Five Points On ESAs. Plus, New WonkyFolk on Edge of Seventeen, Aspen, RISE, More.

Jed Wallace and I have a new Wonkyfolk out. We talk about the new Bellwether analysis “Edge of Seventeen” about age laws in the United States. (Eduwonk overview here.) Lynne Graziano from Bellwether joins us for the discussion. What makes this especially interesting is not the obvious stuff – everyone knows you can serve in the military at 18 but can’t have a legal drink. Or even the incoherence between states, hello federalism. It’s the incoherence even within states that points up just how muddled things are.

But before we get to all that we disagree about the charter school musical chairs issue, agree about a concerning trend in state superintendent races (Truitt and Baesler in the dock, really, wtf?), talk cross-partisanship, and get a tutorial on Pennsylvania politics.

You can listen here and see show notes, or wherever you get podcasts:

Or watch here if that’s your thing:


I moderated a session at the RISE conference with Indiana’s chief state school officer Katie Jenner, Ralph Smith, Tiffany Justice of Mom’s for Liberty, and Kerri Rodrigues of National Parent Union. You can watch here.

Yes, this headshot makes me look like a serial killer.

I was a participant in an Aspen Institute webinar on “cross partisanship” and new ideas about how to get things done in an environment of intense polarization and negative polarization. You can watch here.


Bellwether is hiring for a partner on its Policy and Evaluation team. Great opportunity to join a dynamic organization and lead impactful work. Learn more and learn how to be considered here.


Louisiana passed an ESA last week. A couple of quick notes on ESAs:

  1. No one knows how ESAs are going to play out. Most people are arguing from whatever their prior views on school choice are.
  2. ESAs will have all the predictable quality issues of early-stage choice programs. Here, again, people’s priors matter. If you think choice programs can improve over time you’ll have one frame on ESAs, if you see it all as pretty constant then you’ll see it differently. Not all voucher programs have become academically stronger as they’ve expanded. Charters are improving, on average. There is something for everyone to seize on. Direct payment plans are not uncommon in public policy, they’re still relatively new in education. Expect bumps.
  3. ESAs are proving to be wildly popular *and* expensive as a result. Those are related. A key metric to look at is people participating in ESAs who were not previously participants in public education. Here again people will look at that footprint differently based on their broader orientation toward public education. But it’s an opportunity for public education, and an upcoming collision.
  4. There is not a singular ESA policy. These programs vary in their characteristics. That will be worth watching. Also, as a result, evaluating them and accountability around them is similarly a mixed bag given how some ESA’s are designed.
  5. You cannot unring this bell. The era of direct payments in education is here. Something like what Louisiana just did would have occasioned an epic freak out 20 years ago, now it’s just another week in May.


Here’s Arlington parent Todd Truitt on why and how Virginia needs some school accountability. In Maryland Carey Wright is asking the same questions.


Freestyling the 6 foot rule had, you know, an effect on schools and ed politics.

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