Chariho School Parents’ Forum

November 7, 2012

Dusting off an old friend

Filed under: School Choice — Editor @ 7:41 pm

It looks like I haven’t posted on here since February 2010, save a couple of items posted for Sylvia Thompson of the Hopkinton Town Council.  “Back in the day” this blog was quite popular, not because of what I was writing but because of all the readers and their participation.

I just wanted to log-in, dust off the ‘dashboard” or whatever WordPress is calling it now, and get my feel back for the blog.  I have been asked to participate in a group that will be of interest to the past readers of this blog and will post more details very soon.

Best to all, and congrats to those who won yesterday.



September 23, 2009

School Choice Workshop

Filed under: Hopkinton,School Choice — Editor @ 9:54 am

Two town council meetings ago we set October 26th as a date for a workshop to discuss a school voucher or tax credit program that would empower parents with consumer choice when selecting a school for their child. I’m putting together a proposal with the guidance of Adam Schaeffer, Ph.D., Policy Analyst Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, and Dick Komer, Senior Attorney at the Institute for Justice.  This is a tremendous step and I hope those interested will send me their input and attend if possible.

June 10, 2009

New study on school choice

Filed under: School Choice — Editor @ 10:11 pm

We (OSPRI) sent an intern to a seminar in NC with the Institute for Humane Studies.  He came back with some new research on school choice I thought you might enjoy.  See the post HERE.

May 19, 2009

School choice gaining momentum

Filed under: School Choice — Editor @ 11:33 am

The most widely-read newspaper in America, the USA Today, has joined the team pushing for school choice:

Our View: Despite Success, School Choice Runs Into New Barriers
USA Today, May 19, 2009

“Few national images are more shameful than those of innocent, low-income kids milling through decrepit public schools, uncared for, unsafe and barely educated. In Washington, D.C., alone, 173 schools — 67% — fail to meet federal standards of learning.

So it was curious that when President Obama recently allowed 1,716 of Washington’s neediest schoolchildren to keep, until graduation, the vouchers they use to escape their failed public schools for higher-quality private ones, he also closed the program to new applicants. All this occurred as the Education Department reported that voucher participants show superior skills in reading, safety and orderliness. The news was buried in an impenetrable study released without a news conference.

Why the ambivalence? Because teacher unions, fearing loss of jobs, have pushed most Democrats to oppose vouchers and other options that invite competition for public schools. Put another way, they oppose giving poor parents the same choice that the president himself — along with his chief of staff and some 35% of Democrats in Congress — have made in sending their children to private schools.

Vouchers have improved the math and reading of inner-city children from Dayton, Ohio, to Charlotte, N.C., various studies show. The Washington vouchers improved the reading of girls and younger kids by about half a school year, though results for other groups were iffier. Yet opposition is so fierce that few voucher experiments survive past the seedling stage. ….” 

Click Here to Read More

May 18, 2009

Survey says, “RI’ers want school choice”

Filed under: School Choice — Editor @ 1:44 pm

A new report from the Friedman Foundation shows that RI’ers overwhelmingly want school choice. Among some of the results –

More than eight out of ten Rhode Islanders (83 percent) prefer choosing a school for their child among options that include private schools, charter schools, virtual schools, and homeschooling.  This figure is consistent with previous state surveys asking the same question, most recently in Vermont (89 percent), Oregon (87 percent), Montana (90 percent), and Maryland (82 percent). 

The complete study can be found HERE.

May 4, 2009

No surprises here

Filed under: School Choice — Editor @ 11:23 am

New State-wide Survey Finds Strong Support For School Choice Options

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Providence, RI – April 20, 2009 —Results from a new state-wide public opinion survey indicate strong support for a range of school choice options as a desired alternative to traditional public schools.

The survey results—released today by the Rhode Island Scholarship Alliance (RISA), the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and several other state and national organizations—show that, given the choice, three out of every four Rhode Islanders would select a private school, a public charter school, a home school or virtual school environment for their children.

“The results from this poll clearly show that Rhode Islanders are interested in a broader range of educational opportunities for their children beyond what might be currently available to them due to geographic restrictions or economic limitations,” said Dan Corley, Head of Community Preparatory School in Providence and President of RISA, the coalition of school choice advocates in the state working to promote the Rhode Island Corporate Scholarship Tax Credit Program. “These results also indicate that Rhode Island, like many other states, does not have sufficient school choice systems in place to match parents’ schooling preferences.”

When asked if it were your decision and you could select any type of school, what type of school would you select in order to obtain the best education for your child, here’s how likely voters in the state responded:

  • 56 percent selected private schools
  • 17 percent selected regular public schools
  • 13 percent selected charter schools
  • 12 percent selected home schooling
  • 3 percent selected virtual schools

While fifty-six percent of Rhode Island parents said they would like to send their child to a private school, only 11 percent of Rhode Island’s students currently attend private schools.

Thirteen percent of Rhode Island parents said they would like to send their child to a charter school, yet charter schools enroll only about 2 percent of the state’s students.

While seventeen percent of Rhode Island parents would choose a regular public school for their child, nearly nine of ten – 87 percent — attend regular public schools.

These statistics highlight the significant disconnect between schooling preferences and actual school enrollments.

“As we have found in several other states, parents in Rhode Island clearly want to have more options in the education of their children,” said Robert Enlow, President and CEO of the Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation, which undertook the survey on behalf of the organizations. “In short, they want school choice.”

While school choice opportunities are currently available for families in Rhode Island, the demand far exceeds current capacity.

The RI Corporate Scholarship Tax Credit Program allows any family with a household income of 250% or less of the federal poverty level the opportunity to apply for tuition assistance at nearly 60 participating K-12 private and parochial schools throughout the state. This program, approved by the General Assembly in 2006, allows eligible Rhode Island businesses to receive a tax credit in return for scholarship contributions. The program is limited to one million dollars in approved tax credits annually.

While close to 90,000 families in the state qualify for scholarship assistance, the program has only been able to provide partial tuition assistance to approximately 300 eligible families due to the current tax credit cap. Advocates of the program hope to see the cap raised in order to allow more eligible families the ability to choose the educational environment for their children, regardless of economic or geographic limitations.

Similarly, the state’s public charter schools, another option of choice for families, face an unmet demand. Due to the schools’ popularity and limited number of openings, admission applications have greatly exceeded capacity for several years requiring a random lottery system to determine student admissions. This year, Rhode Island charter public schools received 3,454 applications for only 559 openings, leaving more than 2800 students on waiting lists. About 3,100 students currently attend the state’s 11 charter schools.

In addition, the survey findings show that school choice is not a partisan issue among Rhode Island residents. The survey results indicate general agreement among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

The scientifically representative poll of 1,200 likely Rhode Island voters was conducted on January 23 and 25 by Strategic Vision, an Atlanta-based public affairs agency whose polls have been used by Newsweek, Time Magazine, BBC, ABC News, and USA Today among others. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The Rhode Island findings are the latest in a series of surveys commissioned under the Friedman Foundation’s Survey in the State project. Previous surveys include Vermont, and Oregon released earlier this year; and Montana, Maryland, Oklahoma, Idaho, Tennessee, and Nevada, released during 2008. The Foundation also polled voters in four states, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Illinois from 2005 to 2007. Other sponsors of the Rhode Island survey include the Black Alliance for Educational Options, National Catholic Education Association, Agudath Israel of America, and Catholic School Office – Diocese of Providence.

The Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 1996 that believes the best way to improve the quality of education is to enable all parents to have a truly free choice of the schools that their children attend. The Friedman Foundation works to build upon this vision, clarify its meaning to the general public and amplify the national call for true education reform through school choice.

The full Rhode Island survey results can be found at or at


Contact: Contact:
Joe DiLaura, Director of Communications Kate Nagle, Executive Director
Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice Rhode Island Scholarship Alliance
317/229-2128 or 317/645-8614 401/831-7472 or 401/742-6012

February 12, 2009

A worthy cause

Filed under: School Choice — Editor @ 3:14 pm

From our friends at the RI Scholarship Alliance:

We need your help to protect an important education reform program in Rhode Island. Will you take three minutes today to contact Governor Carcieri and ask him to keep Rhode Island moving in the right direction when it comes to making sure that every child gets a quality education?


Click here to take action now.


Rhode Island has an innovative program that offers tax credits to businesses that get involved in helping improve education. Rhode Island ’s program provides an important incentive for companies that make donations so that low-income children can receive scholarships to attend better schools. This new program is modeled after successful programs in other states—programs that have been proven to save tax dollars while promoting student achievement.


Unfortunately, the Governor’s Strategic Tax Policy Workgroup has recommended the elimination of the Rhode Island Scholarship Tax Credit, as part of a recommendation to eliminate all tax credits. That’s why we need your help today!


Please, tell Governor Carcieri that this program is important to you!


Hundreds of students are provided with real school choice as a result of the Rhode Island Scholarship Tax Credit, which also promotes economic growth. At a time where our economy is in crisis, we must protect programs that keep jobs in Rhode Island and make sure that companies stay involved in promoting education reform.


Bill, thank you in advance for your help. And, of course, thank you for your membership in the School Choice Works coalition.



Andrew Campanella

Advocates for School Choice

Washington, D.C.


PS: It just takes three minutes to contact the Governor via the online advocacy center. Your help will make a huge difference. Click here to take action.


PPS: Bill, you can keep informed about Rhode Island education news by visiting the Web site of our allied organization, the Rhode Island Scholarship Alliance:

September 5, 2008

McCain on school choice

Filed under: School Choice — Editor @ 10:56 am

I was pleasantly surprised to hear McCain come out so forcefully for school choice.  I knew this would be a campaign item, but thought it would focus on urban settings and fall short of full choice.  I was wrong.

He has pledged to make all schools public schools.  Here is what he said last night:

Education is the civil rights issue of this century. Equal access to public education has been gained. But what is the value of access to a failing school? We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition, empower parents with choice, remove barriers to qualified instructors, attract and reward good teachers, and help bad teachers find another line of work.

When a public school fails to meet its obligations to students, parents deserve a choice in the education of their children. And I intend to give it to them. Some may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private one. Many will choose a charter school. But they will have that choice and their children will have that opportunity.

Senator Obama wants our schools to answer to unions and entrenched bureaucracies. I want schools to answer to parents and students. And when I’m President, they will.

A little research reveals that I shouldn’t have been surprised as McCain has had these thoughts for years. 

McCain Quotes:

We must fight for the ability of all students to have access to any school of demonstrated excellence. We must place parents and children at the center of the education process, empowering parents by greatly expanding the ability of parents to choose among schools for their children.

Source: Campaign plan: “Bold Solutions for Economic Prosperity” Feb 3, 2008

schools, some have failed, but they’re competing with the public schools, and the level of education is increasing. In New York City today, there are some remarkable things happening under Mayor Bloomberg, who has done marvelous work with an educational system that was clearly broken. Those can be examples of a way to improve education, provide choice and competition, and give every family the same choice I and my family had, and that is to send our child to the school of our choice.

Source: 2007 Des Moines Register Republican Debate Dec 12, 2007

Q: How can we improve the quality of public schools in this country?

A: Choice and competition is the key to success in education in America. That means charter schools, that means home schooling, it means vouchers, it means rewarding good teachers and finding bad teachers another line of work. It means rewarding good performing schools, and it really means in some cases putting bad performing schools out of business. I want every American parent to have a choice, a choice as to how they want their child educated, and I guarantee you the competition will dramatically increase the level of education in America. And I applaud our former Governor [Jeb] Bush for the great job he’s done on education in Florida and America.

Source: 2007 Republican primary debate on Univision Dec 9, 2007 Q: How much power should the federal government have over state education? A: Choice & competition are the key to the future of education in America. Students in America rank at the bottom in the most disciplines such as physics & chemistry. We should try charter schools all over America.

Source: GOP Debate in Johnston, Iowa Jan 16, 2000

We have to have choice and competition in our schools in order to improve our school system, including charter schools, including a test voucher program that would be paid for with ethanol subsidies and with sugar subsidies. And in order to make that system work, the test voucher program throughout America, we have to have good teachers, and I would argue that merit pay, rewards for good teachers and helping bad teachers find another line of work is the way we must go about it.

Source: Republican Debate at Dartmouth College Oct 29, 1999

Our children deserve the best education we can provide to them, whether that learning takes place in a public, private or parochial school. It’s time to give middle and lower income parents the same right wealthier families have — to send their child to the school that best meets their needs. It’s time to conduct a nationwide test of school vouchers. It’s time to democratize education.

Source: Candidacy Declaration Speech, Nashua NH Sep 27, 1999

McCain proposed a school voucher program to offer education opportunities for disadvantaged children, paid for by eliminating $5.4 billion worth of subsidies for ethanol, sugar, gas and oil. Under McCain’s three-year test program, disadvantaged children would receive vouchers worth $2,000 a year. The money would be used to offset the costs of attending any school chosen by the student or parents. “We shouldn’t have special interest giveaways at the expense of our neediest children,” McCain said.

Source: Mike Glover, Associated Press Jul 29, 1999

McCain’s platform calls for a school voucher program that would give tax money to middle- and lower-low low income families to send their children to private schools. And he praised charter schools – publicly funded schools that often serve a specialized curriculum and operate free from many government mandates.


Source: Associated Press Jun 14, 1999

McCain knows we can save public education if we “have the courage to do more than placate the defenders of the status quo.” McCain [supports] more money reaching our classrooms, increased financial flexibility for parents, greater choices for families, and well-trained teachers. He [opposes] Washington bureaucrats and public education unions dictating education policies. He believes in letting parents, educators, and local communities make the important decisions about our children’s education.

Source: “Position Papers” 5/24/99 May 24, 1999  McCain believes school vouchers should be available to parents in order that they may place their children in the best learning environment for their particular needs. He feels that each and every child in every classroom deserves a teacher who is qualified and enthusiastic about teaching. “Some people just aren’t meant to be teachers, and we should help them find another line of work. Because if teachers can’t teach, our kids can’t learn.”

Source: “Position Papers” 5/24/99 May 24, 1999

    McCain supports the following principles concerning school choice:

  • Allow parents to use vouchers to send their children to any participating school: public, private or religious
  • Allow parents to use tax-free savings accounts to send their children to any participating school: public, private or religious
  • Support creation of more charter schools where teachers and professionals receive authorization and funding to establish new schools

Source: Project Vote Smart, 1998, Jul 2, 1998

August 20, 2008

Study on school choice

Filed under: School Choice — Editor @ 6:01 pm

The Friedman Foundation released a study today on the Ohio school choice program.

INDIANAPOLIS (August 20, 2008 ) — A study of the new Ohio Educational Choice Scholarship program’s effect on public schools has found academic gains among students in participating public schools; this suggests that the threat of competition and losing students is causing these public schools to improve their academic outcomes, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and several Ohio and national educational organizations announced today.

The rest of the PR is up on the OSPRI blog or, along with the study, at Friedman.

July 7, 2008

Choice and the special ed child

Filed under: School Choice — Editor @ 10:22 am

There is a great back and forth OpEd battle going on over special education between two people, both involved in policy advocacy and both partents of a special needs child.  The original study that ignited the discussion is titled, “Effects of Funding Incentives on Special Education Enrollment.”  (in the efforts of full disclosure, the study is produced by the Manhattan Inst and I am a contributor to one of their projects)  Basically, the gist of the story is that schools have incentives to label children as special needs but do not have incentives to provide them services.  Here is a synopsis from Pajama Media:

Recently, we wrote a column here on Pajamas Media drawing attention to the problem of financial incentives in special education. Laura McKenna responded with a column challenging a number of our assertions. Since her column raises far too many issues to be dealt with adequately in a comment thread, we’d like to thank PJM for giving us the opportunity to respond with yet another column.

Our original column went over the results of an empirical study we had conducted, showing that special education enrollments grew much faster in states that fund special education on a per-student basis. In most states, but not all of them, when a school places a student into special education that school gets an increase in funding. The empirical evidence establishes that growth in special education enrollments has been fueled by the presence of these financial incentives.

McKenna’s responses to our evidence fall into four categories:

Appeals to emotion and superior personal experience. McKenna writes that since her son was diagnosed with a disability, “I am no longer just an academic who studies education policy from the ivory tower, but a parent on the front lines of the special education wars.” Most of her column discusses her own experiences and those of people she knows. The assumption of most of her column therefore seems to be that our statistical evidence is trumped by her perceptions of the system based on her direct experience.

There are three fatal problems with this. First, we, too, have direct, personal experience of special education. Second, we appealed to the evidence of national statistics, which perceptions based on personal experiences cannot refute. Third, even what McKenna reports of her personal experiences does not establish what she thinks it does.

Both of us are parents of disabled children. We, too, are not academics who study education policy from the ivory tower, but parents on the front lines of the special education wars.

The difference is, unlike McKenna, we do not assume that our subjective perceptions based on our personal experiences must be a fair and objective way of determining how the special education system as a whole functions. We went out and collected a large body of empirical data and used it to conduct a broad statistical study.

If McKenna isn’t willing to engage with the detailed statistical analysis conducted in our study – and her column doesn’t – then we don’t see how her personal experiences could refute it.

But even if they could, they don’t – because McKenna only writes about her difficulties in getting special education services, not a special education diagnosis. Our argument is that schools have a financial incentive to put a “special education” label on students, not that it has an incentive to provide them with good services once they have that label. We will return to this subject below.

In addition, contrary to McKenna’s overwrought suggestion, we did not call for anything that can be remotely characterized as a “crackdown [that] will lead to a witch hunt atmosphere that will create a hostile environment for disabled kids.” To the contrary, our main policy recommendation was to provide school vouchers to disabled children, as five states already do. Empirical research shows that not only do vouchers deliver better services to disabled students who use them, they also improve services for disabled students remaining in public schools.

It is partly because we are parents of disabled students that we are particularly concerned to examine this issue using systematic data. The misidentification of students as learning disabled when they are really only behind in school because of poor teaching or other factors has swelled special education enrollments and expenditures. Those increases have created a substantial level of resentment among families who are concerned that the growth of special education is taking resources away from other children, as well as from taxpayers generally. This backlash threatens funding and services for all disabled students. And the financial incentive to identify students as learning disabled (a lower-cost category) shifts resources away from students in higher-cost categories who really need greater disability services.

Parents of disabled students have an especially strong interest in taking steps to reduce the false identification of learning disabilities.

Misunderstanding of the issue. At the outset, McKenna makes a small but crucial mistake that becomes the basis of a whole line of argument in her column. She begins by characterizing our argument this way: “They believe that these kids have been given this label because the school districts want the federal money.”

But we never said anything about “federal money.” In fact, the federal government adopted reforms in 1997 that remove the financial incentive for diagnoses from the federal system of special education funding. It did this precisely because it acknowledged that funding incentives for diagnoses had become a problem. Federal funds are now distributed in a manner roughly similar to block grants; each state just gets a chunk of money for special education, and the size of the chunk isn’t affected by the number of students it has in special education programs.

But once the states get their federal money, they choose how it gets distributed to schools, along with state spending for special education. The issue isn’t where the money comes from, but how it gets distributed. Federal law requires states to fund special education, but it doesn’t control how they distribute it. As we wrote in our original column, a majority of states provide special education funds to schools on a per-student basis – and that’s what creates the financial incentive for diagnoses.

This mistake leads McKenna into a mare’s nest: “In fact, schools actually have a disincentive to diagnose kids. The money that they receive from the federal government is a fraction of the money that they actually spend on special education. The federal government only pays for 17% of the expenses for special education. State and local governments must pick up the rest of the tab. In our town, nearly half of the local school budget is devoted to special education.”

Once her initial confusion is corrected, it becomes clear that her argument doesn’t address the issue. She’s talking about the source of funding, but the issue is distribution. Schools are not the same thing as “state and local governments.” Yes, state and local governments pick up most of the tab for special education. Most of them do so by paying schools additional money for each student who receives a special education diagnosis. Thus, the schools have a financial incentive to diagnose.

While we’re on the subject, there is also widespread confusion about “costs” associated with special education, which we have recently tried to clear up here. At least some of what people identify as the “costs” of special education, especially for students with milder learning disabilities, are expenditures that schools were going to make anyway to help those students catch up. Getting a subsidy for a “cost” that a school would have carried anyway helps produce the positive financial incentive.

Appeals to improved diagnosis. McKenna argues that special education enrollments are up because of improved diagnosis. She cites improved understanding of Aspergers’ Syndrome, dyslexia, and attention deficit disorders. She also argues that we’re more motivated to identify and remediate disabilities because educational expectations have risen; there are fewer good jobs for students of limited ability than there used to be.

Better diagnosis of Aspergers’ Syndrome and attention deficit disorders cannot explain the special education growth we’re studying, because they’re in the wrong categories – autism and “other health disorders,” respectively. As we wrote in our original column, all the big growth is taking place in the category of learning disabilities. While the autism and other health disorders categories are growing, their growth is tiny when compared to the explosion of learning disabilities. Blaming these categories for the growth of special education is like saying that somebody’s sink overflowing caused the recent floods across the Midwest.

On the other hand, McKenna offers what sounds like a plausible story about why diagnosis of learning disabilities might have improved. And in our original study, we agreed that diagnosis of many disabilities has improved. Learning disabilities is probably one place where that has happened.

But the question then becomes: How much of the increase in special education can be attributed to improved diagnosis, and how much to the role of funding incentives?

What makes this question tricky is that the two possibilities are not mutually exclusive. Both forces could be operating at the same time and on the same students – that is, you might have students who are genuinely disabled but were not properly diagnosed until funding incentives pushed their schools to properly diagnose them.

So we need to state the question a little more precisely. How much of the growth of special education would have happened anyway even without financial incentives, because of improved diagnosis or for any other reason, and how much of the growth only occurred because of financial incentives?

As it happens, our study was aimed at answering this very question. We broke down the growth of special education in all fifty states in every year for ten years, and compared the year-to-year growth in states with “bounty” funding (that is, per-student funding that creates financial incentives) to the growth in states that had reformed their funding systems to remove financial incentives. We found that, year after year, two thirds of the growth in special education was associated with funding incentives. And when states switched from bounty funding to reformed funding, they saw a slowdown in their special education growth rates.

In other words, if the growth of special education has been due to improved diagnosis, then about two-thirds of that improved diagnosis happened only because of funding incentives.

But of course it may also be the case that only a tiny amount of that growth involved improved diagnosis, and the rest was due to funding incentives alone.

How can we tell the difference? Well, the best way would be to conduct a nationwide audit of special education placements. But McKenna says that would be a “crackdown” that would lead to a “witch hunt atmosphere.” So we guess that’s out.

In the meantime, we can only ask: Is it really plausible that 13% of all U.S. students are truly disabled? That the percentage of students diagnosed with learning disabilities has doubled solely because of improved diagnosis of bona fide learning disabilities? And that this improved diagnosis only happened because (coincidentally) states paid schools to produce additional diagnoses?

Appeals to the awfulness of the system. McKenna points out that large numbers of parents are not getting the special education services they’re entitled to under federal law, because the special education system “is designed to resist providing expensive services.”

She’s right. We’ve been saying the same thing for years. That’s one of the major reasons we support vouchers for special education students – so that those who aren’t getting the services they need can go to schools that will serve them.

McKenna seems to think that this somehow provides evidence against our thesis. She doesn’t say why, and frankly, we’re stumped. As we have already mentioned above, our argument is not about services but about diagnoses. McKenna doesn’t offer evidence that parents have difficulty getting diagnoses, only that they have difficulty getting services.

In fact, all this does is reinforce how powerful financial incentives are in special education. As we have pointed out many times before, the current system creates financial incentives for schools to label students as disabled and then not provide services. The label generates increased funding, but the services cost money. Schools therefore have a financial incentive to diagnose students and then not serve them – to “resist providing expensive services,” as McKenna puts it.

The “IEP” system mandated under federal law exists precisely to push schools to provide services that they wouldn’t otherwise provide because of the financial incentives not to. Unfortunately, the flaws in the IEP system (that’s a whole other story) are so serious that parents often can’t get the services they’re supposed to be entitled to.

So the more McKenna complains that she can’t get good services for her son, and that a lot of the people she knows can’t get services for their children, and that thousands of parents across the country say the same thing, the more she reinforces our point that financial incentives are the key problem with the status quo in special education.

Greg Forster is a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Jay Greene is the endowed professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

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