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Milton Friedman Day School Choice Lecture

Friedman Day

Yankee Institute Chairman Rob Simmons with the Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick on July 31, 2013 (Credit: Heath Fahle)

The Yankee Institute honored the legacy of Dr. Milton Friedman on Wednesday, July 31 with a luncheon and policy discussion led by Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute.

The New Britain Herald’s Scott Whipple called the event the best free lunch in central Connecticut.

Mr. Bedrick, the Director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, spoke to a packed house about the merits of school choice, one of Dr. Friedman’s signature issues. His presentation is available here.

In his presentation, Bedrick highlighted the high cost of educating pupils in Connecticut, noting the deceptive practice of calculating per pupil spending based only on operating expenditures rather than total expenditures which would include capital investments, pension benefits, and other costs. Using this more accurate measure, he revealed that Connecticut’s average total cost per pupil is actually $17,500, $3,500 higher than the national average.

Bedrick, a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, also pointed out that public education advocates in ten states claimed that per pupil spending was 49th out of 50 in 2012.

He also unveiled new research about the transparency of state education departments in reporting public school spending. In Cracking the Books, Bedrick graded the quality of publicly available data as an “F-”, ranking Connecticut as 43rd in the nation on this measure.

Before a lively question and answer period, Mr. Bedrick suggested the benefits of a robust school choice program in Connecticut. The benefits would include:

  • Save money
  • Improve student performance
  • Raise graduation rates and college matriculation
  • Improve civic knowledge

For more information about Jason Bedrick or the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, visit the Cato Institute or follow him on Twitter @JasonBedrick.

2013 Yankee Institute Friedman Day Presentation

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Connecticut Education Rankings

Connecticut ranks 7th in the country in graduation rates – with 77% of its students graduating. Raising Hale’s Zachary Janowski discovered that the average cost of a public school diploma in CT (cumulative spending for K-12) is $133,000. With such an impressive investment, you’d think those students are all getting high marks. But unfortunately, that is not the case: our friends at National School Choice Week refer to NAEP sources on CT showing that 57% of 12th graders are not proficient in reading, and 71% of 12th graders are not proficient in math.

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School Choice in the 50 States

School choice options vary from state to state, with some providing several options to families, while others are more restrictive.  Some states, for example, do not have legislation that allows cyber schools or tax credits. This map from the Foundation for Educational Choice gives a state-by-state look at school choice options in all the 50 states.

Connecticut has public charter and magnet schools as well as homeschooling options for families. Lotteries also place students from urban schools in suburban schools and vice versa. However, private school choice and public virtual schooling is not permitted in Connecticut.

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School Choice Benefits

This is National School Choice Week, celebrating the options that many parents across the country have for the education of their children.  School choice can refer to public charter schools, public virtual schools, school vouchers, tax credits, and homeschooling. Let’s look at some of the benefits of school choice:

  • Public schools save money when students go elsewhere for learning opportunities
  • Education can be tailored to students’ learning pace
  • Public charter and virtual schools often have smaller classrooms, so there is a lower student-teacher than in traditional public schools
  • Alternatives can accommodate students with disabilities, health issues, or busy schedules
  • Students in low-performing schools have the opportunity to move to higher-performing ones; this benefits racial minorities in inner-city districts
  • Higher graduation rates and test scores
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How Much Does Each Diploma Cost?

HARTFORD – The average Connecticut high school graduate cost taxpayers about $133,000 from kindergarten through senior year, according to new research by the Yankee Institute. For high school graduates in the city of Hartford, which has the state’s most expensive graduates, that figure climbed to just under $200,000 per graduate, the data shows.

Using data from the Connecticut Department of Education, the Yankee Institute has ranked every Connecticut public high school by the lifetime cost of education per graduate. The five most expensive and least expensive diplomas are:

Rank               School                         Cost per Graduate
111                HARTFORD SCHOOL DISTRICT $ 199,212
110               NEW HAVEN SCHOOL DISTRICT $ 190,529
109              NEW BRITAIN SCHOOL DISTRICT $ 181,503
108              GREENWICH SCHOOL DISTRICT $ 179,816
107             NEW LONDON SCHOOL DISTRICT $ 178,306
STATEWIDE AVERAGE $ 133,074
5                  COVENTRY SCHOOL DISTRICT $ 110,380
4                  NEW FAIRFIELD SCHOOL DISTRICT $ 110,309
3                 WOLCOTT SCHOOL DISTRICT $ 109,981
2                 TOLLAND SCHOOL DISTRICT $ 107,552
1                 WATERTOWN SCHOOL DISTRICT $ 106,303

The entire dataset is available here: Rankings | Graph | Data

The most efficient school districts – Watertown, Tolland, and Wolcott – generate nearly two diplomas for the same price it cost Hartford to generate just one. It costs nearly as much to graduate one student in Hartford as it does to purchase a home in the Hartford market ($225,900), based on pricing from the National Association of Realtors.

“People who invest $133,000 in something expect a high return on that investment. Are taxpayers getting good value for an investment of that size?” asks Fergus Cullen, Executive Director of the Yankee Institute, the free market think tank that examined the data.

“If some communities can educate a graduate for nearly half the cost of other communities, imagine how much value a parent with $133,000 for education could do for her child,” Cullen said. “School choice has the potential to get more students wearing a cap and gown without any additional cost.”

Methodology: To calculate the cost per graduate, the Yankee Institute took data from the Connecticut Department of Education for average annual expenditures per student going back 13 years, representing K-12. After adding up that data, Yankee then divided it by graduation rates to come up with the lifetime cost per graduate. The most current data available is for the 2007-2008 school year, and data is not adjusted for inflation, so the real cost of 2010 graduates is higher than we have calculated. Communities with high annual costs, more drop outs, and lower graduation rates end up with the more expensive graduates. Some regional school districts, districts with less than 13 years of data, charter schools, and other non-traditional schools were left out of the calculations to keep the data consistent for the greatest number of schools.

The Department of Education data for cost per student is found: http://www.csde.state.ct.us/public/DER/datacentral/MultipleSearch.asp.
Graduation rate data can be accessed here:
http://www.csde.state.ct.us/public/cedar/cedar/grads/index.htm.

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Education Model Policy Manual

HARTFORD – Following up their 2009 piece “How to Reduce Property Taxes with a Citizens Audit Committee“, Dr. Lewis Andrews and Dr. Armand A. Fusco have published a compendium of model school board policies from across the nation that help save school districts money.

Originally published in March 2010, this tool is a valuable resource for Citizens Audit Committees focused on education spending.

Download the Manual now! (PDF 1.7MB)

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Public vs. Private Compensation: Avon

by Malcolm McGough

The Avon Taxpayers Association asked the Yankee Institute to conduct a comparative analysis of compensation levels for Avon public sector employees. Specifically, the Avon Taxpayers were interested in how compensation for unionized teachers compared to comparable positions in private institutions, particularly given the current economic recession.

Download the study now!

An association member advised that the 2009/2010 budget provided for an increase in teacher salaries by 1.5% across the board and suggested this increase is well above the national average and out of sync with professional counterparts. Association president Florence Stahl stated, “Here we are in the worst economic mess we have ever seen yet our public sector employees are still getting wage rises… and our taxes are paying for it.”

A review of Avon Town Budget papers by Yankee revealed a .51% increase in the 2009/10 town budget, primarily to support an increase in employee benefits. The mill rate tax has been increased by around 1.65% to cover this. While modest, many taxpayers believe that the current economic environment called for a decrease in expenditures rather than an increase.

Using data from Business and Legal Reports as the bench mark for professional and executive base compensation levels, Yankee analyzed compensation data across six employment categories and compared the outcome against Avon High School teacher base salaries. On every level of comparison, base level compensation paid to Avon High School teachers was well above any of their comparable professional counterparts, in some cases nearly 90% above.

This does not take into account the extensive benefits provided to public sector education employees. A limited review of public records for other Avon public schools, and for public schools in neighboring towns of Farmington, Canton, and Simsbury indicates that a similar detailed review of these records is warranted.

Download the study now!
Download the Data (I)
Download the Data (II)

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How to Reduce Property Taxes with a Citizens Audit Committee

Citizens Audit Committee

Published on June 24, 2009 by the Yankee Institute for Public Policy

This manual is designed to help local politicians, taxpayer activists, and concerned citizens to lower onerous property taxes by organizing to reduce local budgets, both for their towns and schools.

DOWNLOAD THE FULL MANUAL NOW! (PDF)

Although written in the early months of 2009 – a time of dramatically falling home values, widespread job losses and worldwide economic difficulties – it is designed to be implemented during any period, so that events like those of today will never again put property tax payers in such dire economic circumstances.

This manual is also designed to be straightforward and accessible. Even policymakers are often confused by the terminology of local finance. Many otherwise intelligent people cannot clearly define “mil rate” or “grand list.” They are also made to feel helpless by false assertions that the cost of public employment is forever fixed by contract, that local programs are strictly mandated by state law, and that unions and other special interest groups are too powerful to be resisted.

What follows is based on the work of Dr. Armand Fusco, former school superintendent in Branford, Connecticut, and author of School Corruption: Betrayal of Children and the Public Trust (2005), a pioneering study of waste and fraud in K-12 education.

Dr. Fusco wrote two pamphlets for the Yankee Institute – Stopping School Corruption (2006) and Ending Corruption and Waste in Your Public Schools (2007) – and formed the first Connecticut public education audit committee at the request of the Enfield school board. In January of 2009, the taxpayer group Nonpartisan Action for a Better Redding (NABR) decided to conduct a first-of-its-kind audit of both the Redding school and town budgets with the goal of engineering a ten percent reduction in 2010 – a project appropriately called “10-in-10.” Dr. Fusco agreed to guide the Redding citizens audit committee, and its work has influenced what follows.

DOWNLOAD THE FULL MANUAL NOW! (PDF)

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Free College for High School Students

by Dr. Lewis M. Andrews, Ph.D.

“Free College for High School Students,” a pioneering study which advocates giving every high school student who finishes his or her graduation requirements in three years a full two-year scholarship to community college.

Because two years of community college often costs significantly less than one year of high school, taxpayers can save as much as $10,000 or more for every student who receives a scholarship. Under the plan students can count the first year of community college as the senior year of high school or graduate high school early and go on to college.

“The Yankee Institute’s proposal to pay high school students to graduate in three years is a win-win for both taxpayers seeking to control public education spending and students needing financial help for college. Other states should follow the lead of Arizona and Utah in adopting this proposal.”Newt Gingrich

Pay High School Students to Graduate in Three Years
Lewis M. Andrews, Ph.D.

While there is no such thing as a “free lunch,” the simple reform of paying high school students to satisfy their state’s graduation requirements in three years would achieve the following:

1. Reduce the skyrocketing property, income, and sales taxes required to fund public education. This is accomplished by giving early graduation grants worth some fraction of the per pupil cost of the senior year of high school.

2. Make college education more affordable for all students, but especially for those from poor and middle class families. In almost every state the proposed grants would more than cover the full two-year tuition at community college.

3. Relieve growing towns and cities from the crushing burden of costly new school construction by reducing the school census.

4. Give secondary school educators a cost-free way to cope with taxpayer distress over the cost of public employee wages, pensions, and health care benefits. Because the proposed policy would have to be phased in over a number of years – students wanting to graduate early would have to start planning to satisfy graduation requirements as freshmen – the cost-saving staff reductions could be achieved through attrition. No teacher need lose his job.

5. Attenuate the senior year boredom that drives many restless adolescents, ready to leave high school, to engage in self-destructive behavior.

6. Bring the defenders of the current public education system and its critics together in the common cause of helping future generations.

Background

The idea of encouraging high school students to meet all their graduation requirements in three years, so they can go on early to college level work is not new. Leon Botstein, the distinguished president of Bard College, has long argued that the current curriculum of American high schools is a hindrance to academic achievement with the worst damage wreaked on average and below-average pupils. Indeed, Bard has become an elite college in part by deliberately admitting many secondary students after their junior year of high school.

If the notion of condensing four years of high school into three is not new, neither does it turn out to be very difficult. This is because most school districts in North America define graduation requirements, not by years attended, but by the completion of certain required courses. Since high school students are permitted many electives over the course of four years, condensing the curriculum into three grades is largely a matter of students substituting required courses for some electives.

In 2003, the province of Ontario eliminated an entire grade with the only apparent problem being an unusually large number of applicants to Canadian colleges and universities in one year. Also in 2003, the governor of Florida instituted a voluntary three-grade curriculum for all state schools. Any Florida student who elects a “fast track” to high school graduation is encouraged to do, so as long as he or she takes all the state’s required courses. Indeed, in most states the requirements for high school graduation are so flexibly written that the majority of America’s local school boards already have the authority to confer diplomas on those who finish before the end of four academic years.

The proposed policy would increase the frequency of early graduation by employing a financial incentive that would greatly benefit both students and taxpayers. Specifically, it is recommended that every student who finishes his or her graduation requirements in three years be given a grant that is less than the per pupil cost of high school but at least enough to cover full tuition at a local community college.

States where progress has already been made include:

Arizona

The Arizona early graduation program has implemented the proposed policy by replacing the grant with a loan, forgivable upon completion of two years of post-secondary education.

Connecticut

The proposal to pay high school students to graduate early was first proposed in a 2004 Yankee Institute publication, The Early Graduation Reward Plan . It was refined in 2007 in a second Yankee publication, Free College for High School Students. The legislature has not yet enacted a statewide law, but the proposed policy is being advanced by individual towns.

Texas

The Texas program offers cash grants in differing amounts, depending on how early a student completes state requirements and how many college level courses were completed in high school.

Utah

Utah also offers cash grants in differing amounts, again related to how soon the student completes secondary school requirements.

Dual Enrollment Programs

Many states, including Minnesota, North Carolina, and Washington, have implemented something deceptively similar to the proposed policy by allowing high school students to spend the senior year by taking a full course load at local community colleges. The advantage to students is that they can earn both a high school and an associate’s degree in five, versus the typical six, years.

Where such programs fall short of the proposed policy is that they leave students on the hook for the second year of community college. They also create a redundant payment system, paying both the high school and the community college to educate the same student at the same time. For taxpayers to really benefit, school budgets must reflect the fact that students have either graduated early or, if still technically enrolled in high school while taking a full college course load, are no longer educated by the district.

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