Category: Education

Scaling Down: The Power of One

Is it truly possibly for one person to make a positive difference in education in America? Darla Romfo has a good answer to this question. She is president of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which has helped more than 145,000 low-income children nationwide to attend private grade schools. She wrote:

“[Children’s Scholarship Fund founder] John [Walton] once told me…that giving the scholarships and meeting the kids and their parents grounded the whole effort of trying to reform the larger system. He knew no matter what happened with those efforts, he was having a direct impact on the lives of kids today….

“[A] caring adult who really invests in an authentic relationship with a child will bring enormous benefits to the child, to say nothing of the rewards to the adult….

“We can’t stop trying to get education right in America, but maybe we will get further faster if every adult who can gets involved in the life of a child who has a couple of strikes against them. Whether it is through a mentoring program, a scholarship program, a school-based program, or some other means, it could make the ultimate difference in a child’s life, and you don’t have to be up to speed on the latest education reform idea to do it and make it work.”

For more information about how you can help the Children’s Scholarship Fund make a difference today, visit scholarshipfund.org.

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Policy Picnic – September 16, 2015


Please join us for our monthly Policy Picnic led by Cascade guest speaker Herb Grey


Topic: The Regulatory State: The Revival of Absolutism

Description: 

Today our lives are increasingly regulated by decisions of unelected bureaucrats at all levels of government, from simple zoning and land use decisions to IRS audits to judicial pronouncements imposing monetary sanctions and other conditions ordaining how we conduct business (and with whom).

Is this a necessity required by the complexities of modern life, or merely the raw exercise of government power as old as kings and queens? What do the United States and state constitutions say about it? Should we as citizens continue to tolerate it? What, if anything, should we do to limit or stop it?

Herb Grey is a Beaverton attorney with almost 35 years of civil practice experience handling a variety of cases, including constitutional and civil rights litigation in state and federal courts, as well as practicing before administrative agencies. He is a member of the Oregon State Bar and is admitted to practice in all Oregon state courts and before the U.S. District Court in Oregon, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court.

Herb is an allied attorney affiliated with Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian public interest law firm, and a long-time member of the Christian Legal Society. Herb is currently serving as lead counsel defending Aaron and Melissa Klein, dba Sweet Cakes by Melissa, in a high-profile freedom of conscience case investigated, charged, prosecuted, and decided by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and Commissioner Brad Avakian, now on appeal.

There is no charge for this event, but reservations are required as space is limited.

Admission is free. Please feel free to bring your own lunch.
Coffee and cookies will be served. 
 
Sponsored by:
Dumas Law Group
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What Gets Kids “Ready for College and Life?”

Students across Oregon are back in school. Have you ever thought about how important it is where a child goes to school? After their family, the greatest influence on children as they grow up is usually their school.

Private scholarship programs like the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland help elementary children from lower-income families choose the school that is right for them. CSF-Portland has helped nearly 700 Oregon kids get a “hand up” in private, parochial, and home school educational settings.

Studies of similar scholarship programs around the country show the difference educational opportunity makes in children’s lives, including raising their chances of high school graduation. By choosing the right school for their child and paying part of the tuition themselves, parents are empowered to hold schools accountable. When parents actively invest in their children’s education, students are highly motivated to succeed.

A young man who attended private schools in Portland thanks to the Children’s Scholarship Fund wrote at graduation, “I have learned that nothing’s going to be handed to you and that you’ll succeed through hard work….[Private school] was challenging, but it has gotten me ready for college and life.”

A quality elementary education is a simple step that puts kids with limited choices on a path to success that can change the rest of their lives. To see how you can help a child reach his or her potential through this program, visit cascadepolicy.org.

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New Orleans’ Miracle School District

Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated the southeastern United States, displacing more than 372,000 school-aged children. Today, New Orleans’ school population has returned to more than two-thirds its pre-storm level, but a lot has changed for the better in the public school district.

Before Katrina, a Louisiana state legislator called New Orleans “one of the worst-run public school systems in America.” Almost two-thirds of students attended a “failing school.” After Katrina, the state legislature transferred more than 100 low-performing Orleans Parish schools to the Recovery School District. Now, the district has 57 charter schools operating under nonprofit charter management organizations.

According to The Washington Examiner, barely more than half of New Orleans public school students graduated before Katrina. Today, almost all New Orleans students attend charter schools. In the 2013-14 school year, three out of four students graduated on time, and fewer than seven percent attend a “failing school.”

This amazing turnaround is due to the hard work of teachers, administrators, local and state leaders, and parents who rebuilt New Orleans’ public school system from the ground-up, with the vision and determination to create “an all-choice school district with high-quality schools.” The unprecedented success of New Orleans’ Recovery School District serves as a model for education reform efforts across the country. Parental choice, flexibility for educators, and innovation in management really can achieve the impossible.

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What They Say vs. What They Do: How PCC Students Really Get to School

By Anna Mae Kersey, Emma Newman, and Thomas Tullis

TriMet is considering the construction of a light rail line from Portland State University to Tualatin, at a cost of roughly $2 billion.

One routing option still on the table is to run the train down Barbur Boulevard, then build a tunnel to the Sylvania campus of Portland Community College. The tunnel would add $244 million in capital cost. It also would require moving several dozen homes and take at least two years to build.

To put this in perspective, for the price tag of the proposed tunnel, one could purchase approximately 23,094 Teslas, build 41 aerial trams like the one at OHSU, buy two brand-new cars per PCC-Sylvania student, or pay for 117,200,000 Uber rides from the PCC Sylvania campus to downtown Portland.

Such a hefty sum might be justified if there were a need for “high-capacity” transit at PCC-Sylvania, but such a need does not exist.

According to survey data released by PCC, 58 percent of Sylvania students drive to class, while 32 percent take shuttles or buses. However, travel surveys are notoriously unreliable, in large part because people tend to underreport their reliance on auto travel.

To correct for this, Cascade Policy Institute collected field data by going to PCC-Sylvania and counting every trip to and from the campus, at various times and on various days. The field observations tell a different story. Roughly 84 percent of students drove and only 15 percent took TriMet or the PCC shuttles during our observations, which covered nearly 7,000 trips.

During final exams week, when students really had to be in class, the split was even more skewed: 89% traveled via private automobile.

The difference between what students said in a survey and how they actually traveled is significant because it shows that college students are much less willing to forego cars and take transit than is commonly thought. For TriMet, this means the proposed light rail line likely will not have the increase in ridership that planners assume.

We can also learn from experience elsewhere, because one other PCC campus has been directly served by light rail for the past five years. The PCC Willow Creek campus is a single building located directly next to a light rail station on the west side. This is unlike the spread-out PCC Sylvania campus, where students would still have to walk a significant distance from the proposed light rail station to get to their classes.

Despite the convenience of light rail stopping right at the front door, at Willow Creek the field observations showed that 80 percent of students drove, 14 percent took light rail, and 5 percent took the bus. This is only a slight decrease in automobile use compared with Sylvania. Is it really worth spending $244 million to service a suburban college campus with light rail for this tiny difference?

Driving is the preferred method of travel for the majority of college commuters because it offers versatility that caters to their complicated schedules both in and out of the classroom. It seems that the complexities of student lives and lack of demand for transit are being overlooked in this decision.

PCC-Sylvania is already served by a rich mixture of college shuttles and TriMet buses. Those options are currently underutilized. Thus, there is no reason to spend $244 million and disrupt the serenity of this neighborhood to build a light rail tunnel.

Anna Mae Kersey, Emma Newman, and Thomas Tullis are research associates at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank.

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Will “Free” Tuition Make College Cost More?

By Thomas Tullis

On July 17, Governor Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 81, the “Oregon Promise” legislation that allocates $10 million to a “free” community college tuition program for Oregon students. With college tuition having increased ten-fold over the last three decades, Oregon lawmakers clearly have good intentions, but that doesn’t make the Oregon Promise legislation good policy. Unfortunately, Oregon Promise will do little to solve the problem of tuition affordability. In the long run, it could actually cause education costs for students to increase because government-subsidized tuition is a major reason why tuition costs are so high in the first place.

Essentially, “free” education actually ends up costing more. It doesn’t just affect the student directly. Tuition costs don’t go down; instead, it only diverts the cost from the student to the taxpayers. Rather than making college more affordable, Oregon Promise will encourage colleges to increase tuition. Government loans and grants enable a guaranteed demand for services that ensures colleges can raise tuition and increase their spending. The government even admits to these unintended consequences with a recent Federal Reserve study that showed that government grants and loans have caused a 65% increase in tuition.

With Oregon boasting the lowest high school graduation rates in the country, lawmakers should focus on allowing a free market to exist for education providers to compete on quality and price. The real solution to tuition affordability would be freeing the education market from government intrusion.

Thomas Tullis is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank. He is a student at the University of Oregon, where he is studying Journalism and Political Science.

 

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Nevada’s Education Innovation

By Emma Newman

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Oregon’s 2013 graduation rate is the worst of all 49 states which reported data. Nevada, which held Oregon’s position at the bottom in 2012, has decided to do something truly bold and create a system that allows for unprecedented levels of accountability, opportunity, and individualization in education.

Next January, Nevada will start the most inclusive educational savings account program in the nation. Educational saving accounts, or ESAs, allow public school students to take 90 percent of the money the state would spend on them and put it on a restricted use debit card. Parents can spend this money on a wide variety of approved educational options, such as private school, individual tutoring, and distance learning. Any money not used is rolled over for parents to spend in the future.

By allowing parents to choose where they send their child to school, schools become more accountable. Families who currently can’t afford to pay taxes for the public school system plus tuition for private options will now have real opportunities to meet their kids’ individual needs, learning styles, and interests.

While Oregon responded to having the worst graduation rate in the nation by giving its failed Oregon Education Investment Board a new name, Nevada responded with innovation.

Emma Newman is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank. She is a student at George Fox University, where she is studying Economics and Computer Science.

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How the State of Oregon Gambles Away Its Lottery Proceeds

By Thomas Tullis

When Oregon politicians pretend to be experts on venture capital investing, it ends up costing the state millions of dollars in education money.

This is exactly what is going on with the Oregon Growth Board, a project of the Oregon Business Development Department. Tasked with generating a return on investment by financing venture capital funds in Oregon, the Board receives 10% of state lottery profits that are supposed to be apportioned to a state education endowment fund. Unfortunately for students, the Oregon Growth Account boasts a measly 1.5% return on investment over a 15-year period.

In order to justify these dismal returns, the Board claims that venture capital funds tend to lose money in the early years but then make it up as new companies mature. They also admit that they’re recovering from $22 million in losses suffered when the dot-com bubble burst 15 years ago.

State legislators don’t recognize the irony of using profits from the Oregon Lottery to gamble in high-risk investments to benefit an education stability fund. Perhaps the Oregon Growth Board would have a more reasonable ROI if they just flew to Vegas and put our education money all on red.

Thomas Tullis is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank. He is a student at the University of Oregon, where he is studying Journalism and Political Science.

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U.S. Sees Huge Growth in Homeschooling

What does it mean for parents and kids today?

The Center for Education Reform reports that since 2003, the number of homeschooled kids in the U.S. “has jumped nearly 62 percent with 1,773,000 students being educated in the comfort and flexibility of their own homes.” Cascade’s publications director Kathryn Hickok discussed this trend on KUIK’s The Jayne Carroll Show on May 27. Listen to Jayne and Kathryn talk about the increasing popularity of homeschooling and what resources are available to parents today!

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Tennessee Special Needs Kids Get Choices in Education

Tennessee just became the 28th state to enact a private school choice program, giving parents more options for their children’s education. Governor Bill Haslam signed the nation’s fourth Education Savings Account law on Monday.

Arizona, Florida, and Mississippi already allowed parents to have some control over the funding allocated for their kids’ education through Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). ESAs are a flexible way for parents to manage some of the money that otherwise would be used for their kids’ education in their zoned public school. ESAs allow parents to pay for different kinds of educational services that may be the best fit for their children, including tuition, online courses, tutoring, therapy, or other categories of expenses defined by law.

Now, Tennessee children with an Individualized Education Plan will be able to use state and local funds, plus special education funds to which they would be entitled, for the schools and services their parents judge will best meet their individual needs. This law empowers parents of children with autism and many other special needs to get the help they need to succeed in school.

Parents of children with special needs want less red tape and more options. ESAs empower families to find and pay for those options, providing winning solutions for children. Oregon children should be given this opportunity, too.

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Low-Income Scholarship Recipients “Highly Successful” in High School and Beyond

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice just released an exploratory study examining the graduates of the Children’s Scholarship Fund Baltimore. CSF Baltimore is a privately funded scholarship program helping low-income children in the Baltimore area to attend the tuition-based elementary schools of their parents’ or guardians’ choice. CSF Baltimore is a partner program of the New York-based Children’s Scholarship Fund.

According to the study:

“The study found that CSFB elementary scholarship recipients had indeed been highly successful in their post-elementary educational achievements. Nearly all CSFB alumni contacted had graduated from high school in four or fewer years after eighth grade―97 percent to be exact. This high percentage is nearly identical to tracking studies completed with Children’s Scholarship Fund programs in other metropolitan areas (Philadelphia, Charlotte, and Toledo). The percentage is much higher than the national high school graduation rate of 70 percent, and higher than the Baltimore City Public School (BCPS) graduation rate of 38 percent to 64 percent.”

Children’s Scholarship Fund partner programs empower students to overcome challenges through a strong foundation in their K-8 education. As these children grow up, studies show that the philanthropic investments made in their education―combined with the initiative, dedication, and involvement of parents and teachers―is paying off for tens of thousands of children who now have a better chance at success in high school, college, careers, and life.

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Alternative Paths to College Education: First Learn a Job

By William B. Conerly, Ph.D.

The old advice about college isn’t working anymore. College graduates (as well as “quituates”) face poor job prospects in many cases, as well as high student debt. A college degree is not the meal ticket it once was, especially unfortunate at the time when loans have to be paid off. Young men and women need to consider an alternate path.

I wrote an article for Forbes that got a great deal of attention: “The Six Courses That Will Make Any College Grad Employable.” That advice is still right for a student in college, but let’s address the younger person: Maybe you should not go to college right away.

University professor and social critic Camille Paglia made some very pointed comments about college in a recent Reason TV interview. (The entire interview is long and somewhat rambling, but Paglia makes strong points about the weakness of the current higher education model.) She said that young people need to learn how to make a living.

An alternative model is to get job skills first, then head to college for a broader perspective on the world through science, history, and literature. Here’s how that might work.

There are many jobs that pay decent money with just a little training. The health professions have many, such as phlebotomist (the person who draws blood for tests). Many computer-related jobs can be had with a year or two of applied schooling, or even disciplined self-study. Local community colleges have counselors who are familiar with training requirements for different jobs. The construction trades have apprenticeships with a three-to-five-year path of paid work plus free training, ending in journeyman certification in a trade. Instead of getting out of college with debt, the apprentice ends with no debt, work experience, and a job.

My parents feared that if I didn’t go to college straight from high school, I’d never go, or at least never finish. My father got two years of college under his belt before military service in World War II. When the war was over, he had a wife and family and never went back to school. He didn’t want that to happen to me or my siblings. However, back in the 1950s a college degree was a meal ticket. To acquire one, the student needed some combination of brains, ambition, and family connections, all relevant to career success. There were so few college grads that to have a degree was very distinctive. Today, degrees are much more common and thus mean much less.

Even the most talented high school students should consider going out on their own before heading to college. My parents ran into financial difficulties just as I was finishing high school, and I received no money from them. I probably had a better relationship with them than any of my classmates had with their parents. The difference was that I could do as I pleased, but I sought their counsel and advice. They acknowledged that they had no say-so, because they were not footing the bills. We got along quite well in my college years.

I was very motivated to study economics and make a career in the field, but many others go to college without such a clear goal. College is simply too expensive, though, for a find-yourself experience. You can find yourself with positive cash flow working a job.

After the young person has a starting job, it’s time to think about education. It’s not easy to work full time and go to school part-time, but plenty of people do it. Starting a family later in life helps. Learning a construction trade makes a lot of sense for an 18-year-old. Working in hard labor makes less sense 30 years later. Before the body objects to carrying heavy loads, it’s time to transition to carrying a clipboard. More schooling gets the tradesman into management, estimating, or sales.

“Follow your passion” is common advice, but often dangerous advice. If your passion is finance or computer programming, I heartily agree. One can make a good living while having fun. If, however, your passion is Roman history, it’s going to be very tough. The solution is to find a way to earn a living while keeping your passion as a hobby. I know people who work full time and paint in their spare time. One guy, whom I’ve written about regarding business models in art, is transitioning from art-as-a-hobby to art-as-a-profession. He is making the transition with both money in the bank and a good head for business, which help tremendously to succeed as an artist.

A technical writer I once worked with quit her corporate job to wait tables in a restaurant. I was mystified, but she explained that the job had been great for producing volumes of boring text, which helped her write clear prose. But it was time for her to pursue her passion of writing fiction, the next great American novel. She needed to make money, but have more time for her own writing. She also needed a job that was less intellectually challenging, so that she could go home to a pretty cerebral activity. Waiting tables fit the bill. It has a fairly high hourly rate, but bad hours and part-time work. Jobs like this work well for people trying to balance passion and money.

One final way to look at college uses an economist’s approach. Some purchases are consumer goods, motivated by pleasure. Think movies, party dresses, vacations. Other purchases are investment goods. For a company, this includes factory equipment, trucks, or office buildings. For a family, an investment might be a washing machine (avoiding putting quarters in a laundromat), a basic car (to get to work in), or a house (to avoid paying rent). Borrowing money for an investment can be okay, but borrowing for a pure consumption good is not smart. Now, what is college? A person majoring in engineering is buying an investment good. A person studying Russian literature is buying a consumption good. Borrowing for a pure consumption good does not make sense.

This advice is doubly important for the poorly performing student. College requires even more self-discipline than high school. Unless there is a major change, the poor high school student becomes not a college graduate but rather a flunktuate.

College is great for some people just out of high school, and great at a later time for others, and a very bad idea for yet others. Every high school student should consider work options before embarking on an expensive college experience.


 

William B. Conerly, Ph.D. is the principal of Conerly Consulting, an economic and financial consulting firm, and chairman of the board of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market research center. A version of this article was originally published on Forbes.com.

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Portland Set to Approve Public Shaming of Building Owners

For members of the Portland City Council, the end always justifies the means.

Their current obsession is energy use in commercial buildings. On April 15 the Council likely will approve a regulation to require the owners of such buildings to: (1) monitor energy consumption; (2) calculate an “energy use intensity” score; and (3) file annual reports with the city.

Advocates claim that this will be good for building owners. It will give them information they would never get without prodding by bureaucrats, and provide market recognition for high-performing buildings.

In fact, this is just an effort to shame building owners and tenants into adjusting their behavior to conform to the political edicts of City Hall. Commercial buildings consuming “too much” energy will receive a Scarlet Letter and be harassed by bureaucrats and activists into expensive energy conservation retrofits, many of which will make no financial sense.

Energy consumption is a private matter. The Portland City Council should stand down on this proposal and leave people alone.

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Oregon Children Deserve the Right to Try

Oregon hopefully will join twelve states that have enacted Right to Try legislation, allowing terminally ill patients to try experimental drugs not yet approved by the FDA.

In several states, the face of Right to Try efforts was a child. Fourteen-year-old Diego Morris was honorary chairman of the Arizona campaign that saw 78 percent of voters approve Right to Try last November. Diagnosed with a deadly form of bone cancer when he was eleven, Diego and his family had to move to London for treatment with a drug approved there, but not in the United States. Now cancer free, Diego visited the Oregon Capitol in February to meet with legislators. When asked what he would say to opponents of Right to Try, Diego answered, “Wait until they find themselves in my situation, and then ask them.”

Five-year-old Jordan McLinn handed the pen to Indiana Governor Mike Pence when he signed that state’s Right to Try law last week. Jordan has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a terminal illness that without experimental treatment may kill him before he turns 20.

No doubt some Oregon children could benefit from the Right to Try. House Bill 2300 would give adults that right, but not children under age 15. Those who favor Right to Try might let their state legislators know that faced with a terminal illness, children should have the same Right to Try as adults do.

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If the state loses $1.4 billion for schools and nobody notices, did it really happen?

The Oregon legislature is in the midst of its biennial quest for more public school funding. Advocates are so desperate for cash that they are even proposing that the state seize gift cards as “abandoned property” if some portion of the original value remains unused after three years.

While grabbing gift cards is certainly creative, it will not materially affect school funding. A much more lucrative source is available if we have the political will: selling the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest (ESF) and placing the net receipts (likely to be $400 million or more) into the Common School Fund, where investments typically earn 8% or more annually.

In fact, the failure of the state to sell the Elliott 20 years ago when it was first proposed has already cost schools at least $1.4 billion in lost value. It’s a mystery as to why school advocates are willing to accept this.

The Elliott is located on the South Coast near Reedsport. By law, most of the timber must be managed to maximize revenue for the “common schools.” Unfortunately, over the past 20 years, timber harvesting on the ESF has plummeted due to environmental litigation. As a result, in 2013 the state actually lost $3 million on the Elliott, then lost more money in 2014. These losses drain money from public schools.

This disaster could have been avoided. In 1994, the state commissioned a study of ways to increase net revenues on the Elliott. The consultant reported that “selling the ESF would be the most effective way to maximize CSF revenues.”

The State Land Board (made up of the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the State Treasurer) considered selling the Elliott in 1996 but rejected the idea. That decision locked the state into a revenue death spiral on the forest.

The extent of that loss was quantified by the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) in a report published last November. The chart below summarizes the results:

Simulated Prior Elliott Sale versus Actual Elliott Management

 

Simulation Simulated endowment in 2014

Simulated distribution over time period

Estimated residual land value Total value over time period
(Actual) managed for timber since 1995 $1.4 billion $0.7 billion $0.4 billion $2.5 billion
Sale in 1995 and invested proceeds $2.5 billion $1.4 billion $0 $3.9 billion
Buyout in 2005 and invested proceeds $1.8 billion $0.8 billion $0 $2.6 billion

Source: Oregon Department of State Lands, November 2014

The failure to sell the ESF in 1995 cost schools $1.4 billion in lost value. That is a very large number, not only in absolute terms, but compared with public losses elsewhere that have resulted in resignations and political scandal.

For example, the U.S. Congress is investigating the disappearance of $305 million in federal funds spent on Cover Oregon. At the state level, the Oregon Department of Justice has just opened a civil and criminal investigation into the $11.8 million of energy tax credits issued for an array of solar panels installed by several state universities.

Yet the loss of $1.4 billion in school funding seems to be uninteresting to school advocates. No lawsuits have been filed, and no investigations are underway.

The legislature should insist that the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Treasurer turn the Elliott from a liability into an asset, as required by law. Selling the entire forest is the best option for doing that.


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

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Mandating Common Core, High-Stakes Testing Drives Oregon Further into the "Bureaucratic Trap of Good Intentions"

The Oregon Department of Education currently requires Oregon school districts to align instruction and assessments with the Common Core State Standards. A bill now before the state legislature, HB 2835, would end this requirement, possibly helping to end the latest chapter in nearly forty years of national education reform failures and what I call Oregon’s decline into our own “bigger is better” top-down education reform trap.

I saw this decline begin here in 1991 when the legislature overwhelmingly enacted the Education Act for the Twenty-First Century. It was full of new committees, new high school CIM and CAM tests (which were eventually abandoned), and a promise from the legislature that it would produce “the best educated citizens in the nation by the year 2000.” So, how did that work out?

In 1999 the legislature created the Quality Education Commission, which led to adoption of the Quality Education Model. The Model proposed entirely theoretical prototype elementary, middle, and high schools that, again theoretically and with enough funding, would get 90% of our kids to state standards.

When these last two big reforms didn’t work, Governor John Kitzhaber proposed and the legislature created the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB) in 2011 with the goal of unifying everything from early childhood through graduate school education. Of course, that goal can’t be accomplished without pushing power and control even farther away from the people who should matter most in education—parents, students, and teachers. This accelerated our decline into the “bigger is better” trap.

Why haven’t such revolutionary reform efforts in our K-12 education system achieved their goals? Because, according to the late John T. Wenders, Ph.D., they…

“…suck power upward and away from parents and students into top down, centralized and inflexible political arrangements, where unions and other special interests have more political clout. This causes accountability to decline and results in higher per pupil costs and lower educational results.”

I’m sure that now-former Governor Kitzhaber and the people he appointed to the OEIB are very smart. But no such group can hope to design a system that meets the needs of all Oregon children and their parents. Mandating Common Core State Standards and their accompanying high-stakes Smarter Balanced tests simply moves us even further down into the “bigger is better” education reform trap.

Yong Zhao, Ph.D. is the Presidential Chair and Director of the Institute for Global and Online Education in the University of Oregon’s College of Education. He gave an entertaining and provocative presentation to the Senate Education Committee on February 10, 2015 in which he set out some compelling reasons for us to reject both Common Core and high-stakes testing.

One of Dr. Zhao’s examples is very relevant when considering the benefits of passing HB 2835. He told the Committee that imposing any “common” educational requirements promotes conformity in our children, when we should be helping them foster their own creativity, diversity, and entrepreneurial inclinations.

He noted that when he was a child in his Chinese village, the Common Core was knowing how to ride a water buffalo. The most important and valued jobs in that time and place revolved around agriculture. He couldn’t drive a water buffalo very well, so as he put it, they encouraged him to leave and go to Oregon.

In a 1991 Wall Street Journal column, “Education by Committee in Oregon,” Cascade Policy Institute Academic Advisor, former public elementary school teacher, and assistant professor of education Richard Meinhard, Ph.D. explained why the “revolutionary” Oregon Education Act for the Twenty-First Century was no such thing:

“…[T]o be ‘revolutionary,’ educational change must be systemic. It must reform the system, not just add to it. Oregon’s educational reformers are unwittingly legitimizing the very system that needs reform. Well-meaning politicians have once again increased state control over education in order to mandate desirable goals. The Oregon plan provides the nation with an important lesson in reform: how easy it is to fall into the bureaucratic trap of good intentions.”

This 1991 critique could just as easily be said about the current “revolutionary” reforms of Common Core and Smarter Balanced high-stakes testing. It’s time to stop increasing state control over education and start moving accountability and control down toward parents, students, and teachers.

We can start crawling out of Oregon’s “bigger is better” trap by prohibiting the Department of Education from imposing any standardized curriculum and testing regime on school districts. This can start by approving HB 2835.

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Is Your Five-Year-Old Ready for Full-Day Kindergarten?

The Oregon State Senate is considering a bill that would lower Oregon’s compulsory, full-time school age from seven to five. Senate Bill 321 was heard in the Education Committee on March 5.

Most children start at least a half-day Kindergarten as five-year-olds, but not every five-year-old is ready for full-time school. According to a recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics, about six percent of five-to-six-year-olds nationwide are not enrolled in school. These children may need a little more time to be ready for a formal classroom setting.

Children are unique, and maturing at different rates is normal. Temperament, emotional maturity, life experiences, and family situations also can affect a child’s classroom readiness. Parents are in a better position to determine a young child’s abilities than an arbitrary standard set by state law.

Some opponents of SB 321 point out that there would be no protections for children who are not ready for a traditional classroom at five years of age. Their parents currently have the option to let them grow up a little first. This bill removes parental discretion.

Forcing children to start school too early for them can have long-lasting consequences. They may view themselves as failures, think they don’t like school, or find themselves playing a demoralizing game of catch-up with their classroom peers.

Parents, rather than state legislators, should decide when their preschool-aged kids are ready for full-time school.

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Should Compulsory Schooling Start at Age Five?

Every state in the union has what are known as compulsory school attendance laws. Oregon currently requires that virtually every child attend school from age seven to age 18. A bill before the State Senate, SB 321, would decrease the compulsory school age from seven down to five.

Before deciding whether this is a good idea, it may be time to reconsider why we compel parents to send their children to school at all. We might ask ourselves some hard questions, including:

  • How does compulsion further our interest in encouraging a passion for learning in our children?
  • In a free society, shouldn’t we be looking for ways to reduce compulsion, rather than to increase it?
  • If compelling seven-to-18-year-olds to attend school isn’t working very well, why compel five- and six-year-olds to attend also?”

Some of the written testimony from professional educators in favor of SB 321 assumes that the bill would reduce the “compulsory education” age. But we can’t really compel students to learn, so is the next best thing compelling them to sit in classroom seats?

Schooling may facilitate good education, but they are not always the same thing. As Harvard Professor Lant Pritchett says, “Good governments do schooling, but nearly all bad governments do it, too.” He is talking here about different national governments since his field is global development, but the thought applies to our state and local governments as well.

Pritchett goes on to say, “We know that if you impose a top-down educational system, often it breaks down—you get a bureaucracy that doesn’t work, and the outcomes get worse than if you allow local control.” If this is true in Oregon, then former Governor John Kitzhaber’s flawed Oregon Education Investment Board approach may be doing more harm than good.

More and more Oregon parents and teachers are standing up to oppose top-down approaches such as new high-stakes tests designed to measure how well public schools are teaching the controversial Common Core Standards.

The so-called Smarter-Balanced tests are on track to be given to students in grades three through eight and high school juniors to measure how well they’ve mastered reading, math, writing, listening, research, and thinking. Official estimates are that over 60 percent of students may fail the tests this spring.

Dr. Yong Zhao, Director of Global and Online Education at University of Oregon, is a critic of both high-stakes testing and the Common Core Standards themselves. He gave an entertaining 51-minute presentation to the Senate Education Committee on February 10.

While Dr. Zhao doesn’t have a formal position on whether Oregon’s compulsory school age should be lowered, he does make the points that we shouldn’t make kids ready for Kindergarten; we should make Kindergarten ready for kids, and creative kids aren’t Kindergarten-ready because they don’t conform. Lowering the compulsory school age to five may put more kids in Kindergarten seats, but it will do nothing to make Kindergarten ready to meet their individual needs.

Dr. Zhao’s presentation stood in stark contrast to that of Oregon “education czar” Nancy Golden who spoke before him at the hearing, and that of Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Rob Saxton who spoke after him. It should be noted that Golden and Saxton were handpicked by Governor Kitzhaber to help promote his top-down, birth-through-graduate school vision for education in Oregon.

Questioning the value of compulsory schooling is nothing new. Here is what a past president of the American Psychological Association, Knight Dunlap, said in his 1929 article, Is Compulsory Education Justified?:

“…education is a good thing for us, and so we wish to bestow its blessings on others. If they will not take it gladly, we will make them take it: for their own good…”

So, before we agree to reduce Oregon’s compulsory school age from seven down to five, let’s ask the hard questions about what our compulsory schooling system is really doing for, and to, the children it captures now.

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“Don’t Say You Represent the Students”

Republican politicians may no longer be the loudest critics of teachers unions. Influential Democrats are now speaking up also, such as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Here’s what he said in a recent interview:

“If (the public) understood what was happening with education to their children, there would be an outrage in this city,” Cuomo said. “I’m telling you, they would take City Hall down brick by brick.

“It’s only because it’s complicated that people don’t get it.”

Cuomo said the teachers union is “more interested in protecting the rights of its members than improving the system for the kids it is supposed to be serving.”

“Somewhere along the way, I believe we flipped the purpose of this,” Cuomo said. “This was never a teacher employment program and this was never an industry to hire superintendents and teachers.

“This was a program to educate kids….”

Responding to a union member who said he represents the students:

“No, you don’t,” Cuomo said he told the person. “You represent the teachers. Teacher salaries, teacher pensions, teacher tenure, teacher vacation rights. I respect that. But don’t say you represent the students.”

If the liberal Democrat Governor of New York can say such things, shouldn’t Oregon’s Governor do the same? After all, he’s the same Governor who signed Oregon’s 1999 charter school bill into law against the objections of―guess who? The teachers union.

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Education Savings Accounts Should Be in Oregon’s School Choice Future

School choice is widespread in America, including in Oregon—unless you are poor. Affluent families have choice because they can move to different neighborhoods or communities, send their children to private schools, or supplement schooling with tutors, online courses, and enrichment programs. Lower- and middle-income families, meanwhile, too often are trapped with one option: a school in need of improvement assigned to them based on their zip code.

Some states such as Arizona, Wisconsin, and Florida have made significant progress toward providing more Kindergarten through 12th grade options for many children. Public charter schools (including online charters) and private school attendance made possible by state funded vouchers or tax credits are increasing families’ opportunities to find the right fit for their children. But these options are constantly under attack by those who represent the status quo: those who want the public school system to stay just the way it is, so it continues to provide virtually guaranteed jobs and benefits for certain teachers and administrators―regardless of the results achieved by the children they are supposed to serve.

Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman first popularized the school choice voucher concept in his 1962 book, Capitalism and Freedom. Now, a new concept is capturing the imaginations of a new generation of parents and policy makers: Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Going beyond the voucher or tax credit idea for school choice, ESAs introduce market concepts that help parents become active shoppers for educational services, thus improving their quality while reducing costs.

As Matthew Ladner, Ph.D. wrote in a major study for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice:

Education savings accounts are the way of the future. Under such accounts—managed by parents with state supervision to ensure accountability—parents can use their children’s education funding to choose among public and private schools, online education programs, certified private tutors, community colleges, and even universities. Education savings accounts bring Milton Friedman’s original school voucher idea into the 21st century.

ESAs differ from state-funded vouchers. Typically, parents can redeem vouchers only at state-approved public and private schools. In contrast, ESAs allow parents to choose among public schools, private schools, private tutors, community colleges, online education programs, and universities. In addition, ESAs allow parents to put unused funds into college savings plans, thus changing the “use it or lose it” mentality in the current public school funding system. ESAs promote user-based subsidies (like the food stamp program) rather than supplier-based subsidies that represent the current public school funding model.

Conceived of by the Goldwater Institute of Arizona, Education Savings Accounts were first passed by that state’s legislature in 2011 for special-needs children. Known as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts there, the program was expanded in 2012 to children adopted out of the state foster system, children of active-duty military parents, and children in “D” and “F” failing schools. Children entering Kindergarten were added in 2013 and funding for the accounts was increased. Arizona parents can get all the information they need about these accounts from the state’s Department of Education.

Nationally, school choice is becoming a more bipartisan issue as many Republicans are being joined by leading Democrats, such as former Clinton White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry. McCurry is now chair of the national Children’s Scholarship Fund, which provides privately funded tuition scholarships to low-income elementary school kids. He describes the school choice movement as a rare example of centrism in our increasingly polarized American politics.

And, U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey (D) has long been a school choice advocate. Speaking in 2001 for Cascade Policy Institute, Booker told Black students at Portland’s Self-Enhancement, Inc. how important school choice is for his fellow African Americans.

It is time for Oregon to move further toward school choice for every child, and ESAs offer an attractive way to start the journey. Already, our state has over 120 public charter schools made possible by passage of a 1999 bill in a Republican-controlled legislature that was signed into law by a Democratic governor (John Kitzhaber).

In the 2015 state legislative session, Oregonians will have an opportunity to start down the ESA road with passage of House Bill 2770, the Education Equity Emergency Act (E3). It will create Empowerment Scholarship Accounts modeled after the highly successful Arizona program. These scholarships will help level the educational playing field for kids with special educational needs, in foster care, or in low-income families. Scholarship recipients can use ninety percent of their state education funding for approved educational expenses like private schools, tutoring, education therapy, textbooks, online education programs, community colleges, universities, or college savings plans.

One sponsor of the 2014 version of the bill, SB 1576, noted, “These students have had unique challenges in their lives and require enhanced educational flexibility to ensure successful degree attainment.”*

The Act is designed to impose no financial burden on the state or on the school districts that scholarship students currently attend. Scholarship participation will be capped at 0.5% of students in a school district unless a district chooses to allow additional participation.

Oregon has a history of bold experimentation in other policy areas. Now is the time to experiment with expanding the role of parents choosing―and the market delivering―better education for Oregon’s children. Education Savings Accounts will empower families to find better educational options, leave the “use it or lose it” funding mechanism behind, and save toward their children’s higher education. Altogether, ESAs will provide winning solutions for children, their parents, and Oregon’s future.

* From a letter by State Senator Tim Knopp to then Chair of the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee Mark Hass requesting a hearing on SB 1576 during the January 2014 interim legislative hearing days. The hearing took place on January 16, 2014. Archived video is here.

(January 25-31, 2015 is National School Choice Week, an annual public awareness effort in support of effective education options for all children. An earlier version of this Commentary was published in January 2014.)

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How Do Children Learn? Let Us Count the Ways

“I wish that the education system could understand that not every child fits into the same sized box, and everyone needs to do what is right for their family,” says Lisa, a Portland-area mother whose children receive tuition assistance from the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland.

When Cascade Policy Institute started this privately funded scholarship program in 1999, we learned “hands-on” that middle- and lower-income parents share the same interest in their children’s education as do parents of greater means, and they are motivated to seek the same kinds of opportunities on their behalf.

Parents know a solid education prepares students for life, and that path begins in grade school. But many children are trapped in neighborhood public schools assigned to them by their street addresses that, for many reasons, may not meet their needs or standards that are important to their families.

“Education reform” debates usually focus on how to get the maximum number of children minimally educated. But real-life parents want to get at least a minimum number of children (their own) maximally educated. These two goals shouldn’t be at odds. In fact, the second can drive the first―if more parents had the opportunity to make meaningful choices about their children’s education.

Fifteen years ago, the national Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF) offered dollar-for-dollar matching grants to independent local partner programs that would provide partial tuition assistance to low-income grade school children to attend the schools of their choice. Cascade Policy Institute was among the nonprofit organizations which took up this unprecedented challenge, raising $1 million in local funds to start a $2 million local program, the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland. Since then, CSF and its partners have invested $610 million in private funding to help more than 145,000 children nationwide.

While they don’t have much discretionary income (the average CSF-Portland family income is $39,000), CSF families always must pay part of their tuition themselves (Portland parents pay $1,799 on average). This ensures that the scholarship remains a “hand up,” rather than a handout. Because they have “skin in the game,” CSF parents are motivated to choose schools carefully and to encourage their children to make the most of their opportunities.

The private schools CSF students attend typically spend one-third to one-half what neighboring public schools spend per student (the average tuition for CSF-Portland students is $3,856 this year), with better results in terms of graduation rates and college attendance. However, the point of the CSF program is not to prove that private schools are better than public schools. Rather, CSF believes that parents are the primary educators of their children and have their interests at heart. When empowered with a modest amount of financial help (the average Portland scholarship award is $1,497), parents will invest their own money, time, effort, and discipline to obtain the kind of education they want for their students.

CSF partner programs respect the decision-making processes of families and support parents in directing their children’s education. This family-centered element is what sets parent-focused school choice efforts apart from other ways of addressing the failures of today’s public education system. No one can design a school system that meets every child’s needs. No statistical data analysis or bureaucratic goal setting can ensure that any particular child makes it to high school graduation, succeeds in college, or excels in a career. No school can be all things to all children―nor should it. But most parents, including low-income ones, are keenly aware of their own students’ needs, aptitudes, strengths, and interests―and what it takes for them to learn.

“The children have grown in spades since attending [their] school,” says Lisa. “They have a school family that is very comforting to them. They feel safe every single day. They know that everything that is being done is centered on their lives and future….In their prior school they were pushed aside, never pushed into academically challenging areas. Here at this school every opportunity is given to them to succeed and become better students and better learners.”

Top-down education reform focuses on what is not working for large numbers of people―but keeps those students in the system while the problems are being “fixed.” School choice focuses on what is working across all kinds of schools―and empowers parents to choose the options that best help their children learn.

Top-down approaches pour more money into a broken system. School choice programs achieve more satisfactory results with more modest amounts of money because the dynamic is shifted in favor of parents. Government-focused education reform analyzes the forest; school choice promotes the best interest of the trees. School choice programs like CSF-Portland prove that good things happen when parents have opportunities to choose excellence for their own children.

(January 25-31, 2015 is National School Choice Week, an annual public awareness effort in support of effective education options for all children. Versions of this Cascade Commentary have been previously published.)

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2015’s Forward-Looking Celebration of School Choice

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

Planned by a diverse coalition of individuals and organizations, National School Choice Week features special events and activities that support school choice programs and proposals. School Choice Week began four years ago with 150 events. Since then, it has grown into the world’s largest celebration of education reform. The 2015 School Choice Week will feature more than 10,200 independently planned events nationwide.

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

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

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Scaling Down: The Power of One

By Darla M. Romfo

Last fall I had the pleasure of attending the awards ceremony for the Broad Prize for Urban Education. In the ensuing days, many bloggers and journalists weighed in with criticism, including one who pointed out that “although recent winners of the Broad Prize show positive results compared to many large urban districts, their scores are largely flat—or worse—over the past several years.”

I am sure this must be both disappointing and frustrating to Mr. and Mrs. Broad who made the fortune they are giving away by innovating, adapting, and always getting better. They wanted this prize to inspire the same kind of actions in public education.

Teddy Forstmann, who, along with John Walton, founded the Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF) in 1998, was a man cut from the same cloth as Mr. Broad. Ted hoped the demand demonstrated when parents of 1.25 million children applied for 40,000 partial scholarships to escape their assigned public school would get the ball rolling and bring about substantial educational improvement for all children within the four-year window for those first scholarships. In Ted’s experience, demand for a better product and a bit of competition led to an improved product. Ted was certainly frustrated with the snail’s pace of it all.

And by now everyone who has ever uttered the words “education reform” is a little frustrated. More than a decade later, billions more in taxpayer dollars, in addition to the billions heaped on by private philanthropy, has been spent to achieve largely mediocre to poor overall results. There are pockets of hope, and we do have much better data. Now we know there is not only an achievement gap between minorities and whites, but also between all U.S. students and children in other countries.

It’s not clear that if we had full blown school choice, the end of teacher tenure, higher standards, or whatever flavor of education reform you favor, that every child would have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Certainly, one or some combination of those things would help many children; but we would still have kids who live in poverty and very unsettled home situations coming to school every day with needs that are beyond what can be addressed by education reform alone.

One thing I have both experienced through relationships with students I’ve met through CSF and observed in the lives of others is that a caring adult who really invests in an authentic relationship with a child will bring enormous benefits to the child, to say nothing of the rewards to the adult. I know Ted and John both experienced this with children they helped directly apart from their education reform efforts. John once told me on a school visit in Omaha that giving the scholarships and meeting the kids and their parents grounded the whole effort of trying to reform the larger system. He knew no matter what happened with those efforts, he was having a direct impact on the lives of kids today.

We can’t stop trying to get education right in America, but maybe we will get further faster if every adult who can gets involved in the life of a child who has a couple of strikes against them. Whether it is through a mentoring program, a scholarship program, a school-based program, or some other means, it could make the ultimate difference in a child’s life, and you don’t have to be up to speed on the latest education reform idea to do it and make it work. Anyone who is willing to give of themselves to another human being will bring about change in that person and themselves. Isn’t that the real reason we are all here anyway?

(January 25-31, 2015 is National School Choice Week, an annual public awareness effort in support of effective education options for all children. A version of this Commentary was published in 2014.)

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Press Release: Legal Analysis Finds Land Board in Breach of Trust over Elliott State Forest

November 25, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

Kathryn Walter
617-519-6168
kwalter@altuslaw.com

 

PORTLAND, Ore. ― A detailed legal analysis released today by Cascade Policy Institute concludes that the State Land Board, which has responsibility for the Elliott State Forest, has not prudently managed this asset and likely has breached its fiduciary trust to generate maximum net revenue over the long term for K-12 schools, as required by the Oregon Constitution.

The Elliott is a 93,000-acre forest on the south coast. It is part of a portfolio of lands known as “Common School Trust Lands” (CSTL), and these lands must be managed as endowment assets for public schools. The State Land Board, comprised of the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Treasurer, manages all Trust Lands.

For over 30 years, the net revenue from the Elliott has been steadily declining. In 1994 a consultant to the Oregon Department of Forestry recommended that the Board divest itself of the Elliott entirely, stating that, “Selling the Elliott is the only marketing alternative likely to significantly increase net annual income to the CSF.”

In 1995, the Division of State Lands (as it was then known) recommended that the Board sell all 3.4 million acres of Trust Lands for the same reason. Both recommendations were rejected by the Board.

In 2013, the Elliott actually lost $3 million, prompting the Board to sell 2,800 acres. On December 9, 2014, the Board will consider recommendations from the Department of State Lands for a “new business model” for the Elliott.

Trust law requires that trustees exercise reasonable care and skill in managing a trust and make trust property productive. Trustees must also preserve trust property and defend actions that may result in loss to the trust and must act with absolute loyalty to the beneficiaries. Failure to carry out these duties is a breach of the trustee’s fiduciary duties.

The Cascade legal analysis, undertaken by Portland attorney Kathryn Walter, concludes that:

  1. The Board is not prudently managing the trust land assets. Although a trustee is not charged with 20/20 hindsight, the trustee must be able to explain the reasoning behind an investment strategy. Only recently has the State Land Board attempted to understand the value of the Elliott State Forest. Further, the Board has ignored recommendations to divest all trust land holdings.
  1. The Board should have known that doing nothing was imprudent. The Board, by its inaction, has breached its duty by failing to dispose of the Elliott State Forest when the opportunity presented itself and, by waiting too long, has left the trust with devalued property.
  1. The Board must protect the trust from loss, including insuring trust property against loss and when facing litigation or other claims implicating the trust. A trustee is also obligated to defend the trust against claims, to avoid claims of liens and other losses, and to pay taxes. The Board failed to fulfill its duties by not negotiating a Habitat Conservation Plan (“HCP”), which would have alleviated the impact of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) on the Elliott.
  1. The appointment of the State Land Board as trustee in Oregon’s constitution likely violated trust principles from the trust’s beginning. A trustee has a duty to act honestly and with undivided loyalty to the interests of the trust and its beneficiaries. By virtue of the Board members’ political roles, the Board members cannot offer undivided loyalty to the beneficiaries because they are beholden to so many competing interests.

Cascade Policy Institute President John A. Charles, Jr. stated, “During 2013, the Land Board managed to lose $3 million on a timber asset worth some $500 million, while the S&P 500 Index was enjoying total returns of 32%. When the Land Board meets on December 9, it must take action to ensure that the Elliott State Forest begins generating income for public schools.” Cascade has recommended that the Board either sell the Elliott, or explore a land exchange with the federal government.

Charles also noted, “Since the Land Board is a highly political entity, the state legislature in 2015 should consider establishing a new, non-political board to assume management responsibilities for all Common School Trust Lands.”

The full report by Cascade Policy Institute may be viewed here.

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More Tax Dollars for College ― Or Prepare Students to Succeed There?

Oregon voters are being asked this November to authorize spending more tax dollars to help some students afford an arguably unaffordable higher education. Measure 86 will create a permanent fund to subsidize certain students, which can be financed several ways including through state general obligation bonds. Any bonds issued under the so-called Oregon Opportunity Initiative will have to be paid off over 30 years, primarily by income tax payers, not by students. Only the earnings on bond proceeds and other funds will be available for subsidies.

There are several problems with this proposal:

First, Measure 86 does nothing to reduce the overall cost of higher education in Oregon. In fact, it actually could increase those costs as more taxpayer dollars flow into the system.

Second, even if the measure does help some students afford college, we don’t know if they will be prepared to succeed there, or if they will need costly and time-consuming remedial courses to learn what they should have learned in high school.

Our educational leaders in Salem anticipated the need to prepare students better for college years ago, and they took steps that they hoped would address the issue. In 2007 the state Board of Education adopted The Oregon Diploma, which was intended to ensure that students are prepared to enroll in postsecondary education without the need for remedial courses.

The Oregon Diploma “…requirements are designed to better prepare each student for success in college, work, and citizenship. To earn a diploma, students will need to successfully complete the credit requirements, demonstrate proficiency in the Essential Skills, and meet the personalized learning requirements…A phase-in schedule (2007 – 2014) has been created to allow students, families, schools and teachers to adequately prepare to meet these new requirements.”

Apparently assuming that The Oregon Diploma would get all students college-ready by 2014, Governor John Kitzhaber recommended, and the Legislature adopted in 2011, what has come to be known as Oregon’s 40-40-20 educational attainment goal. By 2025, this state policy aims for 40 percent of Oregonians to have a four-year baccalaureate degree or higher, 40 percent to have an associate’s degree or certificate in a skilled occupation, and the remaining 20 percent to have at least a “college and career-ready” high school diploma or its equivalent.

So, how are we doing in getting to that 40-40-20 goal by 2025? Three national reports issued over the last two months raise serious questions as to whether most Oregon high school graduates are coming anywhere close to being “college and career-ready.”

First we learned that only 30 percent of Oregon’s 2014 high school graduates are deemed “college ready” based on their American College Testing Organization (ACT) college admissions examinations in all four tested subjects of English, Reading, Math, and Science.

Then, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report revealed that “Oregon is one of the very worst states when it comes to preparing students for college and the work force.” It noted that “Oregon ranks in the bottom 10 when it comes to getting students ready for college and careers.” We earned a grade of “D” in Academic Achievement and an “F” in Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness.

Finally, we found out that only 46 percent of Oregon public high school students who took the SAT college entrance tests scored high enough to demonstrate that they are prepared for college.

So, it looks like Oregon has struck out three times when it comes to meeting The Oregon Diploma goal of better preparing each student for “success in college, work, and citizenship” by 2014. We have eleven more years to see if the Governor’s 40-40-20 goal pans out, but it isn’t looking good so far.

Before we encourage more taxpayer spending on higher education through Measure 86, shouldn’t we find ways for our public school system to prepare most college-bound students to actually succeed there?

As I’ve noted before, that won’t take more money, because research shows that spending more money doesn’t lead to better educational outcomes; it just rewards the adults who get paid by the system. Instead, we should take the top-down control away from bureaucrats in Salem and give it to parents and students through a genuine system of school choice. Then watch our college readiness numbers climb. Otherwise, we’re just paying twice for remedial courses to teach college students what they should have learned in high school.

Removing the need for those remedial courses could help more students than Measure 86 ever would, and it should help Oregon taxpayers by reducing the cost and the time it takes to educate college students.

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

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Dissing Online Education

One can imagine that blacksmiths and buggy whip makers didn’t take kindly to the automobile revolution that started in the late 19th century. Those at risk of losing their horse-related jobs likely made the case for resisting the new, glitchy, and dangerous metal machines. We all know how that rivalry turned out.

Today, another revolution is beginning. Just as thousands of years of horse travel were largely replaced within a few decades, one wonders what the future of physical classroom education might be in the face of the online education revolution.

A Portland State University professor of educational leadership recently authored an op-ed making the case that “effective teaching practices such as class discussion, relational learning and other activities of the traditional classroom are hard to offer on a computer screen.” That might be true; face-to-face educational interactions may never go away, but soon they could be greatly supplemented or even overshadowed by online innovation.

The future is always daunting to those at risk of being displaced, but the future is coming and we will find ways to adapt to it and even improve upon it. Buggy whips may be a thing of the past, but there are still plenty of jobs for people who know how to make and care for our modern horseless carriages.

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Molalla Patriots

Join us as Kathryn Hickok will be presenting to the Molalla Patriots on the subject of Common Core.

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Report Shows Possibilities for Elliott State Forest to Make Money for Oregon Schools

Today, the Cascade Policy Institute released a report analyzing the range of policy options for turning the Elliott State Forest from a liability into an asset for Oregon’s Common School Fund.

The Elliott State Forest (ESF), located on Oregon’s South Coast, is part of a portfolio of lands known as “Common School Trust Lands.” These lands are an endowment for the Oregon public school system and must be managed by the State Land Board to maximize income over the long term. Unfortunately, due to environmental litigation, income from the Elliott’s net timber harvest receipts has been steadily declining over the past two decades. In 2013, the ESF cost Oregon taxpayers $3 million, which was a drain on the Common School Fund.

“The State Land Board has been watching the financial returns from the Elliott State Forest steadily decline for over 20 years, while doing essentially nothing,” said Cascade Policy Institute President John A. Charles, Jr.

“The Elliott is now a liability instead of the $800 million asset it was in 1995. Oregon schools deserve better,” said Charles. “The State Land Board has a fiduciary obligation to take decisive action, and the analysis by Strata Policy helps provide a road map for Board decision-making.”

The Land Board in 2014 directed the Oregon Department of State Lands to develop a “new business model” for the ESF. The Cascade report, prepared on contract by Strata Policy, a Utah-based consulting firm, provides a critical review of various options for accomplishing this goal.

The report divides the known options into three categories: viable options, potentially viable options, and individually unviable options.The top three recommendations – the only ones considered “viable” – are full privatization, a land exchange with the federal government, and completion of a Habitat Conservation Plan that would allow logging in habitat currently used by protected species.

The full privatization option was analyzed at length for Cascade Policy Institute by economist Eric Fruits and published as a separate paper in March. Selling or leasing the forest clearly would result in the greatest financial returns to Trust Land beneficiaries over the long term.

A land exchange with the federal government also could result in healthy financial returns to the Common Schools if any lands could be identified for such an exchange, but that is doubtful given the litigious nature of federal forest management in the Pacific Northwest. Moreover, it would take Congressional approval, which likely would take a decade or more to execute. Such delays appear to be a violation of the fiduciary trust responsibilities held by the Land Board.

Development of a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) would face the same bureaucratic challenges. Oregon attempted to develop an HCP in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and spent $3 million over a 10-year period without gaining federal approval. Before reviving this effort, there needs to be some reassurance from the federal government that an HCP is actually possible.

The Land Board is scheduled to take public testimony regarding ESF management in Coos Bay on October 8, and will discuss options for a “new business model” at its December meeting in Salem.

The full report by Strata Policy may be viewed here.

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Cascade Policy Institute Encourages a ‘No’ Vote on Measure 86

The Board of Directors for the Cascade Policy Institute recently voted to oppose Measure 86, known as the Oregon Opportunity Initiative, on November’s ballot.

Measure 86 would require the creation of a Permanent Fund for Post-Secondary Education, which can be funded a number of ways, including by the state selling general obligation bonds. Earnings on the Fund can be used to subsidize certain students, but it will be taxpayers who are saddled with paying off any bonds for 30 years, with interest.

Further, only 30 percent of Oregon’s 2014 high school graduates showed readiness for college, based on ACT college admissions tests.

“We shouldn’t spend more money on higher education until our public school system prepares most college-bound students to actually succeed there,” said Cascade Founder and Senior Policy Analyst Steve Buckstein. “Otherwise, we’re just paying twice for remedial courses to teach college students what they should have learned in high school.”

Measure 86 is based on what one researcher calls “one of America’s most durable myths…that the more people who graduate from college, the more the economy will grow.” However, Richard Vedder, author of the book “Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much,” notes that conclusion may depend on how those educations are paid for. He found statistical evidence that states which provide more higher education funding actually have slightly lower economic growth rates than states which provide less.

“Individuals know their needs better than politicians do, so leaving the money in private hands produces better results,” said Buckstein.

Finally, even the chief sponsor of Measure 86, State Treasurer Ted Wheeler,  criticized the university system for being slow to adapt to new opportunities in technology which can make education cheaper and easier for students*.

“As technology drives down higher education costs, why saddle Oregon taxpayers with perhaps $100 million or more in debt for the next 30 years to subsidize the old, high-cost economic model? The answer is we shouldn’t,” said Buckstein.

* Video of Treasurer Wheeler’s statement is online at:
youtube.com/watch?v=ZMPMtmEyieg
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School Choice Fosters Students’ “Profound Gratitude,” Author Says

Students everywhere are back in school, including grade school children from low-income families who are attending Oregon private schools thanks to the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland.

New York Post columnist Naomi Schaefer Riley recently interviewed a diverse group of students who have graduated from Children’s Scholarship Fund programs across the country. Her book, Opportunity and Hope: Transforming Children’s Lives through Scholarships, shows what a good education means to young people who have a better chance in life because of private scholarships, and she makes a compelling case for the power of school choice. The scholarship alumni profiled in the book are representative of thousands of others, including more than 650 students who have received scholarships here in Oregon.

Riley wrote: “The recurring themes I heard…were ones of improved academic outcomes, solid foundations for high school, college, and beyond, and a profound gratitude and desire to give back….Together, these children will ensure that the next generation gets its shot at the middle class.”

For many children in America, one-size-fits-all public schools fail to let them truly learn and excel; and many low-income parents want access to schools that match their children’s needs. Children’s Scholarship Fund students are living proof of what is possible when families are empowered to choose the schools that are right for their children. For more information about real-world education solutions that are getting results for kids, visit SchoolChoiceForOregon.com.

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

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The Votes Are In: Small Scholarships Have a Big Impact

The Children’s Scholarship Fund is a nationally recognized, privately funded scholarship program which has helped more than 139,000 low-income children attend tuition-based elementary schools nationwide since 1998. The program recently surveyed scholarship families in New York about their experiences. The results include:

• 98.5 percent said their CSF scholarships help them make the best educational choices for their child.

• 73.1 percent reported they could not afford to send their child to their chosen school without a CSF scholarship.

• 70.3 percent noticed an improvement in their child’s academic performance and/or engagement since enrolling in their current school.

While New York City public schools spend about $20,000 per student, an average CSF scholarship grant of $1,600 is enough to empower these low-income parents to obtain a private school education for their kids.

Cascade Policy Institute runs the Oregon partner program of the Children’s Scholarship Fund. The New York program’s poll results are consistent with the informal feedback Cascade receives from scholarship parents here. “I wish that the education system could understand that not every child fits into the same sized box, and everyone needs to do what is right for their family,” said one Portland-area CSF parent.

Programs like the Children’s Scholarship Fund respect the decision-making processes of families and support parents in directing their children’s education. School choice programs like CSF prove that good things happen when parents can vote with their feet on behalf of their own kids.


 

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

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Don’t Pay Twice for Public Education

Last week, the American College Testing organization (ACT) released the results of its national college admissions examination consisting of tests in English, Reading, Math, and Science. Thirty-six percent of Oregon’s 2014 high school graduates took the tests. Only 30 percent of those students scored high enough to be ready for college in all four subject areas.

One conclusion we might draw from these findings is that we shouldn’t spend more money on our higher education system until we can honestly say that our K-12 system is preparing most college-bound students to actually succeed there. Otherwise, we’re just paying twice for remedial courses to teach college students what they should have learned in high school.

This is yet another reason for voters to reject Measure 86 on the November ballot. It will encourage state legislators to borrow perhaps $100 million or more to subsidize certain student higher education costs. Before we saddle taxpayers with such debt, let’s fix our K-12 system. That won’t take more money, because research shows that spending more money doesn’t lead to better educational outcomes; it just rewards the adults who get paid by the system.

Instead, we should take the top-down control away from bureaucrats in Salem and give it to parents and students through a genuine system of school choice. Then watch our college readiness numbers climb.


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

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Charter Schools Achieve Superior Outcomes with Unequal Funding

The University of Arkansas has published a first-ever comparison study of cost effectiveness and return on investment between different types of public schools. The Productivity of Public Charter Schools rates 28 states and the District of Columbia according to the productivity of charter schools relative to traditional public schools.

Public charter schools receive 36% less funding on average than regular district schools. While greatly underfunded relative to district schools, charter schools in many states score significantly higher in math and reading on the eighth grade National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Oregon’s charter schools receive 44% less funding than regular district schools and achieve higher NAEP scores at lower cost.

The study advises that the higher productivity of many charter schools may be associated with exercising greater discipline with education dollars than traditional public schools do. Studies have shown that increased public education funding hasn’t helped students learn better. “Not only are charter schools doing more with less, they are on the whole demonstrating a superior ability to act as responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars,” said Kara Kerwin, president of The Center for Education Reform.

Rather than continually increasing traditional public school funding, let’s reconsider what we already spend. Giving traditional public schools the freedom to imitate what works for successful charters may do more to improve children’s learning outcomes than allocating more money to the status quo.

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

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Is There a More Flexible Way for Students to Invest in Themselves?

By Joel Grey

State Treasurer Ted Wheeler has proposed a new program intended to help Oregon students go to college in spite of the quickly ballooning cost of tuition. Under the proposed “Oregon Opportunity Initiative,” the state of Oregon could borrow money by selling general obligation bonds and then invest the proceeds. Students could receive grants or other subsidies from the earnings on this investment each year, while taxpayers would be responsible for paying back the bonds. The state must use all discretionary spending necessary to pay back bondholders with interest over thirty years. Bonds issued for this purpose likely would reduce the opportunity to bond for other critical needs of the state such as roads and bridges.

This proposal is potentially a costly mistake for Oregon and fails to prevent the inflated cost of education from growing even faster.

Even with the increased cost of college, higher education can still be a good investment for individual students. People with bachelor’s degrees likely will see their incomes increase by more than the cost of attendance over their careers. Because of this, it is unwise to eliminate part of the cost to the student by having taxpayers help fund their education. Students should pay for their own education, even if they are not paying at the time they are enrolled.

If the cost of college to the student is reduced, it creates a third-party payer problem: Because they are not directly affected by cost increases, students will worry less about the price of college, allowing it to inflate more over time. Conversely, if students are expected to pay for their education, they are more cautious about expenses and debt.

Even traditional loans have a third-party payer problem because costs are externalized to the future. Students have to pay eventually, but they don’t necessarily fully consider this because it is a long-term issue. While traditional loans lead to problematic student debt, there are other ways of financing education that don’t lead to third-party payer problems.

One viable solution to student debt was proposed almost sixty years ago by Milton Friedman: human capital contracts. A private person or institution, such as a bank or investment firm, pays for a student’s education. In exchange, the student pays a fixed percentage of income over a certain period of time. Human capital contracts would be more flexible than traditional loans. As a percentage of income rather than a fixed dollar amount, they would be less likely to be financially burdensome to the borrower and would thereby lower the rate of default.

Human capital contracts are also more flexible for the lender. Current federal loans treat all students equally in rates and borrowing limits. Private institutions could offer lower or higher rates based on an individual student’s career path or academic performance, allowing certain students to receive lower rates while riskier students are given higher rates.

Human capital contracts are likely to benefit lower-income students the most. It is very unlikely that those students could afford to pay for college up front, but they would have the same earning potential as anyone else in their field upon graduating. Human capital contracts would allow them to use these future earnings to make college attainable in the present.

While human capital contracts are also a third-party payer system, the private nature of the funding gives lenders an incentive to control their costs. They will need to ensure that students can pay back what they borrowed. The federal government doesn’t have the same incentive with its student loans because it doesn’t need to earn a profit.

Human capital contracts are not a silver bullet; nothing is. For example, they likely wouldn’t be useful for students who only intend to work part time or to become stay-at-home parents because lenders couldn’t recoup their investments. However, human capital contracts are a better choice overall for students and Oregonians when compared with the taxpayer-funded Oregon Opportunity Initiative. They would eliminate many problems of current loans, provide an incentive to view education as an investment, and control costs. All of this would help manage the expense of college long-term while still allowing students from any income bracket to attend college.

Joel Grey is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Portland Public Schools’ New Ombudsman Should Be Independent

By Joel Grey

In response to parent complaints, Portland Public Schools will create a new ombudsman position. An ombudsman is a person within an organization who provides accountability and investigates complaints.

It’s a good thing for public schools to have an ombudsman. An ombudsman is dedicated to listening to parents’ concerns and preventing abuses within the system. Accountability is important because people will often get away with whatever they are able to, and an ombudsman makes it harder to escape independent oversight.

The problem here is that the school district has placed the ombudsman within the public relations department, reporting directly to chief of community involvement and public affairs, rather than to the superintendent. The job of public relations isn’t to investigate and stop abuses within the system; it’s to improve the public’s view of the schools. Placing an ombudsman in a PR department makes it appear to parents that the position is just for show.

An ombudsman should be as independent as possible and report to the highest level of an organization―in this case, directly to the superintendent. This is what Newark Public Schools does, and it is a common practice. Without independence, the ombudsman may appear to parents to be simply a tool to placate their criticisms without effecting real reform.

Joel Grey is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Milton Friedman’s Education Savings Accounts: The Future of Oregon Education?

By Stephanie Linn

“So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear, that there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by the free-enterprise system.”

Milton Friedman

That quote from Dr. Friedman speaks to how evidence and inquisitiveness truly drove the Nobel laureate’s work—and how open he was to change, even if it involved an idea he supported…or created.

The “father of school choice” accurately predicted the modern voucher programs in Ohio and Wisconsin would spread to other states as vouchers demonstrated their effectiveness. Evidence, anecdotal and empirical, from such programs have ignited the interest of parents nationwide to demand similar opportunities for their children. Two decades after Friedman’s prediction, there are 51 school choice programs in 24 states and Washington, D.C.

Historically, vouchers have been the “face” of school choice and the most effective means of delivering education “so far discovered.” But with the advent of a new type of school choice—which might not even involve actual schools—that could change. And, for Friedman, that would be okay.

“Vouchers are not an end in themselves,” Friedman wrote. “The purpose of vouchers is to enable parents to have free choice, and the purpose of having free choice is to provide competition and allow the educational industry to get out of the 17th century and get into the 21st century.”

“Why not add partial vouchers?” Friedman asked. “Why not let (parents) spend part of a voucher for math in one place and English or science somewhere else.”

Education savings accounts (ESAs) do exactly that—and more—which is why the newly discovered ESAs best represent and drive Dr. Friedman’s vision for American education.

ESAs came into existence in 2011, when Arizona policymakers, with the help of the Goldwater Institute, enacted what are called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. The ESA program allows parents to purchase a range of educational services, including therapies, tutoring, books, curriculum, and online learning programs for their child, using a portion of the funds that would have been spent on his or her public schooling.

Thanks to that policy in Arizona, we now have a customizable education system similar to what Dr. Friedman proposed toward the end of his life. Take, for example, Dr. Friedman’s thinking on how students could be using computers and the internet for academic purposes, which, at the time, was relatively an outside-the-box—more like outside-the-school—approach:

“The availability of computers has changed the situation, but not fundamentally,” Friedman said. “Computers are being added to public schools, but they are typically not being used in an imaginative and innovative way.…Innovative uses of computers and the internet would offer new paths to learning.”

Arizona’s ESAs are doing exactly that: Using data from the Arizona Department of Education, Lindsey Burke found that 34.5 percent of Arizona parents use ESAs to purchase multiple educational services to accommodate their children’s’ diverse needs. That is, they did not limit their children’s education to a traditional school building. Parents purchased online learning programs, tutors, therapies, and more. In their current form, vouchers and tax-credit scholarships, although valuable and effective for many families, do not allow such customization.

And Arizona parents have reported they are grateful for the flexibility ESAs afford them and the resulting improvement in their children’s lives. In fact, 90 percent of families reported they are “highly satisfied” or “satisfied” with the program (the remaining 10 percent were “somewhat satisfied”; none were dissatisfied). That is significant, considering 49 percent of families using ESAs were not happy with the services and educational opportunities afforded to their children in public school before they started using the ESA program.

 

Given the success of Arizona’s ESAs, it should come as no surprise more states are considering similar programs. It’s Dr. Friedman’s voucher prediction all over again: As such programs demonstrate their effectiveness, they spread.

In 2014, Oregon―along with eight other states―introduced ESA proposals. The most significant news this year came out of Florida, which last month became the second state in the nation to adopt ESAs. The Florida Personal Learning Savings Accounts will give children with special needs the opportunity to receive educational services outside of a traditional public or private schoolhouse setting. Florida families may soon experience the transformational power of customizable school choice programs in the same way ESAs have changed the lives of one Arizona family, the McMurrays.

Lynn and Tim McMurray’s youngest daughter, Alecia, now receives occupational therapy and other educational services using an ESA. Alecia’s sister, Valerie, has a mild form of cerebral palsy, which Lynn and Tim are able to treat via one-on-one tutoring, made possible by an ESA. Valerie has become so enthusiastic about her education that she will stop people on the street and tell them what she is learning, for which her mom is incredibly grateful.

“The freedom ESAs give our family is the biggest blessing ever,” Lynn said.

Oregon’s proposed ESA program could offer that same opportunity by giving parentsthe ability to find new ways to meet their children’s needs. That is why ESAs so effectively speak to Milton Friedman’s vision for education and its future: the freedom to choose and discover, both of which, together, improve the lot of everyday people.


 

Stephanie Linn is State Programs and Government Relations Director at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. She is a guest contributor at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Understanding Oregon’s Common School Trust Lands and the Financial Crisis on the Elliott State Forest

Please join us for Cascade’s monthly Policy Picnic led by Cascade Policy Institute President and CEO John A. Charles, Jr. and attorney Katie Walter on Thursday, June 26, at noon.

The Common School Trust Lands serve as an endowment fund for Oregon’s public schools. Unfortunately, the most valuable asset within the Trust Land portfolio – the Elliott State Forest – lost $3 million during 2013. This seminar will discuss the history of the Trust Lands, the legal requirements to manage them for the benefit of students, and the crisis on the Elliott State Forest.

Admission is free. Please bring your own lunch. Coffee and cookies will be served. Space is limited to sixteen guests on a first come, first served basis, so sign up early.

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New Education Study Shows: We’re Paying More for Less

Advocates on all sides of the public education spending-versus-results debate cite various statistics to make their respective cases. Some argue that more money leads to better results. Others claim that spending more dollars per student―at least in the ways our public school system has spent them―makes little or no difference in educational outcomes; and it appears the evidence is strongly on their side.

A new Cato Institute study, State Education Trends: Academic Performance and Spending over the Past 40 Years, uses adjusted state SAT score averages to track educational performance trends over the last four decades. The findings are staggering: Academic performance has declined despite large increases in real per-pupil spending.

According to Cato, “The study reveals that the average state has seen a three percent decline in academic performance despite a more than doubling in inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending. More strikingly, every state school system in the country has suffered a collapse in productivity over the last 40 years. Essentially, there has been no correlation between state spending and academic performance.”

In Oregon, public education spending has increased 60% in real terms, yet SAT scores have been flat. The study’s results demonstrate that throwing more money at public education has been ineffective at improving student performance. Rather than spend even more, we should let parents direct education funding to the schools of their choice. Unleashing consumer power gets more bang for the buck throughout the economy; it’s time to put it to work in education as well.

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

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Sale of Elliott State Forest Would Mean Millions More Each Year For Schools

A new report released today shows that if the Oregon State Land Board sold or leased the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest, public school funding would increase by at least $40 million annually.

Roughly 85,000 acres of the Elliott State Forest are managed for the primary purpose of raising funds for public schools. These lands are known as “Common School Trust Lands,” and the Oregon State Land Board is required by law to manage them for the trust beneficiaries: public school students. Net receipts from timber harvest activities on the Elliott are transferred to the Common School Fund (CSF), where assets are invested by the Oregon Investment Council in various financial instruments. Twice each year, public school districts receive cash payments based on the investment returns of CSF assets.

Due to environmental litigation, the State Land Board lost $3 million managing the Elliott State Forest in 2013. As a result, the Land Board has recently decided to sell 2,700 acres of the Elliott. An independent analysis conducted for Cascade Policy Institute by economist Eric Fruits shows that selling or leasing the entire forest would dramatically increase the semi-annual returns to public schools, and would do so in perpetuity.

According to Cascade president John A. Charles, Jr., “The Land Board has a fiduciary duty to manage the state trust lands for the benefit of the public schools. Losing $3 million on a timberland asset worth at least $600 million is likely a breach of that duty. The Land Board is doing the right thing by taking bids to sell parcels of the Elliott, and should continue to pursue a path of selling or leasing larger portions of the forest. There is no plausible scenario of Land Board timber management that would bring superior returns to public schools than simply disposing of these lands and placing the funds under the management of the Oregon Investment Council.”

Click here to read the report.

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School Choice Promotes Opportunities “Centered on the Future”

“I wish that the education system could understand that not every child fits into the same sized box, and everyone needs to do what is right for their family,” says Lisa, a Portland-area mother whose children receive tuition assistance from the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland.

When Cascade Policy Institute started this privately funded scholarship program in 1999, we learned “hands-on” that middle- and lower-income parents share the same interest in their children’s education as do parents of greater means, and they are motivated to seek the same kinds of opportunities on their behalf.

Parents know a solid education prepares students for life, and that path begins in grade school. But many children are trapped in neighborhood public schools assigned to them by their street addresses that, for many reasons, may not meet their needs or standards that are important to their families.

“Education reform” debates usually focus on how to get the maximum number of children minimally educated. But real-life parents want to get at least a minimum number of children (their own) maximally educated. These two goals shouldn’t be at odds. In fact, the second can drive the first―if more parents had the opportunity to make meaningful choices about their children’s education.

Fifteen years ago, the national Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF) offered dollar-for-dollar matching grants to independent local partner programs that would provide partial tuition assistance to low-income grade school children to attend the schools of their choice. Cascade Policy Institute was among the nonprofit organizations which took up this unprecedented challenge, raising $1 million in local funds to start a $2 million local program, the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland. Since then, CSF and its partners have invested $568 million in private funding to help more than 139,000 children nationwide.

While they don’t have much discretionary income (the average CSF-Portland family income is $41,000), CSF families always must pay part of their tuition themselves (Portland parents pay $1,777 on average). This ensures that the scholarship remains a “hand up,” rather than a handout. Because they have “skin in the game,” CSF parents are motivated to choose schools carefully and to encourage their children to make the most of their opportunities.

The private schools CSF students attend typically spend one-third to one-half what neighboring public schools spend per student (the average tuition for CSF-Portland students is $3,578 this year), with better results in terms of graduation rates and college attendance. However, the point of the CSF program is not to prove that private schools are better than public schools. Rather, CSF believes that parents are the primary educators of their children and have their interests at heart. When empowered with a modest amount of financial help (the average Portland scholarship award is $1,458), parents will invest their own money, time, effort, and discipline to obtain the kind of education they want for their students.

CSF partner programs respect the decision-making processes of families and support parents in directing their children’s education. This family-centered element is what sets parent-focused school choice efforts apart from other ways of addressing the failures of today’s public education system. No one can design a school system that meets every child’s needs. No statistical data analysis or bureaucratic goal setting can ensure that any particular child makes it to high school graduation, succeeds in college, or excels in a career. No school can be all things to all children―nor should it. But most parents, including low-income ones, are keenly aware of their own students’ needs, aptitudes, strengths, and interests―and what it takes for them to learn.

“The children have grown in spades since attending [their] school,” says Lisa. “They have a school family that is very comforting to them. They feel safe every single day. They know that everything that is being done is centered on their lives and future….In their prior school they were pushed aside, never pushed into academically challenging areas. Here at this school every opportunity is given to them to succeed and become better students and better learners.”

Top-down education reform focuses on what is not working for large numbers of people―but keeps those students in the system while the problems are being “fixed.” School choice focuses on what is working across all kinds of schools―and empowers parents to choose the options that best help their children learn.

Top-down approaches pour more money into a broken system. School choice programs achieve more satisfactory results with more modest amounts of money because the dynamic is shifted in favor of parents. Government-focused education reform analyzes the forest; school choice promotes the best interest of the trees. School choice programs like CSF-Portland prove that good things happen when parents have opportunities to choose excellence for their own children.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute and Director of the privately funded Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland, which provides partial tuition scholarships to Oregon elementary students from lower-income families.

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Help Oregon’s Most Vulnerable Students Get School Choice in 2014

This is National School Choice Week. Families across the country are advocating for more educational freedom. It would be wonderful if all Kindergarten through 12th grade students had broad public and private school choices now, but political reality won’t let that happen any time soon. So, what is possible now, especially in Oregon?

In the upcoming February legislative session, Oregonians can give some of our most vulnerable kids real choices with passage of Senate Bill 1576, the Education Equity Emergency Act (E3). Modeled after a successful Arizona program, it will create Empowerment Scholarship Accounts to help kids with special needs, in foster care, or in low-income families.

Scholarship recipients can use ninety percent of their state education funding for approved expenses like private schools, tutoring, education therapy, textbooks, online education programs, and community colleges. Unused funds can be rolled over and eventually help students with college costs. And no district must let more than one half of one percent of its students participate.

Whether or not you have children who may qualify for this program, please urge your state legislators to support it. There’s no additional cost to taxpayers. So, even if we can’t get full school choice for all children now, we can get it for some of the most vulnerable ones, including special needs, foster, and low-income kids. It’s the right thing to do.

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

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Coming This January: The Largest-Ever Rally for School Choice Nationwide

Millions of Americans nationwide will voice their support for educational opportunity during the fourth-annual National School Choice Week, which begins January 26, 2014. The Week will include an unprecedented 5,500 events across all 50 states, with a goal of increasing public awareness of the importance of empowering parents with the freedom to choose the best educational environments for their children.

National School Choice Week events will be independently planned and independently funded by schools, organizations, individuals, and coalitions. Events—which include rallies, roundtable discussions, school fairs, parent information sessions, movie screenings, and more—will focus on a variety of school choice issues important to families in local communities, including open enrollment policies in traditional public schools, public charter and magnet schools, private school choice programs, online learning, and homeschooling.

“During National School Choice Week, millions of Americans will hear the uplifting and transformational stories of students, parents, teachers, and school leaders who are benefiting from a variety of different school choice programs and policies across America,” said Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week. “Our hope is that by letting more people know about the successes of school choice where it exists, more parents will become aware of the educational opportunities available to their families.”

“During the Week, Americans from all backgrounds and ideologies will celebrate school choice where it exists and demand it where it does not,” Campanella said. “National School Choice Week will be the nation’s largest-ever series of education-related events, which is testament to the incredible levels of support that exist for educational opportunity in America.”

Cascade Policy Institute will host a National School Choice Week “Policy Picnic” on Wednesday, January 29, at noon. Cascade founder Steve Buckstein will discuss the Education Savings Account (ESA) bill being considered during Oregon’s 2014 legislative session and what Oregonians can do to promote greater educational opportunity in our state. Oregon’s 2014 Education Equity Emergency Act (“E3”) is modeled on Arizona’s highly successful ESA program. For details and to RSVP for this free event, visit cascadepolicy.org.

Students today have diverse talents, interests, and needs; and they learn in different ways. The landscape of educational options to meet those needs is far more expansive today than it was even a few years ago. Freedom in education is good for all children, not just for children who are “at risk” or “in failing schools.” Parents, not bureaucracies, should decide which learning environment is best for their children and be empowered to choose those schools. National School Choice Week provides a platform for all of us to demand greater educational opportunities for children, especially in areas which do not yet provide meaningful options to families.

For more information about National School Choice Week and to participate in events near you, visit schoolchoiceweek.com.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute and Director of the privately funded Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland, which provides partial tuition scholarships to Oregon elementary students from lower-income families.

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The Future of School Choice in Oregon: Education Savings Accounts

Please join us for Cascade’s monthly Policy Picnic led by Cascade Policy Institute Senior Policy Analyst and founder Steve Buckstein on Wednesday, January 29th, at noon.

Steve will discuss the history of school choice in Oregon: successes, challenges, and the future of the movement.

Emphasis will be placed on the Education Equity Emergency Act (E3), which is the first Education Savings Account bill submitted to the Oregon legislature. The bill will have an informational hearing on Thursday afternoon, January 16, before the Senate Education Committee and hopefully will be heard during the formal February legislative session.

Learn the benefits of ESAs, details of the E3 Act, and what you can do to help Oregon students receive their own Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.

Admission is free. Please bring your own lunch. Coffee and cookies will be served. Space is limited to sixteen guests on a first come, first served basis, so sign up early.

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The Future of School Choice in Oregon: Education Savings Accounts

School choice is widespread in America, including in Oregon—unless you are poor. Affluent families have choice because they can move to different neighborhoods or communities, send their children to private schools, or supplement schooling with tutors, online courses, and enrichment programs. Lower and middle-income families, meanwhile, too often are trapped with one option—a school in need of improvement assigned to them based on their zip code.

Some states such as Arizona, Wisconsin, and Florida have made significant progress toward providing more Kindergarten through 12th grade options for many children. Public charter schools (including online charters) and private school attendance made possible by state funded vouchers or tax credits are increasing families’ opportunities to find the right fit for their children. But these options are constantly under attack by those who represent the status quo: those who want the public school system to stay just the way it is, so it continues to provide virtually guaranteed jobs and benefits for certain teachers and administrators―regardless of the results achieved by the children they are supposed to serve.

Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman first popularized the school choice voucher concept in his 1962 book, Capitalism and Freedom. Now, a new concept is capturing the imaginations of a new generation of parents and policy makers: Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Going beyond the voucher or tax credit idea for school choice, ESAs introduce market concepts that help parents become active shoppers for educational services, thus improving their quality while reducing costs.

As Matthew Ladner, Ph.D. wrote in a major study for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice:

Education savings accounts are the way of the future. Under such accounts—managed by parents with state supervision to ensure accountability—parents can use their children’s education funding to choose among public and private schools, online education programs, certified private tutors, community colleges, and even universities. Education savings accounts bring Milton Friedman’s original school voucher idea into the 21st century.

ESAs differ from state-funded vouchers. Typically, parents can redeem vouchers only at state-approved public and private schools. In contrast, ESAs allow parents to choose among public schools, private schools, private tutors, community colleges, online education programs, and universities. In addition, ESAs allow parents to put unused funds into college savings plans, thus changing the “use it or lose it” mentality in the current public school funding system. ESAs promote user-based subsidies (like the food stamp program) rather than supplier-based subsidies that represent the current public school funding model.

Conceived of by the Goldwater Institute of Arizona nearly a decade ago, education savings accounts were first passed by that state’s Legislature in 2011 for special-needs children. In 2012 the program was expanded to children adopted out of the state foster system, children of active-duty military parents, and children in “D” and “F” failing schools. Last June, Arizona’s Governor signed a bill to expand ESAs to children entering Kindergarten and to increase funding for the accounts.

Nationally, school choice is becoming a more bipartisan issue as many Republicans are being joined by leading Democrats, such as former Clinton White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry. McCurry is now chairman of the national Children’s Scholarship Fund, which provides privately funded tuition scholarships to low-income elementary school kids. He describes the school choice movement as a rare example of centrism in our increasingly polarized American politics.

And, America’s newest U.S. Senator, Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey, has long been a school choice advocate. Speaking back in 2001 for Cascade Policy Institute, Booker told Black students at Portland’s Self-Enhancement, Inc. how important school choice is for his fellow African Americans.

It is time for Oregon to move further toward school choice for every child, and ESAs offer an attractive way to start the journey. Already, our state has over 120 public charter schools that were made possible by passage of a 1999 bill in the Republican-controlled legislature that was signed into law by a Democratic Governor (John Kitzhaber).

In the upcoming February 2014 Oregon legislative session, Oregonians will have an opportunity to start down the ESA road with passage of the Education Equity Emergency Act (E3).* It will create Empowerment Scholarship Accounts modeled after the highly successful Arizona program. These scholarships will help level the educational playing field for kids with special educational needs, in foster care, or in low-income families. Scholarship recipients can use ninety percent of their state education funding for approved educational expenses like private schools, tutoring, education therapy, textbooks, online education programs, community colleges, universities, or college savings plans.

One E3 Act sponsor notes, “These students have had unique challenges in their lives and require enhanced educational flexibility to ensure successful degree attainment.”**

The Act is designed to impose no financial burden on the state or on the school districts that scholarship students currently attend. Scholarship participation will be capped at 0.5% of students in a school district unless a district chooses to allow additional participation.

Oregon has a history of bold experimentation in other policy areas. Now is the time to experiment with expanding the role of parents choosing and the market delivering better education for Oregon’s children. Education Savings Accounts will empower families to find better educational options, leave the “use it or lose it” funding mechanism behind, and save toward their children’s higher education. Altogether, ESAs will provide winning situations for children, their parents, and Oregon’s future.

* The Education Equity Emergency Act is in draft form as of January 7, 2014. The official bill language should be available before the session begins on February 3.

** From a letter by State Senator Tim Knopp to the Chair of the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee Mark Hass requesting a hearing on the E3 Act during the January interim legislative hearing days. The hearing is tentatively scheduled for the afternoon of Thursday, January 16.

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

 

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Cascade Update Fall 2013

Want to know the latest happenings at Cascade Policy Institute? Click here to see our Fall newsletter!

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Oregon’s Opaque K-12 Finances

By William Newell

Before people make financial decisions, most seek out information in order to make better choices. But according to a recent report by the Cato Institute, when Oregon voters are tasked with making financial decisions about K-12 education, they are hard-pressed to find the information they need, let alone interpret what is available.

The report, entitled Cracking the Books, measures financial transparency in K-12 education throughout the nation. In the study, Oregon performed dismally, earning an “F-” and ranking 44th. New Mexico and South Dakota took the top two spots, receiving the only “A’s” for their transparency efforts. Only seven states scored higher than a “C+”. Our West Coast neighbors Washington and California performed well and were rewarded with a “B” and “B-,” respectively.

Of the four categories used to analyze the state’s education financial information, Oregon scored best in public accessibility, with a score of 10.5 out of 15. Alternatively, Oregon failed to earn even half the points available in the transparency categories for per-pupil expenditures, total expenditure data, and average salary data.

Quality, accessible information for voters is essential to making good policy. If Oregon really wants to stand up for transparency and accountability in government, then the state should learn from our neighbors and start with more transparency in its biggest budget item, K-12 education.

William Newell is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. He is a graduate of Willamette University.

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New York Times Calls Catholic Schools “A Lifeline for Minorities”

The New York Times recently published a feature story about the closure of inner-city Catholic schools, as the Archdiocese of New York consolidates the school system to shore up its finances (“A Lifeline for Minorities, Catholic Schools Retrench,” June 20). Among the 26 urban schools to close this year is Blessed Sacrament in the Bronx, once attended by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“The worst thing is, these kids could lose their faith in the adults around them,” [Justice Sotomayor] said in an interview inside her old fifth-grade classroom. “Children need to feel secure. This makes it worse. These kids are going to carry this trauma with them for the rest of their lives.”

Justice Sotomayor’s emotions are shared by a generation of accomplished Latino and black professionals and public servants who went from humble roots to successful careers thanks to Catholic schools. But they fear that a springboard that has helped numerous poor and working-class minority students achieve rewarding lives is eroding as Catholic schools close their doors in the face of extraordinary financial challenges and demographic shifts….

“The Catholic schools have been a pipeline to opportunity for generations,” said Justice Sotomayor….“It gave people like me the chance to be successful. It provided me…with an incredible environment of security. Not every school provides that.”

It is no secret that a substantial hurdle faced by independent private schools across the country is raising the money to operate without charging tuition that could not possibly be paid by the families they serve. Generous voluntary, private support plays a large role in sustaining faith-based private schools. In many cities a majority of students in some schools do not even belong to the institutions’ faith; they and their parents simply crave the good education they offer. But as the situation in urban New York illustrates, modest tuition plus charitable giving are not enough to keep schools open in neighborhoods that need them most.

New York spends $19,000 in taxpayer money per student in the public school system. If children are failed by public schools that do not successfully educate them (as happens to many kids), parents have no “money back guarantee.” If parents want to choose a private school to make up for the deficiencies of the public system, they must pay out of their own pockets. If parents could control only a few thousand dollars of what the public system already spends on their child, they could afford tuition at most private schools.

Today, the school choice movement recognizes the outstanding job faith-based and other independent private schools do to provide a quality education to children who are routinely failed by public schools, especially in low-income communities. “School choice” legislation empowers parents like those in the Times article to choose whatever school serves their children best through options like education tax credits, educational savings accounts, and public scholarships (vouchers).

These options allow parents to control a small portion of the education dollars that would be spent on their child in public schools. If the goal of public education is to educate the public, it shouldn’t matter where the learning takes place. What matters is that every child learns.

As of 2012, 32 publicly funded school choice programs exist in 16 states and the District of Columbia, serving close to 250,000 children. Oregon does not have such a program yet, but the state has made incremental gains in increasing parental choice within the public system. Oregon has about 115 charter schools (including online options that are especially helpful to rural and special-needs students) and an inter-district transfer law that allows students to enroll in public schools outside their district of residence.

Educating children who are most in need has been a priority of Catholic and other private schools since a New York widow named Elizabeth Ann Seton opened the first free school for girls in the U.S. in Baltimore in 1808. More than six million children attend 34,000 private schools today. If The New York Times can praise Catholic schools for educating “a generation of accomplished Latino and black professionals”―and mourn the closing of those schools―hopefully it will soon take the next logical step. The Times should connect the dots between the dreams of millions of low-income parents like the Sotomayors and practical, constitutional legislation that helps parents choose “the springboard” to success that may be just down the street.

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. CSF-Portland provides privately funded scholarships to low-income Oregon children to attend the private, parochial, and home schools of their parents’ choice.

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Tip of the Education Iceberg

By William Newell

When you think of a school, you probably imagine classrooms filled with students and teachers, not employee offices. The reality is that highly compensated administrators and non-teaching support staff outnumber Oregon’s K-12 teachers.

The growth of administrative and non-teaching support staff has more than tripled that of students and teachers since 1992. In the last 21 years, the student population has grown by only 15.4 percent and teachers by only 12.7 percent. At the same time, the ranks of administrators and non-teaching support staff have grown by a staggering 47.3 percent.

The growth in staff hasn’t improved student achievement. Oregon fourth and eighth grade National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores in math and reading have regressed to or fallen below the national average. In 2013, Oregon received a “C” from Education Week and a “D-” from StudentsFirst, two respected education research organizations.

Rudy Crew, Oregon’s recently departed chief education officer, abused his spending privileges and did little to improve Oregon schools, ultimately showing the top-heavy system’s main flaws. Sadly, the top education bureaucrat’s $280,000 salary and gold-plated benefits package are just the tip of the education iceberg.

If administrative and support employment had grown in line with students, Oregon could have saved more than $300 million annually or hired almost 3,782 teachers compensated at $80,000 each.* Going forward, schools must refocus their priorities back on the classroom and away from the education bureaucracy.

*Teacher compensation was calculated by taking the average Oregon K-12 teacher salary of $57,000 plus 40% for benefits.

William Newell is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market think tank.

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Educational Opportunity Is a Centrist Issue

Former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry gave a speech May 21 to education reform advocates in Washington, D.C., in which he described the school choice movement as a rare example of centrism in our increasingly polarized American politics. McCurry serves as board chair of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which provides privately funded tuition scholarships to low-income elementary kids.

McCurry, who worked for the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and President Bill Clinton, believes people of good will can and should come together in favor of educational opportunity for all children. “We’ve got to…make sure we get to that destination in which every child in this country goes to a school that equips them for their future, and every parent has the opportunity to make a choice about how that kid will be educated,” he said.

McCurry said that people who want to change the education system so that parents, rather than bureaucracies, decide where kids go to school should build bridges across the ideological spectrum. He advised school choice advocates to seek new allies and to broaden the coalition for school choice.

After all, the point of school choice programs is to empower parents of every political stripe, racial and ethnic background, and income level to get their child educated, even if they live in the worst public school district in the country. If that’s not a centrist issue, what is?

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

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School Choice Results Trend Positive in New Study

School choice programs empower parents to choose the schools their children attend―public or private―by allowing parents to direct a portion of public education funding for their child through tax credits, scholarships, vouchers, and education savings accounts. School choice programs are among the most prominent and successful reforms in education today.

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice has released a new report examining 23 empirical studies of school choice programs. The report is authored by scholars at the University of Arkansas, Harvard University, the Federal Reserve Bank, Stanford University, and Cornell University.

According to the study, “[o]pponents frequently claim school choice does not benefit participants, hurts public schools, costs taxpayers, facilitates segregation, and even undermines democracy. However, the empirical evidence consistently shows that choice improves academic outcomes for participants and public schools, saves taxpayer money, moves students into more integrated classrooms, and strengthens the shared civic values and practices essential to American democracy.”

More than 250,000 students attend private schools through 41 school choice programs in 22 states and Washington, D.C. Expanding educational options through widely accessible school choice programs for all children can deliver the kind of dramatic improvement American schools desperately need to meet the diverse needs and aptitudes of all students. Putting parents back in charge is the way to revolutionize education today.

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

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Indiana Court Upholds School Choice Program, Invites Hope for Oregon’s Kids

On March 26, the Indiana Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion holding that the state’s Choice Scholarship Program is constitutional. Indiana’s voucher program is one of the most expansive school choice reforms in the country, permitting any child eligible for free or reduced-price lunch to receive a voucher to attend a private school―whether or not the school is religious. The Choice Scholarship Program is only two years old, but already 9,324 low- and middle-income families are participating.

A group of state taxpayers funded by a teachers’ union filed suit against the program in May 2011. Meredith v. Daniels alleged that the voucher program violates the IndianaConstitution, which requires the state “to provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools.” The plaintiffs claimed that allowing students to choose a private school violated this duty. (A similar argument overturned Florida’s opportunity scholarship program in 2006.) However, the Indiana Supreme Court rejected this argument, noting that it was inconsistent with the plain text of the state’s constitution.

The plaintiffs also alleged that the voucher program violated the state constitution’s provision forbidding the state from compelling individuals to support “any place of worship” or “ministry,” and another provision forbidding the state from drawing money from the treasury for the benefit of a religious or theological institution.* (However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in 2002 that Ohio’s voucher program does not violate the establishment clause in the U.S. Constitution, undercutting the argument that institutions, rather than parents, are the primary beneficiaries.)

The Indiana Supreme Court rejected the “religious support” arguments, noting that government expenditures frequently benefit religious institutions. “[F]or example, fire and police protection, municipal water and sewage service” all benefit religious institutions:

“Certainly religious or theological institutions may derive relatively substantial benefits from such municipal services. But the primary beneficiary is the public, both the public affiliated with the religious or theological institution, and the general public.”

The court explained that such benefits were ancillary to the substantial benefits received by families:

“The direct beneficiaries under the voucher program are the families of eligible students and not the schools selected by the parents for their children to attend. The voucher program does not directly fund religious activities because no funds may be dispersed to any program eligible school without the private, independent selection by the parents of a program-eligible student. Participation in the voucher program is entirely voluntary for parents of eligible students.”

The Indiana Supreme Court’s interpretation of its state constitution in favor of parents’ directing their children’s education should encourage families in other states across the country. Vouchers, education tax credits, and opportunity scholarship programs have demonstrated repeatedly that children benefit from educational choice. Oregon has some limited forms of school choice, including over 100 charter schools and open enrollment among some public schools; but Oregon parents still deserve better. Hopefully, victories like Indiana’s will provide support for states like Oregon to recognize the right of parents to choose options for their children beyond their local public school.

* Oregon’s constitution has a nearly identical provision, stating: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury for the benefit of any religeous [sic], or theological institution.” Anti-school-choice groups in Oregon have used the same arguments against proposals for voucher or tax credit funded scholarship programs.

Christina Martin is an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit legal foundation devoted to litigating for freedom, property rights, and individual rights, including school choice. She is a former policy analyst for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

 

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Indiana Supreme Court Says Vouchers Directly Benefit Families, Not Institutions

On Tuesday the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of Indiana’s school voucher law. The court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the law improperly benefited private religious schools, violating the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment. Blaine Amendments, found in state constitutions around the country, prohibit state treasury money from being used explicitly for the benefit of religious institutions.

The unanimous decision in Meredith v. Daniels stated: “The voucher program expenditures do not directly benefit religious schools but rather directly benefit lower-income families with school children by providing an opportunity for such children to attend non-public schools if desired.” Indiana Judge Michael Keele noted that scholarship recipients can “choose to use the funding for education at a public, secular private, or religious private school.” The choice is up to families. This interpretation is supported by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Cleveland, Ohio’s voucher program in 2002.

The Indiana Choice Scholarship Program is the largest voucher program in the country: More than half of Indiana’s population qualifies to participate. Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia have some type of private school choice measure, but Oregon still does not. Isn’t it time that Oregon parents had more power to choose where and how to educate their children?

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

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Wanted: More Life with Parents, Not Government Preschool

In his February 12 State of the Union address, President Obama called for another “universal” government program―universal preschool.

“…[N]one of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs.

“And that has to start at the earliest possible age. You know, study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.

“But today, fewer than three in ten 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives. So, tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.”

Never mind that the federal budget today cannot possibly pay for universal preschool, or that it’s not the role of government to provide glorified daycare for every American child.

The truth is, the government has been trying to close the “preschool gap” for more than forty years, with almost nothing to show for it. For years, the Head Start program, begun by President Johnson in 1965, has been known to be a failure by both academic and social development standards.

According to Elise Hilton of the Acton Institute, “[e]ven the government knows this is true. The Department of Health and Human Services has admitted ‘by third grade, the $8 billion Head Start program had little to no impact on cognitive, social-emotional, health, or parenting practices of participants. On a few measures, access to Head Start had harmful effects on children.’”

Let’s not go farther down that road. We don’t need every American child spending more time in classrooms, younger and younger. We need an economy that empowers parents both to support their families and to spend time with their toddlers, letting them experience the wonders of the real world. More kids need to be able to explore life with Mom and Dad. Then more of them will come to grade school ready to learn.

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

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Press Release: Whistleblower Lawsuit Claims Oregon DHS Falsely Inflated "Healthy Kids Connect" Enrollment

February 8, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Steve Buckstein
               503/242-0900

Whistleblower Lawsuit Claims Oregon Department of Human Services Falsely Inflated “Healthy Kids Connect” Enrollment

…Cascade Policy Institute first reported inflated enrollment in its 2010 publication, “Facing Reality”

Portland, Ore. ― A former state employee has filed a $6.7 million whistleblower lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS), saying she lost her job after pointing out financial irregularities and inflated enrollment projects for the state’s Healthy Kids Connect program.

Enrollment problems in the Healthy Kids Connect program were highlighted in “Facing Reality,” a report published by Cascade Policy Institute and Americans for Prosperity – Oregon in October 2010:

“Proponents of the program and DHS projected that the additional tax revenues would provide health insurance coverage to 80,000 Oregon children by the end of the 2009-11 biennium. However, with only a few months remaining in the biennium, the program has yet to enroll 26,000 more children to reach its projections.”

The complaint filed with the Marion County circuit court shows that as early as November 2009, there was evidence that the DHS projections were inflated:

“The press release draft stated Healthy Kids had a target enrollment of 80,000 kids. Plaintiff relied on three internal sources and the data revealed there were not 80,000 uninsured kids in the state.”

The complaint also alleges that DHS director, Bruce Goldberg, issued a directive regarding the method for counting the number of children enrolled in Healthy Kids. The method appears to be designed to inflate the number of children enrolled:

“In response to a question Plaintiff asked, [Healthy Kids staff member Melissa] Hanks provided Plaintiff with a document which outlined Goldberg’s directive on how the agency would calculate the number of enrollees. The document read, ‘For monthly caseload reporting on Healthy Kids Plan, we propose attributing any children’s caseload changes after June 30, 2009 to the HKP. This would generate the largest child count attributable to the HKP. That number will represent changes in caseload once Healthy Kids begins, and “Healthy Kids” become indistinguishable from all children.’ Plaintiff understood that any child enrolled in any state program was counted as ‘Healthy Kid’ for purposes of reporting enrollment. Enrollment was all children new to the program and all returning clients who have a gap in enrollment, which could be as short as one month. Plaintiff believed Healthy Kids took credit for the enrollment which predated the start of the program.”

In “Facing Reality,” Cascade Policy Institute called for ending the Healthy Kids Connect program. With the program sunsetting this year, the Legislature should make sure this troubled program ends with the sunset.

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Kathryn Hickok Discusses School Choice Week and Children’s Scholarship Fund

We sat down with Kathryn Hickok to talk about National School Choice Week and how the Portland-based branch of Children’s Scholarship Fund is helping local kids earn a quality education.

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School Choice Respects Parents, Promotes Kids’ Best Interests

Sometimes you miss the trees for the forest. Education reform debates tend to focus on how to get the maximum number of children minimally educated. But the focus of real-life parents is getting at least a minimum number of children (their own) maximally educated. These two goals shouldn’t be at odds. In fact, the second can drive the first―if more parents were empowered to make meaningful choices for their children’s education.

A Portland-area mothers club recently advertised a public forum for local parents: “…[A]re you…trying to find the right school? Attend the…Preschool Forum to find out what teaching philosophy, curriculum, and school is best for you and your child. Representatives from over 35 local schools will be on site to provide a brief overview of teaching styles [and] programs, and to answer questions.”

This advertisement is an example of the mindset of parents with the means to shop around for the educational environment that provides what they value. Families of greater financial means already have “school choice.” They might move to a district or neighborhood with a public school they like, or they might pay full tuition at a private or parochial school. However, those options are commonly out of the reach of lower-income families.

When Cascade Policy Institute started a privately funded scholarship program, the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland, we learned “hands-on” that lower-income parents share the same interest in their children’s education that middle- and upper-class parents do, and they are motivated to make the same kinds of choices on their behalf. For these parents, the stakes are high. A solid education is crucial for a successful adulthood and upward mobility, and that path begins in grade school. Like parents of greater means, lower-income parents also aspire to choose the “teaching philosophy, curriculum, and school” that is best for their child. But they usually find their children trapped in public schools that, for many reasons, do not meet their kids’ needs or do not meet standards that are important to their families.

In 1999, the national Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF) offered dollar-for-dollar matching grants to independent local partner programs that would provide partial tuition assistance to low-income grade school children to attend the schools of their choice. Cascade Policy Institute was among the nonprofits which took up this unprecedented challenge, raising $1 million in local funds to start a $2 million local program, the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland. Since then, CSF and its partners have invested $483 million in private funding to help more than 130,000 children nationwide.

While they don’t have much discretionary income (the average CSF-Portland family income is $35,500), CSF families always must pay part of their tuition themselves (Portland parents pay $1,680 on average). This ensures that the scholarship remains a “hand up,” rather than a handout. Because they have “skin in the game,” CSF parents are motivated to choose schools carefully and to encourage their children to make the most of their opportunities. CSF parents are responsible for transportation and other logistics involved with school attendance, just like all private school parents. Despite the challenges involved, these families make it happen.

The private schools CSF students attend typically spend one-third to one-half what neighboring public schools spend per student (the average tuition for CSF-Portland students is $3,700 this year), with better results in terms of graduation rates and college attendance. However, the point of the CSF program is not to prove that private schools are better than public schools. Rather, CSF believes that parents are the primary educators of their children and have their interests at heart. When empowered with a modest amount of financial help (the average Portland scholarship award is $1,700), parents will invest their own money, time, effort, and discipline to obtain the kind of education they want for their kids.

CSF partner programs respect the decision-making processes of families and support parents in directing their children’s education. This very human, family-centered element is what sets parent-focused education reform efforts apart from other ways of addressing the failures of today’s public education system. No one can design a school system that meets every child’s needs. No statistical data analysis or bureaucratic goal setting can ensure that any particular child makes it to high school graduation, succeeds in college, or excels in a career. No school can be all things to all people―nor should it. But most parents, including low-income ones, are keenly aware of their own children’s needs, aptitudes, strengths, weaknesses, and interests.

“CSF has meant so much to our family,” wrote a Portland mother named Cynthia. “…[W]e often talk about what a blessing it has been for the kids to have attended private school….It was the foundation for their future. It formed their beliefs, goals, morals….It has meant so much more than I can actually express. Following the death of my husband when the kids were five, three, and eight months old, it is the reason they were able to attend private school.”

Top-down education reform focuses on what appears not to be working for large numbers of people—but keeps those people in the system while the problems are being “fixed.” School choice focuses on what is working across all kinds of schools―and favors empowering parents and students to choose among options they find attractive. Top-down approaches pour more money into a broken system. School choice programs achieve more satisfactory results with more modest amounts of money, because the dynamic is shifted in favor of the parent, not the system. Government-focused education reform analyzes the forest; school choice promotes the best interest of the trees. School choice programs like CSF-Portland prove that good things happen when parents are empowered to vote with their feet on behalf of their own kids.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute and Director of the privately funded Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland, which provides partial tuition scholarships to Oregon elementary students from lower-income families.

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Bring Oregon into the School Choice Age

What makes Oregon special? The slogan “Oregon. We Love Dreamers” invokes images of idealism and innovation. But neither exists for many of our school-age children and their parents. Education Week ranks our public school system 43rd in the nation. Our overall grade is just C, and we rate a dismal D in academic achievement.

Our education establishment is attempting to improve itself by integrating all pre-Kindergarten through graduate school education in the state. However, this top-down approach likely will fail, just as the vaunted CIM and CAM testing regime that began in 1991 failed.

A better, bottom-up approach is being enacted in many states: letting parents have more choices about where their children go to school. Oregon is behind in this national movement, but we can catch up. January 27th through February 2nd  is National School Choice Week, which highlights the need for effective educational options for all children.

Planned by a diverse and nonpartisan coalition of individuals and organizations, National School Choice Week features more than 3,500 independently planned events across all 50 states. At least twelve events are planned in Oregon, including a School Choice Policy Picnic in Portland.

Students have different talents, interests, and needs; and they learn in different ways. The educational options available to meet their needs are far more diverse today than even a few years ago. Freedom in education is good for all children, not just for children deemed by the state to be “at risk” or in “failing schools.”

While Oregon is behind the school choice curve, we have made some progress. In 1999, then-Governor John Kitzhaber signed Oregon’s charter school bill into law, resulting in more than 100 semi-independent public charter schools operating today. In 2011, several more school choice related laws were signed by Governor Kitzhaber during his current term. They made it easier for students to enroll in neighboring public school districts, loosened enrollment restrictions for online charter schools, and added organizations that can charter schools in addition to their local districts.

And the push for school choice is far from just a conservative or Republican movement. A growing number of liberals and Democrats are now on board, including Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker who spoke about it in Portland back in 2001. One of his more recent statements reads in part:

“One of the worst sentiments in our nation is this toxic resignation to a school system that fails children. We have become comfortable with, not mediocrity, we have become comfortable with failure….We were not born for mediocrity. We were not born to fit in. We were born to stand out. This is the call of America. This is the call of our country, and our children say it every single day, like a call to our consciousness; like a demand upon our moral imagination. They say it from Newark to Oakland, those five words: Liberty and justice for all. But we are failing in that….

“…[W]oe to the people who want to protect the status quo. Woe to the people who want to defend mediocrity and failure. Woe to the people who want to attack others for trying a different way.

“We are a nation that was born from innovation; innovation of our ideals, innovation of agriculture, innovation in industry, innovation in science and technology. Why has the one sector of our society most in need of innovation been left in the agrarian age, and that is education? No more!”

This week—National School Choice Week—join with Cory Booker and the many Oregonians who say “No more!” to the lack of school choice for our children.

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

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Freedom and Opportunity Are the Future of Education

Next week is National School Choice Week. Every January, National School Choice Week highlights the need for effective educational options for all children.

Planned by a diverse and nonpartisan coalition of individuals and organizations, National School Choice Week features special events and activities that support school choice programs and proposals. The world’s largest celebration of education reform, the 2013 School Choice Week will feature more than 3,500 independently planned events across 50 states.

According to schoolchoiceweek.com, “Participants in National School Choice Week believe that to improve student achievement, boost graduation rates, and improve American competitiveness in the global job marketplace, families must be empowered to choose the best educational options for their children. These options include high-performing public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, digital/online learning, and homeschooling.”

Students have different talents, interests, and needs; and they learn in different ways. The landscape of educational options to meet those needs is far more diverse today than it was even a few years ago. Freedom in education is good for all children, not just for children deemed by the state to be “at risk” or in “failing schools.” Parents, not government bureaucracies, should decide which learning environment is best for their children and be empowered to choose those schools. It’s becoming increasingly evident that more choices in education are the way of the future. For more information, visit National School Choice Week online at schoolchoiceweek.com.

Cascade Policy Institute will host a National School Choice Week School Choice Policy Picnic on Wednesday, January 30, at noon. Cascade founder Steve Buckstein will discuss the importance of school choice and where we go from here to get more of it in Oregon. Those interested in attending can RSVP here.

 

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

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Empowering Parents Gives Low-Income Children a High-Quality Education

Fourteen years ago, the late philanthropists Ted Forstmann and John Walton challenged local donors across the country to join them in pledging $200 million to start the first national K-8 scholarship program in the country. They planned to help 40,000 low-income children get a head start in life with a quality education in the private or parochial schools of their parents’ choice. But instead of 40,000 applications, they received 1.25 million from low-income parents everywhere―more than 31 times the number of scholarships available.

 

Forstmann and Walton found out quickly: Low-income parents were desperately seeking a high-quality education they couldn’t find in their local public schools, and they were willing to pay what they could for it. A modestly sized tuition scholarship would make all the difference to their families―and their children’s futures. In Baltimore, 44% of the eligible population sent applications. Thirty-three percent applied in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., 26% in Chicago and Atlanta, 29% in New York City, and 32% in Saint Louis. In Portland, Oregon, more than 6,600 applied for 500 available scholarships. Since 1999, the Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF) has invested $483 million in private scholarships for more than 130,000 children.

 

The Children’s Scholarship Fund’s mission is to maximize educational opportunity by offering tuition assistance in grades K-8 for alternatives to faltering public schools and by supporting education reform and parental choice efforts. CSF is the country’s largest charity helping parents to send their children to the schools of their choice. By offering parents the chance to choose which school best fits their child’s needs, CSF puts power back in the hands of parents, where it belongs. And since every family is required to pay a minimum of $500 towards tuition (many pay much more), every CSF scholarship is truly a hand up, not a handout.

 

CSF believes that when parents have real choices in their children’s education, children have better chances at success in school; and the data have borne this out. A Harvard study found that CSF parents were about five times more likely to give their children’s schools an “A” than public school parents. CSF scholarship recipients are more likely to graduate than their public school peers, as demonstrated by studies in the Bay Area, Charlotte, Denver, and Philadelphia. Studies of CSF students in Baltimore, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Memphis, and Philadelphia found their test scores were higher than those of their counterparts in nearby public schools. Harvard evaluations of the CSF program in three cities (New York, Washington, D.C., and Dayton) showed that scholarships narrow the achievement gap between black and white students in math and reading by about half.

 

The private schools CSF students attend typically spend one-third to one-half what neighboring public schools spend per student with much better results (the average tuition for CSF students in 2011-12 was $4,020). CSF scholarships demonstrate that a relatively small philanthropic investment (the average scholarship award was $1,579 in 2011-12), combined with a contribution from the parent, can provide a private school education and a better chance of graduating from high school.

 

Ted Forstmann once said, “Every child, regardless of their parents’ income, should have access to a quality education―an education that will not only prepare them for successful private lives, but help them to build cohesive communities and a strong democracy. We believe if you give parents a choice, you will give their children a chance.”

 

Today, nearly half the children born into poverty will stay in poverty as adults, but a key path to changing that outcome is an education that leads to high school graduation and future employment. CSF helps empower parents to put their children on that path. Thanks to the generosity of Forstmann, Walton, and every donor at the local and national levels who have supported this unique charity, more than 130,000 children have been a given that chance.

 

Will you join with the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland in helping low-income Oregon children get a hand up in life with a solid elementary education? When matched by a grant from the national Children’s Scholarship Fund, your gift of any size helps a low-income child attend a private school. You can give securely online at cascadepolicy.org/links/children.

 

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute and Director of the privately funded Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland, which provides partial tuition scholarships to Oregon elementary students from lower-income families.

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National School Choice Week

Please join us for Cascade’s second Policy Picnic theme for the month of January! Cascade Founder and Senior Policy Analyst, Steve Buckstein, will be leading a discussion on School Choice in Oregon on Wednesday, January 30, at noon.

Join other local supporters of School Choice in celebrating National School Choice Week for this Policy Picnic!

Steve will talk about the history of school choice in Oregon, why it’s such an important issue, and how we can get more of it.

Admission is free. Please bring your own lunch. Coffee and cookies will be served. Space is limited to ten guests on a first come, first served basis, so sign up early. To RSVP, email Patrick Schmitt at patrick@cascadepolicy.org or call 503-242-0900.

Sponsored by

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Making College Even More Expensive

Governor Kitzhaber has decreed that by 2025, 40 percent of Oregonians should have earned at least a four-year college degree, 40 percent should have a two-year degree, and the remaining 20 percent should have a high school diploma or its equivalent.

 

Now, State Treasurer Ted Wheeler wants taxpayers to help pay the rising cost of those college degrees and offset the “soaring debt” students are incurring. His Opportunity Initiative would create a permanent fund to “….both increase student aid grants in the short-term, and also put Oregon on a path toward a long-term solution to the problem.”

 

Unfortunately, it likely will do just the opposite. Third-party funding from the state or federal government actually raises higher education costs as institutions increase tuitions to grab that extra cash.

 

That would be bad enough; but it will be even worse, because the Treasurer proposes to finance this cool new scholarship fund with $500 million in general obligation bonds in 2014 and smaller bond issues over the next thirty years. The revenue generated from the bond proceeds will be dedicated to student assistance, with the hope that in 30 years that revenue can cover the so-called “needs gap” for two years of post-secondary education for every Oregon student. Whether or not the investment assumptions of the proposal work out, taxpayers will be on the hook to repay the bonds plus interest long into the future.

 

Worse yet, there is even evidence that more government funding of higher education actually translates to slower state economic growth. That’s likely because individuals know their own needs better than politicians do, so leaving the money in private hands produces better economic results.

 

Academics such as Charles Murray, Richard Vedder, and Carl Bankstron go further, arguing that four-year degrees aren’t what they used to be and that state funding simply wastes precious financial and human resources.

 

Whatever the value of a college degree to an individual, it’s becoming clear that state funding of those degrees is likely to cost taxpayers more than they gain.

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

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America’s Bloated School Bureaucracies

By Benjamin Scafidi, Ph.D.

America’s public schools are bloated with bureaucracy and skinny on results. But by adopting a stricter diet, states could realize savings that would benefit students, empower their parents, and reward great teachers.

 

Nationwide since 1950, the number of public school administrative and non-teaching positions has soared 702 percent, while the student population increased just 96 percent. Over that same period, teachers’ numbers also increased―252 percent―but still far short of administrators and non-teaching personnel.

 

Notably, that hiring trend has been just as prominent over the past two decades. From 1992 to 2009, students’ numbers increased 17 percent, whereas administrators and other non-teaching staff rose 46 percent. And during that time, some states actually lost students yet kept hiring more non-teachers.

 

For instance, in Hawaii, student enrollment in public schools jumped about 3 percent while non-teaching personnel grew almost 69 percent. In the District of Columbia, the student population declined some 15 percent, while non-teaching personnel increased 42 percent.

 

Of course, those hiring patterns might be warranted if students’ academic gains kept pace. Academic outcomes, however, have not experienced similar growth. Public high school graduation rates peaked around 1970, and government data show reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) fell slightly between 1992 and 2008. Math scores on the NAEP Long-Term Trend were stagnant during the same period.

 

Such irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars is indefensible. As state leaders continue to find ways to keep their fiscal houses in order, they shouldn’t fret that today’s economy is causing some to trim fat in public schools. It will serve teachers, students, and taxpayers well.

 

For example, had non-teaching personnel increased at the same rate as students nationwide, American public schools would have an additional $24.3 billion annually―funds that could be used to give quality teachers raises, scholarships to students in need, relief to taxpayers, or some other worthy purpose. For some states (like Oregon, Washington, and Idaho), savings would be in the millions; for others (like California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio), they’re in the billions.

 

The reallocation of those savings toward students and teachers would make America’s education system far less top-heavy―a needed transition, particularly when compared with our international competitors. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States spends more of its taxpayer funds for public schools on non-teaching personnel―and less on teachers―relative to other OECD members. In 2007, American public schools spent 54.8 percent of operating expenditures on teachers, while the average for all OECD nations was 63.8 percent. At the same time, American public schools devoted 25.7 percent of operating expenditures to non-teaching staff; the OECD average was only 14.9 percent. Thus, American public schools spend around 72 percent more on non-teaching staff as a proportion of their operating budgets relative to the other nations in the OECD. It is worth mentioning that overall spending per student in American public schools ranks among the very highest in OECD nations.

 

There is evidence Americans would support reductions in public school staffing. According to 2012 polling data by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, 69 percent of adults surveyed favor “reducing the number of district-level administrators to the bare minimum” as a “good way to save money because it means cutting bureaucracy without hurting classrooms.” Only 20 percent said it was “a bad way to save money because districts need strong leadership and good leaders cost money.”

 

If parents―like those in the Fordham survey―had a say in the direction of America’s schools, institutions of learning would look far different. Such empowerment would bring about greater efficiency and productivity as parents choose less-bloated schools where the taxpayer funding for their children’s education can go the furthest.

 

Benjamin Scafidi, Ph.D. is a senior fellow with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and a guest contributor to Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market research organization.

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America’s Bloated School Bureaucracies

By Benjamin Scafidi, Ph.D.

America’s public schools are bloated with bureaucracy and skinny on results. But by adopting a stricter diet, states could realize savings that would benefit students, empower their parents, and reward great teachers.

 

Nationwide since 1950, the number of public school administrative and non-teaching positions has soared 702 percent, while the student population increased just 96 percent. Over that same period, teachers’ numbers also increased―252 percent―but still far short of administrators and non-teaching personnel.

 

Notably, that hiring trend has been just as prominent over the past two decades. From 1992 to 2009, students’ numbers increased 17 percent, whereas administrators and other non-teaching staff rose 46 percent. And during that time, some states actually lost students yet kept hiring more non-teachers.

 

For instance, in Hawaii, student enrollment in public schools jumped about 3 percent while non-teaching personnel grew almost 69 percent. In the District of Columbia, the student population declined some 15 percent, while non-teaching personnel increased 42 percent.

 

Of course, those hiring patterns might be warranted if students’ academic gains kept pace. Academic outcomes, however, have not experienced similar growth. Public high school graduation rates peaked around 1970, and government data show reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) fell slightly between 1992 and 2008. Math scores on the NAEP Long-Term Trend were stagnant during the same period.

 

Such irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars is indefensible. As state leaders continue to find ways to keep their fiscal houses in order, they shouldn’t fret that today’s economy is causing some to trim fat in public schools. It will serve teachers, students, and taxpayers well.

 

For example, had non-teaching personnel increased at the same rate as students nationwide, American public schools would have an additional $24.3 billion annually―funds that could be used to give quality teachers raises, scholarships to students in need, relief to taxpayers, or some other worthy purpose. For some states (like Oregon, Washington, and Idaho), savings would be in the millions; for others (like California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio), they’re in the billions.

 

The reallocation of those savings toward students and teachers would make America’s education system far less top-heavy―a needed transition, particularly when compared with our international competitors. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States spends more of its taxpayer funds for public schools on non-teaching personnel―and less on teachers―relative to other OECD members. In 2007, American public schools spent 54.8 percent of operating expenditures on teachers, while the average for all OECD nations was 63.8 percent. At the same time, American public schools devoted 25.7 percent of operating expenditures to non-teaching staff; the OECD average was only 14.9 percent. Thus, American public schools spend around 72 percent more on non-teaching staff as a proportion of their operating budgets relative to the other nations in the OECD. It is worth mentioning that overall spending per student in American public schools ranks among the very highest in OECD nations.

 

There is evidence Americans would support reductions in public school staffing. According to 2012 polling data by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, 69 percent of adults surveyed favor “reducing the number of district-level administrators to the bare minimum” as a “good way to save money because it means cutting bureaucracy without hurting classrooms.” Only 20 percent said it was “a bad way to save money because districts need strong leadership and good leaders cost money.”

 

If parents―like those in the Fordham survey―had a say in the direction of America’s schools, institutions of learning would look far different. Such empowerment would bring about greater efficiency and productivity as parents choose less-bloated schools where the taxpayer funding for their children’s education can go the furthest.

Benjamin Scafidi, Ph.D. is a senior fellow with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and a guest contributor to Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market research organization.

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Why Washington’s Parents Will Love Charter Schools

By Liv Finne

Many parents are pleased voters have passed Initiative 1240, the ballot measure to allow charter schools in Washington state. This is especially true of parents whose children are trapped in failing inner-city schools. Earlier this year Representative Eric Pettigrew, speaking for many low-income families in his South Seattle district, put it this way:

 

“…[E]very year in our district for the last 15, 20 years, maybe longer there’s been a gap – an achievement gap of the students, there’s been a drop-out rate that’s been just unacceptable as far as I’m concerned. And all I’m asking in this [charter school] legislation is an opportunity to move forward and move forward quickly.”

 

Today, in 41 states across the country, 2.1 million students attend public charter schools. This is a fraction of the 55 million students in the U.S., but their parents are glad to have this opportunity. Word is spreading fast among parents that charter schools create environments well suited to student learning. Waiting lists at charter schools have swollen from about 400,000 students just two years ago to 610,000 students today.

 

Defenders of the status quo fear charter schools because they see them as a threat to funding for conventional public schools, even ones that fail to educate students. Actually, charter schools take no money out of public education, for the simple reason that charter schools operate within the public education system. Charter schools do, however, offer a new choice for parents, a choice many of them enthusiastically embrace.

 

Charter schools offer innovative ways to deliver a public school education. Some charter schools offer the famous Montessori school program. Others use cutting-edge computer programs customized to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Some charter schools specialize in science and math. Others help special needs students, like the new charter school in New Jersey for autistic children.

 

Charter schools are generally smaller than conventional public schools. On average, a charter school enrolls 372 students, about 22% fewer than most other public schools. This allows charter schools to provide more personal attention to students and promotes a feeling of community and security within the school.

 

Many charter schools require student uniforms. Parents often like charter schools for this reason alone. They know that putting on special clothes for school puts children in the right frame of mind for study and learning.

 

Charter schools often have stronger disciplinary policies. Many parents are concerned that conventional public schools expect too little from students in the way of behavior and self-control.

 

Charter schools set high expectations for learning because they must educate students or they risk losing their charter license. Many charter schools outperform neighboring conventional schools, like Massachusetts’ Commonwealth charters, the Knowledge Is Power Program schools in Texas, or California’s Green Dot charters. These schools have either eliminated or significantly narrowed the academic achievement gap.

 

Charter schools set flexible schedules to meet the needs of students. The rigid rules in conventional schools continually distract students from important work in the classroom. Even simple schedule changes require lengthy union negotiations, and many parents wonder whether instruction time for children is being sacrificed to the priorities of adults.

 

Parents in a charter school have a real voice in their local school. They can talk to the school principal and to the members of the charter school board. These local school leaders know they must educate students in order to attract families or face financial pressures to close the school.

 

The charter school structure provides a high level of accountability―to students, to parents, and to the community. In contrast, conventional elected school boards are often more responsive to powerful interest groups than to the concerns of parents.

 

Giving Rep. Pettigrew’s constituents a charter school option is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. People in many Washington communities are happy with their schools and see no need to change. That’s fine, but parents in districts that are allowing too many kids to fail will love charter schools.

Liv Finne is the education director at Washington Policy Center, a non-partisan independent policy research organization in Washington state. She holds a law degree from Boston University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wellesley College. Liv is a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

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Why Washington’s Teachers Will Love Charter Schools

By Liv Finne

Mr. Bob Dean is a public school teacher and a supporter of Initiative 1240, the ballot measure voters passed this November to allow public charter schools in Washington state. He is the head of his school’s Math Department, teaches Advanced Placement calculus, and is a past member of the State Board of Education Math Advisory Panel. Mr. Dean describes what teachers must endure in traditional schools today:

 

“The public doesn’t understand that today teachers are being told what to teach, how to teach, when to teach and now even how they will grade, and who they will pass or fail. They are forced to use unproven methods that fly in the face of their professional judgment and then blamed for the shoddy results.”

 

Charter schools offer teachers an escape from the unfair burdens imposed on them by traditional school administrators. How do charter schools liberate teachers? Here are six ways.

 

First, teachers in charter schools have the freedom to design their own educational program and to choose the best curriculum for their students. Teachers in traditional schools have to follow orders from so-called “curriculum experts” sitting at desks in the central district, who often require teachers to use unproven teaching methods and curricula.  For example, “curriculum experts” require Seattle teachers to use a “Reform Math” curriculum that does not work well in teaching children math.

 

Second, teachers in charter schools can offer real input into how the school’s money is spent. Under Initiative 1240, charter school principals and teachers will be able to buy the materials, books, and technology they need to help their students. Central district administrators, by contrast, make virtually all spending decisions for local schools and consume precious resources in the process, delivering to schools less than 80% of the funding they should receive.

 

Third, principals and teachers in charter schools can establish a daily schedule that best meets everyone’s needs. One charter school in Arizona, Carpe Diem Charter School, uses technology to provide instruction during a longer school day, then allows students to take Fridays off, and still achieves better learning results for students. Teachers in traditional schools have no control over the daily school schedule.

 

Fourth, teachers in charter schools are evaluated on their performance on an individualized, humane basis by a high-quality principal who knows them well. Teachers in traditional schools in Washington state will soon be evaluated on a complex checklist of factors, reduced to a matrix of numbers, which cannot possibly capture a teacher’s unique and quintessentially singular ability to motivate and inspire students to learn.

 

Fifth, teachers in charter schools benefit from the principal’s ability to place an effective teacher in every classroom. Teachers in traditional schools often receive students in their classrooms who are behind because teachers in earlier grades failed to prepare students properly. Just one weak teacher in a school has a detrimental ripple effect on the many good teachers who receive that teacher’s students in later grades.

 

Sixth, teachers in charter schools are generally happier as professionals because they are allowed to decide what to teach, how to teach, and how to evaluate their own students’ progress. Teachers in traditional schools have seen their authority eroded, as legislatures and district administrators force them to follow the latest education fads. Excellence in education cannot be standardized or mass-produced. Excellence can only be achieved when the principal and teachers work as a team and have the tools they need to deliver quality instruction.

 

Charter schools are an effective antidote to the growing standardization of traditional schools. Charter schools allow teachers the freedom to use their ingenuity, creativity, and energy to individualize the education they offer students.

 

This freedom in the classroom is why charter school teachers in other states have been so successful at educating children, especially the most at-risk and disadvantaged kids. This freedom-to-teach is why teachers in Washington state will love charter schools, now that voters have approved Initiative 1240.

Liv Finne is the education director at Washington Policy Center, a non-partisan independent policy research organization in Washington state. She holds a law degree from Boston University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wellesley College. Liv is a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

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Why Has Non-Teaching Staff Surged in Oregon Public Schools?

By James L. Huffman, JD

Associate editor of The Oregonian Susan Nielsen says that Governor Kitzhaber and the legislature face a parent rebellion if they don’t figure out how to reduce class sizes pronto. (“Big classes, fed-up families: As Kitzhaber plans for later, parents ask about now,” November 11). Nielsen is surely right that today’s parents won’t wait for the new top-down education bureaucracy while it studies how to educate tomorrow’s kids.

 

But Nielsen’s reference to “a tiny support staff” as part of the problem is puzzling in light of a recent report, entitled “The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools.” The report provides a state-by-state accounting of the growth in public school enrollment and employment since 1950. Some will be suspect of the report because it is published by the pro-school-choice Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. But the data all comes from the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education, so it warrants attention.

 

The bottom line for the nation is that, between 1950 and 2009, public school employment growth has outstripped public school enrollment growth by a factor of four. In other words, student enrollment has increased by 96 percent, and total public school staffing has increased by 386 percent. Between 1992 and 2009 the numbers look a little better, but personnel growth still out-stripped student growth 39 percent to 17 percent.

 

What are all of these new public school employees doing? A significant number of them are teachers. Between 1950 and 2009 student enrollment roughly doubled, while the number of teachers increased by 252 percent. Between 1992 and 2009 the growth rates were 17 percent for students and 32 percent for teachers. One would expect that with student-teacher ratios declining from 27.5 in 1950 to 15.4 in 2009, there would be a significant improvement in student achievement. But no―according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, reading scores have declined and math scores have remained level over the past two decades.

 

Even more revealing is the change in pupil-staff (as opposed to pupil-teacher) ratio. It was 19.3 in 1950 and 7.8 in 2009. While student enrollment increased 96 percent, non-teaching administrative and support staff increased 702 percent. The authors of the report estimate that if non-teaching personnel had grown at the same rate as student enrollment and the number of teachers had grown “only” 1.5 times as fast as enrollment, the nation’s public schools would have an additional $37.2 billion to spend each year. That’s enough to give every public school teacher in the nation an $11,700 raise, or to help local governments fund other public needs, or even to give taxpayers significant relief.

 

The picture in Oregon is both worse and worse. From 1992 to 2009 Oregon public school enrollment increased by 15 percent, while the number of teachers grew by 13 percent. Oregon was one of only three states with an uptick in the student-teacher ratio, which is to say a decrease in the number of teachers relative to students. But during that same period, administrators and other non-teaching staff grew by 47 percent—more than three times as fast as student growth. With slightly less enrollment growth than the national average, Oregon has managed to exceed the national average in non-teaching staff growth.

 

If class size really does make a difference, and 37 years of teaching persuade me that it does, Oregon has been putting its limited education resources in the wrong place. Our student-teacher ratio has risen while our student-administrator ratio has dramatically fallen. Of course, it varies from one school district to another; but Oregonians in general should be asking why those who run our public schools have seen fit to increase their own ranks at three times the rate of growth in student enrollment while allowing for a small decline in the number of teachers relative to students.

 

A cynic might say the question answers itself.

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Steve Buckstein debates the merits of Measure 85

Steve Buckstein spoke to the Washington County Public Affairs Forum in September where he spoke out in opposition to Measure 85, a ballot initiative tasked with taking away Oregon’s corporate kicker.

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Charters Can Expand Children’s Options in the Evergreen State

By Paul Guppy

The school bell rings, and rows of eager young faces turn expectantly to the front of the class as the teacher begins the day’s lesson. These students look forward to graduation day, when they hope to embark on a future made brighter by a good public education. Sadly, for nearly half the students at some public schools, that day will never come. They will drop out instead.

Why would loving parents tolerate a school that fails to educate their children? Often it is because they have no choice. District officials assign students to schools, primarily based on their ZIP codes, and many families can’t afford private school tuition.

Charter schools, which have existed for over 20 years, are an alternative within public education which can give parents and children another option besides traditional neighborhood public schools. Today, 41 states and the District of Columbia have charters, serving about two million children attending nearly 5,600 schools. A further 600,000 students are on waiting lists.

Charter schools are community-based, tuition-free, and open to all students. They must meet academic standards and provide the same equal treatment and public safety protections as other public schools.

Thirteen years after Oregon’s charter school law was passed, 115 charters operate in Oregon. Washington State has no charters, but voters there have a chance to change that in November. Washington’s Initiative 1240 would create a modest charter school program. The initiative would allow up to 40 public charter schools over five years within the state system of 2,345-schools, with up to eight new schools allowed each year. Priority would be given to charter schools serving at-risk children or students attending low-performing schools.

Charter schools allow principals flexibility in areas like scheduling, teacher hiring, budgeting, curriculum, and community relations. A charter school can offer longer instructional hours and be open to students on evenings and weekends, regardless of central district rules.

Charter school enrollment is voluntary. If more families apply than there are spaces available, students are chosen by lottery. Charter schools cannot discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, disability, or other protected categories .

Several large-scale studies show charter schools perform better in educating hard-to-teach students than do conventional public schools. For example, a Massachusetts study found that “Charter Schools in Boston are making real progress in breaking the persistent connection between poverty and poor [academic] results.” Researchers found that New York City charter school students scored 31 points higher in math and 23 points higher in English than similar students in nearby schools.

Charter schools have become a well-established educational option in Oregon and across the country. Enrollment is growing in schools which are in high demand by parents. Oregon’s Corbett Charter School was ranked second in the nation by the Washington Post in 2012.

Charter schools can play an important role in helping parents successfully educate their children. Unfortunately, defenders of the educational status quo in Washington (like defenders of the status quo elsewhere) vigorously oppose allowing charters to open there. Parents deserve better. The vast majority of Washington’s public schools would be unaffected; but for many low-income and minority children, access to a charter school could prove to be their best chance for a better life. It’s time that Washington parents had more control over the educational options available to their children―options currently available in most other states. Washington voters have the opportunity this November to make that happen.

Paul Guppy is the vice president for research at Washington Policy Center, a non-partisan independent policy research organization in Washington State. He is a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

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Won’t Back Down

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 which opened everywhere last Friday, 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 school children 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. Parents, taxpayers, and movie fans alike will find Won’t Back Down worth the ticket price. See it soon.

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

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Oregon’s Real Education Spending Has Quadrupled Since 1957

Advocates on all sides of the public education spending-versus-results debate can cite various statistics to make their respective cases. Some argue that more money leads to better results. Others (myself included) cite studies that show spending more dollars per student―at least in the ways our public school system has spent them―makes little or no difference in educational outcomes.

Now, another fascinating fact has come to light. Oregonian education reporter Betsy Hammond recently wrote an article about what she found in an old 1957 U.S. Census document entitled “Finances of School Districts.”It turns out that Oregon spent more per pupil that year than any other state―a whopping $356, which was almost 40 percent more than the national median of $256. Of course, these were “current operating expenditures” and likely excluded items such as construction and debt service, which today raise total per pupil spending on the order of sixteen percent.

While Hammond didn’t inflation-adjust those numbers to what they would be today, it’s easy enough to do. Using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Consumer Price Index Calculator, Oregon’s $356 in per student spending in 1957 dollars is the equivalent of about $2,919 in today’s dollars.

So, what are we actually spending per pupil in Oregon today? The latest full data reported by the nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, shows Oregon spent $11,391 per enrolled student in the 2009-10 school year. That’s nearly four times what we spent in 1957. And while it is about four percent below what was being spent nationally ($11,841), when you compare that difference to the fact that per capita income of Oregonians recently has been almost nine percent below the national average, you will see that Oregonians are actually funding our public schools at a higher level than the nation, compared to our ability to pay.

Even acknowledging that there are slightly different ways to count students (enrolled, average daily membership, fall enrollment, etc.) and different ways to tally spending (current or total), the order of magnitude between what we spent in 1957 and what we spent recently is so large that such differences pale in comparison.

Any way you look at the numbers, after adjusting for inflation, Oregon is spending several times what we spent per public school student in 1957. So, what are we getting for that increase?

State by state educational outcome comparisons are hard to come by for the 1950s, but more recently the national publication Education Week has rated all state school systems on a number of criteria. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, Oregon ranked 43rd overall, which gave us a C- report card score. On K-12 Student Achievement alone, we rated a D all three years. Unless Oregon rated an F on some similar scale in 1957, it is hard to see how spending nearly four times as much per student as we spent then is giving us any appreciable bang for our harder-to-come-by bucks.

So, rather than look for ways to spend in real terms, say, five times what we did in 1957, we should let families spend the dollars we do have on the public, private, religious, or home schools of their choice. School choice breaks up the monopoly control of teachers unions and the educational establishment. Unleashing consumer power gets more bang for the buck in other areas of the economy; it’s time to put it to work in education.

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Agassi Foundation for Education Is Tennis Great’s “Life’s Work”

Last Sunday tennis great Andre Agassi was inducted into the U.S. Open Court of Champions. Agassi is famous for regaining his #1 world tennis ranking after falling to #141. But today, he helps children in need of a quality education pull off their own extraordinary achievements. Since his retirement, the eight-time Grand Slam winner has dedicated his time, effort, and financial resources to developing charter schools for at-risk children as an alternative to failing conventional public schools.

“Education is a tool a child can use to create their own life and hopefully change the world,” Agassi explained. “…But once you start, you can’t stop….What are you going to do then? Send them back into a failing system?…[S]uccess is going to be these children coming back to their community and making a difference in the next generation.”

“The [Andre Agassi Foundation for Education] is my heart and soul,” Agassi has said. “It’s my life’s work. It’s my future.”

Innovative schools like Agassi’s succeed because the people behind them are results-oriented, entrepreneurial, and committed to making decisions that are professionally, fiscally, and educationally sound, maximizing the impact of the private philanthropic investments they work hard to raise. If Andre Agassi puts half the passion into education reform that he put into advancing his tennis career, America’s at-risk children can only come out winners.

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

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“Kicking” Education Funding Around―Why Measure 85 may not do what you think

This November, Oregon voters will be asked to direct a highly uncertain, highly volatile, and relatively small amount of income tax money into the state’s General Fund, supposedly to help school children.

If Measure 85 would surely benefit kids, we might have a serious debate about it. But it won’t.

Measure 85 was placed on the ballot by several public employee unions. It would take any future corporate kicker money from businesses that paid those taxes and redirect it into the state’s General Fund to “…provide additional funding for public education, kindergarten through twelfth grade.”

As most taxpayers know, the “kicker law” requires state economists to estimate how much income tax revenue will be generated over each two-year budget period. If actual revenue exceeds the estimate by two percent or more, the entire surplus is returned to those taxpayers who earned it.

The kicker law covers both personal and corporate income taxes. The vast majority of income tax money comes from individuals. Corporate income tax receipts are often highly volatile and recently amounted to only seven percent of General Fund revenue.

Some argue that the way the kicker “kicks” makes little sense, because it is terribly difficult to estimate state revenue two years out. Others defend the law as an important brake on runaway government spending, especially since Oregon has no other strong tax or expenditure limitations.

Whether the kicker is good or bad policy, Measure 85 does not guarantee any benefit to public education, even though it implies that it will. This is because the General Fund can be allocated to various government programs at the full discretion of the legislature. So-called “Other Funds” are dedicated for specific purposes, as are federal funds the state receives. The General Fund is called that for a reason—it’s the one pot of money legislators can allocate at their discretion.

When asked whether Measure 85 guarantees more funding for public schools, the legislature’s Chief Deputy Legislative Counsel said in writing, “I think the answer to your question is no….[Measure 85] does not require the Legislative Assembly to appropriate a total amount of moneys from the General Fund to K-12 public education that is greater than what it might appropriate under current law.”

Of course, if Measure 85 passes, legislators will spend any future corporate kicker money on public education as it requires, but they then can turn right around and spend less than they otherwise might have on public education from the rest of the General Fund. Voters will have no way of knowing whether Measure 85 will result in more spending on public education or not.

Why? Because any new money in the General Fund will attract “special interests” arguing that they need some or all of that money for their own programs. And, those “special interests” may be some of the same public employee unions that put Measure 85 on the ballot in the first place. In particular, they might be unions whose members work in agencies not involved with public education.

This is the way the legislative process works now, and it will work virtually the same way if Measure 85 passes.

The fact that Measure 85 won’t ensure any additional spending on public education should be reason enough for voters to reject it. They also should oppose it because there are better ways to reform the kicker law. Reform could place all corporate and personal kicker money into a rainy day fund. Or, the entire kicker law could be replaced with a strong state spending limitation tied to the growth of population and inflation.

Whichever reform voters prefer, Measure 85 is arguably the worst way to reform the kicker. It will take money from the private sector and let state government grow without any assurance that Oregon’s school kids benefit at all. It should be rejected in November.

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Lisa Graham Keegan discusses the importance of school choice

Cascade Policy Institute sat down with former Arizona school chief and national school choice advocate Lisa Graham Keegan to talk about how she became a supporter of educational freedom and why it’s important for our children.

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Why the School System Doesn’t Just “Buy Local”

By Erin Mae Shiffler

The Oregonian’s recent PolitiFact “Feds Don’t Think Local on School Lunch Ingredients” was prompted by Senator Ron Wyden’s complaint that “Oregon schools receive millions of dollars per year in federal school lunch assistance and yet they are required to spend that money almost anywhere but Oregon.” Politifact concluded that Wyden’s claim was “true” because “96% of food served in Oregon schools and purchased with federal dollars came from another state.” This is a false conclusion. Just because the “one definitive document” cited shows that most school food comes from out of state doesn’t mean it is required to come from out of state.

Oregon schools are not “required” to spend federal school lunch money outside Oregon. For the largest portion of their purchasing budget, schools must obtain food products through a competitive bidding process that also includes quality and nutrition standards.

Requiring food suppliers to bid makes sure schools do not favor suppliers unfairly. The bidding process allows schools to receive bids from local producers and suppliers throughout the country. Producers which meet quality and nutrition standards at the lowest cost will be chosen. Schools cannot afford to discriminate against out-of-state suppliers in favor of local food sources because they have a limited budget with which to feed the whole student population.

The other aspects of this process that may impede local suppliers are the nutrition and quality standards. These standards may increase the cost of food and make it harder for Oregon’s farms to produce items up to par while simultaneously underbidding producers in states like California. But standards are applied across the board, not just to Oregon suppliers. These standards include criteria such as: lunches must provide at least one-third of the recommended dietary allowances for key nutrients, they may have no more than 30 percent of their calories from fat, they must have less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat, they must reduce sodium levels whenever possible, and they must increase fiber content whenever possible.

According to the article, Sen. Wyden assumes that local produce is more nutritious than food from out of state, but this may not be true. According to Cynthia Sass, Nutrition Director for Prevention magazine (January 2008): “A lot of people think fresh is best, but believe it or not, frozen produce is even more nutrient packed. That’s because the moment produce is picked, it starts to lose nutrients, but freezing slows that loss. A 2007 study found that vitamin C content of fresh broccoli plummeted 56% in 7 days, but dipped just 10% in a year’s time when frozen. In addition, the levels of disease-fighting antioxidants called anthocyanins actually increased after freezing.” This is just another reason why schools may choose to buy from outside Oregon.

A small portion of Oregon schools’ purchasing budget must be spent on specific items from the USDA’s program and is called “commodity money.” Commodity money is an extra $0.2225 per lunch served the previous school year. The bulk of the federally funded budget is non-commodity money that is reimbursed depending on the student’s status. For schools with less than 60% of children qualifying for free/reduced price lunches, the reimbursement rates are $0.26 for paid, $2.37 for reduced price, and $2.77 for free lunches. The rates are even higher in schools with more than 60% eligible.

According to a study of the commodity program done by the Food Research and Action Center, “when only expenditures on food are included in the calculation, the value of the commodities makes up about one-fifth of the federal resources spent on food for school lunch.” This means that four-fifths of the money is subject to the requirements above and do not need to be purchased from the USDA’s list of food. If a school found better quality items at lower prices through bids from Oregon suppliers, then they could spend about 80% of their federal funds here in Oregon.

If we are only spending 4% in Oregon, there are several possible reasons. It could be because the supply locally costs too much, lacks in quality, local suppliers are not bidding for the schools’ business, non-commodity money is following the commodity money to a single supplier to make buying easier, or the person at the school district in charge of buying food doesn’t have time to personally contact all of the small local providers that could supply cheaper and better quality food.

Oregon schools do not refuse to buy from Oregon suppliers because federal restrictions require them to buy outside Oregon or from any particular supplier. If we want to increase sales to local vendors, then local farms and food producers must offer bids for high-quality products at competitive prices. This scenario is incorrectly being used to promote the “buy local” mentality when in reality, buying local right now would only hurt the kids this program is supposed to feed because higher food prices would decrease the quantity that can be purchased. If our schools are buying food from anywhere but Oregon, don’t blame the federal government. Instead, figure out why Oregon suffers from a lack of locally available quality and low-cost food options.

Erin Mae Shiffler is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She is a student at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

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Portland’s Proposed “Arts Education Tax”― Why Creativity and Government Subsidies Are Fundamentally at Odds

By Shane Young

The “Arts Education and Access Income Tax” proposed by Portland Mayor Sam Adams aims to hire more elementary school art teachers and fund local arts organizations by implementing a $35-per-year income tax (maximum) on all residents 18 years old and older who live above the poverty line. The City of Portland is promoting the levy, expected to raise $12 million annually, on the grounds that art education in public schools is vulnerable to budget cuts relative to schools’ other academic priorities.

Numerous criticisms of the tax measure have been raised, including the likelihood that the tax as constructed would be unconstitutional under Oregon law. It also can be noted that it is not the proper function of city government to levy this kind of tax, since the Portland School Board has primary jurisdiction over funding public education in Portland and has its own tax base. Even the editorial board of The Oregonian opposed the ballot measure on the grounds that art education, while valuable, doesn’t merit a dedicated tax. According to the board, Portlanders have “plenty of opportunities and incentives to support” the arts and art education, including a state income tax credit.

The proposed tax measure can and should be opposed on any or all of these grounds, but there is another reason why levying a tax to benefit art fails on principle. Portlanders should recognize what makes art so important to begin with and why government involvement and taxpayer subsidies are at odds with its purpose.

Art allows us to develop and foster creativity. It allows us to take chances and risks. It allows us to make sure that the diverse realm of ideas remains constantly expanding. Because of these benefits that art gives us, Portland should be cautious about putting creativity and diversity, the heart and soul of art, into jeopardy through dedicated, taxpayer funding of government-selected arts institutions.

Unlike the sciences, music, painting, sculpting, photography, poetry, and the many other constantly growing categories of art, have no black-and-white criteria with which to determine their success. In fact, many times art is admired, and established into history, because of its willingness to stray from the standard. It is this very deviation from the norm that allows creativity and diversity, the things art should be praised for in the first place, to flourish.

By allowing the city to take over more responsibility for the artistic growth of children, and to fund organizations solely of its choosing, taxpayers give city bureaucrats complete control over defining what exactly “art” is―and, furthermore, what “good” art is―for the purposes of public funding. Taxes thus will go to promoting one art form over another―and one standard of “good” art over another.

This isn’t to say that artistic development and success do not require discipline and some kind of formal guidance in an art class―it almost always does. Yet, because of the diverse nature of art, and the wide range of criteria used to judge its quality, this discipline and guidance must happen at a much more specialized and intimate level than what the city can or should provide. Therefore, if people are not satisfied with the art education available in Portland’s public schools, they should take The Oregonian’s advice and support the arts on an individual level.

Instead of increasing dedicated spending on the arts through taxation for the benefit of public schools and selected nonprofits, Portlanders should supplement the current art activities in schools, as they choose, with a willingness to allow and encourage children to individually explore the arts for themselves. Financially contributing directly to the areas in which children are interested, rather than simply allowing the city to mass-regulate artistic creativity and diversity, honors and respects the nature of creative expression. This November, Portlanders should allow future generations to answer the age-old question of “What is art?” for themselves, rather than hand city government more taxpayer money to answer it for them.

Shane Young is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. He is a student at Whitman College.

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Charting a New World of Educational Freedom

School choice has entered a new world. Because Americans are increasingly vocal on providing parents the ability to choose their children’s schools, states are adopting broad-based school choice initiatives. Those successes can be attributed to various individuals, groups, and campaigns nationwide. However, it is school choice’s “Christopher Columbus” who deserves recognition for starting this movement more than 50 years ago.

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

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

Because of vested interests in the education arena, Friedman’s suggestions were ignored. And, as a result, the cost of public education doubled while its academic performance stayed the same. As Friedman noted, that shouldn’t come as a surprise because that’s exactly what monopolies do: They offer a product of similar, if not worse, value at a higher price than normally would be allowed if they had to compete in the free market.

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

Because of that sentiment and cash crunch, last year a historic number of choice programs were enacted across the country. Substantiating that momentum, the Wall Street Journal called 2011 “The Year of School Choice.”

Today, 18 states and the District of Columbia provide some type of private school choice for their residents. And more states continue to come online. Already in 2012, Virginia has joined the school choice “family;” New Hampshire’s legislature has passed a school choice measure; Florida and Arizona expanded their programs; and Louisiana dramatically increased the scope of its school voucher program. Oregon is behind the curve, with no significant private school choice programs―yet. But widening charter school and online school options hopefully will soon lead to more school choice for all Oregon children.

Of course, no state has followed Friedman’s vision entirely―i.e., school choice for all families. Indiana and Louisiana are close, in that both make more than half their states’ student populations eligible.

But Friedman’s vision was not for school choice to be just another government program. He wanted to see school choice fundamentally change the way public education operates from its current structure that supports schools to a better model that empowers parents. Both rich families and poor ones can receive government funding when their kids use public schools. And both rich and poor should be able to receive government funding for their kids to use vouchers.

It took America more than 50 years to reach today’s environment in which parent empowerment in education is celebrated, not ridiculed. Moving forward, the late Milton Friedman’s voucher idea is more important than ever, for it is the tool advocates can use to navigate the new world for school choice they helped discover.

Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, which is participating in July 31st Friedman Legacy for Freedom Day, an international event celebrating the late Milton Friedman on what would have been his 100th birthday.

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Oregon’s Status Quo Lobby: How Teachers Unions Retard Real Education Reform

Oregon’s public education system is beset with problems. Too many students drop out, and too many of those who stay aren’t achieving to the levels we expect. The national publication Education Week ranked Oregon’s public education system 43rd in the nation in 2011, and our K-12 achievement level only earned a D grade last year.[1]

Some people argue that more money will solve our schools’ problems. But with total expenditures now over $11,000 per public school student, according to the nation’s largest teachers union,[2] it’s hard to believe that $330,000 for each 30-student classroom is not enough money to get education right.

What happens in our public school system is driven more by politics than anything else, and for many years the most powerful political force driving education decisions in our state is what we call the Status Quo Lobby. While many children continue to fall through the cracks, this Lobby fights for more of the same: more powerless parents, more powerless principals, more hamstrung teachers, more taxpayer spending, and more control over the decisions parents should make for their own children.

Who is the Status Quo Lobby? Primarily, it’s the Oregon Education Association, the teachers union that represents most public school teachers in this state. The OEA is primarily concerned with the paychecks of its members, not with the achievement and success of Oregon schoolchildren. Unfortunately, what’s best for OEA members’ pocketbooks isn’t necessarily best for our kids’ education. Make no mistake, huge financial interests rest on the bulk of the laws for which they lobby. And, the Status Quo Lobby is often the biggest contributor to political campaigns in Oregon.

In a word, the Status Quo Lobby fights for more centralization, which Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman said is responsible for much of the decline in the public school system over the decades.

In 2006, the year he died, Friedman noted, “When I went to elementary school, a long, long time ago in the 1920s, there were about 150,000 school districts in the United States. Today there are fewer than 15,000, and the population is more than twice as large.”[3] Friedman blamed what he called “your friends in the teachers union” for this centralization and corresponding decline in educational results for America’s children.

The Status Quo Lobby has long claimed to lobby in the name of helping kids. But it itself typically has the most to win or lose―in terms of money and power―when it shows up to a hearing for proposed laws. While children’s futures are at stake, the choices legislators make today often have a delayed impact for kids. The Status Quo Lobby, however, often sees a quick impact to its bottom line.

Because far too many people seem to think these lobbyists are just in it “for the kids,” Cascade Policy Institute has launched a new website called “Enough with the Status Quo Lobby” at www.StatusQuoLobby.com. At this website, Oregonians can discover just who the Status Quo Lobby is, which policies it advocates, and what kinds of results are seen from these policies.

At this site Oregonians also can see just how the Status Quo Lobby stands in the way of real education reform, often labeled “school choice.” Milton Friedman first described school choice in 1955 as letting parents choose which schools their children attend―public, private, religious, or home school―with the money following the student.[4] Most Oregon parents want such choices,[5] and they shouldn’t let the Status Quo Lobby stand in their way.

To help educate voters on how to keep their legislators accountable for their voting on educational policies, the StatusQuoLobby.com website includes a report card grading every legislator during the 2011 legislative session on their votes either supporting the Status Quo Lobby, or supporting school choice for Oregon’s children.

Oregonians also will be able to see how much money the Status Quo Lobby has contributed to each legislator’s campaigns, along with videos of them speaking on policies affecting the education of Oregon’s children.

We urge all Oregonians interested in learning about who is standing in the way of real educational reform in our state to go to www.StatusQuoLobby.com and see for yourselves.

 

Endnotes

[1] Report Awards State Grades for Education Performance, Policy…, Education Week, January 11, 2011

2 National Education Association report Table F-2 (pg 39)

3 Teachers Unions and Public Schools: Who Needs ‘Em?, latimes.com, Bob Sipchen, July 3, 2006

4 The Role of Government in Education, Milton Friedman, Economics and the Public Interest, 1955

5 Nearly Nine of Ten Oregonians Would Opt Out of Regular Public Schools, Cascade Policy Institute, Steve Buckstein, January 5, 2009

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After a Century of Friedman, Parents Should Be “Free to Choose”

By Erin Mae Shiffler

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman would have turned 100 years old on July 31. This will be an opportunity to remember his accomplishments and to celebrate his legacy. Dr. Friedman was thoroughly invested in the cause of educating children by fixing our current school system. He once said, “The only solution is the same solution as we found everywhere else―which is competition. The essence of an effective television industry, an effective telephone industry, an effective computer industry, or an effective mail delivery industry―you name it―is competition. That’s what we need to get in schools.”

Friedman promoted competition among teachers themselves, as well as among schools. By allowing competition, successful and innovative teachers would earn more for their efforts. Schools would obtain more students, and therefore additional revenue, to educate those students, if they were good schools. Poorly performing schools would lose students until they found ways to improve.

Unfortunately, we have not seen this kind of system in Oregon because teachers unions and lobbyists protect teachers at the expense of what is good for students. As parents who want a better education for our kids, we need to promote Dr. Friedman’s ideas in order to push against the current stagnant system. To learn how teachers unions stand in the way of real education reform, and to see if your local representatives are holding back or trying to improve your choices and your child’s education, visit www.statusquolobby.com.

Erin Mae Shiffler is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy think tank.

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Bill Post interviews Sarah Ross on a need for competition in education

KYKN radio host, Bill Post spoke with Cascade Communications Coordinator Sarah Ross on Thursday to discuss the evolution of technology and a need for competition in education.

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Bill Meyer talks with Steve Buckstein about Right to Work in education

KMED host Bill Meyer spoke with Cascade Senior Policy Analyst Steve Buckstein about the philosophy of right to work, education unions, and the Eagle Point School District teacher strikes.

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Bill Meyer talks with Steve Buckstein about right to work in education

KMED host Bill Meyer spoke with Cascade Senior Policy Analyst Steve Buckstein about the philosophy of right to work, education unions, and the Eagle Point School District teacher strikes.

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The Cost of Cutting Online Learning

By Diana Moore

 

This article by the Freedom Foundation’s Diana Moore was originally published on GettingSmart.com.

 

State budgets have been hurting in a bad way. Across the country, legislatures continue to struggle to close deficits while still providing essential services. While cuts have been necessary, the wrong cuts can be devastating and ironically, very costly.

 

On the chopping block time and again has been online learning. This is due to the fact that, financially speaking, there’s a common misunderstanding about how online learning fits into public education. Unfortunately, it is viewed as an extra program, something schools and taxpayers pay more to offer. In reality, online and blended schools are simply alternative methods of delivering a public education. But because of this misunderstanding, legislators continue to go to online learning when making cuts.

 

So why is online learning a costly cut? There are three unique costs when budget cuts force an online program to close.

 

First, cutting funding to online programs can actually cost taxpayers more money.

 

When reduced funding forces an online program to close its doors, it’s likely the majority of students will return to traditional public schools. Each state has its own funding mechanism for online schools, but it’s typically safe to say digital programs receive funding from fewer sources than traditional schools and are therefore more cost-effective. (For example, in Washington, online schools typically don’t receive any local levy funding.)

 

Thus costs increase when students who formerly attended an online school are forced to transfer to a traditional school. In this situation, the only savings comes if students choose to opt out of the public school system altogether and attend a private school or homeschool. Students leaving the public school system should never be considered a viable cost-savings measure.

 

But even more important than the increased expense is the cost to students and their futures when online programs are cut.

 

While simply an alternative to traditional public school (and not an add-on), online programs have the ability to offer much more than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. They create opportunities where none exist, allowing students in every corner of America to get state-of-the-art instruction from world class teachers in subjects their local schools might not be able to offer.

 

They provide flexibility and customization that isn’t possible in a classroom of 30 students with a single teacher and a whiteboard.

In a nutshell, online learning opens a world of opportunity to every student wherever Internet access is available.

 

When an online school is forced to close due to funding cuts, the door to that world of opportunity is slammed shut. Kids are sentenced back to the 19th century education model their great-grandparents used.

 

When state policymakers cut online learning, taxpayers pay more and students get less.

 

The third cost of cutting online programs is to the state that moves backward in the education race while the rest of the country and world press on.

 

The only direction any society can afford to move in education is forward. That’s why digital learning—in all its forms—must be a priority if this generation and the next are to compete in today’s global idea economy and become tomorrow’s leaders.

 

 

Visit Cascadepolicy.org for more about online learning in Oregon and why Oregon’s legislature should continue to support expanding online learning options for public schools and public charter schools.

 

*Diana Moore is senior education analyst at the Freedom Foundation and director of the iLearn Project. She is a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy organization. This article was originally published on GettingSmart.com.

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Rescue Children from Our Burning Public School System

Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker is a larger-than-life figure fighting for what he calls the “Most Important Civil Right of All – equal access to high quality education.”

Last week Booker gave an inspiring keynote address before the American Federation for Children, a national school choice organization. He said his strong support for school choice stems from the options he was afforded in his own life-  options denied to millions of children because their ZIP codes determine what schools they must attend.

A Black Democrat himself, Booker made it clear he is disappointed that “his president” hasn’t yet joined him in supporting school choice for every family, not just for those he calls “the connected and elected.”

Not surprisingly, the left was upset that Booker would speak before a group partially funded by what it considers right-wingers. Booker slapped those concerns aside in his talk, making it clear that to him school choice is not a left/right or partisan issue, but one of equal rights.

But, the heat Mayor Booker took from the left last week pales in comparison with the heat he took last month. Ignoring his security team’s advice, he ran into a burning building to save his neighbor trapped in the flames. He rescued the woman and then went to the hospital with second-degree burns and smoke inhalation.

Cory Booker is a genuine hero. Not just to the woman he saved from that fire, but to the millions of poor and minority children trapped in a life of disappointment and failed dreams by what, in effect, is our burning public school system. Booker is trying to rescue those children, too. Please join him by making full school choice a reality in your community.


Addendum: On May 8th Cory Booker tweeted about another education hero I wrote about recently. Booker said to Salman Khan: You’re an American Hero – Watch the video.

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Steve Buckstein is interviewed about his latest commentary "Do You Feel Exploited by Apple?"

In his latest commentary, Do You Feel Exploited by Apple?, Steve Buckstein asked a group of students if they felt exploited by Apple after buying Apple products. They didn’t because they chose to make those purchases.

See how Steve relates this choice to a need for competition in public education.

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Do You Feel Exploited by Apple? ― Why Freedom Shouldn’t Stop at the Classroom Door

By Steve Buckstein

Many areas of our lives are being revolutionized by technology. Those changing the fastest are the ones subject primarily to market forces. Those changing the least are the ones controlled primarily by government.

How many of us communicate with others at a distance today the same way that we did twenty years ago? In 1992 we all had telephones at home, but very few of us had mobile or cell phones. In 1992 a few of us had personal computers, but very few communicated through email, and the first public web browser was still a year or so away.

The cell phone and personal computer revolutions came very fast, propelled by advancing technology and a capitalist market that promised great wealth to those who successfully met our seemingly unlimited consumer demand for such offerings. No one was forced to pay for any of this; no one was exploited by any of it, either. We gladly paid hundreds of dollars for the communications tools of the future. The collective value we gained likely outweighed the billions of dollars that entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs earned for themselves.

Now, how many of our children still get their formal education the same way they did in 1992? Virtually all of them. The public school system is owned and run by governments and paid for by tax dollars. The adults who receive those tax dollars have a huge financial interest in making sure that competition and innovation are kept to a minimum. The revolution in personal communications that has taken place over the last twenty years is barely a blip on the K-12 education scene―so far.

One man who foresaw an online education revolution was Lewis J. Perelman. In his 1992 book, School’s Out, he predicted that our brick school buildings eventually would be replaced by what he called “hyperlearning.” Remember, this was written before most of us had even seen the World Wide Web. One aspect of “hyperlearning” is today’s online charter schools―you know, the ones the teachers’ unions are so desperate to shut down.

Another aspect of “hyperlearning” is the recent advent of the non-profit Khan Academy, which now features literally thousands of online lessons about everything from basic math to physics to economics and government. All at no cost to the learners. Online. 24/7. From any computer or smart phone, anywhere in the world. Classroom teachers who aren’t fearful of such progress are embracing this new tool to help their students. But if it rises to the level of actually competing with, rather than complimenting, traditional classrooms, look for politically powerful teachers’ unions to do what they do best: act as the status quo lobby to restrict or even outlaw such competition with their dues-paying members.

Exploited by Apple?

One secret weapon in the online education revolution may be the kids themselves. Thanks to compulsory attendance laws, most of them must attend the brick school buildings closest to their homes. Last month I was invited to talk with a class of public high school juniors about the relationship between politics and economics. After laying out my case for capitalism, including how it can enhance learning through online schools, the teacher explained that he believed more in democracy and government than in the power of the marketplace. One example he used was his feeling of being exploited by Apple because until recently it only allowed him to place proprietary applications on his iPhone, thus increasing Apple’s profits. I pointed out that he was not forced to buy anything from Apple, even its phone, if he didn’t want to. There were, and are, plenty of competitors.

I explained that in a free market, when someone sells a product and another voluntarily buys it, both sides gain value. In the Apple case, for example, if he paid $200 for his iPhone, then he wanted it more than he wanted to keep his $200. Apple, on the other hand, would rather earn his $200 than keep that phone on its shelves. Both sides won. I told the students that when Steve Jobs died last year, he was worth some $7 billion, but he didn’t exploit any of his customers to earn that money. They freely bought what he had to sell.

I then asked the 30 or so students how many of them owned any Apple products, from iPods, to iPads, to iPhones. About 25 raised their hands. I asked how many of them felt exploited by Apple. Not one hand went up, and they laughed when the teacher again said that he felt exploited. That teacher has a monopoly on those students’ time every school day this year. But in an hour and a half, I was able to give them a lesson that hopefully will stay with them when they think about the benefits of capitalism versus government control of our economy―and of our education system.

Perhaps I should have suggested the students read Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman’s classic book in which he argued that economic freedom is a necessary condition for political freedom. If I am invited back I will make that suggestion, but if not, my real-world example of how they have personally benefited from capitalism may be enough to start them thinking about what is wrong with their teacher’s pro-government view, and what is right with the free market.

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

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Small Scholarships and Few Strings: How one venture capitalist’s K-8 education reform idea became a game-changer

Please join us for Cascade’s monthly Policy Picnic. Kathryn Hickok will be leading April’s discussion about the Children’s Scholarship Fund. The organization’s founder Ted Forstmann said the entrepreneur “inhabits a world where belief precedes results.” He applied this principle to education reform and changed the landscape of school choice in America.

Admission is free, but there is no such thing as a free lunch, so please bring your own! However, coffee and cookies will be served. Space is limited to ten guests on a first come, first served basis, so sign up early. To RSVP, email Patrick Schmitt at patrick@cascadepolicy.org or call 503-242-0900.

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Steve Buckstein talks about unions and education with Victoria Taft

Steve Buckstein appeared as a guest Monday on the Victoria Taft Show, where he discussed the growing number of union members, the potential of a Right to Work program in Oregon, and recent education reforms.

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Seattle School Board Considers Expelling Bright New Teachers from the City of Goodwill

By Liv Finne

Third grader Enrique (not his real name) eagerly describes his Teach for America teacher like this: “He let us borrow bigger books.” “I am learning English now.” “My goal is to be at fourth grade in reading by the end of the year.”

Teach for America (TFA) is a nationally recognized training program that provides highly motivated, talented teachers to schools nationwide, especially in low-income inner city communities. TFA graduates come from highly respected colleges, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, and the University of Washington. Studies show their students typically make more progress in reading and math compared to students of other teachers, including veteran and certified instructors.

TFA educators set high goals for their students: a clear focus on math and science, 40 minutes of reading every night, and a desire to graduate and go on to college. In the communities where its teachers work, TFA is helping children to raise their sights and reach for the stars.

Seattle-Tacoma is the only metro area in the Pacific Northwest in which Teach for America operates. Despite TFA’s nationwide track record, however, not everyone in Seattle is happy. The Washington State teachers’ union sees opening schools to TFA graduates as a threat to their power within the system. Union executives did not want TFA in Seattle in the first place, and now they are doing everything they can to drive these young instructors out of local classrooms.

In late March, the Seattle School Board members took up the issue whether to accede to the union and bar TFA teachers from city schools, or to allow them to continue educating Seattle children.

How did this happen? How did Seattle get to a point where the school board considers ousting some of the best-qualified teachers in the country where they are most needed? In October 2010, the board invited TFA to provide trained instructors for some of the most-needy schools. In response, six young TFA teachers have been working in Seattle classrooms for nearly a year, impressing administrators and parents with their energy, ability, and professionalism. Though demanding, they are popular with students and set high expectations for what they believe kids can achieve.

Then the School Board changed. In the 2011 election the teachers’ union backed two candidates, giving thousands of dollars to their political campaigns. These candidates won; and in what some see as payback, they are now spearheading the union drive to oust TFA from Seattle schools.

There’s more. The Seattle Times reported that union-inspired activists are harassing TFA teachers at Aki Kurose Middle School and South Shore K-8, hoping to get them to quit. Their personal information has been posted online. One teacher’s home was burglarized.

TFA may be stirring up the union in Seattle, but the program is considered routine in other cities. Since 1990, nearly 33,000 TFA-trained instructors have taught more than three million students. Today, 9,000 of them educate more than 600,000 students in 32 states and the District of Columbia.

 

The program is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Ironically, the Seattle-based charity eventually might find it can fund TFA educators in Philadelphia or Boston, but not at John Hay Elementary up the street from their headquarters. Over 3,000 University of Washington graduates apply to TFA each year. Why can’t these UW grads find a welcome at schools in their own city?

On March 21, the Seattle School Board voted 4-3 in a packed public hearing to keep the school district’s partnership with Teach for America for now. According to The Seattle Times, the board member considered the “swing vote” said she did not want to limit a program which some principals wanted, noting that participation is their choice.

In the end, the Seattle School Board was right to allow principals to choose if they want to hire TFA teachers. Schools exist to teach students, not to benefit a union. Children should be free to learn from high-achieving, motivated, effective teachers; and principals should be able to hire the best teachers available. Banning Teach for America from a school district won’t harm the adults involved―TFA teachers would just move to schools in other cities. The real harm from the reactionary and mean-spirited campaign in Seattle falls on kids like Enrique, all because some grownups think protecting their privileged status is more important than helping children learn.


Liv Finne is Director of Washington Policy Center’s Center for Education and serves on the Education Task Force of the American Legislative Exchange Council. She holds a law degree from Boston University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wellesley College. Liv is a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

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K-12 Funding Levels Surprise Washington Voters

A February survey of Washington voters by The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice indicates that voters there are much less likely to favor increased spending on K-12 education once they know how much money their state already spends.

Almost one-fifth (19%) of survey participants correctly identified their state’s per-student funding level: According to the survey, Washington spent $9,688 per student in 2008-9. About half (46%) thought the state spent $8,000 or less.

The survey asked if Washingtonians thought public school funding is too low. One subgroup was asked if they thought funding was too low before being told what the actual level was. Of those people, 56% said that public school funding is “too low.” But the other subgroup was told what Washington spends before being asked their opinion of the funding level. Of respondents who knew that Washington already spends about $10,000 per child, only 42% thought Washington’s education spending was “too low” – effectively a 25% reduction.

More than half of Washingtonians surveyed (52%) think K-12 education in their state is on the “wrong track.” Only 31% think it’s going in the “right direction.” But when Washington voters know how much money their state already spends per child, they are far less likely to think the problem with K-12 education is funding than when they don’t know. Policymakers, politicians, and education lobbyists should take care when blaming problems in K-12 education on funding. When voters know the truth, they aren’t convinced the problem is money.

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Digital Learning the Sal Khan Way

Many of us had a favorite teacher back in elementary or high school – someone who inspired us, who made learning fun and easy. Under the old brick school building model, that great teacher could only influence a relative handful of students at a time. Remember how lucky you felt having Mrs. Smith for sixth grade math, and how sorry you were for your best friend who was stuck in Mr. Jones’ class instead?

Today your Mrs. Smith could teach millions of kids at once. No complaining about crowded classrooms, because she can teach you and everyone else online in your own homes. She doesn’t even need a teaching degree, just a love of teaching and a firm grasp of the subject matter. In-person classroom teachers still have a role, but so much learning now can go on elsewhere that classrooms eventually may become the exception, rather than the educational norm.

Mrs. Smith currently goes by the name of Sal Khan. Mr. Khan fell into education when he tutored his own cousin in mathematics over the Internet in 2004. Others saw those lessons and asked for his help, so eventually he quit his day job and started the non-profit Khan Academy* to teach children and adults through what have become thousands of lessons on multiple topics – all at no cost to the students.

Watching Mr. Khan teach, it’s not hard to envision many Sal Khans eventually inspiring new generations to learn in new, exciting, and inexpensive ways.

Khan Academy was featured on the March 11, 2012 CBS show 60 Minutes.


Addendum: On May 8th Sal Khan was called an American Hero in a tweet by another education hero I wrote about on May 9th, Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Watch the video.

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Clients Not Conscripts

Last year the state legislature enacted HB 3681, allowing public school students to freely transfer from one district to another. Under the new law, if a school district is willing to accept a transfer student, the home district for that student can no longer veto the change.

School districts were required to announce by March 1 whether they would be accepting transfers for the next school year, and families then have a one-month period to change schools. Some communities embraced the new law. Alsea school district, for example, printed up a new brochure, opened up 70 seats, and even offered transportation services to out-of-district students. Gaston is advertising for new students in local newspapers.

Other districts tried passive resistance, in the hope that if enough districts refused to accept transfers, local school monopolies would be preserved.  But as the deadline approached, it became clear that this strategy entailed great risk: if they rejected incoming transfers but were powerless to stop exiting students, districts could face long-term enrollment declines.

At the last minute most districts opted in to the new market. West Linn-Wilsonville school district, which in one recent year denied 50 students their requests to transfer out, offered 255 new spots to interested students. In Washington County, six out of seven school districts chose to participate and collectively offered 687 seats, while grandfathering in 493 students who are currently transfers.

It’s a cliché, but still true: incentives always matter. Under HB 3681, students are now customers, and school districts have to satisfy them. All students will be better off next year as a result.

 

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Parent Power – Oregon’s Open Enrollment Law Puts Parents and Children First

The 2012-2013 school year will be the first year that the new statewide open enrollment law takes effect. The new law (HB 3681) allows Oregon parents to enroll their kids in any Oregon public school district, as long as the receiving district is accepting transfers. This will stop local districts from holding students captive to their local school, as currently often happens throughout the state.

This is an exciting opportunity for families who live in a district that doesn’t meet their kids’ individual needs. Though such families already can choose public charter schools, many charter schools have long waiting lists, and district-created obstacles make it hard for existing or new charter schools to meet that need. Opening district boundaries will allow regular public schools to better meet more children’s needs.

Some district leaders have made apocalyptic predictions that this will shatter those public schools that are already struggling financially. They claim that those districts that experience a significant exodus will consequently struggle even more at providing remaining students with a quality education.

This is a red herring – the same one that has been used to oppose public charter schools. The truth is that only state funds will follow a student into neighboring districts under this open enrollment law (not local funds), allowing the district to spend more per remaining student.

After decades of increasing funding in Oregon, we spent an average of about $10,500 per public student in the 2009-2010 school year according to the NEA’s Rankings & Estimates, which doesn’t include the additional $1,000 per student spent on debt service. That is significantly greater than just 20 years ago. And yet, the outcome has not improved.

A similar story can be found across our nation. Throwing money at the problem is not working. Developed countries that spend significantly less than the United States are outperforming us – countries like New Zealand and Finland.

None of this is surprising to those who understand how markets (and politics) work. Public schools are usually monopolies with a captive consumer base – assigned students and funds based on where a child lives, not on the merits of the school.

For comparison, imagine if food stamp recipients were only allowed to shop at a locally assigned grocery store – a store dedicated solely to Oregon Trail card purchases. It’s no mystery in the marketplace that monopolies typically provide worse service at higher prices. The open enrollment law, by analogy, is the equivalent of allowing food stamp recipients to shop at any of the hypothetical Oregon Trail assigned grocery stores, not just the closest one to their residence. Universal school choice (allowing funds to follow a student to any school, public or private) would be the equivalent of how food stamp holders currently use their Oregon Trail cards – that is, shopping at virtually any type of grocery store.

As charter schools and voucher programs across the nation have witnessed, the kids who benefit most from increased educational options are those who currently have the fewest: low-income and middle-class students.

To take advantage of Oregon’s new open enrollment law, parents must alert the district to which they want their child to transfer by April 1, giving districts ample time to plan for changes in enrollment. As kids benefit from this new law, we will all see that this law is no apocalypse for education – although it could be the beginning of the end of monopoly control over the education of Oregon children.

 

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What does Oregon's new open enrollment law mean for your child?

WHAT THE LAW DOES

The new statewide open enrollment law will take effect in the 2012–2013 school year. The new law allows Oregon parents to enroll their kids in any Oregon public school district, as long as the receiving district is accepting transfers. No longer will the student’s resident school district be able to block a student’s transfer to another district. Families who live inside a district that decides to accept transfers will get first priority to transfer their children to other in-district schools. Siblings of students who are considered residents of the district will get second priority.

HOW CAN YOU TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS NEW LAW?

Districts will announce how many transfers they will accept by March 1. By April 1 parents must request a transfer from the district they would like their child to attend for the 2012-2013 school year. Districts must notify parents if their transfer requests are accepted by May 1.

HOW LONG WILL MY CHILD BE ABLE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OPEN ENROLLMENT?

The open enrollment law is set to expire in the summer of 2017, except for children who are already taking advantage of the law. Once a child is accepted into another district under this law, he or she will be considered a resident of that district until he or she graduates, enrolls in another district, or becomes ineligible because of age or expulsion. Parents should note that after one year of using the program, the receiving district can transfer students to another school within that district, provided that it is in line with district policy. (Districts cannot single out certain students for transfer, nor can they give preference to new out-of-district transfers.)

WHAT IF THE SCHOOL LIMITS HOW MANY TRANSFERS IT WILL ACCEPT?

Similar to current public charter school enrollment rules, the school will not be allowed to discriminate among transfers. If not enough slots are available for all students requesting transfers, the district will hold a lottery.

WHAT ABOUT TRANSPORTATION?

Parents are responsible for getting their child to an existing bus line within the district the child transfers to. Districts are allowed to provide transportation scholarships for low-income families or special bus lines, if they desire. For more information, contact the district into which you want to transfer your child.

WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE?

To learn more, you can contact the district you would like your child to attend, or read the bill that created open enrollment at http://gov.oregonlive.com/bill/2011/HB3681/.

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Revolutionary Education Reforms…That Aren’t

Before the legislature solidifies Governor John Kitzhaber’s revolutionary new reform plan for education, let’s look back at the first big education reform of which he was a part.

In 1991, then Senate President Kitzhaber voted for The Oregon Education Act for the 21st Century. It was full of new committees, new high school CIM and CAM tests (which were eventually abandoned), and a promise from the legislature that it would produce “the best educated citizens in the nation by the year 2000.” So, how did that work out?

In both 2010 and 2011, Education Week’s Annual Education Report Card gave Oregon a grade of C-. It ranked our public education system 43rd in the nation―not exactly the best.

Now, Governor Kitzhaber has an even bigger, more revolutionary reform, not just of Kindergarten through 12th grade, but of pre-K through graduate school. It’s called the Oregon Education Investment Board.

Here is what we said about the 1991 “revolutionary” reform at the time:

“…[T]o be ‘revolutionary,’ educational change must be systemic. It must reform the system, not just add to it. Oregon’s educational reformers are unwittingly legitimizing the very system that needs reform. Well-meaning politicians have once again increased state control over education in order to mandate desirable goals. The Oregon plan provides the nation with an important lesson in reform: how easy it is to fall into the bureaucratic trap of good intentions.”

This could be just as easily said about the current misguided reform efforts. It’s time to stop increasing state control over education and start moving in the other direction.

 

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Giving Parents a Choice and Children a Chance

A helping hand makes all the difference to elementary school children who need a chance. Last spring I attended a luncheon at Central Catholic High School in Portland to honor graduating seniors with athletic scholarships to college. I was invited by a young man who began to be sponsored by the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland when he was in grade school.

“I have learned that nothing’s going to be handed to you and that you’ll succeed through hard work,” Kidus told me. “[Private school] was challenging, but it has gotten me ready for college and life.”

One of Central Catholic’s star basketball players, Kidus now attends Portland State University and plays for the Vikings. He was able to attend private schools because of scholarship assistance from caring Oregonians.

January 22-28 is the second annual National School Choice Week. A collaboration of more than 200 organizations across the country, National School Choice Week highlights the need for effective educational options for all children, especially those most in need of increased educational opportunity. Participating groups believe parents should be empowered to choose the best educational environments for their children and support a variety of school choice options, including increased access to high-performing public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, virtual schools, private schools, and homeschooling.

Scholarship programs like the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland help put private and parochial schools within the reach of elementary children like Kidus. Because of the Children’s Scholarship Fund and its local partner programs, more than 123,000 low-income children nationwide have attended the private and parochial schools of their parents’ choice. In fact, the Children’s Scholarship Fund is the only national K-8 scholarship organization in the country, providing help and hope to kids who are eager to learn and to achieve.

Believing that every child, regardless of family income, should have access to a quality education, Ted Forstmann and John Walton cofounded the Children’s Scholarship Fund in New York City in 1998. Forstmann and Walton challenged local donors across the country to join them in funding the initial 40,000 K-12 scholarships worth $200 million. The Children’s Scholarship Fund remains the country’s largest charity helping parents to send their children to the schools of their choice.

Here in Oregon, local donors made pledges sufficient for Cascade Policy Institute to launch a $2 million CSF partner program, the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland, which has given more than 600 students a “hand up.” “CSF-Portland scholars” have chosen a diverse range of Oregon private and parochial schools, but they are united in their gratitude to each and every benefactor who made their individual dreams come true.

To be eligible for scholarship assistance, families must have incomes low enough that they would qualify for the Federal Free and Reduced Price Lunch Program; but every parent must pay part of their children’s tuition themselves. Making the scholarship a “hand up,” rather than a “handout,” ensures that parents stay engaged with their children’s education, a key component of student success. In fact, CSF-Portland parents pay, on average, more than half the cost of their tuition (they pay $1,900 per child this year). By choosing to pay for private education, they forgo the $10,000-per-child which Oregon currently spends on public education in favor of a better chance for their children.

CSF-Portland scholarships average only $1,700 per child, but this often makes the difference between children attending a public school where they are not thriving or a private school where they are. Scholarships are funded by local donors here in Oregon, whose gifts are matched by the national Children’s Scholarship Fund in New York, so a $100 gift to CSF-Portland can sponsor a low-income child’s tuition for a month.

Ted Forstmann said, “Every child, regardless of their parents’ income, should have access to a quality education – an education that will not only prepare them for successful private lives, but help them to build cohesive communities and a strong democracy. We believe if you give parents a choice, you will give their children a chance.”

He also truly believed, “If you save one life, you save the world.” While Americans engage in necessary debates on education reform, we cannot wait to help the children sitting in classrooms today. The Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland empowers lower-income Oregon children to get a “hand up” early in life through a quality elementary education, a simple step that puts kids with limited choices on a path to success that gets them “ready for life.”

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National School Choice Week Celebrates Opportunity and Innovation

This is National School Choice Week. Every January, National School Choice Week highlights the need for effective educational options for all children.

Planned by a diverse and nonpartisan coalition of individuals and organizations, National School Choice Week features special events and activities that support school choice programs and proposals. The effort is a collaboration of more than 200 partner organizations, which each advance their own messages of educational opportunity while uniting with like-minded organizations across the country.

National School Choice Week believes that parents should be empowered to choose the best educational environments for their children and supports a variety of school choice options, including increased access to high-performing public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, virtual schools, private schools, homeschooling, and more.

The Wall Street Journal recently called 2011 “The Year of School Choice.” And here in Oregon, our legislature passed a bill to allow open enrollment among public school districts. Starting this March, parents may enroll their children in another district as long as the receiving district is accepting transfers. This arrangement can promote increased enrollment in schools with empty seats while offering additional opportunities to out-of-district children.

It’s becoming increasingly evident that allowing families more freedom in educating their children is the way of the future. In a pioneer state, Oregonians should be proud of the ways we are innovating to give students more diverse choices in education.

 

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Steve Buckstein talks about Cascade’s School Choice Beginnings

Watch Cascade Policy Institute founder, Steve Buckstein, talk about how he and Cascade got their start in the school choice movement.

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Cascade’s School Choice Beginnings

Why is school choice such an important part of Cascade Policy Institute’s agenda? Partially, because it is the issue that got us started back in 1991.

In 1990 a small group, including myself, got together and placed a citizen initiative on Oregon’s ballot. 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 ever voted on such a sweeping reform before, and we felt it was time for Oregon to lead the way.

We gathered over 130,000 signatures to place our measure on the ballot, more than any other measure that year. We raised over $500,000 from Oregonians and donors around the country to get the school choice message out in our state.

But on election night that November, we came up short. We only earned about one-third of the vote for our school choice measure. That didn’t surprise us, because through polling we realized that 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. That’s why, barely two months after Measure 11 lost at the polls, we incorporated Cascade Policy Institute in January 1991.

In the 21 years that have now passed, we have made some significant progress on the school choice front. We worked hard to introduce the charter school concept in the state in the mid-1990s. By 1999 the Oregon legislature passed, and in his first administration Governor Kitzhaber signed, a charter school bill that has now resulted in more than 100 public charter schools operating in 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-Portland program. We initially raised $1 million of private money that was matched by $1 million nationally to provide partial scholarships to over 500 kids for four years at the schools of their choice. The fact that over 6,600 kids 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 Governor Kitzhaber 2.0 signed three school choice bills 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.

We will continue bringing national speakers to the state, talking about the benefits of school choice elsewhere. And we will continue to bring realistic school choice funding proposals to the legislature in the hope that soon a majority of both houses will agree that we can’t wait any longer to provide real school choice for most Oregon children.

Cascade won’t stop advocating for school choice until every student in the state has the real choices they deserve. We appreciate the help of everyone who shares our vision of a freer, better education system in Oregon. It can’t come too soon.

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Three Strikes and You’re Out: Replacing Top-Down Education Control with School Choice

In his recent State of the State address, Governor John Kitzhaber argued that legislators must “lock in” his education system changes so they then can move on to other important issues such as tax reform and public safety.

Notice that he did not mention the last two big educational changes he helped “lock in.” Both the 1991 Education Act for the Twenty-First Century (CIM and CAM) and the 1999 Quality Education Model arguably failed to deliver on their grand promises. Now we have the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB), headed by the Governor, which promises to centralize education policy more than either of the two big past reform efforts. This is the perfect time to consider applying the “three strikes and you’re out” concept to public policy.

The fatal flaw in all these reform efforts is that they rely on really “smart” people centralizing control over educational policy and decision making. The first two efforts concentrated on Kindergarten through high school. Apparently, their failure led the Governor to conclude that they simply didn’t control a broad enough swath of the education spectrum to work. So now, his latest effort seeks to control everything from pre-Kindergarten through graduate school.

As I discussed in Forced Participation: Public Education’s Fatal Flaw (June 2010) and The Oregon Education Investment Board: Top Down on Steroids (December 2011), 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.

Rather than wait years to judge the latest big reform a failure, it is time to try another path: the school choice path. The Governor should be amenable to such a path since he signed the initial charter school law in 1999 and three limited school choice bills in 2011. What he needs to realize, however, is that such a path is in conflict with his command-and-control efforts. He needs to make a choice – and allow parents and students many more educational choices.

To see the flaw in the command-and-control approach, consider an example I have used before. Consider what our world would be like if the government owned our grocery stores:

We can only shop at the store nearest our house, unless we can afford to move into another neighborhood. We elect food boards to oversee our grocery stores. We pay through taxes, not directly, so few notice that the government spends eight dollars for a gallon of milk and six dollars for a loaf of bread. We do notice that the bread is sometimes stale, and the milk is sometimes sour. But we get no guarantees, and we certainly get no refunds. Each food district has a central office staff working hard to design store shelves, checkout lanes, and the nutritional content of each food item.

Now, imagine voters approving less money for the public food system than its employees demand. Suddenly, stores can’t keep all the clerks employed. Food Superintendents are faced with the difficult task of eliminating some items from the shelves.

Customers are angry when stores stop offering extras like cookies and candy. Until taxpayers give food stores more money, only nutritious staples will be available, and checkout lines will be longer. How could we feed ourselves without government taxing us, building big brick food buildings, and telling us where to shop?

If this scenario sounds familiar, you’re way ahead of me. It’s the world of our public school system. It’s the world most of us grew up in. Future generations deserve to grow up in a better world, where we no longer dump money into a system that celebrates the status quo and operates more for the adults that make their living in it than for the students.

Why not worry about a tax revolt decimating our grocery stores? Because they are privately owned, yet serve the public. They’re subject to intense competition, and each of us has virtually unlimited shopping choices. For those who can’t afford food, we don’t build government food stores. We give them food stamps, and they shop in the same stores and for the same products as the rest of us.

Our public schools are the equivalent of the former Soviet Union’s collective farms. Communism said government should own and run the food stores – and the farms. The result was a nation that couldn’t feed itself. To avoid becoming a nation that cannot educate itself, we need to let education dollars be spent where consumers think they should go. We need to find ways to put the children first, the system second.

School choice opponents want us to wait to see if the Governor’s latest centralized approach will eventually improve public schools. But we’ve seen what centralized control does to education already. Waiting longer won’t help struggling students today.

When public schools fail students, they often demand more money to make improvements. Imagine if grocery stores acted that way; you return a stale loaf of bread and the store charges you more so it can try better next time. That’s unacceptable for grocery stores, and it should be unacceptable for schools.

In a school choice world, if the 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 world that finally will put students first. Before the Governor’s third strike takes a further toll on students, let’s encourage him and the legislature to take another path – the school choice path.

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Education by Committee in Oregon WSJ

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