Monday, March 24, 2008

Shining Star for you to see

Or at least for your state legislator to see. Please encourage your senator and representative to come hear Star Parker -- formerly a single welfare mom, now a noted columnist and commentator -- at an OCPA legislative breakfast Tuesday, April 1 at 8 a.m. at The Faculty House. Her topic: "School Choice on the Move."

Parker is a regular commentator on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News. She debated Jesse Jackson on BET, fought for school choice on Larry King Live, and defended welfare reform on the Oprah Winfrey Show. She is a regular guest columnist for USA Today, and her personal transformation from welfare fraud to conservative crusader has been chronicled by ABC's 20/20, Rush Limbaugh, Readers Digest, Dr. James Dobson, The 700 Club, George Grant, the Washington Times, Christianity Today, Charisma, and World. Her autobiography Pimps, Whores and Welfare Brats was released in 1997 by Pocket Books, and Uncle Sam's Plantation was released by Thomas Nelson in the fall of 2003.

Please encourage your state legislator to call me at 405-602-1667 and reserve a spot.

Supply and demand

It seems that some public-school students grasp the concept of a market economy. Too bad education policy-makers can't do the same.

Friday, March 21, 2008

California homeschoolers welcome in Oklahoma

[This article by Brandon Dutcher and J. Scott Moody appeared today in the San Francisco Examiner.]

In the 1930s hardship and adversity forced many Okies to leave their homes and start a new life in California. Perhaps now is a good time for some Californians to leave their home-schools and start a new life in Oklahoma.

“California is now on the path to being the only state to deny the vast majority of homeschooling parents their fundamental right to teach their own children at home,” said Michael Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), after a recent state appellate court ruling declared that parents don’t have a constitutional right to home school their children.

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, added, “There are going to be a lot of parents forced to make some very difficult decisions if an appeal is not successful.”

Parents weighing their options might want to consider the most homeschool-friendly state in the country. For when it comes to educational freedom for homeschoolers, “You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma” is a massive understatement.

“Oklahoma law does not require parents to use certified teachers or state-approved curricula, initiate contact with, register with or seek approval from state or local officials, test their students or permit public school officials to visit or inspect homes,” HSLDA points out. “If a parent is teaching his children the basic subjects for at least 180 days, the law requires nothing more.”

Indeed, HSLDA notes, “Oklahoma is the only state with a constitutional provision guaranteeing the right to home school.” The state constitution directs the legislature to provide for attendance at some public or other school—“unless other means of education are provided.”

As one delegate to the Oklahoma constitutional convention argued convincingly in 1907, “People ought to be allowed to use their own discretion as to how to educate their children.”

That century-old sentiment still prevails. A 2004 telephone survey by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass and Associates found that 69 percent of Oklahomans “favor the right of parents to home school their children.” Only 26 percent oppose.

The Tulsa World reported last year that “Larry Mason, president of the Christian Home Educators Fellowship of Oklahoma, said home-schoolers from other states are envious of the state’s protection of the practice, and it influenced his family’s move to the state. ‘Home-schooling was a big part of moving here,’ Mason said.”

Not only will ex-Californians be pleased with the freedom to teach their own children at home, they’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many square feet they can afford in which to do it.

Let’s face it: it’s expensive to live in California. According to ACCRA, the nation’s most respected cost-of-living index, of the 329 U.S. metropolitan areas surveyed in 2007, all the California cities represented are huddled together in the top (most expensive) 20 percent. San Francisco leads the way with a cost of living that exceeds the national average by a whopping 70.9 percent. The most “reasonable” cost-of-living city in California is Bakersfield, at 8.2 percent above the national average.

Oklahoma, on the other hand, is at the other end of the cost-of-living spectrum, with its represented cities falling in the bottom one-third of all cities surveyed.

This cost-of-living difference not only means that your dollar will buy more goods and services in Oklahoma than in California, it also means lower federal income taxes. How so? Because the federal income tax code does not adjust items like the standard deduction, exemptions, or tax brackets for cost of living. As a result, folks in high cost-of-living areas, such as California, suffer a cost-of-living tax penalty.

For example, take a married couple with one child earning $100,000 who purchase a fixed bundle of goods. If they lived in San Francisco, they would need to earn $170,852 to buy that fixed bundle of goods, whereas in Oklahoma City they would need only $92,202. However, the couple in San Francisco would pay 19.8 percent of their income to Uncle Sam, but the Oklahoma City couple would pay only 13.3 percent.

In addition to federal taxes, there is also a disparity between the state and local tax burdens in the two states. On average, California residents pay 11.2 percent of their income in state and local taxes whereas Oklahoma residents pay 9.75 percent—or 13 percent less. Another way to look at the tax disparity: in 2007, California’s top marginal income tax rate was 9.3 percent while Oklahoma’s was 5.65 percent.

So if you’re tired of traffic and high prices, maybe it’s time to pack up those moving trucks and get your kicks on Route 66. When your friends and neighbors ask why you’re leaving, just tell them, “We’d sooner homeschool.”

Thursday, March 20, 2008

'Public education is being dismantled'

No, that's not a promise (sorry to get your hopes up). It's merely the latest hyperbole from the state's largest labor union.

But as you can see from page 33 of this document, legislative appropriations for public education do nothing but continue to climb. And that's just appropriated money -- it doesn't take into account all the other costs of public education.

What's happening is that school choice in Oklahoma is slowly expanding, and the union doesn't like it one bit.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

We're home, free

With a little note calling it his "memo to the movement," Grover Norquist sent along a copy of his new book, Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government's Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives. I flipped straight to the chapter on homeschoolers, which Grover identifies as a valuable component of the Leave Us Alone Coalition. He recalls that 15 years ago homeschoolers "kicked off the largest firestorm in modern congressional history."

Fast forward to 1993 and the homeschool movement flexed its muscle in self-defense, responding to a perceived threat of government regulation. When a homeschooler brought to Congressman Dick Armey's attention that a proposed bill might -- just might -- open the door to federal regulation of homeschooling, it kicked off the largest firestorm in modern congressional history. ... Faxes went out to the homeschool network on Monday, and the next day the phone lines in the capital were jammed to the point that offices sent runners with written messages to other offices. Within three days the Congress voted unanimously to strike the potentially offending passage. This is political power.

Every year there will be more homeschoolers. And they are smarter, harder-working, and more serious than the products of government schools.

The children of homeschooling have not been socialized to believe in the sanctity of government education. They begin life as skeptics of the competence and necessity of government. Their parents have said no to the offer no one is supposed to refuse: "We will educate, at least babysit, your children for 'free' for twelve years."

Oklahomans should be grateful that homeschooling is protected in our state constitution, and we should remain vigilant against threats to this educational freedom.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The empire strikes back

Last week 30 members of the Oklahoma Senate voted to give new hope to children trapped in some of the worst inner-city schools in Oklahoma. Predictably, the state’s largest labor union is none too pleased about this. In a legislative update blasted to its e-mail list yesterday, the OEA declared:

Senate Bill 2093 will provide a tax credit for any taxpayer who donates money to a scholarship program for low-income children to attend private schools. The bill would allow money for the tax credits to be taken from the state’s general revenue fund, reducing the amount of money available for public education, further crippling our under-funded schools. Cherry-picking students to attend private schools while reducing funding for public schools is not the solution. Contact your local representative today to oppose this bill. The bill heads to the house.

Of course, as OCPA has already demonstrated, the measure would actually increase per-pupil expenditures in the public schools. Nevertheless, expect the union to stick to its talking points and to continue to put the pressure on legislators.

Below is the roll call for the amendment by Sen. James Williamson creating the New Hope Scholarship Program. Many thanks to the 30 state senators who voted for the measure (and a special tip of the cap to the six Democrats who had the courage to vote for it).

YEAS: 30

Sen. Tom Adelson (D-Tulsa)
Sen. Cliff Aldridge (R-Midwest City)
Sen. Patrick Anderson (R-Enid)
Sen. Don Barrington (R-Lawton)
Sen. Randy Bass (D-Lawton)
Sen. Brian Bingman (R-Sapulpa)
Sen. Cliff Branan (R-Oklahoma City)
Sen. Randy Brogdon (R-Owasso)
Sen. Bill Brown (R-Broken Arrow)
Sen. Harry Coates (R-Seminole)
Sen. Glenn Coffee (R-Oklahoma City)
Sen. Brian Crain (R-Tulsa)
Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre (D-Tulsa)
Sen. John Ford (R-Bartlesville)
Sen. Earl Garrison (D-Muskogee)
Sen. Mike Johnson (R-Kingfisher)
Sen. Clark Jolley (R-Edmond)
Sen. Ron Justice (R-Chickasha)
Sen. Todd Lamb (R-Edmond)
Sen. Owen Laughlin (R-Woodward)
Sen. Mike Mazzei (R-Tulsa)
Sen. David Myers (R-Ponca City)
Sen. Jonathan Nichols (R-Norman)
Sen. Jim Reynolds (R-Oklahoma City)
Sen. Andrew Rice (D-Oklahoma City)
Sen. Nancy Riley (D-Tulsa)
Sen. Mike Schulz (R-Altus)
Sen. Anthony Sykes (R-Moore)
Sen. Kathleen Wilcoxson (R-Oklahoma City)
Sen. James Williamson (R-Tulsa)

NAYS: 18

Sen. Roger Ballenger (D-Okmulgee)
Sen. Sean Burrage (D-Claremore)
Sen. Kenneth Corn (D-Poteau)
Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield (D-Ardmore)
Sen. Mary Easley (D-Tulsa)
Sen. Jay Paul Gumm (D-Durant)
Sen. Tom Ivester (D-Elk City)
Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City)
Sen. Charlie Laster (D-Shawnee)
Sen. Debbe Leftwich (D-Oklahoma City)
Sen. Richard Lerblance (D-Hartshorne)
Sen. Mike Morgan (D-Stillwater)
Sen. Susan Paddack (D-Ada)
Sen. Jeff Rabon (D-Hugo)
Sen. John Sparks (D-Norman)
Sen. Joe Sweeden (D-Pawhuska)
Sen. Jim Wilson (D-Tahlequah)
Sen. Charles Wyrick (D-Fairland)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Public money? When did it become public money?

One of the objections to the New Hope Scholarship Program, which provides a tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations, is that it would provide public money to private schools. "In essence what we’re doing is providing people government and public funds that will then be funneled to private education institutions," state Sen. John Sparks (D-Norman) argued March 13 on the Senate floor. "That’s a slippery slope we don’t need to go down."

Actually, we’re not talking about public funds (more on that in a moment). But even if we were, surely Sen. Sparks realizes we’ve gone quite a long way down that slippery slope already. As OCPA research fellow Pat McGuigan pointed out in a recent article, "whether it’s educating toddlers or twenty-somethings, public dollars flow to private schools all the time." Surely Sen. Sparks is familiar with (to name just a handful of examples) public money flowing to private pre-K providers; Title I money flowing to private schools; NCLB’s "supplemental services" dollars flowing to private schools and tutors; taxpayer funds going to private vendors who provide online high-school courses; and Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, OTEG grants, and OHLAP money going to private schools.

In short, public money is "funneled to private education institutions" all the time.

But contrary to Sen. Sparks’ assertion, that’s not what's happening here. As the Arizona Supreme Court ruled (and the U.S. Supreme Court let stand) in 1999:

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, "public money" is "[r]evenue received from federal, state, and local governments from taxes, fees, fines, etc." Black’s Law Dictionary 1005 (6th ed. 1990). As respondents note, however, no money ever enters the state’s control as a result of this tax credit. Nothing is deposited in the state treasury or other accounts under the management or possession of governmental agencies or public officials. Thus, under any common understanding of the words, we are not here dealing with "public money."

Some folks will argue that the government would collect more revenue if the tax credit didn’t exist, and therefore the money that people donate to K-12 scholarship funds is government money. (Heck, for that matter let's just say your entire paycheck is government money; just be thankful benevolent politicians let you keep any of it.) "Under such reasoning all taxpayer income could be viewed as belonging to the state because it is subject to taxation by the legislature," the Arizona Supreme Court ruled. "We cannot say that the legislature has somehow imposed a tax by declining to collect potential revenue from its citizens."

So please, let’s not refer to Oklahomans' charitable contributions as "government funds." For as Sen. Sparks himself so aptly put it, "if we’re going to debate, we need to debate on the facts as they really are."

Tulsa teachers union: 99.9 percent of our teachers are fit to teach

The Center for Union Facts reported last week that, thanks to policies defended by the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA) and its parent labor unions (the Oklahoma Education Association and the National Education Association), practically no teachers are ever fired by the Tulsa public school system after they work for three years and thus acquire tenure.

In Tulsa there are approximately 2,136 tenured teachers. Original research by the Center for Union Facts into school district records indicates that, between 2003 and 2006, only two tenured teachers were fired. Put another way, Tulsa Public Schools fires about 0.02 percent of its tenured teachers annually.

The typical union response to such abysmally low statistics is that tenured teachers are commonly "counseled out" of their jobs if they're not fit to teach. But a look at district records suggests that it's not very common at all. Center for Union Facts research indicates that for 2003 through 2006, only six tenured teachers appear to have resigned or retired in lieu of termination. That "counseled out" termination rate is still less than 0.07 percent of tenured teachers a year.

It's easy to believe that the vast majority of public schoolteachers in Tulsa are doing a good job, but it's a near-impossibility that fully 99.9 percent of its tenured teachers deserve to be in front of kids; any group of people that size is bound to have at least a few more bad apples than the ones noted above. The best explanation, in our opinion, is that by protecting an outmoded employment system in the legislature and by turning tenured teacher termination cases into equivalents of a criminal trial, the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association and its affiliates have made it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers.

Special effects

The Associated Press reports ('Paperwork overwhelms some special-needs teachers') that "some of Oklahoma's special-needs teachers say excessive paperwork associated with the job is causing many to reconsider whether they want to remain in the profession. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education says the number of special education majors in the state has dropped during the last 10 years."

Oklahoma should consider following the lead of the five other states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Utah) which have enacted scholarship programs which now serve more than 20,000 kids with various disabilities (autism, traumatic brain injuries, blindness, specific learning disabilities, etc.). Survey data show that the scholarships are having a positive effect: Parents receiving the scholarships are overwhelmingly satisfied with the private schools their children are now able to attend. As one Florida mom (herself a public school teacher!) put it, "The attention Lucas receives at his new school didn't just save his ability to learn -- it also saved his life."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

'State of educational emergency'

"The [Oklahoma City school] district — and more importantly, its students — are in a state of educational emergency," the state's largest newspaper editorialized today.

What to do about it? Well, obviously the same old non-solutions will be repackaged and trotted out for the umpteenth time. Nothing we can do about that. But here's one small request. While the education producers and "stakeholders" and labor unions continue to tinker with the statist quo, how about tossing a life preserver to some kids in the district who need new hope right now, and whose childhood won't wait for the promised reforms to take effect?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

'At wit's end'

"After a fight that sent a Capitol Hill High School student to the hospital with stab wounds Thursday, students and parents are left to wonder if the halls of Oklahoma City schools are safe," The Oklahoman reported yesterday ('Knife attack at Capitol Hill leaves some parents in fear').

Sean Pearl, a 17-year-old junior at the school, said he saw the fight and he and his classmates immediately feared for their safety.

"I was scared," Pearl said. "After they put us on lockdown, I got a teacher to let me go to the bathroom so I could call him (my dad) and get him to come get me. I heard people saying they were going to come up here (to the school) with guns and stuff like that."

Pearl said the sudden and swift attack was carried out with a penknife.

"I saw a guy put a bandana over his face, and then he ran up behind the guy (the victim), stabbed him five times in the back, once in the side, once in the arm and slashed his neck open," Pearl said.

Pearl was back on campus Thursday evening with his father, Henry Pearl, to attend a student-parent-teacher conference. Henry Pearl said he didn't feel like his son was safe at Capitol Hill. But with little more than a year left for Sean in high school, Henry said he didn't think there was much else that could be done to protect his son before his schooling ends.

"I just pray," the elder Pearl said. "I pray a lot." ...

"The security does need to be beefed up here," he said. "I'm at wits end. I hated to even have to send my son to this school because of the name it's made for itself. I grew up in Midwest City in the '70s and I knew about Capitol Hill. It's only gotten worse."

While he's praying, Mr. Pearl should pray that the New Hope Scholarship Program being pushed by Sen. James Williamson passes the Oklahoma legislature. Sen. Williamson's bill would give new hope to students at certain schools (and Capitol Hill High School is one of the schools on the list).

Thursday, March 13, 2008

New life for school-choice bill

Today the state Senate voted in favor of a tax credit for private-school scholarship programs. State Sen. James A. Williamson (R-Tulsa) successfully attached his amendment creating the New Hope Scholarship Program (formerly the Great Schools Tax Credit Program) to SB 1556, which passed the Senate by a vote of 30 to 18. The amendment provides a tax credit for taxpayers who contribute to organizations that provide scholarships for low-income children to attend an elementary or secondary private school in a county with a population of more than 450,000.

State Sen. Kenneth Corn (D-OEA) voted against Williamson's measure, saying "cherry-picking a handful of students and pulling resources out of public education does nothing to fix the main problem." Cherry-picking? The students at issue here are those trapped in the worst inner-city schools in Oklahoma! Sen. Corn further argues that the money for tax credits will reduce the amount of money available for public schools. Of course, OCPA has already demonstrated that, to the contrary, per-pupil expenditures would increase under Williamson's plan. For his edification, I e-mailed Sen. Corn a copy of our spreadsheet which demonstrates this quite clearly.

Newspaper defends parents' 'right to choose'

Hats off to the state's largest newspaper for defending Oklahomans' constitutional right to educate their own children at home. Back in 2002 the newspaper declared that "The Oklahoman is often critical of ... this state’s unwieldy Populist Era constitution. But today, more than ever, we are grateful for those who provided reasonable, explicit and just protection for parental prerogatives to direct and guide the education of their own children."

And in a house editorial today ('Right to choose'), The Oklahoman pronounced as "nonsense" one labor union official's assertion that homeschooling parents are "gullible amateurs." (My homeschooled fifth-grade daughter could tell you -- even if that union official could not -- that "amateur" derives from the Latin word for love. One reason homeschooling succeeds is that parents love their children and are devoted to their success in a way that no school employee could possibly be. As Christ taught in another context, the hireling doesn't care for the sheep like the shepherd does.)

"Some parents aren't cut out for teaching their own, but there also are poor public schools and poor professionally trained teachers," The Oklahoman noted. "Homeschooling is a valuable option for parents and should be protected."

Friday, March 7, 2008

Unions keep children trapped

In a column yesterday in The Edmond Sun, I remind folks that the school-employee labor unions can't tolerate any escapees.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Cal Thomas on the exodus

"The government schools want to shape a child's mind in ways that reflect a mostly liberal, humanistic worldview," Cal Thomas writes this week.

This has implications for a child's understanding of economics, foreign policy, American history and the size and purpose of government, in addition to what once were known as "traditional values." It is about reflecting the worldview of the teachers unions, who are in the pocket of the Democratic Party. In other words, the Left uses public schools to produce the next generation of Democrats.

The tragedy is that too many conservative Christian, Republican parents who want their children to have a different worldview - their own - willingly participate in the destruction of their children's minds by turning them over to a way of thinking that is antithetical to their beliefs. Parents who worship at conservative churches on Sunday willingly send their children to schools five days a week where what they are taught undermines what they learned in church and at home. They would never think of taking their kids to a church that teaches doctrines opposed to their beliefs, but they don't give a second thought to doing the same thing by sending them to government schools. It makes no sense.

Some parents don't have much of a choice: Their (tax) money is being used to support the public schools, and there's not enough paycheck left over for private school tuition. Which is why these parents need vouchers or tax credits.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Remediation bill points up the need for school choice

The good news: Oklahoma schools are teaching phonics. The bad news: It’s in college.

To cite just one example (sadly, there are many) of what goes on at many of our institutions of "higher education," students at Tulsa Community College can take a college English course called Spelling and Phonics, which is "designed for the student who needs to master basic spelling literacy and principles of phonics." Ponder it, folks. I can’t make this stuff up.

Taxpayers already paid for K-12 education once; now they are forced to pay for it again. According to last year’s annual Student Remediation Report produced for the Oklahoma State Regents of Higher Education, more than one-third of Oklahoma students require remedial courses in college.

In an attempt to do something about it, yesterday the Oklahoma House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation creating a Task Force on Student Remediation.

As you think about "Spelling and Phonics" and about high-school students watching movies in class, I want you to consider the requirements facing students hoping to be admitted to Harvard College around 1700: "Everyone competent to read Cicero or any other classic author of that kind extemporaneously, and also to speak and write Latin prose and verse with tolerable skill and without assistance, and of declining the Greek nouns and verbs, may expect to be admitted to the College: if deficient in any of these qualifications, he cannot under any circumstances be admitted."

Do you think it’s possible Oklahoma’s K-12 education system is dumbed down? Last year my homeschooled eighth-grade son learned Algebra II, Henle Latin I, intermediate logic, physical science, grammar, and composition. Here are some (not all) of the books he read and discussed: The Epic of Gilgamesh; The Code of Hammurabi; The Odyssey; The Histories; The Oresteia Trilogy; Plutarch’s Lives; The Theban Trilogy; The Last Days of Socrates; The Early History of Rome; The Aeneid; The Twelve Caesars; Till We Have Faces; The Unaborted Socrates; Genesis; Exodus; I and II Samuel; I and II Kings; Isaiah; Jeremiah; Chosen by God; and Socrates Meets Jesus.

If parents want this kind of education for their children and the public schools won’t deliver it, those parents should be given a voucher or a tax credit which allows them to choose another option.

If you enter college needing to learn “Spelling and Phonics” – something you should have learned in first grade – suffice it to say you’ve been ripped off.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Rebutting six common charter school criticisms

School choice opponents often recycle the same tired arguments against common-sense reforms. The Center for Education Reform has issued a paper rebutting, with proof, six common attacks used by opponents of charter schools:

Here are the six erroneous criticisms:

1) Creates Balkanization in Education (The "Charter Schools Segregate" Argument)
2) Competition Has No Impact (The Anti-Ripple Argument)
3) Innovation Is Lacking (The "Prove It's So Different" Argument)
4) More Accountability is Needed (The Process Versus Progress Argument)
5) No Evidence That They Work (The Double Standard Argument)
6) The Common Good Is Undermined, Sort Of (The "Choice Is Bad For Democracy" Argument)

The CER shoots down each of these attacks in turn. While this is not a recent paper -- it's from 2002 -- these anti-charter arguments are still in play.

Their parting shot:

Charter schools are based largely upon accountability. They must be approved by a state agency designed to review the quality and effectiveness of these schools. If the applications cannot clear the bar, or if the schools do not meet their contractual obligations, the public good is not served and the school will not be approved or will be shut down.

Can traditional public schools make the same claim?

(Hat tip to Tulsa Chiggers, a leading blog advocating for charter schools in Oklahoma.)