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The Leaflet: The Failures of the Educational Safety Net

December 1, 2017

This week's Leaflet examines a new Heartland Policy Brief titled "Strengthening America's Educational Safety Net" by Carl Brodt and Alan Bonsteel.

One of the most important problems facing the education system in many states is that the current education safety net leaves most at-risk youth with a subpar education. Standard safety net elements traditionally include continuation schools, opportunity schools, community day schools, juvenile detention centers, and blended online-learning programs. Students in these alternative education settings are more likely to be minorities and live in low-income households than students in traditional classroom settings.

In a new Heartland Policy Brief titled “Strengthening America’s Educational Safety Net,” Carl Brodt and Alan Bonsteel present some important and grim facts about the current state of the nation’s education system, including that 20 percent of public school students fail to graduate high school on time and 10 percent of high school students enroll in a corrective or supplemental program.

Brodt and Bonsteel, the treasurer and president of California Parents for Educational Choice, respectively, primarily drew their assessment of alternative education and their recommendations from extensive research on the safety nets in California. Two-thirds of California students enrolled in a safety net are in that situation because they have fallen far behind their peers in attaining the required academic credits. The second-most-cited reason for being enrolled in a safety net program (16 percent) is extreme behavioral problems.

Of the students enrolled in these safety net programs, only about 25 percent earn a high school degree. This low graduation rate is especially lamentable given the pitiful academic requirements these students must meet. For example, California requires continuation schools to offer only 15 hours of classes per week, and there are often no school or district academic standards for course credits.

“Emphasis in the safety net tends to be on process—attendance, punctuality, and productivity—and not academic content and achievement,” the authors wrote, arguing that these misplaced priorities are partly to blame for many of the system’s failings.

Brodt and Bonsteel recommend several short-term and long-term actions should be adopted by state legislators across the country to create educational safety nets that are successful:

1.Standardize what constitutes a “safety net” and a “child at-risk,” closely track at-risk children in states’ longitudinal databases, and define knowledge requirements for graduation.

2.Expand independent school options, including by providing greater access to charter schools and taxpayer-funded scholarships for students to use at private schools.

3. Expand parental choice, which includes choice within the safety net, by creating vouchers, education saving accounts, and tax-credit scholarships.

4. Reduce the need for a safety net by motivating students with alternative approaches and experimental programs.

“If we are willing to act boldly to implement the recommendations described above, we can transform and revolutionize how we work with children who are floundering in school,” Brodt and Bonsteel wrote in their conclusion. “Over the next two decades we could empty many of our prisons of young people who have been poorly served by our dysfunctional educational safety net.”

 

WHAT WE'RE WORKING ON
Energy & Environment
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Education
Research & Commentary: California Should Empower Parents with ESAs
In this Research & Commentary, Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses a new report from Vicki Alger of the Independent Institute, Customized Learning in California, which lays out how the Golden State can help to improve outcomes for its K–12 students by implementing an education savings account (ESA) program. As Alger points out, funding for California’s $66 billion K–12 public education system takes up almost 43 percent of the state budget, costing roughly $12,000 per pupil. Yet, despite all these resources and the amount of money required to educate each child, fewer than three out of 10 students are being taught to a proficient level in reading and mathematics. Alger concludes, “ESAs are popular, easy to use, fiscally responsible, and constitutional. Best of all, they empower parents to choose how, not just where, their children are educated, which customizes learning to degrees no one-size-fits-all system could ever match—no matter how lavishly funded.”

Budget & Tax
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Health Care
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From Our Free-Market Friends
Discount Christmas Sales Remain Illegal in Idaho
Wayne Hoffman, CEO of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, recently argued a Depression-era law in Idaho that prohibits retailers from offering discounts on items should be repealed. According to Hoffman, the Gem State’s 1939 law requires retail prices to be marked up at least six percent to cover the cost of doing business. Sellers who offer steep discounts on products do so with the risk of being fined $500 for each offense and imprisoned for up to six months. Hoffman contends these type of laws are anti-competitive and detrimental to consumers and sellers.

Author
Arianna Wilkerson is a marketing project coordinator with The Heartland Institute.
awilkerson@heartland.org