Friday, July 31, 2015

Freedom of Choice In Public Education and Housing Values

We recently saw an academic research paper that was published by 2 NC State Ph.Ds and a Texas Tech researcher that caught our eye.

Simply titled School Choice: The Impacts on Housing Values* this paper examines various places where school choice has been implemented and comes to the conclusion that school choice leads to an equalization of housing values between poor and rich neighborhoods, mostly by lifting the property values of the poorer neighborhoods since they are no longer locked into low-performing assigned public schools.

The research paper is written as a research paper after all but it is worth reading and noting some important things about how school choice affects local housing values as well as noting some of the differences between public education in many states versus others where school choice is more widely spread than say in North Carolina.

Know how Vermont is always cited as one of the top, if not the top, public school education systems in the nation?

Well, for one thing, Vermont is a very tiny state with not a whole lot of diversity and the challenges larger populations present. If the entire state of Vermont was a congressional district, it would be about the size of the 9th Congressional District in North Carolina around Charlotte. Without the challenges that Charlotte faces today with their growth and wide economic disparities along economic and racial lines.

Did you know that Vermont was one of the first states to adopt school choice and vouchers, mostly as a way to get students from very rural remote areas to a school of any kind so they could get educated? 1869 to be exact. 146 years ago today. That is when Vermont started their school choice options and apparently, have never looked back.

'Vermont operates one of the longest running tuition voucher programs in the United States. Dating back to 1869, the state legislators passed a bill granting residents living in an area without a public school system a way to provide their children with an education. Using tuition vouchers, parents can send their children to any public school at no cost, or to non-religious private schools for a significant discount, with the subsidy coming from the sending town. In the case of an independent (private) school, the amount of the tuition voucher equals the average tuition for the (public) primary (grades: K-6) or secondary schools (grades: 7-12) within Vermont. Unlike many other state tuition voucher programs, Vermont's system was not established to address a failing inner-city school system.

Instead, it was developed to ensure that the residents had access to an education.

The tuition voucher program has several unique characteristics. First, the opportunity set of schools is not constrained to the state. Parents can choose a state school, an out-of-state school, and even a school outside the country (notably in Canada!).

However, this school choice option only applies to areas (including cities, towns, unincorporated areas and gores) that do not operate traditional public schools. Each district can have either the tuition voucher system or locally operated public schools, but not both. For this reason, the vast majority of towns participating in the voucher system are in rural areas, and subsequently titled "tuition towns." Lastly, the tuition voucher program does not restrict enrollment based on the resident's income. The only requirement is that the family lives in a district without an assigned public school.'

Talk about 'freedom of choice' when it comes to public education! A Vermont schoolkid can go to a school in Canada and get public assistance for it. We have trouble in America talking about a schoolkid getting public assistance to go to a private school across the street from where they live!

Any state that can elect a self-avowed socialist as their Senator, and now Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders, and allow a robust voucher and school choice plan in their state as Vermont has done, certainly paves the way for the rest of the United States to adopt school choice and voucher programs in their state.

The authors go on to cite places such as Paris, France which we visited last year and came to find out that we were staying right next to one of the most elite 'magnet' or preparatory schools in the Paris public education system where virtually all of their elected and business leaders were trained and educated from the 8th grade on through high school. Paris has a large public education system to be sure, BUT they also provide a strong element of choice and selective placement throughout their system of public and private, mostly religious Catholic, schools.

'The French education system is predominantly administered through public schools, with some private schools. This system is based on a 12-year curriculum where children attend primary school from ages six to ten, middle school from eleven to fourteen, and high school from fifteen to seventeen.

At the primary (secondary) level, public schools educate 86% (79%) of the populace, whereas private schools educate 14% (21%) of the students. For public schools, France utilizes school catchment areas, based on the student's home address, to allocate both students and resources efficiently.

Municipalities establish the school district boundaries for the primary schools, and the Local Education Authorities (LEAs) determine the boundaries for the secondary schools. For many years, each municipality or LEA would publish a booklet describing the school catchment areas. Beginning in 2000, the information became publicly available online.

While public schools adhere to strict zoning restrictions, private schools follow a geographically open enrollment system. The private schools in France exhibit several interesting characteristics that are not common in the United States. First, the vast majority of the private schools are religious (predominantly Catholic). While religious in nature, admission to the private schools does not necessarily depend on the pupil's faith or that of the attended primary school.

Next, private schools can either be state-supervised or independent. State-supervised private schools deliver the same curriculum as the public schools, whereas the independent schools are permitted to develop their own program of study. Similar to the public schools, the state supervised private schools are publicly funded by the central government, ...The state also regulates the private school market by limiting the number of new teacher positions offered each year, and by restricting the number of new private schools that open each year.

Last, and most important of all, the admission guidelines for public middle schools and private middle schools are significantly different. Middle school may be one of the important periods in a student's educational development, especially, in France. At the end of the third year of middle school, students that underperform are directed toward vocational studies, while the remaining pupils continue on the path toward graduation.

More importantly, in Paris, France the admission to a specific high school can depend on the specific middle school the student attended, as well as their academic performance. Paris has slightly different admission rules for entering high school. While middle schools have strict catchment areas, parents have more options when it comes to sending their children to high school.

The LEA allows parents to submit applications to a broad set of high schools within a much wider catchment area. Ultimately the admittance into a "good" high school depends on the pupil's academic performance, as well as the quality of the middle school. Thus, the choice of a middle school is extremely important because the quality of middle school may improve the chances of admission into a "good" high school.

Parents have two outlets for getting around the strict middle school zoning restrictions. First, they can ask the LEA for an exemption to attend a school located outside the current zone.

This workaround has a high rejection rate, and only about 8% of the requests are granted each year. A more viable alternative would be to exercise the option to send the pupil to a subsidized private middle school. In France, the subsidies work very similarly to U.S. tuition vouchers. The vast majority of the expenses are paid by the government, and parents will only incur negligible costs.

Because private schools are not constrained geographically, the option to send the child to an outside private school offers parents a relatively cheaper alternative compared to having to relocate to a better school district. Not surprisingly, the number of students attending private middle schools is higher than the number of students attending private primary schools and private high schools.

The core of this research paper is focused on identifying the connection between having school choice and rising property values in poor neighborhoods. Here's what they found:

'...(W)hat is striking is the comparison between the "no vouchers" case and the "full vouchers" case within districts. When vouchers are introduced, on average home values appreciate in the bad district (from 0.5859 to 0.7595), but depreciate in both other districts.

Consistent with the decline in home values in the two higher-priced districts, Exhibit 2 shows that once universal vouchers are introduced, the average income in poor district increases. Incomes are shown in tens of thousands of 1990's dollars, and they rise from $32,973 to $47,000 in the poor area.

However, income levels in the other two districts decline. Taken together, the evidence suggests that as private schools begin to open in low-income districts, average income increases in the district due to the migration of middle- and high-income families, who move to the district to take advantage of the relatively cheap housing prices (due to the poor quality of their public school system). As a result, home prices in poor districts are bid up.

These migrating families move from the better school districts where house values capitalize the public school quality to the poorer school district to make se of the voucher system

Did you notice that? Not only did they find that housing values AND average income increases in the district around the new private or choice school, but housing values AND average income decreases in the more affluent neighborhoods.

Bet that is something you have never heard on the evening news.

That doesn't mean that every poor family all of a sudden experiences a financial windfall in their annual income simply because someone of more means moves in right next to them. But it does mean that their home, if they own it, does increase in value thereby increasing overall family wealth which provides them a means of support to finance further education for themselves or their children or whatever they want to do with their new-found wealth.

Why are so many affluent people so eager to expand school choice and voucher options if it means that their home values will diminish vis-a-vis these other less affluent neighborhoods? Aren't they the ones who should be most offended by such an outcome, as tangential as it might be to the whole serious and emotional issue of public education?

It might have something to do with this core basic American value: We all want everyone to be able to get as great of an education as possible, wherever it may come from and however it may be delivered.

If we were convinced by the data and factual empirical evidence that making kids stand on their heads for 15 minutes every day while reciting the periodic tables and the Gettysburg Address would increase their reading comprehension and math and science retention by 5%, we would be all for it. Whatever it takes to help our next generations get better educated, we should all support.

The fact that housing values and relative incomes tend to equalize out over time in areas with school choice and vouchers is incidental to the critical issue of helping the student receive a better educational experience along their life journey.

But it is one more favorable argument in favor of school choice and voucher reforms that you may not have heard before, yes?   


Father Forced to Quit His Job Says School Voucher ‘Got Me My Son Back’

For years, Kirk and Tanya White thought New Orleans public schools didn’t work for their two sons.  They got their eldest son, Geno, into a private school under a city education initiative, but his father says it turned out the new school also was failing by Louisiana’s own standards.

Then Geno hit a low point when he was robbed of his cell phone after he got off the bus one day in his school uniform. After that, he no longer was excited about school.  “He didn’t want to get on that bus anymore,” Kirk White recalls.

“He’s a tough kid,” White adds. “But when it comes down to that type of lifestyle, that really bothered him. He didn’t want to get in conflict.”

But the education initiative turned the page for Geno when, entering high school, he was able to find another school that met his needs.  Although Geno, now 16, got off to a rocky start in the program, it gave the family the money—and power—to find a school that worked for him.

It now is going so well that the Whites enrolled their younger son, Kole, now 10.  The program, Kirk White says simply,  “got me my son back.”

The Louisiana Scholarship Program

At first called the Student Scholarships for Education Excellence Program, the initiative launched seven years ago in New Orleans.

Its goal was to provide the city’s low-income families with the same opportunity more affluent parents already had: the ability to send their children to a school of their choosing—and not be trapped by their ZIP code.

In 2012, the program expanded statewide as the Louisiana Scholarship Program.

Many residents of the state, which had become infamous for having some of the worst-performing schools in the country, embraced the new attempt at education reform.

Others were skeptical or outright hostile, viewing it as an attack on public schools and teacher unions.

Today, nearly 7,400 students are enrolled in the Louisiana Scholarship Program and have chosen to attend one of 131 participating non-public schools.

To be eligible, a student must come from a family whose income is no more than two and a half times the federal poverty line—which means it does not exceed $59,625 for a family of four.

The student also must be entering kindergarten or enrolled in a public school that has been graded C, D or F. (Since 1999, schools in Louisiana have been given letter grades designed to communicate the quality of performance to parents and the public.)

Kirk and Tanya White, lifelong residents of New Orleans, were only two of thousands of parents whose children qualified.

“Before, we were being cheated of a lot of things we see now,” Kirk White says. “One of those things was education.”

Geno and Kole

Until he was accepted by the scholarship program—also known as a voucher system—Geno was struggling academically and socially. His parents were worried.

White, a truck driver, says he had planned on making enough money to send his sons to private school. A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, or MS, got in the way.

In 2010, when he was diagnosed with the disease, White was forced to quit his job. That left the family dependent on his wife’s modest salary as a nurse at a local hospital.

“It put a damper on our whole world,” he says of the MS. “I thought I was going to be a great provider.”

Through word of mouth, the Whites also heard about the city’s new school voucher program in 2010. They put in an application for Geno that same year.

Geno picked Life of Christ Christian Academy, where annual tuition normally is around $8,500. The scholarship program covered it in full.

When the Whites first toured the school, Geno’s father says, they “saw a different side to him.”  When talking about his first day at Life of Christ, Geno’s eyes light up.  “I finally had a locker,” he says.

At his old school, Geno had a cubby that he says could “barely” hold his books.

But after the robbery, the Whites decided their son had outgrown that school. Under the voucher program, Geno began his freshman year at Lutheran High School in Metairie, La., where he has been happy ever since.

The Hurdles

Although the Whites and other families quickly embraced the scholarship initiative, the program at first faced an upward battle with state and federal officials.

Teacher unions and their political allies regarded voucher programs as “taking money” from public schools and directing it to private schools. Proponents noted that per-student spending in public schools did not decrease as a result.

In 2013, the U.S. Justice Department brought a legal challenge to Louisiana’s voucher program. If the agency prevailed, the Obama administration would force thousands of low-income children–including Geno and Kole—to return to public schools.

Fully 90 percent of the children enrolled at the time were minorities who came from schools that had been graded D or F. If these children permanently left the public school system, the Obama administration argued, it would upset racial balance.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is now seeking the Republican nomination for president, fiercely defended the Louisiana Scholarship Program. Jindal invited President Obama and then-Attorney General Eric Holder to meet families such as the Whites.

“I believe if you and the attorney general are able to hear firsthand from parents about the experiences their children are having in the program, then you will reconsider the suit,” Jindal wrote in a letter to Obama. “I think it is only right that you and Attorney General Holder join me and come visit a scholarship school in Louisiana to look into the faces of the parents and kids and try to explain to them why you want to force them back into failing schools.”

The Justice Department’s argument soon was debunked by a state analysis of the program, which found it did not affect, and actually improved, desegregation efforts.

In November 2013, the Obama administration abandoned its lawsuit.

Looking Ahead

In the case of his sons, Kirk White believes that the Louisiana Scholarship Program more than pays for itself.  “If you don’t pay for school, somewhere down the line crime will come up…you will pay for jail,” he says.  “It’s a win-win situation.”

As for its success?

“The proof is in the pudding,” White says, referring to his sons’ grades and athletic achievements. “They’re excelling in all areas.”

The Whites, like 91.9 percent of the 1,731 parents who responded to a recent survey, say they’re “very satisfied” with the program.  “It’s literally saving lives,” White says.

The Whites attribute some of that success to the demands the voucher program puts on parents. Every year, Kirk and Tanya must complete 50 hours of community service, which they say they actually enjoy.  “I love that these schools demand parent involvement,” Kirk White, 46, says. “I don’t want nothing for free. If the opportunity comes where I can give, I enjoy it.”

Tanya White, 44, who volunteers for her sons’ Parent Teacher Organizations, says the voucher program has helped their family grow closer—and even in size.  “Putting in those service hours, you really become family,” she says of other parents of children enrolled in the voucher program.

Already, more than a dozen states and Washington, D.C., have incorporated scholarship programs into their education offerings. Most of those, however, limit eligibility to students with disabilities.

If school choice advocates have their way, vouchers ultimately will be available to everyone.

In the meantime, Geno and Kole plan to continue their success on the voucher program and have their sights set on college. One day, Geno says, he wants to use his smarts to give back to other kids like himself, who are in need of a better education. Kole has his eyes set on a career in basketball.

To reach their goals, they’ll have to keep in mind the number-one lesson taught by their parents.  “School comes first,” the brothers both say with a smile.


Australia: Student guild angered as University of Western Australia axes three arts majors

The University is trying to ease out "Studies" courses, which are notoriously lightweight and propagandistic

The University of Western Australia has been criticised by its student guild over the proposed dismantling of three arts majors.

UWA plans to abolish its Gender Studies, European Studies and Medieval & Early Modern Studies majors from next year.

The university will instead teach the subjects as units within broader, more popular majors, such as English and History, in an effort to increase the number of students enrolled in those courses.

But the change has angered the UWA Student Guild Council, with a petition so far amassing 300 signatures against the proposals.

The guild's Emma Boogaerdt said two of the subjects had previously been abolished before being re-introduced.

"Students are feeling that they are continually unfairly targeting these majors," Ms Boogaerdt said. "Students are going to be less likely to take them up because they're not sure if they're going to be continued.

"Having majors that are brought back and cut is a really unsustainable way to run a faculty, and a really unsustainable way to keep the constant student cohort going."

Ms Boogaerdt said cutting Gender Studies as a major in its own right also sent the wrong message to students.  "It sends the message that learning about the history of women's oppression is not valued, it shows they think it's a niche issue and the university doesn't think it deserves its own place," she said.

In a statement, a spokesman for UWA said it remained committed to teaching the three subjects, and it was planning the changes because only a relatively small number of students enrolled to study the existing degrees.

The spokesman said students had been consulted throughout the process, and those currently studying the subjects would be able to complete their majors as planned. UWA said there would not be any staffing changes as a result of the process.

The guild is expected to raise the issue with the UWA Academic Council next week.

Ms Boogaedt said she was open to a compromise.  "I think an acceptable medium would be if the university said, 'all right, so far we haven't had adequate student consultation on this issue, let's take it off the chopping block for the moment and take it back to the drawing board'."


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