Monday, May 15, 2017

Voucher proposals expose rift in school choice movement

Voucher proposals expose rift in school choice movement:

Voucher proposals expose rift in school choice movement

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For two decades, a loose-knit group that includes some of the country’s wealthiest people has underwritten the political push for school choice, promoting ballot initiatives and candidates who favor competition for traditional public schools.
But when a member of this elite group was elevated to education secretary, the appointment opened a philosophical schism that now threatens to shatter the alliance, turn billionaires against each other and possibly lead some school-choice advocates to join with teachers’ unions, their archenemies.
Fueling the split is the anticipation of a plan from President Donald Trump’s administration that could offer parents federal dollars to send their children to private schools, including religious and for-profit institutions.
“As much as we are aligned on change, we aren’t always aligned on how much change or how. Sometimes we fight,” said Derrell Bradford, executive vice president of the school-reform group 50CAN.
The movement has been cleaved into two camps: those who want to use choice to improve public schools and others, like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who want to go further by allowing tax money to flow to private schools through vouchers, government-funded scholarships or corporate tax credits.
The differences that once seemed minor are at the heart of a potential seismic shift in the school-choice movement.
School-choice programs were first proposed in the 1950s by Nobel Prize-winning free-market economist Milton Friedman. Since the beginning of this century, they have grown quickly, although the overwhelming majority of students still attend traditional public schools.
Thirty states plus Washington, D.C., have some combination of vouchers, government-subsidized education savings accounts or tax credits that help families afford private-school tuition or encourage private groups to fund scholarships, according to EdChoice, an advocacy group founded by Friedman and his wife.
Still, less than 1 percent of children in kindergarten through high school used vouchers to attend private schools in 2015. Just 5 percent of students were in charter schools that year, when charters were operating in more than 40 states. That’s up from about 3 percent in 2008, according to the Department of Education.
Charter schools are public but in several states are not held to the same accountability standards as traditional schools, which in theory gives them more freedom to innovate.
When standardized test scores of children who switched to charter schools or used vouchers are compared with those of students who remained in traditional public schools, some results have been promising. Other studies have shown little effect or even worse outcomes.
Wal-Mart’s Walton family, Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad and the father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates have been some of the largest political contributors to the school-reform movement, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of campaign-finance records compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics and state campaign-finance regulators.
Microsoft’s Bill Gates avoids political contributions. His family’s massive foundation — which his father, Bill Gates Sr., co-chairs — is a major contributor to education-reform nonprofits. The elder Gates contributes personally as well.
In the past, contributions have flowed to reform-minded groups regardless of whether they supported public charter schools, vouchers for private schools or a combination. Now those funders are beginning to split into competing camps.
Groups such as Stand for Children, which pushes for charter schools among other educational changes, are being more vocal now because “the level of ambition of the efforts to expand vouchers is so high,” said Jonah Edelman, Voucher proposals expose rift in school choice movement:

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