Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood found North Carolina’s voucher program unconstitutional giving NC public school supporters cause for celebration. Hobgood found the program which effectively takes funding from public schools and directs it to private and religious schools, in violation of the fundamental provisions of the state constitution. “Appropriating taxpayer funds to unaccountable schools does not accomplish a public purpose,” Hobgood said in his ruling. The North Carolina School Boards Association filed a lawsuit in December 2013 against the state challenging legislation, and on August 21, won on all constitutional grounds.
School Board News Today, an online publication of NSBA, provides timely and relevant stories and analysis from NSBA and other news outlets to school board members, administrators, and all others interested in K-12 education.
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Articles in the School Vouchers category
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel sent a letter today to members of the U.S. House of Representatives urging them not to support the CHOICE Act as it would provide federal resources for voucher schemes and fund private schools that are not fully accountable to the same laws and civil rights that govern public schools.
Representatives Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) are expected to introduce the CHOICE ACT on Thursday, May 29, 2014. The bill would provide vouchers to students educated under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students who reside in military installations, and students enrolled or waiting for vouchers through the DC Opportunity Scholarship program.
The letter notes:
On behalf of the 90,000 school board members who govern our nation’s public school districts which educate nearly 50 million students, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) is writing in strong opposition to the CHOICE Act (Creating Hope and Opportunities for Individuals and Communities through Education Act) that is scheduled for introduction on May 29. Therefore, we urge you not to support the CHOICE Act.
NSBA urges Congress to maximize resources for our public schools, which serve all students regardless of gender, disability or economic status, and adhere to federal civil rights laws and public accountability standards. Hence, NSBA opposes private school vouchers and urges Congress to reject using any federal funds or incentives for a national voucher program, including any special education vouchers for military children and/or specific subgroups of ,students. NSBA also opposes amendments to make vouchers part of a reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), or other legislation.
An overwhelming majority (70 percent) of Americans oppose private school vouchers, according to the 2013 PDK Gallup poll. Likewise, based on the policies adopted by our Delegate Assembly, NSBA opposes any efforts to subsidize tuition or expenses at elementary or secondary private, religious, or home schools with public tax dollars. Specifically, NSBA opposes vouchers, tax credits, and tax subsidies for use at non-public K-12 schools. Public funds should not be used directly or indirectly through tax credits, vouchers, or a choice system to fund education at any elementary and/or secondary private, parochial, or home school.
NSBA supports federal investments in our public school students and applauds Congress’ work to improve our nation’s public schools.
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is requesting proposals for breakout sessions to be conducted during our 75th Annual Conference in Nashville, Tenn., March 21-23. The conference will draw thousands of attendees, exhibitors, and guests representing nearly 1,400 school districts, and will feature distinguished speakers and hundreds of workshops, presentations, and other events that will help school board members develop leadership skills, boost student learning, and improve school districts’ operations.
If your school district or organization has an idea for a high-quality breakout session that focuses on a topic of critical interest to school board members for presentation at this conference, please complete a proposal online by the deadline of Monday, June 16 at 5 p.m. EDT. Only proposals submitted through the online process will be considered. Breakout sessions will be 30, 45, or 75 minutes in length and will be scheduled throughout the conference.
Proposals are being solicited for the following focus areas:
• Innovations in District Management
• Legal and Legislative Advocacy
• Professional and Personal Development
• School Board/Superintendent Partnerships
• Student Achievement and Accountability
• Technology + Learning Solutions
As school districts and states across the country gear up to face potential school voucher litigation, lawyers from Louisiana and Arizona offered advice and lessons learned to members of NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys (COSA) on Friday during the second day of the 2014 School Law Seminar in New Orleans.
Robert Hammonds of Hammonds, Sills, Adkins & Guice, of Baton Rouge, La., and Christopher Thomas, with Arizona School Boards Association, were the featured speakers at the Friday morning session.
Hammonds represented the Louisiana School Boards Association in the state Supreme Court case against the state’s voucher program. LSBA was a plaintive in the case. The court ruled in 2013 that the voucher program was unconstitutional.
“I’ve attempted to give you some options if you are confronting a voucher challenge,” said Hammonds. “These are strategies that we used.”
The Louisiana voucher law allowed money from the state public education funding formula to go directly to private schools for students who opted out of the public schools. The state constitution says the state funding board was charged with equitably allocating funds to public schools.
“We said: ‘How can you use public money to fund nonpublic schools?’ We challenged based on state constitution,” said Hammonds. “Many of your states have similar provisions in your constitution. If you get in that situation, those provisions are there.”
Another option to fight vouchers: desegregation orders. Hammonds said some districts have successfully challenged voucher programs by proving that such programs prevented them from following their court-ordered desegregation plans.
A third option is turning to an independent state auditor, such as the one in Louisiana. Because this position is independent of partisan politics, he or she can evaluate the voucher program on its fairness and merits. The Louisiana auditor found many issues with the state voucher program. “If you have similar position in state, look to it,” Hammonds said.
Thomas talked about the choice and voucher cases in Arizona. He warned the audience of a new voucher tact: empowerment scholarship accounts. These allow parents of certain groups of children, such as those with IEPs, to send their children to private schools and the state will pay the tuition.
A lower court validated the program, saying the money went to parents, not private schools. The Arizona Supreme Court recently declined to hear the case, leaving the lower court ruling intact. Proponents now are gearing up to expand access to the programs. Said Thomas, “It will be coming to you.”
The School Law Seminar continues through Saturday.
Pennsylvania’s growing number of charter and cyber-charter schools do not save school districts money and, in many cases, add to their expenses, says a new report from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA).
“Charter schools do not charge a standard rate for their educational services,” says the report by PSBA’s Education Research and Policy Center. “In fact, the amount paid to charter schools varies greatly by school district, and is often completely unrelated to the actual operational costs incurred by charter schools.”
Tuition payments to Pennsylvania charter schools rose from $960 million in 2010-11 to more than $1.15 billion in 2011-12.
The tuition calculation for charter schools is much the same as for the per-student Actual Institutional Expense (AIE) of traditional schools; however, several cost elements excluded from the AIE — for example, early intervention, vocational expenditures, and selected federal revenue — are included in the charter school tuition formula, thus driving up the cost of this subsidy, the report said.
“The problem is compounded by the fact that in most cases, less than 30 students from each district building attend charters, meaning districts are unable to reduce overhead costs, such as heating and electricity,” the report said. “Neither are school districts able to reduce the size of their faculty or staff.”
In addition, many students choosing to attend charter or cyber-charter schools were previously attending private schools or being home-schooled, meaning that these tuition payments are “an entirely new expense for school districts,” the report said.
PSBA’s report made several recommendations, among them requesting that the state set “reasonable limits” on the amount of unexpended tuition funds charters can receive from school districts and that these schools be required to return any unused balances to the district that sent them the money.
School board members must speak up and speak out about the successes and challenges of their local public schools, panelists told 750 school board members at the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) first annual Advocacy Institute.
Competing interests — including those who want to privatize the system — are already defining the message and potentially putting school boards and public schools out of business, some media experts warned.
NSBA also announced its national campaign, which will promote public schools and help local school board members engage their constituents. The campaign includes a new website and national print and online advertisements featuring celebrities such as former NBA star and education advocate Earvin “Magic” Johnson, television personality Montel Williams, and Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy.
Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education, noted that last year’s annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll on public education reported an all-time high — 53 percent — of Americans surveyed graded their local public schools with an A or B. Nearly three quarters of public school parents would give the school their oldest child attends an A or a B. However, when asked about the nation’s public schools overall, only 18 percent gave public education an A or B.
And those results — support for local public schools, but skepticism of public education in general — were mirrored in several other poll questions, Busteed said. “There is a huge gap between the reality of the local level and nationally.”
Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss, who writes The Answer Sheet blog, told school board members that they must do a better job working with local and national media. That means finding important stories about their community’s public schools and bringing them to journalists.
“When you don’t speak up, your critics define you, and that’s what’s happening,” she said. “I don’t hear much from you, either individually or as groups.”
Further, school board members should understand student performance data in order to rebut false claims about public education. “You have to play the data game and you have to do it better,” Strauss added.
In an earlier panel, NSBA invited school voucher advocates, including representatives from the CATO Institute and the American Federation for Children (AFC), organizations that have pushed for expanded school choice, to present their ideas and K-12 platforms. While the panel was designed to showcase oppositional ideas, the panelists and school board members found common ground with CATO’s dislike of federal regulations and AFC Executive Counsel Kevin P. Chavous’ remarks on the need for student achievement.
After Republicans introduced legislation that would allow states to send up to $24 billion in federal funding toward school choice programs, National School Boards Association (NSBA) Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel offered a reality check on the performance of charter schools, vouchers, and other measures. Gentzel appeared on Fox News and was quoted in The Washington Post and The New York Times stories on the measure.
“We certainly haven’t seen any consistent evidence anywhere in the country that these kinds of programs are effective or producing better results,” said Gentzel, who appeared on a segment during Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier on the Senate proposal, introduced this week by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) has introduced legislation in the House that also would include some students with disabilities and use funds from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Watch the video segment.
In the New York Times article, Gentzel countered proponents of school choice who claim that traditional public schools have not improved fast enough, and that low-income families should have other choices.
“The big issue is really that lack of accountability,” Gentzel told the Times. “Frankly, our view is every child should have access to a great public school where they live.”
In The Washington Post, Gentzel discussed Alexander’s proposal, the “Scholarships for Kids Act,” which would allow states to create $2,100 scholarships from existing federal K-12 programs, including Title I, to “follow” 11 million children whose families meet the federal to any public or private school of their parents’ choice. The total cost would be $24 billion—41 percent of the current federal education allotment.
“School choice is a well-funded and politically powerful movement seeking to privatize much of American education,” he told the Post. “We’re not against public charters, and there are some that are well-motivated. . . . But our goal is that public schools be schools of choice. We need to invest and support public schools, not divert money and attention from them to what amounts, in many cases, to experiments.”
Reginald Felton, NSBA’s Interim Associate Executive Director for Federal Advocacy and Public Policy, also told Governing magazine that Title I would inevitably face cuts under Lamar’s plan, along with other programs that benefit disadvantaged children. For states that would choose not to opt into the proposed program, that means less money is available for their most vulnerable populations, he said.
“It’s hard for us to believe that a $24 billion reallocation could exist without drastically reducing funding for Title I students,” he told Governing.
The Ohio Schools Boards Association (OSBA) recently showcased how funding to choice programs hurts neighborhood public schools. In its December newsletter, OSBA notes, “Ohio Department of Education data shows traditional public schools will lose more than $870 million in state funding to charter schools in fiscal year (FY) 2014. That’s an increase of 5.4 percent over FY 2013, when approximately $824 million was transferred from traditional public schools to charters. This increase comes amid ongoing reports of charter school mismanagement, conflicts of interest and felony indictments and convictions.”
According to CREDO (Center for Research on Educational Outcomes) research on charters, states that empower multiple authorizing agencies are more likely to report the weakest academic results for charter schools. Local governance – enacted by local school boards – offers transparency and accountability along with a direct focus on student achievement versus profit.
In 2008, 64 percent of Ohio’s charter schools were on academic watch or emergency status, compared to 9 percent of traditional public schools, according to “The Regulation of Charter Schools” in the Jan./Feb. issue of American School Board Journal.
While the state changed its regulations in 2008, ASBJ cites the case of Hope Academy Cathedral, a K-8 charter school in Cleveland, as an example of the loopholes that exist in Ohio’s charter law. The school was ordered to close in 2011 after repeatedly being rated as in “academic emergency.”
Less than two months later, a new K-8 charter — Woodland Academy — opened in the same building, with 15 returning staff members, the same authorizer, and the same for-profit management firm, wrote ASBJ Senior Editor Del Stover. In its first year of operation, the new charter school also was judged to be in academic emergency.
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is calling for public schools to be schools of choice during National School Choice Week. It is warning lawmakers not to divert funds away from public schools in favor of unproven educational experiments.
Getting lost in the hype around National School Choice Week, school voucher legislation, and calls for expanded options for low-income students is the fact that public education already offers many options—including magnet schools and district-authorized charters. Further, some states are using taxpayer-funded vouchers and tax credits as an excuse not to fund their community public schools that educate all children, NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel said in a conference with reporters on Jan. 27.
“Public schools have a track record that we can be very proud of,” Gentzel said. It’s important to have innovations in education, he added. However, “experiments should not come at the expense of low-income children.”
Students suffer when “choice” schools go out of business, are shut down, or are allowed to continue to operate without any accountability.
In the call, Gentzel and other NSBA experts noted that:
- Not all school choice is equal: Some forms of school choice operate outside the public system with little or no oversight and accountability for student learning and fiscal stewardship of taxpayer funds. Gentzel recommended what he dubbed a “nutritional label” that would require any school that receives public funds to be required to show the same results as students in the community public schools.
- “Choice” is not a reform strategy: Research shows that the schools parents choose are more likely to be the same or even worse than the community public school they leave. Charter school successes such as KIPP Academies and the Harlem Children’s Zone are the exception rather than rule, Gentzel said, and many charter and voucher schools are performing significantly worse than traditional public schools.
- Local school boards are in the best position to oversee school choice options and hold schools accountable for student learning and finances. Gentzel noted that NSBA supports charter schools and believes local school boards understand local communities’ needs and look out for their interests. Further, according to the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO), a major education research organization, states that empower multiple authorizing agencies are most likely to report the weakest academic results for charters.
The February issue of American School Board Journal discusses the regulation of charter schools and how lawmakers should build policies to avoid abuses of the system and failing schools. For example, in Columbus, Ohio, a record 17 charters closed last year for poor performance. Many of these charters had only been open a few months. Ohio allows for multiple authorizers.
Patte Barth, director of the Center for Public Education at the National School Boards Association, penned the following column for the Huffington Post:
House majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va) was speaking recently at the release of the Brookings Institution’s latest report on Education Choice and Competition. Calling these policies “an education revolution,” the House leader baldly stated, “school choice is the surest way to break [the] vicious cycle of poverty.”
Not “a solid education.” School choice.
The Brookings’ report ranks 100 large districts on their school choice policies. Their report came out in advance of National School Choice Week whose organizers boast 5,500 scheduled events across the country beginning January 26, 2014. Both share a goal to drum up more support for funneling tax dollars into educational options — whether they be charters, magnets, private, or virtual schools. The rationale is that a free marketplace will force schools to innovate in order to compete for students. Popular schools will equate with “good schools” and unpopular ones will close. And thus, in Brookings words, we will raise “the quality of the product.”
Unfortunately, that’s one mighty big assumption.
Most choice advocates defend their position by pointing to successful charter schools in New York City and elsewhere. Others extol the promise of virtual learning. What they all provide, for the most part, is anecdote, intuition and belief. When they do cite data, it basically shows that choice policies work in some places with some students some of the time. Truth is, the evidence is much spottier than the champions for choice would have us believe.
Charter schools, for example, are the most studied “choice” reform. Charter schools are public schools that have certain requirements waived so they can try out new ideas. There is much to commend successful charters and what they are learning about effective practices. But according to a 2013 study from Stanford researchers, these are the exception. Only one in four charter schools outperforms its traditional public school counterpart in reading. About one in five performs significantly worse. In math, it’s nearly one in three.
The quality of research on voucher programs is notoriously uneven and often contradictory. Nonetheless, there seems to be general agreement that vouchers may have had a modest impact on some low-income and minority youth in some urban districts. But the findings are inconclusive as to their effect overall. And the general efficacy of virtual schools is a big unknown, largely because districts lack the infrastructure to sufficiently track student performance in online environments.
Ironically, the Brookings report card itself illustrates the disconnect between choice policies on one hand and student performance on the other. One does not necessarily follow the other.
Only three districts earned A’s on Brookings choice and competition rankings: Louisiana’s Recovery District, Orleans Parish and New York City. Along with its Brookings “A,” Orleans Parish earned an “A” on Louisiana’s report card for district performance. Yet the state gave the Recovery District an F. New York City’s A- from Brookings bears little relation to its math scores on NAEP, a national assessment. The city’s scores were at the average for large cities, and below average in terms of gains over the last decade.
Then there’s the low end of the rankings. Atlanta was given an “F” by Brookings. Yet the city boasts fourth-graders who perform above the national “large city” average in reading and posted more than twice the gains their peers made nationwide. Charlotte, North Carolina, and Austin, Texas, are among the highest performing urban districts in both math and reading. Brookings gave them a C and D respectively.
So what does this tell us? That high-achieving, high-gaining districts can have “choice and competition” or not. Either way, it shows it’s a mistake to claim, as Rep. Cantor does, that choice is “the surest way to break the cycle of poverty.”
Contrary to popular perception, public schools have been steadily improving over the last twenty years. Math performance and graduation rates, in particular, are at all-time highs. Neither are public schools the monolithic creature some of the choice advocates make them out to be. Many districts across the country already offer alternatives in the form of charter and magnet schools, and continue to diversify instructional programs in traditional neighborhood schools, too. But parents and students need assurance that the choices they are offered are good ones, something choice for choice’s sake has not done, as the research shows.
In addition, it’s one thing to offer alternatives. It’s quite another to encourage public schools to compete with each other for students which could send the wrong messages. We need only look to our colleges and universities who, in their race to attract students, build football teams and state-of-the-art facilities at the expense of investments in teaching. I really doubt that’s the kind of marketplace we want to create for public schools.
Far from an education revolution, the political attention given choice and competition is diverting us from the hard work of making sure public schools prepare every child for their next steps after graduation. This means continuing to invest in those things that an abundance of evidence shows consistently work – access to high-quality pre-kindergarten, effective teachers, rigorous curriculum and individualized instruction for students. It also means learning from successful schools — including schools of choice — about what works with different students in which situations, and bringing those practices to scale. When we get that right, districts will earn the grades that really matter.
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