Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Parents Desperate for Education Choice

From the AP via the Akron Beacon Journal:

Troubled public schools where students are eligible for vouchers saw a sudden spike in enrollment as the school year wound down last week, with parents and administrators at private schools realizing thousands of the vouchers were about to go unused.

In Cincinnati, a supporter of St. Mary School in Hyde Park launched a phone blitz over Memorial Day weekend informing families that the deadline for voucher scholarships worth up to $5,000 was about to pass.

Nearby John P. Parker Elementary School, whose poor academic ranking qualifies its students for vouchers to pay for private education, saw a sudden influx of students, all less than a week before classes ended.

In Toledo, unfamiliar families also began showing up at Pickett Elementary School. Principal Keith Scott said they had no intention of staying -- many called in sick or simply didn't show -- but now they can apply for vouchers because they are on the school's rolls.

The government's reaction?

The surge was enough to send state education officials to the law books.

Under Ohio's newly expanded voucher program, tens of thousands of students at schools on academic watch or academic emergency are eligible for money to go elsewhere. The scholarships are worth $4,250 for elementary students and $5,000 for high-schoolers. But the legislation was vague on how many days a student must be enrolled at one of those schools to qualify. The deadline to enroll is Friday.

"We're telling school districts to flag students that suddenly enrolled in voucher-eligible schools as we seek legal guidance," Ohio Department of Education spokesman J.C. Benton said. "The intent of the legislation is certainly not to sign up for the last day of school in order to be eligible for the program."

The state must provide educational choice for all. Please stop the back-alley educations!

NOTE: Cross-posted to Right-Angle Blog.


Jill said...

Steve, I hope you accept this question with the intention I have: I want to understand how this activity indicates that parents are desperate for education choice.

The vouchers have been available for months. There are thousands of them.

Is the DOE not getting the information out?

Are the school districts not getting the information out?

I do not know the answers to the questions. But, as someone whom others would definitely describe as a desperate parent when it comes to certain needs for my kids, I'm telling you - if those parents were desperate, they would have been asking for those vouchers and all the guidelines for how and when and where to get them.

I'm just asking for clarification on where the problem is. I heard about the deadline on WCPN at least a week or two ago - they did a whole hour either on charters and vouchers or education, I forget which. But I know this topic of the rarity of requests for vouchers was discussed.

Just trying to open up the discussion to figure out the problem. I'm not a fan of vouchers, but if they exist and people want them, then I don't think access should be suppressed.

What do you think has happened?


Steven J. Kelso Sr. said...

Yes, I do accept your question at face value, though the answer may not completely satisfy you as there is no simple answer.

I would suggest to you that there are several different motivations. People like me who purposely sent a child to an "under-achieving" school in order to take advantage of the program (I have since moved out of Columbus).

No, the word has not exactly been disseminated as robustly as I would prefer. You are quite engaged and knowledgeable -- if it were true for all citizens! The media tends to agree with you and government schools are not to be expected to advertise for their competition. The school-choice activism outside of Cleveland is, in my opinion, not as activist as it should be.

The program in Toledo has been up in the air and details have only recently been finalized.

Finally, do not rule out human nature: change is difficult and slow to be embraced (not to mention procrastination).

Finally, as for demanding better education, do Ohioans demand a better BMV? Unfortunately, like the old USSR, people tend to except that the leviathan will exist forever. Based upon what I have read about programs in Cleveland, Milwaukee and D.C., the demand is there.

I hope that I have helped.

Jill said...

Well, your engagement helps the debate. That's a good thing.

You are right that I'm knowledgeable, but how did I get that way? My kids struggled, I learned their needs and I go after the available ways to get those needs met - which has included looking at private and parochial schools (in my case, Jewish day schools). So far, public schools are still the best for my kids needs, but I'm in consultation with them all the time.

It's called parenting.

Now, I know that not every parent is this way and children don't select their parents. And I do believe that districts should be more concerned about how well they can serve a child rather than retaining names on their roll in order to get more money. The fights for IEP services also highlight how reticent even the best schools can be in using their resources.

It's all a collaboration. You can't teach in a vacuum and you can't parent alone either. The world just isn't structured that way for the most part, and I do think that's a good thing too. But it does make figuring out who does what more difficult.

I would guess the bottom line places the burden on the ones who hold the information first - the ODE (not the DOE in Ohio)- to get it to the districts AND the parents,. or, at a minimum, obligate the districts and then monitor them to get the info to the parents. Just as a comparison, with gifted education? It's a similar seesaw as far as who informs the parents that districts are required to test for giftedness if a parents asks for the testing - but the parents need to learn that the testing even exists.

As you say - no simple answers.

I really just wanted to flesh out the idea that parents are desperate for choice. I'm still not really seeing evidence of that - well, not overwhelming. I think there were 14,000 vouchers available? And something like several hundred as of a couple of weeks ago had been requested. Those several hundred might be desperate, but it's not in overwhelming number.

Then, as you suggest, there are the ones who don't know how to access.

Certainly deserves more attention. Hmm - does the voucher movement keep a blog??

Steven J. Kelso Sr. said...

While there are several national, school choice websites, I have searched largely in vain for detailed information that is Ohio specific. I have hope for the future, but what happens...?

In Cleveland, the demand is quite brisk for vouchers, yet there are I am sure thousands of Clevelanders that are unaware of what is available to them. Toledoans were even told that it wouldn't be available to them, only to have the program extended by a later decision.

As for parental involvment at large, you're preaching to the choir. Your children are lucky that they have someone taking an active role.