Friday, February 9, 2007

A Tide For School Choice

The following piece appeared in the Washington Post.

A Tide For School Choice
By George F. Will
Thursday, February 1, 2007; A15

Fifty-seven years later, Sumner Elementary School in Topeka is back in the news. That city's board of education is still wrongly preventing the right people from getting into that building. Two educators wanted to use Sumner for a charter school, a public school entitled to operate outside the confinements of dictated curricula and free from many work rules written by teachers unions. Their school would have been a back-to-basics academy from kindergarten through fifth grade, designed to attack Topeka's 23-point gap between the reading proficiency of black and Hispanic third-graders and that of whites.

When the school board rejected the application of the two educators -- African American women -- but praised their dedication to children, one of the women was not mollified: "A bleeding heart does nothing but ruin the carpet."

Sumner is a National Historic Landmark because in 1950 Oliver Brown walked with his 7-year-old daughter Linda the seven blocks from their home to Sumner, where he unsuccessfully tried to enroll her. But Topeka's schools were segregated, so Linda went to the school for blacks 21 blocks from her home, and her father went to court. Four years later came Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

Sumner, which has been closed for years, would have needed costly repairs. Still, clearly one reason for the rejection was the usual resistance of public educators to innovations that challenge the status quo, meaning centralized control of schools.

In Arizona, some amazingly persistent and mostly liberal people are demonstrating the tenacity with which some interests fight to prevent parents of modest means from having education choices like those available to most Americans. In 1999, Arizona's Supreme Court upheld a program whereby individuals receive tax credits for donations they make to organizations that provide scholarships to enable children to attend private schools, religious and secular. More than 22,500 children have benefited from the program in a decade. Thousands of families are on waiting lists for scholarships because 600 Arizona schools have failed to meet federal academic requirements.

In 2000, Arizona opponents of school choice, in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, attacked the program in a federal court. They failed again, in a ruling issued in 2005, which was not surprising, given that in 2002 the Supreme Court held that there is no constitutional infirmity in government-sponsored and administered programs that involve "true private choice" by giving government aid directly to parents, who use it at their discretion for sectarian or nonsectarian schools.

Now Arizona opponents of school choice, thirsting for a third defeat, are challenging what Arizona's legislature enacted last year. Noting the success of the individual tax credit for scholarship contributions, the legislature has authorized corporate donors a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for contributions to private, nonprofit school tuition organizations. So opponents of school choice are trudging back to court, where they will recycle twice-rejected arguments.

Doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting different results is a sign of insanity, but what really defines the plaintiffs is banality. This is about the control of schools by bureaucrats, about work rules negotiated by unions and, not least, about money -- not allowing any to flow away from the usual channels.

The public school lobby, which apparently has little confidence in its product, lives in fear of competition -- the fear that if parents' choices are expanded, there will be a flight from public schools. But the tide is turning:

Newark's mayor, Cory Booker, a member of the board of the national Alliance for School Choice, proposes a scholarship program similar to Arizona's. New Jersey corporations could get tax credits totaling $20 million a year collectively for scholarships for low-income students in five cities with especially troubled schools.

New York's new Democratic governor, Eliot L. Spitzer, proposes lifting the cap that restricts the state to a mere 100 charter schools. This common-sense idea -- lowering a barrier the government has erected to limit innovative schools that compete with the government's existing system -- is welcome, but it is not as bold as what Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is doing with the nation's largest school system, New York City's, with 1.1 million pupils.

He is dividing large schools into smaller ones, emancipating many principals to be educational entrepreneurs under a system that holds them accountable for cognitive results. The logic is that public money should follow wherever students are attracted by competing schools. So school choice is gaining ground in the city that has historically been ground zero for collectivist, centralizing liberalism.

Quote of the Day

"This is about the control of schools by bureaucrats, about work rules negotiated by unions and, not least, about money -- not allowing any to flow away from the usual channels. " George Will on why educrats and their opposition to school choice.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Finally, on the right track

The following editoral appeared in the Eagle Times.

Finally, on the right track
It was both startling and refreshing to hear Democrats in the Vermont Legislature last week talk about lowering costs, not raising taxes, to address out-of-control school costs.

For example, Senate Pro Tem Peter Shumlin told the Associated Press that taxes are already too high and throwing more money at the problem won't address the underlying problem. As we said, startling.

We hope New Hampshire lawmakers are listening as they struggle with a solution to education funding.

Rising school costs have driven up Vermont's statewide property tax for education and with property values also increasing, many residents are begging for relief. One of the priorities of this Legislature is to look at the state education tax and come up with a plan to address skyrocketing property taxes.

It will be a tough task and one that will require more than just flowery talk of a bipartisan solution with Republicans or skirting the issue with proposals that don't get to the heart of the issue: cost containment.

Last week, House and Senate leaders agreed with Gov. Jim Douglas with the idea of having a broad framework to look at driving down the soaring inflation of school costs. By broad, we take that to mean that everything is on the table and no idea should be dismissed out of hand. Well, almost any idea. We don't suppose the Democrats would look at expanding school choice beyond the public school system, but that is an idea that has been tried in many big cities. The result is lower costs and better student performance. It is of course much more difficult to make it work in a rural setting because of transportation issues, but it still deserves some consideration. Beyond that, Democrats have wisely said they don't want to find revenues from the income tax and they are interested in hearing more about Education Commissioner Richard Cate's idea for consolidating school districts from 283 to 63. A statewide teachers' contract and regional special education services are two other ideas. The funding problem isn't helped by a shortfall created when money, other than property taxes, that should have gone to the education fund mistakenly didn't, but even with that $7 million the education monster is still growing. Democrats have a golden opportunity to take a courageous stand here and find a real answer, not another Act 60.

Some very overburdened taxpayers will be waiting to see if they provide that leadership.

Quote of the Day

"Taxes are already too high and throwing more money at the problem won't address the underlying problem." Senate Pro Tem Peter Shumlin

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Spinning the tests: Are NH scores really that good?

Whenever student scores improve it is amazing how it is because of the great teachers and schools but when the scores decline educrats blame the results on lack of funds, parents, class size and the students.

The following editorial appeared in the Union Leader.

Spinning the tests: Are NH scores really that good?

Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2007

HALF OF fifth-graders and only 42 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient or above on state writing tests last year. Given that the state Department of Education press release announcing the results had a grammar error in the first paragraph, that might not be surprising.

Education Commissioner Lyonel Tracy called the test results "good news." In most grades, reading and math scores were up over last year and huge percentages of students scored proficient or better. Little mention was made of the dismal writing scores. The official spin: We're doing just fine.

But the picture is not so rosy. Progress on the state tests is minimal if it's even real. And the state tests are generally considered less rigorous than the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests. On those, in no grade did more than half of the students score proficient in reading or math.

So while the department spins the state test scores as all sunshine and butterflies, remember that education bureaucrats often downplay the bad news, and the bad news is that we still have a long, long way to go before our students are performing acceptably.

Quote of the Day

"Only government can take perfectly good paper, cover it with perfectly good ink and make the combination worthless."
Milton Friedman

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

SAU 43 article will be on ballot

The following article appeared in the Eagle Times.

SAU 43 article will be on ballot
Residents will get option to form own school district

Aaron Aldridge
Contributing Writer

SUNAPEE -Sunapee residents will have the opportunity in March to form their own school district as voters approved during the school deliberative session Monday night placing a warrant article on the ballot to withdraw from SAU 43.

"This issue is something the town shouldn't take lightly," planning committee member Mike Durfor said.

Durfor said that by having a single school district in Sunapee they would better be able to control Sunapee's courses and curriculum, SAU staff would have a closer proximity to Sunapee schools and added a majority of Sunapee educators support the withdrawal.

"The individual structure would better serve the 502 students in Sunapee," Durfor said.

Durfor said that Sunapee pays 50 percent of the entire SAU 43 budget while Newport pays only 47 percent and Croydon is responsible for just three percent of the budget.

A bright pink handout given to the fewer than 60 residents who attended the meeting said Sunapee currently pays over $510,000 of the total SAU budget. If the withdrawal is approved, the handout estimates the cost of a separate SAU for Sunapee would cost taxpayers only $411,000.

"The $411,000 is our current best estimate," Durfor said.

The state board of education did not recommend the split dividing Sunapee from the SAU. However, the withdrawal has unanimous support from the school board and planning committee.

"SAU 43 doesn't work for three school districts," Durfor said. "All three districts will benefit from it."

Sunapee resident Betty Tatlock asked during the meeting that if the withdrawal didn't work out, would it be possible to rejoin the other two districts in the future.

"It would depend on the feeling of the other two districts," Durfor responded.

Resident David Brown was concerned about long term negative impact on Newport and Croydon and if there was anything Sunapee could do to soften the impact on the other two schools should voters decided to form a new school district.

"I really don't think there are any long term impacts," he said. "It's not, 'See you later, we're not paying the bill anymore.'"

Durfor said some of the folks in Newport think Sunapee should stay in the SAU and added that he wants to continue to work with Newport and Croydon in the future for the betterment of the students.

"This was not something we took lightly," Durfor said.

Voters will decide upon the withdrawal from SAU 43 at the March 13 school district meeting.

Other warrant articles approved at the deliberative session to be voted on in March include:

• A proposed $8,908,573 operating budget for the 2007-2008 school year.

• An increase in benefits for teacher in the amount of $134,227.

• $25,000 for the special education trust fund.

Quote of the Day

Daily experience proves clearly to everybody but the most bigoted fanatics of socialism that governmental management is inefficient and wasteful. Ludwig Von Mises

Monday, February 5, 2007

Students and costs: Mysterious numbers in Derry

The following editorial appeared in the Union Leader.

Any person from any school district can replicate the work of the Alliance of Derry Taxpayers' by visiting the New Hampshire Department of Education's website.

We would love to see an analysis done by Union Leader of all school districts across the state.

From the Union Leader
Students and costs: Mysterious numbers in Derry

Friday, Feb. 2, 2007

If the Alliance of Derry Taxpayers'
numbers are correct, the school district has a lot of explaining to do.

The alliance has done some math and concluded that "enrollment in grades one through eight has dropped by 18 percent since 1999, while the teacher population is up by 14 percent," according to state Rep. Howie Lund, a co-founder of the group.

The alliance has presented to the school board numbers showing that the public school budget is rising while enrollment is falling. The question is: why are costs not falling along with enrollment?

It's a great question.

In Manchester, the school district complained for years that it needed more and more money or classrooms would be overcrowded and eduational quality would suffer. But in fact middle-school enrollment had been falling. In last year's budget fight, the district suddenly found that it had more teachers than it needed, and it was able to save money by eliminating seven positions. It is not unreasonable to suspect that something similar is going on in Derry.

If the board cannot satisfactorily explain why taxpayers should pay more to educate fewer students, then it's time to break out the budget ax.

Quote of the Day

"Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned."
Milton Friedman

Sunday, February 4, 2007

TEA's check register now online! Texas leads the way in public education financial transparency

The following is from Peyton Wolcott's Website.

" You have no idea how much pleasure it gives me as a native Texan to be able to write this headline.

After toiling in the grassroots education reform vineyards as a volunteer for many years, suddenly late last
September a light bulb went off and I realized that many of our public records issues could be addressed by a very simple remedy: School districts could post their check registers online.

Thus of a simple remedy was born a very simple project, The National School District Honor Roll, honoring those
districts posting their check registers online. Texas Governor Rick Perry (left) with Texas Commissioner of Education Shirley Neeley and Deputy Commissioner Robert Scott

Increased transparency: clearly an idea whose time has come. Responding to questions earlier today regarding the
Texas Education Agency's decision to post its check register online this week (link below right in red box) in conjunction with the governor's press release today (below right, grey box) deputy TEA commissioner Robert Scott pointed out that increased transparency was the governor's initiative. "It's something he feels very strongly about, Scott said. "We at TEAwholeheartedly agree."

To view the rest of the story click here.

The following press release from the Texas Governor is also on Peyton Wolcott's website.

Gov. Perry's press release
"Texans deserve a budget that make sense. Perry today offered budget reform proposals that he says are meant to promote
fiscal responsibility and transparency in state government. The list includes....requiring all Texas agencies to publish expenditures online in a clear and consistent format. Perry says Texas has a record budget surplus, so it's time to make one-time payments to reconcile past accoun- ting maneuvers and accurately balance the budget. The governor also
says--starting today-- expenditures made by his office will be available to view online.
DATE: 01/31/07

Quote of the Day

"Superintendents and school boards would have to be willing to be perceived as being anti-open government and anti-
transparency to turn down your request that they post their check registers online."

Peyton Wolcott