Higher education vouchers will ensure that schools operate efficiently and effectively

There is a lot of talk at UNM about making the school more environmentally responsible. A new degree is even being offered in sustainability studies. In keeping with this trend, the University and the state government should also consider making UNM more fiscally responsible.
With President David Schmidly implementing a freeze on hiring and faculty raises, University students are becoming increasingly critical of fiscal policy on campus. They have reason to be concerned. After all, major facility renovations and upgrades, including a $60 million renovation of The Pit, are moving forward despite the freeze on faculty spending. Some students have suggested Schmidly take cuts out of his own salary – which is $387,000, according to UNM’s public records – and administerial operations to ensure that the educational function of the University isn’t jeopardized.
Although the state has allocated less money to the University this year, UNM’s operating budget has increased by 10.4 percent. State allocations to the school are likely to continue their decline due to tax revenues taking a hit from dropping oil prices. If the school’s budget keeps increasing and state allocations continue to dwindle, the University will find itself having to compromise the quality of education just to keep itself afloat.
Unfortunately, the University’s incentives aren’t necessarily aligned with its purported educational goals. That’s because a relatively minor percentage of the school’s operating budget is collected from tuition – only 6.4 percent. Far more, 38.6 percent, comes from local, state and federal taxpayers.
New Mexico policymakers should consider realigning those incentives by routing a greater percentage of government money through students in the form of a voucher rather than directing it to the bureaucracy. Colorado is one state that has enacted this reform to positive effect. If New Mexico’s universities are forced to compete for students, and therefore money, student needs will begin taking precedence over basketball and administration. A voucher program will give students the ability to allocate government funds to whichever school they choose. In a free-market system like this, schools will naturally focus more on the quality of their product – education – rather than sports facilities or outrageous administrator salaries.
(The above letter was published in UNM’s student newspaper, The Daily Lobo.)
UNM’s President David Schmidly is also worried about the likely cuts in government allocations to the school. Hopefully this recession can give the university an opportunity to learn to operate more efficiently.

Bailout the Schools???

Everyone wants a bailout these days. Once Congress and the Bush Administration made the misguided decision of bailout out AIG and the banking industry, every other industry — not to mention governments and individuals — decided that they deserved some money from the federal government.
In yesterday’s Albuquerque Journal, Christine Trujillo
President, American Federation of Teachers-N.M, made the case for a government “bailout” of education. While I couldn’t disagree more with her overall point, the truth is that she makes no factual argument for the “bailout.” Rather, she makes some pointless statements about societal changes that she argues make educating children next to impossible.
The biggest red-herring is that education suffers from inadequate spending. This is the argument some are making for a major gross receipts tax hike for additional education spending, even in these tough economic times. As Dr. Harry Messenheimer has pointed out, education spending per-capita has increased dramatically in recent years. Check page 6 of this study.
There is no need to bail out education with a tax hike of any kind. Instead, like the Big 3 automakers, education will be forced to improve and become more efficient with competition and by giving consumers greater freedom of choice.

Obama’s School Choice Hypocrisy

Now that he’s moving to Washington, DC, Barack Obama and his wife must choose where to send their girls to school. One might think based on his strong advocacy for government-run public schools and opposition to choice, Obama would put his children where his ideology is by sending his kids to DC public schools. Not surprisingly, that is not the case.
Rather, Obama is thought to be leaning towards sending his girls to a tony private school, perhaps the same one that the Clintons sent Chelsea to. It would be nice if all Americans had the same (or at least some) choice over educational opportunities.

Support Small Schools?

Another New Mexico-based think tank — usually considered to be moderate or slightly left-of-center — called Think New Mexico recently released a study calling for smaller schools. While the Rio Grande Foundation has focused on tax credits for education and, more broadly speaking “choice” and market-based reforms as the best means of improving educational results, we fully support Think New Mexico’s call for smaller schools.
According to research from Think New Mexico:

New Mexico’s graduation rate ranks second from the bottom of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Only 54.1% of New Mexico’s children graduate from high school, compared with a national average of 70.6%. An average of 77 students drop out each school day across New Mexico – nearly 14,000 per year.
Decades of research have shown that smaller schools have higher graduation rates, higher student achievement, lower levels of student alienation and violence, and higher levels of satisfaction among students, parents, principals, and teachers. Small schools also dramatically improve the performance of low-income children, which helps to narrow the persistent achievement gap.
The most effective high school size, according to the research, is 600-900 students. Yet, in 2007, more than two-thirds of New Mexico ninth graders entered high schools with populations larger than 1,000 students, and nearly a third entered high schools with more than 2,000 students.
Small schools are not only better for students, they also cost less to build and operate. Researchers have found that the most efficient schools are those serving 300-900 students. Schools larger than this experience “diseconomies of scale”: inefficiencies and increased costs that result from increases in bureaucracy, security, and transportation. In addition, if the operational cost of a school is calculated “per graduate” rather than “per student,” small schools are substantially more efficient than large schools because their dropout rates are much lower.
The capital costs of small schools can also be far less per student than those of large schools if the small schools are designed to take advantage of community educational resources like gymnasiums, pools, libraries, and sports fields, rather than duplicating these facilities. Several New Mexico charter schools have successfully applied this community-based model, at a savings of millions of taxpayer dollars.
Think New Mexico recommends that the legislature and Governor Richardson enact legislation requiring that: 1) any school receiving state capital outlay funding for construction must have a capacity of no more than 225 students per high school grade level, 120 students per middle school grade level, or 60 students per elementary school grade level; and 2) schools receiving additional state funds to serve at-risk students must establish smaller learning communities if they exceed these size limits and if they have not already done so.

While not explicitly “market” or “choice”-based, the call for smaller schools will certainly make New Mexico schools more manageable. Broad-based choice should still be the ultimate goal of education reform (and it will continue to be the centerpiece of our reform efforts), but forcing schools to downsize should result in improved results.

Demographics = Destiny in Education?

When promoting market-based education reforms like tax credits, we at the Rio Grande Foundation are often confronted by those who believe — even if they don’t clearly explain their position — that New Mexico students can never achieve educational success, in part, because the population is too poor or too Hispanic. It is true that minorities have historically not performed as well as other students, particularly in public schools, but there is no reason this must be the case.
A new study from the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, “Demography Defeated: Florida’s K-12 Reforms and Their Lessons for the Nation,” debunks the myth that Hispanics can’t perform in the right educational environment. This study which can be found here shows how Florida, a state that has embraced far-reaching school choice reforms, has enabled minority students to excel. As the study points out:

In 1999, when these reforms were enacted, nearly half of Florida fourth-graders scored “below basic” on the NAEP reading test, meaning that they could not read at a basic level. But by 2007, less than a decade after the education reforms took effect, 70 percent of Florida’s fourth-graders scored basic or above. Florida’s Hispanic students now have the second-highest statewide reading scores in the nation, and African-Americans score fourth-highest when compared with their peers.
In fact, the average Florida Hispanic student’s score is higher than the overall average score for all students in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

The fact that Florida Hispanics out perform New Mexico’s entire student population should indicate that vouchers and tax credits (both of which Florida has adopted) can improve results. Hopefully, New Mexico policymakers will take notice.

Flunked, the Movie now for Sale

A few months ago, the Rio Grande Foundation sponsored a showing of the film “Flunked” and a conversation with education reformer Ben Chavis. Video of the post-film discussion is available here.
Several people enjoyed the film and asked if copies were available for sale. This was not the case when we showed the film, but DVD’s recently went on sale. Order your copy here.

George Will Column on Ben Chavis

A few weeks ago, the Rio Grande Foundation hosted educator Ben Chavis from the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, CA. Chavis shared his “radical” ideas on education which included holding all minority children and children of all income levels to a high standard. You can listen to the interview we did with Bob Clark of KKOB 770 here when Mr. Chavis when he was in town for our education event in Albuquerque on July 31st.
In addition to this informative radio interview, syndicated columnist George Will had an article that appeared in today’s Albuquerque Journal and in newspapers all over the country.

Flunked, The Movie Discussion

Many readers of this blog undoubtedly attended the Rio Grande Foundation/Educate New Mexico screening of “Flunked, the Movie” on July 31. If you missed the event, you may want to check out the video below of the discussion with educator Ben Chavis, a star of the film, Steve Maggi, the film’s director, and President of the Rio Grande Foundation Paul Gessing.
The video is in two parts and represents our first foray into the medium. Please let us know what you think: info@riograndefoundation.org

Continue reading “Flunked, The Movie Discussion”

Ben Chavis NPR Interview

As previously mentioned on this blog, the Rio Grande Foundation and Educate New Mexico are hosting a free showing of the new film “Flunked” on July 31 in Albuquerque. Following the showing, Ben Chavis, the former administrator of the American Indian Charter School in Oakland, CA, will be presenting his ideas on education reform. Chavis is a star of the film.
The NPR show “Day to Day” did an excellent story on Chavis’s success a few years back. Check out the 5-minute audio clip here.
I hope you’ll consider attending this exciting event.

Join us on July 31st for Flunked, the Movie

The Rio Grande Foundation and Educate New Mexico are sponsoring a film event on July 31, what would have been Dr. Milton Friedman’s 96th birthday. We will be showing Flunked, the Movie, a film with an important message for New Mexico’s parents, teachers, and students.
Flunked is a 45-minute documentary that discusses America’s failing educational system, analyzes the reasons for that failure, and profiles some leaders who are making a difference. Ben Chavis, principal of the American Indian Public Charter High School in Oakland, California, (and a star of the film) will discuss the film and what can be done to improve our lagging educational system. Executive Producer Steven Maggi will be on hand to answer questions about the making of Flunked.
• Results of national and international tests show that our students are falling further and further behind. The average American student is no longer able to compete with foreign students, and in many cases, they’re failing to meet even basic academic standards;
• Complaining about the problem is easy, but it produces few productive results — especially when many schools nationwide are truly “getting it right;”
• Flunked is the story of these schools—their founders, leaders, and students—who are breaking the mediocre mold and attaining great results with their students…without government programs or mandates!
• By focusing on schools that are successfully applying these principles, Flunked sends a message loud and clear: Parents, students, principals, and teachers—in New Mexico and across the nation—do not have to settle for mediocrity in their own schools!
When: July 31, 2008 – 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Where: New Mexico Bar Association
5121 Masthead NE,
Albuquerque, NM 87109
The Bar Association is off Jefferson, south of Paseo in Albuquerque. Drinks and hors d’oeuvres will be provided. Happy hour begins at 5:00 and the film will start promptly at 5:30.
This event is free and open to the public.
Please RSVP to info@riograndefoundation.org or call 505-264-6090.