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Top Ten List: Why “Choice” Demonstrates That Money Matters


Apologize for the CI hiatus. I have six PhD students that want to graduate, which translates to about 1,000 pages dissertation reading these past few days.

I recently had a conversation with a conservative Harvard-trained attorney last Saturday in Houston. We were discussing Finland (I blogged about Finland a few weeks ago) and her point was that the United States and Finland are not comparable. I noted that Finland was discussed by school reformers because of their turnaround over the past few decades, but you know what, you don’t have to go to Finland to find model schools and for an example that money matters. There are those that are always arguing the meme that “money doesn’t matter” for US schools. What is interesting is that we have to look no further than the “choice” movement for evidence that money DOES matter. Without further ado, a top ten list of evidence from the “choice” movement that money does matter.


10. Eric Hanushek. Who is he? Here is his Wikipedia’s bio:

Eric Alan Hanushek (born, 1943) is a Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. He is an expert on educational policy, and the economics of education. His research spans both the economics of school policy and the impact education on individuals and on economies… He is perhaps best known for the controversial assertion that “money doesn’t matter”—that is, he says that the amount of money spent in an American school district is not related to the amount of student learning in that district—and he is often called to testify in court about school funding schemes.

Ever wonder what the public schools in Eric Hanushek’s neighborhood spend (Palo Alto) compared to the state of California? Well, it turns out that Palo Alto schools per pupil spending is about 35-40% more than the state average. There are perks to being able to choose to live in a home valued at more than a million and have excellent public schools to choose from…


9. Magnet Schools. The public school choice that almost everyone is okay with— yet they are not cheap. For example, in Connecticut, magnets received 25% more funding than traditional public schools.


8. Knowledge is Power Program Charters (KIPP). They know that money matters. In a recent post, I discussed that KIPP has raised approaching a half a billion dollars over the past decade.

In sum, across the nation, since 2003, KIPP has received $308,999,543 from foundations, corporations and individuals. You can see the national spreadsheet here. KIPP in Texas has acquired about 25% of those monies— $75,981,765 from foundations, corporations and individuals. You can see the Texas spreadsheet here.

In my response to KIPP’s critique of our peer-review study of their African American attrition, I stated:

KIPP is incorrect. NEPC also thinks so here. Its hard to argue with publicly available data that they themselves are required to report by law. Per student revenue for KIPP Austin ($17,286) and KIPP Houston ($13,488) relative to Austin ISD ($10,667) and Houston ISD ($10,127) is readily available online each year from the State of Texas. However, considering the current school finance debacle in Texas, where approaching $6 billion was cut from education in the last legislature, in retrospect, I think KIPP should be applauded for spending more on education…

KIPP, a leader in the corporate charter “choice” movement, gets it. Money matters.


7. Harlem Children’s Zone. The New York Times described the Harlem Children’s Zone:

President Obama created a grant program to copy his block-by-block approach to ending poverty. The British government praised his charter schools as a model. And a new documentary opening across the country revolves around him: Geoffrey Canada, the magnetic Harlem Children’s Zone leader with strong ideas about how American education should be fixed.

In recent discussion with Pedro Noguera, he mentioned that the HCZ was spending between $16,000 and $20,000 per kid to provide wrap-around services in their charters. Clearly, to Geoffrey Canada and parents that choose HCZ charters, money matters.

6. Eanes School District.You don’t have to go to an elite Bay Area district, you can see bare inequality in most every town. On either side of the tracks, highway, north versus south… etc. In Austin, different communities are able to provide different resources only miles apart. Bloomberg reported:

The Eanes school district in suburban Austin, Texas, spent $7,921 per student last year. Twenty miles away, the Pflugerville school district, whose population includes far more low-income students, spent about $1,000 less, resulting in lower teacher salaries and more children for every special education teacher.

Maybe you are thinking that $1,000 isn’t much of a disparity… by classroom it could be a disparity of $25,000, between schools $400,000. For a district, well, you get the picture.

Average home price in Pluggerville: $139,000

Average home price in Lakeway (Eanes): $520,000

Okay, maybe this one doesn’t belong here because for people who can’t afford an $500,000 mortgage, Eanes isn’t a choice.

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5. Tom Torkelson, IDEA CEO. Teach For America was so thrilled with their alum, that they gave Torkelson the $10,000 Peter Jennings award. They state on their website:

Tom Torkelson, JoAnn Gama (both Rio Grande Valley Corps ’97), and Jeremy Beard (Los Angeles Corps ’95) were honored in 2009 for their work with IDEA Public Schools, which has achieved extraordinary academic results with low-income rural students in the Rio Grande Valley. Torkelson and Gama founded the network, while Beard led its high-performing Donna campus. Since 2009, Torkelson has continued to serve as CEO of IDEA.

The Monitor reported that the IDEA corporate charters management board gets that money matters, paying CEO Tom Torkelson to the tune of $300,000. There is another $100,000 on the table in benefits and bonuses.

wolf in sheep clothing

4. Parent Trigger. In the post Parent trigger laws: Wolves in sheep’s clothing and astroturfing I wrote:

In Texas, Texas Families First has signed up a variety of legislators to support HB300. Who funds Texas Families First? hehehe. Who the heckfire knows… Because if you look up their 990 you only can find that “Citizen Leader Alliance” (which shares the same Houston P.O Box with Texas Families First) has $1.5 million per year at their disposal (Thanks to Sylvia from Austin for hunting down the financial information). Wow. My best guess is that families in Houston (or Texas) have not banded together and saved their pennies to raise those funds in a grassroots fashion because it would be easily trackable online. Which means that probably corporate-minded donors (similar to Parent Revolution) are funding “Texas Families First.” (More on TFF’s ideology later in the week)

On March 26, 2013 at 9:41 am, Jamie Kohlmann Texas Families First CEO wrote in a response to the astroturfing blog post:

First, as for our donors–CLA has had 50 or more contributors from all corners of the state, but we are only one of several organizations supporting HB300 as part of the Texas Families First Coalition.

I responded:

I did some math. $1,500,000/50=$30,000 average. Those are very generous Texas (families?) donors from all corners of the state.

In the post The Teat: Where does parent trigger movement get their $?, I wrote:

Who is paying the bills for the parent trigger movement? Cohn found that since 2009, several corporate minded foundations have poured millions into Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles advocacy group that is in the forefront of the parent-trigger campaign in California and the nation.

Multimillion dollar contributors include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ($1.6 million); the Laura and John Arnold Foundation ($1.5 million); the Wasserman Foundation ($1.5 million); the Broad Foundation ($1.45 million) and the Emerson Collective Education Fund ($1.2 million), founded by Laurence Powell Jobs, the widow of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

But the Walton Family Foundation is by far Parent Revolution’s largest benefactor, contributing 43 percent of the $14.9 million total.

Clearly money matters in the parent trigger movement.

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3. Parent Trigger II. In the parent trigger flimflam, I mean film, Won’t Back Down there is a scene where the union rep takes the lead parent organizer (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) to a gleaming private school and insinuates that they would bribe her by paying the exorbitant tuition for her daughter. What I kept thinking during the scene was why didn’t she have a gleaming school in her neighborhood? Why did the choice of an expensive gleaming private school even need to be on the table? Ask the average parent who chooses to send their child to a private school that has resources that far exceed their neighborhood public schools, money does matter.


2. Vouchers. Speaking of private schools, there are those that want the public to fund their child’s private school tuition (or with neovouchers, they seek to re-route tax dollars into a “scholarship” account). They argue that since those that can afford private schools have access to them, that we should fund part of the private school tuition. The reason we know that money matters to private schools is that that vouchers typically require add-ons because they rarely cover the entire cost of attending a private school. Some policymakers love the idea of vouchers because they move the responsibility of the cost of educating children from the state budget to the family budget and from the state budget to the budget of church parishioners.

1. Your State Legislature. Recently your legislature cut (X billion) from public education. At the same time, they are considering/already legislated parent trigger, more charters, and vouchers. The same jokers that cut the money are telling us that our inadequately funded schools are inadequate.

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Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Western Michigan University. His research and practice are primarily focused on K-...