Posts Tagged ‘Texas’

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.

Rep. Kelly Hancock Preparing to File Powerful Ed Reform Bill!

January 28, 2011

Good news fellow Texans!

Rep. Kelly Hancock from Ft. Worth is preparing to file a powerful bill.

The bill, called the “Parent Trigger,” 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 will be run effectively and efficiently outside of union control.  The name for this privately managed school is a charter or contract 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 at that school could be added.

The power of the Parent Trigger is that it will give parents a way to change their public school down the block; one school at a time.

Please call (512-463-0599) or email (kelly.hancock@house.state.tx.us) Rep. Hancock to thank him for proposing the Parent Trigger.

Why a Universal School Choice Program instead of a Pilot School Choice Program?

July 31, 2009

A Universal School Choice Program gives all parents of K-12 students in Texas an opportunity to choose the best school for their children.

On the other hand, a Pilot School Choice Program only gives a special group of parents school choice, for example low-income parents whose kids go to inner-city academically unacceptable schools.

The Texas School Choice Movement has tried unsuccessfully to pass a pilot program for the last 15 years.  Those who promote a pilot program believe that the legislators typically opposed to school choice can be logically persuaded or emotionally shamed into voting for a pilot program because it is small, and it will help those families with the greatest need for school choice.

The pilot program supporters believe that once the “beachhead” of the pilot program is passed, then the “beachhead” can gradually be expanded toward a universal program.  A common analogy in political circles is “getting the camel’s nose under the tent.”  Once the camel’s nose is under the tent, the camel can easily pull the tent up with its nose.

This “beachhead” strategy might be right for naval invasion or pulling up a tent, but it doesn’t work in a political “war” against a powerful enemy, the teachers unions.  The pilot approach is about persuading or shaming legislators (not voters) into voting for your pilot.

Fundamentally, politics is “civilized war” waged with votes rather than bullets.  The fundamental source of power is committed voters, not “persuaded legislators”.  Time and energy must be focused on convincing voters, not legislators.  When the voters are committed to school choice, then it follows that the legislators will either be convinced or voted out of office. Dedicated voters are the army in political war. Like all armies, they must be motivated, educated, and organized.

But how do you motivate voters if there is no tangible benefit for their effort? A universal school choice program solves this problem, while a pilot program cannot.  When every parent in the “political army” is fighting for a school choice opportunity for their child, they are easily motivated.  Every parent has a “horse in the race”.

The teachers unions already have an army of committed voters. The army is public school employees.  Essentially, the school choice movement has to match our army of voters with its army of voters.  Whoever has the biggest, most dedicated, most organized voters wins.

There is an Wall Street Journal article by Howard Rich that makes my point more eloquently than I.

Sasha Sidorkin’s Hyper-Vouchers: Analysis & Comparison to Other Proposals

July 20, 2009

This is an editorial by Dr. Alexander “Sasha” Sidorkin from the Dallas Examiner.com.   Dr. Sidorkin also has a book entitled Labor of Learning and a blog entitled “The Russian Bear’s Diaries”.

Hyper-Vouchers: A Radical Solution for American Education

Both New York City schools and Washington, DC schools have pilot programs that pay students to learn. Mexico and Brazil have programs that pay families whose kids go to school. This is, by far, the most radical, and the most promising solution to the educational underperformance of American kids. In my view, these programs are not radical enough, because the sums paid to kids are nowhere near to what the public spends on education.

In the fiscal year 2006, school districts in the United States spent an average of $9,138 per student. New York State’s average is almost $15,000, although the City’s expenditures are a little lower, at about $12,000 in the 2004/2005 academic year (the last available year). We’re talking very serious money. Just imagine that the money would be paid not to schools but to the families directly, if the children can demonstrate learning. If the family has the skills and motivation to teach their own kids, they pocket the whole $15,000 a year. If they cannot, they may hire a tutor or sign up with a school of some sort, and share the learning income with those schools or tutors. Pass a test – get paid.

This would put the incentives to where they belong – with students themselves. We can provide all kinds of incentives to teachers, but if children are not motivated, it is not going to work. Education is not consumption; it is hard work, and it benefits us all more than it benefits about half of all K-12 students. This is why we’re subsidizing it in the first place. We should treat learning as any other job: if the society as a whole benefits from basic education, and is willing to pay money for it, why not pay directly to those people who actually need to learn?  For the educational system to become more efficient, we must stop paying for attempting to teach, and start paying for proven learning.

Is it possible to implement? You bet. ETS and other testing agencies have decades of experience in administering tests on mass scale. Those tests do not need to be primitive testing of facts; they can include sophisticated measures of thinking, writing, and computational skills. Testing centers can be cheaply set up wherever there is internet access; each kid can have an account that keeps track of tests and of money paid to the student.

Will it leave behind poor children? Not at all; in fact, it will put resources into the hands of poor parents, and allow them to find the best educational solutions – with or without schools. We can also index payments in such a way that children with disadvantages such as poverty, non-native speakers, or with disabilities – receive higher payments than those kids with advantages. That will attract more talented teachers and tutors to poorer neighborhood, and create incentives for better specialized services for kids with learning disabilities.

Hyper-vouchers are the way to go. America has a history of radical, bold innovations. It has not been a part of our educational system for a while, but perhaps now is the time.

________________________________________________________________
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Bob Schoolfield’s Analysis and Comparison to other Proposed Solutions

I am surprised the no one has commented on your radical (hyper-voucher) solution to the education mess.  Maybe they thought it was too preposterous (but I don’t) to comment on.  So I will bless you with a comment on your plan.

First, I will describe what I think are the differences between your plan and a traditional voucher plan.  I also want to compare your plan with the education tax credit plan advocated by the Cato Institute.  Then, I will give what I see are the advantages and disadvantages to each plan.

1. Hyper-voucher: The family is “paid” only if the child makes progress on an achievement test.
Traditional voucher: The family gets their voucher regardless of academic achievement.
Tax Credit: The family gets a “private scholarship” from a Scholarship Organization, which may or may not put some academic progress requirement on the scholarship.  The Scholarship Organization is funded by a dollar for dollar tax credit on the “ISD tax”.

2. HV: The family gets hard cash.
TV: The family gets an “education stamp” (like a food stamp) that can only be spent for school tuition and may need to provide proof of attendance.
TC: The family must provide receipts or proof of attendance to get from the Scholarship Organization reimbursements for family educational expenses or monthly payments directly to the school.

3. HV: Money comes directly from government. (public money)
TV: Also, money comes directly from government. (public money)
TC: Money comes indirectly through tax credits. (private money)

Next, the advantages and disadvantages of each system.

1. Hyper-voucher
Advantages:
A. There is a clear financial motivation for the student in partnership with the parents to work hard to meet the achievement test goal.

B. The family has the freedom to choose whatever means is best to achieve the test goal (no strings).

C. Because the state is providing the funds, the program can start in full force after passage.

Disadvantages:
A. How does the family finance the student’s education the first year?
Possible answers:
a. No government provision, i.e. attend public school or finance from family’s current resources.
b. First year the family gets “full pay” unconditionally.

B. How does the state avoid paying double?  If the state pays to educate student in public school, and the family gets paid when student passes the exam, then state has paid double.
Possible answer:
a. Attending public school disqualifies the family from being paid.  This is a strong disincentive for
attending public school and the exodus from public school will be more rapid.

C. There is a strong incentive for the state to make the achievement test very difficult so that they only pay a few families and force the rest back into the public schools.

D. If a student flunks the achievement test, what happens to the student?
Possible answers:
a. Family gets no pay and student must return to public school or be financed from family’s current
resources.
b. Rather than a pass/fail test, it could be a 0% – 100% test and the family gets the students percentage
grade of the “full pay” hyper-voucher.

E. Who designs the test?  Since the stakes of passing the test are so high, you have a temptation to “teach to the test” or even cheat, e.g. tester sells half the answers via a kickback.  Is only one test adequate in high school?  How about a “white collar” test and a “blue collar” test.

F. Will the teachers unions let it pass?  I think not.  If they won’t let vouchers be passed, to which they can attach all types of government strings, they are not going to let unrestricted hard cash out of their bank account with no strings attached.  They will hate it even more when they realize that families have a disincentive to stay in the public school system.  Either traditional voucher or tuition tax credits have a much better chance of passing.

G. The money come directly from a government account so it is “government money”.  Although U.S.Supreme Court has ruled favorably for government money to be used in a voucher system, there are still problems in state courts.  Many states have very restrictive language in their constitutions prohibiting any state funds going to any sectarian school.  These are called “Blaine amendment” after the senator that promoted them in the 1800′s.  Google “Blaine amendment” and you can study the historical context under which they were passed.  Texas has a Blaine amendment, although it is not as restrictive as most of the amendments.  Voucher programs in Florida, Colorado and two in Arizona have been struck down in state courts because of the Blaine amendments.

2. Traditional Voucher
Advantages:

A. Because the state is providing the funds, the program can start in full force after passage.

Disadvantages:
A. The family doesn’t have a clear financial motive to do well in school.  The traditional voucher has no academic restrictions.  Although this is an advantage to the HV, I think it is much less than Mr. Sidorkin believes.  I believe that the primary reason that parents are not involved in their child’s education is because they see themselves as powerless to have any control or ownership of their child’s education.  When the great majority of parents see that they can choose their child’s school, they will take ownership of their child’s education, become more involved, and make sure they get a good education for their voucher.  I believe that most parents don’t want an easy road for their kids such that the kids can’t take care of themselves.

B. The TV is much more likely to have “bureaucratic strings” attached to its redemption by a private school.  This would restrict the use of the TV money much more than the HV.  The HV has only one powerful “academic achievement string” making it less likely to get any other strings.

C. Will the teachers unions let it pass?  It’s much more likely to pass than the HV, especially if the unions can attach a lot of strings in the effort to get their tentacles into the private school industry.

D. The TV has the same “government money” problem that the HV does.

3. Educational Tax Credit
Advantages:

A. The most important advantage of the TC program is that the money comes from private donors, who receive tax credits for their donations.  This money is NOT PUBLIC MONEY.  It is clearly private money and is free from any attack based on the money being public money.  So far every tax credit program in existence has withstood every lawsuit raised against it.

B. The organizations distributing the scholarship money are a private charities, Scholarship Organizations.  Because there can be many such Scholarship Organizations, each can develop their own academic and/or attendance requirements using whichever test they choose.

C. Since the state is not distributing the scholarships, the families are more likely to have plenty of freedom to choose whatever means is best to achieve a quality education for their children.  Private schools will be much more comfortable receiving scholarships from a private charity than from the government.

D. Will the teachers unions let it pass?  Although any of these reforms will meet with teachers union resistance, I believe the TC program has the best chance of passing.  Why?
a. Because tax credits are a well established public policy vehicle.
b. The state doesn’t have to write a check to a family or private school.  It’s much more painful to give
up money that you already possess than to not get money that you anticipated getting.  That is why
payroll deduction works so well for collecting taxes.

Disadvantages:
A.  Because the state is not providing the funds, the program will start slowly and gain momentum over time.  The program has to be sold to donors and scholarship organizations have to be created.

(Advantage E.)  Actually the slow start has an advantage in overcoming teachers union resistance.  They also know that the program will start slowly and may or may not get real traction.  This slow start lowers the threat level of the TC program over the HV or TV.

In summary, I believe that the education tax credit program is the clear winner. I would give second place to the hyper-voucher with the huge disadvantage being that the teachers unions would NEVER let a hyper-voucher program pass the state legislature.  The traditional voucher comes in last.

Taxpayers! Do you want to stop feeding the public sector? Then support tuition tax credits!

May 16, 2009

Support tuition tax credits, even if you are not that excited about school choice!

In the WSJ article entitled “Unions vs. Taxpayers“, Steve Malanga persuasively makes the point that public sector unions are the most powerful political force in government.  Their goal is to move the nation toward socialism.

If taxpayers are going to turn the nation around toward smaller government, they must cut the taxes going to the government trough that are feeding these socialists.

The most obvious way is to refuse to pay your taxes.  This approach has the inconvenient consequence of  having the IRS hot on your trail.  Is there a safer way to keep the tax money out of  the public sector?

Yes!  It is tax credits!  With tax credits, the money is still coming out of your pocket, but it stays in the private sector!

What is the biggest spigot that can be turned off with tax credits?  School Taxes!  How big is this spigot?  When you add state, local, and federal money going to public education, it is bigger than the defense budget!  State and local taxes make up more than 80% of this money.

How do we turn off this spigot?  Tuition tax credits are the answer.  With tuition tax credits, all your school tax dollars could be redirected to the private school sector before the public sector gets their greedy hands on it.  But you get a second benefit.

In addition to keeping the money away from the teacher unions, you allow private schools to teach the kids to be productive members of society, rather than preparing them to be wards of the state.

When those kids become productive members of society, they also become TAXPAYERS!  More taxpayers means more people that want smaller government.

If you want smaller government, the first place to start is with tuition tax credits, EVEN IF YOU LOVE YOUR LOCAL PUBLIC SCHOOL!

Charter Schools in Texas

September 12, 2008

Putting Teacher Unions First

June 13, 2008

Democrats, doing the bidding of their master the NEA, are attacking another successful voucher program. The four-year-old Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers to about 2,000 low-income children so they can attend religious or other private schools, is set to expire at the end of the year, and Democrats are refusing to extend it.

A WSJ article and Senate Conservatives Fund blog do a good job of summarizing the situation.

I particularly like William Gangware’s letter to the editior.

Putting Poor Children’s Future Last

Your editorial “Putting Children Last” (June 11) got it right: Ending the federal voucher program in Washington, D.C., does nothing to help poor students, many of whom are dependent upon the program to attend the school of their choice.

Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D., D.C.), proposing an end to D.C.’s innovative Opportunity Scholarship Program — the nation’s first federal voucher program allowing low-income students to leave failing schools and attend private alternatives — told the Washington Post “We have to protect the children, who are the truly innocent victims here.”

Protect them from what? If Ms. Norton truly cares about the children, many of them from low-income, minority families, why does she demand they relinquish their much-needed scholarships and return to D.C. public schools, where a dismal 57.6% of all high-school students graduate?

The reason is simple: Ms. Norton is more concerned with protecting the public schools, which systematically fail to adequately educate and graduate students in the poorest districts of the U.S.

Federal vouchers for school choice are the only protection that low-income D.C. students have against their failing public schools. It’s time to quit playing politics and start supporting school choice policies that actually benefit the lowest-income members of society — the very constituency these politicians claim they want to protect.

William Gangware
Chicago

Teachers are not the Bad Guys.

June 9, 2008

In the midst of the school choice debate, the free-market folks point out problems in the public school system.

It is almost reflex for public school teachers to take the criticism personally.

Public school teachers, we are not criticizing you or any particular person in the public school system. We are criticizing the economic structure of a monopolistic system.

Most employees in the public school are trying hard to do a good job in spite of the monopolistic system.

I don’t know of all the difficulties that public school teachers deal with, but I know a few.

  1. You are not rewarded financially for doing a good job.
  2. You have to teach things that you don’t believe are true.
  3. You have pointless paperwork that eats up your time.
  4. You have out-of-control and scary students that you can’t discipline. They cause chaos in your classroom. You have no discipline support from their parents or the school administration.
  5. The teacher down the hall that doesn’t know how to teach and isn’t interested in learning, gets paid the same salary that you do.

Both you and your students are victims of a monopolistic system. It a system where excellence cannot be rewarded and incompetence cannot be discouraged. That is a system destined for mediocracy.

The only people that anger school-choicers are those that defend the system when they know better. These people (most union leaders) are desperately holding on to their political and financial power and don’t care about how it affects the students or teachers.

I know it is difficult to “come out of the closet”, because you fear retaliation from administration above you. Just remember that that fear is another symptom of how you are being oppressed by the monopolistic system.

Most Democratic legislators feel the same way. If they speak out about how market competition can improve a monopolistic system, the unions will retaliate by voting them out of office. They are oppressed by the system also.

Retired teachers, help us speak up for the teachers still suffering in the system. Please join the school choice movement so that the union leaders cannot say it is about public schools vs. private schools. It’s about a monopolistic system with no freedom vs. a free-market system where choices abound.

Bob in Texas

Stupid in America with John Stossel

June 9, 2008

This is a must-see for school choice advocates. He makes the tragic nature of our school industry look funny.


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