#AmplifyChoice, During National School Choice Week

The folks over at The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity are shining a light on school choice with a new project, Amplify School Choice. As we get ready for National School Choice Week (January 25 – 31, 2015), they asked me to respond to a few questions about school choice. They have posted the questions and my responses to the Amplify School Choice site, and I’m taking the liberty to re-post them here.

1) Can you summarize the meaning of school choice in one sentence?

School choice is simply recognizing that public education is not a system, but the idea that all children should have access to a quality education.

2) What made you get actively involved in this issue?

I first became interested in school choice when I was teaching in a traditional public school. Even in my relatively homogeneous school, I knew that I could not meet the needs of every student. Students are simply too diverse for a one-size-fits all approach; allowing schools to specialize and parents to choose simply made sense. I becamepassionate about school choice when my own kids were assigned to a school that couldn’t meet our family’s needs.

3) What is the biggest misconception about school choice?

The biggest misconception about school choice is that it is somehow bad for teachers. As a result, teacher groups consistently oppose school choice initiatives. In reality, school choice provides options for teachers, just as it does for students. It gives teachers the ability to choose a school that aligns with their vision of what a quality education looks like. Moreover, it creates a market for their skills.

4) Is there an aspect of school choice that you think is often overlooked, or doesn’t receive the attention it deserves?

When people want to know if a restaurant is good, they can click a host of different apps and have access to scores of reviews. In almost any area where there is a competitive market, there is a plethora of information. When it comes to education, however, it is much more difficult.

Because of this, critics of school choice are quick to argue that parents might not make the best educational decisions for their children. They either do not realize or ignore the transformational impact that choice can have. With choice, parents have an incentive to ‘shop around.’

Now, they have a need for information; a need that will be met in much the same way as it is in other competitive markets. The bottom line is that choice shifts parents and students from recipients of education to consumers of education.

5) What more can be done to expand school choice across the nation?

We must continue to share the positive message of school choice: It empowers parents and expands options for students and teachers.

So far, more than 11,000 events are scheduled for National School Choice Week. I’ll be moderating a discussion with students in Kansas City (Jan. 27) and in St. Louis (Jan. 29). If you are interested in finding out more about school choice, I invite you to join us.






Equal Opportunity Scholarships—Giving Students Options

(This post originally appeared on the Show-Me Daily blog)

If you could expand educational opportunities for students in failing schools by leveraging greater private investment in education, would you do it? Of course you would! This is exactly the idea behind the Equal Opportunity Scholarship idea (otherwise known as a tax credit scholarship).

The way it works is pretty simple. Taxpayers donate money to a scholarship organization. In exchange for their donation, they get a credit toward their taxes. Let’s say the credit is 75 percent. That would mean a donation of $1,000 to a scholarship organization would net a credit toward tax liabilities of $750. While the total taxes collected drops by $750, the total amount contributed goes up. The end result is greater private investment in education.

With the funds, the scholarship organizations provide tuition assistance for students who wish to attend high-quality private schools. More than a dozen states have similar programs. They are a proven method of increasing options for students. And they have the added benefit of saving taxpayers money. The Show-Me Institute has highlighted successful examples in Arizona, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania.

Over the next few months, Missouri lawmakers will bandy about ideas to “solve” the problem of unaccredited schools. Thus far, Equal Opportunity Scholarships are the only proactive idea that will expand options for Missouri students.

Obama is Not Pulling Community College out of a Hat

Recently, President Obama announced his plan to provide “free” community college. Dale Singer, a reporter for St. Louis’ NPR station called me for a response. Maybe not my most eloquent response, but you get the point.

“If we start incentivizing people to go more to community colleges,” he said, “well then maybe fewer students go to the universities. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s not. But that is likely to happen.

“We might incentivize more students to go, but there are some students who are definitely not going to go to community colleges. So essentially what you’re doing is creating a wealth transfer, where you’re subsidizing more students going to community college at the expense of the students who decide not to go to community college. It’s maybe a noble proposal, but it is not free community college. Somebody has to pay.”

Too often, he said, the word “free” is misleading.

“To simply say we’re going to give away free community college sounds better than it actually is,” Shuls said. “You’re not pulling community college out of a hat, like a rabbit that a magician’s pulling out. Somebody’s paying for it.”

Check out the full article on the St. Louis Public Radio website.

Angel’s Story: What the Transfer Program Is All About

(This post originally appeared on the Show-Me Daily Blog)

If someone asked you what you thought about the controversial law, which allows students to transfer from unaccredited schools to accredited ones, what would you say? Would you talk about the rights of the local taxpayer in the receiving school district? Would you talk about the logistics of transporting students? Would you say that those students deserve to have good schools in their own communities?

We asked Shaunna Matthews that question and her answer was clear:

The opportunities that we are getting out of this program are awesome. We would be wrong to deny any kid this opportunity.

Last year, Shaunna’s daughter, Angel, transferred from the unaccredited Riverview Gardens School District, to the high performing Kirkwood School District.

Here is Angel’s Story.

Denying Transfer Students Makes the List

Earlier this week Watchdog.org released their five best school choice moments of 2014. Now, they’ve released the five worst. Not surprisingly, Francis Howell’s decision to reject transfer students from the unaccredited Normandy School District makes the list.

  1. The protests and violence in Ferguson, Missouri, were among the biggest news stories in 2014. A little noticed story that unfolded right next-door to Ferguson proved to be one the year’s low points in school choice.

Normandy School District is one of the worst performing school districts in Missouri. After the district lost its accreditation in 2012, its students were allowed to transfer to schools in other districts.

The state took control of the Normandy district and reorganized it. Following the reorganization, the program that allowed to students to attend out of district schools was going to be stopped.

But a St. Louis County judge ruled parents have the right to transfer their children to continue sending their children to schools in other districts, saying that “every day a student attends an unaccredited school (instead of an accredited one) he/she could suffer harm that cannot be repaired after the fact.”

All the neighboring school districts in which Normandy students had been attending school welcomed the decision — all but Francis Howell School District in St. Charles County.

Francis Howell forced kids to obtain a court order before it would allow them to return to the classroom.

Francis Howell officials claimed they didn’t want to drain Normandy’s coffers, since Normandy was required to cover tuition costs for students to attend schools in other districts.

But James Shuls, education fellow at the Show-Me Institute, said Francis Howell’s reason is coming from a faux moral high ground.

“Because districts are allowed to set their own tuition rates, they could easily charge Normandy less if they were truly concerned about depleting Normandy’s funds.” Shuls said.

Click here to read about the other four that topped the list.

School Replaces Blind Student’s Cane With a Pool Noodle, What is Your Response?

Over the past few days, my Facebook feed has been abuzz with the story of Dakota Nafzinger. Dakota, a blind eight year old, who had his cane taken away for bad behavior. In its place, his school gave him a pool noodle. Fox 4 in Kansas City reports:

The school wouldn’t go on camera, but North Kansas City School District Spokeswoman Michelle Cronk confirmed taking away Dakota’s cane, calling it school property that was given to him when he enrolled. They said they took it away after he reportedly hit someone with it and wanted to prevent him from hurting himself or others.

It may be unfair to judge the school or district based on this one instance, but this story brings up the incredibly important issue of educational options. What option did the parents have when the school clearly made a gross mistake? They could call the school, report the issue to the school board, and even get the news involved. At the end of the day, however, Dakota has to go back to Gracemore Elementary School. Of course, he could go to another school if his parents have the financial means.

Contrast this story with those of Jordan and Salima. Like Dakota, Jordan and Salima have special needs which make it difficult for them to function in a traditional public school; however, they have options. Jordan and Salima are fortunate to live in Arizona, the first state in the nation to adopt Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). Through the use of their ESA funds, Jordan and Salima’s parents are able to customize their child’s education to meet their unique needs. I challenge you to watch their stories below.

It is perfectly fine to look at what happened in Kansas City with Dakota Nafzinger and the pool noodle and be appalled. The appropriate response, however, is not simply to like or share his story on social media and move on. No, the next step is to educate yourself and advocate for expanded educational options for students like Dakota. Below are several resources to get you started.

School Choice Resources:

Public Dollars, Private Schools: Examining the Options in Missouri

Giving Arizona Children Better Opportunities in Education

Live Free and Learn: A Case Study of New Hampshire’s Scholarship Tax Credit Program

Available Seats?

Redefining Public Education


Risky Business: Don’t Expect Teachers To Slide Across The Floor Like Tom Cruise

Yesterday, I spoke with Bre Payton of Watchdog.org about my recent paper, “Risky Business: An Analysis of Teacher Risk Preferences.” My co-authors, Dan Bowen, Cary Deck, Jon Mills, Stuart Buck, and I found that our sample of college students entering the teaching profession were relatively more risk averse than students in other degree programs.

Check out the video for a discussion about the paper and it’s implications.