Tuesday, December 28, 2004


Nine years ago, Karen Feltch lined up overnight and slept on the sidewalk to get her 3-year-old daughter, Katie, into Friends Christian School in Yorba Linda. Katie is now in the seventh grade and hopes to attend a brand new Friends Christian High School, initially projected to open in 2006. Unfortunately, delays caused by the government's unrelenting regulatory process, especially the required environmental study and myriad of permits, mean the new high school may not be finished on time - or finished at all.

The trouble building this high school is just one example illustrating the findings in a new Reason Foundation study: State and local government restrictions are discouraging the construction of new private schools and driving up tuition prices at existing schools.

With more and more parents seeking alternatives to failing public schools, many private schools are filled to capacity, offering long waiting lists and increasingly high tuition prices - the result of high demand and low supply. But entrepreneurs interested in launching new private schools are guaranteed to be engulfed in red tape and bureaucracy. For example, Michael Leahy, founder of the Alsion Montessori Middle/High School in Fremont, estimated that the natural cost of building his school was $400,000, but the total cost came to about $1.2 million because of numerous regulations, like the one requiring that he install a red tile roof.

Ray Youmans, president of Innovative Component Groups Inc. in Sacramento, explained that he hoped to build a 10,000-square-foot roof on a school property, simply a structure without walls, to protect the area from the rain and sun. The government required his company to install a $40,000 sprinkler system even though the structure was made entirely of steel and had no chance of catching fire.

The construction of Friends Christian Church High School should have been straightforward. In 2003, the city of Yorba Linda agreed to lease about 32 acres of public land to the Friends Christian School system for the construction of a 1,200-student high school campus. The lease, projected to generate $80 million for Yorba Linda over 50 years, also allows the city to utilize the private school's facilities for community use. When the lease was signed, the church was expected to make a $400,000 payment by June 2004. However, regulatory roadblocks have pushed the payment back to June 2005. And as a result, the City Council says it will reassess the value of the property and may consider alternative proposals for the land (though council members say they still support the school).

What's the holdup? The initial environmental impact study alone examined more than 80 specific impacts, such as whether the high school would have an adverse impact on the scenic vista, have an adverse impact on federal wetlands, result in an increase in the ambient noise level, or result in inadequate parking capacity. Once those questions are answered to the government's satisfaction, the final report still must be signed off by the California Department of Fish and Game, the local Regional Water Quality Control Board and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Fostering a competitive education market, where private schools can flourish and expand the options for the many children who desperatelyneed them, requires legislators to act. Vouchers have long been debated in California. But even if the state ever awarded vouchers, there wouldn't be anywhere near enough private schools to handle the demand.

At the local level, zoning, parking and building codes, and environmental requirements must be reassessed for merit and streamlined. A performance-based system would replace land-use restrictions with specific performance standards requiring schools to meet guidelines for things such as drainage controls, density, floor area and so on. An approach designed to deal with real and measurable impact would require fewer regulations and less paperwork, resulting in a faster and simpler approval process.

Right now, state and local regulations ensure that many entrepreneurs shy away from even attempting to build or open new schools. The process also guarantees that all school construction, even public school construction (think of Los Angeles' Belmont Learning Center's nearly $300 million price tag), is more expensive and takes longer than necessary.

Parents like Linda Feltch are willing to sleep on sidewalks to get their children into a limited number of private schools. If Feltch's daughter, Katie, doesn't get to attend the new Friends Christian High School because regulators made it impossible for the church to finish the school, it will be one more example of a miserable educational system failing students and parents.



"History is supposed to deliver more than a fanciful tale. The average person who picks up a history book on any topic expects to find within its pages some modicum of truth. That is what sets history apart from fiction. It is a reasoned reconstruction of past events based upon a dispassionate reading of evidence. As a result, people expect to be able use history to make real time, real world decisions.

Unfortunately, some historians have rejected this approach. For them, the spread of the Postmodern Movement transformed historical inquiry. Every form of Postmodernism is based, at some level, on relativism, the idea that there is no knowable, objective truth. In terms of historical study, this means that there is no evidence that can be called true, nor can historians separate themselves from their work and think objectively.

The result is that these newer historians have stopped trying to do good history, and have moved on to promote personal agendas through their work. Since they believe that no evidence is true, it doesn't matter how they use it. For instance, Bellesiles referenced sources destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Are they bothered by the fact that they approach their subjects with preconceived notions that they refuse to test? Certainly not. According to them, objectivity is impossible to attain. So, many newer histories dealing with race or gender, for instance, begin with the unchallenged premise that in any given situation, discrimination has already occurred, no matter what the evidence might say.

The trouble comes to a head when these authors deal with the public. Postmodern historians bank on the well-deserved reputation their more sensible colleagues built and maintain. Though postmodernists themselves know that their work is anything but tested and objective, they allow the public to assume it is. The result? Readers devour a book that in reality is nothing more than creative opinion, and then treat it as the gospel truth of history.

It is only a matter of time before Postmodern history collapses under the weight of its own absurdity. Until that happens, how should we approach history tainted with falsehood? Some basic philosophical commonsense will serve admirably:

1. Ask questions about the author(s). Who are they? Have they written other books? How do they approach the topic? Are there any ideas they are presuming that we should know about? For instance, books by vocal political advocates should be taken with stock in a salt mine.

2. Ask questions about the content. How do they support their arguments? Be certain to use known facts to critically examine their claims. Do their conclusions actually follow from their evidence? Is the book internally coherent? An amazing number of sloppy historians never bother to think through their own positions. Book reviews can be very helpful. Townhall.com maintains a good selection of conservative reviews.

3. Read the footnotes carefully. Are they quoting from firsthand accounts or another historian's book? Do they seem to lean heavily on one particular source? If a book does not provide easy access to sources, it may have something to hide.

4. Read the Preface, Introduction, and Conclusion carefully. Authors are much more open in these sections, and let the readers see a little of their minds (in some cases, a lot). Paying particular attention here will often alert you to danger, as well as reinforcing the point of the entire work.

Of course, the short answer is to read and think carefully about all important truth claims. This habit is more useful now than ever before; when some scholars refuse to think, it is up to the reader to do it for them.

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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