Archives for category: Education Industry

Stephen Dyer, a former state legislator in Ohio, writes a blog that tracks funding and privatization in Ohio. It’s called “10th Period.” He relies on state data to tell the truth about the failure of charters and vouchers. Here is the latest data on charter schools.

Dyer’s summary:

98 Percent of Ohio Charter School Graduates are Less Prepared for Post-Graduate World Than Students in Youngstown City Schools

Dayton is the lowest performing major urban district. Yet 2 out of 3 Ohio charter schools are less prepared than Dayton students

Ohio’s new report card has revealed something extremely troubling about Ohio’s Charter Schools. On a new measure called “Students in the 4-year Graduation Cohort who Completed a Pathway and are Prepared for College or Career Success”, only 9 percent of Ohio’s potential Charter School graduates met those qualifications. More than 36 percent of Ohio’s public school district students met those qualifications.

(Data Note: These data only examine students who could graduate high school, not whetherthey graduated high school. Public School Districts graduated 91.4 percent of their potential 121,968 graduates. Charter Schools only graduated 65 percent of their 4,657 potential graduates — a lower rate than any Ohio Public School District.)

Of the 43 Ohio Charter Schools with enough students to count in this College and Career Readiness measure, 18 schools had zero — that’s right, not a single student —who qualified as college or career ready. That means that 3 out of every 25 Ohio charter school graduates attended a school where not a single potential graduate was considered college or career ready.

But it gets worse.

More than 54 percent of Youngstown City School potential graduates are college or career ready. Only one Ohio Charter School — Dayton Early College Academy — has a higher rate.

That means that 98 percent of potential Ohio Charter School graduates are less prepared for post-high school lives than Youngstown City Schools’ potential graduates. Remember that Youngstown was seen as such a “failed” school district that the state created a new law to take over the district — in large part so more Charter Schools could open there.

Yet that district’s students are more likely to be prepared for post-high school lives than 98 percent of the 4,657 students potential graduating Ohio’s Charter Schools.

But wait. It gets worse.

The lowest-performing major urban school district in Ohio — Dayton — only had 5.7 percent of its students qualify as career or college ready.

Not good.

But before all you pro-charter school/voucher people scream “School Choice, Now!”, an astonishing 2 out of every 3 potential Ohio Charter School graduates attend schools with worse post-graduate preparation measures than Dayton.

Dayton is the home of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and has been a hotbed of charter and voucher activity for 25 years. It’s not like school choice hasn’t been tried in Dayton.

And it ain’t working.

More Ohio students in all schools need to be career and college ready than they currently are. Full stop.

But what’s clear is that the best place for that to happen is in Ohio’s local public schools, not in Ohio Charter Schools.

I’d also like to use some space to bring up the Ohio Virtual Academy (OHVA) — the ECOT-sized online school. OHVA was paid to educate 14,530 students last year — more students than ECOT ever was paid to educate.

Yet they are just as bad as ECOT at preparing their students for the post-graduate world. An astonishing 87 of 1,820 potential OHVA grads were considered college or career ready. That 4.8 percent rate is lower than all but one Ohio school district — New Miami Local in Butler County, which only had 1 of 44 potential graduates considered college or career ready.

There’s more. If you want to follow the terrible results of privatization in Ohio, subscribe to Stephen Dyer’s blog.

We recently learned that Josh Shapiro, Democratic candidate for Governor of Pennnsylvania, has endorsed vouchers.

One of our readers supplied an email for this “Democrat” who has embraced the Republican agenda for education. Josh Shapiro is a hypocrite. Real Democrats support public goods. Real Democrats care about the common good. Real Democrats fight privatization of what belongs to the public.

Here’s his email:, As a union public school teacher and a member of the democratic party I am absolutely outraged by your decision to endorse charter schools.

If you don’t know why you should not be supporting the same education policies as Donald Trump and Betsy Devos, then you have no business holding public office for the democratic party.

Kathryn Joyce of Salon has written one dynamite article after another about the movement to destroy public education. In this post, she writes that Florida was ranked # 1 in “educational freedom” by the far-right Heritage Foundation, which wants to privatize all schools. This is a brilliant, must-read article!

Arizona, which has pushed hard to expand charters and vouchers, came in a close second.

That claim, along with the fact that the list’s top 20 states are mostly deep “red” and its bottom 10 are almost all dark “blue,” might come as a surprise to education watchers who are familiar with more traditional assessments of education performance. But in the Heritage Foundation’s inaugural “Education Freedom Report Card,” the think tank is grading according to a different metric entirely: not things like average student funding, teacher salary or classroom size, but how easily state legislatures enable students to leave public schools; how lightly private schools and homeschooling are regulated; how active and welcome conservative parent-advocacy groups are; and how frequently or loudly those groups claim that schools are indoctrinating students….

In the category of education choice, Heritage’s primary focus is on education savings accounts(ESAs), a form of school voucher that allows parents to opt out of public schools and use a set amount of state funding (sometimes delivered via debit card) on almost any educational expenses they see fit. ESAs can be used towards charter schools, private schools, parochial schools and low-cost (and typically low-quality) “voucher schools,” as well as online schools, homeschooling expenses, unregulated “microschools” (where a group of parents pool resources to hire a private teacher) or tutoring. The report’s methodology also notes that the percentage of children in a state who attend these alternatives to public schools figures into its rankings, implying that families who choose traditional public schools are not considered examples of educational “freedom.” The “choice” category also awards points based on how non-public schools are regulated, docking states that require accreditation or the same level of testing mandated for public schools.

States can lose points if they have credentialed teachers and gain points if they let anyone without any credentials teach. They also lose points if they have good pension plans and unions. They gain points by having strong bans on “critical race theory” and gain points for teaching patriotic history.

What’s especially noteworthy about this report — which Heritage says it will release on an annual basis — is how closely most of its ranking criteria track with the right’s broader education agenda. Over the last few months, almost all the issues addressed in this report have been highlighted as key action items for conservative education reformers, from the promotion of ESAs, as a preferred pathway to universal school vouchers, to alternative teacher credentialing to the expansion of the anti-CRT movement, which now encompasses anything related to “diversity, equity and inclusion…”

Framing the report by invoking the libertarian economist [Milton] Friedman — who, over the course of his controversial career, proposed eliminating Social Security, the Food and Drug Administration, the licensing of doctors and more — is a telling choice. In a foundational 1955 essay, as Heritage notes, Friedman famously argued that “government-administered schooling” was incompatible with a freedom-loving society, and that public funding of education should be severed from public administration of it — which would end public education as the country had known it for generations…

“Friedman may have been an accomplished number-cruncher, but when it came to social issues, he was a crackpot,” said Carol Corbett Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education. He claimed that “vouchers ‘would solve all of the critical problems’ faced by schools,” from discipline, to busing to segregation, Burris continued. “He presented no evidence, just claims based on his disdain for any government regulation….”

By 1980, Friedman was declaring that vouchers were merely a useful waypoint on the road to true education freedom, which would include revoking compulsory education laws. In 2006, shortly before his death, Friedman told an ALEC audience that it would be “ideal” to “abolish the public school system and eliminate all the taxes that pay for it.”

For Heritage to use Friedman as its ideological lodestar, public education advocates observe, makes clear what the report values most in the state education systems it’s ranking….

“The fact that the Heritage Foundation ranks Arizona second in the country, when our schools are funded nearly last in the nation, only underscores the depraved lens with which they view the world,” said Beth Lewis, director of the advocacy group Save Our Schools Arizona, which is currently leading a citizen ballot referendumagainst the state’s new universal ESA law. “Heritage boasting about realizing Milton Friedman’s dream reveals the agenda — to abolish public schools and put every child on a voucher in segregated schools….”

“With this report,” added Burris, “the Heritage Foundation puts its values front and forward — that schooling should be a free-for-all marketplace where states spend the least possible on educating the future generation of Americans, with no regulations to preserve quality.” It’s no accident, Burris added, that Heritage’s top two states, Florida and Arizona, were ranked as the worst on the Network for Public Education’s own report card this year.

Peter Greene is a retired teacher in Pennsylvania; he stepped down after nearly 40 years in the classroom and has been a prolific writer ever since, stepped in the wisdom of practie.

He is disgusted with Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro’s decision to support school vouchers.

Shapiro has joined forces with the GOP. How curious that Shapiro has thrown himself in the same boat with Greg Abbot, Ron DeSantis, Doug Ducy, and every other anti-public school governor.

Greene writes that Shapiro’s website touts his support for vouchers:

Josh favors adding choices for parents and educational opportunity for students and funding lifeline scholarships like those approved in other states and introduced in Pennsylvania.

The Lifeline Scholarship bill is a GOP education savings account bill–a super-voucher bill– currently sitting in the appropriations committee in the House; the Senate has passed their version. Not just charters. Not just traditional vouchers. But nice shiny, super vouchers. Take a bunch of money from public schools (based on state average cost-per-pupil, not local numbers, so that many districts will lose more money than they would have spent on the students). Handed as a pile of money/debit card which can be spent on any number of education-adjacent expenses.

The state will audit the families at least once every two years. The bill contains the usual non-interference clause, meaning that the money can be spent at a private discriminatory school, and no one will be checking to see if the school is actually educating the student. The bill is only old-school in that it uses the old foot-in-the-door technique of saying that this is just to rescue students from “failing” public schools (but includes no provisions to determine if the child has been moved to a failing private school).

Choicers are ecstatic…

You know a great way to make sure that zip code, ethnicity, and class don’t determine a child’s educational quality? It’s not to give some of them voucher money that may or may not get a few students to a better education.

It’s to fully fund and support all the schools in all the zip codes.

Boy, would I love to vote for a governor who supported that for a plan.

But no–we now have a choice of two guys who are barely different on education. Mastriano would gut spending completely while implementing vouchers, while Shapiro would just slice open a public education vein.

In fairness to Shapiro, his site says he’s going to fully fund education, too, which would be kind of like putting a hose in one side of your swimming pool while chopping a gaping hole in the base on the other side. It’s not a great plan. If he means it, which now, who’s to say.

Shapiro’s position is awful. It would align him with just about any GOP candidate in any other state, and the only reason it isn’t a disqualifier in this state is because insurrectionist Doug Mastriano is so spectacularly, so uniquely terrible, so ground-breakingly awful. Mastriano is still a terrible, terrible choice.

Voucher fans were sad because they could see their hopes and dreams going down in flames with Mastriano, but now they can rest assured that whoever wins, they will get a governor who supports an education program that any right wing Republican would love. For those of us who support public education, it is brutally disappointing.

In a shocking development, Josh Shapiro, the Democratic candidate for Governor, has endorsed a school choice bill that was barely passed by the Republican House.

Shapiro is currently the state’s attorney general. He is running against an extreme Trumper who participated in the January 6 insurrection.

On Saturday, Shapiro told supporters that he favors the “Lifeline Scholarship Program,” which passed the Republican House in April by a vote of 104-98. That was the first time that a voucher bill ever passed the State House. It also was passed by the Senate Education Committee in June.

The bill is supported by the Trump-endorsed Republican candidate and puts Shapiro in the same boat with Betsy DeVos and Charles Koch. Shapiro joins the tiny number of Democrats, like Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who supports school choice.

You can bet that many parent advocates and teachers are shocked. The research is clear that school choice does not improve student’s educational outcomes. What’s up?

In Arizona, Save Our Schools Arizona and other parent groups are gathering signatures to force a referendum on the legislature’s plan to unleash a universal voucher plan. Parents and teachers overwhelmingly defeated a voucher proposal in 2018, but the salaries Koch-sponsored forces are pushing an even bigger voucher plan than before. In their proposal, every student in the state would be eligible for a voucher.

The Grand Canyon Institute has assembled the facts about the proposal. The greatest beneficiaries would be families whose children already attend private schools and parents affluent enough to pay for the cost of private high school.

Max Goshert, Assistant Research Director of the Grand Canyon Institute, writes:

Phoenix, Arizona – 2022 was a blockbuster year for Arizona policy. Along with a record budget and a billion-dollar investment in water, Arizona passed the largest private school scholarship program in the country. Previously, only families who met certain conditions, such as having a student with a disability, a parent who served in the military, a student who attended a D or F school, a student who lives on a Native American reservation, or a sibling of one of these students, could participate in the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program.

HB 2853 establishes universal eligibility for the ESA program, meaning that any student attending grades K-12 can receive a scholarship, which is estimated to average $6,966 in FY23 (certain circumstances, like disability status, can change the scholarship size). Unlike the 2017 expansion, which capped participation at 30,000 recipients, there is no limit on the number of students who can participate in the program.

Naturally, the polemic public debate resulting from the seismic shift in education has spawned a gamut of predictions on what the impact of this expansion will be. In an attempt to foster conversation that is grounded in fact, we address several questions about the ESA program by diving into the data.

How will the ESA expansion impact academic outcomes?

As with any policy that impacts education, the most important feature of the ESA expansion is how it impacts the quality of education that students receive. While the literature on the academic outcomes of participation in voucher programs is mixed, with some research reporting significant positive effects, several recent studies have found negative impacts on student achievement, especially in math, for statewide voucher programs in Ohio, Indiana, and Louisiana (Mills and Wolf, p.8). This is likely due to the rapid expansion of these voucher programs from smaller populations to the entire state, overwhelming existing private school infrastructure (p.43).

Arizona’s expansion is the largest in the country, with the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) estimating that 36,078 public school students will begin participating in the ESA program. While some families may choose to homeschool given their new ESA eligibility, most will likely elect to attend a private school. Given that there are currently 59,171 private school students, Arizona private schools will see a 39% rise in demand, a tremendous increase in a short period of time that threatens to overwhelm existing facilities. Consequentially, Arizona will likely see a similar decline in academic outcomes due to the inadequate supply of private schools.

What are the accountability requirements for ESAs?

While ESA participants are required to use a portion of the program funding in reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies, and science, there are no minimum standards of academic achievement, such as reading or math proficiency. Private schools are not required to be accountable for the academic outcomes of their students. This contrasts sharply with Louisiana’s voucher program, where private schools must apply to become voucher recipients and undergo site visits, financial audits, and health and safety assessments from the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Abdulkadiroglu et al, p. 4). Private schools must maintain eligibility by administering annual state achievement tests to voucher recipients along with financial audits.

Who benefits the most from ESA expansion?

Of the 9,710 applicants to the ESA program for SY2023, approximately 77% do not have a history of attending an Arizona public school. Effectively, these ESAs serve not to enable those attending public school to attend private school, but as a public subsidy for families that already had the means to pay for private schools or homeschooling. This is in line with a 2018 study by the Grand Canyon Institute which found that, while enrollment in the private school sector has been relatively flat, private school subsidies from Arizona’s General Fund have increased 50-fold from $3 million in SY2000 to $141 million in SY2016. As with other private school subsidies, the beneficiaries are largely those who are already attending private schools, not those attending public schools who would otherwise attend privates.

What are the limitations on ESA expenses?

ESA funding can be used to pay private school tuition, curriculum, homeschooling, and other educational expenses. The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) maintains a comprehensive list of approved spending categories and ESA allowable items. However, because state statute on allowable items is broad, parents are able to use ESA dollars for expenses with questionable educational benefit. Uptown Jungle Peoria, an indoor playground, recently attracted attention when they advertised that they would accept ESA money, an expenditure that ADE confirmed was appropriate. Parents may also use ESA dollars to purchase Lego kits, lawn darts, and croquet sets. ADE staff oversee ESA expenditures to ensure that they fall under program guidelines, yet allowable purchases that are more recreational may come at the expense of academic experience.

How much will the ESA expansion cost taxpayers?

Initial estimates from the JLBC are that taxpayers will spend $33 million in FY23, $65 million in FY24, and $125 million in FY25 from empowerment scholarships. With 77% of the 9,710 enrollees this school year coming from outside of the public system, the cost of these students will likely be around $52 million, very close to the JLBC estimate. As participation in the ESA program proliferates due to public awareness in the coming years, the burden of the program on the General Fund will rise substantially.

How will the ESA expansion impact school choice?

Arizona currently has 2,391 public schools and 448 private schools. The estimated award for FY23 of $6,966 covers the entire average cost of private elementary schools ($6,710), but only about a third of the cost of private secondary schools ($18,590). Consequentially, families will have to pay around $12,000 per student out of their own pocket once they reach high school, a financial barrier that will be too burdensome for those who rely on ESAs to pay for private school tuition. The families that experience the greatest expansion of school choice are those who are wealthy enough to pay the difference in tuition at the secondary education level.

The impact of school choice by the ESA expansion is further limited by the lack of public accountability of private schools, creating a vacuum of information on academic outcomes. With little means to determine how well private schools educate their students, parents must rely more on marketing and word-of-mouth, impairing their ability to make well-informed decisions for school choice.

HB 2853 is scheduled to go into effect on September 24 however that date could be put on hold if an initiative successfully gathers sufficient signatures to refer the issue to the November 2024 ballot.

For more information, contact:
Max Goshert, Assistant Research Director, 602.595.1025, Ext. 12

The Grand Canyon Institute (GCI) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to informing and improving public policy in Arizona through evidence-based, independent, objective, nonpartisan research. GCI makes a good faith effort to ensure that findings are reliable, accurate, and based on reputable sources. While publications reflect the view of the institute, they may not reflect the view of individual members of the board.

Our reasonable and sensible friend Jan Resseger writes here about the efforts by the Heritage Foundatuon and its allies to saddle Ohio with vouchers. This is especially bizarre because researchers have consistently found that kids in public schools learn more than those in religious schools. Their goal: diminish or eliminate public schools.

She writes:

When you notice a particular educational trend moving across state legislatures, it is useful to investigate who’s behind the policy and who is making it so difficult to mount effective opposition. On Tuesday, this blog covered some of the far-right advocacy groups pressuring Ohio’s supermajority Republican legislature to pass House Bill 290, the Backpack Bill, which would bring a universal Education Savings Account (ESA) school voucher program to the state. Kathryn Joyce’s research for SALON demonstrates that the effort to pass a wave of universal ESA voucher bills is much broader than the particular groups working in Ohio.

Profiling a strategic effort by the Heritage Foundation to drive ESA vouchers through a number of state legislatures, Joyce describes the Heritage Foundation’s new Education Freedom Report Cardwhich rates the states in four categories: “In the category of education choice, Heritage’s primary focus is on education savings accounts (ESAs), a form of school voucher that allows parents to opt out of public schools and use a set amount of state funding (sometimes delivered via debit card) on almost any educational expenses they see fit. ESAs can be used towards charter schools, private schools, parochial schools and low-cost (and typically low-quality) ‘voucher schools,’ as well as online schools, homeschooling expenses, unregulated ‘microschools’ (where a group of parents pool resources to hire a private teacher) or tutoring.”

“In terms of regulatory freedom, Heritage weighs whether states enforce ‘overburdensome’ regulations… The chief concern here appears to be (weakening) teacher certification credentials…. In the third category, transparency, the report rewards states that have ‘strong anti-critical race theory’ laws, high rates of engagement by groups like Parents Defending Education… and laws requiring school districts to provide exhaustive public access to any student curricula or educational materials… Lastly, in terms of spending, the report compares per-pupil (public school) spending not just to learning outcomes but also to matters like the future tax burden created by teacher pensions.”

In states whose legislatures are considering universal Education Savings Account bills like Ohio’s HB 290 Backpack Bill, legislators are receiving lots of help from far-right organizations pumping out “model legislation” that can be adapted to the needs of any state legislature. Joyce points out that the Heritage Foundation’s new report includes “a section containing model legislation written by the Goldwater Institute, the libertarian law firm, Institute for Justice, and (from) the Heritage Foundation itself, covering more ‘anti-CRT’ proposals, more requirements for schools to publicize their training materials for students and staff, and more or bigger ESA voucher programs.” You will remember that Tuesday’s blog post on Ohio quoted the Ohio Capital Journal’s Zurie Pope reporting that Ohio legislators sponsoring the Ohio House Bill 290, have received guidance from the Ohio Center for Christian Virtue, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), EdChoice (the former Friedman Foundation for EdChoice), and Heritage Action.

The top scorers on the Heritage Foundation’s Education Freedom Report Card are Florida with the top ranking and Arizona coming in second. Kathryn Joyce publishes comments from public education supporters in both states. In Florida, Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association notes that Florida ranks 45th in the United states in average per-student public school funding. He comments: “In their report, it seems like the states that fund their (public school) students at a higher level have a worse ranking than those who invest less in their children… the Heritage Foundation celebrating the rankings of how well you underfund public schools, how well you dismantle public schools.”

In Arizona, Beth Lewis, director of Save Our Schools Arizona, “which is currently leading a citizen ballot referendum against the state’s new universal ESA Law,” said “The fact that the Heritage Foundation ranks Arizona second in the country, when our (public) schools are funded nearly last in the nation, only underscores the depraved lens with which they view the world… Heritage boasting about realizing Milton Friedman’s dream reveals the agenda—to abolish public schools and put every child on a voucher….”

Ohio is not the only state where politicians are currently being pressed by far right advocates to adopt one of the model ESA bills that are available to anyone who wants one.

States whose legislatures have enacted Education Savings Account vouchers to date include Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Indiana, and Missouri. ESA programs were passed but later found unconstitutional in Nevadaand Kentucky under the provisions of their state constitutions.

For example, for the Wisconsin Examiner, Ruth Conniff reports that education policy has become a huge issue of contention between “Republican candidate Tim Michels, Donald Trump’s choice for governor of Wisconsin, who is challenging incumbent Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, the former state schools superintendent, this fall.” Evers has managed to hold off the school privatizers in both houses of Wisconsin’s Republican-dominated state legislature for the past four years. Last week, Conniff explained: “A group of heavy hitters in Wisconsin politics announced Thursday that they are forming a coalition to push for universal school choice and ‘parents’ rights.’ The group, which calls itself the Wisconsin Coalition for Education Freedom, includes Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Americans for Prosperity, the American Federation for Children, School Choice Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty… Michels and Evers are far apart on a lot of issues, from abortion to immigration to how the state runs elections, but one of the most profound impacts of the Wisconsin governor’s race will be the way it shapes the future of education. Michels’ education blueprint calls for an immediate, statewide expansion of Wisconsin’s school choice program… Michels said, ‘I will introduce universal school choice in my first budget in 2023… Among the other goals of the Wisconsin Coalition for Education Freedom is a ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights’ which would encourage lawsuits against school districts that don’t take direction from parents on these issues.”

Conniff concludes: “But beyond these flashy culture-war issues is a steady march toward a privatized education system that is on its way to bankrupting Wisconsin’s once-great public schools.”

Jan Resseger is a careful researcher and thoughtful political analyst who lives in Ohio. In this post, she has compiled a list of the far-right groups who influence the Ohio legislature as it wreaks havoc on the public schools that most children attend.

She writes:

Ohio is overrun with far-right advocates pushing the privatization of public education through the expansion of both vouchers and charter schools and with people spreading alarm about public school teaching of divisive subjects. This should not be surprising in our notoriously gerrymandered Republican state legislature. Here are some of the extremist organizations whose lobbyists counsel our legislators, help them draft legislation, and make political donations.

The Buckeye Institute

Sourcewatch describes this Ohio organization: “The Buckeye Institute… is a right-wing advocacy group based in Ohio. It is a member of the $120 million-a-year State Policy Network (SPN), a web of state pressure groups that denote themselves as “think tanks” and drive a right-wing agenda in statehouses nationwide.” Sourcewatch further describes the State Policy Network: “SPN groups operate as the policy, communications, and litigation arm of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), giving the cookie-cutter ALEC agenda a sheen of academic legitimacy and state-based support.”

On Tuesday of last week, The Buckeye Institute released a new report outlining its strategy for helping students “regain lost learning” during the pandemic: “In its new policy report… The Buckeye Institute outlines how empowering parents, funding students first, and enhancing school choice can counteract the ill effects the pandemic had on learning loss for Ohio’s K-12 students.” While The Buckeye Institute claims to focus on individual students in its response to the past two years of COVID disruption, the new report doesn’t mention students at all. There is nothing about giving students extra attention in smaller classes or more enrichments and activities to make school exciting or more counselors and mental health support. Instead the report addresses the more abstract issues of school ownership and governance. In essence universal marketplace school choice via vouchers is the solution: “The report offers four commonsense policy solutions that will improve the K-12 academic experience:

  • “Broad-Based Education Savings Accounts: Create a broad-based ESA initiative to reform Ohio’s education system and its long-standing government-run education monopoly…
  • “Universal Open Enrollment: Make it easier for all families to send students to their school of choice by requiring all Ohio public schools to participate in inter-district open enrollment.
  • “Expanded Tax Credit Scholarships: Increase the maximum tax credit from its current $750 limit to $2,500 to make it easier for grant organizations to offer larger scholarships (vouchers) to more students in need.
  • “Enhanced Spending Transparency: Require all public school districts to operate more transparently by sharing their spending data with parents in Ohio Checkbook.”

The Center for Christian Virtue

The Center for Christian Virtue recently purchased an office building across the street from the Statehouse in Columbus to bring the organization right into the center of power in Ohio. One of the Center for Christian Virtue’s new initiatives is to help locate private religious schools in churches—schools that qualify for tax-funded EdChoice vouchers. For the Statehouse News Bureau, Jo Ingles reports: “A new, private school has been commissioned in Columbus, but it’s not like many others… Inside the walls of the Memorial Baptist Church on the west side of Columbus, classrooms normally used for Sunday church services are being readied for kindergarten through second grade students who have been going to local public schools. That’s according to Aaron Baer, president of the Center for Christian Virtue, a conservative Christian organization. He said seven churches came together to create this new model school. This is a pilot project for the Center for Christian Virtue. And the group said it’s just the first of many that will use church facilities for a private Christian school.” “Children who enroll in the school this year can use state money through Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program to pay for their tuition because they will fit the income or school attendance area guidelines… Other Christian-based schools are now receiving money from the EdChoice Scholarship program.”

Ingles adds that, “Baer’s organization is leading the charge for majority Republicans state lawmakers to adopt a bill, commonly called the “backpack” bill, that would expand the Ed Choice Scholarship even more to allow any student, regardless of income or where they live, to use public money for private schools. ”

For the Ohio Capital Journal, Zurie Pope reports that the Center for Christian Virtue has gone farther than merely supporting HB 290, the Backpack Bill. Members of the Center for Christian Virtue’s staff helped write the language of the bill: “(D)ocuments obtained by the Ohio Capital Journal through a public records request reveal CCV’s involvement in HB 290 has been more extensive than previously known, and included the advice and promotion of outside groups like Heritage Action and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This past February, a legislative aide for McClain (one of the bill’s sponsors) emailed a draft of the bill to CCV legislative liaison Nilani Jawahar and CCV lobbyist and Ohio Christian Education Network Assistant Director Corine Vidales.” The Ohio Capital Journal‘s report also names so-called academic research the drafters of the Backpack Bill considered as they were drafting the bill: “Both studies were created by EdChoice, an Indiana-based think tank that advocates for school choice. Ohio’s private school voucher program is also called EdChoice.” Finally, explains Zurie Pope, of the Ohio Capital Journal, the executive director of the Ohio Christian Education Network, Troy McIntosh, “sent a draft of the bill to Stephanie Kruez, a regional director for Heritage Action, the policy arm of the right-wing think tank, The Heritage Foundation.”

The Thomas Fordham Institute

The Ohio Capital Journal‘s Susan Tebben reports that the Thomas Fordham Institute has joined a lawsuit pushing to overturn reasonable and sensible new rules recently imposed by the U.S. Department of Education to improve oversight of the federal Charter Schools Program. The Fordham Institute functions not only as an Ohio think tank, but also as an approved sponsor of its own Ohio charter schools. Tebben explains: “An Ohio group that supports charter schools has joined in a lawsuit fighting against what they say is ‘hostility’ in rule-making by the U.S. Department of Education. The D.C. and Ohio-based Thomas Fordham Institute, a conservative education policy think tank, spoke as a ‘charter school sponsor’ for the state of Ohio, arguing that rules regulating enrollment and use of charter schools… will ‘disadvantage some or all of the charter schools sponsored by Fordham’… The part of the rule that charter school advocates have a problem with states charter schools would need to prove public schools are over-enrolled, and encourage but don’t require ‘community collaboration’ with fellow school districts.” The lawsuit Fordham joined claims: “The most successful charter schools are those that provide educational alternatives to under-enrolled schools, not those that simply house excess numbers of students.” Ohio’s Fordham Institute is supporting the idea that charter schools should operate in competition, not collaboration, with the public school districts in which they are located. Neither does Fordham worry about the areas in Ohio where too many low quality charter schools with fancy advertising are sucking essential dollars from the public schools that serve the majority of the community’s students.

The Fordham Institute’s Aaron Churchill recently published a detailed set of priorities the Fordham Institute will be advocating this winter when the legislature begins to debate Ohio’s FY 2024-2025 biennial state budget. Churchill explains that Fordham will lobby to expand the charter school funding formula, expand special targeted assistance for charter schools, raise the facilities alliance to cover building costs, and support a credit enhancement to make building restoration and construction more affordable for charter schools. Fordham will also lobby to make EdChoice vouchers available for all students living in families with income up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level and allow brand new private schools to receive publicly funded vouchers from students even in a private school’s first year of operation. To its credit, Fordham will push to make the academic quality of private schools accepting vouchers more transparent by requiring, for the first time, private schools to release standardized test scores. Fordham will also lobby to make interdistrict public school choice universal across all the districts in the state, removing discretion for local school boards to decide whether to participate.

Hillsdale College Barney Charter School Initiative

In the first of an important three-part expose for SALON last spring, Kathryn Joyce outlined the fast-growing initiative of Michigan’s conservative Christian Hillsdale College to disseminate its Classical Academy curriculum—which is Christian as well as classical—nationwide by encouraging charter schools to incorporate its model curriculum: “Hillsdale is not just a central player, but a ready-made solution for conservatives who seek to reclaim an educational system they believe was ceded decades ago to liberal interests. The college has become a leading force in promoting a conservative and overtly Christian reading of American history and the U.S. Constitution. It opposes progressive education reforms in general and contemporary scholarship on inequality in particular… Across the nation, conservative officials from state leaders to insurgent school board embers are clamoring to implement Hillsdale’s proudly anti-woke lesson plans, including the ‘patriotic education’ premises of its recently released 1776 Curriculum, or add to its growing network of affiliated classical charter schools.”

The NY Times‘ Stephanie Saul explains the Hillsdale College Barney Charter School Initiative’s name: “Hillsdale’s charter school operation… began in 2010 with a grant from the Chicago-based Barney Family Foundation, endowed by Stephen M. Barney, a financial industry executive.  Saul continues: “The Hillsdale charter schools are neither owned nor managed by Hillsdale. Instead, the schools enter agreements to use the Hillsdale curriculum and the college provides training for faculty and staff, as well as other assistance—all free of charge.”

The number of Hillsdale Classical Charter Schools is growing in Ohio.  I currently count four either in operation already or getting set to open: the Cincinnati Classical Academy; the Northwest Ohio Classical Academy in Toledo; the Heart of Ohio Classical Academy in Columbus; and the Southeast Ohio Classical Academy in Athens.  Another Hillsdale Classical Academy is a private school, the Columbus Classical Academy, which, I’m sure, accepts vouchers which have been permitted for religious schools since 2002 under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Zelman v. Simmons Harris.

Four of these schools, however, are charter schools—which Ohio considers public schools. As schools with an explicitly Christian curriculum, these charter schools, deemed public by Ohio law, raise obvious questions about church-state separation. After the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carson v. Makin, a Maine school voucher decision which affirmed the constitutionality of publicly funding schools that explicitly teach religion, perhaps these Ohio Hillsdale charter schools will ultimately be tested with further litigation.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is determined to pass voucher legislation if he is re-elected. He has pushed for vouchers repeatedly and been defeated by a coalition of urban Democrats and rural Republicans. Our friends, the Pastors for Texas Children, have been champions of public schools, knowing that vouchers would undermine public schools in rural and suburban Texas. Governor Abbott, as usual, is pandering to the far-right extremists in his party who want to privatize everything.

The Texas Monthly describes Abbott’s sleazy tactics:

Undermining public schools has been a winning strategy for governors in several states. But for many rural, conservative communities in Texas, such schools are the only game in town.

By Bekah McNeel

At a July campaign event in Fort Stockton, Governor Greg Abbott played what has proven to be a winning card for Republicans across the country. “Parents,” he said, “should not be forced to send their child to a government-mandated school that teaches critical race theory, or is forcing their child to wear a face mask against their parents’ desire, or is forcing them to attend a school that isn’t safe.”

Actually, Abbott long ago outlawed mask mandates, and he and the Republican Legislature have heavily regulated what can be taught about race in Texas schools. But touting the progress of his agenda is less compelling than making a bogeyman of public schools altogether—telling parents that they deserve more control over what, where, and how their children learn. It’s a strategy that has well served Republican politicians such as Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin and Florida governor Ron DeSantis.

The buzz phrase “parental control” can cover a lot of ground, from oversight over classroom lessons and library books to school choice, and it’s a concept that most Republican voters support. But Abbott has lately taken parental control a giant step further by promoting school vouchers—government funds that would allow families to send their kids to public or private schools, including religious institutions and homeschooling arrangements. Supporters depict vouchers as the acme of parents’ control over their children’s education. But critics, including many conservative Texans, worry that they will inevitably drain resources from public schools, which in many small communities are the only schools available.

What most call “vouchers” can actually be several different things: tax credits for tuition or homeschooling supplies, access to a government savings account or scholarship that can be used for private school tuition, or a reimbursement for a set amount of educational expenses. Abbott has not committed to a specific kind of program, only to the idea that parents’ tax dollars should be able to pay for private school tuition.

These subsidies—often between $4,000 and $8,000 a year—don’t cover the full annual tuition rates of most private schools, which average between $9,000 and $11,000 in Texas, leading many critics to describe them as gifts to those who can already afford some level of tuition. The neediest students, they argue—those most likely to be in struggling schools—are still left with a considerable bill if they choose to participate.

“It looks like voucher programs in the past have always been about subsidizing affluent to wealthy folks who want private school for their kids,” said Charles Luke, codirector of Pastors for Texas Children. His group has always opposed vouchers, not only on the basis of the potential cost to public schools, but also on the grounds of separating church and state. Luke worries about government interference with religious or church-affiliated schools. “Government interference isn’t good for the church,” he said.

Where the money comes from and what strings are attached will be the devil in the details of bills soon to be filed for the 2023 Legislature, especially as Republicans vie to cut property taxes as well. Texas pays for public schools on a per-pupil basis, so every student lost represents a loss of revenue. School-voucher proponents say that state money should follow students to whatever public or private schools their parents choose. But superintendents argue that when a student leaves a public school for a private one, the district’s costs—for everything from classroom teachers to bus drivers—don’t decline proportionately.

Superintendents and elected representatives from rural areas—many of whom are Republicans—fear that the state would fund vouchers by reducing funding for public schools in places where such schools serve as community hubs, providing meeting spaces, sports competitions, and social services like school nutrition programs and health screenings. Places like Palestine, Texas.

Carol Burris is the executive director of the Network for Public Education. She recently received a press release from Betsy DeVos’s organization, the ironically-named American Federation for Children, asserting that the drop in test scores during the pandemic was the fault of the unions. The purpose of the “American Federation for Children” is to promote vouchers, especially for religious schools, and it is always eager to criticize public schools and teachers’ unions. AFC much prefers religious schools where children are indoctrinated without apology and where discrimination against unwanted children is common. Maybe they should change their name to the American Federation for Some Children (who share our religious views).

Burris writes:

Walter Blanks, the Press Secretary of the American Federation for Children, got on the rickety old soapbox of Betsy De Vos to blame teacher unions for the recent drop in student performance on NAEP. Moms for Liberty then jumped on calling for parents to “fire teacher unions.”

Did children suffer a decline in learning progress during the pandemic? Of course.  Anyone who has ever taught in a school, unlike Mr. Blanks, could have predicted a drop.

As a former teacher and principal, I know that the relationship between a student and teacher and the relationship among students is critical for learning. And I also remember all those students who, without my cajoling and watchful eye, would have been content to put their heads down or look out the window instead of at their books. That’s kids. The warm smile directed at them, the subtle tap on the desk, you can’t do that over the internet.

But are unions the culprit for the NAEP score drop? There is no evidence of that. 

First, if union influence in keeping remote learning were to blame, we would expect to see a larger drop in city scores than suburban scores. Suburban schools, with or without unions, were far more likely to open. However, suburban scores dropped significantly more in Reading for both low and high achievers than for city students, whose scores barely budged. In Math, the point drop for high achievers was the same; suburban low achievers lost more ground than their counterparts in cities. 

Second, we would expect regional differences depending on the influence of unions.

But there is only one point difference in the scores’ drops between the union-heavy northeast and the right-to-work dominated south. And western states, where unions are prevalent in the most populous states, saw much smaller score drops than the south.  

Not content to blame unions in general, Walter Blanks singles out Randi Weingarten as a national villain. Ms. Weingarten, a woman and strong leader, married to Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, has become a prime target for the misogynist right. But the facts do not bear out his accusations. Even as Weingarten was listening to her members concerned with their own family and student health, she was quietly working behind the scenes to get schools safely opened.

As a New York City public school grandma, I know it. And I am thankful for those efforts. My granddaughter returned to in-person learning in the fall of 2020 as New York City public schools opened. There were bumps and starts, but they opened. Even so, the majority of NYC parents still kept their children remote. 

Will Mr. Blanks blame those parents and hundreds of thousands like them who were fearful of sending their children back to school? 

Covid 19 was a national tragedy. Over one million Americans died horrible deaths.  We will feel the pain and ramifications for years to come. And yes, our children deserve all our efforts to repair the academic and emotional damage of the pandemic. But using that tragedy to push an anti-union agenda does not help repair the damage. It continues to enflame the anger of parents still reeling from the pandemic themselves.

Blanks ends his essay by touting how school choice is the answer. I am scratching my head to reconcile that with the American Federation for Children’s stalwart support for low-quality online virtual schools and homeschools. You can’t blame learning loss on a lack of in-person learning and then support virtual learning solutions. Will AFC now advocate for the closure of online charters and homeschools? Don’t hold your breath.