Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Thanks to these policymakers, the Henry scholarship program is now changing lives

Five years ago, Oklahoma enacted the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program for Children with Disabilities, a school voucher program which diverts public money to private schools in order to help children whose educational needs are not being met in their public school.

Many people deserve credit for the law's passage, chiefly state Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City) and state Sen. Patrick Anderson (R-Enid). But as we mark the fifth year of this innovative program which is rescuing children, it's worth remembering some of the other folks — indeed, some of the biggest boosters of our traditional public-school system — who helped make the Henry scholarship program a reality.

Former Gov. Brad Henry himself is, of course, at the top of that list. But I also think of state Rep. Lee Denney (R-Cushing), who is now Speaker Pro Tempore of the Oklahoma House. Certainly no one doubts Rep. Denney's commitment to public education: the author of a proposal to massively increase education funding, in each of the last two years she was a featured speaker at the big education rally at the state capitol. And yet in 2010 she voted for the Henry scholarship program.

So did state Rep. Todd Thomsen (R-Ada), another friend of public education. He too fights for increased education funding for schools. And let's not forget state Rep. Earl Sears (R-Bartlesville), who is now chairman of the powerful House Appropriations and Budget Committee. A longtime public school principal (not to mention my wife's junior-high woodshop teacher), no one doubts his commitment to public education. And yet, if it weren't for Earl Sears, Oklahoma would not have enacted a voucher program in 2010.

So hats off to these policymakers, and indeed to all who voted for the Henry scholarship legislation five years ago (House Speaker Jeff Hickman is another). The program is changing lives. Thanks to the Henry scholarships, some children are no longer suicidal. Others are being transformed in spectacular ways. And others are able to attend a school which provides them a Christ-centered education. It is truly a program worth celebrating.

Rally organizers overpromise, underdeliver

"Organizers of Monday's rally hope as many as 50,000 will attend ..."
— The Associated Press, March 30, 2015

"More than 7,000 educators, parents and schoolchildren rallied at the state Capitol on Monday ..."
— The Associated Press, later that day

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Profits in public education

Some defenders of Oklahoma's monopoly school system don't like public charter schools, and they really don't like (trigger warning!) "for-profit" charter schools. Something about the Koch brothers dispatching their evil minions to an ALEC meeting to club baby seals and privatize education for rapacious gain. In reality, however, only 10 to 15 percent of charter schools nationwide hire a for-profit entity to manage certain aspects of the school. The number is even lower in Oklahoma. (Which is a pity, because profits are a good thing.)

Fed up with these "nobody should make a profit from public education" sentiments, Dr. Terry Stoops at the John Locke Foundation decided to put together a partial list of those who make a profit from public education:
  1. Computer companies – all schools have computers, hand-held devices, and other hardware in them
  2. Software companies – those computers have software on them
  3. Furniture companies – kids gotta sit on something and write on something else
  4. School bus companies – until someone invents the Transporter, we’ll have to use buses
  5. Textbook companies – the Gideons have no school textbook equivalent
  6. School supply companies – pencils! pens! reams of paper! chemistry equipment!
  7. Instructional technology companies – those video and audio systems, e.g., Smart Boards, are not free
  8. Television companies – many classrooms come equipped with a TV (and sometimes a DVD player too)
  9. Landowners, Realtors, construction companies, contractors, and suppliers – building and maintaining schools requires working with (gasp!) for-profit businesses
  10. Food and beverage suppliers – think school lunches, vending machines, and snack bars
  11. Copier companies – copiers are teachers’ best friend or worst nightmare
  12. Athletic equipment – for physical education
  13. Musical instruments – for music education
  14. Art supplies – for art education
  15. Energy companies – many things run on electricity these days
Doubtless there are others, but you get the point. And I haven't even mentioned the one-percenter who's paid a third of a million dollars to preside over the woeful Tulsa school district. Talk about for-profit management!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Jay teacher charged with lewd molestation

"Delaware County prosecutors have charged a coach at Jay Public Schools with two felony counts of lewd molestation," the News on 6 reports.

Economist is thankful for low teacher pay

"We should celebrate rather than bemoan the fact that teachers are paid less than the likes of CEOs, professional athletes, and movie stars," economist Donald J. Boudreaux writes in an open letter to Robert Reich.
Low teacher pay means that the number of people willing and able to work as K-12 teachers is already quite large. Precisely because education is especially important, we are blessed that so many people are willing to work as teachers that the cost to society of each teacher is relatively low. Given the number of school-age children, higher teacher salaries would be evidence that fewer people than is actually the case today are willing to work as teachers. That situation would be one to lament, not cheer.
In case you still don’t see my point, let me ask if you believe that the pay of physicians should rise. After all, healthcare, like education, is vitally important. So by your logic, we should artificially raise the pay of physicians in order to encourage more people to become doctors. Yet, of course, we want healthcare to be more, not less, affordable. The same is true for education. Unfortunately, the supply of physicians is so low that the resulting pay of physicians is unusually high.
So let’s be thankful rather than regretful that we don’t suffer the same problem in education that we suffer in healthcare. Let’s toast the fact that—as the relatively low pay of teachers reflects—a large number of people are today willing and able to work as teachers.

Oklahoma senator wants to close the school-predator loophole

"Here is a far too familiar scenario," writes state Sen. Kyle Loveless:
A teacher rapes a child, and both the teacher and student say it was consensual — even though it’s still legally rape and there are some cases where the victim is as young as 12. The school district and parents don’t want the public scrutiny so the district, parents of the victim and the predator agree that the perpetrator will no longer teach in that school district. Everyone agrees and the cover-up has begun.
The predator needs to keep working, so he or she moves to another school district that has no idea of the situation that led to the resignation; school districts can’t communicate with each other on personnel matters.
You can read his entire article here.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Black parents are taking schooling into their own hands

Thousands of African Americans nationwide "are homeschooling their children and persuading other families to join in a growing movement," Jonetta Rose Barras reports in Washington City Paper. "They see their actions as a strong defense against what they consider an inadequate and increasingly hostile system of public education. For them, homeschooling also is a viable tool for constructing in their children a positive self-confidence and uncompromising appreciation for black history and culture."

Online public schools now enrolling for 2015-16 school year

Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy and Insight School of Oklahoma have now opened enrollment for students looking to attend in the 2015-2016 school year.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Level the playing field

"A March 17 editorial supporting charter schools stated: 'Charter schools are public schools that are run with many of the benefits of private schools, including exemptions from many education rules and regulations,'" Chuck Bowlin of Broken Arrow writes in a letter published by the Tulsa World. "Why not do away with those 'education rules and regulations' for all schools?"

Accountability in private-school choice programs

Here's a new report from NCSL.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Teacher shortage? School choice can help

Oklahoma's "teacher shortage" is back in the news today, though not all reporters are equally panicked (Mike Antonucci, for one, urges readers to "check out all the previous iterations of teacher shortage alarmism.") And writing in a forthcoming issue of Perspective, education researcher Greg Forster writes:
As for the so-called teacher shortage, the unions have been inventing stories about a teacher shortage consistently for decades. The number of teachers can go up or down, it doesn’t matter; there’s always a shortage. If so, the best thing we can do is move students out of public schools, where the teaching profession is stymied by numerous union-backed barriers to entry, and into private schools that are free to hire talented young people into the profession.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Should parents support public schools to the detriment of their own child?

"What seemed painfully missing from Phil Horning’s “ESA bill not good for Oklahoma kids” (Point of View, March 11) was any substantial defense of the quality of education that public schools are providing to Oklahoma students," Peter Dobelbower of Edmond writes today in The Oklahoman.
Isn't the real purpose of the ESA bill to allow families an opportunity to send their children to better schools? Arguments that money will be taken from schools if ESA is enacted ring hollow. It might be true, but which choice do you think a parent should make: send their child to a better school, or support public schools to the detriment of their child?
Nature abhors a vacuum, and that void in quality education will be filled by the need for parents to have other options. The bogeyman argument does a disservice to the school system Horning serves. I really wish this law was unnecessary and that our public schools could compete, but until such time as they get back to basics and quit teaching things like lattice multiplication (yes, look it up!), the void will be filled by things like ESA.

Police searching for Tipton Public School employee accused of raping a 13-year-old girl

KSWO has the story.

'How the Oklahoma City Storm helped turned a big victory into a feel-good moment for both teams'

Terrific piece in The Oklahoman by Jenni Carlson.

UPDATE: Here and here are letters to the editor complimenting the article.

'Altus sisters excel in virtual school'

Tinita Tennant of the Altus Times has the story.

Oklahoma GOP chairman: automatic union payroll deductions must end

[Below is the text of an e-mail sent to Oklahoma Republicans today from Dave Weston, chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party.]
Fellow Oklahoma Republicans,

As we wrestle with important issues in our state, this year’s legislative session offers some critical reforms that promise to make great improvements to how we govern ourselves in the coming century. Among those reforms is the landmark House Bill 1749.

Authored by Rep. Tom Newell, the bill has passed out of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and is slated to be heard on the floor of the State Senate. Modeled after the legislative victory by Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature, HB 1749 would end the automatic payroll deductions of dues by public sector unions, a long-standing practice across the country which should be brought to an immediate end.

Gov. Scott Walker
These types of unions often use their dues to pay lobbyists who in turn pressure the state legislature for increasingly higher appropriations. In essence, taxpayers are paying the salaries of expensive lobbyists who in turn argue for more taxpayer dollars. What’s more, these unions use the dues to dump tens of thousands of dollars into political campaigns to support liberal-regressive candidates who they know will be in favor of milking us as taxpayers for more of our hard-earned dollars. That this is a conflict of interest is obvious.

Among the most egregious, the Oklahoma Education Association, the largest public union in the state, uses high-pressure work-site tactics to take money directly from teachers’ paychecks in order to lobby and supposedly campaign for more funding. The problem is that the heavily-funded OEA blocks some of the most important education reforms yet to pass in Oklahoma like school choice. And we, the taxpayers, are funding them. In what world can this be right?

If passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Fallin, this unethical practice will end, and the Oklahoma Republican Party State Executive Committee is in support of that eventuality. I urge all of our fellow Republicans across the state to immediately contact your State Senators and urge them to vote in favor of HB 1749. Oklahomans have the right to join unions and to collectively bargain. And equally, Oklahoma taxpayers have a right to know their own tax dollars won’t be used to stop enhancements that would ultimately benefit our children.

Dave Weston,

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Who's afraid of school choice?

"Why do the people running the district schools predict a mass exodus if parents were given a choice and the money followed the child?" Jason Bedrick asks. "And what does that tell us?"

Sunday, March 15, 2015

What if grocery stores were like public schools?

My colleague Trent England welcomes you to the public groceries system.

'If regulating schools to success were the solution, our public school system would be wonderful'

After all, Jay Greene points out, public schools "have no shortage of regulations and prohibitions, all designed by well-meaning people to make those schools perform well."

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A missed opportunity on ESAs

"State lawmakers missed a major opportunity this week by failing to provide Oklahoma parents greater educational choices," the state's largest newspaper editorializes today.
A bill by Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, would have allowed parents to use some state education funding to send a child to private school, or for tutoring or other education services. The legislation passed two committees, but too many Republicans appeared uneasy about approving it on the Senate floor. Jolley chose to lay the bill over for a year to try to build support and better educate fellow lawmakers on the issue. The legislation could have benefited every child in Oklahoma, would have increased per-pupil funding in public schools, and provided parents multiple, market-based education options instead of a one-size-fits-all, big-government solution. In short, the bill should have been a slam-dunk based on the merits. The bill’s backers expected to have a tough time selling the idea, but the lack of support is disappointing nonetheless.

Disappointing, yes, but the quest for educational freedom is a marathon, not a sprint, and we're still in the early stages of the race. Private-school choice continues to grow year by year, and Adam Peshek reports that this year at least 22 state legislatures are pursuing or considering ESAs.

Monday, March 9, 2015

'Sexual assault reports cited in upholding ban on new Coweta school board member'

Andrea Eger has the story.

'The techies who are hacking education by homeschooling their kids'

A couple of years ago I linked to a piece by a pediatrician who gave 18 reasons why many doctors and lawyers homeschool their children. Comes now a very interesting article in Wired magazine on techie homeschoolers. The author, Jason Tanz, quotes an app designer named Jens Peter de Pedro:

There is a way of thinking within the tech and startup community where you look at the world and go, "Is the way we do things now really the best way to do it?" de Pedro says. If you look at schools with this mentality, really the only possible conclusion is "Heck, I could do this better myself out of my garage!"

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Oklahoma Supreme Court needs to side with embattled special-needs children

"It’s time for the Oklahoma Supreme Court to side not with bullies in the school district or with 19th-century bigots, but with these embattled children," Kristina Arriaga writes today in The Oklahoman.

Pruitt files brief defending Henry scholarships

Earlier this week Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed a brief in the Oklahoma Supreme Court defending the Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarship program. "The Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarship program is constitutionally valid and should be allowed to continue," Pruitt said. "This program has been very successful and has empowered parents of students with disabilities to seek educational opportunities to help their students learn and succeed. I support the rights of parents to choose the best education possible for their children, and the Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarship program affords that opportunity to these parents who might not otherwise have the means and ability to do so."

Public-school-contempt watch: Point of no return!

"Every argument against choice made by the education establishment reveals the contempt that establishment has for its own product," David Boaz once wrote. "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."

Oklahoma City superintendent Rob Neu recently declared that "the greatest threat to Oklahoma public education" is elected officials who would enact Education Savings Account (ESA) legislation. Not to be outdone, Tulsa superintendent Keith Ballard said ESAs would have "a disastrous effect on public schools. In Tulsa Public Schools alone, the first 500 kids alone that go to a private school are going to take $1 million out of Tulsa Public and move it over to private schools." And that's just the first 500! One wonders how many kids he thinks would flee if given the chance.

Even more pessimistic is Norman superintendent Joe Siano. He says ESA legislation "will harm our public schools beyond the point of no return." 

[UPDATES: Duncan superintendent Tom Deighan says supporters of taxpayer-funded school choice want to "dismantle all public schools." The Enid newspaper says Gov. Stitt and Supt. Walters are "working toward dismantling" the public education system. One tax-and-spend activist group suggests that the State Board of Education itself may soon include individuals who seek to "dismantle public schools." Tulsa teacher-union boss Shawna Mott-Wright says school-choice champion Ryan Walters "is basically going to murder public education." The McAlester paper says Oklahoma "should not privatize education and leave public schools to die." Former El Reno superintendent Craig McVay says if pro-school-choice candidates Kevin Stitt and Ryan Walters are elected, "some rural public schools will be forced to close their doors for good." The group Oklahoma’s Children Our Future said Gov. Kevin Stitt is “a danger to rural public schools” and that Ryan Walters’ education plan is to “shut our schools down, kill our small towns, and force great teachers to quit.” OU economist Cynthia Rogers says OCPA is out to "dismantle" public schools. Former Stillwater teacher Alberto Morejon said the thought of tax dollars following the child is "scary" because "if fully implemented, it would result in public schools completely closing." Oklahoma Rural Schools Coalition founder Erika Wright says school choice could "decimate our schools," warning darkly that rural schools could "close shop." Democratic state superintendent candidate Jena Nelson says "many of our rural schools would probably have to close down because of these vouchers." State Rep. Mickey Dollens says school choice will have “dire consequences for rural Oklahoma and their community schools.” Bixby superintendent Rob Miller, who ruefully acknowledges that many public-school students today simply have to "endure the learning experience," says ESAs would deal a "mortal blow" to public education and do "irreparable harm to our nation." Mary Mélon, president of the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, says ESA legislation would have "dire consequences for OKCPS." Oklahoma City teacher Melissa Smith asserts that vouchers would siphon money from public schools—which "will destroy public schools."]

"The most vindictive resentment may be expected from the pedagogic profession for any suggestion that they should be dislodged from their dictatorial position," Isabel Paterson understood more than 70 years ago. "Nevertheless, the question to put to any teacher moved to such indignation, is: Do you think nobody would willingly entrust his children to you to pay you for teaching them? Why do you have to extort your fees and collect your pupils by compulsion?"

Friday, March 6, 2015

ESA proposal ensures cost savings for Oklahoma districts

"The design of the Education Savings Account (ESA) proposal in Oklahoma ensures that local school districts will have substantially more resources for the students they serve when some students access ESAs," writes economist Benjamin Scafidi, "because the districts retain all local tax funding, much of their federal funding, and 20 percent of state funding that had been used to educate students who are no longer in the public schools."

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Move, pay, or lie

If you want school choice, says Patrick McGuigan, those are your choices.

Through 'Special Care,' Henry Scholarships reach more children

Children and families with enormous challenges are finding help through the Special Care program, Patrick McGuigan reports.

Don't read their push cards, read their roll calls

An Oklahoma House committee’s failure to pass ESA legislation is an example of politicians acting as though "the public won’t notice contradictions between their campaign rhetoric and actual record," The Oklahoman notes today in an editorial. Votes against an ESA

contradict Republican stances on supporting the free market and opposing “one size fits all” government mandates. If the five dissident Republicans hope voters will ignore those contradictions, two words suggest otherwise: Melissa Abdo.

Abdo is a strident opponent of an existing state program that provides scholarships to children with special needs, such as autism. Abdo also was a candidate for a state House seat in the Jenks area last summer. Once her opposition to school choice was publicized, she quickly went from front-runner to losing a runoff. Her opponent, current Rep. Chuck Strohm, is among the authors of ESA legislation.

Abdo held other views outside the Republican mainstream, but then so do the Republicans who opposed ESAs in committee. Last year Reps. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, Dennis Casey, R-Morrison, and Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, all opposed income tax cuts; Casey and Nollan also supported dramatic increases in energy taxes.

Some politicians may succeed by campaigning as conservatives while voting otherwise. But that seems a poor strategy for a political career in Oklahoma.

Monday, March 2, 2015

'Ignoring the evidence doesn't make it disappear'

"If a study shows the benefits of school choice, but you don’t read it, does it really exist?" Jason Bedrick asks. "Apparently not, at least according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), an organization ideologically committed to opposing school choice."

A homeschool mom's view of government regulation

"Homeschooling challenges the public education bureaucracy in America that says children are better off with professional educators," Amanda Aucoin says. "The more it grows the more they believe it threatens public schools, education programs at colleges (which grant teaching certificates), thousands of bureaucrats, millions of paid teachers, and billions in state and federal dollars – especially when it is demonstrated how well homeschool students do academically, on a fraction of the yearly budget per student."