Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Financial illiteracy

"Three out of four Oklahoma high school seniors failed a national test designed to assess knowledge of personal finance," The Oklahoman reports. "Only 6 percent of the Oklahoma students correctly answered 70 percent of the test questions, the equivalent of a 'C' grade."

Superintendents wrong about New Hope

In a recent piece in the Muskogee Phoenix, 30 tax-funded school superintendents misrepresented the New Hope Scholarship Act. Here is my reply.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

'The cracks are appearing'

The public school monopoly "had remarkable staying power," William McGurn writes today in The Wall Street Journal, "but the cracks are appearing. In cities like Washington, D.C., and Newark, N.J., African-American mayors like Anthony Williams and Cory Booker–Democrats both–have taken courageous stands to offer children more and better school options. And these brave souls are being joined by a growing number of parents, pastors and advocates who recognize that the status quo is cheating their children out of a chance at the American Dream."

Here at home, Democrats like Judy Eason McIntyre and Jabar Shumate have taken courageous stands. And these brave souls are being joined by parents and pastors like Barbara Shannon and Rev. Donald Tyler. Here's Dr. Tyler at an April 21 press conference telling reporters that he supports the New Hope Scholarship Act because "our kids aren't being educated."

"I have kids in my church who have graduated who can't read," Dr. Tyler says. "You tell me the system is working?"

Monday, April 28, 2008

'Failing to provide New Hope'

State Rep. Jason Murphey (R-Guthrie) has an excellent analysis of the legislature's failure to give children new hope.

'Courageous decision-making needed'

In its lead editorial on Sunday, the state's largest newspaper discussed the New Hope Scholarship Act, which went down to defeat on the House floor last week.
Approving the bill would have taken some real courage. Education groups were united in their opposition. They feared the plan would dilute public education funding, and some lawmakers bought into the idea that approving the plan would equate to abandoning public education. Although the bill targeted Oklahoma City and Tulsa, rural school officials complained it might eventually spread their way, too. One lawmaker even suggested what's needed is a study to identify education's problems.

By all means, conduct another study. The problem couldn't possibly be that many parents, educators and policy-makers expect too little of our students and that's exactly what we get. Or that parents are too disinterested. Or that many struggling schools suffer from poor leadership, a problem that often begets poor teaching. Or that it's way too difficult to get rid of ineffective administrators and teachers. Or that we do too little to help keep the good teachers in education or find ways to help them do an even better job.

We all know a lot about what's wrong in our schools. Depending on which classroom one uses as a point of reference, the list can be quite long. What's required isn't a task force. It's the will and the courage to do things differently. ...

The scholarship proposal had weaknesses, and it wouldn't have saved public education. But it might have helped some kids in Oklahoma City and Tulsa's poorest performing schools, and that should have been the focus.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Republicans against school choice

In March the Oklahoma Senate passed the New Hope Scholarship Act by a vote of 30 to 18, with all 24 Republicans voting in favor (roll call here). The bill would give a tax credit to taxpayers who contribute to organizations that provide private-school scholarships for low-income children currently attending failing public schools in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

On April 23 the Oklahoma House of Representatives defeated the measure by a vote of 57 to 40 (roll call here). Here are the 17 Republicans who voted against the bill:

Rep. Don Armes (R-Faxon)

Rep. Gary Banz (R-Midwest City)

Rep. Lisa Billy (R-Purcell)

Rep. Ann Coody (R-Lawton)

Rep. Dale DeWitt (R-Braman)

Rep. John Enns (R-Waukomis)

Rep. George Faught (R-Muskogee)

Rep. Terry Ingmire (R-Stillwater)

Rep. Mike Jackson (R-Enid)

Rep. Shane Jett (R-Tecumseh)

Rep. Fred Jordan (R-Tulsa)

Rep. Charlie Joyner (R-Midwest City)

Rep. Steve Martin (R-Bartlesville)

Rep. Skye McNiel (R-Bristow)

Rep. Phil Richardson (R-Minco)

Rep. Earl Sears (R-Bartlesville)

Rep. Weldon Watson (R-Tulsa)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Educator-misconduct watch

"Vian Police Chief Danny Hoover said he is investigating allegations that two teachers at the Vian High School had inappropriate relationships with students," The Oklahoman reports ('Vian district allows teachers to resign').

A recent analysis by the Associated Press found that "sexual conduct plagues U.S. schools."

With friends like these ...

During floor debate on the New Hope Scholarship Act yesterday, state Rep. Ray McCarter (D-Marlow) made a valiant bid for entry into public education's "Friends Like These" Hall of Fame. Mr. McCarter, a public-school teacher and administrator, helpfully explained why private schools are able to perform so well academically: It’s because of the students they are able to enroll. "They’re smart kids," McCarter explained, "or else they’d be in the public schools with the rest of the kids." All righty then.

Of course, Rep. McCarter isn’t the only school-choice opponent whose arguments might cause the education establishment to wince. Last year on the House floor, state Rep. Wallace Collins (D-Norman) confessed: "I’m only a public school graduate so I'm not very literate." (Not to worry, Rep. Collins, there's a lot of that going around.)

And who can forget state Sen. Constance "Sinking Ship" Johnson (D-Oklahoma City), who memorably asked on the Senate floor why it is "we want to take some of the kids out of the public schools and essentially leave the rest on the sinking ship?"

Perhaps my favorite observation is from one Evelyn Walsh of Guthrie, who suggested in a letter to the editor last year that school choice is a bad idea because, well, the majority of Oklahomans might just choose a private school. After all, she pointed out, it's unlikely that "people will opt for hamburger when T-bone steaks are available."

With friends like these, does the education establishment really need enemies?

David Boaz puts it well in his new book The Politics of Freedom. "Every argument against choice made by the education establishment reveals the contempt that establishment has for its own product. School boards, superintendents, and teacher unions are convinced that no one would attend public schools if they had the choice. Like Fidel Castro and former postmaster general Anthony Frank, they have a keen sense of the consumer demand for their product and are fighting a rearguard action to protect their monopoly."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Hope bill ...

... goes down to defeat on the House floor. Supporters vow to fight another day. Michael Bates is rightly disappointed with squishy Republicans.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New Hope bill ...

... will be considered on the House floor on Wednesday.

Bullied, with no way out

The Oklahoman reports today ('Many Hispanic students are targets of bullying in state') that bullying is a problem in some schools.

"We try to ignore it as much as we can, but it just gets worse and worse," Mayra [Sigala] said about the racist slurs yelled at her in the crowded hallways of Edmond Memorial High School.

The first incident occurred in early November, within a week of the passage of House Bill 1804, Oklahoma's stringent immigration enforcement statute. A fellow student, a football player, yelled at her in the hallway.

"He kept calling me names," she said. "He kept telling me to go back to Mexico. I tried to tell him that I was born here, but he didn't believe me."

Other students laughed.

"I guess they all agreed with him," she said.

Wouldn't it be nice if students who were bullied could choose another school?

New Hope debate continues

Good coverage today of the New Hope Scholarship Act in The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, the Journal Record, and Education Week.

State Rep. John Auffet, a Democrat from Stillwell (pictured at left), told the World that the bill is about channeling public money into private schools (which is false). "It may not be in this bill, but it is right around the corner," he said. Or as labor union boss Roy Bishop (who knows full well the door is already open) put it, "This just opens the door."

Will Oklahoma boost its school choice grade?

Today the Oklahoma House will take up SB 2093, the New Hope Scholarship Act, which passed the State Senate on March 13 by a vote of 33-15.

If the bill becomes law, Oklahoma will double its school choice grade. Last week, the Heartland Institute issued its school choice report card, grading each state on the availability of school vouchers, charter schools, tuition tax credits, tax credits for scholarship funds, and choice within the public school system.

Oklahoma qualifies for only 2 points out of a possible 23: We have open transfer, and we have charter schools, although they're severely limited. That's a failing grade, even when graded on the curve. Passing the New Hope Scholarship Act would earn Oklahoma two more points by establishing a scholarship fund tax credit in which corporations are welcome to participate.

Arizona and Florida top the school choice chart, earning 15 and 14 points respectively, because they offer vouchers, charters, and scholarship funds. Arizona gets full marks for its charter schools program.

Here's a link to the Heartland Institute's detailed report card (PDF).

Monday, April 21, 2008

Keeping hope alive

"Tulsa-area lawmakers are seeking support for legislation that would offer tax credits to those who provide tuition assistance for low-income children to attend private schools," the Associated Press reports.

Speaking in favor of the New Hope Scholarship Act at a state capitol press conference today are (from left) state Rep. Jabar Shumate (D-Tulsa), state Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre (D-Tulsa), state Sen. James Williamson (R-Tulsa), and Dr. Donald O'Neil Tyler, pastor of Greater Grace Temple in Tulsa.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The other sexual abuse scandal

"A Tahlequah High School teacher and coach is expected to be arraigned today on second-degree rape charges," the Associated Press reported yesterday. This is "the second TPS employee in a month to be charged with second-degree rape after an alleged sexual encounter with a female student."

Education researcher Jay P. Greene observes on his new blog that "as Pope Benedict XVI visited with victims of sexual abuse by priests in Boston yesterday, the news was again filled with concerns about the widespread and persistent nature of these abuses in the Church. ... But a recent analysis by the Associated Press suggests that sexual misconduct among male teachers is at least as common as among male priests."


Many politicians talk the talk, but will they walk the walk?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The day the school-choice debate changed

"Though we cannot outvote them," Samuel Johnson once said, "we can outargue them."

Heck, we may outvote them when the New Hope Scholarship Act comes up for a vote in the House on Tuesday. But there is no question we will continue to outargue them. And in a very real sense it started with the Senate debate on March 13, 2008, the day Oklahoma's school-choice debate changed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

School choice brings families back to inner-ring suburbs

If city officials in Oklahoma want to bring families with children back to the older parts of our cities, they ought to be lobbying the legislature to expand school choice -- more charter schools, vouchers, tuition tax credits. Here's a recent example from the Cincinnati area of the positive effects of school choice on the revitalization of older neighborhoods:

The homes are square and solid, like the dark-red bricks from which they're built. Old steps and wrought-iron railings lead to small porches shaded by big trees. The uneven sidewalks, postage-stamp yards and 1950s styles look like so many neighborhoods in Cincinnati's aging first-ring communities.

But something is happening on the quiet, clean streets that straddle Golf Manor and Amberley Village: It's a mini-population boomlet.

While most of the city has been losing families to suburbs that offer more land, newer houses, lower taxes and better schools, this neighborhood is a magnet for young professionals with large, growing families.

A recent inventory of new residents includes an ophthalmologist, a Procter & Gamble manager, an Internet entrepreneur, a journalist, two in real estate, two in construction, two in the nursing home business, a restaurant owner and seven rabbis.

Nearly all of these Orthodox Jewish families were attracted by two things: Cincinnati Hebrew Day School, and vouchers provided by Ohio EdChoice.

The vouchers are especially important to young parents who are still working on advanced degrees or medical school, said Rabbi Ben Travis, development director at the Hebrew Day School on Losantiville Road, which has become "the cog around which the community revolves."...

Tuition at Hebrew Day School is $6,365. Students in neighborhoods with failing public schools are eligible for private school vouchers up to $4,375, depending on income, Motzen explained. Families usually pay more of their tuition as their careers take off, Travis said.

The two communities mentioned are called "first-ring suburbs" -- bedroom communities, just outside the limits of the core city, set up to accommodate the post-war baby boom wave of new home buyers. Fifty or sixty years later, these inner-ring communities have long since been passed over by families in favor of newer suburbs further out. Often the infrastructure, housing stock, and retail stock has aged badly. They're in a kind of no-man's land -- lacking the amenities of the core city and newness of the newer suburbs.

Inner-ring suburbs can be found around Oklahoma City -- e.g., Midwest City, Del City, Warr Acres. Because of the annexation policies Tulsa pursued in the '40s and '50s, Tulsa doesn't have these kinds of communities as separate municipalities. (Highland Park -- 31st to 36th, Yale to Hudson -- was one, but was annexed by Tulsa. Tulsa used its water supply and much higher rates for out-of-city customers as leverage to bring new neighborhoods into the city.) But Tulsa does have neighborhoods with similar characteristics -- e.g., along Peoria north of 36th St. N. and the 21st and Garnett Area. Some are in better shape than others, but in many of them, homes that once housed families of four or more now house singles and couples. The density is no longer there to support the level of retail that once existed in these areas.

School quality is the major deterrent to attracting families back to these areas. In this case from Ohio, vouchers are giving young families the ability to have affordable housing and high-quality schooling at the same time.

(Hat tip: Brandon Dutcher. Crossposted at BatesLine.)

New Hope for inner-city students

State Sen. James Williamson makes the case for the New Hope Scholarship Act today in The Oklahoman.

Graduation crisis calls for school choice

News reports this month reminded us that the graduation rate in Oklahoma City and Tulsa is roughly 50 percent.

The Alliance for School Choice believes this "graduation crisis calls for immediate solutions," and says "school choice is the best option to help kids immediately."

"In the last year, numerous studies have highlighted the fact that America—particularly in our major urban centers—faces a dropout crisis that threatens our business climate, our children’s futures, and our prosperity," says Alliance president Charles R. Hokanson, Jr. Accordingly, the Alliance renewed its call for legislators to pursue options such as school voucher programs, scholarship tax credit programs, and scholarships for students with special needs.

"The entrenched education bureaucracy has tried their hardest—and spent millions—to spread falsehoods about school choice, but we have reached the time when these arguments have become nothing more than excuses," says Hokanson. "We must move beyond the rhetoric of the past 50 years and embrace the options that have proven successful in nine states and the District of Columbia. Parents, especially low-income parents, need enhanced choices right now."

In this April 8 photo, Alliance officials Scott Jensen (former Speaker of the House in Wisconsin) and Zack Dawes discuss school choice with OCPA's Brandon Dutcher.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Monday, April 14, 2008

New Hope: Answering the critics

Last week lobbyists for the public school establishment circulated a memo entitled "SB 2093—Oklahoma Education Voucher Bill." Below in bold are their assertions, followed by responses from OCPA, an independent think tank.

The education establishment claims that "tuition tax credits or vouchers for private schools undermine the principles of public education by encouraging the enrollment of children in private schools."

SB 2093, the New Hope Scholarship Act is not a "voucher" bill. Vouchers allow parents to use all or part of the government funding set aside for their children’s education to send their children to a private school. The New Hope Scholarship Act is not a "tuition tax credit" bill, either: it does not provide a tax credit for the payment of your child’s tuition. Rather, the New Hope Scholarship Act is a "scholarship tax credit" bill: it provides a tax credit for those who donate to a philanthropic organization providing tuition assistance for low-income children trapped in the worst of the worst urban schools. Scholarship tax credit laws of this sort already exist in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

The New Hope Scholarship Act does not "undermine the principles of public education." Public education means the education of the public. Just because government provides for education doesn’t mean government has to produce all of it. Are the principles of Medicaid undermined because patients use a private hospital? Are the principles of national defense undermined because the government doesn’t build its own tanks and missiles?

The education establishment claims that the "tuition tax credit proposal in the New Hope Scholarship Act represents an abandonment of Oklahoma’s public schools."

There are 627,575 students in Oklahoma’s public schools. Total revenue is $4.68 billion. A program which affects roughly 0.16 percent of students and 0.05 percent of revenue can scarcely be called an "abandonment" of Oklahoma’s public schools. As New Hope proponent Sen. Judy Eason-McIntyre, a 16-year veteran of the Tulsa Public Schools board of education, put it: "No one, no one has been more of a supporter of public education than I have."

The education establishment claims that "tuition tax credits or vouchers divert public funds to private entities with absolutely no accountability."

This is false on both counts. First, as explained above, the New Hope Scholarship Act is a scholarship tax credit bill. And it is replete with accountability measures both for the scholarship-granting organization and for the private school, which must be accredited and must ensure "academic accountability to parents and guardians of students."

Secondly, there are no "public funds" involved. 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.’ 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.’"

The defenders of the status quo argue that the government would collect more revenue if the New Hope tax credit didn’t exist, and therefore the money that people donate to K-12 scholarship funds is government money. By that way of thinking, a citizen’s entire paycheck is government money, and citizens should be thankful that benevolent politicians let them 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."

"Make no mistake about it," the education establishment claims, "SB 2093 is a voucher bill."

Just as food stamps allow recipients to take those certificates and spend them at the grocery store of their choice, school vouchers (education stamps, if you will) allow parents to take government money and spend it at the school of their choice. There are currently 14 school voucher programs operating in nine states plus the District of Columbia. And while a voucher bill in Oklahoma would be worthy of debate on its own merits, SB 2093 is simply not a voucher bill.

"This bill is simply the first step," the education establishment claims, "in diverting money away from public schools and placing government funds in private school coffers."

As explained above, there are no government funds involved. But even if government funds were involved, the New Hope Scholarship Act would hardly be the "first step." The first step—and the second, third, fourth, and subsequent steps—were taken long ago. Whether educating toddlers or 20-year-olds, public dollars flow to Oklahoma private schools all the time. To cite just a handful of examples: government funds flow to private pre-K providers; Title I money flows to private schools; NCLB’s "supplemental services" dollars flow to private schools and tutors; taxpayer funds flow to private vendors who provide online high-school courses; and Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, OTEG grants, and OHLAP money goes to private colleges and universities in Oklahoma.

The education establishment claims that "ranked at 48th in the nation in per-pupil funding for our schoolchildren, Oklahoma cannot afford further erosion of the funds available for public schools."

The establishment’s concern for "per-pupil funding" is admirable. Fortunately, under SB 2093, per-pupil funding increases by approximately $38.

The education establishment claims that "this proposal can have a negative fiscal impact of up to $5 million per year and will take money out of the formula. The argument that it will only affect low-performing districts is not true. The effects will be felt statewide as this represents another way to shrink the pie of available funding."

As Dr. Susan Aud explains, "When a student uses school choice, the local public school district no longer needs to pay the instructional costs associated with that student, but it does not lose all of its per-student revenue, because some revenue does not vary with enrollment levels. Thus, school choice produces a positive fiscal impact for school districts as well as for state budgets. ... Instructional spending per student has consistently gone up in all affected public school districts and states. School choice has not prevented those states and districts from spending more on the students who remain in public schools."

The education establishment points out that "a family of four in Oklahoma or Tulsa counties can make over $95,000 and qualify for these ‘low-income family’ tax credits."

It’s unlikely that the students trapped in these persistently failing schools will have that much family income, but it really doesn’t matter. Children trapped in the worst of the worst urban schools deserve a way out, regardless of their family’s income.

"Private schools aren’t accountable to any oversight organization," the education establishment argues. "There are no guarantees these schools will produce the results that are intended."

There are, however, guarantees that the public schools at issue are not producing the results that are intended. That’s how they ended up on the "needs improvement" list for three straight years. News reports this month reminded us that the graduation rate in Oklahoma City and Tulsa is roughly 50 percent. For the defenders of the status quo to talk about "results that are intended" is nothing short of laughable. Moreover, as mentioned above, the New Hope Scholarship Act is replete with accountability measures.

"Public schools must accept everyone regardless of disabilities, test scores, religion, or other characteristics," the education establishment argues. "Private schools can show favoritism in selecting students."

We’re not sure how this is relevant to SB 2093, but it deserves rebuttal nonetheless. As education researchers Jay Greene and Marcus Winters wrote last year for OCPA:
Surprising as it may be, most private schools are not very selective. A study of the nation’s Catholic schools concluded that the typical institution accepted 88 percent of the students who applied. Other research in D.C., Dayton, and New York private schools found that only one percent of parents reported their children were denied admission because of a failed admissions test. Moreover, the academic and demographic backgrounds of students who use vouchers to attend private school across the country are very similar to those who don’t.

Private schools don’t significantly alter their student populations by expelling low-achieving or troublesome students, either. One study found that "Catholic high schools dismiss fewer than two students per year" on average. While it is true that every student is officially entitled to a publicly funded education, students in public schools are regularly expelled. According to the U.S. Department of Education, roughly one percent of all public school students are expelled in a year, and an additional 0.6 percent are segregated into specialized academies. That’s more than in Catholic and other private schools. Moreover, public schools actually contract out 1.3 percent of their disabled students to private schools.

Hysteria unwarranted

In an editorial today ('Drama class: School-choice debate over the top'), the state's largest newspaper takes the education establishment to task for its hysteria over the New Hope Scholarship Act, a modest proposal to help inner-city children.
To listen to the education establishment, a proposal to help some inner-city kids get out of their underperforming schools would be a travesty. An out-and-out catastrophe, even. And we don't even have to pay admission to witness this drama.

The issue is a bill that would provide a tax credit for those who give money to scholarship-granting groups to help students in some of Oklahoma City and Tulsa's worst-performing schools attend private schools. Donors could get a credit of up to half of their donation, with a $2.5 million annual cap on the credits granted.

The Oklahoma Education Association has urged its members to fight the so-called voucher plan because the "purpose is to divert much-needed public school funding to private schools." Please.

The law would apply only to low-income students in schools that have been on the state and federal school improvement list for three or more years. It takes two years of poor academic performance for a school to get on the list. So the bill is only talking about schools with a five-year track record of not getting the job done. We can't help but wonder if OEA members would put their kids in such schools if they had better options. It's ultimately about choice, and low-income families don't have much.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Horace Mann prophecy watch

Horace Mann, generally regarded as the father of America’s current public school system, once prophesied: "Let the Common School ... be worked with the efficiency of which it is susceptible, and nine tenths of the crimes in the penal code would become obsolete; the long catalogue of human ills would be abridged." As The Oklahoman reminds us today ('Tulsa thinks schools need more policing'), it's not exactly working out that way.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Profiles in courage

In her nationally syndicated Scripps Howard column today ('Profiles in education courage'), Star Parker writes that at a recent speaking engagement for OCPA, she "discovered a couple of real heroes. ... The heroes here are two black Democrats -- Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre and Rep. Jabar Shumate. Going against the grain of their party, and against the Oklahoma union and public-school establishments, these brave souls are championing this initiative [the New Hope Scholarship Act]."

State Rep. Jabar Shumate (D-Tulsa) introduces Star Parker at an OCPA legislative breakfast April 1 in Oklahoma City.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Keep hope alive

The New Hope Scholarship Act was again considered in the House Appropriations and Budget Committee this afternoon. When the clerk called the roll, Democrats John Auffet, John Carey, James Covey, and Joe Dorman voted against the measure, and they were joined by Republican Shane Jett, a past recipient of the RINO (Republican in Name Only) Award from the Oklahoma Conservative PAC. So the measure had five votes against it right off the bat, and there were only four other members of the committee remaining.

Because of Jett's refusal to vote to give new hope to low-income children trapped in the worst of the worst urban schools, committee chairman Ken Miller had to go over Jett's head. Speaker Pro Tempore Gus Blackwell, an ex officio voting member of every House committee, was in the room to vote yes, and was joined by fellow Republicans Tad Jones, Guy Liebmann, and Randy Terrill. So that made it 5-4, with only Rep. Miller left to vote. When the clerk called his name, Rep. Miller said wryly, "I'm going to think a minute."

After a minute or two, another ex officio voting member of all House committees -- none other than Speaker Chris Benge -- entered the room and voted for the bill. Then Miller's vote sealed the deal, 6 to 5.

The New Hope bill now heads to the House floor to be considered sometime between April 14 and April 24.

Oklahoma's big recruiting advantage

Scott Moody and I explain it in today's Edmond Sun.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Educator-misconduct watch

A former Oklahoma public-school teacher has been given 30 days of jail time for the rape of a 17-year-old student, the Associated Press reported yesterday. You may recall that a 2004 U.S. Department of Education study found that one in 10 public school students is sexually harassed or abused by a teacher or other school employee at some point between kindergarten and 12th grade.

If at first you don't succeed ...

The New Hope Scholarship Act (SB 2093) didn't make it out of the House Appropriations & Budget Committee yesterday, but committee chairman Ken Miller will hear the bill again tomorrow at 1:30 in Room 432A of the state capitol building.

For pre-K choices

In a recent article in the Manchester (NH) Union-Leader ('Before Embracing Universal Pre-K, Lets Take a Look at the Research'), researchers Robert Holland and Don Soifer remind us that "major studies completed over the past few years show that there are significant downsides to government pre-K for all." They suggest pre-K choice instead, something I recommended a couple of years ago in The Oklahoman.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Jett lag

The New Hope Scholarship Act failed to make it out of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee this afternoon. Republicans Ken Miller, Tad Jones, Guy Liebmann, and Randy Terrill voted for the measure. Democrats John Auffet, John Carey, James Covey, and Joe Dorman voted against it, and they were joined by Republican Shane Jett.

The hearing was marked by (a) bureaucratic foot-dragging from an Oklahoma tax collector who, responding to questions from a legislator, pronounced the bill "problematic," "difficult," and "an administrative burden"; (b) repeated questions from Rep. Jett; and (c) laudable leadership by committee vice chairman Tad Jones, who did a good job explaining the bill and answering questions. In the end, credit goes to committee chairman Ken Miller who held the bill over for future consideration, hopefully soon.

Their reasoning escapes me

In recent debate over the New Hope Scholarship Act, state Sen. Kenneth Corn (D-Poteau) acknowledged that the bill would "allow some children to escape the problems of a failed school, if that is in fact what we want to call it." (Oh, let's go out on a limb and call it that. When only 11 percent of your black fourth-graders are proficient in reading, I think it's safe to say that constitutes failure.)

But if you'll look closely, you'll notice that the most telling word in Sen. Corn's sentence is the word "escape." And it's not the first time a union official or one of the union's captive politicians has used that particular word.

Keith Geiger, former president of the National Education Association, once admonished a school-choice proponent on Larry King’s radio show: "Quit talking about letting kids escape." Sandra Feldman, former president of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, once said the same thing: "The objective is to make the schools good –- not to escape them."

But of course the question is, "Whose objective?" We know the unions’ objective: Preserve jobs for the grown-ups. As longtime AFT boss Albert Shanker famously remarked, "When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children."

But what if parents have a different objective? If you have a third-grader who still hasn't been taught to read, you're probably looking for an escape hatch. If your eighth-grader is afraid to darken the door of her local school-free drug zone, the objective most assuredly is to escape.

For the unions and their politicians, the children are mere revenue units. And you better believe they can't allow any of them to escape.

Monday, April 7, 2008

'Because of their chains'

As the New Hope Scholarship Act continues to make its way through the Oklahoma state legislature, now's a good time to remember something former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige told a conference of black ministers back in 2001.

"We also need to give parents more options and choices," Secretary Paige said. "Children trapped in failing schools need a way out. They should have a chance at a quality education."

In Phillipians, the Apostle Paul says, "Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly." My friends, many of our children are trapped in failing schools. Because of their chains, let us speak for reform courageously and fearlessly. I hope their suffering will inspire us to push for real change of our public schools. We must attack courageously the status quo that has trapped some of our children in failing schools.

To do so, we need the support and commitment of the African-American community. These are our children being left behind. Now, the question we must ask ourselves is what are we going to do about it?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The real cost of education

Today in The Washington Post, our friend Andrew Coulson -- author of "Expanding Educational Freedom in Oklahoma," a chapter in OCPA's Oklahoma Policy Blueprint -- points out the real cost of public schools (something Steve Anderson and I have also done here).

Friday, April 4, 2008

New Hope legislation to be considered Tuesday

Senate Bill 2093, which creates the New Hope Scholarship Act, will be heard Tuesday, April 8 at 1:30 in the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. The meeting is in Room 432A of the state capitol building.

The audacity of New Hope: Oklahoma Democrats and school choice

On March 13 the Oklahoma Senate debated the New Hope Scholarship Act. The bill, SB 2093, provides a tax credit for taxpayers who contribute to organizations that provide private-school scholarships for low-income children attending failing schools in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

OCPA research fellow Pat McGuigan writes about the debate in the April issue of Perspective. You’ll want to read the entire article, but here are some highlights from the debate.

Each of the 24 Republicans in the Senate voted for the measure, but it was the debate among the Democrats which proved to be the most interesting.

State Sen. Jeff Rabon (D-Hugo) didn't like the bill because he said "it strikes me as giving up."

State Sen. Jay Paul Gumm (D-Durant) thinks it would "send up the white flag to abandon many for the benefit of a few."

State Sen. Kenneth Corn (D-Poteau) said that although the bill would "allow some children to escape the problems of a failed school, if that is in fact what we want to call it," it seems unfair that not everyone would be able to get out.

State Sen. Connie Johnson (D-Oklahoma City) asked why we would "want to take some of the kids out of the public schools and essentially leave the rest on the sinking ship."

Arguing in favor of the bill, state Sen. Tom Adelson (D-Tulsa) pronounced himself "embarrassed" by the "lofty and empty rhetoric" he had heard from his fellow Democrats. "If we're going to criticize we better have something ourselves," he said.

State Sen. Earl Garrison (D-Muskogee), a longtime public school educator, agreed. "If you've got a better way to do this, let's do it," he urged his fellow Democrats. "Let's just don't keep on playing politics with kids' lives."

State Sen. Judy Eason-McIntyre (D-Tulsa), a 16-year veteran of the Tulsa Public Schools board of education, said for years she has worked to get someone to "do something about these same schools that have gone on for years and years and years and nobody cared. ... I'm trying to get us to do what we need to do that nobody in a position of power has even said anything about."

State Sen. Andrew Rice (D-Oklahoma City) said for now he was "willing to work to go forward on this issue so kids can have these opportunities" because, although there are some great public schools, "we've got other schools that we've been telling [parents] for years and years and years that it's going to change. And I would not risk my child's education to say, 'Well, I'm going to make you stay in there because I'm committed to fixing the school, and the next thing you know they're in 7th grade, 8th grade, 9th grade and maybe the damage has been done. ... I wouldn't do that." He said that he and his wife happen to have the resources to take their own children out of a bad school if necessary. So "why should I turn to my constituents, especially my low-income constituents, and say they got to stay in there?"

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Saving taxpayers a small fortune

State lawmakers at 23rd and Lincoln are telling us the budget is tight this year. But consider how much worse it would be if private school parents and homeschoolers weren't saving taxpayers a small fortune.

According to newly released results from the feds' latest Private School Universe Survey, 29,899 students attend private elementary and secondary schools in Oklahoma. Informed estimates place the number of Oklahoma homeschoolers at 14,000 to 25,000.

So let's say there are 50,000 Oklahoma schoolchildren whose parents are paying for their education. What would happen if these 50,000 kids showed up at their local public school tomorrow morning? ("I'm here for my free education, please.") In order to maintain the current per-pupil expenditure of $7,419 (of which 52 percent is state money, 34 percent local and county, and 14 percent federal), politicians would have to come up with a few hundred million more dollars every year. And that's not counting construction costs. I've seen estimates of $15,000 to $35,000 per seat for a child in public school.

Taxpayers and policy-makers should be grateful to the many parents who are choosing to educate children on their own nickel.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Rescuing children 'one by one'

Some school-choice opponents in Oklahoma (see here, for example) are of the opinion that we shouldn't rescue any children from failing schools because some children would still be left behind. But speaking at an OCPA breakfast yesterday, author and columnist Star Parker compared the school-choice movement to the Underground Railroad, reminding her listeners that "Harriet Tubman was going one by one, getting them out."

'The sinking ship'

During recent floor debate on a bill which would empower some schoolchildren in failing public schools to attend private schools, state Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Okla. City) asked one of the most astonishing questions I've ever heard. "Why is it," she asked, "that we want to take some of the kids out of the public schools and essentially leave the rest on the sinking ship?"

Well, let's see. Not to put too fine a point on it, but maybe it's because the ship is, umm, sinking. And what you do when a ship is sinking is, well, you try to rescue people. I don't know. Maybe I'm old-fashioned.

Give Sen. Johnson credit for recognizing that the ship is sinking. News reports just yesterday reminded us that the graduation rate in the Oklahoma City School District is less than 50 percent. At Sen. Johnson's alma mater, Douglass High School, the average ACT score is 15.1. Only 7 percent of students there score "satisfactory" on the Algebra I end-of-instruction test. And on it goes.

Does Sen. Johnson honestly believe we should force every child to go down with the ship?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Georgia legislature approves tax breaks for private school scholarships

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the Georgia legislature today approved a significant school choice bill, sending it to Gov. Sonny Perdue (R-Ga.) for his consideration:

If Perdue signs the bill into law, private citizens and corporations could get income tax credits for donating money to non-profit scholarship organizations. Those organizations, in turn, would provide scholarships to parents who want to pull their children out of public schools and send them to private ones.

The scholarship tax credit bill is Georgia HB 1133.

Another school choice bill, Georgia SB 458, would provide private school scholarships for students in schools that lose their accreditation. The scholarship would be for the amount of state funding provided to the district for that student and would come out of that district's allotment. SB 458 has passed the Senate and was favorably reported out of the House Science and Technology Committee last Thursday.

'A coin toss'

Reporting on a new study by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, The Oklahoman informs us today that the graduation rate in the Oklahoma City School District is around 48 percent. The graduation rate in the Tulsa Public Schools is nearly 50 percent. The study concluded that "graduating from high school in the America's largest cities amounts, essentially, to a coin toss."