Category Archives: Vouchers

Lessons from Outcomes in School Choice Research

There are often articles that eulogize or denounce the entire concept of school choice purely on the basis that a subset of charter schools or voucher students have increased, stagnated, or declined test scores. Of course, test scores have a viable purpose in predicting educational success–primarily as an easily obtained comparison standard–but they don’t account for the entire picture.

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New Evidence Reveals Why 19th Century Bans on Sectarian Aid are Unconstitutional

I misinterpret things my mom tells me to do all the time. Somehow “pick up your toys” sounds a lot like “go watch T.V.” when my favorite show is on. Those phrases are interchangeable to me. But, treating words that aren’t synonyms as interchangeable can have consequences–as I find out when my mom catches me watching Nickelodeon instead of doing my chores. In recent years, the meaning of sectarian has been conflated with the meaning of religious–especially in the debate surrounding Blaine Amendments. In his article in the Federalist Society Review, “Why Nineteenth Century Bans on ‘Sectarian’ Aid Are Facially Unconstitutional: New Evidence on Plain Meaning,” the Independence Institute’s constitutional jurisprudence expert Rob Natelson defines the critical difference between “sectarian” and “religious,” and the consequences this misinterpretation has led to in private school choice. Mr. Natelson’s article is comprised of three primary sections that support his claim: 1. Nineteenth Century Constitutional Provisions Show that “Sectarian” Had a Meaning Separate from “Religious” or “Denominational” This section focuses on the drafting of state constitutions and how the terms religious, denominational, and sectarian are used separately. Each has a distinguished meaning and are not used interchangeably in their respective clauses. 2. The Nineteenth […]

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Adults Sometimes don’t Play Nice

Just last week, the newly elected Douglas County school board voted to officially abolish the district’s innovative school voucher program. Consequently, the district will also be rescinding its involvement in the Supreme Court case that will determine the constitutionality of voucher programs here in Colorado. Ross Izard, the senior fellow of the Independence Institute Education Policy Center and a noteworthy supporter of the “choice” defendants of the DougCo case, wrote an affecting op-ed titled A suburban school board just set back educational opportunity for all Americans that was published in The Hill and describes the consequences of removing the groundbreaking voucher program from Douglas County. Douglas County’s voucher program has long been in the spotlight– the constitutionality of Blaine Amendments was originally questioned and brought to court in 2011. Since then it has been a divisive debate, especially so in this year’s school board election. Other events, such as the role Betsy DeVos in school choice, have additionally stoked the fire of the school voucher debate, putting the DougCo decision on a national stage. Following the results of the election, the union backed, anti-school choice board members have dictated the end of a unique program that had the potential to bring improved […]

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Union Wins Bragging Rights

The Douglas County School Board election results were disappointing: The union backed, anti-reform slate of candidates won with the help of a last minute, 300,000-dollar push by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Douglas County’s unique district funded school-voucher program will likely, but not certainly, end. Pam Benigno, the director of the Education Policy Center at the Independence Institute, elaborated on the results of the election in The Denver Post, stating that: “No doubt they [the union backed slate] will end the [Choice Scholarship] program and no longer defend it through the court system. No doubt the union’s prize for winning the election will be a collective bargaining agreement and national bragging rights that they killed the nation’s first local school board voucher program.” While strong union involvement was an important factor in the election, the union backed candidates were also able to capitalize on the current political environment. The Trump/DeVos hysteria, when paired with the recent criticism of charter schools by groups such as the ACLU and NAACP, has created political turmoil that has masked the success of school choice programs across the county. These forces have created uncertainty about the legitimacy of charter schools, and reintroduced the stale […]

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AFT “so far” pumps $600,000 into School Board Race

Remember the Douglas County School Board race? The Toxic-Trio, tire scraps, Blaine Amendments, and what not? Of course you do. The Doug Co race has been one of Colorado’s most eminent issues for months. Well, mail-in ballots have arrived in homes, and with just minutes to go in the bottom of the ninth, the nation’s second largest teacher’s union has made a desperate attempt to sway the outcome of the election in its favor. The Douglas County School Board race has garnered much national attention–and rightly so. It will not only determine the fate of private school choice in Douglas County, but could determine the constitutionality of Blaine clauses in Colorado. It’s a pivotal moment in education, which is why the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is adamantly attempting to manipulate the election to fit its political agenda. Ross Izard, senior policy analyst at the Independence Institute and my favorite policy nerd, details the recent uncovering of an additional 300,000-dollar donation AFT made to the Douglas County race (after its initial 300,000-contribution) in his op-ed A national teachers’ union’s war machine is on the move in Colorado, which was published in The Hill. In total, AFT has donated 600,000 dollars to […]

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History! Blaine's Shadow Tells an Important Story

James G. Blaine. You’ve heard that name before, right? Of course you have. I’ve written about Congressman Blaine a number of times, usually in the context of Douglas County’s ongoing legal battle against so-called “Blaine Amendments” through its first-of-its-kind local voucher program. Or maybe I should say programs (plural), as the district’s other voucher program made things pretty complicated for a while before a debatable court decision and a new decision by the board put an end to most of the legal craziness. But while we’ve talked a fair amount about Blaine and the state constitutional clauses named after him, I’m not sure we’ve ever really known the full story. There’s a lot of important history and drama and politics buried behind the simple narrative that most folks just don’t know.  Ross Izard, my favorite policy nerd, set out to tell that story—and to explain why it matters from a constitutional perspective—in his most recent issue paper, Blaine’s Shadow: Politics, Discrimination, and School Choice. 

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What Might Gorsuch Mean for Education?

President Trump has always been a wild card. It’s been very hard to say what he would or would not do—and in some ways it still is. But one of the central promises of his campaign was that he would nominate a great justice to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died tragically almost exactly year ago. To his credit, he has kept that promise by selecting Neil Gorsuch to fill Scalia’s empty seat. Education is still a bit of a question mark when it comes to the Trump administration. There have been all sorts of rumors and ideas floating around, but none has yet coalesced into a cohesive vision of how the federal government will interact with K-12 education. The crystal ball is further clouded by Betsy DeVos’s sharply contested nomination to head the U.S. Department of Education. It’s been sad to watch the conversation about DeVos, a lifelong philanthropist who has donated her time and money to increasing opportunities for those who need them, devolve into a shouting match that sidesteps reality and avoids real conversations about what DeVos should or shouldn’t do should she be confirmed. As Rich Lowry wrote for National Review, “We now know that working […]

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Reality Checked at the Door as Anti-DeVos Rhetoric Reaches a Fever Pitch

In case you weren’t paying attention, something really big happened in the education world two days ago. Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump’s pick for secretary of education, had her confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The hearing was actually supposed to happen earlier this month, but it was delayed “to accommodate the Senate schedule.” In other words, politics happened. But Republican leadership stuck to its word about not allowing Democratic complaints over ethics paperwork to prevent the confirmation process from moving forward, and so DeVos’s hearing went ahead. You can watch the full hearing here if you are so inclined. I’m still waiting for a credible transcript to be released. In the meantime, I’d like to talk a little about the slanted coverage of the hearing I’ve seen. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched a confirmation hearing before, but I have. They tend to amount to a whole lot of rhetorical jousting by senators looking to score points against their rivals’ picks, various attempts to force nominees to make (often absurd) commitments, and a cat-like ability to avoid answering trap questions on the part of the nominees themselves. They usually get partisan—and ugly—fast. […]

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New Video Illustrates the Power of Educational Choice

As you all know, I like to write. We’ve tackled all sorts of policy and politics here on Ed is Watching, usually in the form of blog posts written by yours truly. But even at five years old, I know something important: Sometimes it’s better to just shut up and listen. That’s what I plan to do today as you enjoy this Heritage Foundation video about the power of educational choice. But first (you didn’t really think I wouldn’t say anything at all, did you?), I do have to say one thing. I wrote not too long ago about what Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, could do to advance the cause of educational opportunity in America. High on that list is the reauthorization—and maybe even the expansion—of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The only federally funded private school choice program in the nation, the OSP has helped and is helping thousands of low-income kids and families desperate for better educational opportunities. Sadly, the program has been left in existential limbo as the Obama Administration and its allies worked against it in previous years. Mrs. DeVos has a real opportunity to breathe new life into the OSP […]

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Educational Choice, Hell, and the 2018 Gubernatorial Race

Have you ever read a news story that made you simultaneously want to laugh and cry? That’s exactly what happened to me this morning as I perused the day’s edu-news. One of the first articles I ran across was a Chalkbeat Colorado piece on a very interesting development in what is shaping up to be a crowded 2018 gubernatorial field: My dear friend Senator Mike Merrifield is contemplating a run for the highest office in the state. It’s fortunate that I am too young to drink coffee, or I might have spit it all over my computer screen. For those of you don’t know, Senator Merrifield is arguably the most radical anti-reform, anti-choice politician in Colorado. A former music teacher with a deep affinity for the teachers unions, he has loudly and consistently opposed everything from charter schools to private school choice to teacher evaluation and tenure reform. He is perhaps best known for the statement that there “must be a special place in hell” for supporters of charter schools and private school choice. I hope they at least have some decent games to play down there for me and my fellow kid-focused evildoers. And will there be air conditioning […]

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