Why Bureaucrats hate School Choice


Public money? Children’s futures? It’s all just a game to government school monopolists!

School Choice is a simple concept.

Every child is unique. Each has their own learning strengthens and challenges. One-size-fits-all schools don’t work for all students.

Expanding access to a wide range of classrooms ensures children attend schools that suit them. It also rewards and encourages involved parenting, the real key to student achievement.

Public policies of school choice are wildly popular among parents. They also save public schools money.

Still, bureaucrats, unions, consultants, politicians and others who benefit from the sustained under-performance of South Carolina’s public school system are fanatically committed to fighting against choices for parents.

Parents who rally behind School Choice often wonder why their tax dollars are being spent to fight such a no-nonsense reform.

Two recent newspaper articles (one in Post and Courier, the other in the State) shed light on the “logic” of those who defend the status quo.

Here are the myths employed to fight choice:

Inaccurate Claims about Funding

“It’s unconscionable, in my view, to cut money from public schools when we’re already being cut to the bone,” said Frank Morgan, superintendent of the Kershaw County School district, which will eliminate more than 30 jobs and cut programs before next school year.

FACT: School Choice saves money and increases per-student spending in public schools. The job cuts Morgan talks about were the result of lower-than-expected state sales tax revenue, not school choice, which is still being debated in the legislature.

Consider the Kershaw County School District which was allocated $9,727 per student last year in local, state, and federal tax dollars. If a child were to transfer out, their parents would be eligible for a tuition tax credit of $2,558 (or 50% of state allocation), while the public school would continue to receive $2,558 in state and $3,835 in local funding for a child they are not educating. In other words, Morgan is given more public money to educate fewer children.

Inaccurate Claims about Poor Students

“South Carolina’s struggling public schools are nearly all in high-poverty communities,” said Jim Foster, Education Department spokesman. “The kids get free transportation to and from school. They get free breakfasts and free lunches at school. Their fees are waived. Their field trip costs are waived.

“Tax credits won’t help these kids attend private school, even if they meet the admission requirements. And if they somehow get a scholarship that pays every dime of their tuition, how do they get to school? Who pays for their breakfast and lunch? How do they get home in the afternoon? Who pays the additional costs that public schools currently pick up?”

FACT: Across the State, independent schools are serving low-income children and doing so more effectively than the public system. They are also providing that superior education for a fraction of the outrageous spending in the public schools. Not only do private schools serving low-income and rural students already provide nutrition services, carpooling and bus services without reliance on a costly an inefficient public system, the students transferring to private schools are eligible to continue to receive the federal Title One funds that pay for such services in the public system! Of course these private schools are also more accountable than the public system since they use real student achievement tests, not the shamefully inaccurate PACT/PASS tests.

As far as tax credits “not helping” that’s false. Corporations in Florida have donated scores of millions of dollars to Student Scholarship Organizations serving low-income students. In fact, so much money was contributed that legislation had to be passed raising the contribution cap from $88 Million to $118 Million. In Florida alone, nearly 20,000 students will benefit from SSO scholarships in the 2008-2009 school year. Pennsylvania’s school choice program has taken in over $530 Million in contributions since its inception in 2001, and in 2007-2008 gave out over 43,000 scholarships! Obviously families in these states love the options afforded to them through school choice, and corporations have lined up to make them possible.

Finally, it ought to be asked: if we know public schools are actually making a bad situation worse for low-income children, does the fact that they are required by federal law to feed those children serve as a reason not to support school choice?!

Inaccurate Claims about Spending

“Say four kids leave a public school (to attend a private one),” said Debbie Elmore, spokeswoman for the S.C. School Boards Association. “You haven’t eliminated the need for a teacher and principal, the buses to transport students. You haven’t eliminated the lights and the heat that have to be cut on.

“All of the overhead costs are still there. You haven’t reduced your costs. What you have done is eliminated some of the revenue the school would have received for those four students.”

FACT: Not only does school choice increase the per-student spending in public schools, it also guarantees that so-called “fixed costs” (what Elmore is arguing about) remain funded at their current –absurdly high– levels.That’s because public schools spend the lion’s share of their funding on non-instructional expenses and receive the majority of their funding through an archaic funding formula that is not student-based.

Also worth noting, should even a fraction of the 70,000+ private school students return to the public system as the result of the economic slump, Elmore would burdened with more students to educate but a funding increase that covers just a tiny fraction of the “cost” to educate them.

The fact is Morgan, Foster, and and Elmore know better (or should know better). This is not, and has never been, about the students for them. It is about the system, and they will do anything to insulate that system from real accountability.


9 responses to “Why Bureaucrats hate School Choice

  1. Frank Morgan

    I stand by my original statements. However, one of the things that intrigues me about the proposed legislation is its fluffy approach to accountability. One of the questions I keep asking, and no one seems to want to answer, is why wouldn’t a school benefitting from public money want to have its students tested on our state’s very rigorous standards, just as students in public schools are required to be? Why was the legislation written without requiring students in private schools, or being home schooled for that matter, to take our very rigorous state tests? If I were to suggest that public schools have the kind of fluffy accountability proposed in this legislation, I would be roundly criticized, and rightfully so. I hope this generates some thoughtful discussion.


    Dr. Frank E. Morgan
    Kershaw County School District

  2. Wow. Dr. Morgan, really?
    You have alot of nerve to compare the Stanford 10 test that my kids take at a $6,000 per year private school with the garbage you call PASS and PACT.
    I know exactly what my kids are offered and accomplishing at that school – not like those confusing school report cards the government puts out.

  3. Frank — With all due respect, there is nothing “fluffy” about accountability in a competitive market. Organizations that provide a superior quality good or service in a more cost effective manner grow and expand. Their counterparts shrink unless and until they improve their performance and provide a better value. And then there are government bureaucracies that never seem to shrink regardless of how poorly they perform.

    Why are you so afraid to give parents a real choice? I would think that the more talented administrators and teachers would want to allow competition, choice, and innovation and to be rewarded for their skills and talents.

  4. Dr. Morgan,

    Why so proud of your pencil and paper tests when public school students are so often failing the real world tests of graduation, higher learning, education?

    My homeschooled children did have to submit to regular testing, even though we generally found them more of a hindrance to education than a help.

    Testing demonstrates ability to pass standardized tests, little more. And of course, teachers that are rated on how their students pass standardized tests teach the tests, not the subject.

  5. Frank Morgan

    Some interesting points…..

    However, if you read the legislation, which is a lot different than reading the summary, you’ll find that the accountability structure built into the bill seems to be geared to generating comparisons between public schools and private schools that benefit from public money. Unfortunately, the vague and fluffy (dare I say “touchy-feely”?)expectations in the bill for measuring the academic performance of private school (or home-schooled) students do not lend themselves to “apples to apples” comparisons.

    If an essential purpose of the accountability provisions in the legislation is to draw valid comparisons between public school students and private and home-schooled students benefitting from public money, the legislation needs to require private and home-schooled students to be subject to the same academic achievement measures as public school students.

    As the legislation is now structured, private schools can both cherry pick students and accountability measures. What a deal, but not very good public policy. If you’re not taking public money, do what you want. If you are, as this legislation would permit, the expectations for and measurement of achievement need to be as rigorous as the ones for public schools. Having valid “apples to apples” comparative data would actually benefit parents in making well-informed market-based decisions.

    With best regards,
    Dr. Frank E. Morgan, Superintendent
    Kershaw County School District

  6. There is NOTHING “fluffy” about using commercially developed, nationally norm-reference student assessment. In fact, other states have already switched to augmented versions for the NCLB and state standard requirement. Not only is the data richer, but the tool is less expensive.

    Kershaw District’s only nationally normed assessments (though it is not designed to be) ends up being the SAT since PACT/PASS are not “real” tests, rooted in real standards that place student achievement in a regional and national context.

    You last paragraph suggests that your only reservation with the legislation is the accountability measure(s)? Are you acknowledging that parents deserve recognition of their right to be the guiding force in informed decision making about their students’ education and that such engagement is a catalyst to student success?

  7. Frank Morgan

    I think it’s bad legislation all around as uch as anything else because the only “choice” involved is for the private schools is to cherry pick who they want. But the fluffy accountability involved really intrigued me. You’re not going to be able to make valid comparisons based on the requirements of the legislation as it stands now. The legislation is structured to manufacture data to make something look successful that may not be. What’s wrong with a head-to-head apples to apples comparison? I guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree, but I enjoyed the exchange. By the way, you guys do very cool stuff with photo shop.

    With best regards,

    Dr. Frank E. Morgan
    Kershaw County School District

  8. Um, private schools don’t in general “cherry pick who they want” for a very simple reason; if they don’t (within reason) take most people who come through the door, they close. Nice try, but totally false.

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