Georgia voters are fortunate to experience a debate that’s dominated largely by policy wonks. In the fall, they’ll get to decide who has the power to authorize charter schools. The November ballot will ask whether the state and local school boards can share that responsibility. That question shines a spotlight on the issue of local control, and provides an opportunity to rethink what that means.
Citizens of the Peach State have this question before them because their state Supreme Court last year declared the Georgia Charter Schools Commission unconstitutional. Four of the seven justices ruled that only locally elected boards of education could authorize charters. The commission, an independent state panel, had authorized sixteen schools, and it did so over the objections of local boards.
Georgia voters are fortunate to experience a debate that’s dominated largely by policy wonks.
But if voters renew the state’s power to authorize charters (which I hope they will) they’ll do more than just re-establish the charter commission. They’ll be saying that local boards can’t be the only authority to say yes or no to charters. In essence, they’ll be re-affirming the concept of local control.
Voters last affirmed the constitutional language that governed public education in 1983—nine years before the nation saw the first charter school open in Minnesota and ten years before the Georgia Legislature established its first charter law. The legislature created the charter commission to secure another avenue for parents, educators, and organizations to
When first proposed, the Coverdell Education Savings Account(ESA) generated the familiar bombast characteristic of public policies that offset private-school tuition. The late Teddy Kennedy declared, in 1998, that the accounts would “privatize education” because families who saved for private or parochial K-12 schooling could enjoy tax-free gains on their investment. Then-President Clinton argued that only wealthy families would reap the rewards, which would cost the federal government billions, and later made good on his promise to veto the measure when it passed.
From its inception, the Coverdell ESA encouraged families to save.
George W. Bush resurrected the bill when he took the Oval Office, but the late Georgia Senator Paul Coverdell died before he could see his effort enacted into law. A decade has passed and the tax break is scheduled to expire on December 31, 2012. Lawmakers should extend the program’s benefits.
From its inception, the Coverdell ESA encouraged families to save. It never really was a voucher, as Kennedy had claimed. Unlike a tax-credit scholarship, contributions to the Coverdell aren’t tax-deductible. Rather, families enjoy tax-free earnings on their investments so long as they use the money to cover qualified education expenses (which can include religious schooling).
Additionally, the program’s cost has barely amounted to a rounding error to the federal government. The New York Times reported last week that the Coverdell tax breaks would likely deprive the United States Treasury of just $17 million this year.
But that number tells another
Louisiana’s capital newspaper reported this week that two private schools that originally opted into the state’s new voucher program have changed their minds after the teachers union threatened them with legal action. One school is a non-denominational Christian school in suburban Baton Rouge that enrolls about 800 students. It initially set aside four kindergarten seats for the voucher program. The other, a Roman Catholic school in a rural parish ninety miles outside Baton Rouge, set aside six seats in its 200-student school.
So far, not many schools have taken the union’s “offer” to drop out of the voucher program and avoid litigation.
Most Louisiana private schools that chose to participate in the voucher program share these characteristics. They are faith-based and they have reserved a handful of seats for voucher-bearing students. They’ll derive the overwhelming majority of their revenues from tuition-paying students.
The state’s Department of Education had to take this into account when it drafted regulations to hold “voucher schools” more accountable. It decided, sensibly, that private schools enrolling large numbers of publicly funded students will be held to greater public transparency and results-linked accountability than schools enrolling just a handful. If the state imposed the full-range of regulations on schools that set aside less than 1 percent of their enrollment for vouchers, those schools simply wouldn’t participate.
Which would be just fine for Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post, who has led a chorus of complaints from voucher
The Louisiana teacher union can’t get the courts to stop private schools from enrolling voucher-bearing students this fall, so they’ve taken to threatening the schools with litigation.
The law firm representing the Louisiana Association of Educators and others in their legal challenge against the state’s new voucher program has sent letters to schools that opted to participate in the program that “it will have no alternative other than to institute litigation” against them unless they opt out.
Two weeks ago, a district judge in Louisiana denied the union’s request for an injunction to block funding to the program, and an appellate court this week threw out the union’s request to overturn that decision. So now the plaintiffs have turned to bullying the schools.
A letter sent by attorney Brian Blackwell to one school asked for a promise not to accept any voucher funds. The alternative, Blackwell said, might be litigation. “We hope that you agree with us that proceeding with a program that is blatantly unconstitutional does not benefit students, parents, public schools or non-public schools,” he wrote.
The tactic worked. The school later wrote to state Superintendent John White that it was pulling out of the program. So long as the union employs such a shameful tactic, that school will undoubtedly be joined by others.
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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