Education Week - December 12, 2012 - (Page 23)

EDUCATION WEEK n DECEMBER 12, 2012 n 23 POLICY BRIEF to be able to cut the deficit simply by raising taxes on the wealthiest individuals. “It’s not surprising that education groups want to tax the rich,” said Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a think tank in Washington. Mr. Petrilli served in the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush. “What nobody wants to admit is that in order to keep revenues going for these social programs [including education], you’re going to have to tax the middle class. You can’t just offload it onto the rich. The math is pretty compelling that even if you dramatically increase taxes on the rich, you’ve PAGE 25 > Louisiana’s Ambitious Voucher Effort Unclear Following Judge’s Ruling By Sean Cavanagh From the moment it became law earlier this year, Louisiana’s statewide voucher program commanded the attention of critics and admirers of private school choice alike. Ambitious in size and scope, the program took the concept of awarding families public money for private school costs in both familiar and previously untested directions, offering students’ public money for private schools, colleges, and even individual courses. Now the future of that voucher model has been called into question, in the wake of a judge’s ruling that the program’s funding scheme violates the Louisiana Constitution. State officials are vowing to appeal, and they say students enrolled in the program this year will not be affected. But the program also faces legal uncertainty, as well as questions about how it will be financed. Legal challenges to voucher programs are nothing new. A number of statewide private school choice efforts have been wiped away when judges found that they violated state laws banning public funds from flowing to private or religious schools. But the broad nature of Louisiana’s voucher blueprint, and the interest it has generated from all sides, make it likely that its legal and political fate will echo in other states that are considering copying or borrowing pieces from Louisiana’s model. “It had the potential to have so much sweep—that had driven the real buzz about the program” said Adam Emerson, a school choice analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in Washington. He believes the voucher program is likely to continue in some form, even though it may require a reworking by state lawmakers. “Most people in the voucher movement saw [the program’s legality] as a no-brainer,” he added, and by and large, the funding question that tripped it up “was not something the voucher community had anticipated.” fairly detailed system meant to hold participating voucher schools responsible for their academic performance and administration of scholarships. That feature, combined A Louisiana judge recently with the program’s multipronged ruled that an ambitious state approach, and its ability to reach voucher program violates students in a fairly large range of the state’s constitution, a academically struggling schools— decision that is expected to including not just F, but also C and D schools—collectively create a disbe appealed. The legislative tinctive program that could influpackage signed into law ence other states’ voucher models, by Gov. Bobby Jindal this Mr. Emerson said. year allows students to In one sense, Louisiana voucher use public funds for private programs would seem to have been particularly well insulated from school choice in a number legal challenge. The state’s conof ways, including: stitution does not have a “Blaine amendment,” a provision found in numerous state constitutions that > Students who attend prohibits public money from flowacademically struggling ing to private or religious schools. schools—graded as C, D, or F But after the voucher program by the state—whose families’ became law, a pair of teachers’ income level is no greater than unions, the Louisiana Association 250 percent of the federal of Educators and the Louisiana poverty level—are eligible Federation of Teachers, along with to receive private school the Louisiana School Boards Assoscholarships. The average award ciation, challenged the program in amount is $5,300. state court, arguing that it improperly diverts funding from the state’s > High school students who public school funding system, the graduate early, beginning in the Minimum Foundation Program. 2013-14 school year, can use a (That funding mechanism for the share of public funding to cover voucher program was approved by public or private college costs in state lawmakers, in coordination Louisiana. with the state’s board of education.) On Nov. 30, state Judge Timothy > Students can use a slice of E. Kelley agreed with the unions public funding to take individual and school boards, citing language classes from a variety of public in the state constitution that founor private providers outside their dation money is “to be allocated own schools, including virtual to public school systems only.” As providers. Students in C, D, such, the funding mechanism for and F schools are eligible; those the voucher, early-graduation, and in A and B schools may be course-choice programs were uneligible, if their public schools constitutional, he ruled. don’t offer the courses they Gov. Jindal has said the state want. would appeal the decision, a process that is expected to take the SOURCE: Louisiana Department of case to the state’s Supreme Court. Education The governor, whose name is often floated as a potential gop dents and 118 schools, almost all of presidential candidate, called the ruling “wrongheaded and a travesty them private, are participating. Similar to some voucher pro- for parents across Louisiana who grams, such as one created in Indi- want nothing more than for their ana last year, Louisiana’s program children to have an equal opportuallows children from households nity at receiving a great education.” that could be considered middle class—those who are at up to 250 New Funding Source? percent of the federal poverty level, or about $57,000 for a family of Judge Kelley’s decision did not four—to participate. include language that would have The legislative package also halted the voucher program immeincluded an Early High School diately, and so schools and students Graduation program, which allows are continuing to participate in it. students who graduate from high Moreover, the judge’s ruling did school early to use a portion of pub- not block any source of taxpayer lic funding to pay tuition costs at money from flowing to Louisiana’s public or private universities in the voucher program. Mr. Kelley instate. In addition, the law lets stu- stead ruled that Louisiana’s Condents use a slice of public funding stitution allows that transfer to to take individual courses offered by occur—as long as the public money public or private providers, includ- comes from “some other portion of ing virtual education organizations. the general fund,” and not the MiniState officials have established a PAGE 25 > Head Start Grants Still Undecided The fate of tens of millions of dollars in Head Start grants that are up for grabs won’t be known until spring, according to a spokesman for the federal agency that is overseeing a competition process for more than 130 providers of the preschool services for poor children. The 132 agencies that must vie to keep their federal Head Start dollars were expecting an announcement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this month. Those agencies—most of them nonprofit and communitybased organizations that have been longtime providers of Head Start services—had to compete against other potential bidders to continue receiving their funds after they fell short of meeting new quality standards. That process, known as designation renewal, is part of an effort by the Obama administration to improve the quality of the nearly $8 billion federal program. According to Kenneth J. Wolfe, a spokesman for hhs, which oversees Head Start, an announcement won’t come until spring. n CHALLENGING CHOICE Cannon said Mr. Kitzhaber has made the connection between the two explicit. “We do expect pushback. It’s understandable. We hope that it can remain civil, that this could be understood in the context of shoring up our retirement system … and [hiring] more teachers.” But Mr. Kitzhaber’s proposal falls short of what the state needs by the state education department’s own reckoning, said Gail Rasmussen, the president of the 42,000-member Oregon Education Association. Adequately funding the state’s Quality Education Model, which in 2010 increased teacher training and academic interventions, would have required $8.7 billion in the 2011-13 biennium, according to the Oregon School Boards Association. Ms. Rasmussen also said it was unclear whether the $250 million in savings for districts would translate to classrooms still feeling the impact of teacher layoffs. “Our school districts are still dealing with crisis-level budgets,” she said. Sequestration Looming There is also the possibility that federal sequestration cuts, which could lead to an 8 percent drop in U.S. Department of Education funding unless lawmakers cut a different deal on deficit reduction, could have a big impact on K-12 budgets in some states. It remains a big worry for school budget officials, said John Musso, the executive director of the Association of School Business Officials International, based in Reston, Va. A recent analysis from the American Association of School Administrators, based in Alexandria, Va., showed that federal revenues accounted for more than 15 percent of operating budgets in more than half the school districts in 15 states, including Arizona and Florida. “A lot of what I’ve heard on the street is that this year is going to be even worse than last year,” he said. A Wide Reach Louisiana’s voucher program, which was signed into law as Act 2 by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal in April, has many of the characteristics common to private school choice programs in other states, though there are several features that also set it apart. The program awards private school scholarships averaging $5,300 per year to relatively impoverished students in academically struggling public schools—those ranked as C, D, or F under the state’s grading system. In the program’s first year, about 5,000 stu- Why the delay? Is it the fiscal cliff? Is the review process taking longer than federal officials had planned for? Mr. Wolfe offered no explanation for the delay and did not provide a more specific time frame for the announcement. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported the delay in a story that appeared late last month. Rick Mockler, the executive director of the California Head Start Association, said he’d always thought the agency’s December timeline was too ambitious, given the enormity of evaluating complicated grant proposals. But because providers had been led to believe that the decision would be coming before the end of the year, the delay could create some challenges, especially for new grant winners who will have to ramp up programs and recruit and enroll students in time for the 2013-14 school year, he said. Many providers were already worried about trying to make transitions to new programs even with an announcement in December. —LESLI A. MAXWELL

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - December 12, 2012

Education Week - December 12, 2012
Test Designers Tap Students for Feedback
Race to Top Draws Out New Suitors
Common Core Taught Through the Arts
Federal Attention on ELL Needs Seen to Wane
News in Brief
Report Roundup
NAEP Seeks to Test New Measure Of Student Poverty
In Rural Areas, After-School Efforts Must Stretch to Provide Services
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: McGraw-Hill Education Sale Highlights Publishing Trends
K-12, Higher Ed. Unite to Align Learning In Minnesota
States Pledge to Expand School Hours, Days
Absenteeism Linked to Low Achievement In NAEP Time Study
Union Pushes Higher Standards For New Teachers
Brand-New NAEP Report on Vocabulary Shows Same Old Gaps
Psychiatrists Revising Manual On Mental Disorders
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: N.C. Law Protects Educators From Online Harassment
Blogs of the Week
Education May Not Benefit From Brighter Financial Outlook
K-12 Education Advocates Lobby To Avert Fiscal Cliff
Policy Brief
Louisiana’s Ambitious Voucher Effort Unclear Following Judge’s Ruling
BARNETT BERRY & FREDERICK M. HESS: Expanded Learning Time: An Avenue to Greater Change
DAVE POWELL: Confusing Achievement With Aptitude
ANITA N. VOELKER: Smokeless Santa? Sanitizing a Child’s World
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
JAMES S. LIEBMAN: Ending the Great School Wars

Education Week - December 12, 2012