Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"League of Women Voters of Georgia Take Stand Against Senate Bill 90 (Regarding School Vouchers)"

The letter below was sent out to all League of Women Voters in Georgia.

Dear Concerned Citizen,

Under the guise of a "helpful" bill, Senate Bill 90 is anything but. Under the pretense of providing parental choice, this voucher legislation provides false hope for parents, and at the same time cloaks our tax dollars in unaccountable secrecy.SB 90 would allow the state to provide a voucher for any enrolled public school student to a public or private school which will accept the student. Parents must provide transportation. The state requires no accountability of any school accepting voucher students. Here are other problems with such legislation:

NO FISCAL ACCOUNTABILITY. Private schools do not have to account for how your tax dollars are spent.

NO ACADEMIC ACCOUNTABILITY. Private schools would not be accountable for the caliber of education a child receives.

PROMOTES DISCRIMINATION. The receiving school has the choice as to whether or not to accept a child. Private schools exclude applicants they do not choose to serve.

COULD BANKRUPT SCHOOLS IN RURAL AREAS. If even one sixteenth of parents in a school system chose to use tax dollars to send their children to private schools, the loss of state and federal dollars to school systems with smaller tax bases would be devastating.

VOUCHERS DON'T WORK. Scientific research has indicated NO DIFFERENCES in the academic achievement of voucher students compared to public school students-despite the fact that private schools can choose which students can attend.Please call Senators now and ask them to oppose SB 90.Thank you for making your opinion count.

Polly McKinney
Executive Director
League of Women Voters of Georgia


Kim Gokce said...

Like our generous host, Cerebration, I vacillate in my thinking about vouchers. The problem that I have with most opponents (including this position statement by the League) is that they presume that parents are not capable of making quality, independent decisions about their kids' education. No accountability? Parents will hold schools, public or private, accountable. Universities and colleges will hold schools, public or private, accountable. Vouchers may or may not be a good idea but it has little to do with the ultimate accountability.

Cerebration said...

I see those points and have tended to agree in the past, however, I have been leaning toward allowing parents to simply leave the system and take their allotted funding to go private. After so many years of dealing with new plans, changed plans and failed plans I think it's only fair to admit that it's nearly unconstitutional to hold children hostage in a school system that remains in failure as far as test scores reveal.

As far as fiscal accountability - gee, our school system has not been exactly transparent. Further, they have managed to spend over $12 million in lawsuits in the last few years but you'd be hard-pressed to know those details.

Academic accountability - I haven't really met a private school that doesn't meet the standards. You see, they have to, or they will lose customers.

I understand the discrimination point. That could well be true. However, public schools spend a lot of money defending themselves in discrimination lawsuits, so they don't seem to be perfect in that arena.

Bankruptcy in rural areas - hmm. Are there many private schools in rural areas? Maybe that's why many rural schools do so poorly - the public schools have no competition.

Who could prove that vouchers work or don't? There may be little difference in outcome overall - but we all know the starfish story.

I've come to believe we should let freedom ring. We won't go broke and the sky won't fall.

Ella Smith said...

Of course I am opposed to vouchers for all the reasons mentioned but also parents are not the only ones who pay taxes to support public education. Many individuals pay taxes to support the school system who have no children at all. I see public money being spent on the public at large to improve items within the public domain. Privates schools are not public and do discriminate against the children who apply. Most private normally pick the cream of the students who apply. I feel that private schools would have to take any student if they use public money to education any student. But, I do see the points of both Kim and Celebration. Maybe I have a bias view as my children and I both went to public schools and I also teach in a public school.

Kim Gokce said...

@Ella: I respect your support for the public system. I, too, am a product of public schools. Go Lancers! Go Wildcats! Woo hoo!

I don't have a strong position on vouchers but the more I learn the more I am open minded about it.

I had no idea that we spend between $10-$20k per pupil in our high schools until this year. That kind of money would have private schools popping up all over the place if it were portable.

Would they be better, worse? I don't know. My perspective is, though, that it couldn't be much worse so why not open it up? Our "public" universities seem to function fine with merit-based admissions and tuition. Why wouldn't this work in prep?

Does everyone go to college? Maybe not, but I would argue that just about anyone who wants to continue their education can find an institution and financial aide to support them. I'm still paying my student loans!

I guess I do not understand why a "public-owned" system is the only acceptable way to spend the public's money.

As for discrimination, I think anyone who is concerned about discrimination should take a good look at this document:

DCSS High School Districts

I think it is a well known secret that DCSS has engaged in gerrymandering for years. As recently as 2 years ago, I was caught-up in just such an exercise. The leadership has an uncanny way of explaining away what to the rest of us is obvious discriminatory practices.

There is one district, though, where I don't see how it can be explained away. It's not a little contorted, it's tortured. Can you find it? No prizes if you do - it's too obvious.

Thaddeus Osbourne Dabell said...

As someone primarily on the paying side of the public school equation who occasionally teaches the product of these schools I've become a reluctant supporter of vouchers. The reasons are money and results.

The DCSS expenditure per FTE is so great that the average family in my neck of the woods (Dunwoody) will never pay for the cost of educating their children. Vouchers, as proposed, are limited to about half the DCSS cost. This will generally mean that those using a voucher will incur a per-child expense, which seems innately equitable (not clear why we have so many social policies that encourage large families).

Quite frankly, with those I've encountered, students are so inconsistent (they are individuals after all) that it isn't clear the source of their 'pre-requisite' education matters. It does seem that public school graduates are more likely to believe that effort must be accepted in place of performance.

Maybe it's more about the student than the specifics of the school. Maybe, if you look at the entire set of graduates, public and private, there will be no change in academic performance with or without vouchers. I don't think anyone is suggesting a given cohort will do worse. So if the overall outcome is pretty much the same, it sounds like vouchers will do at least as well at a lower public cost.

pscexb said...

Great find on the attendance map, Kim! I thought I knew were most of the 'bones' were buried on the DCSS website :). This map clearly shows some of the 'gerrymandering' done with the Cross Keys cluster. One could also make an argument for attempting to keep 'like' communities together though. I wonder who influenced the design of that cluster.

I think it also shows why Arabia Mountain is/was needed. When you simply look at the size of the Lithonia/ML King, Jr. cluster and know of the single family housing planned for that area, the justification is visually clear. Unfortunately, no one could predict the current economic condition in 2002 (when initially planned) or 2006 (when construction began).

Considering some of the current enrollments in some clusters and looking at this map also brings to mind possible cluster consolidations......

Kim Gokce said...

@pscexb: I've only just begun to dig! :)

"One could also make an argument for attempting to keep 'like' communities together though."

'One' would have a hard time convincing me this was good argument (and I know you are not making it). 'Another' might make a more compelling argument that it is segregationist.

"I wonder who influenced the design of that cluster."

Well, I tried before I saw this big picture. As I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I don't blame parents for trying to get what they perceive as the best education possible for their kids.

I do blame DCSS for playing games with our resources and our children. And I deeply resent the attitude of some key DCSS'ers that say they don't want squeaky wheels setting priorities and then jump at every squeak.

Cross Keys has been a virtual "squeak-free" zone for a decade or more (not counting teachers, here). Guess what? Squeaking is now back in vogue in my area just in time to be ignored???

Knowing what I know now about the Cross Keys attendance areas, I really don't care how we got here. I want to talk about how we are going to make it more successful and undo the damage done ... Go Indians!

Kim Gokce said...

Oops! This is a 'vouchers' thread ... sorry, I've inadvertently hijacked it as a Cross Keys rant. My apologies to all.

Cerebration said...

PSC - read this quote and then think about how it would sound to you if I had said it,

"One could also make an argument for attempting to keep 'like' communities together though."

Kim is right - this district has been squeezed out like a ribbon of toothpaste from a nearly empty tube. You'll notice that one area in particular of that former district has somehow been able to attach themselves to Chamblee HS. It's a bulbous growth bubbling out on the eastern edge of Peachtree Rd (along Dresden) where we have seen an influx of new development and money (thanks to the Sembler Co, interestingly.)

Whose district is Chamblee? Currently, it's Jim Redovian's, however we must look at how this was handled by previous board members. Jim is a good guy - a fair guy. Bring this issue to him.

That said - on the issue of vouchers - I believe the "scholarship" money awarded to the student is only the states portion of FTE funding. It's somewhere around $5,000. Guess what - the school system still gets to keep ALL of what they collect via property taxes - but won't have to educate the voucher takers. So in effect - the school system benefits when students leave and take only a portion of their funding with them.

Cerebration said...

oh - forgot to add -- Ella, you are right, private schools have entrance requirements, however there really is a private school that will work for just about everyone if you continue to look.

Conversely, DeKalb county just spent what, $30 million on the brand new Arabia HS and guess what - you have to apply! You have to have a certain GPA and be accepted, then win a seat in a lottery! Same is true for DeKalb School of the Arts ($10 million to move 283 kids into Avondale HS - renovating ONLY the portion the DSA kids will be using) - Chamblee HS requires a certain GPA for the magnet program, etc, etc.

So you see - public schools have schools within their system that in effect, discriminate - and choose their students - ensuring their success.

What if your kid can't reach that platform? What if they don't win the lottery? Should you be forced to send your child to your neighborhood school - even if it's a bad fit for your child? What if there is a very nice, private school in your area that WOULD be a fit, but you can't quite afford it - shouldn't your child have access to it?

Kim Gokce said...

@cere: "So in effect - the school system benefits when students leave and take only a portion of their funding with them."

Wow. How is it that I haven't figured this out? The voucher arguments are so byzantine, it's no wonder this subject causes so many to glaze over.

So, a local system like DCSS keeps an average of somewhere between $3k-$6k for every student who opts out and takes the $5 elsewhere?

So who is upset about that? Sounds like grumpy parents get what they want and we have more money per pupil to spend on the happy public school parent. I don't get it ...

Cerebration said...

There's actually more to it of course. The schools get upset when students leave because they lose their FTE credits - which determine how many teachers, books, support staff, etc each school receives. However, as I see it - why would you be upset to lose a teacher if you also lose 30 students? Where's the problem?

qweqwety13 said...

I am confused about the gerrymandering. Why would we disagree that all citizens of Chamblee be able to attend Chamblee High School? What about the strange lines around Druid Hills and Lakeside?

qweqwety13 said...

What seems egregious to me is not generally drawning lines to keep communities together, but not allocating resources in an equitalbe manner. I am sure Cross Keys with its current attendance zone would be a superior school if it was given the same funding as way a magnet program.

Cerebration said...

Welcome to the blog, qweqwety13 -- Did you get time to download the attendance line map? It's pretty funny - Cross Keys is a thin sliver that pretty much takes in both sides of Buford Highway - thus the 80 or so apartment complexes that feed into the school. By contrast, Lakeside is an amoebic blob, as are most other districts. Lakeside does stretch up to grab some apartments along Pleasantdale Rd, but by and large, its a shape found in nature that doesn't resemble a tapeworm.

Ditto on the comment about equitable funding. I'm quite certain that parents in other districts would NEVER allow their children to wallow in such squalor.

Cerebration said...

ps - welcome also Thaddeus Osbourne Dabell -- I'm sorry I didn't welcome you earlier - it's just that I "met" you at Heneghan's blog and wasn't thinking - but that's no excuse -- so glad you're here!! You always have very balanced input.

Cerebration said...

The State PTA is pleased to announce that SB 90 didn't cross over last week, and is therefore considered unlikely to pass this session. From the GA PTA:

Voucher Legislation SB 90:

Of major significance is what didn’t “crossover” by Mar. 12: SB 90! Thank you to all of you who contacted your legislators asking them to oppose this legislation. The sponsor had two opportunities provided to have his bill considered but declined. He didn’t believe he had enough votes to win passage. You can let your breath out halfway but not all the way. The language in this bill could still be added to another bill and the bill could still be considered next session.

Daily Reports with additional details on all the bills being tracked by GA PTA can be found on the Capitol Watch website under News: http://www.ciclt.net/sn/new/n_main.aspx?ClientCode=gapta

Cerebration said...

Some of the more interesting bills in session -

HB 23: Drivers under age 18 cannot use a cell phone nor text message while driving. Exceptions are made for driver emergencies, reporting an accident or criminal activity, or using while parked. Passed House

HB 149: Move on When Ready: Students in 11th and 12th grades may enroll in Georgia public colleges and take Department of Education approved courses that will meet both high school graduation requirements and earn them college credit. Hours earned will not count against HOPE. What this means to you: If a student is ready to attend college and only has a few high school credits remaining to fulfill the high school diploma requirements, (s)he can earn those credits while attending college. Passed House

HB 193: Permits the required 180 day school year to be defined in hours, thus providing local school boards with flexibility in setting the school calendar. Passed House.

HB 251: Provides for school choice in public schools. Passed the House, heard in Sen. Ed but no vote taken

HB 400: BRIDGE, Building Resourceful Individuals to Develop Georgia’s Economy Act. Department of Education is to develop programs so a student can get courses at the home school, a technical college, a two or four year college, a work site as an apprentice, and other approved settings. Middle grades advisement shall provide counseling to evaluate each student’s academic skills and career interests. In grade 8, students shall select a preferred focused program and study and develop an individual graduation plan, IGP, with parents. High school students shall have annual reviews of the IGP which are to include academic core subjects and course work in math and science OR humanities, fine arts, and foreign language, OR sequenced career pathway courses; include IEP components if applicable. Passed House

Anonymous said...

HB 23: Drivers under age 18 cannot use a cell phone nor text message while driving. Exceptions are made for driver emergencies, reporting an accident or criminal activity, or using while parked. Passed House

It should be ALL drivers. Only someone who does not value the life of others or their own has the gall to text while driving.