Thursday, July 07, 2005


The Nebraska State Education Association is too powerful of a union for there to be much hope for charter schools to ever be established in this state.

But there’s a better way to break up the state’s education monopoly, and one that has something in it for everyone: parents of public-school students, parents of private-schoolers and homeschoolers, taxpayers, educators, and even the unions.

It involves a controlled amount of school-choice vouchers for Nebraska’s neediest students, in the worst inner-city or rural schools, combined with tax deductions for private-sector educational spending by middle-income and wealthy families, to encourage the development of opportunities and alternatives in the Nebraska education scene.

Oooooh, I hope the Omaha Public Schools is paying attention. This is the kind of an end-run that could pay them back for failing to level the playing field between whites and blacks despite the billions of tax dollars we’ve given them over the decades. It also would provide a way out and sweet revenge for their recent hostile takeover attempt of those suburban districts, and punishment for their ill-advised overspending on technology, class-size reduction, and other things that clearly don’t work – but they’re doing them, anyway.

Let’s get school choice going in Nebraska. Then let them take over those suburban districts in a few years. There’s not much point in taking over school districts that have been emptied out in favor of private schools, through the start of a long-overdue school choice system for Nebraska. Besides, the kids and teachers alike will be ‘way better off with lots and lots of choice and opportunities. Is there life after monopoly education? You bet!



Q. Breaking up the public education monopoly is a good idea, especially for inner-city and minority kids. They should have the same opportunities for a higher-quality private education that rich kids can afford. So I’d be for free tuition to private schools for poor kids. But there’s no way we could afford vouchers for everyone, and besides, tax funding going in to private schools would wreck them, because they would be subject to the same government regulations and requirements that are plaguing public schools. Anyway, I don’t think it’s fair for taxpayers to subsidize private-school tuition for middle-income and wealthy kids. So what’s the answer, if there is one?

It’s hard to beat this solution, proposed by a North Carolina think tank, the John Locke Foundation:

1. For needy students in public school districts where a significant percentage of the students are not testing at grade level, give a government voucher of $4,500 per pupil per year. That’s equal to the average private-school tuition in that state. The student’s parents can use it as tuition in a private school, if they choose. The public district would still receive the difference between the $4,500 and its actual cost per pupil, which is several thousand dollars higher. That way, the public school would have more even money to work with the students who choose to stay in the public setting.

2. For all other students, there would be no vouchers granted, but there would be tax-deductible educational savings accounts established. Parents could deposit up to $4,500 per child per year. This money must be spent for private-school tuition, tutoring, textbooks, and other bona fide educational expenses, from preschool through college, or the tax shelter would be lost.

The foundation says its research indicates that the performance gap between black students and white students in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg public schools was cut by 25% in one year, simply by enabling black students to attend private schools with the aid of partial tuition subsidies through the Children’s Scholarship Fund. It would actually save taxpayers money to offer school choice to needy pupils, the foundation contends.

It cited a National Bureau of Economic Research study, which found that offering school choice options is a much better and cheaper way to improve academic performance than the expensive solutions that the government and most public-school districts are trying: class-size reductions, and rigorous standardized tests. The study showed a reduction in class size would produce only one-third as high of an average test-score increase, for example, as opening a charter school, and yet a charter school costs taxpayers no more, and usually less, than a traditional public school.

Homework: See the policy report, “School Choice and Competition,” on

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