Sunday, April 01, 2007

It is official we have moved and sold our home in Illinois.

It is official we have moved and sold our home in Illinois. We will no longer be updating this BLOG. We will continue to update our CRAFT website
and our Croydon CRAFT BLOG.

Good luck to Harvard residents fighting future referenda our home has been sold to school teachers, future fights may be tough.

We suggest the following sites for future reference.

Family Taxpayers Network

Illinois Policy Institute

Spontaneous Solutions

Heartland Institute

<$BlogItemTitle$> Education Intelligence Agency

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

We will not be posting March 22 - March 30

We will not be posting March 22 - March 30. We suggest the following sites in the mean time.

The Family Taxpayers Network

Education Intelligence Agency

Education Matters

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

House panel vote today on school tax swap plan?

The income tax increase is one step closer to passing.

House panel vote today on school tax swap plan?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

By Phil Kadner
Source: Daily Southtown
Searching for signs of life in the state Legislature can be like interpreting Da Vinci's "Last Supper."

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a master political artist, may be whispering important secrets about school funding into the ears of key committee members today.

Then again, he may merely be creating an illusion.

The Illinois House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations -- Elementary and Secondary Education
is expected to hold a public hearing today on House Bill 750.

This is a measure that would change the way public schools are funded by increasing the state income tax
from 3 percent to 5 percent while providing property tax relief to homeowners.

There are some other tax and tax relief components to the plan as well, but this stuff is confusing enough
without getting into all the details.

I mean, sponsors of this bill are calling it the Education and Fiscal Responsibility Act. If you like
that title, you can find the details for yourself online.

The important thing here, I think, is that Madigan is allowing the bill to be heard by a House committee.

Last year, the speaker refused to take the measure seriously.

Even while the measure, sponsored by state Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) was passing out of a Senate
committee, Madigan's staff was laughing at its chances of ever getting a hearing in the House.

Turns out they were right.

Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago), who had boasted of supporting school funding reform and a tax
hike, refused to let the measure onto the floor for a vote of the full Senate.

Well, things have changed in a year.

Now Jones is supporting Gov. Rod Blagojevich's school funding plan, which includes a new gross receipts tax
on businesses.

State Rep. David Miller (D-Calumet City), the sponsor of HB 750 in the House, is delighted Madigan has
decided to allow a public hearing on his bill.

Miller even expects the committee to vote on the measure today.

Since Democrats control the House and Madigan controls the Democrats, he likely wouldn't embarrass Miller by
allowing a vote that would result in the bill's defeat.

If there is a vote, it's because Madigan wants the bill pushed out of committee.

And the timing suggests Madigan wants an alternative to the governor's gross receipts tax.

"I don't think the speaker has any position on the gross receipts tax at this point," said Steve Brown,
Madigan's spokesman.

"He just doesn't know enough about it. All we have are speeches and press releases.

"The speaker needs to know what the plan would actually do, the details, before he takes a position."

But the speaker is allowing HB 750 to be called for a vote. So something in his position has changed since
last year.

"It's a new year," Brown said. "It's obviously time to discuss this issue now."

It also is possible that Madigan is seeking leverage in negotiations with Blagojevich and Jones.

Whatever the case, Madigan may now be the last and best hope for the so-called tax swap proposal.

Jones has said that as far as he's concerned the measure is in the Senate's "Hospice Committee.'

When I asked Meeks about that, he said, "I reminded the Senate president that hospice is not for the dead,
but for the living. My bill is still alive."

Looking at the political picture in Illinois is like studying one of Seurat's paintings at the Art

At a certain distance, the image has clarity.

But the closer you look, the more obvious it becomes that you're just looking at a jumble of dots on

The governor has vowed to veto any bill that includes a tax increase.

The governor has proposed a gross receipts tax that's going to result in higher prices for consumers, but he
claims that's a tax on big business, not consumers.

In the meantime, Mayor Richard Daley, who has said he wants the Legislature to pass school funding reform
this year, has yet to take a position on either of the bills.

He did ardently defend businessmen, ripping the governor for calling them "fat cats."

"You have to be optimistic," Miller said.

"House Bill 750 has been assigned to committee. I expect a committee vote (today).

"That's more than we've gotten in the past."

Will Madigan be there?

"I don't know, but his top legal guy will be running the meeting," Miller said. "That's significant."

You know, it must be because when I looked at the "Last Supper" again, there was Madigan's guy whispering in someone's ear.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Ten ways to cut school spending

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Daily Herald.

Daily Herald Letter to the editor -- 3/18/07
Ten ways to cut school spending
Gov. Rod Blagojevich wants a new “value-added” tax on Illinois businesses to support more education spending.

Before I move my engineering business to another state to escape this onerous tax, here’s my “Top 10 Ways To Cut Education Spending.”

1) Eliminate teachers’ pensions. Pensions don’t exist in the private sector. Why can’t teachers have a 401(k) or Keough plan?

2) Cut teachers’ salaries. A friend just retired after serving as the “weight room” teacher for a local high school. He was nothing more than a glorified personal trainer, but with his Ph.D. in education, he earned more than $110,000 per year.

3) Raise the retirement age to 65. That same friend worked 30 years and retired with an annual pension of about $80,000 per year plus cost of living adjustments. The pension is guaranteed until the day he dies, and he’s only 56.

4) Stop the “advanced degree” scam. The main reason teachers get advanced degrees is to get a salary increase. If you were qualified to teach with only a bachelor’s degree, you don’t need an advanced degree.

5) Eliminate AP classes. If you want college credit, go to college.

6) Don’t start all-day kindergarten. We already have all day kindergarten. It’s called first grade.

7) Increase class size. When I was in school, the average class size was 30-35 pupils.

8) Eliminate teacher’s aides. Why do teachers need aides? You’re the teacher, so teach!

9) Cut health care expenditures. In the private sector, employees pay a greater share of their health insurance and so should teachers.

10) Take computers out of grade school. Just like calculators did not improve math competence, computers do not improve penmanship, language or writing skills. Software spell- and grammar-check features do not teach anything.

At the last Democratic National Convention, one-third of the delegates were teachers. The governor’s plan is nothing more than a political payoff to the teachers union — his biggest constituency — and we shouldn’t have to pay for his votes. And you wonder why Democrats keep asking for more education spending.

John Schadl

Arlington Heights

Fight or pack up

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Northwest Herald.

Fight or pack up

To the Editor:

Gov. Rod Blagojevich is pushing the largest expansion of state government in Illinois history.

And he’s doing it in classic Blagojevich style, with vague bold strokes. He has no detailed plan for this massive proposal, just a partisan speech, a news release, and a new straw man, the Illinois businessman.

The gloves are off now, it’s his second term. His budget address sounds like a declaration of war against Illinois businesses. Blagojevich wants free health care, piles of money for overdue bills, and another $10 billion for education. And instead of real working people (i.e. union labor), he’s going to make you pay for it.

But Blagojevich isn’t raising taxes, he’s just expanding them – expanding them to everything you do with a gross receipts tax. The average voter won’t understand economic ramifications of the all-inclusive taxes and the multiplier effect, but should understand that Illinois is the eighth-worst state to do business in, and it’s about to get much worse. The most aggravating part of all this is putting more good money down that bottomless pit in Springfield.

This is a fight-or-flight situation. Stop Blagojevich or start researching new state residency requirements.

Drew Veeneman


Gross receipts taxes are extremely destructive for a state's economy for more information we refer you to the The really gross ‘Gross Receipts really Tax’ article by the Illinois Policy Institute.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

How Taxes Work

The following piece is self explanitory and came from the Maine Public Policy Institute.

How Taxes Work
by T. Davies

This is a VERY simple way to understand the tax laws. Read on - it does make you think!! Let's put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand. Suppose that every day, ten men go out for dinner.

The bill for al ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this: The first four men -- the poorest -- would pay nothing; the fifth would pay $1, the sixth would pay $3, the seventh $7, the eighth $12, the ninth $18, and the tenth man -- the richest -- would pay $59. That's what they decided to do. The ten men ate dinner in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement -- until one day, the owner threw them a curve (in tax language, a tax cut). "Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by $20." So now dinner for the ten only cost $80. The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. So the first four men were unaffected. They would still eat for free. But what about the other six -- the paying customers?

How could they divvy up the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his fair share? The six men realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would end up being PAID to eat their meal. So the restaurant owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so the fifth man paid nothing, the sixth pitched in $2, the seventh paid $5, the eighth paid $9, the ninth paid $12, leaving the tenth man with a bill of $52 instead of his earlier $59. Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to eat for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. "I only got a dollar out of the $20," declared the sixth man, but he (pointing to the tenth man), got $7!" "Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man, "I only saved a dollar, too. It's unfair that he got seven times more than me!" "That's true," shouted the seventh man.

"Why should he get $7 back when I got only $2? The wealthy get all the breaks!" "Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison. "We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!" The nine men surrounded the tenth man and beat him up. The next night the tenth man didn't show up for dinner. So the nine sat down and ate without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, the nine men discovered -- a little late -- what was very important. They were FIFTY-TWO DOLLARS short of paying the bill! Imagine that! And that, boys and girls, journalists and college instructors, is how the tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction.

Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up at the table anymore. Where would that leave the rest? Unfortunately, most taxing authorities anywhere cannot seem to grasp this rather straight-forward logic!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Improving public schools

The following piece appeared in the Washington Times. No further commentary is needed.

Improving public schools
By David White
March 12, 2007

Steve Jobs, the co-founder and CEO of Apple, just lost any friends he had in the executive offices of the nation's teacher unions. Speaking recently at an education reform conference in Austin, Mr. Jobs blamed the unionization of America's public schools for much of what's wrong with today's public education system.
"What kind of person could you get to run a small business," he asked, comparing school principals to CEOs, "if you told them that when they came in they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good?" Unfortunately for America's schoolchildren, Mr. Jobs' criticisms are just scraping the surface.
Across America, there are more than 3 million public-school teachers. Organized through the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers -- the nation's two largest labor unions -- they wield enormous political influence and aren't afraid to use it. Much of this power comes through the dues that union leaders deduct from teachers' paychecks, supposedly to improve the working conditions of the teachers they represent. In California, for example, the state teachers' association represents 340,000 workers and collects more than $150 million each year in mandatory dues.
But in reality, the unions often promote an agenda that doesn't reflect the interests of their members. Performance-based pay for teachers is a prime example of how the unions work directly against their members' own best interests. In inner-city schools, the best teachers often leave after just a year or two for better salaries, nicer neighborhoods and less stressful work. Merit pay, however, makes it possible for these schools to retain effective teachers by paying them more. But the unions usually fight tooth and nail against such measures.
By standing against proven reform, the union agenda also harms the nation's schoolchildren.
Using member dues, unions regularly lobby against efforts to allow students trapped in underperforming schools to transfer to better schools by using vouchers. Never mind the fact that study after study has demonstrated that voucher systems boost student achievement in both public and private schools, regardless of socioeconomic background.
Further, when using their collective-bargaining powers, teacher-union leaders often rely on tough, confrontational tactics to win concessions from local school boards. Across the country, they've negotiated generous taxpayer subsidies and other unfair benefits.
In cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, a teacher who decides against joining the local union is required by contract to pay a fee to that union.
Most large school districts also offer paid leave for teachers to conduct union business. For example, San Diego's contract gives union members an "unlimited number of workdays per fiscal year of leave to use for association business." And in Providence, teachers selected by their union to serve as delegates to any AFL-CIO meeting are eligible for five paid days of leave. This places a double cost burden on schools. In addition to paying the absent teachers their full salary, many districts are also responsible for finding and paying substitute teachers.
Shockingly, in some cities, teachers on paid leave can be hired as substitute teachers without terminating their leave. In other words, a teacher could take time off but continue working as a substitute teacher collecting two paychecks, at the same time, from the same school. In many districts, schools must give unions free use of equipment like copy machines, telephones and computers. Some districts are even contractually obligated to provide union presidents with free office space and time at faculty meetings.
Further, if city and state governments simply eliminated the taxpayer subsidies that are being used to support union activities each year, they could channel that money back to providing a high-quality education to every student, using the funds to raise teacher pay to attract the best and brightest.
Steve Jobs has started an important conversation about the impact of America's teachers unions. Those who seek to improve the quality of our nation's public schools -- parents, teachers and local school-board members -- would be wise to take part.

David White is an adjunct scholar at the Lexington Institute.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Teachers Unions Behind Group To Take Away School Choice From Utahns.

If you are not a regular reader of the Education Intelligence Agency you should be. This is some of the great stuff you are missing.

Utahns for Public Schools = NEA UniServ. With the passage of a statewide voucher program into law in Utah, opponents have decided to gather signatures for a referendum that would first suspend, then overturn the law. The main group is working under the banner Utahns for Public Schools. An alert EIA reader noticed something unusual about the organization. Upon deeper investigation, the roots of Utahns for Public Schools are beginning to show.

On its website, the coalition describes itself as "a group of parents, teachers, and others interested in the quality of education provided to Utah children." This sounds a lot better to the general public and the press than "a group of employees and officers of the Utah Education Association and the Utah PTA."

The organization lists 128 names as county contacts for people interested in signing or distributing the petition against the voucher law. The 128 names are of 50 individuals, almost all of whom can be identified by very specific job titles.

Of the 50 people, 13 are UniServ directors employed by the Utah Education Association, whose pay is subsidized by grants from the National Education Association. Another 12 contacts are elected officers or representatives of the Utah Education Association and its local affiliates, and another 14 contacts are regional directors of the Utah PTA. The jobs of the other 11 contacts could not be immediately determined.

Quote of the Week. "A 4% increase in teachers across the state is not particularly large, even amidst declining student enrollment." – Vermont-NEA Angelo J. Dorta. (March 2007 Vermont-NEA Today)

The Michigan Teacher Glut

"There are thousands and thousands of teachers without job opportunities in Michigan," says Michigan State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan.

Except when it comes to applying for federal supplemental loans for critical teacher shortage areas. Then the state of Michigan has a long, long list of openings for teachers.

Or is it indeed a glut? They are turning away candidates at the teacher colleges in Ontario, Canada, and part of the reason is the oversupply of teachers from "border schools" - that is, teacher colleges in Buffalo and other American cities.

"It's simple supply and demand," said a Canadian official.

Not so simple for some.

For more great information from the Education Intelligence Agency click here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Virtual Schools: Parents over Prejudice

The following piece is from the Spontaneous Solutions A publication of the Illinois Policy Institute posted by Collin Hitt. Please be sure to contact your legislator at tell them to vote no on House Bill 232.

Virtual Schools: Parents over Prejudice

posted by Collin Hitt

The following post discusses 'virtual schools.' For more on virtual schools, and on the Chicago Virtual Charter School, go here.

I have been closely following a particular piece of legislation, House Bill 232, commonly called a 'virtual school ban.' Alexander Russo picked up on my edspresso post on the subject last week, and did a good job discussing the controversy that surrounds virtual schools.

In Illinois, both the Chicago Teachers Union and Representative Monique Davis have taken measures to close Illinois' lone virtual charter school. The Chicago Teachers Union's motives are obvious. Davis' are somewhat more...complex.

During a meeting of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee last month, while her virtual school ban was being debated, Davis stated, "Tomorrow, who knows what somebody's bright idea may be, to pick people, who...Some people give less than a darn whether they get educated or not. And I am going to tell you, I am not going to sit by and have you miseducate a number of people to fill up the prisons in the state of Illinois."

Davis' comments were directed at the staff, parents and students of the Chicago Virtual Charter School attending the committee meeting on February 22. I was present at that meeting, and able to witness the Representative's behavior first-hand. I believe her comments were made in very poor taste. But that's not the point. In her diatribe against parents, she spoke to the central issue of school choice.

And so did Lilly Henton, the aunt of a CVCS student and of the 'you' who Davis was talking to: "This is all about integrity - the integrity of the parent, in their home. You asked us to be more involved with our children and then when we try to be we get all kinds of heat and questions about our integrity..."

Ms. Henton had, at the time, been asked to prove that students were doing their own homework. She continued thus: "I am not helping Angelie by doing her homework...

"How am I going to teach Angelie about how to succeed, if I'm doing her homework? I am on there with her, to help her, not do it for her. That's not going to make her a better citizen. That's not going to make her a better student. That will not help my niece..."

The decision to chaperon a child's education, rather than send her to school all day, is not one that a parent takes lightly. A virtual classroom is not the best environment for every child. Parents know this. But a CPS classroom is not the best environment for every child, either, to say the least.

I have visited the CVCS campus. I have met with parents. I have written and published on the issue, but my familiarity with the school pales in comparison to that of the hundreds of parents who have put their children in - and kept them in - the Chicago Virtual Charter School.

So, I have to wonder, who are the parents to whom Ms. Davis was referring? Those who don't give a darn about education? Surely, they are out there. But they aren't touring virtual schools. They aren't staying home with their children, and attending training seminars on how to use new software. Which begs the question, are lawmakers like Davis so traumatized by the poor choices of a select few that she is willing to stigmatize her entire electorate?

The fact is, the only way to help the children of 'those parents' is to improve their public schools. And those schools will only be improved by the competive pressures that mount once parents are offered a diverse array of unique schools from which they can choose.

The Chicago Virtual Charter School is certainly a unique school. If the school is allowed to remain open, time will tell and parents will decide if they want to send their children there. I suspect that they will, as long as they have the opportunity to do so.

To read more of Collin Hitt's articles go to the Spontaneous Solutions website. Be sure to visit the site so you can visit the links in his above post.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Tax Credits For All

Collin Hitt of the Illinois Policy Institute has a great piece on Spontaneous Solutions a Publication of the Illinois Policy Institute
called Tax Credits For All.

Tax Credits For All

posted by Collin Hitt

The Illinois Policy Institute has partnered with the Illinois chapter of Americans for Prosperity to host a series of education reform forums. The most recent event was in Quincy, and the Herald Whig did a good job covering it.

I've spoken at both events, detailing the new Institute proposal, an "Earned Education Tax Credit." The idea is simple: a $4,000 refundable tuition tax credit (think rebate, or voucher) for every student under the age of twenty three. Among other things, the tax credit would count against incurred tuition costs of preschool, private school and college.

I'm going to be writing and speaking on the topic a lot in the coming year. I'd like to have your thoughts on it, sooner rather than later. So, Conservatives, what do you think of the state underwriting the costs of preschool and college? Liberals, can you reasonably defend a preschool and college subsidy that doesn't also apply to K-12 education - the area where it is needed most?

To read more posts on the BLOG Spontaneous Solutions a Publication of the Illinois Policy Institute click here.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Houston Teachers Asked to Return Bonuses After School District Overpayed Them

The following story appeared on

Houston Teachers Asked to Return Bonuses After School District Overpayed Them

Friday , March 09, 2007

The school district that runs the nation's largest merit pay program gave oversized bonuses to nearly 100 teachers and is asking them to give it back. The president of Houston's largest teachers' union is telling members not to return the overpayments, which range from $62.50 to $2,790.
A total of almost $75,000 was overpaid because a computer program mistakenly calculated the bonuses of part-time personnel as if they were full-time employees, according to the Houston Independent School District. Less than 1 percent of teachers were affected, the district said.

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said the district can't force the 99 teachers to sign forms authorizing it to deduct the money from their paychecks, and promised legal action if it attempts to do so.

"If it's the district's error, then the district should bear the loss," she said.

District spokesman Terry Abbott, however, said the money must be repaid.

The union opposes the merit system unanimously approved by the school board last year. The district doled out $14 million to almost 8,000 teachers two months ago, but distributed another $1 million after officials realized several hundred teachers had been overlooked.

Salaries for full-time teachers in the district range from about $40,000 to nearly $68,000.

Raise your hand if you think that the school should underpay the next paycheck. Do you think the union will just sit back and say it was an error you do not have to pay us more? When will the greed of the unions and teachers end?

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers said "If it's the district's error, then the district should bear the loss." Nice job screwing the taxpayers Gayle.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Fixing No Child Left Behind

The following piece appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

Fixing No Child Left Behind
WSJ Editorial: March 6, 2007; Page A18

The No Child Left Behind education law is up for renewal this year, and an independent commission recently released some recommendations for improvement. Not to be outdone, the White House has also put out its own "blueprint" for strengthening the law. The legislation could use a serious reworking, but any fixes won't go far enough unless they do more to expand public and private school choice.

NCLB's political bargain was that, in return for a big increase in federal education spending, the government would hold schools more accountable for results in the classroom. Six years later, taxpayers have done their part. Since 2001 overall NCLB funding has risen by 34%, and federal spending on Title I schools serving low-income students has gone up 45%.

NCLB and the Bush Administration also deserve some credit for shifting the terms of the education debate. The law has focused attention on learning gaps between students of different races and economic backgrounds that persist even at some of the nation's best public schools. The law's requirement that schools test annually in grades 3-8, and report both averages and the results of racial and economic subgroups, has made it much more difficult for administrators to hide the fact that all students aren't learning.

NCLB has been much less successful in bringing pressure to bear on states and school districts that fail to implement the law. That's especially true of the school choice provisions, which are the best way to get the attention of the education bureaucracy. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration abandoned its voucher proposal very early in the 2001 negotiations. What passed was a watered-down version of public school choice, which in theory allows a child in a failing school to transfer to a better public school or get free after-school tutoring from private providers.

* * *

In practice, however, the Education Department has too often allowed school districts to skirt even these limited choice provisions, either by granting exemptions or looking the other way. It took a formal complaint from the Alliance for School Choice before Secretary Margaret Spellings did anything about Los Angeles failing to notify parents of their transfer rights as required under the law. So far she's sent the district a sternly worded letter.

And the Chicago public school system, which has been repeatedly labeled "in need of improvement" and thus should be banned under NCLB from offering its own after-school tutoring, has been given a waiver to do exactly that. So while it would be nice if the Bush Administration enforced its own law, the larger lesson is that school choice "lite" turns out to be no substitute for the real thing.

To be fair, some of these problems are structural. Even if more school districts were implementing NCLB's transfer provisions, there often isn't enough room in decent schools to handle all the children who qualify for a transfer. And many of the private after-school tutoring services allowed under the law are simply employing the same teachers from the local public school system who are failing the kids during regular school hours.

There's also the problem of allowing each state to develop its own standards and tests to determine proficiency in reading and math. The Administration was deferring to federalist principles on an issue that's traditionally been handled at the state and local level. But the reality has been a "race to the bottom," with some states constructing easy tests to avoid federal penalties.

"If you're in Oklahoma right now, you're told that 95% or 96% of your schools are doing fine," says Frederick Hess, who follows education at the American Enterprise Institute. "And if you're in Massachusetts, you're told that 40% to 45% of your schools are doing fine. But if you look at the actual achievement data, it suggests that kids in Massachusetts are doing far better than kids in Oklahoma."

Some education reformers are now calling for "national standards" to address this problem. But we tried national history standards in the 1990s, and the politicized results weren't pretty -- unless, of course, you favor a history curriculum that downgrades the Founding Fathers while playing up the working experiences of midwives in 19th-century Nebraska.

Rather than force a national test on states, the best compromise here may be to require them to benchmark their own assessments against the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), a federal standardized test that already exists and that most educators agree is fairly rigorous. "So people at least have a common metric by which to judge the rigor of the state assessment," says Mr. Hess.

It's worth considering, and we wish we could say the same about the Commission on No Child Left Behind, which was funded by private foundations and co-chaired by former Governors Tommy Thompson and Roy Barnes. But the panel's report is more interested in tinkering than fundamental change, and its 75 recommendations don't include the one that would make the biggest difference: school vouchers.

* * *

The Administration's proposed fixes are bolder and potentially more consequential. President Bush's 2008 budget sets aside $250 million for "promise scholarships" for low-income students in schools that have consistently underperformed for five years. The scholarships would average about $4,000 and "the money would follow the child to the public, charter or private school of his or her choice."

Them's fightin' words for the Democrats who now control Congress. But Mr. Bush has the bully pulpit, as well as the moral authority from five years of evidence on failing schools. We hope his Administration uses them to explain why real school choice is essential to any reform in K-12 education.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Education Lags

The following editorial appeared in the Northwest Herald
No further comments are needed.

Education lags

Comments (2)
Most high school students still are not achieving proficiency in math and reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Only 35 percent of high school seniors scored at or above the proficient level on the 2005 national reading test.

In math, the story is even more troubling: Just 23 percent reached proficiency, which indicates solid but not exceptional academic performance.

Since 1983, billions of dollars have been spent on state and federal school reform programs. Despite this massive investment, national tests show few signs of academic progress.

Clearly, it’s time to take reform in a different direction. It no longer makes sense to pour billions of dollars into an outdated bureaucratic model of public education. Top-down reforms that funnel money through the bureaucracy will never raise the schools above mediocrity.

In the next wave of education reform, money should flow from parents to the schools. Let the decisions of parents push schools toward excellence.

Lawmakers and business leaders need to stop wringing their hands and start pushing for reforms that will make a real difference.

Press-Register, Mobile, Ala.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Neverending tax increases

This article appeared in the Kane County Chronicle. In a state that already can't afford to pay off its giveaways to special interest groups, the Governor wants universal health care and maintenance of the obscene state pension system. They can't print money, so either the overpaid state retirees must sacrifice from their multimillion dollar pensions (paid by private citizens who usually don't have pensions at all) or ordinary taxpayers must suffer. Sadly it seems our lawmakers have chosen the latter path. There are two ways to balance a budget, and its high time the state chooses spending cuts over higher taxes.

Neverending tax increases

To the Editor:

It’s only two cents a gallon.

That two cents increase will equate to $4.5 million a year according to Kane County board member Jan Carlson.

If that was the only increase we anticipate, that would be wonderful.

However, let’s talk about other things that are happening in Kane County. I’ll use myself as an example.

My 2005 real estate taxes bill had a 30 percent tax increase for Kane County, 45 percent increase for Kaneland School District 302, 31 percent increase for Black-berry Township Road District, 22 percent increase for Elburn Village, 28.6 percent increase for Waubonsee Community College, 55 percent increase for Elburn Fire District and 22.8 percent increase for Town and Country Library. I dread to see the increases for the 2006 tax bill.

The governor states that he wants billions more a year for universal health care.

Last week a coalition of business and labor groups called on the state to put $5 billion a year into transportation for five years.

Will Kane County see any of that money? So why the two cents?

Also, recently State Sen. James Meeks and the teachers union unveiled a modified version of the infamous Senate Bill 750, which not only will provide new education dollars and roll back property taxes but also will pump $3 billion into the states under-funded pension systems. Also, Gov. Blagojevich will propose a multibillion dollar “gross receipts tax.”

The tax would zap pretty much every transaction performed by businesses and provide billions of dollars (business groups say maybe as much as $9 billion) a year for state coffers.

I’m sure businesses are not going to pass that on to consumers, just like gas stations are going to eat the two-cent increase.

The county also wants to raise impact fees for new homes and businesses in Kane County.

Do you not think these increases are not going to be passed on to Kane County citizens? So, going back to the two cents, there is a lot more facing taxpayers in Kane County than ever before.

Kane County board chairperson Karen McConnaughy was quoted in October 2005 saying that 2006 tax cuts are part of a new culture at the county.

However, consultant fees alone grew by more than 50 percent last year, just to name one of the increases.

Now the board wants to add only two cents more in gas taxes. The board should be aware we are watching the voting of this board and how it effects our tax dollars.

I oppose any future tax increase and believe board members should remember that the chairman is opposed to increases also or is this just political puffery as they say in Springfield.

James MacRunnels


Quote of the day.

"Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery." Calvin Coolidge

Saturday, March 03, 2007

“More and more, retirees are finding that it pays to have worked for the government instead of the private sector”

The following piece appeared in USA Today on February 21..

“More and more, retirees are finding that it pays to have worked for the government instead of the private sector”
This article mentions the City of Dover

By Dennis Cauchon

Johnnie Nichols, a civilian Defense Department employee, contributes to a federal pension that will let him retire at age 56, after 32 years of service.

His wife, Kimberly, a math teacher at a private business college, has no pension after two decades of teaching and running a horse farm. Their marriage reflects the new world of retirement: government employees who have secure benefits and private workers who increasingly are on their own.

“If we were both in her shoes, we’d be in a world of hurt,” says Nichols, 45, an information technology manager in Middletown, Ind. “We wouldn’t be able to retire until age 67.”

As the first wave of 79 million baby boomers heads to retirement, the nation is dividing into two classes of workers: those who have government benefits and those who don’t. The gap is accelerating in every way: pensions, medical benefits, retirement ages.

Retired government workers are twice as likely to get a pension as their counterparts in the private sector, and the typical benefit is far more generous. The nation’s 6 million retired civil servants — teachers, police, administrators, laborers — received a median benefit of $17,640 in 2005, according to the Congressional Research Service. Eleven million private-sector retirees covered by traditional pensions got $7,692.

Governments’ generosity could have serious consequences for taxpayers and pensioners. Some states — including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and West Virginia — have troubled retirement systems that may require huge tax increases, spending cuts or even defaulting on promised benefits. The U.S. government has a bigger unfunded liability for military and civil servant retirement benefits ($4.7 trillion) than it does for Social Security ($4.6 trillion).

The pension gap will continue to widen because governments pump far more money into employee pensions than companies do. Civil servants earn an average of $12.38 an hour in benefits, about $5 an hour more than private-sector workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The difference was just $2.70 an hour in 1995.

Pension promises have “gotten out of hand,” says Peter Hanson, 73, chairman of NAI James E. Hanson Inc., a real estate firm in Hackensack, N.J. His firm offers a healthy private pension — up to 25% of compensation, given to employee retirement accounts — but it is tied to profits and given as a lump sum, not a lifetime promise of benefits.

Supporters of government pensions say the decline in private pensions is the problem, not the generosity of public retirement plans. “Rather than lower the bar for public employees, we need to stabilize retirement programs for everyone,” says Richard Ferlauto, director of pension and benefit policy for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union with 1.4 million members.

He acknowledges public pensions are getting more scrutiny. “People want to know, ‘Why should you have more security than us?’ ” he says. “It’s pension envy.”

State and local governments have sweetened retirement benefits during the past decade at a time when corporations have soured on them because of their cost. Only 18% of private workers now have traditional defined benefit pension plans, compared with more than 80% of government employees.

Contrary to a widely held notion, the extra government benefits aren’t compensation for lower pay. Most government workers are paid more than private employees in similar jobs, and the wage gap is growing.

A typical full-time state or local government worker made $78,853 in wages and benefits in the third quarter of 2006, $25,771 more than a typical private-sector worker, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. The difference was $7,604 in 2000. The compensation advantage holds true for all types of public workers, from teachers to laborers and managers. Better benefits for government workers is the biggest reason for the growing compensation gap.

“The government is in direct competition with us for employees. It’s hard to compete against these benefit packages,” says James Bellis, owner of Tree Tech, a 120-worker tree trimming company in Randolph, N.J. His company has a 401(k) plan that matches up to 2% of employee pay.

By comparison, tree trimmers working for a government in New Jersey would get a pension benefit worth more than three times that.

Superior retirement benefits for civil servants can be traced to the establishment of Social Security, which originally did not cover government employees, says E.J. McMahon, a pension expert at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank that deals with economic policy. Today, three-fourths of government workers participate in Social Security, but their overall benefits have not been reduced accordingly, he says.

The boost in benefits since the 1960s reflects the rising power of public employee unions, which have thrived as industrial labor unions and the benefits they won have eroded, he says.

The growing benefit gap makes government an increasingly attractive employer.

Anneliese Crosby, 46, who codes medical records at a private hospital in Manchester, N.H., is trying to get a government job for financial reasons — better pay, benefits and job security. The hospital recently ended its pension plan for new employees. That didn’t affect Crosby, but her retirement depends mostly on contributions to her tax-deferred retirement account.

“It’s scary. I feel like I need a second job or to be on the lookout for a new job,” she says. “I should put more in my retirement account, but I can’t afford it.”

Her solution: Apply for a similar job at a Veterans Affairs hospital. She’d get a pay raise, better benefits and a secure future. “My ex-husband keeps encouraging me to get a government job, and he’s right about that,” she says.

Pensions for civil servants often are superior to private pensions in subtle ways that make a huge financial difference. For example, government pensions:

•Generally base benefits on a worker’s top three earning years. Private pensions typically base benefits on the top five years of pay, which lowers the average.

•Often let retirees add the value of overtime, unused leave and other benefits into the pension formula. The results can be extreme. Dover, N.H., Police Chief William Fenniman, 46, added more than $200,000 for severance, sick leave and other payouts into his three-year salary average when he retired in January. This will boost his retirement benefit to as much as $125,000 a year, more than he made as chief.

•Permit early retirement at age 50 or 55 with less of a benefit reduction than private pensions.

•Provide free or subsidized medical care for retirees under age 65 and supplemental coverage after that for those on Medicare.

•More often provide automatic cost-of-living increases to benefits.

Baby boomer retirements will force governments to confront the rising costs of civil servant benefits. The U.S. government’s unfunded retirement obligation grew $200 billion last year to $4.7 trillion. That’s the amount the government would need today, set aside and earning investment returns, to pay for promised retirement benefits.

Before 1984, federal workers had a defined benefit plan and no Social Security. Today, new employees have Social Security and a pension that is part defined benefit plan (lifetime monthly payments) and part defined contribution (a lump sum at retirement).

The pension is more generous than most private pensions, but workers have to pay more to take advantage of the plan. “You have to be aggressive about making contributions if you want a good retirement,” says Nichols, the Defense Department employee.

Unlike private pensions, though, the federal system still encourages early retirement. “The sweet spot for me is about age 56. When I run the numbers, the system almost forces me to retire” early, Nichols says. For example, he expects to qualify for a free supplemental annuity at age 56 that provides a benefit equal to what he’d get at age 62 under Social Security.

Another big incentive to retire early: Most governments offer health insurance to early retirees until they qualify for Medicare at 65. Massachusetts spent $377 million on retiree medical benefits last year. The state’s unfunded liability for such costs is $13.3 billion, nearly as much as its actual debt of $18.5 billion, which is counted separately.

“It’s a burden on taxpayers, of course,” says Delores Mitchell, executive director of the Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission, which runs the program. But she doesn’t foresee major benefit cuts. “States have a tradition of treating retirees well.”

Medical insurance may be the most vulnerable benefit because it has fewer legal protections than pensions, which often are guaranteed in state constitutions. Orange County, Calif., recently slashed promised retiree medical benefits, cutting its liability from $1.4 billion to $600 million. The county hasn’t done anything about its pension problem.

“Pension benefits are like a lobster trap. You can get in, but you can’t get out,” says John Moorlach, an Orange County supervisor who has tried to reduce retirement benefits for government workers.

He blames elected officials for awarding unsustainable retirement benefits to win support from employee unions. “Elected officials love to give generous retirement benefits because they don’t cost anything today and they’ll be out of office when the payments come due,” Moorlach says. “And the public? Eyes droop with boredom when you bring up the topic.”

The financial soundness of civil servant pensions varies across the country. Government pensions are, on average, in a similar condition as private pensions — about 20% below the assets needed to be properly funded. But some states, especially in the industrial Midwest, have severely troubled pensions.

“The taxes needed to pay for these promises would push many of these states’ economies into a death spiral,” Chicago bankruptcy lawyer James Spiotto says.

He says public employee unions should not overestimate legal protections for pension benefits. Localities can shed their obligations in a bankruptcy filing, and states, as sovereign governments, can ignore the requirements, he says. “Unions can win all the litigation and still lose because the judgments can’t be enforced,” Spiotto says.

Tim Lee, executive director of the Texas Retired Teachers Association, says unions understand the cost of the retirement benefits. He says his association’s top goal is improving the financial health of the pension fund, not winning new benefits.

As expensive as government pensions are to taxpayers, civil servants don’t feel the benefits make them rich. Frank Caron, 49, maintains lab equipment at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He makes about $40,000 a year.

He has contributed heavily to his pension, including an extra $74 a week to restore pension credit for earlier government jobs. That will let him retire:

•At 55 with 47% of pay;

•At 60 with 72% of pay;

•Or at 65 with 103% of pay.

He also will have medical benefits and be eligible for Social Security at 62. “I’ve worked hard to have my ducks lined up in a row for retirement,” he says.

Friday, March 02, 2007

New tax targets firms

The piece below states that the tax plan puts a burden on businesses. The fact is it puts a burden on everyone except for those that will benefit from the income redistribution and that would be the education industry and those involved with socialized medicine. When you tax businesses it risks jobs and the increased tax burden is shifted on the buyers of the businesses products. This is a lose, lose, win situation. The only ones who are winning are those that benefit from income redistribution or the tax increases.

The following piece appeared in the Daily Herald.

New tax targets firms
Plan puts more tax burden on businesses

By John Patterson
Daily Herald State Government Editor
Posted Friday, March 02, 2007

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Rod Blagojevich is expected to roll out a dramatic change next week in how businesses pay taxes in Illinois, a move that could raise billions for health care and education spending but which already has business interests howling.

Specifics are unlikely before the governor’s March 7 budget speech, but the general idea involves doing away with the corporate income tax and instead imposing a tax on virtually every transaction businesses make.

The concept is to put a relatively low tax rate on all the money that comes in the door rather than a higher tax only on company profits.

Illinois isn’t alone in considering this. Ohio and Texas enacted similar tax policies in recent years.

The bottom line result in Illinois could be upward of $7 billion in new tax revenue flowing into state coffers, money Blagojevich sorely needs to shore up previous populist programs, such as his children’s insurance plan, and launch new ones, all while keeping his campaign mantra of not raising the state’s sales or income taxes.

Supporters of the idea describe it as restoring fairness to the state’s tax structure, saying more than half the Illinois corporations do not pay the state’s corporate income tax.

Doug Kane, a former Illinois lawmaker and president of a Wisconsin-based economic consulting firm, said the state’s existing tax structure no longer represents its economy and, as a result, a greater burden increasingly falls on individuals. Switching to this new tax structure would reverse that trend and at the same time ensure every business pays, if for no other reason than the loophole-filled corporate income tax system would be abolished.

“The advantages of a gross receipts tax are: one, the simplicity; two, the very broad base which allows a very low rate,” said Kane, who’s been retained at $125 an hour by the Blagojevich administration to help make the case for such a tax change.

He notes Republicans and business groups have led the push for similar tax policies in Ohio and Texas.

But Illinois business groups aren’t convinced, with makers of everything from bottle caps to bulldozers fearing they’ll get soaked.

Hardest hit, critics say, are major manufacturers relying on myriad supply chains and companies with low profit margins whose daily business consists of numerous small transactions.

“Good year or bad year, you’re going to get hit on your sales and not on your profitability,” said John L. Mikesell, a government finance professor at Indiana University.

“Almost anybody who’s done graduate-level work in economics is going to be against that turkey. The only exception is politicians,” Mikesell said. “There’s literally nothing good that can be said about it.”

As for other states, Mikesell notes Ohio businesses backed this kind of tax as a replacement for a system they despised even more. Nor are all states rushing to impose these taxes. Indiana has done away with its gross receipts tax.

Back in Illinois, the pending proposal almost certainly will create an all-out lobbying war at the Capitol, as virtually every business entity is already lining up to fight the plan. On the other side are myriad education, health care and other interest groups who covet state funding for their programs and have no shortage of ideas for how to spend more tax dollars.

In between are lawmakers who, on one hand, don’t want to appear overly anti-business but on the other hand will have the Blagojevich administration tempting them with the opportunity to come up with billions for spending without having to go home and defend a tax hike to the general public.

Business groups, however, are already emphasizing that such a tax will result in higher prices and the fingers should point to Blagojevich.

“The governor’s going to impose the largest tax on the people of Illinois, period,” said Greg Baise, president and chief executive of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association. “They’re going to pay for it.”

But supporters dispute the guarantee of higher prices and say such criticism ignores the bigger problem of how to fix the state’s overall tax structure.

“It’s way too easy to trash a tax individually,” Kane said. “No tax is good.”

The question Kane has for critics is, if not this tax, then which one?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A+ Illinois $500,000 from Gates to Ram HB 750 down your throats.

In a recent news release from A+ Illinois we learned that the Gates Foundation gave the "lobbying group" for the teachers' unions and public education monopoly, $500,000. Starting March 1st A+ Illinois will be using this money to encourage you and legislators to increase income taxes and business taxes for the "funding" problem in our public schools. It is not a funding problem it is a spending problem.

Pete Speer sent the following message to Mr. Gates.

Dear Mr. Gates:

I have just learned that the Gates Foundation has provided a $500,000 Grant to A+ its efforts to lobby legislators to increase Illinois school funding.

Regretfully, A+ Illinois does not have the same objectives as has been excellently presented in public speeches by Mr. Gates. Perhaps I have misread what I thought to be his clear train of logic.

The money from the tax increase which A+ Illinois is supporting is for two purposes. Part would go to increase funding for Illinois public schools without requiring reform. Part would go to increase taxes generally.

A small group of us in Illinois follow school funding closely. The State, according to the NEA, in combined state and local funding ranks 11th in the nation. However, it is the quality of the education output which concerns us.

In our view, the box that is Public Education is broken. What is clearly lacking is Education Value -- that which can be provided only by teachers with Subject Matter Mastery, a love of the subject and an affection for their students. The teachers in Illinois by this standard are underqualified. They are rewarded on a grid system of pay with longevity increases and additional increases for additional coursework. Of the graduate degrees held by Illinois High School teachers a large majority are not in the subject matter area they are teaching

Entry into the teaching force is tightly controlled by the Schools of Education who demand, we think unreasonably, multiple semesters of education theory and practice -- even of those who have had teaching experience in the military and wish to provide upon retirement continued public service. The environment is a closed shop, much like the industrial unions of the 1940s.

Union control over local Districts is absolute. It remains the largest source of contributions for a single political party. While Charter Schools are permitted in a limited fashion, only the political muscle of Chicago's Mayor has forced a single Charter School district through. The remainder of the state has not. The teachers unions and the administrators have advised Districts to opt out of the No Child Left Behind program, because of whatever small amount of rigor which it imposed. That would, of course, reveal the shortcomings to the public.

The "standards" agency -- the Illinois State Board of Education -- this last year has dumbed down the standardized tests, normed up the results and lowered the passing grade on subject matter competency for teacher certification. Once again, underqualified performance has been hidden behind inflated test scores...and grades.

Mr. Gates has spoken about the reform of the school system. The website deals with the math area and has a good short video by a professor in your state.

When the nadir of American car quality was reached in the 1960s, foreign competition entered the market and both amenities and qualities were increased across the board. We believe that this applies, not only to Illinois schools but across the nation. It is time for Competitive Competition in the Education field. The solution is simple, the cost would probably be less than the present cost of public education:

After accounting for special education needs vest the parents, on behalf of each child, with an equal amount of funding now going to Education Fund of each District. Funds would accrue from Federal, State and local resources. Let them choose from any accredited school -- in District or out. This would include the present District, a charter school, any accredited private school , and even a parochial school or a religious school, provided that the school's curriculum did not have religious courses during normal time.

This does two things. It empowers the family -- the building block of the Republic. It involves the parents in school selection and can remotivate them.

We are moving through a period during which early school leavers of the past, who had been ill served both at home and in the school, no longer believe that Education is an economic and a social good. Combined with a continuing program of GED equivalent education as a condition of welfare, Competitive Choice offers a way to form families to rejoin society.

In the case at hand, however, I am saddened to report that your grant will not reform schools, merely maintain the status quo.


Paul D. (Pete) Speer, Jr.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Will plan spell r-e-l-i-e-f?

HB - 750 will undoubtedly pass in the fall veto session. But this will not help McHenry County Schools. Once the income taxes leave the County they will not come back. Schools will continue to overspend and referenda will not cease. Please take the time to contact your legislators and tell them to vote no on any income tax increases, tax swaps or new taxes to businesses. There are two ways to balance a budget. One way is to increase revenues the other is to decrease spending. It is time to decrease spending in the schools. Taxpayers should not be the ones to always take a pay-cut.

The following piece appeared in the Northwest Herald.

Will plan spell r-e-l-i-e-f?

Comments (63)
Local school district leaders aren’t pinning their hopes on HB 750 – the latest education funding reform proposal reintroduced this month.

And they don’t think that it is the solution to Illinois’ school funding woes.

Officials aren’t even bothering to crunch the numbers to see how they will fare under the bill. Many of the county’s education veterans have seen so many proposals come and go over the years, they are wondering why this one will be any different.

“I’ve been in education 31 years,” said Ronald Miller, superintendent of Crystal Lake District 47.

“It comes up all the time, ... and then it stalls.”

House Bill 750 is designed to equalize the state’s funding system, which critics say is too reliant on local property-tax dollars.

The bill would increase the state income tax and tax consumer services, such as haircuts and lawn care, to provide a revenue stream to boost state aid to schools. It guarantees property tax relief, in the form of a refund from the state, to taxpayers.

The organization that wrote the legislation, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, says no school district in Illinois would lose money under the proposal.

Local legislators are skeptical. Even if local school districts don’t lose money, the taxpayers of McHenry County likely will be helping foot the bill of making the system more equitable, they said.

“McHenry County would lose money,” said state Sen. Pamela Althoff, R-Crystal Lake. She and state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, say they oppose the legislation.

Local school district leaders say they aren’t sure how they would be affected.

Allan Smigiel, director of finance for McHenry District 15, said he didn’t know the specific impact on his district. He said similar proposals to HB 750 already had been proposed without any action.

But until the Legislature addresses the state’s structural deficit, he said, it shouldn’t be taking on the school’s education system.

Education leaders throughout the state agree that the quality of a child’s education shouldn’t depend on where the child lives. But part of the challenge is that each district and legislator wants to protect their local districts. In McHenry County, local dollars provide up to 90 percent of school funding. In other areas of the state, the percentages are far less.

Miller said there was a natural skepticism from McHenry County taxpayers about any reform that meant sending money to Springfield for the state to dole it out.

“No ifs, ands and buts,” Miller said. “Anytime money goes to Springfield, we worry about it.”

As much as property-tax dollars are a burden, taxpayers prefer to have that local control, said Mike Tanner, assistant superintendent of finance for Prairie Grove District 46.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Truth About Teacher Salaries

Jerry Moore of My Short
has a Lifetime Earnings Calculator where "you can directly compare your lifetime compensation to a teacher's . . . in a matter of minutes!"

On his site you will find some great information about teacher and administrator salaries. Although his site is directed toward New York schools the information is still useful since the NEA and AFT direct most union activities and employ the same tactics in school districts across the United States.

The following is from Jerry Moore's website.

"The setting of government school administrator and teacher salaries in New York is now a purely political exercise. Salaries are no longer strictly a product of skills and job difficulty, nor regulated by free market forces. Private sector New York teachers earn far less than public sector teachers. "

To read more go to My Short

Quote of the Day

"The setting of government school administrator and teacher salaries in New York is now a purely political exercise. Salaries are no longer strictly a product of skills and job difficulty, nor regulated by free market forces." Jerry Moore

Monday, February 26, 2007

Magna Charters

The following is a start toward school reform, unless we dismantle the current failures of our current public education system these same failures in particular the teachers' unions and administrator associations will invade and dismantle the good things that are now happening in our charter schools.

The following article appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

Magna Charters

February 26, 2007; Page A19
As he prepared to announce the Aspen Commission's recent recommendations for revamping the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), co-chair Tommy Thompson made a telling remark: "We have been much more successful at identifying struggling schools than we have been in actually turning them around." Regrettably, as with other mainstream groups that have weighed in on the NCLB, the commission's report focuses almost exclusively on fixing ailing schools rather than starting healthy new ones. Both tracks are needed.

The NCLB has laid bare the troubling gaps in student achievement among racial and socioeconomic groups, and it has spurred some improvement, particularly in the early grades. Yet its prescriptions for reform have provoked meager change in schools and systems that produce chronically weak results.

The law lets parents move kids to a higher performing public school -- but in many cities there simply aren't any better choices available. Using federal dollars for "supplemental services" can help -- but tutoring often takes place after students have spent the school day in learning-deprived classrooms.

The act's coup de grâce, after years of failure, is to require "restructuring" a dysfunctional school from scratch, through state takeover, contracting-out, or re-opening as a public charter school. But its impact has been stifled by legislative language allowing "any other" step as well. Districts and states have opted to switch principals, give pep talks and hire "turnaround specialists" instead of coming to terms with intractable failure.

Indeed, according to a recent analysis by SRI International for the U.S. Department of Education, only one of 12 states with Title I schools identified for restructuring as of 2004 had reopened a school as a public charter; one turned over operations to the state; two states replaced school staff and eight took no action.

Ironically, the best illustration of the NCLB's mission may be outside this whole "turnaround" apparatus, in the open sector of public education called charter schooling, where parents, teachers and entrepreneurs are creating new schools that are publicly accountable but independent of bureaucratic rules. Reporter Paul Tough recently wrote about three charter-school networks (Achievement First, the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), and Uncommon Schools) for the New York Times magazine. Students attending these institutions made large learning gains despite years of educational neglect elsewhere.

Rather than cobbling together remediation strategies, these schools create an unyielding culture of high expectations, offer significantly longer learning time than traditional public schools, and organize everything (including personnel decisions) around evidence of student achievement. While these are superstars, dozens of independent studies show that public charter schools around the country are closing achievement gaps at a faster pace than their district counterparts.

Despite low participation rates for "official" NCLB-driven choice (less than 1% of those eligible to transfer, according to federal figures), more than a million families, disproportionately poor and minority, have sought out public charter schools on their own. Charters now educate 26% of all public school kids in Washington, D.C.; 28% in Dayton; and 18% in Detroit (and climbing since that city's recent teacher strike). According to our research, charters now account for more than 13% of public school enrollment in 19 jurisdictions.

By all means, the next No Child Left Behind Act should continue pushing to improve existing schools. But the reauthorized NCLB should also be an engine for creating new, high-quality schools in communities where they're most needed. Here's how:

Quality first. The federal Charter Schools Program, authorized in Title V of the NCLB, provides critically important seed funding for startups. It has been an important source of support, especially for small, community-based charters. Created with bipartisan support when only seven states had charter laws (there are 40 today), the program is due for an overhaul, placing more emphasis on funding the strongest startups and replicating top-quality charters.

Grants should be targeted toward places with high numbers of schools "in need of improvement." And states should be expected to promote and monitor quality like the best venture capitalists -- or lose the right to administer the grant program altogether.

The charter program has been flat-lined for four appropriations cycles; it's time to align funding levels with need. Related programs that support charter facilities should be reauthorized and put on a sound financial footing as well, since charter schools do not qualify for state capital programs and only 11 states offer any kind of compensation for facilities needs.

Bust caps. More money will be pointless unless artificial limits on charter growth are lifted in the 26 states that now have them. In some cases these "caps" directly pre-empt the intent of the NCLB. It's actually illegal to create a new charter school in New York State right now -- meaning that a mother desperate to pull her child out of a failing school in the South Bronx may simply have to wait until Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has a change of heart about the state's limit of 100 public charter schools.

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings recently proposed reauthorization language permitting local officials to reopen a failing school as a charter even if it would exceed a state charter cap. The secretary's idea is on-target, but Congress should go her one better, permitting cap-free chartering wherever students lack suitable public schools. And the local school board should not be the only game in town. In states where universities and state boards can approve charter schools, they too should be able to override restrictive caps.

Add teeth. Persistently failing schools need fundamental change, not cosmetic touch-ups. Re-opening as a charter, with a proven academic model, new team and clear accountability for performance, can provide a fresh start. But to work, such "re-opened" charters must have independent governance with full autonomy over budgets, personnel and working conditions. That independence must be spelled out in the federal law, or else we risk creating a raft of so-called "charters" still tethered to the same central offices that let students down in the first place.

In its first five years, the NCLB has affirmed a national commitment to educational opportunity for all. In the next five years, it should do more to galvanize real change by ratcheting up its support of public charter schools. A vibrant new-schools sector is the best way to challenge the status quo and offer real promise of achievement for every American public-school student.

Mr. Smith is president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Quote of the Day.

Persistently failing schools need fundamental change, not cosmetic touch-ups. Nelson Smith

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Apple CEO lambasts teacher unions.

Our friend Pete the Finance Guy forwarded us the following information. A similar article can also be found on the Star-Telegram website.

The "Issues and Insights" page of Investors Business Daily, February 26 edition carried an excellent piece, which opened with:

"Steve Jobs recently addressed a forum on education reform in Austin TX. Jobs could contain his tough diagnosis no longer", according to the editorial:

" 'I believe what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way,' Jobs charged. "This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the charts crazy."

The editorial continues:

"It was what you'd call a throat-clearing moment. Absorbing Job's comment, the room erupted into applause, even as another panelist, competitor Michael Dell, sat politely nearby. Assessing his impolitic outburst, Jobs grinned: "Apple just lost some business in this state, I'm sure."

"Maybe more than that. The Associated Press carried the story across the fruited plain. In teachers' lounges throughout the 50 states, iPod earplugs popped onto slumped shoulders as tenured pedagogues pondered life without their precious Macs.

"Jobs said a little more on the subject, comparing school principals to corporate CEOs: "What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good?" He answered himself to uproarious applause: "Not really great ones because if you're really smart, you go, 'I can't win.'"

"It took the estimable Dell seconds to seize some good will:

"Unions were created," Dell argued, "because the employer was treating his employees unfairly and that was not good. So now you have these enterprises where they take good care of their people. The employees won, they do really well and succeed."

"Dell vaguely prescribed a shot of competitive spirit to be imbibed by the school principals' employment market. So the longtime Jobs-Dell rivalry now rises from the respective merits of their products to the historic debate over organized labor's contributions-or lack thereof-to our economic health.

"It's a debate worth reviving, as has been discovered by the academic blogosphere, where one commentator even accused Jobs of abandoning corporate responsibility to Apple's shareholders by alienating such a large market for his computers.

"It's hard to know if Jobs intended such bluntness beforehand, but that kind of impromptu bravery should be saluted. Apple's chief has struggled lately with his own set of compensation issues, enough to have interested regulators, so he could be charged with diversionary bravado.

"But he adds his vision to other critics -- futurist Alvin Toffler and Microsoft's Bill Gates come to mind -- who've called for replacing government schools as we know them with a system friendlier to market principles.

"Jobs may be overenthusiastic about the prospect of scrapping textbooks for online, Wikipedia-like educational content. But he does grasp, tatter than most unionized and tenured end majors, the mental cybernetices of learning.

"His ideas are at least dynamic, theirs static. He's now advanced the revolution, deserving cheers far beyond that Texas auditorium."

Quote of the Day

" 'I believe what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way. "This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the charts crazy." Steve Jobs

Friday, February 23, 2007

SB 541 Lowers Comupulsory Attendance Age

The following piece was sent to us by the Home School Legal Defense Association. Please contact your legislators and tell them to vote no on SB 541. This is not only important for homeschoolers but all parents who choose to raise their children as opposed to having the government raise their children. For more information on compulsory attendance age legislation visit the Home School Legal Defense Association website.

Dear HSLDA Members and Friends:

Senator Kwame Raoul is back. He is attempting, once again, to pass a bill to lower the compulsory attendance age from seven to five years old and to require all school districts to establish kindergartens for children who are five years old. This bill, SB 541, is a step towards Senator Raoul's continuing goal to lower the compulsory attendance age to three. Senator Raoul expressed this aim in the committee hearing last year.

Last year, Senator Raoul introduced SB 409, which was opposed tirelessly by hundreds of homeschoolers. The homeschoolers were so tenacious in their continued calls in opposing the bill, that even though Senator Raoul thought he had the votes, he was never able to pass it out of the House Educational Committee. Even though the bill passed the Senate, it never got to the floor of the House after numerous delays due to the constant barrage of phone calls.

Your phone calls and constant pressure made a difference last year. You won the uphill battle; even though the compulsory attendance age bill was targeted for passage and should have been passed, considering the make up of the legislature.

Once again we are calling on you to oppose the lowering of the compulsory attendance age to five and the establishing of mandatory kindergarten which would result from Senator Raoul's new bill, SB 541.

We are working closely with Ralph Garcia and the Christian Home Educators Coalition to oppose this bill.


Please call as many members of the Senate Education Committee as possible. You can give them this message:

"Please vote against SB 541, which lowers the compulsory attendance age two years and mandates kindergarten. This bill is unnecessary and restricts parental choice, and wastes tax payer's money since there is no study showing any long-term positive benefits from children attending school early."


Chair Kimberly A. Lightford, (217) 782-8505
Vice-Chair: Deanna Demuzio, (217) 782-8206
Jacqueline Y. Collins, (217) 782-1607
William Delgado, (217) 782-5652
Susan Garrett, (217) 782-3650
James T. Meeks, (217) 782-8066
A. J. Wilhelmi, (217) 782-8800
Dan Cronin, (217) 782-8107
J. Bradley Burzynski, (217) 782-1977
David Luechtefeld, (217) 782-8137
John J. Millner, (217) 782-8192

According to the 2005 NAEP test scores, children from states that have low compulsory attendance ages (5-6) did not score any higher than children from the other states, and in some subjects their average was actually lower.

Many education experts have concluded that beginning a child's formal education too early may actually result in burnout and poor scholastic performance later.

A report published February 6, 2007 by the Goldwater Institute examines Stanford 9 test scores and finds Arizona kindergarten programs initially improve learning but have no measurable impact on reading, math, or language arts test scores by fifth grade.

The data show that students in schools with all-day kindergarten programs have statistically significant higher 3rd-grade test scores, but there is no impact on 5th-grade scores. This finding is consistent with previous research. Forcing children into school early delivers short-term benefits at best.

Another significant impact of expanding mandatory schooling is the inevitable tax increase to pay for more classroom space and teachers to accommodate the additional students compelled to attend public schools. When California raised the age of compulsory attendance, unwilling students were so disruptive that new schools had to be built just to handle them and their behavior problems, all at the expense of the taxpayer.

For more information on compulsory attendance, please see our
memorandum at the Home School Legal Defens website.

Thank you for standing with us in this fight for freedom.


Christopher J. Klicka

Quote of the Day

Friedrich Engels, who in an 1847 draft of the Manifesto called "Principles of Communism" wrote as one of its tenets:
"Education of all children, from the moment they can leave their mother's care, in national establishments at national cost."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

School Board Elections

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Northwest Herald.

To the Editor:

I’d like to remind everyone that there are elections coming up for some local school boards.

I think school boards have gotten pretty complacent with handing out exorbitant raises and bonuses, all under the guise of it being “for the kids.”

It is the responsibility of everyone to get out to vote and let them all know how we feel about their ethics.

Larry Schultz


Quote of the Day

"This is about money and contracts and selfishness." Senator Chris Lauzen on the recent contract of U-46 Stupidintendent Neale.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Butt out, government

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Northwest Herald.

Butt out, government

To the Editor:

State Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, recently introduced House Bill 382, making it state law that school children wash their hands before eating.

I’m not anti-hygiene, but where does government nannying stop?

In 2005, Illinois passed a law (Public Act 093-0946) requiring kindergartners through second-graders and sixth-graders to have dental exams. It was sponsored by state Rep. David Miller, D-Dolton, who, by coincidence, is a dentist and president of the Illinois State Dental Society’s Political Action Committee.

Gee, I wonder if Flowers owns stock in an antiseptic soap supplier.

It’s clear parents are incapable of electing ethical officials who understand the concept of limited government.

Are parents also completely incapable of raising children without the government telling them what to do every step of the way?

Why stop with washing hands?

Chris Jenner


Quote of the Day

"If it is wrong for you to take money from someone else who earned it, to take their money by force for your own needs, then it is certainly just as wrong for you to demand that the government step forward and do this dirty work for you."
Neal Boortz

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

U-46 Super's pay far outpaces peers across the nation

The following piece appeared in the Daily Herald. This article points out very well one of the major problems that plagues our public education system. Administrators across Illinois are playing a ratchet game with their salaries with threats of quitting for higher paid districts and jumping around districts across the state of Illinois ratcheting up salaries. The salary increases are not market based but based on a ratchet game played by the administrators themselves. In their path the leave a wake of broken budgets, pension deficits and a terrible tax burden for current and future taxpayers.

U-46 Super's pay far outpaces peers across the nation

Elgin Area School District U-46 Superintendent Connie Neale this year will be paid at least $100,000 more than any superintendent in the country directing a district of similar size and wealth.

The Daily Herald analyzed the annual salary, benefits and bonuses of superintendents in school districts that have enrollments within 5,000 students of U-46 and median family incomes within $5,000 of U-46. Nine districts in the nation fit that description.

According to U.S. Census data, U-46 enrolls 38,936 students and has a median family income of $68,037, placing the district squarely in the middle of the sample group on both measures.

But Neale's contract isn't middle of the pack.

She makes 43 percent more than the group's next highest paid superintendent, Don Stockton from Conroe, Texas.

The salary and extra payment totals for the other nine districts ranged from a high of $230,000 to a low of $160,479.
Neale's current package weighs in at $329,667.

A current proposal would inflate that package to $391,403 to lead Illinois' second largest school district.

The disparity stunned some educators and legislators.

"This is about money and contracts and selfishness," said state Sen. Chris Lauzen of Aurora. "What this does to damage the reputation of public education is just disgraceful."

If U-46 board members formally approve the $20,000 raise and 10 percent tax-free bonus they agreed to during Neale's annual review last month, Neale will make about $161,403, or 70 percent more, than Stockton.

Neale would collect nearly 2¨ times the compensation of the group's lowest-paid superintendent, Bradley Barrett of Gilbert, Ariz.

Neale refuses to further discuss her contract, though she had defended it by saying it simply is a reflection of the market.

Critics say the Daily Herald's findings refute that assertion.

"As you begin to examine what other school districts are putting in the compensation packages, it just doesn't match up locally or, apparently, nationally," Elgin Teachers Association President Tim Davis said.

Board surprised

Neale's contract has been scrutinized since board member Dan Rich resigned last month, saying he could not support the board's decision to sweeten Neale's contract.

Taxpayers, teachers and legislators all expressed outrage as more and more details of Neale's compensation and benefit package came to light.

The remaining six school board members publicly have stood by Neale's contract, citing the competitive market for superintendents as justification for a pay package that teachers and residents have deemed overly generous.

"I am convinced that she is a very marketable employee," school board President Ken Kaczynski said the day after Rich resigned and made public the board's closed-door debate over Neale's contract.

"I believe we have a responsibility to the kids to make sure her compensation is competitive," Kaczynski said.

But competitive with whom?

School board members emphasized that as superintendent of the second-largest school district in Illinois, Neale has few in-state peers.

The district's law firm advised school board members that Neale's pay likely ranked among the three top administrators in Illinois - even without the proposed raise and bonus worth about $60,000.

"I understand community-wise, it raises an eyebrow because there's no one here to compare her to," said longtime board member Karen Carney, who sat on the board that hired Neale in 2002 from a 15,000-student district in Texas.

"Our board members have been exposed to national board members outside of Illinois," Carney said shortly after Rich's resignation. "We're well aware that there are other superintendents out there that are getting more."

Rich said he pushed the board to commission a study of the national market before voting on her raise and bonus, in order to verify Carney's information.

"By everyone's admission, we simply didn't have the comparables in front of us," Rich said. "I wanted to find out what the market would bear out, and there simply wasn't any interest in doing that."

Yet in a district whose improvement plan places a priority on data management, Kaczynski acknowledged the board relied on word of mouth, rather than hard numbers, to gauge where Neale's salary placed her relative to other superintendents.

"It's mostly based on what we hear and talk to people about," Kaczynski said Friday.

Kaczynski, whose district just emerged from a $40 million deficit, said he wouldn't have expected Neale's salary to place her out of range with superintendents from other districts.

"I guess that surprises me," he said. "I really don't have a comment for you."

The 'market'

School search firms say the pool of qualified superintendents is small and getting smaller.

This year, about 3,000 superintendent spots will open up, according to Bill Attea of the national search firm Hazard Young, Attea and Associates "and there just aren't that many people with experience and a proven track record applying."

Attea advises his clients that to attract quality candidates, they should expect to pay 10æ to 20 percent more than the candidates are making at their current jobs.

"It's a seller's market," Attea said.

Compensation experts say the market should figure prominently in determining how much to pay a top executive - whether that executive runs a school or a business.

But experts also caution that corporate boards and school boards alike must be realistic about how they define that market.

"What boards tend to do is pick firms that are not really comparable, but rather firms they'd like to be," said Susan Gates, an economist with the California-based Rand Institute who specializes in the applications of economic management principles to public sector organizations.

Kent Johansen, a former superintendent, teaches educational leadership at Western Illinois University. He also works part-time for the search firm School Exec Connect.

He tells school boards to create a salary range based on the pay of superintendents of districts with similar enrollment, housing value, and tax base.

A large, urban district, for example, can't necessarily compensate its executive the way a wealthy suburban community would, Johansen said.

"That's not a comparable district," he said. "You've got to make a data-driven decision."

Kaczynski agreed data is important, but so are more subjective measurements of a superintendent's worth.

"You have to judge what you're paying in terms of what value you perceive that product or person brings to the organization, and a lot of that is judgment," Kaczynski said.

But in education, more than in other industries, it's challenging to peg what a top executive is worth, said Mark Rosen, a North Carolina-based senior vice president with Clark Consulting who specializes in helping boards of public companies and academic institutions set executive compensation packages.

"It's difficult if not impossible to establish meaningful performance measures," Rosen said.

As a result, the best measure of whether a superintendent is underpaid or overpaid is a benchmark analysis of comparable districts, Rosen said.

"That's the evidence. If you can show that, it's over."

Information is power

That kind of objective data, however, often eludes school boards.

Former Elgin state Sen. Steve Rauchenberger said the Illinois General Assembly has long been concerned with the independence of school boards.

"Superintendents control all the information. ... There's no independent staff for the U-46 school board to decide if a contract is reasonable," Rauchenberger said.

Neale presented the board at her annual review a memo titled "Considerations 2007."

Under the heading "Immediate Salary Realignment," Neale noted her 2005-06 salary ranked her 40th in the state.

"I believe that doesn't fairly represent my work or the challenge of U-46," she wrote, adding a $50,000 raise would be necessary to put her among the top 10.

Neale did rank 40th on that particular list, but the list is widely regarded as incomplete and in its original form is labeled as unreliable for comparison purposes. And the district's law firm had made the board aware that Neale's total package likely ranked third in the state.

Even when board members do have the relevant information at their disposal, it can be difficult for them to act independently.

"It's hard to separate your role as adviser and supporter and champion of the administration from that of board member as supervisor who needs to act as a check on compensation," said John Challenger of Challenger, Gray and Christmas of Chicago, an outplacement consulting firm for executives.

Ultimately, Challenger said, it's the public that serves as a check against runaway executive pay.

"The brakes come when that candidate runs for office, and the opponent says, 'There's no check here, they're letting the district run wild.' "

Quote of the Day

How much is enough? Bud Fox

For educrats it is never enough and that is why we must seek school choice and end the monopoly of the public education system as it is today.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Time to write or call your legislators and tell them to vote no on SB541

The following post is from our from Dave Ziffer.

February 19, 2007

State Senator Kwame Raoul
1013 E. 53rd St., Second Floor
Chicago, IL 60615

Dear Senator Raoul:

I am deeply distressed to learn of your sponsorship of bill SB541, which would lower the compulsory schooling age in Illinois from seven to five. This is part of a seemingly endless series of similar bills that have failed in the past due to their justifiable unpopularity. Clearly the strategy here on the part of certain members of the legislature is that the will of the people can eventually be subverted if only the legislature can mount enough attempts.

Our educational system in Illinois is not failing because of hordes of irresponsible, clueless parents who are keeping their kids out of the public schools. It is failing because we have assigned the task of education to a mindless, heartless bureaucracy that has a near monopoly on our education dollars.

I am a parent who has spent the past eleven years observing the behaviors of the public schools. I find both the urban and suburban varieties afflicted with the same problems:

top-heavy self-serving administrations whose priorities are driven more by political interests such as the teachers’ unions (IEA) than by educational priorities;
introspective school boards whose agendas seem more directed by their appointed administrators than by the desires and needs of the public;
poorly trained staff (teachers) who themselves are the victims of our failed system of colleges of education;
a self-serving system of teacher “support” organizations (NCTM, NCTE, NAEYC, IRA, ASCD, etc.) that appear to be controlled primarily by unscrupulous curriculum publishers who influence our teachers to adopt an endless series of bizarre fads conceived by the lunatic fringe of the education field;
and consequently a teaching “profession” steeped in irrational belief systems and curricula that serve nobody.

We are not going to fix things by forcing kids into this dysfunctional system at ever-earlier ages. If you are truly interested in improving the quality of education in Illinois, look to the model of Utah, where the legislature and governor recently passed the Parent Choice in Education Act, which empowers parents rather than treating them as ignorant serfs.

Future generations will look back on the legislators of our time to see who among us was looking forward to the future, which is school choice, and who was looking backward to the era of corrupt, monopolistic educational paternalism. I am hoping, for the sake of your legacy if nothing else, that you will consider joining the forward-looking group.

David Ziffer
Batavia, IL

Quote of the Day

"Future generations will look back on the legislators of our time to see who among us was looking forward to the future, which is school choice, and who was looking backward to the era of corrupt, monopolistic educational paternalism."
Dave Ziffer