Delaware Lawmakers to Debate Broad ESA measure

This blogpost first appeared the week of June 9, 2014, on the website http://jaypgreene.com/2014/06/10/delaware-lawmakers-to-debate-broad-esa-measure/. This is a guest post by Matthew Ladner Senior Advisor for Policy and Research at the Foundation for Excellence in Education. This is in reaction to the hearing on HB353, the Parent Empowerment Education Savings Account Act (PEESAA), which was heard on June 11, 2014 in Legislative Hall.

Delaware lawmakers are set to debate a broad ESA measure with a sliding scale by income.  The proposal has activated the anti-bodies of the public school establishment, and the sponsors acknowledge in the article that they do not expect the measure to pass this year. NAEP indicates that Delaware has done a good job in improving the public school system in recent years, and it seems likely that parental choice is playing an unsung role in Delaware’s improving scores.

Delaware has the second highest private school attendance rate in the nation (behind only Hawaii) at 20% of students. Note that this percentage dwarfs that in states like Arizona and Florida, whose private choice programs are essentially trying to play catch-up to the old-fashioned checkbook choice widely exercised in states like Delaware. Delaware charter schools have been heading towards a 10% of the market as well, and many Delaware charter schools have waiting lists.

The question for Delaware lawmakers to consider therefore is not whether they should have parental choice.  They already have parental choice.  The question to face: who should be exercise parental choice?  Currently Delaware’s answer to that question is: the wealthy, with others getting a less-diverse form of choice in the form of charter schools or their wait lists.

People prize stability in life, and it is clear that many in Delaware feel acute discomfort from the mere advent of charter schools. Education spending ought however to be the entitlement of the child, not of any system of education. Moreover, the Census Bureau forecasts a 90% increase in Delaware’s elderly population between 2010 and 2030, foretelling a deep battle between health care and education spending in the state. It would be wise for the state to experiment in making parents the voluntary offer of less spending in return for greater control and flexibility. Simply maintaining the status-quo does not represent a viable option even in the medium term. Our experience from other private choice programs demonstrate that there will not be a mass exodus from the public school system.

The Delaware proposal is admirable in giving the most to the children starting with the least. I look forward to the conversation.

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