Republicans should pay privately for DC Voucher Program, if we can't pass the law

(Yes, I learned of this idea from Erick Erickson…)

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Column: “GOP’s DC Opportunity: Put Money, Time
Into School Choice”

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First, an important update on DC school vouchers.  This is from The Washington Examiner at 8:05 p.m. today, Saturday, April 9 (emphasis added):

“The last-minute deal to avoid a government shutdown means life largely continues as usual for most people, but some D.C. policies will be changed by the budget deal.The deal includes a measure that bans the District from using city funds to provide abortions for low-income women and a provision to continue a school-voucher program in D.C.“More recent articles on the subject:

Here’s my column on the matter, published in The Citizen. Please note that there are several links/sources embedded within the original article; to reach those links, go to the original article at The Citizen’s Web site.

The Citizen: “GOP’s DC Opportunity: Put Money, Time Into School Choice”

Read the news, and you’re likely to see edi­to­ri­als and news arti­cles dis­cussing “cuts” in K-12 government-run edu­ca­tion. Fifty-three per­cent of the Kansas bud­get is spent on K-12; add in spend­ing on col­leges, and two-thirds of the bud­get is spent on education.

We’re told we need to spend more, that cuts will harm the qual­ity of edu­ca­tion in Kansas.

We hear noth­ing, of course, about the more than $1 bil­lion in unused money sit­ting in the accounts of 300 Kansas school dis­tricts, accord­ing to the Kansas Pol­icy Insti­tute. Or that Kansas schools spent $12,330 per stu­dent in 2010, up from the 2005 per-student expen­di­tures of $9,707.

Media accounts rarely tell us that there have already been mas­sive increases in spend­ing. Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity reported, “Kansas has seen an increase of about $1 bil­lion in K-12 fund­ing since 2003, while enroll­ment has remained rel­a­tively flat.”

And does the extra fund­ing lead to mean­ing­ful results? Kansas Rep. Owen Dono­hoe (R-Shawnee) explains on his web­site: “In April 2010, the U.S. Depart­ment of Education’s review of Kansas school per­for­mance found that, ‘there is no evi­dence that the state’s school fund­ing for­mula (for which the Kansas courts man­dated huge addi­tional spend­ing) … was related to, or resulted in increas­ing stu­dent achieve­ment or grad­u­a­tion rates, nar­rowed achieve­ment gaps or resulted in other impor­tant outcomes.’ ”

After dis­count­ing for infla­tion, the U.S. spends four times as much on K-12 edu­ca­tion as it did in 1970, accord­ing to Andrew Coul­son, direc­tor of the Cato Institute’s Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tional Free­dom.

In August 2010, Coul­son wrote, “How many of America’s 14,000-odd pub­lic school dis­tricts have cut spend­ing for seven years in a row? Seven. How many have cut spend­ing for even five years in a row? 87… out of 14,000.”

It’s time to change K-12 edu­ca­tion. It’s time to move to school choice – either tax deduc­tions for pri­vate edu­ca­tion or school vouch­ers. Accord­ing to the U.S. gov­ern­ment – our own gov­ern­ment – vouch­ers improve out­comes for stu­dents and cost less for taxpayers.

On this topic, I’d like to share with you an arti­cle adapted from mate­r­ial writ­ten for Race42012.com.

Memo to GOP: Pri­vately fund the D.C. voucher pro­gram

From 2004 until 2010, Amer­i­cans offered edu­ca­tional free­dom to poor K-12 stu­dents in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. through the Oppor­tu­nity Schol­ar­ship Pro­gram. Think of the government-run schools in the nation’s cap­i­tal as a more expen­sive ver­sion of the non-performing schools in Kansas City, Mo. Democ­rats ended the D.C.-voucher pro­gram and its pub­lic fund­ing, but I think Repub­li­cans should bring it back through pri­vate funding.

It will only cost $15 mil­lion a year, and it will dra­mat­i­cally improve the lives of thou­sands of fam­i­lies. A side ben­e­fit is that it may improve the stand­ing of the Repub­li­can brand among minor­ity voters.
RedState.com’s Erick Erick­son wrote about this idea in April 2009, but it seems that very lit­tle dis­cus­sion has since occurred. Let’s give it a more seri­ous consideration.

Accord­ing to The Wall Street Jour­nal in May 2009 (empha­sis added): “About 1,700 kids cur­rently receive $7,500 vouch­ers to attend pri­vate schools under the Oppor­tu­nity Schol­ar­ship Pro­gram, and 99% of them are black or His­panic. The pro­gram is a huge hit with par­ents – there are four appli­cants for every avail­able schol­ar­ship – and the lat­est Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion eval­u­a­tion showed sig­nif­i­cant aca­d­e­mic gains.”

Accord­ing to the Cato Institute’s Andrew Coul­son, D.C. pub­lic schools spend $25,000 per stu­dent. Our own fed­eral gov­ern­ment has admit­ted that the parent-driven voucher pro­gram is out­per­form­ing the government-run schools, and at one-third the cost.

Even the lib­eral Wash­ing­ton Post gets it. From one Post edi­to­r­ial in favor of the pro­gram: “Hop­ing no one notices, con­gres­sional Democ­rats step between 1,800 D.C. chil­dren and a good education.”
From another Wash­ing­ton Post edi­to­r­ial: “It’s clear, though, from how the destruc­tion of the pro­gram is being orches­trated, that issues such as par­ents’ needs, stu­dent per­for­mance and pro­gram effec­tive­ness don’t mat­ter next to the polit­i­cal demands of teach­ers’ unions.”

More from the May 2009 WSJ arti­cle: “The Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment released its annual eval­u­a­tion of the D.C. pro­gram last month – tellingly, with­out a press release or media brief­ing – and it showed that voucher recip­i­ents are read­ing nearly a half-grade ahead of their peers who didn’t receive a scholarship.
“These aca­d­e­mic ben­e­fits are com­pound­ing over time. The study revealed that the program’s ear­li­est par­tic­i­pants are 19 months ahead of pub­lic school peers in read­ing after three years. Nation­wide, black 12th-graders as a group score lower on read­ing tests than white eighth-graders. The D.C. voucher pro­gram is clos­ing this achieve­ment gap.”

Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com in Decem­ber 2009 quoted the Chicago-based Heart­land Institute:

“The lead­ers of D.C.’s school-choice move­ment, Kevin P. Chavous (for­mer D.C. coun­cil­man) and Vir­ginia Walden Ford (exec­u­tive direc­tor of D.C. Par­ents for School Choice), today issued the fol­low­ing state­ment: ‘House and Sen­ate Appro­pri­a­tors this week ignored the wishes of D.C.’s mayor, D.C.’s pub­lic schools chan­cel­lor, a major­ity of D.C.’s city coun­cil, and more than 70 per­cent of D.C. res­i­dents and have man­dated the slow death of the D.C. Oppor­tu­nity Schol­ar­ship Pro­gram. This suc­cess­ful school voucher program-for D.C.’s poor­est families-has allowed more than 3,300 chil­dren to attend the best schools they have ever known.'”

Here’s more from D.C. school-choice pro­po­nents Chavous and Ford. They make clear what is hap­pen­ing, and who is doing it:

“Despite the clearly pos­i­tive results and the proven suc­cess of this pro­gram, Sen. Dick Durbin, Rep. Jose Ser­rano, Del. Eleanor Holmes Nor­ton, and Sec­re­tary Arne Dun­can worked together to kill the (Oppor­tu­nity Schol­ar­ship Program) …

“What is incred­i­bly dis­ap­point­ing to low-income fam­i­lies in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. has been the silence of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. The pres­i­dent, who ben­e­fited from K-12 schol­ar­ships him­self, worked on behalf of low-income fam­i­lies in Chicago, and exer­cises school choice as a par­ent, has stood silently on the side­lines while his sec­re­tary of edu­ca­tion belit­tled the impor­tance of help­ing such a small num­ber of chil­dren in the nation’s capital.”

RedState.com writer Moe Lane described the sit­u­a­tion this way: “Democ­rats re-segregate D.C. school system.”

Serv­ing 1,700 stu­dents at $7,500 per stu­dent equals a lit­tle less than $13 mil­lion. Let’s assume that it will take about $15 mil­lion to keep this pro­gram going. To me, it seems to be a worth­while effort. I don’t see why it would be dif­fi­cult to admin­is­ter a non-profit orga­ni­za­tion that would replace the government’s role.

If Repub­li­cans were to arrange for the pri­vate fund­ing of this pro­gram, it would accom­plish at least four enor­mous things:

  • Over time, thou­sands of chil­dren would be given what may be their only true oppor­tu­nity for eco­nomic pros­per­ity. What a great char­ity this would be.
  • Repub­li­cans will always increase their chances of win­ning over black and His­panic vot­ers through expand­ing free­dom – too often, we try to “buy” votes through enti­tle­ment pro­grams. Rarely does expand­ing gov­ern­ment and enti­tle­ments accom­plish any­thing of long-term value when there is a private-based option available.
  • In the short-term, this would likely be a help­ful party-building activ­ity, at all levels.
  • It would simul­ta­ne­ously result in con­sis­tent, pos­i­tive news sto­ries on behalf of Repub­li­cans, while caus­ing Democ­rats to attempt to jus­tify the indefensible.

It might even cause Democ­rats to recon­sider whether they should kill the Oppor­tu­nity Schol­ar­ship Program.

There are many ways to fund the pro­gram, and there are many ways to oper­ate it. For exam­ple, it might be more fea­si­ble to run the pro­gram at a $4,000-per-student level.

At min­i­mum, this dis­cus­sion is a nec­es­sary one, and the topic should not be dis­missed. Let’s set an exam­ple in the nation’s cap­i­tal for strong education.


Thank you for your time, as always.

Benjamin Hodge

Kansas Representative, 2006-’08
Trustee, Johnson County Community College, 2005-’09
Kansas Republican Party delegate, 2009-’10
Voicemail: 913-259-4236
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Connect with Benjamin Hodge at FacebookTwitterLinkedInThe Kansas Progress, and LibertyLinked. Hodge is President of the State and Local Reform Group of Kansas.  He served as one of seven at-large trustees at Johnson County Community College from 2005-’09, a member of the Kansas House from 2007-’08, a delegate to the Kansas Republican Party from 2009-’10, and was founder of the Overland Park Republican Party in 2011.  His public policy record is recognized by Americans for Prosperity, the Kansas Association of Broadcasters,the Kansas Press Association, the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government, the NRAKansans for Life, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).


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