4378920267_a52ee403fe_o

Improve Education Outcomes Through Education Savings Accounts, Not Measure 97’s Hidden Sales Tax

On the third day of the new school year at Portland’s Madison High School, Governor Kate Brown spoke about her goal to improve educational outcomes for all students. She bemoaned the fact that at 74%, Oregon has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country, and then she noted that “For me this is a very personal issue”:

“My stepson blew out of one of the local area high schools a few years ago. We were very fortunate. We had the resources to provide him with another educational opportunity, but not all families do. That’s why it’s absolutely imperative that we work together to improve Oregon’s high school graduation rates.”*

So how does Governor Brown propose to assist families that don’t have the resources hers had to help their children achieve educational success? Apparently, by supporting Measure 97 on the November ballot, which would be the biggest tax increase in Oregon’s history.

In reality, Measure 97 is a sales tax hidden behind the façade of being a tax on big business. Its passage will actually make it harder for many of the families the Governor wants to help, in the questionable hope that the revenue it generates would be spent properly to give their kids a better chance at graduation from the same schools that have failed so many in the past.

Measure 97 will not only act as a consumption tax on many of the goods and services Oregon families buy every day, but it also will reduce private sector employment opportunities as more than $3 billion are siphoned out of the private sector into the state general fund each year. From there, all this money—which is about what a six-percent retail sales tax would produce—may or may not be spent in ways that would give struggling families the same opportunities that the Governor’s family had when her stepson needed help.

Rather than ask voters to take a $30 billion gamble over the next ten years on a tax measure that may not show any positive economic or educational results for Oregon families, the Governor and voters should consider another way to provide all families with the resources they need to give their children the educational opportunities they deserve. And, this other way will not raise anyone’s taxes, and it will not reduce anyone’s job prospects.

This other way is school choice. Governor Brown’s predecessor, John Kitzhaber, took a major step toward this other way when he signed Oregon’s public charter school law in 1999 that currently allows more than 30,000 students to attend some 127 charter schools for educational opportunities they otherwise would have been denied. All without costing taxpayers or the public school system one additional dime.

Oregon is one of forty-three states and the District of Columbia that offer public K-12 charter school opportunities to their families. Now, the newest wave in the school choice movement is offering Education Savings Accounts in five states, and that number is sure to grow.

Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs, are not a college savings plan. Rather, if families decide the public schools their children are assigned to are not meeting their needs, they can leave those schools and instead receive money from the state to pay for approved alternative education options and expenses. Parents can spend the funds on private school tuition, individual courses at public schools, tutoring, online learning, textbooks, educational therapies, and other education-related services and products. They can use a combination of these services based on what they think would best meet their child’s learning needs.

Each eligible child is able to draw from his or her own personal Education Savings Account maintained by the state and funded by most, but not all, of the money that otherwise would have been sent to the local school district. When properly structured, ESAs require no new taxes and are not a financial burden on the state or local public school districts. They simply allow money already allocated for public education to be used in ways individual families choose, instead of in ways dictated by the ZIP code students happen to live in.

In an improvement over earlier school choice programs such as vouchers, ESAs let families spend only what they want to each year, and save or rollover the balance toward future educational needs. If not all the money in an ESA is spent by the time a student graduates from high school, the remaining funds may be used to help cover his or her higher education costs.

So, let’s not ask taxpayers to gamble that our troubled public schools will somehow get it right this time if we simply give them enough new money out of our pockets with the hidden sales tax in Measure 97. Instead, let’s ask our legislators in Salem to explore a new, truly innovative way to improve educational outcomes for each individual student with personal Education Savings Accounts.


* Governor Brown’s complete remarks at Madison High School were recorded and can be heard on this KXL radio episode of Beyond the Headlines in the first segment of about seven minutes at https://soundcloud.com/kxl-beyond-the-headlines/week-of-8-28-16-episode-130

7886523366_1c7d110fbf_z

Portland Schools Need Radical Change, Not Just a New Superintendent

Portland school superintendent Carole Smith abruptly resigned in July, after nine years on the job. She was originally planning to retire next June, but the release of an independent investigation into the district’s inept handling of contaminated drinking water caused her to speed up her departure.

The school board immediately announced a national search for a successor, and the rest of the story is predictable. After months of searching, finalists will be scrutinized in a detailed public vetting, and someone will be signed to an expensive contract. The new leader will enjoy a short honeymoon and then gradually sink into the bureaucratic quagmire of school politics.

Amidst never-ending arguments about school transfers, graduation rates, and a myriad of other issues, buyer’s remorse will set in. Eventually the superintendent will resign and the process will begin anew.

This is the way we’ve been doing things for decades, usually with disappointing results. We could take a different path. But first we have to admit that if system results are disappointing, we need to change the system, not the people.

Large urban school districts are inherently dysfunctional. Teaching is a distributed service; the learning takes place student by student, classroom by classroom. When measured in terms of students, teachers, money, and facilities, there are millions of moving parts. The notion that a single bureaucrat in the central office can design the optimal system to satisfy all customers is a fantasy.

The system itself needs radical change, and the single most important reform Portland could pursue would be to redesign how the money flows.

Right now, tax dollars go to the district, regardless of results. Students are assigned to schools like factory widgets and few families have other options. The suppliers of service have all the leverage, while consumers have almost none.

A better option would be for the district to seek legislative approval of Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs). The ESA concept is simple: Parents who are dissatisfied with the government school assigned to them can opt to have most or all of the per-student money that would have gone to that school for their children deposited instead in personal accounts managed by the state treasurer. The funds in each account become property of the family and may be used for a variety of educational services, including private education, home schools, online learning, and tutoring.

Ideally, any money left over at the end of a school year would remain in the account, available for future use. This would encourage wise stewardship of those funds. If the account still had money at the time the student graduated from high school, it could be used for college tuition or technical training.

Distributing school funding through consumers rather than providers would instantly change the balance of power. High-cost union contracts would have to change. Parents would need to be satisfied. And market discipline would replace ineffective top-down management.

Most parents would probably not use ESAs. It’s likely they are satisfied with their neighborhood school and wouldn’t want the hassle of shopping around. But the mere fact that they could use an ESA would create incentives for teachers and administrators to behave differently. When suppliers of a service know that 100 percent of their customers have the means to shop elsewhere, they focus on satisfying those customers.

Carole Smith was neither the worst nor the best Portland school superintendent in recent memory; she was just part of the conveyor belt of socialism that defines generic government education. Stopping the conveyor belt would be a good first step toward liberating students and improving educational achievement in Portland.


This article originally appeared in the July 2016 edition of the newsletter, Oregon Transformation: Ideas for Growth and Change.

Steve and Friedmans

Ten Years After Milton Friedman

One of the greatest minds of our era passed away in November 2006. This Sunday would have marked his 104th birthday. Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize for Economics; but it was his ability to relate complex economic ideas in simple terms the average person could understand, and his devotion to liberty, that made him truly great.

Milton and his economist wife Rose spent literally decades researching, writing, speaking, and popularizing free-market economics and its connection to liberty and freedom. Rose actually grew up here in Portland, and it was my privilege to call her and Milton my friends.

This Friday, July 29th, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice will celebrate the 10th and final Friedman Legacy Day, which began after Dr. Friedman passed away. Rather than continue these annual celebrations, the foundation, created by and named after Milton and Rose Friedman, will move forward with a new name and a new strategic plan. Both will be announced on the foundation website, at www.edchoice.org.

Please join all of us at Cascade Policy Institute as we celebrate the lives and contributions of a great couple, and renew our commitment to promote their ideas and ideals, which include the goal of every child being able to attend the public, private, religious, or home school of their choice, with funding following the student.

Celebrating the “Christopher Columbus” of School Choice, Milton Friedman

School choice has entered a new world. Because Americans are increasingly vocal about providing parents with the ability to choose their children’s schools, states are adopting broad-based school choice initiatives. Those successes can be attributed to various individuals, groups, and campaigns nationwide. However, it is school choice’s “Christopher Columbus” who deserves recognition for starting this movement more than 60 years ago.

In 1955, the yet-to-be Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman introduced his vision of school choice as a way to improve the quality of American education. His idea was simple: Give parents access to their children’s public education funding, rather than require they attend the government (public) schools nearest their homes.

“Governments could require a minimum level of education which they could finance by giving parents vouchers redeemable for a specified maximum sum per child per year if spent on ‘approved’ educational services,” Friedman wrote in 1955. “Parents would then be free to spend this sum and any additional sum on purchasing educational services from an ‘approved’ institution of their own choice. The educational services could be rendered by private enterprises operated for profit, or by non-profit institutions of various kinds. The role of the government would be limited to assuring that the schools met certain minimum standards such as the inclusion of a minimum common content in their programs, much as it now inspects restaurants to assure that they maintain minimum sanitary standards.”

Because of vested interests in the education arena, including powerful public school teachers unions, Friedman’s suggestions were ignored. And, as a result, the cost of public education doubled while its academic performance stayed the same. As Friedman noted, that should come as no surprise because that’s exactly what monopolies do: They offer a product of similar, if not worse, value at a higher price than normally would be allowed if they had to compete in the free market.

But those days are over. Many states are broke, preventing them from dropping more money out of airplanes over public schools. And many parents are fed up, wondering why their kids are underperforming or unmotivated in K-12 schools and unprepared for their college courses and future careers.

Because of that sentiment and cash crunch, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, named after Milton and his wife Rose, we now see over half the states with one or more school choice programs, consisting of vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, individual tax credits and deductions, and Education Savings Accounts.

Oregon is behind the curve, with no significant private school choice programs―yet. But widening charter school and online school options hopefully will soon lead to more school choice for all Oregon children. The most promising possibility here involves an update of Friedman’s original voucher idea, now seen as the “rotary phone” of the school choice movement. The school choice “smart phone” is now Education Savings Accounts. ESAs give parents and students even more choices, while replacing the old “use it or lose it” funding mechanisms with a market system. This system allows parents to shop for educational services and use their savings toward future educational needs of their children.

Limited Education Savings Account programs now exist in several states, and Nevada is on the verge of implementing a near universal ESA program that soon could be available to all its K-12 students. If achieved, this will be seen as the realization of Milton Friedman’s 60-year-old vision of full school choice for every child, at least in one state with more to follow.

But Friedman’s vision was not for school choice to be just another government program. He wanted to see school choice fundamentally change the way public education operates from its current structure that supports government schools and the adults who work in them, to a better model that empowers parents. He argued that if both rich families and poor ones could receive government funding when their kids use public schools, then both rich and poor should be able to receive that same funding to make educational choices outside the government school system.

It took America more than 60 years to reach today’s environment in which parent empowerment in education is celebrated more than ridiculed. Moving forward, around the country and especially here in Oregon, we should celebrate the new world that the school choice movement’s “Christopher Columbus” opened up for us.

Milton Friedman died in 2006. For the ten years since, Cascade Policy Institute and more than one hundred other organizations around the world have celebrated what has become known as Friedman Legacy Day each year on or around his birthday, July 31. This year marks the last such formal celebration. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which has sponsored these events to honor and reflect on the life and legacy of its founder, has announced that on the day of this year’s final formal celebration, Friday, July 29, it will unveil its new name and new strategic plan designed to move Milton Friedman’s school choice vision even more effectively into the future. Please join us as we celebrate both the man and his vision, and as we look forward to many more children getting the quality educations they have been so long denied in our one-size-fits-all government school system.


A version of this Commentary first appeared in Cascade Business News on what would have been Milton Friedman’s 100th birthday, July 31, 2012. Steve Buckstein wrote about Friedman’s ties to Portland in The Oregonian the day after he died in 2006.

Portland Schools Need More Than a New Superintendent

Portland school superintendent Carole Smith announced her resignation this week after nine years on the job.

The next steps are predictable: The school board will conduct a national search for a successor and eventually sign someone to an expensive contract. After a short honeymoon, the new leader will sink into the bureaucratic quagmire and leave after a short and forgettable tenure.

Management experts know that if system results are disappointing, you need to change the system, not the people. The single most important change Portland could make would be to redesign how the money flows.

Right now, tax dollars go to school bureaucracies, regardless of results. Students are assigned to schools like widgets in a factory, and few families have a “Plan B” if they are unhappy.

A better option would be to enact Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs). This would allow every family to have their share of per-student revenue diverted from the bureaucracy to the student’s ESA, where alternative services could be purchased. Families would instantly have dozens of exciting options.

Equally important, ESAs would incentivize school administrators to make each school perform at a high level, thereby benefiting all students, including those not using ESAs.

Carole Smith made her share of mistakes, but the Portland school district needs institutional change more than it needs a charismatic new leader.

Flexibility Is Key: The Next Generation of Parental Choice Solutions

Families in five states now have access to a special program called Educational Savings Accounts.

Educational Savings Accounts, or ESAs, allow parents to take money the state otherwise would spend on their children in the public system and put it on a restricted use debit card. Parents can spend this money on a wide variety of approved educational options, including private school, individual tutoring, online classes, and other services. Any money not used is rolled over for parents to spend in the future.

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice surveyed Arizona families to see how they are choosing to spend the resources allocated for their kids. The survey found that more than a third of participating families used ESAs for multiple educational purposes, not just private school tuition. It also found that families saved a significant amount of their ESA money for future expenses.

This indicates that ESAs not only expand the learning options available to individual children, but they also encourage fiscal discipline within education spending.

Parents and lawmakers in nearly a dozen states, including Oregon, are working to make this flexible learning option available to more children. The next generation of education reform in America needs to embrace flexibility to meet the needs of every child, and Educational Savings Accounts are proving to be a simple but powerful way to do just that.

Extending Oregon’s Public School Open Enrollment Law Empowers Parents

This week the Oregon State Senate passed an extension of Oregon’s open enrollment law, Senate Bill 1566. The bill extends for three more years the sunset provision of a 2011 law which allows students to attend public schools in different districts from their home residences, as long as the receiving district is accepting transfers. The bill is expected to pass the House before the end of the session.

Oregon’s open enrollment law is a victory for parents, because it gives them more power to choose among Oregon public schools without requiring transfer permission from their local school district—permission that was often denied. Other winners include rural district schools which have worked hard to attract incoming transfer students by focusing on strong academics.

Instead of more bureaucracy, Oregon needs effective accountability in K-12 education by empowering every parent to hold his or her child’s school accountable and to ensure that their children are getting the education they deserve. Oregon legislators should be commended for supporting the Oregon open enrollment law, a relatively easy way to promote accountability and continuous improvement within the public school system. When parents can choose the schools that are best for their children, students have better chances to learn and succeed; and school districts have both the incentives and the opportunities to shine. And that can only be a plus for education in Oregon.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

2016’s Record-Breaking Celebration of School Choice

This week is National School Choice Week. Every January, National School Choice Week highlights the need for effective educational options for all children “in a positive, forward-looking, fun, nonpolitical, and nonpartisan way.”

Planned by a diverse coalition of individuals and organizations, National School Choice Week features special events and activities that support school choice programs and proposals. School Choice Week began five years ago with 150 events. Since then, it has grown into the world’s largest celebration of education reform. The 2016 School Choice Week will feature more than 16,140 independently planned events nationwide.

Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week, explains, “More American families than ever before are actively choosing the best educational environments for their children, which has galvanized millions of additional parents―those without options―to demand greater choices for their own children. National School Choice Week will [provide] a platform for people to celebrate school choice where it exists and demand it where it does not.”

Students have different talents, interests, and needs; and they learn in different ways. The landscape of educational options to meet those needs is far more diverse today than it was even a few years ago. It’s becoming increasingly evident that more choices in education are the way of the future. For more information, visit National School Choice Week online at schoolchoiceweek.com.

Cascade Policy Institute will host a National School Choice Week School Choice Policy Picnic on Thursday, January 28, at noon. Cascade founder Steve Buckstein will discuss the importance of school choice and where we go from here to get more of it in Oregon. Those interested in attending can RSVP online.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

 

 

Oregon Legislature Should Continue Open Enrollment in Public Schools

By Bobbie Jager

This week marks National School Choice Week, and states across the nation have much to celebrate. In the past decade, choice advocates across the political spectrum have worked to pass legislation including full funding for online and charter schools, education savings accounts, scholarship tax credits for children with disabilities, and open enrollment, which allows children to register freely beyond school district borders. School choice advocates in states like Indiana, Colorado, and Florida are also working to break down the walls between the K-12 education system and higher education so students not only earn a high school diploma, but are well on their way to earning an associate’s degree.

 

When our state decided to create a Common School Fund, it was with the belief that a successful society was dependent upon having a skilled and educated citizenry, and that it was in the public’s interest to pay for public education. But the Common School Fund was merely a funding mechanism. It was agnostic on the delivery mechanism.

 

In today’s society, we expect customization and personalization in every aspect of our life. Have you considered that maybe our education system is failing not because we lack funding, but, rather, because we’re still relying on a one-size-fits-all system for 550,000 students with little consideration for the needs of the individual student? Often, Oregon politicians talk about strengthening people’s rights to freely make choices about their lives, yet when it comes to school choice, families in Oregon are severely restricted. The resistance to school choice by education leaders in Oregon isn’t limited to simply expanding new options. Unfortunately, there is a constant effort to undo the few choice options available to Oregon families.

 

In 2011, a bipartisan Oregon legislature successfully increased options by expanding enrollment caps for online schools, creating a modified open enrollment option, and allowing colleges and universities to act as charter sponsors. Once caps were lifted, more Oregon students and their families chose online schooling. In turn, more public schools made online schooling an offering to stay competitive with their public charter school counterparts. The cap, however, is artificial. We should do away with it altogether and let parents have full access to that option.

 

When Oregon enacted open enrollment, hundreds of families across the state made the decision to leave their local school district for one that better suited the needs of their child. Unless the legislature acts in 2016, that choice will expire. Living in such a progressive state, doesn’t it make sense that we would continue to expand choices for parents instead of limit them?

 

Progressive Democrats from around the nation are moving in this direction. For example, former California Senate President Gloria Romero, a Democrat and an educator, passed the nation’s first parent trigger law. The law empowers parents whose children attend public schools that are in the bottom 20 percent of California’s system with one of three choices: implement a turn-around model with the district and new staff, transition the school into a charter school, or vote to shut the school down. Gloria understood empowering parents with choices would help children escape failing schools.

 

As a mother of 13 children, I quickly learned not every child fits into the same educational “box.” My children have attended public schools, including charter schools, private schools, experienced home schooling, and attended international schools when my family was stationed in Saudi Arabia. My kids fill the spectrum from special needs to children identified as talented and gifted. To assume each child is well-served by the exact same educational delivery formula is a recipe for disaster. We now see the results of that thinking in Oregon’s poor graduation rates.

 

My message to Oregon legislators is to look at what Democrats in other states are doing to end inequality in their education systems. Their efforts are based on choice and empowering parents to make necessary changes. Let’s end our practice of tying a child’s educational future to their ZIP code and their income. It’s time to give all Oregon school children the choice for a better future.


Bobbie Jager is the executive director of Building Excellent Schools Together (BEST), a nonpartisan organization committed to parent empowerment and increasing the options for education delivery in our public school system. She was named Oregon Mother of the Year in 2012. Ms. Jager is a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

A version of this commentary was originally published in The Oregonian on January 24, 2016 as Oregon Legislature should preserve open enrollment in public schools.

Press Release: Largest Celebration of Education Reform in U.S. History Begins January 24

January 22, 2016

For Immediate Release

Media Contact:
Steve Buckstein

503-242-0900 or steven@cascadepolicy.org

 

Cascade Policy Institute Plans Special Event to Celebrate National School Choice Week 2016

Portland, Oregon to play role in nation’s largest celebration of education reform

 

Portland, Ore. – Cascade Policy Institute will hold a special event in celebration of National School Choice Week 2016, organizers announced today. The event will shine a spotlight on the need to expand access to educational options for all children.

The event will take place at noon on Thursday, January 28, at Cascade Policy Institute. Cascade’s Founder and Senior Policy Analyst Steve Buckstein will discuss the latest school choice news and what’s happening in Oregon. The event is open to the public, but reservations are required.

“Oregon is behind the national school choice curve. It’s time we caught up, so all Oregon students can get the best education possible regardless of their zip code,” said Buckstein.

School choice means empowering parents with the freedom to choose the best educational environments for their children. The goal of National School Choice Week (NSCW) is to raise public awareness of all types of education options for children. These options include traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.

Started in 2011, NSCW has grown into the world’s largest celebration of opportunity in education. The Week is a nonpartisan, nonpolitical public awareness effort and welcomes all Americans to get involved and to have their voices heard. Held every January, NSCW shines a positive spotlight on effective education options for every child.

National School Choice Week 2016 will be held January 24-30, 2016. The Week will be the largest series of education-related events in U.S. history:

  • 16,140 total events across all 50 states
  • 13,224 schools of all types are holding events
  • 808 homeschool groups are holding events
  • 1,012 chambers of commerce are holding events
  • 27 governors have issued proclamations recognizing School Choice Week in their states
  • More than 200 mayors and county leaders have issued School Choice Week proclamations
  • There will be rallies and special events at 20 state capitol buildings

“From 150 events in our inaugural year, 2011, to 5,500+ events in 2014, the impact of National School Choice Week has been nothing short of incredible,” said Andrew Campanella, National School Choice Week’s president.

“Thinking back to that first year, I am just overwhelmed at how much NSCW has grown, with so many different folks across the country shining in the positive spotlight of this effort. From students and parents and teachers to school leaders, elected officials, governors, mayors, state legislators, concerned citizens, education organizations and small businesses, National School Choice Week has truly brought people together to celebrate educational opportunity.”

By participating in National School Choice Week 2016, Cascade Policy Institute joins hundreds of organizations, thousands of groups, and millions of Americans in raising awareness about the need to empower parents with the ability to choose the best educational environments for their children.

Founded in 1991, Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s premier policy research center. Cascade’s mission is to explore and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity.

For more information, visit www.schoolchoiceweek.com or visit cascadepolicy.org.

###

1 2 3 4 22