Sunday, February 22, 2009

The false hopes of the Chamber report card and Frist/Bredesen effort on Tennessee education; at $8,176 per child, taxpayers are getting cheated

The greatest share of state and local dollars go to public education. And logically, public education draws the most political lies and misleading information to try and fool taxpayers that their money is being spent effectively.

It is not.

And I offer my credentials in winning national education writing awards from the Education Writers Association in Washington, D.C., and the Casey Journalism Center and the University of Maryland. In addition, I have spent countless hours in public school classrooms, watching the bureaucracy win the day and children lose the battle.

Let's roll the videotape:

The Nashville Chamber of Commerce last week gave a positive grade to progress in public education for a school system that has failed to meet No Child Left Behind Act standards for the past five years.

Guess why the chamber gave the school system a positive grade? Because the chamber has used the failure of the public schools to gain control of the school board and to re-segregate schools. It's happy. Old times are not forgotten.

But, for example, here's the ultimate problem with any report card: While the district is graduating more students from its previous abysmal rate, so many are not prepared to go on to college. In fact, Tennessee State University in Nashville has not had an increase in enrollment in the five years that lottery scholarships have been available in the state. Metro Nashville students, usually poor black kids from north Nashville, can't score a 19 on ACT tests to qualify for scholarships.

For those who do get in, they can't keep up. They use much of their first year on remedial education. And that kind of education will be cut as higher ed takes some brutal budget cuts. So what is the Nashville Chamber of Commerce encouraged about? Nashville public schools are not creating an educated workforce for the jobs of tomorrow.

Consider that Nashville and state taxpayers already pay $8,176 per child for public education. In a classroom of 20, that's an incredible investment of $162,000 by you and me. So why is the school district failing?

Because the education bureaucracy eats up so much of our taxpayer money before it ever gets to the classroom. And that bureaucracy is defended by Democratic politicians in Nashville and other big cities.

So enter former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican, and Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat in name only. Frist with the governor in tow offered a new education program last week with a vague mission and criticism of the level of education spending in Tennessee.

Senator, the problem is not the level of spending. The problem is the bureaucracy. And you can't throw more money into a bad system until it is reformed. If not for the children, senator, at least do it for the taxpayers.

And senator, parents of impoverished children of all races deserve the kind of school choice your folks had, and you had as a parent. That means broader eligibility for children to attend charter public schools in Tennessee and vouchers for private and religious schools. Afterall, the money belongs to the taxpayers, not the bureaucracy.

Bredesen likes to hang his education hat on creating pre-K education in Tennessee. But it only adds another level of money-wasting bureaucracy compared to the good done.

For poor children, there already is Head Start. And Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander - a former Secretary of Education -- tried to get reading started in the federal program but was blocked by Democrats. Families with more means can afford their own pre-K education.

Bredesen, who also sent his child to private school, knows nothing of what is needed in the classroom.

Competition will make public schools better, not meaningless report cards. And throwing more money into a broken system without real reform, and without giving parents more choice, is simply deserting the children, the taxpayers and Tennessee's ability to fully join the global economy.

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