Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Public education and Orange Julius

"Heritage Park Mall is a tomb," Kevin D. Williamson reports from Midwest City. Moreover, 
[W]hat is quite clear is that our current system of education, which focuses the great majority of its energy and resources on those students at the very top of the performance curve and those at the very bottom, is not doing very much for those in the middle. It is as relevant to the 21st century as an Orange Julius or a Chess King outlet—dead as Heritage Park Mall, even if it doesn’t know it yet.
Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Will the IRS give us educational freedom?

[Guest post by Greg Forster, Ph.D.]

As more people in Washington, D.C. have come to see that there are good reasons not to enact a national school voucher program, attention is turning to another proposal for federal school choice. The idea is for D.C. to use an alternative kind of program, known as a tax-credit scholarship, to provide school choice nationwide. While this is less objectionable than a national voucher, it is vitally important for school choice advocates to consider the costs involved in such a scheme.

Some of my friends in the school choice movement—including others at EdChoice, where I am proud to serve as a Friedman Fellow—see this as an opportunity we should support. With respect, I disagree.

We have had enormous success building up school choice slowly but surely in the states, where there are now 61 private school choice programs in 30 states plus D.C., serving more than 400,000 students. Diverting our strength into a huge fight in D.C. for what would likely turn out to be a lousy program—assuming we win at all, rather than suffering a humiliating loss in the national spotlight—would probably cost us more than it would be worth.

Tax-credit scholarships work differently from vouchers and from vouchers’ young cousin, Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Both vouchers and ESAs take government funding for education and put it under the direct control of parents. Tax-credit scholarships are indirect. They provide a tax credit that reimburses individual and/or corporate donors who give money to Scholarship-Granting Organizations (SGOs). The SGOs then take the money and use it to pay private-school tuition for students.

Overall, tax-credit scholarships are an inferior way to provide school choice. They put a gatekeeper—the SGO—between parents and choice. Every family should have a right to school choice. Vouchers and ESAs can provide that, while tax-credit scholarships always leave families dependent on SGO decisions. SGOs not only decide who gets to exercise choice; since they control the amount of the scholarship each student gets, they control who gets how much choice.

Tax-credit scholarships also have to place limits on how much funding is available, and therefore how many students can participate. That’s to control the amount of tax revenue diverted to the program. Vouchers and ESAs can always serve every student.

When these programs are designed poorly, as is usually the case, the problems of limited funding and arbitrary SGO control over families’ access to choice become serious. Good program design can mitigate these problems, although never entirely eliminate them. However, in the sausage grinder of D.C. education politics, the smart money will be on Congress producing a poorly designed program. Just look what a lousy job they did with their initial health-care bill.

So why do some prefer tax-credit scholarships? The main advantage is that the government never touches the money that pays for private-school tuition. Private donors give the money to SGOs, which use it to pay tuition bills. Government reimburses the donors by reducing their tax bills.

Usually this is considered an advantage because our court system is not, in general, smart enough to understand either that school choice is constitutional or that money is fungible. There are no serious constitutional objections to school choice. If religious schools can’t participate in government programs on the same terms as secular schools, how can we provide fire protection to churches? Or police protection to synagogues? Or municipal water lines to mosques?

Nonetheless, politicized judges are often looking for an excuse to strike down school choice. Keeping the government’s hands from directly touching the money does seem to help prevent them from doing so. That’s a bogus argument, because money is fungible. Treating tax credits as constitutionally different from ordinary spending is like treating the dollar bill in your left pocket as constitutionally different from the dollar bill in your right pocket. But since the argument against school choice is transparently bogus, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that what works is a bogus argument against it.

Today, though, this “Uncle Sam never touches the money” feature of tax-credit scholarships is taking on a new importance. School choice advocates, many of whom raised howls of protest against the federal push for Common Core on federalism grounds, are suddenly looking for a way to explain why D.C. can legitimately take charge of education policy. Doing it through the tax code seems to circumvent the federalism barrier.

There are a number of reasons not to go down this road. Let’s start with the wisdom of the founders.

There used to be an ad campaign declaring that driving at the speed limit “is not just a good idea, it’s the law.” Turning that around, I think my friends in the school choice movement need to realize that federalism is not just the law. It’s a good idea!

Yes, we can probably circumvent the legal barriers to federal control of education by going through the tax code. But is it a good idea to have D.C. control education policy—even if the policy it sets is a good one?

The idea behind federalism is that governance should be kept as close as possible to local communities. That is partly because big, distant legislatures and bureaucracies are not likely to serve people well if they’re not directly connected to them. And that’s still going to be a problem even if you do find a clever way to circumvent the Constitution’s legal barriers to national education policy.

Will the IRS give us freedom? Let’s be clear: Any federal tax-credit scholarship program will be administered by the same IRS that illegally tried to shut down conservative activists not long ago. It will be the IRS deciding which SGOs are worthy of funding and which aren’t. It will be the IRS that audits compliance and sets the terms of participation.

I never thought I’d live to see freedom-loving activists demanding to have the future of school choice put into the hands of the IRS.
I feel like Rip Van Winkle. What did I miss here?

Another reason to keep governance local is that imposing a policy upon a community by force if that community doesn’t regard the policy as just is, in general, a tyrannical thing to do. There are exceptions (you may recall we had a little trouble from 1861 to 1865). But usually, if you can’t persuade New York City to adopt the policies that the people in Oklahoma City want, or vice versa, then they should each be allowed to go their own way. Neither one should be enslaved to the will of the other.

I sympathize with educators and activists in states that are unlikely to adopt school choice. A federal tax-credit scholarship program would deliver school choice to them. That’s not a small consideration.

But it would also teach everyone around them to view them as enemies and redouble their efforts to shut them down. School-choice advocates in these states would go from being viewed as misguided to being viewed as devious, backstabbing enemies of the public. In the long term, that wouldn’t be good for school choice.

Lately I’ve heard a lot of talk from my conservative friends about how wrong it is when distant, powerful elites who are culturally alienated from the population at large shove laws down our throats that we regard as unjust. The question is, do we dislike that because we would rather it was our distant, powerful elites imposing our preferred laws upon populations from whom we are culturally alienated, and who view those laws as unjust? Or because elites shoving things down people’s throats is inherently wrong, whoever does it?

Keeping school choice in the states is the wise course. If we fight in a state and lose, as we have before and will again, we can always fight on in other states. In fact, when we’re losing in one state we’re usually winning in several others! However, if we fight a big national battle and lose, which is always a serious possibility, the movement could be set back for a generation.

But will it be much better if we fight a big national battle and win? We’ll get a program widely viewed as unjust and illegitimately imposed on the states, one that will be sabotaged both by its own lousy program design and by the deliberate efforts of the IRS bureaucracy to undermine it.

The failure of a poorly designed voucher program in Louisiana is now causing the movement some headaches—bad headlines and talking points from opponents. That pain is mitigated by the fact that the overwhelming majority of state programs do work. How much pain would the failure of a national school choice program cause? The big national lesson would be: “See? School choice doesn’t work.”

If D.C. wants to clean up the mess in education, it should clean up its own mess—the mess in D.C. The schools in our nation’s capital remain among the worst in the nation despite decades of increased spending and crusading reformers. The only serious glimmer of hope that has actually done some good has been the growth of charter schools and private school choice. Expanding the federal voucher program in D.C. to allow all students and all schools to participate would be an ideal way for D.C. to set a standard for the nation. Imposing school choice on the states, even by the back door of the tax code, is not the way to go.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Growing grassroots movements confronting school sex assault

"In Oklahoma," the Associated Press reports, "a district agreed to hire victim advocates after a walk-out by high school students who felt their high school failed to protect girls who had been bullied for reporting attacks."

Friday, May 19, 2017

Futile accountability systems should be abandoned

"Test-based accountability is essentially a central-planning exercise similar to that used by officials in the Soviet Union in attempting to manage the country’s economy," Jay P. Greene writes in the Summer 2017 issue of EducationNext. "In both cases, a distant official selected a particular goal for production, focused on a limited set of metrics to assess whether goals were met, and then threatened to impose rewards or sanctions based on whether those metrics showed desired results. Central planning failed in the Soviet Union, and it is failing here in public education—and for similar reasons."

I encourage you to read the entire article here.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Politicians shouldn’t penalize parents

Parents, not government officials, have the moral right to raise their children according to their consciences.

That, in a nutshell, is why school choice is so important.

Think about it. In a free society, the government rightly defers to parents when it comes to raising their children. Bottle-feed or breastfeed? Spanking or time-out? Piano lessons or karate lessons? For countless decisions every day, the government defers to parents when it comes to raising their children.

And since education is simply a subset of parenting (as education professor Jay Greene sagely reminds us), the government should defer to parents when it comes to educating their children.

Now obviously the government is going to spend money on education. But politicians shouldn’t play favorites, directing all the money to schools operated by the government. Let’s direct some of it to parents in the form of a voucher or a tax break.

We know that Oklahoma’s political leaders respect parents. In 2014 they enacted a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” to ensure that no state government entity infringes upon parents’ rights to direct the upbringing and education of their children.

But as important as that law is, it’s time to translate its principles into effective remedies, says Oklahoma City University law professor Andrew Spiropoulos. “We must guarantee all parents, no matter their income, the effective right to exit a failing school and choose one, public or private, that satisfies their needs.”

Happily, we already do this for some parents. For example, Oklahoma’s private-school voucher program is helping certain bullied children, autistic students, rural students who want a faith-based education, and many more.

Moreover, our state’s tax-credit scholarship program is helping hearing-impaired children, homeless students, teenage students battling addiction, and more—all while saving the state money.

So private-school choice is working for those who are eligible. But we need to do more. All parents have the right to direct their child’s path.

School-choice foes say we shouldn’t “drain money from public schools.” But that assumes the public schools are entitled to the money in the first place. In truth, they have no place of privilege, says Pennsylvania state Sen. Anthony Williams, a liberal Democrat. He rejects “the antiquated belief that existing public school systems have the right of first refusal when it comes to educating our children.”

Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, strikes the right balance. “I am very pro public schools,” he says. But he also supports parental choice. In fulfilling their God-given duty to raise their children, he says, parents “should be able to consider the best option for their children’s whole education and formation.”

Some parents would prefer a more rigorous curriculum for their children. Others are tired of all the bullying. Others simply don't want their daughters sharing a locker room with boys. In the Tulsa Public Schools, for example, “gender non-conforming students” have the right to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their “gender identity.”

And it's not just Tulsa. Aaron Baker, an 8th grade history teacher in the Mid-Del school district, points out that several other school districts don't discriminate on the basis of "gender expression or identity." (Mr. Baker promotes "radical social justice in Oklahoma public schools," so he's enthusiastically on board with this radical social experiment.) These districts include BristowBroken Arrow, ClevelandCollinsville, Durant, GlenpoolMid-Del, OkemahOwasso, Ponca City, ShawneeStillwater, and Tulsa Union.

"[W]e have now sunk to a depth," George Orwell once observed, "at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men." In that spirit, let us now reaffirm that a six-year-old girl is not a boy. A 14-year-old boy does not belong in the girls' locker room. After all, if children lack the perceptual judgment and physical skills to cross a busy street, the American College of Pediatricians reminds us, they certainly are not competent to decide they're the wrong sex or to consent to mutilation. Regrettably, we have now sunk to a depth where some grown-ups, refusing to state the obvious, choose to participate in systemic, taxpayer-supported child abuse.

Most Oklahoma parents reject this moral insanity and are zealous to protect their children's privacy. Politicians should not penalize these or any other parents (by making them pay twice) for raising their children according to their consciences.

[A shorter version of this piece appeared March 26 in The Oklahoman.]

Monday, May 15, 2017

Keep education—and choice—in the states

"Education reformers face an enormous temptation to use federal power to foist choice upon the states," Greg Forster writes for OCPA. This would be a bad idea, he says, whether the policy is Title I portability or a federal tax credit.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Government schools: Sowing the seeds of our destruction

"Several years ago, the Independent Institute honored Andy Garcia at our unforgettable Gala for Liberty," Mary Theroux writes.
There was not a dry eye in the house (including his) as Andy Garcia recounted his memories of leaving his home, Cuba, at the age of 5. 
Once the Castros had seized power, they passed a law giving the State full rights over all children. As I had been taught by my true-believing Marxist Development Economics professors at Stanford, this is how you build the “New Man” that makes Socialism the ideal society. 
Cuban parents not wanting their children to be raw material for Marxist experiments, instead made the ultimate sacrifice and turned their children over to the Catholic church’s Peter Pan project, under which their children were flown to live in freedom with families in the United States—not knowing if they would ever see their children again, and many of whom did not. 
After Andy Garcia’s mother reported to his father that she had seen Andy (at the age of 5) marching and singing the Internationale, his family joined the exodus. Fortunately, Andy’s father was able to later also leave Cuba, and the family was reunited in Florida.
Read the whole thing here.

Public-school educator tells homeschooled teenagers: ‘You can go to hell’

"I’m as gay as the day is long and twice as sunny," an assistant principal said to some homeschooled teenagers. "I don’t give a f— what you think Jesus tells me."

Friday, May 5, 2017

Want to regulate schools? Use parents

"It should not astonish us," Corey DeAngelis writes, "that families are selecting schools that do not specialize in producing obedient test-taking machines. Naturally, it is likely that parents care less about standardized tests than the overall development of their children. ... If we really want to ensure that children have access to high-quality schools, we ought to use the most powerful form of regulation that we have: parental choice."

School choice research is not a weapon

"When it comes to something with as many moving pieces as school choice, research is more useful as a flashlight than as a firearm," writes AEI scholar Rick Hess.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sapulpa 2nd grade teacher arrested for drugs, embezzlement

"A Sapulpa 2nd grade teacher was arrested on drug and embezzlement complaints Monday, May 2 at Holmes Park Elementary," the News on 6 reports.
Court records show the assistant superintendent called police after the teacher, Megan Nicole Sloan, left her Facebook account open on another teacher's computer. Administrator Johnny Bilby told police the second teacher could see a conversation where Sloan was talking about using and selling heroin as well as pawning items that belonged to the school, an affidavit states. 
Officers say they met with Sloan in the principal's office, and the teacher told them she had "Xanax footballs" in her purse and admitted to selling school iPads as well as using student field trip money to buy drugs and gas. Officers also said they found multiple syringes in her purse--some with exposed needles. One officer estimated there may have been as many as 40 syringes in Sloan's purse and a makeup bag. At least one of the syringes contained brown liquid police said was heroin.