(Yes, I learned of this idea from Erick Erickson...)
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Column: "GOP's DC Opportunity: Put Money, Time
Into School Choice"
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First, an important update on DC school vouchers. This is from The Washington Examiner at 8:05 p.m. today, Saturday, April 9 (emphasis added):
"The last-minute deal to avoid a government shutdown means life largely continues as usual for most people, but some D.C. policies will be changed by the budget deal.The deal includes a measure that bans the District from using city funds to provide abortions for low-income women and a provision to continue a school-voucher program in D.C."More recent articles on the subject:
- Clerk of the US House shows all Kansas House members supported DC school vouchers
- Washington Post: "Budget deal includes D.C. abortion rider, money for school vouchers"
- RedState: "House GOP de-segregates DC school system"
- Heritage Foundation: "Opponents of DC School Voucher Program Can't Get Facts Straight"
- Washington Times: "House votes to restart D.C. school vouchers"
- Associated Press: "US House reinstates DC school voucher program"
Here's my column on the matter, published in The Citizen. Please note that there are several links/sources embedded within the original article; to reach those links, go to the original article at The Citizen's Web site.
The Citizen: "GOP's DC Opportunity: Put Money, Time Into School Choice"
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 the Kansas 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 Kansas school performance found that, 'there is no evidence that the state's school funding formula (for which the Kansas 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.
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) and Virginia 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.
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.
Thank you for your time, as always.
Kansas Representative, 2006-'08
Trustee, Johnson County Community College, 2005-'09
Kansas Republican Party delegate, 2009-'10
Connect with Benjamin Hodge at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, The Kansas Progress, and LibertyLinked. Hodge is President of the State and Local Reform Group of Kansas. He served as one of seven at-large trustees at Johnson County Community College from 2005-’09, a member of the Kansas House from 2007-’08, a delegate to the Kansas Republican Party from 2009-’10, and was founder of the Overland Park Republican Party in 2011. His public policy record is recognized by Americans for Prosperity, the Kansas Association of Broadcasters,the Kansas Press Association, the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government, the NRA, Kansans for Life, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).