Friday, July 29, 2016

Four reasons why tax-credit scholarships are important to you

In Tulsa Kids, Rob Sellers explains.

Public education activist falsely accuses pastor

The Oklahoman recently took note of some disturbing activity on the Facebook page of Oklahoma Parents and Educators for Public Education.
One administrator of that page, activist Angela Clark Little, bluntly declared Republican state Senate candidate Paul Blair “hosted westboro (sic) at his church when they came to protest something in the Edmond area!!” 
The Westboro Baptist Church (not affiliated with any Baptist denomination) is notorious for protesting soldiers' funerals, claiming those deaths are God's punishment for homosexuality. Due to its repugnant nature, the group gets extensive media coverage wherever it goes. There's no record of Blair hosting Westboro, and he strongly denies the claim: “We have never supported, engaged, or even met anyone associated with Westboro Baptist Church.” 
When we asked Little for documentation, she said her post was based on another individual making the same claim elsewhere online. 
Little has endorsed Blair's Democratic opponent, Kevin McDonald, and one of Blair's Republican primary opponents, Adam Pugh. But Little has indicated the Pugh endorsement is meant to boost the Democrat's chances, writing, "Strategically—we need Paul Blair out if we want Kevin McDonald to have a good chance in November." 

A new chapter for Friedman

Milton Friedman helped revitalize Americans' interest in freedom, Jonathan Small writes today in The Journal Record. And his legacy foundation, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, is now EdChoice:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Why did The Oklahoman publish an editorial in its news pages?

In an editorial which appeared on Sunday in The Oklahoman, Mary Mélon, the president and CEO of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation, wrote about Jamie Vollmer, a former businessman who used to argue that schools should be run like a business but later changed his mind.

You can click on the link above to read her editorial. I'm not a big fan of the piece; I tend to agree with Joseph Bast that the blueberry story "doesn't live up to its billing." After all, "children are not 'raw material' in a production process. They and their parents are customers with legitimate expectations of being properly served."

We can certainly discuss the merits of the argument (as Trent England and I did on the radio this morning), but what puzzles me—and I suspect puzzles other readers—is why an editorial column is running in the news pages of The Oklahoman. The piece seems out of place on page 4A. Are other nonprofit executives going to be writing in the news pages now, or is it just Mrs. Mélon? Here's hoping the paper will provide an explanation.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Debunking a brazen lie about ESAs

Jason Bedrick says this teachers’ union lobbyist should be embarrassed to peddle the easily discredited lie that there's no good way to control how parents spend ESA money.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Are public schools like Soviet-era department stores?

Some in the public education community are displeased with the comment this week by Donald Trump, Jr. (courtesy of his speechwriter F.H. Buckley) that public schools are "like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers."

But Mr. Trump is hardly the first person to make this sort of observation. Milton Friedman once described America’s public school system as “an island of socialism in a free-market sea.” Kevin Williamson, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, says “the public schools constitute one of the most popular instantiations of socialism in American life.” Indeed, he says, “in the United States, we have an education system that already is socialized to a greater extent than Lenin managed for Soviet agriculture.”

And it’s not just free-market economists and authors. Twenty-seven years ago today, American Federation for Teachers president Albert Shanker issued this wake-up call:
It’s time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody’s role is spelled out in advance and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It’s no surprise that our school system doesn’t improve: It more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy. … 
We’ve been running our schools as planned economies for so long that the notion of using incentives to drive schools to change may strike some people as too radical—even though that’s the way we do it in every other sector of society. But no law of nature says public schools have to be run like state-owned factories or bureaucracies. If the Soviet Union can begin to accept the importance of incentives to productivity, it is time for people in public education to do the same.
Many schools are failing to provide a quality education for at least some of their students and Oklahomans want alternatives. But as Williamson points out, “the public schools are not a random or inexplicable failure. They are a classical socialist failure, with massively misallocated resources, an ensconced bureaucratic class, and a needlessly impoverished client class.”

Defenders of the status quo can shriek at the mention of socialism and recommend business as usual (more taxes and spending, no reform). But it might be wiser to listen to constructive criticism and take it to heart. For as Mr. Shanker himself said, “business as usual in the public education system is going to put us out of business.”

[Cross-posted at OCPA]

Friday, July 22, 2016

Oklahoma lawmakers work to keep teachers accused of sexual misconduct out of schools

KOCO has the story.

PTA wants to create a new protected class for LGBTQ persons

At its annual convention this month, the National PTA adopted a resolution on the Recognition of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) Individuals as a Protected Class. According to a press release, "National PTA and its constituent associations will advocate for legislation that explicitly recognizes LGBTQ as a protected group and addresses discrimination based upon sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression."

One of those constituent associations, the Oklahoma PTA, promptly did its part by retweeting this:

It's no secret that the transgender revolution has already made its way to Oklahoma. For example, Tulsa Public Schools—which recently had a gay pride flag flying outside of its headquarters—has trained teachers on the subject of "gender nonconformity" issues, including which bathrooms transgender children are allowed to use. And this was before the Obama Administration's bathroom decree (Commode Core, it's been dubbed), which essentially, in David French's words, enlisted "every single public educational institution in the country to implement the extreme edge of the sexual revolution."

If some of the Oklahoma PTA's Twitter posts are any indication, the organization appears to be on board with the revolution:

It is worth noting that not everyone believes it is wise to treat LGBTQ persons as a protected class. In a memorandum titled "Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Laws Threaten Freedom," Heritage Foundation scholar Ryan T. Anderson explains:
All citizens should oppose unjust discrimination, but sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws are not the way to achieve that goal. SOGI laws are neither necessary nor cost-free. They threaten fundamental First Amendment rights. They create new, subjective protected classes that will expose citizens to unwarranted liability. Furthermore, SOGI laws would increase government interference in labor, housing, and commercial markets in ways that could harm the economy. Yet SOGI’s damage is not only economic: It would further weaken the marriage culture and the freedom of citizens and their associations to affirm their religious or moral convictions, such as that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and that maleness and femaleness are not arbitrary constructs but objective ways of being human. SOGI laws would treat expressing these widely held beliefs in certain contexts as unlawful discrimination.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

'Oklahoma is something of a hothouse for teacher-sex stories'

Some national attention on Oklahoma educators behaving badly.

The profit motive is incompatible with public education? Nonsense.

Writing over at U.S. News & World Report, American Enterprise Institute fellow Ian Lindquist tackles the fallacious argument that "for-profit schools harbor a motive that makes them incapable of educating children—namely, a profit motive." 
Adults who aim to make money cannot have children’s best interests at heart because they will look for opportunities to cut costs in an effort to pay shareholders rather than direct all available funds toward children’s education. The conflict of interest created by this profit motive renders for-profit schools incompatible with public education. 
This is nonsense. Education is not the only sector that provides public goods. Indeed, there are many public goods handled by private companies: hospitals, prisons, and transportation systems operated by for-profit providers ensure public health, public safety, and public transportation. In none of those cases does profit motive necessarily dispose the company to abdicate its mission of serving the public. In these cases, companies’ ability to provide the best product possible is aligned with their ability to make money and pay their shareholders. Far from giving up their social missions to seek profit, they need to serve the public both to accomplish that mission and gain profit. Without mission, no profit. The mission is and must be primary. 
The circumstances in the education sector do not nullify this logic. If an education company has a mission to provide excellent schooling for students, then it either fulfills its mission or it doesn’t. If it does, then it is a worthy contractor and its charter should be renewed; if it does not, then its charter should be revoked. 
Read the whole thing here.

Moore teacher charged with having sex with student

London's Daily Mail has the story.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

New GOP platform strongly endorses school choice

Here's the key language under a section headlined "Choice in Education."
We support options for learning, including home-schooling, career and technical education, private or parochial schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning, and early-college high schools. We especially support the innovative financing mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits. Empowering families to access the learning environments that will best help their children to realize their full potential is one of the greatest civil rights challenges of our time. A young person’s ability to succeed in school must be based on his or her God-given talent and motivation, not an address, ZIP code, or economic status. We propose that the bulk of federal money through Title I for low-income children and through IDEA for children with special needs should follow the child to whatever school the family thinks will work best for them. 
In sum, on the one hand enormous amounts of money are being spent for K-12 public education with overall results that do not justify that spending level. On the other hand, the common experience of families, teachers, and administrators forms the basis of what does work in education. In Congress and in the states, Republicans are bridging the gap between those two realities. Congressional Republicans are leading the way forward with major reform legislation advancing the concept of block grants and repealing numerous federal regulations which have interfered with state and local control of public schools. Their Workplace Innovation and Opportunity Act—modernizing workforce programs, repealing mandates, and advancing employment for persons with disabilities—is now law. Their legislation to require transparency in unfunded mandates imposed upon our schools is advancing. Their D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program should be expanded as a model for the rest of the country. 
The entire platform is available here. And of course, GOP support for educational choice is nothing new:

Are public schools truly 'accountable'?

All sorts of problems occur in many of our state's traditional public schools, The Oklahoman points out today in a house editorial. "The penalty for those failures is negligible, and in some cases such failures are even used to demand greater taxpayer funding."
Last year, it was revealed an auditing firm used by more than 100 Oklahoma school districts did not typically record irregularities in the official audit provided to the state, which is made available to the public. Instead, irregularities were noted in separate letters to the districts, evading public scrutiny and allowing districts to falsely report “clean” audits to state officials. In some instances, it appears this practice facilitated embezzlement of school funds. ... 
In traditional public schools, even the coexistence of poor financial management and poor academic results rarely leads to sanctions. This year, a state House committee considered legislation to simply combine poor-performing dependent districts with larger districts. No schools would have been closed, but a few high-paid administrative positions might have been eliminated. The bill was killed in committee, giving a green light to continued financial waste and leaving children trapped in poorly managed, substandard schools.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Where are the journalistic watchdogs?

When it comes to the Boren tax increase and the slate of legislative "education candidates," OCPA president Jonathan Small wants to know why reporters aren't asking tougher questions.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Trump picks school-choice supporter Mike Pence

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (center) is pictured in his office on November 16, 2015,
with several Oklahomans who were on a school-reform fact-finding trip to Indiana.  

The New York Times reports that Donald Trump's campaign is signaling that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence will be Mr. Trump's running mate. If Gov. Pence is indeed chosen, there will be two school-choice supporters on the GOP ticket.

You may recall that Mr. Trump, noting that the existence of a public school monopoly should "set off antitrust alarm bells," is on record saying parents deserve more choices. "Education reformers call this school choice, charter schools, vouchers, even opportunity scholarships," he said. "I call it competition—the American way."

Gov. Pence also supports school choice, including vouchers and tax credits. "Let’s open more doors of opportunity to more Hoosier families by lifting the cap on the dollar amount that choice schools receive for students and raise the cap on the choice scholarship tax credit program," he said in last year's State of the State address.

In a meeting in his office on November 16, 2015, Gov. Pence discussed education reform with several Oklahomans who were on a fact-finding trip to Indianapolis sponsored by the Oklahoma Educated Workforce Initiative and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. Gov. Pence spoke openly about school choice, including Education Savings Accounts. (Contrary to the claims of state Rep. Jadine Nollan, who says Gov. Pence advised Oklahoma lawmakers not to enact ESAs in a difficult budget year, what he actually said—as I and several others who were in the meeting can attest—is simply that it's more difficult to do it in a down budget year.) 

Broken Arrow High School teacher arrested on sex-crime complaint

The Tulsa World has the story.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Government schools?

It's amusing that the phrase would be controversial. After all, as Ramesh Ponnuru notes,
The phrase is more neutrally descriptive than it is pejorative, and more accurate than "public schools." What distinguishes these schools from other schools is not their greater accountability to the public, their greater service to the public, or even their greater openness to the public. ... What distinguishes them is that they’re run by the government. It’s because it’s a neutral term that, as Bosman notes, the phrase is often used overseas to describe what we typically call “public schools” here.
Indeed, as Jason Bedrick notes ("There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Public’ School"), "privately owned shopping malls are more 'public' than district schools."

Hofmeister's 'claims about money issues have appeared ill-informed'

Noting "a trend line that gives Oklahomans reason for growing concern," The Oklahoman recently discussed a few instances in which state Supt. Joy Hofmeister's "claims about money issues have appeared ill-informed." Read the entire piece here, but I want to highlight what The Oklahoman identified as "a bogus fiscal impact statement":
This year, Hofmeister's agency produced a fiscal impact statement regarding Education Savings Account legislation. That document said the department would need to buy $700,000 in new computer equipment to process ESAs. Yet the calculations involved were no different than what the agency already does with existing equipment on a daily basis. 
It turned out the $700,000 was to replace the Department of Education's entire state aid system, a change in no way tied to potential passage of ESA legislation. The department had requested that equipment purchase as far back as November 2015—months before the Legislature was even in session. 
In a subsequent radio interview, state Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger bluntly noted that the superintendent had “provided a fiscal impact that was completely inaccurate.”
For an accurate fiscal impact statement—showing that the state of Oklahoma will save $267,000 for every $1 million it spends on an ESA program—click here. This fiscal note should come as no surprise, considering that the empirical evidence shows quite clearly that "school choice saves taxpayer money and also has a positive fiscal effect on school budgets—especially when it uses a voucher or ESA structure," as education researcher Greg Forster points out. "When a student leaves, the public school loses all the expenses associated with that student but not all the revenue, because of the convoluted way we fund public schools. Twenty-eight empirical studies have examined school choice's fiscal impact on taxpayers and public schools; of these, 25 have found that school choice programs save money, and three have found that the programs they study are revenue neutral. No empirical study has found a negative fiscal impact."

Monday, July 11, 2016

School choice and next-gen accountability

OCPA intern Curtis Shelton discusses it here.

David Boren, the ‘teacher caucus,’ and naked self-interest

"Oklahoma’s education blob—school unions, education schools, and their allies—is becoming unusually shameless in its determination to vote itself another taxpayer bailout," Greg Forster writes in the July issue of Perspective. And he thinks journalists should exhibit a tad more of the skepticism they pride themselves on.
A press corps with any self-respect or sense of professional responsibility would ask the blob questions like these: Why have previous increases in school budgets and teacher salaries failed to produce educational improvements? Why shouldn’t the new spending you demand be targeted to more specific, publicly identified needs instead of being allocated indiscriminately? How much spending—give us a dollar amount—would be enough to make you say spending is sufficient and any problems that persist are the responsibility of the schools? ...

Those who demand that government spend more money on themselves should be examined with heightened skepticism. The public interest (in this case, the education of children) should be clearly distinguished from private interests (budgets, salaries, and home prices). And policy should be designed, broadly and in the details, to serve the public interest only. None of that is being advanced by the blob’s campaign in Oklahoma or the press response to it. 
Read the whole thing here.

Politicians have made their choice

"Politicians in many cities and states have a choice and they have chosen unions that protect underperforming schools and underperforming teachers over students," writes retired teacher and administrator Laurann Pandelakis. "It is time to give parents a choice."

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Our educational system is working on all cylinders

"Our students’ ignorance is not a failing of the educational system—it is its crowning achievement," Patrick Deneen writes.
Efforts by several generations of philosophers and reformers and public policy experts—whom our students (and most of us) know nothing about—have combined to produce a generation of know-nothings. The pervasive ignorance of our students is not a mere accident or unfortunate but correctible outcome, if only we hire better teachers or tweak the reading lists in high school. It is the consequence of a civilizational commitment to civilizational suicide. ... 
We have fallen into the bad and unquestioned habit of thinking that our educational system is broken, but it is working on all cylinders. What our educational system aims to produce is cultural amnesia, a wholesale lack of curiosity, history-less free agents, and educational goals composed of content-free processes and unexamined buzz-words like “critical thinking,” “diversity,” “ways of knowing,” “social justice,” and “cultural competence.”

No major shift seen in Oklahoma voters’ attitudes

"The overwhelming majority of candidates backed by school choice supporters either won their primaries outright or advanced to a runoff," The Oklahoman notes today.

Which makes perfect sense, since most Oklahoma voters support school choice.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Corrupt officials spent $11,961 per student

"Does higher per-pupil funding generate better academic results? Not if the money is wasted," The Oklahoman editorializes today ("School funding waste").
The State Board of Education recently ordered mandatory annexation of the Grant-Goodland Public School due to financial misconduct, falsified records and more. This year the FBI investigated Grant-Goodland for suspected embezzlement involving the local school board chair, district superintendent and deputy treasurer. An independent audit determined that misconduct had occurred involving hundreds of thousands of dollars. An Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs database, which provides information obtained from the state government's Oklahoma Cost Accounting System, shows during the 2014-15 school year Oklahoma schools spent an average $9,724 per student. Per-pupil funding at Grant-Goodland totaled $11,961, well above the state average and higher than even the 2014 national average estimated by the U.S. Census. Grant-Goodland ranked among the top fifth of Oklahoma schools in per-pupil funding. And it didn't do the kids a bit of good.