The enemies of change
Embracing change is a bit like taking your small child to the doctor when she is very sick and then having to watch her scream as she gets a shot. You cringe knowing it is best for her and will heal your baby, but it is painful to endure for both of you. She hated it and so did you—but in the end, everyone is better off.
This is how I view the upcoming legislative session and Gov. Bobby Jindal's plans regarding education and pension reform. We all know that the patient is sick and needs treatment—and the system is like the child who screams, “No, Mommy, I don't want to go to the doctor. I feel better. Pleeeeease don't let him give me a shot.” But you go, because it is the right and responsible thing to do. It is your job as a parent. And the Legislature has to assume that role as the responsible adult in charge this session.
Despite getting an earful, it needs to be courageous and help heal the patient. Avoiding treatment now will result in more serious issues that threaten our state's future health. Fact is, in the current global economy, without bold action our state will almost certainly be “terminal.” So what choice—or changes—do we make?
Who are the opponents?
Across the country, wherever school reform is attempted, the unions are there. While some still call themselves “teachers unions,” I am told by a teacher who is a member of one that more than half of the members are not teachers. Of course it sounds good to appear you are speaking for all teachers—because who doesn't love teachers? But the way these unions conduct themselves usually does little to elevate the “profession” of teachers. It is no secret to anyone who has fought them that protecting the jobs of their dues-paying members (good or bad, bus driver or classroom teacher) is the top priority—not the education of children. The monopoly of government-run education is their domain, and they aim to protect that turf at all costs. They declare war on change and their methods are the same in every state. They have the same old playbook and arguments—and end up pointing the finger and asking for “more time and more money.” After many decades and billions of dollars, that mantra rings hollow and just really ticks folks off. Enough.
But the unions have their liberal friends and groups that support their status quo position and repeat their misguided rhetoric in public speeches, which the liberal press prints without even questioning.
Melissa Flournoy, a former Democratic legislator who now heads the liberal advocacy group Louisiana Progress, spoke at the Baton Rouge Press Club recently, criticizing Jindal's scholarship program and using bogus arguments straight out of the union playbook. No one at the Press Club knew the facts on other similar programs, so they just printed it. The truth is easy to find.
For instance, the media reported that Flournoy said it “would be impossible to accommodate in private schools the 380,000 public school students eligible for aid.” First of all, what an indictment on the current system if she is saying all eligible students would run for the doors. And second, if she or any of the media had bothered to investigate, they would have found these facts: 1) Indiana's new Means Tested Vouchers were available to 495,000 students. First year participation was 3,919 or about 0.8% of those eligible; 2) Step up for Students (Florida Corporate Tax Credit Scholarships), after 10 years of operation, has 1.35 million students eligible and 38,375 enrolled. That is 2.8%.
Based on an active first year and 10-year program, one could estimate Louisiana might enroll between 3,040 and 10,640 of their 380,000 eligible students. (There are currently 1,850 enrolled in New Orleans.) That's a whole different picture from the scare tactics used by Flournoy and others who are wielding the image of a mob of 380,000 charging students who can't find a desk. Give me a break.
And as the numbers do grow, current or new schools build capacity both in the charter sector and private sector. And most importantly, all the choices empower parents and create competition, which tends to make all schools better. And that is the goal. Jindal has a plan to make it happen for the future.
Flournoy also told the Press Club that “vouchers would divert money from public schools.” Let me be clear. The taxpayer dollars shouldn't be dedicated to prop up some failing, government-run monopoly system that employs adults. It is the people's money, designated to educate children, and it makes perfect sense to let parents have the choice to decide who best can do that for their child. To force a child to remain in a bad school and sacrifice his future based on his address or parents' income—now that is cruel. The money should follow the child, and the parents should make the choice.
I was also a bit surprised to see the attack on Jindal's scholarship plan from the Louisiana Budget Project. (Of course, this group was started by Flournoy when she headed the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations.) At the top of its list of “funders” is George Soros' Open Society Institute. Soros also gave $2.5 million to start Moveon.org and other liberal groups geared at helping elect Democrats, including President Barack Obama. Again, the media failed to share any details on this source (or money) behind the Louisiana Budget Project.
The use by opponents of these red herrings seems a bit hypocritical when these same liberals claim they are out to help “Louisiana's low- to moderate-income families.” Do they not know who is in the New Orleans scholarship program? Consider more facts: In the Florida scholarship program, three-quarters of the students are black, Hispanic or multicultural. Over half live with one parent, and their average income is 12.3% above poverty level.
That's the same hypocrisy I see in President Obama's new federal budget, where he adds millions in funding to the Department of Education and at the same time eliminates support for the highly successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Over 1,600 low-income children in one of the nation's worst-performing school systems currently receive vouchers of $8,000 for elementary school and $12,000 for high school, while the cost per pupil in D.C. public schools is approximately $18,000. The graduation rates in D.C. public schools are about 55%, while voucher students had a 91% graduation rate—a great return on investment.
I watched a video online from 2011 where President Obama told a Today show audience that he would not send his own children to the Washington, D.C., public schools. How does he sleep at night? (Obviously, because he knows his daughters get to go to the exclusive, private Sidwell Friends School ... because his address is 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Listening to these nonsensical half-truths and outright lies reminds me of the quote, “Everyone is for change, as long as nothing changes.”
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels just completed this battle for a statewide scholarship program to allow choice. Said Daniels, “If we've learned anything in Indiana, we've learned change can happen—but change is hard. Change always brings uncertainty. But no change has been bigger or more important to the state's long-term future than the School Scholarships Act and expansion of charter schools.”
He gets it and so does Jindal. But President Obama, the unions, Flournoy and the Louisiana Budget Project don't. Let me ask: Do you get it? Are you fed up with the status quo and more excuses? Maybe you can answer that by deciding which army you will fight with—because “the war is on” this legislative session. We must win it for the children, not the adults.
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