Thursday, April 14, 2011

School choice news

Among a number of other bits of good news lately, there has been a favorable Supreme Court ruling regarding school choice.

A closely-divided Court decided (5–4, in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v.Winn) to uphold an Arizona law meant to facilitate school choice. The law allows people who donate to organizations that support religious schools to write off all their school payments on their state income taxes.

Opponents of the law — including, naturally, teachers’ unions and public school administrations — argued that the tax credit amounted to establishment of religion, and was thus unconstitutional. They pointed to the fact that many of the schools supported by the tax credit required students to be of a particular faith. The opponents were trying to get around the landmark 2002 Supreme Court ruling Zelman v.Simmons-Harris, which held that voucher programs comply with the establishment clause, even when the vouchers are used to send kids to religious schools.

The opponents’ suit was based on a 1968 Supreme Court ruling that allows people who are not harmed by a religious subsidy to have standing to sue, because otherwise enforcement of the establishment clause would be difficult. But the majority of the current Court held that the exemption was meant only to apply to actual government payments to support religion, and a tax credit is not a government payment; it is just funds never collected to begin with.

This ruling will permit more states to allow tax breaks enabling parents whose children are being cheated out of a decent education by the state monopolistic school systems to send their kids to religious schools instead (or private secular schools, for that matter). Robert Enlow, head of the estimable Foundation for Educational Choice, hailed the verdict, saying, “Every state that is considering a tax-credit program can rest easy.” As a religious agnostic, I also hail the ruling. If you want to send your kids to a religious school, it seems obvious that you should have that right — it doesn’t harm me in the least.

Predictably, educrat Francisco Negron, head lawyer for thee National School Boards Association, the major organization representing state public school systems, condemned the ruling, rightly viewing it as another blow to the public school monopoly. Indeed, yes sir, it is a blow — to those disgusting swamps of governmental failure, which deserve all the efforts we can make to drain them, since they are destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands of children, every year. Negron’s specific complaint, that allowing tax deductions for private schools lowers the resources available for public schools, is specious. Yes, allowing tax credits reduces funds available to the public schools, but it also reduces the number of their students, hence their costs.

Those who find little difference between the political parities should note that all of Bush’s Court appointees voted for the ruling, and all of Obama’s and Clinton’s voted against it. The Obama administration supported the law officially, but the people whom Obama put on the Court voted against it. Justice Kagan — Obama’s most recent pick for the court — wrote the dissenting opinion. This is a classic progressive liberal trick: feign support for popular initiatives, but pack the courts with judges who will rule them unconstitutional.


Understanding the Adults' Insatiable Thirst for School Spending

We continue to hear from teachers unions and the rest of the education establishment that if public schools aren’t up to par, it’s because they’re “underfunded.”

That’s natural response from the adults – 80% of every education dollar goes to benefit them, so of course they would be fighting for more spending.

As we’ve seen in Madison, Trenton, Columbus and Lansing, the unions are making good use of their First Amendment rights “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

But the unions have no right to conscript students to help fight their battles.

In Wisconsin, the union was exposed for busing kids to the Capitol protest without having the faintest idea of why they were there. One student interviewed on camera couldn’t even name the governor – he called him “some guy.” How’s that for government-school civics?

Now, the geniuses of Michigan Big Education aren’t even hiding their idea to use kids for their protests. As a “revenue enhancement” is to a “tax increase,” Grand Rapids teachers union president Paul Helder is calling for a day off from school so kids can take “educational civics field trips to Lansing to teach our students about the importance of having a voice in government." You must listen to the audio clip to fully appreciate his arrogance and gasbaggery.

The union’s idea of “a voice” in government consists of shouting out well-phrased slogans at the Capitol dome and carrying signs comparing the governor to Hitler and Mussolini.

But they already have some politicians on their side. reports that President Obama’s 2012 budget increases federal funding of education by an astounding 21%. Talk about good money chasing after bad. What will it be used for? Most likely, keeping the teachers’ cushy health care plans and pensions whole. After all, 80% of the spending ends up in the adults’ pockets.

For example, Michigan school districts are now currently paying a staggering 24% of their payroll towards employee retirement. Does that improve student learning?

The reality is public schools – like the rest of government – are not underfunded. Their priorities are screwed up. And they want taxpayers to bail them out.

But they, unlike the federal government, must live within their means. So they should start now. And while they’re at it, they should make every effort to see to it that students are not used as pawns in the unions’ political game of protecting the interests of adults.


Peer attacks Cameron over Oxford race comments

A leading peer and former College principal has criticised David Cameron for his attack on Oxford, claiming that "in no other country would a politician be allowed to speak like this about a top university". Cross-bencher Baroness Deech described the Prime Minister's claims that only one black undergraduate was admitted by Oxford last year as "damaging and ill-informed".

The peer was the latest person to hit back at the Prime Minister after the university accused Mr Cameron of using "highly misleading" figures.

Mr Cameron caused outrage when he told an audience in Harrogate, North Yorkshire on Monday: "I saw figures the other day that showed that only one black person went to Oxford last year. "I think that is disgraceful, we have got to do better than that."

Aides to the Prime Minister later accepted that Mr Cameron should have said "one black Caribbean undergraduate" after the university challenged him over the figures, but insisted Oxford was "missing the point" because the total number of black undergraduates admitted was just 27.

Lady Deech, principal of St Anne's College, Oxford until 2004 and independent adjudicator for higher education between 2004 and 2008, used her blog to condemn Mr Cameron's comments.

She wrote: "I deplore the ill-informed and damaging comments made ... by the Prime Minister about his own university, giving the impression that either it discriminates against black candidates or that it is not doing enough to attract them. "In no other country would a senior politician speak like this about a top national university, thereby undermining its reputation and all the efforts made to open up access."

Lady Deech, formerly chair of the committee in charge of Oxford's admissions policy, added that the university had spent millions on reaching out to students from all backgrounds. She added: "The result is, according to the latest figures, that there are about 17,000 potential students applying for 3,000 vacancies ... success in attracting candidates inevitably brings with it disappointment for many more."

Comparing the Prime Minister's remarks to those made by then chancellor Gordon Brown about Laura Spence, a medical student from a state school who failed to gain a place at Oxford despite an impeccable academic record. She wrote: "Gordon Brown got it wrong about Oxford in 2000 when he criticised it for not accepting Laura Spence ... Surely David Cameron does not want to be another Gordon Brown?"

A "disproportionate" number of black and minority ethnic candidates applied for oversubscribed courses such as medicine and maths, Lady Deech added. "Chances would be better if the BME applicants considered other sciences and humanities in greater numbers," she said.

Oxford University said the figure quoted by the Prime Minister referred to UK undergraduates of black Caribbean origin starting courses in 2009/10. There were an additional 26 students who said they were of black origin, and another 14 of mixed black descent.


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