|Introduction||This study examined
the adequacy as well as the potential of public schools to accommodate
the values and aspirations of parents in the education of their children.
Reported in the study are interviews regarding school choice programs in
San Antonio and Milwaukee, conclusions about parental choice in schooling,
and implications for Saskatchewan boards of education.
Saskatchewan is not immune from the volatile politics of structural change in the educational landscape. For example, the emergence of charter schools in Alberta and Magnet schools in Regina are not insignificant aberrations to the status quo. The proponents and supporters of charter schools and magnet schools appear to have much in common with the proponents and supporters of parental choice in schooling by means of the voucher system. Differences between these respective approaches to parental choice in schooling may be large or small, depending on the intent of legislative architects - which, in turn, is often dependent upon time and place.
The concept of providing parents with meaningful choice, without financial penalty, within a context of new schools in existing facilities, and without abandoning the compelling interest of the state would seem entirely relevant to future aspirations, needs, and opportunities in public education in Saskatchewan.
|A School Choice Program in San Antonio|
|School Choice Programs in Milwaukee|
|Some Conclusions About Parental Choice Schooling|
|The Politics of Restructuring Public Education|
|Implications of Parental Choice Schooling for Saskatchewan|
The SSTA Research Centre grants permission to reproduce
up to three copies of each report for personal use. Each copy must acknowledge
the author and the SSTA Research Centre as the source. A complete and authorized
copy of each report is available from the SSTA
The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author and may not be in agreement with SSTA officers or trustees, but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making decisions.
According to a Green and White magazine article, veteran substitute teacher, R. McDonald (Maclise), decided she could no longer refrain from speaking out about increasing chaos and violence she had been witnessing in scores of Calgary schools. "Not only is there very little learning going on, it is actually dangerous and abusive for many children to be in the classroom - at all levels" (1992, p. 17). McDonald went on to state that she would fight for the implementation of voucher education, i.e., school choice for parents:
If vouchers were accepted, so many of these problems would evaporate very quickly. Because as soon as parents started pulling their children out of one school to send them to another, you will soon get the [first school] saying, "Well, we'd better reform." (p. 17)
With reference to the evolution of the voucher system in the United States, Coons and Sugarman (1992, p. 1) introduce their book, Scholarships for Children with the following statement:
Around 1970 federal and state officials recognized for the first time that educational choice for all families might be desirable and achievable. Debate commenced on whether government should pay for a child's tuition in order that families of all income classes might have access both to private schools and to public schools outside the child's district of residence.... In the succeeding decades, forests have been consumed by advocates and opponents airing their general arguments about choice.1 The original school voucher plan was a demonstration project launched by the Office of Economic Opportunity as part of the War on Poverty in the early 1970s. The project involved a single public elementary school district, Alum Rock near San Jose, California. This modified voucher experiment allowed families to choose among neighbourhood schools. In 1974 teachers in East Harlem's District 4 launched a choice system among public schools with a schools-within-schools approach to parental choice of schooling. However, the collective mind of America was elsewhere and it wasn't until the 1983 report, A Nation At Risk, pointed to "a rising tide of mediocrity," that the focus upon a complete rethinking of the entire public education system began.
For example, in 1985, a state-wide choice program in Minnesota began giving parents the option to send their children to any public school in the state. According to Allen and Dale (1995, p. 5) during the 1992-93 school year at least 15 percent of Minnesota students chose a school other than the one assigned by their district.
In conjunction with the desegregation orders of the sixties and seventies, magnet schools began to not only focus on ethnic balances but also on creating an atmosphere of excellence and opportunity to voluntarily attract a diverse school population. The competition to get into these schools appears to be keen and is sometimes determined by lottery. Allen and Dale (p. 11) state that in 1993 approximately 1.2 million children attended more than 2,400 magnet schools -- triple the number in 1983.
Open enrolment, another choice option, was introduced in Los Angeles in the fall of 1993 allowing parents to search for the "perfect school" among the 22,000 seats open. Numerous states including Ohio, Utah, Nebraska, and Iowa now allow open enrolment across the state. Other states such as Florida have initiated a post-secondary enrolment option allowing high school students to attend local colleges both for high school and college credit. According to Allen and Dale (p. 12), 25,000 students in Florida currently participate. On the same page, Allen and Dale state that fifty-seven percent of students in Boston now choose non-local schools. It should also be noted that in the United States the use of private contractors for delivering "cost-efficient" public education is not uncommon. For example, Options for Youth (OFY) in Los Angeles educates dropouts at their homes under contract with the local school board - serving approximately 1,500 students annually since 1987; Ombudsman Education Services contracts in seven states to educate over 3,000 potential dropouts per year; and Baltimore City Public Schools contracted with Education Alternatives, Inc. (EAI) to manage nine of its public schools. (Allen and Dale, p. 18)
Another option promoting school choice is the charter school model. The charter school may be viewed as a compromise between the status quo and voucher programs, i.e., to promote innovation without privatizing education. Under a voucher plan parents could send their children to a school of their choice (possibly public or private) at taxpayers expense. Prevailing concerns range from government subsidization of religious schools to the demise of the public education system. However, the charter model modifies the public school's exclusive franchise without allowing public funds to flow to private/parochial schools unconditionally.
Bierlein and Mulholland (1994, p.34) offer a succinct definition of a charter school:
In its purest form, a charter school is an autonomous educational entity operating under a contract negotiated between the organizers who manage the school (teachers, parents, or others from the public or private sector), and the sponsors who oversee the provisions of the charter (local school boards, state education boards, or some other public authority).
Charter provisions address such issues as the school's instructional plan, specific educational outcomes and their measurement, and management and financial issues. A charter school may be formed from a school's existing personnel and facilities or from a portion thereof (for example, a school-within-a-school); or it may be a completely new entity with its own facilities.
Bierlein and Mulholland go on to credit Ray Budde with introducing the charter school concept in the late 1980s by reference to Henry Hudson's charter with the East India Company. They state on page 37 that the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Albert Shanker, furthered the idea by proposing that groups of teachers be allowed to start their own schools under a charter process.
Based on the philosophy that competition for students would result in significant innovation and improvement in the public schools, Minnesota had pioneered state-wide public school choice in 1985. In 1991 Minnesota went a step further by being the first state to pass charter school legislation. Under the legislation one or more certified teachers could acquire a charter if they could find a school board to sponsor them. They might build a new school (public or private), or convert an existing one. Governed by a board of directors, the majority of which must be teachers, the charter school was to have final authority over all budgeting, personnel, and curricular and administrative matters. Although a charter school would be free from state regulation and local school board management, it was to be under contract with a public sponsor, was required to meet student performance standards specified in the contract, was to be non-sectarian, non-discriminatory, and tuition free. However, the number of charter schools was limited to eight state-wide, only licensed teachers were authorized to teach in charter schools, and sponsorship was limited to local school boards.
The next year, 1992, California adopted the nation's second charter school law authorizing 100 such schools as compared to Minnesota's eight. Obviously, the legislation was an attempt (in part) to mitigate the popularlity of a more radical school voucher initiative scheduled to appear on the ballot in 1994. Some interesting observations were made by Williams and Buechler (1993) about the California legislation. They state that a charter school organizer must get half of the teachers in an existing public school, or one tenth of the teachers in a district, to sign a charter school petition and that if 50 percent of the teachers support the charter application, the district may convert all its schools to charter schools. Unlike Minnesota, existing private schools are expressly forbidden from becoming charter schools although unlicensed persons may start, and teach in, charter schools.
Bierlein and Mulholland conclude that charter schools have introduced new challenges and opportunities for local boards, teachers, and students. For example, board authority over charter schools may be limited to contract oversight or may be eliminated completely where the board is not the sponsor; charter schools may be teacher union friendly or may allow teachers to become school business "owners" rather than school employees. In general, a charter school must practice open admission policies, not violate civil rights laws, meet health and safety standards, and show satisfactory achievement by its students. Although charters are usually granted for five year periods, they can be revoked at any time for cause. Allen and Dale (p. 7) state by early 1995 more than 140 charter schools were operating in California, Minnesota, Colorado, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Nevertheless, when key concerns of teacher unions are not protected by statute, the development of charter schools may be impeded. For example, if it is not mandated that all charter school teachers be certified and that collective bargaining provisions remain in force, the consequent intimidation and violence may halt the process. Diamond (1994, p. 41) states: "In some cases, anonymous mailings threatening teachers who wish to pursue charters with loss of retirement benefits and other benefits have been enough to stop the development of a school." Furthermore, given the risk and energy involved in starting a charter school, the general opposition of teachers' unions, and the usual skepticism of cost-conscious school boards, the future for charter schools remains uncertain.
Of all the reforms designed to alter the structure of K-XII education in the United States, none would do so in a more fundamental way than the voucher system. In a typical voucher program, a foundation or a government allots money for each child's education in the form of tuition vouchers which may be redeemed at a public or private school of the parent's choice. During past decades the Gallup Poll has been used to ask Americans about school choice. As reported by Coons and Sugarman (1992, p. 5), by 1981-82 more respondents favoured private schools than public schools; by 1985 more respondents favoured than opposed the adoption of voucher plans.
Beales (1994), in a survey of school voucher programs in the United States, found voucher programs operating in 12 cities with all but one being privately funded. For example, the privately funded Children's Educational Opportunity (CEO) Foundation in San Antonio, Texas had been organized in 1992 by Dr. James Leininger for the purpose of providing tuition vouchers to low-income families. Beales (p. 5) provides the following excerpts taken from the letters of a parent and a grandmother.
I have three sons, they have attended three middle schools within a two month period. They were not safe at any of them. At Paige Middle School, the principal had to bring my sons home in the middle of the day, not because they were misbehaving, but because the gang members were harassing them in the classroom, outside, in the halls, even on the way home; they were not safe. Because of these problems that caused them to have low self-esteem, stress, and not wanting to go to school, their grades were beginning to look real bad. I spent a lot of time at school instead of working at my job.
But thank God for the CEO Foundation that came to my rescue.... They would still be living in fear, if it wasn't for the choice that CEO program has given my family.... We would like to say thank you very much to CEO Foundation for giving us a chance and a choice.
- Etta Wallace, mother of Bobby, Tony, and Terry, San Antonio, Tex.
My granddaughter, Stephanie, is considered dyslexic and although she attended pre-kinder, kindergarten, and three years of public school, there was very little done to help her. Her school-work this year resembled work done by a first grader. She could not read or retain anything. A friend told us about The Learning Nook, a private school that works with children having learning problems. We enrolled her immediately and within three or four days, her attitude was completely changed. She looked forward to going to school. her writing is neat and clear, she now enjoys doing her homework, and her alphabet letters are not backwards. I am very grateful to CEO for the two year tuition scholarship granted to Stephanie.
- Estela Fincke, grandmother of Stephanie (age 9), San Antonio, Tex.
It should be noted that it would be a serious mistake to assume that voucher programs function only on the basis of economics and cost competition. In Milwaukee, the privately funded Partners Advancing Values in Education (PAVE) program operates concurrently with the state-supported Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). "Although the MPCP pays full tuition, and PAVE only half, greater numbers of low-income parents have applied to the PAVE program than the MPCP" (Beales, 1994, p.4). On page 12 Beales refers to the work of Professor John F. Witte, contracted by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to evaluate the MPCP program, who found that the top two reasons cited by parents for participating in the choice program were the quality of the choice schools and school discipline.
Significant change in education usually does not occur in the absence of political support. In 1992 the Bush Administration proposed annual scholarships of $1,000 for each child of a middle-or-low-income family in a participating state or locality. Called the "G1 Bill for Children," the proposed program allowed families to spend the scholarships at any lawfully operated school -- public, private, or religious. According to Alexander (1993), who was U.S. secretary of education at the time, the President's G1 Bill was designed to do for elementary and secondary students what the federal government had been doing for college students since World War II and since 1990 for day care toddlers:
The President's proposal was a demonstration program, but it was the largest new program in the federal budget for fiscal year 1993 -- a much bigger program, for example, than Head Start was in 1965. It would have spent half a billion new dollars each year, enough to provide scholarships for all eligible children (about 60 percent) in 24 cities the size of San Jose, or in 30 cities the size of Little Rock, or in seven the size of Milwaukee.
These federal dollars would have gone directly to parents, so there would have been no church/state question. There were antidiscrimination proposals included in the program related to race, disability, and gender. And all the new money in the President's "G1 Bill for Children" could have gone to public schools -- and I believe that at least 70% of it would have -- as long as parents thought those schools were best for their children. (pp. 765-766)
During January, 1994 the government of Alberta announced a major restructuring of the province's education system. The government stated that the restructuring plan would include permissive legislation to allow for charter schools - schools pioneered in Great Britain and the United States giving parents and teachers direct control of schools through charters. The charter or "contract" between parents and teachers of a school and government would emphasize parental control over what is taught (circumventing school boards) and would emphasize teacher responsibility to parents (rather than to school boards or teachers' unions).
In addition, Alberta Education's Three-Year Business Plan released in February, 1994 made provision for the development of student, teacher, school, and school board performance measures all to be administered on a mandatory basis. Five MLA teams, an Accountability Implementation team, and a Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Committee spearheaded an effort to formulate prototype report cards for individual schools and boards. Of 31 provincial performance measures considered for assessing the quality of education in Alberta, 14 will show people's level of satisfaction with the education system. For example, the percentage of parents satisfied with their role in decision making, percentage of teaching staff whose performance is rated satisfactory or better by students and parents, and percentage of parents who are satisfied that they are receiving value for their tax dollars will undoubtedly remain as key questions in evaluating a school's performance (see Alberta Education's "Accountability in Education Discussion Paper" dated January, 1995).
In conclusion, if there is little difference between a publicly funded charter school and a publicly funded private school, it is not a long jump from charter schools to the use of carefully designed voucher contracts for delivering public education and accommodating parental choice and aspirations. One of the strongest arguments in favour of the voucher system may be equity. Why should parental choice be a middle/upper class entitlement only - i.e., available only to those children whose parents can afford it?
Furthermore, and with reference to Saskatchewan in particular, why should Roman and Greek Catholics have the legal right to establish publicly funded separate schools of their own supported by all taxpayers in the province while no other religious denomination in the province has the same right? Hurlbert (1995) presents historical and legal documentation to indicate that although separate school rights may be "constitutionally protected," they are not entrenched, i.e., not beyond the reach of ordinary legislative action. (pp. 43-44) In conclusion, he states:
It is now time to provide in public education in Canada a level playing field of opportunity for all religious sects - either state support for all or state support for none - whether they be Anglican, Buddhist, Catholic, or down through the alphabet to Zionist. It is in the context of a regulated and state administered economy - not a free market economy - that the voucher system should be considered. (p. 45)
Coons and Sugarman (1992, p. 35) conclude that locating the authority to choose in the parent and treating all public, secular, and religious schools in a similar fashion avoids the constitutional problem of directing public funds to the support of religious institutions:
The participation of religious schools in the scholarship program no longer appears to pose a serious problem under the "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment to the federal constitution. Opinions in U.S. Supreme Court cases in recent years strongly suggest that subsidies to individuals may be properly spendable in religious schools so long as the system of finance overall is reasonably neutral as between secular and religious institutions and as between public and private sectors.
The First Amendment of the American constitution provides that, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Unlike Canada, the separation of church and state in America as manifested in their constitution has always prohibited state funding of parochial schools. Nevertheless, there are powerful forces in the United States today which would publicly fund parental choice of schools, not excluding religious schools, and the spokespersons for these forces argue that the U.S. Constitution does not stand in the way. Regardless of their constitutional heritage, or of their parents' wealth, or of their parents' religion, the voucher system for delivering publicly supported education appears to offer all children, without discrimination, equal benefit and protection of state sponsored and controlled schooling -- a condition which both Canadians and Americans should want for their young people.
Because Milwaukee is the first city in the United States to provide publicly funded school vouchers to public school students (MPCP) and because the Children's Educational Opportunity (CEO) Foundation in San Antonio, unlike other private voucher programs, allows public schools to participate in the CEO program, it would seem appropriate to focus on these two centres.
The following observations by Beales (1994) indicate the importance of a careful examination of voucher systems in Milwaukee and San Antonio:
Beginning in the 1994-95 school year, the district-wide cap for student participation in the MPCP will be lifted to 1.5 percent of Milwaukee Public School enrolment (from its current 1 percent level). In addition, private schools will be allowed to enrol up to 65 percent of their students with MPCP vouchers, up from 49 percent in the program's first four years. (p. 17)
Beginning in 1993-94, the CEO Foundation will award up to 66 percent of its vouchers to students from public schools in order to help more students who otherwise would not have the opportunity to attend the public or private school of their choice. The CEO program is heavily oversubscribed. Over 1,400 students fill the waiting list for vouchers. (p. 12)
It was also the intent of the researcher/writer to focus, within the present program of investigative and interpretative research, upon the emergence of a voucher system in Kansas to be enacted by the State Legislature. However, the proposed bill has not gone forward from the House of Representatives Education Committee. Consequently, developments in Kansas will be discussed in a later section of this report which addresses the politics of restructuring in public education.
In summary, it would appear that Charter schools being introduced in Alberta are very similar to publicly funded private schools. Consequently, making legislative provision for Charter schools is not that far removed from making provision for a voucher system - particularly if the voucher approach is referenced not to a "free market" education economy but to a regulated and controlled education economy where the compelling interest and responsibility of the state continue to be paramount.
Growing disenchantment with public school systems both
in Canada and the United States signals a need for close examination of
current concerns and issues, not the least of which is parental choice
Table of Contents
Public schools may participate in the CEO voucher program but participating students must reside in Bexar County, which includes the city of San Antonio. The concept of the CEO program is to financially enable parents to send their children to a public or private school of their choice. There are no academic requirements for a CEO scholarship. Grants are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis with qualification based on family income. The family must qualify for the Federal Free Lunch Program which requires an income of less than $28,028 for a family of four. The CEO Foundation may contribute one-half of a child's monthly tuition up to $750 annually. Tuition payments made by the CEO Foundation are sent directly to the school and parents are required to provide the balance.
During the program's early stages, half of the scholarships were available to families whose children attended public schools and half to families whose children already attended private schools. Also, scholarships were limited to students in grades 1-8. In 1996 almost all CEO children receiving scholarships were from the public schools and the Foundation will now assist students with high school education if they were in the program during the eighth grade. However, the CEO Foundation does not assist with pre-kinder, kindergarten, or day care.
In 1992 the San Antonio CEO Foundation provided scholarships to 700 students. In 1996 assistance was being provided to 1,000 students with over 4,000 applications having been processed since operations began in 1992. CEO students are composed of a wide range of ethnic, religious, and academic backgrounds and are enrolled in 104 participating schools which attempt to provide the academic standards, moral teachings, and learning environments parents are seeking for their children. See Appendex A, p. 51 for a breakdown of ethnic distribution, grade levels, school denomination, etc., for 1995.
The Center for the Study of Education Reform at the University of North Texas has been studying CEO students and comparing their academic progress to students who are not attending schools of their choice. Findings for the 1992-93 school year indicated a significant difference in the annual standardized test scores between the two groups. CEO students who had previously attended public schools scored 8.14 points higher in reading and 9.91 points higher in math than public school students from non-choosing families. (Martinez, Goldwin, and Kemerer, 1995, p. 7)
Martinez, Goldwin, and Kemerer (pp. 3-8) make the following observations: (a) While targeted to low-income families, the CEO voucher program does not attract the lowest end of the low-income population. CEO respondents are considerably better off than eligible families whose children are in attendance-zone public schools. While families participating in the CEO program are overwhelmingly satisfied with the amount of the scholarship, a sizable percentage who were wait-listed or dropped out of the CEO program are dissatisfied with the scholarship amount. One can conclude that a voucher program that covers only a portion of schooling costs will not attract the lowest end of the income spectrum. (b) Parents in choosing families are considerably more likely to have completed some college than non-choosing parents. (c) Parents in choosing families have higher educational expectations for their children than non-choosing parents. More than half of the choosing families expect their children to attend professional or graduate schools compared with less than one-quarter of non-choosing families. A public policy implication is that the educational system should be teaching parents how to plan for their children's educational future. (d) Choosing families indicate that the most important reason for selecting alternatives to attendance-zone schools is educational quality. For parents choosing private schools, discipline, the general atmosphere of the chosen school, and religious training were clustered as the second most important factor. These data are contrary to the prevailing assumption that educational quality is not a major influence in school choice, and they also indicate that educational goals are not the only rationale for choosing private schools. An important component of the decision to choose a private school is the opportunity to select a school that will further the family's values. (e) The emphasis on test scores is probably misplaced. What education is about goes well beyond standardized tests. Parental support, student enjoyment and participation, and a host of other factors are far more critical to a child's life success than small changes in test scores.
Jividen (1994) provides information about the accreditation of private schools in Bexar County. According to the Jividen Guide, the smallest accredited school is Marthana Adventist School with grades 1-8 offered and a total enrolment of 21 students. This school was accredited by the Texas Seventh-Day Adventists School System (TSDA). Conversely, the largest accredited school is St. Luke School with a total enrolment of 575 students. This school was accredited by the Texas Catholic Conference Education Department (TCCED).
It should be noted that while the CEO Foundation may contribute half of a student's tuition up to $750 annually, tuition rates for high school students are relatively high. For example, Blessed Hope Academy, offering grades 9-12, charges $2,500 to $4,500 per year, although loan programs are available.
Accreditation of private schools in Bexar County may be granted by any one of the Texas Private School Accreditation Commission accrediting agencies. The Texas Private School Accreditation Commission (TEPSAC) is not an accrediting organization. It is instead a confederation of accrediting associations whose primary purpose is to maintain standards of accreditation among its membership. These standards of accreditation are comparable to Texas Education Agency (TEA) standards and preserve the integrity of the member associations and the schools they accredit. Recognized by the State Commissioner of Education, TEPSAC helps ensure quality in private schooling by monitoring and approving organizations that accredit the various non-public elementary and secondary educational institutions in Texas. The agreement between TEPSAC and the Commissioner of Education requires every recognized accrediting organization to conduct an on-site visit to each of its accredited schools at least once every five years. For a complete list of accrediting agencies as contained in the Jividen Guide, see Appendix A, p. 52.
In conclusion, the purpose of the CEO Foundation program
is to assist in equalizing schooling opportunities for children by making
available to low income families only, an educational option normally out
of reach to them because of economics. Although the tuition voucher is
referred to as a scholarship, it is actually a need-based three year grant
paid on a monthly basis directly to the school being attended by the child
receiving the "scholarship." In this sense, the program is a three-year
commitment, the continuation of which depends on the progress of the student
and the Foundation's success in attracting sufficient financial support.
Table of Contents
However, Milwaukee is the first city in the United States to provide vouchers to its public school students through the publicly funded Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). In 1989, Wisconsin's white Republican Governor, Tommy Thompson, with support from the mayor of Milwaukee and Representative to the state legislature black Democrat Annette (Polly) Williams, succeeded in providing legislation for a private school choice option plan for low-income pupils. The legislative coalition assembled by Williams and Thompson insisted that participating private schools, 1. could not be religious schools, 2. had to comply with federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, colour, or national origin, 3. could not charge eligible families more than the value of the voucher, and 4. must draw a majority of their pupils from students not participating in the family choice program. The participating schools were to take all comers up to the numbers of spaces available for voucher-carrying pupils. If applicants exceeded spaces available, enrolment would be decided by lot.
Legislative passage of the bill did not result in immediate implementation as State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Herbert Grover, went to court seeking to have it declared unconstitutional while parents wanting to participate in the plan took Grover to court for imposing unfair and burdensome regulations on schools aspiring to qualify for the voucher program. Finally, in August 1990, the Milwaukee plan was ruled valid and Grover was ordered to simplify the requirements he had imposed on participating schools.
This government-funded voucher program provides for the full funding of tuition fees at eligible schools as well as limited funds for student transportation. MCPC has been aimed at low-income families in the city of Milwaukee; it is open only to students from households at 175 percent of the federal poverty level or below. MPCP is currently supervised by a Wisconsin Department of Instruction official in Madison.
With reference to costs, it would appear that the delivery of public education through the voucher system in Milwaukee is less expensive than through the regular public system. In Wisconsin, state aid to public schools is determined on the basis of local property assessment per student, with the cost of student vouchers for public schools deducted, from the Milwaukee Public Schools' state-aid total. Therefore, a frequent criticism of MPCP is that it drains the public schools of both students and money. However, from the point of view of taxpayers, the following excerpt from Beales (1994, p. 14) is germane: "Aggregated for all participating students, the cost in 1992-93 of the MPCP (including vouchers and transportation costs but excluding administration) totalled $1,790,000-significantly less than the $3,761,000 cost of educating the same number of students in the Milwaukee Public Schools."
For a brief analysis by the Public Policy Forum of the differences in spending per pupil between public and private schools, see Appendix C, p. 59.
Nevertheless, within the context of state aid to public schools, the state of Wisconsin will pay two-thirds of all public school costs beginning in 1996 which is estimated to drop residential property tax bills by 11.5 percent.
In June-July, 1995, Milwaukee's school choice program was expanded to include religious schools with Governor Thompson signing a budget bill which would make 15,000 vouchers available for the 1996-97 school year. However, participation in choice by parochial schools has been halted by court injunction while the Wisconsin Supreme Court reviews the legality of permitting them to participate in the program. The legislation, which was passed by both Houses and is now working its way through the courts, also made provision for a maximum of 7 percent on choice school enrolment in the MPSS in 1995-96 (up from 1.5 percent) and a maximum of 15 percent in 1996-97 (see Appendix D, p. 69). There are currently 15 choice schools operating with approximately 1,200 students. There were 17 participating schools at the beginning of the 1995-96 school year but Exito Education Center and Milwaukee Preparatory Academy closed amid questions over their finances and enrolment.
The current MPCP is open to all kindergarten to 12th grade students in the Milwaukee Public School System (MPSS). The voucher amount equals 100 percent of per student funds that go to the MPSS from the state of Wisconsin ($3,209 in 1994-95); with the loss of a choice student, the MPSS loses state funds, but retains local district funds. Choice schools must accept the voucher amount as full payment in lieu of tuition for choice students enrolled. However, students not funded by the choice program may be charged tuition rates either higher or lower than voucher values.
Although choice school admittance policies may not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, prior achievement, or prior behavioural records, during times of over-subscription to the program preference may be given to siblings of currently enrolled students. Also, choice schools are exempted from the requirements of the Education for All Handicapped Act and schools and parents are reimbursed for transportation costs.
Choice student enrolment is currently limited to1.5 percent of total enrolment in the MPSS. Furthermore, for each participating school, a minimum of 35 percent of total enrolment must be comprised of other than choice students-down from 50 percent in previous years. With reference to accountability, choice schools must meet at least one performance standard established for attendance, student achievement on standardized tests, grade progress, or parental involvement. All students in the MPSS (including choice students) must take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.
Considerable research on the Milwaukee School Choice Program has been conducted by Professor J. Witte of the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is often criticized for bias against school choice. Nevertheless, the Witte research (1991-94) contains generally positive conclusions about MPCP. Witte found that "creaming" of students does not take place in the MPCP as students entering the choice program are weaker academically than low-income students in MPSS schools. However, creaming" may take place with parents as MPCP parents tend to be better educated and more enthusiastic about new educational opportunities than MPSS parents.
With reference to school accreditation, a parent guide entitled Private and Religious School Choice Directory (see Appendix E, P. 75) was developed as part of a collaborative effort to inform parents about school choice options. Collaborators included Rep. Polly Williams, Governor Thompson, The Mayor of Milwaukee, PAVE, and the Department of Public Instruction. Rep. Williams proposed state legislation (tougher oversight measures) to make choice schools comply with stricter state regulations, e.g., requiring each school to have a board of directors, requiring more stringent fiscal accountability from each school, and requiring choice schools to meet the same academic accountability measures as public schools. However, the legislation was killed in the State Senate in May 1996 along with other bills when the Senate unexpectedly prorogued its 1995-96 session.
The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (1995) conducted a study, Expanded School Choice In Milwaukee, with respect to the impact of the legislated changes. The 44-page report includes (pp. 1-2) the following findings:
This study concludes (I) that the expanded MPCP will meet the goal of increased educational opportunity for students from low-income families and (ii) that these students are among the lowest achievers in MPS. Further research, based on actual results, will be necessary to determine if the expanded program meets the goals of increased educational achievement. Other findings include:
1. Private schools in the City of Milwaukee aren't elite. The demographic profile of private school students and families in the city is similar to the nearly 700,000 students in the 426 Wisconsin public school districts outside the city.
2. Because of limited income, parents of students eligible for the MPCP choose private schools at a much reduced rate from other parents. While about 21% of Milwaukee school-age children are in private schools, in low-income neighborhoods the rate is 7% and in middle- and upper-income neighbor-hoods it is 30%. For children of Milwaukee school teachers, the rate is 33%.
3. Educational achievement at private high schools in Milwaukee is somewhat higher than at public schools elsewhere in Wisconsin and significantly higher than in MPS. Comparative measures used to reach this conclusion included: (I) attendance, dropout, and graduation rates; (ii) college entrance test scores; (iii) the percent of seniors likely to be college-bound; (iv) the percent of students taking high school standardized exams; and (v) among public students, scores on those exams.
4. Students most likely to graduate from MPS attended a private school or a non-MPS public school before high school.
5. About 65,000 to 70,000 school-age children in Milwaukee are in families eligible for the MPCP. Maximum participation under the expanded program is about 15,700. Existing private schools have capacity to accept about 6,400 additional students. There is added capacity for about 1,840 students at several closed private schools.
6. On average, students eligible for the MPCP perform poorly in school and are less likely to graduate from high school.
7. Most eligible students live in areas of high poverty. More than two-thirds are in families headed by a female with no husband present. About 43% of eligible families receive some public assistance; 45% are headed by someone without a high school degree. Most are from Milwaukee's Black neighborhoods, where low educational achievement and poverty exist side-by-side.
In reaching these and other conclusions, this study includes previously unreported information made available with assistance from the Wisconsin Demographic Services Center. For example, to describe who is eligible for school choice, the Center assisted in preparing a citywide profile of eligible families. The Center also identified the 73 census tracts in Milwaukee in which a majority of eligible students live. To compare public and private school students, the report drew from a new and comprehensive data base released during the course of the last year and made available by the Center.
For detailed information about school-related demographics in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, see Appendix F, p. 84.
Rob Rauh is principal of an elementary school at 1441
North 24th Street in Milwaukee which participates in the choice program.
As principal of Urban Day School, Rob has positioned his desk/telephone
in the school's corridor so as to more effectively interact with the school's
students, 100 percent of whom are non-white. Rob (who is white) is also
responsible for hiring and supervising 60 teachers and 4 maintenance staff
in the school-all on individual contracts. For a sample of day-to-day policy
and forms relating to the functioning of the school, see Appendix G, p.
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According to Allen and Dale (1995) the reform movement that is gaining ever more momentum and wider public support is aimed much deeper than those efforts of years past. They argue that because traditional reform efforts only yielded marginal results, the focus has shifted to a complete rethinking of the entire public education system where the idea of school choice can provide the solid first step toward reintroducing accountability and excellence to the schools. For example, Allen and Dale observe that one of the newest and fastest growing means of school improvement in the 90s is the charter school. As stated previously, by early 1995, more than 140 charter schools were operating in eleven states. Also, in 1993, 1.2 million students were attending 2,400 magnet schools across the nation-triple the number in 1983.
The growth of charter schools and magnet schools has also been accompanied by the establishment of more than 20 privately funded voucher programs throughout the United States (see the CEO America Contact List, Appendix H, p. 120). Other states are in the process of attempting to emulate the Wisconsin MPCP model, e.g., Ohio and Texas. It is within this context of significant change taking place in the delivery of K-XII schooling in the United States that the following conclusions are set forth:
(1) There is increasing public support for parental choice of schooling for children, without financial penalty.
(2) The supply of private schools will expand to accommodate publicly funded parental choice; at the same time the provision of public money for private school enrolment may result in more detailed state regulations and requirements for private schools.
(3) More state regulations for choice participating private schools will mitigate the incompetent parent argument (parents are not capable of choosing the right school for their children), the radical schools argument (extremists like the Ku Klux Klan will form schools), and the public accountability argument (private schools are not sufficiently regulated).
(4) There is no evidence to indicate that parental choice programs are "skimming off" the most capable and "profitable" clients while leaving the most difficult to educate in, consequently, under-funded public schools.
(5) Although parental choice of schooling may take away both students and money from the public schools, there is no evidence to indicate a negative effect on the quality of education in the public schools. Indeed, there may be a direct and positive relationship between enrolment of public school students in private choice schools and the quality of schooling received by all students-both those remaining in the public schools and those going to participating choice schools.
(6) There is no evidence to indicate that the voucher system used, e.g., in the MPCP sanctions prejudice or privilege.
(7) In the absence of stringent state regulations and
requirements pertaining, e.g., to teacher certification and curriculum
content in private schools, there is the danger that publicly-funded vouchers
may be used by powerful interest groups to further their own parochial
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There is no constitutional provision for Initiative or Referendum proposals in the state of Kansas. However, the legislator "leading the charge" for a voucher plan is Representative K. O'Connor from Kansas City. In telephone conversation with Rep. O'Connor, the writer was informed that while proposed legislation was being processed through Committee, the teacher organizations were very hostile and critical and that her personal property had been vandalized. A copy of her proposed Bill and sample of Proponent Testimony is contained in Appendix I, p. 122.
At first blush, this proposed Bill appears to embody numerous major restrictions reflecting an emphasis on state control and safeguards. For example, students are only eligible for the voucher program if they are already enrolled in and attending a private elementary or secondary school. Furthermore, if a voucher-sponsored child scores below the national median in a school district assessment program monitored by the state, the child (despite objections by parents) may forfeit eligibility for participation in the program.
In addition, the value amount of the voucher is to be gradually increased from 50 percent of the amount of base state aid per pupil to 100 percent over a five year period. At the same time, procedures were to be established for ensuring that no school district would experience a decrease in enrolment during the first year of the program in excess of specified percentages. For example, schools with fewer than 400 students would be protected in that they could not lose more than 4 percent of their student body, while schools with an enrolment of 2,000 or more could lose no more than 10 percent of their students to the voucher plan. These provisions were to expire after the plan had been in operation for one school year.
In summary, the proposed legislation seemed to contain a lot of compromise which often fails to garner strong support from any segment of the political community. In telephone conversation with Rep. O'Connor on April 18, 1996, the writer was informed that, "the voucher Bill is technically alive, but probably dead, although there still may be some action on the Senate side."
Harrington-Lueker (1993) in writing about the defeat of Proposition 174 (voucher initiative) in California, made some astute observations which may still be germane today. Proposition 174 would have provided vouchers worth $2,600 (approximately half of the state's per pupil expenditure) to each of California's 5.7 million school children. The vouchers were to be redeemable at any public, private, or religious school that enrolled at least 25 students. The voucher initiative was defeated by a margin of seven to three. With reference to a non-partisan think tank, Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), Harrington-Lueber (p. 21) concludes as follows:
Increasing state oversight might make such proposals more palatable to the public as well. In a poll taken before the Nov. 2 election, PACE found that Californians supported the idea of vouchers by a margin of 2 to 1-and that they weren't worried about providing public money to private schools, says Michael Kirst, a public policy specialist at Stanford and co-director of PACE. But voters were uncomfortable with Proposition 174's lack of regulation. Eighty-two percent of the voters surveyed said that under a voucher plan, both public and private schools should be required to meet state academic, fiscal, and safety standards; 74 percent said voucher schools should be required to publish test scores; and 60 percent said they should be required to hire certified teachers. Another concern: 67 percent said they wanted to cap the amount of tuition participating schools could charge to prevent private schools from automatically increasing their tuition by the amount of the voucher the state might provide.
If voucher proponents could build such safeguards into an initiative, say Kirst and others, they could increase their chances at the polls.
That kind of fine-tuning could prove difficult politically though. "If voucher proponents move toward regulation, they risk losing their base [particularly among conservative Christian and other private schools]," says Kirst. "But if they deregulate, they lose public support."
In June, 1995 the Wisconsin legislature approved a measure to expand the MPCP to include religious schools-the only program in the nation at that time which would provide students with public funds to pay tuition at private religious schools. In August, 1995 the Wisconsin Supreme Court supported a request by the American Civil Liberties Union to keep tuition vouchers from going to religious schools until the court decided if such payments were constitutional. On March 29, 1996 the Wisconsin Supreme Court brought down a 3-3 stalemate decision; this split decision sent the case back to the Dane County Circuit Court, which had been bypassed the previous August at the request of Governor Thompson in order to expedite the expansion's defence. Justice A. Walsh Bradley, the seventh member of the Supreme Court, did not participate in the decision. Although she gave no official reason for non-participation, the speculation is that she saw a potential conflict of interest given that she had received nearly $9,000 of support from teachers' unions during her election campaign (see the Blum Center's Educational Freedom Report, No. 34, April 19, 1996, p. 3).
The case will likely return to the Wisconsin Supreme Court by which time Chief Justice Day (who had decided that MPCP expansion to include religious schools violated the Wisconsin Constitution) will have been replaced by newly-elected Judge N.P. Crooks, who was endorsed by Governor Thompson. Meanwhile, Governor Thompson had asked the state Supreme Court to reconsider its decision after August 1, 1996 when the court's composition will change-the court might then be able to avoid a tie and expedite the appeals process. However, the Supreme Court rejected that request. Governor Thompson also requested that Judge Higginbotham of the Dane County Circuit Court be removed from the case because he is prejudiced on the issue; that request was also denied.
Ohio has also expanded its school voucher program to include religious schools. That program, too, is before the courts with the plaintiffs being state affiliates of AFT, NEA, et al.
A. Parker, President of the Texas Justice Foundation, is a well known supporter of parental choice programs in education. With reference to case law and the United States Constitution, he has drafted model legislation for what he refers to as child-centered education funding (see Appendix J, p. 135). Arguing that the issue of whether to provide schooling through a voucher system is a political question for the legislature rather than a question for the courts, Parker advocates the establishment of "free schools" for all elementary or secondary students with funding scholarships for regular students up to $4,000 per student and for special education students up to $10,000 per student:
Section Four Financing.
(c) Each public school district shall distribute to each child's parent a scholarship certificate detailing the amount of each child's scholarship. The scholarship certificate shall be presented by the parent to the parent's school of choice, whether public or free, in lieu of direct payment.
A free school does not include schooling in a home setting or by the parent and may include religious or parochial schools. See Appendix , Section Eight. Free Exercise of Religion:
(a) The United States Constitution and the Texas Constitution guarantee the right to the free exercise of religion, and that right may not be abridged by the state or any government official. The purpose of this legislation is neither to aid nor inhibit religious education nor to prohibit the free exercise of religion, but to neutrally provide equal educational benefits to all citizens, regardless of religious affiliation. No money shall be appropriated to any private or free schools, whether sectarian or non-sectarian, but shall be appropriated solely to parents for the benefit of students.
(b) Use of a child-centered scholarship at a religious or parochial school does not constitute direct aid or benefit to any church, sect, religious denomination, or sectarian institution.
Despite intervention by the courts in publicly funded parental choice schooling, it does seem certain that the issue will be resolved politically. Disagreement or conflict (politics) in public education in the United States is not difficult to find. As is often true, public opinion fuels the engine of change and public officials in education find little advantage in being too far out in front of public opinion. Nevertheless, the parental choice debate is a definite factor in heating up the rhetoric in this 1996 election year. In a cover story entitled, "Education, for 1st time is top voter concern," USA Today in its January 10, 1996 issue trumpets the following: "Now, a new USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll finds voters rallying around issues that touch closest to home: the quality of their children's education, crime and the economy. All are perennial top concerns, but this is the first time education, with 67 percent calling it a high priority, has topped the list."
Professor Q. Quade, Raynor professor of political science at Marquette University, says there is an increasing many-sided concern over American education-from crisis in 100 inner cities, to academic underachievement, violence, values, discipline, burgeoning bureaucracies, and bloated budgets. He states that there is a growing perception that these problems reflect the Education Finance Monopoly (EFM) environment attending public school operations which protects them from normal competition and comparisons. Quade argues that the vehement opposition to educational choice comes mostly from persons and organizations whose monetary welfare is directly tied to the current finance monopoly. It does seem reasonable to expect that school-related unions and local/state bureaucracies would be less that supportive of a policy change which would terminate any monopoly advantage. In an eight-page Blum Center publication (undated), entitled America's Educational Quagmire: Why We're In It, How to Get Out, Dr. Quade (p. 8) comes to some key conclusions regarding the political process.
To the Political Process
We already know how intimately connected to state politics are the forces defending EFM. These connections have been forged over many decades, and they are quite natural. Power in state legislatures, analogous to power in Washington, is splintered and held in many fiefdoms, many committees and the hands of their chairs. Moreover, the educational unions often are closely tied to one particular political party as sources of inspiration, funding, and political spadework.
What such realities tell us about the political task choice faces is that the task is straightforward enough-very difficult, but not especially complicated. They tell us that the school choice organization operating in a given state naturally will want to forge relationships with executive and legislative seats of power. In every state, there are politicians of both parties who already see the curative power of school choice. They need to be supported and made safe, as noted above. Some among them need to be encouraged to be spear carriers for the effort, the ones around whom other politicians can cluster.
Still others are not opposed to parental freedom, but need convincing that the sky will not fall if EFM is broken and replaced. They are in the grip of social inertia and need help to free themselves of it. Other politicians may need to be directly challenged if seen to be entirely captive of the status quo. All of them, friends and foe alike, need to see the actual faces and hear the voices of their own constituents who are, in turn, the natural constituents of school choice.
Whatever the outcome of the political process, policy
makers, educators, and parents are asking fundamental questions about who
should control a child's education. This is a political and organizational
question to which the answer may imply major changes in the governance
of public education. Inherent in the meaning of the word choice are the
idealized American values of liberty, equal opportunity, competition, and
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Even though charter schools, for example, may be viewed as a compromise between status quo public schools and use of the voucher system, there are numerous troubling questions surrounding the concept of a charter school in Saskatchewan among which are the following:
1. Should all charter school teachers be certified practitioners, i.e., licensed by the Minister of Education?
2. Should all charter school teachers be members of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation?
3. Should all charter school curricula be subject to approval by the Minister of Education? By the Board of Education?
4. Should the Board of Education have authority over charter school policy, e.g., location of charter schools, student admittance, number of charter schools, financial parameters, and school facilities?
5. Should charter school mandates allow teachers to become self-employed professionals, rather than employees, with considerable control over staffing, curriculum, instructional methods, and financial decisions?
One of the more philosophical and legal concerns attending the questions above relates to the issue of whether there is a compelling collective state interest (both at the provincial and local levels) in the schooling of children and, consequently, whether the province should ensure that all children receive (under compulsory attendance) a basic curriculum from certified and competent teachers. In contrast to the compelling interest of the state in education is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948, as contained in Article 26(3): "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children."
The Canadian case law on this issue appears to strike a balance between parental rights and state interests. For example, in family law, the well being of the child is often held to be paramount over the interests of the parents; and, in school law, the courts have not recognized any general power of the state to enforce compulsory attendance of school-age children at public schools only. A landmark case addressing this issue was Jones v. The Queen (1987) in which Jones, the pastor of a fundamentalist church, taught his own children and others in a church basement without seeking approval in writing from a Department of Education official, that the children were under efficient instruction at home or attending an approved private school. In the Jones case, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that the state, represented by a province, has a compelling interest in the education of school-age children, and that the state may set minimum standards of education, and may institute procedures for enforcing them-provided it does not do so in an unreasonable or arbitrary way.
It is within the context of Canadian tradition, jurisprudence, and demography that the concept of parental choice in schooling without financial penalty should be examined. Choice can be defined in many ways and rural areas are often very adaptable to their own specific needs. For example, schools-within-schools functioning on the basis of separate or distinct programs operating out of the same building can work well in both urban and rural areas.
In New York's East Harlem, a choice system among the public schools has been in place since 1974. Acting on their desire to create and work in smaller schools more responsive to their respective communities, teachers created over 50 "new schools" in only 20 buildings (Allen and Dale, 1995). Every parent in the district can choose which school their child will attend while hundreds of students from outside the district seek enrolment every year.
The concept of providing parents with meaningful choice
without financial penalty, within a context of new schools in existing
facilities, without abandoning the compelling interest of the state, and
with leadership from local/provincial educators and officials, would seem
germane to future needs, aspirations, and opportunities in Saskatchewan
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Alexander, L. (1993). School choice in the year 2000. Phi Delta Kappan, 74, 762-766.
Allen, J., & Dale, A. (1995). The school reform handbook. Washington, DC: The Center for Educational Reform.
Beales, Janet R. (1994). School voucher programs in the United States: Implications and applications for California. (Policy Study No. 172). Santa Monica, CA: Reason Foundation. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 365 000)
Bierlein, L.A., & Mulholland, L.A. (1994). The promise of charter schools. Educational Leadership, 52(1), 34-40.
Coons, J.E., & Sugarman, S.D. (1992). Scholarships for children. University of California, Berkeley: Institute of Governmental Studies Press.
Diamond, L. (1994). A progress report on California's charter schools. Educational Leadership, 52(1), 41-45.
Expanded school choice in Milwaukee. (July, 1995). Milwaukee: Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Report, Vol. 8, No. 5.
Harrington-Lueker, Donna. (1993). Vouchers: The battle continues. The American School Board Journal, 180(12), 19-21.
Hurlbert, E.L. (1995). Rights, responsibilities, and reasonableness: Conflict management in schools in the new Canada. In W.F. Foster (Ed.), Rights, responsibilities and reasonableness: Striking the balance in education (pp. 29-48). Châteauguay, Que: Canadian Association for the Practical Study of Law in Education (CAPSLE).
Jividen, C. (1994). The San Antonio private school guide. Houston: Watercress Press.
"Jones v. The Queen" (Supreme Court of Canada). (1987). Canadian Criminal Cases (3d). 28, 8: 513-544.
LaFollette Institute of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin.
Martinez, V., Goodwin, K., & Kemerer, F. (1995). Comparing private and public school choice in San Antonio. University of North Texas. Available through the Center for the Study of Education Reform, College of Education, P.O. Box 13857, Denton, TX 76203-6857.
McDonald, R. (1992, Fall). Have our schools become unruly and unsafe? Green & White University of Saskatchewan Alumni Association Magazine, p.16.
Miller, J.D.B. (1962). The nature of politics. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd.
Williams, S., & Buechler, M. (1993). Charter schools. Policy bulletin. (Report No. PB-B16). Indiana University, Bloomington: Education Policy Center. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 356 540).
Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, Inc. (1995). Expanded school choice in Milwaukee a profile of eligible students and schools. 8(5).
1 The writer is much indebted to Professors Jack Coons and Steven Sugarman for their critical review of various school choice design options including their own proposal for a specific legal model which they call the "Scholarship Initiative." Readers are reminded that Coons and Sugarman, together with William Clune, authored Private Wealth and Public Education (Harvard University Press, 1970) to focus on the way traditional systems of public school finance discriminated against low-wealth public school districts. In a successful legal challenge they took their arguments to the California Supreme Court in the well-known case of Serrano v. Priest.
2 The writer acknowledges the invaluable assistance and perceptive contributions of Teresa Treat (CEO Program Director), Patsy O'Neil (Director of Operations, Texas Justice Foundation), and Allan Parker (President, Texas Justice Foundation).
3 The writer acknowledges the invaluable assistance and
perceptive contributions to this report of Rob Rauh (Urban Day School principal),
Dan McKinley (Executive Director of PAVE), and Dr. Quentin Quade (Raynor
professor of political science, Marquette University, and Director of the
Blum Center for Parental Freedom in Education).
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