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School Reform Advances: Here and There, But Not Everywhere
By David W. Kirkpatrick (January 24, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

 
Despite the best efforts of the public school establishment to prevent, or at least seriously hinder the development of, any meaningful alternatives to the present system, the all-too common failures of that system make the need for such alternatives increasingly obvious.  The result is more successes that may lead to further progress.
 
The January issue of School Reform News, from the Heartland Institute in Chicago summarizes eight such school choice programs established in just the past few years.
 
Florida's corporate tax program was initiated in 2002, followed closely by a voucher program in the District of Columbia in 2004.  Also in 2003 Ohio created a voucher program for autistic children and followed up in 2006 with another for students in failings public schools
 
The voucher program in the District of Columbia demonstrates that even a successful program does not necessarily mean the opposition disappears.   Enrollment in the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) grew again this school year, by 5.5% percent, to more than 1,900 students.  Average family income is just over $17,000 for a family of four (try living on that in D.C.) And more than 80% of the students would otherwise be attending failing schools.
 
The most recent report on the program, from Georgetown University last May, showed overwhelming parental satisfaction with the program, that student self-esteem is up, as is their involvement in their school work and that parents are increasingly informed about educational options.
 
The catch is that the program is up for reauthorization and despite its successes, and support from business, philanthropic, and community leaders, in addition to those directly involved in the OSP it faces opposition from the usual suspects, in this instance the teacher unions, People for the American Way and even Democratic leadership in the Congress despite the fact that Democratic leaders in the District, including the mayor, have been supportive of it.
 
Somewhat overlooked in the recent reporting of the repeal of a Utah's new universal voucher program before it could even be implemented is that state's ongoing voucher program for special-needs students, begun in 2005, which remains unaffected by the blocking of the effort for a more general program.
 
In 2006 Arizona began operating a corporate tax credit program and introduced vouchers for special-needs and foster children.
 
Rhode Island in 2007 joined the growing ranks of states implementing a corporate tax credit program to assist students interested in exercising educational options.   Similar to an older program in Pennsylvania, the program permits a 90 percent tax credit for corporations on contributions of up to $100,000 annually to organizations which grants the scholarships to students.  The initial cap of one million dollars has already been reached.
 
If history is a guide the initial success of the Rhode Island program augurs well for the chances for future increases in the cap.  That has been the history of the Pennsylvania program.   Begun in 2001, during a Republican administration, the program has seen regular increases in its cap.  The latest expansion of what is termed  the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, increased the cap from $59 million to $75 million.  More than 37,000 students now benefit from the program.  In a little more than six years more than 2,100 companies have contributed more than $200 million for the student scholarship program.  A significant example of its popularity came with the latest increase in the cap because the state now has a Democratic governor and they have not been the strongest advocates of school choice.
 
Another new program, not only summarized in School Reform News but explained in greater detail in the January issue of the Alliance for School Choice's publication,  School Choice Activist, is Georgia's Special Needs Program.  Signed into law just last May the program has already seen more than 5,700 families apply to participate in the program.  About 900 students enrolled in the 117 approved private schools.  The new program allows parents of children with disabilities to use state dollars that would have been spent on their children's education in public schools to send them to the public or private school of their choice.  The average voucher is $6,273.
 
All may not be well, but progress is being made.

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"The near-impossibility of true educational reform has been documented in a number of studies." --p. 54, Herbert Stein, Washington Bedtime Stories, NY: The Free Press, 1986

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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633

E-mail (tchrwrtr@aol.com)

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