Category: Children’s Scholarship Fund Portland

Educational Choice: An Economic Development Catalyst for Urban Neighborhoods

By Kathryn Hickok

A case study on urban renewal suggests that private and charter schools can act as positive drivers of economic development and neighborhood stability. The report, Renewing Our Cities, was produced by EdChoice, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting educational choice for all families.

The report’s authors state:

We find that the school is a strong relocation attractor, and families gravitate toward the school after their children enroll. To the extent public charter schools and/or other parental-choice options influence family relocation decisions, continued growth in these programs may provide a useful policy tool informing urban design and revitalization initiatives in areas where economic growth is otherwise stunted by inferior assigned schools.

These findings are meaningful. A common argument against school choice for low-income children is that neighborhoods and schools would be worse off if families left their assigned public school for a school they thought better met their children’s needs.

This viewpoint doesn’t recognize that private and charter schools are part of the neighborhood, too. When parents have educational options within their communities that are helping their children succeed, they have an incentive to remain part of their neighborhoods and even to move closer to those schools. This supports economic development and a more vibrant civic life in those areas.

Urban economic development is one more way educational choice can be good for both kids and their communities.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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The Past, Present, and Future of School Choice in Oregon

By Steve Buckstein

The vast majority of Oregonians attended public schools assigned to them based on their ZIP codes. Yet, everyone has friends or relatives who made different choices such as private, religious, and home schooling.

Few know, however, that these other choices were almost eliminated in the 1920s. Bigotry was strong across America then, and not only against Blacks. The Ku Klux Klan and others placed a measure on Oregon’s 1922 ballot that would have required children to attend only schools run by the government. The Oregon Compulsory Education Act was defended as “a “precautionary measure against the moral pestilence of paupers, vagabonds, and possibly convicts.”

Approved by a narrow margin, the measure was challenged and overturned by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1925. In its ruling the Court said “the fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”

So, while choices other than public schools remained available, most families have been unable to afford public school taxes and private school tuition at the same time. This reality caused a small group, including myself, to place a citizen initiative on Oregon’s ballot in 1990. 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 voted on such a sweeping reform before, and we felt it was time for Oregon to lead the way.

On election night that November we came up short, with only about one third of the vote. That didn’t surprise us, because 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. We incorporated Cascade Policy Institute two months later. In the 25 years that have now passed some significant progress on the school choice front has been made.

We worked hard to introduce the charter school concept in the state in the mid-1990s. By 1999 the Oregon legislature passed a charter school bill that now allows more than 120 public charter schools to operate across 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 program. We initially raised $1 million of private money that was matched by $1 million nationally to provide partial scholarships to over 500 students for four years at the schools of their choice. The fact that over 6,600 children 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.

In 2011 three school choice bills passed as part of an education reform package, including expansion of online charter schools, more options to sponsor new charter schools, and open enrollment between public school districts.

Over these past twenty five years Cascade and others have brought a number of national speakers to the state talking about the benefits of school choice elsewhere, including some 61 privately or publicly funded scholarship programs, charter schools, education tax credits, vouchers, and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).

In 2014, Cascade proposed a limited Education Savings Account bill to help disabled, foster, and low-income children. ESAs allow students to take some or all of the money the state would spend on them in a public school and put it on a restricted use debit card. They can fund a wide variety of approved educational options, such as private school, individual tutoring, and distance learning. Any money not used in a given year can be rolled over to spend on educational expenses in the future, even into college.

Earlier tax credit and voucher programs are now seen as the rotary-dial telephones of the school choice movement. ESAs, with their expansive array of options and their ability to hold costs down as students plan and save for the future are seen as the smartphones of the movement— smartphones with virtually unlimited apps to help children learn in their own unique ways.

This year, Cascade is promoting a broad ESA proposal in the Oregon legislature. Senate Bill 437, and other bills that may emerge, are designed to enhance school choice for everyone. In the future, our mission—and yours if you choose to accept it—will be to help our fellow Oregonians understand and support what many now call the new civil rights issue in America: the right of every child, no matter where they live or their parents’ financial means, to reach their own potential by making their own educational choices affordable. Until this right is achieved, too many children will remain trapped in schools assigned to them by their ZIP code that fail to meet their needs.

We won’t stop advocating for school choice until every child has the real choices they deserve. We appreciate the help of everyone who shares this vision. It can’t become a reality too soon.


Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. 

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An Oregon Education Solution Whose Time Has Come

By Kathryn Hickok

Derrell Bradford has spent his adult life passionately advocating for education reform through parental choice. Derrell grew up in southwest Baltimore and received a scholarship to a private high school. Better than anyone, he knows the power of educational choice to unleash a child’s potential.

“A scholarship is not a five-year plan or a power point…,” Derrell explained recently. “It’s a ticket to the future, granted today, for a child trying to shape his or her own destiny in the here and now….”

Choices in education are widespread in America, unless you are poor. Affluent families can move to different neighborhoods, send their children to private schools, and supplement schooling with enrichment opportunities. Lower- and middle-income families, however, are too often trapped with one option: a school in need of improvement assigned to them based on their home addresses. Families deserve better.

January 22-28 is National School Choice Week, the world’s largest celebration of parental choice and effective educational options for all children.

Students have different talents and needs and learn in different ways. The landscape of options to meet those needs is more diverse today than ever. These options include traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.

Oregon’s 2012 “Mother of the Year” and parental choice activist Bobbie Jager says, “The word ‘choice’ in our home means, ‘of high quality and carefully selected,’ as our children’s education and schools should be. As parents, we need to be able to make these choices for each of our children.”

It’s time Oregon took a serious look at the diversity of options parents now have in 61 school choice programs across the country, including privately or publicly funded scholarship programs, charter schools, education tax credits, vouchers, and Education Savings Accounts.

Parents—not public school bureaucracies—should be in the educational “driver’s seat.” To really empower Oregon families, the Legislature should enact Senate Bill 437 during this year’s upcoming legislative session. This law would give parents who want to opt out of a public school that is not meeting their child’s needs a portion of the per-student state funding for spending on their child’s education in other ways. With this “Education Savings Account” (analogous to a debit card for qualifying education expenses), parents can choose the schools or services that will meet their children’s learning needs.

Oregon has a history of bold experimentation in other policy areas. It’s time to expand the role of parents choosing―and the market delivering―better education for Oregon’s children through educational choice, because every child deserves a ticket to a better future right now. Parental choice is the way of the future, and Education Savings Accounts for Oregon parents are a life-changing education solution whose time has come.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. This article originally appeared in The Coos Bay World on January 23, 2017.

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Educational Choice: A “Ticket to the Future” for Every Child

By Kathryn Hickok

Derrell Bradford has spent his adult life passionately advocating for education reform through parental choice. Derrell grew up in southwest Baltimore and received a scholarship to a private high school. Better than anyone, he knows the power of choice to unleash a child’s potential.

“A scholarship is not a five-year plan or a power point…,” Derrell explained recently. “It’s a ticket to the future, granted today, for a child trying to shape his or her own destiny in the here and now….”

Choices in education are widespread in America, unless you are poor. Affluent families can move to different neighborhoods, send their children to private schools, and supplement schooling with enrichment opportunities. Lower- and middle-income families, however, are too often trapped with one option: a school in need of improvement assigned to them based on their home addresses. Families deserve better.

It’s time Oregon took a serious look at the diversity of options parents now have in 61 school choice programs across the country, including privately or publicly funded scholarship programs, charter schools, education tax credits, vouchers, and Education Savings Accounts. Oregon has a history of bold experimentation in other policy areas. It’s time to expand the role of parents choosing―and the market delivering―better education for Oregon’s children through educational choice, because every child deserves a ticket to a better future today.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Freedom in Film: To Sir, with Love (1967)

With students everywhere heading to class, we hope you enjoy Part 1 of Cascade’s “virtual” back-to-school School Choice Film Fest.

Nearing the end of his patience, a first-year teacher challenges his scarcely literate students to think seriously about the lives ahead of them. What will happen after high school graduation? One academically indifferent girl supposes she’ll get married, giggling that “everybody gets married.”

Such comfortable assumptions have disappeared since 1967; much else about the lives and troubles of at-risk teenagers hasn’t.

To Sir, with Love stars Sidney Poitier as Mark Thackeray, an engineer who takes a temporary teaching job. The kids are rough, uninterested in school, and oblivious to the possibility that they could become more than they are. The gentlemanly Mr. Thackeray, called “Sir” by his students, is as much a culture shock to them as they are to him.

To Sir, with Love is like a time capsule of the late 1960s: Sentimental optimism contrasts with the grittiness of poverty, illiteracy, teenage rebellion, and rapid social change. There is a sense that Mr. Thackeray’s class is careening wildly toward dead-end or delinquent adulthoods, and he has a few short weeks to reach at least some of his students before they are lost. His greatest asset as a teacher, though, has nothing to do with cutting-edge curriculum or teaching “best practices.”

It is culture. “Sir” is a living example of another world which his students could choose to enter, if only they could see themselves in it. Through him they experience, for the first time, what it is to have dignity. As the teenagers begin to awaken to their own self-worth, they start to grasp why people have manners, respect others, and behave in ways that draw respect in turn. They take interest in the written word and the process of intellectual inquiry.

Education is more than transmission of facts; it’s an invitation to explore the world of the soul, of human creative capacity, and of the physical universe. When students get in touch with their own dignity as human beings, they grasp the meaning of learning. They no longer mark time until school is out; they transform as students and as people.

Great teachers help students discover the grandeur of human existence, potential, and achievement and that they are made for more than superficial pleasures and “easy outs.” To Sir, with Love shows what can happen when the right adult comes into a teenager’s life at the right time―and why that’s so important.

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Flexibility Is Key: The Next Generation of Parental Choice Solutions

Families in five states now have access to a special program called Educational Savings Accounts.

Educational Savings Accounts, or ESAs, allow parents to take money the state otherwise would spend on their children in the public system and put it on a restricted use debit card. Parents can spend this money on a wide variety of approved educational options, including private school, individual tutoring, online classes, and other services. Any money not used is rolled over for parents to spend in the future.

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice surveyed Arizona families to see how they are choosing to spend the resources allocated for their kids. The survey found that more than a third of participating families used ESAs for multiple educational purposes, not just private school tuition. It also found that families saved a significant amount of their ESA money for future expenses.

This indicates that ESAs not only expand the learning options available to individual children, but they also encourage fiscal discipline within education spending.

Parents and lawmakers in nearly a dozen states, including Oregon, are working to make this flexible learning option available to more children. The next generation of education reform in America needs to embrace flexibility to meet the needs of every child, and Educational Savings Accounts are proving to be a simple but powerful way to do just that.

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Educational Savings Accounts: The “Smartphones” of Parental Choice

Yesterday the Senate Interim Education Committee of the Oregon Legislature held an informational hearing on Educational Savings Accounts, or ESAs. The focus of the hearing was the recently passed ESA legislation from Nevada, which will make 93% of Nevada students eligible for ESAs in 2016 and all students eligible by 2027 (at the latest).

Educational Saving Accounts allow public school students to take money the state would spend on them and put it on a restricted use debit card. Parents can spend this money on a wide variety of approved educational options, such as private school, individual tutoring, and distance learning. Any money not used is rolled over for parents to spend in the future.

State Senator Scott Hammond of Nevada, an architect of the Nevada law, addressed the Committee via speakerphone. During his introduction of Sen. Hammond, Steve Buckstein of Cascade Policy Institute referred to earlier school-choice ideas such as tax credits and vouchers as “the rotary-dial telephones of the school choice movement.” He encouraged the Oregon Legislature to consider legislation modeled on the Nevada law—which to continue the analogy is like a smartphone with unlimited apps.

The hearing set the stage for Oregon ESA legislation to be introduced in a future session. ESAs would give families who can’t afford to pay taxes for the public school system, plus tuition for private options, real opportunities to meet their kids’ individual needs, learning styles, and interests.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute. CSF-Portland is a partner program of the New York-based Children’s Scholarship Fund.

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How Would You Spend $100 Million?

How would you spend $100 million? If you’re Mark Zuckerberg, founder of the most successful social network on the planet, you spend it trying to improve one of the most unsuccessful public school districts in America: the one in Newark, New Jersey.

In 2010 Zuckerberg donated $100 million to the Newark Public School System on condition that then-Mayor Corey Booker, a Democrat, and Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, directed how the money was spent. Booker was a school choice supporter, and Christie took on the powerful teachers unions.

Five years later, Zuckerberg’s money has apparently been spent on consultants and teacher compensation, with little to show in the way of better educational outcomes. A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed explained how this was just one more failed top-down reform attempt by private and non-profit donors working with government education systems.

Booker and Christie were unable to fundamentally change the top-down school system that put bureaucrats and unions, rather than parents, in control.

It’s amazing what lessons can be (re)learned when you spend $100 million dollars in ways guaranteed not to improve education. Hopefully, all of us will learn from this failure that you can’t reform the public school system just by giving it more money. Next time, give the money to the parents to spend on the schools and educational resources of their choice.

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Kathryn Hickok Discusses School Choice Week and Children's Scholarship Fund

We sat down with Kathryn Hickok to talk about National School Choice Week and how the Portland-based branch of Children’s Scholarship Fund is helping local kids earn a quality education.

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School Choice Respects Parents, Promotes Kids’ Best Interests

Sometimes you miss the trees for the forest. Education reform debates tend to focus on how to get the maximum number of children minimally educated. But the focus of real-life parents is getting at least a minimum number of children (their own) maximally educated. These two goals shouldn’t be at odds. In fact, the second can drive the first―if more parents were empowered to make meaningful choices for their children’s education.

A Portland-area mothers club recently advertised a public forum for local parents: “…[A]re you…trying to find the right school? Attend the…Preschool Forum to find out what teaching philosophy, curriculum, and school is best for you and your child. Representatives from over 35 local schools will be on site to provide a brief overview of teaching styles [and] programs, and to answer questions.”

This advertisement is an example of the mindset of parents with the means to shop around for the educational environment that provides what they value. Families of greater financial means already have “school choice.” They might move to a district or neighborhood with a public school they like, or they might pay full tuition at a private or parochial school. However, those options are commonly out of the reach of lower-income families.

When Cascade Policy Institute started a privately funded scholarship program, the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland, we learned “hands-on” that lower-income parents share the same interest in their children’s education that middle- and upper-class parents do, and they are motivated to make the same kinds of choices on their behalf. For these parents, the stakes are high. A solid education is crucial for a successful adulthood and upward mobility, and that path begins in grade school. Like parents of greater means, lower-income parents also aspire to choose the “teaching philosophy, curriculum, and school” that is best for their child. But they usually find their children trapped in public schools that, for many reasons, do not meet their kids’ needs or do not meet standards that are important to their families.

In 1999, the national Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF) offered dollar-for-dollar matching grants to independent local partner programs that would provide partial tuition assistance to low-income grade school children to attend the schools of their choice. Cascade Policy Institute was among the nonprofits which took up this unprecedented challenge, raising $1 million in local funds to start a $2 million local program, the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland. Since then, CSF and its partners have invested $483 million in private funding to help more than 130,000 children nationwide.

While they don’t have much discretionary income (the average CSF-Portland family income is $35,500), CSF families always must pay part of their tuition themselves (Portland parents pay $1,680 on average). This ensures that the scholarship remains a “hand up,” rather than a handout. Because they have “skin in the game,” CSF parents are motivated to choose schools carefully and to encourage their children to make the most of their opportunities. CSF parents are responsible for transportation and other logistics involved with school attendance, just like all private school parents. Despite the challenges involved, these families make it happen.

The private schools CSF students attend typically spend one-third to one-half what neighboring public schools spend per student (the average tuition for CSF-Portland students is $3,700 this year), with better results in terms of graduation rates and college attendance. However, the point of the CSF program is not to prove that private schools are better than public schools. Rather, CSF believes that parents are the primary educators of their children and have their interests at heart. When empowered with a modest amount of financial help (the average Portland scholarship award is $1,700), parents will invest their own money, time, effort, and discipline to obtain the kind of education they want for their kids.

CSF partner programs respect the decision-making processes of families and support parents in directing their children’s education. This very human, family-centered element is what sets parent-focused education reform efforts apart from other ways of addressing the failures of today’s public education system. No one can design a school system that meets every child’s needs. No statistical data analysis or bureaucratic goal setting can ensure that any particular child makes it to high school graduation, succeeds in college, or excels in a career. No school can be all things to all people―nor should it. But most parents, including low-income ones, are keenly aware of their own children’s needs, aptitudes, strengths, weaknesses, and interests.

“CSF has meant so much to our family,” wrote a Portland mother named Cynthia. “…[W]e often talk about what a blessing it has been for the kids to have attended private school….It was the foundation for their future. It formed their beliefs, goals, morals….It has meant so much more than I can actually express. Following the death of my husband when the kids were five, three, and eight months old, it is the reason they were able to attend private school.”

Top-down education reform focuses on what appears not to be working for large numbers of people—but keeps those people in the system while the problems are being “fixed.” School choice focuses on what is working across all kinds of schools―and favors empowering parents and students to choose among options they find attractive. Top-down approaches pour more money into a broken system. School choice programs achieve more satisfactory results with more modest amounts of money, because the dynamic is shifted in favor of the parent, not the system. Government-focused education reform analyzes the forest; school choice promotes the best interest of the trees. School choice programs like CSF-Portland prove that good things happen when parents are empowered to vote with their feet on behalf of their own kids.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute and Director of the privately funded Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland, which provides partial tuition scholarships to Oregon elementary students from lower-income families.

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