Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Budget Hearings: Stupid EdChoice Tricks

OK, I have to tell you about the best testimony of the day. Then I'm pouring myself into bed.

Officials from Liberty Local School District testified about the EdChoice vouchers. Liberty has one elementary school – E.J. Blott – which was in Academic Watch a couple of years ago. As of the most recent Local Report Card, the school is in Continuous Improvement.

One of the eleventh-hour miracles performed by the One-Winged PsychoDemon Duckbeasts from Hell was to broaden eligibility for EdChoice vouchers – because when people aren’t interested in a program the obvious move is to expand it. Whereas originally the program was open to students living in a district that would send them to a school in Academic Emergency, the new rules opened the program to students whose home school had been in Academic Watch for at least two of the last three years.

So as of January people living in the draw area for E.J. Blott are eligible for EdChoice vouchers, though probably only if they take them this year because the school will probably continue in Continuous Improvement. Almost immediately, 34 kids transferred to Blott from local parochial schools. One is the child of the principal of the school he/she was attending. Two had parents who remained active in the parent-teacher organizations of the parochial schools. And one, a first grader, announced two her class that she was only at Blott for a short time because she was going to a much better school and Blott was her ticket there.

The tab will be somewhere around $200,000 per student to send them to schools they were already paying for.

Classic.

Committee members asked the inevitable question and unfortunately the witnesses weren’t well prepared with an answer. The inevitable question is: since these parents pay taxes for schools, don’t they have a right to have that money for their children’s education? Actually there are many answers to that question. Take your pick.

  • Basic answer – the state shouldn’t be paying people for something they are doing anyway. Even if I grant it’s a good idea, we can’t afford all good ideas. By my calculations, giving vouchers to those kids who are not currently in public schools would cost between $1.5 and 2 billion.
  • What parents have a right to do is send their kids to the schools they pay for – and they retain that right. Everyone pays taxes for something they don’t use or would rather not use. I’d just as soon not have to drive to Columbus when I go down there. That doesn’t mean that I get to take my share of highway money out of highway funds and apply it to chartering a plane.
  • If the goal is “fairness” as opposed to the stated goal of giving poor families a way out of failing schools, let’s debate that point. Given that EdChoice was sold as a benefit for poor kids, this is clearly an abuse of the program. Or it belies the true purpose of the program.

    Take your choice.

9 comments:

Ben said...

kind of related but not really - i think that it is absurd that students can enroll in a public school district that neighbors their own public district if the one they are transferring to accepts students that way - espcially in the case of people who transfer just for sports.

Eric said...

If the intent is to help kids harmed by public schools escape, then "enrolled at the end of the year" is not the optimal criteria for identifying candidates. Not the first time folks have exploited overly broad elegibility criteria. Not an unreasonable way to protest a legacy of anti-Catholicism in American public education. But their bishop would probably prefer they not protest and simply "offer it up." Could this be a case of parochial school families behaving too much like public school families?

Pho said...

Ben:

That doesn't actually bother me that much. It's probably a net loss for APS, but with people enrolling in to attend Miller South and Firestone, it's close. In any event, it is a form of school choice that is truly available to pretty much anyone and has had some of the happy effects that choice advocates predicted and charters have thus far failed to deliver.

Pho said...

Eric:

To clarify my language, some of the parochial schools involved are protestant -- what these days are being termed "Christian" schools. Interestingly, none of the schools named were secular, tho.

The history of anti-Catholicism you mention is something I've only recently started understanding, mostly from doing some research as the anniversary of Abington Schools approaches. That history was in fact a strong part of the Court's argument for taking prayer out of public schools.

Eric said...

Dr. Steve Steel made some interesting comments on WMUB (See Get on the Bus) regarding the need for a constitutional amendment (rather than HB 920 repeal) and the lack of costing-out of a "thorough and efficient" school system.

I took a close look at the Achieve report's school choice section, and it's just sloppy.

When do both sides come together and agree to accept meaningful accountability and drop reckless recommendations for school choice in exchange for union concessions and adequate funding? Or does the big money favor indefinite polarization?

Then there are the really hard questions about shaping a legitimate successor to the pan-Protestant public schools: one which instills the virtues of American pluralism.

Dave said...

I’m just glad to see parents finally taking on their responsibility to educate their children. If they go thru a loop hole to get a better education for their child , so be it. Why is it that the child had to be enrolled in the failing school to be eligible? If the parent , who lives in E.J. Blott school district, took the child out of E.J. Blott 2 years ago because it was a failing school , why should they have to re-enroll that child back in E.J. Blott to be eligible for the voucher? Does that make sense? If you live in a school district which has a failing government school, every child in that district should be eligible for the voucher. That would solve the loop hole problem once and for all.

Pho said...

Dave:

Yes, the Buckeye Institute proposed that idea. It's ridiculous. I live in a district with schools rated Excellent and Effective. There are people in those districts who live in two million dollar homes. But under your idea, we should give those people $5000 a year in taxpayer money to subsidize the private education they would pay for regardless because Akron also has schools in Academic Watch.

If you believe in universal vouchers, I respect the position though I disagree with it. But schemes like BI's proposal are a backdoor cut into universal vouchers which I don't respect.

And I certainly don't want the government to pay for something (kids going to private school) that we are already getting at no cost to the government.

Dave said...

I live in the East Liverpool School District in the Eastern part of Ohio. The district is in shambles. Vouchers were available to us starting the last school year. The Per Pupil Operating Expenditure for the East Liverpool School District is $9000. One of the private schools in the area charges $3200 /year tuition. The voucher is good for $5000. The private school receives $3200 and East Liverpool School District receives $1800 (for a student that they no longer have). The operating budget for the private school equaled the expenses the East Liverpool School District paid in lawyer fees last year. I believe that offering more opportunities will make every one more accountable, which is the reason East Liverpool is in the position it is today, they were accountable to no one. The voucher system is saving the State money as you can see by my example. Not only does it save money, it gives more students more opportunities. Students are different. Now in East Liverpool we have different choices and we will be better for it. I look forward to the future now because I finally see how thing could start turning around in East Liverpool. It’s too bad our Governor doesn’t have the same vision.

Y-town, same problem said...

Dave is wrong about the money removed from the funds available to the East Liverpool School System. The whole $5,000 is removed from East Liverpool's funding, even if less tnan $3,000 is paid to the parochial school. The O.D.E. hasn't been able to explain where the difference goes.