Posts Tagged ‘Political organization’

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

October 11, 2013

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

Education Failure in Philadelphia

September 26, 2013

Only 40% of students can read to standard. Union says so what?

  • The Wall Street Journal
  • REVIEW & OUTLOOK
  • September 24, 2013, 7:22 p.m. ET

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has extended a lifeline to Philadelphia’s hemorrhaging schools attached to a requirement for modest education and fiscal reforms. No thanks, says the teachers union. Herewith a parable of education decline.

Philadelphia’s schools are a textbook case of chronic, systemic failure. Woeful finances and academics compelled the state in 2001 to install a five-member School Reform Commission. Test scores have improved but are still pitiful. Last year only about 40% of students scored proficient or above in reading on the state standardized test, but 99.5% of teachers are rated satisfactory.

The commission’s greatest contribution has been to provide an escape valve for students. Enrollment at charters has grown to about 56,000 from 12,000 in 2000. The number of students attending traditional schools has shrunk by 25%, but those schools haven’t downsized as they’ve lost students.

Charters are paid roughly three-quarters as much on a per pupil basis as traditional schools. Yet savings from the charter expansion haven’t offset the increasing overhead and labor costs at traditional schools where the average teacher earns $110,000 in pay and benefits.

Teachers also don’t pay a cent for health benefits and can retire with a pension equal to 80% of their final salary after 30 years. As a bonus, the district pays the union $4,353 per member each year to administer dental, vision and retiree benefits. Its health and welfare fund had a $71 million surplus, according to its latest available tax filing in 2011.

The district last year had to borrow $300 million, and this summer two dozen schools were closed and 3,000 employees laid off (including about 600 teachers) to bridge another $300 million deficit. While the union blames state budget cuts, pay and benefit increases resulting from its last collective-bargaining agreement accounted for half the budget hole.

Mr. Corbett is offering the district a one-time $45 million grant and $120 million in recurring funds from a one-percentage-point city sales tax increase on the condition that teachers accept lower pay and benefits as well as “work rule” changes. The district wants to cut base salaries by 5% to 13% to offset the rising cost of pensions and for teachers to contribute to their health benefits. Yet the major sticking points are Mr. Corbett’s school reforms that would eliminate teacher seniority rights and base future pay increases on more rigorous evaluations that include student learning.

Teachers have little reason to budge since their previous contract remains in effect and they continue to earn raises based on longevity. Thus the union will likely drag out the negotiations until after next fall’s election when they hope to elect a Democratic Governor and renegotiate a bailout without Mr. Corbett’s preconditions.

Meantime, union leaders will whipsaw the GOP Governor for increasing corporate tax credits for private school scholarships that benefit low-income students in failing schools and then for not caring about Philadelphia’s poor, black kids. The tragedy is that Mr. Corbett’s ideas will help those kids while the union is dooming most of them to lives of underachievement and poverty. Where are Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama when they really could help?

A version of this article appeared September 25, 2013, on page A16 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Failure in Philadelphia.

GOP leader demands that Holder withdraw school voucher lawsuit

September 24, 2013

By Russell Berman – 09/23/13 10:00 AM 

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) demanded Monday that Attorney General Eric Holder withdraw a federal lawsuit against the state of Louisiana over school vouchers and vowed the House would act if Holder refuses.

The Justice Department is suing to restrict the Louisiana Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers for low-income parents to send their children to private schools. The Justice Department says the program is impeding civil rights-era orders to desegregate the schools.

Cantor assailed the move Monday during an education speech in Philadelphia, calling the lawsuit “absurd” and hailing the Louisiana voucher program as “a civil rights solution,” not a “violation.”

“If the attorney general does not withdraw this suit, then the United States House will act,” Cantor said in prepared remarks. “We will leave no stone unturned in holding him accountable for this decision. The attorney general will have to explain to the American people why he believes poor minority children in Louisiana should be held back, and why these children shouldn’t have the same opportunity that the children from wealthier and more connected families.”

A battle over the lawsuit would be the latest confrontation between the Republican House majority and Holder, who has served as attorney general for President Obama’s entire tenure in the White House. In 2012, the House voted to find Holder in contempt over his refusal to turn over certain documents related to the Fast and Furious gunrunning sting.

The Louisiana voucher program has been championed by the state’s Republican governor, Bobby Jindal. In the House, Cantor has sought to elevate education reform as part of his “Making Life Work” agenda to expand the GOP’s national appeal.

While many Democrats back expanding access to public charter schools, they, along with teachers unions, have long opposed private school vouchers as undermining support for public education. In his speech Monday, Cantor linked charter schools and voucher programs as serving the same goal of boosting education for low-income children.

“Just like the charter school program in this state and in this city, scholarship programs like the one in Louisiana are aimed at furthering equality for all kids — rich or poor, black or white,” he said. “The civil rights laws of this country were enacted to ensure equal access to education and opportunity, exactly what the Louisiana Scholarship Program is doing. The program is the very opposite of a civil rights violation. It is a civil rights solution.”

“The scholarship program in Louisiana challenges the status quo and provides hope to kids and their parents, but the government in Washington is trying to stand in the way,” Cantor said.

He added later in the speech, “Let me be clear: School choice is not an attack or an indictment on teachers or public schools.”

Speaking from a charter school, Cantor linked the school choice movement to the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the desegregation movement of the 1950s and ’60s. He touted the conservative Student Success Act that the House passed in July, along with an amendment he sponsored to allow parents to take federal money to send their children to public charter schools.

“The next time Congress considers a major education reauthorization, I believe we will adopt full school choice,” Cantor said.

Read more: http://thehill.com/homenews/house/323883-gop-leader-demands-that-holder-withdraw-school-voucher-lawsuit#ixzz2fk78ncCs
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The Evil Empire Strikes Back

November 20, 2012

Even when reform passes, teachers unions engage in massive resistance.

Education reformers had good news at the ballot box this month as voters in Washington and Georgia approved measures to create new charter schools. But as the reform movement gathers momentum, teachers unions are giving no quarter in their massive resistance against states trying to shake up failing public education.

In Georgia, 59% of voters approved a constitutional amendment that creates a new statewide commission to approve charter schools turned down by union-allied school boards. Instead of absorbing the message, charter opponents are planning to sue. The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus said last week it will join a lawsuit against Governor Nathan Deal to block the change. According to Caucus Chairman Emanuel Jones, because the ballot measure’s text didn’t discuss the details of how the schools were selected, “people didn’t know what they were voting for.”

This is the legal equivalent of sending back a hamburger because you didn’t know it came with meat. Georgia voters rallied around the charters because they want something better for their children than the dismal status quo. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that as of April only 67.4% of the state’s freshmen graduated from high school in four years. Last year a state investigation of Georgia schools found that dozens of public educators were falsifying test results to disguise student results.

A different battle is unfolding in Chicago, where the city’s teachers union is getting ready for its second showdown with Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In September, teachers went on strike and won a pay raise and limits on test scores in teacher evaluations. Now the union is fighting the city’s plan to close underused schools in an effort to consolidate resources.

Chicago Public Schools have some 600,000 seats but only 400,000 kids, while the district faces a $1 billion deficit next year and over $300 million of pension payments. Yet at a protest rally last week, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey declared that the union was “serving notice to elected officials, if you close our schools, there will be no peace in the city.” Remind you of Selma, circa 1965?

The tension is especially acute for black parents whose children are trapped in the worst public schools. In other states, black organizations that march in lockstep with Democrats and their union allies have also been slow to catch up, but the message is getting louder. In Harlem last year, thousands of parents protested the NAACP’s role in a lawsuit to block school closings and the expansion of charter schools.

No reform effort is too small for the teachers union to squash. In this month’s election, the National Education Association descended from Washington to distant Idaho, spending millions to defeat a measure that limited collective bargaining for teachers and pegged a portion of teachers’ salaries to classroom performance. In Alabama, Republican Governor Robert Bentley says he’s giving up on his campaign to bring charter schools to the state after massive resistance from the Alabama Education Association.

Unions fight as hard as they do because they have one priority—preserving their jobs and increasing their pay and benefits. Students are merely their means to that end. Reforming public education is the civil rights issue of our era, and each year that passes without reform sacrifices thousands more children to union politics.

Now that the election is over, is it too much to ask that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan drop their union coddling and speak truth to union power? Alas, it probably is.

A version of this article appeared November 19, 2012, on page A18 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Evil Empire Strikes Back

How Public Unions Organize on the Taxpayer’s Nickel

October 3, 2012

Public Unions Exploit the Ruse of ‘Official Time’

Government employees get paid to spend time on the job working on union projects that they don’t disclose to managers or the public.

Imagine thousands of government employees reporting to work each morning at their government offices and then doing no government work. They use government workspace, government telephones and government computers, all while working on projects unknown and unidentified to their government employers. They receive hefty taxpayer-funded salaries, promotions, bonuses and benefits, plus generous government pensions when they retire—all without doing any work on behalf of the taxpayer. Instead, they work as paid political operatives for powerful government unions.
Welcome to the common practice of “official time.” Sometimes called “release time,” it’s a mechanism by which the government pays union officials to work on union matters during their government workdays. This mechanism—enshrined in law and contracts—is an enormous subsidy to public-employee unions, who defend it fiercely.
The Office of Personnel Management reports that federal employees spent over three million hours on official time in 2010, costing the taxpayers about $137 million in salary and benefits costs.
At the federal level, about 77% of official time (as reported to the OPM) is spent on “general labor-management,” a broad catchall for union activity other than contract negotiations or dispute resolution, which are the activities most directly related to employee representation. But when more than three-quarters of all official time is used for unspecified activities, red flags should be raised.
Some union officials split their time between union work and government work. Others, amazingly enough, work exclusively on union business while getting paid for their government “jobs,” and may not even show up at their government jobs for months at a time. The Department of Homeland Security alone had 62 employees on full-time official time as of July 2011, according to the department’s disclosure. It’s not clear how many other federal employees are on official time all the time, since the OPM doesn’t require federal departments and agencies to report that figure. The less that is reported, the harder it is to discover abuse.
The only thorough report on official time at the federal level was released in 1998, when the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee required the OPM to do so. At that time, 946 federal employees were on full-time official time, with another 912 spending at least 75% of their days on official time. Today the overall number is a mystery, because no law requires the federal government to disclose it.
States and municipalities don’t generally track official time for their employees, much less disclose it, so data on the subject are hard to come by. But based on the total number of unionized workers at all levels of government and the reported levels of official time in the federal government from 2010, we can estimate that American taxpayers are paying for some 23 million total hours of official time every year, at a cost of more than $1 billion. And that doesn’t include free government office space, equipment and services used by union officials.
All this persists even though 47 states have “gift clauses” in their constitutions that prohibit government subsidies to private entities. In June, Arizona’s Goldwater Institute successfully challenged official time for Phoenix police union officials. Arizona’s Superior Court enjoined the practice, concluding that official time violated Arizona’s gift clause because the union, not the city, “determines how the money is spent, by whom, and when.”
Such challenges to official time are in their infancy—another is pending in Albuquerque, N.M.—but with time they should become more widespread. (In a sign of enduring union power, though, Phoenix signed a new contract with the police union in July that included official time; the Goldwater Institute has filed for a second injunction.)
Why should official time exist at all? Government-employee unions argue that because they represent many workers who don’t become members, they should be subsidized by our government. But if workers don’t value union representation enough to join the union, why should taxpayers pay for it?
Official time is a ruse for getting taxpayers to support union activities in the government workplace, including the lobbying of legislators for ever-more benefits. This effectively subsidizes unions so they can spend more dues income on political organizing. And it’s all done without taxpayers’ knowledge. It’s a shadowy practice that must be stopped.
Mr. Factor, a professor of international politics and American government at The Citadel, is author of “Shadowbosses: Government Unions Control America and Rob Taxpayers Blind,” recently published by Center Street

How Public Unions Became So Powerful

September 13, 2012

By 1970, nearly 20% of American workers were employed by government.

By PAUL MORENO
The Chicago teachers strike has put Democrats in a difficult position. Teacher unions are the most powerful constituency in the Democratic Party, but their interests are ever more clearly at odds with taxpayers and inner-city families. Chicago is reviving scenes from the last crisis of liberalism in the 1970s, when municipal unions drove many American cities to disorder and bankruptcy. Where did their power come from?

Before the 1950s, government-employee unions were almost inconceivable. When the Boston police unionized and went on strike in 1919, the ensuing chaos—rioting and looting—crippled the public-union idea. Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge became a national hero by breaking the strike, issuing the dictum: “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.” President Woodrow Wilson called the strike “an intolerable crime against civilization.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt also rejected government unionism. He told the head of the Federation of Federal Employees in 1937 that collective bargaining “cannot be transplanted into the public service. The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer” because “the employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws.”

FDR pointed out the obvious, that the government is sovereign. If an organization can compel the government to do something, then that organization will be the real sovereign. Thus the National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act of 1935 gave private-sector unions the power to compel employers to bargain, but the act excluded government workers. It declared that federal and state and local governments were not “employers” under its terms.

Postwar prosperity and the great increase of public employment revived the public union idea. By 1970, nearly 20% of American workers worked for the government. (In 1900: 4%.) The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees led the effort to persuade a state to allow public-employee unionization, and Afscme prevailed in Wisconsin in 1958. New York City and other cities also permitted their workers to unionize.

President John F. Kennedy issued an executive order 50 years ago that broke the dam. The order did not permit federal employees to bargain over wages (these are still set by Congress), or to force workers to join a union or to strike (no state or city allowed that), but Kennedy’s directive did lead to unionization of the federal workforce. And it gave great impetus to more liberal state and local laws. Government-union membership rose tenfold in the 1960s.

Things soon got ugly. The Wagner Act had fomented labor militancy, notably sit-down strikes in 1937 that disrupted manufacturing and retarded the economy. But in the late 1960s and 1970s, federal and state union-promoting laws produced unprecedented strikes by teachers, garbage collectors, postal workers and others, even though every state prohibited strikes by public employees.

Afscme began to arouse resentment from other union federations—especially the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union. Afscme’s abrasive president, Jerry Wurf, became an easy target for his opponents. He was said to have advised Baltimore firefighters to “let Baltimore burn” if union demands were not met; Wurf was subsequently regarded as generally having a let-it-burn attitude.

In 1976 the Supreme Court derailed a movement to enact the National Public Employment Relations Law (“a Wagner Act for public employees,” as supporters described it) led by Rep. William Clay of Missouri. The court held that Congress could not apply federal labor laws to state employees. The justices stated the obvious, that “the States as states stand on a quite different footing from an individual or a corporation.”

By the end of the 1970s, the budgetary burdens imposed by public unions had helped revive conservative movements, leading to the elections of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Undeterred, William Clay told the Professional Air Traffic Controllers at Patco’s 1980 convention to “revise your political thinking. It should start with the premise that you have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests. It must be selfish and pragmatic.” He told them to “learn the rules of the game,” which were “that you don’t put the interest of any other group ahead of your own. What’s good for the federal employees must be interpreted as being good for the nation.” The take-no-prisoners message helps explain why President Reagan fired and replaced the striking controllers, and why the public overwhelmingly supported him.

Historians tend to depict the Patco strike as a replay of the 1919 Boston police strike, with Reagan as the new Coolidge. But breaking the Patco strike had zero impact on public unionism. It may have cooled the willingness to strike, but unions continued to flourish. Public employment and government unionism have grown more than the population since 1980. The Patco replacements soon joined the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and carried on Patco’s work.

Nor did the breaking of the strike “send a signal” to private employers to take a hard line against their unions, as some historians of the time have suggested. The factors responsible for private-union decline antedated the Patco strike and continued after it. Reagan ultimately may have even helped the public-employee union movement: By stoking the nation’s economic revival in the 1980s, he made the costs of public unions begin to seem less onerous, and polls suggested that American worries about the matter declined.

Public unions do well in flush times like the 1950s and 1960s, but they suffer when taxpayers feel their true cost, as in the 1970s—and today.

Mr. Moreno, a professor of history at Hillsdale College, is the author of “The American State from the Civil War to the New Deal,” forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

A version of this article appeared September 12, 2012, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: How Public Unions Became So Powerful.

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

Another “Demonstration” That Union Bosses Don’t Care About Kids

September 12, 2012

Chicago’s Teaching Moment

Can Mayor Rahm hold out against the union? Calling Mr. Obama.

Has Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel met Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker? If he hasn’t, we’d be glad to mediate a call. Chicago teachers went on strike Monday for the first time in 25 years, and Mr. Emanuel can help the cause of education reform nationwide if he shows some Walker-like gumption.

On Sunday night, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis promised that her 25,000 members would walk the picket line until they have a “fair contract,” and she called the battle an “education justice fight.” Nice to know they’re thinking of the kids at the start of the school year.

Related Video

Senior editorial writer Collin Levy on the Chicago on the Chicago teachers’ strike. Photo Credit: Associate Press.

Middle-class parents and two-earner households scrambling for child care may not sympathize. According to the union’s own figures, the average Chicago public school teacher makes $71,000 a year in salary, and that’s before pensions and benefits generally worth $15,000 or more a year. Senior teachers make much more. That’s not a bad deal compared to the median household income of $47,000 for a Chicago worker in the private economy.

Ditto working conditions. Union leaders have bellyached mightily about Mr. Emanuel’s decision last year to extend the Chicago school day to seven hours from five hours and 45 minutes (the shortest among the country’s 10 biggest cities). The longer hours are one reason the union says teachers need a 29% pay raise over two years. The average Chicago teacher works 1,039 instructional hours per year—roughly half the time logged by the average 40-hour-a-week working Joe.

When Mr. Emanuel came to office last year, the Chicago Public Schools were already facing a $700 million deficit. Over the next three fiscal years amid mounting salaries and pensions, the Chicago system will be $3 billion in the red. Mr. Emanuel’s negotiators still offered a 16% pay raise over four years, but the union walked away.
There’s a case for no raise considering that Chicago’s schools are among the worst in the country, with a graduation rate around 55%. A 2006 study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research found that for every 100 Chicago public high school freshmen, only six get four-year college degrees. Among African-American and Hispanic boys, the number is three of 100.
Another issue is accountability, with Mr. Emanuel seeking a new teacher evaluation program that includes student test scores as a significant factor. The union wants student scores to play a minor role. The union also wants laid-off teachers to be hired back first if school principals have new job openings. Chicago may close up to 100 failing schools in coming years, and if principals have to dip into that layoff pool to hire even lousy teachers, students will suffer.

Under state law, teachers can strike over wages but not over policies set by the Chicago Board of Education. So the strike is also illegal.

The Chicago brawl is notable because it shows the rift between teachers unions and some Democrats. Unions have long had Democrats in their hip pocket, but more office holders are figuring out that this threatens taxpayers and is immoral to boot.

Perhaps Mr. Emanuel should ask his former boss, President Obama, for a good public word. Recall how eager Mr. Obama was to speak against Mr. Walker’s collective-bargaining reforms, at least until the Republican looked like he’d win his recall election.

The Chicago stakes are nearly as high. The chance for major school reform comes rarely, and if Mr. Emanuel gets rolled in his first big union showdown, he’ll hurt 350,000 Chicago students and the reputation he’s hoping to build as a reformer.

A version of this article appeared September 11, 2012, on page A12 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Chicago’s Teaching Moment.

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

Romney on DC Vouchers

May 30, 2012

The Republican endorses the D.C. scholarship program.

President Obama has done better on education than on any other domestic issue, especially in supporting charter schools. But campaigns are about contrasts, and on Wednesday Mitt Romney drew a welcome one by supporting school vouchers.

Speaking in Washington, D.C., the GOP candidate endorsed the district’s voucher program that the Obama Administration has tried to kill despite its clear success: “In the Opportunity Scholarships, the Democrats finally found the one federal program they are willing to cut. Why? Because success anywhere in our public schools is a rebuke to failure everywhere else. That’s why the unions oppose even the most common-sense improvements.”

Right on all counts. With their voucher lifeline, D.C. students began outperforming public-school peers in reading and graduating at rates above 90%, as opposed to 55% in public schools. The program is hugely popular among parents and attracts more than four applicants for every spot. It even saves money, as each voucher is worth about half the $18,000 that D.C. generally spends per student.

With White House support, Democrats killed the program in 2009, and the Administration even rescinded scholarships already promised to 216 families. Last year House Speaker John Boehner and Senator Joe Lieberman revived the vouchers, but Mr. Obama’s 2013 budget zeroes out funding again.

Mr. Romney’s voucher embrace marks progress from his days in Massachusetts, when his support for school choice ended at charters. It also reveals how much the education reform debate has advanced, as the choice movement expands and more parents demand better options for their children. New York City charter schools, we learned this week, received 133,000 applications for the 14,600 seats they have available next year.

In any other business or service in America, entrepreneurs would be able to meet that demand. Only in public education are they stymied by union politics. Mr. Romney has the moral and political high ground on vouchers, and we hope he keeps it up.

A version of this article appeared May 24, 2012, on page A16 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Romney on Vouchers.

HB 3339 HAS BEEN FILED!!!

March 11, 2011
Be of good cheer! The “Parent Trigger” bill, HB 3339 has been filed.
Important highlights of the bill:
1. School must be graded “Unacceptable” (Failed) two consecutive years.  Currently, 188 Texas schools qualify.
2. There is only one choice, Charter Conversion, (no voucher option).
3. The parents can avoid stalemate by appealing to the Commissioner of Education, Robert Scott.  This position is appointed by Governor Rick Perry (Republican).
Filer is Rep. James White.  White is a freshman, African American, Republican, rural, representative from House District 12 in East Texas.  Largest town in the district is Lufkin, TX, 60 miles from the Louisiana border.
Hurray!  PTL!

Strategy: Short-term Goals vs. Long-term Goals

February 2, 2011

These are the long-term goals of Texans for Parental Choice in Education.

Long-term Goal 1

Every family in Texas, who pays taxes for public education and pays for any product or service to further the learning of their school-aged child, would be compensated for that expense with a dollar for dollar credit against their personal public-education-tax, up to some generous ceiling.

Long-term Goal 2

There would be a network of private, charitable, scholarship organizations that gave scholarships to needy students to attend the private school of their parents’ choice, and any public-education-taxpayer, including corporations, could donate to one of these scholarship organizations and be compensated with a dollar for dollar tax credit.

Long-term Goal 3

Finally, the attempts by the enemies of educational liberty to obstruct those liberties would be defeated.

☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺

But now back to the unfortunate reality. ☹ ☹ ☹ How do we get from here to that wonderful vision?

This report is about strategy. What are the logical steps and short-term goals that will lead to the long-term goal described above?

Option 1: All-out Frontal Assault

This strategy would say that, with our conservative legislature, an all-out assault on the unions with a universal property tax-credit bill is the obvious strategy. Unfortunately there are three problems with this strategy.

Problem 1: The ISD Property Tax

During the legislative session of 2009, Rep. Paxton agreed to submit a property tax-credit bill for educational expenses to Legislative Counsel.  To my amazement and frustration, Legislative Counsel never returned a draft.  Not during that session, not during the rest of 2009, and not before October 2010 did I hear from them.  Finally in October of 2010, one of the attorney’s at Legislative Counsel called me directly and told me that because the ISD property tax was complicated by the addition of robin-hood’s complex and perverse formulas for tax-fund flows from district to district and from the state comptroller to districts, it had become so complex that they, the team of lawyers, could not write a ISD property tax-credit law!  That’s right, the law had become so complex and perverse, a law to give a credit off of this tax could not be written.

Short-term Goal 1 for Problem 1: Replace the ISD property tax with a Simple State Tax

The first project is to abolish the ISD property tax and replace it with a simple statewide tax. There aren’t many choices.  A state income tax and a state property tax are both unconstitutional in Texas.  The only two taxes left are a Value-added Tax, which is a hidden tax, or an expansion of the state sales tax.  The expansion of the state sales tax is the obvious choice.  It is simple, visible, voluntary, and flat.

We currently have a state sales tax, but it does not raise enough funds to replace the ISD property tax.  Rather than replacing the ISD property tax by dramatically raising the sales tax rate from its current 6.25%, it is better to broaden the tax.  Texas has many services that do not charge sales tax. By broadening the sales tax to include these un-taxed services, more tax funds can be raised without dramatically raising the tax rate.

Texas does have a state corporate-franchise tax, this tax can be used for a scholarship organization tax-credit, but not a family tax-credit (since corporations don’t have children. :)

Problem 2: The TSTA’s & AFT’s Grassroots Network

The Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA) and the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are the two major ISD employee associations.  In Texas, these associations (unions) cannot call a strike and they cannot make membership a requirement for employment or advancement.  So these unions are not as strong as they are in northern states where they can do these things.  In spite of that these unions are still very powerful in Texas.

The unions oppose charter schools, voucher programs, and tax-credit programs for a very simple reason.  All these innovations represent a direct threat to their income stream of member dues, because teachers in charter and private schools are not members of the TSTA or AFT.  The priority of the unions is not effective learning or even good teachers.  It is member dues.

The main political power of the TSTA & AFT is not money.  Since a majority of ISD employees are members of these organizations, they have a huge grassroots network in every county in Texas and they keep that network politically organized.  Although the elections of 2010 saw a great resurgence of conservatives in Texas, this network of ISD employees is powerful and tenacious.  They have not given up and will not go away easily.  I am sure that they are regrouping and preparing for a counter-attack.

In order to have any long-term success against the unions, we must match their network with our own network of passionate parents, teachers, and citizens who can clearly identify the enemy and are willing to invest time and resources to fight the war for the sake of the kids and the future of Texas.  I believe our grassroots organization has to be bipartisan and much bigger in order to have long-term victory.  How do we build such a network?

Problem 3: The Unions’ Strategic “Con Game”

In addition to their extensive grassroots organization, the unions’ successful strategy for the last 20 years has also included a huge “con game.”  They siphon the public school budget for themselves by adding unnecessary administrators and staff, which increases their member dues, but claim that they are focused on educating the kids and helping the neighborhood.  This lie only works because most low-income parents are suffering in silence, and this silence doesn’t contradict the union lies.

This lie is what the unions effectively hide behind.  If we propose an all out assault with a universal tax-credit program, the unions will complain that, “You right-wing bigots are trying to take the money away from the schools that are helping the poor inner-city kids.”  This lie has worked in the past, and it will work again, as long as the inner-city parents are silent.  How do we give inner-city parents a voice?

Short-term Goal 2 for Problems 2 & 3: Energizing Inner-city Parents with the “Parent Trigger”

If we can energize the sleeping giant of the inner-city parents, we can solve problems 2 & 3 at the same time.  So how do we energize them?

Inner-city parents have only one “education reform” goal.  They want their public school down the block where their child goes to school to improve.  Any goal bigger than that seems irrelevant and overwhelming.  We have to give them a way to change their public school down the block, one school at a time.

The “parent trigger” bill would give inner-city parents a way to organize to improve their public school down the block.  The bill would allow parents whose kids attend one particular public school to collect signatures on a petition to change the school’s management to a private management company free of union ties.  Then the school would be run effectively and efficiently outside of union control.  The name for this privately managed school is a charter school.  Collecting a majority of parent signatures would “trigger” or force the school district to make the conversion.  A small voucher program for the kids that don’t prefer the new charter school could be added.

If the parent-trigger becomes law, then the real job of Short-term Goal 2 begins.  This job is passing petitions in inner-city neighborhoods to energize and organize parents to improve their neighborhood school.  This will take time, but it should be productive because it engages parents at the level that they understand and care about.  This is the process of building the large bipartisan grassroots network required in Problem 2.

When some of the petitions “trigger”, the unions will try to block the charter conversions.  The unions will surely resist this reform because more charter schools mean less union dues.  But they will be opposing the very inner-city parents that they claim to be helping.  This will expose their lie, which gives them no place to hide.  Now the right-wing tea-partiers AND the inner-city parents will be united in their opposition to the unions.  Then we will have a grassroots army large enough to fight for universal tax-credits.

In summary, even though our long-term goal is universal family and scholarship tax-credits, there are two short-term goals that must be accomplished first.

Short-term goal 1 is to abolish the ISD property tax and substitute a broad-based state sales tax.

Short-term goal 2 is to pass the parent-trigger bill and start organizing parents to convert their local school to charter schools.

Both short-term goals can be worked on simultaneously.  When both are accomplished, the groundwork will be completed to move on the universal tax-credits.


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