What is School Choice?
Under current law, parents can choose where to send their children to school. If they choose to send their children to a private or religious school, however, they must do so at their own expense. If they cannot afford private education, they must send the children to the local public school where the government will pay. Under compulsory attendance laws, parents who cannot afford private schools have no choice but to send their children to the Government schools.
Under the Educational Freedom Act, an individual scholarship account (Educational Savings Account) will be created for each school-age K-12 child in the State of California. Into this account, the State will regularly deposit an amount equal to the average per pupil education expenditure in the State of California. That amount is currently over $12,000 per year. Parents can then use that money to send their child to a school of their choice. It can be their existing public school, a charter school or accredited private or parochial school. Any amount left over can be accumulated and used for an in-state college degree program or any other qualified educational expense (e.g. vocational schools).
To summarize, under the status quo as well as under the proposed new law, parents can choose where to educate their children. The key differences are thatin the future the State will fund students rather than institutions. Because the parents will now control how and where the scholarship money is spent, they will have a real choice.
What effect will this initiative have on existing public schools?
Excellent schools will tend to thrive and grow stronger. Failing schools will decline in enrollment. Initially, students in failing schools may have to travel to attend an excellent charter, private or religious schools. As classroom space becomes available in the failing public schools, they will be absorbed by expanding and new higher performing non-public schools.
Under the Education Freedom Act, parents will pick the school they feel offers the best learning experience for their children. Public schools will now have to participate in the miracle of the free market to survive. Public education will be forced to dramatically improve. The logical first move for public schools would be to stop preventing students from attending schools outside their zip code.
Will public school teachers lose their jobs?
Because California public schools are, on average, the worst in the country, families will flee these failing schools in large numbers. Reduced student populations will undoubtedly lead to reductions in teaching and support staff. These job losses in the public sector will also undoubtedly be offset by job opportunities in the private sector. Unquestionably, under-performing teachers will have a tough time securing employment in the private productive educational sector. This is a good thing. One of the many reasons that public schools are failing is because of their medieval civil service and tenure system.
How will this affect local control of education?
Generally, the passage of the Education Freedom Act will have no structural impact on the current public school system. The proposed initiative will not degrade the public school system in any way; it will only make schools and school districts more competitive in order to deliver a product their customers demand. The current California educational system will be preserved intact. The local school districts will continue to be operated as they are now. They can continue to choose which students they will accept (also known as ZIP Code discrimination). They will continue to hire their own teachers and employees. With voter approval, they will continue to be able to float bond issues to construct school facilities and pass) parcel taxes earmarked for schools.
The only difference is that the bulk of the revenue will come from parents who enter into contracts with the local public school using the credit from their child’s Educational Savings Account. In brief, very little will change and yet everything will change because of the introduction of competition into the California education system.
Will home-schooling families be eligible for this scholarship?
Yes and no. The Educational Freedom Act makes no special provision for home-schooling families. Parents can only use scholarship funds to educate their K-12 children at public schools, charter schools or accredited private or parochial schools. Many home-schooling families have already adapted to this reality by taking courses from accredited institutions such as community colleges or charter schools.
However, this does not mean that students being home-schooled will not receive the scholarship credit. The Act would permit home-schooled students to accumulate the entire annual scholarship credit and save it for college or other qualified educational expenses. Thus, a home-schooled student would theoretically be able to accumulate his annual scholarship from kindergarten through 12th grade. Even if the scholarship credit remains fixed at $12,000 per year, a home-schooled student would accumulate $195,000 in principal over 13 years all of which could be used for in-state college or vocational training of his or her choice.
Does this proposal mean that parents can send their child to any school?
No. Public and private restrictions to admission will continue unchanged under the Educational Freedom Act. For example, most public schools only accept students who reside within the district. This is known as “ZIP Code discrimination.” Some school districts accept inter-district transfers or Parent Employment Related Transfers. Changes to admission policies will be up to the school district under local control. This will continue unchanged under the Education Freedom Act. Likewise, private schools have their own admission standards and tuition requirements which must be met. Parents will be free to send their children to a private school and apply their scholarship credit towards the payment of tuition making up any difference out of their own pockets. The school will not, however, be required to accept the annual scholarship credit as full payment of tuition.
What impact will this have on charter schools?
The short answer is that the Educational Freedom Act makes no changes to the laws or regulations governing charter schools. The longer answer is that introducing competition into education will lead to dynamic changes, all for the better. The charter schools will undoubtedly recognize the opportunities (i.e. larger customer base to offer their products).
To what extent, if any, will the state to be able to regulate the curriculum of private schools?
As currently drafted, the Educational Savings Act provides as follows:
Education Code section 69995.5
(c) The State shall not impose any condition on the eligibility of any private school, college, or university to receive funds other than the following:
1.Periodic certification that an eligible child is enrolled in and attending the school.
2.Periodic certification that the amount paid is only used for tuition and eligible education expenses.
4.The general health and safeties standards applicable to all private schools operating a California.
As the initiative sponsors complete their legislative review and due diligence, these provisions may be strengthened and made more specific. The goal is to ensure that the teacher unions acting through their surrogates in the State and local school districts are not able to regulate participating institutions out of existence thereby transforming current private institutions into public proxies for the implementation of the same social and political agenda that participating parents seek to avoid.
Won’t the public schools end up with all of the poor students, the disciplinary problems and those with learning disabilities?
The requirement for the public schools to keep students with disciplinary problems in the classroom will remain unchanged. It is unfortunate because these students interfere with the ability of their classmates to receive a high quality education. Unfortunately, many parents abdicate their responsibility for raising their children. That is unfair. Charter, private and religious schools do not have the same restrictions. This puts onus on the parents to be more directly involved in their child's education.
In states where school choice has been established such as Arizona, special needs students have been served very well. Special needs programs in the public schools will not be eliminated. As long as there is a demand for special needs educational programs and the parents have the ability to pay for it through their Educational Savings Account, an even greater range of quality options will emerge to meet the demand.
Why isn’t the amount allocated for each student income qualified?
According to the Wall Street Journal, the upper 20% of wage earners currently pay 84% of all income tax collected. Other estimates are as high as 91%. That means the higher wage earners already pay nearly all of the funding for k-12 education. This wealth re-distribution system is already highly progressive. The majority of the upper 20% wage earners do not have children in K-12 education and would be drawing no financial benefit. Putting all K-12 California students on equal financial footing is extremely fair.
I keep hearing that competition and profit in education is bad for kids and does not work.
Education is a service that we currently pay for with our tax dollars. Unless you are affluent, you have no influence on where and how your children are prepared to thrive in a changing and challenging world.
Currently, educational decisions are made by unaccountable bureaucrats often hired by our elected leadership. The public employee and teacher unions incestuously fund our elected representatives' political campaigns. Even with the very best of intentions, the system is inherently corrupt by design. It shifts funding priorities away from the welfare of the student to the welfare of the public employee unions.
Introducing competition into the marketplace will dramatically improve education in California. To compete and attract students (customers), schools will constantly seek new and innovative ways to provide the best service at the lowest cost. The winner will be the children, especially those currently living in our less affluent neighborhoods.
Doesn't this kind of direct support of religious schools violate the Constitution?
The short answer is no. Under the Educational Freedom Act the individual student will be subsidized with public funds just as under the current system. The difference is that the parents can use these funds at an accredited private or parochial school. Religious schools, therefore, are not directly funded by the government. This follows the funding approach taken by the Federal Government following World War II when it created the G.I. Bill. The courts have reviewed and approved this approach. The courts have also reviewed and approved other school choice approaches. Although we can expect that the Educational Freedom Act will be challenged on this and other constitutional grounds there is little or no concern that such challenges will succeed on these grounds.
Will this proposal reduce per pupil spending?
The Educational Freedom Act is tax and revenue neutral. The existing formulas for funding education in the State of California will remain the same. Taxes will not be increased, nor will the schools’ share of tax revenues be changed. The provisions of Proposition 98 will remain intact. Proposition 98, passed by voters in 1988, essentially earmarked a minimum of 40% of state tax revenues for “education.” The estimated revenue generated by Proposition 98 for FY 2019-20 is $80.7 billion. On a per pupil basis, the State spends approximately $12,000 per pupil per year. The state also provides additional revenues to school districts in the form of grants generated either by the state or the federal government. These additional cash flows total approximately $16 billion. Under the governor’s budget for FY 2019-20, the total projected spending on California public education is approximately $96.7 billion. which represents an average K-12 per pupil spending of $14,000.
It should be noted that because Proposition 98 ties educational revenues to tax revenues, any increase in tax revenues results in automatic increases in educational spending. Because of an expanding economy, spending on education has exploded.
In its current form, the Educational Freedom Act will only reallocate Proposition 98 funds, even though the amount of the individual scholarship will represent, in practice, less than is actually being spent per pupil by the state. Students at public schools, therefore, will continue to receive far more money per capita than students attending private or parochial schools using scholarship funds provided under the Educational Freedom Act.