This week is National School Choice Week. School choice stands apart from other education reforms, not only in its growing bipartisan support, but also in its ability to deliver results without increasing costs to taxpayers.
One school choice reform that is getting results is Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program for low-income kids. Florida’s program began in 2001 providing tax credits for scholarships to students from low-income families. In 2007-08 alone, the program supported about 23,000 students, about 95% of whom would not have been able to attend a private school otherwise. It has helped bring Florida from among the lower performing states in educational achievement to among the best. While Education Week now ranks Florida as 5th in the nation, Oregon (despite having a more privileged population and spending more per student) is ranked at 43rd.
A Modest Tax Credit Scholarship Program Would Produce a Fiscal Net Benefit to Oregon State School Funding
The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program was established in 2001. It provides an income tax credit for corporations that contribute money to nonprofit scholarship-funding organizations (SFOs) that award scholarships to students from families with limited financial resources. The Florida legislature calculates that the program saved the state $36.2 million in fiscal year 2008-09.
If Oregon adopted a program similar to Florida’s, the benefits of reduced demands for education funding would exceed the costs of the tax credit, producing a net savings to the state of $7.7 million.
Local Districts Keep Thousands of Oregon Kids Waiting for a Choice
by Christina Martin
The last week in January is National School Choice Week. Organizations, celebrities and individuals from diverse political persuasions are standing together to demand that we give kids better educational opportunities. School choice stands apart from other reforms, not only in its growing bipartisan support, but also in its ability to deliver results without increasing costs to taxpayers.
Oregon’s charter school law, the state’s only significant school choice reform, has yet to reach its transformative potential because most districts still fail to embrace it. The law allowed the creation of charter schools—public schools operated by non-profit private organizations.
Lending Superman a Hand
By Darla Romfo
The award-winning documentary Waiting for “Superman” (2010 Sundance Film Festival) captures many of the deficiencies in our public education system with tear-jerking accuracy. It is a good movie, but it doesn’t go far enough in arguing for better educational choices for America’s children.
Director Davis Guggenheim and several of the experts he interviews argue that charter schools have finally figured out how to educate poor inner-city kids who have scored below their more affluent peers for years. But actually there were schools doing a great job long before charters came along. Some are low-cost parochial and faith-based schools, and others are just independent private schools operating in the inner city. They get very little attention, but they are doing a good job of educating some of our most at-risk kids.
Cascade’s School Choice beginnings
by Steve Buckstein
Why is school choice such an important part of Cascade Policy Institute’s agenda? Partially, it’s because it is the issue that got us started back in 1991.
In 1990 a small group including myself got together and placed a citizen initiative on Oregon’s ballot. Measure 11 would have provided refundable tax credits to every K-12 student in the state, which they could use to attend any public, private, religious or home school of their choice. No state had ever voted on such a sweeping reform before, and we felt it was time for Oregon to lead the way.
We gathered over 130,000 signatures to place our measure on the ballot; more than any other measure that year. We raised over $500,000 from Oregonians and donors around the country to get the school choice message out in our state.
But on election night that November, we came up short. We only earned about one-third of the vote for our school choice measure. That didn’t surprise us, because through polling we realized that school choice was a new concept to most people, and it was easy for our opponents to scare voters into saying No.
Before the votes had even been tallied, we began thinking about how we could move our school choice agenda forward in the future. We decided that Oregon needed a free-market think tank to advocate for school choice as well as other limited government ideas. That’s why, barely two months after Measure 11 lost at the polls, we incorporated Cascade Policy Institute in January 1991.
In the 20 years that have now passed, we have made some significant progress on the school choice front. We worked hard to introduce the charter school concept in the state in the mid-1990s. By 1999 the Oregon legislature passed, and Governor Kitzhaber signed, a charter school bill that now has resulted in more than 100 public charter schools operating in the state.
Also in 1999 we evolved from just talking about school choice to actually providing choice to hundreds of low-income kids in the Portland area through our Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program. We initially raised $1 million of private money that was matched by $1 million nationally to provide partial scholarships to over 500 kids for four years at the schools of their choice. The fact that over 6,600 kids applied for those 500 slots demonstrated that the demand for school choice is great in Oregon. We can’t help them all, so we continue to advocate for broader programs that will.
We bring national speakers to the state, talking about the benefits of school choice elsewhere. We work to help expand online learning opportunities in the face of entrenched special interest opposition. And we continue to bring realistic school choice funding proposals to the legislature in the hope that soon a majority of both houses will agree that we can’t wait any longer to provide real school choice for many more Oregon children.
Cascade won’t stop advocating for school choice until every student in the state has the real choices they deserve. We appreciate the help of everyone who shares our vision of a freer, better education system in Oregon. It can’t come too soon.
Steve Buckstein was an organizer of Oregonians for School Choice, which placed a school choice measure on Oregon’s 1990 General Election ballot. He went on to help found Cascade Policy Institute in January 1991, serving as its first President. He is currently its Senior Policy Analyst.
On January 23-29, school choice supporters across the U.S. will shine a spotlight on effective educational options for kids. This is an opportunity on a state and national scale to raise awareness of the need to reform public education and to build support for School Choice. There are many ways to get involved and to show your support!
1) On January 25, attend Cascade Policy Institute’s Policy Picnic about school choice. Cascade’s School Choice Project Director will talk about school choice and the research in favor of expanding educational options. Space is limited! Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to RSVP.
2) School boards play a pivotal role in expanding or restricting school choice in Oregon. On Saturday, January 29, attend the “You Can Be Superman” candidate call. Cascade’s Christina Martin will explain why school choice is important. Several speakers will address major school choice issues and talk about how to start and run a campaign for a school board position. ALL charter school supporters are welcome to attend this event regardless of party affiliation.
Full details and free registration are available at http://rescueoregon.com.
3) On Wednesday, January 26, join Americans for Prosperity for a viewing of The Cartel in Clackamas, Oregon. The Cartel is an award-winning documentary about corruption in public education and the promise of school choice. View the movie trailer. Find out more and RSVP by visiting http://schoolchoiceweek.com/Event/afp-oregon.
by Steve Buckstein
Oregonians voted down a new tax on tobacco in 2007, realizing that it would unfairly hurt the poor. So why would one state legislator now propose a tax on sugar-sweetened soft drinks?
Representative Mitch Greenlick seems to think that making soft drinks more expensive will cut down on childhood obesity, even though some studies come to different conclusions. He knows that a number of other states tax the stuff, so why not get some revenue for the thirsty state coffers and help kids at the same time?
Children’s Scholarship Fund President Darla Romfo has been chosen as one of the Heroes of 2010 by Newsmax magazine! The heroes list includes former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, First Lady Michelle Obama, and former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.
According to Newsmax, “the 2010 heroes roster represents the best examples of philanthropy, charity, military service, business excellence, public safety, government leadership, and community advocacy. These heroes truly show how individual leadership, conviction, and courage lead to great things. For all of us.”
Many commentators have expressed outrage at the possibility of a Costco being opened in the Rose Quarter. They point to the decades of public planning for that neighborhood and the multiple rail lines, and demand some form of transit-oriented development (TOD) as an alternative. (more…)