Schooled Reporting on education

New year, new school choice option in New Hampshire

Education | Granite State lawmakers approve education savings account program
by Leigh Jones
Posted 1/10/18, 05:43 pm

School choice advocates didn’t have much to cheer about in 2017, but New Hampshire lawmakers gave them something to celebrate not long after the ball dropped in New York City’s Times Square.

On Jan. 2, New Hampshire became the seventh state to approve an education savings account (ESA) program, providing state funds to low income and special needs students who want to attend private school or choose other educational options. Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, has pledged to sign the bill into law, but first it has to go before the House Finance Committee on April 4.

But like other ESA programs, the New Hampshire bill could face legal challenges. The American Civil Liberties Union argued before the vote that the program violated the state’s constitution because it sends public money to religiously affiliated schools. The state Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards agreed but then changed her mind before the final vote.

The constitutionality of ESA programs, and voucher programs before them, have proved a major stumbling block to school choice efforts. But recent court decisions, especially the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Trinity Lutheran case, suggest long-held bans on state money going to religious institutions won’t last much longer. Despite hopeful signs, the high court must still weigh in specifically on the issue of allowing parents to use state education funds as they see fit. Both sides are waiting on a case to litigate. New Hampshire eventually could be it.

Although New Hampshire gave school choice an early boost in 2018, it’s not clear whether the movement will fare much better than last year as the state legislative season progresses. Lawmakers in at least one reliably conservative state, Tennessee, have abandoned their attempt to pass a voucher program, admitting they don’t have the votes. Tennessee state Sen. Brian Kelsey has tried for 11 years to push a voucher program through the legislature, and he’s no closer now than when he started. His failure speaks to the strength of public schools as a community institution (the same thing keeping another conservative state, Texas, from expanding choice options). As long as public schools aren’t terrible, voters would rather try to improve them than create competition.

At least one Tennessee lawmaker who opposes vouchers also credited the nation’s top school choice advocate, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, for dampening enthusiasm for public school alternatives. DeVos has become so unpopular she’s galvanized opposition to school choice, state Rep. Mike Stewart, a Democrat, told Chalkbeat Tennessee.

“Secretary DeVos is essentially an avowed enemy of public schools, and I think her views are out of step with the views of most Americans,” he said. “People pay taxes for expensive school facilities. Who wants to pay for a new gym and then have money siphoned away to private schools? People aren’t stupid.”

But school choice advocates aren’t giving up. During School Choice Week later this month, expect to see parents and children converge on state capitols, draped in yellow, to remind lawmakers that not every student wants to be a cog in the state education machine.

Associated Press/Photo by Ted S. Warren Associated Press/Photo by Ted S. Warren Starbucks barista Holly Ainslie in Seattle

It pays to get a job

Holding down a job during high school and college—even as a barista or busboy—gives graduates a lifetime earnings boost, according to a new study by economists from Duke University, Pepperdine University, and the University of Oklahoma. The researchers looked at the earnings of two groups of men born 20 years apart and determined that while the long-term benefits of having a college degree have diminished over time, the advantages of working while in school did not.

Students who had a part-time job during college benefited from an economic return of between 4 and 6 percent, according to the researchers. Since about 70 percent of college students also work, the researchers attributed much of the boost provided by a college degree to the accompanying employment experience. The most benefit came to those who had jobs related to their field of study.

High school graduates saw similar, although smaller, earnings boosts from working while in school, but fewer teens bother to get jobs these days. With so much emphasis placed on earning higher education credits while in high school, maybe administrators should consider more apprenticeship and work-study programs instead. —L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Charles Dharapak Associated Press/Photo by Charles Dharapak Members of the Kappa Alphi Psi fraternity at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Financial fraternity benefits

For male college students who can’t work and study at the same time, the next best option might be to join a fraternity. A small-scale study done by a researcher at a small New York university, Union College, suggests men who join fraternities have higher long-term earnings than those who don’t.

The researchers used data from a 2009 alumni survey, focusing on the 1,667 male graduates under 65 who worked full time. The men who participated in Greek life reported earning 36 percent more than their non-Greek counterparts. They also reported having slightly lower grades, by .25 percentage points on a 4.0 scale, but that didn’t seem to hurt their job prospects. (Interestingly, the same benefits did not apply to sororities.)

The survey confirmed the researchers’ suspicion: The networking benefits of joining a fraternity outweigh the negatives associated with out-of-control partying and crass behavior. That is, of course, as long as you can survive the hazing rituals. —L.J.

Lucrative but deadly

On Monday, a Pennsylvania judge sentenced four men to up to a year in jail each for their role in the death of a fraternity pledge in 2013. Baruch College freshman Chun “Michael” Deng died after a hazing ritual in which he wore a heavy backpack while other Pi Delta Psi members tackled him. He lay unconscious for hours before the other men decided to get him medical attention. Police charged 37 members of the Asian-American fraternity over the incident.

Monroe County President Judge Margherita Patti-Worthington also fined the fraternity $110,000 and banned it from operating in the state for 10 years. Pi Delta Psi tolerated and encouraged hazing for years, Patti-Worthington said, noting the case illustrated a widespread problem: “Not one person out of 37 picked up a telephone and called an ambulance. I cannot wrap my head around it. So there’s something greater going on here, and I think it’s probably really prevalent. We see across the country these issues in fraternities.” —L.J.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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  • Laura W
    Posted: Fri, 01/12/2018 06:49 pm

    Sounds like maybe the students are hoping that if the injured student manages to wake up and walk it off, they won't be held accountable for whatever questionable behavior led to the injury in the first place. Makes me wonder how many students get injured in hazing normally and we don't hear about it because they managed to survive.

    If that's the case, then I think that the colleges and law enforcement should make absolutely clear that while accidents can happen with the best of intentions, failing to call for help for a serious injury is completely inexcusable. Maybe they can include a helpful brochure to clarify which injuries need to be considered "serious". (Not to let them off too easy on the hazing itself, but if their fear of the school finding out about hazing outweighs their concern for another student's life, there's a problem there.)