December 13, 2000
New York City Conference on School Choice
Panel Discussion: The Future of School Choice: Learning from Michigan and California and Considering New Models of Increasing Educational Opportunity
How will the outcome of school choice ballot initiatives in Michigan and California shape the future of the movement? What lessons should be learned at the local, state and federal levels? Panelists will also discuss different models of increasing educational opportunity and future strategies for increasing school choice.
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
MR. OLSEN: Weíll now move to our final panel, which is discussing the Michigan and California situations and the future of school choice. And Bruno Manno of the NEKT and the Fordham Foundation will be the moderator and he will introduce each of the panelists.
MR. MANNO: We must be out of here by five, Iíve been told. So we are really going to stick to the schedule and I would ask my panelists to help us stick to this schedule.
MALE VOICE: You can go another five, ten minutes. We can get out of here at 5:10.
MR. MANNO: Okay. So weíve gotten a bit of a reprieve, but not much.
So letís get into the panel, The Future of School Choice: Learning from Michigan and California and Considering New Models of Increasing Educational Opportunity. I know not all the panelists are here, but Iíll introduce them and perhaps the last one will walk in at some point.
And weíll follow the order that is presented in the program. First will be Matt Miller, who is a nationally syndicated columnist, a regular contributor to a variety of publications, the New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly and other national publications.
Secondly, Joe Overton, there he is. We are all here now. Joe Overton, who is a Senior Vice President of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan, he is also a member of the state bar of Michigan.
John Coons, who is now Emeritus with the University of California, Berkley Law School.
And finally, John Faso, who was elected minority; he was elected by his minority colleagues to be republican leader of the New York State Assembly in 1998. He was first elected to the Assembly in 1986.
First Matt. You are welcome to come here or stay there, whatever you prefer.
MR. MILLER: Is the mike on? Can people hear me? Why donít I just stay here, if thatís all right, if people can hear me. We have like twelve minutes?
MR. MANNO: Maybe as a ground rule if you havenít finished by twelve Iíll stand up and youíll get the hint.
MR. MILLER: Got it or just give me a high sign. Let me talk quickly then.
I come at this issue as what I would say a pragmatic progressive, not unlike the spirit of Secretary Reich who just spoke. And my feeling, my motive in reporting and writing about the voucher issue has been to help the education of poor kids. And I spend a lot of time, I live in LA, reporting on teachers and kids and the public school system in LA. And I am convinced that the left and democrats have to embrace some form of choice as part of, not as a panacea, but as part of what an answer has to be to move the iceberg on a debate that right now, as weíve seen all day, is so caught in passion on both sides. That at the rate we are going with the kind of litigious-ness and animosity on both sides another generation would go by and vouchers programs that serve a fraction of 1% of kids nationally wonít really move much. And another generation of kids will come out of the system every ten or twelve years without their schooling being improved in a way that matters.
Let me offer a couple of thoughts. And just in terms of pragmatism also on the religious question just so you know where I am coming from. I am Jewish. Iíve spent days in parochial schools in LA. If I were a parent in an inner city school in LA that was unsafe and it wasnít educating my child, I would fight like hell, is the wrong word to use I guess, to get them into a parochial school and explain to my child at home that we donít buy all the religious stuff if I thought they were [unintelligible]. So I am coming at this very pragmatically.
I think in terms of the future of this movement, especially for the referendums that folks on the panel will discuss more this fall, that the future really has to be as Secretary Reich discussed, as Clint Bolick has embraced at different times and as I discussed in a piece I did in July í99 in the Atlantic Monthly is that the choice and the equity camp somehow have to come together. And we have to find a way to form some kind of grand bargain between those who argue with justice that poor kids need more resources because they come to school with a lot more problems. And those who argue with justice, the current gridlock system especially in these major urban bureaucracies, needs to be shaken up somehow because itís mostly or so much of what happens in urban school systems is a battle among interest groups comprised of adults for different shares of the pie.
I am working on a profile of Roy Roma who took over, as you know, about five months ago as the Superintendent of schools in LA. And the problems that he faces and the problems that he faces just in trying to arbitrate disputes among the adults in the system as they go through their current union contract negotiation, and Roma comes to this as a man who is an impeccable democrat with pro union credentials who has dealt with teacher negotiations hands on back in Denver when he was governor. These problems are enormous. And yet if you talk to all the various players, as I do, itís easy or itís possible to empathize with the actions being taken by all the players in the system because they are all in this dysfunctional equilibrium right now where itís understandable why senior teachers donít want to give up certain perks, why principals donít want to give up certain powers or get certain powers. And yet the net result of this is if these systems are in a gridlock it makes it almost impossible to focus on improving classroom instruction for poor kids, which has to be the goal of what we are doing.
I would say looking forward that the lessons of the couple initiatives we just had point this way. I think that Tim Draper in the voucher initiative that he spent twenty million on of his own money, Jack, in California represented and folks realize this was a universal voucher proposal that would have given I think a $4,000.00 voucher to every school kid in California. It was trashed at the polls and I think rightly so. The reason being that it was a universal system so it would go to all kids well off and poor alike. It had no scheme or rules in it to assure that those who were less well off had a chance to fair well in the game in terms of being picked by schools. And could also rightly be criticized as giving massive subsidiaries to better off families who are already paying to put their kids into private schools. So I think it was right that it was defeated on policy grounds. But I think that Draperís willingness to spend this much money, meaning that for the first time he would be, the voucher side would have resources equal to the union side that would be opposing it means that Draperís effort represented perhaps the biggest lost opportunity in twenty years to shake up urban school systems.
If he had had, and I think that the way the pro voucher folks ought to be thinking about coming back to this issue. If they had had that kind of resource behind a targeted plan it would have been aimed at say a handful of major urban systems, Los Angeles, Sacramento where people know there are big problems, I think it would have been much more difficult for fair-minded voters in the middle to be persuaded by the unions who opposed these systems in all their forms to prevail.
Now I know and I am very interested because I am ignorant of why and I remain somewhat mystified by the fact that Michiganís plan went down so dramatically. I know they didnít have anything like the resources that Draper put in to his plan in California. But I think one area that the pro choice folks and all those who cared about the education of poor kids need to be thinking about is how to get big resources around a plan that would be targeted to low income kids in areas where this can be tested for a while and where a constituency could develop for these kind of ideas.
In terms of the federal level and it now looks like I suppose it is President Bush who is going to be taking office. And he has, although he didnít stress it in his campaign, he has a, he doesnít want to call it a voucher plan, but a sort of a quasi voucher as part of his plan for reforming the federal component of education. I would suggest, and again this relates to what would happen on the state or the federal level, that the paradox in the way that the politics work and maybe even the constitutional issue having listened to the earlier panel, is that it is always easy, the politically easiest thing.
This is the way things started in Milwaukee. Itís the way that things tend to get started is that they least common denominator that can be agreed on is a pilot program with some kind of small amount of funding. And Bushís plan, as some of you know, involves if failing schools after three years donít show signs of improvement they can take their title one money and combine it with some state funds and have a $1,500.00 voucher essentially that they could use for some other purpose. I think these kind of small plans, which are useful only to actually fill up catholic school seats, not that there is anything wrong with that, but thatís the only practical use right now for vouchers that are pitched that low. Itís just not enough to do two things that are important. If you donít raise the per pupil spending in the voucher, and I think Bush could do this, to something that is equal or higher then the current per pupil spending so that you are offering the left and advocates of poor kids who believe that more money is needed some incentive to sign on.
Without raising the value of this dramatically you can attract the left and also address some of these problems. Plus you canít get a real market test of whether new schools would actually form in response to these voucher plans, which after all is one of the major cases that free market advocates make. If you are giving $1,500.00 that doesnít even begin to cover the capital cost of new school construction or the upfront investment that would be required. So youíll never get a real market test with amounts that small. And so I would submit for those practical reasons Bush should be thinking about raising the money.
The other reason, and this is both for a president Bush, if thatís where we are, and for the kind of state level initiatives that may be discussed is that without making these plans much bigger it will be impossible to separate the political coalition of minority leadership, which after all represents the bulk of the kids who are effected and the teachers unions, which is the major opposition obviously. And I am pro teacher, by the way. This is not an anti-teacher thing. All the caveats apply about being for teachers and pay them more, especially in these urban settings because itís impossibly tough. But unless politically the choice movement can figure out a way to separate the alliance between minority leadership and the teachers unions, nothing will happen in this area. And the reason I think that minority leaders are making rational choices not to support vouchers for the most part is because so many of the voucher plans are tiny. And if you have a tiny proposal coming largely from a side of a political spectrum whose motives you distrust, what possible incentive if it leaves out 99% of the kids and families you represent would you have to split off from the teachers who after all are shoulder to shoulder with you politically on so many other major issues at the national level and all levels of government that matter a lot to your constituency. So I think that the political equation requires much bigger voucher plans that cover entire cities or entire states with whole communities in a city like Los Angeles or Baltimore or wherever getting as much or more resources available in a big choice, a long running experiment if there is any way to create the political equation that could make this work.
Let me toss out a couple of last thoughts. Iíve got two minutes. In terms of friendly advice to republicans since they will be leading, I am speaking before a market friendly institution like the Manhattan Institute, which will be supplying, I think, some of the intellectual leadership and firepower to the Bush administration that is dawning. I think itís important in this context to look at the broader agenda of those who tend to be the ones championing choice. For example, I think it deepens the suspicions of those on the left who might otherwise be attracted to choice programs when the republican presidential elect has at the heart of his agenda a massive tax cut that ends up favoring the wealthiest members of our society. And when you see the board political landscape in that context no issues exist in isolation. Coalitions and alliances form in response to the entire agenda of those who are perceived to be on the other side. And so it would be important for those who are pro choice to consider where Bushís tax cut fits in the scheme of things. If you are trying to send signals to a community that is impoverished the choice is part of the answer.
The last thing I would flag, just one of the fascinating things about Secretary Reichís proposal is the fact that when you have a traditional liberal, which we would have to call Bob Reich. You could call him liverwurst, but he would still be on the liberal side of the spectrum. What he is embracing in his voucher plan, which is so interesting for a liberal to be doing it, is essentially you could call it a risk adjusted payment to follow each child. The more at risk that child is the more money should go behind him. Itís not a bad proposition. What is interesting is this is precisely the proposal that republicans are pushing on Medicare reform. That the choice plans being proposed on Medicare involve the adjustment of premiums for risk. Itís a harder thing to do in healthcare, but itís a very interesting beginning of a theme you can see emerging if there is a democrat like Reich open to risk adjustment in social policy.
Let me leave it there. Thanks very much for listening.
MR. MANNO: Thanks, Matt. Next we go to Joe Overton to talk a bit about Michigan and what has occurred there.
MR. OVERTON: Good afternoon. As Bruno mentioned, my task is to explain what happened with the voucher proposal that was on the last general election ballot in Michigan. It was called proposal one. As I talk about this issue I can never begin without expressing gratitude to the people who were involved in proposal one effort, both those who support it financially as well as those individuals who worked very hard in a hard fought battle over many, many months.
We think that for Michigan it was the right thing to do. I understand there are individuals who believe that itís kind of given the movement of black eye. I think of Elliot Mincbergís comments earlier and how the unions are trying to spin the defeat both in Michigan and in California as if this is a setback to the movement. I donít believe in Michigan it is, although the perception is something that we will have to deal with.
What I would like to do is to talk a little bit about the background and design of proposal one to give you feel for its terms technically and the results. Then I want to talk a little bit about what I think is an effective strategy or the components of a strategy for school choice and how proposal one measured up. And then talk a little bit about some of the lessons we learned in Michigan and hopefully help those of you who are designing these programs in other states can learn and apply what we found out in Michigan.
One of the campaign managers of proposal one early on said that the reason these voucher proposals had failed repeatedly in other states, and I think now the statewide initiatives are numbered over twenty, is because of a lack of money. The supporters have always been outspent by the opposition in many cases, many times over. Well, I am here today to say that the reason why voucher proposals fail is not because of lack of money. This campaign proposal one spent I think when all the numbers are added up will be about twice as much as the opposition campaign spent. I understand there are lots of off book sources of support, but those are true on both sides. But itís not money. There is more to it then that. This plan failed by about a two to one margin. The vote statewide was 31% in support, 69% opposed.
Now some have criticized Michigan for seeking to go a statewide initiative route rather then seeking to advance school choice in some form through the legislature. And I need to clarify that in Michigan we have no choice. Michigan has perhaps what is the most restrictive constitutional prohibition on any type of grant, loan, tax, credit, voucher, you name it, of any state in the United States. In fact, as an attorney I really admire whoever drafted the language for Article 8, Section 2 of our constitution. Iíve been telling people if we had the same attorneys drafting Florida election law that drafted part of our constitution we would have had a president decided a month ago.
In order to address this issue we need repeal provision of Article 8, Section 2 in Michigan. And the program that was put together by a coalition of groups basically has three components. Two of the components were essentially political calculations to try and gain support for the voucher component. The three components were one, a guarantee, actually a constitutional guarantee of a minimum amount of funding for public schools. The second was a requirement that the legislature had got that teacher testing proposal or engage in teacher testing in academic subjects for teachers in public schools as well as teachers in private schools that accepted vouchers. And then the third component was a voucher that would be targeted initially to those districts we call failing school districts defined as those that fail to graduate at least 2/3rds of their students from ninth to twelfth grade. The amount of the voucher would be half of what the public schools spend to educate students or around $3,500.00.
Now, itís also confused some people. It didnít end there. There was also a provision that where it permitted local school districts via either the vote of the school board or a vote of the citizens in that school district to make their school district a voucher district. And all they needed to do that in the case of the citizens was a petition of 10% of the voters who voted for school board the last election. In some cases that would have been six people, six to twelve people in many cases would have been able to get this issue on a ballot. And thatís important as I discuss how this came out overall.
In any ballot campaign there are essentially two components to it in statewide initiative. The first component or the first phase is where you are trying to enlist the support of financial backers and other opinion leaders. If you are successful in attracting financial supporters and opinion leaders then you are going to be able to take your proposal to the voters statewide through a mass media campaign, which forms kind of the second phase of the program. Now I think the design of the plan as well as its execution had an impact on both of these areas as well as just in general political circumstances in the state.
First of all, with respect to phase one, Governor Engler was not only not supportive of this proposal, but he was actually hostile toward the proposal. And he not only early on predicted its defeat, but he worked behind the scenes to try and steer support away from the proposal. He worked not only republicans, other business leaders, but also worked to discourage financial support of the effort.
The Detroit leadership, Detroit is am important component of Michigan politics. The campaign worked with a coalition of African American leaders in Detroit to try and bring them on very early on in the campaign, which is a very wise thing to do. They did have an impact on the shape of proposal. However, when push came to shove in the latter part of the campaign, the Detroit leadership that had originally been there backed out. In fact, they not only took a neutral position, they ended up passing resolution opposed to the school choice proposal. And so early on we had a real lack of leadership that we would have like to have seen early in phase one both in terms of support and I think on the financial front even though the finances were not the determining factor, but also in opinion leaders around the state.
The effect of design on the mass media campaign or phase two of the campaign I think is very telling. First of all, this idea of combining what was assumed to be a popular teacher testing proposal to a voucher plan I think backfired. And in a sense itís trying to strap up an anchor to a bobber and hoping that the bobber will make it float. I mean the pivotal issue in this campaign was clearly the voucher. In fact, the signs as you would go around the state all they needed to say was no voucher. That was the opposition campaign, no vouchers. Vote no on proposal one. I agree with some of the other speakers that vouchers are a loaded term I think especially in Michigan a state with a history of opposition to [unintelligible]. We had a failed voucher attempt back in 1978, which went down nearly three to one. And Iíll speak on that a little bit more as we go on.
But the teacher testing strategy did two things. One, I think it encouraged a level of turnout among the public school establishment like Iíve never seen before. And if you think about it in a way itís a bit of a slap at public educators to say that the real problem is we have poor quality teachers. Very well may be true, but nonetheless it was taken as an affront. They did not want to be tested. I think many of us including mayors and attorneys donít want to be continually professionally tested. There is something about that that is distasteful. And so they were very adamant in coming out and getting engaged in the opposition campaign at the grassroots level all over the state, every community with great vigor.
Secondly, I think that administrators themselves were very exercised about this proposal, part of it on the teacher testing issue. And this came down to them not wanting to have teachers tested, I believe, and created another public relations nightmare to say, well, 25% of your teachers fail this teacher proficiency exam. Okay, Mr. Superintendent, what are you going to do about that in a very tight labor market?
It also diverted campaign resources and this I think is one of the key lessons. In a campaign, an initiative campaign on school choice we need to do a much better job of educating people on the issue. If you just run the propaganda campaign that this is good for kids without explaining how school choice works, we are going to lose and lose and lose. We have to increase the level of understanding of how school choice works before we are going to be effective in these proposals. And this could have been done better through the mass media, through the television and radio. It could have been done better, I think by more advanced planning and getting more local individuals enlisted in this campaign. But thatís one of the lessons.
And Iíll just summarize here with some of the lessons. Number one is an issue campaign is very different then a candidate campaign. You canít play the same game. You need to get more into the substance both in the educational pre-campaign work as well as some type of didactic element to the television, radio advertising itself.
Second, we think that we need to consider tax credits as a possible alternative to vouchers. There are a number of reasons why we have a structured a program at our organization, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, that would overcome some of the objections that tax credits canít help lower, middle income families. In fact, Mayor Schundlerís proposal he spoke of earlier is similar to the proposal that we are advocating.
And with that I will stop and if you have any questions Iíll be happy to answer those later on.
MR. MANNO: Thanks, Joe. Jack Coons from California.
MR. COONS: Thank you. I am going to stand up just to prove that I can. When you are joined with three, four, even persons who look like that you begin to think that you were invited to show that one of the blessings of being a supporter of choice is longevity. And I want to put that to rest before I put myself to rest.
But I must say that Secretary Reich and the two speakers just before me I agree with them so thoroughly in so many respects I suppose I can cease and exist here, but I made my trip on the redeye and Iíll be damned if I am not going to speak. You can think of mine as liverwurst if you like, but I prefer to think of it as Berkley blue cheese and here it goes. Iíve actually written it out so I wonít go over my time.
My generation has witnessed many proposals for school choice, some few of which have now taken root in law and practice. It is at last time to consider what it is that these successful states such as Wisconsin have understood that remains opaque to their brethren. Though effective and popular, the Milwaukee insight has so far eluded the genius of those who draft initiatives. In many states, including my own, the initiative will remain the indispensable constitutional tool for maintaining the identity of private schools and for bearing our old friend Jim Blane. But before we again commit the faith of choice to instruments that even diehards like me feel bound to reject, we must clarify our common objective.
What exactly is that larger tent of policy that could accommodate both the market enthusiast and the indispensable mainline voter? In search of this common purpose I start with two general observations about markets, the first theoretical, the other descriptive. The market is our favorite instrument, but as the public well understands and agrees it could never become an end in itself. As John Norquist well noted, to reduce school choice to another analogue of banks and airlines is aid and comfort for its enemies. Voters care more about the visible hand of the parent then they do about the invisible hand of Adam Smith. I will try to keep this forensic point in mind.
My descriptive point is simply this. There presently exists for many parents a very real market in state provided education. You who have purchased homes near popular government schools can attest to its liberating power. The full-blooded state monopoly that we all propose prefers to focus its grandest atrocities upon ordinary families and the poor. This truism may not decide who gets vouchers, but it certainly identifies the primary victims of the present regime. It also reminds us that at least in assessing raw self interest the rational middle class voter will discount the need for vouchers exactly to the extent of its own present arrange of choices.
Thus we may have to seek his sympathy on grounds broader then the market itself. Here I can suggest only a few among these human justifications. I proceed by way of six premises that deserve a larger place in this debate.
First, there is in fact no system of public schools in the United States. The OED makes the adjective public mean accessible to all citizens in the manner of parks, streets, libraries, pools and museums. Heroes of the Civil Rights movement have given their lives in support of this definition. But access to a state school today remains a privilege attached to residence. No Oakland child has a right to enroll in my well chosen neighborhood school in Berkeley.
Now educators like Plato might be indifferent to such balkanization by wealth, after all a common legislated teaching method in a common government curriculum. You know you look at segregation by social class and it might seem less malignant. Uniformity among schools can help to anesthetize our sense of injustice. The problem is that America is not a homogeneous community of right thinking Athenians. And premises two and three of mine will focus upon the implications of this diversity.
The second briefly is this. Our society lacks a common pedagogy. Itís teaching professionals ardent, deep conflict about method. Given this indeterminacy, the system lacks justification for conscription of any child for the particular method that happens to be employed by his assigned school.
But does not the common content of state education reduce the weight of this injustice? It might if it were in fact the case. And we do find some consensus regarding mastery of the three Rís plus science. In addition, we all want every child to be taught to obey the law. This consensus about substance is presently institutionalized in statutes of the fifty states that effect the curricula of private schools and home schoolers the laws that define truancy. The bear our societies agreement on correct content ceases providing us our third premise to wit.
Above the minimum set in the truancy statutes, everything concerning human value that enters the curricula of government schools is up for grabs and this must be so. On the question of good life we are people divided. There is not and cannot be any public curriculum expressing the moral significance of specific sexual behaviors, euthanasia, war, drugs, animal rights or gender roles. Extend this list, as you will. Now each state teacher will in fact make one of six responses to all such questions. These six answers are yes, no, maybe, I donít know, decide for yourself and we canít discuss it. Lacking any public measure of correctness, each and every actual response by the teacher must be local and purely adventitious. If the message offends the affluent family can escape. The rest, however, remain cultural captives, a guaranteed audience for the private opinions of some local emporium.
The fourth premise is related, but broader. Even if we as a people agreed on specific moral answers, the state could invoke no consensus regarding the ultimate sources, if any, of the childís basic obligation to respect them. Thus, in government schools the reason for being a good citizen shrinks to pure social contract. So just why contract itself should bind anyone at all remains a mystery. The teacher is impotent to invoke religious or perhaps even natural foundations. What is left is some version of Hobbs or Ralls or nothing. Imposing such a system upon a pluralist society makes education lawless, arbitrary and morally random. Haphazardly the state commissions individuals to impose their own private versions of the good life. Has he grasped this, even the most indifferent suburbanite begins to recoil and move toward choices, the benevolent hope that our poorest families might escape this babble. Of course some adult will necessarily impose his or her favorite content on the child.
Here I simply assert to premise number five. So long as the legal minimum is satisfied the parent is the best decider. There is plenty of supporting theory, but I wonít reargue it here.
These first five premises roughly express Americaís institutional problem. Together they suggest that our most salient common purpose must be the enfranchisement or the ordinary family and the poor in a market system accessible, hence, truly public schools in both sectors.
My sixth and final premise is that choice has a wide range of benign social effects. It maximizes those human goods on which Americans do in fact agree, goods that we thus can rightly claim as public. We must learn to argue for choice in these more affirmative terms. Recently we had good practice reporting the raising test scores, an outcome that is useful and important, but for me a bit esoteric. We need in addition to grasp and flaunt such simple and cherished concepts as the first amendmentís value of speech. Schools of choice constitute a form of media that is uniquely suited to dissemination of ideas held by person who typically are left unheard in the market place of ideas.
Through its chosen school the ordinary family can speak systematically not only to its own children, but through them to the world. Its ideas become embodied and thus transmitted. Children are the books waiting to be published by the poor. The ACLU should understand this. Perhaps one day it will. Consider also the impact of choice upon parental responsibility with its radiating implications for family life. The middle class knows these well and jealousy secures its own sovereignty. For the rest, however, parental sovereignty comes to an end with little Alice or Harryís fifth birthday. From that moment the child experiences family as a vulnerable and some time thing. The parents experience themselves as impotent. This displacement of the non-rich parent by the state is thoroughly poisonous. In collaboration with the psychological professions, you and I should learn to describe this calamity and offer school choices, therapy for the family.
There is, however, still another victim of the educational leviathan who merits our sympathy. In imitating chattel slavery our economy of education corrupts both parties to the bondage. Those given dominion over the ordinary family are themselves rendered insensitive and venial to the same degree that their subjects are rendered evasive and shiftless. In the end, the masters find themselves equally enthralled. As we would rescue the family so must we rescue the teacher from the role of monarch of the poor.
There are many other humane and persuasive recommendations that together we could be making for choice. These include the nourishment of inner group, tolerance, the integration of social class, racial integration and even the liberty of the child himself, a subject on which I will here offer only this brief word. It is within the family that the voice and choice of the maturing child have their best chance for a hearing. In paradox, perhaps, parental sovereignty is the efficient cradle of the childís own autonomy.
The bottom line, we must seek those policy solutions that secure choice first and foremost to the ordinary family and especially the poor. It would take an economist to miss this point just as it was missed yet again in California this year. Consider proposition 38. Regardless of age, handicap or family income, every schoolchild would received a flat $4,000.00 voucher. Tempting to the middle class. This would have been useful to about 1% of those families who are financially unable to pay an added tuition. Such a voucher would have been sufficient to start new private schools for those who can pay extra, but for them only. The catholic bishops, who with their own schools in place stood the most to gain, said no thanks reaffirming their 1981 decision to support vouchers, but only when they are properly designed. The media and public opinion took similar pro choice, but anti 38 position.
Having now observed and opposed each sets of debacles meanwhile applauding Milwaukee, I would today identify specific criteria for any future proposal for school choice whether by way of initiative or statute. In general, where the benefit is to be targeted exclusively upon a disadvantaged group, the less these criteria will bind. Conversely as eligibility for vouchers is broadened to include all children the following six conditions become more salient.
Have I got time for my six conditions?
MR. MANNO: Yes, you do in fact.
MR. COONS: One, public agencies including school districts, universities, whatever cities must be liberated and encouraged to form and/or operate deregulated schools that are financed only by vouchers or some equivalent. Consumers seek this public option and market theory thus requires it.
Two, private schooling identity must be protected by capping any present or future legislation effecting curriculum, hiring, or discipline. By that I mean either academic or behavioral.
Three, for each level and type of student the scholarship must be large enough, I agree, to attract diverse new private providers. The minimum may be roughly estimated at 80% of the average government school cost per pupil in each category of student.
Four, reflecting aspirations typical of todayís private schools, providers would select a portion, say 20%, of new admissions from non-rich families and refrain from pricing them out.
Five, reasonably transportation for the poor must be subsidized and six, consumer information must be temporarily facilitated by a [unintelligible] public system.
Honoring these six criteria would implement our common purpose as I conceive it. Proposals of this general design will not only make choice politically viable, but will be much less vulnerable to the sort of objections raised in Mondayís decision by the US Court of Appeals in the Cleveland Case.
Among the many models available my personal preference is a two-step initiative establishing a constitutional right to vouchers worth 80% of state school cost for children from families of modest means. Coupled with an empowerment of the state legislature to extend this same right to all families in accord with the six criteria. The middle class, that is people like us, can be counted on to secure that extension through the political process. And with Alan Sherman I would conclude go eat the liverwurst.
MR. MANNO: Thank you. Finally, Assemblyman Faso from New York.
MR. FASO: Well, good afternoon everyone. I am always concerned about being the last one on the program at the end of the day. But fortunately the room is somewhat darkened so I canít see whether or not your eyes are open or not, so that is encouraging to me. I appreciate the opportunity to come before you to present an alternative that I am advancing here in New York. We do not have the right to initiative in referendum in New York that has pluses and minuses. So I canít speak to the Michigan and California experience because it simply is not one that is appropriate for consideration in New York State.
However, what I have proposed and will again as we turn the new year propose again is a $1,500.00 refundable tax credit that would be available for educational expenses. It would be available to both the parents of public school students and nonpublic school students. It could cover items such as tutoring, SAT review courses, an academic summer camp or even the purchase of a personal computer used in a childís education. It would also be able to cover tuition expenses. It is a refundable tax credit meaning of course that those who do not owe any, have any taxable liability due to the state at the end of a tax year would still receive the benefit up to the amount of $1,500.00 if their expenses were that high. It has the advantage, I believe, of meeting some of the objections legally and constitutionally that would sure to arise from those who would oppose any school choice or alternative efforts in New York elsewhere. But it also would, I think, accomplish a very important political objective in order to obtain passage of some type of school choice in that it is eligible for both public school parents and nonpublic school parents. And I think that is an essential ingredient for achieving the political support that would be necessary in order to enact something.
It is very difficult I can tell you as the initial sponsor of charter schools here in new York State, it is very difficult to persuade suburban republican or democratic or upstate rural republican or democratic legislatures to support a concept like charter schools, which they did not see the need for in their particular districts or regions. In fact the only reason we passed charter schools for those of you outside of New York State was that Governor Pataki wisely attached the proposal for a legislative pay raise to whether or not we would pass charter schools. One might note parenthetically that perhaps we could pass an education tax credit next year if we had another legislative pay raise, but that is not in the offering.
But quite simply in order to build a political constituency for something like an educational tax credit it needs to apply to more then just poor urban parents. It needs to apply to parents regardless of whether or not they live in upstate or downstate in suburbs. Now the way we have devised this particular proposal it would phase out, the refundable tax credit would phase out for those taxpayers at joint incomes over $100,000.00 adjusted gross income. Some from other states have told me they thought that that number was rather high. I have colleagues in New York and especially in the Metropolitan area who have said to me we really should make it a little higher so the policeman and the nurse who are married are able, who might be making together $110,000.00 or $125,000.00, qualify for this. But leaving that aside, I think the concept of having some phase out after a certain amount of income would be also something that would be politically necessary in order to sustain passage.
We now in New York State spend 29 billion dollars for K through 12 education, 29 billion. Virtually all of it comes from local and state tax sources despite the recent national campaign where we heard a lot of discussion both in the senate race here in New York and in the presidential race about the federal role in education. I think most citizens are not quite aware that the federal government has very little role to play in the financing of elementary and secondary education. In New York itís between 5 and 6% of all of our expenditures come from Washington. The great bulk of our expenditures come from state and local sources. Twenty nine billion dollars and yet not a dime of it is directed by parents with the assistance of the tax code to help their children.
I would contrast what New York does, for instance, in K through 12 where we do nothing to help parents afford educational alternatives or supplementary educational services for their children. Compare that to what New York does at higher education levels. We have, for instance, a tuition assistance program. The tapped program, which this year will spend close to 800 million dollars in tuition assistance on an income based level to students, college students regardless of whether they attend public college or private college or religious college. In fact, one of the arguments that I often hear about choice and in fact that itís been raised to object to my educational tax cut proposal, tax credit proposal, is that somehow it diverts resources. Weíve heard this time and again. It diverts resources from the public school. And yet none of those arguments are made about the tuition assistance program. No one gets up to the New York legislature every year when we are doing the budget and says that 800 million dollars you spent for tap it diverts money away from the SUNY and CUNY systems of public higher education in our state. And indeed no one further gets up and says, you know, you should only use it for public higher education, not for someone who may want to go to St. Johnís or Le Moyne College or Iona College or other private colleges. The fact is we need to extend the opportunities for choice, extend the opportunities for parents as we are trying to raise standards all around the state for parents to purchase additional education services for their children.
Other states, there are a handful of other states that have either a tax credit or a tax reduction proposal. This proposal that I am making in New York would be the largest such proposal in the country. Fifteen hundred dollar refundable tax credit program for education expenses, it would get parents more involved in procuring services on an educational basis for their children. It would also, by the way, provide a fair amount of tutoring jobs for teachers who would seek to supplement their income. And it would also most importantly create a new role for parents in securing education services for their kids. And as we try to raise standards all throughout this state that is an essential ingredient getting parents involved and having the state assist parents who want to help their children.
I have some informational information about this proposal and I invite any of those of you who are from New York who might want to participate in this to contact me after this program and weíll see how we can work together to try to advance this in the New York legislature, which as you know I am reminded what was once said about making laws. The two things that people should never see being made is their sausages and their laws. Up in Albany 150 miles north on this river we have a supreme sausage factory. Perhaps only outdistanced by that and our nationís capital. But in order to achieve some public support on this that is necessary, itís a necessary prerequisite for advancing this proposal.
So I am happy to be here and I would be happy to respond to any of your questions about it.
MR. MANNO: Letís got to the questions now. Dave, do you want to start.
MALE VOICE: [Inaudible] Mr. Overton and Mr. Coons, Matt Miller referred to this and so did Mayor Norquist a little more obliquely. But it seems to me that no choice program has ever succeeded without the conspicuous leadership of the African American community. And I would like to ask whether you concurred with that, African American political leaders too?
MALE VOICE: Yes, I do. I agree. Therefore, you have to have a design, which responds to the needs of whichever group. And it seems to me that for example with all due respect a $1,500.00 tax credit is not going to start a whole lot of new schools even if itís refundable.
MALE VOICE: I think that obviously that it needs to be portrayed as not a white republican program. The extent of African American support that you need I think depends on the political jurisdiction that you happen to be in. In Michigan, Detroit is a very populous and politically important area. But at the same time you tend to have very low voter turnout there. The city of Detroit is still very much a political machine in the sense that itís hard for independent leadership to exert itself. In this case you had Counsel Baptist Pastors [phonetic] of Detroit in vicinity, an African American group that came out and actually published a call for vouchers in Detroit. And yet when, again as I said, later on when the Mayor, when Mayor Archer and the unions came in and began to lean on that community they folded. They not only opted, they not only took a buy that they actually came out opposed to this program that would have very much been a salvation for many people in their community. So I think that thatís always the goal that the design, in the process of that design must include the African American community. And I think they are very politically important. But I think there are other considerations there as well.
MALE VOICE: As I understand it there was terrific black support for Florida for the Bush program. And you have somebody here who really knows about it that you could talk to and heíll tell you the skinny on that subject.
MALE VOICE: [Inaudible]
MALE VOICE: Okay. Forget it then.
MR. MANNO: Okay, David and then the young lady back there and the young lady here.
MR. SEALY: Dave Sealy, City University of New York. This is a question about political strategy, not the pros and cons of these things, but picking up on the discussion about political strategy this afternoon. Some of the people in this room know that I published a book twenty years ago strongly urging the school choice be an essential part of any re-conceptualization of public education. And I was kind of hoping that we were ready at that time to begin to really discuss the merits of choice for educational reasons, all the reasons we heard about this morning. But it was not to be. And I think one of the reasons it was not to be is that whenever you try to discuss school choice you find yourself debating school vouchers.
So I am just wondering, the question I have for any of you that want to answer it. This whole conference, labeled as conference on school choice, most of what we have been doing is discussing the problems of school vouchers. And I donít have any problem with debating. I think we really ought to have debates about school vouchers including debates about the church, state. I have no problem. I do predict that probably within a couple of years the Supreme Court will remove the shield behind which we discuss the merits of having vouchers or choice of school.
However, I am just wondering whether it might not be better for those of you who do believe in vouchers to see if we could take advantage of what I think is hanging out there right now, the potential to really getting a strong consensus about the merits of having a great deal more school choice for all the reasons that have been mentioned here today. And try to get that discussed occasionally as just a merit of the educational thing. The press I can well predict. I can assure you the press will always if given an opportunity rush the debates about vouchers because they are much more contentious and therefore newsworthy. But just I wonder if you could give any reaction to whether we could. And I think potentially its there. I think with the charter schools now itís almost hanging out there.
Al Shanker [phonetic] himself before he died or maybe a few years before he died did begin to say we really need choice. And more and more people are saying we need choice within public education. But it hasnít been nailed down. I think a lot of people said they are for it only because of the threat of vouchers, not because they see the merits of it for education.
MALE VOICE: How do you feel about liverwurst?
MR. SEALY: Well, I was just going to say that I think Albany does as a sausage factory. You just have to get the right kind of sausage.
MALE VOICE: Got to get the right kind. Itís just a word. Itís just a word. Scholarship, grant, you know, lottery, if you can find a nice euphonious word letís have it.
MALE VOICE: I agree with you on two counts. One is that there is a great deal more education that is needed. And I think we need to avoid what Robert Reich talked about earlier as making this a bumper sticker campaign where I am pro voucher. I am anti voucher. We need to talk about school choice broadly. We need to talk about school choice as a continuum starting in the public system with inter-district choice or intra-district choice, inter-district choice, charter schools. And then breaking down those political and financial barriers that children [unintelligible] to a government school system and allowing them to choose the best and safest school for their children. And we need to continue to educate people on that.
Weíve had charter schools in the state of Michigan for six years now. We have 170 charter schools. We have 70,000 kids in these schools and people still donít understand what a charter school is. The educational effort is enormous. We need to continue to educate people on school choice and how it works.
Secondly, I donít agree that voucher is just another word. I think that a voucher is a mechanism by which the state is going to be making an affirmative payment to either a family or a school or payable to both in some cases. And that is a very different mechanism and a very different philosophy then a tax credit. And I think this will bear out traditionally in terms of constitutional jurisprudence and I believe that as a represent of Faso here mentions that perhaps for his particular position in New York that a tax credit makes more sense to go that route. We need to think about what is best for each individual jurisdiction given the demographic makeup, the political history and so forth.
MR. MANNO: Letís do the young lady there and here. Weíve got about three more minutes. So letís get to the point.
MS. SAVEZ: My name is Rafaela Savez [phonetic]. I am a seventh grade student in St. Athens in the south Bronx. I was just wondering what do you gentlemen think should be done to assist the kids that live in poor communities and attend public schools for them to become more educated?
MALE VOICE: Well, if I could just respond. I just think you have to emphasize education and learning as a public ideal. And I think all public officials need to do that. And I think we need to emphasize that throughout all levels of leadership in our society.
Second, I would say one of the reasons I have a political philosophy as I do is I am inherently skeptical of governmentís ability to alter the course of human behavior especially with a stroke of a pen. But I do think some of the proposals that have been made here both for vouchers and the tax credit get parents more involved, get parents more discerning in terms of what their choices are. And as parents are not subjected to the monopoly of the existing system where they are basically forced or consigned to send their children to schools that they donít want to send them. As they are acquainted with alternatives that will inherently make the system better and therefore improve the educational opportunity for their children.
MR. MANNO: Okay here. Go ahead.
FEMALE VOICE: I just wanted to ask how do you assure there is accountability for public schools and charter schools, which are public schools, but also sometimes are run by, like I work for [inaudible] Children Foundation, which sponsors a public school and a charter school. But there are places like Advantage or Edison who run for profit charter schools. How do you create uniform standards that ensure teacher accountability and I know the testing sounded as [inaudible]. It can be. But how do we create a uniformed standard when schools are no longer simply run by a public administration, but also have private interests involved as well?
MR. MANNO: Go ahead, Jack.
MR. COONS: Well, the market of course claims to provide a high measure of accountability, a higher measure of accountability so long as there is information. And so you have to consider what it is you need in the way of an information system to provide people who have never had the chance to make decisions begin to make decisions in a market that is radiating and creating itself sort of proposition. So I think information is very important. But I am personally skeptical about the value of tests as revelations about the quality of the school. Nevertheless, it seems to be of great interest, great political interest to people have tests. So I really donít have a clear idea about that, but letís talk about it.
MR. MANNO: Go ahead, Matt.
MR. MILLER: The one thing I would add also is I am always, I hear that argument raised by opponents of choice. And it is often raised. Itís a questions raised and where is the accountability now. I mean we know that we got generations of kids who are graduating from urban schools that canít read a bus schedule.
FEMALE VOICE: That doesnít answer my question. [Inaudible]. So I was wondering what your ideas [inaudible]?
MR. MILLER: In that case to have the parent make a decision that they want to leave the school or go to a school. I donít object to some kind of exit exam or something from highs school. But that is a whole other thorny issue of debate that I donít know if we can get into.
MALE VOICE: There is one misperception and that is that somehow private schools today, for example, are not accountable. Itís just a myth. In Michigan for example there are various accrediting agencies. In fact, the vast majority of private schools themselves voluntarily go through an accreditation program to meet certain standards for the quality of a library, the quality of the teachers, certified teachers and so forth and so on. So I think the reason that Matt answered the way he did is because there is a lot of myths that there is not accountability today in the systems.
MR. MANNO: Okay. Thatís it. Thanks to the panel. Henry has a parting word.
MR. OLSEN: I just want to thank everyone for coming. Most of you I know stayed for many if not all of the panels. And please join me in giving a warm applause to this panel and to all other panels.
Thank you. And the conference is adjourned.