KC Monitor column – GOP’s D.C. Opportunity: Put Money, Time Into School Choice

link: http://kcmonitor.com/columnists/kansas-report/gop%E2%80%99s-d-c-opportunity-put-money-time-into-school-choice-1389

GOP’s D.C. Opportunity: Put Money, Time Into School Choice

04.03.11 | By: 

Read the news, and you’re likely to see edi­to­ri­als and news arti­cles dis­cussing “cuts” in K-12 government-run edu­ca­tion. Fifty-three per­cent of the Kansas bud­get is spent on K-12; add in spend­ing on col­leges, and two-thirds of the bud­get is spent on education.

We’re told we need to spend more, that cuts will harm the qual­ity of edu­ca­tion in Kansas.

We hear noth­ing, of course, about the more than $1 bil­lion in unused money sit­ting in the accounts of 300 Kansas school dis­tricts, accord­ing to theKansas Pol­icy Insti­tute. Or that Kansas schools spent $12,330 per stu­dent in 2010, up from the 2005 per-student expen­di­tures of $9,707.

Media accounts rarely tell us that there have already been mas­sive increases in spend­ing. Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity reported, “Kansas has seen an increase of about $1 bil­lion in K-12 fund­ing since 2003, while enroll­ment has remained rel­a­tively flat.”

And does the extra fund­ing lead to mean­ing­ful results? Kansas Rep. Owen Dono­hoe (R-Shawnee) explains on his web­site: “In April 2010, the U.S. Depart­ment of Education’s review of Kansasschool per­for­mance found that, ‘there is no evi­dence that the state’s school fund­ing for­mula (for which theKansas courts man­dated huge addi­tional spend­ing) … was related to, or resulted in increas­ing stu­dent achieve­ment or grad­u­a­tion rates, nar­rowed achieve­ment gaps or resulted in other impor­tant outcomes.’ ”

After dis­count­ing for infla­tion, the U.S. spends four times as much on K-12 edu­ca­tion as it did in 1970, accord­ing to Andrew Coul­son, direc­tor of the Cato Institute’s Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tional Free­dom.

In August 2010, Coul­son wrote, “How many of America’s 14,000-odd pub­lic school dis­tricts have cut spend­ing for seven years in a row? Seven. How many have cut spend­ing for even five years in a row? 87… out of 14,000.”

It’s time to change K-12 edu­ca­tion. It’s time to move to school choice — either tax deduc­tions for pri­vate edu­ca­tion or school vouch­ers. Accord­ing to the U.S. gov­ern­ment — our own gov­ern­ment — vouch­ers improve out­comes for stu­dents and cost less for taxpayers.

On this topic, I’d like to share with you an arti­cle adapted from mate­r­ial writ­ten for Race42012.com.

Memo to GOP: Pri­vately fund the D.C. voucher pro­gram
From 2004 until 2010, Amer­i­cans offered edu­ca­tional free­dom to poor K-12 stu­dents in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. through the Oppor­tu­nity Schol­ar­ship Pro­gram. Think of the government-run schools in the nation’s cap­i­tal as a more expen­sive ver­sion of the non-performing schools in Kansas City, Mo. Democ­rats ended the D.C.-voucher pro­gram and its pub­lic fund­ing, but I think Repub­li­cans should bring it back through pri­vate funding.

[stextbox id=“alert” float=“true” align=“right” width=“300” color=“000000” bgcolor=“ded8af” mleft=“12” mtop=“12” mbottom=“12” image=“null”]Get­ting to $15 mil­lion
To reach the $15 mil­lion needed to fund the D.C. school voucher pro­gram, here is one of many pos­si­ble fund­ing formulas:

  • 178 sit­ting U.S. House Repub­li­cans x $10,000 per­sonal dona­tion = $1.8 million
  • 40 sit­ting U.S. Sen­ate Repub­li­cans x $15,000 per­sonal dona­tion = $600,000
  • The national com­mit­tee, Sen­ate and House nom­i­nat­ing com­mit­tees and the gov­er­nors asso­ci­a­tion x $50,000 each: $200,000
  • 23 sit­ting Repub­li­can gov­er­nors x $15,000 per­sonal dona­tion = $350,000
  • 50 state par­ties x $5,000 aver­age (based on pop­u­la­tion, per­haps) = $250,000
  • 325 well-funded 2010 U.S. House can­di­date com­mit­tees x $5,000 = $1.6 million
  • 30 well-funded U.S. Sen­ate can­di­date com­mit­tees x $10,000 = $300,000
  • 30 well-funded cam­paigns for gov­er­nor x $5,000 = $150,000
  • High-profile Repub­li­cans agree to appear on behalf of the first 250 state and local can­di­dates who suc­cess­fully raise $10,000 = $2.5 million
  • 500 match­ing con­tri­bu­tions of $15,000 (busi­nesses small and large, lead­er­ship PACs, foun­da­tions, indi­vid­u­als, etc.) = $7.5 million
  • A $100,000 dona­tion from the U.S. Cham­ber of Commerce

That’s $15.35 mil­lion — so there’s even a lit­tle wig­gle room.
[/stextbox]It will only cost $15 mil­lion a year, and it will dra­mat­i­cally improve the lives of thou­sands of fam­i­lies. A side ben­e­fit is that it may improve the stand­ing of the Repub­li­can brand among minor­ity voters.

RedState.com’s Erick Erick­son wrote about this idea in April 2009, but it seems that very lit­tle dis­cus­sion has since occurred. Let’s give it a more seri­ous consideration.

Accord­ing to The Wall Street Jour­nal in May 2009 (empha­sis added): “About 1,700 kids cur­rently receive $7,500 vouch­ers to attend pri­vate schools under the Oppor­tu­nity Schol­ar­ship Pro­gram, and 99% of them are black or His­panic. The pro­gram is a huge hit with par­ents — there are four appli­cants for every avail­able schol­ar­ship — and the lat­est Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion eval­u­a­tion showed sig­nif­i­cant aca­d­e­mic gains.”

Accord­ing to the Cato Institute’s Andrew Coul­son, D.C. pub­lic schools spend $25,000 per stu­dent. Our own fed­eral gov­ern­ment has admit­ted that the parent-driven voucher pro­gram is out­per­form­ing the government-run schools, and at one-third the cost.

Even the lib­eral Wash­ing­ton Post gets it. From one Post edi­to­r­ial in favor of the pro­gram: “Hop­ing no one notices, con­gres­sional Democ­rats step between 1,800 D.C. chil­dren and a good education.”

From another Wash­ing­ton Post edi­to­r­ial: “It’s clear, though, from how the destruc­tion of the pro­gram is being orches­trated, that issues such as par­ents’ needs, stu­dent per­for­mance and pro­gram effec­tive­ness don’t mat­ter next to the polit­i­cal demands of teach­ers’ unions.”

More from the May 2009 WSJ arti­cle: “The Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment released its annual eval­u­a­tion of the D.C. pro­gram last month — tellingly, with­out a press release or media brief­ing — and it showed that voucher recip­i­ents are read­ing nearly a half-grade ahead of their peers who didn’t receive a scholarship.

“These aca­d­e­mic ben­e­fits are com­pound­ing over time. The study revealed that the program’s ear­li­est par­tic­i­pants are 19 months ahead of pub­lic school peers in read­ing after three years. Nation­wide, black 12th-graders as a group score lower on read­ing tests than white eighth-graders. The D.C. voucher pro­gram is clos­ing this achieve­ment gap.”

Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com in Decem­ber 2009 quoted the Chicago-based Heart­land Institute:

“The lead­ers of D.C.’s school-choice move­ment, Kevin P. Chavous (for­mer D.C. coun­cil­man) andVir­ginia Walden Ford (exec­u­tive direc­tor of D.C. Par­ents for School Choice), today issued the fol­low­ing state­ment: ‘House and Sen­ate Appro­pri­a­tors this week ignored the wishes of D.C.’s mayor, D.C.’s pub­lic schools chan­cel­lor, a major­ity of D.C.’s city coun­cil, and more than 70 per­cent of D.C. res­i­dents and have man­dated the slow death of the D.C. Oppor­tu­nity Schol­ar­ship Pro­gram. This suc­cess­ful school voucher program—for D.C.’s poor­est families—has allowed more than 3,300 chil­dren to attend the best schools they have ever known.’”

Here’s more from D.C. school-choice pro­po­nents Chavous and Ford. They make clear what is hap­pen­ing, and who is doing it:

“Despite the clearly pos­i­tive results and the proven suc­cess of this pro­gram, Sen. Dick Durbin, Rep. Jose Ser­rano, Del. Eleanor Holmes Nor­ton, and Sec­re­tary Arne Dun­can worked together to kill the (Oppor­tu­nity Schol­ar­ship Program) …

“What is incred­i­bly dis­ap­point­ing to low-income fam­i­lies in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. has been the silence of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. The pres­i­dent, who ben­e­fited from K-12 schol­ar­ships him­self, worked on behalf of low-income fam­i­lies in Chicago, and exer­cises school choice as a par­ent, has stood silently on the side­lines while his sec­re­tary of edu­ca­tion belit­tled the impor­tance of help­ing such a small num­ber of chil­dren in the nation’s capital.”

RedState.com writer Moe Lane described the sit­u­a­tion this way: “Democ­rats re-segregate D.C. school system.”

Serv­ing 1,700 stu­dents at $7,500 per stu­dent equals a lit­tle less than $13 mil­lion. Let’s assume that it will take about $15 mil­lion to keep this pro­gram going. To me, it seems to be a worth­while effort. I don’t see why it would be dif­fi­cult to admin­is­ter a non-profit orga­ni­za­tion that would replace the government’s role. (See “Get­ting to $15 mil­lion” at right.)

If Repub­li­cans were to arrange for the pri­vate fund­ing of this pro­gram, it would accom­plish at least four enor­mous things:

  • Over time, thou­sands of chil­dren would be given what may be their only true oppor­tu­nity for eco­nomic pros­per­ity. What a great char­ity this would be.
  • Repub­li­cans will always increase their chances of win­ning over black and His­panic vot­ers through expand­ing free­dom — too often, we try to “buy” votes through enti­tle­ment pro­grams. Rarely does expand­ing gov­ern­ment and enti­tle­ments accom­plish any­thing of long-term value when there is a private-based option available.
  • In the short-term, this would likely be a help­ful party-building activ­ity, at all levels.
  • It would simul­ta­ne­ously result in con­sis­tent, pos­i­tive news sto­ries on behalf of Repub­li­cans, while caus­ing Democ­rats to attempt to jus­tify the indefensible.

It might even cause Democ­rats to recon­sider whether they should kill the Oppor­tu­nity Schol­ar­ship Program.

There are many ways to fund the pro­gram, and there are many ways to oper­ate it. For exam­ple, it might be more fea­si­ble to run the pro­gram at a $4,000-per-student level.

At min­i­mum, this dis­cus­sion is a nec­es­sary one, and the topic should not be dis­missed. Let’s set an exam­ple in the nation’s cap­i­tal for strong education.