Sunday, December 15, 2013

School Choice isn't just charters and vouchers anymore

The first in a series leading up to National School Choice Week January 26 - February 1, 2014.

I recently attended a conference sponsored by the Franklin Center designed to inform citizen journalists about school choice in advance of National School Choice Week. I thought I was pretty well informed about the subject, but I was wrong.

It turns out that school choice - or education choice as many think it will evolve into - is a lot more than just charters and vouchers.

First, let's clear up some misconceptions. There are six types of school choice currently available:

Traditional Public Schools - (yes, this is actually a choice!) where you are assigned to a school to attend based upon your zip code or neighborhood. Some areas have open enrollment in the school district which allows a child to attend another school in the system based upon request, need or other criteria.

Public Charter Schools - they are PUBLIC schools as well, but with greater curricular independence than traditional public schools and entry is usually by applications and then lottery when applications exceed spots available. For the record, students attending these schools are not hand-picked, chosen or stolen, as some have claimed.

Private Schools - these are often sponsored by a church or other organization and are privately run but often must meet certain state criteria for certification and student test results.

Magnet Schools - these are rigorous public schools that specialize in a certain curriculum. STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and performing arts are two of the most common types. For example, in Toledo we have the Toledo School for the Arts and the Maritime Academy of Toledo.

Home Schools - where children are educated in their own homes by their parents, usually with the support of network or organization of other parents and/or experts.

Online Schools - these can be stand-alone schools are can be used to support traditional brick and mortar schools or homeschooling. They are commonly used by students who are training to be professional athletes or performers with demanding schedules, by students who need flexible learning hours, and to provide GED education for adults or formerly incarcerated individuals.

The point is, there is no 'right' or 'wrong' choice, no matter what other people may say.

The entire premise of school choice is that parents should be able to select the school that best meets the need of their child because what works for one can never work for all.

Every parent makes a choice, whether they realize it or not. It is a choice to send your child to your neighbor traditional public school, as much as it is to send them to a private church-sponsored school or to educate them at home.

What should also be remembered is that making a decision other than the traditional public school does not mean you want the traditional public school to fail or be eliminated. Property values and taxes give every parent and resident a vested interest in the success of their local school systems.

How you get to a school choice is where such things as vouchers, educational scholarships and tax credit scholarships come in.

All are methods by which public funds or credits are used to help cover the costs of the school choice.

Knowing and understanding the options, along with how to take advantage of them, is the important thing so parents can make an informed choice based upon their child's needs. And no one knows their child like they do.

We all know that no one school can meet the individual needs and interests of every child. And no single school should be expected to be the best at every single thing, whether it be STEM or athletics, or be the perfect fit for every child.

But if we accept that we can have numerous restaurants in a community to effectively meet the food cravings and needs, why shouldn't we think of schools the same way?

Why is K-12 education thought of so differently than college? We wouldn't expect all students wanting to attend college to be forced to attend the single institution in their city, would we? Then why do so many reject the *concept* of school choice, even when some of those choices are still part of the *public* education?

Demographics trends

The trends are not on the side of forcing kids into a single zip-code-based system.

Matthew Ladner
Matthew Ladner, Senior Advisor of Policy and Research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, crunched the numbers. Based upon the 2030 Census projections, the United States is about to see a sizable increase in K-12 students.

Nationally, the under-18 population is projected to increase 11.3 million, from 74.4 million in 2010 to 85.7 million by 2030.

In 2010 in his home state of Arizona there were 1.7 million people aged 18 and under. By 2030, the population of that age group is projected to be 2.6 million. Where are they all going to go?

"If we went to universal school choice in Arizona tomorrow," he said, "the traditional public schools will still see growth."

Ohio's under-18 population is projected to decline slightly - about 100,000 - from 2010 to 2030, while the over-65 population is projected to increase, the Census Data shows. This continues a trend seen from 2000 to 2010.

But there's an even bigger problem for our nation: our aging population. Baby boomers (those born between 1944 and 1964) have already hit retirement age and many states and localities give property tax breaks to retirees, including on school levies, which will continue to reduce the amount of money collected via that means.

Nationally, Census data shows an increase from 40.2 million people over 65 in 2010 to a projected 71.4 million by 2030.

So how are we going to handle more students and less people helping to pay for their education? We really need to learn to do K-12 education "better, faster and cheaper," Ladner said.

It won't be easy but Arizona has found a creative way that other states should pay attention to and consider. And it will change the way we think about school choice forever if they do.

Educational Empowerment Scholarships Accounts

In 2011, Arizona passed a law creating Educational Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA). 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.

There are numerous stories about waste, fraud and abuse in the food stamp EBT card program, but the lessons states have learned about that management should help them devise a "robust system of state oversight," Ladner said, including account monitoring and auditing.

The future of choice will be more than just government-funded coupons that allow parents to choose between public and private schools.

"All possible methods of education delivery will compete with each other," Ladner said.

The best thing is that Arizona has already learned some lessons and made some modifications, so states like Ohio who choose to consider a similar process will have an example to follow and won't have to re-learn any of those lessons.

With the changing demographics, the ever-increasing costs and the way technology has us expecting a customized experience, it's time we realized that it's no longer just about choosing a school. It's about how we choose an education - and the options should be endless.

Other coverage

There were a number of us at the conference and I want you to see what others have done on the subject.

While all the links below are excellent articles, this one is my favorite so far because it tells a winning story for conservatives - and I agree with it completely!

A Slam-Dunk Win for the GOP - No, Its Not Immigration Reform

Here is a round-up of the posts from other citizen journalists:

Educational Choice: The Ponderings of My Latest Interest


Friedman Foundation Study Focuses on How Parents Choose the Right Schools for their Children

Former Anti-Voucher Advocate Now Advocates For Vouchers and School Choice

School Choice is a Winning Issue

School Choice Changes Lives, One Scholarship At A Time

The Common Core Steamroller

Citizen journalists learn about school choice

GOAL Scholarship Parents Appear to be Active Consumers of Private Schools

The Best Public Schools Embrace School Choice


Court awards "win" to disqualified school board candidate, SOS Appeals

Education Reform as a Disruptive Technology

4000+ Lawrence School Children Are Being Left Behind, But There is Hope on the Horizon

Reforming government schools

Schools of Choice: A Human Right to Quality Education for EACH Child

Charter School Only California School as Finalist in National “Race to the Top”

What is School Choice


3steveco33 said... is public benefit determined in Charter Schools..? I can see the benefit to the city, state, county, construction companies...but what about the kids....mine will NOT be able to walk to the new one two blocks away...even though my taxes have gone up for the thing...please explain to me the public benefit that must accrue when public dollars are spent.

Maggie said...


I'm not sure I understand what you're asking. A charter school is a public school so the 'benefit' in a charter is the same as in a traditional public school. The only difference I can see is the flexibility in the curriculum and the different criteria states place on them in terms of their admissions.

The benefit to the child is, no matter what school they attend, the education they get. And the parents/child should have the ability to select the venue that best suites the child, imho.

Additionally, I'm not sure what you mean when you say your taxes went up to pay for a new charter school. Are you referring to a charter school run by a traditional board of education?

I'm afraid I'd need more information to be able to respond.

Bob Bowdon said...

Hey Maggie --

Great minds think alike. The convergence of previously separate education movements under the unifying mantle of "School Choice" is the subject of Choice Media's new documentary film, The Ticket:

Unknown said...

Hey Maggie --

Great minds think alike. The convergence of previously separate education movements under the unifying concept of "School Choice," is the subject of our new documentary film, The Ticket:

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