Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: de Blasio’s war on school choice, ESAs and more

MrGibbonsReportCardBill de Blasio 

New York City’s bizarre Democratic primary for mayor left Bill de Blasio as the party’s official candidate. His hardline stance against charter schools has school operators wondering if he’s declared war on school choice.

De Blasio wants to stop charter schools from sharing locations with public schools and believes charter schools should pay rent for using city/district property. De Blasio also wants to maintain the cap limiting the number of charter schools in the city, stating, “We don’t need new charters.”

De Blasio justifies his views because he believes charter schools are better funded than traditional public schools. He bases this assumptions off a bogus report by the city’s Independent Budget Office which clearly tosses out many expenditure items associated with public education (like special education, pensions and apparently even capital expenditures) while adding or overstating additional costs to charter schools. Based on true educational expenditures, U.S. Census Bureau data shows NYC spent $23,996 per pupil in 2011 (p. 19 includes capital expenditures and debt payment). The NYC Department of Education says charter schools receive $160 to $3,100 less than traditional public schools, but even this estimate excludes billions in public school expenses found by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Charter schools already have a hard time finding suitable school locations (thanks to building code requirements for schools, which, in turn, makes finding good property prohibitively expensive in some cases). To make it even more difficult, charter schools don’t get capital funds to pay for school buildings, so rent has to come out of normal operating expenses.

There is no good reason to end location sharing with charter schools while there is a property shortage and high demand. Charging rent would be fair if de Blasio also gave charters access to capital funds, but he seems more interested in talking tough than being fair.

Grade: In Need of Improvement


Rep. Eric Bedingfield
Rep. Eric Bedingfield

South Carolina State Legislature

Last year, several Republicans in Louisiana threatened to withdraw support for school choice because scholarships were not limited to secular or Christian schools. It was an embarrassing moment for the school choice movement and the Republican Party.

By comparison, legislators in South Carolina were unphased by the possibility that someone might share a different religious faith. South Carolina Republican Rep. Eric Bedingfield said, “You can’t discriminate against freedom.”

Absolutely correct. School choice doesn’t violate separation of church and state so long as parents remain free to choose among many available options, including secular or religious schools of any faith. A few Louisiana Republicans didn’t get it, but legislators in South Carolina understand.

Grade: Satisfactory


Arizona Court of Appeals

The Arizona Education Association’s bid to stop education savings accounts has been tripped up by the Arizona Court of Appeals. ESA’s allow parents to withdraw from a public school and in turn receive a savings account that can be spent on private education, tutors, school supplies, books and educational software. Unspent dollars can be rolled over to subsequent years and even saved for college tuition – neither of which can be done with traditional public school education.

The unanimous appeals court ruling came as a surprise to some because the Arizona Supreme Court struck down the state’s special needs voucher just four years ago on Blaine Amendment grounds. In the wake of that ruling, the Arizona legislature turned to tax credit scholarships instead of vouchers, then launched the nation’s first ESA program in 2011.

Writing the court’s opinion, Justice Jon Thomson said ESAs do not encourage one religion over another or even over atheism. “The specified object of the ESA is the beneficiary families, not private or sectarian schools,’’ he wrote.

The ruling shows the Blaine Amendment in Arizona (and many other states) continues to grow more and more irrelevant as the definition of public education changes. Thankfully, “public education” is  becoming less about public schools, period, and more about the public giving students options that can help them succeed, whether public or private or something inbetween.

Grade: Satisfactory


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BY Patrick R. Gibbons

Patrick Gibbons is public affairs manager at Step Up for Students and a research fellow for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. A former teacher, he lived in Las Vegas, Nev., for five years, where he worked as an education writer and researcher. He can be reached at (813) 498.1991 or emailed at Follow Patrick on Twitter: at @PatrickRGibbons and @redefinEDonline.