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Some School Choice-ers Have Defeatist Attitude

 “Since 1995 the average mathematics score for fourth-graders jumped 11 points. At this rate we catch up with Singapore in a little over 80 years . . . assuming they don’t improve.”

– Norman R. Augustine, retired CEO of Lockheed Martin

Let’s keep that quote from a recent George Will column in mind as the school choice debate unfolds.

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Even in a bad housing market, if someone were to initially offer his home at the lowest acceptable price, he would be called an idiot.  And rightly so.

Likewise, negotiators never come to the table with their bottom line proposal. Doing so would be pointless — obviously — since they would be leaving themselves no negotiating room.

It’s Business 101: you set the bar high, and work downward, if need be. It doesn’t get any simpler.

Which makes the current school choice bill in the State Senate, SB 1, all the more puzzling.  Since true choice would be made available only to low-income students, and that’s after a three-year phase-in, the bill would be almost totally ineffectual, affecting an extremely small number of primarily urban students.

Given that Pennsylvania students rank near the bottom in several important categories, such as SAT scores, the only way to right the ship is to enact a statewide, comprehensive school choice program.  Since choice only works if the vast majority of students and schools are able to participate, and there seem to be the votes for that type of program, why the bar is being set so artificially low remains a mystery.

But a good bet is that sponsors Jeff Piccola (R) and Anthony Williams (D) simply didn’t do their homework on the make-up of the new legislature, choosing to dust off an old bill rather than craft a better, more inclusive one.

Because of its limited scope, it’s a bill many view as destined to fail. To think suburban and rural legislators will put up a tough vote for SB 1 — despite none of their constituents realizing school choice — and, as a reward, face well-financed union-backed opponents in next year’s elections is just naïve.

So it is somewhat surprising that some school choice advocates on the Right have reacted so illogically to Freindly Fire’s criticism of that bill (as detailed in last week’s column).

If that defeatist attitude is pervasive within the ranks of the Republican base, one thing is certain: the entire agenda of new Governor Tom Corbett and the GOP-dominated House and Senate will be jeopardized. It’s like being pregnant — you are or you aren’t.  You either push hard to truly solve the state’s unprecedented problems, or you willingly give up your political leverage, compromising your way to meaningless solutions via the Business as Usual approach.

And anyone who thinks the budget deficit, pension bomb and liquor privatization issues can be solved by bowing to insider tactics rooted in political minutia is just whistling Dixie.

While education should never be a partisan issue, school choice is more widely supported by Republicans.  So if you can’t pass meaningful legislation with solid GOP majorities in both chambers and a very friendly Governor, you might as well pack it up and turn off the lights. 

So let’s take a look at the misguided talking points some proponents are advocating:

SB 1 helps a wide range of students.

The sponsors’ rhetoric simply doesn’t match the substance.  Senators Piccola and Williams talk a great game, saying…..

Read the rest at Philadelphia Magazine’s Philly Post:

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2011/02/02/some-school-choice-ers-have-defeatist-attitude/

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind, whose column appears nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a guest commentator on Philadelphia-area talk radio shows, and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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February 2, 2011 at 2:27 pm Comments (0)

PA School Choice Bill Doesn’t Offer True Choice

 Pandering To Inner City Reps Could Doom Passage

And so it begins.  The first challenge to Governor Tom Corbett is upon him.  Surprisingly, it’s not from public sector unions, trial lawyers or natural gas opponents, but from within his own Party. 

It’s a challenge that, if handled the right way, would send a message that the Corbett Administration will turn Business As Usual on its head.  If not, the GOP caucus could factionalize, in turn jeopardizing a host of other tough issues on the Governor’s agenda.

And it all revolves around misguided school choice legislation that would do more harm than good.

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This being School Choice Week, it’s ironic that the Pennsylvania Senate choice bill — introduced with much hoopla — would neither improve schools nor offer true choice.  Instead, it is legislation stuck in the past, once again pandering to the wrong crowd — the Black Caucus. These are the folks that some choice advocates still naively believe are necessary to court in order to achieve even a modest school choice victory.

They were wrong fifteen years ago, and they’re wrong now.  In fact, not only is Senate Bill 1 a bad bill, but one that will have a difficult time passing.

At issue is the program being limited to low income families, defined as those whose income is at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level – a family of four would qualify at $28,000 household income.  And that’s after a three-year phase-in. 

Left out of the equation is….everybody else. 

Pennsylvania’s students are subpar across the board — inner city, suburb and rural.  Not only can they not effectively compete with their counterparts in other states (they are 42nd in SAT scores), but, as a whole, are part of our nation’s systemic educational failure.  America’s students consistently rank near the bottom in math, science and literacy when compared to their global competitors.  And since this is an ever-increasing world economy, that’s a recipe for disaster.

The days of competing with Seattle and San Francisco are over; our best and brightest can barely keep up with average students in Singapore, Stockholm and Sydney.

And yet we’re supposed to believe that an extremely limited school choice program for relatively few inner city students is going to be the panacea? 

Give us a break.

One of the bill’s prime sponsors, mid-state Republican Jeff Piccola, should know better.  A longtime champion of education choice, Piccola has nonetheless dropped the ball on this bill, buying into the politically-correct hype that having at least one black legislator on board is the only way to assure passage.  So he allied himself with Democratic Senator Anthony Williams from Philadelphia.

Williams, you may recall, threw himself into last year’s governor’s race late in the game, backed by a few wealthy supporters who pumped more than $5 million into his campaign.  One of Williams’ major issues was school choice.

Fine.  The fact that Williams, up to that point, had never been a leader on school choice raised a few questions, but give him the benefit of the doubt that he is now a choice advocate. But to what level?

True believers realize that school choice will only work if the vast majority of students participate, something impossible with the Piccola-Williams bill.

Why should Williams care?  His constituents will benefit, but the other 99% of Pennsylvania families will be left out in the cold.  Not a tough choice for Tony.

But for the majority of legislators who will be asked to make a tough vote, look for them to start pushing back, countering with a simple message to the bill’s prime sponsors and the Governor:  do it right, or not at all.

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The reason this bill is doomed is simple.  As it stands now, suburban and rural legislators will be asked to incur the wrath of the teachers’ unions (who stand adamantly opposed to the accountability that school choice legislation would bring), while their constituents would not benefit in the least. 

And make no mistake about the teachers’ unions.  While they spent millions in last year’s election cycle, and were soundly defeated, their forced union dues make their campaign war chests virtually unlimited.   Being a presidential election year, 2012 should prove….

Read the rest and post a comment at Philly Magazine’s Philly Post:

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2011/01/27/a-school-choice-bill-that-doesnt-offer-true-choice/

 

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind, whose column appears nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a guest commentator on Philadelphia-area talk radio shows, and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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January 28, 2011 at 6:23 am Comments (0)