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Posts Tagged ‘school choice’

The Washington State Supreme Court voted 6-3 to strike down charter schools, saying they “aren’t governed by elected boards and therefore not accountable to voters.” Read the decision here

Some background: In November 2012, voters approved a referendum to establish as many as 40 charter schools in the state. Charter school opponents became “Alarmed over the lack of local accountability and fiscal impacts of the Act” and filed a lawsuit against the network. The Washington State constitution says funding must be given to “common schools”, which were essentially defined as traditional public schools. The main complain is, charters and other school choice options are “selective” and force traditional schools to take “problem students.” The schools must also be “uniform”, or the same. If charters have lotteries and restrictions public schools do not have, then the schools are no longer uniform and charters cannot be provided public funding.

Delaware has a similar constitutional law which requires the government to fund a public education system, though it does not say the schools have to be run by the government, only provided. But the point is the same: these rules were set up not to ensure everyone an education, but to make sure as very few kids would be able to have an option besides the traditional public school. The way public schools are funded requires as many kids as possible to get into the buildings so the schools receive money.
Anti-charter proponents celebrated; at long last, they have succeeded in their quest to prevent students from going to a charter school. Most of these children will either end up home-schooled, sent to a private school which can take them, or, most likely, sent back to traditional public school where their attendance will ensure the schools get more taxpayer dollars and make any sort of education reform even more unlikely. Sadly, some adults are so opposed to school choice, the idea that a child might leave public school, that they openly cheer for the demise of alternative schools and education freedom just to make sure public schools (and those whose livelihood derives from public schools) keep getting money AND the status quo is maintained.
If you don’t think there is a problem yet, keep in mind SAT and ACT scores are flat, or even in decline. Here’s an article from left-leaning Slate acknowledging this.
The excuses abound: more students are taking the test (which is 1. dumb policy and 2. aren’t we supposed to improve everyone’s education? Isn’t that the whole point of No Child Left Behind?), Common Core State Standards are so stringent they are raising the bar too fast, the SAT and ACT are not fully aligned with student goals. The problem with this argument is, scores have declined for decades now in reading, and since 2006 writing scores declined across all ethnic and gender groups, and is now being eliminated from the SAT. Therefore, blaming Common Core for raising the bar and making the test now too difficult is a convenient overlook of the long-term problems we’ve had in this country.
What is not acknowledged is the stark reality: Most students just are not ready for college. Some ought not to go, but even then too many students are graduating high school lacking the basic skills needed to obtain a decent-paying job and career advancement opportunities. Of course, every entity except our current education system is to blame.
The same people who go after charters almost always include homeschooling and private schooling as a problem as well. Their attacks on charters and choice are little more than a thinly veiled effort to push all students to attend public schools, no matter how good or bad the school is run, no matter how ridiculous the government mandates are, or even irregardless of whether public education is right for every child.
Take the battle over HB 50, the Opt-Out bill. Supporters see this as a way for parents to have a say in their child’s education and keep their children from having to submit to a standardized test many feel is a problem. We agree- parents should be allowed to have a say in their child’s education, and absolutely students, especially in public schools, are over-tested. But what HB 50 supporters do not seem to understand is how futile their efforts are the long run, the “big picture” if you will. HB50 supporters seem to believe if you just get rid of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), somehow everything will be alright in the end. But they continue to believe in the system which gave them SBAC, they will find the bureaucracy will just provide a new program and standardized tests with similar, if only slightly different, objectives.  As long as they continue to keep the current system of education in place, there will be no real change.
Supporters of HB50 and anti-testing advocates also need to find a common alternative to Common Core/SBAC which will give principals the data they need to measure student progress and teacher competence. There are, in fact, teachers who are incompetent; admitting this is not “anti-teacher”, but a reality that no organization has complete competence from every single member. Not every student is motivated to learn on their own. Not every school is run well, or run poorly. As long as a method of measuring student progress is offered, education progress can be made.

Education Savings Accounts by themselves will not improve our education system, but they will move us forward when parents realize they do have the power to improve their children’s education if they want to. It’s parents, not school boards, not school districts, not teacher’s unions, not elected officials, not employees of the state Department of Education, not employees of the U.S. Department of Education, not private sector companies, who ought to have the final say in how their child is education. With a more competitive education system in place, one which empowers teachers and principals to do what is right, one which allows parents to have choices beyond what is in their zip code, education will improve.

And for those who say it won’t, look at our university system. We have arguably the best system on the planet, and there are plenty of public and private schools to go to. Oh, and public schools receive plenty of funding and are in no danger of going under, even though the government provides student loans to students who might go to a private school.

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pictured: Milton and Rose Friedman. photo: Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

Today CRI celebrates the 103rd birthday of Dr. Milton Friedman, a man who was ahead of his time in recognizing the need for school choice to be available to all children, so that more children would be able to obtain a quality education, suited to their needs, and not be forced to live in poverty merely because of how they were raised.

Dr. Friedman wrote about school choice in his book Free to Choose in 1980, and dedicated a full chapter to the idea that parents should be allowed to choose schools for their children. It was based on the market idea of economics- schools should not be seen as sacred government buildings dedicated to protecting adult’s jobs, but as forces which should strive to provide the best services to its “customers” (students), and if they fail to do this, then the school either needs to be reformed, or the students should be allowed to go to another school which better serves their needs. This choice should be allowed irregardless of the parents’ income, or residential zip code which too often constrains students, particularly poor students, in poorly performing schools with no way out.

Advocates of public education for all will insist that education should not be  “privatized” and left to the evils of “capitalism.” Yet notice how upper-middle class and upper-class families handle their children’s’ education- private schools, charter schools such as the Charter School of Wilmington, home school, boarding school (for the very wealthy), or top-performing public schools. Notice how wealthier families do not feel the need to be constrained by zip code? There is a reason for this. Despite bluster by opponents of parental choice about how “privatization” is evil, rich parents will choose that option because the school must compete for the parent’s tuition dollars. If the school performs poorly, or does not serve the child’s needs, the child will be removed from the school.

When a similar situation happens in public school, teacher’s union leaders, superintendents, and local politicians wax poetic about the need for more “investment.” Never mind that Delaware spends $23,000 a year per student. But, teachers in Delaware earn roughly $59,000 a year minus benefits. Clearly, most of the money spent per pupil doesn’t pay teachers, even as debates over raising teacher’s pay are played out in districts around the country. Where is this money going? Wherever it is, expect those getting this extra funding to fight back against any efforts to take their money away, no matter how weak their justification for more “investment” is.

The poor performance of too many public schools causes parents with the means to do so to pull their kids out of public school. The kids who are left are usually poor, come from dysfunctional homes or impoverished neighborhoods, and are not offered a clear pathway to success. Combined with the influx of new students coming from recently arriving immigrant families, many of whom live in homes where English is not the first language, and an endless number of “Visions”, mandates, and standardized tests, these schools are not going to be in position to best help the children.

The goal of school choice is not, as our opponents allege, to “dismantle” public education or somehow sell it to multinational corporations. The goal is to merely go back to basic principles of greed, ambition, and what motivates us. Monopolies, by definition (which is how a lot of public school districts are operated, especially in low-income areas), nearly always provide poor quality, high prices, and poor customer service, because the human need to do better falls flat when there is no reward for doing so. We do not suggest people intentionally fail or desire to see kids suffer, because we know the vast majority of teachers, counselors, principals, and other building staff sincerely want to see children do well. In fact, teachers and counselors, especially in private schools, make very little money because teaching is their passion. They know they will never get rich teaching or advising.

The problem is, there is a system in place which has made too many people too comfortable, too dependent on the system to continue, and too unwilling to consider alternatives out of fear of what might happen if there are serious changes to the status quo.

We point out that teens and young adults around the country choose colleges or learning institutions right for them. If the school is not a match, the student leaves and goes elsewhere, or goes to work or to the military. Federal student loans are offered to students who go to private colleges which compete with public ones. Yet public schools are still very much around. Clearly school choice for college has not destroyed public education, and it will not destroy public education in K-12. All that will happen is, some people who believe they have a guaranteed job might lose it unless they are pressured into the marketplace of ideas.

All this was Dr. Friedman’s vision: great schools for all, and a vision of the best, most competitive education system serving student’s needs, the way colleges compete. Today we honor a man whose foresight has inspired the rest of us to see nothing less than a great system of education, improving the economic opportunities of all students no matter their household income, neighborhood, or learning challenges.

Here’s to you, Dr. Friedman.

His quotes:

“Our goal is to have a system in which every family in the U.S. will be able to choose for itself the school to which its children go. We are far from that ultimate result. If we had that — a system of free choice — we would also have a system of competition, innovation, which would change the character of education.”
— CNBC Interview Transcript, March 2003

“It is only the tyranny of the status quo that leads us to take it for granted that in schooling, government monopoly is the best way for the government to achieve its objective.”
— “The School Choice Advocate,” January 2004

“Improved education is offering a hope of narrowing the gap between the less and more skilled workers, of fending off the prior prospect of a society divided between the “haves” and “have nots,” of a class society in which an educated elite provided welfare for a permanent class of unemployables.”
— “The School Choice Advocate,” July 1998

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Today is the fall-out day for Christina School District, after the voting public voted 54-46 to not approve a referendum for a smaller tax increase than the one asked for in February.

With this, the district says they now have a $9.5 million budget shortfall. They say over 100 teachers, paraprofessionals and secretaries face layoffs, with more possible depending on next year’s enrollment. Extracurriculars, maintanance, and textbook purchases are also likely to be delayed or cut.

There is a lot of anger on both sides about this vote. Check out one well-known blogger’s take on the referendum; he is clearly upset that a majority of voters opted not to pay extra for CSD to continue running. Or read the comments section in the News Journal. On the one hand those who supported the referendum are furious that there will be layoffs at the classroom level; on the other hand, those who voted no are unhappy that they are being accused of not caring about kids when some went on record saying they want the district to watch how it spends money and cut all spending until they can cut no more, and then they can ask for a tax increase.

This was actually the position of some of the school board members in Capital School District, when they ran for office (and have, for the most part, kept to their word). Only after all efforts are made to reduce wasteful spending should school boards ask their constituents for a tax increase.

We at CRI have no dog in this fight. We are not allowed to support or oppose a referendum, and this illustrates the need for voters to be informed about the issue before going out to vote.

Here are some facts:

  • Christina SD spent more money in 2013, the latest year Transparent Delaware has data for, on employee payroll. Now Christina Sd has the second-largest public school enrollment (Red Clay is #1), and part of the district encompasses Wilmington. However, Red Clay’s reported payroll was $130.3 million, or $27.6 million less than Christina, for roughly equally-sized districts.
  • Both districts have roughly the same number of non-public school students, and each has a charter school which has been accused of taking only the “best” students. Newark Charter and for Red Clay, Charter School of Wilmington.
  • It’s not a 100% perfect comparison, but the state DOE says Christina SD employed 2,749 people this year, of which 43% were in-classroom teachers. Using roughly $158 million for spending for this year, that’s an average district salary of $57,475.45, which is above the statewide average for both private and public sector employees. Now this is, of course, a somewhat inaccurate picture: the state DOE says a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 4 or fewer years of experience makes about $41,000, but at 15 years of services averages at $61,530. Have a Master’s degree? That teacher can start out at just over $47,000 and at 30+ years of service averages just over $77,000 a year. 54% of district staff (included non-teachers) have a Master’s.
  • 60% of the district is made up of Black and Hispanic students, and 41% of students are low-income while 18% are classified as special needs. The good news is, the overall graduation rate is up. The bad news is, the district’s SAT scores are lower than the state average, which is already 50th in the nation (we will soon have ACT data to back up our SAT results).

The district absolutely has a lot of challenges, and it may be time to split the Wilmington section from Christina and build a school district just for Wilmington, so the city’s leaders can focus on helping those kids, or splitting Wilmington into just two districts (Red Clay and Brandywine). But Christina, like virtually every other district in Delaware, is simply not producing results, and clearly the lack of money is not the problem.

For 50+ years, education leaders and union officials say if we just “invested” more in public education, we’d have  these great schools. But they never talk about changing the system, which is the real culprit here. Running a one-size-fits-all classroom setting only encourages proactive parents to pull their kids out and send them to charters or private school. They say they’re forced to take special needs and “problem” kids, but there are schools like Prestige Academy, Reach Academy (soon to close), Tall Oaks Classical School, and Kuumba Academy who will take in students from different backgrounds, not just the “good” kids. For instance, in 2013-2014 Prestige’s student enrollment was roughly 20% who were classified as special needs or requiring an IEP. There are schools who will take students from diverse backgrounds, but the most ardent proponents of public schools will not allow parents the opportunity which can be offered via an Education Savings Account, insisting that all kids go to public school, then complain when they get the kids they won’t allow to leave.

It’s long past time that Delaware, and the rest of the country, take a look at our public school system and implement real changes. The ultimate focus should be on how we as a society can best educate our kids, not who gets the money. As long as who gets the money is the focus of our system, it will be the kids who suffer the most, as ultimately the students will be the ones who will be affected by the fallout from yesterday’s referendum.

For the record, there is no word on how many of the district’s 108 employees (4% of the total) who earn over $100,000 in total salary will suffer pay cuts or job loss.

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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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Legislative Hall in Dover, Delaware

This article originally appeared at the Watchdog.org website on January 20, 2015. Read the original at http://watchdog.org/193657/legislative-priorities-2015-delaware-way/

Last week was the first week the state Legislature was in session, but they will soon adjourn for budget and finance hearings before getting back to lawmaking in mid-March. Five new representatives and one new senator took their oaths of office for the first time, but this Legislature looks almost identical to the last one: the Democrats control the governor’s mansion, the House of Representatives 25-16, down from 27-14 last year, and the Senate 12-9, down from 13-8.

Notably absent from the last General Assembly were bills to make Delaware’s economy more free as the state—well-known as the “Switzerland of America” for its easy incorporation process and fair Court of Chancery—faces competition from Nevada and North Dakota for corporate business and from the Sun Belt for jobs. This year the Caesar Rodney Institute hopes to see legislation to address the following issues:

1. Education Savings Accounts: Delaware has “school choice”-IF your idea of school choice is to allow a child to transfer from one public school district to another (provided that district has room).While that’s better than nothing, that’s not really school choice.

CRI supported a bill last year called the “Parent Empowerment Education Savings Account Act” (PEESAA) which would have introduced Education Savings Accounts as an option for low-income and special-needs students who are the most likely to need additional services not being offered by the traditional public schools. This bill was tabled in the House Education Committee but we hope ESA’s and other bills encouraging school choice are brought up this year.

2. Prevailing Wage (PW): Delaware has an insanely wide range of wages a that business who wants a public construction contract has to pay its employees to get the contract.

Every January the state Department of Labor mails out its PW survey to union-friendly contractors and conveniently “forgets” to remind non-union-friendly construction companies to ask for, and return, the survey. This results in wage variance like $14.51 per hour for a bricklayer in Sussex County, but $48.08 per hour for the same job in Kent and New Castle Counties. Not to be outdone, boilermakers get $71.87 an hour in New Castle County, but “only” $30.73 in Kent County.

These high rates prevent many construction projects from being started and make those which are done more expensive for taxpayers. If the PW won’t be eliminated, we hope the state will instead use the U.S. Occupational Employment Statistics survey. This would reduce rates by almost 40 percent on average and free up nearly $63 million of spending from the State’s FY15 capital budget, including almost $18 million for more school capital improvements.

3. Make Delaware the next right-to-work state: Delaware is not a right-to-work (RTW) state and, between that and our inconsistent-as-applied PW law, many businesses outside the state choose not to move here. Incorporating and buying office space in Wilmington for some high-paying executive jobs is one thing. But Moody’s Analytics in late 2013 said Delaware was the only state at immediate risk of falling back into a recession and a lot of this is due to more businesses closing than opening in Delaware. Pass legislation to end forced unionization and support pro-job growth policies instead.

4. Tax and regulatory reform: Only five states have a Gross Receipts Tax, which is a tax on revenue generated before profit and loss is factored in. Three of those states have no further taxes on corporate earnings and the only other state (Virginia) that does has lower tax rates. Between this tax, high personal and corporate income taxes, franchise taxes, and overall over-regulation by state agencies, Delaware is increasingly threatening its “Incorporation Golden Goose” as Nevada and North Dakota work to take business from the state. This needs to be addressed.

5. Work to lower energy prices: Delaware has electric rates 25 percent higher than the states we compete with for jobs like nearby Virginia. We import close to one-third of our electricity from out of state, the highest rate in the nation. Some of this is due to our geography, but a lot of it is due to the state’s failure to build a network of natural gas pipelines from the Marcellus Shale to Delaware.

Coupled with the state’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) carbon tax scheme and taxpayer subsidizing of “green” companies like Bluewater Wind (gone), Fisker Automotive (didn’t build cars in Delaware), and Bloom Energy (still has not brought the promised 900 high-paying full-time jobs), Delaware cannot grow its economy if energy prices are high. We want the Legislature to pass natural gas pipeline extension and end participation in RGGI and subsidies for “green” companies.

What issues do you think the state Legislature should focus on this year?

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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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