Voucher programs don’t improve education and have significant downsides, new study concludes

From the Economic Policy Institute

Ia new report, Stanford professor and Economic Policy Institute research associate Martin Carnoy finds that voucher programs that promote private schooling have not delivered on promised improvements in educational outcomes. Rather, they tend to divert effort away from investments in public education that have been shown to improve educational attainments.

Carnoy reviews evaluations of voucher programs in cities including Milwaukee, Dayton, and Washington D.C. and states including Indiana, Louisiana, and Florida to show that vouchers do not significantly improve student achievement.

In Milwaukee, which has been a total “choice” district for 20 years, students can select among traditional public schools, public magnet schools, and charter schools. However, only one in four students attends his or her neighborhood school. With one of the highest number of school choice participants in the country, Milwaukee’s African American students rank second to last for eighth grade math scores and last for reading scores.

“If we want to give parents a real ‘choice’ of quality schools, we should invest in neighborhood public schools with a menu of proven policies,” said Carnoy. “All of these yield much higher returns than the minor gains that have been estimated for voucher students.”

Carnoy recommends investing in early childhood education, after-school and summer programs, and implementing high standards in math, reading, and science curricula in order to improve student achievement.

“Betsy DeVos, the new U.S. Secretary of Education, is a strong proponent of allowing public education dollars to go to private and religious education, “ said Carnoy. “It’s up to her to set the tone for Congress to value public education and educators.”

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School vouchers are not a proven strategy for improving student achievement: Studies of U.S. and international voucher programs show that the risks to school systems outweigh insignificant gains in test scores and limited gains in graduation rates

Summary Betsy DeVos, the new U.S. secretary of education, is a strong proponent of allowing public education dollars to go to private schools through vouchers, which enable parents to use public school money to enroll their children in private schools, including religious ones. Vouchers are advanced under the rubric of “school choice”-the theory that giving …

Charter school growth has increased inequity in education, study finds

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From the Education Policy Institute

A new Education Policy Institute report by Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker finds that many public school districts have lost enrollment and revenue due to charter school expansion, which has increased inequities in the educational experiences for students.

“The expansion of charter schools is exacerbating inequities among children, who are increasingly segregated by economic status, race, language, and disabilities,” said Baker.

In some urban districts, such as Washington D.C., Detroit, and Columbus, charter schools are serving 20 percent or more of the city or districtwide student population. While each city is unique, the districts experienced several of the same trends:  In most of the public school districts studied, the non-charter public schools have received fewer resources due to charter school expansion. In those cases, districts have tried to reduce expenditures enough to avoid a budget crisis by taking measures that can hurt student performance including increasing student-to-teacher ratios. Some districts simultaneously facing rapid student population decline and/or inequitable, under-resourced school finance systems have faced substantial annual deficits.

In his study of 11 city school systems, Baker finds many leading charter operators have been the subject of federal and state investigations and judicial orders over conflicts-of-interest and financial malfeasance. The opaque financial practices of charter operators have led to increased disparities for students, irregularities in the accumulation of public debt, and irregularities in the ownership and distribution of public assets.

Baker recommends communities hold charter operators publicly accountable and consider the cost and benefits to the community and to the greater public good. He also recommends that schools must be centrally managed in order to create meaningful transparency.

The role of charter schools is becoming increasingly important as President-elect Trump has pledged to support the School Choice and Education Opportunity Act, which would redirect education funding toward charter schools. Massachusetts and Georgia also recently voted down referenda to divert education money to charter schools.

“The Baker study shows that the charter schools are not being managed as a system that puts student needs first,” said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute. “The public education system should not incentivize the benefit of the most able and most resourced students. The system should be designed to benefit the greater public good and educate all students.”

EPI is an independent, nonprofit think tank that researches the impact of economic trends and policies on working people in the United States. 

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Pro-voucher lobbying group spends over $1 million on Wisconsin legislative races

From One Wisconsin Now

FallingMoneyAtCapitol_250pxFueled by contributions from out-of-state billionaires and the state big business lobby, the pro-private school voucher lobbying group the American Federation for Children (AFC) has reported pouring over $1 million worth of independent expenditures into state legislative races. The group, whose Wisconsin operations are overseen by disgraced former Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen has also larded the campaigns of candidates and the Republican Assembly and Senate legislative campaign committees with $34,000 in direct contributions between September 1 and October 24.

“The private school voucher cartel’s front group, the American Federation for Children, is back and looking to do business in Wisconsin,” said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross. “Fueled by huge contributions from out-of-state billionaires and the big business lobby, AFC is looking to elect legislators who’ll keep our tax dollars flowing to their friends in the less accountable private school industry instead of our public schools.”

According to filings with the State Elections Commission the American Federation for Children will have spent in excess of $1 million on direct mail and television, radio and digital advertising both attacking Democratic candidates and praising Republicans. Since 2010, the American Federation for Children has spent at least $4.5 million in Wisconsin campaigns.

Races in which AFC has been active include spending over $259,000 attacking Democrat Jeff Wright and promoting Republican Todd Novak in Assembly District 51; over $241,000 attacking Democrat Mandy Wright and promoting Republican Pat Snyder in Assembly District 85; over $54,000 attacking Democrat Dennis Hunt and promoting Republican Rob Summerfield in Assembly District 67; over $45,000 attacking Democrat David Gorski and promoting Republican Scott Krug in Assembly District 72; over $349,000 attacking Democrat Bryan Van Stippen in his race against Republican Tom Tiffany in Senate District 12; and over $62,000 attacking Democrat Mark Harris in his race against Republican Dan Feyen in Senate District 18.

In addition, candidate and the Republican legislative campaign committee filings indicate the AFC has been active in doling out campaign contributions directly to sitting Republican legislators, candidates and the legislative campaign committees controlled by the Senate and Assembly Republican leaders.

The largesse of AFC in supporting the campaigns of Assembly Republicans has been amply repaid in recent years. The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has reported the private school voucher program, with lower accountability standards than public schools, will snag $800 million in state tax dollars over the decade. In addition to sending massive sums of public tax dollars to private schools, the Republican-controlled legislature also enacted a special tax break that allows millionaires and others sending their kids to private schools and academies to get a deduction for tuition at an estimated annual cost of $30 million.

Ross noted that the private school voucher cartel appears poised to demand more taxpayer subsidies in the 2017 legislative session. According to news reports, the next objective in their crosshairs is creating taxpayer funded accounts that could be used to pay for tuition at private schools and other related expenses.

Ross concluded, “They won’t say it publicly in their misleading campaign ads, but make no mistake, the AFC intends to keep the gravy train flowing for their friends and keep taking money from our public schools to support less accountable private schools. And they’re spending big money to make sure they have legislators in their pocket who will do their dirty work for them.”

One Wisconsin Now is a statewide communications network specializing in effective earned media and online organizing to advance progressive leadership and values.

NAACP calls for moratorium on charter expansion

naacp_brock_quote_300pxThe NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization, has adopted a resolution calling for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools until concerns identified in its resolution are addressed. The moratorium call extends to “at least such time as:

  1. Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools;
  2. Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system;
  3. Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate; and
  4. Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.

Taxpayer-funded and privately managed, charter schools presently are treated in public policy as private for some purposes and public for others. They often are not subject to accountability and transparency provisions, such as open governing board meetings and records, financial conflict of interest, and financial audit requirements, that apply to other taxpayer-funded schools. Black students are disproportionately impacted by charter school disciplinary actions and high charter school failure rates which lead to closures. The NAACP historically has fought movements toward privatization that divert public funds to support nonpublic school choices.

“We are moving forward to require that charter schools receive the same level of oversight, civil rights protections and provide the same level of transparency, and we require the same of traditional public schools,” NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock said in the statement announcing the resolution. “Our decision today is driven by a long held principle and policy of the NAACP that high quality, free, public education should be afforded to all children.”

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García applauded the resolution, stating, “The NAACP vote is an important wake-up call that some charters are not serving the needs of communities and that much greater oversight and accountability is needed… . We strongly support more inclusive and otherwise positive alternatives to charter schools. We should invest in proven strategies – strategies such as smaller class sizes, parental involvement, magnet and community schools – that we know help to improve the success of all of our students.”

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Rep. Pocan calls private school voucher system a ‘wasteful, failing experiment’

In a column in the Progressive Magazine, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) thoughtfully and thoroughly lays out the case against the careless and costly expansion of private school vouchers in Wisconsin.

“Having served fourteen years in the Wisconsin state legislature before coming to Congress, I had a front-row seat to witness the growth of the nation’s first and largest taxpayer-funded voucher experiment. Our state was an unfortunate leader in the current march toward corporations and wealthy individuals privatizing our public education system,” he writes.

“Wisconsin now has more than 32,000 students statewide enrolled in its voucher plan, even though approximately three-quarters of the new students receiving that public money were already attending private schools. Now they are just doing so on the taxpayers’ dime. States across the country are draining funds from public schools that educate the vast majority of our children and diverting it to a few students in private schools.

“And while state governments are spending millions of taxpayer dollars on these schools, there is virtually no proof that voucher programs are effectively educating our kids. These schools have far less accountability and lower standards than public schools.”

After further discussing voucher school failures and lack of standards and accountability, Pocan concludes:

“It is unconscionable for taxpayers to continue funding two duplicative education systems, particularly when the one can cherry-pick students and ignore educational standards and dodge showing proof they are working.

“We need to have the federal Department of Education clarify the necessary steps to ensure proper oversight of this program, which appears to be a wasteful, failing experiment. After all, this should be about quality education for our kids.”

Read the entire column at Progressive.com:

The Privatization of Public Education is Failing Our Kids | The Progressive

H aving served fourteen years in the Wisconsin state legislature before coming to Congress, I had a front-row seat to witness the growth of the nation’s first and largest taxpayer-funded voucher experiment. Our state was an unfortunate leader in the current march toward corporations and wealthy individuals privatizing our public education system.

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Researcher ‘stunned’ by high rate of voucher school failures in Milwaukee

Forty-one percent of all private schools that participated in the Milwaukee private school voucher program between 1991 and 2015 failed, according to a new study by a voucher school proponent who said he was stunned by the findings.

“I do not mean failed as in they did not deliver academically, I mean failed as in they no longer exist,” University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Professor Michael Ford wrote. “These 102 schools either closed after having their voucher revenue cut off by the Department of Public Instruction, or simply shut their doors. The failure rate for entrepreneurial start-up schools is even worse: 67.8 percent.”

Ford is a former vice president of School Choice Wisconsin.

In a summary of his study, he concludes:

“The larger, perhaps more troubling legacy of the first 25 years of the Milwaukee voucher experience is the problem of externalities…When a school closes, students and parents must find new schools, student records may be lost, student achievement will likely suffer, and the public investment in failed institutions is lost.

“In other words,” he writes, “school closures are disruptive, and inevitable in market-based school reforms that encourage entrepreneurship. Anyone in Milwaukee over the past two decades can remember specific cases of school failures, so the fact that failure occurred is likely not surprising, but I was admittedly stunned by the high failure rates.

“It speaks to something someone said to me back when I was on the front lines of school voucher policy…we have underestimated just how hard it is to build a quality choice school.”

Read Ford’s summary of his study:

Exploring the Rate and Causes of Voucher School Failure

Forty-one percent of all private schools that participated in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) between 1991 and 2015 failed. I do not mean failed as in they did not deliver academically, I mean failed as in they no longer exist. These 102 schools either closed after having their voucher revenue cut off by the…

Watch this report from Up Front With Mike Gousha on WISN TV:

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Is the charter school bubble about to burst?

Burst your bubbleA new study by four education researchers says the movement toward private charter schools could be headed toward a disastrous outcome, much like the subprime mortgage crisis of several years ago.

“Private investors are lobbying states to change their rules to encourage charter school growth,” says one of the authors, Preston C. Green III. “The result is what we describe as a policy ‘bubble,’ where the combination of multiple authorizers and a lack of oversight can end up creating an abundance of poor-performing schools in particular communities.”

Basically, it works like this, according to the study, as reported in the Business Insider:

With the mortgage crisis, loan origination changed from an originate-to-hold model to an originate-to-distribute model. The OTD model allowed banks to sell mortgages into the secondary market, where they were bundled up and sold by the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

In both the mortgage crisis and the charter industry, these business-model changes essentially transfer the risk to a third party whose incentives don’t necessarily align with those of the originator.

The EdVocate puts it this way:

The bubble that the authors are referring to is one created by what they describe as misaligned priorities from varying parties with interests in the success of charter schools.

Basically, many charter schools are run by third-party groups. The goal of those groups is to either raise revenue or slash costs. Doing so means that students will suffer as the outside entity will likely look to cut expenses at any turn, such as making students that are deemed as a drain on the school’s financial resources go to other schools.

The researchers are Preston Green from the University of Connecticut, Bruce Baker from Rutgers University, Joseph Oluwole from Montclair State University, and Julie Mead from the University of Wisconsin.

Read more in the Business Insider:

An alarming new study says charter schools are America’s new subprime mortgages

The charter-school industry – consisting of schools that are funded partly by tax dollars but run independently – may be heading toward a bubble similar to that of the subprime-mortgage crisis, according to a study published by four education researchers. The study, ” Are charter schools the new subprime loans?”

Taxpayers have lost $216 million to charter waste, fraud, and abuse, report says

A new report concludes that taxpayers in 15 states have lost about $216 million to charter-school waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement. The report, issued this week by the Center for Popular Democracy, says that number is based on confirmed and alleged reports linked to charter schools.

“Public funding for charter schools (including local, state and federal expenditures) has reached over $30 billion annually,” states the executive summary of the report, titled Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud, and Abuse. “Yet despite this tremendous ongoing investment of public dollars to charter schools, government at all levels has failed to implement a system that proactively monitors charter schools for fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement.”

The report cites several examples, including this one from Wisconsin:

New Hope Institute of Science and Technology

In 2008, Rosella Tucker, founder and director of the now- closed New Hope Institute of Science and Technology charter school in Milwaukee, was convicted in federal court of embezzling $300,000 in public money and sentenced to two years in prison. Tucker acknowledged taking U.S. Department of Education money intended for the school, which she started through a charter agreement with Milwaukee Public Schools. She spent about $200,000 on personal expenses, including cars, funeral arrangements and home improvement, according to court documents. Tucker has argued that the remainder of the money she received was legitimate reimbursement for school-related expenses. Tucker embezzled the $300,000 from 2003 to 2005. The Milwaukee School Board voted to close New Hope Institute of Science and Technology in February 2006, amid problems that included unpaid bills and lack of appropriate teacher licensure.

Many other examples of fraud and mismanagement have been recorded in private charter and voucher schools in Wisconsin. The report warns that the opportunity for abuse may increase.

“With the recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal Department of Education is set to increase the pace of spending significantly over the next 10 years, doubling the total federal investment in charter schools in half the time,” states the report.

“With the continuation of inadequate oversight mechanisms and the new influx of federal dollars likely under ESSA, the amount of federal, state, and local dollars at risk of being lost to fraud, waste, and abuse in the charter sector is only going to grow.”

Read a summary of the report at EdVotes.org:

New Report: Taxpayers lose $216 million to charter waste, fraud, and abuse

Tags: Center for Popular Democracy, charter schools, CPD, ESSA, Every Student Succeeds Act Tell lawmakers it’s time for tougher standards and more oversight and accountability for charter schools. Click here › A new report concludes that taxpayers in 15 states have lost about $216 million to charter-school waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.

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Charter, alternative, virtual schools account for most low-grad-rate schools

Building a Grad Nation Report Examines Roadblocks on the Path to 90% High School Graduation Rates for All Students

Even as the nation reaches an all-time record graduation rate of 82.3 percent, low-graduation-rate high schools – a key focus of the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – pose a significant roadblock to the national goal of a 90 percent graduation rate for all students.

According to the study from the GradNation Campaign:

New analysis conducted for this report shows that under the ESSA definition, 52 percent of the nation’s low-graduation-rate high schools are charter, virtual and alternative high schools, all of which have grown in number since 2000. Moreover, while collectively charter, virtual and alternative schools account for 14 percent of high schools and 8 percent of students, 20 percent of high school students who do not graduate on time attend these schools. Regular district high schools account for 41 percent of low-graduation-rate high schools and are where the majority of students who do not graduate on time can be found.

“As the number of low-grad-rate schools grows in some states, it is necessary to take a closer look at when and where these schools are part of the solution or a wrong turn on the path to 90 percent graduation rates for all students,” added Jennifer DePaoli, senior education advisor at Civic Enterprises and the report’s lead author.

Virtual, blended schools continue to grow despite poor performance

Although the number of parents and students choosing virtual and blended schools in the United States is rising, new evidence suggests these schools lag significantly behind traditional brick-and-mortar schools, a brief released Wednesday finds. Researchers recommend a host of corrective measures, from temporarily halting virtual school expansions to devising more appropriate outcome measurements.

Read & Share the Report

“Many virtual schools and blended schools have been promoted as an efficient, cost-effective way to bridge technology and learning, yet there is growing evidence that they’re failing to prepare their students for success,” said WEAC President Betsy Kippers. “Policymakers should hit the brakes on the rapid expansion of online schools until accountability measures are in place that ensure they’re no longer failing.”

Virtual Schools Report 2016: Directory and Performance Review recommends exactly that: that policymakers and education leaders place a moratorium on virtual and blended schools until accountability measures are established that can identify why these schools are failing.

The report found virtual and blended schools are failing students in on-time graduation rates, student-to-teacher ratio and English language arts.

“Too many virtual and blended schools are continuing to operate without accountability measurements, and this report urges policymakers to dig deeper and ask tough questions about why these schools are failing their students,” said Kippers. “Before states allow more virtual and blended schools to open, it’s critical that policymakers and educators do a better job at identifying the causes of widespread underperformance among online schools and hold failing schools accountable for their outcomes.”

Despite these troubling findings, virtual and blended schools are continuing to expand without any guidelines or accountability measurements. Between the 2013 and 2014 school years, 447 full-time virtual schools enrolled approximately 262,000 students – up from 311 full-time schools enrolling 200,000 students just two years earlier – and 87 blended schools enrolled 26,155 students. Currently, there are 33 states with full-time virtual schools and 16 states have blended schools.

This report recommends that policymakers design new outcome measures for full-time virtual and blended schools to increase accountability and improve school performance. It also urges policymakers to create and enforce sanctions for these schools if they fail to demonstrate improved performance.

Additionally, authors of the report recommend policymakers require virtual and blended schools devote more resources to learning, especially by specifying a maximum ratio of students to teachers. State agencies should also require these schools to fully report data about student demographics and teachers. And new outcome measures should be designed appropriate to the unique characteristics of online learning.

The vast majority of students are enrolled in virtual schools operated by for-profit companies such as K12 Inc. and Connections Academy. Although for-profit corporations operate only 44 percent of virtual schools, these institutions account for 74 percent of all student enrollments. Additionally, for-profit virtual schools enroll an average of 1,027 students, compared to non-profit virtual schools that enroll an average of 286 students.

The National Education Policy Center produced the research brief, Virtual Schools Report 2016, with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.