published Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Disservice to public schools

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    With his proposal for a limited-value voucher program for students in failing schools, Gov. Bill Haslam has embraced private schools at the expense of public schools.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The mental gymnastics that allow Gov. Bill Haslam and state lawmakers to praise the governor's proposed limited-voucher program for students in so-called failing schools are staggering.

These vouchers would siphon off state education funds to private schools for a limited number of students -- 5,000 across the state in 83 high-poverty schools -- whose parents want to take them out. That would leave the schools that the governor says need help with significantly reduced state funding and with fewer motivated parents and students.

These are precisely the type of students and parents the hard-pressed schools need as models, advocates and leaders. But for those left behind under, the problem of improving student performance, not to mention the lopsided financial burden left to local school boards, would instantly become dramatically harder.

Yet this is Haslam's and the Republican legislative leaders' pretense for solving the tough issues of lagging student performance in what are conveniently labeled "failing schools" or "low-performing" schools. They couldn't be further from the truth. And their semantics can't disguise the disingenuous flaws in this approach.

In reality, the introduction of a limited number of vouchers for schools with low-performing students is a back-door way to dismiss and ultimately dismantle re-segregated schools burdened by the socio-economic problems of mostly minority students in the state's largest urban centers -- Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville. The problem with these vital neighborhood schools is not that the schools themselves are under-performing: Reconstitution of these schools' teachers, staffs and administrators in recent years has largely cleaned out whatever deadwood there once was.

The problem typically is that these schools still have too few teachers, resources and catch-up programs to effectively teach children who largely come from homes and neighborhoods where lack of early education and severe socio-economic circumstances hinder student achievement for the majority of kids from the get-go. The high percentage of students in these schools who qualify for free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches is a telling indicator of schools in impoverished neighborhoods with severe socio-economic conditions that are yet to be addressed.

What Haslam should be saying is that it's time to double-down for the long-term on pre-kindergarten and before- and after-school mentoring programs, and serious parental out-reach and mentoring. Anything less is not going to reverse the economic and cultural dysfunction that perpetuates under-achievement.

Haslam, this county's new state senator, Todd Gardenhire, and Chattanooga's Rep. Gerald McCormick, the House sponsor for the governor's legislative proposals -- all advocates of charter schools over well-supported public schools -- should know this by now. Their core problem is that so many far-right Republicans just want to support vouchers for other reasons.

First, they see establishment of vouchers for more ambitious minority students and their parents as an exit strategy for pretending to worry about under-achievement among the larger minority population. Secondly, they see it ultimately as a path toward state aid for tuition to private, largely religious schools. Their political goal is to appease a white-majority middle-class political base which resents seeing extra aid to assure adequate resources to minorities in public schools, while they're often paying extra for private religious schools.

Gardenhire defended the proposal as a way to take care of kids and parents who want vouchers for private schools, "and then the market will take care of itself." That's baloney. Vouchers would use tax dollars to distort the public-vs-private education market, undermining support for public schools. Haslam portrayed his proposal as "literally putting our money where our mouth is." No: He's embraced private schools at the expense of public schools.

Haslam further camouflaged his flagging support for public education by saying that his administration had "fully funded" the education budget for three years. But that's not true: Hamilton County's school system has yet to receive the second $12 million installment step that was promised under the recalculated BEP formula before the financial implosion of 2007-2008. The governor's disingenuous lip-service to education is wholly disheartening.

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AndrewLohr said...

You fear "to distort" a 'market' in which everyone pays for one competitor, whether or not they choose its services, and its services are offered at no fee as if they didn't cost close to $10,000 per year per student, while no one not using other competitors has to pay for them? Some market. Letting people who opt out of public schools take at least some of their money with them would reduce distortion, just as my money leaves McDonald's if I go to Burger King.

Paying students who leave public schools half of what they save the system by leaving it would leave more money per student in the system; would increase diversity in education by helping students go to all kinds of schools; would increase accountability since schools that don't satisfy their 'customers' would lose money; would increase parental involvement, and reward parents who care, by giving parents real power. You oppose this diversity, accountability, parental involvement, and incentive to improve?

Vouchers, you say, would take the best students out of schools full of poor students. "Ye fools and blind" (Mt 23), are the students for the schools, or the schools for the students?

The students are poor (in more ways than one). What one thing would help the most? Probably intact families would help the most (in more ways than one). So put a moderate sin tax on fornication when it happens to be caught, to increase the number of two-parent households and so improve education, health, and wealth and reduce the corresponding social pathologies. What, Harry, your girlfriends (or boyfriends as the case may be) wouldn't like this? Wasn't Dan Quayle right? Wasn't St Paul--"run away from fornication"--right?

January 31, 2013 at 1:06 a.m.
nucanuck said...

Yep Andrew, a sin tax should pretty well stop fornication. How many enforcers shall we hire to assess and collect the tax?

Do you think all of that hokkum up all by yourself?

You are adamant that every fertilized egg should become a child and yet you want no collective part in providing a system wherein each human gets a shot at a decent education. Birth 'em and dearth 'em! Great new Christian concept.

January 31, 2013 at 1:22 a.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

nucanuck, you are embarrassing yourself. You should try to stick with issues and avoid the personal attacks.

January 31, 2013 at 11:23 a.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

People should not be forced to use government schools. If a family decides that public schools are not for them, they should be able to recoup all of the money that was confiscated from them for government school funding so they can apply that money to their children's education.

Freedom of choice, along with the economic power that accompanies it, must come before the "collective". If not, let's at least admit that we live in socialist/marxist state and stop talking about Freedom, and Liberty, and all of those other archaic concepts.

January 31, 2013 at 11:29 a.m.
Handleit said...

The Tennessee legisture and govenor are trying to relieve some of their responsibility to educate children in Tennessee by using vouchers. Our representatives could care less about other peoples children. They have proven that for years by failing to fund public education properly.

January 31, 2013 at 11:44 a.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

Handleit said... "The Tennessee legisture and govenor are trying to relieve some of their responsibility to educate children in Tennessee by using vouchers"

And what do you say to the parents that say they do not want the government educating their children and would like to pursue their own education options? Is it not possible that Governor Haslam is just respecting these people's right to choose and honourably returning money to them that was presumed to be used for the government education of their children?

January 31, 2013 at 12:14 p.m.
Handleit said...

BRP, I still think that if the state could get out of educating children they would do it in a heart beat. Which is the point I was trying to make.

January 31, 2013 at 1:54 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Handleit is exactly right. If we're really concerned about quality education for ALL of our children, vouchers are the absolute worst way to go about fixing our abysmal education system. It's funny how the government haters are always squawking about what a waste it is to spend more money on public education, but vouchers are nothing but THROWING MONEY at the problem, without even the least thought about how to fix the system as a whole. Not only that, the money used for vouchers drains much needed money from the public schools and thus makes them even worse for the kids left behind.

We have many needs as a nation that must be dealt with collectively and with urgency, and education is one of those needs. It is too important to be left up to the free market, for some entrepreneur to decide how to make a buck off of opening a private school, or for the government to just dole out money to those individuals who want to send little Sammy or Susie to a private or Christian-based school. We must figure out how to fix the problem of educating ALL of our kids and not go about it in some piecemeal fashion or wait idly by for the free market to figure out how to turn a profit from it.

BRP, your concept of "freedom of choice" is about as adolescent and ill-conceived as it gets. Like it or not, we ARE a "collective." If you are agreeing to live in society to any degree at all, there is no such thing as pure freedom of choice. Consideration for the "collective" is only natural. This country has struck a pretty good balance in attempting to maintain as much individual freedom as possible while at the same time thinking of the welfare of the whole. But you seem to think that all laws or policies that are not exactly to your liking are "socialist/Marxist" and therefore oppressive.

The only way your libertarian philosophy (if it can be called a philosophy) would work is for everybody to think almost exactly alike and to share identical values. To think that a nation as large and as multi-cultural as we are, could live peacefully without some restraints on individual freedom is just preposterous. Your notion of libertarianism - if it were actually implemented on a national scale - would quickly turn to anarchy. This nation wouldn't last a month without all hell breaking loose.

January 31, 2013 at 2:30 p.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

Rickaroo said... "The only way your libertarian philosophy (if it can be called a philosophy) would work is for everybody to think almost exactly alike and to share identical values. To think that a nation as large and as multi-cultural as we are, could live peacefully without some restraints on individual freedom is just preposterous. Your notion of libertarianism - if it were actually implemented on a national scale - would quickly turn to anarchy. This nation wouldn't last a month without all hell breaking loose."

Rickaroo, First of all, I am not asking for the elimination of government education. BUT, there is no reason that citizens should be bound to the public education system. Forcing people into government schools by taking away resources that could be used to obtain a better education only holds those people back and relaxes pressure on government schools to compete with the alternatives. Why oh why do Statists insist on enslaving people to their collective plans? That does not create peace and prosperity, it causes tension and misdirection of resources. Your plan leaves me paying for the public system that failed my child AND paying for the education alternative that I found that allowed my child to succeed. I am lucky that I can afford to pay for both, but many are not so wealthy. How can you live with your position, which traps those less advantaged children in your beloved but dysfunctional government school?

January 31, 2013 at 10:33 p.m.
AndrewLohr said...

Rick, eating matters more than schooling, and we have great diversity in eating: burgers, tacos, subs, pizza, sushi... And restaurants keeps improving. Imagine such diversity in education, with competitive pressure to improve.

Vouchers that cost less than public schooling might reduce total dollars for the public system, but they'd leave more dollars for each student in the system, and reduce pressure for new buildings, perhaps permitting more teachers and/or higher pay for teachers. Voluntary, real spending cuts? Go for it!

February 1, 2013 at 3:24 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Your comparing education to eating burgers, tacos, and pizza is downright laughable. And the notion that free market competition is the answer to our every public need is every bit as ridiculous. Just because someone might be driven to create a better, tastier burger or taco doesn't necessarily mean that that same sense of competition will work in creating a better school.

There are plenty of really good, even great, private schools in America, but the problem is that they are very expensive. If someone builds an even better school, the very things that will make that school better will also, of necessity, make it more expensive. Furthermore, it’s difficult enough to open up a new restaurant and have it turn enough profit to be successful. With schools, there are infinitely more variables that affect profitability. The problem is to create schools that provide a high quality education but at the same time are affordable. You government haters are not the least bit concerned with how to fix our system so that ALL kids get a good education; you’re just concerned with your half-baked notion of “individual freedom” for the haves...and to hell with the have-nots.

We have a huge crisis in our education system and it needs to be addressed ASAP. We don't have the luxury of waiting around to see if some school-minded entrepreneurs can come up with better, cheaper schools to fit every need. That could take decades. And even then, we would still most likely have huge gaps and needs not met. There are things like infrastructure, health care, and education - those things that affect the well-being of our nation as a whole - that should not be left in the hands of for-profit businesses to turn a buck and please shareholders.

If you wing-nuts would get over your cockamamie notion that government is always inept, evil, and useless we might be able to move forward in some meaningful ways. We won WW2 because we were united by a government that provided incentive and direction on the home-front while the military fought on the battle fields. We built the Panama Canal, Hoover Dam, and our Interstate Highway system. We put a man on the moon. We also had a public education system that was actually very good once upon a time. It served us well. Our society has grown and changed in ways that have rendered it sub-par today, but there is no reason that, with some concerted effort and creative thinking, it can't serve us well once again.

February 1, 2013 at 12:04 p.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

Rickaroo said... "Your comparing education to eating burgers, tacos, and pizza is downright laughable."

Your notion that the free market cannot compete with the bloated public school system is laughable! Private schools are currently serving the wealthy and providing a product that serves that market's expectations. If Statists would allow the poor and lower middle class to take their money out of the dysfunctional public school system a cottage industry of high quality, budget priced education alternatives would crop up. Your dogmatic insistence that the lower income groups not be given the resources to pursue better opportunities is the ONLY thing that is stopping those people from getting a better education for their children. Keep working hard to spread the misery Rickaroo, you and your ilk have done a pretty good job so far.

February 1, 2013 at 3:14 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Spreading the misery? Let me see...from the end of WW2, through the 50s, 60s, and into the 70s America enjoyed an era of prosperity like never before. More people made a decent living and actually lived the American Dream than at any time before or since. That was a time when tax rates on the rich were the highest they have ever been (yet the rich still managed to get rich) and the New Deal policies were very much intact. Then the Reagan (greed is good) era began, with his "philosophy" of across-the-board tax cuts, massive deregulation, trickle-down economics, and his anti-government vitriol. Instead of anything tricking down, money only began to gush upward and thus began the obscene accumulation of even more wealth by the already wealthy, which created the insanely huge income disparity we have today. We have been mired in this trickle-down, anti-government mania for over 30 years and the only ones who have benefited from it are those at the top. It's not welfare, Medicare, Social Security, or public education that have sent this country down the toilet; it's irrational beliefs in fairy tale economic theories that don't work and policies that favor big business and the rich that have wreaked havoc with our economy, practically killing off our middle class and turning us into a banana republic. And you accuse me and my ilk of "spreading the misery?" That's funny!

We liberals have not become any more liberal than we've ever been. We're just trying like hell to regain and retain some of the sensible laws and policies that these latter-day rabid righties and your "ilk" have methodically and insidiously eviscerated over the past 30 years.

February 1, 2013 at 3:44 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

BTW...when you say, "Your dogmatic insistence that the lower income groups not be given the resources to pursue better opportunities," you are meaning by "resources" money, of course. So let me make sure I've got this right: It's not okay for the government to spend more money on our public education system (just throwing money at the problem won't fix it, right?), but it's perfectly okay for the government to dole out money for poor kids to go to a private school. In other words, the government, in your opinion, should just hand out more and more money, let the families send their kids to whatever private school, and then the free market will miraculously fill the need for more and better, cheaper schools. Wow...great plan. I can see you have put a lot of vision and forethought into it.

February 1, 2013 at 4:12 p.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

Lots of words. (Government is great. The free market cannot be a part of the solution.) Your one-size-fits-all approach is doomed to failure. I will not stand for it. I am not alone. Statists are the most intolerant people I know. My-way-or-the-highway every #@&%$ time! Yuck!

February 1, 2013 at 7:17 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Lots of words, you say? Well, here's some more words for you:

Don't try to lay that "my-way-or-the-highway" crap on me. You are just as opinionated as me or anybody who posts here. You think that because you criticize lefties and righties alike that somehow makes your opinion superior? You libertarians are the biggest wusses of all. You claim to be for individual freedom but you won't take a stand where a strong stand is needed, such as on civil rights or gay rights or marijuana laws or separation of church and state. Instead you just take a pass and say it should be up to the states to decide. Your concept of individual freedom is childish and self serving and you cannot accept the fact that we actually live in a society that by its very nature demands compromise and sacrifice of certain individual liberties.

I do not for a second think that government is always the answer. But unlike you, I do not see it as this evil entity that should be shrunk down to nothing and gotten out of the way as much as possible. Like it or not, government is here to stay and as long as we have a representative government and hold free elections our government IS us...of, by, and for the people. Or at least it could and should be, if only we got our politicians out of the deep pockets of big business and the rich.

There are some things that the free market does well and some that it does not do well at all. It has no business trying to provide public services that are necessary not only for individual wellbeing but also for the wellbeing of our nation as a whole - like education and heath care. These are two areas where the private sector does not belong - except maybe in a supplementary fashion, once the basic education and health requirements have been met.

If you libertarians and wing-nuts would get your heads out of your butts long enough to realize that we are going to HAVE to spend money on some things, you would see that government investment in these two areas alone would decrease poverty, crime, and illness and thereby reduce the need for food stamps, welfare, Medicaid, and other safety net programs. But you prefer to keep on whining about spending cuts and austerity and pretend that the free market is magically going to provide for all of our needs. And if it doesn't, then you like to pretend that those who are left out in the cold are lazy "takers" anyway and thus deserve to perish or suffer. What a bunch of dim-witted, arrogant, ignorant, whiny simpletons, you libertarians.

February 1, 2013 at 9:59 p.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

blah, blah, blah. Never anything new, same dogma restated. (as such I will not be wasting my time reading the above).

Instead of repeating your flawed theory that the free market cannot provide better services at a lower price than government, why don't you try to explain why "progressives" have to force their solution on everyone else? If progressive ideas are such good ideas you would think that they would win out even when subject to competition.

I will answer the question for you so you do not have to waste your time pounding out another couple hundred words.

Progressive ideas are inferior and this would become obvious if we could compare them to the alternatives. Progressives cannot stand the light of day.

February 2, 2013 at 12:32 p.m.
fairmon said...

Rickaroo....I will loan you my tractor or you can buy it if you promise to use it.

February 3, 2013 at 4:10 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Fairmon, that might be a pretty clever little one-liner if it made any sense at all. to this comment from you: "If progressive ideas are such good ideas you would think that they would win out even when subject to competition"... Medicare and Social Security have "won out" as popular and practical progressive programs for over 40 and 70 years respectively, only recently reaching the point of needing some adjusting. The vast majority of Americans love their Medicare and Social Security and are not about to let you wing-nuts dismantle them, like you want to do.

And as for "forcing our ideas on everyone else," you libertarians and tea-baggers are just as guilty of "forcing" your ideas on everyone, you twerp. What you call "freedom of choice" is a joke. By blocking and refusing the implementation of certain progressive policies , you are giving "freedom" only to the business community to ride roughshod over the public, and in so doing, some few consumers (those wealthy enough to afford the services provided) will benefit but the average person and the poor will suffer mightily. The "freedoms" you are talking about primarily, and oftentimes exclusively, benefit big business and the rich.

As usual, you're just blowing the same ol' smoke from your pie hole. I regret that I've spent so much time going back and forth with you on this topic - obviously it's been a complete waste. I'd have done better to engage in conversation with a brick. Enough.

February 3, 2013 at 12:13 p.m.
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