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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Putting Children Last

The Wall Street Journal blasts efforts by Democrats—coerced by the teacher's unions—to end the DC Opportunity Scholarship program, a program which saves kids from failing schools and saves taxpayers money:

The budget for the experimental program is $18 million, or about what the U.S. Department of Education spends every hour and a half.

This fight has nothing to do with saving money. But it has a lot to do with election-year politics. Kevin Chavis, the former D.C. City Council member who sits on the oversight board of the scholarship program, says, "If we were going to do what was best for the kids, then continuing it is a no-brainer. Those kids are thriving." More than 90% of the families express high satisfaction with the program, according to researchers at Georgetown University.

Many of the parents we interviewed describe the vouchers as a "Godsend" or a "lifeline" for their sons and daughters. "Most of the politicians have choices on where to send their kids to school," says William Rush, Jr., who has two boys in the program. "Why do they want to take our choices away?"

Good question. These are families in heavily Democratic neighborhoods. More than 80% of the recipients are black and most of the rest Hispanic. Their average income is about $23,000 a year. But the teachers unions have put out the word to Congress that they want all vouchers for private schools that compete with their monopoly system shut down.

This explains why that self-styled champion of children's causes, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Congressional delegate from the District of Columbia, is leading the charge to kill the program. Ms. Norton contends that vouchers undermine support and funding for public schools. But the $18 million allocated to the program does not come out of the District school budget; Congress appropriates extra money for the vouchers.

The $7,500 voucher is a bargain for taxpayers because it costs the public schools about 50% more, or $13,000 a year, to educate a child in the public schools. And we use the word "educate" advisedly because D.C. schools are among the worst in the nation. In 2007, D.C. public schools ranked last in math scores and second-to-last in reading scores for all urban public school systems on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Note that the both the math ($13,000 is 73% more than $7,500) and the figure used for the cost of DC public schools (it is really about $24,000 per pupil in total expenditures) grossly underestimated the savings to taxpayers. The DC schools cost about 220% more per pupil than the value of the scholarship.

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