Can Virginia Have School Choice Now?

My new daughter-in-law visited with us for several days this Christmas. Obviously I’m biased, but she is wonderful and my son is lucky to have such a lovely and talented bride. As our family is wont to do, conversation eventually turned to politics, and being that she is a newly minted teacher, one of the most interesting threads was education. Like most teachers she is dedicated to her students and passionate about serving her community. Unfortunately, I discovered, she is also primed for a professional life of sacrifice within a sub-optimum system characterized by head-scratching rules, poor administration and negative career incentives that make being a teacher, no matter how dedicated one might be, a difficult and trying profession. Thankfully we were able to end our discussion on an optimistic note, as it appears that change is finally on the horizon. For her sake, and the sake of future generations, I hope this is true.

Top on the discussion list were my stories about how liberal education establishment types are losing their collective mind over Trump’s choice of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. I warned my daughter-in-law that we are sure to hear much wailing when confirmation hearings commence, including red herrings about DeVos not being an educator, and that she has never “been in the classroom” (as if the Secretary of Education is going to be teaching High School in her spare time or something). More to the point, I explained, detractors will say that she “doesn’t support the public education system.” This is education-establishment shorthand for DeVos’ support for school vouchers to enable parents to send their children to the schools that they want to attend, instead of the schools that the government says they must attend. This horror, supporting vouchers or “school choice,” is a sin to the education establishment, and therefore we, and teachers around the country, should expect much hyperventilating about her appointment. To the establishment, “school choice” is just plain bad. (Oh, and yes, she is a Christian too, so get ready for that.)

With the DeVos appointment, however, and Virginia’s 2017 Governor’s race, Virginians should not be worried, they should be optimistic. Virginia is way behind in education innovation, with only 9 publically funded charter schools serving just 883 students. (In contrast our neighbor North Carolina has 151 charter schools serving 70,000 students and Maryland has 78 such schools, providing choice to 37,000 students.) We only have one “school choice” program, the Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits Program which began in 2013. This limited program offers tax credits to individuals and businesses that donate to qualified Scholarship Foundations providing private school scholarships to low-income students. It’s a good program, but it is not exactly radical change. Attempts to pass innovative “Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)” have run into Governor McAuliffe’s veto, and even limited efforts to provide such benefits to children with special needs have met that roadblock.

Meanwhile the United States public education system is in serious trouble. Like any organization run by the government it suffers from bureaucratic inefficiencies, ever-rising costs and ever-decreasing quality, and the sclerosis associated with an over-emphasis on rules, regulations and one-size-fits-all, from-the-top policymaking (exacerbated by political correctness). Teachers remain excellent, in most cases, and our rich society makes up for some of these problems by providing financial support at a level far above most other nations (only Austria, Luxemburg, Norway and Switzerland spend more). Time, however, is not on the side of a system that will not innovate, that promotes and compensates by seniority instead of merit, plows massive and increasing dollars into outdated and unsustainable retirement programs, or loads up on administrative costs as demanded by the government-agency culture. Educators are good people; they become educators because they want to do right by society and because they love children. Unfortunately they are forced to work within a system that will destroy their efforts incrementally over time, because that is what big, bureaucratic systems do. School choice may not be a panacea, but it injects competition into this system and shakes up the status quo. Parents want it, children need it, and it is time that we get some in Virginia.

Protecting the status quo has clearly never been a part of the Trump plan. And I am for one am glad he is bringing on reformers who don’t carry water for the current power base. Betsy DeVos talks the talk and walks the walk. “What we are trying to do is tear down the mindset that assigns students to a school based solely on the ZIP code of their family’s home,” she said. “We advocate instead for as much freedom as possible.” She has spent decades and given millions to school choice supporting efforts, and will be a vocal supporter of the school choice revolution.

Striking a similar tone, leading contender, and my clear choice, for Governor Ed Gillespie writes on his campaign website that “some children lack the opportunities they deserve and are forced into failing schools just because of their zip code.” That sounds a lot like a call for school choice to me, and on the trail Ed has been supportive of innovation in education and is a vocal advocate for change. With a Republican Governor, Republican Legislature and support from the Feds, 2017 could be the year that innovation trumps the establishment in Virginia, and real school choice becomes a reality.

Mrs. DeVos sums it up quite well, “traditional public schools are not succeeding. In fact, let’s be clear, in many cases, they are failing. That’s helped people become more open to what were once considered really radical reforms—reforms like vouchers, tax credits, and education savings accounts.” Let’s hope that is true for Virginians too.

  • Bobby the Blue RINO

    It’s amazing how having children can change your opinion on “vouchers.” Once a “this will take funding away from public schools” guy, having witnessed public schools up close, my thoughts on the issue have “evolved”. (Full disclosure, my kids go to great public schools, so we are fortunate. Others don’t have that luxury) I would however, like to have the option. Make my tax dollars portable should we choose to send our kids to private or parochial.

    • notjohnsmosby

      Since I don’t have kids, can I just get a 50% waiver on my real estate taxes? I don’t like the military so can I get a big Federal tax deduction in lieu of paying for wars?

      • Bobby the Blue RINO

        I am picking up on your sarcasm….

  • David Obermark

    I will support school vouchers when the vouchers are enough for a low income family to obtain the highest levels of education they choose for their kids to participate in.

    When vouchers become subsidizing the privileged kids getting subsidies for privileged education? I stand against it.

    • Jay McConville

      The problem with this mindset is that the standard you seek can never be achieved. It is like grabbing jello. No matter how high the voucher dollar value is set there will always be some wealthy families willing to add to it so as to gain access to a tonier school. Detractors will claim inequity and demand higher and higher subsidies. More likely, as you seem to be implying, the mere potential of this will be used as an excuse to kill choice programs altogether, pre-implementation, denying everyone the benefits. Envy is not a good platform on which to build policy, and perfect is the enemy of good enough.

      • David Obermark

        Yeah, and the jello includes forcing only public schools to accept special needs kids with dwindling resources needed to educate them.

        Are we going to have “no child left behind” or special needs kids left in the dust?

        I think this is a valid complaint about vouchers. The “tonier” schools can be selective in who they accept and refuse to take on the challenges of “no child left behind”. Meanwhile the public schools will face reduced resources with only the most difficult problem students to deal with.

        • Bobby the Blue RINO

          Correct me if I am wrong, but if it costs the taxpayer $10 to educate a public school kid and the school has 100 kids, funding needed would be $1000. If you give the parents a voucher for $10, the school now has $990 to educate 99 kids. Per child spending is still $10. No snark, just trying to understand the less resources debate

          • notjohnsmosby

            Basic business accounting. You fail to address fixed costs. You can’t make the school furnaces burn 1% less fuel or pay 1% less for janitors because 1% less kids attend a school.

          • David Obermark

            I will add that all the cheap kids will abandon the expensive school and leave the expensive school kids behind. The special needs kids will still get a good deal until all the cheap kids abandon them and their parents too.

  • mark Jawsz

    Great article, Jay. It struck the perfect tone. But I think there are far more bad apples in the education establishment than you care to acknowledge. This will be a long and hard fight because in addition to importing the third world, the public schools are the next best thing in creating liberal voters. The Left is not going to give up its indoctrination centers easily.

    • Stephen Spiker

      Man, you can’t even go an education post without injecting your anti-immigrant nonsense.

      • mark Jawsz

        That was not the thrust of my argument, I was simply talking about how the Left creates Democratic voters. And one method is indeed to import the third world. And by the way, Snowflake, importing the third world has had an adverse impact on our school system. Next thing you will tell me is that we are not importing the third world.

        • It wasn’t the thrust of your argument, but as Spiker noted, you can’t go more than a sentence or two without talking about immigration.

      • mark Jawsz

        I don’t know how many times I have to tell you that there is a difference in being against ALL immigrants and being against those immigrants who present a burden on our generous welfare system. So, if after all of our exchanges on this topic you still cannot grasp that difference, then I ask you simply not respond to my posts here – and I will do likewise with you.

        • Stephen Spiker

          Right, “importing the third world” is clearly referring only to illegal immigrants and not at all to legal immigrants. Clear as day.

          • mark Jawsz

            To me, a legal immigrant who comes here and ends up on welfare is just as bad as an illegal immigrant. And most immigrants who end up on welfare are indeed from the third world. And welfare mongering, third world immigrants are very likely to have children who also end up requiring ESL classes and free school lunches, end up in gangs, et al and burdening the public schools. Steve Camarota has done some excellent work on sifting through government data and coming to some obvious conclusions on this matter while those of your ilk choose to keep their heads up their ass.
            And just so God may work a miracle, I will repeat this for the umpteenth time. I have NO PROBLEM with LEGAL immigrants who come here to contribute without going on welfare. For example, my dentist is a Hindu immigrant. My computer provider and neighbor is a Hindu immigrant. My mechanic, my cardiologist, my kids’ oral surgeon, my wife’s doctor are all Moslem immigrants. Can you get this through your thick, millennial, snowflake head that I am not “anti-immigrant?”

          • Stephen Spiker

            You’re the defensive one here, snowflake.

            It’s pretty simple: stop using anti-immigrant rhetoric and people will stop thinking you’re anti-immigrant. You act like you’re being unfairly targeted with this label.

            As a hint, not using anti-immigrant means more than listing the few immigrants you like.

  • Turtles Run

    Questions:

    One of the arguments against school vouchers is that the charter and private schools are allowed to have unfair advantages. For instance these schools are often allowed to deny entry to certain students because of grades, disciplinary record, disability, or economic situation. Do you support legislation that guarantees that these voucher schools admit any student applying and offer the same level of support especially if the child is special needs.

    How does the reduction of tax payer funding to public schools not harm those schools particularly in low income areas? Vouchers do not reduce the fixed costs of running and maintenance of public schools. The people in these areas are often still unable to bridge the gap between voucher support
    and the cost of private schools. Shouldn’t steps be taken to actually insure that the people these voucher programs are meant to help, low-income families, are actually going to be helped and not end up simply being a subsidy for wealthier families to attend private schools.

    Schools are meant to educate children to be productive in our society and give them opportunities. What about religious schools that teach students creationism in lieu of actual science, proper role of women, anti-gay rights, or controversial beliefs about other religions? Should taxpayers be forced to finance such teachings. How will a student educated to believe in creation as science be expected to compete in a world of people taught actual science.

    Matt Suarez

    • notjohnsmosby

      Voucher schools are basically a massive tax cut for wealthy families. Educating kids is a secondary concern, at best, for Republicans who push for vouchers. Their kids aren’t going to public schools regardless, so they just want their tax money back.

    • David Obermark

      I almost gave you a like. You lost me on the anti-gay rights thing. In my opinion, our schools are indoctrinating our youths to think “it is OK to be Gay” when science proves otherwise.

      When it comes to science, you can not be selective in which science you will accept due to your political leanings. Do not point to science on one topic and turn a blind eye to the science that points to something you dislike.

      • Turtles Run

        Schools teach that it is OK to be gay because it is OK to be gay. It is also OK to be left handed and a red head.

        Matt Suarez

        • David Obermark

          What you just stated was subjective.

          I will point out that some of us are objective in our opinions. We look at CDC (Center for Disease Control) statistics that point out that MSM (Male Sex with Male) activity is responsible for an overwhelmingly large amount of the number of STD’s (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) in our society.

          Is it OK if we insist that our kids be taught the entire truth, based on objective science? Or must we genuflect on the altar of your subjective opinion that it is “OK to be Gay” and that is what must be taught?

          • Turtles Run

            STD rates are not caused by the sexual orientation of a person but by their activity. A male homosexual is not anymore at risk for an STD if he practices safe sex than anyone else.

            Matt Suarez

          • David Obermark

            That is a true statement. It is also true they are less likely to engage in safe sex. The problem with male only sex is that a woman is not involved. Agree?

          • Turtles Run

            For you and me, yes. The ghey guy, not so much.

            *snorts salt, bites lime, throws tequila over shoulder*

            Matt Suarez

          • David Obermark

            Snort. You missed my point. My point was that individuals engaging in MSM activity are apt to find more willing participants. As they find these willing participants they spread sexually transmitted diseases.

            While there are exceptions, women are more likely to demand fidelity and commitment before they jump into the sack.

            There must be an explanation for why MSM activity is responsible for such a hugely disproportionate percentage of STD’s.

            It is not their fault is not a suitable answer.

          • Turtles Run

            It is not their fault is not a suitable answer.

            Actually my claim is that it is exactly their fault. The fault of their actions not their sexual orientation. Any group that conducts themselves in an unsafe manner should expect negative consequences straight or otherwise. I t does not mean that mean that it is not OK to be gay nor does it mean that science also makes such a claim.

            Matt Suarez

          • David Obermark

            OK, and then the group behavior should be discouraged then and not encouraged?

            Is it wrong for society to discourage MSM behavior? Or should we encourage it by saying it is ok and nothing wrong with it?

          • Turtles Run

            Is it wrong for society to discourage MSM behavior? Or should we encourage it by saying it is ok and nothing wrong with it?

            No need to encourage or discourage it.

            There is nothing wrong with homosexual behavior, your comments that being gay is scientifically unsafe because of male STD rates is not valid. It completely ignores the extremely low lesbian STD rates. If being a homosexual is so unsafe why the disparities in their rates.

            Additionally, if the cause of the STDs was due to being gay then homosexuals would get STDs without physical contact with other people. Since this is impossible it is the action of the person not their sexual orientation that is the issue here. That is why your questions are false.

            What needs to be encouraged is monogamy and safe sex practices. Also, being gay does not make you more prone to having unsafe sex.

          • David Obermark

            Bingo. You are catching on. It is the behavior.

            Now let me ask you this basic question to see if you have progressed in your understanding.

            MSM activity (behavior) is responsible for a huge portion of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. It is not just huge, but enormous according the Center for Disease Control. Should this type of behavior be rewarded or discouraged?

            I am willing to explore this subject further and have arguments ready for your objections.

          • Turtles Run

            MSM activity Unsafe sex (behavior) is responsible for a huge portion of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

            FTFY…..you’re welcome

            The behavior in question is not practicing safe sex, it is not having male homosexual sex. Homosexual behavior has nothing to do with STD rates and nothing you have said or presented is proof that the action of homosexual sex is more dangerous and you still are ignoring female rates.

          • David Obermark

            Behavior or activity? You quibble. Their behavior/activity is a public health threat. And yes, there is more to their behavior beyond their refusal to use condoms that makes them a threat to good public health.

            As for lesbians? They are included in the 95% of citizens who are not a public health threat. They do not participate in MSM activity.

          • notjohnsmosby

            Are lesbians ok?

          • David Obermark

            Nope not OK. But they are easier to tolerate then gay males. It is MSM that threatens our society through the spread of STD’s. Lesbians do not do that, but they too are less then the strive for perfection our society should encourage.

            What is perfection (in my opinion)? Monogamous heterosexual relationships.

          • H Carlisle

            I am very sorry that you have been manipulated into believing that homosexual males (or “they,” as you refuse to acknowledge actual personhood) are sexual deviants who are deliberately spreading STDs (And for your information, the proper plural version of STD is STDs, no apostrophe). Have you considered the fact that the reason that the disease has been widespread in this particular population is because of the lack of sexual health information available to gay males? i assume that you are mostly discussing HIV/AIDS, which is statistically more prevalent in the LGBT community. Would you propose bring back and/or enforcing sodomy laws? Common sense (as well as Christian tolerance and empathy) would suggest that promoting responsible sexual health, funding HIV/AIDS clinics and widespread awareness campaigns, and providing support, as opposed to demonization, of those with the disease would be the most effective tools.

          • Methuselah Honeysuckle

            HIV is just as easily contracted from monogamous heterosexual sex as it is from homosexual sex, so is heterosexual sex to totally condemned because it makes it possible to contract an STD?

  • Eric the half a troll

    Interesting that you cite MD and NC as states that promote charter schools but make no mention of how their public schools perform. Here is a ranking of public schools state by state:

    http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/articles/how-states-compare

    MD is number 1, VA is number 12 (behind D.C. at number 6!!), NC (with their yuge charter school program) comes in at 38!! So certainly not conclusive but I think charter schools might not be that great a thing after all.

    D.C. is number 6!! The favorite whipping boy of the GOP is number 6.

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