Only Conservatives Can Save Education

Here are some facts about the Chicago public schools from a July 4, 2012 column by conservative commentator George Will:

America’s school year (about 180 days) is one of the shortest in the industrial world…  And Chicago’s school day is the shortest of any large U.S. district. (The Chicago Teachers Union) wants a pay raise — 30 percent — proportional to (Chicago mayor Rahm) Emanuel’s 90-minute increase in the school day and 10-day increase in the school year. He has canceled a 4 percent raise and offers only 2 percent. He says benefits the CTU has won — e.g., many teachers pay nothing toward generous pensions they can collect at age 60 — could in just three years force property taxes up 150 percent and require classes with 55 students. … Chicago schools are 86 percent black and Hispanic, and low pupil performances strongly correlate with household incomes.

…. In the past 50 years, real per pupil spending nationwide has tripled and the number of pupils per teacher has declined by a third, yet educational attainments have fallen. Abundant data demonstrate that the vast majority of differences in schools’ performances can be explained by qualities of the families from which the children come to school… In Chicago, 84 percent of African American children and 57 percent of Hispanic children are born to unmarried women…. Social regression, driven by family disintegration, means schools where teaching is necessarily subordinated to the arduous task of maintaining minimal order.

Yet what are we are told constantly and repeatedly and incessantly about American public education from the Democrats who control it lock, stock and barrel?

We are told that that the schools need more money and that we need to hire more teachers in order to have “smaller classes”.

Both false. These schools already control massive amounts of wealth; K-12 public education in America is a $550 billion a year business. And class size is irrelevant compared to most other factors.

What these schools do need is to be challenged and reformed and taken out of the hands of the National Education Association and other union radicals and Democrat functionaries. Otherwise our society will continue to decline as it has been declining since the 1960s.

And this decline is not the fault of Mitt Romney or George Bush. This is the continuing fault of greedy teacher union members who say that they run the schools “for the children” but who really run them “for the unions”.

Far too many of the teachers today are in the public education system only because they want to get great pay and benefits, work few hours and retire early. They are classic government bureaucrats. The average public school teacher in America currently makes $37 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and that is just the start.

Extraordinarily generous benefit and retirement packages come on top of short hours (average 7 hours per day, 1,300 hours per year) early retirement and lifetime job security except for the most egregious transgressions. Public school teachers in the failed Milwaukee, Wisconsin system make an average of $77 an hour in pay/benefits/pension.

What are we to make of the fact that 84% of black Chicago children come from single-mother homes?

Oh, that must be the Republicans’ fault too!

No, friends. In the 1950s the black marriage rate was 82%. This was a massive aid to black well-being before the ‘civil rights’ movement. Marriage is historically proven to be hugely beneficial to parents, children and society in general.

So whose fault is the astronomical rate of single motherhood in black America, the most preventable cause of poverty?

It is the fault of the social destroyers from the Democrat left who have been marginalizing marriage and family since the 1960s, who have been making fathers of all races appear and feel irrelevant to children’s lives, and who have been subsidizing, and thus furthering, the phenomenon of single mothers and the horrible achievement profile of their children.

Then when we wise conservatives come along and suggest that black families focus on marriage, that fathers must become decent, responsible parents, and that failing public schools must be challenged with cheaper and more effective vouchers and charter schools, we get the same belligerent response every day from the Democrat left – getthehellouttahere!!! And take all your stupid racist white ideas with you!!

This tone is intended to scare off all but the hardiest advocates of reform. And while even a few Democrat mayors have been suggesting reform, it is constantly stymied by the bullies on the left. The most famous case involved the reform-minded Washington, DC school superintendent Michelle Rhee. She was making significant reforms that were having a very positive effect. But then she was put out of her post when her sponsor was voted out of the mayor’s office. This came after an intense and well-funded campaign financed largely by the DC teacher union.

Meanwhile one of the most successful educational voucher plans of the last few decades was implemented in Washington, DC… by Republicans, of course.

The Opportunity Scholarship Program is a tiny federal program established by Republicans in the US House of Representatives in 2003 to offer scholarships to poor minority students in DC to attend private, charter and religious schools.

The program has been very effective. Students who took advantage are doing vastly better and have much brighter futures than those who did not. Those scholarship students have been very happy in their new schools and never want to return to the public schools.

But as usual the program’s success turned liberals against it. The powerful DC teacher union has opposed the plan even while the majority of DC parents support it. Because unionized public school teachers never want anyone to know that there is something much simpler, cheaper and better than the public schools and their overpaid, bloated bureaucracy.

Currently more than 1,600 students are enrolled in the program. Obama and the Democrats sought to kill the program under pressure from the unions but backed down, allowing students already enrolled to stay in the program but halting new applications.

Obama again will seek to kill the program in next year’s budget. And this is an opportunity for the GOP to make inroads in black America with common sense reforms. And in hispanic America too.

But more people are taking on the unions and the Democrat radicals in public education. Reuters.com recently reported:

 (Reuters) – Louisiana is embarking on the nation's boldest experiment in privatizing public education, with the state preparing to shift tens of millions in tax dollars out of the public schools to pay private industry, businesses owners and church pastors to educate children.

Starting this fall, thousands of poor and middle-class kids will get vouchers covering the full cost of tuition at more than 120 private schools across Louisiana, including small, Bible-based church schools.

The following year, students of any income will be eligible for mini-vouchers that they can use to pay a range of private-sector vendors for classes and apprenticeships not offered in traditional public schools. The money can go to industry trade groups, businesses, online schools and tutors, among others.

Every time a student receives a voucher of either type, his local public school will lose a chunk of state funding.

"We are changing the way we deliver education," said Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican who muscled the plan through the legislature this spring over fierce objections from Democrats and teachers unions. "We are letting parents decide what's best for their children, not government."

Wow. Awesome. Some real progress. And of course it comes from a Republican governor. Reuters.com also reported:

Far more openings are available at smaller, less prestigious religious schools, including some that are just a few years old and others that have struggled to attract tuition-paying students.

The school willing to accept the most voucher students — 314 — is New Living Word in Ruston, which has a top-ranked basketball team but no library. Students spend most of the day watching TVs in bare-bones classrooms. Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses Biblical verses with subjects such chemistry or composition.

The Upperroom Bible Church Academy in New Orleans, a bunker-like building with no windows or playground, also has plenty of slots open. It seeks to bring in 214 voucher students, worth up to $1.8 million in state funding.

At Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, pastor-turned-principal Marie Carrier hopes to secure extra space to enroll 135 voucher students, though she now has room for just a few dozen. Her first- through eighth-grade students sit in cubicles for much of the day and move at their own pace through Christian workbooks, such as a beginning science text that explains "what God made" on each of the six days of creation. They are not exposed to the theory of evolution.

Great. But wait. Here come the teacher unions and their lawyers, reports Reuters.com:

In Louisiana, Superintendent of Education John White said state officials have at one time or another visited all 120 schools in the voucher program and approved their curricula, including specific texts. …In general, White said he will leave it to principals to be sure their curriculum covers all subjects kids need and leave it to parents to judge the quality of each private school on the list.

That infuriates the teachers union, which is weighing a lawsuit accusing the state of improperly diverting funds from public schools to private programs of questionable value.

So amidst the widespread failure of public education, teacher unions are challenging any alternative. And this is classic Democrat behavior, that it can’t possibly be liberals’ fault that the schools are failing – the schools that they themselves control. No, it must be George Bush’s fault.

Reuters.com reported:

(White) pointed out that many kids applying for vouchers are now enrolled in dismal public schools where two-thirds of the students can't read or do math at grade level and half will drop out before they graduate high school. Given that track record, he argues it's worth sending a portion of the roughly $3.5 billion a year the state spends on education to private schools that may have developed different ways to reach kids.

Good for White.

Reuters.com reported:

Officials have not estimated the price tag of these programs but expect the state will save money in the long run, because they believe the private sector can educate kids more cheaply than public schools.

…While public schools fear fiscal disaster, many private school administrators see the voucher program as an economic lifeboat.

Valeria Thompson runs the Louisiana New School Academy in Baton Rouge, which prides itself on getting troubled students through middle and high school. Families have struggled to pay tuition, she said, and enrollment is down to about 60 kids.

"We're a good school," Thompson said, "but we've been struggling fiscally."

The vouchers have brought in a flood of new applicants and the promise of steady income from taxpayers. Thompson enrolled 17 new students in two days last month and hopes to bring in as many as 130.

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