Sunday, April 30, 2017

‘Why should state-run schools be the default agents of education?’

"We could say that the public schools’ monopoly on public educational funds is actually in tension with both of the First Amendment’s religion clauses," Melissa Moschella writes. "The absence of some sort of voucher program (at least for low-income students) is in tension with the Establishment Clause because it promotes secularism in children’s formal education. It is also in tension with the Free Exercise Clause because it places a substantial burden on the ability of parents to fulfill one of their most serious religious duties."

Saturday, April 29, 2017

But you just wait until the Republicans take over

"While other states have enacted genuine school choice, made agencies more efficient and effective, and reduced burdens on the productive economy," Andrew Spiropoulos writes, Oklahoma's legislature "is stuck in policy mud."

Oklahoma should enact a parental-choice tax credit



"School choice is a reality, and we should just get used to it,” Democratic state school superintendent Sandy Garrett said in 2001. "We have a lot of choice already in Oklahoma, but I think we'll have some sort of a tax credit or something to let children go wherever their parents want."

Ten years later Oklahoma did indeed enact a tax-credit scholarship program. But there's more to be done. Oklahoma's political leaders "should consider providing individual tax credits for education expenses," writes former OCPA research assistant Patrick Gibbons.
Parents paying for private education or home education have to pay twice: once in taxes to support public schools and again for tuition, fees, textbooks, and school supplies. To address some of this unfairness, some states now offer tax credits for these education expenses. Illinois has the largest tax credit program with nearly 300,000 families earning credits up to $500 for educational expenses.

Individual tax credits for education expenses are subject to one major criticism: you only get tax credits up to the amount you owe in taxes. Since wealthier families tend to owe the most in taxes, they will get the largest tax credits. One solution is a refundable tax credit for educational expenses, such as exists in South Carolina. That program allows parents of special-needs children to receive up to $10,000 in tax credits for educational expenses. If the credits exceed your tax bill then you receive a tax refund for the difference. This ensures that the rich aren’t the biggest beneficiary of the program. 
Oklahoma's political leaders overwhelmingly support parents' rights. They should not penalize parents by making them pay twice. A good piece of legislation, the Parental Choice Tax Credit Act, was introduced last year but did not receive a hearing. But according to OCHEC, the Oklahoma Christian Home Educators' Consociation, this legislation could have been "positive for the homeschool community."

Now it's important to note that OCHEC wants nothing to do with vouchers or education savings accounts (ESAs). But tax credits are different.

"There are two types of tax credits," OCHEC explains. "One is refundable, which means at some point money will exchange hands. The other is a non-refundable tax credit, which means no money ever changes hands." The proposed Parental Choice Tax Credit Act was the latter.
It is a non-refundable income tax credit for educational expenses. Qualifying expenses include enrollment in a qualified (private) school and the expenses that are associated with that. The bill also would allow parents who provide instruction by other means (i.e., homeschoolers) for their children from pre-kindergarten through grade 12. The expenses that could be claimed by homeschool families would include tutoring fees, correspondence school fees, the cost of computer equipment, software and services, textbooks, workbooks, curricula and other written materials used primarily for academic instruction. ...
The bottom line is that this tax credit could reduce a parent’s income tax liability based upon the educational expenses that they have paid for their family. It would be up to each family to decide whether they wanted to claim the credit. Since the credit would not be refundable it would only allow parents to keep more of their own money. Any parent claiming this tax credit, assuming it passed, would not be taking state funds.
Freedom of conscience requires school choice, as Boston University professor Charles Glenn and others have observed. Let's hope Oklahoma's political leaders act to secure this fundamental freedom.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Tulsa Public Schools org chart a thing to behold




When OCPA journalist Jay Chilton recently examined the 2016-17 organizational charts for the Tulsa Public Schools (TPS), he was surprised to find hundreds of individuals who aren't teaching or interacting with students every day. This document is something taxpayers really should see for themselves. Click here and scroll.

A Tulsa World data tool indicates that during the 2014-15 school year, TPS employed 22 individuals with salaries in excess of $100,000—several of whom had the job title “executive assistant.” Tulsa superintendent Deb Gist was paid $217,806 in 2016, according to an Oklahoma Watch data tool.

Using data that the Oklahoma State Department of Education reports to the U.S. Department of Education, economist Benjamin Scafidi has shown that Oklahoma's growth in non-teaching staff has far outpaced student growth over the last two decades. Between 1993 and 2014, TPS enrollment decreased by 3 percent and the number of teachers decreased by 4 percent—but non-teaching staff increased by 147 percent.

Student arrested with loaded gun at Midwest City High School

The News on 6 has the story.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Cuban father sentenced to prison, judge denounces ‘capitalist’ homeschooling

[The following is a message from Mike Donnelly, director of global outreach for the Home School Legal Defense Association.]

Yesterday, a Cuban court sentenced pastor Ramón Rigal to a year in prison for homeschooling his children. Ramón’s wife, Adya, was ordered to spend a year under house arrest.

According to Ramón, authorities used the three-hour trial more as a platform for denouncing alternatives to state education than as a venue for delivering justice.

“They would not let me speak in my defense,” Ramón told me after the Tuesday trial. “I brought evidence that my children were learning—notebooks and materials—[but] they didn’t care.”

Ramón and Adya Rigal have been sentenced, but are appealing their conviction. We are asking our members and friends to join us by signing a petition to the Cuban government to respect the rights of parents to homeschool their children and to cease its prosecution of the Rigal family.

No Justice in This Court

The Rigals decided to homeschool their children earlier this year in order to remove them from an environment where they were being bullied and indoctrinated in the state school system.

In February, the couple were arrested and charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors for failing to send their children to state schools.

Ramón said he had intended to present a defense at the trial based on Cuba’s constitution and various international human rights treaties the nation has ratified. But his efforts were curtailed as authorities focused on defending the state system.

“When I tried to tell the judge about my evidence or to say that the government was acting unfairly, the judge told me that if I continued to speak she would have me removed from the courtroom,” Ramón said.

The judge also refused to hear testimony from a dozen witnesses Ramón had assembled to speak on his behalf. “Whenever I tried to bring up one of my witnesses,” Ramón said, “the judge would tell them to ‘get out of here.’”

The court relied instead on what appeared to be scripted presentations from state employees drafted as witnesses: a school director, school psychologist, teachers, and a juvenile probation officer. The prosecutor asked them all the same basic questions and received the same answers: that only trained teachers are qualified to inculcate socialist values.

In closing remarks, the government prosecutor summarized the case this way: Homeschooling “is not allowed in Cuba because it has a capitalist foundation.”

Ramón’s account of the trial was distressing, but not surprising. It was just about what one expects from the communist courts of Cuba—anything but justice. Their jurisprudence reflects a disregard for accepted principles of due process and the rule of law, as well as Cuba’s international human rights obligations.

The outcome could have been worse; the Rigals faced up to eight years in prison and risked the state taking custody of their children. They were also given three days to appeal. However, finding attorneys willing to help them challenge a legal system overseen by the ruling Communist Party presents a major difficulty.

Communist governments do not appreciate lawyers who are willing to defend people whose human rights have been violated. Officials in communist China recently arrested hundreds of lawyers who were then accused of disloyalty for denouncing abuses by the government.

A Courageous Example

“This is a great injustice,” said Ramón. “They are trying to force us to send our children only to state schools—not having the option for the children to be taught at home. They should respect the right that parents have based on the human right to teach their children and to respect their faith and the right to homeschool.”

His wife added that she fears not only for the future of their family but for the congregation Ramón pastors.

“I am worried for my children and my husband,” Adya said. “We are only trying to do what is best for our children. I do not want to be separated from my husband. Our children need him. Our church needs our pastor. My children are very sad and worried.”

Although Ramón would prefer to remain in Cuba, he hopes that the United States may offer refuge to his family since the Cuban authorities are determined to jail him rather than allow him to homeschool his children.

Home School Legal Defense Association will continue to support the Rigals, and we encourage the global homeschooling community to affirm the parents’ right to teach their children at home.

The Rigal family are a courageous example to all of us who enjoy the freedom to homeschool our children. They are standing up to a totalitarian government that—no surprise—represses home education despite having signed international agreements urging respect for freedom of conscience and parental rights. Democratic countries like Germany and Sweden that similarly repress home education should question their policies, which are as draconian as communist Cuba.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Do Ponca City schools have ‘fewer and fewer resources’?


Gallup reported in September 2016 (“Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low”) that "Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media 'to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly' has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32 percent saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media."

That Gallup finding came to mind yesterday when I read a cringe-inducingly one-sided story in The Ponca City News headlined "Schools Forced to Make Budget Cuts." Though the reporting may have been done accurately, it wasn't done fully and fairly. The Ponca City superintendent is quoted in the article as saying, “What is happening to public education in our state is not normal.” He complains of having to “operate our schools with fewer and fewer resources.” These statements went unchallenged (to say the least) by The Ponca City News

Here is some additional information to consider.
  • According to data compiled from the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System and provided by the state Department of Education, total education spending in Ponca City, even when adjusted for inflation, is higher today ($51,954,016) than it was a decade ago ($49,355,806). Per-pupil spending is also higher—up from $9,590 to $10,123.
  • Oklahoma’s public education system now has more non-teachers than teachers. According to economist Benjamin Scafidi, if it weren’t for the non-teaching staff surge of the last two decades Oklahoma could have given each teacher a pay raise of more than $6,000. In Ponca City, the non-teaching staff increased by a whopping 28 percent—even as enrollment declined by 10 percent. Why?
  • According to researchers at the George W. Bush Institute, the average student in Ponca City is performing better in math than 52 percent of students in Oklahoma, 46 percent of students in the nation, and 35 percent of students in other developed economies. Is this performance good enough to justify the superintendent's annual compensation of $205,025? Taxpayers must decide for themselves.
  • School officials imply that Ponca City’s per-pupil spending of $10,123 is not enough. But how much is enough? Would $15,971 (Cushing) be enough? How about $17,552 (Stroud), $25,373 (Taloga), or $43,817 (Reydon)? The superintendent in Tahlequah has gone so far as to say, “There has never been enough revenue for public education, and there never will be.” Does the Ponca City superintendent share that view? If not, at what dollar amount would he tell taxpayers, “Thank you. The funding level you have provided is now sufficient. If there are any problems remaining with the schools, I take responsibility for them.”?

Reporter’s ‘everyone knows’ lede inappropriate

"Everyone knows there's an education budget crisis," Katiera Winfrey reported yesterday for the News on 6 ("Broken Arrow Church Shows Members How To Take Action To Fix Education Budget").

Not a great lede, I would respectfully submit. According to data compiled from the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System and provided by the state Department of Education, total education spending in Oklahoma, even when adjusted for inflation, is higher today ($6,695,978,193) than it was a decade ago ($6,115,624,776). Per-pupil spending is roughly flat (up slightly from $9,775 to $9,781). 

Some people—though certainly not "everyone"—may deem this a "crisis." Others would say, "No, it seems like $244,525 for a classroom of 25 kids should be more than enough. The 'crisis' is that the schools are performing so poorly even with all this money." In any case, it's not for a reporter to take sides, declaring up front that "everyone knows" there's a crisis.

The lede is even less defensible given the Broken Arrow dateline. Total education spending in Broken Arrow, even when adjusted for inflation, is much higher today ($191,478,105) than it was a decade ago ($139,014,756), which could help explain the palatial luxury seen below. Per-pupil spending is higher too—up from $9,120 to $10,191.


In short, it's important for journalists to tell the full story. This is especially urgent in light of Gallup's September 2016 finding (“Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low”) that "Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media ‘to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly’ has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32 percent saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media."

I'm not accusing Winfrey of intentional bias. Like the film critic Pauline Kael, who couldn't understand how Nixon beat McGovern (given that everyone she knew had voted for McGovern), many journalists don’t realize that their J-school training and subsequent existence in the media's center-left epistemic bubble (especially in Tulsa) have conditioned them to report the news less than "fully, accurately, and fairly."

Here's hoping for more balanced reporting in the future.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Perry sex assault suspect was left alone with students

"A former volunteer aide accused of molesting multiple girls was left alone with students on several occasions—some while teachers were away on personal business," The Oklahoman reports.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Monday, April 17, 2017

All education is public

"It is essential to understand that the public-private school dichotomy which prevails in our social arrangements and discourse is extremely misleading," Stephen Turley writes
This is because all education is public: all education seeks to cultivate within students an appreciation of shared values that constitute the common good of a community. There is simply no such thing as an education that is entirely private. There is, however, education that is coercively funded and non-coercively funded; an education system that depends on the compulsory nature of the state versus one that depends on the voluntary tuition paid by willing participants. The real question, then, that emerges is not whether we are going to support public education, but whether we are going to support the kind of public promoted by state-financed education. In a word, the defining attribute of that public order perpetuated by state-funded education is secular.  ... 
If Christians are to remain faithful to the biblical gospel, we must once again affirm the public witness of the church, particularly in the field of education. For such an affirmation not only awakens the soul to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, but in embodying the Truth, it exposes the state-financed educational system which denies Truth as what it is: a lie.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Stillwater students form ‘fight club’

The News on 6 has the story.

Dispelling the myth that school choice can’t help rural students

Writing for U.S. News & World Report, Michael McShane says school choice can supplement rural public education.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Reporting the education news ‘fully, accurately, and fairly’



Gallup reported in September 2016 (“Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low”) that “Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media ‘to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly’ has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32 percent saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. This is down eight percentage points from last year.”

Clearly, reporters and editors need to be doing all they can to try to win back the trust of their customers. Thus it was surprising to learn that the editor of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise is a founding member of a group working against the interest of some of his customers. In an April 4 news story announcing the group’s formation, the E-E's Nathan Thompson reports:
A group of concerned Bartlesville-area residents have started a grassroots effort on the current state of Oklahoma’s public education funding crisis. 
Public Education Advocates for Kids—or PEAK—started in January with a core group of seven Bartlesville residents who wanted to improve public education, retain quality teachers and encourage Oklahoma legislators to properly fund schools. The founding members of PEAK are Keri Bostwick, Alison Clark, Examiner-Enterprise Editor Chris Day, Dan Droege, Vanessa Drummond, George Halkiades and Becky Olsen. … 
PEAK’s key belief is public education is the fundamental driver of the state’s long-term economic prosperity, job creation and quality of life. To get there, the group supports increased funding for all state public schools, starting with significant pay raises for all teachers to be competitive with surrounding states. PEAK is strongly against using taxpayer funds to support private schools through the form of vouchers or education savings accounts. … The group also supports prudent tax increases to improve funding for quality education in the state, Droege said.
Credit: Saeed Sadeghi 
To be sure, higher taxes, increased government spending, and opposition to parental choice are all defensible policy goals and are shared by some (though not all) of the E-E’s readers. But according to the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics, “The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public.” Thus, journalists should “avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.”

Is it possible for the E-E’s editor to pick a side on policy disputes without compromising the newspaper’s impartiality and credibility? Perhaps. Readers certainly should give the E-E every opportunity to prove that it can report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. But readers need to be alert. For example, does the word “crisis” belong in the lede of a supposedly straight news story? According to data compiled from the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System and provided by the state Department of Education, total education spending in Oklahoma, even when adjusted for inflation, is higher today ($6,695,978,193) than it was a decade ago ($6,115,624,776). Per-pupil spending is roughly flat (up slightly from $9,775 to $9,781). Does this constitute a “crisis”?

Many readers would answer with an emphatic yes and could make a compelling argument for why a crisis mentality is warranted. But others might say, “No, actually, it seems like $244,525 for a classroom of 25 kids should be plenty.” In short, a funding “crisis” is in the eye of the beholder. It’s not for reporters or editors to take sides.

In order to report education news “fully” and “fairly,” journalists must always remember that their job is to serve their readers—not to serve their sources or themselves. To that end, here are 10 story ideas I would respectfully urge the E-E to consider in the weeks and months ahead.
  1. Bartlesville has a well-deserved reputation as an excellent public school district. According to researchers at the George W. Bush Institute, the average student in Bartlesville is performing better in math than 64 percent of students in the United States and better than 53 percent of students in other developed economies. So if Oklahoma lawmakers created a universal school-choice program, how many students in the Bartlesville Public Schools would even feel the need to utilize it? How many would actually leave for a private school? E-E journalists should explore the take-up rates in other school-choice states and try to get a sense of what might happen in Bartlesville.
  2. The E-E recently quoted state Rep. Earl Sears as saying, “I personally don’t support a voucher program.” A logical journalistic follow-up question for Rep. Sears would be: “As you know, Oklahoma already has a voucher program—a voucher program that likely wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for you. Will you introduce legislation to repeal it?”
  3. Oklahoma’s private-school voucher program is helping hearing-impaired students, autistic students, students seeking to overcome addiction, and many more. With two private schools in Bartlesville participating in the program, E-E journalists could likely find some interesting human-interest stories about local students.
  4. Bullycide (suicide as a result of being bullied) is a heartbreaking reality in Oklahoma and nationwide. Oklahoma’s private-school voucher program turned out to be a godsend for Phylicia and for Dylan, both of whom had considered suicide. Are there other troubled students who have been rescued by the voucher program? If so, E-E journalists should tell their stories.
  5. PEAK wants lawmakers to “properly” fund schools. E-E journalists should explore the question: What level of funding is “proper”? If Bartlesville’s per-pupil spending of $9,530 is not enough, then what is? Would $15,971 (Cushing) be enough? How about $17,552 (Stroud), $25,373 (Taloga), or $43,817 (Reydon)? The superintendent in Tahlequah goes so far as to say, “There has never been enough revenue for public education, and there never will be.” Does PEAK share that view? Do BPS officials? If not, at what dollar amount would BPS officials tell taxpayers, “Thank you. The funding level you have provided is now sufficient. If there are any problems remaining with the schools, we take responsibility for them.”?
  6. PEAK wants “significant pay raises” for all teachers, even if it means supporting “prudent” tax increases. In a recent report examining the cost (salary, benefits, and payroll taxes) per teacher in Oklahoma in 2016, researchers at the 1889 Institute found that the average cost to taxpayers is about $66,034. E-E journalists should do a story on the report and should ask some of these taxpayers: What tax hikes would be “prudent”?
  7. Oklahoma’s public education system now has more non-teachers than teachers. According to economist Benjamin Scafidi, if it weren’t for the non-teaching staff surge of the last two decades Oklahoma could have given each teacher a pay raise of more than $6,000. E-E journalists should take a look at staffing decisions in some local districts. For example, why did the non-teaching staff in Bartlesville and Nowata increase even as enrollment declined? In Dewey, why was the non-teaching staff increase more than three times greater than the increase in students?
  8. The National Education Association warned of a “teacher shortage” nearly a century ago—and we’ve been hearing about teacher shortages ever since. But two Oklahoma researchers have concluded that “overall, there is no teacher shortage. In fact, there may be a surplus.” Journalists—always on the lookout for “man bites dog” stories—should be eager to explore a finding like this which contradicts the prevailing wisdom. E-E journalists should talk to the researchers and also talk to public school officials who would take issue with the researchers’ conclusions.
  9. PEAK is “strongly against” vouchers and ESAs, but what do other citizens think about these sorts of private-school choice policies? A Gallup poll released last week found strong support nationally for the Trump-DeVos school choice proposal, and indeed over the last few years there have been at least eight public-opinion surveys asking Oklahomans their views on school choice. Using the latest Gallup poll as a news hook, the E-E should take a look at the public opinion survey research on school choice.
  10. PEAK wants significant pay raises for “all teachers”—presumably even the bad ones. But a 2015 SoonerPoll survey found that 58 percent of Oklahoma voters say “pay raises should be given based on the quality of each teacher’s work,” while 40 percent say “pay raises should be given to all teachers across the board.” E-E journalists should interview some Bartlesville taxpayers to see which they prefer.
Whether or not E-E journalists pursue any of these story ideas specifically, here’s hoping they will strive to report the education news fully, accurately, and fairly.


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UPDATES: 

There's no shortage of good story ideas. Additional ones will be added below as they present themselves. 
  1. PEAK indicated on April 3 that it wants to “stop the next tax cut.” With April 15 still fresh on people’s minds, E-E journalists should do a story on the proposed legislation. Some Bartians may agree with PEAK that our political leaders need more money to spend on the government-operated school system. However, considering that the average Oklahoman had to work the first 101 days of 2017 just to earn enough money to pay the federal, state, and local tax collectors, others may be in the mood for any tax cut they can get.
  2. PEAK opposes Senate Bill 393, the Oklahoma Science Education Act, which passed the Oklahoma Senate on March 22 by a vote of 34 to 10 and is now being considered in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. E-E journalists should do a story on the legislation (and even publish the bill itself as a sidebar so readers can judge for themselves). PEAK believes this “anti-science” legislation is “designed to discredit evolution and climate change” and could even (gasp!) “open the door to creationism.” But given what Americans think on these topics—and knowing that Bible Belt Okies are even more conservative than Americans as a whole—E-E journalists shouldn’t have any trouble finding interviewees who support the legislation.
  3. The Bartlesville school board voted unanimously to outsource the schools’ janitorial services, the E-E reports. “The current janitorial staff were being managed by the principals at each site, which Preston Birk, the district’s chief financial officer, said was ineffective. … 'We didn’t invent the wheel. There’s quite a few other districts larger than us and smaller than us that outsource custodial work,' Birk said. The move will save Bartlesville Public Schools $300,000 total savings in the 2017-2018 school year, but [superintendent Chuck] McCauley said he expects that number will grow.” E-E journalists should pursue some follow-up stories: If this move is so beneficial to taxpayers in 2017, why wasn’t it done in 2007 or 1997 or earlier? And if it makes fiscal sense to outsource custodial work, are there other services the school board could outsource?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

More perfect than Union

The Oklahoman editorializes today:
David L. Kirp, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, recently wrote an op-ed for The New York Times headlined, “Who Needs Charters When You Have Public Schools Like These?” The column focused on Union Public Schools in Tulsa. Yet some Oklahoma charter schools outperform even Union. In 2015, according to the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability, the percentage of students in Union schools who passed various state tests was markedly lower than the share passing those same tests at Harding Charter Preparatory High School and KIPP Reach College Preparatory School (both in Oklahoma City), even though the latter two charter schools both have higher minority student populations than Union and large numbers of low-income students. It's welcome news any time an Oklahoma school receives positive recognition, and some Union schools are doing fine, but that doesn't mean the closest public school always provides a quality education for every student or that charter schools aren't needed.
Indeed, one could argue that a school district spending $11,566 per student and paying its superintendent nearly a quarter-million dollars annually should actually be doing better than it is now. The average student in the Union school district performs better in math than 38 percent of students in other developed economies.

Friday, April 7, 2017

‘Pay no attention to that research consensus behind the curtain’

"Noah Smith dresses up a few fussy methodological quibbles and one big, really dishonest bit of fakery in order to cast aspersions on my Win-Win report and distract you from the research consensus behind the curtain," Greg Forster writes.

Former OKCPS bus driver accused of sexually assaulting student

KOCO has the story.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Two OKC mid-high students accused of attempting to rape fellow student on campus

The Oklahoman has the story.

Oklahoma elementary students assaulting teachers

"In 2015, Oklahoma schools reported 96 suspensions of elementary-aged students for assaulting a teacher or staff member," Jennifer Palmer reports.