A number of states have engaged in school reforms this year. Aside from a new law letting Teach for America enter the state–a good move but hardly dramatic–Minnesota wasn’t one of those states.
You know about the labor strife in Wisconsin. But did you know the Badger State made some other significant changes? It expanded the scope of parental choice in education. The Foundation for Education Choice has some details, but I will highlight two. First of all, income limits on participation in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program have been expanded into the middle class. That’s good, because as Milton Friedman observed, a government program for the poor will be a poor program. Bringing in the middle class will bring in increased pressure to maintain and improve the program.
But the most important change may be this: Parents in the Milwaukee program will now be able to “top off” the vouchers they receive. Up until the change, if you wanted to use a voucher to send your child to a different school, you had to find one willing to accept a payment less than what public schools receive. If for some reason you wanted a more expensive school–say, one that paid its teachers more, had a better technology program or sent its students on elaborate field trips–you couldn’t say to the school, “here’s your voucher, and I’ll make up the difference.” It was illegal. Under the new law, that won’t be.
Is that a good news? Absolutely. The old law’s cap was a price control. Price controls stunt supply, and discourage new providers from entering the market. I’ll be quite interested to see if any new schools develop to take advantage of the new law.
Education Week, meanwhile, says “about a dozen states passed laws since January that curb or otherwise modify teacher tenure, teacher evaluations, last-in-first-out policies, and collective bargaining.” Michigan is one such state. Ed Week quotes an official with the Education Commission of the States, who says these laws represent a “sea change.”
Among the changes made in the states not named Minnesota:
- An end to first-in-first-out policies when it comes to teacher layoffs. Seniority will no longer trump all.
- Tenure phased out, or at the last, it becomes easier to dismiss ineffective teachers.
- Collective bargaining limited to pay and benefits.
- Using students’ progress in learning as one measure in evaluating teacher performance.
- Increasing the percentage of teachers at a school who agree to a strike before one happens.
Education Week puts the credit (or if you wish, blame), not on the Koch Brothers or any other bogeyman of leftist activists, but on The New Teacher Project (if you will, a “New Democrat” project) and the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top.