Sunday, May 29, 2011

'Race to the cradle'

Arne Duncan, Kathleen Sebelius, Joe Biden and others are really, really concerned about your infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Sebelius, like a character straight out of dystopian fiction -- or, now that I think of it, perhaps it's The Onion -- is mystified that five-year-olds just won't sit still.

As I never tire of repeating, parents (aka "early childhood educators") deserve the fullest possible array of choices.

'Irreversible historic shifts, not temporal reforms'

In an important speech, Rupert Murdoch recently pointed out that the digital future is already here.

What we're seeing now "is not like other reforms," Tom Vander Ark adds.
It's a phase-shift, not a reform. It’s a shift from print to digital and from groups to individual students. These shifts are irreversible historic shifts, not temporal reforms.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Big school-choice proposal being considered in Texas

"Texas is going through a painful reduction of state aid to local schools," John Fund reports, "but an innovative proposal could solve the problem without hiking up taxes."

New Oklahoma law neuters rogue officials

State Rep. Jason Nelson says he has been "stunned by the contempt some school districts have shown toward the [special-needs scholarships] law and these children."
I'm told by parents that some local districts, in addition to ignoring the new law, are attempting to ignore existing transfer laws in order to deny scholarships to eligible students and have resorted to telling parents that the scholarships are taxable, hoping that will keep them from participating in the program. House Bill 1744 will ensure rogue officials don’t continue to cause problems for these students and their parents.

Sorry about that, Dr. Wallace.

'School choice is the new normal'

Instead of funding school buildings, a Heritage Foundation blogger writes, we're starting to fund students.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hey, school choice opponents: Where's the beef?

My compadre Matt Ladner is happy to produce multiple random-assignment studies showing academic gains associated with private school choice programs.

If anyone can provide merely two random-assignment studies showing academic harm resulting from private school choice programs, he will happily buy you a steak dinner.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Which is why she supports school-choice tax credits

She was formerly an "angry activist" involved with the Black Panthers and seeking inspiration from Malcolm X and Angela Davis. Today, liberal state Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, a longtime social worker and Tulsa school board member, is "still active in the state's civil rights movement."

Monday, May 23, 2011

What's hot in school reform?

Taxpayer savings grants.

'San Miguel school puts kids on college track'

The Tulsa World's Sara Plummer reports.

Deep thoughts at WaPo

"Liberals love to gripe about military spending," The Weekly Standard notes.
Just last week, Washington Post managing editor Raju Narisetti actually wrote on his Twitter account: "Thought encounter of the day: 'Would be good if our schools are fully funded and DoD has to hold a bake sale to buy its next fighter jet.'" It would also be good if, à la Red Dawn, a ragtag band of plucky high school kids could drive an invading army out of Colorado—Wolverines!—but we'd best keep a few aircraft carriers around just in case. Considering that America's worst school districts tend to be some of the best funded, Narisetti might consider this sentiment not so much a "thought" as an encounter with a bumper sticker likely to be found on a ’76 Volvo wagon.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chamber boosts reform efforts

A few years ago in Perspective, economist and Wall Street Journal editorial writer Stephen Moore explained why many chambers of commerce often act as lobbyists for bigger government ("Liberalism's Echo Chambers"). In a sidebar article, I shed some additional light on the subject by listing many of the tax consumers which populate Chamber of Commerce membership rolls in Oklahoma.

But let's give credit where credit is due. Whereas three big chambers of commerce in Tennessee recently joined forces with the teacher unions to kill school vouchers, the State Chamber of Oklahoma has in fact been very helpful in the area of education reform, including school choice.

Last year the State Chamber teamed up with several organizations (including OCPA) to host an Oklahoma City screening of the powerful documentary Waiting for 'Superman.' State Chamber president Fred Morgan even took to the pages of The Oklahoman:

The U.S. Chamber and The State Chamber have been working to shake up K-12 education so that every child is prepared for higher education or productive careers. We continue to advocate for common-sense reforms including greater accountability and innovation in schools, recognizing and rewarding effective teachers and principals who improve student achievement, and expanding educational options for all students.

Regarding those educational options, last year the Chamber came through with support for HB 3393, the special-needs scholarship bill (ultimately signed into law). And this year the Chamber supported SB 969, the opportunity scholarship bill (also signed into law).

Four months ago in The Oklahoman, I made the case that we're beyond the point where tinkering is going to do much good. Bold action is required. So naturally I was pleased last month when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce released a report entitled The Case for Being Bold: A New Agenda for Business in Improving STEM Education. The Chamber report touches on many of the same themes addressed in a forthcoming OCPA report on digital learning.

Cato scholar raps Associated Press

Andrew J. Coulson explains to reporters that donations are not "state money."

Monday, May 16, 2011

For preschool choices

Universal government preschool is a policy beloved of utopian visionaries and Western Europeans, but one which conservatives should oppose on fiscal and even more serious grounds. Unsurprisingly, leading conservatives (Heritage Foundation, Eagle Forum) and libertarians (Cato Institute, Reason Foundation) do in fact oppose it.

Oklahoma has an opportunity to take a tiny step (but a step nonetheless) in the right direction this year with legislation carried by state Rep. Dennis Johnson (R-Duncan) and state Sen. Clark Jolley (R-Edmond) which would require children to be a tad more mature before entering preschool. Unfortunately, despite overwhelming support in the Legislature (45-0 in the Senate, 78-16 in the House), it appears the bill could actually be killed this year. This is surprising, and very disappointing.

In any case, as I argued five years ago in The Oklahoman ("Common ground on preschool?"), if our public policy is to institutionalize small children, then parents should be empowered with more optionsa view endorsed two years ago in Oklahoma City by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman. Certain Oklahoma four-year-old already have school choice (special-needs scholarships and opportunity scholarships), but these options need to be expanded significantly (like this, for example, and this).

If we're going to have universal preschool, we deserve universal preschool choice.

Fallin signs school-choice measure

Senate Bill 969 is now law. To paraphrase Vice President Joe Biden, this is a big deal.

Wherein I request a correction from the Associated Press

Here’s an e-mail I sent on May 10 to the Associated Press bureau chief in Oklahoma City.
I write to request a correction.
In a story posted May 5 ("Oklahoma Senate gives final OK to authorize tax credits for private school scholarship programs"), the AP reported: "Critics of the plan questioned why state money is being used to subsidize scholarships to send students to private schools." Because your reporter wrote "state money”—rather than "what they describe as state money"—the reader is left with the impression that the AP believes state money is involved. But in fact, state money is not involved.

As it happens, just last month the Supreme Court of the United States answered this very question. In Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn et al, the Court considered an Arizona law very similar to the Oklahoma measure. Regarding the argument that a tax credit is best understood as a governmental expenditure, the Court said quite succinctly: "That is incorrect."

The Court went on to say [emphasis mine]: "When Arizona taxpayers choose to contribute to STOs, they spend their own money, not money the State has collected from respondents or from other taxpayers. ... [C]ontributions result from the decisions of private taxpayers regarding their own funds. ...

"Like contributions that lead to charitable tax deductions, contributions yielding STO tax credits are not owed to the State and, in fact, pass directly from taxpayers to private organizations. Respondents’ contrary position assumes that income should be treated as if it were government property even if it has not come into the tax collector’s hands. That premise finds no basis in standing jurisprudence. Private bank accounts cannot be equated with the Arizona State Treasury."

I respectfully ask you to issue a correction. Thank you for your consideration of this request,
Brandon Dutcher
Vice President for Policy
Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs
1401 N. Lincoln Blvd.
Oklahoma City, OK 73104
I have yet to hear back from the AP—it’s possible they’re still grumpy that I publicized their ties to Soros-funded nonprofits—but I remain hopeful. Stay tuned.

UPDATE:  It's February 1, 2013, and I have to confess I'm starting to lose hope. This despite the fact that Andrew Coulson says the standards editor of the Associated Press "ultimately agreed that it was a misrepresentation for journalists to call these private donations 'public money.'" Here's hoping the AP folks in Oklahoma will take note.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Whack-the-school party

The hostility toward Oklahoma's public education system—and from top party officials, no less!—has really gotten out of hand.

First the Tulsa County Democratic Party elects a chairman who just voted for one of the most important school-choice measures in Oklahoma history. And now the Oklahoma Democratic Party elects a state chairman who once confessed: "I'm only a public school graduate so I'm not very literate."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Oklahoma’s early-education enthusiasm is nothing new

Today marks the 240th anniversary of the birth of Robert Owen, the wealthy industrialist and philanthropist who was one of the founders of socialism.

Owen was “an environmental determinist,” scholar Donald Pitzer explained the PBS documentary “Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism.” One of socialism’s fundamental ideas is that it's possible to mold human character—but it’s essential to get the children while they’re young. Owen created the first preschool in the United Kingdom, and early-childhood education was a key part of his failed socialist experiment at New Harmony, Indiana. As Joshua Muravchik writes in the book on which the PBS documentary is based, “the most remarkable aspect of Owen’s system was the age at which the schooling began—at one year old or as soon as the children were able to walk.”

But of course there’s nothing new under the sun. As historian Allan Carlson reminds us (“French Preschool Wrong for Oklahoma”), “the utopian allure of group care for small children is a recurring theme in human history.”
Writing in the 4th century B.C., the Greek philosopher Plato laid out a vision of a society built on collective childrearing in his dialogue, Republic. "Friends share," the philosopher reasoned, which meant that "all the women are to be shared among all the men. And that the children are also to be shared with no parent knowing which child is his, or the child knowing his parents." These children would be placed in collective nurseries and schools, to be cared for and taught by persons "who live in a separate section of the community." The parents would be freed up to pursue other tasks; the children would gain their early education from specialists.
This enthusiasm for surrogate parenting turns up again and again throughout history, voiced by various progressives, feminists, socialists, and others who dismiss mothers as mere "amateurs"—thinking it to be a term of derision but perhaps unaware that the word traces to the Latin amāre (“to love”), and that amateurs are those whose actions are motivated by love rather than money. As a very wise man once said in another context, the hireling doesn't care for the sheep like the shepherd does.

A six-week-old baby girl
Here in Oklahoma, our state constitution originally required compulsory school attendance for children "between the ages of eight and sixteen years, for at least three months in the year." The legislature later expanded the school year and lowered the age to seven, then to five. Today, an astonishing 71 percent of Oklahoma’s four-year-olds are in state prekindergarten and, incredibly, 2,325 three-year-olds were in pre-K classrooms last year. Moreover, in a development even The Onion would deem too outlandish to chronicle, the Jenks Public Schools are happy to enroll your six-week-old student (6:30 AM to 6:00 PM if you like) in an "education" program whose "curriculum" encourages "language enrichment" and "problem solving." (As an added bonus, Jenks is quick to boast that "baby's gums are gently wiped with a clean washcloth after feeding" and that the schoolteachers do take precautionary measures to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.) One is reminded of the fire captain’s remark in Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451: “We’ve lowered the kindergarten age year after year until now we’re almost snatching them from the cradle.”

Robert Owen has come and gone, but his pernicious ideas persist. As recently as yesterday, one writer at a socialist website laid out a vision for America: "A community of caring, kindness, equality, and solidarity will become the dominant reality of daily life. It will encourage new social arrangements to care for the very young (free, quality child care) and the very old."

Regrettably, many people in Oklahoma embrace that vision. Many are true believers, while others are simply hirelings with a vested economic interest in keeping Owen's early-education ideas alive.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Former OKC public school superintendent favors tax-credit scholarship program, 'without question'

Some members of the Oklahoma Legislature recently voiced opposition to a proposed opportunity-scholarship program on the grounds that the scholarship (up to $5,000) won't be enough to pay tuition at some schools. That's true, it won't. But it will be enough to pay tuition at other schools. As Patrick McGuigan wrote two years ago in Perspective,
Betty Mason, public school educator for decades and former superintendent of the Oklahoma City public school system, is spending her "retirement" years as superintendent of St. John Christian Heritage Academy. The private school sits on the north side of the beautiful campus of St. John Missionary Baptist Church, high on a hill east of N. Kelley Avenue on Oklahoma City's east side. ... Thanks to the generosity of Rev. Jemison [see video clip below] and his parishioners, the tuition at St. John Christian Heritage Academy is kept at $3,000 a year (with a $500 discount for members of the church). But that comparatively affordable amount is far beyond the means of many who live in and around the east side of the city. ...

Mason told me, "I would be very much in favor of [an opportunity-scholarship program]. Many youngsters who could benefit cannot afford it at this time. I have in mind right now a mother who had her child in our school in the fall. She lost her job and just can't afford to keep her child here. That would be exactly the first person we would help with a program like that.

"There are so many out there in our community. These are hard times, with parents losing jobs. We have some come here that we do not even know, seeking a better school for their children.

"I am for a program like that, without question. I know that we could make that work, and make it real for our children. We have 110 students right now. If that program existed, we could help another 90 children get the kind of education we are offering here."

Transformational student-centered reform

"Education savings accounts have the potential to fundamentally transform the K-12 school system into a way of delivering an education that's tailored to the needs and abilities of every child," Clint Bolick writes. "Education savings accounts reorient the government's role from directly providing educational services to funding services wherever the family deems best."

Woodrow Wilson, homeschool dad

Finally, something to like about him.

Rethinking the provision of education

Just because government has decided to provide education doesn't mean government has to produce all of it, says OCPA's Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wherein a black minister invokes Malcolm X to argue for school choice

"We must assure that our children get a quality education," says Rev. Reginald Jackson, "and, as Malcolm X said, by any means necessary."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mom says daughter being bullied daily

"Parents of a Moore elementary student are fighting to have their child participate in the 6th grade graduation ceremony," News9's Jennifer Pierce reports.
Daphne Thomas had to take her daughter out of Plaza Towers Elementary four weeks before school was out because she said she was being bullied on a daily basis. ...

Thomas has been told by district officials that her daughter is not allowed to go through the graduation ceremony but would not give her a reason why.

News 9 contacted the Moore Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent over primary schools. Neither have returned calls.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Cartel being shown in Tulsa; leading reformers to discuss

Our friends at Americans for Prosperity, in conjunction with The Foundation for Educational Choice and The USA Patriots, are showing The Cartel later this month in Tulsa.

Think we don't have these sorts of problems in Oklahoma? Think again. Then come to the Hilton Tulsa Southern Hills (7902 S. Lewis) on Thursday, May 26 at 6:00 PM. The cost is $10 per person and includes a catered Italian-style meal. What's more, after the film an all-star discussion panel will field your questions and comments. Panelists include Oklahoma state Superintendent Janet Barresi, Foundation for Educational Choice executive Leslie Hiner, OCPA president Michael Carnuccio, state Senator Dan Newberry (R-Tulsa), and state Rep. Jabar Shumate (D-Tulsa).

To RVSP, contact Justin Wilmeth at 405-202-9945 or

'This is not a problem with an infinite time frame to fix'

"It's easy for the union members ... sending their kids to some of the best schools in New Jersey to pontificate about how those [other] children should wait until the schools improve in their neighborhood. I have a daughter in the second grade right now, our youngest. She's only got one year in the second grade. How long are we going to make her wait? To third or fourth or fifth? When she's so far behind she has no hope of ever catching up? This is not a problem with an infinite time frame to fix. Every year we don't fix it we're losing more children. Irretrievable in many instances. So I'm for choice not as the solution to the problem in public schools but as a building block."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, speaking at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, April 29, 2011

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Florida to reconsider KKK-inspired Blaine Amendment

In a development that could have implications for Oklahoma, the voters of Florida soon will have an opportunity to vote to repeal the state's Blaine Amendment, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty reports.
Florida's Blaine Amendment is part of the Florida Constitution that originated in 19th-century anti-Catholic and Ku Klux Klan sentiment. Recently anti-religion groups have sued under the Blaine Amendment to stop government from contracting with organizations such as halfway houses and soup kitchens to provide secular services—solely because they are religiously affiliated. If the voters repeal Florida’s Blaine Amendment, a wave of Blaine repeals in other states has been predicted.

Representatives Scott Plakon (District 37) and Stephen Precourt (District 41) sponsored the measure in the Florida House of Representatives, and Senator Thad Altman (District 24) sponsored the measure in the Florida Senate. Meir Katz, Legal Fellow at the Becket Fund and a national expert on Blaine Amendments, testified before a Florida legislative committee on the bill and offered expert assistance to legislators throughout the legislative process.

"This language is clearly bigoted in its origin, discriminatory on its face, and increasingly problematic in its application," said Representative Plakon. "Adopted alongside the racist separate-but-equal doctrine in the 1885 Constitution, it's time that the people of Florida be given the opportunity to remove this stain upon our state's history, which has gone from discriminating against one religious denomination to all people of faith. Our guaranteed freedom of religion, as envisioned by the founding fathers, must be protected from those who wish to impose a 'freedom from religion' standard."

"Florida voters are finally getting a chance to repudiate an ugly part of their past and promote religious liberty today," said Eric Rassbach, the Becket Fund's National Litigation Director. "Florida’s Blaine Amendment doesn't just have a nasty history. It has also been used repeatedly by hyper-secularists like the Council for Secular Humanism to discriminate against religious people. It is wonderful that the Sunshine State is leading the way on this important civil rights issue."

"I think this is the beginning of a movement," said Katz. "Other states have expressed interest in eliminating these bigoted provisions and will now be able to follow Florida's lead,' he added. Florida's voters will be asked whether to approve the Blaine repeal measure at the ballot box during the 2012 election season.

Mr. Katz, a native of Florida, noted that "Floridians are smart and will identify this for what it is: an attempt to right a wrong inspired by an overzealous bigot named Senator James G. Blaine. It is, at its heart, a nondiscrimination provision. It does not affect public education. It does not undermine separation of church and state—it explicitly supports separation of church and state. Rather, it ensures that religious organizations and people will be treated on the same terms as everyone else and not be discriminated against on the basis of their religious identity."

In one example of a Blaine Amendment lawsuit, the New York-based Council for Secular Humanism sued the state of Florida in 2007 to prevent it from funding religiously affiliated halfway houses that provided drug rehab assistance to recent parolees. The Council argues that because the organizations are religious, the Blaine Amendment bars their access to funding. The Becket Fund represents the two halfway houses. Litigation is ongoing and information about the case is available here. Blaine Amendment repeal would end the case and ensure that the halfway houses are able to continue to provide valuable services to their clients and lower the chances that parolees commit crimes again.

Friday, May 6, 2011

'You don't do this to human beings'

State Rep. Rebecca Hamilton (D-Oklahoma City) has been trying to rescue children for several years now. Her recent remarks regarding SB 969 were quite moving.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Scholarship tax-credit bill headed to governor's desk

CapitolBeatOK has the story.

Intramural debate on Indiana voucher bill

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has signed into law a historic voucher bill, but Cato's Adam Schaeffer says it's a defeat for educational freedom.

Edu-reactionaries stuck in wrong century

"We don't need reformwe need more money for an antiquated monopoly."

I'm sure state representatives Emily Virgin, Steve Kouplen, and Mike Brown mean well. I just don't think they have any clue where education policy is headed.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Religious liberty case under way

"Twenty Tulsa-area parents are suing Broken Arrow, Union, Jenks and Tulsa public school districts for refusing to provide scholarships to their special needs children to attend private schools," the Tulsa World reported.
Eric Rassbach, the Becket Fund's national litigation director, said, "These school districts put the 'heartless' in 'heartless bureaucrat.' What kind of public servant holds special needs kids hostage to shore up the school district budget? Are these children supposed to be bullied every day so Jenks Public Schools can hold on to a few extra dollars?"

I suspect these rogue school districts aren't thrilled with having to defend a shameful provision like this, but hey, whatever it takes. Be sure to keep up with the case here.

Sand Springs considers charter, online schools

"Sand Springs school officials are looking at two teaching options that have changed traditional educational practices in other districts and across the nation," Paul Waldschmidt reports.

Oklahoma 6-year-old allegedly assaulted by teenagers on school bus

"Police are investigating an alleged incident where a 6-year-old girl was beat up on her school bus," News9 reports.
A girl who was on the bus said two teens hit the 6-year-old girl on the bus. She also said the bus driver didn't tell the school principal about the incident for days and no action was ever taken.

Police opened an investigation after getting a phone call from parents.

Police won't release many details about the incident but said this wasn't the first incident they've dealt with.

"I'm saying there's too many instances in my opinion that the police department is called in when the school should be handling these matters," said Maud Police Chief James Bottoms.

Maud police responded to an unrelated assault Tuesday at Maud High School.

School officials could not be reached for comment.

Grocery school

"Suppose that we were supplied with groceries," writes economist Don Boudreaux, "in same way that we are supplied with K-12 education."

School vouchers work

And Mr. Obama knows it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Monday, May 2, 2011

Urban dwellers for school choice

A month ago in The Journal Record, Republican urban dweller Andrew Spiropoulos said school choice is good for cities.

Today in The Wall Street Journal, Democratic urban dweller John Norquist says the same thing.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Opportunity scholarships to help low-income families and rural schools

"Choice matters in education," state Superintendent Janet Barresi writes in her weekly column. "Without it, Oklahoma is merely tinkering around the edges of true education reform."
When families find their children stuck in failing schools, shouldn’t they have a choice? Of course. Educational choice spurs competition, and competition spurs excellence.

This week we moved closer to offering parents educational choice with a key plank in our 3R Agenda to rethink, restructure and reform Oklahoma’s education system. On April 26, the Oklahoma House passed Senate Bill 969, the Opportunity Scholarship Act, by a vote of 64 to 33. The bill now goes to the State Senate for final passage before heading to the governor.

This landmark reform helps underprivileged children in low-income families out of desperate circumstances. And it will also benefit new programs in public schools.

I thought State Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, a Democrat from Oklahoma City, expressed it well when she spoke in favor SB 969. She talked about the difficult situations she has seen in schools in her district.
"I represent children … who go to schools that are essentially factories," Hamilton said. "Those schools not only do not provide them with the kind of education they need to have a future, they destroy their souls while they are at it." ...

The bill would offer a 50 percent state income tax credit for businesses and individuals contributing to scholarship-granting organizations.

Those organizations would then provide tuition scholarships to children in low-income families or for parents of children in failing schools. The funds that come from the tax credits would also be used to finance grants for new programs in rural public schools.

One such program has been operating successfully in Pennsylvania for years, and there are 15 other states with similar offerings. It’s time for Oklahoma to join in this reform movement.

Senate Bill 969 is no silver bullet to solve all of the educational challenges we face in Oklahoma. But it is a good place to start, and it is a win-win reform — taxpayers win, families win, schools win. Most of all, children win. With this reform we can give low-income families better options and help rural schools at the same time.

Let’s empower parents so they can make the best decisions about their child's needs without being limited by income or a zip code.

The politics of school choice in Oklahoma

Over at CapitolBeatOK, Pat McGuigan reports on the urban-rural coalition that pushed through Oklahoma's latest school-choice measure. Forward-looking conservatives are really starting to step up, while the edu-reactionaries remain stuck in the last century. (I don't think they've gotten the memo that public education is being redefined.)

Homeschooled documentarian wins C-SPAN contest

Students from grades six to 12 entered 1,069 films in C-SPAN's StudentCam contest, Andrew Kenney reports. The winner? "A C-SPAN-watching, robot-building eighth-grader who tends to speak in polished paragraphs."

The Cary, North Carolina homeschooler is interviewed on C-SPAN here.