Star Tribune: Minnesota falls behind on school choice

(by Patrick J. Wolf)
Patrick J. Wolf, Catholic and a St. Cloud native, is speaking at De La Salle High School in Minneapolis on January 31. (See event details aquí.)

Enero 27, 2013

Back in 1991, my home state of Minnesota was a national leader in promoting the progressive reform of parental school choice. The Star of the North had begun allowing parents to claim a state income tax deduction for school expenses, including tuition at private schools, en 1955. In the 1980s, it pioneered the concept of public-school choice through open enrollment. En 1991, St. Paul became home to the nation’s first public charter school.

These programs to help parents select and finance an education that serves the particular needs of their children mainly were championed by DFLers such as Gov. Rudy Perpich and state Sens. Ember Reichgott Junge and John Brandl. Republican Gov. Arne Carlson extended school choice, but the reality was that Minnesota Democrats owned parental school choice.

I was privileged to work with all of these great Minnesota policymakers. I interned for Brandl while a student at the University of St. Thomas; worked with Reichgott Junge to pass a telecommunications access law for hearing-impaired Minnesotans while a lobbyist for the Minnesota Foundation for Better Hearing and Speech, and was hired by Tony Perpich, the governor’s brother, to set up the Minnesota Relay telecommunication center through the Public Utilities Commission (it is now run by the Minnesota Department of Commerce).

I left Minnesota in 1988 to pursue a doctorate in political science at Harvard. My mentor there was fellow Minnesotan Paul E. Peterson, a Concordia Cobber. (Who says that Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference rivals can’t work together?) In the late 1990s and 2000s, while on the faculty at Georgetown University, I conducted scientific evaluations of private-school-choice programs in Washington, D.C., first for a research group that Peterson headed and later for the U.S. Departamento de Educación.

In my research, I have found that parental school choice tends to produce better outcomes for students and parents. Both public charter schools and private-school choice, through school vouchers or tax-credit scholarships, increase high school graduation rates. School-choice programs also tend to improve student achievement somewhat, or at least keep pace with traditional public schools.

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