Daniel Henninger Observes Leftist Opposition To Education Reform

February 17, 2014 by

Late last week Daniel Henninger had a really good column in the Wall Street Journal. He was discussing President Obama’s latest faux-concern, the issue of “income inequality.” In a column which was subtitled “The left will never support the solution to income inequality,” Mr. Henninger was looking at the new mayor of New York City, progessive Leftist Bill de Blasio, and he closed his WSJ column this way:

Let’s cut to the chase: The real issue in the American version of this subject is the low incomes of the inner-city poor. And let’s put on the table one thing nearly all agree on: A successful education improves lifetime earnings. This assumes one is living in an economy with better than moribund growth, an assumption no one in the U.S. or Western Europe can make anymore.

If there is one political goal all Democratic progressives agree on it’s this: They will resist, squash and kill any attempt anywhere in the U.S. to educate those low-income or no-income inner-city kids in alternatives to the public schools run by the party’s industrial-age unions.

Reforming that public-school monopoly is the litmus test of seriousness on income inequality. That monopoly is the primary cause of America’s post-1970s social-policy failure. And that monopoly will emerge from the Obama presidency and de Blasio mayoralty intact. So will income inequality.

Congressman Paul Ryan Talks Education In WSJ

January 26, 2014 by

Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin wrote a feature column in the Wall Street Journal this weekend to discuss the “war on poverty” as it turns 50 years old. Congressman Ryan, who worked extensively with the late Jack Kemp in the early 1990’s before becoming a Congressman, is advocating many of the ideals that Kemp spent a career fighting for, such as parental choice in education, and local leadership taking control and solving problems, rather than bureaucrats in Washington far removed from the situation.

The two excerpts below really highlight some smart, innovative thinking when it comes to education. They say sunlight is the best disinfectant, and I think Congressman Ryan shining a light on these ideas in the WSJ is really important. I’m curious to know your thoughts.

One day at Pulaski High School in Milwaukee, a fight broke out between two students. The staff separated them, but one of the students, a young woman named Marianna, refused to relent. She continued to fight—now with the staff—and to cause a stir. Then a call went out over the school radio for “Lulu” to respond. Soon, Marianna began to calm down. Once she arrived, Lulu quickly defused the situation. Of all the people at Pulaski High—all the teachers and administrators—only one person got through to Marianna that day, and it was Lulu.

“Lulu” is Mrs. Louisa, one of five youth advisers in Pulaski High’s Violence-Free Zone program. Along with program head Andre Robinson and site supervisor Naomi Perez, they work as a band of roving mentors. On a typical day, you’ll find them walking the halls in black polo shirts. They chat with students, break up fights and help with homework. Most of them are recent alumni who grew up in the inner city, and they have the scars to prove it. They’ve been part of gangs. They’ve seen violence firsthand.

But they don’t have education degrees or state certification. They have something more important: credibility. The youth advisers understand what the students are going through because they’ve had the same struggles. That credibility creates trust, and so the students listen to them. In the two years since the program started, suspensions at Pulaski High are down by 60%, and daily attendance is up by nearly 10%. Fourteen gangs used to roam the school grounds; today, they’ve all but disappeared. The school tried all sorts of things to keep students safe—more police presence, more cameras. But only this program worked.

Mrs. Louisa, Mrs. Perez and Mr. Robinson aren’t just keeping kids in school; they’re fighting poverty on the front lines. If you graduate from high school, you’re much less likely to end up poor. According to the Census Bureau, a high-school graduate makes $10,000 a year more, on average, than a high-school dropout, and a college graduate makes $36,000 more. Ever since that day at Pulaski High, Marianna has improved her grades and now she is looking at colleges. Yet for all its professed concern about families in need, Washington is more concerned with protecting the status quo than with pursuing what actually works.

Later:

• In education, give teachers more control, and give parents a choice. Some of the most exciting work in education has occurred in Indiana. Three years ago, then-governor Mitch Daniels shepherded through the legislature several bold reforms.

Before the reforms, union-negotiated contracts required teachers to earn compensation based on seniority, not performance, and the contracts dictated all aspects of the classroom experience, from the humidity level in the school to the number of hours a teacher must spend with students. Under the new laws, teachers’ pay is based on performance. In exchange, they have more control over the classroom. Collective bargaining covers only wages and benefits, so teachers can tailor the curriculum to the needs of their students.

Low-income families are also now eligible for tuition vouchers on a sliding scale, and the reforms allow parents unhappy with a low-performing public school to turn it into a charter school with the approval of their local school board.

If You Can’t Get More Public School Money Legislatively, Ask The Courts.

January 18, 2014 by

Kansas Democracy Lesson

A test of whether judges can overrule elected officials on taxes and spending.

Jan. 16, 2014 7:07 p.m. ET

If there’s one certain conclusion from the last 30 years of education reform, it is that more money doesn’t yield better student results. But you wouldn’t know it from the debate in Kansas, where activists are trying to get the state Supreme Court to overrule the legislature and spend at least $500 million more a year on schools.

This is a test of democracy with national resonance. The Kansas Constitution requires that “the legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” In 2005 the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in a similar challenge that state aid to local school districts was insufficient and must rise to $4,400 per student. This is in addition to the $3,000 state aid per student for special ed and other programs and on top of what local school districts spend.

Eight years later spending has risen but test scores are flat, and now union activists allege that funding under Republican Governor Sam Brownback has fallen. That is only true if you include the one-time infusion from the Obama stimulus in 2010 and 2011. Apart from the stimulus, which was never meant to be permanent, Kansas school appropriations have risen slowly but steadily every year.

Judicially imposed school spending is a familiar strategy when unions lose in the legislature. Courts in about half the states mandated additional funding in the 1980s and ’90s after lawsuits alleged that spending was inequitable or inadequate.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback Associated Press

In 1985 a Missouri judge took partial control of the Kansas City public schools on grounds of insufficient funding for minority schools. The judge ordered the state to spend $2 billion over 12 years. Per student funding more than doubled (to about $25,000 per student in today’s dollars) and the student-teacher ratio fell to 13 to 1.

The state built 15 new schools with computer and robotics centers, Olympic-sized swimming pools, and even a wildlife sanctuary. If money produces student achievement, it would have shown up in Kansas City. But as a Cato Institute study documented, a decade later black student achievement had not improved and even the judge admitted it was a failed experiment.

A study in 2009 by scholars Alfred Lindseth and Eric Hanushek examined public school performance in Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Wyoming—the four states with the largest increase in funding due to court orders. They found that in three of the four states, “notwithstanding these dramatic spending increases, we found that student performance has languished.”

Test scores in these states have “not measurably improved relative to other states that did not have anywhere near the same influx of new school money.” The only improvement was in Massachusetts because its reforms included tough “non-financial” accountability standards.

Kansas school funding is more than adequate, with the state and local school districts combined spending about $11,776 per student on average. The state now spends about 50.5% of its budget on K-12 schools, which ranks fourth among states. If the lawsuit succeeds, the state would have to spend about 62%.

That would leave little for other priorities like roads or higher education unless the state raises taxes, which is probably the lawsuit’s real goal. Mr. Brownback and the GOP legislature cut taxes across the board in 2012, reducing the top income-tax rate to 4.9% from 6.45% and the tax on numerous small businesses to zero.

The plaintiffs claim there would be plenty of money for schools if not for the tax cut. But the Kansas Policy Institute, a local think tank, argues that the lawsuit’s spending could require a 23% income-tax increase or a 20% rise in local property taxes. Mr. Brownback’s tax cut is already attracting business to the state from its neighboring states, and a tax increase would undercut that economic progress.

This is also a test of the state Supreme Court. Four of the seven Justices were appointed by former Governor Kathleen Sebelius, of ObamaCare fame, and nominees are chosen by a commission dominated by the State Bar Association. The commission selects three potential nominees, and the Governor must choose one of the three.

This gives the lawyers’ guild effective control of the judiciary, creating a conflict of interest and pushing the judiciary to the left. Kansas Republicans want to change this selection process and let the Governor nominate state Supreme Court judges subject to state Senate confirmation, following the federal model. If the Justices impose an undemocratic tax increase, the GOP should move swiftly to reform judicial selection.

In 2009 the U.S. Supreme Court in Horne v. Flores reversed a judicial funding mandate in Arizona because “the weight of the evidence” indicates that accountability reforms, “much more than court-imposed funding mandates, lead to improved educational opportunities.” The Kansas Supreme Court should take that logic and precedent to heart.

Copyright 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

National School Choice Week is coming!

January 7, 2014 by
Register for rally today at  www.schoolchoicetrain.com

Register for rally today at www.schoolchoicetrain.com

Louisiana Voucher Assault, Round 2

December 3, 2013 by

Justice’s lawsuit takes a bizarre turn to keep kids in rotten schools.

Dec. 1, 2013 6:45 p.m. ET

The Justice Department campaign against Louisiana school vouchers gets curiouser and curiouser. Attorney General Eric Holder’s troops are now trying to prevent black parents from joining the case by amending their original lawsuit to block the vouchers in 22 districts.

Some Republicans in Washington, D.C., interpreted this motion as Justice dropping its lawsuit, but no one should be fooled. Justice now wants federal courts to establish what would essentially be a preclearance process letting DOJ approve every voucher.

Under Louisiana’s voucher law, only students from families with incomes below 250% of the poverty line and who attend schools with a C grade or below are eligible for vouchers. Black kids received over 85% of the 6,800 vouchers this year, and 93% of their parents express satisfaction with the program.

But that doesn’t matter to Mr. Holder’s prosecutors, who sued in August on grounds that vouchers may lead to segregation under judicial orders dating to the 1970s. The original lawsuit literally claims, for instance, that black kids who use vouchers to attend private schools could leave public schools more white.

This objection has proven to be unfounded. Boston University political scientist Christine Rossell, who has spent 40 years studying school desegregation plans, has analyzed the Louisiana voucher data. She concluded in a study last month that vouchers overall had “no negative effect on school desegregation” and substantially improved integration in St. James and Lincoln parishes.

In September, parents of voucher students represented by the Louisiana Black Alliance for Educational Options sought to intervene in the case. Justice at first argued that parents didn’t have a direct interest in the litigation since Justice was not “seeking to end the [voucher] Program,” though the department was seeking a permanent injunction.

That looked like a loser, so now DOJ says it wants federal Judge Ivan Lemelle to approve a “process to ensure that the State provides necessary information and complies with its desegregation obligations.” The goal here is to put the federal bureaucracy in charge.

Justice wants to review data on all voucher applicants including their race, public school district, whether and why they are granted a voucher and the private school to which they were assigned. And it wants that info at least 45 days before parents are notified that their kids will get a voucher. Why? Because the feds don’t want parents to know if the feds knock their kids from the voucher list.

DOJ is also claiming federal jurisdiction over the entire state, not merely the 22 districts under desegregation orders. Justice says it wants information on all voucher applicants, “including those in school districts not operating under federal desegregation orders, in order to review compliance with this Court’s [desegregation] orders that apply to private schools.” Translation: DOJ is threatening to audit private schools that admit voucher students. Shaking down private schools is another way to stunt the program.

At a November hearing, Judge Lemelle expressed skepticism of Justice’s case. Vouchers are “promoting racial balance in the school system,” he said, and “I don’t want to do anything to thwart that.” The judge has given the state and feds 60 days to agree to a review process. The Obama Administration should take this time to drop its morally offensive assault on the education of minority children.

Copyright 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The Texas Battle of the School Choice Lobbying Powers

November 14, 2013 by

There are two lobbying organizations that are battling over School Choice legislation in Texas.

The current heavy-weight is “Raise Your Hand Texas”, and it opposes all School Choice legislation.

The up-and-comer is “Texans for Education Reform”, which supports limited School Choice legislation and opposes  “Raise Your Hand Texas”.  TER currently supports expansion of student access to online courses paid for by the state, removing the cap on the number of charter schools in the state, and enacting a strong “parent trigger” law.  Follow this link for an explanation of the “parent trigger”.  I hope that after TER succeeds with these limited goals, it will move on to more the aggressive goals, tuition scholarships and tuition tax-credits.

We need to support TER.  Like their Facebook page!  It wants to defeat “Raise Your Hand Texas”, school choice’s big bully.

The Softer Side of “No Excuses” at KIPP Academy

October 25, 2013 by

There are many excellent charter schools in Texas, but KIPP Academy, being one of the oldest “No Excuses” charter schools, has had the most said about it, both positive and negative.  This Education Next article is an accurate look inside a KIPP Academy in New Orleans.

Enjoy!

Survey: Black Voters Support Parental Choice In Education

October 14, 2013 by

Sometimes it takes a little while for stories to find their way to us. Such is the case today.

Back in July, Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) released a report “A Survey Report on Education Reform, Charter Schools, and the Desire for Parental Choice in the Black Community.”

Among the findings was this tidbit:

Parental choice in education as a fundamental concept deeply resonated with Black voters who completed the BAEO survey. Between 85-89% in each state agreed that government should provide parents with as many choices as possible to ensure that their children receive a good education.

Parental choice in education knows no limitations. Only the usual suspects oppose parental choice, those who steadfastly oppose reform every time it’s mentioned. In a case such as this, where basically 85 to 90 percent of those surveyed say they support parental choice, we should not relent in pressing our message of freedom and education to anyone with willing ears.

Charter-school parents march in New York to secure a civil right: education.

October 11, 2013 by

The Brooklyn Bridge

It’s too bad every New Yorker who plans to vote in the city’s mayoral election Nov. 5 couldn’t be at the Brooklyn Bridge Tuesday morning. They would have seen the single most important issue in the race between Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota. It’s not stop-and-frisk.

Thousands and thousands of charter-school parents with their young children—most looked to be in the first to fourth grades—marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall to save their schools.

When Bill de Blasio won the Democratic nomination for mayor, the first question many asked was whether Mr. de Blasio’s intention to heavily regulate the police department’s stop-and-frisk program would put the city’s years of low-crime calm at risk.

But this big Brooklyn Bridge march of mothers, fathers and kids alters the calculus of next month’s vote. The crime issue, though important, is ultimately about self-interest.

By contrast, most New York voters—especially better-off white voters who’ve already made it here—have no direct stake whatsoever in New York City’s charter schools. They do, however, have a stake in the integrity of their political beliefs.

For decades, New York’s inner-city schools sent wave after wave of students into the world without the skills to do much more than achieve a minimal level of lifetime earnings, if that. This failure, repeated in so many large cities, remains the greatest moral catastrophe in the political life of the United States.

In New York, 20,000 parents and children marched on Oct. 8 in support of charter schools.

In 1999, the charter-school movement began in New York City with a handful of schools given independence from years of encrusted union rules and city regulations that made real learning virtually impossible in the city’s chaotic schools. The project flourished. Now nearly 200 charter schools teach some 70,000 students.

When the legislative limit on new charter-school openings arrives, New York’s next mayor will have to lobby the Albany legislature hard for permission to expand these lifeboats for the city’s poorest kids. So let’s put the politics of the mayoral election this way: Some 20,000 black and Hispanic parents and their kids would not have traveled from their neighborhoods—77% of the city’s charters are in Harlem, the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn—to march across that famous bridge if Bill de Blasio were not running for mayor. They think Mr. de Blasio is going to kill the charter-school movement in New York City. And they think this is a civil-rights issue.

One thing these 20- and 30-something parents have in common with their counterparts who live in Brooklyn’s Park Slope or Manhattan below 96th Street is that they weren’t even born when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech in 1963. But for them, you couldn’t miss that the dream described 50 years ago at the Lincoln Memorial was alive on the Brooklyn Bridge.

A lady with a bullhorn: “What do we want? Choice! When do we want it? Now!” A sign: “Let my children learn.” And bringing the politics to the present, one sign said simply: “Charters for the 99%.”

Many voters in the parts of Manhattan or Brooklyn that have good public- or private-school options will still vote for Bill de Blasio, either because they don’t spend much time on these out-of-area moral dilemmas or they think: It can’t be that bad, can it? Bill de Blasio won’t actually kill these people’s schools, will he?

Yes, it can be that bad.

In a now-famous statement, Mr. de Blasio recently said of charter-school pioneer Eva Moskowitz: “There is no way in hell that Eva Moskowitz should get free rent, OK?” What this means is that Mr. de Blasio, under pressure from the city’s teachers union, will start demanding rent payments from public charter schools that now operate rent-free in the same buildings occupied by traditional public schools.

If the next mayor makes the charters pay rent in the city’s expensive real-estate market—essentially imposing a regressive tax on them—over time the schools’ budgets will suffocate and they’ll start to die. It will be a slow death, so Mr. de Blasio’s voters won’t notice what’s happening in Harlem, Brooklyn and the South Bronx.

The city’s charter movement has attracted innovative school operators such as KIPP, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, Harlem Village Academies and others. For the parents who win the annual lottery to get their kids into these schools, the result is an educational environment of achievement, discipline and esprit—what any parent wants. Given Mr. de Blasio’s intentions, these innovators will start to leave the city. One of the best things New York City has ever done will go away.

Sounds melodramatic? You bet it is. Why do you think those people were on that bridge?

How Democratic politicians like Bill de Blasio and the unionized teachers’ movement ended up so at odds with the city’s black children will fall to future historians to explain. But that’s where they are. What remains to be seen, and will be seen Nov. 5, is how many New Yorkers are in that same place.

Write to henninger@wsj.com

A version of this article appeared October 10, 2013, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Bill de Blasio and Civil Rights.

Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

WSJ: Vouchers Can Help Kids and Big-City Politicians

October 8, 2013 by

The Wall Street Journal has yet another great op-ed about Education Reform.

Politicians in cash-strapped municipalities can give families choice while saving money.

By Kevin P. Chavous

In his former post as White House chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously remarked: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” What he said next is less remembered: “And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

These words come to mind as municipal governments across the country—from Stockton, Calif., to Jefferson County, Ala., to Mr. Emanuel’s own city—grapple with massively underfunded public pensions, lowered bond ratings, and the prospect of layoffs for thousands of teachers and other public employees. These crises are opportunities for leaders to do things they could not do before.

I see this most clearly in public education. As a former chairman of the education committee on the District of Columbia City Council, I’ve experienced firsthand the tensions between paying bills racked up in the past and honoring the obligations we have to young students in the present and future. It is deeply unfair to settle adult disputes over pension obligations and fiscal mismanagement on the backs of school children who weren’t even alive when the problems were created. In D.C., we chose to put our children first. Other cities can do the same.

How? By unleashing parental choice in education. While public-school systems take the painful steps necessary to remain solvent, public dollars can and should follow students to less costly and higher-performing private schools and public-charter schools.

The word “voucher” is a dirty word to many teachers and administrators in public schools, but it shouldn’t be. With a well-run parental-choice program, elected officials and administrators can significantly reduce the stress on public-school budgets while living up to their obligation to provide great educational opportunities for young people.

In 2004, when I headed the D.C. City Council education committee, we secured federal funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers to low-income students for tuition at private schools that outperformed public schools. We also secured funding to improve the city’s charter and traditional public schools. Between 2004 and 2012, the program received more than 11,000 applications and awarded 4,900 scholarships.

In June 2012, after the Obama administration nearly phased the program out, House Speaker John Boehner and then Sen. Joseph Lieberman reached an agreement with the Education Department to renew the scholarships. As Mr. Boehner said at the time: “Thousands of families have taken advantage of this scholarship program to give their children an opportunity to succeed in life, and there’s strong evidence that it’s both effective and cost-effective.”

In the 2011-12 school year, D.C. students who used the scholarship program to attend private schools had a high-school graduation rate of more than 90%. The city’s charter schools had a graduation rate of 77%, far above the traditional public-school graduation rate of 56%.

Other elected officials across the country are making similar choices. Last year, in the midst of a budget crisis, Louisiana lawmakers expanded the Louisiana Scholarship Program. Begun in New Orleans in 2008, the program provides low-income parents whose children are assigned to a failing school the opportunity to send them to a private school.

This school year, some 8,000 students statewide—91% of them minority—are using vouchers to attend private schools. A survey conducted in February by the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the Louisiana Federation for Children reported that 93.6% of parents were satisfied with their child’s academic progress in the voucher program. The new statewide program includes strong accountability measurements in order to remove schools that do not increase student proficiency.

According to the Louisiana Department of Education, the program is also saving the state’s taxpayers an estimated $16 million a year. The average scholarship last year was about $5,000, while the average amount spent per public-school student was about $8,500.

Empowering communities and families requires leaders with the guts to step out of their political comfort zones. There will be no shortage of defenders of the status quo, teachers unions chief among them. But that’s no reason to let this crisis go to waste.

Mr. Chavous is executive counsel to the American Federation for Children, chairman of Democrats for Education Reform, and a board member of Educational Choice Illinois.

Last year, in the midst of a budget crisis, Louisiana lawmakers expanded the Louisiana Scholarship Program. Begun in New Orleans in 2008, the program provides low-income parents whose children are assigned to a failing school the opportunity to send them to a private school.

This school year, some 8,000 students statewide—91% of them minority—are using vouchers to attend private schools. A survey conducted in February by the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the Louisiana Federation for Children reported that 93.6% of parents were satisfied with their child’s academic progress in the voucher program. The new statewide program includes strong accountability measurements in order to remove schools that do not increase student proficiency.

According to the Louisiana Department of Education, the program is also saving the state’s taxpayers an estimated $16 million a year. The average scholarship last year was about $5,000, while the average amount spent per public-school student was about $8,500.

Empowering communities and families requires leaders with the guts to step out of their political comfort zones. There will be no shortage of defenders of the status quo, teachers unions chief among them. But that’s no reason to let this crisis go to waste.

Mr. Chavous is executive counsel to the American Federation for Children, chairman of Democrats for Education Reform, and a board member of Educational Choice Illinois.


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