America’s education revolution is under way. The bureaucratic redcoats are beginning to tremble at their imminent loss of tyrannical power. The swelling ranks of the movement’s minutemen – parents, grandparents, concerned citizens and legislators – fighting for the best interests of this nation’s upcoming generations have already begun winning crucial battles.
The halcyon days of America’s mighty educational monopoly are fading fast into the stuff of lore and history books. Those in Colorado’s grassroots cannot be denied any longer, especially with the empirical success of pilot programs elsewhere and the United States Supreme Court’s Zelman v Simmons-Harris decision last summer (the Cleveland case) that voucher programs are indeed constitutional.
With this decision, the rug has been pulled out from beneath the establishment’s chief argument against school choice programs – namely, that they violate the separation of church and state. The nation’s highest court has declared that vouchers are acceptable because it was the parents in Cleveland that chose the religious schools-not the government.
Furthermore, our national experience with the GI Bill and Pell Grants recognizes that public funds can be used in religious colleges. So why isn’t that same standard good enough for our K-12 students?
The tide has turned against the defenders of educational monopoly. The evidence for school choice success is mounting, demonstrating that it not only benefits the students involved (the most important priority) but is also strengthening the quality of local public schools.
In Florida, if a child attends a school that receives an F on the state report card for two out of four years, the student can use a voucher to attend a private school or another public school. The threat of vouchers has caused public schools receiving a failing grade on the state’s report card to demonstrate greater improvement than their better performing counterparts. In Milwaukee, the home of the nation’s oldest voucher program, the public schools have also improved. In other words, the bad schools are starting to catch up.
When individual students start leaving for better opportunities administrators find greater incentives to make their schools better. How it stings the ears of educational bureaucrats to hear this, but the truth is that competition works!
Those who fear vouchers should look at this evidence and rejoice that because of vouchers, kids “left behind” in public schools are doing better than before vouchers were implemented.
Opponents argue that a mass exodus from the public schools will occur. Again, the evidence shows this not to be true. The Milwaukee voucher program allows 15% (roughly 15,700 students) of its school district population to apply for vouchers. This program began in 1990 and as of January 2002, 10,789 students were participating. That’s approximately 5,000 students who missed the memo about the mass exodus.
Choice is about letting parents decide which school is best for their children. Cleveland’s scholarship program has yielded success, primarily among the youth of the inner-city. According to Kim Metcalf of the Indiana University School of Education, students who have accepted the scholarships are outdistancing their peers in language and science test scores. Metcalf also reported that “parents of scholarship students tend to be much more satisfied with their child’s school than other parents’.”
Who’s to say that Colorado students and parents wouldn’t experience similar results? They could certainly profit from the opportunities afforded by school choice. Results from the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) in 2002 show that not enough students are reaching the standards necessary to succeed and thrive in our modern economy.
Troubles start in the early grades, as half of the third-graders in the Denver Public Schools (DPS) cannot read at or above proficiency. And there are even fewer students with acceptable reading skills in the higher grades.
Measured results both across the state and in DPS also reveal that the number of students who qualify at or above proficiency in mathematics skills declines the further they advance within the system. By the 10th grade, only 10 percent in Denver and 27 percent statewide reach the basic benchmark. These are failures we cannot ignore.
Thankfully, at least five of Colorado’s leading legislators are rising to the challenge in the new session, presenting their own variations of school choice programs. With the foundations for success laid and the winds blowing in favor of school choice, the continuing hard work of the movement’s minutemen will someday topple the walls of the educational bureaucratic monopoly and widen the opportunities for academic success – for the children of Colorado and all America.
### Copyright (c) 2003, Independence Institute
INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.
JON CALDARA is President of the Institute.
BEN DEGROW is a RESEARCH ASSOCIATE at the Independence Institute.
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