The Education Gangs of Los Angeles

September 14, 2015 by


Meet the decorated former Green Beret

who is rallying Los Angeles parents to fight

the unions and reform the worst public schools,

one school at a time.


Anaheim, Calif.

When most people think of this quintessential California suburb, the Angels baseball team or Disneyland probably comes to mind. But a five-minute drive from the “happiest place on earth” takes you to Palm Lane Elementary, ground zero in a fight between teachers unions and parents who are trying to fix California’s broken public schools. The conflict—as so often in American education—boils down to unionized teachers trying to stop minority children from attending charter schools.

Ninety percent of Palm Lane students come from low-income families. About 85% are Latino, and more than half aren’t native English speakers. Palm Lane has been on the California Education Department’s list of underperforming schools since 2003. In 2013 a mere 38% of students scored proficient or better in English on state tests. And Palm Lane is hardly an exception in the area: Four other elementary schools in Anaheim rank even lower on the state’s Academic Performance Index.

But Alfonso Flores is leading a grass-roots insurgency against the union-controlled regime at Palm Lane. The former teacher and father of four kids who attend public schools in Hesperia has used the state’s “parent trigger” law, passed in 2010, to force changes at a half-dozen schools in California. The law stipulates that if a majority of parents at a struggling school sign a petition, they can compel changes in school management or personnel. Sometimes, the parents contract with a charter-school operator. In one case, they hired a new principal. Parents have also used the law as a negotiating tool to force the district to make improvements like adding more staff.

As the new school year was getting started, Mr. Flores sat down with me in the park next to Park Lane that has served as a meeting place and training ground for parents in the trigger campaign. The 45-year-old decorated Gulf War veteran has plenty of stories to tell about doing battle with teachers unions that bring heavy artillery to every fight.

“It’s grass-roots,” he says of parent-trigger efforts, “and that’s what scares the teachers unions.”

Mr. Flores, a self-described “anchor baby” of Mexican immigrants, knows firsthand the value of escaping bad schools. As a child in the 1970s, he spent three hours daily on a bus trekking to and from a school in the San Fernando Valley under the Los Angeles Unified School District’s desegregation plan. Busing to achieve racial integration is hardly optimal, but Mr. Flores says it did allow him to avoid the horrendous schools in the Los Angeles inner city.

As a senior in high school, he signed up with the U.S. Army and after graduating served tours in Colombia, the Persian Gulf and Somalia. “I wanted a way to thank my country for allowing my parents to bring me to this great nation,” he explains. In 10 years the Green Beret earned a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts, and he lost a kidney after being wounded in the 1993 rescue mission in Mogadishu, Somalia, that was depicted in the movie “Black Hawk Down.”

During his military service, Mr. Flores says, he was struck by his fellow soldiers’ deficient educations. They had to “redo grammar school” because they “couldn’t write a simple report,” he recalls. “The Pentagon has complained about high-school kids not able to pass the ASVAB”—the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.

After an honorable discharge in 1998, he got his teaching credential from California State University at Dominguez Hills. His first teaching job was at Normandie Avenue, one of the worst elementary schools in L.A. One teacher, Mr. Flores recalls, would watch television while students filled in coloring sheets. A new principal tried to raise standards, he says, but if she entered a classroom without the teacher’s permission, she would get slapped with a union grievance.

In 2007, after being named a district teacher of the year, Mr. Flores was hired as the founding principal of the Global Education Academy, a charter school in South Los Angeles with an almost entirely black and Latino student population. Although most teachers were young and inexperienced, the charter far outperformed neighboring public schools. In 2008, 88% of its students scored proficient or advanced in math, compared with 37% districtwide.

The key to improving student performance, Mr. Flores says, was engaging parents. At most public schools, “parents are treated with hostility,” but at charters, administrators and teachers tend to “embrace parents as partners.” Teachers unions and their liberal allies blame poverty for bad schools, but Mr. Flores calls that an insult to good teachers who are helping poor children succeed: “Poverty is not an issue.”

In 2011 Mr. Flores joined the nonprofit Parent Revolution, inspired by the group’s role in California’s first parent-trigger campaign, at McKinley Elementary in Compton. McKinley parents wanted a high-performing charter operator to take over the failing school but were stymied by the teachers union, which had joined forces with the school district.

The union tactics at McKinley included requiring parents to show up at the school during the workday with a photo ID—a good way to scare off illegal immigrants—to verify their signatures. The trigger petition failed after a lengthy court battle, but Mr. Flores says the injustice propelled him to enlist as a parent organizer. “Before you begin a petition drive, you have to start a parent organization,” Mr. Flores says. Parents “have to be aware of how the system works and how the system is broken.”

For instance, “parents are unaware that principals don’t have power to dismiss or even hire their own staff. Districts do a really good job of keeping parents away from all of this information,” Mr. Flores notes. “Once they learn, it agitates them even more.”

But the biggest challenge is collecting signatures while being barraged by the unions. In every petition campaign, he says, “they use the same accusations and playbook.” Two standbys are false charges that the petition organizers are bribing parents to sign and that the people gathering the signatures are paid by outside groups.

The unions hit the “outsider” label hard, Mr. Flores says, alleging that petition organizers “have a political agenda—that we’re trying to privatize education.” Another union tactic: Overplay the collateral damage, telling parents that a petition could force the school to close. When all else fails, the unions try to junk the petition signatures. In the parent-trigger drive Mr. Flores helped organize at Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto in 2012, the school board invalidated nearly 100 signatures. But a state judge ordered the district to accept the petition and allow the charter conversion.

Compared with fighting unions, Mr. Flores’s encounters with local gang leaders have been a relative breeze.

“In every campaign I’ve been a part of, you have situations where you have to respect the community,” Mr. Flores says. “That means if the local community leader is a minister, you meet with the minister. In Watts, it was a gang leader.” That was three years ago, he says, when Latino parents at Weigand Avenue Elementary were seeking to oust the principal. A black pastor said he had to get permission from a local gang to mobilize parents, and he set up a meeting at the gang leader’s apartment.

“There were all types of weapons throughout the house. I remember opening the door and that distinctive smell of marijuana,” Mr. Flores recalls. “I was afraid because I was aware of the turf battles—the fact that I was Latino and they were African-American.”

But the only triggers that came up in the meeting were of the parental variety. To Mr. Flores’s amazement, the gang members supported the Weigand Avenue takeover. One, he says, “happened to be a former student at the school and said, ‘You need to do this for the future generation of kids, because I am a product of this school.’ He was very self-aware.” While parents gathered signatures, Mr. Flores says, the gang “would egg us on and tell us they were sending parents our way.”

The petition at Weigand succeeded, but Mr. Flores says he grew frustrated by what he perceived as an inefficient use of resources at Parent Revolution. In 2014 he left to launch his own school-reform outfit, Excellent Educational Solutions.

Later that year, he got a call from Gloria Romero—the former Democratic state Senate majority leader, who co-authored the parent-trigger law—about organizing a campaign at Palm Lane in Anaheim.

Palm Lane had cycled through five principals in three years. Mr. Flores says the catalyst for the petition drive at the school was the removal of a principal who had “started making teachers accountable” by taking steps like requiring them to assign homework. Teachers howled, and soon the school board reassigned the principal—to work as a teacher at another school.

Parents went public with their outrage. Ms. Romero proposed that Mr. Flores help mobilize them for a petition drive. When presented with various trigger options, parents chose to go for a charter-school conversion.

Mr. Flores used the park outside the school for daily parent meetings. Some mornings, he says, “we had to be out here at 6:30” to catch parents before they went to work. With a three-member team and $60,000 budget, Mr. Flores gave parents a tutorial in public-school dysfunction.

“Parents don’t know about API”—the state’s Academic Performance Index—“but they know when their kids don’t have homework, it is an issue,” he says.

Once again, the union pulled out its playbook. Signature gatherers were accused of bribing parents with iPads. The Anaheim City School District superintendent wrote a letter warning parents: “It has been reported to us that there are people in our community who have been paid by an organization to gather parent signatures for a petition that could completely change the way some of our schools are run.”

The parents were unmoved. More than 60% signed the petition—but the district threw out 133 of the 488 signatures. The matter moved to the courts, and in July a state superior court judge reprimanded the district’s conduct as “unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious and unfair” and ordered the school board to accept the petition.

The school board has appealed and doubled the contract for its legal firm, to $678,000. The fight has garnered plenty of headlines in California, but state leaders like Gov. Jerry Brown and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson have been notably silent.

Mr. Flores notes that the Democrat-dominated legislature in Sacramento has made a point of spending big on schools with a high concentration of disadvantaged students, with little to show for it. “You could throw millions of dollars into these schools,” he says, “and if there is no accountability, you have the same situation.”

When it comes to education reform, Mr. Flores says, “parents shouldn’t be leading this, it should be the state.” But given the stakes, he adds, sounding a militant note, sometimes “you have to force change.”

Ms. Finley is an editorial writer for the Journal.

The Judges Who Stole School Choice

September 8, 2015 by

A court rejects a voter-passed charter law in Washington state.

Eight new charter schools in Washington state opened this fall, but on Friday the state Supreme Court delivered a grim surprise by overturning the state’s charter law. Welcome back to the public school monopoly, kids.

The 6-3 ruling is as politically driven as it is overreaching and legally flawed. In 2012 voters approved a ballot initiative sponsored by Bill Gates and others that authorized up to 40 charter schools over five years. The law requires that charters receive per-pupil funding equal to that of traditional public schools and that taxpayer dollars follow the student.

The education axis of unions and administrators struck back in a lawsuit claiming that charters violate constitutional limits on funding for “common schools” (public schools). They also claimed charters aren’t accountable to local voters.

In fact, charters are far more accountable than traditional public schools. Charters must submit detailed applications to a state commission explaining, among other things, their curriculum, standards and plans for special-needs students. They must also submit to a public forum—i.e., a union beating. They provide annual performance reports, and the State Board of Education can sanction charters that fail to achieve their objectives and close those in the bottom quartile of public schools. Only the lowest 5% of traditional schools must propose corrective plans.

So it’s ironic that the majority cites a 1909 state Supreme Court ruling that “common schools” must be “subject to and under the control of the qualified voters” who “through their chosen agents” can “select qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent.” According to the majority, charters are not “common” or accountable because their boards aren’t elected by voters—even if the law establishing them was.

The reality is that local school boards are responsible mainly to unions thanks to collective bargaining. Tenure protections all but guarantee incompetent teachers lifetime job security. Because charters are liberated from state tenure and collective-bargaining, they can dismiss lousy teachers.

The liberal majority’s real concern is preserving the union monopoly. Thus the court bars charters from tapping $2 billion in funds that the state constitution specifically restricts to so-called common schools. But the intent of this constitutional provision was to prevent the legislature from siphoning off designated education funds for other programs. Charter schools are public schools too.

The majority also blocks charters from accessing the state’s general fund because, lo, the restricted revenues come out of the same pot. Yet many education programs such as community college tuition for high school seniors are financed out of the general fund. By the majority’s logic, all of these programs are unconstitutional—and so is every other program that draws money from the general fund.

The ruling leaves 1,200 kids now attending charters in the lurch. Democratic Governor Jay Inslee hasn’t offered a solution, but the legislature needs to reconvene to pass a stopgap. In any event the liberal Justices should be held accountable for their political ruling in next year’s judicial retention election.

Nevada’s Voucher Breakout

September 2, 2015 by

Unions and the ACLU fight universal statewide school choice.


The hullabaloo over Common Core is obscuring some major school choice flashpoints in the states. Consider Nevada, where the union for the public school status quo is suing to block revolutionary education savings accounts.

Earlier this summer Nevada Republicans established universal education savings accounts (ESAs), which allow all parents who withdraw their kids from public schools to spend state funds on private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring fees and special services. Jeb Bush last month praised Nevada’s ESAs as a model for “total voucherization,” which is scaring the unions silly.

Starting next year, parents who opt out of public schools can receive between 90% and 100% of the statewide average per-pupil allotment ($5,100 to $5,700) depending on their income. Unused funds can be rolled over for future expenses including college. According to the Friedman Foundation, ESAs will cover between 60% and 80% of the median tuition at private schools, many of which provide additional financial assistance.

Twenty-three states have enacted 48 private-school choice programs, but nearly all include income and eligibility caps. Four states other than Nevada—Arizona, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi—offer ESAs that are limited to special needs or low-income students.

American Enterprise Institute Resident Scholar Rick Hess on the political debate over national education standards. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Unions are desperate to prevent Nevada’s model from spreading. They argue that giving all parents these educational options will destroy public schools, but the real point is to break up the union monopoly. Universal ESAs give all low and middle-income students the ability to escape failing schools, while providing enough funding to seed alternatives.

The American Civil Liberties Union last week took up the union water cannon. It argued in a lawsuit that ESAs violate the Nevada constitution’s ban on “public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal” being used for a “sectarian purpose” and undermine “the public school system that the State is constitutionally required to support.”

This is a legal Hail Mary. Dozens of state constitutions include these so-called Blaine amendments, which are a legacy of the anti-Catholic bigotry of the 19th century. Most state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark 2011 ruling, Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, have interpreted these prohibitions narrowly. The High Court ruled that tax credits to nonprofits that fund private school scholarships aren’t government expenditures.

Last year the Arizona Supreme Court upheld an appellate decision that ESAs are constitutional because they are “neutral in all respects toward religion” and direct “aid to a broad class of individuals without reference to religion.” What’s more, “the specified object of the ESA is the beneficiary families, not private or sectarian schools.”

The Institute for Justice, which helped defend Arizona’s ESAs and craft Nevada’s, notes that it is “the independent decision-making by parents that severs any link between church and state.” ESAs give “parents a genuine choice as to how to spend the money.” If ESAs are unconstitutional, then so are state Medicaid reimbursements to religiously affiliated hospitals.

It’s both a shame and reflection of modern liberal politics that the ACLU is teaming up with the teachers union to squash educational freedom.
Sept. 2, 2015

Inefficiency dogs Texas schools as classes resume

August 26, 2015 by

By   /   August 25, 2015  /   8 Comments

AP file photo

DOES NOT COMPUTE: The claim that Texas school funding is inadequate is undercut by financial data that show how the money is actually spent.


By Kenric Ward | Texas

In a Texas Supreme Court showdown, school-reform groups are escalating the fight over education financing. Countering teacher-union claims that state funding formulas are inadequate, reformers say the system is demonstrably inefficient.

Pointing to large and growing diversions of instructional money, reformers contend that Texas schools are failing students.

“We are arguing that the system is not efficient — a term that is in the state constitution,” says Randan Steinhauser, a leader in the school-reform movement. “It’s not fiscally efficient and it’s not adequately educating students.”

Court briefs reviewed by note that:

  • Less than half of total school revenue ($50 billion) is actually spent on instruction ($24 billion).
  • Teachers make an average of $8,859 less than support staff (not including administrators).
  • Texas school districts have a fund balance exceeding $9.5 billion.
  • From fiscal 1992 to fiscal 2009, Texas’ student population increased 3 percent while school district administrators and other non-teaching staff grew 172 percent.

“Public schools in Texas would have saved almost $6.4 billion if they had not increased the employment of administrators and other non-teaching staff more than the increase in students,” says Peggy Venable, policy and legislative director at the Americans for Prosperity Foundation of Texas.

Venable adds that the cost of lawsuits is also siphoning public funds. She conservatively estimated that $50 million in legal fees have been spent by districts to sue, repeatedly, over funding.

The efficiency argument is gathering steam in advance of the Supreme Court’s scheduled Sept. 1 hearing. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn — a former state attorney general and Supreme Court justice — and former Sen. Phil Gramm are filing supportive briefs with the high court.

Pastors of some of the largest congregations in the state are urging the court to add private school vouchers to address the inefficiency issue. They say per-pupil funding should go with the child to foster choice in education — not to top-heavy government bureaucracies.

Instead of going to classrooms, “money is lining the pockets of superintendents,” Steinhauser said.

RELATED: Three Texas districts mired in fiscal scandals

Charter school advocates are also weighing in, charging that “artificial limits” on the independently operated, publicly funded campuses restrict educational opportunities for Texas children.

“Charter school funding is inequitable,” says Steinhauser. “That’s part of the conversation.”

Even so, lesser-funded charter schools routinely outperform their conventional counterparts.

Though accounting for only 600 of Texas’ 8,574 public schools, 18 charters earned the state’s top five-star academic rating. Just 28 conventional schools scored that high.

Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Contact him at

School Choice for Special-Needs Students

August 10, 2015 by

Other children like our son would benefit from having vouchers that increase their options.

The Wall Street Journal


My wife, Liz, and I have a 5-year-old son named Sam who, along with his little brother, Pete, is our pride and joy. Sam was diagnosed with autism-spectrum disorder at age 4. The symptoms of ASD vary but are characterized by social deficits and repetitive behavior. His doctor says he is high-functioning, which means that with the right schooling, therapies, teachers and family support Sam could be “mainstreamed” into a regular classroom with his peers in the future.

But getting from here to there is going to take enormous effort, and our local public school has already shown an unwillingness to help. Sam is old enough to attend kindergarten in the fall, but after reading his progress reports and listening to his therapists, Liz and I agreed he was not ready to tackle the added challenges of kindergarten. His language skills are still delayed and he has sensory and social issues that could use another year of work.

Our son was evaluated by the special-education personnel in our public-school district, and we were told he qualified to attend a general education pre-K class for part of the school day and receive therapy in the special-education classroom the other part of the time. We also got him into applied-behavior-analysis (ABA) therapy outside of the school system that was recommended to us by the pediatric neuropsychiatrist who diagnosed him.

So we asked for a meeting with local public-school officials to see if we could keep our son back a year. To our surprise, there were 11 school representatives at the 90-minute meeting, yet not one was qualified to render a decision. We wrote a follow-up letter expressing our disappointment and requested a second meeting.

The second meeting had even more people in attendance and lasted nearly two hours, at the end of which the school administrators said they could not grant Sam an extra year of preschool. Sadly, it was clear to us that pushing him through the system was more important to them than giving him a chance to perform at grade level.

At that point we had no choice but to enroll him in a private, faith-based school where he can repeat his pre-K year and continue an ABA program in the afternoon. We hope this will give Sam the support he needs. This school is aware of his condition and is willing to work with us and our son in conjunction with his ABA therapist to make sure he will be ready for kindergarten.

Thankfully, we could afford to send our son to a nearby private school. But in many families that isn’t an option. For the great majority of children with learning and physical disabilities, the best they can hope for is whatever their local public schools can provide. Too often what is provided is a subpar education that fails to meet the needs of this population. That’s not only unfair, it’s unjust.

That is why, when Americans discuss the need for school choice and vouchers, we should consider students with special needs like our son Sam. Society’s goal should be to give special-needs children their full measure of dignity and opportunity at a school where they can better learn, adapt and thrive. These schools exist, and vouchers can make them more affordable. The schools often are expensive—because it does take more to educate a child with disabilities. But these children, regardless of their parents’ income, deserve a quality education and a chance at life.

A few leaders have pushed back. Jeb Bush is one of them. When he became governor of Florida in the late 1990s he helped to create the state’s McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program. Founded in 1999, the statewide program provides “scholarships for eligible students with disabilities to attend an eligible public or private school of their choice.”

The program is still thriving long after Gov. Bush’s second term ended in 2007, and 28,370 students from 1,248 private schools participated in 2013-14. Students with disabilities ranging from blindness to dyslexia to autism-spectrum disorder received in total more than $180 million in scholarships.

That’s a model that if implemented in more states would help many thousands of kids like our son Sam, and many parents who can’t afford what is often most important in their child’s education: a choice.

Mr. Chiapelas lives in St. Louis.

Tar Heel School Voucher Victory

July 29, 2015 by

School vouchers may be the most effective anti-poverty program around, yet they’re fought tooth and hammer by the teachers unions. Late last week the North Carolina Supreme Court awarded a victory to poor kids by protecting vouchers from another union attack.

Two years ago Tar Heel Republicans passed a modest reform offering low-income students $4,200 scholarships to attend qualifying private schools. The law requires, among other things, that private schools report graduation rates and test scores. It also mandates an annual report comparing the learning gains of voucher recipients and public school students.

Taxpayer plaintiffs backed by the union argued in a lawsuit that vouchers accomplish no “public purpose” because private schools don’t have to adhere to such state educational standards as teacher licensing requirements. You have to admire the gall of a union to argue that private schools are “unaccountable” when only one in five black fourth-graders at North Carolina public schools scored proficient in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2013. According to the Institute for Justice, which represented voucher parents in the case, five of six low-income students fail the state’s end-of-grade math or reading tests.

North Carolina’s high court ruled 4-3 that vouchers serve a public purpose, and we’d say an urgent one. Last year about 4,500 qualifying low-income families applied for 2,400 slots in the state lottery, though only 1,200 vouchers were awarded because of a court injunction. Now that vouchers are out of legal limbo, some Republican legislators hope to expand the program and raise income eligibility limits. Good idea.

While the ruling is a victory for poor children, the case is a reminder that the unions will do everything possible to preserve their monopoly control over the lives of millions they fail to teach. It’s the greatest scandal in American public life.

Parent-Trigger V-Day

July 21, 2015 by

Alexander Hamilton said an independent judiciary is essential to guard against “serious oppressions of the minor party in the community.” Last week a California judge reaffirmed this wisdom by overruling local school district officials who tried to thwart parents from using the state’s parent-trigger law.

In January parents filed a petition to convert Palm Lane Elementary in Anaheim into a charter under California’s 2010 parent-trigger law, which allows a majority of parents in any failing school to force changes. Palm Lane had made the state Department of Education’s list of underperforming schools since 2003. Fewer than 40% of students scored proficient in English in 2013. About 85% are Hispanic, and most are low-income.

School district officials and the teachers union tried to stymie parents at every turn. The union even complained that signature gatherers were bribing parents with free iPads, a false allegation that the district superintendent repeated in a cautionary letter to parents. In February the school district rejected the petition on dubious grounds, which included claims that parents had made paperwork errors, such as failing to “submit a separate document that identifies the lead petitioners.”

Though more than 60% of parents signed the petition, the district threw out dozens of signatures that could not be “verified.” That is, the parents could not be reached between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to confirm that they signed the petition. Maybe that’s because they were working. This left parents 12 signatures short of the 50% threshold, so they sued the district for improperly rejecting the petition.

Last Thursday Orange County Superior Court judge Andrew Banks ruled in favor of the parents on all counts and rebuked the district’s conduct as “unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious and unfair.” He also scored district officials for violating their obligation under the trigger law to work in good faith with parents—a responsibility many other districts have disregarded as well.

Judge Banks has ordered the district to accept the petition and allow parents to immediately begin soliciting charter school proposals. Palm Lane will become the second school in California where parents have successfully triggered large-scale reform. There would be more if unions working with district officials hadn’t intimidated parent organizers.

Palm Lane parents were assisted by the trigger law’s author, former state Democratic Senator Gloria Romero, who helped seek outside legal counsel. The case shows how far the union and administrative bureaucracy will go to preserve their monopoly, even breaking the law. Palm Lane’s parents are heroes for fighting back, but the scandal is how hard they had to fight to fulfill a basic legal right.


All Arne’s Children

July 14, 2015 by

Arne Duncan has had his good moments supporting charter schools, but the Education Secretary continues to fight vouchers for private schools. So it’s worth noting that he has decided to send his own children to a private school in Chicago.

During his time in Washington, Mr. Duncan’s two children have been attending public schools in suburban Virginia. But his wife has now moved back to Chicago, and come fall their children will study at the University of Chicago’s Laboratory Schools—which he attended and where tuition runs about $30,000 a year. That’s also where Barack and Michelle Obama sent their children before moving to Washington and sending Sasha and Malia to the tony Sidwell Friends.

Mr. Duncan’s choice is all the more striking since he used to run the Chicago public schools. He also stood aside in 2009 when Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin managed to kill the Opportunity Scholarship Program in Washington until Speaker John Boehner and the Republican Congress revived it.

The Education Secretary was also a muted voice when the Obama Justice Department filed a lawsuit aimed at scuttling Louisiana’s innovative voucher program. And he was silent again when the Colorado Supreme Court recently invoked a leftover of 19th-century bigotry—its anti-Catholic Blaine amendment—to stop students from receiving vouchers for private schools.

We wish Arne Duncan’s children every success. Too bad he didn’t fight for similar options for families not as fortunate as his.

The Teachers Union Votes Hillary

July 14, 2015 by

So much for liberating poor kids from failing schools.

Wall Street Journal

July 12, 2015 6:48 p.m. ET

While the media chase the Bernie Sanders rallies, keep your eye on the political crowds that matter. On Saturday the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) endorsed Hillary Clinton—16 months before Election Day.

This counts in the fight for the Democratic Party nomination because the 1.6 million member union boasts it can make a million phone calls and knock on 500,000 doors. Bernie’s Birkenstock irregulars can’t match that political power and money.

The endorsement is even more notable as another sign of Hillary’s left political turn. Democrats in New York and elsewhere have been debating education reform, but by embracing the AFT Mrs. Clinton is choosing the union status quo that opposes school choice and teacher accountability.

Listen to AFT president Randi Weingarten’s endorsement: “Hillary understands that to reclaim the promise of public education, policy makers need to work with educators and their unions. She’s ready to work with us to confront the issues facing children and their families today, including poverty, wage stagnation, income inequality and lack of opportunity.” Translation: Mrs. Clinton will send unions more money without hassling them on tenure and charter schools.

At the AFT executive council meeting in June, Mrs. Clinton sent the same signal by declaring that, “It is just dead wrong to make teachers the scapegoats for all of society’s problems. Where I come from, teachers are the solution. And I strongly believe that unions are part of the solution, too.”

The AFT wouldn’t be backing Hillary this early if it didn’t expect to be repaid in policy if she wins. Poor children will be the losers.

Nevada Places a Bet on School Choice

June 15, 2015 by


Education savings accounts are available to all of the state’s 385,000 public-school students.

June 14, 2015 6:06 p.m. ET

Nevada recently became the fifth state to enact the nation’s most systemic K-12 funding reform: education savings accounts. ESAs allow parents to pull their children out of public schools and put the allotted tax dollars toward an education they prefer. This makes the phrase “school choice” a reality.

Unlike vouchers, which make public dollars available only for private- school tuition, the savings accounts can be used for a range of educational options, for private schools or distance learning, tutoring, computer software, educational therapies, public-school classes and activities, and community college classes. Any money left after graduation can be put toward college. This will give Nevada parents more than $5,000 to work with.

Education savings accounts are an innovation; they harness the capacity of modern technology to deliver high-quality, tailored education to every child in the state. Families can mix and match educational offerings to meet their children’s needs and aptitudes, perhaps combining interactive distance learning with a local high- school chemistry lab and a tutor in mathematics.

The savings accounts, first proposed a decade ago by the Goldwater Institute, where I work, weren’t pressed into service until 2009. That’s when the Arizona Supreme Court struck down school vouchers for disabled and foster children under the state’s Blaine Amendment, which forbids the use of public funds in private or sectarian schools. Vouchers violated the Blaine Amendment, the court reasoned, because they could only be used in private schools.

But what if public funds were available not only for private schools but also for a broad array of educational options? The Arizona Legislature enacted ESAs for disabled and foster children, depositing 90% of each child’s state education funds into an account featuring a debit card that can be used to purchase educational services from public or private providers. Local school property taxes remain untouched and available to public schools.

Like vouchers, education savings accounts were challenged in court for violating the Blaine Amendment in 2011. But because the funds were not limited to private schools, the legality of ESAs was upheld. As Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Jon Thompson observed in a 2013 ruling, “Parents can use the funds deposited in the . . . account to customize an education that meets their children’s unique educational needs.” Arizona has expanded ESA eligibility to include children in public schools receiving D or F grades and military families. Legislation sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Carlyle Begay to provide ESAs for children on Indian reservations goes into effect this fall.

Last year, Florida—whose Supreme Court also had earlier struck down vouchers—enacted ESAs for severely disabled children. The savings accounts are especially useful for families whose children have special needs that require individualized approaches that often are not found in public schools. As in Arizona, ESAs were challenged in court and upheld.

This year education savings accounts were enacted in three states where earlier there was resistance to school choice: Mississippi, Tennessee and Nevada. The savings accounts in the first two states are limited to children with special needs.

But Nevada’s program is available to all of the state’s 385,000 public- school students. Most children will receive 90% of the state’s education contribution, or about $5,100. But children with disabilities or in low-income families will receive the full per-pupil amount, roughly $5,700. For the first time since the nation’s first voucher program was enacted in Milwaukee 25 years ago, this year more than half of the states plus the District of Columbia have some form of private school choice. BUT NOT TEXAS (added by poster) 

Teachers unions fiercely opposed the bill. “This is a ploy by those who deplore public education and want to destroy it,” charged Democratic state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse. But that tired argument lost.

The emergence of education savings accounts may mark the beginning of the end for an ossified education-delivery system that is has changed little since the 19th century. It begins an important shift of government from a monopoly provider of education into an enabler of education in whatever form or forum it most benefits the child.

By reducing the need for bureaucracies and capital construction, education savings accounts can reverse the ever-growing costs of public education, even as the accounts provide resources for families to save for college. They can help surmount Blaine Amendment obstacles that appear in about two-thirds of state constitutions. Most important, they hitch public policy to infinite technological possibilities, creating the first truly 21st-century education model wherein public funding follows the child.

Mr. Bolick is vice president for litigation at the Goldwater Institute.

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