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17th March 2023
Many private school voucher tax credits go to wealthy families
Two recent reports have heavily criticized private education voucher programs for fueling expansion of school privatization through tax benefits and taking taxpayer funding away from public schools. One report, from the Public Funds Public Schools (PFPS) nonprofit, examines voucher programs in seven states and concludes that, except for Ohio, investments in public schools declined as voucher spending grew. The PFPS analysis found Florida is the “most significant subsidizer of private schooling in the nation.” Its review found that from FY 2008 to FY 2019, the state had increased spending on three tax credit or conventional voucher programs by 313%. A separate analysis meanwhile, from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, found that in three states more than half of all voucher tax credits are going to families with annual incomes over $200,000. Notably, lawmakers in at least 32 states have proposed legislation this year to create or expand tax-funded programs to help parents with private school expenses, according to FutureEd at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. “2023 may be the year education choice becomes a reality for a majority of students and states finally put government-assigned schooling in the rear-view mirror,” says Lindsey Burke, executive director of Center for Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation.
California budget deficit could delay childcare funding
California has an estimated $22.5bn budget deficit at present. Delaying funding for the state's 20,000 new childcare slots, which appears increasingly attractive, would save $134m but could have significant consequences. Any delay would put Gov. Gavin Newsom firmly at odds with California's newly-unionized childcare workforce just months before their first contract is set to expire. It would also upset the Legislative Women’s Caucus, who, after gains in the November elections, now make up nearly half of the Legislature. Their support will be key to advancing Newsom’s agenda during his second term. The California Department of Finance has said that the administration “remains committed to expanding access to childcare that’s consistent with the budget agreements,” however the Legislative Analyst’s Office has said that delaying “seems reasonable.” Childcare providers themselves say the bigger problem is that there aren’t enough workers available to fill the slots. California lost one-third of its childcare jobs in the first two months of the pandemic, compared to the state’s overall loss of 15% of jobs, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
Federal schools budget 'a long way from finish line'
Linda Jacobson explores a broad range of reactions to President Biden’s budget request for education programs last week and underlines how the debt ceiling is going to affect actual federal spending down the road. If House Speaker Kevin McCarthy agrees to demands from his party's more conservative base to roll spending back to 2019 levels and cancel the president’s student loan forgiveness plan, she notes, it would wipe out most of the administration’s budget request for education - including a $2.2bn increase for schools serving poor students and almost $500m to address student mental health needs. McCarthy himself has already indicated that cuts to Medicare and Social Security are “off the table,” so everything else, including funding for schools and children, is vulnerable. The administration meanwhile wants to raise the $31.4tn debt limit to avoid what most economists say would be a global economic crisis. “We are clearly a long way away from the finish line and middle ground,” says Lindsay Fryer, president of lobbying and consulting firm Lodestone D.C. “Talks of addressing the debt limit and overall budget levels are sure to add interesting dynamics to appropriations conversations that could prolong this process for quite a while.”
Kids in Alabama to receive summer food benefits
An estimated 530,000 Alabama children who get free or reduced-price school meals are now eligible for food benefits this summer after the school year ends. The Alabama Department of Human Resources said Tuesday that qualifying households will get $120 for each participating student to buy food that is eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at stores that accept Electronic Benefit Transfer cards. The Summer Pandemic EBT program benefits are expected to begin rolling out in mid-to-late summer. Summer P-EBT benefits are limited to students who receive free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program. Households with eligible students who received P-EBT benefits previously will access Summer P-EBT benefits on their existing EBT cards. Those who are new to the National School Lunch Program will get EBT cards in the mail.
Poor data shadows pandemic principal attrition rate challenges
Evolving data suggests that principal attrition rates during the pandemic paint a complex picture further blurred by challenges around data availability. A new review of pandemic-era data on principals in Nebraska, Texas, and Pennsylvania from 2014 to 2022, found that principal attrition fell in 2020-21, the first full school year of the pandemic, and rose the following year. The increase was not necessarily higher than in pre-pandemic years however, according to Edward Fuller, an associate professor of education at Penn State University and Andrew Pendola, an associate professor at Auburn University, in Alabama. Of the three states they studied, only Texas' principal attrition rate was higher in the 2021-22 school year than in the years immediately preceding the pandemic. The data also show differences in attrition among the type of schools that principals led and whether they were located in cities or rural areas. Rates varied by school level too. In Texas, all three levels—elementary, middle and high school—followed the same pattern of declining in the first full pandemic year and increasing the second year. In Pennsylvania, the reduction showed up at all levels that first year but was more pronounced in elementary and middle schools. In the 2021-22 school year, however, attrition rose at all levels, with the highest increase, a 2.2 percentage point jump, in high schools. Rates also varied by school location. In Texas, principal attrition rates fell for all locations—city, town, rural, suburban—in 2020-21, but the increases were highest the following year in schools in the suburbs and in towns. Though principal attrition rates in cities were higher than in town, rural, and suburban schools in Pennsylvania, they generally held steady during the pandemic. Notably, while states have administrative data that give a window into principals' movement in the pandemic years, they're not readily available to the public, and national data on principal turnover and attrition from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics won't be published until the fall. Frustratingly therefore, the education community can't get critical insights into what's happening in schools or make nuanced decisions about how to address the challenges without knowing the depth of the principal churn.

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