Tag: K-12

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

By Helen Doran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Emancipate the Students

By John A. Charles, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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School Choice Can Help Solve K-12 Social Distancing Challenges

By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That's it, we're going on a hunger strike

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

By Helen Cook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Kathryn Hickok

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Kathryn Hickok

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

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

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

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

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Annual School Choice Week Celebrates K-12 Education Options

By Kathryn Hickok

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

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

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

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

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Lessons in Education from Gandalf the Grey

By Miranda Bonifield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Kathryn Hickok

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

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

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National School Choice Week Celebrates Diversity in K-12 Education

By Kathryn Hickok

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

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QuickPoint! – Military Families Want Education Options for Their Kids

Military Families Want Flexible Education Options for Their Kids

By Kathryn Hickok

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

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

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

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

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