Posts Tagged ‘school choice’

Make 2015 the Year of Freedom

Make 2015 the Year of Freedom

At noon today, a new Tennessee General Assembly gavels in for the 109th time. The future is bright for Tennessee, which consistently ranks among the best states to do business, and is considered a low tax, low debt state. However, as surrounding states seek to pass bold reforms to expand economic liberty and bring relief to taxpayers, we must not rest on our laurels.

The new legislature will face a number of challenges over the coming months, with outcomes that will dramatically impact the direction of our fair state. The session will determine whether Tennessee remains the envy of our neighbors and states across the country—or whether we are eclipsed by others more committed to advancing free market principles. The following issues will take center-stage in determining which direction our state will pivot in 2015.

Medicaid Expansion: The most important decision to be made by the legislature will be whether to assist the Obama administration in cementing Obamacare as a permanent national policy, despite the fact that conservatives made substantial gains in November’s elections. With every state that takes federal Medicaid expansion dollars, it becomes increasingly difficult for the new Republican Congress to roll back or repeal Obamacare. And by partnering with the president to expand Medicaid in Tennessee, Gov. Haslam opens up a massive entitlement program to some 200,000 able-bodied, mostly childless adults.

An expansion also means an increase in Tennessee’s already heavy reliance upon federal funding—already the third highest in the country, according to the Tax Foundation. It also means longer lines for all Medicaid patients, who are already being turned away by 40 percent of doctors. Lawmakers should reject an expansion and instead seek free market reforms that will drive down the cost of healthcare, making treatment more affordable and accessible for Tennesseans in need.

Right to Try: One of the first healthcare reforms that can be tackled is already gaining steam across the nation. Known as Right to Try, this proposal would allow terminally ill patients to access potentially life-saving medication that has been deemed safe by the FDA but is still ensnared in the agency’s decade-long approval process. In fact, many of these treatments have been available in other countries for years. The sickest among us don’t have time to wait for the FDA to send these drugs to market. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle should pass this this bill and remove the barrier between Tennessee’s terminal patients and the possibility of a cure.

School Choice: Thousands of Tennessee children remain trapped in a school that is failing to meet their needs. Every child deserves a quality education, and school choice will empower their parents to choose the school that is best for them. Nearly every problem we face as a state—poverty, crime, dependence, poor health—can be improved with a quality education. After several years of debating an opportunity scholarship program, it’s time the legislature follow the lead of nearly two-dozen other states and bring meaningful school choice to Tennessee families.

Hall Tax: While Tennesseans overwhelmingly banned an income tax on labor this past November, another tax weighs heavily on our state’s residents and prevents us from truly becoming income tax-free. Each year, thousands of middle-class retirees fork over a substantial portion of their savings to the government via the Hall Income Tax. This tax also drives investors out of our state who could otherwise help put Tennesseans back to work. And because the main proposal pending before the legislature is crafted in a fiscally responsible way, repealing the tax will have a negligible impact on state and local revenues.

These key issues—rejecting a Medicaid expansion, promoting right to try, enacting a school choice program, and eliminating the Hall Tax—are the most important things lawmakers can do during the few months they are in Nashville. Then they can return home to their districts having advanced the freedom and prosperity of all Tennesseans.

-Justin Owen & Lindsay Boyd

January 13th, 2015 | Beacon Blog, Feature, Recent News

Saving Education and Tennessee’s Future

Saving Education and Tennessee’s Future

Beacon Senior Fellow Jonathan Butcher’s op-ed was published in the Memphis Commercial Appeal explaining the benefits of school choice. You can read the initial piece here if you subscribe to the Commercial Appeal, otherwise the full text is below.

A public school teacher will have a lot to say about the students in her classroom. A public school teacher who is also a mom will know plenty about her class and, especially, the children that are uniquely hers.

Julie Lopez, a teacher and a mom, could tell that her son was not going to fit in the typical classroom. An early reader, Joseph was ready for schoolwork before entering kindergarten, but Julie feared he would act out if his teacher spent more time on certain subjects.

“According to his birthdate, he would have started kindergarten when he was five,” she says, adding, “I couldn’t see him patiently waiting (in a classroom).” Julie chose to home school Joseph, becoming one of the 9 million families across the United States who home school, enroll their child in a private school, select a charter school or virtual school, or some combination of these to educate their children.

Approximately three out of four school-aged children in the U.S. attend an assigned local public school. New learning options have not made traditional schools disappear. It’s a safe bet that traditional schools will continue to have their doors open even as more families choose other educational options. Remarkably, a survey of 23 empirical studies on school choice programs’ effects on traditional school students finds that in every study but one, public school student outcomes improved as more of their peers chose a different learning experience. (The remaining study found no impact on public school student achievement.)

Student achievement and parent satisfaction in places where parents can choose how a child is educated are remarkably stable. Lawmakers should want ideas like these that give every child the chance to achieve, not just children from families who can afford a better school or move to a new neighborhood.

Recent news about new charter school operators coming to Shelby County has some parents afraid that “outsiders” are coming to run their child’s school. Yet educational options do not have to pit one school against another.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee’s new guide, “Allowing Children to Dream Big: School Choice Opportunities for Tennessee Families,” explains that families across Tennessee are making choices about where and how their children are educated. From private school scholarships here in Memphis to charter schools in Nashville, parents across the state are choosing to find the best possible way to educate their children.

For more than 20 years, charter schools and private school scholarships have helped children assigned to failing schools around the U.S. find better opportunities. Still, traditional schools enroll students every August. Just because some parents who could not afford private school tuition or did not have a charter school in their neighborhood now do have these alternatives does not mean that every public school is going to close. These alternatives give new choices to families who didn’t have good schools and learning options before.

But there is more work to be done. In Arizona and Florida, parents can use education savings accounts to combine several quality education alternatives to help their children. With an account, the state deposits public funds in a parent’s bank account for use on educational products and services. Students can combine public school classes, virtual classes, college courses and private school tuition, along with distance-learning options, to create a challenging, unique education. Families use a debit card to make purchases.

For Julie Lopez, like parents all over the state, deciding how her children learn is an important responsibility.

“I expected it to give me more control over what my kids knew and were exposed to, and I expected it to yield good fruit in their personalities,” Julie says. “All of those expectations have been met.”

Jonathan Butcher is education director at the Goldwater Institute and a senior fellow with the Beacon Center of Tennessee.
December 3rd, 2014 | Commentary, Feature

The Three New M’s Of Education Reform: Minorities, Millennials And Moderates

The Three New M’s Of Education Reform: Minorities, Millennials And Moderates

During the campaign season, there are plenty of politicians promising to better education by increasing spending. What they don’t tell taxpayers is that the additional funding will come from their wallets—and it is unlikely to improve achievement.

Given this poor track record, candidates should be talking about the future of education in terms of three new “M’s,” and money is not one of them.

Minority Students

Minorities are not the minority in public schools anymore. This school year, minority students will outnumber white students for the first time. One-third of Hispanic students do not finish high school, and achievement gaps persist between Hispanic and black students and their white peers. Just 7 percent of black students scored at the proficient level in math in the latest national comparison, compared to 33 percent of white students.

Today we can document the devastating results of these gaps. Black men without a high school diploma are more likely to be in prison than to have a job. Approximately 75 percent of Hispanic immigrant adults only have a high school degree or less. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for individuals with a high school degree or less is double the rate for those with at least some college education.

Every child should have the chance at a great education, not just those who can afford a private school or extra tutoring. Lawmakers must focus on creating better options for all children, especially those that the traditional system has not served well.


Adults of the millennial generation are tomorrow’s parents—not to mention taxpayers for at least the next 40 years. The cost of education is going to take on a whole new meaning for this generation, especially because they will also be saddled with paying for the federal debt thanks for the increasing costs of Social Security and Medicare. To make matters worse, these recent college graduates carry an average college loan debt of $30,000.

Finding high-quality, lower-cost education opportunities for their children will be paramount. Flexible alternatives to assigned public schools, like education savings accounts, allow parents to choose from private or online schools, along with personal tutors and individual college classes creating a unique experience for their children without breaking the bank. Also, with this option, public funds are deposited into a dedicated bank account and families use a debit card to make education purchases. Lawmakers in Arizona and Florida have made the accounts available to parents in their states; each is worth approximately 90 percent of what the state typically spends from taxpayer resources on public schools.

A survey of Arizona parents using the accounts finds that 90 percent report being “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with their experience so far, even among parents that were “very satisfied” with their previous public school.

Millennials have grown up with more choices about their day-to-day lives. They are used to adapting to new technologies, both at home and in the workplace, so they will expect innovative learning options for their children.

Moderate Voters

Put simply, there are more of them. Earlier this year, a Gallup poll found that 42 percent of Americans “identified as political independents” (the highest in 25 years). Outside of the bluest or reddest states, these independent voters will be the ones who swing elections. Pew Center data find that legal immigrants who traditionally vote Democrat will account for some 25 percent of the electorate in the next 20 to 30 years—more than double the same figure from the 2012 election. (It should be noted that in 2012, 71 percent of Hispanics voted for President Obama.)

While Democrats, calling themselves “pro-education voters,” have historically supported more education spending and other efforts like smaller class sizes, opinions are changing. A recent nationally representative survey found broad support for giving parents options for their children’s education over their assigned schools. Twice as many respondents said they support public charter schools over those who were opposed. Half of respondents favored school vouchers for all children, compared to 39 percent opposed.

And once respondents were told how much it costs to reduce class sizes, support for class-size reduction dropped from 46 percent to 35 percent. Nearly as many respondents favored buying new books and technology.

Money isn’t the “M” that candidates should be focused on. Education’s future lies in thoughtful consideration of these three other M’s.

Jonathan Butcher is education director at the Goldwater Institute and a senior fellow at the Beacon Center.

*This article originally appeared in Forbes.

October 22nd, 2014 | Beacon Blog, Feature, Recent News