Again, Research Shows Vouchers Fall Short

One thing I learned long ago is that many lawmakers don’t let facts get in their way when pushing a pet project.  This is especially true when it comes to school vouchers, such as those done through the Alabama Accountability Act, even though their merit has been questionsedover and over again.

Here is a good recap of recent voucher research from Ed Week.

And here are parts of the article that really got my attention:

“There’s been surging national interest in private-school-voucher programs with the Trump administration’s embrace of the idea.

But newer research on large-scale voucher programs has complicated the debate over private-school choice—policies which allow families to use public money or aid to attend private schools, including religious ones.

What does the research say? In a nutshell: The most recent findings are mixed, but they lean more toward negative.

Studies out of Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and the District of Columbia have found that students, most of whom are low-income, fare worse academically after leaving their public schools.

“I think the best evidence from the best recent research … if anything, it looks like that maybe kids going to private school on voucher programs might do worse in reading and math than they do in public [schools],” said David Figlio, an economist at Northwestern University, whose study of vouchers in Ohio for low-income students attending poor-performing districts found voucher students performed significantly worse on state tests than their peers who were eligible for vouchers but remained in public schools.

His research on Florida’s biggest private-school choice program—the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship—found that on average, attending a private school on an FTC scholarship had zero effect on student academic achievement—which was generally true of most early voucher research, said Figlio.

“There are possible explanations: they’re getting a worse education … they’re getting a different form of education … and I don’t think we really know the truth,” Figlio said. “But I think there’s precious little evidence so far that these kids do better academically.”

“Despite having very negative impacts on student performance, it’s over supplied,” said Christopher Walters, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley who studied Louisiana’s vouchers with researchers from Duke University and MIT. “The parents could be interested in other school attributes [such as] religious instruction … But one takeaway is that we shouldn’t expect parents to make choices that improve student academic achievement.”

The highlighted sentence above speaks volumes.  No way will I ever be convinced that the average parent knows more about education and schools and what is best for certain students than educators do.

Assuming they do makes as much sense as assuming that when the doctor told mama that I had to have my appendix removed, she told him he was wrong and all I had was a sore throat.



Newspaper Exposes Problems With Florida Voucher Program

Since I once made a living sitting at a typewriter pounding out articles for publication, I probably have paid more attention to the decline of newspapers than most.

Unfortunately as the internet ravaged newspaper advertising, reporters became fewer and fewer and what used to be considered “investigative reporting” fell victim.  There are simply not enough warm bodies with enough time to spend weeks digging into a particular topic.  The public is the loser in this case.

Against this background, when I do happen upon some old-fashioned, sure enough digging and digging reporting, I pay attention.

And here is a fine example of what I’m talking about.

The Orlando Sentinel recently completed a series of articles taking a hard look at Florida’s school voucher program.  The link I’ve just given you is a commentary by Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell about this reporting.  This will take you to the entire series.

Here are comments by Maxwell:

The “Schools without Rules” series exposed scores of problems at these publicly funded schools — everything from forged safety reports to a school run by a pastor accused of lewd or lascivious molestation.

Just as importantly, it exposed a wicked hypocrisy among politicians who scream for “accountability” for public schools but let anything go when your tax dollars are whisked away to private ones.

This little-regulated system needs an overhaul. And the world needs more real journalists.

Among the findings from reporters Beth Kassab, Leslie Postal and Annie Martin:

Teachers without certification or even college degrees.
Forged documents: Schools faked up clean bills of health from fire departments, which had found safety problems. Even after the schools were caught, state officials let them remain open.
Shady hirings: Two teachers worked at voucher schools (the state calls them “scholarship” schools) after being fired from public schools for having porn on their school computers.
Alleged crime: At one school for special-needs kids, suspicions of impropriety — among parents and even a teacher — continued until authorities arrested the school owner, accusing her of stealing more than $4 million in Medicaid funds.
Troubling finances and learning environments: Two school were evicted from their locations for nonpayment of rent while the school year was still going on. Another shared office-suite space with a bail bondsman.

State officials aren’t looking for problems for a simple reason: They don’t want to find them.

That way, they can keep dumping on public schools — bogging them down with tests, regulations and calling them “failure factories” while turning intentionally blind eyes to problems in the voucher schools.

And yes, it’s all public money. They can call the vouchers “scholarships” or “dandelions” for all I care. Or argue that many “scholarships” are paid with corporate-tax contributions redirected to schools. But much of it is direct tax dollars, and it’s all public.

Editor’s note: The largest scholarship granting organization (SGO) in Florida is Step Up For Students.  This organization also manages Alabama’s largest SGO, the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund.



Another Report Says Vouchers Don’t Work

Even though some well-known folks in Alabama refuse to admit it, here comes another report telling us that vouchers do not work.

This time education researchers Christoper Lubienski at Indiana University and Sara Theule Lubienski at the University of Illinois, authors of Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools report in Education Week that evidcence continues to mount that vouchers are not the silver bullet some claim them to be, especially U. S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

(In Alabama we should add the Business Council of Alabama, the Business Education Alliance, Bob Riley, Billy Canary, Rep. Terri Collins, Senator Del March and the Alabama Federation for Children to the list.)

“While vouchers appear to be enjoying a higher profile with Betsy DeVos as the U.S. secretary of education, the research on outcomes from these programs has taken a dramatic turn, one at odds with the direction DeVos and other policymakers are pursuing.” say the Lubienskis.

“In April, the Institute of Education Sciences released a rigorous study showing that the congressionally mandated Opportunity Scholarship Program in the nation’s capital caused significant negative effects on student learning. Students who used vouchers through the program to attend private schools in Washington experienced a 7-percentile-point decline in mathematics and an almost 5-percentile-point decline in reading compared with students who applied to, but were randomly rejected from, the program.

Vouchers remain a favored program, however, for Secretary DeVos and other school choice enthusiasts. How are they dealing with the results from these new studies? Rather than addressing this research, DeVos continues to defend the $250 million voucher-grant program in President Donald Trump’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget. But it’s been even more fascinating to watch professional voucher advocates, who have spent their careers arguing that their studies of voucher-program test scores trump all other approaches to measuring the impact of vouchers, now twist themselves into knots to belittle the importance of test scores.

Perhaps a likelier explanation for these poor results has to do with the actual students and schools themselves, including how students were grouped in private and public schools. Prior to the recent batch of research that has cast doubt on vouchers, studies lauding vouchers tended to be based on local and more targeted programs involving relatively small, nonrepresentative sets of students and schools. Yet, overall, private schools are actually no more effective, and often less so, than public schools. Indeed, our own research indicates that any apparent advantages for students in private schools are actually more a reflection of the fact that private schools do a better job of attracting—not producing—high-scoring students.

For our book, The Public School Advantage, we examined two nationally representative data sets to determine whether private schools really offer superior educational programs and outcomes, or whether higher test scores in private schools are simply a reflection of the fact that they serve more advantaged students. Those analyses revealed that, after accounting for differences in demographics, public schools are more effective, particularly in teaching mathematics.

There is a disturbing disconnect between the predictable, negative effects that vouchers are having on students, and the continued enthusiasm policymakers show for these programs despite the growing consensus that they are causing harm. Do we, as parents, taxpayers, and voters, want to fund programs that elevate choice, but lead to detrimental outcomes for children? Is choice a means or an end? Do we want choice for its own sake, or do we want it to improve achievement for all children?”

The infamous Alabama Accountability Act is a voucher program.  Though technically the money being spent for schoolarships for private schools are not state dollars since they were diverted before they reached state coffers, the money being spent is money that would have gone to public schools if this law had not been inacted.

Just another case of “if it looks like a duck……….”

Trump/DeVos Push Charters And Vouchers

It is hardly a surprise the President Trump’s first education budget is charter/voucher friendly, while wanting the single largest one-year cut in eduation spending (13.5 percent) since President Reagan tried to whack 35.7 percent in 1983.

Education Week does a good job of detailing the Trump proposal in this artcle.

Highlights include:

“President Donald Trump’s full budget proposal for the U.S. Department of Education, released on Tuesday, includes big shifts in funding priorities and makes cuts to spending for teacher development, after-school enrichment, and career and technical education, while ramping up investments in school choice. 

A $1 billion cash infusion for Title I’s services for needy children would be earmarked as grants designed to promote public school choice, instead of going out by traditional formulas to school districts. These would be called Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success (FOCUS) grants, according to a summary of the department’s budget, that would provide money to school districts using weighted student funding formulas and open enrollment policies.

And charter school grants, which currently get $342 million in federal aid, would get nearly a 50 percent increase and get $500 million. Finally, a program originally tailored to research innovative school practices would be retooled to research and promote vouchers, and get a funding boost of $270 million, bringing it up to $370 million.

On Monday evening, in a speech at the American Federation for Children, a school choice advocacy group, DeVos said it would be a terrible mistake for states not to participate in Trump’s proposed school choice initiative: “They will be hurting the children and families who can least afford it. If politicians in a state block education choice, it means those politicians do not support equal opportunity for all kids.”

(Prior to being named Secretary of Education, DeVos was chair of the board of the Amercian Federtion for Children, a group she founded.  This organization has an affiliated organization in Alabama, the Alabama Federation for Children, that has spent out-of-state money in legislative and state school board races.)


Texas Legislature Says “No” To Vouchers

As detailed in this article from the Houston Chronicle, earlier this week members of the Texas House of Representatives slammed the door on an effort to create vouchers for private schools.

“Lawmakers in the midst of what promises to be an hours-long slog debating the state’s spending plan for the next biennium voted 103-44 in favor of an amendment expressly stating state money “may not be used to pay for or support a school voucher, education savings account, or tax credit scholarship program or a similar program through which a child may use state money for nonpublic education.” 

Rep. Abel Herrero, a Robstown Democrat who sponsored the amendment, said the vote shows the House is steadfast against a voucher program, whether it applies to all students or a smaller swath of kids. 
“The vote today sends a resounding message that schemes like vouchers, tax credits, savings programs, call it what you may, at the end of the day, it’s a method in which it seeks to siphon away moneys from our public schools,” said Herrero. “The House,with the vote today, strongly took a position in support of our public schools, our public school teachers.” 
While in Texas last week I listened to a panel of three state representatives, all on the education committee, discuss vouchers.  Two were Republicans, one was a Democrat.  Committee chairman,  Republican Dan Huberty, did not mince any words when he told us that voucher legislation was “dead on arrival” when it got to the House.
The voucher effort has gotten strong support from both Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
It’s comforting to see common sense prevail in such cases.  And the Texas vote is also reason to not give up the battle for what is in the best interests of Alabama public schools and their 730,000 students.

Former North Carolina Legislator Says He Made A Mistake When He Voted For Vouchers

Admitting we made a mistake is not easy.  For anyone.  And especially for legislators.  Which is why I suppose we pass laws and seldom come back later and see if they are really doing what they were intended to do.

I mean, can you imagine Senator Del Marsh announcing that the Alabama Accountability Act, even after diverting $86 million from the Education Trust Fund, has really not helped students in failing schools; or Rep. Terri Collins saying that her A-F school report cards are basically of no value in improving schools?

But let me introduce you to Charles Jeter, a former twice-elected Republican member of the North Carolina General Assembly who voted for that state’s Opportunity Scholarship Act in 2013.

The same guy who had an opinion piece in the Charlotte Observer on March 1 titled, I voted for school vouchers.  Now I know I was wrong.”

He goes on to say:

“In 2013 the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Opportunity Scholarship Act that created the voucher program for our state. (In full disclosure, I was a member of the General Assembly at that time and did vote in favor of the legislation.) Opportunity Scholarships were pitched as a way to ensure better educational outcomes for those children who may not be thriving in public schools. At the time the legislation was passed, there were little data on the effectiveness of these programs and many legislators were encouraged by the anecdotal evidence that was available.

So beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, North Carolina allocated $10 million for these vouchers. That amount has increased every school year since, and for the 2017-2018 school year, North Carolina will spend some $44.84 million for vouchers. What’s more concerning is that the amount allocated to vouchers increases each year by $10 million. That means for the 2027-2028 school year, North Carolina is scheduled to spend $144.84 million on vouchers. That’s a lot of money that North Carolina will spend supporting a voucher system that every major study has shown fails at these programs’ core purpose: providing better educational outcomes for our children. All of these studies show that vouchers have, in fact, created worse educational outcomes.

North Carolina is scheduled to spend over $1 billion in the next 10 years for a voucher system that simply doesn’t work. It’s time for the General Assembly to recognize this and correct course so that we can reinvest that billion dollars in public schools.”

I do not know Charles Jeter.  But I will be going through Charlotte in April and may just stop and shake his hand.