Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Public education = educating the public

"Public education is an end, not a means," Cato Institute scholar Dr. Adam Schaeffer reminds us. "For a democratic nation to thrive, its schools must prepare children not only for success in private life but for participation in public life. It must foster harmonious social relations among the disparate groups in our pluralistic society and ensure universal access to a quality education. Unfortunately, the American school system has long fallen short as a means of fulfilling these purposes."

How might we more effectively deliver on the promise of public education? "By ensuring that all families have the means to choose their children's schools from a diverse market of education providers. All education providers—government, religious, and secular—can contribute to public education because all can serve the public by educating children."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Americans view freedom as expendable ...

... because that's what they've been taught in the public schools.

Bullying a problem in Oklahoma schools

According to a report yesterday in The Oklahoman,
The Oklahoma Anti-Bullying Survey of 2005 asked 7,848 third-, fifth- and seventh-graders from 85 school districts about bullying. The survey found:
  • 33 percent said they had been involved in bullying.
  • 14 percent claimed to be a bullying victim.
  • 12 percent reported being a bully.
  •   7 percent said they had been a victim and a bully.
  • Nearly two-thirds of children who were frequently bullied and half of the children who had not been bullied wanted better adult supervision.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Good question

CNN analyst Roland S. Martin recounts a recent conversation he had on Air Force One with President Barack Obama. “Roland, I have no problem with vouchers if they help all children,” President Obama said.

Mr. Martin's reply: “Is the current system helping all children?”

Education reform done right

"Here's my proposal," P.J. O'Rourke writes in the current Weekly Standard cover story ("End Them, Don't Mend Them").
Close all the public schools. Send the kids home. Fire the teachers. Sell the buildings. Raze the U.S. Department of Education, leaving not one brick standing upon another and plow the land where it stood with salt. ...

Abandon the schools. Gather the kids together in groups of 15.4. Sit them down at your house, or the Moose Lodge, or the VFW Hall or—gasp—a church. Multiply 15.4 by $15,000. That's $231,000. Subtract a few grand for snacks and cleaning your carpet. What remains is a pay and benefit package of a quarter of a million dollars. Average 2008 public school classroom teacher salary: $51,391. For a quarter of a million dollars you could hire Aristotle. The kids wouldn't have band practice, but they'd have Aristotle.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Special delivery: Governor inks Lindsey's Law

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Some stories write themselves. This is one of those. Emily Deal lives in the MidTown area of Oklahoma City. She is the mother of three, one of them an autistic son.

State Sen. Patrick Anderson, an Enid Republican, told her story in a May 20 letter to Senate colleagues. When Emily went to enroll her son Jimi in the local public school two years back, she was told the only special education available to him was 30 minutes of group therapy once a week.

Deal "found a better alternative for her child," as Anderson recounted. Accessing that alternative has required her to borrow money, work long hours, and make countless sacrifices so her son can attend Villa Teresa School, run for more than a century by the Carmelite sisters.

Sister Veronica, the seemingly ageless nun who runs the school, told Anderson, "To look at Jimi you would never know him to be the same little person he was two years ago." And, "if you didn't know him, you would never know he has autism." He sang in a first grade program. In the Poetry Festival, he recited a poem by heart. Sister Veronica dares to dream: "Tomorrow, he may be a teacher, a lawyer, a minister or a doctor."

In a session with reporters early last month, Emily was disarming in her nervousness, confessing she is not accustomed to press conferences. She praised Villa: "My son went from being nonverbal to being able to progress in school and education." Imagine what his life might have been like without Villa Teresa.

Emily came to the Capitol to give heartfelt support for House Bill 3393, a measure Anderson carried in the Senate for state Rep. Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City. It creates special-needs scholarships for children like Jimi.

One reporter asked Emily, "What were your thoughts when you heard about this bill?" She answered, "I was ecstatic. It could provide me with a level of independence to provide adequately for my own children."

Strange Bedfellows

It turns out this is not about politics or normal assumptions. Emily Deal and Anastasia Pittman have, on most political issues, different views from those of Sally Kern and Jason Nelson. It also turns out that Pittman and Nelson-state representatives in opposite parties-had developed similar proposals in the months leading up to the 2010 legislative session.

Nelson invited Pittman to co-sponsor his bill. She let him take the lead in the Republican-dominated House, but no one at the Capitol doubts that her support, and that of Rep. Jabar Shumate of Tulsa, was pivotal. Joining the African-American Democrats were two other House Democrats, Rebecca Hamilton of Oklahoma City and Wade Rousselot of Wagoner.

Pittman told reporters, "This legislation is proactive. It will help keep good people here in Oklahoma. This legislation will raise the bar in education. It will make our school districts better, it will make our families stronger. This bill will bring better education and services for these children. Rep. Nelson and I started on this journey together, and we're going to end it together."

When they stood beside each other to support Nelson's bill, Kern and Pittman embraced and expressed their admiration for his indispensable leadership.

That assessment was borne out in final House debate on May 21, after some powerful public school superintendents, and the most powerful Oklahoma law firm in public education, Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold of Tulsa, ramped up rhetoric and attacks on the bill.

What the Bill Says

Nelson calmly countered distortions of the bill's contents. He explained to colleagues that the state Department of Education had reviewed the proposal, as had the governor's office, without serious objections. The bill incorporated state Superintendent Sandy Garrett's ideas on methodology for disbursements.

Specific provisions are drawn from disability rights activists and education officials. Scholarships can be used for "a private school of choice for students with disabilities for whom an individualized education program (IEP) in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has been developed."

Recipients can only be someone who "spent the prior school year in attendance at a public school," that is, a student "enrolled in and reported by a school district for funding purposes during the preceding school year."

Receiving schools are limited to institutions meeting "the accreditation requirements set by the State Board of Education or another accrediting association approved" by the board and that have reported to the department availability of grade levels for such students. The school must also demonstrate fiscal soundness or post a surety bond or letter of credit "for the amount equal to the scholarship funds."

Participating schools must meet antidiscrimination laws, and state and local health and safety codes. Teachers at the facilities must "hold baccalaureate or higher degrees, or have at least three years of teaching experience in public or private schools, or have special skills, knowledge, or expertise that qualifies them to provide instruction in subjects taught." Receiving schools must also comply "with all state laws relating to general regulation of private schools."

Scholarships will be provided to parents or legal guardians who "shall restrictively endorse the warrant" to a school. The maximum amount would be "for an eligible student with disabilities" and calculated "to the local and county revenue for the school district which is chargeable in the State Aid formula, state-dedicated revenue, and state-appropriated funds." The scholarship would be calculated each year by the state Board of Education.

The proposal allows five percent of the amount to be "retained by the school district as a fee for administrative services rendered." Public school districts would not be responsible for additional costs. Further, "No liability shall arise on the part of the state or school district based on the award or use of any scholarship provided."

Based on the law firm's talking points, opponents repeatedly asserted the exact opposite of the law's actual provisions. In closing comments, Nelson vented some anger and called on opponents to deal in "facts and documentation." He asserted, "Nearly every issue raised in today's debate has been addressed, documented, and answered in this bill. For goodness' sake, can't we stick to the facts?" As for potential litigation, "It is the other side's suggestions that would leave all the grounds for litigation in place. That is a fact."

Fifty Republicans joined the four Democrats, and the bill went on to the Senate.

Enid Student Lends Support

Just before they grappled with the bill, three days before adjournment, many senators had the opportunity to meet with Amanda LaMunyon, an Enid girl with Asperger's Syndrome (a form of autism). She supported the special-needs scholarship bill.

The 15-year-old girl is a constituent of state Sen. Anderson. "This bill won't help me because I've gone to private school. But I support it to give more opportunities and freedom of choice to other children," she said.

Amanda has lived her entire life in Enid. Her initial school experiences were not positive. She could, her mother remembers, "recite all the rules, but had trouble implementing them." Then, her condition was discerned. Amanda's gift for artistic expression, especially painting, was notable.

Today, Amanda is a vivacious young girl on her way to adulthood. She told me, "I have a disability. My message to others, and in support of this bill, is to not give up, to keep on keepin' on. You can turn a challenge into a gift."

Amanda loves show music, and recently portrayed "Gertie" in a school production of "Oklahoma!" One of her paintings, "Dream for Day After Day," is featured on a website promoting awareness of "autism spectrum disorders." She has become known not only for artistry but also for her speaking ability and advocacy.

Lindsey's Law

When the Senate debated H.B. 3393, Jay Paul Gumm of Durant pressed Anderson on beliefs among some foes that the program should be centrally controlled rather than allowing scholarships to be processed by and through local school districts. He argued for stricter oversight. Anderson responded that the measure incorporated the suggestions of state Superintendent Sandy Garrett and her staff.

Despite good words for Anderson, Gumm said the bill would "do maximum damage to public education, and a minimum number of people would be helped." Anderson said, "This legislation will not hurt public education; it will help children with special needs." He affirmed his status as "a product of public education," whose own children attend public schools.

The measure prevailed, 25-22, as 25 Republicans united to back the bill. One Republican joined 21 Democrats in opposition. Minority Leader Charlie Laster of Shawnee did not vote.

After the vote was declared but before senators moved to other business, Sen. Sean Burrage of Claremore, the father of a special-needs child and an opponent of the bill, walked over to shake Anderson's hand. Anderson glanced to his right, extending his hand to Gumm, who sits near him on the Senate floor. Gumm responded in kind.

Thus the legislative drama ended, and the bill advanced to Governor Brad Henry's desk. He signed it into law on June 8, 2010.

The bill will be known officially as the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act. In early May, Nelson and Anderson -- working with state Rep. Kris Steele and in caring consultation with the governor and his wife, Kim -- had named the measure for a baby girl who, 20 years ago, died at the age of seven months.

Lindsey was lost to a rare disabling illness. She passed from this world into the next while resting in the arms of her heartbroken father, a politician from Shawnee who went on to become a governor known for passionate commitment to education.

In honoring her memory, the people of Oklahoma honor themselves.

We'll call it Lindsey's Law.

Patrick B. McGuigan is editor of CapitolBeatOK. This article appears in the June 2010 issue of Perspective, published by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Window of opportunity

Glenn Beck is out with a new novel today, a thriller called The Overton Window. The book's title traces to a concept developed by the late Joseph Overton of the Mackinac Center, a free-market think tank in Michigan. My friend Joe Lehman, Mackinac's president, explains:
Joe shared his abstract concept with me in the mid-1990s. He observed that any collection of public policies within a policy area, such as education, can be arranged in order from more free to less free (or from less government intervention to more). To avoid comparison with the left-right political spectrum, he arranged the policies from bottom (less free) to top (more free).

At any one time, some group of adjacent policies along the freedom spectrum fall into a "window of political possibility." Policies inside the window are politically acceptable, meaning officeholders believe they can support the policies and survive the next election. Policies outside the window, either higher or lower, are politically unacceptable at the moment. If you shift the position or size of the window, you change what is politically possible.

Click here to learn more about this model of policy change, and use the interactive gadget to conceptualize what's politically possible. Where do you think we are today in Oklahoma with regard to educational freedom? One thing's for sure, we're further along today than we were last month.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Why not let the money follow the child?

According to a national organization highly trusted and frequently cited by our friends at the Tulsa World, Oklahoma's K-12 spending per pupil for the 2008-09 school year was $8,814. (The real cost is actually $10,257 per pupil, but for the sake of argument let's go with the $8,814 figure.) Given that high cost, it was very interesting to see this chart in today's Tulsa World. As you can see, $8,814 can buy Oklahoma parents quite a bit in the educational marketplace. Don't be surprised if parents start getting ideas ...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

So don't be surprised to see more school-choice laws

Of all people, the Darwinists running the public school system should realize that since the universe is evolving in unpredictable ways, no established legal order is permanent.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Government shouldn't be in the driver's seat

"Driver's education has changed from a state-funded program in public schools to a largely privatized system that can cost parents hundreds," The Oklahoman reported June 4. 

Duane Brown, 45, was a driver's education instructor for Edmond Public Schools in 1993 when his program was dropped from the school. "It started getting taken out of schools, and to be honest, I didn't think that the private sector could do it," Brown said. In 1996, he opened Brown's Driving School, and proved himself wrong. "We put kids one-on-one in the car with an instructor,” Brown said. "In the past that never happened. This business just took off." 

What a concept. Parents taking responsibility for their own children, and participating in a free-enterprise system that matches buyers and sellers. Something I urged way back in 1998 when a reporter for The Oklahoman interviewed me for a story about a push to increase driver's ed in the schools.

"If the Yellow Pages are any indication, the market seems to be taking care of driving instruction quite nicely," Dutcher said. "Schools need to devote their time and money to imparting core knowledge. Before rushing to spend more taxpayer money, legislators should do some checking -- will public school driving instructors outperform professionals in the private sector who do it full-time? Does public school driver's ed measure up to private driving instruction?"

It's good to know driver's ed is largely privatized (though I would have settled for voucherized). Now on to math, science, history ...

Goring the taxpayers?

The superintendent of the Gore school district sounds like a fine man who's trying to right the ship, but should he be earning nearly $156,000 to oversee a school district with fewer than 600 students?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

American Federation for Teachers Children salutes governor, legislators

Oklahoma has sided with special-needs children over special-interest adults. Plenty of the adults are unhappy about it, but the American Federation for Children is pleased:
“We salute Governor Henry for his leadership in enacting this transformational new program, and we congratulate the bipartisan team of Oklahoma legislators who worked together and put politics aside for the sake of helping children with special needs.”

Superintendent candidates offer clear choice on choice

Gov. Brad Henry yesterday signed legislation which will provide scholarships to special-needs students in Oklahoma. With regard to these special-needs scholarships, it's interesting to note the contrasting positions of the two candidates for state school superintendent.

The Democratic candidate, state Sen. Susan Paddack of Ada, voted against the bill. The Republican candidate, Dr. Janet Barresi of Edmond, yesterday released a statement supporting the legislation:
“House Bill 3393 gives the parents of special-needs children greater control over their children’s education and, as a result, gives those children greater opportunities throughout their lives,” said Barresi, who helped launch two public charter schools that serve both traditional students and those on individualized education programs (IEPs). “All those who supported this important law, both Democrat and Republican, are to be commended, but state Representative Jason Nelson deserves an extra heaping of praise. This year he was a tireless and forceful advocate for the children and parents who are too often overlooked by the system.”

House Bill 3393, by Nelson and State Sen. Patrick Anderson, would allow students with disabilities who have an IEP to qualify for a scholarship to attend any private school that meets the accreditation requirements of the State Board of Education. The scholarship program does not require new spending, but merely redirects existing state funds that are currently spent on the student.

“Like many important reforms, this law was opposed by the defenders of the status quo,” Barresi said. “But I believe those opposing House Bill 3393 have forgotten the true goal of our public education system -- to provide all children, no matter what their circumstances, with a quality education that allows them to become productive citizens as adults. House Bill 3393 accomplishes that goal. As State Superintendent, my mission will be to continue empowering parents and improving the lives of all Oklahoma children.”

Governor inks special-needs bill

Hats off to Governor Brad Henry, who yesterday signed into law the most important bill of the entire 2010 legislative session. The House press release is below, and a video is here. (For the record, the House roll call is here, and the Senate roll call is here.)
OKLAHOMA CITY (June 8, 2010) -- Supporters praised Gov. Brad Henry today for signing a bill providing scholarships to special needs students.

"This is a great day for Oklahoma families with special needs children," said state Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. "For those families, this bill is a chance at a better education and a better life."

House Bill 3393, by Nelson and state Sen. Patrick Anderson, would allow students with disabilities who have an individualized education program (IEP) to qualify for a scholarship to attend any public or private school that meets the accreditation requirements of the State Board of Education.

The legislation had strong support from many families of children with autism.

The legislation has been named the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act to honor the memory of the governor's daughter, who died of a rare neuromuscular disease as an infant.

"We are very honored that Governor and Mrs. Henry have allowed us to name this important piece of legislation after their daughter who passed away at seven months of age," said Wanda Felty, parent of a child with multiple disabilities. "The simple fact is there is often an unspoken bond among parents of special needs children, and although Lindsey Nicole's life was short, she helped shape the type of people the Henrys are. We appreciate their compassion and understanding of our plight, and we certainly appreciate the Governor’s support of this bill."

"We want to make it clear, neither the Governor, nor his wife, nor his staff, nor anyone connected to him asked for this change. Instead it was suggested to him as a way to honor the memory of his daughter and let it be known for generations to come that she, and her parents, are helping to improve the lives of special needs children across the state," said state House Speaker Pro Tempore Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. "Especially given that this program was passed in the waning days of the last legislative session of Governor Henry's tenure, we think this action is both appropriate and warranted. We are pleased that Representative Nelson agreed to amend his Conference Committee Report to include this change."

Lindsey Nicole was the twin of the Henrys' oldest daughter, Leah. Lindsey died at seven months of age due to complications from a rare genetic disorder.

The scholarship program created through House Bill 3393 would not require new spending, but would merely redirect existing state funds that are currently spent on the student.

Other states with similar laws include Florida, Georgia, Utah, Ohio, and Arizona. The Florida program has been in place since 1999 and now serves approximately 20,000 students with special needs. House Bill 3393 closely mirrors the Florida and Georgia laws.

"Having visited with many families of special-needs students, I know how important this legislation is to ensuring they are able to provide the best future possible for their children," said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. "It is only fitting that we honor the Henrys and Lindsey Nicole as part of this process to show that even the worst moments of our lives can have positive repercussions. I appreciate the governor's support and this opportunity to honor his daughter."

To better understand the importance of this law, here is a brief video telling the story of a special-needs student in Arizona.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Democrat state Senator Jim Wilson's hometown paper reports that on Friday
Wilson said too many teachers in the state's education system do it simply to make a living, not necessarily because they are passionate about educating young people.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Running up the score

At 18 to 0, this is getting a little embarrassing. That's 18 studies finding school choice improves public schools to zero finding that school choice hurts public schools.

Education lottery coming to Oklahoma

[Guest post by OCPA intern David Griffin]

No, not that one. I’m talking about a movie called The Lottery, which will be showing this Tuesday, June 8 at 7:30 PM in Oklahoma City (Bricktown 16) and Tulsa (Starworld 20). The Lottery follows four families in inner city New York, each seeking a better chance for educational success. This is a gripping documentary detailing the often emotional battle for school choice. To see a trailer or to find out more, click here.

Bring your family and friends, grab a bag of popcorn, and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Union schtick wearing thin

Members of Oklahoma's education establishment -- especially those pushing hard for the proposed State Question 744 -- might want to consider a new blog post by Rick Hess ("How to Lose Friends and Alienate People"). Hess writes:
The AFT and NEA might want to start rethinking their "we're special and should be protected from budget cuts because we're there for the kids" strategy. ... The unions might want to think about the risks of misplaying their hand and whether that will cost them crucial goodwill as states wrestle with tough budget choices in 2011 and beyond.