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Archive for the ‘Charter Schools’ Category

The big news in Delaware today (not the awesome magazine, but today today) is that the state Department of Education has issued Christina School District with an ultimatum: close the three “Priority Schools” in the district (Stubbs Elementary, Bancroft Elementary, and Bayard Middle School) by the end of February 2015 or else turn them over to an outside manager. If they don’t comply the state will take them over.

Whereas Red Clay SD countered the state’s takeover plan with one of their own which did not require teachers to reapply for their jobs or for school principals to be fired and replaced with new $160,000 a year principals, Christina SD did not come up with a plan the state finds acceptable. Their school board also voted to reject the turnaround plan. So now the state is flexing its political muscle to get control over these three schools.

If you look at a map of Christina (click this link) you’ll see the district boundaries make no sense.

Christina serves the city of Newark and the suburban area around it, and then a piece of downtown Wilmington about 12 miles from its easternmost edge. Newark and Wilmington are not the same city and each has its own challenges. We at CRI believe there should be changes to how districts are drawn and the City of Wilmington should have its own school district. All three of the schools scheduled for closure or loss to outside managers or the state are in the city limits of Wilmington. Nonetheless, Christina is in charge and must come to a decision soon. What will they do?

If the past is any indicator Christina will fight the state all the way to the last week of February. In 2013 the district initially rejected Delaware’s requirements under Race To The Top but changed a portion of their plan when the state threatened to withhold $2.3 million in RTTT funding from the district unless it complied with federal directives. However, Governor Markell and Secretary Murphy are not exactly pushovers; we expect them to stand their ground on this issue and fully take over the schools at the end of the month if Christina doesn’t counter the Priority Schools plan with one the state finds acceptable. However, in the end the Governor has more power than the district and they know it; they will have to implement some reforms or else those three Wilmington schools will probably be turned into charters or turned over to private “for profit” entities who will (most likely) hire private management to oversee a turnaround effort.

Whatever happens, we will be watching with interest. From our end we have no stake in this battle except to see education in Delaware turn around. Again we repeat: 51st in SAT score performance, 9th in per-student per-year spending, and 4th in per capita administrative budget (number of administrators to students). Without serious education reform the state will continue to see businesses decline to invest here (unless they get goodies from DEDO) because our public education system isn’t “world class” enough to produce enough educated young people needed to take the high-paying jobs which move people out of poverty. Parents with children who have jobs in New Castle County will move over the border to Pennsylvania or send their children to one of Delaware’s private schools (we are #1 in the country for highest ration of children in private schools as a percentage of the total student body).

We are involved in our own education reform efforts. Look for CRI, in the days and weeks ahead, to continue to talk about Education Savings Accounts and why Delaware needs them. or visit http://www.caesarrodney.org and learn about what you can do to Impact Delaware.

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This week is National School Choice Week, a week where we draw attention to the need for parents and families to have School Choice as an option for all students.

No doubt this week is under fire from school choice opponents who worry school choice is a corporate, Koch-brother funded project to destroy public schools and, more importantly, public teacher’s unions,but those of us who believe in “free to choose” ask just one question:

1. “Who is more likely to make a better decision about a child’s future: That child’s legal guardian, or elected and unelected officials in state capitals and Washington D.C.?”

If you believe government officials, union leaders, school boards, superintendents, Department of Education employees, and politicians can all make a better decision about your child than you can, school choice is not something you will support. But if you believe schools should be run at the local level, with fewer mandates from above and more support for those who are there day-to-day, and if you believe students are unique human beings who should not be forced into “one-size-fits-all” based on their parents’ financial ability to find another school, then school choice week is for you.

If you believe there should be accountability for performance in our education system, without automatically blaming teachers and parents for poor performance, instead of the system which has been created, school choice is for you.

If you believe public schools who wish to have your child attend should have to work hard for your tax dollars, like every non-monopolized market in the private sector (i.e. sectors where companies use government to give themselves business or hurt competition), instead of requiring children whose parents aren’t rich to go to a school based only by their zip code, school choice is for you.

If the thought of stagnating academic performance, the rising number of students who enter college needing to take remedial classes, and the high drop-out rate for both high school and college bothers you, school choice is for you.

If you believe money spent on education, where Delaware spends to the tune of $13,000 per student per year and $16,500 if you include capital spending (refurbishing or building schools, source: DE DOE), ought to be spent efficiently and with the student’s best interest at heart, school choice is for you.

If you feel genuinely heartbroken every time you hear about another shooting in places like Wilmington, and know most of those young people get involved in drugs and gangs because they don’t have hope for a better future, school choice is for you.

If you are concerned about the values being spread in society at large, and would like to see your child(ren) be placed in a school setting which is closer to the values you wish the child to learn, school choice is for you.

If you believe America is a great nation with a lot of untapped talent among our youth, and want to see students use their talents in the best way possible, school choice is for you.

And lastly, If you believe a high-quality education is a fundamental right for each child to have, then school choice is for you.

If you believe school choice is something we can all work for together, then join the Caesar Rodney Institute in celebration of National School Choice Week, and let’s support #SchoolChoice!

Why do you support school choice?

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Hispanic CREO2014

photo: hcreo.com

Yesterday, January 7, our Director of the Center for Economic Policy and Analysis (CEPA) Omar Borla appeared on 104.1 and 930 AM “La Exitosa” (the success) on the Cristian Tijerino show for a Spanish-language interview about the most recent Friedman Foundation poll on attitudes toward school choice. The interview transcript is available by request and we will begin to integrate more content towards the Hispanic community, which comprises nearly 8% of the state’s total population.

The observation Cristian made was that for many Hispanic families, lack of information about school choice options prevents them from ever considering alternatives such as charter schools or private schools. Since many parents are either not able or capable of homeschooling or cyber-schooling their children they are often left in the traditional public school system, typically in schools which lack the resources to properly educate Hispanic children. Many Hispanic children come from homes where one or both parents do not speak English and it is this language barrier which discourages many parents from being more active in their children’s education, whether that means not going to parent-teacher conferences or being able to help with homework.

Omar explained the poll results and pointed out the huge enthusiasm gap between people of ALL groups who supporter school choice versus those who don’t. For Hispanics 74% of parents and for Blacks over 70% of parents were supportive of the idea of charters and vouchers. You can read the full results by clicking that link but there were overwhelming majorities in every demographic group: ethnicity, age, gender, party affiliation, among others.

In regards to the Hispanic community, where language is often a barrier, the question is what to do to help bridge this gap. Cristian pointed out that in addition to a lack of information about education alternatives, two other barriers which exist are: lack of interest with many parents in regards to the children’s education (NOT the same as not caring- just means by and large accepting the status quo without personally seeking alternatives) and also the negative perception floated around about alternatives. Cristian cited one parent who told her he though charter schools were for “kids with learning problems.” Many told her they thought charter schools are private schools and thus they cannot afford them.

Omar answered this by showing a data point where support for charter schools, vouchers, and Education Savings Accounts went up in every demographic when the options were explained, meaning more people were supportive when the understood exactly what these ideas were. Understandably school choice isn’t good for every child but parents can and should be better educated about these opportunities. Efforts to misinform parents about what these options are (how else would a parent think charter schools were private schools) are well underway and it’s up to us to counter these false perceptions.

At the end of the day we have only one question for parents, grandparents, legal guardians, educators, principals, elected officials, appointed officials, community leaders, and everyone else: Of all these groups,  who is likely to know best what is best for the child? We’re going out on a limb and saying “Education Department bureaucrats” and “elected officials” are not going to receive the majority of votes.

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The College Board recently released new SAT data for 2013-2014 and for Delaware it doesn’t look any better than last year. On the positive side Delaware is no longer 51st in SAT scores and 16th out of 16 “High Participation Rate” states and D.C. (70% or greater participation). The state moved to 50th this year and 15th out of 16, surpassing Washington D.C. in both categories.

Total average SAT scores, class of 2013-2014:

Critical reading: 456

writing: 444

math: 459

Total: 1359

For college-bound seniors the numbers improve slightly:

Critical reading: 497

writing: 487

math: 513

Total: 1497

The number best estimated to predict success at the college level is a total score of 1550 for the entire SAT. Delaware scores nearly 190 points below average. 26 out of 51 states and D.C. reach this 1550 threshold. The CATO Institute studied Delaware and factored in the mandatory SAT testing, and even weighted we are still near the bottom. Even when factoring in only high school seniors who attended any college institution this year, the average scores were still below 1550.

Another interesting note: for college-bound seniors, writing scores dropped 10 points from 2006 for both boys and girls, and both boys and girls score 32-34 points lower respectively in reading than in 1972. Math was up 4 points combined since 1972, with girls making slightly bigger gains.

Excluding the writing section, in 1972 the average college-bound high school senior in Delaware earned a 1039 on their SAT’s, while the class of 2014 had a mean of 1010. Meaning, we’ve DROPPED in proficiency, particularly in reading, from the 1970s. Remember, these are seniors who went to college this year. We aren’t counting those who didn’t go.

The only real way we can move forward is to agree that only a robust range of education options for children will allow children to learn as best they can. A one-size-fits-all public school model does little to understand that some students do better in bigger classrooms, others smaller. Some students may do better with the parent as a teacher and for others cyber school may be a better choice. Even among charter and magnet schools there are diverse options, such as the First State Military Academy set to open in Clayton later this year, which is a Junior ROTC program charter school for which some students will benefit from more than others who enter. For some kids and parents issues like safety, school hours, or programs will determine the best options.

The point is we want a system which allows parents or the children’s legal guardians to choose the place best suited for the kids. There is absolutely no reason a child’s fate should be determined by their zip code or that a child should attend a school which either a) is not serving them properly, or b) is not suited to the child’s best method of learning, simply to appease those whose primary interest is keeping the system as-is.

It’s time we made education options available for all children. Visit our website www.caesarrodney.org and sign up for our e-mail newsletters. See what you can do today to make tomorrow’s education a better experience for all children.

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wallpaperput.com

2015 will soon be upon us and for those who are passionate defenders of freedom and liberty our work just goes on when the clock strikes midnight. Here is CRI in review and our goals for 2015:

  • Dave Stevenson’s lawsuit against DNREC and former DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara is still ongoing. Dave and the other three plaintiffs, including CRI Director John Moore, won standing to continue their lawsuit. We will refrain from making a prediction on a court ruling less we jinx the lawsuit but we are optimistic the Plaintiffs will win. This is because in order to get standing the Plaintiffs had to prove they had a valid reason to sue in the first place, such as being aggrieved by the Defendants actions. Winning means stopping DNREC from changing the rules on how many carbon permits can be sold at carbon auctions, saving Delaware taxpayers over $100 million a year in increases in utility bills.
  • We testified in favor of HB353, the Parent Empowerment Education Savings Account Act (PEESAA). Jim Hosley, our former CEE Director, spoke in favor as did a dozen Wilmington parents and grandparents (and one student!) and the leaders of Tall Oak Classical Academy. The bill was tabled in the House Education Committee, a move we are unfortunately not surprised by. However, we hope 2015 will be a better year as more and more people realize the need to improve Delaware’s education system, and the only effective way to make the changes our students need to be prepared for the future is to provide parents with school choice options to do what’s best for the child. CRI will always maintain the belief that parents and/or legal guardians can make a better choice about their children’s education than politicians and bureaucrats in the state Department of Education.
  • We brought in Dr. Bartley Danielsen, business and economics professor from North Carolina State University to keynote our Sixth Annual Dinner. Dr. Danielsen has proposed a theory tying in environmental benefits to school choice. The basic theory is, parents moved to the suburbs to flee poorly performing public schools which left a lot of people uneducated and unable to find respectable work, and many turned to crime as a result. His theory is if inner city schools were to improve their quality, many families would move back to the cities from the suburbs and the result would be a reduction in traffic and environmental pollution from people driving from the suburbs to the cities. View is presentation here and here

In addition to these challenges, we still have issues Delaware must resolve in order to improve our economy:

  • End to the prevailing wage which makes public construction costs so expensive many end up getting no work at all. See: Rockwood Museum.
  • A Right to Work law for Delaware. Union leaders are pushing the “scab” theory that somehow union members will drop out and reap all the benefits the union “works” to get. We have responded by noting that a) manufacturing businesses have responded by moving factories elsewhere, depriving Delawareans of job opportunities. See: loss of auto industry, Valero plant, Evraz Steel plant, Georgia Pacific plant. b) as a moral issue, should union bosses have the right to take someone’s money just because someone works at a particular location? What if the union bosses don’t serve their member’s needs, such as organizing or donating to political causes or candidates the members don’t support?

We wrote: “While in the short run unionization may force wages up for those involved, in the long run closed shops reduce capital spending and induce the out-migration of jobs and workers.”

Read HERE and HERE and HERE

  • tax reform. Delaware is one of just five states with a gross receipts tax (tax on sales, even before factoring in profit/loss and expenses). Three of the other four don’t have an income tax and the only state with both like Delaware is Virginia who has lower tax rates. Coupled with high corporate and personal income taxes while Nevada and North Dakota compete with us for corporate business, and without reforms we will see money and jobs leave the state at even higher numbers.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year to all. Let’s be thankful for a good 2014 and hope for better things in 2015.

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At the Hispanic CREO (Council for Reform and Education Options- CREO is Spanish for ‘I believe’) conference December 11-12 the topic of how to approach the issue of school choice was discussed. Here are our top three takeaways and fantastic photos of Miami:

  • First session had speakers representing four different Hispanic Chambers of Commerce: South Florida, Albuquerque, Illinois, and California. The big takeaway is that Hispanics have got to stop the in-fighting and work together to solve problems. This lesson applies to all groups though Hispanics were the #1 focus of the conference (see the name).
  • Myles Mendoza is the Executive Director of Ed Choice Illinois, and a member of the Democrat Party. He discussed the challenges Democrats who support school choice have since the issue has become so highly (and unfortunately) politicized. One method he had: focus on the “low-hanging” fruit. Find people of all backgrounds who are willing to accept the truth about Delaware’s public education system and explain to them the merits of supporting school choice. Police officers might find it easier to support it if they realized just how much better schools would improve the local community, like Wilmington or Dover. Then find others who see the benefits of better schools and who realize this isn’t a partisan issue.
  • The business community MUST become more involved. Too many business owner’s don’t see the benefits of how better schools benefit them because they have never been approached on this issue, or have been approached from a partisan point of view. SUPPORTING QUALITY EDUCATION ALL CHILDREN IS NOT PARTISAN! One way is to ask local businesses to invest in their community’s education. They can either a) get apprentices/interns out of high school to work for them or b) they will benefit when educated people turn into consumers with money to spend at those businesses.

If you have other ideas, please share!

Now, the photos:

Biscayne Bay, from the Marriott where the conference was.

Downtown Miami

The post-dinner dessert.

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Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you have a happy and safe holiday.

For this week’s post we are going to respond to the post of blogger Lyman Stone, a grad student at George Washington University’s Elliott School. In his November 21 blogpost titled “North Dakota, Illinois, and Delaware: A Boom State, a Struggler, and a Winner”, he wrote about Delaware’s migration and why the state has had an overall increase in people from 2000-2010 (source: U.S. Census). His top four points and our response:

1. “Many of the people Delaware loses, as I’ve already shown, are richer people. That is to say, Delaware is exporting its richer people (many of them retirees) to states like Arizona, Florida, Virginia, and Texas. Meanwhile, it is inundated with floods of lower-income, somewhat less-educated individuals. Delaware’s in-migration includes very high rates of retiree migration and migration of the young.”

Delaware lost roughly $480 million in net wealth from 2000-2010, predominately from New Castle County (source irs.gov). Some of that wealth went across the border to Chester/Media, PA; many of the top 1% retired to Florida or Arizona, but many people did stay in Delaware and moved to Kent or Sussex Counties where property is even cheaper and cost of living is lower than New Castle County. Delaware’s low property taxes attract retirees mainly from DC, MD, NJ, and NY. Young people move to New Castle County for the corporate jobs. But Lyman is missing this point: Families with school-age children tend not to stay in Delaware. (see here and here). Unless the parents can afford a private school or get to a good charter school, the parents more often than not leave for PA. A graph within the presentations in the links shows a huge drop-off with parents with at least one child aged 5 or older leaving for places like Valley Forge or Media while parents with children 0-4 stay in Delaware. So it’s like “come when you’re young, leave when you have a family, return when you’re ready to retire”.

2. “Once again, like Illinois, Delaware has lots of high-traffic borders and nearby border metro areas, thus we can fruitfully look to policy variables as one part of the explanation. Delaware has income taxes at a similar rate to most of its regional peers (though much higher than Virginia’s) and is in the minority of states in that it still has an estate tax. In that regard, it is peculiar that so many retirees would choose it.

That is, until we recall Delaware’s three most salient tax features: it has no sales tax (thus reducing cost of living), among the lowest property taxes in the nation (reducing cost of living), and funds its infrastructure through tolls and user fees more than any other state (reducing burdens on people who drive less: young and old). Its taxes overwhelmingly fall on businesses, but it attracts businesses by offering highly favorable legal and regulatory conditions.”

Delaware has a gross-receipts tax, a tax on business revenue BEFORE profit and loss is considered. Only Virginia has both a gross receipts and income tax, both of those rates are lower there than Delaware. The result has been that Delaware has had more businesses closing than opening and we are 51st in the country in jobs created by existing firms (Source: deconfirst.com). This means no state or DC is worse than Delaware at getting businesses already here to hire more people. The state is very good at helping start-ups but not good at helping established businesses, especially medium-sized businesses.

Delaware’s Court of Chancery is known for its fairness, and incorporation laws are lax. This is favorable to larger businesses to want to headquarter here, which is why the Wilmington area has so many corporate offices with high-paying administrative jobs. This is a good thing for the state but again, this benefits larger businesses and not small- or medium- sized businesses.

3. The net result of Delaware’s policy choices is that “New Economy Index” produced by the liberal-leaning Progressive Policy Institute ranks the 2nd best in the nation, the conservative-leaning American Legislative Exchange scores 27th in their “Rich States, Poor States” publication, the business-backed Tax Foundation (disclosure: my former employer) ranks 14th-best, and even the libertarian Mercatus Center identifies as 17th “most free” in their Freedom in the 50 States report. A report by 24/7 Wall Street found Delaware to be the 13th best-run state in the nation, and academic measures of state corruption rank Delaware no worse than middle-of-the-pack. In fact, it is a real challenge to find any organization that scores Delaware poorly on any major policy metric or index.

Corruption in Delaware is not as bad as it is in places like Illinois, Rhode Island, California, or Louisiana. But saying it’s “good” is more on an indicator of how corrupt those states are. Delaware’s small size means “everyone knows everyone” attitude impacts the government but the state is not very forthcoming with state pension data or with how education dollars are being spent. That said, we are better than every other Mid-Atlantic state besides Virginia. We posted on the Tax Foundation’s analysis.

4. Likewise, Delaware has one of the lowest average price levels of any state in the region (except Virginia), and that price level is lowest in southern Delaware, where in-migration is highest.

I’ve repeatedly cast Delaware as a state that’s providing opportunities: for the young, for the less educated, and also for regional retirees who may not have the money for a bigger relocation to Texas or Florida (or who may not want to pay property and sales taxes in those states). That’s because Delaware’s migration record is simply the strongest across the most different categorizations of almost any state, especially among states without major oil and gas reserves. I’d love to hear more from people familiar with Delaware on how the state attracts people: beaches with rising popularity? corporate headquarters? retirement communities? strong university recruitment? sprawl from Philadelphia?

To Lyman’s final point, Delaware IS a very attractive place between Philly and Baltimore/DC. We are a train ride or short drive from all three cities and only three hours from New York City. The Beaches draw in tourists and retirees, and there is some Philly sprawl in the Claymont area. But Delaware is beginning to lose our status is a “tax haven”, now that Nevada and North Dakota are competing with us for our corporate business. The state spends way too much money and like most states will suffer from having to choose between Medicaid and public education once the federal government cuts back on its Obamacare obligations by 2019. Our three casinos are losing money and, barring a change in visitor habits ore legislative policy, will go out of business; 6% of our state’s revenue comes from casino taxes. We have a state carbon tax and cap-and-trade system (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) which is costing so much money CRI’s Energy Policy Director Dave Stevenson and our board member John Moore are suing DNREC to prevent a new carbon tax fee from being imposed on residents and businesses.

Delaware’s population is aging at a faster rate than the nation as a whole; right now half the state receives Medicare or Medicaid. By 2030 that number will be closer to 67% at current migration rates. Sussex County is already 25% senior citizens and that number grows ever year. As much as we at CRI love our seniors, someone has to help pay for Medicare/Social Security/ public housing assistance/public transportation, and other quality-of-life benefits seniors need to enjoy their retirement since we know the Feds won’t meet their future obligations.
Because of its strong migration record in a highly competitive area, other states could benefit from studying Delaware’s experience and determining which policies they can adopt for their own states.

Please don’t pass a gross receipts tax or block natural gas pipeline from reaching your states. We have high electricity prices and a mediocre public education system. Don’t be so aggressive and seizing abandoned property, even down to the Amazon gift cards which went unused. End the prevailing wage and establish a Right-to-Work law if your state doesn’t have one yet.

What do you think about Lyman’s blog post or our response?

Please consider eliminating your state’s sales tax and lowering property taxes, and have a court system which is seen as quick, efficient, and fair.

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After reading Matthew Albright’s article in the News Journal (“Virtually no Delaware Teachers Received Poor Evaluations”) those of us who are enthusiastic about improving the quality of education in Delaware had to stop and ask ourselves this question: Are there really no teachers in Delaware who are ineffective at teaching children?

We understand that ever-changing “standards” and severe fluctuations in education dollars for public schools makes teaching difficult for many who enter the profession. At the same time Delaware’s 51st overall ranking in SAT scores (mandatory testing was factored in and we are still last) should be considered unacceptable, despite whatever rankings the state was coming up with on the DCAS testing. The fact that two-thirds of all students, and four-fifths of low income, Black, and Hispanic students, cannot read or write at a grade level comparable to their peers in other states should be considered unacceptable.

There should be accountability for the two-grade gap between White students and Black and Hispanic students, particularly students in Wilmington and Dover. There should be accountability for why, despite the mediocre to poor results in Delaware’s public schools, the state has the fourth highest ratio of administrators to students and why Delaware employs as many “support staffers” as they do teachers in the public schools.

There should be accountability for why, out of $435,000 per classroom per year the state spends, 80 percent is not spent in the classroom.

Does anyone living in Delaware not think Wilmington has real problems? Wilmington and Dover, two areas with higher than average crime rates, would benefit from better education which will come only when there is a real movement for education reform.

Terri Hodges, president of the state PTA, was quoted as saying, “We support a fair evaluation system, but we can’t say that 99 percent of teachers are effective when we look at the number of student’s we’re seeing reaching proficiency or how we stack up to other states.”

We agree with Ms. Hodges on this statement. We would like to see a review of the Delaware Performance Appraisal System (DPAS) which is supposed to make sure ineffective teachers are removed from the classroom. Children are a nation’s most valuable asset and without well-educated children America will not be able to compete with children in other nations for jobs which offer good wages and a sense of security.

All of this starts with the Delaware Department of Education, the Delaware State Education Association, and the Markell Administration. Eventually the government and the public will have to acknowledge the poor service the state is providing education-wise to Delaware’s children. The first step will be to review this DPAS evaluation system to make sure it is there to protect students’ education and not teachers’ jobs. The second step will be to stop treating non-public schools as the enemy and instead welcome the opportunity to prove why public schools are a good option for parents and families through innovations where the student and parents are the VIPs and not the administrators in charge of collecting and disbursing funds. No child should be forced to play guinea-pig with her or his education experience to try out “standards” which have never been tested before. We at CRI hope the state and public will listen.

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The latest attack on allowing parents the freedom to choose the best education for their children comes from the mayor of Laurel and the transportation director for the Laurel School District, John Schwed. In the Nov. 21-27, 2013 edition of the Laurel Star he wrote:

“Our State leaders have created a mess in public education. I recommend we wipe the slate clean and start all over. Why do I write this? Well, I believe by pandering to special interests: the Federal Government, unhappy parents, business, clever vocational school district administrators, etc., we have created a separate and unequal educational system for Delaware’s school children. That inequality is rooted not in racial segregation but in economic and social segregation.

A review of Department of Education (DOE) data indicates there are 16 charter schools in New Castle County, four in Kent County and one in Sussex County. I don’t believe New Castle County parents are more educationally enlightened than the people in Sussex County, so there must be some other good reason for their existence. If the Legislature believes charters are a good thing, then let’s make all schools charter schools. Oh? Perhaps that can’t be done because, quote: “traditional schools” have a different student population to serve, perhaps different governmental rules and regulations that are not there for charter schools? DOE also has an Office of Charter Schools funded by the Legislature. Now I read that some want this office removed from and made independent of DOE. Sounds like that would take charter schools one more step to becoming what they should be — private schools.

If that’s what those parents want, charter schools should not be funded by taxpayers, but by the parents, just like those parents who pay to send their children to tuition-based private schools. I am not in Rep. Kowalko’s district, but he really gets it, and I applaud his recent opposition to more funding for charter schools.

Choice, another well intentioned debacle, is now being made as easy as buying something online at Amazon.com. The American public school system was set up decades ago with school districts. This system served America well for decades. We educated generals and admirals who won wars, inventors who gave us ingenious inventions, and entrepreneurs who created very successful businesses. As a minimum there should be some financial penalty for parents who choose to send their children out of their home school district.

Teacher evaluations are the latest dustup. I applaud those school boards who are fighting back against the Component 5 section of teacher evaluations. Evaluating teacher performance on student test performance is ridiculous and unfair. I wonder if doctors would like it if we based their pay on how well a patient responds to their treatment.

Members of the State Legislature get their pay regardless of whether we agree or disagree with their votes. True, we can end their pay by voting them out of office, but while in office, everyone gets paid. The Legislature got into this because they took Federal money and it came with strings attached. Maybe you should send the money back and say, “No thanks, we are going to control our own destiny.” School administrators have rated teachers successfully for years. They know who is doing the job well and who is not.

The big elephant in the educational room that no one really wants to talk about is what has changed since WWII. Is it really the teachers or is it society and the students who have changed? I believe public education has become the whipping boy for society’s failures. Until our State and Federal government invest more energy to strengthen families we will continue to have problems with student performance. Until then government will continue to “reform public schools” as a way of showing a frustrated public they are doing something. We will get more special programs run by high paid consultants. We will get more experimentation with different techniques, but we won’t get financial support for sustainability. Districts in financially depressed areas of the State need money to hire additional resources who can provide the early intervention for students who need help and are not getting it at home. It cannot be done by the classroom teacher alone given the present state of the student population.

Now for Sussex ­— my home county. Years ago, clever administrators at Sussex Tech figured out a way to save their school from educational irrelevancy by converting a vocational high school to a comprehensive high school. The Legislature bought their story, allowed them to make a significant change, and then opened the financial floodgates. Now everyone in Sussex County pays a school tax for that school but has no say in whether their child gets to attend there. The school has great facilities, a 100-person band that they rightfully brag about going to national and international events and a host of other extras — all paid for by a willing State Legislature. The school never has to go to referendum like the people of the Laurel School District. 

State Legislature, level the playing field. Fund all public schools at the same per pupil level both for operational and capital expenditures regardless of where the student lives and repeal the Sussex Tech tax.

Business likes to hide behind the “there are no trained workers available statement.” I say to Delaware business, not DEDO, show me the jobs. What are you doing to create jobs?

I see one new business locating in Seaford and I see a brewery that’s expanding. That’s a good start but here in Western Sussex, we need thousands more at more than minimum wage to lift our people up.

I see many minimum wage jobs, but I don’t see the jobs requiring the skills that Delaware business likes to tout. The DuPont Family was a leader in making this State what is. It is time for the present DuPont leadership to rise to the current challenges and provide some new jobs throughout the State, not just New Castle County. Take the Seaford Nylon Plant back from Koch Industries, turn it into the DuPont Business Park and encourage other industries to locate there. Make washing machines, solar panels, wind turbine parts, or something to support the new budding aerospace business at Wallops Island.

State leaders, throw all of this alphabet soup back in the pot. Enact the Educational Reform Act of 2014 and level the playing field for all of Delaware’s school children.

Faced with declining or leveling revenues from the three casinos due to competition and a sluggish economy, perhaps it is time to review how to best spend the State’s educational dollars. Let the debate begin.”

Very clearly, Mayor Schwed (who had a note in the paper saying this letter was written asa  citizen and not in his official capacity as mayor) is going to be someone who will work hard to prevent parents from being able to choose the best schools for their children. Here are some facts for the mayor:

In regards to average SAT scores of students per district planning on attending college, Laurel School District is 14th of 19 (Seaford is 18th) with average scores of 1222 (out of 2400). That is 22% below what is considered a good score of 1550 to be enrolled in college, and 60 points below the state average (though Red Clay SD uses one of their charter schools to boost their numbers). Who would be the top performing district without that charter school being counted? Sussex Tech (average score 1413), which the mayor wants to eliminate by repealing their tax base, thus depriving some students of an educational choice because he doesn’t like that not everyone can go to the school.

The Laurel School District spends about $15,642 per student per year with $11,419 coming from the state. That is 13th overall. Seaford spends $16,378, which is 12th overall but is second to last in average SAT scores. 29% of education funding in Delaware comes from local taxpayers. Most private schools cost much less than this. Tall Oaks Classical School in New Castle, which has the highest average SAT scores of any individual school in the state, charges less than $5,000 per student per year and has about 30% of its matriculated students come from low-income family backgrounds.

Based on the state’s K-12 numbers, Delaware will have more high school dropouts than college graduates, and roughly an even number of students who drop out or are suspended or expelled from school as students who enter college, regardless of whether they finish or not.

In Delaware “The education finance system is simply not organized with the goal of knowing whether how money spent produces results or whether alternate allocations of resources would increase student achievement. Instead, the system is organized around counting kids. District finance personnel focus on managing unit counts (the codified system for counting students in districts and school buildings) in order to maximize revenues.”

This is  not a CRI quote. This is a quote from the Delaware Public Policy Institute Project: “Evaluating the Effectiveness of  Financing Delaware’s Public Education”.

Conclusion? Rather than just throw more money into Delaware’s public schools, Laurel included, Mayor Schwed ought to be supportive of efforts to control education spending to reasonable levels for taxpayers, where the money is accounted for and used wisely, and for efforts for parents who are unhappy with what is being offered in a below average district even by Delaware standards to go elsewhere. This will not destroy the Laurel schools, but it will require them to evaluate how resources are being allocated and make the schools more competitive with other schools, including Sussex Tech.

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2013 is already upon us, and three days in things are headed downhill. Congress just passed a bill to respond to the so-called “fiscal cliff” by increasing EVERYONE’S taxes at least a little bit, and a lot if you have a high income (note: if your money comes from investments and assets, such as Warren Buffett, your taxes will be unchanged). More battles will come up on the debt ceiling, automatic defense cuts, and future budget deals (if any come), and no doubt the partisanship will continue.

Delaware has its own problems to deal with: unfunded pension liabilities, out of control Medicaid spending, bad deals with Fisker and Bloom Energy, education performances moving sideways and not up, and taxes such as the gross receipts taxes which harm business growth. These are just a sample of the issues facing the state. While CRI would like to resolve every major issue within the state, that is not very likely.

Therefore CRI will spend 2013 focusing on three elements: improving education standards, discouraging corporate subsidies, and preventing the state from passing any legislation which pushes single-payer healthcare by abolishing private healthcare insurance.

Education reform will be CRI’s top priority in 2013. There is general consensus that the education system as currently structured is not serving the students well, particularly those in areas like Wilmington and Dover, where parents usually do not have the  financial means to send their children off to private schools, and who cannot be guaranteed a slot in the charter schools due to bureaucratic processes. CRI is calling for legislative actions to allow the money to “follow the student”, where parents have options such as Education Savings Accounts (ESA) that give parents the financial opportunity to choose where they want to educate their child. We hope to inform and engage the public and the legislators into some serious action this year that will give students a big victory for their future.

Our second goal is to reduce, if not eliminate, subsidies for preferred businesses and special interest friends of the government. Bloom Energy and Fisker Automotive are two prime examples of the government handing over “subsidies” for “investment” in these companies, meaning hundreds of millions in tax dollars to give to these companies, money we will in reality never receive payback for. There is no industry in Delaware receiving taxpayer money that can be said to be worth the corporate welfare. Our aim is to educate the public and legislators, and push Delaware to either reduce/eliminate current government subsidies to preferred parties, or else to agree to prohibit future government subsidies via “corporate welfare”.

Our third goal will be to discourage the Legislature from passing any bill which bans private health insurance in favor of “single payer” government. While CRI acknowledges the issues in containing healthcare costs, such as Tort reform, allowing insurance to be purchased across state lines, and using means-tested methods to determine who qualifies for Medicare or Medicaid as opposed to just handing it out to anyone who asks, there is no way the government can raise all the taxes needed to pay for this without destroying job opportunities or sending them out of state. Plus, the government will not be able to manage the insurance aspects of healthcare policy without setting up a massive, inefficient bureaucracy, just like they do with everything else.

What do you think? Are there any goals CRI should work for that are no mentioned above?

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