Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It

Ryan T. Anderson from The Heritage Foundation has released a comprehensive report on marriage. Here is the abstract:

Marriage is based on the truth that men and women are complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the reality that children need a mother and a father.

Redefining marriage does not simply expand the existing understanding of marriage; it rejects these truths.

Marriage is society’s least restrictive means of ensuring the well-being of children. By encouraging the norms of marriage—monogamy, sexual exclusivity, and permanence—the state strengthens civil society and reduces its own role.

The future of this country depends on the future of marriage.

The future of marriage depends on citizens understanding what it is and why it matters and demanding that government policies support, not undermine, true marriage.

The report addresses three important questions: At the heart of the current debates about same-sex marriage are three crucial questions: What is marriage, why does marriage matter for public policy, and what would be the consequences of redefining marriage to exclude sexual complementary?

To read the full report click here.

RELATED COLUMN: The Well of Lonliness by Mary Kay Ruppel

Why We Don’t Need Universal Preschool

Column is courtesy of the Heritage Foundation:

In his State of the Union address, President Obama said he wanted to “make high-quality preschool available to every child in America” and “make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.”

So Heritage experts took a look at the President’s plan to see if it would actually help America’s needy children get ahead in the “race of life.”

Another government-controlled, top-down, one-size-fits-all program—what could go wrong?

Look at the government’s record. As Heritage’s Lindsey Burke, the Will Skillman Fellow in Education, and research associate Rachel Sheffield point out in their new paper, “Washington already has a poor track record for K–12 education, with federal spending nearly tripling over the past three decades while academic achievement and attainment languishes.”

Look at the government preschool we already have.There are already 45 government preschool programs run by numerous federal agencies, including the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, the Interior, and Housing and Urban Development. Burke and Sheffield note that these 45 programs “are estimated to cost taxpayers more than $20 billion annually. Many are duplicative and ineffective, failing to serve the needs of children from low-income families.”

Head Start, of course, has already shown us the ways government preschool can fail American children:

After nearly 50 years of operation, the federal Head Start program has failed to improve the educational outcomes and kindergarten readiness of participating children. Head Start should be eliminated, or at the very least it should be reformed, to allow states the flexibility to make their Head Start funds portable, allowing families to use their dollars to send their children to a private preschool of their choice.

The President’s new proposal wouldn’t help low-income children. Low-income families already have access to taxpayer-funded preschool through state programs and Head Start (which, if it continues to be funded, should be reformed to serve them better). President Obama’s proposal would subsidize middle-income and upper-income families—with no new benefit to low-income parents.

Three-quarters of four-year-olds are already in preschool. Many parents prefer to care for their young children at home. But for those who want preschool programs, there are a variety of programs available. There is no public demand for new, large-scale government spending in this area. Burke and Sheffield report that “An estimated 74 percent of four-year-old children are enrolled in preschool, public and private, across the country.”

Look at the academic evidence. Do these formal preschool programs really help kids in their academic careers? Our authors write: “Evaluations of preschool programs consistently find that any gains children make as a result of preschool quickly fade away in their early elementary years.” The Obama administration turns to a 50-year-old evaluation of a high-intervention preschool program with 58 at-risk children to make his case for taxpayer-funded, universal preschool. That means President Obama is making what researcher Russ Whitehurst calls “a prodigious leap of faith.” The outcomes of that program, known as the Perry Preschool Project, have never been replicated.

It is far more likely that the President’s proposal will produce outcomes akin to Head Start, which, according to the scientifically rigorous evaluations conducted by Health and Human Services, are abysmal.

Everyone wants children to have the best start in life. Large-scale government preschool programs are not the way to ensure that happens.

LEARN MORE:

Universal Preschool’s Empty Promises

Study finds Florida’s class size amendment a bad idea

The University of Washington’s Center for Reinventing Public Education reports that the across-the-board mantra, “smaller is better,” may not be the best tactic for every school. According to The Opportunity Cost of Smaller Classes: A State-By-State Spending Analysis, smaller classes often equal a hefty price tag.

“The cost nationally of maintaining current class sizes, compared to increasing the average by 2 students, is $15.7 billion per year, or an average of $319 per pupil,” the study reports. “Adding the cost of benefits for the extra teachers required to keep class sizes low drives up the estimate to over $20 billion nationally.”

“With the exception of the Tennessee STAR study, which has provided the strongest evidence to date of the positive effects of CSR [class-size reduction] in the early grades, much of the more recent research shows negligible or modest positive effects on test scores when class sizes are reduced by one or two students,” stated Jerusha Conner, education professor at Villanova University.

RELATED COLUMN:

Officials: 80 Percent Of Recent NYC High School Graduates Cannot Read (+video)

Florida legislators introduce bills to create Marriage Education Handbook

Tallahassee, FL – State Senator Kelli Stargel filed SB-1586 and Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley has filed companion bill HB-1163, to create a Marriage Education Handbook. The handbook will be distributed statewide through the offices of the clerk of the court to couples applying for a marriage license and will include information on communication skills, conflict resolution, parenting, managing finances and where a married couple can get personal or professional help with their marriage should they need it in the future.

Senator Stargel stated, “So many young couples getting married today come from broken homes and cannot draw upon a living example of how a marriage works. Marriage is one of the greatest safeguards against poverty in our society and this handbook will be an invaluable resource to hundreds of thousands of newly married couples to hekp them develop healthy and strong marriages.”

Representative Baxley commented, “The state has a compelling interest in keeping marriages and families successful and thriving. In Florida alone, the taxpayers cost as a result of family fragmentation from divorce and unwed child bearing is just short of two billion dollars every year. Every marriage that is saved and strengthened is both an economic and a social victory for Florida.”

Several other states have created Marriage Handbooks including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.

An amendment will be offered to ensure the handbook also includes resources and help for victims of domestic violence and to give more specific instructions to the clerk of courts regarding distribution of the handbook. There is no expected economic impact as the design and production of the booklet will be paid for by funds raised from grant requests with private foundations.

IRS website instructs Grades 3 – 5 public school students on why taxes are good

The IRS has produced a comprehensive website, lesson plans and instructional materials to teach public school children about taxes. The IRS website is titled, “Understanding Taxes“.

Kids.gov supports the teaching of elementary school children about taxes. Explaining Taxes to Students Lesson Plan (Grades 3 – 5):

Overview: Your students may be curious about what taxes are and why we pay them. The Internal Revenue Service has a great Understanding Taxes website. The teacher section has lesson plans, interactive activities and printable components for middle school and high school students.

Here are excerpts from the Grades 3 – 5 student lesson plan:

  1. Explain that taxes are collected to pay for things that we all share, like roads, parks, and playgrounds. We also share in the cost of services such as the public school system or the police department. Activity – Ask students to list other government services that might be funded by taxes. Here is an Online 2011 Federal Taxpayer Receipt where data can be entered to see how tax money was distributed across government programs.
  2. Tell students that there are different types and amounts of taxes based on where a person lives and his/her income. Talk to students about:
    1. Income Tax – Explain that most people in the country have money taken from each paycheck to pay income taxes so the federal government can pay for things like national defense, inspecting food, researching cures for diseases, and helping with disasters. Activity – Ask the students to create a list of goods and services they share with the family members of their household. If their parents pay them for chores, ask whether they think they should give some of this back to pay for these goods and services. Using a weekly allowance as a paycheck and setting a fixed tax rate, have students calculate their “net pay.” Have students discuss how the tax income should be divided between the goods and services they listed.
    2. Sales Tax – When a student wants to buy something with his own money, he finds out about sales tax when his purchase unexpectedly costs more than the “sticker price”. Explain that states and cities charge taxes on almost everything that is purchased so they can provide their own services, and that the sales tax rate can vary from state to state. Activity – Have students examine receipts to compare the “sticker price” of items to the final cost of the items with sales taxes included. Optional Activity – Have students calculate sales tax and the final cost of an item using the sales tax rate for your state.
    3. Property Tax – Explain how every year, some adults pay taxes to the local government based on their house’s value. Explain that properties are assessed periodically to determine their value. Even in rented property, explain that the property taxes still get paid, but they’re probably included in the monthly rent. Probe – Ask students to speculate on what happens to the amount of property tax owed when home improvements, like adding a new bathroom or finishing a basement, are made. Optional Activity – U.S. property tax rates vary from state to state, typically .2 to 4%. Have the students calculate the property tax for 3 properties at different values using the same tax rate. [My emphasis]

At the end of the lesson plan is this activity:

Discuss with students that not everyone agrees on taxes. The Boston Tea Party is a good historical example of introducing the idea of resistance to taxes. (Note the illustration about Colonialists attacking a hapless tax collector.)

Probe – Ask students to speculate on the consequences if a large number of people refused to pay taxes. [My emphasis]

Many consider this indoctrination and not education. What do you think?

New Study Finds 21 States Have More Non-Teaching Staff than Teachers

INDIANAPOLIS — Twenty-one states employ more bus drivers, librarians, cafeteria workers, deputy superintendents, accountants, coaches, nurses, assistant principals, and other non-teaching personnel than they do classroom teachers, according to a new analysis of state education employees by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

In Florida there has been a 36% increase in the number of students and a 41% increase in administrators and other non-teaching Staff from FY 1992 to FY 2009.

The report, a sequel to last fall’s “The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools,” examines states’ hiring patterns between 1992 and 2009.

It found that, in 2009, administrators and other non-teaching staff outnumbered teachers in Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Colorado, Oregon, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Louisiana, Wyoming, Vermont, Utah, Georgia, Alaska, New Hampshire, Iowa, and the District of Columbia, which is treated as a state in the report.

“Taxpayers should be outraged public schools hired so many non-teaching personnel with such little academic improvement among students to show for it,” said Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. “This money could have been better invested in areas that have proved to benefit children.”

Virginia far outpaced other states with the number of excessive personnel outside the classroom with 60,737 more non-teaching staff than teachers, followed by Ohio with 19,040 more non-teaching personnel than teachers.

The report also compared the growth rate among administrators and non-teaching staff with student enrollment changes from 1992 to 2009. It found that 48 states could be saving $24 billion annually if the hiring of non-teaching staff had not exceeded the growth of students between 1992 and 2009.

In Texas, taxpayers would have saved almost $6.4 billion annually if public schools’ non-teaching personnel had not outpaced students. Virginia, Ohio, New York, California, and Pennsylvania each would have annual, recurring savings in the billions. Other states’ savings are in the millions; however, Nevada and Arizona actually saved money, as both its administrative and non-teaching personnel did not outpace student growth. Data were not available for South Carolina.

“States could do much more constructive things with those kinds of dollars,” Enlow said. “State leaders could be permitting salary increases for great teachers, offering children in failing schools the option of attending a private school, or directing savings toward other worthy purposes. Instead states have allowed these enormous bureaucracies to grow.”

The report also shows the salary increases states could provide teachers annually if administrators and non-teaching personnel kept pace with the student population from 1992 to 2009. At the top was Virginia, which could provide teachers an annual salary increase of $29,007. Maine was second at $25,505.

The report was compiled with data from the National Center for Education Statistics and prepared by Ben Scafidi, an economist at Georgia College & State University and a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

To read the report, visit www.edchoice.org/StaffSurge2. That link also provides a map in which readers can download each state’s findings.

About the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice:

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, solely dedicated to advancing Milton and Rose Friedman’s vision of school choice for all children. First established as the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation in 1996, the Foundation continues to promote school choice as the most effective and equitable way to improve the quality of K-12 education in America. The Foundation is dedicated to research, education, and outreach on the vital issues and implications related to choice and competition in K-12 education.

Florida Rep. Steube files bill “to arm school personnel”

On February 27th , Florida Representative W. Gregory “Greg” Steube,  filed HB 1097 – School Safety, which takes a hard look at safety in Florida’s schools. Rep. Steube, an Army paratrooper and Iraq War combat veteran, states, “The safety of our school children and the dedicated teachers and personnel who educate them is a paramount concern to all communities.”

“We are all deeply concerned about the well-being of our children and we must come to a consensus on how to prevent violent crimes from occurring on school grounds. As a father and a son of a teacher, I feel a responsibility to my community and my state to address the safety of our students and teaching personnel. With this bill, schools will be better equipped to protect their faculty and students,” notes Rep. Steube.

HB 1097 would allow a school principal to designate one or more members of school personnel to carry a concealed firearm or weapon while performing his or her official duties. 

The bill requires that “designated personnel must complete additional training and coursework that covers emergency procedures, life safety, methods of prevention, terrorism awareness and firearm proficiency to ensure they are prepared to respond appropriately in the event that a threat arises on campus. Also, the bill would require each school to have a school safety officer present on campus, unless the principal has already designated a member of school personnel to carry a weapon or firearm on that campus.”

Below, you can find more information regarding HB 1097, as well as important tools that may help you advocate for your concerns.

HB 1097

HB 1097 Press Release

Legislative Tracking System

EDITORS NOTE:

Greg Ridgeway, Ph.D., Deputy Director National Institute of Justice, in a recently released document states, “On average there are about 11,000 firearm homicides every year. While there are deaths resulting from accidental discharges and suicides, this document will focus on intentional firearm homicides. Fatalities from mass shootings (those with 4 or more victims in a particular place and time) account on average for 35 fatalities per year. Policies that address the larger firearm homicide issue will have a far greater impact even if they do not address the particular issues of mass shootings.”

This document provides a cursory summary of select initiatives to reduce firearm violence and an assessment of the evidence for the initiative. To read the document click here.

Watch this video statement by Christian Ziegler, State Committeeman from Sarasota, FL:

Florida has the most schools offering the International Baccalaureate but is it worth it?

In 1971, the United Nations International School (UNIS) became the first school authorized “to offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) and awarded the first IB degree in the world.”

As of February 21, 2013 there are 1,403 International Baccalaureate (IB) World Schools in the U.S. which offer one or more IB programs. Florida leads the way in schools offering IB Programs with 144 or over 10% of U.S. IB World Schools.

Debra K. Niwa has issued her annual update on IB World Schools in the U.S. With 91% of IB programs funded by public dollars, Niwa notes, “Public financing of IB World Schools begs the attention of anyone who values education and cares about how taxpayer money is spent in the public school system. Local, state, and federal taxpayer dollars are covering public school costs for programs offered by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) — an entity under Swiss law that claims non-profit status. IBO is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland; a regional office opened in Bethesda, Maryland in 2010.

Niwa presents in her annual update the following red-flag issues surrounding IB programs:

IB programs add unnecessary costs to school operations (these vary with each IB program). IB school fees, new staff positions (non-teaching and teaching), student registration and subject fees, student assessment fees, and periodic program evaluation visit fees, to name a few, Plus, IB requires training (that incurs participant fees, travel, meals, and lodging expenses) at destinations that are out-of-state or out-of-country for most attendees. “It costs an average of about $8,000 to train a staff member.” Thereafter, re-training comes every few years as IBO changes curriculum.

The “pre-university” two-year IB Diploma Program (DP) is not cost effective (nor are the other IB programs). IB DP “candidates” are often a tiny portion of a high school’s total enrollment. In 2009, a proponent in Virginia “shared statistics that indicate 72% of IB Programs have less than 10 diploma candidates each year and that was the norm.”6 Nevertheless, substantial six-digit amounts accommodate the IB DP. In July 2011, Tucson Unified School District revealed its annual costs for the Diploma Program at one high school. For the first two IB graduating classes, TUSD spent more than $1 million the first year (2009-2010) and $800,000 the second year (2010-2011). Five students received the IB Diploma in that period.

The IB Middle Years Program (MYP) — for ages 11 to 15 — is poor preparation for the DP. IB teachers criticize that “MYP suddenly stops in Grade 10. There is no articulation between MYP and IB Diploma” and “The MYP . . . doesn’t really provide the opportunity to hone the skills needed to be successful DP students.” What about the many MYP graduates who don’t qualify for the Diploma Program? In 2012 the IBO will allow IB DP schools to offer an IB “Career-related Certificate” for students ages 16 to 19 years old.

The IB Primary Years Program (PYP) – for 3 to 12-year-olds — is bad for academic support. As staff at PYP schools have remarked: “. . . the IB program has NO place in elementary school. It takes too much emphasis off learning the basics, it takes the teachers out of the classroom for too many meetings, and it takes our administrators on expensive cross-country business trips.” “ . . . there was so much time spent on the IB stuff and time taken away from the true academics — very frustrating when you have . . . students that you need to help on academics but can’t.”

IB changes education’s purpose, content, and teaching methods — predictably supporting the agendas of the IBO which, since 1970, has been an official NGO of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Strip away the IB marketing puffery and suddenly the IB drivel about “rigor”, “international mindedness” and “quality education for a better world” become nothing more than phrases that obscure the integration of non-academic goals that support United Nations* issues, such as Agenda 21 sustainable development.

Niwa asks parents, Florida taxpayers and Florida’s political leadership this question: How deeply does IB reach into the public school system in your state?

In the case of Florida it runs deeply starting in 2005 with the first IB program created under former Governor Jeb Bush.

ABOUT DEBRA K. NIWA

Debra K. Niwa

Debbie Niwa began researching education issues five years ago when she started questioning the policies and changes occurring in the school district in Tucson, Arizona that her son was enrolled in. She has devoted thousands of hours researching local, state, federal, and global school reform issues, as well as actively advocating for academic quality in education. Since 1980, she has worked professionally on the design and production of publications as well as the gamut of other graphic design projects.

Rocking Preacher’s Free Speech Violated By Florida Public School

TEA Party Community reports, “Rock band leader, radio show host and international ministry organizer Bradlee Dean has been ejected from another school campus. This time, attorneys with the public interest firm Liberty Counsel have written to educators explaining that the Constitution applies on school grounds.”

Dean’s ministry, You Can Run But You Cannot Hide, says it delivers  messages of uncompromising integrity and moral values to audiences wherever he can reach them. His  organization told WND he had been scheduled to speak to the “American Club” at Spanish River High in Boca Raton, Florida.

Bradlee Dean writes on his blog:

“On Wednesday [February 13, 2013], I was set to perform an after-school voluntary presentation at Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, Fla., after having been invited by a student-led high school group, The American Club. The group has been established for two years, has had many speakers and followed the usual line of protocol for having a presentation, being pre-approved by the school administration. They hung posters three weeks before the event, and it was advertised on morning announcements all week.

We no sooner stepped foot on campus, but the principal and an effeminate teacher approached us and attempted to cancel the event on their campus with no justifiable explanation. They claimed they did not “vet” me, although they had not done so with any previous speakers The American Club has brought in.”

Dean states, “When we reminded them that their actions were unlawful, they told us that once we entered school property, we no longer had a First Amendment right.”

The US Supreme Court has ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) that “students do not leave their rights at the schoolhouse door”. To protest the Vietnam War, Mary Beth Tinker and her brother wore black armbands to school. Fearing a disruption, the administration prohibited wearing such armbands. The Tinkers were removed from school when they failed to comply, but the Supreme Court ruled that their actions were protected by the First Amendment.

Dean provides the following video taken of the event:

Who is Bradlee Dean?

Why is former Governor Jeb Bush pushing Common Core State Standards?

Jenni White, President of Restore Public Education in an email states, “I received an email forward from an Oklahoma legislator today that took me aback a bit I must say.  This email was apparently sent to at least some Oklahoma legislators from the Foundation for Educational Excellence (FEE) – established and run by Jeb Bush out of Florida – in support of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), called “Debunking Common Core State Standards Myths”. To read the FEE email click here.

“Recent evidence shows our State Superintendent, Janet Barresi (a member of the Chiefs for Change, an offshoot of the FEE) and Governor Fallin have been utilizing the FEE to write educational ‘reform’ measures for use here in Oklahoma.  I just recently wrote about that phenomena and the ramifications for our state.” White stated.

Governor Rick Scott, the Florida legislature and school boards have embraced CCSS. But is this good for parents and public school students?

White notes that a number of organizations have raised red flags about CCSS. The following national organizations have come out against the Common Core State Standards: The Heritage Foundation, The Goldwater Institute, The Friedman Foundation, The Pioneer Institute, The Eagle Forum, CATO Institute, Home School Legal Defense Association and Reclaiming America for Christ.

White warns:

The CCSS have never been state-led.  The initiative was designed from the outset to be a set of national standards that would not be directly labeled as such to avoid violating federal law.  Individual private groups (the NGA and the CCSSO) facilitated the writing of the standards, and the Obama Administration pushed them to cash-strapped states by offering buckets of stimulus funds (RTT).  The NGA and CCSSO developed alliances with gigantic book publishers (Pearson), suppliers of CCSS materials (Achieve) to cover the needs of states for CCSS materials and the Gates Foundation to provide software and bribe money to organizations (ALEC) to help facilitate their use and moved one of the architects of the standards into position to become president of the college board where he could align the most widely-used college admissions test (ACT) to the CCSS.

Finally, the Obama Administration offered NCLB Waiversfor states implementing the CCSS and their idea of an A-F system of ‘accountability’ specifically for the CCSS.  C’est voila!  All Oklahoma schools ( including charter schools) must now teach the CCSS because they must take the expensive PARCC (state) tests that assess them.  If students make poor grades on the PARCC tests, school A-F scores could drop to the D or F category, causing the State Department of Ed to take over the school.  Smaller textbook companies must align with the CCSS or lose market share, causing the textbook market for home schools to contract.  Even private schools are now beginning to use the CCSS in order to keep their student’s ACT scores from falling.

 For decades proponents of school reform have pushed for a top down model such as No Child Left Behind under President George W. Bush and Race to the Top/Common Core standards under President Obama. With the help of former Florida Governor Bush and Bill Gates states have adopted these federal standards and the money that comes with it.

But have any of these programs actually increase student performance? The answer is no!

RUBIO INTRODUCES LEGISLATION TO EXPAND SCHOOL CHOICE

Washington, D.C. – Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced legislation today to help families pay for more school options through a new tax credit. The Educational Opportunities Act creates a federal corporate and individual tax credit to promote school choice by allowing contributions to go to Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs) that will distribute scholarships to a student to be used toward private school tuition or expenses related to attending a private school.

“Education plays a central role in the 21st century knowledge economy”, said Senator Rubio. “If we want our children to thrive economically, we need to equip students and families with the tools they need to succeed and make it in the middle class and beyond. Parental school choice is a critical piece in this, which is why I introduced the Educational Opportunities Act. This bill will incentivize investment in students and empower parents and K-12 students by allowing more educational opportunities, especially in low-income households that would otherwise not be able to afford it. It’s the kind of incentive that will help improve education in America and prepare our children for the jobs of tomorrow, without additional burdens on the American taxpayer.”

The Educational Opportunities Act is the first bill Senator Rubio has introduced in the 113th Congress, and is part of an effort to help build a 21st century middle class, as discussed in his speech last December at the Jack Kemp Foundation Dinner. In order to provide tax encouragement to help parents pay for the school of their choice, the bill creates a corporate and individual federal tax credit to go toward a qualifying, non-profit 501(c)(3) Education Scholarship Organization, so that students from low income families can receive a scholarship to pay for the cost of a private education of their parents choosing.

WHAT THE EDUCATION COMMUNITY IS SAYING ABOUT THE EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES ACT:

Former Governor Jeb Bush, Chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education: “Parents across the nation are struggling now more than ever and few can afford to pay for the tuition or education services their child deserves. Choosing your child’s school is as fundamental as choosing which doctor’s office is best for your child and this legislation will help make that choice more affordable to more parents.”

Kenneth Campbell, President of the Black Alliance For Educational Options: “The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) was founded based on the belief that all children,  despite their family’s income, should have access to a quality education. We wake up every day with the knowledge that too many of our children are in crisis, therefore we fight every day to ensure that low-income and working class Black parents have both the freedom and the power to chose where and how their children are educated. The Educational Opportunities Act proposed by Senator Marco Rubio has the potential to allow tens of thousands of children across this country to access an education that would otherwise be unavailable to them. We applaud the Senator for taking this bold step and we are hopeful that our nation’s elected officials will see this bill as an opportunity to help our most vulnerable children and not allow partisan politics or ideologies to prohibit this bill from moving forward.”

Julio Fuentes, President of Hispanic Council For Reform and Educational Options: “Sen. Rubio’s bill would move the country a long way towards leveling the playing field for Hispanic students and families. We know the achievement gaps for minority students have been too heartbreakingly wide for too long. We know the expansion of parental school choice is another tool we can thoughtfully use to narrow them. A federal tax credit scholarship program will give students around the nation more options to excel regardless of their zip code or their socioeconomic background.”

Rabbi David Zwiebel, Esq., Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel of America: “Agudath Israel applauds Sen. Marco Rubio for his bold move to increase parental school choice options for low-income families nationwide. Jewish day school families, among many others, will be able to use this scholarship program to better give their children the access they deserve to a high quality education. Our children, our communities, our democracy and our nation will all be the better for it. We encourage lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, to put a bipartisan stamp on the common-sense issue that is at the heart of this bill: the ability of parents to choose the learning environment that is the best fit for their child.”

Kevin P. Chavous, former D.C. City Councilman and current Executive Counsel for the American Federation For Children: “We are grateful that Senator Rubio has introduced a bill to help children access a great education, regardless of their zip code. At a time when our nation continues to have a tragically high dropout rate and millions of kids remain trapped in traditional schools that do not work for them, we must have the courage to put all options on the table – options we know work for disadvantaged kids.  Senator Rubio understands that every child matters and we applaud his leadership and commitment to helping these kids.”

To view the bill click here.

Why Education Emancipation is the Moral Imperative of our Time

The reform of public education has been an elusive goal. All seem to agree that public school reform is much needed. International rankings and national tests show American public school students falling behind their peers. Many scholars have studied public schools and their failures, governments have written thousands of studies addressing this issue. So what must happen to truly change public schools for the better?

A natural disaster like hurricane Katrina!

Walter Isaacson, a former managing editor of TIME, president of the Aspen Institute and chairman of the board of Teach for America, in his 2007 column “The Greatest Education Lab” wrote:

“Paul Vallas, the man who took over the troubled school systems of Chicago and then Philadelphia and upended them, stood before a crowd of New Orleans parents in a French Quarter courtyard earlier this summer and offered a promise. ‘This will be the greatest opportunity for educational entrepreneurs, charter schools, competition and parental choice in America,” he said. Call it the silver lining: Hurricane Katrina washed away what was one of the nation’s worst school systems and opened the path for energetic reformers who want to make New Orleans a laboratory of new ideas for urban schools‘.” [My emphasis]

What did New Orleans do to reform its broken public education system? It chartered every school in the district. Hurricane Karina emancipated the parents and students from the old public school structure and allowed them to achieve control of what was once a government monopoly.

C. Bradley Thompson in his article “The New Abolitionism: Why Education Emancipation is the Moral Imperative of our Time” wrote:

“I begin with my conclusion: The ‘public’ school system is the most immoral and corrupt institution in the United States of America today, and it should be abolished. It should be abolished for the same reason that chattel slavery was ended in the 19th century: Although different in purpose and in magnitude of harm to its victims, public education, like slavery, is a form of involuntary servitude. The primary difference is that public schools force children to serve the interests of the state rather than those of an individual master.” [My emphasis]

A radical conclusion notes Thompson. But is it?

Thompson wrote, “Twenty-first century Abolitionists are confronted, however, by a paradoxical fact: Most Americans recognize that something is deeply wrong with the country’s elementary and secondary schools, yet they support them like no other institution. Mention the possibility of abolishing the public schools, and most people look at you as though you are crazy. And, of course, no politician would ever dare cut spending to our schools and to the ‘kids’.”

Thompson states unequivocally, “The solution is not further reforms. The solution is abolition.” Read more here.

The Emancipation Proclamation was signed 150 years ago. Perhaps it is time for an Education Emancipation Proclamation?

Status of Educational Choice Programs in Florida “Unclear”

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice has release the 2013 edition of “The ABCs of School Choice“. The report shows the strength and weaknesses of school choice in Florida.

According to the Foundation website , “Florida has two private school choice programs (special-needs vouchers, limited tax-credit scholarships). The state also has a charter school law and enables public virtual schooling. Limited open enrollment exists, both for intradistrict and interdistrict public school choice. ”

The Foundation notes:

The status of school choice in Florida is unclear. Unfortunately, in an unprecedented decision, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the state’s groundbreaking Opportunity Scholarships voucher program for children in chronically failing public schools. The court declared that the program violated the state Constitution’s education article, specifically the requirement to provide a “uniform” public education. Contrary to state supreme courts in Wisconsin and Ohio, the Florida court decided that the Legislature may not provide educational options beyond those in the public schools. Still, the court limited its decision to Opportunity Scholarships only, leaving untouched Florida’s other school choice programs.

Earlier in the same case, a Florida appellate court struck down Opportunity Scholarships under the state’s Blaine Amendment. That ruling ran counter to years of Florida Supreme Court rulings on the Blaine Amendment permitting “incidental” benefits to religious organizations as the by-product of programs designed to advance the general welfare. The Florida Supreme Court did not review that issue, and the validity of the appellate court’s holding is unclear under Florida law.” [My emphasis]

A constitutional amendment was on the November 2012 ballot to eliminate the Blaine Amendment but it failed to garner the votes to pass. Unions and even some TEA Party activists were against the amendment.

Florida’s two educational choice success stories are:

Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program

Enacted 2001 • Launched 2001

Florida provides a tax credit on corporate income taxes and insurance premium taxes for donations to Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFOs), nonprofits that provide private school scholarships for low-income students and foster care children and… Read More

John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program

Enacted as a Pilot Program 1999 • Expanded 2000

Florida’s John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program allows public school students with disabilities or 504 plans to receive vouchers to attend private schools or another public school. Read More

Despite the uncertainties surrounding vouchers, tax credit programs are completely consistent with the Florida constitution, even as interpreted by Holmes, because they involve private rather than public funds. –Quote from the Institute for Justice (April 2007)

Governor Scott comes under fire for his $2,500 teacher pay giveaway

Governor Rick Scott announced that Florida will have a budget surplus in 2013-2014 of $437 million. That is good news. Republicans got to this point of a surplus after years of budget deficits by cutting the size of government programs. The Republican party stands for less government, lower taxes and less spending.

So what does Scott want to do with that money?

He wants to give teachers an across the board pay increase of $2,500, which will spend the entire surplus and more. This idea is drawing boos from teachers unions. It is also drawing fire from other public service employees such as fire fighters, EMS personnel and law enforcement officers. Why teachers and not them? Some are even saying that Scott is buying votes, much like President Obama and members of Congress who increase benefits for government employees and those who take for a living via welfare programs.

Here is something that Scott may not have considered: Why not give the money back to the taxpayers?

It is the taxpayer who carries the burden of the salaries and benefits of public employees. Any salary increase to any public employee is a further long term burden on the Florida Retirement System. The Tampa Bay Times reports, “In a major victory for the state, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 4-3 against state workers and allowed the state to retain the 3 percent levy on worker salaries to offset the state’s investment into the Florida Retirement System.”  Download Retirement ruling.

Union leaders do not like it when their members have to contribute to their own retirement programs like public sector employees do. So this move by Scott appears to be pandering to one group of union employees. Scott may be giving up hard fought ground based upon the recent Florida Supreme Court decision.

Who holds the bag for any government employee pay increase? Answer: Florida’s taxpayers.

We will see what the Florida legislature does with the budget surplus. Any bets that they will find a way to spend it? Are Republicans morphing into Progressives? What the legislature does with this surplus will be a key indicator of where they stand on taxes and spending.

Michelle Rhee Grades Florida Among Top Two States in the Nation on Education Policy

Students First, founded by Michele Rhee, has issued its 2013 State Policy Report Card. No state received an “A” grade. Florida and Louisiana both received a grade of “B”, all other states were graded “C” to “F”. Florida received an A- for Elevating Teaching, a C- for Empowering Parents and a C for Spending Education dollars wisely.

The following outlines the rationale for these grades and why Florida was ranked in the top two nationally by Rhee:

“Florida has established itself as a national leader in putting students first. The state has adopted meaningful educator evaluations, and it requires districts to base all personnel decisions, as well as compensation structures, on classroom effectiveness. Florida is also a model for empowering parents. The state provides parents with useful information regarding school and teacher performance. Parents can also choose from a robust network of public charter schools and a tax credit scholarship program. Florida should provide comparable funding to public charter schools and needs to improve in holding local districts accountable for increasing student outcomes with their investments. The state should also allow mayors to take control of local districts that fail to improve under existing governance structures. Lastly, to ensure career flexibility and sustainability of Florida’s retirement system, it should require teachers to participate in its portable retirement option.”

ELEVATING TEACHING A- (GPA 3.64):

Florida is a leader for the rest of the country when it comes to ensuring effective teachers and principals are identified, retained, and rewarded by districts. Florida requires districts to evaluate educators meaningfully; several key multiple measures are incorporated, including student academic growth, which comprises 50 percent of the overall evaluation. Of importance, Florida mandates that performance drive all district personnel decisions, including placement, layoff, and tenure decisions. The state has already made progress in its implementation as well. Additionally, Florida invests in compensating its teachers through strong performance pay systems and in recruiting top teaching talent though its alternative certification programs. Adopting comprehensive reforms has allowed Florida to lead the country in its efforts to improve teacher quality and elevate the profession.

EMPOWERING PARENTS C- (GPA 1.94):

All families should have the information and access they need to choose high-quality schools for their children, and no student should be forced to attend a low-performing school or be taught by a low-performing teacher. Florida empowers parents by requiring all PK-12 schools to receive annual report cards that include an A-F letter grade based on student achievement and by requiring that parents are notified when their children are placed in the classroom of a teacher who has been rated ineffective. The state should pass parent trigger legislation that empowers parents to sign a petition to turn around a failing public school. Florida allows for the formation of public charter schools that must meet key accountability provisions, but it should allow for multiple authorizers. Additionally, the state should establish a publicly funded scholarship program limited to low-income students in chronically failing public schools and ensure private schools that participate meet certain accountability provisions.

SPENDING WISELY C (GPA 2.0)

Florida allows the state to intervene in academically underachieving schools and districts, but additional governance flexibility, such as mayoral control, is needed. While Florida allows districts to achieve cost efficiencies through multiple management alternatives, it should require districts to link spending data to student outcomes and permit governance changes when funds are mismanaged. Adopting these changes will strengthen Florida’s ability to ensure that resources are spent wisely and that districts are focused on improving student achievement. Florida has made significant progress in teacher pension reform by establishing a fully portable retirement option for teachers. The state should continue its reform efforts by requiring all teachers to participate in its portable plan.

To see how your state was graded click here.