Saturday, February 18, 2006


Capitol Hill is waging a legal battle against charter schools. And I don't mean Congress, mind you, but Capitol Hill the neighborhood, where residents are trying to block 3- and 4-year-olds from attending a public charter school -- and are seemingly willing to take on Congress to do it. These residents, who collectively call themselves the Northeast Neighbors for Responsible Growth, have read more than a few pages of Democrat George Wallace's textbook on public schooling. These neighbors have filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court that asks the court to block the city government from giving the Apple Tree Institute for Educational Innovation the necessary permits to renovate and operate a new charter school for preschoolers. These irresponsible neighbors claim, among other things, that the preschool would have a "devastating effect on the residential and historical character of the neighborhood." Their suit also says that noise, traffic and parking will pose "irreparable" harm to Capitol Hill residents.

Now, I am no fan of preschool programs, whether they are called Head Start or Apple Tree. My heart of hearts tells me that young children should be in nurturing environs, not thrown to the whims of one-size-fits-all programs that mass produce kindergarteners. I am, however, a cheerleader for school choice and the rule of law, and these Capitol Hill elitists have really gotten under my skin. And so have their allies in City Hall. But I'll calm down and back up so you can get a clear picture of what's at stake.

It's been 15 years since Minnesota passed the nation's first public charter-school law, opening the doors for states around the country to offer meaningful school-choice options for parents whose children were trapped in underachieving and violent public schools. Many states followed Minnesota voluntarily. The District of Columbia, whose elected and appointed politicians have moved in lockstep with unions since the 1970s, had to be dragged along. Congress wrote the D.C. School Reform Act in 1995, and it took effect in 1996 after being signed by Bill Clinton. The law, like many of those in the various states, exempts public charter schools from statutes, policies, rules and regulations established for the D.C. Board of Education, and even the D.C. Council and the mayor, so as keep political meddlers, including anti-school-choicers, out of the way. Because of Congress' explicit language, the D.C. school-choice movement gained broad support. There were only 300 children in two D.C. charter schools in 1996; today there are estimated 18,000 in 51 schools.

The District isn't the only jurisdiction with surging charter-enrollment numbers. Michigan, which passed its charter law in 1993, expects enrollment to surpass the 100,000 mark next school year, and Detroit's public school system has lost an estimated 10,000 students since last school year, while charter enrollment hit 22.5 percent. New Jersey, like the District, has 51 charters, with an enrollment of 15,000. The demand is so high that education officials recently announced the approval of six new charter schools. (To find your state, visit

Of course, there always are rejectionists standing at the ready. In the case of Capitol Hill, they want the mayor, or at least his charges in the Office of Planning, to rewrite zoning laws that would effectively prohibit Apple Tree from opening its preschool on its own property. The anti-choicers say theirs is a prima facie case, even without the rewrite, because zoning laws define a public school as a building under the aegis of the Board of Education, which most charter schools -- thanks to congressional oversight -- are not.

So, to recap. A group of taxpayers wants to block the doors of a legitimate -- and much in demand -- public school. The taxpayers file a lawsuit. A legal threat to public charter schools in the nation's capital is a threat to charter schools everywhere.


Denver Archdiocese uncovers sexual abuse bias in favor of public school teachers

In a continuing battle against what many of the state's faithful call an unfair bias against Catholics, the Archdiocese of Denver has uncovered a previously unseen, but sordid list of sexual abuses by many of Colorado's public school teachers. The Archdiocese has lifted the lid on some 85 Colorado Department of Education reports of sexual impropriety among teachers since 1997. Reportedly, the state had revoked or denied teaching licenses, all for reasons involving sexual misconduct with minors. But critics charge, the punishment ended there.

According to a report in Denver's Rocky Mountain News, the list revealed teachers "who prey on grade-schoolers, plying them with love notes.Teachers who download pornography on their desktop computers while students sit before them.Teachers who encourage students to meet them surreptitiously after school, on out-of-town trips, and who give them marijuana or alcohol in exchange for sex."

Recently, all three of Colorado's bishops blasted proposed state legislation which seeks to eliminate or modify statutes of limitation allowing sexual abuse victims to wait up to 40 years before filing suits against Catholic and other private institutions in the state.

The problem, they say, is that the bills would unequally punish the Catholic Church while public school teachers and coaches accused of abuse would--because of state sovereignty laws--be all but exempt. In a letter, read last week to all parishioners in the Archdiocese, Denver's Archbishop Charles Chaput said that every one of the proposed pieces of legislation "ignores the serious problem of sexual abuse in public schools and other public institutions, and focuses instead on religious and private organizations." In other words, he said, "some Colorado legislators seem determined to be harsh when it comes to Catholic and other private institutions, and much softer when it comes to their own public institutions, including public schools. And it will be families, including Catholic families, who suffer."

The bill's sponsors--led by state Senator Joan Fitz-Gerald argue that there is no anti-Catholic intent in the bills, but even the state's secular newspapers and talk radio hosts question that assessment.

Rocky Mountain News columnist Vincent Carroll, wrote recently that special legislation aimed squarely at the Church "would be entirely out of line and Senate presidents never toy with anything so improper." He pointed out however, that the "only allegations Fitz-Gerald or anyone else seems to mention in relation to her legislation involve the church. And that the only organization already targeted by a smoothly functioning coalition of high-powered plaintiffs' attorneys and victim groups is the church."

Archbishop Chaput has called this "an extremely serious moment" for the Church in Colorado and has encouraged the state's faithful to contact their local representatives and demand an end to what he sees as terribly biased bills.



A good start but enrolments are probably still far too high relative to the use that a degree is

The prospect of paying top-up fees has put far more school leavers off applying to university than had been predicted. The number of applications has dropped for the first time in six years as thousands of young people reject higher education in favour of getting a job for fear of future debt. Last month Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, predicted that the number of applicants would fall by about 2 per cent, but for those under 21 it is down by 3.9 per cent. The number of male applicants dropped by 4 per cent, or almost 6,773, compared with last year, leaving women outnumbering men by 56 to 44 per cent.

With almost 13,000 fewer students in total and 4.5 per cent fewer English applicants studying subjects from law to electronic engineering, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas), student leaders called on the Government to review the fees.

Mr Rammell downplayed the drop and said that he was "reasonably encouraged". He said that although there had been a fall since last year's record rush to beat tuition fees, there were more applications than in 2004. "What we're seeing here is the kind of trend we saw in 1998 when tuition fees were introduced. There was a dip, but slowly the trend went up, and if you take the two years together, there's still an increase of 12,500 students, or 4.8 per cent," he said. "The figures also show there's been no drop in applications from lower socio-economic groups - which has remained at 31 per cent for the past two years."

The Government wants to get half of 18 to 30-year-olds into higher education by 2010. But among the most worrying findings in the latest Ucas results is the 4 per cent drop among male teenagers applying to university. Mr Rammell agreed that persuading white working-class boys into higher education was a challenge, but said that the Schools White Paper published last year and the 14-19 Agenda to change the way that schools assessed children offered possible longer-term routes into higher education.

Courses suffering most include law, psychology, computer science and electrical engineering. Kat Fletcher, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said that the drop was extremely worrying. "We could be missing out on thousands of doctors, teachers, scientists, engineers because the fear of debt has put them off," she said. She urged the Government to think again. "If figures are going down now, imagine the scenario we could be faced with if universities are given the green light to charge whatever they like per year," she said.

However Drummond Bone, president of Universities UK, said he did not believe that many courses would close and that after a recent massive rise in applications for psychology, a "bounce back from the boom years" was inevitable. Research from Thomas Charles, a debt solutions consultancy, shows that student debt has already grown to more than œ10,000 for tens of thousands of students. From September, most universities and colleges in England and Northern Ireland will charge annual fees of 3,000 pounds.

Last night Mr Rammell was embroiled in a row after suggesting that it was "no bad thing" if students were dropping subjects such as classics and philosophy for courses "with more vocational benefits". [Bravo!] Philosophers, historians and academics said the remarks were short-sighted and out of date



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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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