Saturday, January 28, 2006

Nine ways that legislators could control school spending.

The letter below was sent to Representative Mike Tryon in response to Senate Bill 1682. Senate Bill 1682 is a Bill that will lead to making clear the true costs of referenda to voters. Below Mr. Speer points out that this is merely a band aid for the cancer of school spending and suggests nine ways to control public school spending. It should be noted that the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) opposes this Bill. I think it is safe to assume that the IASB does not want the voter to truly know how much a tax increase will cost a voter. Yet another reason to continue to oppose all education referenda. May we suggest you edit this letter below to fit your needs and and send it on to your Senators and Representative.

My Dear Sir,

I am an Illinois resident, living in Lake County and working as a financial advisor to Illinois (and Indiana) Counties, Cities, Towns and Villages -- and School Districts. I am employed to ensure that their capital financing (municipal bonds) meet the greatest success in the market. I have a deep and long term interest in the performance of Illinois schools.

I see that you are attempting to get a truth in taxation (as you describe it) act regarding the actual cost of a referendum proposal. Well and good.

But this is a single area among the many nooks and crannies which the general Assembly has in the past seen fit to legislate but not in the light of day. It will not, for instance, address the overcharging for drivers education courses as a means of funneling more money into the schools.

The following is extracted from a presentation I made to regional meetings last year of what I called the Flying Madigan Budget Circus. It addressed nine areas in need of legislative attention.

First, taxpayers generally believe that they are permitting their resources to be taxed for a specific purpose. After that specific purpose is accomplished the resources should be disencumbered. It is their money.

The legislature has systematically expanded the ability of the School District to issue non referendum debt. It allows the schools to finance new debt when old bonds are retired without asking taxpayer permission. It is not the school’s money; it is the taxpayers to whom it belongs. A Referendum established the single purpose for which the debt was approved. No additional debt without referendum approval should be permitted.

Second, referenda are now crafted to permit tax collections in the same year as the referenda were passed, putting taxpayer on a short fuse. This is an unnecessary burden. Taxpayers suffering a reassessment receive a second increase in taxes in the same year as a result of a successful referendum.

Third, the Capital Development Board has in many instances foisted construction grants on local School Districts with the School District permitted non-referendum funding bonds to complete the construction. Local taxpayers were excluded from the decision process. Working Cash Bonds are permitted to pay for projects -- a vile corruption of the working cash process.

Fourth, school construction, whether financed through State grants or through local debt issuance, is authorized to proceed without any indication that the additional money will be on hand to pay for its manning and operation. A referendum may have approved a construction project. A second referendum to increase tax rates and obtain moneys for the costs of operations may be simultaneously defeated and can be delayed until the shining new school sits on the plot of ground empty.

The State should never permit capital to be spent either through its grants or as the sale of Building Bonds or for any capital improvement purpose until it can be demonstrated that sufficient revenues are on hand without any new operating tax increases to staff, operate and maintain it.

Fifth, Early Retirement Plans are a continuing scandal. School boards must not be complicit in these attempts to enrich its employees -- but they are -- and at the expense of local taxpayers and eventually the State of Illinois.

The Governor’s modest plan to minimize this enrichment does not go far enough. While these plans before implementation appear to provide present value savings to a School District, there has been no requirement to provide ex post studies to the State and the taxpaying public (i) showing what the savings have been, and (ii) verifying what the savings are in relation to what was projected. The State should require such reporting, at the very least to be able to judge its efficacy.

The State should also not permit its Title I moneys be used to pay the artificial salary increases caused by the pension maximization program. Title I money for a current year should be reduced by the increase above the rate of inflation in salaries paid in the previous year.

Further, no person receiving a monthly check from the Pension Fund and retiring early should be permitted to accept another job within the educational establishment (within or without the State of Illinois) until his normal retirement date is reached or for a period of five years, whichever is greater. That would include private sector consulting jobs. The Department of Defense, for instance, has a similar process.

Sixth, under the permissive legislation of the State, School Districts are using Working Cash Bonds and Working Cash funds to make permanent transfers instead of temporary loans to their operating funds. These loopholes must be closed. Why? These one time transfers, while the debt service levy or working cash fund levy is in place, enable School Districts to violate, without referendum, tax rate ceilings and tax caps. The State has permitted the use of these moneys for construction, for indirectly paying higher salaries and thus pensions

Seventh, the State permits public employees in the teaching profession to go on strike and interrupt the educational process. Worse, the State allows Districts in settlement to enter into labor contracts, the cost of which exceed the anticipated available resources. No public body should be permitted under law to offer contracts for services to their employees the cost of which exceeds the current and forecast revenue from its existing resources. Such settlements that anticipate tax increases from referenda must be made illegal. Any contract which anticipates property tax increases as a source of payment for contractee services shall be null and void.

Eighth, tenure in K-12 Schools is a perversion of the Tenure Principle in universities. There, tenure permits a professor to engage in research – which may be controversial but which advances the level of knowledge in his field. Tenure at the K-12 level, automatically granted for continuing employment is featherbedding, especially when combined with collective bargaining and the closed shop.

Ninth, entry into the teaching field has been unnaturally restricted. As a retired naval intelligence officer, let me say that there is a large pool of personnel retiring each year from the Armed Forces, who have obtained subject matter mastery and who could be recruited to teach in our schools. Gubernatorial and legislative attention must be paid to eliminate or minimize barriers to these people of a certain maturity. Credit must be given for their own knowledge and experience as well as the educational courses and teaching experience in their service. The schools themselves must be permitted to open up the closed shop which appears to be the rule.

The State has made some effort correct the problems above. However, their efforts were abortive and incomplete. They need your attention.

The problems above, while significant, do not reflect the major problem area in primary and secondary education. Put simply, it is this: regardless of the level of funding, the education provided in our schools is not competitive with that being provided overseas. It is a twenty first century world economy -- a world which is knowledge based. America is not educationally equipped to compete. Please see the attachment for a discussion of this.

In the best of all worlds the cost of education should be related to the value of output. At present, qualitatively, the cost far exceeds the value -- and money is not the cure. The system needs reformation. There are culprits. The education mafia controls the system, the local school boards, the ISBE and -- unfortunately -- the legislature. The Teachers Union is out of control, the Administrators come from the same schools of education, as do the regulators. There is only one cure -- competition. Full school choice will raise standards and lower costs. This is easily demonstrable and I would be pleased to discuss this further.

In the meantime, welcome to the fray -- but one battle will not win this war. I hope you are in it for the long haul.


Paul D. Speer, Jr.

Truth in Spending:

The below text was taken directly from The Center for Education Reform Website.

"Billions of dollars continue to be wasted, absorbed by layers of administration and countless regulations that serve only to stifle dynamic innovation and school-level reform. Meanwhile, calls for more money are all too well received in the face of well-documented evidence that money alone can't buy educational excellence. Throwing good new funds after bad, misspent funds is bad policy. And while many systems are inequitable the fault — and source of rectifying this lies with who controls the purse strings." David A. DeSchryver, Policy Analyst

Spending more will not solve our public school problems. We must continue to vote down all increased funding to school districts until our legislators truly reform our public education system. Vote no on all education referenda March 21st demand accountability and the spending problem will resolve itself. To view the rest of the article above click here.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Jim responds to Jon Strug

Reading Jon Strug's letter sends shivvers down my spine. Its disturbing
to think that the role of government as portrayed in Strug's letter may
sit well with a large segment of the American population. With the
deteriorating public awareness of the origins of free government, we
present Strug's letter and offer our response point-for-point.

Re: Michael Baier's Jan. 12 letter. (From the Northwest Herald)

Baier, the version of "big government" to which I subscribe actually
pays for itself.

My "big government" is a government that protects people from the abuses
of polluters, banks, employers and insurance companies.

My "big government" takes the taxes of the rich and invests in jobs that
create more consumers who create more wealth for everyone, not just the
top 1 percent.

My "big government" helps people not only because we have a Christian,
moral or human obligation to do so, but because when everyone does
better, everyone does better.

President Franklin Roosevelt believed that the poor shouldn't have to
depend on the kindness of strangers. The era of small government ended
when he became the Democratic presidential nominee.

I wouldn't have to explain my version of big government, because my son
believes that it's right to help everyone.

To explain today's big government and all the debt it has accrued, I
would say, "Greedy, selfish people took control of government through
lies and manipulation and used it to finance their friends."

My question to you is: What do you get with small government? Do you
have to help shovel the streets? Are stop signs optional? Is harming
your neighbor voluntary?

Jon Strug


Point 1: There is no such thing as "government that pays for itself".
Government is not a profit center. By its nature, government is always
an expense of the public. As government grows, it changes from a
"necessary expense" to an exploitation mechanism.

Point 2: The role of small government, not big government, is to protect
opportunity. Big government adds forcible redistribution of wealth,
forcible demographic engineering (tax breaks for homeowners and hybrid
cars), and confiscation of fundamental lifestyle decisions (ex.
retirement, education, work relations.)

Point 3: The "rich" actually make themselves richer by engaging in the
very practices Strug falsely attributes to government. They routinely
invest their income into additional business ventures that create jobs
and wealth for a large middle class. Big government wastes taxes on
dubious foreign aid, cronyism, and studies of bumblebee mating habits.

Point 4: Big government harms, not helps people. A person taxed out of
$10,000 has $10,000 less with which to buy products to create beneficial
jobs, $10,000 less with which to provide direct aid to others, and
$10,000 less with which to raise a family. Big Government takes the
$10,000, wastes $7,500 of it, and provides $2,500 in aid to people who
may or may not deserve aid. Big government robs taxpayers of the right
to decide who needs and deserves their help.

Point 5: FDR preferred that the poor depended on the government, his
government. His policies did not reduce or eliminate any dependencies,
they merely centralized them.

Point 6: Just because your son believes its "right to help everybody"
does not give him the right to impose this morality on an entire
nation, nor does it mean we all share the same idea of what constitutes
"helping", who deserves our help, or how much help.

Point 7: It is true that "Greedy selfish people took control", but this
is not an anomaly. The Founding Fathers understood that any government
of man could ultimately not be trusted, which is why they worked so
hard to limit its power and prohibit direct taxation by the federal
government (overridden by the 16th amendment). Mikhail Bakunin warned
Karl Marx that big government Communism would ultimately lead to
totalitarianism, since it would be impossible to prevent big
government from falling into tyranny. Greed, selfishness, lies, and
manipulation are an inseparable part of Big government.

Point 8: What do you get with small government? The greatest national
ascendancy in modern history. You get freedom, self determination,
opportunity, and prosperity. Big government gave us the Third Reich,
the Soviet Union, Cuba, and North Korea. The Founding Fathers were not

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Jim's Response to Teacher's Retort

Of course Jim could not help but parody the Letter to the Editor (LTE) titled Teacher's Retort in the Northwest Herald. I am not sure where Mel Ingram copied this but you can view one version at Jim's parody is first and then you can read the LTE.

Child's Retort
Let me see if I've got this right:

You want me to go into a room with a teacher who only remains employed
because of a state tenure law, hoping that I will learn?

And I'm supposed to develop character in an environment where teachers
shut down the school with a strike, indoctrinate us with ethically
neutral leftist bunk, where individualism is discouraged and religious
expression is illegal?

You want me to be my own person in an environment where every non
conformist child is drugged up and sent into "Special Education", where
under-performers are passed along, and overachievers are held back?

And I'm supposed to master reading, writing, math, and science when our
teachers seem only able and willing to teach us Whole Language, New
Math, Diversity, Multiculturalism, and Multiple Intelligences?

You expect me to get excited about attending the only school the state
will allow you to send me to because of where we live? I'm expected to
adopt an academic work ethic from teachers who take three months off
every year and retire a decade younger than my parents?

I am supposed to honor my mother and father when my school and teachers
tell me my parents are bad for opposing a tax increase, when my school
sends me home with papers calling my parents selfish?

You expect me to do all of this and not to pray?

Jim Peschke

Teacher's retort
[published on Tue, Jan 24, 2006 in the Northwest Herald]
To the Editor:

Let me see if I've got this right:

– You want me to go into that room with all those kids and fill their every waking moment with a love for learning.

– And I'm supposed to instill a sense of pride in their ethnicity, modify their disruptive behavior, observe them for signs of abuse, and even censor their T-shirt messages and dress habits.

– You want me to check their backpacks for weapons and raise their self-esteem.

– You want me to teach them patriotism, good citizenship, sportsmanship, fair play, how to register to vote, how to balance a checkbook, and how to apply for a job.

– I am to recognize signs of anti-social behavior, make sure all students pass the mandatory state exams – even those who don't come to school regularly or complete any of their assignments.

– All of this I am to do with just a piece of chalk, a computer, a few books, a bulletin board, a big smile and on a starting salary that qualifies my family for food stamps.

– Yet you expect me to do all this and not to pray?

Mel Ingram
Crystal Lake

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Teachers gone bad aka using children as political pawns.

The hat tip goes to Education Matters. There are a lot of links in the post, to view the complete post in the Education matters BLOG click here.

I received a couple of phone calls this afternoon about the Teachers wearing buttons today in school. The buttons supposedly said, “Working without a contract.” I have not seen one yet, but both callers confirmed this. They also stated the teachers were telling the children who asked about them, to tell their parents to call the School Board. The word “strike” was used in the explanation to one of the children.

I have made a few phone calls tonight and sent a few emails. It is now my understanding the teachers are not to wear the buttons to school again.

When I heard about the buttons, the first thing I thought of was that the teachers union was using the children as pawns to get what they want. That is not the way you claim to be helping the kids. That is called blackmail.

Children should not be pawns in your power play. The children are innocent bystanders, but they will be the ones getting hurt if the teachers decide to strike. From what I can gather, the teachers are to meet next Tuesday and will vote to strike if the contract is not resolved. If that is true they must file with the ISBE giving 10 days notice. That makes the potential strike date Feb. 14th. If you think I am way off base, check out this comment pulled from

Monday, January 23, 2006

Money As An Excuse, Not An Answer

This timeless piece could have been written today, the mantra of lack of money continues to be the excuse of public schools today. Their problem is reckless spending and lack of accountability. Lack of money is an excuse and not the answer. Many schools are asking for money on March 21, 2006. We must continue to vote down referenda and demand real reform from our legislators. It is time to end tenure, it is time demand results from our public education system and it is time for legislators to stop bowing to every demand of the teacher's unions, service unions and administrators of our public schools. Legislators are to represent all of the people of Illinois not just the special interests groups.

Money As An Excuse, Not An Answer

The Blum Center for Parental Freedom in Education
David W. Kirkpatrick On School Choice, No. 18, January, 1997
By David W. Kirkpatrick

Opponents of school choice, and other basic reforms of public schools, not only argue against real change but generally maintain that what is needed is more money. While no school can operate without funds that does not prove that more money will suffice.

Not that money isn't required, or that teachers shouldn't receive decent salaries, or that some classes may not be too big. But satisfying these needs, if that is possible, cannot and will not do the job, and this has been repeatedly demonstrated.

There are some 15,000 school districts in the nation, ranging from a few students to the million or so in New York City. They also range from districts that are very poor and could effectively use more money to some that spend more than $20,000 per year per pupil. Yet, whatever their size or budget, where is the district that says it has enough money or, wonder of wonders, that says it is spending too much?

Significantly, apologists for the status quo rarely attempt to cite instances where money has led to noteworthy achievement gains, much lower dropout rates, or other proof that money alone works. Nor do they say how much is needed, other than "more."

The standard answers to the present system's faults have been tried and have failed. Incomprehensibly, there are those who should know this who continue to advocate more of the same.

A generation ago John Henry Martin put the platitudes to the test. He was the superintendent of a school district which supported a budget increase of 35%, making possible many changes that are supposed to make for efficient schools and effective education.

Average class size went from over thirty pupils to about twenty. Specialists of all kinds were hired or increased in number: guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, classroom aides, and remedial teachers. Two full-time remedial reading teachers were assigned to each elementary school in which the average enrollment was 600 pupils.

Teachers with advanced degrees were hired, the curriculum was updated, an extensive in-service program for teachers was initiated, a teacher council was chosen by secret ballot, and dozens of other reforms were introduced. After two years, outside evaluators were hired to assess the results. Students took achievement tests, with the results analyzed by class size, teacher age and experience, and the student's race, sex and family income.

In his 1972 book, Free To Learn, co-authored with Charles H. Harrison, Martin reported, "In the end, the cherished faith died...all that was done to make a difference had made no difference. The panaceas were, after all, only false promises--vain expectations. All the patented prescriptions...that made such a grand appearance in the college textbooks had failed the hard test of reality in the field."

At about the same time, in 1970, former Berkeley, California school superintendent Neil Sullivan told a U.S. Senate committee that his district had also lowered class size, provided remedial teachers, and the like, only to conclude three years later that inner city children had actually lost ground.

One of the most extensive and, given the source, one of the more important tests of the money theory was New York City's More Effective Schools (MES) program, initiated and supported by the New York local of the American Federation of Teachers, begun by the district with much fanfare in the 1960s. Because of the great costs it was introduced into only a handful of the 1,000 or so schools in the district.

MES could more properly have been termed the More Expensive Schools Program, because that was its principal distinction. It succeeded in spending great sums of money, but not in gaining added academic achievement by students.

It was also evaluated and found wanting, despite smaller classes (a teacher-pupil ratio of less than one to twelve), more experienced teachers, greater per-pupil expenditures, better facilities, compensatory education efforts, and all the rest. In only four of twenty-one schools did students average reading at grade level, and these schools contained mostly middle-class white students. The background of the students again appeared far more important than anything the schools did.

Even if MES had worked, a teacher-pupil ratio of one to twelve would not be replicable. Nationwide that would require some 3,750,000 teachers, over a million more than are currently in the schools, an obvious fiscal impossibility. But MES didn't work, and, in the mid-seventies it was ended, with much less fanfare than accompanied its introduction.

This information has been available for years, and has been publicized from time to time, including in my book, Choice in Schooling, published at the beginning of this decade. Yet it is largely ignored or forgotten. Even those who argue that just spending more money is not the answer often do so rhetorically without citing the ample evidence supporting their view.

Many urban districts that are in desperate shape educationally are among the nation's most expensive. Despite spending as much as $10,000 per year per pupil some cannot even maintain clean and safe schools. As Cleveland reportedly does, they may pay custodians as much as $80,000 per year while students have textbooks that are decades old. They then use the deterioration of the buildings, for which they are responsible, as an argument for more money.

Perhaps nowhere is the failure of money more evident than in the ongoing saga of Kansas City, Missouri. Federal district Judge Russell G. Clark took control of the district in the mid-1980s and ordered the state to give the district virtually a blank check.

He accepted the professional educators argument that money could make a difference, and if they were given enough of it they could transform the district, even raise test scores to state averages in about five years. (NOTE: the establishment wants several years to test its reforms, but demands that projects they don't like be declared failures and discontinued if they don't show immediate gains.)

In the decade since then more than 1.6 billion extra dollars have been spent on the fewer than 40,000 students, or about $40,000 extra per pupil. State officials argue that they have been forced to spend 45% of the state's education funds on the 9% of the state's students who are in Kansas City.

As Paul Ciotti noted in the Philadelphia Inquirer last August, " the new magnet schools were an Olympic-size swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, a robotics lab, professional quality recording...and animation studios, theaters, a planetarium, arboretum, zoo, a mock court with a judge's chamber and jury deliberation room and a model United Nations with simultaneous language translation." CBS-TV's "60 Minutes" did a feature presentation on the topic.

The result?

Minority enrollment in the district has increased to 77%, achievement rates have not gone up, the large gap in scores between blacks and the district's few remaining whites continues, while dropout rates are said to have gone up to 55% and are still rising.

In short, "all that was done to make a difference had made no difference." Despite all the changes that money could buy the situation has worsened.

At last, the U.S. Supreme Court, reacting to an appeal from Missouri officials, has directed Judge Clark to modify his approach. It remains to be seen what benefit that will have for students, not to mention teachers, parents, and taxpayers.

The forecast here is that the outlook is grim unless the system is opened up through the introduction of meaningful reforms, including full school choice, that permit the creativity and intelligence of individual teachers, parents and students to be utilized.

Democracy rests on the belief that people make better decisions for themselves than others will make for them, but everyone seems not to have gotten the word. According to Nicole Garnett, writing about the school choice program in Milwaukee in the December 30, 1996/January 6, 1997 issue of The Weekly Standard, although 96% of the students in the program are minorities, and the local African-American newspaper, the Community Journal, reports 90% of the black community supports the program, the Milwaukee National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), argues against its expansion, saying "African Americans and other racial minorities especially benefit from implementation of uniformity of educational opportunity by a government official."


But arguing for more money has one seldom-recognized benefit for the educational establishment. When they fail to make progress they have a ready answer: we weren't given enough money!

Money As An Excuse, Not An Answer

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A few words on accountability.

Reform is not rocket science is the motto of Charles E. Breiling is a teacher in Philadelphia and host of The piece below is taking in part from his BLOG.

Schools are No Different: The preceding four paragraphs were a defense of the status quo, and we don't believe them for a second. Sure, they have elements of the truth, but they gloss over the important parts, concealing the cold reality: accountability for failure is possible with schools.

If Johnny was never taught fractions, what did Johnny do in 4th grade math? Who was his math teacher and why was Johnny passed on to the next grade? If Suzie has only 6th grade skills, but is a sophomore in high school, why was she promoted repeatedly above her level of scholarship? Who were the principals of the schools which permitted that?

Schools can claim "we have no idea how that happened" but this is really a lazy way of saying "we haven't paid any attention." Being that education is a process that is people-centric (as opposed to an engineering analysis of structures and forces), this means we need to examine people.

There is a Better Way: The solution is a universal system of standardized testing, which we call ATESLA: Annual Testing for Every Student, with Longitudinal Analysis, (which we've discussed before). Simply stated, instead of having several widely-spaced standardized tests, some of which are "high stakes," test every kid every year, so that there is no excuse for not knowing that failure exists. Longitudinal analysis will permit measurement of the year-to-year growth of student skills.

In addition to universal testing, the names of a student's teachers, along with subjects taught, need to be part of a student's record. This is extremely controversial, tying teachers' names with student records. Real accountability, down to the level of individual teachers, is simply not done in today's big-city school districts, which can depend on the sheer size of the district to provide a level of anonymity for teachers.

For example, American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino, who dropped out of school after 9th grade, revealed that she's functionally illiterate. Sure, she didn't graduate from high school, but what we want to know is who taught her in Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade, along with all the rest of her teachers who promoted her every year without teaching her to read.

These teachers have names, along with their principal.

You want accountability? Measure students every year, and start taking names.

To view the preceding four paragraphs of the BLOG click here.