Mr. Obama, Tear Down This Educational Wall!


In The New York Post, Reason contributor Ryan Sager writes up a recent Rand Corp. study that finds charter schools are generally effective in helping the kids that attend them. And he praises President Obama for rhetorically defending school choice (and enacting it by sending his daughters to a private school) but argues that simple jawboning won't bring real reform:

The president's rhetorical support of school reform alone has helped to shift the education debate, putting teachers unions on notice: Even under a Democratic president, they can't safely stick to the status quo. It's also given the cover of the president's enthusiastic support to state and local legislators who'd like to come out strongly in favor of charters.

But it's not enough.

Consider New York, which finally raised its [charter school] cap in 2007, to 200 from 100 in exchange for a law that automatically unionizes charter schools whose enrollment goes over 250 students.

The cap at 100 stunted the growth of charter for years. The new cap provides a little more breathing room, but New York already has 115 charter schools operating, with 30 more approved to open in the next 18 months. The cap will at least need to be lifted again soon; it should be scrapped.

Or consider Ohio, a state that is analyzed in the Rand study and whose Gov. Ted Strickland wants to cut charter school spending by 20 percent (despite the fact that charter schools receive $5,700 per student versus close to $10,000 per student in traditional public schools).

What should Obama do to back up his words? Sager says the president should do "something bold to help Paterson and other charter-supporting governors and legislators around the country:"

Tie one or more federal funding streams to the lifting of the caps.

The most logical candidate would be the "incentive and innovation grants" in the stimulus bill. It's a $5 billion pot of money over which Education Secretary Arne Duncan (a reformer out of the Chicago school system) has almost complete discretion.

Whole thing here. Hmm, that comes dangerously close to making me think the stimulus bill might not be totally awful.