THE POLICY FOUNDATION AND SCHOOL CHOICE
"The most callused aspect of the current education monopoly in Arkansas is that it willingly and deliberately forces children--except those whose parents have wealth--to attend bad schools.” Policy Foundation report,11998
(March 2018) The Policy Foundation was established in 1995 as a nonpartisan, 501(c)(c) non-profit think tank. For nearly a quarter-century the Foundation has advanced market-based ideas to the people of Arkansas. The Foundation advances these ideas in various ways, including public forums, news media reports, special projects2, and research posted on its website.3
School Choice, Competition and Consumers
One idea is school choice, which the Policy Foundation has advanced as a process to increase competition within Arkansas' current model of education. The field of economics recognizes the positive role that competition can play in serving consumers, though public school officials frequently attack this idea.
Monopolies and 529 Plans
Monopolies are characterized by high costs and low quality goods and services for consumers. A competitive educational system would support a wide variety of schools to serve students, parents, guardians, and other consumers4. Instead, proponents of monopoly such as the Arkansas Education Association and public school officials fought the recent expansion of 529 Plans to help middle-class families whose children use private schools.
Legislators rejected monopoly and advanced 529 Plans. But the episode was a reminder that little has changed since a 1998 Foundation report observed:
"(T)he most troubling aspect of any monopoly is the inevitable closing of ranks when it is challenged and the fierce opposition to change it can always muster. Monopolies--and the people who benefit from being a part of them--are naturally defensive and fiercely devoted to maintaining ... control as well as ... jobs, power, and authority. And sometimes---as in the case of public education--it is a detrimental resistance that leads to "locking out" needed change and "locking in" continued poor quality."
Policy Foundation Action on School Choice Since 2015
The idea of school choice has advanced more during Gov. Asa Hutchinson's first term in office5 than at any time in modern Arkansas history. Gov. Hutchinson presided over passage of the Succeed Scholarship Program (2015),6 a voucher program that pays tuition costs for students with disabilities to attend authorized private schools; and this year's expansion of 529 Plans.
The Foundation has advanced school choice since 2015 in the following ways:
· A revenue estimate was prepared for legislators studying 529 Plans;
· Parents and other stakeholders were briefed on 529 expansion;
· Research memos explained Arkansas' school choice market continues to grow at a high rate and includes nearly 80,000 students;
· A forum featuring Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin explained school choice to parents, educators and other stakeholders;
· Education Savings Account videos were posted on the Foundation's website for parents interested in school choice. One video, "Malachi's Story," is about a disabled African-American child assisted by ESAs;
· A memo argued school choice should expand in Little Rock;
· A forum noted Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman's support for school choice; and memos noted the leadership role of private Arkansas foundations and citizens;
· News media explained the Succeed Scholarship Program to a national audience.
1 “A Thirty Year $20 Billion Taxpayer Investment Yields An Unprecedented Crisis in Academic Performance," 1998.
2 The Policy Foundation led an Efficiency Project that examined Arkansas state government in 2016. Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the Project, which worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, an international consulting firm.
3 More than 350 research memos and reports are currently posted at www.arkansaspolicyfoundation.org
4 Businesses rely on the educational system to provide a skilled work force, a factor of economic development.
5 Gov. Hutchinson took office January 13, 2015
6 "School Choice Reaches A Tipping Point," National Review Online, May 14, 2015
"Texas vs. Arkansas: Policy Smackdown," National Review Online, July 20, 2015