The 2012 Democratic Party platform released this week calls for the expansion of “public school options for low-income youth,” a position that has appeared in varying language in every Democratic platform since 1992. But as Marc Fisher of the Washington Post reported this week, the Democratic platform historically has been “a jagged series of experiments” that once made room for more than just public-school choice.
The Democratic Party's thinking on private-school choice has changed significantly over time.
Photo by DonkeyHotey.
Today, the national party fervently rejects vouchers for private and parochial schools, but that wasn’t the case thirty years ago. In 1972, Democrats sought to “channel financial aid by a Constitutional formula to children in non-public schools,” a position that reflected not only the influence of the Catholic Church at the time but also the drive, the values and the persistence of the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Moynihan, who also crafted education planks for the Democratic platforms of 1964 and 1976, followed the party’s (and his own) guidance. Soon after his election to the U.S. Senate in 1976, he proposed a tuition tax credit for families with children in private and parochial schools. That bill was co-sponsored by an almost
The National PTA has taken a step that should help it dispel the criticism that it’s always in lockstep with the teacher unions: In its new policy platform, the parent-teacher association has taken the bold step of supporting giving groups other than local school boards the right to authorize charter schools.
For seventeen years, the National PTA, which has five million members, has urged state governments to give only school boards the authority to grant or deny charter applications. That changed this month, when the PTA’s board struck that restriction from its platform and extended its support, as the group’s president put it, to “all authorizing bodies.”
Sean Cavanagh at Education Week this week reported that the group says it wants to be more relevant in charter school policy, and its old position was at odds with the fact that local PTAs are increasingly working with charters authorized by universities or independent commissions. This is a big leap for a group that education analyst Thomas Toch once accused of being “out of step with many parents’ demands for change in public education today” and that has lobbied alongside teacher unions for decades. It’s also a change that collides with the high-profile efforts of state chapters that have taken contradictory positions. Georgia and Washington PTAs, for instance, have opposed recent efforts to create state-level commissions that would have the power to authorize charters in order to keep oversight (i.e.,
The Cato Institute released a report from economist Richard Buddin today showing that “charter schools took approximately 190,000 students from private schools between 2000 and 2008,” a development that Cato scholar Adam Schaeffer said is “wreaking havoc on private education” while only marginally improving public schools. Overall, Buddin found that 8 percent of charter-elementary students and 11 percent of middle and high school students came from private schools. The numbers were worse for private schools in the nation’s major urban areas, where 32 percent of the elementary-charter enrollment was drawn from the private sector.
Transfers from private to charter schools don't mean we're falling into a "charter-only reform trap."
Photo by Rennett Stowe.
It is true that charter schools have drained students from urban Catholic schools in particular (though my colleague Kathleen Porter-Magee has shown how enrollments declined at Catholic schools long before the first charters appeared). And Schaeffer and Buddin are right to point out the economic impact to the taxpayer when more private-school students leave for public schools—an impact they put at $1.8 million billion annually from 2000 to 2008.
But it’s important to keep in mind that publicly funded private-school options (vouchers and tax-credit scholarships) today enroll 210,000 students
We now have more evidence that school vouchers may have a big impact on students who struggle the most. A study released jointly yesterday by the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Education Policy and Governance showed that black students who won a school-voucher lottery in New York a generation ago were more likely to attend college than students who didn’t win.
We now have more evidence that school vouchers may have a big impact on students who struggle the most.
The results come from the first random-assignment experiment of voucher effects on college attendance, which should thaw the icy reception that greets many school choice studies (the randomized trial is the gold standard of research). Fifteen years ago, Harvard’s Paul Peterson began tracking the performance of two groups of elementary-school age children—one group that participated in a privately funded voucher program in New York, and one group that wanted to participate but didn’t win the lottery for admission.
Now that enough time has passed, Peterson and Brookings colleague Matthew Chingos have been able to see how college attendance differed between the groups. They found that a modestly funded program—the vouchers were worth $1,400 annually—led to outsized results for black students.
The black students who won the lottery and used the voucher were 24 percent more likely to attend college than students who didn’t win the lottery. Moreover, the percentage of black students who attended
About the Editor
Director, Program on Parental Choice
Adam Emerson is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s school choice czar, directing the Institute’s policy program on parental choice and editing the Choice Words blog. He coordinates the Institute’s school choice-related research projects, policy analyses and commentaries on issues that include charter schools and public school choice along with school vouchers, homeschooling and digital learning.
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