U.S. Senator Marco Rubio received a lot of attention for his speech this week at the Jack Kemp Foundation, mostly for his remarks on how government can play a role in revitalizing the middle class. In addition to more conventional Republican ideas for economic growth and job creation—lighter regulations, tax reform—Rubio outlined several strategies for education investment, some of which would complicate, rather than simplify, the federal tax code.
And that may not be a bad thing, especially if those ideas lead to more educational opportunities for households that cannot afford them otherwise. Consider one of the senator’s more controversial suggestions: a corporate federal tax credit scholarship, one that would help low-income students cover the cost of a K–12 private education. There were few details in Rubio’s brief remarks on this subject, but we have examples in more than a dozen states to show how this might work.
The largest of these is in the senator’s home state of Florida: Corporations with a tax liability in the Sunshine State can receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit by donating to a nonprofit scholarship organization. And that organization, in turn, awards scholarships worth up to $4,335 to children who qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. There are nearly 50,000 K–12 students in Florida who now participate in the program, up from 29,000 just three years ago.
Despite its popularity, however, there is a reason that a program like this is controversial: A tax
The last thing Detroit families need is for an incompetent school board to regain control of the Motor City’s worst schools, but that may happen now that Michigan voters have repealed the state’s “emergency manager” law. The repeal has emboldened the Detroit Board of Education to undo many of the biggest reforms that emergency managers have put in place in the district during the last four years. Perhaps the worst of these decisions (so far!) was voiding the contract that emergency manager Roy Roberts forged last year with the state’s fledgling Education Achievement Authority, a recovery district modeled on Louisiana’s and run out of Eastern Michigan University. The EAA had taken possession of the lowest-achieving schools in Detroit (and has been praised by Arne Duncan), but it remained an inter-local agreement between the university and the school district. The Detroit school board, which one newspaper columnist said was “sauced on power and staggering with incompetence,” now wants to take those schools back under its fold. Eastern Michigan has vowed to fight, but it’s hard to see how kids will benefit from this custody battle if the state doesn’t codify the recovery district into law. Two bills were introduced recently in the legislature to do just that, but their sponsors have met with critics who maintain that the Achievement Authority needs more time to prove itself. That’s an absurd position, considering the thousands of Detroit families who been waiting for
Last week, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) launched “One Million Lives,” a multi-pronged campaign to provide better schools to one million children by closing failing charter schools and opening many more good ones.
It might seem odd that an organization that supports charter schools would call for the closure of hundreds of them. But it’s not. It makes perfect sense.
At the heart of the charter school concept is a bargain between schools and the entities that authorize them. Charter schools agree to accept greater accountability, including the possibility of closure, in exchange for greater freedom from bureaucratic rules that can inhibit effective teaching and learning. Charters receive autonomy over inputs in exchange for accountability for outcomes.
The surest way to cripple the charter movement is to let failing charter schools continue to operate.
The possibility of closure is essential to making the charter school bargain work. It is not a coincidence that where charters are working well, the threat of closure is real—and that where they are not, closure is rare. If closure isn’t a real possibility, the charter bargain is out of balance. When the link between autonomy and accountability is broken, quality suffers.
Charter schools are growing rapidly. This rapid growth is powerful evidence that when empowered with school choice, parents will seek out better options for their children. And despite a small but vocal chorus of detractors, charter schools also enjoy broad public support and are
The Louisiana Constitution allows lawmakers more freedom to design public education than its school boards and teacher unions would have us believe. So it’s no surprise that what is “public” today includes a largely charter school system in New Orleans, four publicly funded private-school-choice programs, a recovery school district, and the emergence of online charter schools.
The consolation for the families who opted for school choice is that this was always going to be decided by the Louisiana Supreme Court
That’s why it was frustrating to see a state judge declare late Friday that Louisiana’s newest and largest voucher program is illegal because it diverts “vital public dollars” to private schools. According to Judge Timothy Kelley, the state was wrong to fund its new voucher program by the same revenue stream that provides a “minimum foundation” to its public elementary and secondary schools.
That was the same argument put forward by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana School Boards Association when they sued to abolish the voucher program, which presently serves nearly 5,000 children in 113 private schools.
But what is the difference between privately operated charter schools and private schools accepting voucher-bearing students if each are held to account to parents and taxpayers?
Students receiving the Louisiana voucher have to take the same standardized tests as those administered at public schools, and the schools they attend can be ejected from the program if they consistently show poor performance—just like charter schools.
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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