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Event Transcript
December 13, 2000

New York City Conference on School Choice

Afternoon Remarks

    The Honorable John Norquist, Mayor of Milwaukee
    The Honorable Bret Schundler, Mayor of Jersey City

MAYOR NORQUIST: óthat happened in Milwaukee. It hasn't been an intellectual exercise or a debate about the market. It's a debate about who should have power over education. And parents in America, in the democracy that we live in want to have power over their education. And that's true of rich and poor, people that live in the suburb or live in the city, Republicans, Democrats, when it gets down to their own children they get serious.

They're not going to be satisfied with a school that they think will not work for their child, a school where their child would be hurt or not be able to focus on their studies and become the successful person that parents, all parents, even defective parents want their children to become.

And so the movement in Milwaukee for school choice really did come from parents. Not as a political ideological test. It wasn't just a way to score points. It was a way to solve some really significant problems that we have.

One of the parents who was dissatisfied with MPS later on became a member of the legislature, Polly Williams, and that made a big difference. Here we had somebody who understood the situation from the standpoint of parents and had some power and was able to raise public awareness and organize parents, and starting out from a very small base of angered parents, spreading it through the community and raising the issue so persistently, never giving up. And convincing other elected officials, including myself.

Originally I opposed school when I was in the state assembly. And while I was in the state senate Polly Williams finally converted me because I found myself mouthing arguments that I really couldn't believe, that I found were ridiculous. Many of the arguments against school choice, almost all of them are based on the fear of people that are afraid of it for a variety of reasons, and don't want to just come out and say what the real reason is.

Choice opponents by and large are people who are afraid they won't be chosen. [Laughter] and that is an understandable thing. Last night in the Bronx I attended a town hall meeting and Rudy Giuliani made the point that the problem with opponents of choice is that their priority is employment security. He said after everyone has their job, then we'll worry about the kids. And I want to say that job security is very important. Job security is something that shouldn't be taken lightly. If somebody's very wealthy and comes from a comfortable family and their parents were rich, you know, it's easy for them to make light of job security.

My sister is a teacher in MPS and doesn't agree with me on this issue. Although I think I've moved her a few clicks not being quite so much against it. But she values her job. She doesn't want to be laid off. She doesn't want to have to struggle and look for another place to work, any more than anybody else would.

So when people talk about public school teachers opposing school choice because all they care about is their job security, I don't think it's a good idea to mock that concern. Because that is a concern that's a legitimate one. It just doesn't happen to be as important as the education of the children. And when you have a system that's set up for the security of the employees over any other consideration, that can be a real obstacle to higher quality.

This morning some of the speakers talked about the impact that monopoly has. I think Gary Johnson from New Mexico. He's exactly right. When you have a monopoly and they can take their customers for granted you tend to somewhat lower quality and somewhat higher prices. And we see that phenomenon in the economy all the time, including some of the industries that hang around the Congress and spend more money on lobbying than they do on research and development, like Archer Daniels Midland. They spend all their time trying to make sure that we can't import sugar from other countries so that they can keep the sugar price high. And maybe that doesn't hurt us that much, to have a slightly higher price of sugar and lower quality, but certainly we can't afford it in K through 12 education. We need to have the highest quality we possibly can.

Now, there are a lot of things you can say about school choice and I don't want to try to say everything about it. Maybe we'll have some time for questions so we can get into whatever your particular interest is. But I do want to say who benefits from school choice. Well, I think everybody that's here that supports school choice would say the children benefit from school choice. You have competition trying to attract their interest or their parents' interest. So that's pretty obvious. And the parents benefit from school choice.

But there are other people that benefit from school choice. Cities benefit from school choice. In fact, cities are uniquely the settings where school choice would be. Because cities are where there's enough people together to create markets where you can have multiple suppliers of goods and services and lots of consumers to buy them. Monopoly is not a good idea in a city because the city is a place where you can have a really, really rich marketplace.

And we see that with higher education in this country. It is the big cities where most of the great universities and colleges are. Not all of them, but most of them. Here in New York you have Columbia and NYU and City College and about forty other colleges and institutions of higher learning. And they're in the city.

But when you get to K through 12 education in the United States suddenly the city is thought of as the least desirable place to be. It can vary from city to city, but let's just take one of the cities in America that's had the most association with urban pathology, Detroit. They have school choice in Detroit. They've had it for a long time. If you have money and kids you leave town. That's school choice that you'll never hear the critics of school vouchers complain about. They won't focus on that. But the poor are left behind. The resources of people that are middle-class, upper middle-class and wealthy are gone. And the school system that's left behind is largely dominated by the poor. And that's school choice based on geography. You move to Macomb County or Oakland County. You get outside of Detroit and you solve your problems that way.

So we already have school choice in every major metropolitan area in this country, but it's school choice that doesn't work for cities. And doesn't take advantage of the natural advantage that the city has with centrality of the marketplace, large density of population, diversity of population, and as it has with every other market.

I mean, just think about it with restaurants. Compare the restaurant selections that you have in New York City with the restaurant selections that you would have if you were in Minot, North Dakota. I don't have anything against Minot, North Dakota, but there's not a lot of East Indian restaurants for example. [Laughter] I'm sure there's none. But, you know, you get into, you get into the ACT and SAT scores for K through 12 education and you're going to find North Dakota is right up there. Iowa, North Dakota, those are the states that compete at the high end. But they don't in terms of universities. I mean, no disrespect for North Dakota or North Dakota State, but they really don't compare favorably with NYU or Columbia or City College of New York in terms of the market demand to go to those places.

And so you'd think New York being the biggest city with the most people living in the smallest square mile area, that this would be the best possible marketplace you could find for K through 12 education. But what's stopping that? Well, what's stopping it is that you have an overlay of a monopoly that basically forces people to use it. Or if they have lots of money they can go to a private academy or school, or they can leave town and go to Scarsdale or some other wealthy suburb where they can be assured that they'll only have children that are likely to be doctors' kids or wealthy in some way and less likely to have problems.

That doesn't work very well for the city. And I would argue it doesn't work very well for the country. Because we're missing out on tremendous opportunities.

Now, there are models that we can look at. There are places in the world we can look at. Most of the countries in Western Europe, Canada, all have school choice of one kind of another. In Canada, because of the desire of French Catholics to protect themselves, their culture and their religion from English domination, they insisted on having a public system that allowed the Catholic choice, and eventually Jews were able to get it. So that if you live in Montreal or Toronto you can go to Jewish school, Catholic school or public school. And that's a form of school choice that developed. They probably didn't consciously think of it as school choice.

And throughout Europe there's variations on that theme, usually caused by a desire for religious education. In Holland they actually consciously created a school choice program which they've had since 1924. They had a brief hiatus between 1940 and '45 when they were not allowed to have any choices. But they've had school choice right up to this day. And it's a western democracy which is respected by everyone and it's worked really well.

But we don't even have to look overseas to see a model for school choice. And incidentally, before we stop looking overseas, it's impossible to find a model in the western democracies that is as monopolized by public ownership of facilities as you have in the United States. There's nobody else that does it like we do it. And there's lots of reasons for it which you could hear from historians about, you know, Horace Mann and all the other people that helped us end up in the situation we're in today. The anti-clericism, the fear of immigrants and all those sorts of things that helped to create the monopoly situation that we have today.

But it is possible to just look at the United States and see a system that works really well. It works all over the nation. And that of course, is our system of public colleges and universities, religious colleges and universities, and private colleges and universities.

I would argue based on the example of our Pell grants, G.I. Bill and state tuition grants, the three sources of vouchers in higher education, that most states have some kind of tuition grant program to go along with the Pell grants and the G.I. Bill -- based on that experience I think we could predict that public K through 12 schools can attract the positive attention of parents. That public colleges and universities thrive within the environment of Pell grants, G.I. Bill and state tuition grants. And so too could K through 12 public schools. They can thrive if they were given the opportunity. They could thrive. Of course only to the extent that they serve the children and attract the positive attention of parents.

Now, what has happened in Milwaukee? Ten years ago, because of the grassroots support that we had, and also some assistance from people who did have ideological feelings, motives ó the Bradley Foundation, which is clearly a conservative foundation, they were very helpful in terms of paying for private vouchers to go along with the very limited choice program that we had, this coalition came together. And finally ten years ago we established what was a very limited choice program. You could have no more than a thousand students at the beginning. It couldn't be for religious schools. And there were all kinds of strings attached to it. But nevertheless it was way oversubscribed. We had to establish a private voucher program to go along with it.

It has gradually grown, and four years ago, in a big breakthrough, we were able to get through the legislature, and with the support of the governor, allowing choice to expand to the religious schools. Now, our reason for that wasn't because, at least in my case, it wasn't because I was trying to spread religion. I'm a Presbyterian. And not in the sense of a Presbyterian a hundred years ago. I'm in the Presbyterian Church that is so tolerant that we even allow people who believe in God to come to our services occasionally. [Laughter] I do not believe in creationism. I just refuse to believe that the earth was created three thousand, five hundred, whatever, five thousand years ago, whatever it's supposed to be. I believe that God would be capable of having his own time schedule, or as we'd say it, his or her own time schedule [laughs]. And that, you know, that's a metaphorical thing. Whatever the seven days is. I don't believe in creationism.

But I do believe that giving parents options to go to school where they want their children to go, where they think their children will learn how to read and their children will learn how to get the lessons that they need to improve their life and to succeed in this world and not fail.

If parents want to send their kids to a Missouri Centered Lutheran school or a Wisconsin Centered Lutheran school where they do teach creationism, if thatís their decision and no one is forcing them to do it and they want to take their voucher just like you would if you were in a GI Bill or the Pell Grants, any of those other state tuition grant programs and you can go to Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, where they also believe in a very fundamentalist form of Lutheranism or if you want to go to Yeshiva University here in New York you can use the GI Bill to do that. The violation of Church and State by the definition of critics of school choice happens all the time in higher education.

Anyway, if you want, if a family in Milwaukee believes that their child should go to this Lutheran school that teaches creationism thatís okay with me because at least they learn how to spell creationism. And if later on in life they go into college and study science and they want to question what they learned about creationism and look at some other ideas, theyíll be able to read about those ideas and discover that.

And the things that parents in Milwaukeeís inner city and throughout the city there are parents, you donít have to live in a particular part of the city to be eligible for school choice. What they want for their children is a good education. If that includes religion or a nonreligious private school or the public school that is their choice and thatís what drives it. And what has happened in Milwaukee is that parentís decisions now are very important. Iím sorry if Iíve run a little bit over here, but I have to complete the thought. The situation that we had before school choice I want to just give you an idea of what it looked like in terms of the public schools. The state aid amount for public schools has gone up steadily throughout the years. Right now itís at $5,600.00 and thatís the school choice voucher amount, $5,600.00. Ten years ago it would have been different, but letís say it was $3,000.00. The way the State of Wisconsin counts kids for school aid purposes, the third Friday of September was the day they were counted. And in Milwaukee letís say the school aid amount there was $3,000.00. On that day a child was worth $3,000.00 and there was great effort made to get people to come, ice cream, movies, all kinds of things to get people in the building so that they could be counted for school aid purposes. So on that day on that Friday they were worth $3,000.00. The following Monday what is the child worth? Especially if it was a child with behavioral problems, learning problems of one kind or another? Then maybe they are not worth anything and that was a real problem for us. That was the attitude.

More and more we were labeling children as learning disabled so they could get specialized aid, more aid without having to really teach them. And the focus was all on the institution and the preservation of the institution, not on the parents. What has happened now is completely revolutionary. Itís made a huge difference. The public schools are getting better. There are more Montessori schools, more language specialist schools, more schools that people want. There are schools that have lackey ideas that parents wouldnít choose. They are not being created. The schools that are being created are the ones that parents would want to choose. MPS as Michael pointed out over 50,000 of our families now use extended daycare. Now that might sound, there is a crass sort of selfish reasons why parents would want that. That way they can go to work. On the way to work leave the child at school and then come back and pick them up at the end of the day. They donít have to deal with daycare in between. But MPS is doing that because they want parents to choose MPS. So they are improving it in quality, improving it in convenience for parents, improving it all the way through. And the same thing is true with the religious schools and the private schools. They are not automatically perfect. Somebody was saying the Roman Catholic schools are better. There are great things about some Catholic schools, but some of them need improvement. All of them need improvement if they want to continue to attract the interest of parents in Milwaukee.

The equation has changed. Itís no longer the system making all the judgments. Now itís the parents making judgments. Now living in Milwaukee is superior experience in some ways between the two voucher programs we have, one, which doesnít have income limits, which I think Brett would appreciate when he comes up here. And all of the other innovations including open enrollment, being able to live in the city, go to school in the suburbs; we have maximized choice and are continuing to push the boundaries of it as far as we possible can so that Milwaukee has an advantage. Milwaukee is the best place to be if you want to educate your kids. Schools can now be part of the amenity package for living in Milwaukee, the amenity package, which gets sold so vigorously from suburb to suburb. This is a better suburb then that suburb. And the cities were never even part of the discussion. Now we can point out that we have programs that make Milwaukee a better place for educating your children.

And so that has changed things and we will continue to fight for that change. We would appreciate having more places in the United States, and I hope that eventually Cleveland is able to preserve their program. And I hope eventually that New York could see the benefit of this so that New York can be one of the best places for K through 12 education in the country be it public, private or parochial. Thank you.

MALE VOICE: Thank you Mayor Norquist. Now weíll hear from another national leader, a Mayor who has fought for school choice in his community and across the country. And thatís Mayor Brett Schundler.

Mayor Schundler is serving his third term as Mayor of Jersey City. He was elected first at the age of 33 and has been reelected twice with progressively larger percentage of the vote and landslides in a city that is only 9% republican, although he is the first republican mayor in Jersey City since 1917. He has received national acclaim for other issues including reduction in crime, innovation and securitization of debt, taxes. And he hasnít just put his words forth, his rhetoric. He has been acting personally in private scholarship program in Jersey City and in personally opening charter schools and promoting the nine charter schools that are currently operating in Jersey City.

I hope youíll join me in giving a large, new will welcome to Mayor Brett Schundler.

MAYOR SCHUNDLER: Thank you all for caring about this issues, which I think is the most important issue when it comes to expanding opportunity for each of our neighbors here in the United States.

To me this issue fundamentally is not about public schools versus private schools. The issue fundamentally is about who is going to have power in education. Is power going to be held by politicians or is power going to be held by parents?

I want to do a quick little survey just so we can get a sense of this particular crowd. How many people in this audience believe that politicians always do what they feel is in the best interest of the public and never put their own political interest first? Would you raise your hands? Whenever I ask that we get the same response based in the sense of people not raising their hands and in the sense of people laughing at the question. And thatís interesting because Iíve asked that to a lot of different audiences. Iíve asked that question not only in affluent republican suburban districts, but Iíve asked that in housing projects in Jersey Cityís lowest income neighborhoods. And I find that almost no matter where you go people appreciate that politicians are human beings and just like all the rest of us they have their own self-interests. And that in fact even though they tell us on a campaign trail that they will always do what is right for us that they often do what is in their own best interest. They may for instance be susceptible to doing something simply because a powerful education interest group tries to impress on them that if they donít theyíll do everything they can do throw them out of office. That has been known to happen

This being the case, one of the reasons why we donít get reform in public education isnít that we donít know what we ought to do. Itís that those who have power to effectuate necessary changes are afraid to do what is right. I hear it all the time. People say, well, why donít we just fix the public schools? An the answer is because those who have the power to fix the public schools are afraid to do what is right because there are those who are threatening them. So they take the initiatives that they themselves believe in that theyíll do everything they can to throw them out of office. If you transfer power to parents an amazing thing happens cause parents donít have to worry about the next election. All they care about is what is in the best interest of their children.

I am in a city that has very high percentage of low-income citizens. I used to say Jersey City is like New York, which has both rich and poor except we donít have the rich. We are becoming economically innovated now and I am proud of that. But the reality is that the bulk of Jersey Cityís population is still poor and working class. And you have people who are struggling. And there are times when I hear people say the problem in education, especially in the poor areas, is that parents donít care about their children. I got to tell you that is just not the case. There may be a very small number of parents who are in such great personal difficulty, be it with drugs or some other problem, that they are really not engaged with their children as they ought to be. Usually in those instances you have the division of youth and family services coming into the situation and taking the children out of that home.

Iíll tell you what is a frequent situation. Whatís frequently the case is that you may have a young woman who got pregnant while she was thirteen or fourteen years old. She ended up having a baby and she wasnít able to finish high school. Now she is working at a job that hardly pays much at all. And to make enough to pay the rent she has to work a significant number of hours. So there is nobody there in the afternoon when the child comes home. She is already having a difficult time to provide the kind of attention to her child on her own time that she would like. But the child during those afternoon hours is frequently all by himself. Now in an environment like that it shouldnít surprise us the child is not doing particularly well. And again youíll have a politically dominated public school system where if a teacher, even on their own volition, would choose to stay after and work with a particular child, because the school district canít pay overtime, do it on their own volunteer time. That person can be made a pariah in that school district because of the impact of one of these education interest groups that we were talking about before. Thatís a reality. And so you have a situation where so as not to be socially ostracized that teacher may not stay after. There is no one to be with that child.

Now then if you go and you say to that woman if that system is not going to provide for your child what your child needs, not just the attention during the day, but even for that matter in your particular circumstance help in the afternoon, we want to let you look at another option. That woman is not going to say I donít care about that. She is going to take advantage of it immediately. This idea that lonesome parents donít care is absurd. They care tremendously well. When we passed charter school legislation in New Jersey and we began right out of the shoot to create charter schools in Jersey City, my own community, the people who were first applying for those charter school options were almost across the board amongst the lowest income residence of my community. The charter school I opened wasnít targeted to any particular segment of the Jersey City citizenry. It wasnít targeted towards the affluent or the poor. It was open to anybody on a first come first serve basis.

We ended up having just as a function of those who applied and the lottery system that is used to choose those when you have more applying then you have spaces, we ended up having our school be 85% African American, 90% school lunch eligible, which is to say lower income, but 80% from single parent families. These are all these parents supposedly, these low income parents supposedly who wonít take initiative if choice is offered to them. But they were the first to take initiative. The reason why is that their child wasnít doing well before. They saw their child in a school that was not addressing their childís need. They saw their child doing poorly.

When I opened a school and among other things that include after school programs for the young people, they saw that as a school, which would help meet their particular need. So these parents who are not being able economically to spend the time with their child that they would like to, they right away take advantage of the opportunity to get their child into a school that would work better for their particular child. And I can tell you my city is filled with people who may not have a lot of money, but they care about their children desperately. In fact, their children are the better part of the meaning in their lives. For many of them, in some instances, again, itís a young person who may be limited their own potential because they never finished high school. In many instances you have immigrants in my city. Itís 50% immigrants, 50% of my citizens donít speak English at home. And they have left fine jobs in the country they came from, but they wanted something better yet for their son or daughter. So they came to this country. Here because the parent may not be able to speak the language, they may be cleaning floors for a living.

One of my own babysitters for my daughter was a high school teacher in the Ukraine. Here she is a babysitter making $10.00 an hour because she canít speak English. The bottom line is she came to this country because the one thing she wanted more then anything else in life was that her child would have the opportunity that America offers. Thatís a parent who cares. She doesnít make a lot of money, but she cares. And if we provide the opportunity for parents to look at what is best for their child, they are going to take that opportunity and they are going to demand the very best. Itís not going to be enough for a school to meet minimum standards. They are going to demand if they have choices that their child be able to go to the school that best helps their particular child learn. Not all children are the same and it wonít always be the same school that is best for each individual child. But they are going to demand for each of their individual children the school that best helps that child learn. And if they have the power to demand that the school is going to provide them what they want because the money is going to follow that parentís choice.

So we were talking about public schools and we were talking about private schools. They are all going to work harder to provide exactly what is needed to help different children reach their potential. Thatís what school choice is all about. Itís about giving the person who really cares about their child, not their next election, the opportunity to get the help that their particular child needs. Whether itís from a public school or private school it doesnít matter. What matters is that the help is exactly what is called for.

And Iíll just close on this last note. If at the end of the day we do this not only will we find that parents are able to get their child the educational opportunity that should be the birthright of every American, but additionally we are going to find the taxpayers save a mint.

One of the ways I am looking to try to effectuate school choice, John, in Jersey City is by creating a state tax benefit for charitable giving to scholarship foundations. If you give to a scholarship foundation now you get a federal tax deduction. If we created a state tax credit that is worth the same amount as the federal tax benefit to a benefactor, you would end up being able to raise twenty times as much money according to an economic analysis that weíve had done. For some who gave a dollar it would only cost them fifteen cents at the end of the day. That would be the most leverage giving they can get. I should say itís the most leverage giving they could give.

There would still be charities that still would be having to put money of their own into that foundation. But it would be an opportunity for them to really get some bang for their buck. Not only because of the tax benefit, but also because what more important goal is their in expanding educational opportunity for every child. Well, we are looking at doing this in New Jersey now. And if that passes one of the things that is going to happen is you are going to see, according to this economic study, 80,000 additional children be able to look at private school options. If that happens you are going to decrease overcrowding in our public schools without taking one property tax dollar from them. Weíll have fewer children but the same budget leaving more money for child for those who remain. It will cut down revenues going to the state. But the state is currently preparing to spend 12.6 billion dollars building new public schools to decrease class sizes. Here you can do it by letting private sector build new privately managed schools. Save that 12.6 billion, which is equal to a billion dollars per year just in capital financing costs. You could also save the operating costs of staffing up all those schools.

So in short, you can save far more on the spending side then you lose on the revenue side with the tax credit. The net, according to this economic analysis would be around 500 million dollars or better. It could be used to lower property taxes for every homeowner in the State of New Jersey.

So at the same time that we transfer power to parents so they can get the education that is best for their children and then call schools to focus on what really works to help children and put their resources where it would make a difference. At the same time that we do all of that, we could end up with our public schools having more money per child and smaller class sizes and taxpayers having lower property taxes. I donít see anything wrong with doing the right thing to help both, children, our schools and our taxpayers. Thank you.

[next section] [previous section]


Center for Civic Innovation.



This conference also available as MI CONFERENCE SERIES #4


Introduction and Opening Remarks

Welcome by Henry Olsen, The Manhattan Institute

The Honorable Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mayor of New York, with brief video presentation

The Honorable Gary Johnson, Governor of New Mexico

The Honorable Frank Keating, Governor of Oklahoma

Panel Discussion: Synthesizing the Evidence: What Research Tells Us about the Effect of School Choice on Student Achievement

Jay Greene, Manhattan Institute

Paul Peterson, Harvard University

Eugene Hickok, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education

Moderator: John Gardner, Milwaukee Public Schools

Panel Discussion: Report from the Grassroots: Responding to the Growing Demand for Alternatives

Mikel Holt, Milwaukee Community Journal

Teresa Treat, Children First CEO America

T. Willard Fair, Urban League of Greater Miami

Carol Reich, Beginning with Children Foundation

Moderator: Jeanne Allen, Center for Education Reform

Afternoon Remarks

The Honorable John Norquist, Mayor of Milwaukee

The Honorable Bret Schundler, Mayor of Jersey City

Panel Discussion: Choice and the Constitution: Debating New and Old Questions about the Constitutionality of Vouchers

Clint Bolick, Institute of Justice

Robert Chanin, National Education Association

Charles Fried, Harvard Law School

Elliot Mincberg, People for the American Way

Moderator: Joseph Viteritti, New York University

Afternoon Remarks

Professor Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor

Panel Discussion: The Future of School Choice: Learning from Michigan and California and Considering New Models of Increasing Educational Opportunity

Matthew Miller, syndicated columnist

Joe Overton, Mackinac Center for Public Policy

John Coons, University of California at Berkeley Law School

John Faso, New York State Assembly Minority Leader

Moderator: Bruno Manno, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation


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