Vindication for New Hampshire’s Scholarship Tax Credit Program

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

In February, the Show-Me Institute released “Live Free and Learn: A Case Study of New Hampshire’s Scholarship Tax Credit Program,” written by Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute. Bedrick also discussed this school choice program at an event we hosted at Lindenwood University (see video above [starts at 4:00]). At the time, he noted that the scholarship program was being challenged in the New Hampshire courts. Yesterday, the New Hampshire Supreme Court issued a big win for the families benefiting from the program.

Blogging about the ruling, Bedrick writes:

“The New Hampshire Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s flawed and unprecedented decision, which had forbidden scholarship recipients from using the funds at religiously affiliated private schools. The lower court held that the scholarship funds constituted ‘money raised by taxation’ and therefore violated the state’s historically anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment, which states:

“[No] money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools of institutions of any religious sect or denomination. (New Hampshire Constitution, Part II, Article 83)

“The New Hampshire Supreme Court did not address the merits of the lower court’s decision because it held the petitioners were unable to demonstrate that ‘their personal rights have been impaired or prejudiced.’ Similarly, the U.S. Supreme Court, in rejecting the petitioners’ standing in ACSTO v. Winn, held that the tax-credit funds did not constitute public money because they had not ‘come into the tax collector’s hands.’”

Like New Hampshire, Missouri has a Blaine Amendment that prohibits public dollars going to religious institutions. That is why this ruling is important for private school choice supporters in Missouri to take note of this case. Because the funding in a tax credit scholarship program does not enter into the public treasury, the funds should not be considered public dollars. For this reason, a tax credit scholarship program may have the best chance of passing constitutional muster in the Show-Me State.

Ferguson Is Not The Only Social Justice Issue In St. Louis

Over the past few weeks, many have written and pontificated about the events in Ferguson, MO. Yet, in that same area of St. Louis we are seeing events unfold that are equally, if not more, important in terms of improving the plight of disadvantaged communities – school choice. Last year, students from two unaccredited St. Louis area school districts, Normandy and Riverview Gardens, were allowed to transfer to nearby accredited school districts. Interestingly, many chose to go to the Ferguson-Florissant School District because the schools perform higher on state metrics. 

Through a series of decisions by the State Board of Education and local school districts, many students were not allowed to return to the schools they had transferred to last year. That is where attorney Joshua Schindler stepped in. He has been advocating, successfully, for those students. 

Brittany Wagner of the Show-Me Institute recently sat down with Schindler to discuss this issue. 

Missouri Should Stop Funding Ghost Students

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

Like most states, Arizona felt a financial crunch in the wake of the economic downturn of 2008. As a result, funding for education could not keep pace with the expected increases. An Arizona judge recently ruled that state lawmakers did not fund schools properly during this time and must appropriate an additional $317 million to Arizona public schools, immediately.

However, as Jonathan Butcher of the Goldwater Institute points out, much less money would be needed if “ghost students” were removed from the funding formula. A ghost student is essentially when the state pays for the same student twice.

In The Arizona Republic he writes:

“Arizona schools can apply for additional funding for current-year enrollment growth, but they do not have to adjust for enrollment decreases in the same year. Traditional school payments are generally not updated until the following year, which means schools get funding for students who aren’t in their classrooms anymore.

“As Goldwater Institute research has reported, the state pays about $125 million for empty seats every year.

“Traditional school payments should be based on the number of students in the classroom, with payments updated accordingly throughout the year.”

In Missouri, we often hear that the state’s foundation formula for education is not fully funded. That is true, but Missouri’s formula is riddled with the same features that create ghost students in Arizona. Schools are funded based on the number of students from the current or two previous years. Thus, a district with declining enrollment could get funded based on their enrollment from two years ago, while a district with increasing enrollment gets funded based on the current year’s student count.

In addition, there are several other features that do not allow a district’s funding to decrease when it should. For instance, the amount counted as “local dollars” is pegged to 2004 assessment levels. If local property taxes increase, the state should pay less to the school district, but they don’t. On top of all of this, Missouri has a “hold-harmless” provision that prevents state funding from decreasing below a set level, even if the district should receive less based on the formula. As of 2013, there were 174 hold-harmless districts.

If Missouri were to remove these provisions it would allow the formula to adjust to the changing demographics of our schools. Then the formula would not be as dramatically underfunded as is claimed. This would be a wise step, because we simply cannot afford to continue to fund ghost students.

For more on the funding formula, check out our handy primer.

Like Uber? Like School Choice

On the Jay P. Greene blog today, Rabbi A.D. Motzen has an open letter for David Plouffe – newly appointed senior vice president of policy and strategy at ride-sharing company Uber.  By accessing the Uber app on your phone, you can find an independent Uber driver who will pick you up and take you to your destination. Uber is revolutionizing the taxi cab industry; which, of course, means they are fighting against an entrenched bureaucracy.

As an individual who believes in free-market policies, Uber is amazing. It is amazing not just because of the improvements it is making to transportation, but also because it is encouraging individuals who tend to be not so free-market oriented to question the regulatory restrictions faced by Uber.

Rabbi Motzen points out that supporters of Uber should support other reforms that break up existing monopolies by wryly encouraging Plouffe to support school choice through his new company, “UberEd.” He writes:

… you and Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, apparently believe in transportation choice…By providing choices and flexibility you will be able to offer a better product that meets the needs of individual customers at a lower cost. Why, even the employees will be happier! Most importantly, even the competition – those dreaded yellow taxi unions – will ultimately be forced to compete and either lower their prices or improve their service.

My start-up is based on those same principles, so it should be a good fit with your philosophy. Rather than working “to ensure drivers and riders are not denied their opportunity for choice in transportation,” my idea would ensure that parents and children are not denied their opportunity for choice in education. My motto would be “everyone’s private or public school.”

It’s a simple concept that was already Beta tested in more than a dozen states using “experiments” such as charters, vouchers, scholarship tax credits, and now education savings accounts. In all of those vehicles, parents have a choice on how to get their child from point A to point B – traditional public, charter, or private school.

If you like Uber, you should like school choice. As Motzen writes, it comes down to supporting an “entrenched status quo or innovation, opportunity, and choice”.

I invite you to check out the full letter here.

Chicago Teachers Union President Declares Jay Was Right

(This post originally appeared on the Jay P. Greene Blog)

It wasn’t long ago that Jay and Marcus Winters asked the question, “How much are public school teachers paid?” Rather than compare the annual salary of teachers and workers in other professions, Jay and Marcus compared salary based on how many hours and weeks the workers actually put in on the job. Not surprisingly, public school teachers fared well when their relatively short work year was factored into the equation.

Of course, Jay and Marcus’ analysis was roundly criticized. You simply cannot claim that teachers are decently paid. The audacity!

Now it seems, an unlikely ally has taken up the Jay and Marcus mantle on teacher pay – Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Recently, it was announced that Lewis is considering a run for Mayor of Chicago. As with any political race, this led to a closer examination of Lewis’ finances. The Chicago Sun-Times reports Lewis makes more than $200,000 in combined compensation from the Chicago Teachers Union and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, where she serves as executive vice president. Here’s the good part:

When she first ran for CTU president four years ago, Lewis promised not to make more than the highest-paid teacher.

“How can you criticize [the CPS CEO] for making $230,000 a year during these hard times if you’re making so much more than your members?” she told the Chicago Reader then.

Chicago Public Schools’ payroll records show no teacher makes as much as Lewis’ $136,890 CTU base salary.

In an interview Tuesday, Lewis said she didn’t break her promise not to make more as union president than Chicago’s highest-paid teacher makes, saying her CTU salary is for working the full year, rather than a 39-week school year. (emphasis mine)

What Lewis is saying, is that teachers in Chicago are making the equivalent of $136,890 or more. They just work fewer weeks. Now, where have I heard that before?

It’s almost as if Karen Lewis is saying…

Teacher Tenure Has Been Tried And Found Wanting

Teacher Tenure

Back in April, I posted a series of quotes from Marcellus McRae’s closing argument in Vergara v. California to Jay P. Greene’s Blog. Yesterday, the court handed down its decision and it appears that McRae was right, “You can’t make sense out of nonsense.”

Today, I have a piece on the Daily Caller summarizing the ruling and highlighting my take-a-way from the case.

On its face, this was a legal case that considered whether teacher tenure and other job protections violated California’s state constitution. At a more fundamental level, however, this was an evaluation of policies lauded by teachers unions throughout the country – teacher tenure, due process, and last-in, first-out provisions. For these policies to be found unconstitutional they first had to be proven to have an adverse effect on disadvantaged students; and indeed, they were.

I go on to say:

Legally, there are still many questions to be resolved. In the court of public opinion, however, the ruling could not be clearer: Teacher tenure has been tried and it has been found wanting. You simply cannot make sense out of nonsense.

I invite you to check out the full piece here.

School Choice is UnAmerican…Not!

Bald-eagle-school choice


(This post originally appeared on the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice Blog)

Should taxpayers be compelled to fund schools that teach concepts that support “junk science” or violate their convictions?

Teacher/blogger Peter Greene thinks that is un-American, and he followed up a few days later on the Huffington Post to claim that as his fifth reason “conservatives should hate school choice.” So here I am, back to respond to his belated claim in today’s Friday Freakout.

Greene argues that “School choice is taxation without representation.” He goes on to say:

Schools are not a service for parents. The people who produced the student are not the only “customers” for the school.

The educated human who emerges from school will become a neighbor, an employee, a parent, a spouse, a voter, a (one hopes) involved citizen, a person whose job will contribute in some way to the life of the community. Everybody who will ever deal with her in any of those capacities shares the benefits of that education. They are all “customers” of public education. Whether they are relatives of the educatee or not is hardly the point.

We all have a stake in public education.

In many ways, I agree with that statement. As a society, we all benefit from educated citizens. That is why we operate a public education system; but, that is not an argument against school choice. Public financing does not necessitate public operation of the schools.

Public education is the idea that all kids deserve a quality education at public expense. If students in school choice systems receive a quality education, then those choice schools—even the private schools—are helping to advance the cause of public education.

What about Greene’s objection that some private schools may teach creationism or some other objectionable material?

For as long as anyone can remember, there have been disagreements about what is being taught in public schools. That is because parents are compelled to send their children to public schools—if they can’t afford something different—and taxpayers are compelled to support public education through their tax dollars.

However, individuals have different values and beliefs. Of course, when parents disagree with their child’s public school they can pay for private school tuition, accept the school’s actions, or seize control and make the school change its position. Still, in all three of those scenarios, some people are being compelled to fund a school that teaches material with which they disagree.

There is simply no getting around the fact that someone’s beliefs or conscience will be compromised in the levying of taxes to support education.

With one particular form of school choice—tax-credit scholarships—that issue can be avoided. Tax-credit scholarships do not compel individual taxpayers to fund or support schools they may find objectionable. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that opponents of Arizona’s tax-credit scholarship program did not have standing because the tax credits are not government spending.

Tax-credit scholarships are funded through individual and corporate donations. The individual is not compelled to donate his or her money; he or she chooses to do so. The donations never enter the government treasury and the funds are not distributed by a government agency. Other than an all-out private system, where everyone pays for their own child’s education, this is about as close as we can come to a system that does not compel individuals to subsidize schools to which they object.

The distinction between tax-credit scholarships and other private school choice programs is an important one, but is somewhat beside the point. The fact remains that it is impossible to create a school that is perfectly neutral when it comes to every person’s beliefs, values, and convictions.

Therefore, do those who oppose private school choice for this reason believe their rights are more important than others who object to content in public schools—but are compelled to support them anyway?

When the district where I taught banned Slaughterhouse-Five and Twenty Boy Summer, few progressive thinkers applauded the district for acquiescing to a parent’s wishes. They deemed the district backwards and lampooned the individual who led the effort to ban the books.

Peter Greene and other opponents of school choice programs might not mind Philadelphia’s decision to include A People’s History of the United States—a highly controversial book written by socialist Howard Zinn—in the public school curriculum, but many people do mind.

Greene does not seem interested in protecting all citizens from being compelled to fund schools that violate their beliefs, only the ones that think like he does.

Furthermore, he says,

Do you think it’s a bad idea for a student to attend Flat Earth High School or Racial Purity Elementary School or God Is Dead Day School? Well, under school choice, if you don’t have a kid, you don’t have a voice. Too bad for you.

Beside the fact schools like the ones he mentioned don’t exist, he ignores one important function of community and local control. If someone ever wanted to open a school that teaches one race is superior or the earth is flat or “God is dead” or terrorism is a great profession, first they would have to comply with laws. (That eliminates schools that teach terrorism and racism.) If somehow their radical ways still manage to slip through, the public has the power to keep them out of their communities. Best of all, they can choose not to send their children there. And if private schools such as those can’t fill their classrooms even when every parent has the financial means to choose them, they simply won’t persist—bottom line.

What about the loss of “local control”?

Greene likes to hold a traditional school system, with democratically elected boards, up in nostalgic reverence: “Local control of schools used to be one of the last remaining arenas in which regular folks, regular taxpayers still had a say.” I can tell you from experience that “local control” means very little to the family that is dissatisfied with their child’s school.

Although Greene seems to get the point that public education is about providing a quality education to students, he continually misunderstands this implication. He thinks “public education” must be publicly operated and publicly governed by democratically elected boards. That is a system; it is not public education.

School choice does not remove the “public” from “public education”; it simply shifts the oversight and responsibility from a few politically connected board members to the individuals themselves. There are plenty of examples of this type of governance, including in pre-kindergarten and higher education, where public dollars go to students and parents who then choose private institutions that are not governed by a democratically elected board. Few cry foul when a Marine uses his or her GI Bill to attend the University of Notre Dame.

Is school choice un-American?

School choice is most certainly not un-American. School choice is about promoting individual liberty, and it doesn’t get more American than that.