The Chinese zodiac is transitioning from “horse” to “sheep,” but in the U.S., where school choice is involved, the species in 2014-2015 is “lawyer.”
School choice comes in many flavors, but the privatization kind is the most threatening to various special interests because government-run schools are money-makers and power bases for them. Teachers unions, entrenched bureaucrats, toady legislators and others who are threatened by choice have taken to the courts to prevent its proliferation. What are generally presented as “privatization schemes” by the public education monopolists are nothing more than attempts to give parents choices where to send their kids to school.
Over the last couple of years, one needs more than an abacus to keep up with the bevy of school choice lawsuits and countersuits that are jamming courtrooms all over the country. But thankfully, the good folks over at Watchdog have spelled out many of them in bite-sized pieces. Here is a small sampling:
Vouchers in Wisconsin
A voucher gives parents more freedom to choose a private school for their kids because some fraction of the public funding follows the child. Established in 1990, Milwaukee is home of the nation’s first voucher program. In 2013, under Governor Scott walker’s leadership, it was expanded and made available statewide to families that can’t afford to pay for a private school education. But two members of Congress from Wisconsin, Mark Pocan and Gwen Moore, sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office last week asking the federal agency to “investigate” the program. As EAG News points out, however, this is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to kill it.
During their time in the state legislature, both Pocan and Moore were noted defenders of unionized education and the status quo. So the idea that the pair really wants to better the program in any way, shape, or form is suspect at best. If anything, Pocan’s letter is fairly straight in its intentions: To have another federal avenue bring an end to the oldest, largest school voucher program in the United States. Already, the Obama Administration’s Justice Department has been trying to claim in recent years that the program in Milwaukee discriminates against students with disabilities.
What Pocan’s letter fails to mention is that DOJ’s action in Wisconsin is very similar to one in Louisiana and its voucher program; a lawsuit that was ‘abandoned’ in November 2013. But, why would that keep a loyal soldier of WEAC (teachers union) like Pocan from his mission?
Whether the GAO can find any new legal ground in its “investigation” is doubtful. And it’s hardly surprising that both legislators are in bed with the teachers unions. In fact, the bulk of Pocan’s funding comes from the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and other public employee unions.
Education Savings Accounts in Arizona
An education savings account (ESA) allows parents to withdraw their children from public schools and receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts with restricted but multiple uses. Those funds can cover private school tuition and fees, online learning programs, private tutoring, community college costs, and other higher education expenses.
Arizona started its ESA program three years ago for kids with special needs, but last year the state expanded it to students assigned to public schools or school districts with a “D” or “F” letter grade, children of active-duty military members and youth adopted from the state’s foster care system. But the Arizona Federation of Teachers claimed it “guts funding from public schools and diverts taxpayer funds to private schools.” Vowing to kill the program, the union called it a “boondoggle” and said it is “unconscionable” that legislators would approve of it.
Ignoring the union’s clap-trap, State Sen. Kimberly Yee explains that ESAs do not cut funding for the school system, adding, “When we have all these options, we are able to have great school choice options. It doesn’t mean we don’t support the traditional neighborhood school.”
And parents get it. They love the ESAs.
Kathy Visser, whose 9-year-old son Jordan has cerebral palsy, said the empowerment scholarship award has been the ‘biggest blessing we could have ever imagined.’ She said the program is a ‘godsend. It’s lifted us out of a life of hell.’
After struggling in public and private schools Visser chose the best option for her son—one-on-one teaching at home. She is now able to hire certified teachers and continually update his curriculum as challenges surface. Jordan has made more progress academically after being removed from public school, she said.
The good news is that the case made it to the Arizona Supreme Court which declined to hear the teachers union’s appeal. Score one for children, parents, and fairness.
Tax Credits in Florida
Tax-credit scholarships allow taxpayers to receive full or partial tax credits when they donate to nonprofits that provide private school scholarships. Eligible taxpayers can include both individuals and businesses.
The 13 year-old Tax Credit Scholarship Program is home to about 68,000 mostly minority, economically disadvantaged schoolchildren in Florida. But in 2014, the Florida Education Association filed two separate lawsuits – one to eliminate the program, the other to void its recent expansion. The union alleges that the program violates the “no aid” clause and the “uniform public schools” clause of the state’s constitution by allowing students to take the aid to private schools, some with – heaven forbid! – a religious affiliation.
The lawsuit is bogus, however. As explained by Cato Institute education policy analyst Jason Bedrick, “Scholarship Tax Credit laws are privately administered programs that rely on the voluntary contributions of corporate taxpayers who receive tax credits in return. As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, these funds never become public funds because they do not ‘come into the tax collector’s hands.’”
It’s odd that the suit is coming after the program has been thriving for 13 years, but it’s possible that FEA has become desperate and will try anything to staunch the growth of choice in the Sunshine State. Look for a judgment in 2015.
So in Florida, as in Arizona, as in Wisconsin, as in much of the country, we have teachers unions, legislators and defend-the-status-quo-at-any-cost Grinches battling against poor and disabled kids and their parents. Here’s hoping that 2015 will actually turn out to be “The Year of the Child.”
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.