Search results for: "National Education policy center"

Josh Cowen of Michigan State University reviewed a report by the rightwing Thomas B. Fordham Institute about for-profit charter schools in Ohio. It was published by the National Education Policy Center.

The summary:

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently published For-Profit Charter Schools: An Eval- uation of their Spending and Outcomes. The report examines academic outcomes in Ohio’s nonprofit and for-profit charter schools; in addition, it explores whether differences in contracted services in for-profits appear to correlate with differences in their outcomes. Although the report finds that charters generally have higher academic outcomes relative to traditional public schools, for-profit schools perform slightly lower academically than their nonprofit counterparts, and they perform worse than traditional schools in some areas as well. In addition, the report finds that for-profits typically contract for either staffing or other services and that those contracting for staffing perform especially poorly. Based on these findings, the report includes cautions about overregulation of for-profit charters but also raises concerns about virtual and charter schools that contract out for nearly all services. Contrary to the report’s enthusiastic Foreword, written by Fordham executives Amber Northern and Michael Petrilli and containing implications that somewhat vary from those in the report’s body, there is little in the report to remove skepticism from the debate over for-profit status. Rather, the report includes negative findings such as fewer students in for-profit charters earning diplomas, and it reinforces concerns about for-profit schools— particularly those that contract out for staff. In addition, the report is limited in its focus on only Ohio, which has substantially more transparency than many states require for school choice options. As a result, the report offers little to inform policy and practice in dissimilar or nationwide contexts.

The National Education Policy Center, headed by scholar Kevin Welner, wonders why the charter lobby has been so intransigent in fighting the reasonable regulations proposed by the Biden administration. The lobbyists have falsely characterized the regulations as an attempt to “destroy” or “eliminate” charter schools, but the regulations would apply only to new charters that seek federal funding. Most charters have been funded by foundations and billionaires, not the federal government. The proposed regulations would improve the new charters.

NEPC writes:

Why is the Charter Lobby So Upset About Biden’s Proposed Regulations?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been observing the conspicuous hand-wringing among prominent charter school advocates. They’re expressing outrage that the Biden Administration is trying to rein in some past abuses and problems within the charter sector. This aggrieved reaction might make sense if the regulations were designed to harm the sector, but the proposals are in fact quite modest and will even help charters thrive in the future.

Understanding the outrage is difficult. This is in part because the Biden Administration already sided with charter advocates by resisting calls to eliminate the federal Charter School Program (CSP) or decrease its funding. I will not here rehash the arguments against charter sector expansion, but those arguments tend to focus on segregation, fraud and waste, self-dealing and private enrichment, harm to local public school districts, exaggerated claims about performance, under-enrollment of students with special needs, and other access and push-out issues.

Notwithstanding these concerns, the Administration’s budget request keeps CSP funding at its historic high of $440 million. This means that the same level of federal taxpayer dollars will continue to promote the expansion of charter schooling, which is already dominant in many metropolitan areas.

But the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulations do attempt to address some of these concerns, even while fully funding the program. One key proposal, for example, attempts to fulfill a Biden campaign promise to crack down on CSP funding for charters being operated by for-profit corporations.

The proposed regulations also provide additional points for applications that feature “community school” elements and for those that provide evidence of cooperation or collaborations with the local school district(s).


Notwithstanding some false claims to the contrary, these are all priorities—not requirements. We can anticipate that plenty of charter schools without these elements will still get CSP funding.

The above-mentioned attempt to keep CSP money away from for-profit EMOs has raised some hackles among charter school advocates, but the pushback has been relatively muted. Perhaps the advocates are feeling sanguine in trusting the ingenuity of attorneys to find loopholes and work-arounds. One more layer of shell companies or sister corporations or real estate schemes may do the trick. Or perhaps charter advocates know that these for-profits are awful poster children for their cause, so an overt public campaign might be counterproductive.


This is nonsense. Yes, the Community Impact statement is required, but even if the statement shows zero benefits of the proposed school to the community, the consequence is merely a loss of potential points in the scoring of the application. The provisions being attacked by the charter advocates are priorities, not requirements. They would change how a given proposal is scored and thus prioritized or ranked among different applications for CSP funding. All other things being equal, a proposal that shows how a charter school will broadly serve—and not harm—a local community will be scored higher than one that cannot make that showing. So our federal tax dollars would be more likely to support the opening of schools that are beneficial to local communities.

Yet the same $440 million would still be disbursed. The same number of new charter schools would presumably still be opened. That’s (one would assume) what the charter lobby most cares about. For the rest of us, there’s good news as well; if the Community Impact process works, the charter schools that do open will be more consistent with the long-time rhetoric of charter school advocates about how charters are a beneficial part of the overall public school system.

So why the objections? What’s the real reason the charter lobby is upset about President Biden’s proposed regulations?

My hunch is that it’s a matter of principle—the principle that they should never give an inch.

For decades, charter schools have occupied a political sweet spot, enjoying the affections of politicians from both major parties. In that position, charter advocates were fully appeased. Compromise was not needed, so it was rebuffed. Like pampered royalty who never learn to listen and empathize, the charter lobby used its political capital to shut down discussions about addressing the sorts of ongoing problems listed earlier.

Over the years, little has changed—except perhaps the effectiveness of these tactics that resist any reform of the status quo for charter policy. For many outside the charter bubble, the sense of entitlement has grown old.

That entitlement was on full display last week. The charter school lobby organized a twitter campaign against the proposed regulations. It choose to use the hashtag #BackOff. If we had a “No Whining” jar, we could have funded next year’s CSP. The advocates’ tweets repeatedly asserted that the “overregulation” would “make it nearly impossible to open new charter schools.” This was accompanied by a newspaper commentary alleging that the proposed regulations were written by “Bureaucratic Gremlins” who had “burrowed” into the federal bureaucracy—rather than just a follow-through on candidate Biden’s campaign promises.

On Fox News, a school choice advocate contended that, through the regulations, the Biden Administration was “waging war on charter schools” in order to protect “unionized government schools.” Meanwhile, two editorial boards that have long pushed for charter school growth—The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post—continued to misrepresent the regulation’s proposed priorities as requirements, labeling the regulations as “charter school sabotage” (the WSJ) and “a sneak attack on charter schools” (the Post).

The charter lobby’s never-give-an-inch strategy has long been successful in forestalling policies that might mitigate existing problems. But assuming the strategy ever was wise, it no longer is. Potential allies have become frustrated enemies. A once diverse coalition has withered away to expose a core group that appears to be the same anti-public-education and privatizing interests that have long pushed school vouchers.

This obstinacy, even when successful in its immediate aims, is counterproductive. The charter lobby is wrong to see thoughtful regulations as existential threats—or even as anything but beneficial. Reasonable public policy concerns about access, stratification and fiscal impact on students in other schools should never have been minimized or dismissed. The charter lobby should have been in the forefront in efforts to rein in fraud and abuse.

The charter sector still includes many schools that we can and should celebrate. The NEPC’s own Schools of Opportunity program has recognized several charter schools that exemplify how high schools can close opportunity gaps. For the charter approach to have a bright future, these are the sort of schools the CSP should prioritize—and the proposed regulations are a step in that direction.

For now, unfortunately, the charter sector as a whole continues to be under-regulated and often harmful. The Biden Administration’s proposals can help change this. They can help charter schools become a beneficial part of public school systems—a role that can be broadly embraced.

I personally decided to submit a “formal” comment. The process is easy—just fill out the quick form and include your comment. The comment window is currently scheduled to close next Monday, April 18th. NEPC Resources on Charter Schools ->

This newsletter is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:

Copyright 2022 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

The National Education Policy Center
School of Education, University of Colorado
Boulder, CO 80309

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Recently, a pro-voucher organization released a report claiming that vouchers save money. The National Education Policy Center assigned the report to two scholars, and they found that the report’s claims were untrue. In addition, numerous studies have shown that students who use vouchers are likely to fall behind their peers in public schools, especially in mathematics. If you care about educating the next generation, vouchers are a big step backward.

BOULDER, CO (March 15, 2022)—A recent report from EdChoice argues for expansion of policies that publicly fund private schools, contending that private schools could provide equal or better outcomes at lesser cost. A review released today examines the report’s methodology to determine the soundness of its claims, and it finds the cost-saving estimates to be based on unsubstantiated assumptions.
Luis A. Huerta and Steven Koutsavlis of Teachers College, Columbia University reviewed Fiscal Effects of School Choice: Analyzing the Costs and Savings of Private School Choice Programs in America, and found its accounting procedures to be based on conjecture.

The report asserts that voucher and voucher-like (tax credit scholarship and education savings account) programs have saved state and local treasuries some $12.4 to $28.3 billion dollars as student “switchers” use those programs to leave public schools and enter private schools. The report claims that the purported savings result from the lower numbers of students in public schools coupled with lower variable per-student costs.

However, Huerta and Koutsavlis point out that the cost-saving estimates of private school choice programs are based on speculative assumptions. In particular, the report guesses in estimating the number of switchers across programs and for determining resulting variable cost fluctuations. With some limited exceptions, states operating these private-school subsidy programs do not track the previous enrollment status of students who use the vouchers to subsidize their enrollment in private schools. Such lax accountability standards mean that the number of switchers and estimated fiscal savings are necessarily based on conjecture.

Consequently, the report’s findings do not provide a sound base for policy decisions. Huerta and Koutsavlis provide suggestions for more detailed accounting procedures and more nuanced methodologies for calculating reliable variable student costs.

Find the review, by Luis A. Huerta and Steven Koutsavlis, at:
Find Fiscal Effects of School Choice: Analyzing the Costs and Savings of Private School Choice Programs in America, written by Martin Lueken and published by EdChoice, at:

The National Education Policy Center frequently engages researchers to review studies, reports, and evaluations. NEPC recently released a review of a RAND study that looks at online learning and whether it deserves federal funding. The title of the RAND report is “Remote Learning is Here to Stay,” but the body of the report does not support that conclusion, according to reviewer David R. Garcia of Arizona State University.

Garcia summarizes his review:

The RAND Corporation recently released a report based on a national survey of school district superintendents and charter management organization (CMO) directors (or their designees) about their experiences navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey asks non-biased questions about how school districts and charter schools have responded to the pandemic and about their greatest educational needs. But some issues arise with the report’s reporting of results and with one of its two recommendations. The report is curiously titled, Remote Learning is Here to Stay, but that headline is surprisingly unsupported by the sur- vey responses. In fact, the respondents expressed much higher concerns about three other areas: (1) “addressing students’ Socio-Emotional Learning and mental health needs” (the area with the greatest need for additional resources), (2) “addressing disparities in student opportunities to learn that result from differences in supplemental supports provided by families” (the most anticipated challenge), and (3) inadequate funding (the top staffing chal- lenge). Relative to these concerns, remote learning is a minor consideration. The report’s first recommendation does follow from the respondents’ need for more funding to address inequities and socio-emotional learning. But the other recommendation, for more funding to support remote learning, does not appear to align with needs expressed by district lead- ers. Finally, the report combines two different types of local education agencies (school dis- tricts and CMOs). Thus, while the report suggests that its most important finding is that “about two in ten districts have already adopted, plan to adopt, or are considering adopting virtual schools as part of their district portfolio after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic,” it is unclear how much of this result is driven by CMOs rather than school districts. For these reasons, readers are encouraged to go beyond the title and read deeper to get a complete picture of the challenges, needs, and future of education from district leaders’ perspectives.

The National Education Policy Center reviewed Summit Learning Program, which has been heavily subsidized by the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative and the Gates Foundation, is spreading, but careful review shows no evidence for its success.

The Summit Learning Program: Big Promises, Lots of Money, Little Evidence of Success

Key Takeaway: Despite a lack of evidence that it is effective, the Summit Learning Program, propelled by a flood of Silicon Valley money, continues to spread.

Find Documents:
Press Release:

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William J. Mathis: (802) 383-0058, Faith Boninger: (480) 390-6736, Alex Molnar: (480) 797-7261,

BOULDER, CO (June 25, 2020) – Virtual learning and personalized learning have been at the forefront of education reform discussions for over a decade. One leader of this sector, Summit Public Schools, has been backed by almost $200 million philanthropic dollars from the Chan- Zuckerberg Initiative, the Gates Foundation, and others. Summit Public Schools has aggressively marketed its Summit Learning Platform to schools across the United States since 2015. As a result, the Summit Learning Program is now one of the most prominent digital personalized learning programs in the United States.

In “Big Claims, Little Evidence, Lots of Money: The Reality Behind the Summit Learning Program and the Push to Adopt Digital Personalized Learning Platforms,” Faith Boninger, Alex Molnar, and Christopher M. Saldaña, of the University of Colorado Boulder, provide a thorough analysis of Summit Public Schools, an 11-school charter network operating in California and Washington. Summit Public Schools began marketing its proprietary Summit Learning Program to potential “partner” schools in 2015 as a free, off-the-shelf, personalized learning program; it is now used in nearly 400 schools nationwide.

The marketing message of Summit Learning Program trades on the alleged success of the Summit Public Schools. Summit claims to have developed a “science-based” personalized learning model of teaching and learning that results in all of its students being academically prepared for college. It further claims that its students succeed in college and are prepared to lead successful, fulfilled lives. These successes, it claims, are the result of its unique approach to personalized learning and the use of the digital platform at the heart of its approach.

None of these claims made by Summit Public Schools have been confirmed by independent evaluators. In fact, other than scant bits of self-selected information provided by Summit itself, Boninger, Molnar and Saldaña found no evidence in the public record that confirms the claims. Nor did Summit Public Schools provide the information that the authors solicited in a California public records request.

Despite the lack of evidence to support the claims made by Summit Public Schools, the Summit Learning Program has been adopted by nearly 400 schools across the country. While Summit has offered positive anecdotes and some selected data, there is no solid evidence that “partner” schools are experiencing the promised success; to the contrary, there have been a number of reported incidents of problems and dissatisfaction. Further, the student data collected pursuant to the contracts between Summit and these partner schools presents a potentially significant risk to student privacy and opens the door to the exploitation of those data by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and possibly by unknown third parties—for purposes that have nothing to do with improving the quality of those students’ educations.

Virtual education and personalized learning are at the top of the education reform agenda in large measure because of hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and advocacy by philanthropic organizations (e.g., the Gates Foundation), large digital platforms (e.g., Facebook and Google), and venture capitalists anxious to access the school market.

Exacerbated by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, schools across the country are struggling to find safe ways to educate their students. The rapid spread of the
policymakers with to protect the public interest by establishing oversight and accountability mechanisms related to digital platforms and personalized learning programs.

Find Big Claims, Little Evidence, Lots of Money: The Reality Behind the Summit Learning Program and the Push to Adopt Digital Personalized Learning Platforms, by Faith Boninger, Alex Molnar and Christopher M. Saldaña, at:

This research brief was made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:

This is a really fun interview with Chris Saldana of NEPC, in which we talk about the important education issues of our time.

I think you will enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020
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NEPC’s June Education Interview of the Month: Teacher Strikes, Philanthropy, and Public Education


NEPC Education Interview of the Month is a great teaching resource; engaging drive-time listening; and 30 minutes of high-quality policy information for educators, community members, policymakers, and anyone interested in education.

NEPC Publication
NEPC Resources on Privatization

William J. Mathis:
(802) 383-0058

Christopher Saldaña:
(303) 492-2566
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BOULDER, CO (June 16, 2020) – In this month’s NEPC Education Interview of the Month, NEPC Researcher Christopher Saldaña interviews Diane Ravitch, research professor of education at New York University and the co-founder of the Network for Public Education, about her new book, Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools.

In Slaying Goliath, Ravitch argues that the effect of the most recent teacher strikes was to change the narrative about K-12 public education in the United States. She explains that where educational policy had become fixed on the idea of high-stakes accountability and school choice, teacher strikes shifted the policy conversation toward reforms such as smaller classes that center on the needs of children.

Ravitch believes the teacher strikes, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, have highlighted the importance of K-12 public schools and the need for adequate school funding. The importance of schools, Ravitch argues, is evidenced in the role schools and teachers have played both historically and during the pandemic, from supporting parents during distance learning to ensuring that children have adequate food and shelter during the crisis. Ravitch does caution, however, that the pandemic will open policy opportunities for advocates of privatizing public schools, particularly those interested in expanding the role of technology in classrooms.

Nevertheless, Ravitch remains hopeful that K-12 public schools will come out stronger in the aftermath of the pandemic. She encourages philanthropists to shift their priorities away from funding their agendas to funding the agenda of communities – for instance, returning the arts to schools, reducing class size, eradicating the school-to-prison pipeline, and expanding mental health resources. She also encourages federal policymakers to return educational policymaking to the principles of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, whose purpose was to provide additional resources for America’s most vulnerable children.

Are Zillow and Realtors Contributing

to School Segregation?



How do renters or buyers judge the quality of the schools zoned to their prospective homes?

Often it starts not with schools or teachers or students, but with the real estate industry.

Two recent pieces of investigative journalism call attention to a prominent flaw with this system: Realtors and real estate websites alike share assessments that downgrade schools that serve higher percentages of low-income and minority students, while also serving to maintain segregated housing patterns by steering Whites away from districts that serve students of color.

For a series of articles published earlier this month, the Newsday newspaper in Long Island paired testers of different ethnicities and races and had them seek similar homes from the same realtors.

The newspaper found that realtors repeatedly steered White buyers away from school districts enrolling higher percentages of minoritized residents, typically using veiled language. For example, they told White buyers that one community was an area to avoid “school district-wise” or “based on statistics.” Yet that district’s 90 percent Black and Hispanic high school boasted a 96 percent four-year graduation rate and above-average performance compared to the rest of the county.

In a study of the areas investigated by Newsday, NEPC Fellow Amy Stuart Wells, a professor of sociology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University found that a one percent increase in Black/Hispanic enrollment corresponded with a 0.3 percent decrease in home values. In other words, a home worth $415,000 at the time of the study in 2010 would cost $50,000 more in a 30 percent Hispanic/Black district as compared to a 70 percent Hispanic/Black district.

Wells and her team compared two districts with similar housing stocks and socioeconomic backgrounds but different percentages of Black, Hispanic, and White residents. Although Wells said realtors discounted the quality of the schools of the majority Black/Hispanic area, her team found few differences when they actually visited and studied the district.

“There didn’t seem to be a huge difference at all in the curriculum and the quality of the teachers,” she told the newspaper. “So, they [real estate agents] do play an important role in steering people away from certain districts that are becoming more racially, ethnically diverse and less White, in particular.”

An internet-era wrinkle to these longstanding practices was documented and described last week in an article published in the education-focused news site Chalkbeat. The site’s analysis found that school ratings featured on popular real estate sites like Zillow and—ratings assigned by the non-profit corporation called GreatSchools—nudged buyers toward schools with higher percentages of White students by assigning lower ratings to schools with higher percentages of Black and Hispanic students. This happened even when GreatSchools’ own evidence showed that these schools were doing a good job growing the scores of their students.

Specifically, although student’s test score growth is also considered, it’s worth a much smaller share of a school’s “grade” than proficiency, a factor that greatly penalizes schools serving students with fewer opportunities to learn due to societal inequalities outside the realm of the school.

More than that, the GreatSchools algorithm is overwhelmingly about these test scores, largely ignoring other factors of school quality. Rather than assessing the degree to which all students are provided opportunities to learn, test results tabulate outcomes that are profoundly influenced by the unequal opportunities and resources offered to White students versus students of color.

Alternative approaches are available, but they require us to truly and deeply learn about the school. Superficial measures like those used by GreatSchools and its real estate customers must be set aside. One example of such an alternative approach is NEPC’s Schools of Opportunityrecognition program for high schools, which uses a holistic assessment of school quality. The application and evaluation processes consider how these schools are broadening and enriching learning opportunities, creating and maintaining a healthy school culture, and implementing a variety of research-based approaches that close opportunity gaps.

Yet it is the GreatSchools ratings that are viewed by 150 million users of real estate software per year. And there’s evidence that it’s having an effect: A recent study found that property values in areas with a high GreatSchools rating increased by nearly $7,000 over three years, furthering the discriminatory real estate cycle that has always existed in the United States.

This newsletter is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:

Copyright 2019 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

Five years ago, Kevin Welner and Gary Miron explained why you should not believe claims about charter “wait lists.”

At the same time that they released this caution (2014), the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools [sic] put out a press release claiming that more than one million students were wait-listed to get into charter schools.

Five years later, the New York Times cited this press release by NAPCS to substantiate a statement that “hundreds of thousands” of students were on charter wait lists. On the other hand, Los Angeles school board member Scott Schmerelson posted on his Facebook page that more than 80% of the charter schools in LA had vacancies.

Welner and Miron gave nine reasons not to believe unverified claims about hundreds of thousands of students waiting to get into charter schools.

They posted this caution after the NAPCS [sic] claimed in 2013 that precisely 902,007 students were on wait lists for charter schools.

Here are nine reasons to be skeptical of the numbers offered by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Reason #1: Students Apply to Multiple Charter Schools

The NAPCS estimate is complicated by the fact (acknowledged by NAPCS in its 2013 announcement) that “families often apply to multiple charter schools….” Because of this practice, NAPCS downsizes its own topline number by over 400,000 students. That is, instead of the 920,007 waitlist students given as the 2013 topline number, NAPCS later adds: “at a minimum, more than 520,000 total individual students – many of whom are on multiple charter school waitlists … are on waitlists across the country.” In practice, many families may apply to one or more charter schools along with district-run schools or programs. Such students receive offers at a variety of schools (multiple charter and/or district options) but may choose a district school option. In short, a given charter school application may not reflect a student’s first choice.

Reason #2: The Waitlist Numbers Cannot Be Confirmed

Even the NAPCS 520,000 estimate is problematic. For most jurisdictions,2 it is derived from unaudited and unauditable numbers reported to NAPCS through a survey it administers annually. The survey apparently asks for the number of applications received, as well as the number of available seats. The waiting list numbers are then calculated as applications minus seats.

There is no state or federal indicator that is called “waitlist.” Instead, this is a statistic developed by NAPCS and others who hope to advance the argument that, “With such demand, it is up to our elected officials to remove the facilities and funding barriers that exist to ensure that every child has the option to attend a high-quality public charter school” (Nina Rees, NAPCS president and CEO).3

Open the link to read the other seven reasons.


The future of public education hangs in the balance. The US Supreme Court has shifted far to the right, with the addition of religious zealots Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. The case, Espinoza v. Montana, would permit them to eliminate the line of separations between church and state, abolishing every state constitutional provision that bars public funding of religious schools. The Court has already ruled that religious “freedom” makes it permissible for a place of business to refuse service to someone based on their sexual orientation, if that refusal is based on sincere religious beliefs. Will we one day learn that racial discrimination is permissible so long as it is based on sincere religious beliefs? The possibilities for destroying basic principles of civil rights and liberties in the name of religious freedom are frightening. I am reminded that when Jeb Bush wanted to eliminate the no-aid-to religious-schools in Florida, he gave his replacement the deceptive title of “the Religious Freedom Amendment.” Voters turned it down 55-45 in 2012. He and the legislature went ahead to create multiple voucher programs, despite the clear language of the state constitution and the will of the voters.

Here is the view of the National Education Policy Center:

Landmark Voucher Case Could Foster Discrimination and Further Lower the Church-State Wall of Separation


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There was a misprint in the original version of this newsletter – we apologize for the error.

It takes only a quick glance at its website to reveal that LGBTQ students, staff and families are not welcome at Stillwater Christian School in Kalispell, Montana.

“We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female, and that these two distinct, complementary sexes together reflect the image and nature of God,” the school’s Statement of Faith reads. “We believe that God created marriage to be exclusively the union of one man and one woman, and that intimate sexual activity is to occur exclusively within that union.”

Yet in all likelihood, donors to student “scholarship organizations” that issue vouchers to support this school and others will soon be eligible for 100% state tax credits, even though Montana’s constitution clearly prohibits the direct or indirect use of public funds for religious school tuition. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court is predicted to issue a strongly pro-voucher ruling when it issues its decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue,where oral arguments in the case were heard last week.

Conservative justices, who comprise a 5-4 majority of the Court, have signaled in this and other recent cases that they have little use for the “wall of separation” between church and state. Instead, they are troubled by religious institutions being denied equal access to government benefits (such as vouchers), which they see as a violation of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.

Depending on the reasoning used by the Court in deciding the Espinoza case, a wide variety of state programs, including many related to education and other social services, may be transformed. Governments may be required to provide taxpayer funding to religious institutions that are not subject to anti-discrimination laws and other rules designed to protect vulnerable populations.

Currently, in 17 states where legal barriers have been cleared, a billion dollars per year is being diverted into private schools—the vast majority of which are religious. Like Stillwater, the school at the center of the Montana case, many of these religious academies openly discriminate against LGBTQ families.

“What we define as discriminatory applies differently in public and private spaces,” NEPC Fellow Julie Mead told The (Wisconsin) Daily Cardinalthis past fall. “The voucher language itself, about what schools have to permit and what they don’t have to permit, may make it possible to exclude LGBTQ kids or even straight kids whose parents are LGBTQ,” said Mead, a professor at UW Madison. “And because they have broken no law, they have not discriminated.”

Schools that receive vouchers may also be permitted to discriminate against students with disabilities. For instance, Trinity Christian Academy in Deltona, Florida, which received more than $1.5 million in vouchers last year, does not accept students with a wide variety of disabilities, including students who are not ambulatory, students with emotional disorders, and students with below-average intelligence.

Although the Montana case will almost certainly be decided in a way that promotes voucher expansion, given the Court’s majority of far-right Justices, NEPC Director and CU Boulder Professor Kevin Welner expects even more far-reaching effects. In an interview last week with Time, he said:

To the extent that we are shifting further and further away from where we were a half century ago and creating greater entanglements between states and state funding and religious institutions, that will have implications down the line, both about where our tax money goes and about public influence on private religious institutions.

Similarly, NEPC Fellow and University of Connecticut Professor Preston Green told the education news outlet Chalkbeat, “This case could gradually erode the grounding for keeping public funds specifically and totally for just public education. Even if this doesn’t happen, you could have language that could move us even more in that direction.”

“If it’s unconstitutional to exclude private religious schools from a program that provides aid for public schools, it’s hard to see where the line is drawn and where the neutrality principle ends,” Welner told the New York Times. “It’s a fascinating Pandora’s box they could open.”

As a result, some of the nation’s most vulnerable families and children may face a new wave of discrimination on a variety of different fronts. Come June, we’ll see how far the Court wants to push this new frontier.

This newsletter is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:

Latest research review from NEPC:

Simple comparisons reveal very little about the relative effectiveness of charter schools.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Publication Announcement

Florida Report Offers Meager Insight into Charter School Performance


Simple comparisons reveal very little about the relative effectiveness of charter schools.


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BOULDER, CO (June 18, 2019) – The Florida Department of Education recently published a report consisting almost entirely of simple graphs comparing achievement levels, achievement gaps, and achievement gains on statewide tests among charter school students to those among traditional public school students. The Department’s press release touted the report as showing that the state’s “charter school students consistently outperform their peers in traditional public schools.”

The release also quotes Florida’s Education Commissioner, asserting that the “report provides further evidence that [school choice policies] are right for Florida” and that there’s “no denying that choice works.” The press release’s spin was then echoed in pieces published/broadcast by several television stationsnewspapers, and online outlets.

Yet simple comparisons such as those in this report reveal very little about the relative effectiveness of charter schools. Robert Bifulco of Syracuse University, reviewed Student Achievement in Florida’s Charter Schools: A Comparison of the Performance of Charter School Students with Traditional Public School Students, and found it to be of extremely limited use.

Beyond the odd exercise of counting the number of comparisons that appear favorable to charter schools, the report offers no discussion. The comparisons are not even explained. The fact that the report merely presents comparisons required by law without putting any policy “spin” on them might be considered a virtue. But the danger is that such reports can (and do) encourage erroneous conclusions.

At the very least, Professor Bifulco believes, the report should have clarified the purposes of its comparisons and cautioned the reader against drawing unwarranted and potentially harmful conclusions.

Find the review, by Robert Bifulco, at:

Find Student Achievement in Florida’s Charter Schools: A Comparison of the Performance of Charter School Students with Traditional Public School Students, published by the Florida Department of Education, at:

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