Free Markets, Free People

Education

The New Jersey model

An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about newly elected NJ governor Chis Christie.  The Republican, elected in a traditionally blue state, ran as if he’d be a one-termer and laid out the distasteful medicine necessary to put the state’s fiscal house in order.  To the surprise of many, he won.  He’s now engaged in doing what he said he’d do.

His assessment and conclusion are solid:

“We are, I think, the failed experiment in America—the best example of a failed experiment in America—on taxes and bigger government. Over the last eight years, New Jersey increased taxes and fees 115 times.”

And what has NJ gotten for that?

New Jersey’s residents now suffer under the nation’s highest tax burden. Yet the tax hikes haven’t come close to matching increases in spending. Mr. Christie recently introduced a $29.3 billion state budget to eliminate a projected $11 billion deficit for fiscal year 2011.

Obviously, as must be done in a state which has the nation’s highest tax burden, Christie has laid out a very aggressive plan that cuts spending to eliminate that deficit. And, as you might imagine, the entrenched interests which will see their budget’s cut are almost unanimous in their opposition. Most the opposition comes from government unions, and especially from New Jersey Education Association, the state’s teacher’s union.

And Christie is using a little of the left’s favorite tactics against them:

“I’m a product of public schools in New Jersey,” Mr. Christie explains, “and I have great admiration for people who commit their lives to teaching, but this isn’t about them. This is about a union president who makes $265,000 a year, and her executive director who makes $550,000 a year. This is about a union that has been used to getting its way every time. And they have intimidated governors for the last 30 years.”

Christie is obviously not going to be intimidated. And he’s got the numbers and, apparently, the public behind his effort to pare the educational establishment down to a manageable and affordable size:

While the state lost 121,000 jobs last year, education jobs in local school districts soared by more than 11,000. Over the past eight years, according to Mr. Christie, K-12 student enrollment has increased 3% while education jobs have risen by more than 16%. The governor believes cuts in aid to local schools in his budget could be entirely offset if existing teachers would forgo scheduled raises and agree to pay 1.5% of their medical insurance bill for one year, just as new state employees will be required to do every year. A new Rasmussen poll found that 65% of New Jersey voters agree with him about a one-year pay freeze for teachers.

The union, of course, has it’s own favored solution and I assume you can guess what it involves:

But the teachers union wants to close the budget gap by raising the income tax rate on individuals and small businesses making over $400,000 per year to 10.75% from its current 8.97%.

Obviously he has a lot of other fights within the state on his hands, such as cutting the onerous regulation regime the state has built, but he has a primary goal and desire to return the state to fiscal sanity. And he also knows that to do that he has to lower overall taxes – if he wants to again attract business and those who earn enough to provide a solid tax base.

The governor aims to move tax rates back to the glory days before 2004, when politicians lifted the top income tax rate to its current level of almost 9% from roughly 6%. Piled on top of the country’s highest property taxes, as well as sales and business income taxes, the increase brought the state to a tipping point where the affluent started to flee in droves. A Boston College study recently noted the outflow of wealthy people from the state in the period 2004-2008. The state has lately been in a vicious spiral of new taxes and fees to make up for the lost revenue, which in turn causes more high-income residents to leave, further reducing tax revenues.

So here’s a governor who understands that what has been heaped on the back of the taxpayers that are left is too much and is looking at other real ways of reducing the cost of government – i.e. actually seeking out where it has become bloated, putting some of the costs of the benefits government workers receive back on them, cutting unnecessary spending all with a goal of eliminating the deficit the state faces. And, by the way, planning on reducing the tax rate with an eye toward luring back the affluent and businesses with an eventual goal of actually increasing tax-revenues, and jobs, and all the other benefits such an influx would bring.

“What I hope it will do in the end is first and foremost fix New Jersey, and end this myth that you can’t take these people on,” he says. “I just hope it shows people who have similar ideas to mine that they can do it. You just have to stand up and grit your teeth and know your poll numbers are going to go down—and mine have—but you gotta grit it out because the alternative is unacceptable.” He also strongly believes that voters elected him specifically to fight this fight. “They’re fed up. They’ve had enough. In normal circumstances I wouldn’t win,” he says.

He’s probably right about that. He probably wouldn’t have won 3 or so years ago.  And he’s right that the voters, as his election demonstrates, are “fed up”.  But, once the cuts start to hit, nothing says Christie will be given the continued support necessary to accomplish his goals.  But he seems to be a man who is going to do all he can to accomplish them. I call it the New Jersey model because if successful, Gov. Christie will provide both the blueprint and the success story which small government/fiscally conservative types can point to when discussing what must -and can – be done at both a state and national level. I’ll be watching the NJ saga develop with great interest over the years, and wishing Gov. Christie the best of luck in attaining his goals.

~McQ

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The teacher’s rotten apple

Another in a long line of reasons I don’t want government running anything that has to do with pensions, health care, railroads, post offices, etc. When it comes to running something properly and to fulfill the purpose for which it is formed, any examples which exist can most likely be counted on one hand. Public teacher’s pensions aren’t one of them:

The crux of the problem is the gap between assets and liabilities affecting the fifty-nine pension funds that cover most public school teachers in America. Some of these are general state-employee pension funds, while others cover only teachers. Among the findings of our study of these funds:
* All fifty-nine pension funds studied face shortfalls.
* California, the most populous state, has the largest unfunded teacher pension liability: almost $100 billion.
* The worst-funded plan in our sample is West Virginia’s, which we estimate to be only 31 percent funded.
* Five plans are 75 percent funded or better: teacher-dedicated plans in the District of Columbia, New York State and Washington State and state employee retirement systems in North Carolina and Tennessee that include teachers.

The general picture is not a good one. According to the fifty-nine funds’ own financial statements:

– Total unfunded liabilities to teachers—i.e., the gap between existing plan assets and the present value of benefits accrued by plan participants—are $332 billion.
According to our more conservative calculations:
* These plans’ unfunded liabilities total about $933 billion.

And for those who would like to blame this all on the beating the stock market took, huh uh:

* Only $116 billion, or less than one quarter, of this $600 billion discrepancy is attributable to the stock market drop precipitated by the 2007 financial crisis.
* The Dow Jones Industrial Average would have to nearly double overnight to make up for the present underfunding of these plans.

Instead it is another example of “what is law for me is not for me” governance:

Under current guidances, which are prepared by separate bodies, state pension funds are able to set aside fewer assets than their counterparts in private companies to cover equal liabilities. Private pension plans may invest in stocks and other higher-risk assets, but those plans may not reduce their pension funding on the basis of the superior performance expected of these types of assets. This is because those higher returns are accompanied by greater risk that returns will fall short of expectations. Yet pension funds’ obligation to retirees present and future does not diminish accordingly.
By contrast, public pension plans are permitted to base the amount of money they need today to meet their future obligations on the higher expected performance of stocks, allowing sponsors to cut their contribution rates and hope the markets perform as anticipated.

And when the markets don’t “perform as anticipated”, you, dear taxpayer, are left holding the empty bag while government, which feels bound to keep its promises, reaches for your wallet. Either that, or teachers don’t get the pensions promised.

So we have Social Security in a deep, deep hole, state pension funds in a deep hole and teacher’s pension funds right there beside them. Add to that the unfunded liabilities of Medicare and Medicaid.

Something’s got to give.

~McQ

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Interview with Tom Campbell, CA Gubernatorial candidate

I spoke with Tom Campbell for over 45 minutes on a range of topics, and I’ve split my posts on that discussion into two posts, one here and one over at The Next Right. Here at QandO, I’m going to cover the more policy-oriented topics, and over at The Next Right the topics have to do with new media, elections, and the politics of fiscal conservative governance.

It pains me to see my native California in such dire straits. The state is broke, farms are collapsing, and unemployment is over 12 percent. The public colleges that might help retrain a lot of those workers are slashing classes.

The tax and regulatory burden has finally overcome the state’s many natural advantages, leading its citizens to abandon the Golden State. And these are people who can’t be having an easy time selling their homes: California, one of the first to suffer in the real estate collapse, is still near the top of the heap in foreclosures.

California, as we say, has issues. I talked with Tom Campbell about some of the most important ones: the budget deficit, jobs, health care, education, water and infrastructure.

Continue reading

“Choice and Competition” – But Not For Education

The White House tell us that the government public option in health care insurance reform will introduce “choice and competition” into the insurance market. But when it comes to education, which already “enjoys” a government monopoly, “choice and competition” are not at all something White House has any desire to introduce.

And, in fact, it gets down right upset if you point that out:

President Obama isn’t taking kindly to a television ad that criticizes his opposition to a popular scholarship program for poor children, and his administration wants the ad pulled.

Former D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous of D.C. Children First said October 16 that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had recently approached him and told him to kill the ad.

The 30-second ad, which has been airing on FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, and News Channel 8 to viewers in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, urges the president to reauthorize the federally-funded D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that provides vouchers of up to $7,500 for D.C. students to attend private schools.

The ad features Chavous and a young boy–one of 216 students whose scholarships were rescinded by the Department of Education earlier this year when the agency announced no new students would be allowed into the program. The ad also includes an excerpt taken from one of Obama’s campaign statements.

Of course what is being discussed is a voucher program which allows students to have actual “choice” in schools and does introduce competition in a system that could use it badly. And it is a program that is very popular among African-Americans because it allows them to put their children in other schools besides some of the nation’s worst-performing schools.

But:

After embracing the teachers unions’ anti-voucher stance, the president now finds himself in the uncomfortable and awkward position of denying students access to a program that has strong bipartisan, local support, and that multiple studies say is helping poor African-American children succeed.

Little wonder then that the president and powerful allies like Holder–many of whom have benefited from school choice and are currently sending their children to expensive private schools–want the ad to go away.

Of course they want the ad to go away. It exposes the fact that the only choice this ideological administration will make is in favor of the special interest groups that can help it politically, even if it means children are stuck in bad schools. Politics over people.

The same holds true in the health care insurance reform legislation. There is no real “choice and competition” involved. Those are instead words focus groups have approved and Democrats use to pull the wool over the eyes of the gullible. And, in the end, we’ll most likely end up with a government monopoly in the same shape as our education system and “choice and competition” will only be a faint echo of another in a long line of false promises used to gather power to the government to the detriment of our real freedom to choose.

~McQ

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“Zero Tolerance” May Cost Eagle Scout West Point Opportunity

I think this case may actually be more representative of what Michael was trying to get across the other day in his post about the 6 year old’s eating utensils:

As a 17-year-old Eagle Scout continues to wait out a one-month suspension from his upstate New York high school for having a 2-inch pocketknife locked in a survival kit in his car, the U.S. Military Academy says the missed school days could pose a big problem when it reviews his application.

Yes, you read it right, the two inch knife, a gift from his grandfather, was in a locked car in a survival kit. Ironically, the knife is not even considered to be a “weapon” by the New York State Education Department definitions. But that didn’t stop the school from suspending Matthew Whalen for 5 days when they found out he had the knife in his car.  It later tacked on another 15 days after a hearing (he must have stood up for himself).

Whalen has plans to apply to West Point but is concerned this suspension will hurt him when the review process is done:

On Wednesday, West Point’s director of admissions told Foxnews.com that Whalen’s suspension alone wouldn’t be a “show-stopper” and “didn’t appear to be a big issue” for the youth, though it will appear on his record as the military academy considers his moral and ethical fiber.

“My concern would be, how does this impact on his academics?” said Col. Deborah McDonald, the academy’s head of admissions. “Because 20 (school) days is a long time to be suspended.”

And it goes without saying, in an environment as competitive as being admitted to West Point, this could knock him out of the running.

Says the Superintendent of Schools in Troy, NY:

But the Lansingburgh School District is not budging. A person reached at the home of a school board member referred all calls to the superintendent, who told a local newspaper he thinks the punishment was “appropriate and fair,” and that it was necessary for the district to enforce its zero-tolerance policy evenly.

“Sometimes young people do things they may not see as serious,” Superintendent George Goodwin told the Albany Times-Union. “We look at any possession of any type of knife as serious.”

“Appropriate and fair”? A 2 inch knife locked in a car is “serious” enough to warrant a 20 day suspension?

That’s absurd. And so is hiding behind the “we must enforce the policy evenly”.

New York State, by the way, doesn’t require rigid adherence to “zero tolerance” or “even” enforcement. Apparently they think the districts should have discretion over how the policy is enforced, implying at least, that it expects its administrators to use their freaking heads when they consider each case and not make more of something than it really is, such as this case.

Meanwhile a seemingly good kid who wants to go to West Point is watching his chances melt away while the idiots hiding behind “zero tolerance” rule refuse to reconsider the 20 day suspension:

“The board hasn’t even taken the issue,” said Bryan Whalen, Matthew’s father. “As far as the superintendent is concerned, he’s made his decision and we haven’t been offered the opportunity to even appeal that at a board meeting.”

This is a text book case about why “zero tolerance” is, on its face, an absurd policy that can and does end up hurting good students. Superintendents have a responsibility to the students in their district and hiding behind inflexible rules that hurt those students instead of doing the hard work of fairly judging the situation and giving an appropriate punishment (if punishment is deemed necessary) is an abrogation of that responsibility.

It is my considered opinion that Superintendent George Goodwin should be suspended without pay for 20 working days for being an irresponsible administrator more interested in ducking the situation than doing what is right for his students.  It is time to scrap “zero tolerance” and put administrators back to work using their heads instead of hiding behind inflexible and in many cases, stupid rules.

~McQ

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0% Tolerance; 100% Nonsense

We’ve all heard the stories about students being suspended for bringing aspirin to school, etc., where administrators are tasked with enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy with respect to drugs, weapons, and the like. While being kicked out of school for a few days for bandying over-the-counter analgesics is bad enough, when kids who are otherwise good citizens are thrown into reform school you know things are really getting out of hand:

Zachary Christie is a six-year old student in Newark, Delaware who is facing 45 days in reform school because he brought his new Cub Scout eating utensil to school for lunch. The utensil includes a knife, and this violates the school’s brainlessly, robotically enforced zero-tolerance policy on “weapons on school property.”

I can sort of understand the school’s problem with Christie having a knife (although, if it isn’t a lock-blade, it’s use as a weapon is awfully questionable), but how on earth does that merit being sent to reform school? When I used to work with troubled kids in a alternative-education wilderness program (where most of the kids came to us through social services and/or the courts), they were allowed to have pocket knives, and these were the kids who were kicked out of every school they had ever attended. If they could be trusted with such a utensil, why is that a Cub Scout can’t have one?

If I were the kid’s parent, I would be looking to move as quickly as possible, because that sort of non-tolerance is simply intolerable.

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At Least They’re Still Singing His Praises In Maryland

In elementary school.

Again.

Longfellow Elementary School in Howard Country, Maryland to be specific.

Obama,
President Obama,
President Obama,
President Obama,

President Obama–He says Yes we can!
President Obama–We say Yes we can!
President Obama–I say Yes I can!
President Obama–He says Yes we can!

Barack Obama–Oh yes he rates,
The first Black President in the United States!
He’s smart and he’s–so so good!
He’ll lead this country as he should!

He wants us all to work together,
To make this country even better!
Prez’ Obama says–“Yes We Can!”
Make the US better–hand in hand!

Obama,
President Obama,
President Obama,
President Obama,
President!

Since this was featured on a blog in an email, my first stop was snopes.com. They’ve never heard of it. Doesn’t mean its true, but it certainly wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if it was.  The Assistant Principle to whom the email allegedly is from does exist at that school. And the email is dated Sep. 29th of this year. So with enough due diligence to say “it’s plausible”, I’ll also say it is totally inappropriate – especially for first graders. And you’d think, after the blowup recently concerning the video of small school children singing a similar song, they’d know that by now.  And you have to assume the three ‘R’s have been mastered if they have time for nonsense like this.

The irony is Longfellow is probably rolling over in his grave as he surveys the “poetry” of the lyrics.

~McQ

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School Indoctrination? Where? Cult of Personality? No way!

This was filmed around June 19, 2009 at the B. Bernice Young Elementary School in Burlington, NJ.

[HT: NRO]

Appropriate?

Lyrics (some unintelligible noted – if you can understand them help fill in the “something-somethings:)):

Barack Hussein Obama
He said that all must lend a hand [?]
To make this country strong again
Mmm, mmm, mm!

Barack Hussein Obama
He said we must be clear today
Equal work means equal pay
Mmm, mmm, mm!

Barack Hussein Obama
He said that we must take a stand
To make sure everyone gets a chance
Mmm, mmm, mm!

Barack Hussein Obama
He said Red, Yellow, Black or White
All are equal in his sight
Mmm, mmm, mm!

Barack Hussein Obama
Yes
Mmm, mmm, mm!

Barack Hussein Obama

segue to

Hello, Mr. President we honor you today!
For all your great accomplishments, we all [do? doth??] say “hooray!”
Hooray Mr. President! You’re number one!
The first Black American to lead this great na-TION!
Hooray, Mr. President something-something-some
A-something-something-something-some economy is number one again!
Hooray Mr. President, we’re really proud of you!
And the same for all Americans [in?] the great Red White and Blue!
So something Mr. President we all just something-some,
So here’s a hearty hip-hooray a-something-something-some!
Hip, hip hooray! (3x)

Is this what school is about now?

And you have to love the “Jesus Loves Me” rip off …

I’m sorry – but this is just a bit over the top for me. Your tax dollars at work.

~McQ

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Revisiting Political History

A little reminder for those on the left who sniff at those uncomfortable about a politician addressing school children. It’s also handy for those who like to like to recall George H.W. Bush’s address to school kids and pretend like the left wasn’t bothered by that:

But when President George H.W. Bush delivered a similar speech on October 1, 1991, from Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington DC, the controversy was just beginning. Democrats, then the majority party in Congress, not only denounced Bush’s speech — they also ordered the General Accounting Office to investigate its production and later summoned top Bush administration officials to Capitol Hill for an extensive hearing on the issue.

Of course that won’t happen in this case. Nor will this:

The National Education Association denounced the speech, saying it “cannot endorse a president who spends $26,000 of taxpayers’ money on a staged media event at Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington, D.C. — while cutting school lunch funds for our neediest youngsters.”

And you certainly won’t hear Democratic politicans saying anything like this either:

“The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students,” said Richard Gephardt, then the House Majority Leader. “And the president should be doing more about education than saying, ‘Lights, camera, action.'”

But you know, this is all a new bit of right-wing paranoia, isn’t it?

~McQ

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It’s Always The “Conservatives” … (Update)

It couldn’t possibly be independents and libertarians objecting as well could it?

School districts from Maryland to Texas are fielding angry complaints from parents opposed to President Barack Obama’s back-to-school address Tuesday – forcing districts to find ways to shield students from the speech as conservative opposition to Obama spills into the nation’s classrooms.

The White House says Obama’s address is a sort of pep talk for the nation’s schoolchildren. But conservative commentators have criticized Obama for trying to “indoctrinate” students to his liberal beliefs, and some parents call it an improper mix of politics and education.

“The gist is, ‘I want to see what the president has to say before you expose it to my child.’ Another said, ‘This is Marxist propaganda.’ They are very hostile,” said Patricia O’Neill, a Democrat who is vice president of the Montgomery County School Board, in a district that borders Washington, D.C. “I think it’s disturbing that people don’t want to hear the president, but we live in a diverse society.”

The White House moved Thursday to quell the controversy. First it revised an Education Department lesson plan that drew the ire of conservatives because it called for students to write letters about how they can help the president.

One more time for the slow and stupid, i.e. the media – this is about a president presuming to speak directly to our children without our permission. It’s not so much about the message, it’s the presumption. To me that’s a presumption which he has no right to make. If he wants to speak to the nation on national TV I, as an adult, have the ability to choose whether or not to watch him or instead a Braves’ game. If he wants to talk about education and address children, I’ll put mine in front of the TV if I think what he’ll have to say is useful and necessary. That’s a parent’s job and a politician – any politician – presuming he is above such parental control or choice is just flat wrong.

As this was originally planned, although it appears some school districts are now going to provide an alternate activity for those who object, this was to be a captive audience forced to watch the message. Many parents, not just conservative parents, understand the ability for something like this to be abused. Again, it’s not so much about the message as it is about the precedent.

Lastly, many of the objections haven’t been focused on the speech but the fact that this is an organized event with a lesson plan that, until the outcry, had some portions where were obviously political. And that’s the opinion of more than just conservatives (the White House dropped some of those more obvious portions from the lesson plan).

So to boil it down so even the media can figure it out – it isn’t just conservatives objecting to this. More importantly, it’s about the 3 “p’s” – presumption, precedent and politics.

Oh, and concerning the tu quoque?

Obama isn’t the first president to be criticized this way. O’Neill recalled President George H. W. Bush made televised address to students in October 1991 as campaign season was heating up. A handful of Democrats denounced Bush’s address as pure politics. Bush asked students to “take control” of their education and to write him a letter about ways students could help him achieve his goals, strikingly similar to Obama’s messages.

Yeah, that was wrong as well. Okay? This president as with any president has more than enough to do without presuming he’s welcome to become the national daddy. Why don’t we refrain from centralizing that too and concentrate on taking over another car company or something instead?

UPDATE: Speaking of outrage (and disengenuousness) – I have to ask, given this bit of outrage from the left (and speaking of tu quoque), would this line of reasoning have survived an attempt by George W. Bush to do the same thing?

More broadly, Obama is the leader of this entire nation. It doesn’t matter if you voted for him–or even if your head threatens to explode every time you think about him. He is the president, and, as such, it’s a big deal that he’s speaking directly to students about the importance of education.

Just sayin’…

~McQ

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