Why school choice could actually save Georgia’s public schools

Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School is one of many strong alternatives to public school that could help relieve public schools as enrollment surges.(Special)

Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School is one of many strong alternatives to public school that could help relieve public schools as enrollment surges.(Special)

If you listen to most objections to school-choice programs, they really come down to money. Choice advocates talk about money for students; choice opponents talk about money for schools.

The latter group’s belief that our public schools are a never-quantified number of dollars away from excellence dies hard. On that premise, fights from state-approved charter schools to tax-credit scholarships to education savings accounts — and, soon, Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District — have been waged in Georgia.

But what if the issue isn’t really about cutting into today’s funding of and enrollment in public schools, but instead finding a way to maintain even the current level of affordability while educating hundreds of thousands of additional students?

Over the next decade and a half, Georgia’s k-12 age population is expected to rise by some 320,000. That’s one new school-aged child for every six today.

That surge is projected to take place while the number of Georgians 65 and older — who, as a group, consume more in public services than they pay in taxes — grows even more rapidly. The share of working-age Georgians will fall sharply as a result, putting more strain than ever on our public finances.

This student growth won’t pay for itself. So the question isn’t whether school-choice programs drain money from public schools, but whether they can help us avoid an unmanageable increase in education spending: almost $2.6 billion a year at current funding rates.

Local districts currently pay about 40 percent of the total per-pupil cost, so their share would exceed $1 billion a year, with the lion’s share of it falling on metro Atlanta districts. Would they rather raise taxes by $1 billion a year, cut costs by $1 billion a year, or maybe stop treating every new choice program like it’s worse than the Zika virus?

The state portion of spending would still increase in this scenario for programs such as ESAs. But there is no cost-free solution to this dilemma, only solutions that cost less than others.

Such programs would have the added benefit of injecting some needed competition into our education marketplace.

Georgia’s public schools have improved over the past couple of decades, with scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress rising steadily. Steadily, but slowly: If our students’ scores continue to rise at the same long-term rates, they won’t reach the level of proficiency that the top-performing states and nations achieve now until anywhere from 2025 (fourth-grade math) to 2079 (eighth-grade reading).

That rate of improvement won’t cut it, not when we’re counting on today’s students to bear a larger economic burden than their older cousins, not to mention their parents.

That means maximizing the potential of more students than ever. To get there, families need the ability to send their students to the schools that best fit their needs. In most cases, that will be the local public school. In many others, though, it won’t.

That’s OK. Actually, it’s more than OK: It’s absolutely vital to Georgia’s future.

Reader Comments 0

97 comments
Legong
Legong

Rent the film Waiting for Superman to understand the dark forces arrayed against education reform and parental choice.


AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Easy to cut costs for public education in Georgia. Just use a business approach. If raw materials need less processing, you spend less money on those materials - so you take all the high performing kids that will easily meet state standards and cut the amount of money you spend on them. You place them in online classes and very large in-person classes. You keep reducing services to them until you find the right amount of money spent that keeps them at "meets standards". 


Georgia's constitution requires only an adequate education and the state seems to have set the bar at "meets standards" for adequate. So, why are we spending untold sums on kids who easily meet standards with very little support?



ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

Been around and around on this in my head especially since I have a 15 month old son for whom I will have to make a decision regarding his education soon....the current framing of the argument on vouchers seems to be around who gets them and whether or not students of need will actually be able to attend their schools of choice. On either side of the argument those students with stable home lives will in a vacuum tend to do better regardless of the school they are in. Education and jobs (for the parents) at the very least are intertwined. Having graduated from Clayton County Schools and watching the changes in the lead up to the Olympics to the recession is proof positive of that. The current system does not work for everyone but I have not heard an argument for completely dismantling it either. One may frown on all things government but we cannot have simplistic solutions for a nuanced problem. Who in the post government school monopoly gets to regulate the definition of preparedness upon graduation? If the federal government does not collect and disburse money to and from the states, will that amount be enough for the needs of the children in the state? We have seen the goalposts of success continually moved and we have seen monetary shortfalls collected if not by tax increase then by massive increase of "user fees" such as professional license renewals. I agree that many of our kids do not have the skills required to fill positions of need in the workplace and I would love to see the ability to start a vocational track before high school. Finally I have some concerns with the profit motive that would be inherent in these new schools...not so much that all business must make money but in how the schools would be incentivized for that success, however it gets defined. With the cost of higher ed skyrocketing the number of students accepted to four year colleges may not be an appropriate metric. I don't pretend to have all (or any) of the answers hear but I do now that the solution must not be a bumper sticker slogan and one would be dealing with massive changes to tax policy, education, jobs (albeit "government jobs") and pensions (which would potentially burden the healthcare programs).     

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ATLAquarius "I have not heard an argument for completely dismantling it either"

I'll stop you right there, and explain: Outside of some blog commenters (no offense, y'all) no one is suggesting we do that. That's why you're not hearing it. Virtually every school-choice proponent starts with the premise that the public system is adequate for the majority of kids, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. The argument is that because we know it isn't adequate for all kids, we should have mechanisms for publicly financing options for those kids.

That is the entire argument. The fact that you are (genuinely, I assume) unaware of that is a sign of success on the part of the anti-choice folks. They are the only ones in the debate talking about the current system being dismantled.

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

@Kyle_Wingfield @ATLAquarius What have not heard is nuance on either side nor a desire for the muddiness it brings. This is a complex argument but my basic question is what does school choice actually look like in the real world? Is it existing public schools on north I-20 and a plethora of startups and charters south based on the status quo?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ATLAquarius That's more or less what you have now (if we exclude the exclusive private schools that have long existed and will continue to thrive whatever happens with school choice). For example, APS has approved more than a dozen charter schools; only one is located on the north side. That's mostly because charter operators tend to go where the demand is, and the demand is greatest where the traditional public schools are worst.

Other choice options, such as tax-credit scholarships and the special-needs voucher, are different because they are much more individual in nature. You might see a more diffuse geographic pattern of use. That's also because, relative to charters, far fewer students use those: Enrollment in start-up charters (i.e. not conversions or charter systems, but the truly new schools) is around 70,000 statewide; enrollment in the other two programs are about 17,000 combined. The pattern might look different if more kids were able to use them.

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

@Kyle_Wingfield @ATLAquarius To take your first response, why is there not effective communication to the voters on the pro-choice side? I understand it's easier to be against but what can overcome that? In addition at first glance one would think the conservative led state legislature does not see this as a priority judging the legislation that was just emerged from the last session.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ATLAquarius As we are seeing in this election cycle, sometimes the succinct statement, even if it's incorrect, wins the day. But the pro side can and should be more effective.

As to your second point, there certainly are a lot of legislators who don't see this as a priority, or who are scared to vote for it. I have heard (but never confirmed) that one-quarter of legislators used to be educators or are married to an educator. Given the education establishment's fierce opposition to choice, that's one high hurdle to overcome. Another is that in many rural counties -- from which many GOP legislators hail -- the school system is the largest employer. They hold a lot of political sway, and those legislators challenge them at their own (political) peril. 

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Kyle is touting school choice on these points:


1. Regular public schools-improving(but too slowly for Kyle)

2. Tax credit scholarships - mostly for relatively wealthy families who were planning to send their kids to private schools anyway - no data, no accountability

3. State commissioned charter schools - Kyle cites no data despite years of this experiment


So Kyle is basically saying regular public schools are improving, claiming nothing about the other choices, and being all in for more school choice?


Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

There's no logical argument against choice.

Just whining about jaysus and dinosaurs and F-35s.

Teachers and school bureaucrats need to get over themselves; schoolchildren are not their property and they don't have a right to a job, much less above-market pay.

And Democrats need to stop having kids they can't feed, much less nurture, encourage, and develop as students ready for the classroom.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Lil_Barry_Bailout Please describe what choice is. Is it the choice for only parents of school children to decide how to spend the taxes paid by all taxpayers in Georgia?

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Choice is the money follows the child--public, charter, or private.

Starik
Starik

@Lil_Barry_Bailout Require a course of training and a license, after proof of financial responsibility, before having kids?  Easy to make 'em, hard to raise 'em.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@AvgGeorgian "too slowly for Kyle"

So you're OK with our eighth-graders having below-par literacy skills for the next 64 years. Good to know; it explains a lot.

"mostly for relatively wealthy families"

The key word here is "relatively," because it allows you to claim the data say whatever you want them to say. The reality, as I've documented several times, is that the vast majority of recipients earn far too little to be able to "send their kids to private schools anyway." Your answer to that documentation? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

"despite years of this experiment"

By "years," you mean three years, since the "experiment" was interrupted by a legal hissy fit that put it on hold for a time. However, the data for those schools is available at the link I've provided many times on this thread, and will provide again here: https://www.gadoe.org/External-Affairs-and-Policy/Charter-Schools/Documents/2015 Charter Schools and Charter Systems Annual Report.pdf

The data show state start-ups perform better in some areas than others vis-a-vis "all non-charters" in the state. The data tell us nothing about how these schools perform vis-a-vis the non-charters in the same attendance zone, which is what would be really useful to know. What we do know, however, is that state start-ups can be -- and have been -- shut down if their performance is substandard. And non-charters? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Kyle_Wingfield @AvgGeorgian

First of all - congrats on your ASCII art skills. 


I am comfortable with students making steady progress on standardized testing,knowing that this is not Lake Wobegon and that schools also provide progress in some difficult to measure skills.


The recipients of the tax credits for private school scholarships have higher incomes than most Georgians (Median household income of $49K). The quartiles were used to disguise the number of families at the upper end of the 3rd quartile. The available data does not disprove that almost all the recipients either never went to public schools/never planned to go to public schools - so no savings to taxpayers.


Don't make me laugh about the state chartered schools that have been failing for years, hide salary and vendor payments from the public, and don't have to meet their own goals(they are now being given the chance to choose a new easier "framework" that seems to let them escape their charter goals.


Penses
Penses

Problems with the current public educational system (an incomplete list):


1) Bad parenting - which leads to massive disciplinary and motivational problems in classrooms, as well as adversarial parent-teacher relationships.

2) Text centered, sedentary teaching paradigm (as opposed to hands on learning, etc.).

3) No academic versus technical secondary tracks (as in Europe).

4) Inadequate pay for many teachers vis a vis private salaries. You don't get the best and the brightest, only the also rans or idealistic.

5) Far too high student to teacher ratio (which should be no more than a dozen to one).

6) Propagandistic curricula in not a few cases.

7) Cookie cutter, orchestrated curricula and methodologies (which is antithetical to good teaching).

8) Test-driven teaching - the Catch-22 of education: You test because teaching is not produced the desired results and you teach so you can pass a test.


Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

What could  the F35 failed money have done ?....trillions

Penses
Penses

@Jefferson1776

Make elected officials criminally liable and see how many failed F35 programs there are.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@St Simons he-ne-ha "teaching them Jaysus rode the dinosaur 6,000 yrs ago"

It's amazing how many people get sucked in by this anti-choice canard, to the point they'd rather kids drop out as illiterates as long as it means someone got to say "evolution" to them once.

Penses
Penses

@Kyle_Wingfield @St Simons he-ne-ha

LOL. It's the Barnum effect. It hasn't occurred to most of the unthinking masses that, because it is a hugely and laughably unproven hypothesis, evolution is as much a myth as "Jaysus" riding a dinosaur.


AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Kyle_Wingfield @Visual_Cortex I don't know if they need saving or not. Need more data. Are GA kids doing as well as other state's kids with same family educational and financial level? if so, is the school building the problem?

Starik
Starik

@Penses @Kyle_Wingfield @St Simons he-ne-ha God created people and dinosaurs on the same day, right? So they were together on the Ark, right.  God dictated all this, in English, to King James who wrote it all down, right?

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Kyle_Wingfield @Visual_Cortex 

compare the amount of green vs. purple in GA to that of TN, TX, even SC and MS and LA

Do those states typically tell people over the age of 62 or 65 "hey, it's all good, no need to contribute to your local public schools any more!"

Anyhoo, according to that map, my county is doing grrrrreat, so if I'm gonna be a typical Georgian, I'll just pull up the drawbridges and tell the Poors to go pound salt. Problem solved!

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Visual_Cortex So you're saying you'd raise and spend the $2.6B, getting part of it (probably very little of it, realistically) from senior citizens.

O-kay.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Visual_Cortex "Do those states typically tell people over the age of 62 or 65 "hey, it's all good, no need to contribute to your local public schools any more!""

I have no idea. But I do know what per-pupil spending is in each of them (as of FY13):

Georgia: $9,099

LA: $10,490

MS: $8,130

SC: $9,514

TN: $8,208

TX: $8,299

So wherever they get their money, the amount of it doesn't seem to be a determining factor.

Source: http://www.governing.com/gov-data/education-data/state-education-spending-per-pupil-data.html

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Kyle_Wingfield @Visual_Cortex

Well, you brought up the issue of growth in GA and how to pay for it in the future. 

You also said:

the number of Georgians 65 and older — who, as a group, consume more in public services than they pay in taxes — grows even more rapidly. 

I'm simply suggesting that ending these property-tax giveaways (that, I submit, send a terrible message anyway) to older residents would be one way to help do it, however modestly.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

@Visual_Cortex

Because any time someone suggests any change in benefits for wealthy old people, a certain class of moron comes along and claims those proposing the change want to push Granny off a cliff.

Penses
Penses

I think public schools ought to go the way of the dinosaur or (to be more precise) 8-track technology. They no longer work as well as they did in decades past and there are better options now. The number of problems with the current public educational system are so great that there appears to be no hope of ever solving them.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Penses

Speaking of nutty.

Hey, could you cite those civilized countries that don't fund a public school system?

thanks in advance.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

All of a sudden, Europe references just got a lot less interesting, eh?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Visual_Cortex @Penses There are plenty of "civilized countries" with public funding of education that can be used at non-public schools. In fact, in Europe school choice is the rule, not the exception as it is here. Also contrary to here, in many cases choice is offered explicitly to help students attend parochial schools.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Kyle_Wingfield @Visual_Cortex @Penses

Pretty sure you're missing your pal Penses' tortured point, Kyle.

I'm also just as sure that the private schools that are looking to grab those voucher dollars would never submit to the kind of rules and regs imposed upon European schools similarly subsidized.

Penses
Penses

@Visual_Cortex @Penses

LOL. All schools are funded by one means or another. What's "nutty" is to think the way to fix an utterly broken system is to somehow maintain the system. MUST...KEEP...THE...SYSTEM...GOING...

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I'd like to see many of the posters here and on the Get Schooled blog spend a week--5 school days--in one of these "failing schools."  I'd like them to see what is actually going on, rather than thinking back to how school was for them, or how their child's school seems to work.  I would challenge those who call schools "failing" to try it and see how their perceptions change.


A few times during my career I had parents or grandparents with concerns.  A few of them took me up on my "come spend a day with us."  Not a one of them left with the same perception they had come with.  In fact, several only made it a half a day, and every one became wholehearted supporters.  You see, they had only had their own experiences (from years ago) or what they had been told was happening. I heard, "I had no idea."  Most folks are too afraid to admit they don't know, and to try to actually find out themselves.


It's easy to call the schools "failing" when you have been fed that opinion and the "research" to "support" it for years.

Starik
Starik

@Wascatlady I lived in a neighborhood in DeKalb for almost 30 years. I watched the schools fail.