Could charter schools improve the performance of surrounding schools?

Could charter schools improve the performance of surrounding schools?


Advocates for school choice have long argued that charters encourage higher performance among all public schools. But is it possible that local students could benefit from the presence of a charter school even if they never go to school there? According to a recent study, the answer is yes.

In New York City, Temple University Professor Sandra Cordes found that the establishment of charter schools had a positive impact on the educational quality of the area.

According to Cordes’ research, charters drove up overall reading and math scores of traditional public schools, and also reduced the number of students held back a grade by as much as 20 to 40 percent.

In an interview with the Atlantic, Cordes explained that competition was the main catalyst for improvement.

“I think having that close a proximity might really get administrators to get their act together,” she said.

Parents could also see the difference in their kids. Moms and dads surveyed as part of the study claimed seeing “significantly higher student engagement.”

Cordes’ findings are soon to be published in the journal Education Finance and Policy. You can read her peer-reviewed study here, or check out the Atlantic article here.

Legislators Being Thanked for Supporting School Choice

Legislators Being Thanked for Supporting School Choice

As children across the state are returning for a new school year, Georgia’s legislators are being featured on digital ads because they voted in favor of school choice.

The Georgia Center for Opportunity released a Legislative Report Card earlier in the summer which assigned letter grades to state lawmakers according to their support for school choice legislation appearing before them during the 2017 session.

Those who have strong records in favor of giving students and families more education options are now the recipients of digital ads thanking them for putting students first. The digital ads are running over the course of the next two weeks within each senators’ and house members’ district.

School choice has proven itself not to be a party issue, as lawmakers from both parties support parental choice options. Those with “A” grades featured in the ads are: John Albers (R-Roswell), Mike Glanton (D- Jonesboro), Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone), Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta), Burt Jones (R-Jackson), William Ligon (R-Brunswick), Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), Fran Millar (R-Atlanta), Chuck Payne (R-Dalton), David Shafer (R-Duluth), Jesse Stone (R- Waynesboro), Valencia Stovall (D-Forest Park), and Michael Williams (R-Cumming).


SC digital ads albers millar schafer SC digital ads Harbin McKoon Jones  SC digital ads Payne and Williams SC Legislator Ad - Glanton (single) SC Legislator Ad -Hill (single)  SC Legislator Ad - Ligon (single)   SC Legislator Ad - Shafer (single) SC Legislator Ad - Stone (single)  SC Legislator Ad -Stovall(single)

Could charter schools improve the performance of surrounding schools?

School Choice Vouchers: Keep an Open Mind

Earlier this month New York Times columnist David Leonhardt joined the nationwide conversation with his article — “School Vouchers Aren’t Working, but Choice Is”—tackling the crucial issues of charter schools and vouchers in the broader school choice debate.

Mr. Leonhardt is right on point when he writes that charter schools “have the potential to help a lot of poor children in the immediate future.” Indeed, school-age kids have no time to spare when it comes to academics. Falling behind a few months in any grade can put them permanently behind.

Unfortunately, while we praise Mr. Leonhardt for acknowledging the many triumphs of charter schools, his analysis of the success of parental choice vouchers, which grant tax dollars to families to allow their children to attend private schools, falls short of the mark.

There are several glaring shortcomings with the study cited by Mr. Leonhardt. Conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, the study examined voucher use among public schools in the District of Columbia. Mr. Leonhardt uses the study’s findings to repeat a number of myths surrounding the question of parental choice vouchers.

First, Mr. Leonhardt praises random lottery selection for public charter schools and claims a major flaw in voucher programs is the ability of private schools to choose only the best students. But he fails to acknowledge that the voucher students examined in the Department of Education study received vouchers by winning a random lottery as well—the same way students get into public charter schools.

Secondly, the study only measured student performance after one year. Anytime a child shifts to a new education environment, the initial disruption frequently stunts test scores in the short term—partly due to a more rigorous curriculum and higher standards than the school they came from.

Students generally don’t switch schools unless there is a need, so those receiving vouchers or other forms of choice are usually already playing catch-up academically—and are doing so in a new school environment.

Along the same lines, the study compared apples to oranges by failing to track and evaluate these students before they switched to a new school via a voucher. Many students seek a different school environment—be it a public charter school or a private school through a voucher—because they aren’t learning well in their current environment.

Academic performance is best measured over a longer period of time. At a minimum, students should fully transition to a new school climate before measurements take place. In order to reach an accurate conclusion, a study would need to measure the same students before receiving a voucher and after—not just comparing to a control group that remained in public schools.

And finally, this point is crucial to remember: The D.C. voucher program is only one of many across the nation. So the research must be reviewed as a whole before declaring the whole idea of school choice vouchers a failure.

We commend Mr. Leonhardt for acknowledging the numerous successes of charter schools in helping students and families. And we applaud him for encouraging opponents of school choice “to look at the full evidence with an open mind.” But we also encourage Mr. Leonhardt to take his own advice by keeping an open mind on private-school choice through vouchers, even as he urges progressives to do the same with public charter schools.

All of us would do well to remember that education policy is not a zero-sum game. We need to stay focused on what kids need most—immediate access to a quality education.

Georgia’s Failing Future

Georgia’s Failing Future

“Children of today are the leaders of tomorrow and education is a very important weapon to prepare children for their future roles as leaders of the community.” – Nelson Mandela

The Georgia Department of Labor recently released a list of the state’s chronically failing public schools, which are schools that have received an F for three consecutive years on the College and Career Ready Performance Index.

More than 87,000 Georgia students are currently impacted by one of the 153 failing schools on the list. Failing schools equal failing students, and Georgia’s children deserve much better.

Georgia’s overall education data doesn’t provide much of a silver lining. Sixty-six percent of Georgia’s fourth graders are reading below proficiency, which means they cannot read at grade level. The data only gets more grim as grade levels increase – among eighth graders 70 percent are below proficiency in reading. In math, fourth graders are 65 percent below proficiency and eighth graders are 82 percent below proficiency.

A quality education is paramount to success as an adult. Research from the Brookings Institution shows that “those who finish high school, work full time, and marry before having children are virtually guaranteed a place in the middle class.”  The report goes on to say that “only about two percent of this group ends up in poverty. Conversely, about three-fourths of those who have done none of these three things are poor in any given year.” Statistics like these also affect the future of our state and nation’s economy, as students today are in the military and workforce tomorrow.

Georgia Center for Opportunity recognizes this crisis and injustice to our students and continues to fight for expanded school choice options for students. Empowering parents with the opportunity to choose the high-quality education that best fits their children’s learning needs is the only way to get children away from failing schools immediately.

For more information about school choice options and educational savings account, which are currently being considered by the Georgia legislature, visit

It’s the End of Session, Will Legislators Help Struggling Students?

It’s the End of Session, Will Legislators Help Struggling Students?

A large majority of Georgians support expanding school choice in the state, including more than 80 percent of African-Americans and Latinos. The numbers are astounding, and for good reasons.

Georgia’s students continue to struggle in national measures of academic achievement, and the school choice options that currently do exist—like the tax credit scholarship program—are capped at such low levels that there are constantly long waiting lists.

Since it was first passed in 2008, the tax credit program has given tens of thousands of students the opportunity for a brighter future at a private school, but it has never served all the students who have applied for a scholarship. To do that, the program needs to grow.

First, a bit of background. Georgia’s tax-credit law allows private citizens and corporations to receive tax credits for donations to nonprofit Student Scholarship Organizations (SSOs), which then administer scholarships across the state on behalf of needy kids. In 2015 alone, over 13,500 students received scholarships.

The state House recently approved HB 217, which would raise the program’s current cap from $58 million to $100 million in a graduated course of six years, effectively doubling its size. But the Senate removed the slow and steady growth in the program in favor of a one-time increase in the cap to $65 million, hardly meeting current demand.  Furthermore, the Senate version of the bill included an extreme cut to the administrative allowance available to the non-profit student scholarship organizations administering the program, which would effectively push smaller organizations out of the market.

Some lawmakers claim that SSOs spend too much on administrative overhead, including activities like fundraising, marketing, and government compliance. Currently, SSOs are limited to keeping a specific percentage of their total proceeds for administration, depending on how much they take in: 10 percent for the first $1.5 million raised, 7 percent for amounts between $1.5 million and $10 million, 6 percent for amounts between $10 million and $20 million, and 5 percent for amounts over $20 million.

This sliding scale acknowledges that as SSOs are able to raise more money, they don’t need to devote as large a percentage of their budgets to overhead. It also recognizes that smaller or start-up organizations still need a slightly higher percentage to be effective and comply with the law.

The Senate substitute to HB 217, backed by Lt. Governor Cagle and Senate leadership, eliminates the graduated administrative allowance in favor of an across-the-board cap of 3 percent. Importantly, most SSOs in Georgia don’t raise enough money to even afford full-time staff under the 10 percent administrative allowance, let alone a 3 percent cap. These organizations would be most harmed by the Senate change, while the largest SSOs would be least affected by the 3 percent cap due to their bigger budgets.

What’s the result? Small SSOs would be pushed out of the market in favor of a handful of large organizations.

Here’s what this scenario would look like in reality: Four SSOs raised less than $100,000 in 2015 and awarded scholarships to 308 students, almost half of whom come from families making less than $30,000 a year. The proposed change would immediately hamstring these organizations by limiting them to less than $3,000 a year for administration, forcing them to close their doors and returning 308 students back to schools that were not serving their needs.

Is that a result we want?

Aside from claims of administrative bloat, supporters of the Senate substitute bill make two more arguments: First, that SSOs should be brought more in line with other nonprofits in Georgia. And second, that the tax credits law should more closely mirror Florida’s program, which caps administrative allowances at 3 percent.

Both claims don’t stand up to even basic scrutiny. In the first place, of Charity Navigator’s 68 top-rated charities in Georgia, only one operates on less than 3 percent of funds for administration—and that organization has total revenues of more than $547 million. So it’s false to claim the proposed 3 percent cap would bring SSOs more in line with other nonprofits.

Secondly, looking at Florida’s law is like comparing apples and oranges. The Sunshine State only has two nonprofit scholarship granting organizations, only allows corporate donations, and has a total program cap of $500 million compared to Georgia, which has more than 20 active SSOs and a statewide a cap of $58 million.

In the end, if the Senate truly wants to bring Georgia more in line with Florida, lawmakers would be better served to raise the statewide program cap to match Florida’s rather than reduce the overhead allowance. If they did, the program would provide school choice to nearly 130,000 students and propel Georgia into the leadership position among states providing families with real options.

With only one day remaining in the legislative session, we hope the Senate and House can come together to agree on a bill that restores growth in the program and hope for thousands of desperate students and families.

ESAs Could Ease Overcrowding in Georgia Public Schools

ESAs Could Ease Overcrowding in Georgia Public Schools

Education savings accounts could help Georgia lawmakers ease overcrowding in public schools, an ongoing challenge for some school districts. Legislators are considering bills that would allow students to use an account to choose how and where they learn, modeled after the accounts in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Nevada.

Under the proposed legislation, and as described on this blog, the state deposits a portion of a child’s funds from the state formula into a private account that parents use to buy educational products and services for their children. Parents can choose different learning options like online classes, personal tutors, and private school tuition simultaneously, customizing a child’s education to meet their needs.

Some Georgia parents have complained of surging enrollment in public schools in recent years. Between 2014 and 2016, Georgia public school enrollment increased 7 percent or 117,000 students, according to state and federal sources. Decatur’s increases have been dramatic: District schools experienced a 123 percent increase over the past decade. Recent reports of overcrowding have also come from Horry County, Dalton, and DeKalb. In some cases, students have been forced to sit on the floor of school buses on the way to school due to class reassignments.

In Dalton, a Daily Citizen headline said residents are imploring lawmakers to “do something” about student overcrowding. Data from states where lawmakers have enacted education savings accounts demonstrate that student participation can help relieve the pressure on schools that see rapid enrollment growth. In Arizona, 3,500 are using accounts today (approximately 1 percent of the eligible student population). In Florida, 7,000 students are using the accounts. These modest figures can help with overcrowding issues.

Estimates that 156,000 Georgia students would use the accounts after 3 years and cost taxpayers $700 million bears no resemblance to student participation or funding in other states where students are using the accounts. This estimate is equivalent to having all the students leave DeKalb County and Atlanta Public Schools.

Even Georgia’s existing private school choice options which have been in place for many years have not grown this fast. Georgia’s private school scholarships for children with special needs have been available for nearly a decade, and fewer than 4,000 students are using a scholarship. Another Georgia private school scholarship offering is available to nearly all state students, and 13,000 children are using a scholarship (less than 1 percent of students in the state)—a figure that has held steady since 2012.

Meanwhile, lawmakers should consider how education savings accounts can be an efficient use of taxpayer money. According to the legislation, each Georgia account would be worth $4,500. The average student attending a traditional public school in Georgia is funded at $10,300. Average per student funding figures indicate Decatur’s 4,662 students—an all-time high—require more than $48 million from taxpayers annually. Their education savings accounts would use less than half this amount.

Estimates that education savings accounts would syphon students and funds from Georgia schools do not correspond with existing evidence. But the accounts can be a solution for Georgia lawmakers to moderate crowded classrooms while also providing families more educational options.

For more information about ESAs in Georgia, click here.