SOTU: Real Solutions for Income Inequality

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We can expect President Obama to come out swinging on the issues of income inequality and economic mobility in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

In an email to supporters Saturday, senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer wrote that Obama ‘will lay out a set of real, concrete, practical proposals to grow the economy, strengthen the middle class, and empower all who hope to join it.’

While it’s coincidental that the SOTU falls during National School Choice Week, the president should take heed of the national campaign to bring educational opportunity to all students. If the goal is to truly set out concrete proposals to help the middle class and empower people to rise out of poverty, then we should look for solutions that get to the root of the problem.

Study after study on poverty in America demonstrate that graduating high school is correlated to staying out of poverty for life. It’s not fair that kids in some zip codes start off with better teachers and learning environments that provide better odds of success, while others are given no options and stuck in failing schools.

So, rather than addressing the gaping wound of poverty with band-aids like a mandated minimum wage or redistribution of wealth through entitlements, shouldn’t we start with giving all Americans equal opportunity to succeed early in life?

If educational opportunity is an issue you are interested in, then take action and join the national movement for educational opportunity this week. There are many ways to bring more opportunity to students, whether through reforming traditional public schools and public magnet schools or through public charter schools, voucher programs, education savings accounts, private and faith-based schools, online learning, or homeschooling.

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School Choice Week Is Now In Session

Times have changed. Gone are the days of the government’s monopoly on education.

As society adjusts to the incredible advances in technology and communication, our educational system has evolved with the changing landscape of culture. Despite government policies designed to corral these efforts, i.e. Common Core, states like Oklahoma are taking action to inform the public about their citizens’ options for education as well as their firm resolution to improve the quality of education for students.

Citizens from all over the country are bringing attention to the actions that states are taking to promote educational opportunity for all during  National School Choice Week, taking place Jan. 26 – Feb. 1, 2014.

Senior Vice President of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) backs the initiative in the below video explaining that a good public education system means simply providing the public with the best education possible, however that end may be achieved.

There is no doubt that the public school system in America falls gravely short of worldwide averages. In the same way that most Americans could agree that our healthcare system was in dire need of reform around the 2008 election, education improvements are of paramount importance. However, just as federal reform measures have become the laughing stock of the healthcare industry, the public cannot rely on government alone to fix the issues in education.

As a result, organizations like the OCPA are partnering with OK Governor Mary Fallin to get the word out about the many options parents and students have for quality education. And that’s what National School Choice Week is all about. From public school to virtual school, our current system offers many alternatives that people may not be aware of or never thought could be viable options.

One-size fits all solutions from Washington aren’t working, but the good news is that some state can choose to opt-out of national programs and set up systems of opportunity and choice .

Stay informed about all of next week’s activities and get involved by signing up at schoolchoiceweek.com.

Miss Utah & the Case for Education Reform

Could a better education have prevented Miss Utah from this embarrassing moment that went viral on Twitter and YouTube? We can’t be certain, but we do know there are problems with the education system in this country.

Somewhere in her “umm…” filled answer, Miss Utah was trying to connect the problem back to what she believed was the root of it all: education.

Currently, some education reformers and the federal government are pushing Common Core national education standards. In fact, the federal government is coercing states to adopt the standards by tying federal dollars to implementation. Unfortunately, Common Core standards make about as much sense for states as Miss Utah’s answer in the Miss USA pageant last night.

Common Core takes away local and state control in favor of one-size-fits-all standards for students. Rather than a local, student-focused reform approach, Common Core is centered around rigid federally controlled government standards that many believe won’t actually improve student performance.

Just ask states like Kentucky and New York that are struggling to implement the standards. Implementation problems for both states are detailed by The Heritage Foundation here. As we start to see Common Core implemented in some states, we will likely see teachers, parents and students who are just as lost as the Miss USA audience was last night.

Is the sequester all that bad for states?

Tomorrow, March 1, 2013, the dreaded and overly dramatized sequester will occur.

President Obama has called the sequester a “meat-clever approach” to cutting the budget. News reports and the president have been telling us that the TSA will shrink and  result in longer airport lines this summer, national parks will close down some of their campgrounds, and the military will be crippled. Further, he has been traveling the states saying that essential state services will also be cut, such as education or law enforcement.

The sequester has forced us to look at government spending a little bit closer to discern the myths from the facts. The good news is that when we dig in, we find these four facts to be true:

  1. States should not depend upon federal dollars to provide essential services, such as education and public safety.
  2. Sequestration will only cut 2.4 percent of a $3.6 trillion budget. Even with the cuts, total spending in 2013 will exceed what was spent in 2012.
  3. The President knew that sequestration was coming, and he has had the opportunity to work with Congress to cut other non-essential spending in lieu of what he now calls the “meat-clever approach.”
  4. Even after the defense cuts, we will be spending more on the military now than during the height of the Cold War.

Sequester

Nobody wants essential services cut, but the hard truth is that the federal government should not be holding the purse strings for any of these services to begin with. Education and public safety should be funded and managed at the state level.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation reported that in January the Texas House of Representatives convened the Committee on Texas Response to Federal Sequestration to prepare for the cuts. After listing the various state programs that might feel the impact of federal budget cuts, the committee concluded its report with this warning about “becoming too dependent on the federal government”:

“The situation we find ourselves in with sequestration should serve as a cautionary tale to consider carefully how much we expand programs on the state level utilizing federal dollars. As recent events demonstrate, the federal government could pull funding at any time and Texas would be left to deal with the ramifications.” Why the Sequester Won’t Be So Bad for Texas

Given the massive national debt, it is more important now than ever for states to take control of their fiscal houses. It’s just common sense– something that Washington politicians know very little about.

Let’s Get Digital: An Education Revolution

Ollie_DigitalLearningIt’s Digital Learning Day today! 

Take a minute to imagine two different scenarios. First, a high school classroom where you take a class taught by a marine biologist from Monterey Bay in the morning and then read the classics with a Yale professor in the afternoon.

Now contrast that with what the majority of students have available to them in the established education system: A science classroom in the public school that falls within his or her zip code. Of course, parents can also choose to send their children to an expensive private school, but that option only works for those who can afford it.

Most teachers in these schools try their hardest to provide the best education they can, but shrinking state budgets, large class sizes, and administrative burdens from local, state, and federal rules and regulations weigh down the public education system.

The good news is that the first scenario is possible and many students are already experiencing it through digital education.

Digital education options include full-time online schools, part-time virtual courses, and classroom- based, blended-learning programs. At least 1.5 million K-12 students participated in online and blended-learning programs during the 2009-10 school year, according to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. See Ryan’s story for a powerful example.

If we believe that our children are all unique individuals with varying capabilities, backgrounds, and passions, then shouldn’t their education reflect that belief?

Watch and share this story about Ollie and the possibilities of a digital revolution:

“What if, instead of one track, their are hundreds or even thousands of different tracks to take? What if I could go as fast or as slow as I wanted to?”

Students Deserve the Opportunity to Succeed

School Choice Week

Matthew, a former high school dropout from Chicago, and Ryan, an autistic student from a rural town, have something in common.

Their public schools were not working for them.

Several years ago, Matthew Rainey dropped out of high school.

In doing so, Matthew became one of the many casualties of Chicago Public Schools, or CPS – a system in which four out of 10 kids never graduate. But Matthew longed for a second chance.

He received that chance after hearing an ad for a free market-based charter school called Youth Connection Charter School Virtual High School, or YCCS, powered by K12.YCCS is one of Chicago’s oldest charter schools, operating 22 campuses across the city, and is the only charter school authorized by CPS to serve high-risk and at-risk students.

YCCS, one of the 22 campus sites, prides itself on accommodating students’ individual needs by matching their educational level upon matriculation with a uniquely tailored, innovative learning environment.

“[Students are] not just sitting passively in a classroom here,” said Tamara Carpenter, K12 vice president of school development. “They’re actively engaged in moving themselves forward in their goals.”

This environment suited Matthew, who said he never quite fit the set curriculum CPS offers.

“Here you have more of a personal connection,” he said. “At Chicago Public Schools I felt like ID number 43618884. Here I feel like Matthew Austin Rainey.”

Matthew Rainey

Matthew recently graduated from YCCS at the top of his class and was accepted to the University of Illinois, where he plans to pursue a degree in business. And Matthew is just one success story of the free market model.

Ryan Fox is an incredibly bright 17-year-old student from Washington, and he is among the many autistic students whose learning needs were not being met by the one-size-fits-all public school. He was so frustrated trying to learn by sitting in a regular classroom.

It wasn’t that Ryan couldn’t learn, it’s just that he learns differently. He was finally able to make a breakthrough in his education through online learning.

“I love online learning, it has changed my life. I really believe that in the future, everyone will learn this way. We will all be able to learn from the very smartest people on earth, and we’ll do it at our own pace every day. Our abilities will matter more than our disabilities.”

Ryan Fox

Watch Ryan’s story:

Any parent or teacher will tell you that every child is different, so why does our education system not reflect this? Education should not be determined by the federal government, state officials, or the  neighborhood where a child lives.

We can speak out and change the system. States like Louisiana and Arizona have already changed their education systems and allowed charter schools and education savings accounts for parents. For more about school choice options, check out this guide.

Today marks the last day of National School Choice Week, a time when people around the country from all different backgrounds and political persuasions ban together to demand more choices for students like Matthew and Ryan. Will you join students, parents, teachers, Democrats, and Republicans in speaking up for school choice?

 

Who are the guardians of the people’s liberty?

James Madison

James Madison

There exist opposing views on the roles of public servants. One holds that it is government’s duty to ensure freedom from all fear and want, which was made [in]famous in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech. This sounds like a lovely sentiment—until it comes at the expense of personal liberty. We can see this worldview in action with the huge growth in entitlement spending and expressed in the posters of the Occupy movement, i.e. “Where is my bailout?”

The other regards public servants as guardians of the people’s liberty. This idea is rooted in the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, among other American founders. Just in case future elected officials lost sight of the founders’ intent, they had the foresight to protect it in the Constitution. Included in this was the federalist structure, or separation of state and federal power to protect personal liberty.

In a speech to Congress in 1789, James Madison said this about the role of state government in talking about our Bill of Rights:

… the state legislatures will jealously and closely watch the operation of this government, and be able to resist with more effect every assumption of power than any other power on earth can do; and the greatest opponents to a federal government admit the state legislatures to be sure guardians of the people’s liberty.

It appears we have forgotten Madison’s lessons. Power is terribly out of balance, and we see an increase in executive orders and regulatory agencies asserting power over the states decade after decade. However, we still can still devolve power from Washington and bring it back to the states—and ultimately back to the people. In fact, there are “guardians of liberty” who are hard at work to accomplish this feat.

Stay tuned as we explore current battles for freedom on this blog:

  • Attorneys General from Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia file suit against the federal government for overstepping the bound of the Constitution. See the list of violations here.

Do you know of any other guardians of liberty?