Category: Education

What is Going On Cases Rise and Oregon Schools Open-cm

What is Going On? Cases Rise and Oregon Schools Open

By Helen Doran

“What is going on?” That’s what many Oregon parents are asking as their kids struggle with online learning, all while public officials flip-flop on education policies during a wave of COVID-19 cases.

On October 30th, Governor Kate Brown added to the mayhem. On the same day the state announced a record breaking number of cases, the governor rolled out relaxed safety standards for reopening Oregon elementary schools. Since then, the case count has climbed higher by the day.

The Oregon Department of Education explained that the change in direction was because the benefit of in-person education outweighed the risk of spreading the disease. But why was this announced when cases are at an all time high…after two months of distance learning?

The governor’s relaxed standards at a time when cases are trending dramatically in the wrong direction is a cognitive dissonance for exhausted parents who have been told that keeping their kids behind a laptop was for the greater good.  Students and families can’t afford to ride the ODE’s wave of ever-changing priorities and promises. A money-back guarantee would be a lifeline for students struggling in the public school system and needing a solution urgently. Oregon needs to make school choice a priority during the 2021 legislative session. Children’s futures depend on it.

Helen Doran is a Program Assistant, External Affairs at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

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Poll Shows Support for Parents to Use State Education Funding for School Choice

By Kathryn Hickok

A RealClear Opinion poll released at the end of September revealed that parents with children in school increasingly—and overwhelmingly—favor the concept of school choice. More than 2,000 registered voters were asked this question: 

“Recent federal legislation gave governors new funding they can use for K-12 education. Some governors have let families control the funds for the purchase of education technology and materials, private school tuition, and home education. Would you support or oppose your governor sending the funding directly to families and allowing them to choose how to use those funds to support their child’s education?”

Seventy-eight percent of public school parents and 79% of non-public school parents supported that statement.

As families today struggle with school situations that aren’t meeting their children’s learning needs, options have suddenly become necessary for many parents, especially low-income and single parents. If their zoned public schools aren’t working for their children or families, Oregon parents should get a kind of “money-back guarantee” that will enable them to make other arrangements. One simple way to do this would be an Education Savings Account program, like those already operating in other states. ESA programs give parents control of a portion of their state’s allocated education funding, which they can use to pay for out-of-pocket education expenses.

An ESA program would be a lifeline for Oregon families whose kids are not being served well by their zoned public schools. The purpose of education funding should be educating students, and all parents should be empowered to obtain a quality education for their kids.

: Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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I was homeschooled. Here is why I support school choice.

By Helen Doran

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents now find themselves adding the position of “teacher” to their LinkedIn profiles. According to a recent Gallup poll, 1 in 10 American families are now officially homeschooling. Many more are supplementing the school system’s online programs with additional learning in the home or with “pandemic pods.”

What has become abundantly clear through this unconventional year of education is that a “one size fits all” education cannot be the policy of the future. Parents have had a closeup view of the quality of their children’s education. Many now see the need for change. In fact, 44% of public school families are considering making changes to how their children learn this fall, according to a September poll by Heart + Mind Strategies.

My family is the perfect example of why choice is the best policy of the future, especially during this period of distance learning. My mother homeschooled four children for religious and quality reasons, two of us all the way through high school. Each of our K-12 educations looked dramatically different and utilized various online classes, tutors, and private education; but they led each of us on our own unique paths to success.

This flexibility allowed us to dive deeply into our interests and to structure our learning in a way that enabled each of us to thrive. However, my point is not to advertise the benefits of homeschooling, but rather, to emphasize the uniqueness of each child’s educational needs. This has been made painstakingly clear by distance learning. Some children are thriving at home with a break from traditional learning. But many are seeing their grades and well-being suffer dramatically by traditional schools’ attempts to teach virtually. In fact, 59% of teens think that online learning is worse than in-person.

My family was lucky. Our parents could afford the time and money to choose the type of education we each needed, whether that be online, one-on-one, or private. But many families are not so fortunate, which leads to the difficult conversation of inequity. A child’s unique needs should not be a discussion merely for those endowed with the necessary resources and flexibility to consider them. Shouldn’t every child be given the option to choose?

School choice is not a new idea. But as parents’ frustration mounts over the inability of public schools to educate effectively during COVID-19, the concept of giving parents a portion of their state’s per-student education funding so they can choose the resources that work best for them has increased in popularity. Opponents of parental choice argue that such legislation favors middle-class families and draws funding away from the public schools. But education choice laws can be designed to be fiscally neutral or even net positive for local school districts. If the amount of funding provided to a withdrawing student is less than what would have been spent to educate that student in the public system, both students and school districts can be made better off.

School choice frees students from being coveted dollar signs in the state budget and instead allows any kid the option to chase his or her dream education. Isn’t that what equity is about? Equal opportunity? Access to education should be equitable, flexible, and focused on supporting the student, not the system. School choice is the fastest, most efficient path to that goal.

Helen Doran is Program Assistant for External Affairs at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market public policy research organization.

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Achieving Equity: Oregon Students Deserve a Money-Back Guarantee

By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

On September 21, 2020, Oregon’s Senate heard policy proposals to advance equity in education. Senators seeking the quickest and most effective way to achieve equity during this pandemic should flip the state’s funding model. Instead of funding the public school system, the state should support students directly by providing each student as much as $10,500 from the State School Fund.

My fifth grader in Portland Public Schools just got his daily COVID-19 class schedule, and there’s a lot of alone time. On a typical day, he meets with his classroom teacher over Zoom for 75 minutes over the 6.25 hour day. There’s a half-hour “morning meeting,” 30 minutes to go over language arts and social studies, and 15 minutes to discuss math. Nearly three-quarters of the time he’s “in school” he’s actually watching videos posted by his teacher or working on his own.

Governor Kate Brown and the school system frequently remind us, “We’re all in this together.” But, if you talk to parents and kids, many feel like they’re all on their own. On their own to find space for their kids to work. On their own to buy the laptops, printers, webcams, microphones, and headphones to support “online learning.” On their own to pay their broadband providers to supply enough bandwidth to support multiple people video conferencing at the same time. On their own to balance their jobs or job hunts with the school’s Zoom-on, Zoom-off daily schedule.

When our politicians and policymakers say, “We’re all in this together,” what they’re really saying is, “Tighten your belt and toughen up.” For example, when parents tried to enroll their children in online charter schools with a long history of distance learning, the Oregon Education Association lobbied against lifting an enrollment cap. The union argued even a modest lifting of the cap would deny funding to public school districts. To them, our kids are just numbers fed into a formula that funds the system. Rather than working with existing money, they are demanding even more spending on the public school system.

Elizabeth Thiel, the president of Portland’s teachers’ union, says in order for schools to re-open to students, federal and state taxpayers must fund more “investments” in overhauling school ventilation systems, buying personal protective equipment for teachers, and “doubling or more” the number of teachers to allow small group instruction.

On average, Oregon school districts receive about $10,500 per student from the State School Fund. If students aren’t getting instruction from their public schools, they should get that money back to receive instruction elsewhere. States like Oklahoma and South Carolina have already taken advantage of similar ideas by reallocating much of their federal stimulus dollars directly to families to help them adapt to this school year.

Instead of waiting for DC to deliver more federal money, Oregon must put families first by allowing education dollars to follow children to the school that works best for them—whether that’s a traditional district-​run public school, charter school, private school, home school, or learning “pod.”

Think of it as a money-back guarantee. If the public school isn’t working for your kids or your family, you should have a right to take that money and spend it where it works with your child’s needs and your family’s schedule. If enough students leave the public system, the smaller class sizes demanded by Ms. Thiel can be achieved without doubling the number of teachers on the public payroll.

Direct funding of students reduces inequities in school systems because it allows all students to have access to education alternatives. Almost 60% of public charter school students in the U.S. are Black or Hispanic. Imagine what these families could do with as much as $10,500 per student to spend on educational expenses. If equity is the goal, school choice through direct funding is the surest and quickest path.

If your local grocery store doesn’t re-open or can’t keep its shelves stocked, families can take their money elsewhere. So why are families locked into schools that don’t fit their needs? Let’s give a money-back guarantee to every student and their struggling families. Education funding is intended to help children learn, not to entrench the education establishment.

Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is Vice President of Research at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. He can be reached at eric@cascadepolicy.org.

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Emancipate the Students

By John A. Charles, Jr.

The state legislature is seeking policy proposals for “equity in education.” Here’s an idea: how about a money-back guarantee for public schools?

The K-12 system is based on the assumption that all students should attend neighborhood public schools. Even in the best of times, that wasn’t working for many families. Now the assigned schools aren’t even open; the governor has mandated online learning.

Virtual education has some benefits, but also imposes new costs for parents. They are now part of the educational workforce, except they’re not getting compensated.

There is a solution. School districts are funded from three primary sources: the state school fund, the federal government, and local property taxes. The state share alone averages about $10,000 per student annually. The legislature should offer parents a refund of the $10,000 if they leave the public school system. This would instantly make the departing families better off, while reducing crowded conditions for those students who remain. With fewer students, it would be easier for public schools to restore classroom education. Everyone wins. One system cannot satisfy all needs. The best way to give families more options is to provide them with the equivalent of a Food Stamp card upon request, and let them swipe it for the instructional services they need.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market public policy research organization.

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Oregon Students Deserve Stability

By Helen Doran

Oregon guidelines for the 2020 fall semester have been remarkably inconsistent, causing confusion and mayhem for faculty, parents, and students alike. The Oregon Department of Education recently released new guidelines that allow students with special needs to have limited in-person instruction but with reduced hours and class size. This includes students with disabilities, English language learners, and those enrolled in career technical education (CTE) programs.

But even these guidelines are dependent on the absence of Covid-19 cases among staff and students for two weeks. This doesn’t guarantee a stable learning environment for students that need stability the most.

The guidelines also fail to explicitly address those affected by the decision to continue virtual learning in the fall. What happens to the student experiencing homelessness who has no access to a hotspot? What about the single mother who has to choose between keeping a job and staying at home with her child?

It’s time to face the reality that Oregon’s public school system cannot guarantee a “one-size-fits-all” solution for students this fall. A money-back guarantee for K-12 education would go a long way in empowering parents to find the stability they need in uncertain times.

Every parent and every child find themselves uniquely affected by the pandemic. They deserve unique solutions too. Let’s put the money in the hands of the parents, not the system.

Helen Doran is a Program Assistant at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

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A Money-Back Guarantee for Oregon Students

By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

Oregon public school students are not likely to return to their classrooms this fall, with Portland Public Schools bracing parents for at least a semester of online classes. Even if they return to campus, PPS students face a two-day-on, two-day-off schedule. The uncertainty and chaos partially explain the results of a June survey conducted by USA Today and Ipsos that reported 60% of parents are likely to continue homeschooling this fall even if schools reopen. If a large portion of the population opts out of public schools this year, what happens to all that money?

Funds for Oregon schools come from a complex mix of state, local, and federal sources. On average, school districts receive about $10,500 per student from the State School Fund. The figure below shows that districts in Multnomah County spend about $8,600 per student in instruction, which accounts for about half (or less) of total public school spending. If students aren’t getting instruction from their public schools, they should get that money back to receive instruction elsewhere. Imagine what families could do with $8,600 a year to spend on educational expenses.

Total expenditures per student (ADMr)
Multnomah County school districts, 2019-20 budget

Source: Multnomah County Tax Supervising and Conservation Commission

Because district funding depends on how many students attend school in a district, public schools have a keen interest in maintaining or expanding public school enrollment. In written testimony to the legislature, the state’s teachers union and school employees union opposed increased enrollment in online charter schools. They claimed that increased enrollment in charter schools would “reduce the funding that districts need.” Governor Kate Brown closed online charters along with brick and mortar schools in part because increased charter enrollment would “impact school funding for districts across Oregon.” For the unions and the governor, students are not kids seeking an engaging education, they are merely a source of funds to fuel the public school system.

Public education should fund students’ education instead of the education system. The money should follow the child, wherever he or she may choose to go. If a student chooses the public school, then the funds should flow to the public school. If a student chooses a private school or a charter school, then the funds should be used to offset those costs. Families of homeschoolers should receive funding to offset their out-of-pocket education expenses. If that seems obvious, that’s because it is obvious.

Think of it as a form of money-back guarantee. If you’re happy with your public school, stay there. But, if the public school isn’t working for your child, you should be able to get your money back and spend it where it works. In July, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos suggested rather than “pulling funding” from schools, the government is considering “allowing families…[to] take that money and figure out where their kids can get educated if their schools are going to refuse to open.” Many parents will find $8,600 to spend on education can go a long way if they shop around.

This isn’t a radical idea. It’s how higher education works for millions of college students. They can take their Pell Grants, GI Bill funds, and other financial aid to just about any school they want. Why is K-12 “financial aid” contingent on attending a bureaucratically assigned public school?

The practice of assigning students to schools based on street addresses is inherently unfair. Wealthier neighborhoods have better-funded schools with better measures of student achievement, while poorer neighborhoods have run-down schools with dismal academic performance.

The pandemic has exposed our state and local governments as broken. They only “work” during a booming economy, when wasted money and misplaced priorities are obscured by widespread prosperity. But when effective public services are needed most, our government institutions have ground to a halt and, in some cases, made things worse. Now more than ever, families should control their education funds to find schooling solutions that match their children’s needs, their work schedules, and their health concerns. A money-back guarantee of $8,600 per student would go a long way toward finding those solutions.

Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is Vice President of Research at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market public policy research organization.

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School Choice Means Equitable Funding

By Cooper Conway

Last week, the United States officially surpassed 4 million documented coronavirus cases. With only a few weeks before students return to school, parents in Oregon are scrambling to find—or create—a safe and effective learning environment for their children.

Of the options available, some parents believe they have found the best solution for their family with micro-schools.

Micro-schools are small groups of children that learn at home. The parents of children in micro-schools pool their resources to hire a teacher, or instead become teachers themselves by obtaining teaching materials through homeschooling programs.

However, some families cannot afford a private teacher’s salary, even if they pool their funds with other parents. Parents who can’t or won’t send their children to public schools deserve to get their kids’ share of state instruction funds.

It’s a matter of equity. If public schools can’t safely and effectively provide education, the funds should flow to families so they can find a solution that works for them and their children. Putting schooling funds directly into the family’s hands allows for maximum flexibility when the local government school is unable to provide an option that parents feel comfortable with.

Parents know what options are best for their children, and Oregon lawmakers should allow all families, not just wealthy ones, to have the same access to those options.

Cooper Conway is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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COVID-19 is limiting classroom access; it’s time to stop limiting Oregon’s online charter school enrollment

By Cooper Conway

The Oregon Education Association (OEA) recently penned a letter to legislators urging them to maintain a strict limit on the number of children who may transfer to online charter schools. A 2011 Oregon law caps the number of students allowed to transfer to an online charter school at 3 percent of local district enrollment. The union argues that the cap was generous because only 1 percent of students were actively looking to switch at the time the cap was set.

However, that was 2011. We are now living in 2020, during a worldwide pandemic in which learning in person is impossible for most children.

Parents of more than 300 Oregon students recognized this new reality and completed paperwork to transfer their children to an online charter school soon after Governor Kate Brown suspended in-person classes on March 16. In addition to those 300 students, thousands more looked to transfer to one of Oregon’s 22 online learning programs after the shutdown of brick-and-mortar schools. Instead of receiving a quality education in a setting that embodies social distancing, Oregon’s Department of Education stepped in on behalf of teachers’ unions and denied the transfers of any more students looking to continue full-time learning.

Nevertheless, the OEA claims raising the cap by as little as one-half of one percent would be too much. The union argues the state’s Department of Education and local Education Service Districts are currently working to provide a better, hybrid program for students during COVID-19. In contrast, nearly two dozen online charter schools have had distance learning curricula in place for years.

Encouraging the switch to charter schools is more bang for the Oregon taxpayer’s buck, too. Charter schools historically operate with 80 to 95% of what public schools receive from the state school fund. The money saved by districts from the transfer of students to charter schools could help their budgets across the state—all while empowering students to get an education in the setting of their choice.

The union’s forceful defense of the 3% cap raises a key question: Why is there a cap at all? Such an arbitrarily low cap forces charters to rely on admission lotteries, turning education into a game of chance. In no other setting in America does this happen. For example, 41 million Americans have applied for unemployment since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The government is not allowed to put a 3% cap on the number of citizens claiming unemployment, so why is the Oregon state government allowed to take away students’ choice to attend an online charter school?

The government school bureaucracy can’t parent a child better than the child’s parents do. Parents should choose where their children attend school—not politicians, not bureaucrats, and certainly not a union.

Moving forward, Oregon legislators not only should raise the charter school enrollment cap, but they should get rid of it entirely. A child’s education is not something that should be politicized.

Cooper Conway is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Coronavirus Shouldn’t Stop Learning

By Cooper Conway

On March 16, Governor Kate Brown directed Oregon schools to stop in-person classes to slow the spread of COVID-19. Facing an uncertain future for “brick and mortar” schooling, 300 Oregon students completed the process to transfer to one of Oregon’s 14 online charter schools.

Eleven days after the shutdown of in-person schools, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) prevented additional student transfers to online charter schools. Jeff Kropf, the founder of Oregon Connections Academy, estimated that around 1,600 students were unable to move to his school because of ODE’s decision to freeze further transfers.

ODE’s decision curtailed thousands of students from reaching their full learning potential this past semester. However, policymakers have a rare chance to right these wrongs going forward.

Nine states have reported spikes in COVID-19 this past month, and a similar situation may occur this coming fall. Given the uncertainties about the safety and feasibility of reopening all Oregon schools, lawmakers should allow parents to choose what kind of school in which to enroll their children. The resulting increase in competition among charter, private, and public schools will encourage all education providers to adapt to the current circumstances to provide the best education possible for students.

In addition to increasing the educational opportunities that will be available for students, rolling back unnecessary regulation of charter schools will put more power over education choices into the hands of parents, where it belongs.

Cooper Conway is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Supreme Court Upholds Parents’ Right to Choose Religious Schools

By Kathryn Hickok

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 30 in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that states’ school choice laws may not discriminate against religiously affiliated schools.

Montana’s tax credit scholarship program, passed in 2015, enabled families to send their children to the private schools of their choice. The program was ruled unconstitutional by the Montana Supreme Court because some participating students wanted to apply their scholarships to religious schools, which the Department of Revenue argued violated the state’s Blaine Amendment. The Institute for Justice (IJ) appealed this decision on behalf of parents, arguing that the Court’s decision violated the Free Exercise, Equal Protection, and Establishment Clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

The Supreme Court decided in favor of the Montana parents, stating that “[a] State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

Reacting to the Court’s ruling, IJ’s president and general counsel Scott Bullock commented:

The Montana high court claimed, as [educational] choice opponents have for decades, that allowing parents like Kendra [Espinoza] to [use a tax credit scholarship at a religious school] violated the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment—which forbids state funding of so-called sectarian institutions. The U.S. Supreme Court made clear in its ruling today that it was wrong. As Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, “Drawing on ‘enduring American tradition,’” the Court has long recognized the rights of parents to direct the upbringing of their children.

Back in 1926, another private school controversy made it all the way to the Supreme Court. With the goal of preventing students from choosing a Catholic education, the state of Oregon had outlawed all private schools. In the landmark ruling Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the Supreme Court wrote that “[t]he fundamental theory of liberty…excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only.”

Parents have a right to direct the education of their children—they did in 1926 and they still do today. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Espinoza v. Montana upholds parental choice in education by ensuring that state-run school choice programs don’t discriminate on the basis of religion.

Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She is also Director of Cascade’s Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program, which provides privately funded scholarships to lower-income Oregon children to help them attend the tuition-based schools of their choice.

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Supporting Students, Not Systems, Is Social Justice

By Cooper Conway

George Floyd’s tragic death has led to growing calls for changes to antiquated policing systems. The recent protests asking for police reform over these past few weeks have caused many families to question the systemic discrimination that is hardwired into the assignment of students to public schools.

Census data reports U.S. spending per student has nearly tripled since 1960—and that’s after accounting for inflation. Oregon now spends almost $15,000 per student per year. In Portland Public Schools, it’s $27,500 per student. Even so, Oregon ranks near the bottom of the states in graduation rates.

Despite this monumental increase in funding the government’s school system with no positive results to show, most Oregon students are assigned a school based on their street address. This isn’t an accident—it’s written into district policies. Kids from low-income neighborhoods are placed in low-income schools, while wealthy families have the option to move to neighborhoods with better schools.

School choice is social justice. There is nothing fair or equitable about forcing low-income students into failing public schools with few options to choose the school that meets their needs. Even better, let’s fund students, instead of schools. Put the funds in the student’s hands and let them choose the school that fits best.

Cooper Conway is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market public policy research organization.

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To Meet Kids’ Urgent Education Needs, Oregon Should Give Parents a “Money-Back Guarantee” Through School Choice

By Kathryn Hickok

School choice has been increasing in popularity with parents for years. Education policies that give parents more options for their kids have been trending positively across most demographics.

Now, a late-April poll conducted by Heart + Mind Strategies reports that a majority of parents are considering changing their children’s future school enrollment. Parents were asked: “Has the impact of coronavirus on your child’s education caused you to consider changing your child’s future schooling?” Among public school parents, 14% said they are considering homeschooling, 20% said they are considering a private school, and 26% said they are considering a different public school.

Education Savings Account programs are an education funding solution that addresses the needs of parents today. ESAs give parents a kind of “money-back guarantee” if they want to opt out of their zoned public schools and choose other options. ESA programs currently operating in five states deposit a portion of the state funding that would be spent for a student in a public school into an account associated with the child’s family. Families can use those funds to pay for tuition or other education expenses.

ESA legislation can be designed to be fiscally neutral, or even net-positive, for school districts while giving parents several thousand dollars per child to spend on the school options of their choice.

COVID-19 will change the way students attend school. Out of this situation can come a chance to improve kids’ options through flexible, personalized delivery of education.

Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She is also Director of Cascade’s Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program, which has provided private scholarships worth more than $3.3 million to lower-income Oregon children to help them attend tuition-based elementary schools since 1999.

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Education Savings Accounts Are an Innovative Way to Provide Flexible, Safe K-12 Options

By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

The COVID-19 pandemic has wrecked state and local budgets. Moreover, it’s looking more likely that school operations will not return to normal this fall. Social distancing guidelines will demand smaller class sizes. The days of 25-30 students per classroom are over for the foreseeable future. There is simply not enough space in our brick-and-mortar schools.

Some distancing can be achieved by staggering instruction across days or weeks. However, these arrangements will create scheduling havoc for families trying to return to work, especially for families with multiple children spanning several grades or schools.

We can also achieve the required social distancing by encouraging alternatives to existing brick-and-mortar schools. For example, online public charter schools have a long history of successful education outcomes while achieving social distancing. Many private schools had digital learning plans in place prior to the pandemic and were able to quickly adjust to Governor Kate Brown’s March 23 “stay home, save lives” order. For example, St. Mary’s Academy in Portland switched to digital learning the day after the order was issued. In contrast, Portland Public Schools took nearly a month to get its distance learning plans in place.

Education savings accounts are a readily available option to foster school choice and downsize public school enrollment to achieve class sizes consistent with social distancing guidelines. Moreover, a carefully crafted ESA program would reduce state spending on education while improving options and opportunities for thousands of Oregon students.

Five states currently operate ESA programs, in which the state deposits a percentage of the funds that otherwise would be spent to educate a student in a public school into an account associated with the student’s family. The family may use those funds for private school tuition, home-based learning, or other education expenses. Funds remaining in the account after expenses are paid may be “rolled over” for use in subsequent years.

Typically, the amount deposited in an ESA is less than the amount the state otherwise would pay for a student to attend a public school, with the state recouping the difference. In this way, ESAs can be designed to produce net cost savings to state and local government budgets.

The average General Purpose Grant per ADMw is about $8,600 for the 2020-21 school year. Even a modest ESA of $3,000 for children with a household income less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level and participating children with a disability (as defined in ORS 343.035) and $2,000 for other children would generate substantial savings to the state and local school districts.

  • Because the ESA amount is significantly less than the amount the state currently spends per student, the state would be making money from every student who participates in the ESA program.
  • Most local sources of funding, especially property taxes, will be mostly unaffected by the pandemic. These sources are not linked to public school enrollment. Thus, students with an ESA who choose to leave the public school system will be freeing up financial resources for those who choose to remain.

In the 2019 legislative session, SB 668 was introduced. The bill would have created an ESA program in Oregon. As introduced, the bill was designed for state and local governments to “break even” fiscally on the ESA program. SB 668 can be used as a template for future legislation, with present-day adjustments to ensure cost savings for the state as well as local school districts.

The COVID-19 crisis is a time to re-evaluate how education is provided and funded throughout the state. We are all learning that “business as usual” will not return anytime soon. Now is the time to develop innovative ways to provide education safely to our children while providing their struggling families with the flexibility to care for their kids while returning to work.

Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is Vice President of Research at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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School Choice Can Help Solve K-12 Social Distancing Challenges

By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

The COVID-19 pandemic has wrecked education budgets. And, it’s looking more likely that school operations will not return to normal this fall. Social distancing guidelines will demand smaller class sizes, and there is simply not enough space in our brick-and-mortar schools.

Some distancing can be achieved by staggering instruction across days or weeks. However, these arrangements will create scheduling havoc for families trying to return to work, especially for families with multiple children spanning several grades or schools.

We can also achieve the required social distancing by encouraging alternatives to existing brick-and-mortar schools. For example, online public charter schools have a long history of successful education outcomes while achieving social distancing.

Many private schools had digital learning plans in place prior to the pandemic and were able to adjust virtually overnight to Governor Kate Brown’s March 23 “stay home, save lives” order. In contrast, Portland Public Schools took nearly a month to get its plans in place.

Education savings accounts are a readily available option to foster school choice and downsize public school enrollment to achieve class sizes consistent with social distancing guidelines. It can also save the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is Vice President of Research at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Flexibility and Students’ Needs Should Drive Education Options in 2020

By Kathryn Hickok

Oregon’s experience with COVID-19 will change the ways students in our state are educated. Out of this public health crisis can come a unique chance to improve educational opportunity for all children through a more personalized delivery of education.

Long before schools closed or switched to remote learning formats in March, the landscape of options to meet the needs of K-12 students was already more diverse than ever. Oregon children were receiving a quality education outside the traditional public school system through online schools (including public charters), private and parochial schools, homeschooling, tutoring and learning centers, magnet schools, and more.

Countless Oregon families are now being exposed to homeschooling and distance learning options for the first time. Many may choose to continue learning from home next fall due to their families’ personal circumstances, or because they are discovering that home learning is providing tremendous benefits for their students.

As Oregon leaders look for solutions to enable students to return to school, they shouldn’t ignore the potential of home-based learning options. Flexible, personalized education options already exist that deliver quality education to children in many environments besides brick-and-mortar public schools. All these options should be valued, and parents should have the knowledge and power to choose among them to find the best fit for their students.

Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She is also Director of Cascade’s Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program, which has provided private scholarships worth more than $3.3 million to lower-income Oregon children to help them attend tuition-based elementary schools since 1999.

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Portland’s homeless population needs a “hand-up,” not another Metro money grab

By Rachel Dawson

The Oregon nonprofit Cascadia Clusters understands the value of providing Oregon’s growing homeless population with a “hand-up” by helping individuals gain the skills needed to construct affordable transitional housing. Cascadia Clusters is a nonprofit charity that receives no government funding. Instead, it relies on donations.

The organization provides meaningful skills training for homeless individuals along with a daily stipend. These skills include framing, roofing, insulation, and finish carpentry. The “tiny homes” they build make up the units at Hazelnut Grove in North Portland and Agape Village in Southeast. Each tiny home is about 200 square feet and costs $18,000 to build. Each has a basic kitchen, a sleeping loft, and a composting toilet. The people who take part in Cascadia Clusters’ construction training gain both a safe home and the skills to lift themselves out of poverty.

The work being done by Cascadia Clusters differs dramatically from Metro’s “Supportive Housing Services” Measure 26-210 on the May ballot. Unlike Metro’s poorly planned and unclear measure, Cascadia Clusters has a straightforward plan for what the organization wants to accomplish and how, when, and where all donated money will be used. Its “hand-up” philosophy can be imitated by other groups wanting to help people leave the cycle of homelessness for good. Voters who want to assist the homeless should consider donating to one of the many Portland nonprofits with a track record of helping those in need, and vote no on Metro’s bureaucratic money grab.

Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market public policy research organization.

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Online charter school students were learning at home just fine, so why have their schools been taken away from them?

By Kathryn Hickok

If Oregon charter school students can stay at home and stay in school at the same time, shouldn’t they be able to?

Governor Kate Brown’s Executive Order 20-08, which closed all Oregon public schools due to COVID-19, has been interpreted to also close Oregon’s online charter schools. This means students who were enrolled as online charter students before COVID-19 have had their online schools closed, even though these students already learn at home and can safely comply with Oregon’s social distancing and stay-at-home norms. Like other public schools, online charter schools are permitted to offer “supplemental” educational materials, but not their full curriculum, according to Willamette Week.

Apparently, this decision isn’t about students; it’s about school funding. A memo from the Oregon Department of Education suggests that because online charter schools already have a curriculum for students to learn remotely, more parents may want to enroll their students in those programs now. And that would “impact school funding for districts across Oregon.”

The ODE’s logic in closing online charters seems to be that because all students can’t enroll in online charters, then no students should. So, thousands of kids who were learning online just fine three weeks ago have lost access to their programs.

Online charter school students should not be at a disadvantage compared with other children who are continuing to learn at home—those who are enrolled in private schools and home schools. The Oregon Department of Education should reverse its guidance and allow students who were already enrolled in virtual charter schools to stay in school.

Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She is also Director of Cascade’s Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program, which has provided private scholarships to lower-income Oregon children to help them attend tuition-based elementary schools since 1999.

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Supreme Court Espinoza Case Debates Parents’ Freedom to Choose Religious Schools

By Miranda Bonifield

When Kendra Espinoza’s husband suddenly left their small family, her two daughters’ lives were thrown into chaos. Separation is never easy on kids. But on top of all the normal anxieties of the situation, Naomi and Sarah went from homeschooling with a stay-at-home mom to enrollment in the local public school while their mom worked. While this might be a smooth transition for some kids, Naomi was bullied and Sarah struggled in her classes.

Kendra knew it wasn’t the right option for them. So, the Montana mother took a second job and pursued every financial avenue she could to send them to a Christian private school. There, her daughters flourished in an environment where Kendra felt they were learning good values.

Tuition became more burdensome when in 2017 Montana ended the tax credit scholarship that helped stabilize Naomi and Sarah’s lives. The small program had allowed Montana taxpayers to deduct up to $150 from their taxes when they voluntarily donated to scholarship organizations that helped kids like the Espinozas.

Montana’s tax credit scholarships could be used at any school, whether secular or religious, until the Montana Department of Revenue chose to interpret the state’s prohibition against aid to religious organizations to include participation in this program. Though a trial court found in favor of families’ free exercise, the Montana Supreme Court struck down the entire scholarship tax credit to avoid either benefiting or discriminating against religious schools. On January 22, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.

Ending a scholarship program which helped families across the state solely to prevent religious schools from benefiting is arguably a violation of the free exercise and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Previous Supreme Court cases like Trinity Lutheran v. Comer (2017) established that a church’s status as a religious organization may not be used to deny it benefits from an otherwise secular aid program.

Montana has argued, tenuously, that the precedent set in Locke v. Davey allows a state educational funding program to refuse funding explicitly religious options such as pastoral degrees. But even the scholarship program in Locke included religious schools and religious classes, drawing the line only at explicitly religious purposes.

Montana’s tax credit scholarship, which originally assisted school-aged children to attend any participating private school, could have legally and Constitutionally continued to help Kendra Espinoza and her kids without providing undue support to religious organizations. In fact, out of 29 states with a total of 62 school choice programs, Montana’s is the only program which chose to explicitly remove support for religious schools on the basis of their religion.

While school choice programs may allow funding to be directed to a variety of schools, the real beneficiaries are the families who can choose schools which help their unique children. The real beneficiaries are kids like Naomi and Sarah. Espinoza v. Montana is less a question about public funding for private schools and more an issue of equal access to education for American families. While striking down Montana’s tax credit scholarship program removed options for all children, it disproportionately impacted the children of low-income families for whom private school tuition is at best a major sacrifice and at worst an impossibility.

For moms like Kendra, school choice isn’t a distant political ideal. It’s an immediate practical reality which means the difference between watching your child struggle through a one-size-fits-all system and choosing a school that can nurture your child’s growth. This month’s arguments in Espinoza v. Montana should become an important precedent for defending a family’s right to choose an education consistent with their values, bringing a fairer understanding of what it means to provide equal access to education.

A favorable ruling in Espinoza v. Montana could help empower families who otherwise would be unable to attend private schools—a boon both to public schools which would benefit from increased competition and to students who could thrive with the education that best fits them.

Miranda Bonifield is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She is also the Program Assistant for the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program, which helps lower-income Oregon children attend private and parochial elementary schools through partial-tuition scholarships.

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Miss Virginia: A Trailblazer for Educational Opportunity for Today’s Kids

By Kathryn Hickok and Miranda Bonifield

Virginia Walden Ford is a Washington, D.C. mom whose extraordinary sacrifice and determination changed not just her own child’s life, but the lives of thousands of low-income and minority students. Her story is now told through the new movie Miss Virginia, starring Orange Is the New Black’s Uzo Aduba.

Virginia’s experience as an African American student integrating Little Rock high schools in the 1960s gave her a strong personal understanding of how important education is to a child’s success. When, years later, her own son William began slipping through the cracks of a D.C. public school where his teacher didn’t even know his name, she fought for a better option. Virginia’s answer came in the form of a private school scholarship. William went from skipping school to being a joyful, enthusiastic student known by friends and teachers.

Virginia Walden Ford believes every child should have that same chance to succeed in school and in life. Her persistent work on behalf of low-income students in Washington, D.C. led to the creation of the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). The OSP is a congressionally funded scholarship program which has given thousands of District kids the chance to attend private elementary and high schools chosen by their parents or guardians. Virginia says, “We knew that if we raised our voices, we could win for our children. We did. And now our kids are winning as a result.”

January 26-February 1 is National School Choice Week, the world’s largest celebration of parental choice and effective educational options for all children. To celebrate National School Choice Week, Cascade Policy Institute will host a special screening of the film Miss Virginia in Lake Oswego on Thursday evening, January 30, at 6:30 pm. (Admission is free, but reservations are required due to space limitations. For theater information and to reserve tickets, call Cascade Policy Institute at (503) 242-0900.)

As Virginia Walden Ford and her son William knew too well, choices in education are widespread in America, unless families are poor. Parents with the financial means to do so will buy homes near public schools they like, pay tuition for private schools, or supplement the classroom experience with enrichment opportunities. But low-income families generally find themselves trapped with only one option: a public school assigned to them based on their address, which too often fails to meet their children’s educational and personal needs.

All families deserve better.

The landscape of options to meet students’ unique learning needs is more diverse today than ever. These options include traditional public schools, charter schools, private and parochial schools, homeschooling, magnet schools, online learning, and more. Today, more than half the states in the U.S. provide parents with flexibility in their children’s learning options through 61 different educational choice programs such as privately or publicly funded scholarships, education tax credits, and Education Savings Accounts (which can function like restricted-use debit cards for a child’s education expenses).

Every child has one chance to grow up, and each year is precious. Parents know it: The right educational environment can change a student’s life. Empowering parents to give their children the education that’s right for their talents and needs unlocks the unique potential of every child. Virginia Walden Ford’s experiences and advocacy on behalf of Washington, D.C. students demonstrate how important school choice policies are to the future of low-income children in America. She also shows us what a difference one dedicated and courageous parent makes, not only for her own child, but for thousands of others as well.

Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute and director of Cascade’s Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program. Miranda Bonifield is CSF-Oregon’s Program Assistant. CSF-Oregon has provided scholarships worth more than $3.3 million to lower-income Oregon children to help them attend private or parochial elementary schools since 1999.

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National School Choice Week Celebrates All the Ways Kids Learn

By Kathryn Hickok

January 26-February 1 is National School Choice Week, the world’s largest celebration of parental choice and effective education options for all children. Since 2011, more than 180,000 independent NSCW events and activities have been planned in local communities across the country.

The landscape of options to meet the learning needs of today’s students is more diverse than ever. These options include traditional public schools, charter schools, private and parochial schools, homeschooling, magnet schools, online learning, and more.

Empowering parents to choose among these options can unlock the unique potential of every child. More than half the states in the U.S. now help families to have more flexibility with their children’s education through educational choice programs like privately or publicly funded scholarships, education tax credits, and Education Savings Accounts.

To celebrate National School Choice Week, Cascade Policy Institute will host a screening of the new feature film Miss Virginia in Lake Oswego on Thursday evening, January 30, at 6:30 pm. Admission is free, but reservations are required due to space limitations. For more information about the event and to reserve tickets, call Cascade Policy Institute at (503) 242-0900.

Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She is also Director of Cascade’s Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program, which has provided private scholarships worth more than $3.3 million to lower-income Oregon children to help them attend tuition-based elementary schools since 1999.

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Espinoza and Equal Opportunity in Education

By Miranda Bonifield

In 1926, an Oregon school controversy made it all the way to the nation’s Supreme Court. But the issue on the table wasn’t teacher pay, proper curriculum, or student safety. Oregon had outlawed private schools in a discriminatory effort to remove Catholic education. But in the landmark ruling Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the Court recognized that “The fundamental theory of liberty… excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only.” Families have a right to choose how they educate their children.

Later this month, the Court will consider another landmark education case, Espinoza v. Montana. Montana’s tax credit scholarship program, which enabled families to send children to the private schools of their choice, was struck down because some participating students attended religious schools. That decision removed options for all children, but disproportionately affects the children of low income families for whom private school tuition is at best a major sacrifice and at worst an impossibility.

A favorable ruling in Espinoza vs. Montana could help empower rather than exclude families who would otherwise be unable to attend private school—a boon to both the public schools which would benefit from increased competition and the students who could thrive with the education that best fits them.

Miranda Bonifield is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She is also the Program Assistant for the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program, which helps lower-income Oregon children attend private and parochial elementary schools through partial-tuition scholarships.

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Miss Virginia

By Miranda Bonifield

Virginia Walden Ford is a mom whose extraordinary sacrifice and determination changed not just her own child’s life, but the lives of thousands of American students. Her story is now the subject of the new movie Miss Virginia, starring Orange Is the New Black’s Uzo Aduba.

Virginia’s experience as a black student integrating Little Rock high schools in the 1960s gave her a strong personal understanding of how important education is to a child’s success. When, years later, her own son William began slipping through the cracks of a Washington, D.C. public school where his teacher didn’t even know his name, she fought for a better option. Virginia’s answer came in the form of a scholarship and a second job working nights. William went from skipping school to being a joyful, enthusiastic student known by friends and teachers. Virginia believed every child should have that chance.

Virginia Walden Ford’s persistent work on behalf of low-income students in Washington, D.C. led to the creation of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which gives thousands of low-income kids the chance to attend a private school. Virginia says, “We knew that if we raised our voices, we could win for our children. We did. And now our kids are winning as a result.”

You can watch Miss Virginia on Amazon Video, Google Play, and in select theaters around the country.

Miranda Bonifield is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She is also the Program Assistant for the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program, which helps lower-income Oregon children attend private and parochial elementary schools through partial-tuition scholarships.

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Charter Schools Create Diverse Choices for Students with Different Needs

By Miranda Bonifield

Parents know the educational needs of their children are as diverse as they are. As Lance Izumi notes in his new book Choosing Diversity, families use the flexibility of charter schools to cater to their students’ unique needs. Some choose classical schools rooted in the Socratic method, while others seek out technical schools which cater to students’ individual learning styles. And for some kids experiencing homelessness, charter schools can provide a point of stability and hope.

Transient housing may have a lifelong impact on educational outcomes for the estimated 22,000 students in Oregon who statistically fall behind in grades and graduation rates. When a student’s address is constantly shifting, it is difficult to feel secure enough to keep learning.

Enter charter schools like Life Learning Academy in San Francisco. Instead of falling through the cracks as they might in a traditional public school, at-risk students are given the specialized attention and consistency they need. Students come to Life Learning Academy with low grade point averages and low self-confidence. They leave not only prepared for college, but with the skills they need to succeed as independent adults. As one student put it, “a little bit of care and positivity can change your life.”

School choice helps students from all backgrounds to find successful educational paths to a healthy and bright future.

Miranda Bonifield is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Fresh Spinach for Indifferent Students: Oregon’s Costly Farm-to-School Program

By Helen Cook

When did you last hear a child profess his love for spinach?

Oregon’s Farm-to-School program awards grants to school districts across Oregon to give them the funds needed to purchase fresh foods from local farms and vendors. Advocates hope that by using the words “fresh” and “local,” K-12 students will nurture a healthier taste for fruits and veggies. This hope prompted legislators to budget almost $15 million for the program at the end of the 2019 session.

This is a significant increase from the program’s $200,000 budget in 2012, largely because legislators rephrased the bill to allow entities separate from Oregon school districts to accept grants. This technical rewording allows for summer meal programs, nonprofits, and even the local vendors selling food to the districts to accept grant money.

But frozen foods benefit students more than local produce does. Frozen fruits and veggies have equal or superior nutritional value and lower costs. This is important for school districts who prepare meals by the thousands.

Since the program’s main benefit is not Oregon’s students, I suggest the state reevaluate the expensive Farm-to-School program to be more cost-effective and call this current grant program what it is: a subsidy for local vendors.

Helen Cook is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Is Oregon Really “Disinvesting” in Education?

By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

The Portland Association of Teachers declares Oregon has suffered “a 30-year disinvestment in education.” That’s a bold charge. Thirty years is a long time, and disinvestment is a strong word.

To disinvest literally means “to reduce or eliminate” investment. Is it true that Oregon has reduced investment in public schools over 30 years? No.

Multnomah County’s Tax Supervising and Conservation Commission has been tracking school spending in the Portland area for more than 30 years. A review of Portland Public Schools spending since 1985 shows that per student spending in Oregon’s largest school district has steadily increased over the past 30 years, as shown in the figure below.

Over the past three decades, both total spending and spending on instruction at PPS have grown faster than the rate of inflation. In recent years, Portland schools have spent about $30,000 per student, with almost $8,000 per student spent on instruction.

 

Portland Public Schools spending in dollars per student

Since the last recession, PPS total spending has accelerated. Voters in the district have approved nearly $1.3 billion in construction bonds since 2012. In 2011 and 2014, voters approved and renewed a local option property tax increase for Portland schools. Another renewal of the $95 million tax is expected to be on the ballot this year.

In Oregon, total expenditures per student were $13,037 in 2016, the most recent year for which information is available from the U.S. Census Bureau. Oregon is exactly in the middle of the state rankings of per student total expenditures. Six states, including Oregon, Washington, and California, have per student spending that is within five percent of the national average. Total expenditures include salaries, employee benefits such as health insurance and PERS, supplies, and debt service, among other things.

According to the state’s Legislative Revenue Office, annual state and local education spending in Oregon has increased by about $1.7 billion over the past ten years. This amounts to $2,350 in increased spending per student and has greatly outpaced the rate of inflation.

Despite Oregon’s smack-dab-in-the-middle per student spending, the state ranks near the bottom in graduation rate, produces mixed results on standardized tests, and has the sixth-highest student-teacher ratio in the U.S.

These dismal outcomes are not the result of disinvestment; they are a result of misinvestment—a diversion of education spending away from classroom teaching.

The Public Employee Retirement System and other benefits are the biggest drivers of Oregon’s education finance problems. The cost of paying for public employee retirements has doubled over the past ten years. In 2009, school districts paid approximately 15% of payroll to fund PERS. The latest estimates indicate next year, districts will have to pay 30% of payroll. A big piece of current so-called “instructional” expenditures is actually spent to pay for teachers who have retired.

In general, health insurance premiums for teachers in Oregon are lower than those of teachers in California or Washington, but Oregon teachers pay a much smaller share of the premium. Research indicates Oregon teachers pay approximately 12% of the premium, while teachers in California and Washington pay 22-45%.

Many school districts have taken on additional debt to reduce their PERS obligations and fund construction. Interest payments on debt are taking money out of classrooms. Census data indicate Oregon schools pay almost $600 per student per year in interest payments alone, making it the fourth highest state in per student interest payments.

Oregon taxpayers continue to support and invest in the state’s education, and any claims of disinvestment are simply wrong. Because of misplaced priorities, too many dollars earmarked for education are not used to teach students the skills they need to be productive and successful adults. PERS must be overhauled, and educational spending should be directed toward increasing high school graduation rates and making measurable improvements in academic achievement.

Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is Vice President of Research at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. A version of this article appeared in The Portland Tribune on May 21, 2019.

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Education Savings Accounts Give Parents the Power of Choice in K-12 Education

By Kathryn Hickok

This month, the Tennessee legislature passed a new Education Savings Account (ESA) law for its state’s K-12 students. The law creates the second ESA program that will operate in the Volunteer State.

The new Tennessee law provides families there with alternatives to low-performing public schools in the form of about $7,300 per student in education funding annually, if parents want to withdraw their children from their zoned district schools. Parents may spend ESA funds on private school tuition, tutoring, educational therapies, or other education-related expenses.

Education options are widespread in America, unless a family can’t afford an alternative to their zoned public school. Education Savings Accounts give parents the ability to customize their children’s education in the ways that are best for them as individual students. ESAs put parents, rather than government school bureaucracies, in the “driver’s seat” of their kids’ education. Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee are operating ESA programs today.

Unlike school voucher programs, ESAs give parents the flexibility to spend education funds on more than just private school tuition. Depending on the specifics of individual ESA programs, approved uses for ESA funds also can include textbooks, online classes, tutoring, testing, AP classes, dual-enrollment courses, homeschool expenses, and education-related fees. Some ESA programs operate like controlled-use debit cards, with which parents can pay only for legitimate education expenses.

Senate Bill 668, introduced in Oregon’s 2019 Legislative Session, would create an Education Savings Account program here. Participating children from families with income less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level and participating children with a disability would receive $6,500 deposited into their accounts. All other participating children would receive $4,900 deposited into their accounts. Funds remaining in a child’s account after expenses are paid each year could be “rolled over” for use in subsequent years, including post-secondary education within Oregon.

ESA programs are frequently designed so the amount of funding support provided to participating students would be less than the amount the state would have spent for a student to attend a public school, with the state recouping the difference. In this way, ESAs can provide a net fiscal benefit to state and local government budgets.

A fiscal analysis of Oregon’s SB 668 found the program, if enacted, likely would cost the state approximately $128 million a year but would lead to savings of about $130 million a year to local school districts, for a net state and local impact of approximately $2.2 million in reduced costs. There would be virtually no net impact on per-student spending for students who continued to choose public K-12 education.

Because parents, not the government, direct the spending of funds in their children’s ESAs, ESA programs have stood up to constitutional challenges. A state’s government is not involved in picking “winners and losers” in the non-public education sector, nor is it directing taxpayer funds to religious institutions. Schools chosen by parents are accountable to parents, who are free to “vote with their feet” and enroll in schools that are providing value. Because ESAs are not a “use it or lose it” benefit, parents are further incentivized to use their ESA funds with education providers with whom they are satisfied.

Senate Bill 668 will receive an informational hearing in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, June 5, at 1 pm at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem. If you support more parental choice in education, you may wish to attend the hearing or to submit your own testimony or comments to the committee online.

Children in 29 states and the District of Columbia currently benefit from 62 operating school choice programs. Oregon students, regardless of their ZIP Codes or income levels, deserve the opportunity for an education that fits their unique needs and goals. Education Savings Accounts put more options within reach for all students, especially those who need them the most.

Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Tennessee’s New Education Savings Account Law Puts More Parents in the “Driver’s Seat” of Their Kids’ Education

By Kathryn Hickok

This month Tennessee enacted a new Education Savings Account (ESA) law for its state’s K-12 students. The law creates the second ESA program that will operate in the Volunteer State.

Education options are widespread in America, unless a family can’t afford an alternative to their zoned public school. The Tennessee legislation provides families there with alternatives to low-performing public schools in the form of about $7,300 per student annually to spend on private school tuition, tutoring, or educational therapies.

Education Savings Accounts work like controlled-use debit cards. Parents can spend allocated funds on approved school expenses or educational services. ESAs put parents, rather than public school bureaucracies, in the “driver’s seat” of their kids’ education.

Senate Bill 668, introduced in this year’s Oregon Legislative Session, would implement an Education Savings Account program here in Oregon. Senate Bill 668 will receive an informational hearing in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, June 5, at 1 pm. If you support parental choice in education, attend the hearing or submit your own testimony online.

Children in 29 states and the District of Columbia currently benefit from 62 operating school choice programs. Oregon students deserve the same opportunities for an education that fits their needs.

Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Why Record-Breaking Revenues Aren’t Enough

By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

This week, Oregon is facing a one-day teacher strike, with educators demanding more money for schools. Also this week, the legislature will consider a billion-dollar-a-year sales tax on business. All this is happening in the face of record-breaking tax revenues.

Research published by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that Oregon tax revenues are nearly 30 percent higher than the pre-recession peak. Only one other state has seen bigger growth in tax revenues.

But even a gusher in tax revenues can’t keep pace with government spending. Despite a booming economy with record low unemployment, the number of people on the Oregon Health Plan has nearly doubled from pre-recession levels. Over the same period, the annual cost of the public employee retirement system has grown by 60 percent, or double the rate of tax revenues.

Nearly every problem with state and local budgets can be traced to PERS costs and Medicaid expansion. Our budget problems are spending problems, not revenue problems.

While we recovered from the last recession, our elected leaders are making dangerous decisions today that will lead to devastation when the next recession hits. If our government can’t balance the books during a boom, we won’t survive a bust.

Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is Vice President of Research at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Florida Legislature Gives 18,000 More Children the Chance for a Great Education

By Kathryn Hickok

This week, the Florida legislature passed a bill that would create a scholarship program for lower-income families called the Family Empowerment Scholarship. The Family Empowerment Scholarship will provide lower-income children with scholarships equal to 95% of the state portion of funding to school districts. The Family Empowerment Scholarship is expected to be signed into law soon by Governor Ron DeSantis.

The Family Empowerment Scholarship will complement Florida’s other parental choice programs, the McKay Scholarship for children with special needs and Step Up for Students for children from low-income families. According to the American Federation for Children, which promotes parental choice in K-12 education, the parents of more than 170,000 Florida children wanted to apply for 100,000 scholarships available through Step Up for Students for the current school year. By authorizing 18,000 new scholarships in its first year, with a subsequent annual growth rate of 7,000 per year, the new Florida law will increase the education options available to low-income Florida parents.

Oregon should take a serious look at the diversity of parental choice options low-income families now have in states like Florida and across the country. It’s time for Oregon to expand the role of parents choosing―and schools delivering―better education through school choice, because every child deserves a chance for a successful school experience and a better future today.

Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Free to Choose with Freedom Scholarships

By Miranda Bonifield

School choice made a splash in the headlines last month with the proposal of the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act. The proposed legislation would create a federal income tax credit for donations to organizations which grant scholarships to school-aged children and create an efficient path forward for students in states which have yet to embrace educational choice.

Tax credit scholarship programs have already successfully assisted thousands of students in states like Florida, where 92% of families enrolled report satisfaction. 71% of the 108,000 students would otherwise be in a public school. But because of their option to choose, they are statistically more likely to attend a school which parents feel is positively shaping their character and to attend college after graduation. Tax credit scholarships have been encouragingly successful on the state level. Encouraging donations to scholarship-granting nonprofit organizations, while leaving states the flexibility to opt in or out of the program, is an optimal way to encourage school choice without federal overreach.

Closer to home, Senate Bill 668 is currently in the Oregon Senate Committee on Education. The bill would create Education Savings Accounts for Oregon students. ESAs direct a portion of the funds designated for a child’s education in a public school to an account which could fund the family’s choice of private, online, or homeschool options.

If implemented, both the federal and the state proposals would be real victories for American students.

Miranda Bonifield is Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. 

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Cultivating Educational Choice with Education Savings Accounts

By Miranda Bonifield

A Portland public school made headlines last week for offering parents the chance to choose their child’s teacher for next year as part of a school fundraiser. Teachers cried “foul” because they thought the opportunity gave unfair advantage to students whose families were from higher income brackets.

Why not give the same opportunity to all students?

Senate Bill 668 would implement a universal Education Savings Account (ESA) program in Oregon. ESAs direct a percentage of the funds the state would otherwise spend to educate a student in a public school to the student’s family to spend on private school tuition and/or other approved educational expenses.

In other words, every family could choose their child’s teacher.

Florida implemented an Education Savings Account program for special needs students in 2014. Of the students enrolled during the first two years, 40% used the funds to customize (mix and match) aspects of their child’s education. About half of these families chose to educate their children outside of a brick-and-mortar private school. The more than 10,000 students enrolled are a tiny fraction of the 2.59 million students in Florida public schools, but their choices illustrate an important point: Families need and want options that the state does not provide in their district public schools.

Oregon’s education system perpetuates a disconnect between the interests of families seeking the best possible outcome for their children and of schools seeking the fairest possible outcome for all children. We can agree that Oregon’s teachers are overworked, that many of our schools are underperforming, and that something must change to give the best possible shot to each student. Education Savings Accounts are an efficient, compassionate, effective way to provide quality education to all Oregon’s students—regardless of income.

Miranda Bonifield is Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Education Savings Accounts: A “Ticket to the Future” Today

By Kathryn Hickok

Derrell Bradford has spent his adult life passionately advocating for education reform through parental choice. Derrell grew up in southwest Baltimore and received a scholarship to a private high school. Better than anyone, he knows the power of choice to unleash a child’s potential.

“A scholarship is not a five-year plan or a power point…,” Derrell explained recently. “It’s a ticket to the future, granted today, for a child trying to shape his or her own destiny in the here and now….”

Choices in education are widespread in America, unless you are poor. Affluent families can move to different neighborhoods, send their children to private schools, and supplement schooling with enrichment opportunities. Lower- and middle-income families, however, are too often trapped with one option: a school in need of improvement assigned to them based on their home addresses. Families deserve better.

It’s time Oregon took a serious look at the diversity of options parents now have in school choice programs across the country, including Education Savings Accounts. Oregon has a history of bold experimentation in other policy areas. It’s time to expand the role of parents choosing―and the market delivering―better education for Oregon’s children through educational choice, because every child deserves a ticket to a better future today.

Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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What’s at the Root of Oregon’s Rock-Bottom Graduation Rate?

By Kathryn Hickok

Last week the National Foundation for Education Statistics released the 2017 high school graduation rates for all fifty states. Oregon ranked 49th, at 76.7%. On the same day, Oregon officials announced an 80% statewide graduation rate for 2018. Even if Oregon’s graduation rate is making modest year-to-year gains, Oregon is still almost last in the nation.

During the past year, the Oregon legislature’s Joint Committee on Student Success asked local communities what constitutes “success” and began to work on a plan for legislative action to improve public schools. The committee published its report this month.

The committee could have saved some trouble, though, by listening to what one former Oregon college student—Steve Jobs—said about education in 1996:

“What’s wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology….It’s a political problem….The problems are unions. You plot the growth of the National Education Association and the dropping of SAT scores, and they’re inversely proportional. The problems are unions in the schools. The problem is bureaucracy. I’m one of these people who believes the best thing we could ever do is go to the voucher [school choice] system.”

With an almost-last-in-the-nation graduation rate, it’s time to free education from both union control and bureaucracy, and put the power of choice in education into the hands of parents. Oregon has tried everything else.

Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Education Savings Accounts: Fiscal Analysis of a Proposed Universal ESA in Oregon

By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

Executive Summary

Education Savings Accounts deposit a percentage of the funds that the state would otherwise spend to educate a student in a public school into accounts associated with the student’s family. The family may use the funds to spend on private school tuition or other educational expenses. Funds remaining in the account after expenses may be “rolled over” for use in subsequent years.

Empirical research on private school choice finds evidence that private school choice delivers benefits to participating students—particularly educational attainment.

Currently, Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee have active ESA programs that are limited to particular groups of students such as those with special needs. The proposed Oregon ESA bill would introduce a universal ESA program for all K–12 students.

ESAs are frequently designed so the amount of funding provided to families is less than the amount the state would otherwise pay for a student to attend public school, with the state recouping the difference. In this way, ESAs can be designed to produce a net fiscal benefit (i.e., cost savings) to state and local government budgets.

A fiscal analysis of the proposed Oregon ESA bill finds that it would cost the state approximately $128 million a year but would lead to savings of about $130 million a year to local school districts, for a net state and local impact of approximately $2.2 million in reduced costs. There is virtually no net impact on per-student spending for students who choose public K–12 education. ♦

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Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is president and chief economist at Economics International Corp., an Oregon-based consulting firm specializing in economics, finance, and statistics. He is also an adjunct professor at Portland State University, where he teaches in the economics department and edits the university’s quarterly real estate report. His economic analysis has been widely cited and has been published in The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. 

Dr. Fruits has been invited to provide analysis to the Oregon legislature regarding the state’s tax and spending policies. He has been involved in numerous projects involving natural resources and Oregon forest products such as analysis for Ross-Simmons v. Weyerhaeuser, an antitrust case that was ultimately decided by the United States Supreme Court. His testimony regarding the economics of Oregon public employee pension reforms was heard by a special session of the Oregon Supreme Court.

Dr. Fruits has produced numerous research papers in real estate and financial economics, with results published in the Journal of Real Estate Research, Advances in Financial Economics, and theMunicipal Finance Journal.

 

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More Money for Schools Is Meaningless Without Controlling PERS Costs

By John A. Charles, Jr.

Several members of the Portland Public Schools Community Budget Review Committee recently co-authored an essay entitled, “The under-funding of schools must end.”

The authors assume that all money problems at public schools are the result of insufficient tax support; but the reality is that schools have been unable to control costs, especially related to pensions.

For example, in 1998 Oregon schools were required to send premiums equal to 9.9% of their salaries to pay for their share of the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS).

Since then, those rates have gone up steadily and will reach 18.3% later this year—an increase of 84% over two decades. Some school districts will pay much more. Sherwood school district will pay 27% of salaries for their PERS Tier 1 and Tier 2 obligations. Tigard-Tualatin school district will pay 28%. Tillamook Community College will pay 21%.

School support from the Oregon general fund has doubled since 2001, but it doesn’t do much good when tax money entering the front door of schools leaves out the back door for retirees. In many cases, those former workers are earning more in retirement than they did when they were actually teaching.

Unless the legislature is willing to take strong measures to control the cost of PERS, there will never be enough money to satisfy public school advocates.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Taiko Drums, Jazz Choir to Perform at Salem School Fair during National School Choice Week

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SALEM (Jan. 11, 2019) – Japanese Taiko drums, a jazz choir, and an acting class will perform at the Options in Education Fest featuring a wide variety of schools from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19 at the Salem Convention Center.

Nearly 1,000 people are expected to attend the National School Choice Week celebration.

Dozens of schools from every sector – public charter, public magnet, private, virtual, and homeschool – will be represented, helping hundreds of families find the right school or educational setting for their children.

This event is planned to coincide with the history-making celebration of National School Choice Week 2019, which will feature more than 40,000 school choice events across all 50 states.

“School choice is the pathway to success,” said Bobbie Jager, school choice outreach coordinator at School Choice for Oregon. “Helping all children and parents find the right fit builds confidence and gives students the power they need to become their greatest selves.”

 

School Choice for Oregon is hosting the event. School Choice for Oregon is a project of Cascade Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research and education organization based in Portland. Cascade Policy Institute has promoted educational choice for all Oregon families since 1991. For more information about the Options in Education Fest and School Choice for Oregon, contact Bobbie Jager at bzmama@onlinemac.com or 503-510-9106.

 

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As a nonpartisan, nonpolitical public awareness effort, National School Choice Week shines a positive spotlight on effective education options for students, families, and communities around the country. From January 20 through 26, 2019, more than 40,000 independently-planned events will be held in celebration of the Week. For more information, visit www.schoolchoiceweek.com.

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Options in Education Fest Celebrates Oregon Parents’ Education Choices

By Bobbie Jager

As a mother of 13 children (no, that’s not a typo) and grandmother of 17 more, I understand the critical role that parents play in the lives of their children. Education can make or break a child’s future, and school choice gives parents the power—and the responsibility—to decide what education options fit their children best. That’s why I support school choice and National School Choice Week.

Every January, National School Choice Week (www.schoolchoiceweek.com) shines a spotlight on effective education options for all children. A nonpartisan and nonpolitical celebration of educational choice, the Week raises awareness of the different K-12 education options available to children and families. National School Choice Week recognizes all K-12 options, including traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling.

Started in 2011, National School Choice Week is now the world’s largest annual celebration of opportunity in education. Parents, teachers, supporters, and students will gather at more than 40,000 events the week of January 20-26, 2019. These events will celebrate the ways in which school choice has brought quality educational options to millions of households nationwide.

Some parents may not know it, but they do have a wide array of options. In Oregon, school choice runs the gamut, from homeschooling to magnet schools offering specialized programs in subjects like the arts or sciences. Some school districts offer choice through open enrollment (children studying in public schools outside their neighborhood borders).

Some argue that school choice undermines public education. Far from it! For one thing, many school choice options are public options, including open enrollment, magnet schools, charter schools, and online learning. Oregon’s publicly funded options include more than a hundred charter schools and 12 virtual (online) schools, all of which have greater autonomy and flexibility than traditional public schools.

But regardless of the school setting parents choose, education should always have children—and parents—as its focus. However well-intentioned, no school official can ever replace the love, care, and affection that parents will show a child. Because they care so much, and know so much about their sons and daughters, parents are the best-placed individuals to decide the right schooling option for their children. School choice gives them that power, that opportunity, and that voice.

The joy in children’s eyes at National School Choice Week festivities reminds me of my kids’ excitement when they came home from school after completing a big project or doing well on a test. When placed in an environment that nurtures and cultivates their special skills and abilities, children have a chance to shine, and their faces radiate happiness. As a mother, I hope all parents can witness that joy in their children’s faces—not just once or twice a year, but throughout their schooling.

Here in Oregon, we will use National School Choice Week to host the Options in Education Fest 2019: Exploring Your Child’s Education Opportunities, at the Salem Convention Center, Saturday, January 19, 2019. Parents and children can learn more about their options, including programs offered and application processes at various schools. This knowledge will provide parents with the power to make informed choices for their children. For more information and to attend the Options in Education Fest, visit schoolchoicefororegon.com.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of being named Oregon’s “Mother of the Year.” But in reality, all children see their parents as the Mother or Father of the Year. And all parents who make sure their children receive a quality education—and the better future that comes with it—qualify. So please celebrate National School Choice Week by considering your school options or coming out to the Options in Education Fest. Your children will thank you, both now and for many years to come.

Bobbie Jager, Oregon’s 2012 “Mother of the Year,” is a parental choice advocate and the School Choice Outreach Coordinator for the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. A version of this article appeared in The Portland Tribune on December 18, 2019.

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Annual School Choice Week Celebrates K-12 Education Options

By Kathryn Hickok

Every January, National School Choice Week shines a spotlight on effective education options for all children. A nonpartisan and nonpolitical celebration of educational choice, the Week raises awareness of the different K-12 options available to families, including traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling. This year’s celebration will be January 20-26, 2019.

Here in Oregon, Cascade Policy Institute will host the Options in Education Fest 2019: Exploring Your Child’s Education Opportunities, at the Salem Convention Center, Saturday, January 19, 2019. Parents and children can learn more about their options, including programs offered and application processes at various schools. This knowledge will provide parents with the power to make informed choices for their children.

Children have different talents, interests, and needs; and they learn in different ways. The options available to meet students’ learning needs are more diverse today than ever. For more information and to attend the Options in Education Fest, visit schoolchoicefororegon.com.

Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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More Spending Won’t Solve Educational Woes

By Miranda Bonifield

Increasing funding to Oregon’s school system may seem like an admirable attempt to give all kids their best shot. But the answer to our never-ending quest to educate children isn’t blowing the budget; it’s smart spending. The most recent public school spending proposals fail to mention a potential source for the extra billion dollars per year in education spending they include—which would be compounded by Oregon’s extraordinarily expensive public pension plan. Raising Oregon’s already-high taxes to hire more teachers while promising pensions Oregon can’t deliver is a recipe for disaster.

EdChoice recently published a study of the fiscal impacts of American school choice programs and found that American taxpayers saved about $3,400 for every school voucher that’s been awarded. In addition, public schools no longer have to educate the student who decides to participate in a school choice program, automatically shrinking the class size of the school she would have enrolled in.

Education Savings Account programs allow parents to withdraw their children from their assigned public schools and use some of the funding for the education of their choice. An analysis of such a proposed program in Oregon found that an allocation of $4,500 per participating student would result in a net savings of $6 million per year. I don’t know about you, but I think that sounds much better than a billion-dollar tax increase.

Miranda Bonifield is Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Lessons in Education from Gandalf the Grey

By Miranda Bonifield

Cascade Policy Institute has supported parental choice in K-12 education since 1991. In fact, it’s the issue that convinced founder Steve Buckstein of the need for a free-market think tank in Oregon. But would you have imagined that Gandalf, fictional hero of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, would be a voice for educational choice as well?

Yes, you read that right: Gandalf the Grey (delighter of hobbits, purveyor of fireworks, and instigator of disruptive adventures) would support school choice—giving parents the power to choose the educational setting that works best for their children. It’s all right if you need some tea to process that. I’m enjoying my second breakfast as I write this.

If you think Gandalf would never have any concern about education, consider the man who created the beloved character.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a celebrated philologist who studied and taught at Oxford. As a child, most of his initial education in languages, literature, botany, music, and art came from his widowed mother, whose creativity and passion for knowledge were passed on to her children. When her already meager allowance from her husband’s relatives was cut off upon her conversion to Catholicism, the Tolkien family moved to even harder circumstances and benefited from a local parish school. After his mother died, the young author persevered as a student.

Tolkien would later say, “True education is a kind of never-ending story—a matter of continual beginnings, of habitual fresh starts, of persistent newness.”

His character Gandalf regularly placed his faith in the character of everyday people, entrusting the most important task of Tolkien’s saga—the care and destruction of the One Ring—to an ordinary halfling. “Soft as butter as they can be,” the wizard said, “and yet sometimes as tough as old tree-roots.” Even comfortable, curmudgeonly Bilbo Baggins demonstrated how right he was—exchanging riddles to save his life from Gollum, rescuing his dwarven companions from giant spiders, and then risking the anger of the same friends to broker peace between gathering armies.

With such demonstrations of Bilbo’s merit, I think it’s safe to say Gandalf would trust ordinary people’s desire and ability to obtain a good education for their children.

Wisdom (and our favorite wizard) recognizes that life isn’t one-size-fits-all. One doesn’t reason with the evil possessing the king of Rohan—drive it out by whatever means necessary. One doesn’t send an impetuous, proud prince of Gondor into Mordor with a ring of unfathomable power. Instead, send an ordinary person whose heart is in the right place.

Likewise, parents don’t want to send their uniquely gifted child, who may have special needs, to a school that isn’t a good fit. Every parent wants to give their child the best education possible.

The most effective way to accomplish that is not by trying to force public schools to cover every eventuality and trapping students in schools that don’t meet their needs. Rather, we should return the power to parents by putting education funding in their hands to utilize resources that are already available for their children.

Last year, researchers at EdChoice combed through the highest-quality studies of school choice programs around the country. Did you know that 31 of the 33 studies on the competitive effects of school choice demonstrate a positive impact on public school test scores? Each of the three studies on the competitive effects of school choice programs found that participants in school choice programs graduate at a higher rate than their peers. School choice typically has a positive effect on racial and ethnic integration. Perhaps most importantly, parents who are able to take advantage of school choice are more satisfied with the quality of education their children receive and feel their children are safer at school.

It’s high time we brought some newness to Oregon’s education system. With good counsel from the wisest advisor of the Shire, I’m sure the excellent and commendable hobbits here in Oregon will agree: Each one of us should be a voice for school choice.

Miranda Bonifield is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market public policy research organization. She is also the Program Assistant for the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon, a Cascade program that provides K-8 scholarships to low-income Oregon children.

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School Choice Improves Student Mental Health

By Miranda Bonifield

If you’ve done your homework on school choice, you know it’s been linked with improved student safety, improved quality of public schools, and academic performance. But another compelling virtue of school choice, recently published by Dr. Corey DeAngelis and Professor Angela Dills, is its association with improved mental health and decreased rates of suicide. Even when controlling for students’ family backgrounds, the paper continued to find a strong association between school choice and decreased rates of suicide.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. When families are empowered to choose the best fit for their children, they are likely to favor schools with safe and nurturing environments that suit their child’s unique needs. The best answer to Oregon’s educational problems isn’t a longer school year or more access to preschool, even if those are potentially good things for some families. The answer is to expand Oregonian families’ choices through Education Savings Accounts, which would reserve a portion of state education funding for students’ families—making sure that money follows the educational needs of individual children, not the blanket dictates of administrators.

Every child should have the chance to receive a quality education. Oregon should make a change that’s good for our kids’ mental health and their long-term success.

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Survey Shows Florida Scholarship Parents Are Overwhelmingly Satisfied with Their Children’s Schools

By Kathryn Hickok

Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program currently helps more than a hundred thousand of the state’s most disadvantaged students to get a better education through privately funded scholarships, making it the largest private school choice program in America. The program has been funded by voluntary corporate donations to nonprofit scholarship organizations. In return for these donations, companies receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits against their state income tax.

Last week, EdChoice released the largest-ever survey of the parents of Florida’s tax credit scholarship students, revealing these families’ educational priorities and experiences.

Analyzing the responses of more than fourteen thousand parents, EdChoice concluded:

  • “The vast majority of Florida scholarship parents expressed satisfaction with the tax-credit scholarship program.”
  • “Florida parents chose their children’s private schools because those schools offer what their public schools can’t/don’t.”
  • “Among respondents whose children were previously enrolled in a public district or charter school before using a scholarship to enroll in a private school, most parents reported engaging in a variety of education-related activities more often than before switching schools….”

Children have different talents, interests, and needs; and they learn in different ways. The landscape of educational options to meet students’ learning needs is more diverse today than ever. For more information about school choice in Oregon, visit schoolchoicefororegon.com.

Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She is also director of Cascade’s Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program, which provides partial tuition scholarships to Oregon elementary students from lower-income families.

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Watch “School Choice Changes Lives!” Online Now

By Steve Buckstein

On September 25, Cascade Policy Institute and its School Choice for Oregon project hosted a live audience event in downtown Portland, “School Choice Changes Lives!”

Designed to attract an online audience and social media participation, the event aired simultaneously on Facebook.

National school choice experts Dr. Matthew Ladner (Charles Koch Institute) and Tim Keller (Institute for Justice) were the featured guests for this fast-moving, question-and-answer panel discussion on school choice.

If you missed the live event online, you can watch it now to learn how school choice can benefit all Oregon children. Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, educator, and/or taxpayer, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to learn from experts how School Choice Changes Lives!

You can watch the archived video at Facebook.com/SchoolChoiceforOregon. If you’re not on Facebook, simply go to SchoolChoiceforOregon.com; click on the Social button and watch School Choice Changes Lives on YouTube. There is no login required to watch on YouTube.

If you think Oregon’s school children are not getting all the opportunities to learn that they deserve, you won’t want to miss this event. So go to Facebook or YouTube, and learn how School Choice Changes Lives and how you can get involved to help make school choice a reality in Oregon.

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Oregon Parents Need More Options for Children with Learning Challenges

By Miranda Bonifield

For students born with learning disorders like dyslexia, learning to read without a specialized program is an incredibly difficult task. Instead of being a satisfying challenge, it becomes a demoralizing chore.

Consider the experience of Tara Mixon, who quit her job to homeschool her dyslexic first grader.  His self-confidence had plummeted when he couldn’t learn to read alongside his Kindergarten class. Transitioning to a single income meant she couldn’t afford specialized tutoring, which often costs more than $50 per hour. Tara’s hard work means her son can enroll in fourth grade this year, but she is far from confident in the public schools’ ability to address his needs. Like many parents of dyslexic students, Tara fears her son will fall behind his peers again and lose the confidence he has built over the last two years.

New legislation recently passed in Oregon makes an admirable effort at early identification of reading disorders, but experience has shown parents and children alike that good intentions don’t guarantee results.

Instead of trying to shoehorn students with unique needs into a single system, Oregon should empower families with school choice. Implementing a system like Education Savings Accounts would allow parents like Tara to enroll their students in specialized programs or pay for tutoring—turning reading from an insurmountable obstacle back into the joy it should be.

Miranda Bonifield is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Can School Choice Change Lives?

By Steve Buckstein

Can School Choice Change Lives? Join Cascade Policy Institute and SchoolChoiceforOregon.com the evening of Tuesday, September 25th for a Live Stream Facebook event featuring two prominent national School Choice experts.

Find out how and why School Choice is indeed changing lives around the country, and how Oregon school children can benefit from much more school choice than they have today.

Each student has individual challenges and learning styles, and many factors can cause them to fall behind. Join this discussion to learn how School Choice can help.

Are you a parent? Are you an Oregon taxpayer? You won’t want to miss this fast-moving Q&A discussion with local and national school reform experts, in front of a live studio audience in Portland.

We invite you to submit questions in advance or during the Live Stream at Facebook.com/SchoolChoiceforOregon.

To be involved, go to SchoolChoiceforOregon.com/Events and enter your email address. You’ll be notified by email before the event goes live on Facebook at 6 pm on September 25th.

If you’ve ever wondered why Oregon’s public education system is so expensive, yet produces such poor results for so many children, you won’t want to miss this important event. Again, go to SchoolChoiceforOregon.com/Events and enter your email address.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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The Smartest Choice Is School Choice

By Miranda Bonifield

What do 29 states and nations from Australia to the Netherlands have in common? School choice. In Belgium, school choice is enshrined as a constitutional right. Pakistan utilizes a voucher program. The result is higher-quality education for kids of all backgrounds. It’s time for Oregon to recognize these benefits and embrace school choice.

Not only are participants in school choice programs more likely to graduate and enroll in college, but 31 of 33 available studies have demonstrated that the resulting interschool competition positively impacts public schools.

It’s the best policy for low-income communities: As the Brookings Institute’s John White noted in 2016, school choice gives low-income kids the chance to take advantage of options like private schools or tutoring that otherwise would be out of reach.

School choice doesn’t favor any one religion or group, since well-structured programs like Education Savings Accounts allow parents themselves to choose the educational resources that meet their own children’s needs. And as a cherry on top, all but three of the 40 available fiscal analyses found that school choice resulted in savings of taxpayer dollars.

However you spin it, the smart choice is school choice.

Miranda Bonifield is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Time to Stop the PERS Pac-Man from Eating Teachers’ Salaries and Taxpayers’ Pocketbooks

By Steve Buckstein

What do Pac-Man and public pensions have in common? An intriguing 2016 national study of pension debt and teacher salaries recently answered this question. Depending on what economic assumptions are made, it’s likely that unfunded public pension liabilities for all states and local governments exceeded $6 trillion in 2017. Based on the same assumptions, Oregon’s share of those liabilities likely approached $50 billion.

The study, The Pension Pac-Man: How Pension Debt Eats Away at Teacher Salaries, by Chad Aldeman of Bellweather Education Partners, concluded that unfunded public pension liabilities were eating away at teacher salaries in every state—just like the old arcade game Pac-Man. This happens because the school districts teachers work for have to pay an increasingly larger share of their budgets into retirement funds for teachers who are no longer teaching, at the expense of those currently in the classroom.

In effect, America’s public school teachers are being charged on average about $6,800 a year—money that could be boosting their paychecks—to preserve what are becoming increasingly inequitable public pension systems. The inequality stems from the shifting nature of state pension systems that compensate older (and currently retired) teachers at higher rates than they will younger ones.

So where do Oregon teachers stand? Compared to the national average of about $6,800 per teacher, Oregon basically has to charge our teachers $7,398 a year to cover our unfunded PERS liabilities. That’s more than in all but 14 other states.

One might conclude that Oregon teachers consequently have lower salaries than teachers around the country because of this large pension hit. Not true. The nation’s largest teachers union reported that the average Oregon teacher earned $61,862 a year in 2016-17, compared to the national average of $59,660. That put our teachers in thirteenth place for average teacher pay among the 50 states.

Then again, Oregon teachers might be expected to earn more because, again according to that recent union report, in 2017 Oregon had more revenue per student in its public school system than 30 other states. We had $14,827 per student in average daily attendance, compared to the national average of just $13,900.

So, even though Oregon teachers are being hurt by our large public pension debt, they still earn more than teachers nationwide, and even more relative to their Oregon neighbors who pay the taxes to fund those higher teacher salaries while earning less than the national average themselves. All-in-all, Oregonians compensate our public school teachers relatively well.

Even though the latest, so-called Tier 3 or OPSRP PERS system has a less generous defined-contribution element than Tier 1 PERS workers earned, taxpayers should not be on the hook for unknown, and unknowable, pension costs going forward. It’s unknowable costs like these that have led to the current, nearly $7,400 annual debt burden on our teachers, districts, and taxpayers.

If Oregon had no unfunded PERS liabilities, three things could happen. Teachers might argue they should see an average raise of almost $7,400 per year, while school districts might want to put that money toward other district expenses that benefit students. Taxpayers might expect to see their Oregon personal income tax bills reduced if the state managed its public pension funds responsibly.

But none of these outcomes will occur because Oregon hasn’t managed PERS responsibly. As long as this continues, the outcome will be what’s unfolding now: higher taxes and greater school district payments to fund pension liabilities that few saw coming—and that threaten to continue, like Pac-Man, to eat away at teacher salaries, school district budgets, and taxpayer pocketbooks.

To stop the PERS Pac-Man, our Governor and legislators need to get serious about PERS reform, specifically by ending the “defined-benefit” elements of PERS for all work done in the future, either by new employees or current ones. Instead, the legislature should move all public employees, including teachers, to 401(k)-style defined-contribution retirement plans, which are the only kind of plan available to most taxpayers. The costs to future teachers, schools, and taxpayers will only get worse if we don’t end the PERS Pac-Man once and for all.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Stop Waiting for Superman—Be a Voice for Choice Instead

By Miranda Bonifield

Are we waiting for Superman? In 2010, a documentary by that name chronicled the struggles of five kids trying to get a quality education in the American public school system. Despite the $634 billion dollars Americans funnel into public education, these kids’ choices were between enrollment in an ill-fitting public school or winning the charter school lottery. Kids’ talents aren’t determined by their ZIP codes; and their educations shouldn’t be, either. Oregonians should take up Superman’s mantle ourselves and expand students’ horizons via school choice.

Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs, would put some of the funds that the state otherwise would spend to educate a student in a public school into accounts associated with the student’s family. The family could use the funds for approved educational expenses like tuition, tutors, online courses, and other services and materials. This would empower parents and give kids the freedom to thrive in the best educational program for them. Imagine kids with disabilities having more access to some of the best programs in the state, or gifted young artists with more access to the fine arts programs outside their home school district. ESA’s help make that happen. They could even save taxpayers thousands of dollars.

This year alone, 466,000 students were served by school choice programs in 29 states. Oregon should be among them. Stop waiting for Superman—he isn’t coming. Instead, be a voice for choice.

Miranda Bonifield is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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How the PERS Pac-Man Eats Teacher Salaries

By Steve Buckstein and Kathryn Hickok

What do Pac-Man and public pensions have in common? An intriguing 2016 national study of pension debt and teacher salaries recently answered this question. Depending on what economic assumptions are made, it’s likely that unfunded public pension liabilities for all states and local governments exceeded $6 trillion last year. Based on the same assumptions, Oregon’s share of those liabilities likely approached $50 billion.

The study, The Pension Pac-Man: How Pension Debt Eats Away at Teacher Salaries, by Chad Aldeman of Bellweather Education Partners, concluded that unfunded public pension liabilities are eating away at teacher salaries in every state—just like the arcade game. This happens because the school districts teachers work for have to pay an increasingly larger share of their budgets into retirement funds for teachers who are no longer teaching, at the expense of those currently in the classroom.

To stop the PERS Pac-Man from eating teacher salaries, Oregon’s Governor and state legislators need to get serious about PERS reform. They should end the “defined-benefit” elements of PERS for all work done in the future. Instead, public employees, including teachers, should move to 401(k)-style retirement plans. The costs to future teachers, schools, and taxpayers will only get worse if we don’t end the PERS Pac-Man once and for all.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade.

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Children’s Scholarship Fund Gives Low-Income Parents Real Education Choices

By Kathryn Hickok

This spring, the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program sponsored by Cascade Policy Institute is celebrating twenty years of giving low-income parents more choices in education through partial-tuition grade school scholarships.

The Children’s Scholarship Fund was founded by the late Ted Forstmann and John Walton, who donated $100 million together and partnered with scholarship organizations across the country, raising money from supporters in each community, to award the initial 40,000 scholarships in 1999. Here in Oregon, the parents of more than 6,600 children applied for the first 550 scholarships.

Over the last two decades, CSF and CSF partner program scholarship alumni have gone on to higher education or career training and are pursuing jobs in fields as diverse as business and finance, law, advertising, computer science, and the arts.

An Oregon scholarship recipient once said: “What [the Children’s Scholarship Fund has] given me is so much more than money; you have given me opportunity, confidence, faith, and trust that life has meaning, and that I am meant to succeed no matter what obstacles come my way.”

Our founders often said, “If you save one life, you save the world.” By offering parents the opportunity to choose which school best fits their child’s needs, the Children’s Scholarship Fund puts the power of education back in the hands of parents, where it belongs.

Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She is also director of Cascade’s Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program, which provides partial tuition scholarships to Oregon elementary students from lower-income families.

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Underestimating Public School Spending

By Steve Buckstein

A 2017 national poll on education issues found, among other things, that most Americans underestimate how much money is being spent to educate kids in their local public schools. College-educated whites, for example, underestimated school spending by a fourth, while less-educated whites underestimated spending by almost a third. Before finding out the real numbers, 55 percent of the more-educated group favored higher spending, while 46% of the less-educated did so.

But, when told the actual spending levels, support for higher spending dropped by 14% among the more-educated and by 12% among the less-educated.

While the poll didn’t break down results by state, we know the big cry in Oregon is that we aren’t funding schools adequately. In reality, we were recently spending $14,827 per student in average daily attendance, compared to the national average of just $13,900. We spend more than 30 other states.

When more Oregonians learn this surprising truth, their support for higher school spending may drop, hopefully to be replaced by support for policies that might actually make a difference. One such policy is a universal Education Savings Account program that offers a portion of current school spending to families interested in choosing between their local public schools, private, religious, online, and home schools. Such choices can save tax dollars and improve educational outcomes. Win, win.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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School Choice Leads to Student Success

By Kathryn Hickok

Parents know a solid education prepares their children for life, and that path begins in grade school. But many Oregon families are trapped in public schools that don’t meet their kids’ educational needs. While families with greater means can move to neighborhoods with public schools they like, or pay twice for education by opting for a private school, lower-income families often don’t have those options.

And those families’ children are at the greatest risk of not graduating from high school. According to the National Association of Education Progress, only 33% of Oregon fourth-graders tested “proficient” in reading in 2017. Our state continues to have the third-lowest graduation rate in the country. Nearly half the children born into poverty will stay in poverty as adults. Changing those outcomes requires a solid early education leading to graduation and employment.

This spring, the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program sponsored by Cascade Policy Institute is celebrating twenty years of giving low-income parents more choices in education, so their children can have a better chance. As director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon, I’ve watched how partial tuition scholarships, funded by private donors in our community, have changed the trajectories of our students’ lives, sparking their passion for learning and helping them fulfill their potential.

One of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon’s first scholarship recipients described her experience this way: “My parents…wanted my brother and me to be placed in an environment where we would be academically challenged and be able to succeed….What [the Children’s Scholarship Fund has] given me is so much more than money; you have given me opportunity, confidence, faith, and trust that life has meaning, and that I am meant to succeed no matter what obstacles come my way.”

Every child should feel that way, and with school choice they can.

In 1998, philanthropists Ted Forstmann and John Walton wanted to jumpstart a national movement that would support low-income parents wanting alternatives to faltering government schools. Pledging $100 million of their own money, Forstmann and Walton challenged local donors across the U.S. to match their gift and help them offer 40,000 low-income children the chance to attend the tuition-based schools of their parents’ choice. That challenge became the Children’s Scholarship Fund and a national network of independently operating private scholarship programs for K-8 children.

But instead of 40,000 applicants, the Children’s Scholarship Fund heard from 1.25 million low-income parents nationwide. Here in Oregon, parents of more than 6,600 children in the Portland tri-county area applied for 500 available scholarships. Forstmann and Walton found out quickly that low-income parents were desperately seeking a quality education they couldn’t find in their local public schools.

They believed that if parents had meaningful choices among educational options, children would have a better chance at success in school. Twenty years of data have proven this true. Studies of college enrollment and graduation rates of scholarship alumni have shown that, despite coming from socioeconomic backgrounds associated with lower rates of college enrollment, Children’s Scholarship Fund students enroll in college at an average rate that is similar to or higher than the general population.

In other words, education in private grade schools is closing the achievement gap for kids from less advantaged backgrounds.

Ted Forstmann was known to say, “If you save one life, you save the world,” and “if you give parents a choice, you will give their children a chance.” Thanks to Forstmann, John Walton, and private donors in Oregon and 18 other states who have supported low-income parents in their quest for a quality education, more than 166,000 children have been a given that chance through scholarships worth more than $741 million. By offering parents the opportunity to choose which school best fits their child’s needs, the Children’s Scholarship Fund puts the power of education back in the hands of parents, where it belongs.

Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She is also director of Cascade’s Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program, which provides partial tuition scholarships to Oregon elementary students from lower-income families. A version of this article was originally published by the Pamplin Media Group and appeared in The Gresham Outlook on April 24, 2018.

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Charters Schools Are a Laboratory for Innovation Within Public Education

By Kathryn Hickok

This is National Charter Schools Week. Did you know almost half of Washington, D.C.’s public school children attend tuition-free charter schools? In fact, our nation’s capital now has 120 charters, run by 66 nonprofit organizations.

President Bill Clinton signed the legislation authorizing D.C.’s charter schools more than twenty years ago. Since then, D.C. charter school students have made significant academic gains. A 2015 study on urban charter schools by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University found that D.C. charter students are learning the equivalent of 96 more days in math and 70 more days in reading than their peers in traditional public schools.

David Osborne, director of the project Reinventing America’s Schools at the Progressive Policy Institute, has called D.C. “the nation’s most interesting laboratory” for public education. In an article for U.S. News and World Report, Osborne compares the traditional public school system with a Model T trying to compete on a racetrack with 21st century cars. “…[F]or those with greater needs,” he writes, “schools need innovative designs and extraordinary commitment from their staffs.”

Charter schools’ entrepreneurial governance model allows them to innovate, adapt, and specialize to meet the particular needs of students. Their success in educating children who face the greatest challenges to academic achievement is fueling an even greater demand for the kind of choice in education that charter schools have come to represent.

Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Amateur Hour at the State Land Board

By John A. Charles, Jr.

Oregon owns 1.5 million acres of School Trust Lands that must be managed for the benefit of public education. When profits are earned, the money goes into the Common School Fund, an endowment. Last year, the Fund distributed more than $70 million to local schools.

The Trust Lands are managed by the State Land Board, comprised of the Governor, the State Treasurer, and the Secretary of State. By policy, they are supposed to sell money-losing lands and keep the profitable ones.

Unfortunately, they tend to do the opposite. At its April meeting, the Board voted to sell a 3-acre industrial parcel in Washington County. There was no compelling reason to sell, as the property had an internal rate of return of 8% since it was purchased in 2012.

The state also owns 74,000 acres of timberland within the Elliott State Forest, near Coos Bay. Earnings on the Elliott have been spiraling downwards since the 1990s. In 2013, it finally started losing money and is expected to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. These losses take money directly out of public school classrooms.

In November 2016, the Board received an all-cash offer of $221 million dollars for the Elliott from a consortium of private landowners and tribal nations. That offer was rejected last year.

Students deserve professional management of their assets. They will never get it from the State Land Board because it’s made up of politicians. It’s time to amend the Oregon Constitution to remove trust land management from the Board’s jurisdiction.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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End PERS—For a Day!

By Steve Buckstein

Most Oregonians know that our state’s Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) is some $25 billion to $50 billion under water. Promises made to past and present government workers, primarily those hired before 1996, were simply way too generous for taxpayers and entities like school districts to afford.

A misreading of the so-called Contracts Clause in the U.S. Constitution by the Oregon Supreme Court has meant that once a government employee was hired in the state, the terms of his or her employment could not be altered, even for work done in the future.

One remedy for this situation might be to fire all public employees for a day, thus canceling their PERS contracts, and then hire them back the next day under new, less generous terms. If you think that’s a non-starter, something similar actually happened in Oregon before.

In 1953 the Oregon legislature passed a law ending the PERS system—for one day—so that the new system could include public employees in the (then) relatively young federal Social Security program. That one-day change was for the benefit of the workers. But it just might be a precedent to do something similar today for the benefit of taxpayers and public agencies. Let’s see who picks up this controversial ball and runs with it.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Study: School Trust income would go up by 600% if lands were sold

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:
John A. Charles, Jr.
503-242-0900
john@cascadepolicy.org

PORTLAND, Ore. – Cascade Policy Institute released a study today showing that revenue generated for schools by the Oregon Common School Trust Lands (CSTL) likely would go up by 600% if the lands were sold and the net income added to the existing Common School Fund.

The study, A Proposal to Generate Adequate Returns from Common School Trust Lands, also showed that Oregon is only making $4.25/acre from its CSTL portfolio, the lowest among nine Western states. The state of Washington is earning the most, at $37/acre.

Management of Oregon’s 1.5 million acre portfolio of CSTL has long been a contentious issue. In 1992 Oregon Attorney General Charles S. Crookham issued an opinion clarifying that CSTL must be managed primarily for revenue maximization. Advocacy groups representing non-school interests have worked to subvert that directive ever since.

Environmental groups have repeatedly lobbied and litigated to eliminate revenue generation from the Trust Lands, claiming that commodity production is an outdated concept. They finally succeeded during the three-year period of 2013-15, when Oregon’s Trust Land portfolio actually lost $360,000/year in net operating income. Those losses had to be paid for by Oregon public school students.

The Oregon Land Board voted in 2015 to sell most of the Elliott State Forest in order to remedy this problem. However, the Board reversed itself in 2017, and Governor Kate Brown subsequently sought bonding authority from the Legislature to allow her to borrow $101 million (requiring $199 million in debt service) in order to “buy out” a portion of the Elliott so that it no longer would be subject to the Constitutional mandate to earn money for schools.

Those bonds have not yet been sold, and the Elliott is expected to incur more losses during 2018.

Last year Cascade Policy Institute commissioned economist Eric Fruits, Ph.D. to do a comparative analysis of nine Western states with large CSTL portfolios to determine under what circumstances it might make sense for states to sell these lands and invest the net proceeds into stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments. Dr. Fruits concluded that six states (including Oregon) likely would be better off selling CSTL assets; two states would be better off maintaining ownership; and one state likely would benefit from divestment, but more information is needed.

Cascade President John A. Charles, Jr. stated, “The Oregon Land Board has a fiduciary obligation to manage CSTL assets for the benefit of schools. Losing money every year violates that obligation. The Trust Lands have a market value of over $700 million, and students would be best served if the Land Board simply sold its real property portfolio and turned the proceeds over to the Oregon Investment Council, which has earned an average of 8.2% annually from the Common School Fund since 2010. In fact, there is no management option that would earn more money for students than selling these lands.”

The full report, A Proposal to Generate Adequate Returns from Common School Trust Lands, can be downloaded here.

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 cascadepolicy.org.

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Time to Decentralize Oregon’s Education Reform Efforts

By Kathryn Hickok and Steve Buckstein

Three years ago, Oregon state government killed off what should have been the last of three big education reform efforts since 1991. Each promised to solve the unsolvable: how a one-size-fits-all public K-12 school system could educate all Oregon students and launch them onto a lifelong path of educational and career success. The fatal flaw in these reform efforts was that they relied on centralizing control over education policy.

Now, the Oregon legislature is embarking on what may turn into a fourth “impossible mission” to achieve student success in our public school system. Members of the Joint Committee on Student Success will travel around the state asking everyone they meet what constitutes success in their communities. They then will return to the State Capitol and recommend that every school do “what works” somewhere—most likely at a higher cost to taxpayers than they are paying today.

But rather than wait years to judge this latest reform effort a failure, why not try another path: the school choice path? School choice allows students and their families to choose where and how to get the educational opportunities that are right for them. School choice recognizes that children learn in different ways and at different paces and puts parents, not bureaucrats, in the driver’s seat of their kids’ education. That truly would be a revolutionary movement in the direction of student success.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. Steve Buckstein is Cascade’s Senior Policy Analyst and Founder.

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Four Strikes and You’re Still Out: Oregon’s Ongoing Quest to Centralize Education Policy

By Steve Buckstein 

In 2015 Oregon state government killed off what should have been the last of three big education reform efforts since 1991. Each promised to solve the unsolvable: namely, figuring out how a one-size-fits-all public Kindergarten-through-high-school virtual monopoly system could educate all Oregon students and launch them onto a lifelong path of educational and career success.

First came the Education Act for the Twenty-First Century in 1991. With its Certificates of Initial and Advanced Mastery (CIM and CAM), it aimed to produce “the best educated citizens in the nation by the year 2000 and a work force equal to any in the world by the year 2010.” After it failed, the Quality Education Model arose in 1999 and is still limping along primarily to justify arguments for spending billions of additional taxpayer dollars to achieve the successes no such plan can deliver.

In 2012 Oregon made its third big reform effort. The Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB), headed by its creator, Governor John Kitzhaber, promised to centralize education policy more than either of the two big reform efforts it followed. Kitzhaber concluded that those previous reforms simply didn’t control a broad enough swath of the education spectrum to work. Kindergarten through 12th grade simply wasn’t a grand enough vision. So, his OEIB effort sought to control everything from pre-Kindergarten through graduate school. But by 2015, “…the ease with which lawmakers…agreed to dismantle it reflects the widely shared view that the board did more wrong than right in its three-plus years of operation.…” This would have been the perfect time to adopt the “three strikes and you’re out” concept for Oregon’s education policy efforts.

The fatal flaw in all these reform efforts was that they relied on “smart” people centralizing control over educational policy and decision making. As I discussed in “Forced Participation: Public Education’s Fatal Flaw” and “The Oregon Education Investment Board: Top Down on Steroids,” centralizing control over education policy and forcing students to attend schools chosen for them by others are destined to fail because they fly in the face of one of America’s most cherished values: choice. Parents don’t appreciate politicians, bureaucrats, or experts making decisions for them about what is best for their children. Advise? Sure. Command? No way.

Today, rather than call a halt to this inevitable string of big reform failures, the Oregon legislature is embarking on what may turn into a fourth “impossible mission” to achieve student success in our public school system. Members of the Joint Committee on Student Success will spend this year traveling around the state asking everyone they meet what constitutes success in their communities. They will then return to the marble halls of the State Capitol and recommend that every school be mandated to do “what works” somewhere—of course, at a higher cost to taxpayers than they are paying today.

Rather than wait years to judge this latest big reform a failure, it is time to try another path: the school choice path. Of source, school choice is in conflict with the command-and-control efforts that are central to the big reform efforts Oregon has tried since 1991.

Instead, the school choice path allows students and their families to chose where and how they get the educational opportunities that our advanced society is now capable of providing. No longer would students be required to attend schools based on their ZIP codes. No longer would the tax dollars Oregonians pay to educate students be spent only in schools built by local governments and populated by public employees.

The school choice path recognizes that different children learn in different ways. They learn at different paces, too. And, they no longer need to be assigned to one brick building for years and years, only to be moved by the system into another building when they reach a certain age or grade level.

Today, most families, even low-income families, have the tools they need to explore the many educational options available for their children. They want to pick and choose from a wide assortment of options: from traditional neighborhood schools, to public charter schools, to private schools, to online learning, to home schooling.

The school choice path is being carved out in other states much faster than it is here in Oregon. The latest and most versatile school choice programs being enacted elsewhere are Education Savings Accounts. Unlike vouchers, which only let parents pay for private school tuition, ESA funds may also be used for other approved educational expenses, such as online learning programs, private tutoring, community college costs, and other customized learning services and materials.

Also, while voucher funds all go to private school tuition or are lost to the families, funds remaining in ESA accounts each year may be “rolled over” for use in subsequent years, even into college. This creates incentives for families to “shop” for the best educational experiences at the lowest cost, as well as incentives for schools and educational programs to price their services as low as possible.

On the school choice path, if a school fails students it doesn’t get more money, it gets less as students leave and take their allocated money with them to other schools. This is the path that finally will put students first.

Before Oregon’s fourth education reform strike inevitably fails and takes a further toll on students and taxpayers, let’s decide to take another path—the school choice path.

(This Commentary is an update of a 2012 Commentary, “Three Strikes and You’re Out: Replacing Top-Down Education Control with School Choice.”)

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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What’s at the Root of Oregon’s Education Problems? (Steve Jobs Already Told Us the Answer)

By Steve Buckstein

The Oregon legislature will embark on an “impossible mission” to achieve student success in our public school system. Members of the Joint Committee on Student Success will travel the state this year, asking everyone they meet what constitutes success in their communities. They then will return to the marble halls of the State Capitol and recommend that every school be mandated to do “what works” somewhere—of course, at a higher cost to taxpayers than they’re already paying.

Read the rest of the article here.

 

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Oregon Parents Deserve to Be the Voice for Kids’ Education Options

By Bobbie Jager

For the second year in a row, Oregon has reported the third-lowest graduation rate in the country. With a four-year adjusted public high school graduation rate of 74.8% (2015-16), Oregon only beats Nevada and New Mexico, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The typical response to this kind of bad news is for teachers unions and legislators to claim that taxpayers are “underfunding” public schools; and that’s why so many kids don’t make it to graduation. But Oregon already spends more on K-12 education than 33 other states. According to the National Education Association’s Rankings & Estimates report for 2016 and 2017, revenue per Oregon student in Average Daily Attendance is nearly $14,000, including local, state, and federal funding. That puts Oregon more than four percent above the national average in school spending.

Read the rest of the article here.

 

Bobbie Jager, Oregon’s 2012 “Mother of the Year,” is a parental choice advocate and the School Choice Outreach Coordinator for the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. A version of this article was originally published by the Pamplin Media Group and appeared in The Portland Tribune on January 25, 2018.

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School Choice Is More Than “Just Choosing a Different Brick Building”

By Kathryn Hickok

This week is National School Choice Week, the world’s largest celebration of educational choice. Held nationwide every January, the Week raises awareness about the K-12 possibilities available to children and families, while spotlighting the benefits of parental choice. More than 313 events will take place in Oregon alone, sponsored by private schools, charter schools, and other organizations. The Week is nonpartisan and nonpolitical.

Read the rest of the article here.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Cascade Policy Institute Celebrates National School Choice Week 2018

January 16, 2018 

For Immediate Release 

Media Contact:
Steve Buckstein

503-242-0900

Oregonians will participate 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 2018, organizers announced today. Cascade’s January 24 “Policy Picnic” roundtable will highlight the diversity of education options for K-12 students and call for expanded access to school choice for all Oregon children.

Read the rest of the article here.

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National School Choice Week Celebrates Diversity in K-12 Education

By Kathryn Hickok

National School Choice Week is the world’s largest celebration of educational options for all children. Held nationwide every January, National School Choice Week raises awareness about the K-12 education options available to children and families, while spotlighting the benefits of school choice. This year’s celebration will be January 21-27.

Read the rest of the article here.

 

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Give Oregon Kids the Power of Educational Choice, Like Kids in Florida

By Kathryn Hickok

Denisha Merriweather failed third grade twice. Today, she is finishing her master’s degree, thanks to Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The key to Denisha’s success was her godmother’s ability to remove Denisha from a school that was failing her, and to send her to the school that provided her with the support she needed.

Read the rest of the article here.

 

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Taxpayers Aren’t at Fault for Oregon’s Abysmal Graduation Rate

Taxpayers Aren’t at Fault for Oregon’s Abysmal Graduation Rate

By Kathryn Hickok

Willamette Week recently reported that, sadly, Oregon has the third-lowest graduation rate in the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Oregon’s four-year adjusted public high school graduation rate was 74.8% in 2015-16. Only Nevada and New Mexico have lower graduation rates.

Read the rest of the article here.

 

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QuickPoint! – Military Families Want Education Options for Their Kids

Military Families Want Flexible Education Options for Their Kids

By Kathryn Hickok

EdChoice recently conducted a groundbreaking survey of military-connected families seeking to understand their perspectives on K-12 education and school choice. EdChoice is a nonpartisan research organization that promotes expanded educational options for all children.

The survey found that families connected with the military highly value access to better educational environments for their children, want more freedom and flexibility in choosing their children’s schools, and overwhelmingly support school choice programs like Education Savings Accounts. Eighty percent of children in military households currently attend public schools, but only 34% of survey respondents said a public school would be their first choice. Military parents are much more likely than the national average to take “costly and inconvenient steps to secure and accommodate their children’s education.” That includes taking extra jobs, moving closer to schools, and taking out loans.

The military lifestyle presents unique challenges to families. The EdChoice report noted that “the quality of educational options available to military families can play a major role in whether a family accepts an assignment or even decides to leave military service altogether.” As a nation we should consider that providing military families with meaningful school choice programs could be a significant boost to the morale of service members by improving the well-being of their families. Making it easier for military kids to get their educational needs met is the right thing to do.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Win $15,000 for a video telling your school choice story

Choices in Ed Video Competition
Entry Deadline is December 1, 2017

Dear School Choice Supporters:

Some of you entered Cascade Policy Institute’s 2009 Oregon School Choice Video Contest; sharing your stories of how school choice helped you or your children, or why you wanted more choices in education.

Now, the Foundation for Excellence in Education has launched a nationwide Choices in Ed Video Competition.  Based on the sincerity and passion of the videos, eight winners will receive cash prizes from $5,000 to $15,000 each. Enter, and you might be one of them!

You’re eligible to enter if you’re a student, parent or guardian, or alumnus of existing choice programs (public school/open enrollment, charter, magnet, private school, virtual/blended, or homeschool), or a person who wants more educational choice in your state.

Videos must be under two minutes long, and must be successfully uploaded by 11:59pm EST (8:59pm Pacific time) on December 1, 2017.

Be sure to read About the Contest, the Rules and How to Enter. Then, ENTER TODAY.

We hope one or more of you will be winners. We would like to share your videos with other Oregonians whether or not you win this national competition. That way, we can help tell your story and use it to move toward more School Choices in our state.

Here are three of our favorite videos submitted to our Contest in 2009; two from students and one from a parent

Shoes

Rylee’s Choice

School Choice Coffee Analogy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can see many other videos submitted to our contest here. They may give you some ideas for framing your Choices in Ed Video Competition submission.

Sincerely,

Steve Buckstein
Senior Policy Analyst and Founder
Cascade Policy Institute ▪ School Choice for Oregon
Portland, Oregon
Office Phone: (503) 242-0900
Email: steven@cascadepolicy.org

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Why Protesters of Betsy DeVos Can’t Understand What She’s Talking About

Why Protesters of Betsy DeVos Can’t Understand What She’s Talking About

By Steve Buckstein

What would you do if you read an article about an Oregon public high school whose students seemed to be performing well above state averages? If you’re U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, you’d hop on a plane and come sit in on three senior classes at the school─McMinnville High School. That’s exactly what DeVos did on October 11. She also met privately with some students and friends, including Cascade Policy Institute School Choice Outreach Coordinator and 2012 Oregon Mother of the Year Bobbie Jager.

Her visit didn’t go unnoticed by those who incorrectly believe she’s out to destroy public education. Some 200 protesters, including teachers union officials, stood outside the school and let anyone who would listen know that they don’t want the school choice policies DeVos advocates anywhere near what they apparently see as the only educational institutions worthy of taxpayer support.

Betsy DeVos is a long-time advocate for letting parents choose where their children get their educations. Time and again she’s tried to make clear that she’s not against public education; she just believes that educating the public isn’t always done best in traditional government schools. Sometimes students do better in public charter schools, private schools, online schools, or even in home school.

So why can’t the protesters who showed up in McMinnville last week see what Betsy DeVos sees? Perhaps it’s because, for whatever reasons, their worldviews simply don’t include an understanding of how consumer choice and markets can work together to provide better services at lower prices than can government monopolies.

Cascade Policy Institute published a thought piece on these concepts sixteen years ago that still stands as a seminal introduction to these perplexing concerns. Called “Choice Thinking,” here’s the abstract:

A powerful, yet flawed perspective grips the public mind such that it ignores, distorts, and rejects school choice facts and arguments. Just as the Church rejected Galileo’s scientific findings, this public school ideology rejects choice supporters’ educational findings and analysis. The public simply cannot fit a market perspective into its understanding of how the world works. We will not make major strides toward school choice if we continue to believe that simply teaching the public about the benefits of market education or tinkering with choice proposals will be enough. A new market perspective can’t be simply taught. It must develop, like any living system develops, out of its more primitive pro-government form. Our challenge is to understand this transformation. We cannot change the public’s thinking if we do not understand it.

 So, there you have it. School choice supporters, by and large, don’t understand why people like the Betsy DeVos protesters can’t comprehend what we see as obvious truths.

Of course, some of the protesters may very well understand what we are talking about. They have a vested interest in keeping the status quo, so that all the billions of taxpayer dollars being spent to educate the public only flow into the government buildings where they work and teach. The fact that this status quo isn’t working for many children is the reason Betsy DeVos and countless school choice supporters advocate for letting the money follow the child to the school of their family’s choice.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

View the PDF version here: 17-18-Why_DeVos_Protesters_Can’t_Understand_School_Choice

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Choice Thinking: Why does the public ignore, distort or reject school choice facts and arguments?

Choice Thinking: Why does the public ignore, distort or reject school choice facts and arguments?

by

Richard Meinhard, Ph.D. and
Steve Buckstein

September 10, 2001
(contact information updated in 2016)

 

Abstract

A powerful, yet flawed perspective grips the public mind such that it ignores, distorts, and rejects school choice facts and arguments. Just as the Church rejected Galileo’s scientific findings, this public school ideology rejects choice supporters’ educational findings and analysis. The public simply cannot fit a market perspective into its understanding of how the world works. We will not make major strides toward school choice if we continue to believe that simply teaching the public about the benefits of market education or tinkering with choice proposals will be enough. A new market perspective can’t be simply taught. It must develop, like any living system develops, out of its more primitive pro-government form. Our challenge is to understand this transformation. We cannot change the public’s thinking if we do not understand it.

 

The Problem

Voters in state after state continue to defeat school choice initiatives by large margins. Choice supporters respond by debating strategies such vouchers or tax credits, whether large or small steps should be attempted, how we should deal with the critics, and what kind of information and examples should be given to the public.

But what if such strategic decisions by themselves have little to do with successfully changing the public’s fundamental point of view regarding choice? What if facts and evidence alone aren’t enough for the public to accept our ideas? What if our principles of choice and competition are not only misunderstood by the public but also actively rejected as dangerous to public education?[1]

In his research Andrew Coulson found that five factors lead to excellence in a market education system: choice and responsibility for parents, freedom and competition for providers, and the profit motive.[2] These make wonderful sense to him, to us, and probably to you. But what if they don’t make sense to the public? We believe something quite fundamental, what we call the pro-government perspective, organizes the thought processes of most people and renders them incapable of understanding the facts and evidence that a coherent free market mental perspective provides. Markets simply don’t make sense to them.

The logic of market principles is compelling to us but obviously not to most other people. And it’s clear that it does not matter what type of program is proposed. Small tax credits and limited voucher programs for low-income families are tolerated by the public as ways to solve particular problems but they do not convert people to an understanding of a market-based system.

Americans enjoy one of the freest and most bountiful market systems in the world yet few can explain how it works. An understanding isn’t necessary to reap its benefits. But markets promise nothing except opportunities and choices, while government can promise much.

With little understanding of markets and government monopolies, government promises and market fears can be enough reason for the public to reject market proposals. Neither critics nor choice supporters actually change the public’s underlying perspective on free markets and government. The critic’s rhetoric simply triggers already felt sympathies and a comfort with the government school system. The burden of changing public opinion rests with choice supporters. As a result, critics find it easy to defeat choice initiatives simply by playing on public fears and misunderstanding.

The real problem facing choice advocates has more to do with the public’s lack of understanding of governments and markets than it does with how to package choice proposals or what information to provide. We don’t yet fully understand the nature and depth of this problem. Support for choice clearly depends upon changing an underlying pro-government perspective that organizes the public’s thinking. We need to understand this pro-government perspective so we can find ways to transform it into a market perspective.

 

The Public’s Pro-Government Perspective

Choice supporters must admit a hard truth ¾ the public doesn’t yet believe in vouchers or tax credits let alone separation of school and state. We must also admit that we don’t understand much about the pro-government perspective, much less how to change it. We don’t know what controls and protects pro-government thinking, what it is about the logic of pro-government thinking that makes market principles incomprehensible.

More importantly, we don’t understand how and why some individuals change their pro-government perspective to adopt a market perspective. Did you always believe in market education, or did you begin with some pro-government notions and then change your views over time? If you think it was simply exposure to new facts, programs, and examples, stop and ask yourself about your underlying values. Did something fundamental change regarding your perspective, or did you always understand the logic and power of markets?

Pro-government beliefs form themselves into a self-protective whole; a perspective that is resistant to change in spite of facts or explanations about markets. The pro-government perspective, like any perspective, shapes what people see, think about, decide, value, and advocate about public policy. Here are some recent examples.

A newspaper article reported on the congressional debate over reforming federal education policy. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle asserted, “We cannot have reform without resources.” A letter to the editor about energy deregulation asserted: “So who could ever suggest it should be priced by an open market just like anything else?” Another letter advocating taxing the wealthy to support affordable housing said, “Opposition to this bill has nothing to do with its effectiveness. The true reason for opposition is simple greed.”

The pro-government perspective controls the thought of these people, the facts they observe, and the assumptions that they make — if there is a problem, government should correct it; social problems exist for lack of money for government remediation; some goods and services are privileged and can’t be provided through the market; and so on.

On the other side of the debate, a free market perspective carries different assumptions—free markets create opportunity for everyone, the individual is fundamentally responsible for self, free markets create a diversity of goods and services, market exchanges produce increasing efficiencies, and so on. The two perspectives talk different languages, use different code words, see different facts, reason differently, hold different values, and work for different programs. We all recognize these two perspectives. They form one of the most fundamental divisions between people in our society today.

Those of us trying to change the pro-government, anti-market perspective need to understand this system of thought just as physicians understand various systems of the body, scientists understand physical and biologic systems, and mathematicians understand math systems. The understanding of systems allows a scientist to explain them and how they arise, and it allows practitioners to change them. Yet surprisingly, there is very little good literature that describes and explains how the pro-government perspective operates or arises in people’s thinking.

The pro-government perspective is the problem because it is so compelling that it grips and holds much of the public’s thinking. Unless we discover why this is so and how this perspective evolves into pro-market thinking, the pro-government public will continue to reject our positions, distort our facts, and trounce our initiatives.

 

Perspectives at Work

Let’s look at three examples of how perspectives grip and control thought. The first comes from history; the second from our current educational research; and the third from the perspective many school choice supporters have but many opponents lack.

1. The Aristotelian Perspective

Aristotle’s science of falling bodies persisted for 2,000 years, even though scholars contested it with facts some 400 years before Newtonian science finally replaced it. Even the classic experiment of dropping different weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa was conducted much earlier but ignored and then misattributed to Galileo. While the experimental facts showed that bodies of different weights fell at the same velocities, the Aristotelian scientific perspective was so powerful that these findings were ignored, distorted or rejected as the old perspective protected itself from change. This denial of fact and logic by Aristotelian mechanics forms a famous chapter from the history of science. It is only one of many demonstrations of the gripping power a scientific perspective, even a faulty one, can hold over thought.

2. The Child’s Perspective of weight

Even for individual concepts, we can see a gripping power at work that shapes the facts observed and the reasoning used. In experiments famous to educators, psychologists showed how students under the age of seven thought the weight of a clay ball changed when it is rolled out.[3] Young students’ ‘perspective’ of weight convinced them that because the clay was now longer, it must weigh more.

When the researchers continued to roll the clay out, astonishingly some of these same youngsters suddenly changed their minds and asserted the weight was now less. When asked why, they said because it is now thin. Teaching, demonstrations, weighing the objects, nothing worked to change their mind. They knew as a fact that they observed that the two objects were a little bit different in weight.

Yet months later, they reasoned and saw things differently. Now they knew as a matter of logical necessity that the two clay shapes weighed the same regardless of changes in length and thickness. The two balls had to be the same because nothing was added or taken away. The students’ perspective at first distorted and misperceived facts, but then the development of a more advanced perspective allowed the students to use a different logic and to see different facts in the same experiment.

3. The Perspective of Profit

Conduct this inquiry. Ask the typical adult if the profit motive has any place in education. You’re likely to get a resounding, “No!” Then try any manner of facts or examples of for-profit companies providing quality education and see if you have persuaded the person. The pro-government perspective will not let the adult understand that both sides benefit in an economic exchange. Just as young children can’t observe that the weight hasn’t changed in a flattened ball of clay, many adults can’t comprehend that both buyer and seller gain value when they enter into a voluntary exchange.

But the logic of the pro-market perspective makes an adult see that a buyer values the good or service received more than the money spent, and that the seller values the money received more than the good or service delivered. The logic of market principles compels us to make these observations, but for those with a pro-government perspective, it makes no sense.

In this example profit is what psychologists call a centration. Just as the child centers only on the clay’s length to perceive a change in its weight, adults may center on the producer’s profit to perceive a loss for the consumer. Centrated thought lacks a larger system of reasoning that groups several factors together in order to organize its mental operations. As a result, thought is centered on isolated elements without the necessary relationships among the elements. The relationship of a two-way mutually beneficial exchange is but one of several market and system concepts that seem to be missing from the thinking of many. School choice supporters need to understand both why this is the case and how these concepts develop in people.

 

When a Perspective is Important

As we said, people can use and benefit from markets without understanding them. However, compare the reform of public utilities and government franchised industries with reform of public schools. No basic change in the public’s understanding of system arrangements was required for the deregulation of telecommunications, airlines, trucking, energy, etc. The basic structural relationship between consumer and provider within those markets remained constant under deregulation—consumers still paid the provider for their services. From the public’s point of view, consumers were simply given more choices, basically a good idea. The providers were already economically tied to their customers, and deregulation did not upset the thinking of the general public. No change in perspective was necessary.

School reform, however requires changing the basic consumer/provider relationship. In our system of public education, consumers don’t pay for services received, the public does. Families are not really customers. Society purchases educational services on behalf of families using a system of democratically run government schools.

For the public to accept market principles in education it must understand and accept a new consumer/producer relationship, a huge change given the public’s low level of market understanding. The public must abandon its rather thoughtless belief that education is a public good, an individual entitlement, and that it is the public’s responsibility to provide education to all children for the common good of society. Within the public’s traditional way of thinking (or lack of thinking) about services, market reforms have no place. The pro-government perspective is the public school ideology at work.

Market driven reforms make sense only within the market perspective. Voters realize that vouchers, for example, are not a mere improvement within the box but a fundamental change in the box itself, the very structure of a basic institution. The public seems to sense that vouchers are a basic change and that makes them uneasy; it seems too large, too risky, and possibly hurtful. Advocates underestimate the conceptual change in the public’s perspective that real reforms require.

Most previous education reform efforts stay comfortably within the government system box. Take for example the nationally recognized 1983 report on the state of American education, A Nation at Risk.[4] Neither its findings nor the recommendations addressed in any way the failures of central planning, monopolies, government as a method of service delivery, third party funding, lack of consumer voice or choice, or any other system aspects of government versus market systems of delivery. The report took the system itself for granted and only attempted improvements in the performance properties of the system—content, standards, teaching, leadership, fiscal support, etc.

However, school choice is not another program improvement. It’s a systemic change, and it requires a huge change in the perspective that takes a government delivery system for granted.

 

The Think Tank Role

Choice advocates can continue to hammer away with think tank papers and media campaigns, oblivious to the nature of the pro-government perspective, or we can turn to research and development in an attempt to first understand the perspective and then to change it. This R&D is a natural function of think tanks. The very heart of the free-market think tank mission — to work toward a free society — brings with it two tasks. First, think tanks must be expert in markets and government systems. Second, as society’s teachers, think tanks must also be expert in understanding and changing the public’s thinking and misconceptions. These tasks form two quite different challenges.

As teachers we must not ignore the learner’s current level of understanding and ability to grasp complex concepts. We cannot teach algebra to young children who have yet to understand the whole number system. Likewise, market teachers must understand how market understanding develops out of elementary concepts of producers and consumers to the more advanced explanations of self-regulating, self-elaborating systems of exchange.

As teachers of school choice, our job is not simply a matter of presenting new facts or the history of government schooling. It is the public’s pro-government perspective itself that stands in the way of understanding the facts and explanations of how markets would work in education. The public is rejecting our advanced concepts because the pro-government perspective is compelling; it grips thinking and shapes what is seen as fact; it shapes the values and organizes the policy choices in educational systems. The public makes the wrong choices, from our point of view, because it cannot fit market understanding into its pro-government perspective of how the world works.

 

What Should We Settle For?

We don’t yet understand how to change the current pro-government perspective to a free market perspective. But we have clues, we have seen it happen in individuals, and we know how to study the problem and work toward a solution. If fact, there will likely be more than one optimal solution. And we can all contribute something to the effort.

Without a shift in the public’s perspective, we may have to settle for the limited successes that Moe’s recent work suggests.[5] Yet years ago Chubb and Moe told us that the intellectual debate about school choice was over. We won. But for the public, the policy debate is far from over.

When we understand how the public’s perception of government and markets develops, we will be in a far better position to win the policy debates. Then no teacher union money or old political rhetoric will stop the evolution to a market education system.

 

ENDNOTES

[1] Terry Moe found that information didn’t make much difference in people’s evaluation of vouchers. On p.228 of his new book, Schools, Vouchers, and the American Public (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 2001), he says, “As a result, the impact of information on support for vouchers may be positive, or it may be negative, depending on how these other variables come into play.” What he is saying is that there is an underlying “structure of thinking” (pp. 227,234, 253), a “genuine substance” (pp. 350, 358), “surprisingly effective at linking these things together” (p. 244),

[2] Andrew Coulson, Market Education: the Unknown History (New Brunswick: Social Philosophy and Policy Center and Transaction Publishers, 1999) pp. 293-306.

[3] Jean Piaget and Bärbel Inhelder, Child’s Construction of Quantities, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans (New York: Basic Books, 1974) p. 22-46. This experiment is one of a series. These were not intended to simply describe these amusing misconceptions of students in their early stages of development, but to uncover the cognitive systems that organize and produce them.

[4] A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform was guided by the 18-member national Commission on Excellence chaired by David Gardner, President of the University of Utah. The Commission, appointed by Secretary of Education T.H. Bell, released its report in April of 1983 after 18 months of work. Its report was based on commissioned papers and testimony from professional groups, parents, public officials, and scholars.

[5] Moe (Schools, Vouchers, and the American Public) uses a variable he terms “the public school ideology” to measure the effect of this perspective on people’s positions and views of vouchers.

 

Cascade Policy Institute
4850 SW Scholls Ferry Road, Suite 103
Portland, Oregon 97224
(503) 242-0900
info@cascadepolicy.orgcascadepolicy.org

 

Richard Meinhard, Ph.D. is a developmental psychologist who specializes in the development of cognitive, instructional, and organizational systems. He is a Cascade Policy Institute Academic Advisor.

Steve Buckstein is a founder Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market think tank. In 2001 he was President and in 2016 he is Senior Policy Analyst. He can be contacted at steven@cascadepolicy.org.

Choice_Thinking

 

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“Shuffling” Is for Playing Cards, Not School Kids

“Shuffling” Is for Playing Cards, Not School Kids

By Kathryn Hickok

Portland Public Schools is redrawing the boundaries of more than a dozen schools and reassigning 5,000 students, ten percent of its enrollment. According to The Oregonian: “To make sure no school ends up understaffed or overcrowded, students must be shuffled.”

In government-run school districts, kids are cards in a deck. The bureaucracy gets to deal, assigning students to school buildings based on their residences. And even when parents exercise choice by moving into a neighborhood, gaining access to special school-based programs, or enrolling in charter schools located in underused facilities, the district retains the right to shuffle and deal over.

When Oregon enacted an interdistrict open enrollment law in 2012, hundreds of Oregon parents chose schools outside their districts of residence that better met the needs of their children. Empowering parents of every income level to choose schools through open enrollment, more charter schools, and private school choice programs would be more respectful of each student’s dignity—and a better way to address his or her educational needs—than a centrally planned system in which the odds always favor the district “house.” In most aspects of life, Oregonians expect parents to judge what is in the best interests of their children. When it comes to education, the stakes are too high to treat kids like playing cards.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

View the PDF version here: 10-11-17-Shuffling_Is_for_Playing_Cards

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On 25th Anniversary, Charter Schools Have Much to Celebrate

By Kathryn Hickok

America’s charter school movement celebrates its 25th anniversary this month. Since the first charter school opened in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1992, the number of charters nationwide has grown to about 7,000, serving three million students.

Charter schools are public schools that operate according to a charter granted by a sponsoring agency (like a school district, a university, or a department of education). In exchange for independence from many regulations applicable to traditional public schools and unionized school staff, charters agree to standards of accountability for student achievement. This allows charters to focus on innovative ways to meet students’ educational needs.

In a recent commentary for The Wall Street Journal (“Charter Schools Are Flourishing on Their Silver Anniversary,” Sept. 7), the Progressive Policy Institute’s David Osborne noted that “[t]he American cities that have most improved their schools are those that have embraced charters wholeheartedly.”

“New Orleans,” he wrote, “which will be 100% charters next year, is America’s fastest-improving city when it comes to education….The city’s schools have doubled or tripled their effectiveness in the decade since the state began turning them over to charter operators….New Orleans became the first high-poverty city to outperform its overall state in 2015 and 2016.”

Given charter schools’ increasingly recognized ability to use innovative means to raise students’ achievement levels, Oregon lawmakers, school districts, and education professionals should note what’s working both here in Oregon and across the country, and make it easier for Oregon’s charter schools to build on these successes.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Let Parents Wield School Spending Power

By Kathryn Hickok

Are we missing the trees for the forest in Oregon school funding and education reform debates?

Media reports, school districts, and political leaders usually focus on the big picture: reaching a 100% high school graduation rate so all children have the best chance in life. That’s a great goal. Frequently lost, however, is the fact that every child is an individual. The focus of real-life Oregon parents is helping their kids reach their potential in light of their specific needs and gifts.

These two perspectives shouldn’t be at odds. In fact, the second could drive the first―if more parents were empowered to make meaningful choices for their children’s education.

According to the National Education Association’s Rankings and Estimates report for 2016 and 2017, counting local, state, and federal funding, current expenditures per Oregon student in Average Daily Attendance are estimated to be $13,230, more than 33 other states. Adding in spending for capital outlays and interest payments, that number increases to $14,911 per student.

Yet, the National Association of Education Progress reports that only 34% of Oregon fourth-graders tested “proficient” in reading in 2015; and Oregon has the third-worst high school graduation rate in the country.

No one disputes the need for improvements to public schools. But children who need help today—first to learn the basics (like reading and math) and then to graduate from high school—should get the help they need now. What we ought to do is give Oregon students the power of choice to find their own paths to success.

For lower-income parents, the stakes are high. Nearly half the children born into poverty will stay in poverty as adults. Key to changing that outcome is an education that leads to high school graduation and future employment. Unlike parents with greater means, who can move to another neighborhood or pay out-of-pocket for private schools, lower-income parents often find their children trapped in public schools that do not meet their kids’ needs. Education Savings Accounts could change that.

Six years ago, Arizona became the first state to pass an Education Savings Account (ESA) law for some K-12 students, and it recently expanded eligibility to eventually include all Arizona children. Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee also have ESA programs limited to certain students, such as those with special needs.

An ESA is analogous to a limited-use debit card for qualifying education expenses. It gives parents who want to opt out of a public school a portion of the per-student state funding to spend on their child’s education in other ways. ESAs can fund a wide variety of education-related expenses, including tuition, tutoring, and supplemental materials. Money not used in one year can be rolled over for future education expenses, even college.

But if ESAs let parents spend education funds outside the public school system, would ESAs drain money from public schools? Not necessarily. Schools are funded by local, state, and federal money. ESAs would be funded by only part of the state component. The amount of the ESA deposits is negotiable and would be the biggest driver of their fiscal impact.

Legislators can design an ESA program so that it would be revenue neutral to public schools, or even create a net increase per student who remained in the system. If students leaving public schools took less funding with them than would have been spent if they had remained, schools could reduce their class sizes without a negative impact on per-student funding.

No one can craft a school system that meets every child’s needs. Statistical data analysis and bureaucratic goal-setting can’t ensure that any particular child makes it to high school graduation or excels in a career. But most parents are keenly aware of their own children’s needs. Giving parents power to find the right fit for their kids would make a world of difference, as any parent knows.

Focusing on the forest (the public school system), Oregon is missing the trees (kids). We should expand the role of parents in achieving better educational outcomes for their children. We’ve tried everything else. Parental choice is the future of education reform, and Education Savings Accounts are a fiscally responsible policy solution that can give all kids options now.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She is also Director of Cascade’s Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program, which provides privately funded, partial tuition scholarships to Oregon elementary students from lower-income families. A version of this article originally appeared in The Portland Tribune on July 18, 2017.

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Who says Oregon pays public school teachers more than other states? The National Education Association, that’s who!

By Steve Buckstein

As Oregon legislators wrestle with how much money to spend on public education, advocates claim that we spend too little compared to other states. They demand that legislators spend more, and raise taxes to do it. But, according to the nation’s largest teachers union, the reality is quite different.

As I noted recently, in its Rankings & Estimates report for 2016 and 2017, the National Education Association says that Oregon spends more per student than 33 other states: $13,320 per Average Daily Attendee versus $12,572 nationally.

Another interesting finding in the NEA report is how much Oregon pays its public school teachers. In 2015-16 it shows the average teacher salary in the country was $58,343, compared to $60,459 here in Oregon. We spend three percent more on teacher salaries than the national average.*

But, the report also shows that our per capita personal income is nine percent less than the national average: $48,783 versus $43,783.

So, while we pay our teachers three percent more, we do that out of incomes that are nine percent less than the average American. Add those two numbers together, and it’s clear that based on our ability to pay we compensate Oregon teachers very well.

All this data add weight to the argument that we don’t need new taxes to better fund public education. We fund it very well already.


*“Where applicable, ‘average teacher salary’ includes the contract amount plus 6 percent for the employer portion of retirement contributions.” Page 146 of the NEA report.


Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Oregon Legislature Should Give Kids a “Ticket to the Future” Today

By Kathryn Hickok and Steve Buckstein

Derrell Bradford has spent his adult life passionately advocating for education reform through parental choice. Bradford grew up in poverty in southwest Baltimore and received a scholarship that allowed him to attend a private high school, preparing him for college and a successful career. Better than anyone, he knows the power of educational choice to unleash a child’s potential.

“A scholarship is not a five-year plan or a Power Point…,” Bradford explained recently. “It’s a ticket to the future, granted today, for a child trying to shape his or her own destiny in the here and now….”

Choices in education are widespread in America, unless you are poor. Affluent families can move to different neighborhoods, send their children to private schools, and supplement schooling with enrichment opportunities. Lower- and middle-income families, however, are too often trapped with one option: a school in need of improvement assigned to them based on their ZIP Codes. Families deserve better.

Six years ago, Arizona became the first state to pass an Education Savings Account (ESA) law for some K-12 students. In April, lawmakers there passed a new ESA bill which expands the program eligibility to eventually include all Arizona children. Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee also have ESA programs limited to certain students, such as those with special needs. Nevada also passed a near-universal ESA bill, but it is yet to be funded.

An Education Savings Account is analogous to a debit card for qualifying education expenses. It gives parents who want to opt out of a public school that is not meeting their child’s needs a portion of the per-student state funding to spend on their child’s education in other ways.

Now, Oregon has a chance to put parents in the educational “driver’s seat” with Senate Bill 437, known as the “Educational Opportunity Act: The Power of Choice.” This bill would allow parents to spend a portion of the per-student state funding for their child on the schools or education services that are best for them as individuals. Options could include private or home schools, tutors, online courses, and therapy. Funds not used by the student in a given year could be rolled over for future years, even into college.

Critics might ask if this bill would drain funds from public schools, or would it leave them harmless while allowing many students to make different choices? The answers depend on several assumptions which have been evaluated in a new review of a universal Oregon ESA program.

The amount of the ESA deposits is the biggest driver of fiscal impacts. Based on the assumptions in the study, the program would have a fiscal “break even” for state and local school districts combined at an annual ESA amount of $6,000 for each participating student with disabilities and/or in a low-income household and $4,500 for all other students. These are the dollar amounts proposed in an Amendment to the bill and represent a reduction from the current state allocation which averages $8,781 for all students.

Of course, fiscal impact is not and should not be the primary measure of this or any well-designed school choice program. But it is a political reality that such a program should not impose a fiscal burden on the state at a time when all budgets are under pressure. SB 437 would offer Oregon families as much choice as possible in how their children take advantage of educational opportunities funded by the state, while not harming public schools.

The Senate Education Committee will hold an informational hearing on SB 437 on Tuesday, June 13, at 3 pm at the Oregon State Capitol. You can make a statement in favor of school choice by attending the hearing and/or submitting written testimony on the bill.

Children have different needs and learn in different ways. The landscape of educational options available to meet those needs is more diverse today than ever. Education Savings Accounts for Oregon parents are a life-changing education solution whose time has come. Families have had enough five-year-plans and Power Points, as Derrell Bradford put it. To give Oregon kids a ticket to the future—today—the Legislature should enact Senate Bill 437.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. Steve Buckstein is Cascade’s Senior Policy Analyst and Founder. A version of this article originally appeared in The Portland Tribune on May 25, 2017.

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Who says Oregon spends $13,230 per public school student? The National Education Association, that’s who!

By Steve Buckstein

Ever since Oregon’s property tax limitation Measure 5 shifted the bulk of education funding from local sources to the state general fund in 1990, public education advocates have claimed that our schools are severely underfunded, spending less than most other states. They want the legislature to raise taxes now to rectify this supposed crisis.

Ask a knowledgeable Oregonian how much money is spent per student in our public schools and they might say the number is about $8,781, which is what the state currently gives school districts per student.

But, ask the nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, and you’ll get a much different answer. According to the NEA’s just-released Rankings & Estimates report for 2016 and 2017, when you count local, state, and federal funding, current expenditures per Oregon student in Average Daily Attendance are estimated to be $13,230. That puts us five percent above the national average of $12,572. Oregon spends more than 33 other states.*

Add in spending for capital outlays and interest payments, and that $13,230 number goes up to total expenditures per student of $14,911.**

Even at the lower number, public schools spend over $396,000 a year for each 30-student classroom. Subtract the average teacher salary plus benefits of some $85,000, and Oregonians should ask where the additional $300,000-plus is going before even thinking about raising taxes on anyone.


* There are several ways to calculate current expenditures per student. The NEA computes two of those ways in this report. Definitions are given in the report Glossary. Oregon’s 2017 Average Daily Attendance (ADA) of pupils “under the guidance and direction of teachers” is estimated in Table I-3 to be 531,434. Oregon’s 2017 Fall Enrollment of pupils registered in the fall of the 2017 school year is estimated in Table I-6 to be 578,176. Because there are more pupils registered in school districts than actually in class on an average day, current expenditures per ADA of $13,230 (Table J-9) is higher than current expenditures per Fall Enrollment, which is $12,161 (Table J-10). Oregon spends more than 33 other states under both these methods.

** Under the two ways of calculating expenditures per student explained above, the author’s calculation of estimated 2017 total expenditures based on Average Daily Attendance of $14,911 is higher than that based on estimated Fall Enrollment, which is $13,705.


Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Education Savings Accounts Treat Kids Like the Individuals They Are

By Kathryn Hickok

Six years ago, Arizona became the first state to pass an Education Savings Account law for some K-12 students. In April, lawmakers there passed a new ESA bill which expands the program eligibility to include all Arizona children. Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee also have ESA programs limited to certain students, such as those with special needs. Nevada also passed a near-universal ESA bill, but it is yet to be funded.

Education Savings Accounts put parents in the educational “driver’s seat.” An ESA is analogous to a debit card for qualifying education expenses. It gives parents who want to opt out of a public school that is not meeting their child’s needs a portion of the per-student state funding for spending on their child’s education in other ways. Funds not used by the student in a given year can be rolled over for future years.

To really empower Oregon families, the Legislature should enact Senate Bill 437. This ESA bill would allow parents to choose the education that meets their child’s needs, such as private or home schools, tutors, online courses, and therapy.

Children learn in different ways, and the landscape of educational options is more diverse today than ever. Education Savings Accounts for Oregon parents are a life-changing education solution whose time has come.


The Senate Education Committee will hold an informational hearing on SB 437 on Tuesday, June 13, from 3-5 pm at the Oregon State Capitol. You can make a statement in favor of school choice by attending the hearing and/or submitting written testimony on the bill.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Proposed Oregon ESA Law Would Offer Students Choices While Breaking Even for Public Schools

By Steve Buckstein

Senate Bill 437, under consideration this legislative session, would offer Oregon K-12 students the flexibility to choose the educational options that best meet their individual needs through a universal Education Savings Account program. ESAs deposit a percentage of the funds that the state otherwise would spend to educate a student in a public school into accounts associated with the student’s family. The family may use the funds for approved educational expenses such as tuition, tutors, online courses, and other services and materials.

The fiscal impact of a universal ESA program for Oregon has been evaluated in an analysis released by Cascade Policy Institute. The fiscal “break even” for state and local school districts would be reached at an annual amount of $6,000 for each participating student with disabilities and/or in a low-income household and $4,500 for all other students. These dollar amounts are proposed in an amendment to the bill.

Of course, fiscal impact should not be the primary measure of this or any well-designed school choice program; but it is a political reality that a fiscal burden should not be imposed on the state at a time that all budgets are under pressure. An ESA program would offer Oregon families as much choice as possible in how their children take advantage of educational opportunities funded by the state. For more about the Educational Opportunity Act: The Power of Choice, visit schoolchoicefororegon.com.


Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Education Savings Accounts Can Help Students Without Hurting Public Schools

By Steve Buckstein

School choice programs allow students to choose schools or other educational resources and pay for them with a portion of the tax funding that otherwise would go to the public school assigned to them by their ZIP code.

While school choice is popular with large segments of the public, opponents often claim specific programs like vouchers or Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) drain funds from the public school system, and so must be rejected.

What opponents overlook is that public funding for K-12 education should actually help educate students, not simply fund specific schools whether or not they meet specific student needs.

The latest and most versatile school choice programs sweeping the country are Education Savings Accounts. ESAs deposit a percentage of the funds that the state otherwise would spend to educate a student in a public school into accounts associated with the student’s family. The family may use the funds for private school tuition or other approved educational expenses such as online learning programs, private tutoring, community college costs, higher education expenses, and other customized learning services and materials. Funds remaining in the account each year after expenses may be “rolled over” for use in subsequent years, even into college.

Here in Oregon, this school choice debate will center upon the latest proposal to offer all K-12 students many more educational options: a universal Education Savings Account program contained in Senate Bill 437. SB 437 is also known as the Educational Opportunity Act: The Power of Choice.

So, will this bill drain funds from public schools, or will it leave them harmless while allowing many students to make different choices? The answers depend on several assumptions which have now been evaluated in a new review and evaluation of a universal ESA program for Oregon.

The amount of the ESA deposits is the biggest driver of fiscal impacts. As introduced, SB 437 would provide participating students with disabilities and in low-income households $8,781 per year (current state funding) in their ESAs. All other participating students would receive $7,903 (90% of current state funding).

As Introduced, based on the assumptions below, the Fiscal Impact on the state and local school districts could be in the range of $200 million annually based on the following assumptions:

■ 90 percent of 61,000 students currently enrolled in non-public education would participate in the program.
■ Seven percent of 563,000 students currently enrolled in public schools would participate.

Based on these assumptions, the program has a fiscal “break even” for state and local school districts combined at an ESA annual amount of $6,000 for each participating student with disabilities and/or in a low-income household and $4,500 for all other students. These are the dollar amounts proposed in the -1 Amendment to the bill.

The Figure below shows the net fiscal impact on state and local budgets across a range of ESA amounts, again based on the assumptions above. 

If fiscal impact were the only measure by which to evaluate this ESA program, the Figure shows that the program is “optimized” at an amount of $3,000 for each participating student with disabilities and/or in a low-income household and $2,250 for all other students. Once fully implemented, the program would save state and local governments $53 million a year.

Figure:

ESA_FIGURE

Of course, fiscal impact is not and should not be the primary measure of this or any well-designed school choice program; but it is a political reality that such a program should not impose a fiscal burden on the state at a time that all budgets are under pressure.

The primary measure of this ESA program should be that it offers Oregon families as much choice as possible in how their children take advantage of educational opportunities funded by the state.

The full report, Education Savings Accounts: Review and Evaluation of a Universal ESA in Oregon, can be found online here.


Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Arizona’s Universal Education Savings Account Law: A “Breakthrough” in Education Financing for Students Today

By Kathryn Hickok

Six years ago, Arizona became the first state to pass an Education Savings Account law for some K-12 students. Last week, Arizona lawmakers passed a new ESA bill which expands the program eligibility to include all Arizona children, phased in over the next few years.

The Heritage Foundation’s education policy fellow Lindsay Burke explains:

Education savings accounts represent a breakthrough in public education financing. Instead of sending funding directly to district schools, and then assigning children to those schools based on where their parents live, parents receive 90 percent of what the state would have spent on their child in their district school, with funds being deposited directly into a parent-controlled account.

Parents can spend the money on the educational services that best meet their children’s individual needs, such as private or home schools, tutors, online courses, and therapy. Funds not used by the student in a given year can be rolled over for future years.

Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee also have ESA programs limited to particular groups of students, such as those with special needs. Nevada passed a near-universal ESA bill in 2015, but it is yet to be funded.

“When parents have more choices, kids win,” said Arizona Governor Doug Ducey. It’s time for Oregon parents to have those choices, too. For more information about Oregon’s Education Savings Account bill, under consideration this legislative session, visit schoolchoicefororegon.com.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

 

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Educational Choice: An Economic Development Catalyst for Urban Neighborhoods

By Kathryn Hickok

A case study on urban renewal suggests that private and charter schools can act as positive drivers of economic development and neighborhood stability. The report, Renewing Our Cities, was produced by EdChoice, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting educational choice for all families.

The report’s authors state:

We find that the school is a strong relocation attractor, and families gravitate toward the school after their children enroll. To the extent public charter schools and/or other parental-choice options influence family relocation decisions, continued growth in these programs may provide a useful policy tool informing urban design and revitalization initiatives in areas where economic growth is otherwise stunted by inferior assigned schools.

These findings are meaningful. A common argument against school choice for low-income children is that neighborhoods and schools would be worse off if families left their assigned public school for a school they thought better met their children’s needs.

This viewpoint doesn’t recognize that private and charter schools are part of the neighborhood, too. When parents have educational options within their communities that are helping their children succeed, they have an incentive to remain part of their neighborhoods and even to move closer to those schools. This supports economic development and a more vibrant civic life in those areas.

Urban economic development is one more way educational choice can be good for both kids and their communities.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Now Is the Time: Oregon’s Educational Opportunity Act, The Power of Choice

By Steve Buckstein

Oregon now has the chance to become an early adopter of a universal Education Savings Account program. An ESA program allows Kindergarten through 12th grade students to use part of the state funds allocated to their local school districts for other educational expenses and services of their choice, such as private or home schools, tutors, and online courses. Funds not used by the student in a given year can be rolled over, all the way to college.

Senate Bill 437 as Introduced would allow 100 percent of the average annual state funding (currently $8,781) for disabled and low-income students, and 90 percent for all other students, to fund ESAs for any students wishing to use them. This likely would result in a $200 million fiscal impact on the state and local school districts combined. A small price to pay for educational freedom, but not likely to happen in a legislative session facing a budget shortfall.

So, the bill has been amended to virtually eliminate any negative fiscal impact. It lowers ESA accounts to $6,000 for disabled and low-income students and $4,500 for all other students. These accounts represent real money…for real educational opportunities…for every student—with no fiscal impact on the state budget.

Please share your interest in Senate Bill 437, the Educational Opportunity Act, with your state legislators. And get involved at the Educational Opportunity Act Facebook page and at SchoolChoiceforOregon.com.


Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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The Road to Success Travels Through 3rd Grade Reading

By Kathryn Hickok

Denisha Merriweather failed third grade twice. Today, she is finishing her master’s degree, thanks to Florida’s tax-credit-funded scholarship program. Last week Denisha was President Trump’s guest at his Address to Congress, where he called educational choice “the civil rights issue of our time.”

The key to Denisha’s success was her godmother’s ability to remove Denisha from a school that was failing her, and to send her to the school that provided her with the support she needed.

Denisha says:

“Now that I’m in graduate school, I can look up statistics that suggest I’ve beaten the odds….[S]tudents who don’t read proficiently by the third grade are four times as likely to drop out of high school as those who do….

“That was me.”

According to the National Association of Education Progress, only 34% of Oregon fourth-graders tested “proficient” in reading in 2015. Oregon students should have the power of choice to find their own path to success, just like Denisha. The Oregon Legislature can help them do this with Senate Bill 437. SB 437 would give parents who want to opt out of a public school a portion of the per-student state funding for their child, to spend on education in other ways. No one disputes the need for improvements to public schools. But children who need help today should be able to get help now.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Parental Choice Champion Betsy DeVos Confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Education

By Steve Buckstein

Opponents of Betsy DeVos tried everything they could to keep her from becoming U.S. Secretary of Education. In the end, she was approved by the Senate on Tuesday with Vice President Pence breaking a 50-50 tie vote.

In addition to arguments that she is wealthy (which she is) and that she never attended public schools (which she didn’t), opponents feigned shock that she had the temerity to argue that educating children takes precedence over protecting and funding public schools that may not meet their needs.

Perhaps her opponents’ biggest error is thinking that private schools are not providing “public education.” But they are. Many Americans recognize that meeting the educational needs of children trumps meeting the financial needs of the adults who work in public school buildings.

Public education means educating the public—or it should. Students don’t suddenly stop being part of the public just because their parents believe they will be better educated in other than their local public school building.

Betsy DeVos believes that public funding of education shouldn’t be limited to schools dominated by public teachers unions. She may not be a friend of those unions, but she is a friend of children who may need those funds to help them learn somewhere else. She has, and will advocate for school choice programs including charters, vouchers, and Education Savings Accounts that allow those children to take their public education funds to the schools they and their families—not the government—choose.


Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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The Past, Present, and Future of School Choice in Oregon

By Steve Buckstein

The vast majority of Oregonians attended public schools assigned to them based on their ZIP codes. Yet, everyone has friends or relatives who made different choices such as private, religious, and home schooling.

Few know, however, that these other choices were almost eliminated in the 1920s. Bigotry was strong across America then, and not only against Blacks. The Ku Klux Klan and others placed a measure on Oregon’s 1922 ballot that would have required children to attend only schools run by the government. The Oregon Compulsory Education Act was defended as “a “precautionary measure against the moral pestilence of paupers, vagabonds, and possibly convicts.”

Approved by a narrow margin, the measure was challenged and overturned by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1925. In its ruling the Court said “the fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”

So, while choices other than public schools remained available, most families have been unable to afford public school taxes and private school tuition at the same time. This reality caused a small group, including myself, to place a citizen initiative on Oregon’s ballot in 1990. Measure 11 would have provided refundable tax credits to every K-12 student in the state, which they could use to attend any public, private, religious, or home school of their choice. No state had voted on such a sweeping reform before, and we felt it was time for Oregon to lead the way.

On election night that November we came up short, with only about one third of the vote. That didn’t surprise us, because school choice was a new concept to most people, and it was easy for our opponents to scare voters into saying No. Before the votes had even been tallied, we began thinking about how we could move our school choice agenda forward in the future. We decided that Oregon needed a free-market think tank to advocate for school choice as well as other limited government ideas. We incorporated Cascade Policy Institute two months later. In the 25 years that have now passed some significant progress on the school choice front has been made.

We worked hard to introduce the charter school concept in the state in the mid-1990s. By 1999 the Oregon legislature passed a charter school bill that now allows more than 120 public charter schools to operate across the state.

Also in 1999 we evolved from just talking about school choice to actually providing choice to hundreds of low-income kids in the Portland area through our Children’s Scholarship Fund program. We initially raised $1 million of private money that was matched by $1 million nationally to provide partial scholarships to over 500 students for four years at the schools of their choice. The fact that over 6,600 children applied for those 500 slots demonstrated that the demand for school choice is great in Oregon. We can’t help them all, so we continue to advocate for broader programs that will.

In 2011 three school choice bills passed as part of an education reform package, including expansion of online charter schools, more options to sponsor new charter schools, and open enrollment between public school districts.

Over these past twenty five years Cascade and others have brought a number of national speakers to the state talking about the benefits of school choice elsewhere, including some 61 privately or publicly funded scholarship programs, charter schools, education tax credits, vouchers, and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).

In 2014, Cascade proposed a limited Education Savings Account bill to help disabled, foster, and low-income children. ESAs allow students to take some or all of the money the state would spend on them in a public school and put it on a restricted use debit card. They can fund a wide variety of approved educational options, such as private school, individual tutoring, and distance learning. Any money not used in a given year can be rolled over to spend on educational expenses in the future, even into college.

Earlier tax credit and voucher programs are now seen as the rotary-dial telephones of the school choice movement. ESAs, with their expansive array of options and their ability to hold costs down as students plan and save for the future are seen as the smartphones of the movement— smartphones with virtually unlimited apps to help children learn in their own unique ways.

This year, Cascade is promoting a broad ESA proposal in the Oregon legislature. Senate Bill 437, and other bills that may emerge, are designed to enhance school choice for everyone. In the future, our mission—and yours if you choose to accept it—will be to help our fellow Oregonians understand and support what many now call the new civil rights issue in America: the right of every child, no matter where they live or their parents’ financial means, to reach their own potential by making their own educational choices affordable. Until this right is achieved, too many children will remain trapped in schools assigned to them by their ZIP code that fail to meet their needs.

We won’t stop advocating for school choice until every child has the real choices they deserve. We appreciate the help of everyone who shares this vision. It can’t become a reality too soon.


Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. 

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An Oregon Education Solution Whose Time Has Come

By Kathryn Hickok

Derrell Bradford has spent his adult life passionately advocating for education reform through parental choice. Derrell grew up in southwest Baltimore and received a scholarship to a private high school. Better than anyone, he knows the power of educational choice to unleash a child’s potential.

“A scholarship is not a five-year plan or a power point…,” Derrell explained recently. “It’s a ticket to the future, granted today, for a child trying to shape his or her own destiny in the here and now….”

Choices in education are widespread in America, unless you are poor. Affluent families can move to different neighborhoods, send their children to private schools, and supplement schooling with enrichment opportunities. Lower- and middle-income families, however, are too often trapped with one option: a school in need of improvement assigned to them based on their home addresses. Families deserve better.

January 22-28 is National School Choice Week, the world’s largest celebration of parental choice and effective educational options for all children.

Students have different talents and needs and learn in different ways. The landscape of options to meet those needs is more diverse today than ever. These options include traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.

Oregon’s 2012 “Mother of the Year” and parental choice activist Bobbie Jager says, “The word ‘choice’ in our home means, ‘of high quality and carefully selected,’ as our children’s education and schools should be. As parents, we need to be able to make these choices for each of our children.”

It’s time Oregon took a serious look at the diversity of options parents now have in 61 school choice programs across the country, including privately or publicly funded scholarship programs, charter schools, education tax credits, vouchers, and Education Savings Accounts.

Parents—not public school bureaucracies—should be in the educational “driver’s seat.” To really empower Oregon families, the Legislature should enact Senate Bill 437 during this year’s upcoming legislative session. This law would give parents who want to opt out of a public school that is not meeting their child’s needs a portion of the per-student state funding for spending on their child’s education in other ways. With this “Education Savings Account” (analogous to a debit card for qualifying education expenses), parents can choose the schools or services that will meet their children’s learning needs.

Oregon has a history of bold experimentation in other policy areas. It’s time to expand the role of parents choosing―and the market delivering―better education for Oregon’s children through educational choice, because every child deserves a ticket to a better future right now. Parental choice is the way of the future, and Education Savings Accounts for Oregon parents are a life-changing education solution whose time has come.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. This article originally appeared in The Coos Bay World on January 23, 2017.

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An Oregon Education Solution Whose Time Has Come

By Kathryn Hickok

Derrell Bradford has spent his adult life passionately advocating for education reform through parental choice. Derrell grew up in southwest Baltimore and received a scholarship to a private high school. Better than anyone, he knows the power of educational choice to unleash a child’s potential.

“A scholarship is not a five-year plan or a power point…,” Derrell explained recently. “It’s a ticket to the future, granted today, for a child trying to shape his or her own destiny in the here and now….”

Choices in education are widespread in America, unless you are poor. Affluent families can move to different neighborhoods, send their children to private schools, and supplement schooling with enrichment opportunities. Lower- and middle-income families, however, are too often trapped with one option: a school in need of improvement assigned to them based on their home addresses. Families deserve better.

January 22-28 is National School Choice Week, the world’s largest celebration of parental choice and effective educational options for all children.

Students have different talents and needs and learn in different ways. The landscape of options to meet those needs is more diverse today than ever. These options include traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.

Oregon’s 2012 “Mother of the Year” and parental choice activist Bobbie Jager says, “The word ‘choice’ in our home means, ‘of high quality and carefully selected,’ as our children’s education and schools should be. As parents, we need to be able to make these choices for each of our children.”

It’s time Oregon took a serious look at the diversity of options parents now have in 61 school choice programs across the country, including privately or publicly funded scholarship programs, charter schools, education tax credits, vouchers, and Education Savings Accounts.

Parents—not public school bureaucracies—should be in the educational “driver’s seat.” To really empower Oregon families, the Legislature should enact Senate Bill 437 during this year’s upcoming legislative session. This law would give parents who want to opt out of a public school that is not meeting their child’s needs a portion of the per-student state funding for spending on their child’s education in other ways. With this “Education Savings Account” (analogous to a debit card for qualifying education expenses), parents can choose the schools or services that will meet their children’s learning needs.

Oregon has a history of bold experimentation in other policy areas. It’s time to expand the role of parents choosing―and the market delivering―better education for Oregon’s children through educational choice, because every child deserves a ticket to a better future right now. Parental choice is the way of the future, and Education Savings Accounts for Oregon parents are a life-changing education solution whose time has come.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. This article originally appeared in The Coos Bay World on January 23, 2017.

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The Oregon Education Solution Whose Time Has Come

By Kathryn Hickok

Next week is National School Choice Week, the world’s largest celebration of parental choice and effective educational options for all children.

Students have different talents and needs and learn in different ways. The landscape of options to meet those needs is more diverse today than ever. These options include traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.

Oregon’s 2012 “Mother of the Year” Bobbie Jager says, “The word ‘choice’ in our home means, ‘of high quality and carefully selected,’ as our children’s education and schools should be. As parents, we need to be able to make these choices for each of our children.”

Parents—not public school bureaucracies—should be in the educational “driver’s seat.” To really empower Oregon families, the Legislature should enact Senate Bill 437. This law would give parents who want to opt out of a public school that is not meeting their child’s needs a portion of the per-student state funding for spending on their child’s education in other ways.

With this “Education Savings Account” (analogous to a debit card for qualifying education expenses), parents can choose the schools or services that will meet their children’s learning needs. Parental choice is the way of the future, and Education Savings Accounts for Oregon parents are a life-changing education solution whose time has come.


Cascade Policy Institute will host a National School Choice Week Policy Picnic on Wednesday, January 25, at noon. Oregon’s 2012 “Mother of the Year” Bobbie Jager will talk about how she got involved in education advocacy and what’s ahead for Oregon parents and students in 2017. Those interested in attending can find more information and RSVP here.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Cascade Policy Institute Welcomes Oregon’s 2012 “Mother of the Year” to Celebrate National School Choice Week 2017

For Immediate Release

Media Contact:
Steve Buckstein

503-242-0900

steven@cascadepolicy.org

 

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 2017, organizers announced today. The event will shine a spotlight on the need to expand access to educational options for all children.

National School Choice Week 2017 (NSCW, January 22-28, 2016) will draw “millions of parents, teachers, students, citizens and community leaders” to support educational opportunity for every child, according to NSCW organizers.

In honor of National School Choice Week, Cascade Policy Institute is delighted to host guest speaker Bobbie Jager, Oregon’s 2012 “Mother of the Year” and energetic advocate for educational choice for all Oregon children. She will talk about how she got involved in education advocacy and what’s ahead for Oregon parents and students in 2017. Last year Jager wrote a Cascade Commentary in support of extending Oregon’s public school open enrollment law.

The event will take place at noon on Wednesday, January 25, at Cascade Policy Institute. Admission is free, but reservations are required due to space limitations. Light refreshments will be served.

Started in 2011, National School Choice Week has grown into the world’s largest celebration of opportunity in education. The Week is a nonpartisan, nonpolitical public awareness effort. Held every January, National School Choice Week shines a positive spotlight on effective educational options for every child. These options include traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling. “School choice” means empowering parents with the freedom to choose the educational options that are best for their children.

“The word ‘choice’ in our home means, ‘of high quality and carefully selected,’ as our children’s education and schools should be,” said Jager. “As parents, we need to be able to make these choices for each of our children.”

More than 21,392 independent events have been planned for National School Choice Week across all 50 states, including:

  • 16,758 hosted by schools of all types
  • 2,168 hosted by homeschool groups
  • 1,358 hosted by chambers of commerce
  • rallies and special events in more than 25 state capitals

“National School Choice Week provides a unique opportunity for Americans to join together on an issue that impacts all of us: educational opportunity,” said Andrew Campanella, National School Choice Week’s president.

By participating in National School Choice Week 2017, Cascade Policy Institute joins 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 schoolchoiceweek.com and cascadepolicy.org.

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Educational Choice: A “Ticket to the Future” for Every Child

By Kathryn Hickok

Derrell Bradford has spent his adult life passionately advocating for education reform through parental choice. Derrell grew up in southwest Baltimore and received a scholarship to a private high school. Better than anyone, he knows the power of choice to unleash a child’s potential.

“A scholarship is not a five-year plan or a power point…,” Derrell explained recently. “It’s a ticket to the future, granted today, for a child trying to shape his or her own destiny in the here and now….”

Choices in education are widespread in America, unless you are poor. Affluent families can move to different neighborhoods, send their children to private schools, and supplement schooling with enrichment opportunities. Lower- and middle-income families, however, are too often trapped with one option: a school in need of improvement assigned to them based on their home addresses. Families deserve better.

It’s time Oregon took a serious look at the diversity of options parents now have in 61 school choice programs across the country, including privately or publicly funded scholarship programs, charter schools, education tax credits, vouchers, and Education Savings Accounts. Oregon has a history of bold experimentation in other policy areas. It’s time to expand the role of parents choosing―and the market delivering―better education for Oregon’s children through educational choice, because every child deserves a ticket to a better future today.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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How Much Is the Elliott State Forest Worth to Oregon Schools? (Don’t Forget the Value of Compounding)

By John A. Charles, Jr.

Advocates of public schools frequently complain about the need for more money, yet many of them are now objecting that the State Land Board is on the verge of selling off the Elliott State Forest, which is an endowment asset for public schools.

The fact is, the Land Board is required by the Oregon Constitution to maximize revenue from the Elliott. The sale has to go forward because timber management is no longer profitable. But the Board should insist on competitive bids, which it is currently prohibiting. The Board should also remove all restrictions on future timber harvesting.

If the Elliott were sold in a competitive auction, it would likely go for $350 million or more. Let’s assume that the proceeds were invested in a manner similar to the PERS fund and had average annual returns of 7.5%, which is the target rate for PERS.

After 50 years, the investment would be worth $13 billion; but after 100 years, it would be worth $487 billion. The huge difference in the two time periods is due to the miracle of compounding.

Do school funding advocates have a better idea for raising $487 billion? If not, they should support an auction sale of the Elliott State Forest.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Measure 97 and the Mirage of School Funding

— Voters are destined for disappointment

 

By John A. Charles, Jr.

Proponents of Measure 97 have consistently claimed that if the measure passes, it will generate an additional $3 billion annually for public education and other social services. Judging from the comments I’ve read in various Oregon newspapers, many people are falling for this argument.

Apparently none of the letter writers have ever watched a legislative appropriations hearing. These are the meetings where a tiny group of senior politicians sit in a back room and decide how to spend billions of dollars. I’ve watched hundreds of such hearings, and the most predictable outcome is that politicians will spend money in front of them on whatever they want.

Let’s just take a simple example. Oregon was one of 44 states that sued the tobacco industry in the mid-1990s to recover the health care costs associated with smoking. Plaintiffs claimed that the tobacco industry had long been imposing uncompensated costs on states in the form of health care for smokers who became sick from use of the product.

The suit was settled through adoption of a Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) with the four largest tobacco manufacturers. As part of the agreement, each state was to receive payments every year from 1998 through 2025.

According to the plaintiffs, the estimated $25 billion of MSA money was supposed to be used for tobacco prevention activities and health care subsidies necessary to treat smoking illnesses. But that was not a formal part of the agreement. Each state was free to use the funds in whatever way its state legislature approved.

In Oregon, total MSA funds received since 1998 have exceeded $1.26 billion. Almost all of it was spent on programs that had nothing to do with tobacco cessation or public health. Only 0.8 percent was appropriated for tobacco prevention programs.

How could this be? They promised!

Yes, Virginia, they promised. But every two years, 90 legislators show up in Salem, and they each have their own priorities. Once you put a pot of money on the table for them to spend, it’s game over.

Almost no one in the Capitol remembers what the MSA was, and, furthermore, they don’t care. They only care about spending money for the stuff they want right now.

Measure 97 is a horrible tax proposal, for many reasons. It unfairly targets a small subset of all businesses directly, but hits all businesses and all of us indirectly. It taxes sales but not profits. It would be the largest tax increase in Oregon history.

But if voters ignore these concerns and approve it anyway because they think it will increase funding for schools, they are destined for bitter disappointment.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. This article originally appeared in the September 2016 edition of the newsletter, “Oregon Transformation: Ideas for Growth and Change.”

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Freedom in Film: Won’t Back Down (2012)

With students everywhere heading to class, we hope you enjoy Part 3 of Cascade’s “virtual” back-to-school School Choice Film Fest.

Social problem films are not generally “feel-good” movies, in the sense that viewers feel comfortable with their feet up, eating popcorn, laughing with the heroes, and hoping for happily ever after. Won’t Back Down (2012) is a bit different. The film makes clear the near-impossibility of a desperate single mother getting her small daughter out of the worst public school in town; but it maintains a buoyant, upbeat vibe.

Here is what Cascade’s Steve Buckstein said about Won’t Back Down when it opened in theaters:

It’s not often that a Hollywood movie both entertains and helps parents learn about another option to improve their children’s education. The film Won’t Back Down…does both.

Inspired by actual events, it’s the story of a third-grade student trapped in a failing public school. Unable to afford a private education, her mother, played by actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, learns about parent trigger laws, now the reality in seven states, which allow parents to take control of such schools and institute improvements.

Gyllenhaal enlists the help of a dedicated teacher in her daughter’s school, played by actress Viola Davis, to jump through the myriad of hoops put in their way. Together, they learn how to fight not only the bureaucracy, but the powerful teachers union, personified by actress Holly Hunter.

The film explores the complex relationships among good teachers, bad teachers, and a union whose leader once famously said he’d represent the interests of schoolchildren when they started paying union dues. Poor parents who want the best for their children are given a glimpse of the educational choices that those with political power are able to make.

Surprisingly, the good guys aren’t all good, and the bad guys aren’t all bad, in this multi-layered drama….

Won’t Back Down was criticized by some as “anti-union” or even “anti-teacher.” But it is actually a relatively gentle take on union/parent/teacher conflicts. The film takes extra care to present the concerns and fears of lifelong public school teachers and union members with sympathy and understanding. The characters are lovable, and the drama is human.

The takeaway can be summed up by the school board member who, casting the decisive vote, says….Well, you’ll have to see the movie to find out.

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Freedom in Film: Waiting for “Superman” (2010)

With students everywhere heading to class, we hope you enjoy Part 2 of Cascade’s “virtual” back-to-school School Choice Film Fest.

The 2010 documentary film Waiting for “Superman” ignited new interest in the desperate desire of low-income parents to get their kids out of failing, one-size-fits-all public schools into better-performing charter schools. The five children poignantly profiled in the film faced barriers to their dreams in the form of too few charter school seats and a lottery acceptance process that made their futures dependent on a roll of the dice.

Charter schools have become a vital education option for thousands of students throughout the U.S. Moviegoers previously unfamiliar with charter schools (public schools with more freedom to be innovative than traditional district public schools) began to understand why parents―especially lower-income parents―want their kids so much to have a chance to attend charters.

Demand for charter schools far outstrips available seats, as Cascade’s 2011 study of Oregon charter school waiting lists found. Opening more charter schools is an important piece of the education reform puzzle. However, immediate, viable, successful alternatives to failing public schools have existed, often right in parents’ own neighborhoods, for decades. In much of the U.S., those options pre-date the American public school system itself.

Private and parochial schools have been a lifeline for low-income kids for generations, and today’s school choice movement seeks to maximize parents’ options for choosing the public, private, online, public charter, or home school that is the best fit for their children. Dozens of states and the District of Columbia have pioneered voucher programs, education tax credit laws, and Education Savings Accounts for parents. Private charity also plays a major role in helping children in need get a hand up early in life.

Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs, may be the most flexible way for states to help children learn in the ways that are best for them. ESAs are not a college savings plan. Rather, if families decide the public schools to which their children are assigned 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.

Reforming our public education system is necessary, but low-income kids can’t wait for Superman. When the 2017 Oregon legislative session begins in January, ask your state legislators to empower Oregon children to succeed in whatever education setting works for them by supporting an Education Savings Account law.

And if you haven’t seen it yet, this is a great week to watch Waiting for “Superman.”

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Freedom in Film: To Sir, with Love (1967)

With students everywhere heading to class, we hope you enjoy Part 1 of Cascade’s “virtual” back-to-school School Choice Film Fest.

Nearing the end of his patience, a first-year teacher challenges his scarcely literate students to think seriously about the lives ahead of them. What will happen after high school graduation? One academically indifferent girl supposes she’ll get married, giggling that “everybody gets married.”

Such comfortable assumptions have disappeared since 1967; much else about the lives and troubles of at-risk teenagers hasn’t.

To Sir, with Love stars Sidney Poitier as Mark Thackeray, an engineer who takes a temporary teaching job. The kids are rough, uninterested in school, and oblivious to the possibility that they could become more than they are. The gentlemanly Mr. Thackeray, called “Sir” by his students, is as much a culture shock to them as they are to him.

To Sir, with Love is like a time capsule of the late 1960s: Sentimental optimism contrasts with the grittiness of poverty, illiteracy, teenage rebellion, and rapid social change. There is a sense that Mr. Thackeray’s class is careening wildly toward dead-end or delinquent adulthoods, and he has a few short weeks to reach at least some of his students before they are lost. His greatest asset as a teacher, though, has nothing to do with cutting-edge curriculum or teaching “best practices.”

It is culture. “Sir” is a living example of another world which his students could choose to enter, if only they could see themselves in it. Through him they experience, for the first time, what it is to have dignity. As the teenagers begin to awaken to their own self-worth, they start to grasp why people have manners, respect others, and behave in ways that draw respect in turn. They take interest in the written word and the process of intellectual inquiry.

Education is more than transmission of facts; it’s an invitation to explore the world of the soul, of human creative capacity, and of the physical universe. When students get in touch with their own dignity as human beings, they grasp the meaning of learning. They no longer mark time until school is out; they transform as students and as people.

Great teachers help students discover the grandeur of human existence, potential, and achievement and that they are made for more than superficial pleasures and “easy outs.” To Sir, with Love shows what can happen when the right adult comes into a teenager’s life at the right time―and why that’s so important.

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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

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Oregon Land Board Low-Balls Elliott Timber with Fixed-Price “Bidding”

Last week the Oregon Department of State Lands announced the “fair market value” of 82,450 acres of Common School Trust Lands within the Elliott State Forest as $220.8 million. The number was picked by Roger Lord of the consulting firm Mason, Bruce & Girard after analyzing three different professional appraisals. Proceeds from the land transfer will go to the Common School Fund and be invested for the long-term benefit of public school students.

At a public meeting held in Salem, the Director of the Department, Jim Paul, reiterated that anyone hoping to acquire the 82,450 acres must offer exactly $220.8 million. Any offer above that will be considered “outside the protocol” and deemed “non-responsive.” This announcement was the latest step in the Land Board’s plan to dispose of the Elliott property in a non-competitive bid process.

The Land Board has invented a “fair market” value of the Elliott timberland without allowing a market to actually function. The price investors are willing to pay might be higher than $220.8 million, or even multiples of that number. Unfortunately, we’ll never know because the Land Board is refusing to take competitive bids. Clearly, this is a breach of fiduciary trust. Public school students, teachers, and parents deserve to get top dollar in this once-in-a-lifetime sale of a public asset.

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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.

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Freedom in Fiction: Ida Elisabeth

Ida Elisabeth had every reason to leave her husband. He was foolish, immature, irresponsible, and unable to change. She couldn’t respect him. She had never really loved him. When he had an affair with another woman, it was her chance to leave and take the children―and no one blamed her.

Nobel Prize-winning novelist Sigrid Undset placed Ida Elisabeth in her own contemporary 1930s Norway, a period of escalating social change prior to the Second World War. People spoke skeptically of the beliefs and assumptions of previous generations, doubting that conventional ethics would outlast their lifetime. Socialist-type welfare policies were becoming popular in noncommunist Western countries. Democratic governments, responding to the demands of the electorate, promised citizens more and more―and supplanted many social roles formerly played by spouses, families, local communities, and private charities. The modern world was unfolding―uneasily.

In a key conversation, Ida’s older mentor muses about the rise of the modern welfare state and Norway’s path to unsustainable public debt:

“…[T]he qualities which put a man in power and those which make him feel responsibility are not necessarily associated, nor do they necessarily exclude each other,” [he said.] “…We had an institution here in Norway in the saga times which was called debt-servitude. When a man had incurred more debts than he was able to pay, he could hand over his children to his creditors, and they had to work as thralls until they had earned enough to cover their father’s indebtedness. I don’t believe children are told anything about this debt-servitude in the schools nowadays. But they’re destined to experience it.”

Ida Elisabeth nodded: “They won’t have a good time, those who come after us.”

“No. And…[w]ill those who come after us be content to bear all the burdens which we still feel it our duty to shoulder? To help all that neither can nor will help themselves?…Especially when the young are aware that the old have taken upon themselves to determine, that they should come into the world, and when they should come, and how many should be put into the world to take over the burdens when they themselves are no longer able to bear them.”

In Ida’s time, the modern welfare state was already detaching individuals from reliance on those around them. While the state-run systems―“almshouses,” etc.—seemed streamlined, efficient, and economical ways of relieving people of the need to personally care for others, the underlying philosophy of utility was already becoming disturbing.

Ida’s friend wonders what will obligate future generations to honor the debts of their forebears, if people no longer believe that other human beings―just like themselves―possess innate and inalienable value? In the modern world, no one needs to be bothered with others any more than they think is reasonable, children come into the world solely at the convenience of adults, and family bonds may be broken at will. Who will decide what price is too high to meet the needs of the elderly, the sick and disabled, and those who cannot “pull their full weight” in society? (By the end of the decade in which Ida Elisabeth was published, these questions had begun to bear bitter fruit in Germany. In the novel, these musings were still largely theoretical.)

As the novel plays out, “big government” (or the welfare state) appears to be a symptom (or symbol) of another, more subtle disease: the human decision to put one’s own needs and desires ahead of the call to serve others, relinquishing individual responsibility to a nameless, faceless state. The genius of Ida Elisabeth is the connection made on the level of the heart between decisions made within personal relationships and a philosophy of self-centeredness that paves the way for far-reaching social change and loss of respect for human beings.

But the novel isn’t about government. It’s a love story of a mother and her children, her husband, and the man “who should have been.” When Ida Elisabeth falls in love with a man who shares her wishes and desires, she is forced to confront a struggle of conscience that is hard for the postmodern reader to accept. Ida tries to reconcile her mind and conscience with cutting herself off forever from family members from whom it once seemed right to separate.

While she is not a religious person and does not base her decisions on what is left of Norway’s conventional morality, Ida cannot fully agree with her secular friends that it is best to abandon those who couldn’t possibly make her feel fulfilled. “We at any rate can’t watch people drowning because they can’t swim, and not care,” she says. Her fundamental choice is between a “happy ending” and the needs of her family. Her choice determines their futures, her character, and her understanding of the meaning of life.

One of the lessons Sigrid Undset teaches so adeptly in her fiction is the step-by-step nature of discernment: Decisions made today may need to be adjusted tomorrow, because mercy has claims as well as justice. Undset deprives the reader of an easy ending because real life is often difficult. Happiness does not always appear in the form for which we wish. Deep human longings, passions, hopes, and personal needs may clash with what we know in our hearts must be done. The mysteries of life can’t be shoehorned into simplistic answers to complex problems. Codependence is not a virtue; “tough love” is a necessary, difficult road. But once Ida Elisabeth decides not to abandon the source of her sorrows to the public almshouse (so to speak), the way begins to become clear―a road of thorns for her at first, but a path of light, understanding, reconciliation, and peace.

Ida Elisabeth is a novel to be pondered with an open mind and heart―and more than a few good tears.

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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.

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