materially to school costs.
These findings are relevant to Wisconsin right now as we are currently changing our testing system and increasing the frequency with which students are tested. An accountability bill is in the works which will use those tests to measure school performance and to sanction those which do not educate their students to the state’s standards.