Monday, December 25, 2006

Ignorance is bliss?

Interesting blog from Patrick McIlheran yesterday about school choice-

Numbers count, particularly when they’re off by 40%

In my column in today’s Journal Sentinel, I suggest that now’s the moment for Milwaukeeans committed to school reform to step forward and run for the Milwaukee School Board.

Quite a few are already, or at least saying they will: The Journal Sentinel’s Alan Borsuk reported in early December that 14 people had filed statements of intention to run, a necessary first step. The number of possible candidates appears to be still higher now, though how many actually will succeed in collecting signatures is unclear.

I lament, too, that the election may in part turn on support or opposition to all the new ways of educating kids in Milwaukee. That argument should have been over long ago, decided in favor of more power for parents and educators and less for one big system.

That it’s not is in part because some people don’t bother even to get the facts straight. For instance, I talked to one public official who helps make state education policy and who is against school choice. Fair enough: People of good will can disagree on this.

But the official complained that the state needs to put some kind of cap on how much aid can go to schools taking students in the choice program. The grants are just too high, he said, saying, several times, that a school gets $9,100 a year for taking in a choice student.

No, it doesn’t. You can check this for yourself with the Department of Public Instruction, led by a known opponent of school choice, and I confirmed it again myself:

A private Milwaukee school that educates a child in the school choice program gets, at most, $6,501 this year. It actually gets the total of its operating and debt service cost per student — as reckoned by an outside auditor — or the $6,501, whichever is less.

In other words, a state policymaker misunderstood how much money followed choice students by 40%. Sure, he just got a figure wrong. But an error of that magnitude changes one’s whole perception of the program. The mistaken figure would suggest choice grants were bigger than the per-pupil state aid Milwaukee Public Schools get, about $7,000 in 2004-05, according to state figures, and near the total of taxpayer money that MPS spends on educating a child: $10,748 in 2004-05, again according to the state.

In fact, the choice children’s education is less costly. There are probably legitimate reasons for some of MPS’ higher expense. But the discussion has to start with correct facts.

Otherwise, it leads to sloppy suggestions. One that’s been bruited about — I heard it most recently from state Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) — is that choice grants be limited to the tuition a private school charges the other children attending on their parents’ own dime. Private schools are “profiting” off choice students, he says, when the choice grant brings in more per student than tuition.

He’s overlooking one key thing:

Tuition, particularly at the parochial schools that make up the bulk of those in choice, doesn’t cover the full cost of education. Children whose parents pay tuition are often subsidized by the churches that run the schools, usually because the church sees sponsoring education for parishioners as part of its mission. The subsidy can be substantial, sometimes equalling what a parent pays.

If the state limits the choice grant to what parents pay in tuition, it’s saying that, in return to taking in poor children who may have no particular connection to a congregation, the parishioners will have to subsidize those strangers’ children, too.

There would be few faster ways of shutting down school choice than to throw such a burden on the collection basket. The point of choice was not to throw part of the public’s educational burden off onto church donations but to let poor kids afford what better-off families do. Particularly since many churches running choice schools aren’t particularly wealthy, the options most likely to close down would be the schools most closely linked to poorer parts of the Milwaukee community.

The state doesn’t have an exact figure on hand, but the majority of choice schools get the full $6,501 grant per choice student. That is, an outside audit finds that the cost of educating a child is not less than that. In fact, many spend more and make up the difference with fund-raising, so talk of schools “profiting” on choice students verges on the obscene.

The reality is that Milwaukee children need as many options as they can get. They need a strong Milwaukee Public Schools, since that’s likely to remain the primary educator of children here, and that system won’t be strengthened by killing off school choice. The city needs to get past having to defend school choice — and choice’s critics need to get past trying to kill it.

What I don't understand is why anyone would try and kill the school choice program.

Is there any doubt in anyone's mind that education from a private school is better than an education from a public school?

Sure, an argument could be made that public schools have more resources. However, that does not seem to matter when it comes to actually giving a child an education.

I am not saying that public school education is a bad thing. Personally, I went to both.

Killing the school choice program, would literally kill the hopes and dreams of many low income families looking to give their children and good, solid education.

By the way, how is it possible that our elected officials are so ill informed as to not know how much it cost the state pays per child to be in the school choice program?

These elected officials are either purposefully lying about the numbers or they have literally turned a blind eye to the numbers because they do not want to know the truth.

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