Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Power Is Shifting In Education ... From Teachers Unions and Government Bureaucrats to Parents, Students and Taxpayers

We the People are finally getting the message about our system of government run public education, including its high costs, low quality and lack of accountability to the parents and students, aka the system's customers.

We're also getting the message about what really matters to the teachers unions as well.

And suffice it to say that the cost to taxpayers and the quality of the education that our kids receive hasn't been the top priority of the teachers unions. Accordingly, my guess is that these same unions will be doing themselves more harm than good by protesting loudly and publicly about the 'austerity' and 'choice' measures being adopted by school districts across America.

The opposite of what teachers unions call 'austerity' measures will be dramatic tax increases, and that's not exactly what citizens are in favor of these days. Neither are elected government officials, unless the tax increases would apply only to the wealthy "1%," which isn't the case with the local property taxes that are primarily used to fund public schools.

So the decision about the future of education will be for the taxpayers to choose --- (1) whether to pay more and more in taxes in order to keep the status quo system of paying the teachers under the present non-merit based system, funding their guaranteed pensions, keeping the countless underperformiing schools open in urban areas and continuing to accept not what we expect but what we've been getting all along for our huge expenditure of education dollars, or (2) make a radical change to the status quo and put parents and students in control while saving taxpayers money and improving the quality of education at the same time.

So as it comes down to a contest between teachers unions and the government knows best gang of bureaucrats on one side, and the parents and students on the other side, my money is on the parents and students. And I'm betting that the politicians will be smart enough to follow the logic of choosing the above #2 path forward as well. The surest path to their reelection is always to follow the will of the people.

With Vouchers, States Shift Aid for Schools to Families describes what's happening in America today:

"A growing number of lawmakers across the country are taking steps to redefine public education, shifting the debate from the classroom to the pocketbook. Instead of simply financing a traditional system of neighborhood schools, legislators and some governors are headed toward funneling public money directly to families, who would be free to choose the kind of schooling they believe is best for their children, be it public, charter, private, religious, online or at home.

On Tuesday, after a legal fight, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the state’s voucher program as constitutional. This month, Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama signed tax-credit legislation so that families can take their children out of failing public schools and enroll them in private schools, or at least in better-performing public schools.
In Arizona, which already has a tax-credit scholarship program, the Legislature has broadened eligibility for education savings accounts. And in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie, in an effort to circumvent a Legislature that has repeatedly defeated voucher bills, has inserted $2 million into his budget so low-income children can obtain private school vouchers. . . . 
Currently, 17 states offer 33 programs that allow parents to use taxpayer money to send their children to private schools, according to the American Federation for Children, a nonprofit advocate for school vouchers and tax-credit scholarship programs that give individuals or corporations tax reductions if they donate to state-run scholarship funds.
To qualify, students generally must fit into certain categories, based on factors that include income and disability status. Georgia students do not need to meet any specific criteria to receive tax-credit scholarships. And under the income criteria set for Indiana’s voucher program, nearly two-thirds of the state’s families qualify.
The Arizona Legislature last May expanded the eligibility criteria for education savings accounts, which are private bank accounts into which the state deposits public money for certain students to use for private school tuition, books, tutoring and other educational services.
Open only to special-needs students at first, the program has been expanded to include children in failing schools, those whose parents are in active military duty and those who are being adopted. One in five public school students — roughly 220,000 children — will be eligible in the coming school year. . . . 
In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that school vouchers did not violate the Constitution’s separation of church and state, even though many families use the public money to send their children to religious schools. Many states, however, still have constitutional clauses prohibiting the financing of religious institutions with public money, which is why some of the programs face legal challenges. Voucher opponents also have filed suits based on state constitutional guarantees of public education.
"Beyond Indiana, the Supreme Court in Louisiana heard an appeal this month by a group of parents who are currently using vouchers and the Black Alliance for Educational Options, an advocacy group, after a lower court upheld a challenge to the state’s voucher program. They argued that children enrolled in failing public schools had the right to a high-quality education.

“What we’re dealing with is what public monopolies always give us, which is low quality at a very high price,” said Richard Komer, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm that represents the pro-voucher groups in Indiana and Louisiana. “The idea is to try and break that cycle, because what we’ve been doing in public education since the beginning of time is rewarding failure.”

Critics say schools that accept vouchers or tax credit scholarships often filter out students with special needs, and that families already sending their children to private school use the public programs to subsidize their tuition. It is also not clear that students who attend private schools using vouchers get better educations, as many do not have to take the annual standardized tests that public school students do. Research tracking students in voucher programs has also not shown clear improvements in performance.
“At the same exact time as accountability and transparency seem to be the total watchword for how are we spending these dollars in an austerity-ridden environment,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, “there’s absolutely no accountability with vouchers.”
Mr. Komer at the Institute for Justice called for a shift of focus. “We happen to take the view that parents know best,” he said, “and are the best accountability measure to make sure that things are done properly for their kids.”
In Arizona — which, over the past five years, cut more of its K-12 budget than any other state, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a policy research group based in Washington — charter schools are ubiquitous and school districts have open borders, so children are free to go to school wherever they want.
“It will be the end of schools that don’t perform, and that’s a blessing,” said Darcy A. Olsen, president of the Goldwater Institute, which designed the program and led a robust lobbying campaign to pass it in the Legislature. “We’re not doing anyone any favors by keeping schools afloat that don’t teach children how to read.”      
Summing Up
There is only one question that needs to be asked and answered about the desirability of school vouchers for parents and students, and it is indeed a very simple one.
Are parents and students or government officials more capable of deciding where the children of those parents should attend school?
To me it's a no brainer.
Thanks. Bob.

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