Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Ohio should adopt education savings accounts


Photo Credit: Independent Institute
Let's face it, the demographics are not on our side.

Based upon 2030 census projections, there will be a large increase in the number of K-12 students in the United States.  The under-18 population is projected to increase 11.3 million by 2030, while Ohio's youth population is projected to decrease by about 100,000.

But that doesn't mean Ohio won't have issues with education because the over-65 population is going to continue it's current trend in the state and increase.

And what happens when the Baby Boomers (born between 1944 and 1964) reach 65? They become eligible for property tax breaks, homestead exemptions and, because they are on "fixed" incomes, less likely to support increased school funding via levies.

The bottom line is that school districts will have less funding while many in the state see an increase in the number of students.

The same old - same old, won't work ... which is why Ohio should follow Arizona and Florida in establishing an educational savings account (ESA) for all K-12 children.

Ohio is already known for the number of school choice options it has available, but an ESA could replace them all and give all parents (not just certain ones) a choice for their child's education.

ESAs work very much like a 529 college savings account, except it's the state, not the parent, adding funds to the account.

It works like this:

The state sets an amount of funding for each school-aged child.  Sometimes it's the exact amount the state would give a local school on a per-pupil basis; sometimes it's a little bit less.

The money is deposited into an ESA account and the parent can draw upon those funds for certain approved items - everything from private school tuition to tutoring to transportation to special enrichment classes that aren't offered at the local school. They can even use it for college classes while still in high school.

Anything not spent in a year rolls over and accumulates in the child's name.

The states already operate a similar system with food stamps, giving out debit-like cards to be used only for approved purchases, so this concept shouldn't be too hard to implement.

Yes, there are a lot of stories about waste, fraud and abuse in the food stamp EBT card system, but the lessons states have learned about preventing those should help them devise a similar robust system for ESAs.

Plus, having Arizona and Florida to turn to, there will be even more good advice on how to design and implement such a system in Ohio.

The future educational options should be more than just government-funded coupons that allow parents to choose between public and private schools.

We need to think about education as more than just an assembly line that we run kids through based upon their physical age.  ESAs would work well to allow parents to tailor the education to the needs of the child.

Of course there will be a lot of opposition to such a massive change - primarily from public school districts who have had a monopoly on education for so long.

But if those public school districts - teachers and administrators - really want what's best "for the children," they should allow every child to have a choice and then compete with the other options for the students.

It's certainly doable and it would allow children to have the education that best suits them - but it would take considerable political will and personal strength to make such a massive change in the structure of K-12 education.

Does Ohio have such a champion?  Probably not now. But, as the demographics show, we're going to have to do something soon or the children will be the ones who suffer the most.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Ohio looks to overhaul charter school laws


Some of the issues raised in a lawsuit
against White Hat Management are
addressed in a bill to overhaul Ohio's
charter school law.
A series of events, including a lawsuit, has led the Ohio General Assembly to propose updating the laws on charter schools.

Saying they wanted to address issues of transparency and accountability, Rep. Mike Dovilla and Rep. Kristina Roegner, both Republicans, introduced House Bill 2 which would significantly alter the relationships charter schools have with their sponsors and management companies.

Much of the language was the result of an existing lawsuit pending before the Ohio Supreme Court which deals with ownership of the equipment in a charter school.

The case is Hope Academy Broadway Campus, et al. versus White Hat Management Company et al.

The main question is whether White Hat, which Hope Academy hired to perform day-to-day management of the charter school, owns the equipment purchased for the school, or whether White Hat was merely acting as the agent for the school which would then have ownership of all goods purchased on its behalf.

And since charter schools - also called community schools - are public, there is another issue of whether or not management companies can be audited for how the public dollars are spent.

It's an intriguing case and it has implications far beyond the 10 charter schools that are part of the lawsuit. The Ohio Supreme Court ruling can have implications for any company receiving public dollars to perform a public service.

But the General Assembly didn't want to wait and thought it best to address this - and other - issues in an overhaul of the law regarding charter schools, their management companies and their sponsors.

Just to clarify, there are three entities in a public charter school. A sponsor is a local school district, an educational service center, a university or a non-profit entity. Each charter school has a governing authority which is usually a board, like traditional public schools have elected school boards.

Then there is the operator. An operator can be an individual or company that performs day-to-day management services via a contract with the sponsor; or it can be a non-profit organization that provides programming oversight, again through a contract with the sponsor, though it retains the ability to end the contract if the school fails to meet its quality standards.

Under H.B. 2, a low-performing charter school would not be allowed to change sponsors without the prior approval of the Ohio Department of Education.

It also addresses various contractual issues:

  • Contracts between sponsors and the boards must contain performance standards, including the applicable state report card measurements.
  • Contracts between sponsors and the boards must include an addendum with a detailed description of each facility and mortgage data (principle, interest and name of lender).
  • The financial plan in the contract between sponsor and board is subject to review and approval by the Ohio Department of Education and must include the most recent financial statements for the school.
  • All new and renewed contracts between the board and the operator must include provisions that address early termination of the contract, the notification procedures and a listing of facilities and property ownership.
  • Sponsors must provide a yearly report of the amount and type of expenditures made to provide oversight and technical assistance to each school.
  • Requires copies of financial and enrollment records be sent monthly to the sponsor, the board members and the fiscal officer.

There are also a number of provisions that address conflict of interest:

  • Employees of a school district, an educational center or a vendor who has a contract with a district or service center cannot serve on the board of a charter school for which the district or educational center is a sponsor.
  • Charter school board members will have to file a yearly disclosure statement that identifies any potential conflicts of interest.
  • Requires that the designated fiscal officer of a charter school be employed or under a contract with the board of the school.

The bill mandates that the state Department of Education develop, maintain and publish an annual performance report for all operators of schools in the state. It also requires the DOE, by the end of the year, to make recommendations regarding performance standards for charter schools for which a majority of their population is students with disabilities, and determine the feasibility of removing such schools' exemption from permanent closure.

Not all the provisions in the bill will make it through committees in the House and Senate.  In fact, during sponsor testimony in the House Education Committee, Dovilla called the bill a "starting point" for discussion about the overhaul of charter schools.

And there are a number of ideas which the House Education Committee members asked about, including whether or not the law to close charter schools that score a D or F three years running should apply to traditional district schools; whether there should be a residency requirement for the charter school board members, and whether charter school board members who are volunteers can be subjected to the same disclosure and conflict-of-interest rules as traditional school board members.

While the bill has generally been well-received, with the understanding that some provisions may be added and subtracted, one group thinks it doesn't go far enough in spelling out ownership of the assets used in a charter school.

Sandy Theis, executive director of ProgressOhio, a left-leaning policy group, said that requiring contracts "to delineate which gets what assets after the contracts expire...misses the point: Neither should own the assets. They belong to the taxpayers who paid for them."

Ohio Education Association President Becky Higgins also called the bill a starting point. Her organization and Innovation Ohio spelled out three principles they have for overhauling charter schools:

  • the accelerated closing of failing charter schools
  • making charter schools subject to the same public records laws and traditional public schools
  • funding public charters in a way that does not penalized district schools

Rep. Bill Hayes, who chairs the House Education Committee, said he'd support faster closings if the state could identify a school that was actually failing. He also said he'd be interested in applying those same standards to traditional public schools.

But Higgins said No Child Left Behind already has standards for closing district schools that are failing and that any state law would have to align with the federal one.

But even with NCLB, there are still public schools that are failing:  Pickett Academy in Toledo is one example.

The Ohio Association of Charter School Authorizers supports the bill, but with a few reservations. Peggy Young, president of OACSA, urged members to judge sponsors on their outcomes, not just on how they spend money.

The bill is still pending in the House Education Committee.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

If Pickett were a charter school, it'd be closed by now


"Whenever people talk glibly of a need to achieve educational "excellence," I think of what an improvement it would be if our public schools could just achieve mediocrity."  ~  Thomas Sowell


Toledo Public School's Pickett Academy has been in
academic emergency or failing for more than a decade.
I recently came across this quote and thought it was perfect to explain what is going on at Pickett Academy, formerly known as Pickett Elementary, in Toledo, Ohio.

But it's also a good quote to explain what's going on in Ohio in general as the legislature considers new rules for charter schools.

Let's start with Pickett.

Pickett used to be kindergarten through sixth grade, but was recently changed, as part of an overall restructuring of the Toledo Public Schools. It now goes to eighth grade.

For more than 12 years, Pickett has been failing. It was in academic emergency under the old state grading system and has had a failing grade since the new school report cards have been issued.

In 2011-12, the school met none of the performance indicators and did not meet the "adequate yearly progress" indicator.

In 2012-13, under the new letter grades, the school received a D on its Performance Index (which measures the test results of every student) and an F on Indicators Met (which tells how many students passed the state tests at a minimum level).

In order to "meet" an indicator, at least 75% of students must pass the test.

The school met zero - none - of the 14 indicators during the 2012-13 school year.

It also scored an F for Gap Closing, which tells if every student is succeeding regardless of income, race, culture or disability. The state set an Annual Measurable Objective of 83.4% in math and 78.5% in reading. Pickett's overall score in reading was 53.3% and was 36.4% in math.

So what happened in the 2013-14 school year?  More of the same.

Another D on the Performance Index. Another F on Indicators Met with, again, none of the 14 indicators achieved. And another F in Gap Closing.

You would think, with scores and grades like these over more than a decade, that students who would attend Pickett would be taking advantage of the Ohio EdChoice Scholarship.

The EdChoice Scholarships give options to kids who are, or would be attending, an underperforming school.  Parents can use the scholarship to send their child to participating private schools.

So how many students who would have been stuck in this particular failing school have opted for a better education?

That's a good question. According to a spokesman at the Ohio Department of Education, data on the number of EdChoice Scholarships issued by underperforming school is available. As soon as they email the information, it will be included in this blog post.

Regardless of the number of students leaving, it is certain that not all students at Pickett are doing poorly, just that a vast majority of them are.

Which brings us back to the quote - and the Ohio General Assembly.

There are a lot of people up in arms about the performance of charter schools - which are also public schools - especially after a pretty negative report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Fordham was the first non-profit agency to be approved by the Ohio Department of Education as a sponsor of community schools. Fordham's report, released in December, said that "too often Ohio's charters have produced mediocre results" and that, on average, charter school students "make less academic progress than their district counterparts."

Fordham made several recommendations for improvement and some are included in House Bill 2 and as part of Gov. John Kasich's budget recommendations.

Certainly, poorly performing schools should not be allowed to continue to crank out poorly educated students. And an examination of public charter schools is not only valid, but necessary.  Parents need this information - and information on traditional public schools - so they can make good decisions for their children and find a school that best fits them.

But among all the angst and hand-wringing over charter schools that don't do well after three years, a lot of politicians, teachers unions, special interest groups and lobbyists are ignoring schools like Pickett that have been failing students for more than a decade.

In fact, if Pickett had been held to the same standard as existing charter schools, it would have closed quite some time ago.

For instance, in the 2013-14 school year, charter schools serving up to third grade would automatically be closed if, for two of the last three years, the school had been in Academic Emergency. While Pickett now serves up to eighth grade, it's been in Academic Emergency for over a decade.

The problem isn't that so many kids are stuck in failing schools without options, or that charter schools aren't doing as well as other public schools, or that parents cannot afford a private school education - though all these are, indeed, problems parents and communities face.

The bigger problem is that the various school options are not held to similar, much less the same, standards.

According to a December 2011 report from the Center for Education Reform, between 1997 and 2011, nearly 100 (99 to be exact) charters were closed for failing to meet their obligations. A January 12 Columbus Dispatch article noted that closings are now over 150.

There are 233 schools on the current List of Designated Public Schools, the schools that are underperforming and have been failing for at least two of the last three years.  Students who attend, or would be slated to attend, those schools are the ones eligible for EdChoice Scholarships.

Interestingly, the List has a "Closing" column, which identifies schools that are in the process of being closed.

Guess how many of those 233 failing schools are closing.

None.

THAT is the problem. Traditional public schools which are failing students are allowed to remain open while the other public education option - charter schools - must close when they fail.

Now, if the traditional public schools weren't failing overall, or just failing to meet the needs of specific students, there wouldn't been a "need" for other options, though there would still exist a "want."

No school can be all things for all students, which is why school choice is so important to parents and students.

But if we're not going to open the doors so wide that ALL students can have a choice, then the least we can do is ensure that traditional public schools are treated the same as charter public schools and close down the ones that are continually failing to meet even the most basic of standards - like Pickett.

After all - it's "for the children."


Monday, January 26, 2015

National School Choice Week 2015

It's National School Choice Week - a week dedicated to celebrating options students have for an education.

Lest you think this is all about charters, private schools or home-schooling, please remember that charter schools in Ohio are public schools and that choosing to send a child to a traditional public school is still a choice that many parents make.

There's nothing wrong with any of the choice options available to parents these days and since it's supposed to be "for the children," what would make more sense than to allow each child to have the education that best suits them?

That's what school choice is all about:  finding the best fit for a child, regardless of what that fit might be.

Maybe some day we can let actually let the public dollars spent on a child for their education follow the child.

Imagine if K-12 school funding worked more like public funding of higher education - where a grant amount was determined based on a family's financial information and then the children could use that designated amount at any college or university that accepted them.

Under such a scenario, elementary and high schools would compete for students, offering a variety of tracks mirroring the interest of the kids while still ensuring that state minimum requirements were achieved.

Arizona did something like this with their Education Empowerment Scholarship Accounts and it's working well enough that other states could easily learn from them how to duplicate their success.

The state deposits educational funds directly into an account controlled by the parent. The parents can choose how to spend the funds using a type of debit card that is coded to allow its usage only for pre-approved expenses.
Parents can use it for tuition at any school, to pay for college or university courses while their child is still in high school, for online education, certified tutors, testing preparation like for SATs, or even a la carte public school courses (foreign languages, for example). They also have the choice to not spend it and put it toward a future college education. Anything not used in a year is allowed to accumulate.
Think about how food stamp EBT cards work and you'll have a good understanding about how the Arizona system works, except it's education items that are being purchased rather than food.
This is just one example of the many innovative ways parents, politicians and policy-makers are looking at providing a variety of educational opportunities for children today.

So celebrate your school choice options and special congrats to our state of Ohio which leads the nation in education scholarship options!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Who is responsible for your health?


This ad is from the CDC which is no longer
just the Centers for Disease Control,but is
now the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention.
Forgive me for getting this wrong, but I always thought I - and I alone - was responsible for my health.

Sure, genetics play a role, but whether I was overweight or underweight , ate junk food or fruits and vegetables, exercised or not ... all that was on me.

Apparently I'm wrong.  Well, at least according to today's lead editorial in The Blade.

Yes, they do say our individual health is partially on us and the decisions we make, but they also say:

"The report notes that Ohio ranks near the top in the percentage of its adults who smoke, and of children exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes. Such things are as much a matter of individual responsibility, or its absence, as of inadequate public policy.
Really?  Inadequate public policy is to blame if you or I smoke?

Who DOESN'T know that smoking is bad for you?

In fact, people who do smoke, do so in spite of the fact that they know it's bad for them and for anyone who lives in their smoke-filled house.

How can inadequate public policy be to blame for that?

They even write:

"But it isn't just the responsibility of government to make Ohioans healthier and more productive."

Hmm... I guess I missed that responsibility in the U.S. Constitution as well as the state constitution.

For the record, I don't smoke - never have.  Neither has my husband. My sister does, but she doesn't smoke in my house and has never asked to do so.  Most smokers are considerate in that respect.

But no amount of government spending is going to make her stop. In fact, I doubt that anyone has decided to stop smoking because government spent money on an advertisement bemoaning the ill effects of the practice.

People stop smoking when THEY want to. They are the ones who must make the choice, which means it is entirely an individual responsibility and action.

The primary reason for the editorial is to call for "greater public investment" - that means spending - arguing that the more government spends on preventive care, the less it should end up spending on actual, more expensive, care as a result of bad habits.

You see, the 'logic' is that if government spends more money up front telling people how to be healthy, they'll have to spend less treating these people when they end up with costly diseases like cancer, heart disease, etc...

But first the people have to actually head the direction from the government to lead healthier lives - and that certainly isn't the case, at least, not for the majority of people.

There's an easy solution to the state spending so much money on actual care of illnesses that are preventable:  Don't.

What if the government warned people ahead of time that if they get cancer from smoking none of their health bills will be covered?  In fact, what if the government said that the cost of any illness or disease that was the result of self-inflicted activity wouldn't be covered?

Would people make better decisions knowing they'd be responsible for all the costs associated with bad habits, or that they might have to go without treatment if they couldn't afford it?

It's an interesting question and one that too few stop to consider.

But the government is all too happy to pay because, in doing so, they develop justification for telling you how to live. It is the 'logic' they use for controlling your life:  We're going to end of paying for your health care so we have the authority to tell you how to keep yourself healthy so we don't have to pay so much.

Oh, they might not say so in so many words, the bottom line is control - of your eating habits, exercise regimen and decisions.

Just look at Michele Obama's Healthy Hunger-Free Act which, as of a year ago, had 1 million kids leaving the school lunch line.

It doesn't stop.

And sadly, too many editorials are all to happy to jump on the bandwagon and advocate for even more government involvement in our daily lives, because (clearly) they know what is best and its for our own good.

Friday, January 09, 2015

News, frizzy hair solutions and hypocrisy


One of my favorite organizations is the Media Research Center - though most people have probably never heard of it.

Their sole mission, according to their website, is "to expose and neutralize the propaganda arm of the Left: the national news media." They don't endorse candidates and they don't lobby for or against legislation.

And they can be pretty funny in fulfilling that mission as their Newsbusted comedy show demonstrates.

They're especially good at pointing out double standards and hypocrisy, as they did with the convening of the new Republican-controlled Congress.

First they point out how Good Morning America avoided any mention of the subject, but found plenty of time to feature a new solution to frizzy hair.

Now, you may argue that frizzy hair is more important than any mention of the makeup of the new Congress - and if you have frizzy hair, or occasional issues with such a problem as I do, the new solution may truly be the only news you're really interested in.

But a Google search for Good Morning America pops up this description of the broadcast:

Co-anchors report the morning's top headlines from a set in Times Square. The show features a combination of breaking news, interviews, in-depth reporting and weather. The program covers important issues with key figures from around the world and a wide spectrum of topics, including medicine, finance, consumer issues, computer technology, education and gardening.

hmmm...breaking news and in-depth reporting. But no news story on a new Congress?

George Stephanopoulos did mention it, warning that the new Congress would be confrontational, not cooperative, though cooperation was what the new Congress *should* do.

But in 2007 when the Democrats gained control of Congress and George W. Bush was president, the message was all about standing up to Bush and *forcing* him to go along with the Democrat agenda.  The word "impeachment" was used.

Talk about a double standard... and thank goodness we have MRC reminding us of the blatant bias.

As for me, I don't watch GMA, so I really couldn't care less about what they do, or don't, feature.  I prefer to read my news, checking multiple websites and articles from all political sides as part of my morning coffee routine.

But whether from a right-leaning or left-leaning source, I do ask one thing:  Don't be a hypocrite.

If something is "bad" when Republicans do it, it remains "bad" when Democrats do it, too.  If something is outrageous or an attack on liberty when Democrats do it, it is equally outrageous and an attack on liberty when Republicans do it.

If you condemn an act or decision or statement because you are opposed to it, you can't suddenly be all in favor of it simply because it is being said or done by someone with your same political affiliation or ideology.

It is the hypocrisy, more than anything, that completely destroys credibility, as ratings clearly show.


Tuesday, January 06, 2015

New Year, new posts, new Speaker of the House?


You've probably noticed that it's been a while since I posted an article here on Thurber's Thoughts. The truth is, I've been working - more than I would like - and it definitely cut into my time for commenting on things, especially things that really don't pay.

That whole "need to earn a living" thing really gets in the way of the fun stuff I like to do.

But it's a new year and I really don't want to end my Thurber's Thoughts blog, so I'm going to be posting here on a more regular basis.

In between my own posts, which are usually well-researched in order to give you information and/or perspectives on local issues that you're not getting elsewhere, I'll link to the posts being done on Ohio Watchdog, which is where I'm covering state and local issues.

I'll also do some mini commentaries - longer than the 140 characters allowed on Twitter, but less than what I'd normally do in a blog post.

I may even have some guest commentaries.

For today, here is something that my friend and National Review columnist Jim Geraghty included in his morning email about the upcoming vote for Speaker of the House.

"The outlook for Boehner would be a lot cloudier if there was an alternative who was well-liked by about 218 or so of his colleagues and who seemed genuinely interested in the job. This person would have to enjoy the trust and faith of the conservatives, while also reassuring less conservative members that his agenda for floor votes wouldn’t be endangering them. He would have to have a good feel for the political instincts and worldviews of just about every member, and know their passions and idiosyncrasies. And on just about every issue under the sun, he would have to know exactly what kind of a deal a majority of his members could live with, and what they couldn’t.
"It’s a tall order. And if Boehner wins today, it may very well be that for all of his flaws, a majority of his colleagues aren’t yet convinced that any other member can handle that task any better than Boehner can right now."
Prediction:  John Boehner will still be Speaker of the House at the end of the day.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Grading state voucher programs - how does your state rank?


By Maggie Thurber | Franklin Center School Choice Fellow

Want to know how state voucher programs stack up? The Center for Education Reform has the answer.

In their new report, School Choice Today:  Voucher Laws Across the States Ranking and Scorecard 2014, CER takes a look at the 15 voucher programs currently in existence and gives them a grade. 

There are three As, three Bs, seven Cs and two Ds.

It’s the first analysis of its kind, providing a state-to-state comparison of the various voucher laws and builds on the work CER has done to rank charter school laws and tax credit-funded scholarship programs.

“Having a voucher law on the books is a good start, but not enough to make sure students are actually benefitting from school choice programs,” Kara Kerwin, CER president said in a press release. 

“Policy design is critical, but the true strength of school choice voucher programs depends heavily on implementation.”

The state voucher programs were evaluated in four areas:
  • Student eligibility requirements
  • Program Design
  • Preservation of private school autonomy
  • Student participation

“From the types of students eligible to the number of regulations imposed on private schools, each element of a voucher program’s design impacts how effectively the voucher truly empowers parents with the ability to choose the best school for their child,” Brian Backstrom, CER senior policy advisor and author of the report, said.

Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin earned an A grade for their programs.

With 31 out of 50 total points, Indiana offers a universal voucher program available to all students and imposes no limits on the number of vouchers awarded. But it ranked second worst in the nation when it comes to infringing upon the private schools’ autonomy because it mandates course content and allows government observation of classes.

Ohio earned 30 points for what the report called a “piecemeal” approach to vouchers with five different programs. But its top ranking for student participation was praised as a “worthy achievement.”

Wisconsin, home of the oldest voucher program in the county, also earned 30 points, with its strong Milwaukee/Racine programs offering choice to 12 percent of the state’s school-aged population.

Washington, D.C., Arizona and North Carolina tied for fourth place with 27 points, earning them a B grade.

The D.C. program has a high percentage of children receiving vouchers, but its strict income eligibility threshold is the lowest in the country which limits the program’s reach, the report said.

For the 2014-15 school year, North Carolina’s program got twice as many applications as there were vouchers available. The state is currently defending a lawsuit against the voucher program which is on hold due to an injunction halting the distribution of the funds.

Arizona’s personal education accounts worked so well it was expanded in 2013. The state deposits educational funds directly into an account controlled by the parents who can choose how to spend the funds using a type of debit card that is coded to allow its usage only for pre-approved expenses. The accounts can be used for tuition at any school, to pay for college or university courses while their child is still in high school, for online education, certified tutors, testing preparation like for SATs, or even a la carte public school courses (foreign languages, for example). They also have the choice to not spend it and put it toward a future college education. Anything not used in a year is allowed to accumulate.

It’s a popular idea. Florida just implemented a similar one and Delaware just proposed their own program based on the concept.

Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah and Mississippi all earned a C grade with scores of between 19 and 23 points.

Louisiana imposes “such significant regulatory intrusion” that it ends up with a C. Their regulations are such that new private schools are prohibited from participating.

The ranking for Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, Utah and Mississippi are due primarily to the fact that their programs are only for special needs students.

Colorado’s program is tied up in legal wrangling, but even if it were implemented, it only offers 500 vouchers for the more than 62,000 eligible children.

Vermont and Maine both earned D grades because they don’t offer a modern-day voucher program, but merely a method by which students in areas and towns without any district school systems can get an education.

The report states that legislators considering vouchers or modifying their existing programs “would be well-served by examining the design elements that have led to the success of several state 
programs, and the components of state voucher program laws that are holding some states back.”

With “reliable policy blueprints and visible implementation of strong voucher programs, more state leaders need to step up to the plate in order to grow and expand school choice opportunities across the U.S. so more children have access to options that best meet their individual learning needs,” Kerwin said.




Wednesday, October 15, 2014

School voucher programs save billions, audit shows


By Maggie Thurber | Franklin Center School Choice Fellow

A recent audit of 10 school voucher programs shows a cumulative savings of at least $1.7 billion since the first program was established in the 1990-91 school year.

The Freidman Foundation for Educational Choice wanted to know if founder Milton Friedman’s concept of school vouchers would not only expand personal freedom and improve achievement, but also save money.

To find out, they took a “cautious, rational estimate of the overall fiscal effects of school voucher programs” established over the last 24 years. They warn that the audit is not a to-the-penny calculation, a look at the average amount of the vouchers and the current costs of educating students in the public school system. If the voucher amount is less than the per-pupil educational costs, there is a savings.



In conducting the audit, the Foundation looked at voucher programs that had been in place for at least three years and only went up to the 2010-11 school year, in order to account for any lag in reporting.

Three Ohio programs, the Cleveland Scholarship Program, the Autism Scholarship Program and the Educational Choice Scholarship Program made the cut.  Also included were two programs from Florida and one each from Washington, D.C., Georgia, Louisiana, Utah and Wisconsin.

Over 500,000 students received vouchers with a total savings since their inception of $1,703,864,521.

Their audit also showed that the pace of the savings growth has outpaced the growth of student participation, “rising 675-fold since 1990.”

Many voucher opponents claim that money diverted to the voucher programs “steals” funds from public education. But most of the time, those arguments ignore the fact that when students leave the public system, the school district no longer has to expend costs to educate them, so there should be savings along with the transfer.

The audit also asks “(i)f  one is opposed to school choice because of its effect on the finances of local public schools, does it not also follow that he or she should favor prohibiting families from moving among public school districts?”

School funding is a complicated, with money from local taxpayers and property owners, state governments and the federal government, each often accompanied by various rules and regulations about how it can be used and for what services.  The audit does address many of these factors, including the recent decline in private school attendance. 

But even with all those other factors, the bottom line is that vouchers have saved taxpayers billions, savings which are certainly enough to justify their continued existence.


DC Opportunity Scholarship Program works


By Maggie Thurber | Franklin Center School Choice Fellow

In 2011, Congress passed the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act which reestablished the Washington, D.C., Opportunity Scholarship Program for low-income families in the District.

The OSP provides tuition vouchers so that parents can send their kids to a private school.

While many states have such programs, this is the only one authorized by Congress and, as part of the Act, the U.S. Department of Education was required to evaluate the program.

The first year analysis was released in October – and it has a lot of good news for kids.

Because SOAR expanded the scholarship amounts, the types of students who receive priority for the scholarships and the accountability requirements for the private schools, the report looks at the program from 2004 to 2013 so there is some historical comparison.

The analysis addressed three questions:
  1. How many private schools participate and what are their characteristics?
  2. What is the nature of the demand for the program among eligible families and students?
  3. To what extent is the OSP enabling students to enroll in private schools?

It showed that more than half the private schools in the DC area participate in the program, though the percentage of participation has declined. The study concludes that the 2011 changes did not result in increased private school participation.

However, it also says that 52 schools currently participate, including 33 that have participated since the beginning in 2004. Nine schools that were part of the program transformed into public charter schools and were no longer eligible under OSP. It also found that four of the private schools closed during their participation. Only five private schools actually withdrew from the program.

Other findings about the schools show they added high school grades, are less likely to be religiously based, serve a small percentage of minority students and are more likely to have tuition rates higher than the scholarship amount.

The report also says the private schools have smaller class sizes, a smaller student enrollment and a higher proportion of white students than public schools. But according to program statistics for the 2013-2014 school year, 97.2 percent of OSP participants were African American and Hispanic.

What isn’t surprising is that applications for the program vary based upon available funding.

Most applications were filed the years the program was authorized, when new funding was first available. In other years, OSP funds were used to support continuing students or only replace those who left the program. Without additional funds for new applicants, it’s no wonder the applications were down.

But the report also notes that less than 5 percent of eligible families actually participate. Based on eligibility criteria, estimates say that about 53,000 children would qualify for scholarships. However, there were only 1,550 applicants in the first two years after the SOAR Act was passed.

The report suggests that demand for the scholarships is lagging.

But the American Federation for Children, a leading school choice advocacy organization, says that’s a false conclusion, noting that demand is not the same as applications.

“Applications and new enrollees are lagging because of restrictive implementation guidelines, such as prohibiting eligible children currently in private schools – including those with siblings in the program - from entering the program,” they state in a press release.

AFC also notes that thousands of families are on the waiting lists for charter schools in the District and that many of them are eligible for the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

“In addition,” AFC says, “the OSP new application period closes in late January, before the charter school application deadline, preventing hundreds if not thousands of eligible families from considering the OSP as an option.”

They also dispute the analysis which says that SOAR Act applicants are less likely to have attended a low-performing school or SINI, “schools in need of improvement.”

“During the 2013-14 school year, 98% of enrolled OSP students were otherwise zoned for a School in Need of Improvement (SINI),” AFC states.

“The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program continues to serve the city’s lowest-income families and produce remarkable results,” Kevin P. Chavous, executive counsel to AFC and former member of the D.C. city council, said.

He also said that with some common sense modifications the OSP could be serving another 1,000 children in low-income families next year.


“For a program that has averaged a 93 percent graduation rate, with 90 percent of those graduates enrolling in college, and a 92 percent parent satisfaction rate since 2010, we should be doing everything humanly possible to enroll more kids in this life-changing program,” Chavous said.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ohio needs more high-quality education seats in urban areas


By Maggie Thurber | Franklin Center School Choice Fellow

Ohio recently changed the way it rates schools, going to an A-F grading system that is supposed to make it easier for parents, taxpayers and the community to understand how well each school performs.

There are two key measurements which quickly communicate the overall school quality: the performance index and the value-added rating.

Performance is easier to understand, since it’s similar to a grade-point average.  It’s a snapshot of student achievement within a school at a particular point in time.

Value-added ratings are a bit more complicated. They are an estimate of the school’s impact on achievement tracked over a period of time. It’s supposed to show if students are improving their performance (actually learning) year after year.

The 2013-14 report cards for the schools with these new ratings were released earlier in October – and the political spinning began:

  •          District schools do better than charter schools.
  •          Charter schools do better than district ones.
  •          Kids are leaving good district schools to go to bad charter schools.
  •          Vouchers are evil.
  •          We need more money.

You name it and someone probably said it about what the new report cards really mean.

Then along came The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an Ohio-based think tank that promotes educational excellence for every child.

They decided to objectively compare the educational options in the eight largest Ohio cities – Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown – and what they found is disappointing.

High quality urban schools of any variety – district or charter – are not the norm, their report says. And the number of high-quality seats (the proportion of Ohio students who attend high-quality schools) are nowhere near as prevalent as low-quality ones.

Percentage of high- and low-quality seats in public schools, district and charter,
across the Ohio Big Eight urban areas for 2013-14. (Note: does not equal 100% because
medium-quality tier is not displayed.)

“In Ohio’s urban areas,” the report states, “it is safe to say that far more students languish in a low-quality public school than thrive in a high-quality one.”

And what about the public charter schools in those cities?

"In Columbus, 32 percent of its charter students attended a high-quality school in 2013-14. In Cleveland, the figure is 28 percent. The charter-school sectors of Youngstown, Dayton and Cincinnati offer a more-modest percentage of high-quality seats: Respectively, 22, 20, and 18 percent of their charter students attended a solid charter in those cities. Meanwhile, the charter schools in Akron, Toledo, and Canton provide few good charter-school options.”
While all the areas were “plagued” with low-quality charter schools, Cincinnati had the highest amount with 52 percent of low-quality charter school seats, the report shows

But that doesn’t mean that district schools were any better.

In Cleveland, 51 percent of the traditional public school seats were low quality. Cincinnati had 36 percent while Columbus and Toledo had 33 percent low-quality seats.

Overall, the analysis found that charter had a higher proportion of high quality seats (22 percent) than traditional district schools (13 percent). Charters also had a lower proportion of low-quality seats (32 percent) than the 38 percent of low-quality seats found in the district schools.

Why are high- and low-quality seats important?

“…so that state and city leaders can grasp how many good schools must be created, or present ones expanded, to give every student the academic opportunities she needs,” the report explains.

As rigorous new standards and assessment testing take effect, the report predicts that proficiency ratings will fall, but that they’ll provide a more honest view of student progress.

It will be a sobering picture and will only serve to emphasize the need to “dramatically grow the number of high-quality seats in urban communities through whatever means possible – charter, district, or private school choice.”

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Need an education reform plan? Steal this one


By Maggie Thurber | Franklin Center School Choice Fellow

The Wisconsin Federation for Children, the state-based affiliate of the American Federation for Children, wants you to steal their education plan.

In a press release they write:

“Recognizing it takes “hundreds of hours” to draft original plans, today the Wisconsin Federation for Children offered a “ready to plagiarize” education reform agenda. Any candidate is free to copy “limited passages” or adopt the entire plan word-for-word.”
You see, there’s been a lot of news coverage about Mary Burke, the Democratic candidate for governor in Wisconsin, copying large portions of her jobs plan from other candidates for governor.

This is certainly a clever way to take advantage of the news cycle, but it also gives candidates good ideas for education reform.

Calling it a public service, they present their four-point plan as a way to empower parents with quality educational options. They even provided a dotted line interspersed with scissors to make it easier to ‘cut out’ the points and carry them with you.

The copyright free, open source, public domain points are:

  • A child's ZIP code or family’s income should not determine their ability to have educational options. Today, tens of thousands of families are currently able to choose a school that meets their child’s needs but more needs to be done. That’s why I will put children and parents ahead of union bosses and I will lift the cap on the statewide parental choice program.
  • We need to break down the barriers that deny students with special needs access to quality schools. I vow to provide special needs students in choice and charter schools with equitable funding.
  • Because I am committed to education reform and believe that the powerful, entrenched special interests who support the status quo stand in the way of innovation, I pledge to expand the number of quality schools by allowing the University of Wisconsin and Technical College Systems to authorize new charter schools.
  • We have a responsibility to educate the public, but the brick and mortar of the building that education takes place is not the paramount concern. Because all of schools are a vital part of the educational landscape here, I will adopt a parent-friendly, comprehensive academic accountability plan for all publicly-funded students whether they are in traditional public schools, independent charter schools or choice schools.

There’s not much to dislike in the plan. Who could argue against equitable funding for special needs students, or expanding quality schools, or accountability for all students regardless of which school – or type of school – they attend?

Perhaps “union bosses” and “entrenched special interests” might object, since they are singled out as entities that aren’t working for the best interests of children, but their own. But education should be “for the children” and not for others who would hope to carve out more money or power for themselves.

So parents, educators, candidates, school board members, school choice advocates, feel free to use all or any part of this terrific plan. And be sure to thank the Wisconsin Federation of Children for doing all the work and sharing it with you.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Who owns the equipment in charter schools? Ohio Supreme Court will decide


By Maggie Thurber | Franklin Center School Choice Fellow

Photo by Derek Bruff
via Flickr Creative Commons
Who owns the equipment in charter schools?

We’re talking the computers, desks, supplies – all the things that go into the structure of a charter school. It seems like the common sense answer would be the school.

But most charter schools in Ohio are public, which means they’re funded with public dollars much the same way as traditional public schools.

In which case, your answer to the question would probably be “the taxpayer, ultimately.”

And again, that makes sense.

But there’s an odd twist to this question and it’s playing out in the Ohio Supreme Court.

You see, there are management companies who are contracted to run the day-to-day operations of charter schools, and when you add these private companies into the mix, things get a bit muddled.

The case is Hope Academy Broadway Campus et al. v. White Hat Management, LLC, et al. and oral arguments were heard Tuesday.

The case pits 10 charter schools against White Hat Management.

According to the schools, White Hat refused to allow their financials to be inspected by the schools who wanted to see how the money paid by the state was used. The schools sued, asking to recover roughly $100 million that was spent on property and equipment.

White Hat maintains that it owns the equipment, but offered to let the schools keep the desks, computers and other items if they paid the current value for them.

The trial court and the 10th District Court of Appeals agreed with White Hat, saying that the public money paid by the state on a per-pupil basis became private funds as soon as White Hat, the private company, received them.

Just like when the state pays a private contractor to pave a road, the public funds are no longer public, though there is an obligation for the contractor to actually complete the project according to the terms of the contract. But how the contractor spends those specific dollars is not public.

The relationship with the charters is the same, White Hat attorneys argue. They say White Hat is a private entity performing a service for the public entity.

But the charters say White Hat is acting like the “functional equivalent” of a public entity because it is accepting and using public dollars to perform the function of a public school. They maintain that White Hat was supposed to act as the purchasing agent for the schools and since the company is just the agent, the money remains public and the purchased items are owned by the school.

The charters also say that because it is public money, it can at least be audited. And there is some case law in Ohio that says when a private entity receives a substantial amount of public funds, it can be audited, but only when they are serving as the functional equivalent of a public office.

"Would you agree that White Hat is the functional equivalent of a public office?" Chief Justice Maureen O’Conner asked during the oral arguments.

"If you're doing a public function with public funds, aren't you the functional equivalent of that public official?” Justice BillO’Neill asked.

No, White Hat attorneys argued. They were a private company providing a service to the charter schools which are the public entity.

The Supreme Court will decide – and the decision will have implications for more than just the 10 charter schools in the suit.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Corporate tax credits mean more school choice for parents


By Maggie Thurber | Franklin Center School Choice Fellow

Two students whose parents took advantage
of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.
Photo courtesy of Step Up For Children
There are corporate tax credits for all kinds of things – from making a film in a certain location to providing health insurance for employees. But a corporate tax credit for school scholarships?

Yep – in Florida.  And why not?

The Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship Program grants corporations a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donations to scholarship funding organizations. The Florida legislature created the program in 2001 as a way to give low-income families a choice in their children’s education.

Under the program, corporations can redirect up to 100 percent of their corporate income, insurance premium and direct-pay sales taxes, 90 percent of their alcohol beverage excise, and/or 50 percent of their oil and gas severance tax liabilities to non-profit scholarship organizations like Step Up For Students.

Scholarships are for kindergarten through 12th grade students who qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch program.  It can be used to provide tuition assistance to one of nearly 1,500 participating private schools or $500 to help cover transportation costs to an out-of-district public school.

The program was expanded in 2010 to allow more participation by students through an increase in the eligibility thresholds and by increasing the maximum amount that can be allocated. It also indexed the scholarship amount to public school spending.

According to the Step Up For Students website, the bill granting the expansion was approved by a bipartisan majority, which included “nearly half the Democrats, a majority of the Black Caucus and all but two in the Hispanic Caucus.”

It’s not just another voucher program – there’s accountability with it.

All students in grades 3 through 10 must take a state-approved test and a University of Florida research team reports test gains in reading and math. Schools that receive more than $250,000 in scholarship monies must also file a financial report with the state.

In 10 years, the number of participants has grown 643 percent – from 10,549 in the 2004-05 school year to 67,800 in the 2014-15 school year. And 54 percent of those students are from single-parent households.

The majority of the students are minorities and “tend to be among the lowest-performing students in their prior school,” regardless of how well their prior school did in overall performance.

Sounds like a good deal – right?

Not to everyone – or rather, not to those who gets money for public education.

The Florida Education Association, the Florida School Boards Association and the state Parent Teacher Association filed a lawsuit against the program on Aug. 28.

They claim the tax credit program is unconstitutional because it funnels taxpayer money into private and religious schools, which is similar to the complaint made in North Carolina.

And like in the North Carolina case, where a judge ruled the program unconstitutional, hypocrisy abounds.

In 2006, the Florida Opportunity Scholarship Program was overturned by the courts. That program granted students vouchers from the state so they could attend private schools. The court ruled the Florida Constitution prohibits using “public monies to fund a private alternative to the public education system.”

But unlike the Opportunity Scholarship Program, this isn’t money from the state – it’s a tax credit just like for contributions to churches or food banks or other non-profits.

No one claims those organizations are publicly-funded – why is the Florida Tax Credit scholarship any different?

Interestingly, the organizations waited until the FTC Scholarship was expanded to higher incomes. They didn’t have a problem with the program when it was just low-income, low-performing students.

Florida Senate President Don Gaetz issued a statement:

“When Florida Tax Credit Scholarships were available only to the very poor, who disproportionately are minority families, and other students with unique needs, the School Boards Association didn’t challenge their constitutionality. These students often bring more challenges to the classroom and require extra help, more individualized instruction and additional resources. It is only now, when the eligibility for scholarships has been expanded and when less-impoverished students can participate that the School Board Association has discovered its constitutional indignation."

But it doesn’t look good for the opponents of school choice.

A 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn said that tax-credited contributions are not government expenditures.

“When Arizona taxpayers choose to contribute to (School Tuition Organizations), they spend their own money, not money the state has collected from respondents and other taxpayers,” the majority opinion read. “…the tax credit system is implemented by private action and with no state intervention. … Like contributions that lead to charitable tax deductions, contributions yielding (School Tuition Organization) tax credits are not owed to the state and, in fact, pass directly from taxpayers to private organizations.”

And it’s clearly a popular tax option, with more than $88 million pledged so far in 2014.

Ultimately, it’s all about the money. The organizations and entities that receive tax funds don’t want to lose funding – even when it’s funding they wouldn’t otherwise receive.

As for the children?

They’re just pawns in the struggle and whatever education best suits them be damned.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Debunking the myths about charter schools


By Maggie Thurber | Franklin Center School Choice Fellow

Graphic courtesy of National Alliance for
 Public Charter schools
Students around the nation have begun their 2014-15 school year and many of them are at charters schools – a school of choice.

But even though charter schools have been around for a while now, there are quite a number of myths about them that deserve to be debunked.

The biggest – and some think the most important one – is that charter schools are not public.

Actually, they are. They’re public schools, the same as traditional school districts operate, though they have been released from certain requirements in order to provide innovation and creativity in the way they teach.

They are not private schools either.

And despite what you may have heard otherwise, the support for charters is growing.

According to a recent PDK/Gallup poll, “(s)even of 10 Americans support public charter schools, particularly when they’re described as schools that can operate independently and free of regulations.”

That’s huge!

But there’s a problem.

PDK/Gallup conducts this polling annually, so they’re able to track opinions over time. Concerned that the description “schools that can operate independently and free of regulations” might be presenting a bias in the question, they decided to ask the question without the descriptor this year.

What they found shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Support for charter schools declined when no descriptor was included, leading the pollsters to conclude that “(m)ost Americans misunderstand charter schools.” And it declined in all groups asked: nationally, public school parents, Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

The poll also tried to determine what, exactly, the participants know about charter schools.

In 2006, 53 percent thought that charter schools were not public. In 2014, 50 percent think they are, but 48 percent still believe they aren’t.

In 2006, 50 percent thought the charter schools could teach religion. By 2014, the number who thought that was true was still high at 48 percent.

In 2006, 60 percent thought charter schools could charge tuition. In 2014, 57 percent still believe that.

Perhaps the most startling result was that 68 percent think charter schools can select students on the basis of their abilities. This is up from 58 percent in 2006.

None of those are true. Charter schools are public, they can’t teach religion, they don’t charge tuition and they cannot discriminate.

Based upon these results, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools decided to embark on a campaign, The Truth About Charters, to help educate the public and, hopefully, see the results of their efforts in future PDK/Gallup polls.

Katherine Bathgate, the director of communications and marketing for NAPCS, said she wished the misconceptions about charter schools were not as high as they were.

“That’s why we’re doing the work we are now,” she said. “It’s why we’re trying to get the word out about charter schools and how they function in the community.”

She’s careful to always refer to them as public charter schools, not just ‘charter schools’ to help address the false idea that they are not public schools and not private schools.

She said she is baffled as to why some believe public charters can discriminate in their selection of students.

“Some inaccurately claim that charter schools can skim or pick the best students,” she said. “They’re tuition free, must accept all students and if more students apply than they have seats for, they must conduct a lottery to see who gets to attend.”

She speculated that perhaps it’s an excuse for why public charters are performing better in general, “because it can’t be the curriculum, structure, or anything else that’s different,” she said.

Except that’s exactly what’s different and enables public charters to tailor their education to the individual needs of the student.

But do they all perform better?

Not all of them, just like not all traditional public schools are bad, she explained, but a great many do.

“Since 2010 there have been numerous research studies and all but one shows that charter school students outperform their public school peers,” Bathgate said. “Sometimes public charters do serve a larger percent of disadvantaged students, especially those who have achievement gaps – sometimes two to three years behind. Data shows that they’re able to close that gap.”

And what about those low-performing charters? In Ohio, some claim that parents are pulling their kids out of good traditional public schools only to send them to a bad public charter.

Bathgate thinks parents should make responsible decisions about the best educational opportunity for their child, but thinks it’s odd that so many worry about poorly-performing public charters, but not poorly-performing traditional public schools.

What about the parents who have no choice but to send their child to a D- or F-graded traditional school just because it’s the only option in their zip code?

“We advocate for strong oversight and accountability – freedom and autonomy in exchange for results,” she said. “And if that’s not being met, it needs to be addressed immediately for the sake of the students. I think it’s important to judge how a school is performing overall, but public charter schools are a school of choice and parents should have the right and opportunity to (find) the public charter school that fits the schedule or the interest of their student.”

The bottom line, she said, is parental choice and the best education for the child.

“Want to make sure that students go to a well-performing school,” she said, “but in the big picture, want to raise the bar for both charters and traditional public schools.”

That’s a goal everyone should be able to agree upon.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Choosing your words wisely - a lesson from #Dream14


The cover of new survey
by Reason-Rupe.
One of the things emphasized during social media panels at the Americans for Prosperity Defending the American Dream Summit was the choice of words.

Liberal, conservative, progressive, limited government, big government, socialism, capitalism, fair share, greater good, individual responsibility...

When you hear these words you immediately have an image of something - either good or bad depending upon if you believe in the concept or if you're going by what you've heard or associate with the term.

The other thing was the difference between preaching to the choir and trying to persuade or influence others.

Too often on the right side of the political spectrum, we are preaching to the choir and using terms they like, or ones that appealed to us as we formed our political opinions.

That's okay - and something we need.

But if we're trying to persuade others, we have to understand how they interpret words and messages and then use the phrases that will resonate with them.

So this post is definitely preaching to the choir about how to change our language and our phrases in order to appeal to those who might be receptive to a conservative philosophy if we weren't using words that immediately turned them away.

A recent Reason-Rupe survey on millennials is a good place to start.

Millennials are 18-29 years old and, according to the survey, "trust neither political party, are social liberals and fiscal centrists, and are supportive of both business and government. They favor free markets, but aren’t sure whether markets or government best drive income mobility."

They're less partisan and more receptive to a non-traditional candidate. They don't trust either party, especially when it comes to issues of privacy. They overwhelmingly (78 percent) think the budget deficit and national debt are are major problems and a majority believe that businesses pay too much or just the right amount of taxes.

As the Daily Signal explains:

Millennials say they prefer a “larger government” that provides more services. They don’t tend to think of “big government” leading to higher taxes and heavier regulation. Once the possibility of higher taxes to support a larger government is mentioned, though, millennials’ support shifts.


The survey also says "millennials believe in self-determination and endorse the values underpinning the free market system."

If you ask them to choose between capitalism and socialism, only 52 percent will pick capitalism. But if you ask them to choose between a free-market economy and a government managed economy, the support for free-markets jumps to 64 percent.

The survey shows two critical things:

1. They either don't know or don't care about various terms and what they mean, which is scary in and of itself.

2. They do understand concepts and are more likely to align with conservative economic principles so long as they are phrased to reflect the concept.

Another important fact from the survey: they vote.

As the Daily Signal explains:

"The 18- to 29-year-old demographic played a crucial role in the 2008 and 2012 elections. These millennials were instrumental in electing Barack Obama to the presidency not once, but twice. In 2008, Obama won 66 percent of voting millennials; in 2012, he captured 67 percent.

Emily Ekins, polling director for Reason Foundation, says that had those ages 18 to 29 not voted in 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney would be in the White House."

This is good news for those of us on the conservative side, but it means we have to change how we characterize our positions if we expect to reach this key demographic.

But it's not just the millennials. Too many of our friends and neighbors are just not into politics. It's something they think about only in passing or when they go to vote. They often have the same reaction as millennials - or they tune out when they hear certain words or phrases and never get to hear the message behind the language.

Bottom line: if we are going to share the message, we have to change our words.




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