It is that time of year again.
We are not talking about buying roses and chocolates (although you should do that).
No, sadly, it is time of year when the education bureaucracy starts filling inboxes and legislator’s heads with tons of misinformation in order to protect the status quo and their bottom lines.
This week four out of the six people testifying against charter school expansion are registered lobbyists. The other two are a school superintendent and a representative of the Missouri School Board Association.
In contrast, of the 15 people testifying in favor of charter schools, only two are lobbyists. Eight (two more than the TOTAL testifying against) of those testifying in favor of expanding charter schools are parents. Two are school administrators. Three were representatives of businesses or non-profit organizations.
Over the course of the past two weeks, the anti-school choice lobbyists have presented a wide swath of misinformation in hearings in the House and Senate.
They argue that ESA legislation should not be passed because the current proposal is limited to municipalities with a population of 30,000 or greater, saying this does not create equity for all Missouri students. But the same lobbyists argue that charter schools, which are currently confined to a much small percentage of Missouri students should not be allowed anywhere besides St. Louis City and Kansas City.
They have also misrepresented the financial impact of both ESAs and charter schools, the efficacy of school choice programs in other states, and how charter schools are compared to traditional district schools in this state.
One thing they have gotten right is that their main opposition is all about money, and protecting the bottom line of traditional school districts.
Recent newsletters from the School Administrators Coalition (SAC) layout the framework for their opposition to school choice initiatives. These newsletters are sent to almost every school in the state and help form the basis for opposition to policies that could really help students across Missouri.
Unfortunately, most of their talking points either conveniently leave out important data, misuse correct data, or are flat out wrong. Their arguments against Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are a great example.
One of the SAC’s biggest talking points is that ESA’s would cost the state $50 million. They argue that money could be used to fund the foundation formula or transportation costs.
What they don’t tell you is that even the worst case scenario evaluation of the program only puts a price tag of $17 million on the program and more realistic projections show the program saving the state $19 million and local districts over $97 million.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is responsible for the worst-case projection. But they make a major mistake and dramatically underestimate the number of students who could participate in the program.
The Committee of Legislative Research Oversight Committee takes a more realistic approach and, using examples from Florida and Iowa, estimates that student participation could reach as many as 13,229 students, which would result in a state SAVINGS of close to $19 million. Additionally, the Oversight Committee estimates that the legislation could result in total savings for all local school districts of over $97 million. These estimates match savings seen in other states like Florida.
Beyond the actual numbers, the underlying reality that SAC does not tell any of its members is that the more students who receive an ESA the more money the state and local districts save.
The full fiscal note can be found here.
SAC’s second biggest argument is that family empowerment programs like ESAs don’t improve student performance. They list a number of studies to back up their argument, and if you just read what they write, you might think ESAs are the worst thing the state could do.
What they don’t tell you is where some of those studies come from, how they are distorting the findings of those studies and how many studies they are ignoring.
Their key study comes from an organization called the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. Sounds good right? But when you look at the organization’s board you see it is packed with education union members and that their major funder is the NEA.
They also reference a number of recent studies showing an initial decline in student performance when participating in a choice program but leave out the caveat that over time those students eventually outperform their peers in traditional schools.
They also ignore a recent study showing that participation in Florida’s tax credit program resulted in more students attending and graduating from college when compared to their peers who remained in traditional district schools.
When looking at the wide body of studies there is consistent evidence that giving parents options improves student outcomes, not just for students taking advantage of that choice but also for students staying in traditional district schools.
A good collection of the available studies can be found here
SAC warns its members that ESAs are not constitutional because they send public funds to private, sometimes religious schools.
This is simply not true. The proposed legislation in Missouri would send money donated by private individuals or businesses (in return for a tax credit) to parents and families eager for better school options.
It would allow families to decide what works best for their child. That could be tutoring, therapy, homeschooling, transferring to another district or charter school or choosing a private school.
That means that families are the regulators of what they consider best for their children.
That means that we would be funding a student’s education and not an educational institution.