In this episode, Kurt interviews Lennie Jarratt on the topic of school choice.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. It’s very yet cold again here in January although we had just a quick break from the cold. We had one day of 58 degrees, right Chris? I know you loved that warm weather that day.
Kurt: I know I give you beef for the weather all the time. We’ve been a bit in a rush here today. I had the funeral of a friend that passed away, an elderly fellow who’s sought of an honorary grandfather to me, Jim Wellwood. Jim was a very great man, generous spirit, a humble heart, and Jim actually got me interested in media when I was in high school so I volunteered. Instead of going to the high school sunday school, I decided to participate in the church tape ministry so recording the sermons and then duplicating them and selling them to people that wanted them. I did that. That’s where I really got my start in media stuff and learning more about those sorts of things in that field and then I ended up getting a job at the church in the audio/visual department so I owe a lot to Jim and he was a great person. It was a wonderful opportunity to see a number of friends and family gather together this morning to honor Jim. Nevertheless, we are here now and I have made it here just barely in time and we’ve got a guest today in studio which is just an awesome opportunity. I am joined today by Lennie Jarratt who is the project manager for the Center of Transforming Education at the Heartland Institute. Lennie. Thanks so much for joining us on the program today.
Lennie: Thanks for having me on, Kurt.
Kurt: Yeah, so we’re going to be talking school choice today and what that entails in sort of a basic sense. I perceive that in my experience, a lot of people don’t even know what school choice is or that it’s even an option on the table.
Lennie: That’s correct. Most people don’t understand it and the way it’s become it’s I can only choose another school, when actually, it’s becoming more of the norm where you can choose multiple schools. You can choose a class at the public school, a class at maybe at a charter school, a class at a private school, or even use a private tour, so it’s becoming more broadening to education choice rather than just school choice at this point. A lot of people don’t know that yet.
Kurt: Yeah. Gotcha. Before we continue, I’ve already had someone comment, what is that orange thing around your neck? So here, I have a scarf which is for the National School Choice Week which is coming up I believe.
Lennie: Yes. January 21st-27th is National School Choice Week and it’s also School Choice Week in Illinois. Governor Rauner has proclaimed January 21st-27th School Church Week in Illinois.
Kurt: Ah. Is that right? So, here in Illinois, we don’t have school choice.
Lennie: We do a little bit. It’s limited. We have charter schools, mostly in Chicago and there’s some in Rockford and a few others, but they’re very very limited as Chicago’s the main one that has charters. The other thing we do do here is we have a really vibrant homeschool market which is really, that’s still about parental choice and they can take advantage of an individual education tax credit for homeschooling. It’s max of $500 per family so it’s very minimal, but it still helps and then last year, that just is going into effect now, is the tax credit scholarship which is a program where a lot of private schools can be used for public schools as well where people can donate money and then get 75% of that off on their tax liability through the state of Illinois based on the 75% of whatever they donate up to a million dollars, so that’s going to open up for a lot more kids to be able to get these scholarships to be able to go to a different school.
Kurt: Sure. We’re already moving forward here pretty quickly. Let’s take a step back. We have different types of schools, okay, for different ages, right? Starting with maybe even preschool, Elementary, I went to a middle school, I’m not sure what the difference is between a middle school and junior high, and then of course high school, so you, of course, I’m going to take notes here, I grew up in the public school system. Of course, a lot of people know that there are private schools out there, okay? Usually the only way you can do that is if you get a scholarship or if your family pays out of pocket for that private education. You mentioned another type of school here called charter schools. Help me understand. What is a charter school?
Lennie: Charter school is a public school, but it doesn’t have all of the same regulations that a straight public school would have. It’s got more autonomy and is usually run by a third party group instead of being run by the actual state or the district, normal districts are not running it.
Kurt: So it’s not under the oversight of a governmental body. Is that right?
Lennie: There’s a contract between the local district and the charter school so they have authority back and forth via a contract, but it’s totally managed by a separate identity.
Kurt: Got it. So it’s managed by a private company.
Lennie: In Illinois, it’s a not-for-profit. It can only be not-for-profits running charters in Illinois.
Kurt: Gotcha. Right. But they do receive taxpayer dollars because of the contract.
Lennie: Yes. They receive a certain amount per student from the local school district and flow through from the state typically into those charters. It’s typically about 75% of what the local public school is receiving that the charter school is receiving. There are instances, mostly Chicago has actually gone to a per student refunding, so in Chicago it’s 100%, so whatever the public school is getting there, the public charter is getting the same amount per student.
Kurt: Okay. So then what would be a benefit for a government body to contract out the job that many people see as the job of the government?
Lennie: It’s typically because the charters have more flexibility. They can do things, they can specialize. There’s a charter school in Michigan, for instance, is a flight school. As well as going to school is teaching all their kids how to fly at the same time, and so it can be more specialized. It can be different things. There’s a charter school, Urban Prep in Chicago is an all-male school, so they have the ability to do that where a regular public school wouldn’t, a public charter can do that and work, and actually the urban charters also has every student for the last seven years, I believe, 100% of their kids have been accepted at a college.
Kurt: Is that right? Wow. Okay. So we’ve got public school. We’ve got private school. We’ve got charter schools. There’s homeschool. Okay? Homeschooling, of course, is just when a parent would provide and have their child go through the curriculum like one would at a school and of course, even homeschools, there are still state standards.
Lennie: Yeah. The standards for homeschooling in Illinois is you have these subjects you have to teach. You have to teach the same subjects that’s being taught in the public schools. That’s as far as you go. You don’t have to look at the actual standards or anything. You can do it how you want it. There’s even as you go into homeschooling, there’s even differences. There’s unschooling where the kids learn on their own without a strict curriculum so they can fluctuate up and down, so basically there’s no grade level so you’re not going through a strict curriculum each year. They’re kind of learning at their own pace thing, and then there’s home school co-ops where a group of parents get together and trade off teaching kids so they’ll trade off everyday teaching different subjects. Once a week they’ll teach, and there’s a lot of co-ops around that actually have their own sports teams that play against a lot of the private Christian schools and stuff like that. There’s a lot of nuance even in homeschooling.
Kurt: I see four categories. Did I get them all?
Lennie: Well, inside the public schools there’s actually magnet schools.
Kurt: A what?
Lennie: A magnet school.
Kurt: I have never heard of that.
Lennie: They’re basically really our specialized schools, usually magnet schools are typically for gifted students. They’ll be an arts magnet school or a technology magnet school, stuff like that, inside the public school district which that kind of competes with the charter schools and kind of that model, but they still have all the exact same regulations as the local public school has for everything. Then there, well, I guess with charters you have different kinds, public and private charter schools, we don’t have any private charter schools in Illinois. There are privately run charters in other states.
Kurt: What does that mean?
Lennie: Basically, it’s run by a private corporation typically where most charters are run by not-for-profit and then there’s virtual schools or online schools as well.
Kurt: How are those categorized? Public or private or that’s just a different type?
Lennie: It’s a different type and they are actually instances where the public schools will allow virtual schools, but then there’s virtual charter schools, so they kind of cross boundaries and even a lot of homeschoolers will actually do virtual schooling as well.
Kurt: Yeah. I can see that making sense. If you’re already home, and especially for people that live out in rural areas maybe where the homeschooling in addition to like a virtual school and makes sense.
Lennie: Yeah and there’s actually some homeschooling groups I know that they’re specialized virtual education for kids with special needs where they can’t go out and do stuff. There’s one, I know of this story where the homeschooling group that actually helped by mounting a special TV in the ceiling of her room so she could actually, because most of the time she’s learning now, so she can watch the TV and interact it and interact with the lessons for the virtual school in her bed and just still laying down because that’s kind of her, with special ed, that’s what she needed to do.
Kurt: Yeah. Okay. Wow. So we’ve got the categories down and there are many of them, even more than I had thought. So the way it’s typically run or understood in a community is that you live in a neighborhood, for the vast majority of cases, if you live in a neighborhood, you go to the nearest school, the nearest public school. Of course, parents can decide if they want to go to private or homeschool, but typically if you live in a neighborhood you go to the nearest school toward you.
Lennie: Right. Typically.
Kurt: Typically, in some cases, this seems very good for some kids. They can just walk down the block. I grew up three blocks from my elementary school and, of course, growing up in the western suburbs of Chicago here, all things considered, the school districts provide a good level of teaching, but the same can’t be said for all school districts. Some schools are below average in the teachers and sometimes schools are further away. Mine was three blocks away. For other kids, they had to take the bus. Is there an advantage to, let me ask you this, what are the advantages or disadvantages of being, I don’t want to say forced, but if you can’t afford private school, that you’re stuck going to that school, for a middle-class white kid like myself growing up, it was okay, but I can imagine for people in other life circumstances, they might be stuck in a school with some really poor teachers.
Lennie: Oh yeah. They can be.
Kurt: So what would be the advantages or disadvantages of that idea of going to whatever school is closest to you?
Lennie: Sometimes as some kids would actually like the ability to have a school really close where they could just walk to it, there’s the community, the neighborhood, so they’re all growing up, they’re all kind of doing the same thing, so it’s kind of that familiarity is kind of the advantage of that model the way it was built. It’s probably more disadvantaged than it is advantaged in the long run, but that’s the typical advantage, just the neighborhood, the friendliness growing up together and having all your friends really close.
Kurt: Okay. But on the other side though, you might get stuck with a bad school.
Lennie: Yep. Or a bad teacher in a good school, that happens too.
Kurt: Or also I suppose kids might have making friends too so even the community is not the best for the child, but it seems, oh well, some kids are stuck.
Lennie: It does, and that’s kind of the issue in why school choice has become and more prevalent is because of that. When you go to a restaurant, you don’t get told you only have these two menu items. You’d never go back there unless you like that food, but for schools we say, you have to go to this school. Don’t care if that school’s better fit for you. You can’t go over there because you live here and it really does create, it really does create an unequal system across the multiple school districts because every district has its own unique thing and every school’s unique and so it’s disadvantaging to a lot of kids that way because they can’t move, they can’t afford to live in a better school district, and really is, school district zoning is recausing a lot of segregation again within the school system because of that.
Kurt: Yeah. Fascinating. One solution it would seem would be to get rid of public schools altogether and to privatize everything. I think this is the fear of many people that some fiscal conservatives might propose that solution and I’m sure that’s a fear of many public school teachers.
Lennie: It’s actually called the separation of school and state.
Kurt: Is that right? The separation of school and state.
Lennie: That’s a whole movement for that.
Kurt: But that isn’t what school choice is about, is it?
Lennie: No. It’s not.
Kurt: So tell me what does school choice look like? How would that work for a student to have a choice as to what school he or she could go to?
Lennie: It really just gives the parent more authority. They can choose which school. If a school doesn’t fit their needs, they can go to another school. They don’t have to. They can stay in their public school. They could choose another public school if they wanted. That’s the thing. They don’t have to, when you’re talking about school choice, it’s not a matter of going to a charter school or going to a private school. It could mean I want to go to, and sitting in West Chicago, I want to go to a school in Wheaton. It’s the option of basically open enrollment across all school districts as part of the idea of school choice so it doesn’t limit you to going to a private school or a public school. You stay in a public school if you want.
Kurt: So, maybe I’m a little confused here so help me out?
Kurt: How would that work? How could a student just all of a sudden just go to another school district? How do we make sure that those teachers are getting paid based on who’s showing up? How does that work logistically?
Lennie: It’s the same thing. Take enrollment. All the schools have to do reporting on the number of students that are in attendance. In a model, Florida has open enrollment across the whole state. They had done it across several districts and there are several others around the country that do something similar so they track the enrollment and then base the funding off of the enrollment.
Kurt: Do they get the money from the state government?
Lennie: Yeah. Coming from the state and most of those, they’re not going to get any of the local money. The local money’s going to that district. That’s going to stay inside the district. It will be the state and federal monies that are following the child to the other school district, and some school districts will charge tuition for a student that’s coming out of district. We don’t really have that in Illinois. There’s no open enrollment in Illinois. Actually, in Illinois, if you’re trying to go to another school district and don’t believe there, there’s actually private investigators to investigate you to actually charge you and charge parents for doing that, and actually this parents, not in Illinois, but in other states that have actually gone to jail for putting their kid in another school district.
Kurt: Oh my gosh. Now the open enrollment model, is that different? I’ve heard this term, voucher system. The open enrollment is different from a voucher system or is it the same thing roughly?
Lennie: You could probably equate those pretty easily because the money’s going to go to another school and the money’s never going to the individual at all, which kind of would be considered a voucher, so the state’s going to pay based on you going to that school and enrolling in that school. That open enrollment would be very synonymous to a voucher.
Kurt: Okay. In this case, you could have a student who wouldn’t want to go to their closest public school. They would have the choice to go to another public school, private school, charter school, or home school.
Kurt: How would that work with the home school? Would the state pay the family that’s homeschooling?
Lennie: Most states right now do not include homeschooling as any of the school choice programs except for individual income tax credits. There are some that are looking at. New Hampshire’s ESA program is actually looking at also being able to give money to homeschoolers as well, but most states exclude homeschoolers from any of that funding and they only get any help with individual tax credits.
Kurt: Yeah. I could think there that a number of public school teachers would not like the school choice here.
Lennie: Most teachers’ unions do not like school choice.
Kurt: Unions. Yeah.
Lennie: There are a lot of teachers, which there have been some articles about in different states, I don’t think anybody’s done anything nationally on the national level about how there is a huge chunk of teachers that use school choice for their own child even though they oppose it for the others.
Lennie: Yes. And you’ll have a lot of teachers sending their school to private school, because they don’t want their school in the private school that they’re teaching at, so you get a lot of that too.
Kurt: Right. And that really speaks volumes that they are unwilling to support even what they are trying to do.
Lennie: School choice for me, but not for thee.
Kurt: Sometimes you do see that in politics regardless of the party, Democrat or Republican, you see it where the parties want to exempt themselves from whatever laws that they’re passing. That is interesting. It seems though that you could have a scenario where some teachers, if a school itself doesn’t have the best of teachers, they’re going to lose out on students.
Kurt: Which means they might have to cut teachers because student numbers aren’t big enough, but don’t we need to protect jobs of teachers?
Lennie: Yes and no. Honestly, there’s probably more administrators that should be cut long before they ever get down to the classroom and cutting the teachers because the numbers of administrators have gone up tremendously and a lot of that’s due to all the regulations that the state and feds put on that could be, if you could start removing some of those mandates it would help the public schools anyway, but if you look at the statistics we’ve been having school choice now in multiple places for over 25 years. Actually, they’ve done some studies on it. The closer a charter school is, they did the study in New York, the closer a charter school is to the local public school, the better education outcomes of that public school after kids have left to go to charters, so they have to start competing, so they have to actually start working for the students so then they start trying to hire better teachers and everything is well. I’m not worried about protecting jobs. I want good teachers to work and good teachers to get paid, but if they’re bad teachers, they don’t belong in the profession and they need to not be teaching kids anyway. There’s a dynamic there, but, yeah.
Kurt: In a sense, it’s very much like the marketplace where we want to have a good product or good service and competition can do two things. One, it can make the service better. It can also make the service more affordable so you get more value. I don’t want to say cheaper like cheaper quality, but in terms of our value.
Lennie: Yeah. The quality rises at the same, the price may lower, the price may stay the same, but the quality increases so much more.
Kurt: Here you would see that where with the public schools you were mentioning, they are in a sense being forced to do that which ends up being a good thing.
Lennie: Yes. Exactly.
Kurt: Okay. Now you talked about the administrators and I wanted to talk a little bit about this because I had attended a local school board meeting or school district meeting and the school superintendent talked about how hard his job was because he had to make sure that they were doing all of the regulations. I started doing some research and your an expert in this field so you can confirm this for me. As I understand it, at least regarding the federal government, the federal government doesn’t mandate through coercion that school districts do regulation XYZ, but instead they attach money to it. They say, “If you do XYZ, then we will give you this much money.” Do I have a correct understanding on that?
Lennie: For the most part. There are some regulations they have to follow regardless of the money so like the special education and special needs. Learning disabilities and stuff like that, those are going to be regulated regardless of any money attached or if no money’s attached to, so there is a combination, but yes, any money that comes with a grant which is typically how they do a lot of this, all of that is based on the money coming in. That’s how they got Common Core standards across most of the country.
Kurt: Because they attached money to it. I thought it was fascinating because the superintendent talked about how difficult and stressful it was and after I was doing research I thought to myself, “Well, if you didn’t want to take the money, then you’d save on the administrators that you have to pay and the stress of the whole situation, so it seems like you’re just giving yourself added work and stress and so maybe you could simplify the system.” I’m very much, I think, in favor of a very local community covering to pay costs and coming together. I think that brings things tighter.
Lennie: Yeah. Well back in the 1800’s, a lot of the public education was not synonymous with public schools. Public education, the local businesses, the local taxing bodies and stuff, actually funded education. Kids could go to private school. They could go to private schools. They could kind of do what they want. The guilds even had a lot of their own schools and funded their own schools for kids to learn the trades and everything, but a lot of that was funded through local tax dollars. That all started to shift and move to the state so the state would do the funding and eliminate all funding going to private education and stuff and that actually grew into what’s called the Blaine Amendments now, which is pretty much an anti-religious amendment onto 38 state constitutions where no taxpayer money could go to any religious school whatsoever and had to stay inside the public schools, which at the time most of that was called common schools which ended up becoming the public schools, and we kind of lost the definition of what public education should be which is really a publicly educated populace. It should not necessarily mean a public school.
Kurt: You brought up there what is called the Blaine Amendments. I was reading an article, I believe it was like a Lutheran school in Missouri or something like that.
Lennie: Trinity Lutheran.
Kurt: So you already know what I’m talking about. Of course, correct me if I’m mistaken, but the school had reached out to the local school district seeking money for a playground.
Lennie: Right. It was the rubber, the recycled rubber equipment on the playground. It was a state grant to be able to replace their current playground.
Kurt: It was a broad state program. It’s not like they were looking for specific state funding. It’s just a broad program.
Lennie: Any school that wanted to apply could apply or playground, anything could apply for that, and Trinity Lutheran applied for it and they were in the top group of eligibility, but they were denied because of their religious affiliation.
Kurt: So even though the money wouldn’t have gone toward buying Christian books, it was going toward a playground, they denied the request.
Kurt: I’m forgetting the outcome. What happened?
Lennie: It went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kurt: Is that right?
Lennie: Yes, and then last summer, last June, the last week of June, the court handed down a decision that basically said Missouri acted unconstitutionally, any program that’s a broad program, they can’t discriminate just because it’s a religious organization.
Kurt: Especially for that program.
Lennie: For that program, and that’s not the only program. The very next day, the Supreme Court sent two cases back to different states. One to Arizona, which they had a broad program where private schools, religious schools, could actually use saved money to purchase textbooks for the schools, so that case got remanded back to the supreme court of Arizona. I don’t believe that’s been settled yet. The other case was actually a voucher case from out of Douglas, Colorado. Their court has said it was unconstitutional because of their Blaine Amendment to basically give vouchers to a parent who could then go to a religious school. That’s gone back to the Supreme Court of Colorado. The Colorado case is never going to get heard though because of the school board election in Douglas, Colorado last year, the school board that was elected is against the case, they like the original ruling so, they’re basically going to drop the case so the court can’t review it and make a ruling on it again. The case is just going to kind of going away and it’s going to have to wait for another case to be brought in a different matter for that so. Blaine Amendments in my opinion I believe will start to be ruled to be unconstitutional based on the U.S. constitution probably within the next 3-5 years, but the way they’re all written, they’re all written separately, it’s going to be a long state by state process or kind of grouping of states if they’re all written exactly the same and stuff like that.
Kurt: So now, it’s not like especially having grown up in public education myself, it’s not as if public education is anti-religion, because I remember my social studies class where I learned about different religions. I think it was my freshman year in high school. The teacher as best as she could even though I could as a Christian knew she was not understanding her theology well, she tried as best she could to teach objectively, here’s what so and so believes, so it’s not like the state itself is anti-religion. Some people think the state should be totally, completely separate, but if that’s the case why are we funding textbooks that describe different religions and what people believe?
Lennie: Yeah. And there are depending on where you’re at, there is a lot more of pure anti-religious sentiment and teaching in the schools and so that happens, just like politics. There’s a ton of politics inside the classroom that you’re never going to totally get rid of it, but you could start to eliminate a lot more actually with school choice. School choice actually helps solve that problem because parents would choose I don’t want this in my school so I’m going to go to another school and if that school started losing too many parents and losing too many students, then they would go “We’re not going to teach it like this anymore.” That’s the one way of starting reducing politics and even any teaching of religion in the classroom is school choice.
Kurt: Nice. Yeah. The Arizona case, the textbook, it seems to me that a number of people are willing to support religions, worldviews, and philosophies, other than say the traditional Christian one. With this Arizona case, I take it it was a Christian school.
Lennie: It was any private school and a lot of religious schools of all denominations were able to use that textbook program to buy textbooks for that school, but they weren’t buying religious books. They were buying regular curriculum textbooks used in all their classes. They weren’t buying religious books with it.
Kurt: Right. Okay. I wanted to inquire if that was the case, were they buying Christian devotionals….
Lennie: No. It was just plain textbooks.
Kurt: History books.
Lennie: History books. Math books. English books.
Kurt: So, regardless of whether it was a Christian school, an Islamic school, or whatever. What was the situation there were schools were denied that money?
Lennie: The weird part is the private schools had been using that for over a decade until somebody finally complained about it and took it to court to prevent it because they said money’s going to a religious school, and same thing as Trinity Lutheran, it wasn’t blatantly going to religious school. It was a general program that allowed any school to buy textbooks, use the money to buy textbooks, and so every school was eligible. They had been using for awhile before somebody complained and took them to court about it…
Kurt: Isn’t that odd? It always seems, well I shouldn’t say always, but in many cases, it’s typically one person who fusses and then it’s like the whole system, you go through a multi-million dollar court trial and all because of one person in the community complained.
Lennie: Pretty much.
Kurt: It just reminds me of the prayer in school situation where it’s like, one atheist, 99% religious people, and all of a sudden they can’t do what the vast, vast, vast majority of the community believes should be the case. That’s why I said I’m very much a local community guy. I think the communities, regardless of if they’re Christian communities or Islamic communities or Hindu communities, I think they should have that freedom.
Kurt: Yeah. That’s the most local. Right. Okay. We’ve got to take a short break here, but when we come back I want to ask you a little bit more about the history of education and then I’m sure we’ll get into some more about questions about the four different categories of schools so stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Alright. Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. Today, I’m joined in studio by Lennie Jarratt, he is the project manager for The Center For Transforming Education at the Heartland Institute. If you want to learn more about the Heartland Institute does, you can go to their website, heartland.org. They are a political thinktank and usually when people think of political thinktank, they think Washington D.C.
Lennie: Yeah. We consider ourselves a policy thinktank. We promote free-market policies.
Kurt: So it’s just ideas. It’s not necessarily candidates and campaigns.
Lennie: We stay totally away from candidates and campaigns, but one thing. We’ve been around since 1984. We do things differently. Everyone thinks about Washington D.C., but we go to all fifty states. We try to work mostly with the state legislators and help them learn what are good free market policies. We even send them a newspaper on different topics so every week they’re basically getting a newspaper from us on a different topic. Environment and climate, budget and tax, and of course my favorite, school reform news, that they get. So they’re getting that multiple years, all these great free market ideas, free market policy ideas.
Kurt: So again, not too much into the political campaigns or candidates.
Lennie: We stay around from that.
Kurt: Because sometime’s that just very messy. Let’s be honest.
Lennie: Oh it is. It is. We are basically bipartisan. We work with both parties and everybody trying to get good policy passed.
Kurt: I’m not sure what the difference is, bipartisan or nonpartisan, but it’s a similar concept that you’re not tied to one.
Lennie: I guess if you’re in a state with three or four parties it’s nonpartisan. If you’re in a state with two parties, it’s bipartisan. They work interchangeably.
Kurt: Yes. They can. Lennie. I did not tell you that this is part of our regular program, and maybe you’ve seen this show so you know how this goes. We would like to do a round of Rapid Questions with you. Here we’ve got a sixty second countdown clock. I’m going to ask you some goofy strange questions about your life and so we get to know a little bit more about you so when you are ready, I will start the clock.
Lennie: Alright. Let’s go for it.
Kurt: Here we go. What is your clothing store of your choice?
Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?
Lennie: Taco Bell.
Kurt: What school did you go to?
Lennie: For college, I went to Sussex Central High School and actually graduated from Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia.
Kurt: Where would you like to live?
Lennie: In a house.
Kurt: Favorite sport?
Kurt: What is your spouse’s favorite holiday?
Lennie: Probably Christmas.
Kurt: What’s your most hated sports franchise?
Lennie: The Dallas Cowboys.
Kurt: Usually it’s the Cowboys or the Patriots. Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Kurt: That is a shame. Would you drink a Dr. Pepper if it were handed to you?
Lennie: I will tolerate one.
Kurt: Okay. That’s acceptable. What’s one thing you’d be sure to keep with you if you were stranded on an island?
Lennie: Hopefully a pocketknife at least, a knife of some kind.
Kurt: Nice. The Hokey Pokey, Electric Slide, or the Macarena?
Lennie: Probably the Hokey Pokey.
Kurt: And if you were a baseball pitch, which one would you be?
Lennie: Probably a curveball.
Kurt: Curveball. Lennie Jarrattt. Thank you so much for playing that round of rapid questions, and I like the Dr. Pepper answer that you’d tolerate it. Thank you. That’s very close to my heart. I’m very much a big Dr. Pepper fan here.
Lennie: A lot of my family likes Dr. Pepper. I just never have.
Kurt: For some people it seems like it’s a cult following. Either you like it or you don’t. I take it are you a Bears fan for football?
Kurt: And you just don’t like the Cowboys.
Lennie: No. I grew up in Virginia so I grew up around the Redskins and with the Redskins and the Cowboys, both sets of fans were just really really annoying all the time and it just kind of stuck with me, but yeah, New England be at the top or very close to that.
Kurt: I was going to say, the Patriots, I mean, I just despise the Patriots. Some of it I’m sure is because they do so well. They do do well. Some of it, whether it’s legitimate….
Lennie: Yeah. That’s the question. How much are they cheating and how much are they not cheating there? That’s the question.
Kurt: I know Bill Belichick is a really smart guy, but he’s gotten into some trouble in the past. At any rate, that would my first pick, the Patriots, but I know for many people, it’s the Cowboys. If you’re just joining us here, today we are talking about school choice and what that all means. In the first half of the program we first covered what the different school options are and I have my list here. We’ve got public schools which most everyone knows about. A lot of people know about private schools as well, but there are things called charter schools which are schools that have a contract with the local governing body, but it’s nevertheless a private non-profit that runs the schools. More times than not a non-profit. Sometimes it can be a business or a trade school.
Lennie; There are some businesses that run, but I believe 80% are all run by non-profits.
Kurt: You also have your typical homeschool. We talked about those groups and some of the pros and cons to understanding how school systems have functioned, whether you live close by, you’ve got to go there. There are some difficulties with that. What if you’re born into an impoverished neighborhood? You don’t want the child to be stuck and tied down to that poor school, so what are some of the solutions for helping students get out of their situations? School choice seems to be one of those options and it in essence still rewards good teachers and it forces, it brings about competition. Lennie, you mentioned there was this one school that was close by where the study found the closer the charter school to the local school, you saw the local school having to do better, because they didn’t want to lose the students, so that competition was good, very much like the marketplace. If we get better cell phone service, we’re going to go to that provider. If it’s cheaper, we’re going to go do that provider, and cheaper by price, not necessarily quality of the product. We covered all that. I want to in the second half here, I guess maybe the shorter second half because we went a little over on the first half, I want to talk to you firstly about the history of education. I simply don’t know these things here. When did public schools begin to exist? If I had to guess myself, I’d say typically back thousands of years ago, you were homeschooled. Right? Your parents taught you whatever. You learned a trade and so, but then eventually, in the Roman Empire I think there were probably some schools for some well-off students.
Lennie: You get back into Socrates and all that, you had basically classes, but it was really just for the elites. It was for the rulers and their kids. It wasn’t for everybody.
Kurt: And for the students that couldn’t afford the elite schools, they still nevertheless learned a trade, and even today oddly enough, sometimes if you just go to trade school, you’re going to be better off than the college kid that takes off $100,000 in debt.
Lennie: We push too many people to go to college now when some of them really should probably go to trade schools because that’s more where they fit, that’s what they like to do.
Kurt: And they end up working sooner in the market. They can pay off whatever, even smaller debt, happens that they might bring on so, it’s fascinating. So when did we as a whole, humanity, when did public school come about, sort of education for the masses?
Lennie: I think when it became more prevalent was during the Industrial Revolution really. That’s when it really started to happen. They needed more educated workers, because they had to have all these jobs and industry, so they started having all these kids to a certain level of education and that’s kind of where it began and started doing that and then the U.S. when we came here, our founders’ moved, came to the United States, well it wasn’t the United States, but started founding our country, they started setting up communities and they wanted literate societies and so you’ll see huge, back then, Boston, Massachusetts, had over a 98% literacy rate before the revolution. They had common schools around there, but again, like we talked about earlier, it was really and truly public education where it didn’t matter. Government would fund private schools, they’d fund private teachers, and all the different avenues of making sure everybody was educated because that’s what they focused on was the education.
Kurt: But even at that point, it was very local. It was localized, the community, the city.
Lennie: The city and the locals? Yeah. The rural areas really still had problems with schools not having as many schools and as much literacy there. It was beginning to go but everybody realized how much education they needed, so it was beginning even a lot of the rural areas were bringing in teachers and stuff and starting to have the one-room schoolhouses.
Kurt: My wife likes seeing those old buildings. She thinks how cute they are.
Lennie: Well actually if you go to a full school choice model, you could bring back the one-room schoolhouses. You could set up any type of one-room schoolhouse and start educating kids again very easily with a full model of school choice, which we never really did talk about the types of school choice yet either. That was something we probably want to cover at some point. There are different types.
Kurt: Sure, but before we get to that then, over time, we saw the state, different states oversaw things, and then eventually you got the federal government involved. When did that happen?
Lennie: The federal government actually started in the Department of Education back in the 1880’s, but it was really just a data collection agency and it wasn’t a cabinet level position. It was actually under the Department of Commerce. During the Depression is when the feds started getting into the mandates and started giving money to the states for certain, “You’re going to teach these agriculture classes or do some of this stuff, then we’ll give you money”, and that’s when it started to expand and it’s continued to expand ever sense, the federal government and I believe that they have over 40% of the regulations come from the feds now although only 8 cents per dollar comes from the federal government.
Kurt: That’s the situation I’m talking about where, wait a second, if you don’t have to do it, you’re giving yourself extra work and stress and maybe it’s not worth it.
Lennie: Yeah. Really. A lot of it is not, but a lot of the regulations shouldn’t even be there. We talk about that now, but the state regulation, all the states right now because of the ESSA plan was the Every Student Succeeds Act which came after No Child Left Behind where everybody was supposed to get to a 100% of kids being proficient. We’re still not there. But every state has to file an education plan with the Department of Education, so the federal government is still looking at your education plans telling you whether it’s good enough or not good enough and telling you what to go change, so they’re still mandating education. It’s still not done at the state level or the local level. The feds are still getting their hands in for their approval for every single education plan.
Kurt: Alright. So you brought up the states here having their own plans. Sally here is watching online. She asks this question. “How has school choice changed the way education is taught in Florida or is it too soon to draw conclusions? Is the funding to the various schools straightforward or is it troublesome?” And she writes here, “I think in Illinois politics, it would be a nightmare.”
Lennie: Yeah. Florida has a lot of different school choice programs, but it really does help. When they first started it was the Gardiner scholarship and then they got the McKay’s scholarship and their tax credit scholarship programs and it’s easier to donate to the program than always finding out about them and get the scholarships for them, but they have been really really good at helping especially kids with special needs. They have been very very good at that. There is some education probably that needs to be done, because parents don’t know about those as much as they should know about them. Indiana is a prime example of it. They’ve got a voucher program, the largest voucher program in the entire country and yet parents don’t know about it. There’s a lot of that that’s still out there and complexity with it, just getting through the rules and regulations and knowing what you can do, what you can’t do, and it should not be as hard as it is, but government gets in the way of a lot of stuff. They make a lot of things more complicated.
Kurt: Added layers, paperwork, bureaucracy. There still needs to be the raising of awareness of existing programs that the government has already passed. It is the law.
Lennie: Over sixty programs across the entire country have different school choice programs right now.
Kurt: Good. That leads me then to ask you about the different school choice models. You say there are different ways of doing it.
Lennie: Charter schools are one way of doing it where it’s just a contract with a not-for-profit typically to run a different school without the regulations. The most common one everyone knows about is vouchers where basically you choose, I’m going to go to this school. The government then says, “Okay. I’m going to pay that school because your child goes there.” That’s basically what a voucher is. The newer ways they’ve gone about it have been education savings accounts or tax credit scholarships and individual tax credit scholarships. They kind of work similar, at least on the tax side of it. So real quickly, individual income tax credit is a person spends money on education which is typically what homeschoolers will do, they take those education receipts, send them to the state at the end of the year and they can take basically take a tax credit off of their taxes.
Kurt: Which is better than a deduction.
Lennie: Which is better than a deduction. Yes. But the maximum in Illinois is $500 after you go through. After the first $500 up to $2,000, 25% of that up to $500 maximum.
Kurt: This is why there are tax accountants.
Lennie: I know. And then there are several other states that have something similar at different levels. Then, tax credit scholarships is where you donate, a person donates to a scholarship management organization which is approved by the state, then the students apply to get a scholarship and the scholarship management organization is then paying the school so that does not, actually that’s the one program that does not include any taxpayer dollars. It’s by donations. Then, education savings account which is mostly what Arizona did. They started, in 2010, they passed a first education savings account plan and there’s now six states with it, looks like New Hampshire will be #7, and it’s where the state basically creates an individual account for education for each student. The treasurer usually runs it for the most part, the treasurer will run that program, they put all the money in the account, they give the parent a credit card and say, “You go spend on education, whatever you’re spending, you send us the receipts.” So they go through an approval process. Every month they look at them, making sure that’s education related. That’s how they catch any fraud. In Arizona, they did do a study. There was 1% fraud. Those people either are forced to pay back, they pay restitution, they pay back whatever they committed fraud on. Depending on how much it is, they will actually be, some of them have actually been convicted of felonies because of the amounts and sent to jail or if they pay restitution on some of it, depending on what the amount is, they will be kicked out of the program and can never use the ESA program again, so there’s safeguards into that program. The ESAs are the most flexible, because you don’t have to choose another school. That’s the thing. You can choose a course, I want to go to public school for this class. You pay for that class. I want to go to the private school for this class. I want to take this class online. I want to buy the curriculum and do this other class.
Kurt: And you apply that money for…
Lennie: And it’s been really good for a lot of the special ed students because there’s cerebral palsy, for instance, there are some kids that do well with horses so they’ll take a horse therapy class and then kind of be doing their classes in education afterwards, it helps calm them down.
Kurt: That sounds like a very good opportunity.
Lennie: Right. It’s basically meeting the exact needs of a student and they’re the most flexible of all and tax credit scholarships are the one without using taxpayer money.
Kurt: That last one I think was part of the recent discussion on the tax reform. Is that right?
Lennie: That was the 529. That’s totally different.
Kurt: Alright. I knew that there was some discussion about tax credits or deductions.
Lennie: Yeah. Basically, the 529 is what people would put money into to save for their child’s college. So the 529 is putting in after-tax dollars, it grows tax-free, then you take the money out for educational purposes and you don’t pay any tax on…
Kurt: The gains.
Lennie: The capital gains. So what they’ve done is now expanded that so you can actually take those deductions now, take it out, and use it for education at the K-12 years up to $10,000 per year. It just basically gives more parents more things, but that’s going again, because you’re putting $10,000 away, that really is going to do more for the middle-class and the upper-middle class and stuff than it really is going to help the lower incomes. That’s where the other programs come in, but there is no federal program for ESAs or vouchers except for Washington D.C. Washington D.C. is controlled by Congress because they’re not their own state. They have a voucher program that is controlled by Congress. I would actually recommend, I’d love to see that expanded into an education savings account, not only for Washington D.C. kids, but for kids of military and kids in the Bureau of Indian Education, because Washington D.C. controls all those schools, so you’ve got 43,000 native Americans, native Alaskans, native Hawaiians, all are being educated by the federal government through the Bureau of Indian Education, that they could easily put an ESA on all of those kids to give them more option because some of those schools are just horrid. You think the schools of Chicago are bad? Some of those schools are even worse.
Kurt: Wow. Is that right? That stuff I didn’t even know existed. I didn’t even know the federal government did those sorts of things. It’s fascinating to see that you almost get the feel that one needs to get permission from the government in order to have the gains on an education account not be taxed. Fascinating that we sort of need that permission these days instead of…
Lennie: Because the tax laws are so complex.
Kurt: Yeah. They can be very complex. Before we let you go here, I want to talk to you about School Choice Week, the National School Choice Week. Tell me what’s that all about?
Lennie: National School Choice Week started in 2011 with a few hundred events around the country to try to promote school choice. You’ll see the yellow scarves, all of them coming up here shortly, but in 2018, there will now be over 32,000 events across the country promoting school choice. In Illinois, there’s going to be 1,037 that they have scheduled so far. My guess is there may be a few more coming up, so if you go to schoolchoiceweek.com, you can actually select your state and see where the events are and maybe attend one.
Kurt: Are they sort of like a local rally?
Lennie: Typically, everybody does it differently. There’s a ton of schools that do it inside their school, and there’s a bunch that do it at the state capital. Some will have rallies where they have speakers and stuff come in. Every state’s different. Every group that does one does them differently. I’m going to one in Ohio for a couple of weeks for a breakfast and stuff like this. They’re different everywhere. I got the chance to go to one, it was a pre-K-5th grade school a couple years ago and actually speak to the students on what school choice was. That was fun to explain.
Kurt: Wow! Let them know that there are options!
Kurt: I think you mentioned Washington D.C. has its own voucher system. You’d hope that they could, that Congress itself, which oversees and is responsible for that, would recognize the value of having that happen for other states.
Lennie: States need to recognize that. You really don’t want Washington D.C….
Lennie: Right. You don’t want a national voucher program from Washington D.C. You want the states to see it and the studies are out there. Every single study, if you look at every single study, except for the last ones which I’ll get to, they’ve looked at a 100 of them. Only 23 of them are considered gold standard studies where they actually use scientific method and random selection and everything so you don’t get any inherent bias built in. Everyone of them showed a positive gain with school choice programs. The Louisiana program is the only one, and then I guess Indiana has come into this a little bit now, there’s been a little bit of research on it, but it was a new Indiana study. Louisiana started their school choice program, we’re in the third year that they’ve had research on it. After the second year, somebody put out a study, I’ll tell you a little more on that in a minute, to show the negative gains, that kids were behind the kids that stayed in public school, which common sense, yes, that’s going to happen, and every look at school studies, at choice studies, you have to wait till year four. Year three is usually pretty good. Year four, you start seeing the…[NP4] because the kid’s going to go to a different school, they’ve got a totally different environment, totally different school, totally different curriculum. There is going to be some backsliding there, a little bit of a drop…
Kurt: The catching up, if they’re beholden to a higher standard, they’re going to get lower grades at first.
Lennie: Yes. At first. Even the two year studied showed a drop and then an increase, but they hadn’t got back to where they were, the same kids that stayed at the public school. They will by year four in every single other study, but the thing about it is the two-year study that came out in Louisiana, I didn’t know this till later. One of the guys that did the study had previewed that study kind of doing some stuff and previewed it somewhere. Somebody took his research, preemptively published it, and so he couldn’t publish the real study that he was doing so he had to wait till year three to do his study.
Kurt: When he saw improvement.
Lennie: When he started to see the improvement. They hadn’t quite got there, but they’re almost back now. You can see the steady increases now and that’s typically every school choice program does almost the exact same thing, except most people are trying, oh it’s so awful, those kids who have lower grades. Yeah, it’s a short term thing. That’s the way it works. It’s just common sense.
Kurt: Like I said, cause they’re trying to hold kids to a higher standard.
Lennie: And they’re catching them up on everything and yeah.
Kurt: Now, ultimately, it seems that the educators only do so well when a parent is involved with their child’s education.
Lennie: Yes. Parental involvement helps a whole lot.
Kurt: When a parent is there saying, “Hey. Doing your homework? Do you need help with your homework?” That goes a much further way for a child as opposed to simply expecting children to have results, if we just, let’s just put them in a school system. Regardless of public or private or whatever, it seems parents still play an integral aspect to their children’s education.
Lennie: Yes. They do, and the studies again show parental involvement increases when parents have a choice. Quick question. Do you know which government program has a 100% satisfaction among its participants?
Kurt; Which government program has a satisfaction rate of 100%?
Kurt: This has to be a trick question.
Lennie: There is one.
Lennie: The education savings program in Arizona.
Kurt: Okay. Education savings program in Arizona.
Lennie: So their school choice program with education savings, 100% of their parents absolutely love the program, and if you look at the income levels, the lower and the more the lower income are, are the most satisfied of all.
Kurt: So you’re not saying 100-100%. You’re like saying 99%….
Lennie: No. 100% Every single parent loves the program that participates.
Kurt: Wow. I guess I got to tell my wife we’re moving to Arizona.
Lennie: Working education savings accounts.
Kurt: And that’s the beauty of laboratories of democracy. That you can see states enacting good ideas and being beacons of light to other states to say, hey, you need to do this, cause this is working for us.
Lennie: I know people like to look, the one thing, okay, how do you envision school choice working and what do you see? We already have that model. We pretty much have that with the university system already. Parents get to choose what school you go to. It can be a state school. It can be a private school. It can be a religious school. It’s already there. They can do online schools. The kind of the models already there and working and has been working for decades and for centuries now.
Kurt: Right. Well, Lennie. This has been wonderful. I want to thank you for coming into the studio and sharing your knowledge about the current affairs, not only the history, but the current affairs of what’s going on. Clearly, you’re definitely on top of, your mentioning the 10 529s and all these sorts of different programs. It’s great to have folks like yourself dedicated toward that and for the betterment, for every family that’s seeking to have a good education for their child.
Lennie: Every child deserves access to a quality education.
Kurt: Yeah. That’s a great tagline. That should be your personal motto. If you want to learn more about Lennie, you can go to the Heartland website, Heartland.org and you can search for his name there. We’ll also provide a link at our website so you can see more about him and his writings, his publications, and also you are active on Facebook as well.
Lennie: Yes I am.
Kurt: And you’ve got, before we let you go here, the Center for Transforming Education, briefly tell me what that’s about.
Lennie: It’s just our center that focuses on education, on getting school reform passed in all 50 states while education the legislators, letting them know what it is. Just keeping track of the research, what’s good, what’s happening, what are the good models, which model legislation. Anything like that. That’s kind of what we do and we’re doing a lot more with higher education now and more with vocational educational technical training and stuff like that too. Discussing that more as well.
Kurt: Great. That’s awesome. Sounds like good work. Again, thank you for coming on the show today.
Lennie: Thanks for having me on.
Kurt: Alright. Before I let you go, I just have one last announcement here for today. We are looking for a couple more donors to help us out. Veracity Hill has sort of had an opportunity dropped into our lap where we have in a matter of two weeks, had 75% of the support needed pledged, so it’s not given, but it’s pledged, to get our program on WYLL here in Chicago, a radio station that also reaches up into the Milwaukee area. We basically need something like $216 a month more so if you’d love to contribute toward that fund, please let me know. You can email me, Kurt@veracityhill.com and you could also use the website to send us a message, and even to sign up and begin contributing to our program here. I hope that it has been a continued blessing to you and if you’d like to hear a different topic or a theme or a guest on the show, please get in touch with me and we can make that happen. That does it for the program today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons and the partnerships that we have with our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. Thank you to our technical producer Chris and to our guest today in studio, Lennie Jarratt, and last but not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
[NP2]Unclear at 32:10
[NP3]Check at 55:35. I think something was missing here.
[NP4]Unclear at 57:10 with Kurt talking over him