A Wake-Up Call for Christians

Is it possible to get through to Christians who are disengaged from politics, uninformed and choose to ignore the fact our nation is racing full throttle on the highway to hell? I’m talking about good, well-meaning people, but ones who are infected with a misguided belief Christians don’t need to concern themselves over politics because “God’s in control”.

Of course, He watches over us and He’s there if we call on Him, but remember, man was created with free will, so human history is not predetermined. In the Garden of Eden, we saw how Adam and Eve’s exercise of their free will sent human history swerving down a path God never intended. Mankind’s future is still in our hands today. So God expects us to hold up our end of the bargain and use our free will wisely by taking personal responsibility, educating ourselves with the truth and making informed decisions.

I was recently surprised to discover some Christians actually believe God put Obama into office, so anyone who questions or criticizes his actions is guilty of “blatant disrespect” and the sin of “being judgmental”.

Yeah? So then, following that logic, God must have had something to do with putting into positions of authority the likes of:  Mao Tse Tung, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler and Ivan the Terrible, along with the other evil mass-murderer dictators throughout history? No way!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, take off those rose-colored glasses, flip to Exodus 20:13 and read out loud:  “You shall not murder.” (NIV)

Just as God had nothing to do with putting wicked tyrants into power, he had no part in placing a man into public office known to be the most ardent, pro-abortion President, ever, and whose actions as an Illinois state senator enabled doctors and nurses to legally commit the heinous crime of infanticide. Surely you’ve heard of brutal, excruciatingly painful ‘late term’ or ‘partial birth’ and ‘born alive’ abortions? Maybe not.

In late term or partial birth abortions, the living baby is stabbed in the skull and his brains are siphoned out. A born alive abortion means the baby survived the attempt to kill him in the womb and would live. That is, except for being either deliberately neglected and left to die or killed in cold blood by medical personnel.

Christians, pull your heads out of the sand and open your eyes. This isn’t a “choice”, it’s the murder of innocents.

To close our eyes, especially to ugly truths, is not Godly.

There’s a difference between God’s job of judging a person’s heart and ours to judge a candidate’s political actions. We aren’t determining the person’s eternal fate, but to the contrary, only whether or not they are fit to sit in a position of power and lead our nation. Matthew 7:1-5, in context, permits judging, after we have first judged ourselves and are right with God.

Did you get that? First, we must judge ourselves and get right with God.

As Paul writes (I Corinthians 6:2-3 NIV):  “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!”

Yes! God expects us to use good judgement. In order to exercise good judgement, one must judge. Look past the window dressing, the sound bites, the slick ads… and become a truth seeker. Don’t be afraid to hold those in positions of power accountable. If we fail to do so, we will be judged accordingly.

A wise man once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” As Christians, it is our duty and moral responsibility to wake-up, exercise our good judgement and cast an informed vote.

Big ED Lobbies to Trap Kids in Failing Schools

No child should be trapped in a failing school.

The solution is simple:   a statewide Parental Choice Voucher Program.

All parents must be able to choose their own child’s school, irrespective of their financial status or zip code and the child’s standing as a “special ed” student or not… be it public, private, charter or otherwise.  Without free market demands for honest transparency and real accountability, we will not see any significant improvement in the quality of education, student learning and out-of-control costs to fund public schools.

Expanding Parental Choice statewide and the free market are the only hope for real education reform, improving student learning and their futures.

It’s time for government to get out of the way. Free market competition is our only hope to drive real education reform.

The passage of 2011 Wisconsin Act 32 Biennial Budget created a parental choice program expansion for “eligible” school districts – which means 2nd class cities with school districts identified as being “high poverty”. A determination of high poverty is based on the number of students receiving free or reduced price lunches which reaches the 50% threshold. The final qualification is the student’s “total family income does not exceed 300 percent of the poverty level.”  According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) the household Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) from the prior calendar year federal income tax is the qualifier, which sets the maximum yearly income for a family of four at $69,801 (1).

Although not a statewide Parental Choice Voucher Program, it is a very good step in the right direction.

So what’s the problem?

Detractors claim students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) fail to perform better than those in the Milwaukee Public Schools system, when the truth is the voucher program provides better results at half the cost.

“Students attending private schools in Milwaukee with publicly funded vouchers showed stronger gains in achievement than their public school counterparts, according to the latest release from a University of Arkansas sponsored, and State of Wisconsin authorized, longitudinal study…

In simple terms, students in the MPCP outperformed their counterparts by a significant margin when it came to reading. In eighth grade, a voucher student was 17 percent more likely to out gain a regular public school student when it came to reading and literacy.

Growth was also observed in mathematics for these students over the same period. Amongst seventh graders, MPCP students were 11 percent more likely to outscore their MPS peers.”–Official State of Wisconsin Study Confirms Choice Schools’ Success by Christine D’Andrea, MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst (2, 3) 

One private Milwaukee school demonstrating the kind of student success which has garnered national attention is HOPE Christian Schools. Self-described as a “network of Christian college-preparatory schools in Milwaukee’s central city”, they strive to provide their students with a values-based education to develop not only their knowledge, but character, as well. From it’s humble beginnings as a small K-4 school educating 49 children, it has grown and expanded to providing over 810 students with a high quality K4-12 education in 2011.

“Last year’s eighth-grade graduates grew from the 34th percentile on their sixth-grade tests to the 50th percentile on their eighth-grade tests, which means they gained roughly 3.5 years of growth in two years at HOPE.”–Accountability Reports, HOPE Christian Schools (4)

Testifying at a state Senate hearing in Madison, at the end of February, in favor of SB486 to establish a Special Needs Scholarship Program (see Big ED Lobbies Against Special Needs Kids), I was extremely impressed by all those in attendance representing St Marcus Lutheran School and Messmer Catholic Schools in Milwaukee. Along with HOPE, these are shining examples of what a statewide expansion of the type of educational opportunities a Parental Choice Voucher Program could provide for all Wisconsin children and their families.

Why then, snuff out the flicker of hope to families with children trapped in a school failing to educate?

Good question.

“Big ED”, the education-related organizations including:  Association of Wisconsin School Administrators (AWSA), Southeastern Wisconsin Schools Alliance, United Transportation Union, Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB), Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials (WASBO), Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA), Wisconsin Council for Administrators of Special Services (WCASS), Wisconsin School Social Workers Association (WSSWA) and Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) are lobbying to prevent the school voucher genie from escaping the bottle because of their interest in maintaining their monopoly and the status quo (5). How often have we heard these powerful education-related organizations of public school employees and officials claim to put children first? It rings hollow. Follow the money.

At St Marcus, student success opened the floodgates of parents eager to enroll their children. In the span of a decade, St Marcus has increased enrollment fourfold, warranting a significant facilities expansion.

“It seems to me that the community is pretty desperate for things that work,” he said. “And when they find things that work, they tend to become supportive.”

Tyson said the longest waiting list of students trying to get into the school is in sixth and seventh grade.

“There’s no anxiety about being able to fill seats,” he said. “Anyone who’s successful is turning people away like crazy.”–St Marcus Lutheran starts $9.4 million expansion by Erin Richards, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (6) 

Clearly, the success of these Choice Schools in Milwaukee and possibility of its expansion statewide is worrisome to Big ED.

I suspect as a result of pressure from school-related special interests groups determined to prevent other Wisconsin families from having the option to escape a failing school – something they call a “loophole” – a small group of bi-partisan legislators introduced and cosponsored SB174 (7). Reportedly, this could result in an expansion of the Parental Choice Voucher Program to as many as 37 school districts, statewide. Is it co-incidental, these legislators represent many of the areas encompassed by these same school districts?

Without a doubt, the only hope for education is free-market competition.

This bill is expected to come to the Assembly floor next Tuesday (March 13th) for a final vote. Please contact legislators who signed on to support SB174, urging them to reconsider their decision and your Assembly Representative to vote “NO”. The time is now for our legislators to stand with Wisconsin families and tell Big ED our students will not be trapped in failing schools.

sources:  

  1. 2012-13 Income Limits for New Students, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI)
  2. Official State of Wisconsin Study Confirms Choice Schools’ Success by Christine D’Andrea, MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst (2/27/2012)
  3. School Choice Demonstration Project:  Milwaukee Parental Choice Program University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform
  4. Accountability Reports, HOPE Christian Schools
  5. Legislative bills and resolutions, Senate Bill 174:  “closing the parental choice program for eligible school districts to additional school districts” , Eye on Lobbying in Wisconsin website
  6. St Marcus Lutheran starts $9.4 million expansion:  Project will provide additional classrooms for growing ‘no excuses’ school by Erin Richards, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (11/1/2010)
  7. 2011 Senate Bill 174

Big ED Lobbies Against Special Needs Kids

I’m appalled by the lack of understanding of the issue exhibited in the recent Appleton Post-Crescent editorial, Bill could hurt special-needs students.  Obviously, in spite of the misleading title, the newspaper is only interested in doing the bidding of powerful, paid education and disabilities lobbyists hoping to maintain the public schools monopoly and status quo, instead of supporting a promising effort to truly reform special needs education. 

As a mother of three exceptionally challenged children and as a member of my local Board of Education, I wholeheartedly support AB110 and SB486, and the Special Needs Scholarship Program it establishes.  I commend Representative Michelle Litjens and Senator Leah Vukmir, as well as each Assembly and Senate supporter and cosponsor for recognizing the genuine need for this law.

Will Wisconsin legislators cast their vote in favor of special needs children and empower their parents... or side with powerful paid lobbyists?

About fifteen to twenty years ago, my children, who are vision impaired, with physical and mental challenges, attended public schools.  Our daughter was, in effect, warehoused, spending most days scribbling with crayons on scrap paper, usually half-filling a paper grocery bag each week… yet the school was unresponsive to our concerns.  It wasn’t unusual for her to arrive home bruised or with a bloody face or broken glasses, yet the school was unresponsive to our concerns for her safety.

Exasperated, I expressed my frustrations to my doctor and was asked what I thought the school would do if I sent my daughter to school in the condition she arrived home… the lightbulb went on! I returned home, picked up the phone and reported them to Child Protective Services. That felt so good, I followed up by filing an assault and battery report with the local police. The elementary school wasted no time in politely calling us, requesting a meeting. My husband and I arrived a few minutes early and witnessed the school attorney castigating the principal… and from then on things improved, significantly. That was, until she started middle school and it began all over, again.

Our family didn’t have an opportunity to use a Special Needs Scholarship.  But knowing I could do far better than what our children experienced in public school, I homeschooled them. They not only learned, but did so even beyond my expectations.

In public school, our youngest son was illiterate at third grade when we began homeschooling.  By fifth grade, I had brought him up to grade level. I’ll never forget how after he learned to read – and even became proficient in spelling – he confessed how he always felt “dumb” in public school.  Our daughter excelled at history and geography.  Give her the name of a city and she will tell you it’s country and continent with an amazing level of accuracy. These children can learn, if they are given the right opportunity to do so.

One of the reasons I ran for a seat on our school board was to ensure other families do not go through what we experienced.  Attending the Senate hearing last week and listening to so many parents testify about their situations, it became quite clear things haven’t changed all that much, at least for some.

There are many dedicated special ed teachers in Wisconsin and public schools which do a fine job with special needs students.  However, each child has their own, unique challenges.  Try as they may, no school can be all things to all children.  Parents love their children and know what’s best for them… they are the experts.  But when the local school district is not meeting their child’s needs, parents must have options.  The Special Needs Scholarship Program provides those options by empowering parents.

Special Needs Scholarship Program detractors cite the fact a public school losing a student would likewise lose general aid equal to the amount of the voucher.  Should schools be paid for services they do not provide?  Absolutely not.

Typically, public schools are only partially reimbursed from the state or federal governments, in our district’s case it’s about 27 cents for each dollar spent on special ed services, with local taxpayers footing the bill for the lion’s share at 73 cents. If Special Needs Scholarships become a reality and some parents choose to send their children to another school, far more dollars are freed up than what the school loses.

Parents of exceptionally challenged children pay their property taxes, yet if their local public school district is failing their child, is it right or fair they should have to pay a private school, also? Absolutely not.

When a special needs student’s education is stagnant or she is being victimized by bullies, is it right to trap the child in the ineffective, unsafe or unresponsive school for the remainder of the school year, until the parents can file an open enrollment request… for the following fall, which the local school boards can – and often do – decline? Absolutely not.

Public schools will continue receiving state aid for special needs students they educate.  If they are truly doing a good job, they have nothing to fear – and may actually stand to gain new students.  At the very least, the passage of AB110 or SB486 will force public schools to look inward and make positive changes by improving special needs students’ learning, ensuring they are not victims of bullies, being more responsive to the parents’ concerns and guaranteeing these programs operate at a higher level of fiscal responsibility.

Another benefit could result from public school districts partnering and working cooperatively in providing special education services more efficiently and with greater effectiveness.  Instead of each public school operating in a silo and reinventing the wheel for their pool of special ed students, much could be gained with a collaborative or reciprocal approach.  Cooperative efforts between public school districts could be a win-win situation for all:  the children and families served, participating public schools and taxpayers.

This is not a Democrat vs Republican issue. It is a matter of elected legislators setting aside their partisan politics and doing the right thing by listening to and representing these children and their families. After all, it is the parents who know what’s best for their own children… not powerful education-related organizations or paid lobbyists standing in opposition to this bill, desperate to prevent the school voucher genie from escaping the bottle while maintaining the status quo.

I firmly believe all parents should have the opportunity to choose their own child’s school, irrespective of their financial status or zip code, and regardless of the child’s standing as a special needs student or not… be it public, private, charter or homeschool.

Bear Grease on the Slippery Slope

Certainly, it is the duty of a school district to ensure student safety and a bully-free environment conducive to learning.  Merrill’s anti-bullying policy already includes prohibitions on cyber-bullying for both students and employees, as do most others.  Should such an incident occur, the complaint is referred to  appropriate law enforcement agencies.  Senate Bill 427, is an unnecessary and unwarranted trespass by the state into the authority of local school boards.

The requirement in SB427 of school districts to prepare annual bullying reports only adds another layer of bureaucracy while increasing the paperwork burden through the tracking and compiling of this data – along with increased costs – so becomes another unfunded mandate.

Exactly what constitutes “appropriate responses to bullying that occurs off school grounds”? Public schools have no legal authority over students off-campus, and especially not in  the privacy of a student’s home, using their own computer. Yet this bill would begin to blur that line.  Whose job is it to determine if the so-called bullying incident “infringes on the rights of the pupil”, especially when the bill’s authors seek to lower the threshold of what behavior constitutes an illegal bullying incident?

“Section 6. 947.0125 (3) (a) of the statutes is amended to read:  947.0125 (3) (a) With intent to harass, annoy, or offend another person, sends a message to the person on an electronic mail or other computerized communication system or posts a message electronically where other persons can view the message and in that sent or posted message uses any obscene, lewd, or profane language or suggests any lewd or lascivious act.”–excerpt from Wisconsin 2011 Senate Bill 427, proposed new language in bold text

Per state law, Wisconsin Statute 947.0125(3)(a) indicates it only takes an “intent to harass, annoy, or offend another person” and if “profane language” is used, the standard is met to consider such actions criminal bullying. Because current statutory language reads:  “…any obscene, lewd, or profane language or suggests any lewd or lascivious act.” instead of “…and suggests”, the inclusion of a swear word in an internet communication can become an illegal act. SB427 further compounds the senselessness of this law by elevating the act of posting such a message to the internet – without directing it any particular person – a new crime! The Class B forfeiture is punishable by a fine up to $1,000. How absurd!

If what a person says online can be controlled to the extent of declaring profane or lewd comments which annoy or offend another as illegal, why limit it to electronic or computerized means of communication? What about speech exercised during protests? Couldn’t the noise and chanting be considered annoying and some of the messages voiced, offensive?

Will SB427 mark the beginning of the end for free speech on the internet?

It’s only when we protect the free speech rights of those with whom we may disagree that we remain free. SB427 adds bear grease to an already slippery slope towards the elimination of free speech for all.

It should be pointed out SB427 wouldn’t just affect students and it really isn’t about cyber-bullying, either. Clearly, it is a back-door attempt to abridge everyone’s right to free speech on the internet. This unconstitutional bill was introduced by Wisconsin State Senators Tim Cullen, Spencer Coggs, Tim Carpenter, Jon Erpenbach, Lena Taylor, Jessica King, Dale Schultz, Fred Risser, Neal Kedzie and our own Jim Holperin. Cosponsors are  Representatives Joe Knilans, Chris Taylor, Mark Pocan, Robert Turner, Anthony Staskunas, Janis Ringhand, Amy Loudenbeck, Sandy Pasch and Sondy Pope-Roberts.

Will SB427 mark the beginning of the end for free speech on the internet? I provided testimony against SB427 at last week’s Senate hearing in Madison and   encourage readers to likewise exercise their right to free speech in contacting these Wisconsin legislators, asking them to withdraw support. Also, please contact your state Senator urging a “NO” vote on SB427 and a redraft of  Statutes 947.0125 to protect free speech.

Shoes and Golden Parachutes

Making a quick stop at the grocery store one December evening, I glanced at the community Christmas tree in the entrance dressed in handmade paper ornaments, making a mental note to come by again when I wasn’t in such a rush. But the word, “shoes” scrawled on one slip of paper as a Christmas request from an eight-year old girl, caused me to stop in my tracks. And she wasn’t the only child asking for basic necessities:  a seven-year old boy wanted “clothes”… a nine-year old girl, also hoping for “shoes”… and dozens more. Nearly every scrap of paper was the same story. It was heartbreaking and drives home the reality of poverty, which is a fact of life for so many in our community.

Contrast that with overly-generous compensation packages for administrators upon parting service and extravagant early retirement benefits for both administrators and teachers. In the case of the latter, they may retire at 55 years old after completion of at least ten years (for administrators and 15 years for teachers) employment and taxpayers fund their insurance costs over the next decade, until they qualify for Medicare, which is expected to cost $328,000 per 2012 retiree a golden parachute in a town where parents can’t afford shoes for their children. This one lavish perk drives our structural deficit and annual necessity to cut in excess of $1 million dollars from the budget.

Public schools can't afford to fund Golden Parachutes

By all means, they should be free to retire early… at 55… if they so chose, as long as they  pay for their own insurance costs like everybody else.

This isn’t an isolated problem. I have it on good authority the backloading of unbelievable golden parachutes has reached new heights in Madison area schools and is catching on like wildfire across the state. It’s a ploy often used to offset what, on the surface appears to be “lower” administrative salaries.

Such contracts are unconscionable.

A few recent examples of school administrator golden parachutes from across the state include:

It’s not just a problem in Wisconsin. Other state legislatures have actually passed laws to ban public school superintendents and administrators from being paid for work they do not perform in an effort to ensure tax dollars go into the classrooms. Before the situation becomes any worse, we need similar legislation here.

Generally, these types of payouts end up being siphoned off the districts’ general fund. The domino effect is far-reaching:  from forcing some districts into short-term borrowing in order to meet payroll and pay the light bill, to aggravating their structural deficit and pushing them closer towards the brink of insolvency.

As much as I’m a firm believer in local control, the unfortunate reality is too many school boards are simply ill-equipped to ensure their administrators’ contracts are written to protect the school district and taxpayers’ best interests. Too often, boards lacking fiscal savvy are eager and willing to sweeten the pot in excess of their districts’ ability to pay. Consequently, I believe it is necessary for the state to consider addressing the issue in the interest of fiscal responsibility, accountability, transparency to our taxpayers… and the future of public education in Wisconsin.

Most people are unaware their school administrator contracts are subject to open records requests. They are public documents. What public school administrators are being paid – salary and benefits – is the public’s business.

All school board meetings where any administrator contracts are discussed should likewise be subject to open meetings laws. Allowing these discussions to take place behind closed doors is the root of the problem. Perhaps a requirement to actually publish administrators’ contracts in local newspaper legal notices and provide PDF versions on the school districts’ websites would also serve the public’s interests. Also, a one-year limitation on administrators’ contracts, without provisions for automatic renewal or the non-renew process, would benefit school districts through the avoidance of these types of costly early buyout deals.

Sunshine is the best disinfectant… especially for golden parachutes.

The Invisible Gift

Have you noticed? There’s someone missing from church.

People with disabilities make up about one-fifth of our population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. These are our friends, neighbors and family members. They are, though, for the most part an invisible segment of our society. Some may be homebound or otherwise unable to move about in our communities, but many are mobile.

Then why are so few attending church?

As a mother of three blind and disabled children, it concerns me. Generally, many people tend to feel uncomfortable around those who are physically or mentally disabled. And, I’ve come to the conclusion church people are no different.

One Sunday, many years ago, on our way out of church service, the pastor looked at us and asked if we were visitors. We had sat in his Sunday services for the past two years, a church of less than 200 people, yet he never noticed us… a family with three blind children.

It was a rare occasion when our children were welcomed to attend Sunday school or any other function involving youth their own ages. At some churches, when I’d inquire, the reply was clearly exclusionary.

A friend, who is a mother of a boy with cerebral palsy, stopped taking her son to church after members asked “what’s wrong with your son”… in front of the boy and everyone else. The mother informed them that her son was most certainly not deaf – and left. Although terribly insensitive, they may have been well-meaning, but their thoughtless words still hurt.

Another mother enrolled her disabled daughter in a preschool of the church the family attended. Three weeks later, as the mother was helping her get ready for bed, she noticed a large red welt in the shape of a wooden spoon across the child’s buttocks. Tears welled up in the brokenhearted  little girl’s eyes when her mother asked what happened… and the child sobbed, “Jesus doesn’t love me anymore.”

The next day, the mother stormed into the church to confront the teacher and pastor. At first, they lied, denying anything had happened, which rightly angered the mother. Eventually, the truth was admitted… along with a callous parting comment from the teacher of “she’s retarded” – as though that somehow justified her brutal actions.

Words that burned a hole in the mother’s tender heart.

Over the years, we’ve lived in many parts of the country, attending many churches, searching for a place we would feel welcome. A place where our children and our family would be accepted.

Many years ago, after learning our youngest child was also afflicted with the same condition as the older ones, I approached a pastor looking for a Biblical answer to my pain… a passage from the Bible… some encouragement. Instead, he simply said “It’s too bad God doesn’t heal people any more”, turned and walked away.

I wasn’t asking for a miracle, just some strength and hope.

How could we attend a church where the pastor admittedly has no faith or compassion?

We couldn’t.

And we’ve been to churches at the opposite end of the spectrum. Churches where without asking, people prayed for a miraculous healing, then when nothing happened, blamed us.

God doesn’t make mistakes. In His infinite wisdom, he gives us all gifts and He places people in our lives so we might gain a greater understanding of His love. Just because someone may be mentally or physically disabled… or blind… does not mean they are somehow defective or less of a person than someone who appears “normal”. Why is it so many people are quick to judge these people and reject them? Why do some Christians believe they need to ask God to fix or heal those who may not fit their own mold of wholeness?

I believe in the healing power of prayer… I know He heals. I believe in miracles… and I’ve seen God work miracles. I also know God has a plan and events are intended to unfold on His timeline, not always ours.

Too often, we are like the petulant child who demands, pleads or begs for his cookies before dinner… and God’s role is like the parent who wisely knows it is better to wait  until after dinner for a cookie. It’s not that He doesn’t want us to have our cookie, just not right now. So can it be with our prayers asking for healing or financial blessings… or whatever it is… now, when it may not be according to God’s timing. If it doesn’t happen… now… how do we react? Do we sulk, get mad or give up? Or do we build our faith and live in submission to God’s will, trusting Him?

I found my strength and hope in a promise from God:

And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind and unplug the ears of the deaf. The lame will leap like a deer, and those who cannot speak will sing for joy! Springs will gush forth in the wilderness, and streams will water the wasteland.–Isaiah 35:5-6 (New Living Translation)

“When He comes”… what a glorious day that will be!

I will lead the blind on unfamiliar roads. I will lead them on unfamiliar paths. I will turn darkness into light in front of them. I will make rough places smooth. These are the things I will do for them, and I will never abandon them.–Isaiah 42:16 (GOD’S WORD)

Although many churches have abandoned the blind and disabled, God has not and never will. He cares deeply about those who are blind or otherwise disabled, as He does for us all. God has a plan… a magnificent plan… and these precious people are a part of it. We may not understand God’s thoughts, but we must learn to trust in His wisdom. When He gives us the gift of an exceptionally challenged person in our lives, we must learn not to judge them or reject God’s gift. After all, not one of us is “perfect”.

Wishing you a joyful Christmas and a year of gifts and many blessings

I have learned so much from my own precious children:  unconditional love; having a heart for charity towards the poverty-stricken; a sense of pure joy in life’s simple pleasures; being grateful, having a spirit of genuine forgiveness;  generosity; empathy; optimism; good humor; learning to become non-judgmental; patience; truly caring for others… and selflessness, to name just a few. Never have I heard any of them utter even one word of self-pity. They have blessed our family, encouraged me to become a better person and strengthened my faith in God greatly.

The church is missing out on a great opportunity to learn these same lessons, be blessed with these gifts and so much more, from those who, for the most part, are missing from their congregations. On the flip side of the coin, the disabled, and their families, who do not feel welcome or comfortable attending church… those who may have experienced callous rejection, may be missing out on the opportunity to learn of God’s love and the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. After all, in Mark 16:15 He commanded:  “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.” (New Living Translation)

In this season of giving, it is my prayer God may open the eyes and touch the hearts of Christians and church leaders so they might not be blind to those who are invisible members of their communities.

Merry Christmas and God Bless.

Globalism is the New Patriotism

Conservatives welcome and encourage outside-of-the-box thinking resulting in creative approaches to problem solving… solutions based on sound, sensible factual evidence. Unleash Americans’ can-do spirit and get government out of the way. It’s how we solve problems. It’s about freedom and personal liberty.

Progressives, on the other hand, believe more government control is the answer to every question as they tend to base decisions on emotional rhetoric and knee-jerk reactions – which only serve to make problems worse. This is true at all levels of government – all the way down to your local town and school boards.

Money Corrupts

For too long, public education in this country has been controlled by Progressives. From the class room to the board room we have serious problems. The pat response from the Progressive education establishment is to blame everything from low student performance and test scores to budget woes on a need for more money. This is nothing more than a diversion. Throwing money at problems does not make them go away.

Drowning in Money, Thirsting for Achievement  We would be happy to wager on what is the most commonly cited “problem” with American education: insufficient funding. In their book Education Myths, Dr. Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas and his coauthors call this the “Money Myth.”

The pervasiveness of this assumption that schools are inadequately funded says more about the state of our public thought about education than anything else,” they write. “It is simultaneously the most widely held idea about education in America and the one that is most directly at odds with the available evidence.”Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform by Dr. Matthew Ladner, Andrew T. LeFevre and Dan Lips, 16th Edition, American Legislative Exchange Council (2010)

The United States already spends more on education than nearly any other country in the world. Yet, embarrassingly, our students rank mediocre in global comparisons. The 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) global rankings of 15-year old students are dismal for the United States. In mathematics, Shanghai-China, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea ranked top honors, while our students scored below average with a dismal showing at 32nd behind Luxembourg and Hungary. We fared somewhat better in science, considered to be average at 23rd, behind Hungary, Belgium and Iceland while Shanghai-China, Finland, Hong Kong and Singapore topped the category. Once again rated average, the US students tied at 15th with those in Poland and Iceland in reading, as Shanghai-China, South Korea, Finland and Hong Kong rated top of the class.

What does this say about our children’s… and our nation’s future?

And they continue to beat the drum claiming schools are underfunded? Don't fall for the "money myth".

A stunning infographic puts the issue into perspective by comparing total annual spending and student performance in the United States with eleven other countries:  Japan, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Russia, Finland, Mexico, South Korea and the United Kingdom. Without a doubt, the US spends far more per school-aged child than any other country. Yet, we are at the bottom of the heap in educating our children to become competent in both science and mathematics… why?

Clearly, more money is not the answer as it does not equate to better educated students.

Certainly, we are blessed with many high quality, dedicated teachers. I don’t believe the majority of teachers are the problem. So let’s put the blame where it belongs:  the problem with public education is wasted money and the philosophy of Progressive Education.

Globalism is the New Patriotism

We can thank Progressivism for infecting public education with political correctness, multiculturalism, globalism, environmental justice, and social justice. As these causes and the promotion of Progressive beliefs have commanded more classroom attention, students have lost precious time necessary to learn the basic skills key to becoming well educated:  how to read, perform mathematics without the aid of a calculator and develop vital language arts skills of spelling, proper grammar and cursive writing. To gain an appreciation, knowledge and sense of pride for our own history, the benefits of a science curriculum based upon facts to spark students’ intellect and an understanding of economics have been lost… at least in public schools driven by administrators or staffed with activist teachers who believe in and promote Progressive Education.

It also explains why so much effort and expense is directed at Professional Development in public schools guided by Progressives – and especially so in situations where much of the staff has achieved occupational longevity. The younger teachers were indoctrinated into the theories of  Progressive Education while at the Universities. Professional Development is about controlling teachers rather than actually improving student learning. It is the re-education camp for experienced teachers, those who actually understand how to perform their job and do it well.

“When school boards spend thousands of tax dollars to send teachers to education conferences around the country, they have a reasonable expectation that the attendees will bring back knowledge and skills that will be put to constructive use in the classroom. That is not necessarily what the boards are receiving in return when they send teachers to conferences on multiculturalism and so-called social-justice teaching. At many of these gatherings, teachers are being urged to go back home and work for an anti-free-market, redistributionist social agenda rather than teaching children the academic fundamentals.

…A network of academics and organizations including former Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers, Howard Zinn, and Milwaukee-based Rethinking Schools are leading advocates for extremist “social justice teaching” in the nation’s public schools.”–Multiculturalism and “Social Justice” in American Public Education by Robert Holland and Don Soifer, Lexington Institute (11/2008)

Experiential learning, project-based, community service or service learning projects and the collaborative approach to education are reshaping students’ views, replacing individualism, personal achievement and independence with an acceptance of mediocrity, communitarianism and equality at the cost of liberty. It’s a forward sounding agenda being sold to the uninformed as “21st-Century Skills”. Another popular theme is “student-centered” learning, which, in reality, seeks to make them equal with their teachers in directing their own education, as a not-so-subtle means to overthrow their perceived oppression of traditional education and the teacher-student relationship.

However, these ‘new’ ideas in education aren’t as they seem. Within the education industry, it’s just the window dressing. Pull back the curtain and you’ll find the specter of Critical Pedagogy, with roots deep in Marxist revolutionary theory, cultural studies, feminist studies and liberation theology. It’s goal is societal transformation and the promotion of Radical Democracy through a bedrock belief that Capitalism is exploitive, so must be replaced with Socialism.

“To challenge educands with regard to their certitudes is a duty of the progressive educator. What kind of educator would I be if I did not feel moved by a powerful impulse to seek, without lying, convincing arguments in defense of the dreams for which I struggle, in defence of the ‘why’ of the hope with which I act as an educator?

What is not permissible to be doing is to conceal truths, deny information, impose principles, eviscerate the educands of their freedom, or punish them, no matter by what method, if, for various reasons, they fail to accepts my discourse – reject my utopia.”Pedagogy of Hope by Paolo Freire (1921-1997), Brazilian Marxist, educator and influential theorist of Critical Pedagogy

The delusional basis of Critical Pedagogy is the belief the oppressed must rise up to become liberated – and it is the educator’s job to indoctrinate students. It develops within the student a belief system focused on inequality, exploitation, oppression and domination in relationship to race, ethnicity, class and gender. Students are conditioned to view their nation and culture negatively. They’re taught to hold oppositional values, attitudes and behaviors, cultivating a mindset necessary to facilitate the leftists’ desired revolution. Critical Pedagogy is about questioning and challenging authority – be it historical figures, governmental, political, corporate, societal, religious, within education… or even their own parents.

No aspect of traditional American values is off-limits.

In our universities, colleges and public schools, it is the institutionalized planting of seeds of discontent, watering with sermons admonishing deeds of injustice… until rebellion blooms. The fruit of Critical Pedagogy is on full view within the cult of the Occupy Movement.

The Failure of No Fail

I must admit that when I first heard the phrases  “21st-Century Skills”, “Standards-Based Grading” and “Professional Learning Communities”, I thought they were nothing more than new buzz-words or catch phrases popular among educators. But they also struck me as great ideas. Of course, our students should be educated to compete in the 21st-century job market. They should be taught by professionals dedicated to insuring that their pupils learn. Everyone should be held to a standard… a high standard… don’t you agree?

Unfortunately, beneath the shiny facade none of these are what they seem.

Our children are our future

It wasn’t until I began to look below the surface I realized these are components of the Progressive Education agenda. They diminish educational content, erode student responsibility, accountability and excellence while promoting creativity, collaboration, innovation and problem solving skills. This agenda is, as a retired public school teacher aptly describes it, a “No Fail Policy”. A key component is the ushering in of standards-based grading because it enables schools to conceal the fact students are failing to learn.

The so-called 21st-century skills movement is an educational fad… a bandwagon. But for the professional development industry, it’s a gravy train. Schools spend billions of dollars a year on professional development, which is, in reality, more about controlling teachers than actually helping students learn.

The main criticism of so-called 21st-century skills is it removes the focus from academics, placing the emphasis on skills, instead. What good are skills without knowledge? There is no independent, scientific research suggesting this educational philosophy is valid and, to the contrary, there is ample evidence the opposite is true.

It was tried in Connecticut, some years ago, and was actually found to decrease student performance. They have since abandoned the fad, in favor of a more traditional model.  The list of 21st-century skills are nothing new, but are skills acquired by students who are offered a high-quality academic program – going as far back into history as Aristotle. Yes, these skills are important, but we would be well advised to stick with what works: a high-quality academic curriculum that sets high expectations for all of our students.

“The 21st-century skills movement could return Massachusetts to an era of low academic standards…. But critics, including the nonprofit Pioneer Institute, have made a powerful case that the plan could set back education reform efforts in Massachusetts by advancing a set of soft, vague skills at the expense of academic content… Ten years ago, students in Connecticut outperformed their Massachusetts counterparts on a national reading assessment test. But after education policy makers there shifted focus from an emphasis on content knowledge to the “how to” methods favored by the 21st-century skills movement, test scores plummeted. Acknowledging the error, Connecticut educators are reintroducing methods favored by Massachusetts. In fact, there is strong evidence that emphasis on basic skills leads to success at reasoning and problem-solving. Fourth-graders here ranked second worldwide in science and tied for third in math last year on the sophisticated Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study exam. Given such success, the burden should be on 21st-century skills proponents to prove their methods offer a better way to prepare students for college, and the workplace. So far, they haven’t done that. And while they say 21st-century skills will only complement the state’s current efforts, it’s not clear that the approach can be implemented without de-emphasizing academic content.” A 21st-Century Caution Globe Editorial, The Boston Globe (1/24/2009)

Follows, are comments from well-respected educational experts, as reported in Cultural Literacy in Retreat by Mark Bauerlein, published in The Chronicle of Higher Education (6/9/2009):

“But while it is exciting to think we live in times so revolutionary that they demand entirely new skills, that assumption and others threaten to establish a false choice between teaching facts and teaching how to approach them – and to make the 21st-century skills movement another fad leading to little change in American education.”–Andrew J. Rotherham, co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education, a non-profit organization, education columnist for TIME.com, co-publisher Education Insider, founder Education Sector, former White House Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy during the Clinton administration

“How are millions of students still struggling to acquire 19th-century skills in reading, writing, and math supposed to learn this stuff?”–Jay Matthews, Harvard University alumni, author and education reporter for the Washington Post

“There is nothing new in the proposals of the 21st-century skills movement. The same ideas were iterated and reiterated by pedagogues across the 20th century.”–Diane Ravitch, educational historian, education policy analysis, former United States Assistant Secretary of Education, now a research Professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development

Others weigh in on the issue:

“At its heart, say Hirsch and others, the conflict is about what should happen in a school day:  Do kids learn to think by reading great literature, doing difficult math and learning history, philosolhy and science? Or can they tackle those subjects on their own if schools simply teach them to problem-solve, communicate, use technology and think creatively? If you pursue the latter, says University of Virginia cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham, the rich content you’re after inevitably “falls by the wayside”. While kids may enjoy working together on projects, for instance, the amount of knowledge they get often ends up being shallow. Furthermore, he says, research shows that many teachers find it difficult to actually teach children to think creatively or collaborate. In the end, they rarely get better at the very skills that P21 advocates.What to learn: ‘core knowledge’ or ‘21st-century skills’? by Greg Toppo, USA Today

“But Michael Petrilli, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a former US Department of Education official, said he disagreed with the new grading policies. “This is clearly about dumbing down expectations for our students,” Petrilli told FOXNews.com. “Some of these children are just a few years away from being in the workforce, in college or even in the military, and in none of those environments will they be coddled like they are in these programs.” Petrilli said the policy also sends the wrong message to students. “If you’re getting a zero, that usually means you didn’t turn the assignment or do the job correctly,” he said. “All this does is create cynicism among educators and send signals to students that the education system is not serious about achievement.” If anything, Petrilli said, overall standards at high schools across the country should be raised, not lowered. “It does not take a lot to pass a high school course,” he said. “If we have kids not meeting the standard, the answer is not to lower the standard.”Are ‘No-Fail’ Grading Systems Hurting or Helping Students? by Joshua Rhett Miller, FOX NEWS (4/27/2009)

The “No Fail” movement has failed in many other places. In Texas, the situation became so bad their state legislature actually stepped in, passing a law to outlaw “No Fail”:

“But [Texas Senator Jane] Nelson said the grading policies encourage students to game the system, knowing they don’t have to do much to pass. “Kids are smart and can figure it out,” she said. “A student in one of these districts with a minimum grade of 70 can sit and say, ‘I don’t have to do any homework, I don’t have to answer any questions on tests, and they still have to give me a 70 no matter what.’”

“Holly Eaton of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association acknowledged there are studies showing a correlation between poor grades and student dropouts. But she said teachers are still strongly behind Nelson’s efforts. “School districts with policies like this are harming the integrity of our grading system and undermining the professional judgement of teachers across Texas,” she said.”Texas Senate bill aims to stop no-fail grading in public schools by Terrence Stutz, The Dallas Morning News (4/13/2009)

“No fail” is epidemic in Canada and children are paying the price with their futures:

“Indeed, the institutionalized agenda to protect self-esteem has become in some quarters a massive deception that only the officious refuse to recognize. The unassailable doctrine that everyone’s a winner and everyone is the same is anathema to critical thinking. Ask any eight year-old with a closet full of trophies for showing up. The fact that a late assignment is not penalized does not reward knowledge, it erodes learning and respect for the basic necessity of rules. It invites the wily to opt out. That grammar only counts on assignments when a teacher says it does encourages sloppy work. If students can correct their tests to gain marks (or if they get a redo), study habits suffer. Such practices may explain why half the class is failing math even though a teacher is still reviewing last year’s material four months into the year. Children who are not allowed to fail or to see mistakes can cost them will eventually have a hard landing when work-for-pay involves deadlines, standards and regular swift assessment. The idea that school teaches reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic is long gone. Making it easy, however, for the unmotivated to succeed is as bad as failing a child because a standard is not just too high, but unjustly shortsighted. It lets the entire education system off easy. In a world where there is no failure, there is no learning.”–It’s simple: No failure, no learning, staff writer Winnipeg Free Press (1/18/2010)

Is this what we want to replicate?

I attended a professional development seminar promoting full-blown “No Fail” to an auditorium full of public school teachers. It was quite an eye-opener… revealing just how destructive the Progressive education agenda is to student learning.

No-fail often employs “second chance tests” so students can correct what they got wrong, then resubmit the test days later to have their grade raised. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “test” as “something measuring knowledge”. A “test” is no longer a true test of a student’s knowledge when they’re allowed to correct incorrect answers to raise their grade. This is an invitation for cheating, since students could simply look the answers up in their textbook or online, copy the correct answer and get credit for it. Why study? Where’s the learning?

The speaker emphasized the notion homework is just “practice” and shouldn’t count in the grade. They want schools to only grade on “summative” assignments – the students’ tests. Accordingly, homework, which he calls “formative” assessments, is used to “change student grades”. It’s an effort to move towards a system where, in his words: Effective assessment practices don’t average scores. Grade on end of semester, only.”

One of many problems with this, besides the lack of ethics, is children learn from repetition. We all do. Hence the old adage:  Practice makes perfect. If students know homework doesn’t count towards their class grade, or it only counts for a small portion of their overall grade, why should they bother to even do it – especially when there’s so many other fun things they’d rather be doing? And many students won’t. Once again, their work ethic suffers.

Deadlines are bad and late assignments are fine-and-dandy. At least according to this Progressive-minded speaker.  He actually told teachers to “do away with deadlines… and don’t lower grades for late work”.

Teachers are also told:  “Don’t penalize students with poor attendance.” So when attendance and tardy policies are ignored or tossed out the window, students learn promptness and deadlines are optional.

If they are not expected to be punctual and if class skippers are not held accountable, deadlines are meaningless and cheating is OK, these young people will have a difficult time holding a job in the real world.

Stop teaching from textbooks, page by page.” he said. “What used to be a 2-week unit can be condensed to 2-3 days covering just what they need to know for the test.”  Instead of providing students with a well-rounded education, teach to the standard or target points… teach to the state test. He advocated narrowing the instructional focus by teaching less content. And for those students who struggle the most, their education would be pared down to just what they need to perform on the tests.

Ah… the tests.

As a response to unrealistic provisions in the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law requiring 100% of our students to be “proficient” in reading and math by 2013-2014, DPI and many Wisconsin schools have lowered the bar. It’s evident in the disturbing trend of “no fail” programs and policies creeping into the public schools, an easier WKCE along with schools openly admitting they are “teaching to the test”. This is directly to blame for a degradation of the quality of education. It also explains why colleges and universities are finding it necessary to assign so many of their freshmen students to remedial courses… even those who graduated high school with “above average” grades.

A recent comparison of NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) shows Florida Hispanic schoolchildren are better educated than those in Wisconsin and 24 other states. We are also falling behind on a global scale due to a lack of discipline and rigor in our schools. We are not only negatively impacting our students, but are also putting our future workforce at risk.

Perhaps the most shocking thing I heard that day, and also the most revealing, was his advice to give a practice test a week before the final, then the practice test becomes their study guide. Yup… if all else fails, give them the answers. This is coddling the students, encouraging them to be unmotivated and irresponsible. It is, in my opinion, Educational Malpractice.

There’s an organized push for public schools to do away with A-B-C grading in favor of “standards-based” or, worse, yet, evolving to “effort-based grading” where they are graded by how hard they try – not whether they actually learn anything.

And the cherry on top of this professional development speaker’s presentation was when he told teachers  “We’ve been so focused on grades”…  and don’t give students zeros, incomplete or F’s… oh, and don’t retain kids – because of what he called “failure stigma” – which is another way to say if students don’t learn or if they don’t do their school work, just pass them along to the next grade. You now have a recipe for high school graduation diplomas which are entirely meaningless and worthless.

And I have a news flash for these No-Fail Pied Pipers:  You don’t want kids to experience failure stigma? Well, that’s exactly what you are setting them up to do as they fail to achieve their full potential.

“…grades measure results, not effort. It sounds charitable to “grade on effort,” rewarding hard work with higher grades even in the absence of measurable results. But this won’t work in practice. We have no way to measure how hard our students work. When you give one failing student a C for effort, are you sure you didn’t have another failing student who worked just as hard but didn’t tell you about it?

Anyhow, we give degrees for mastering course material, not for enduring drudgery, and a grade is part of a degree. Would you rather be operated on by a doctor who had an easy time in medical school, or by one who had a hard time and got his passing grade “on effort”? Grading on effort can conceal incompetence or, at best, send students into advanced courses for which they are not prepared.”What Should Grades Mean? by Michael A. Covington, Institute for Artificial Intelligence, The University of Georgia 

I believe education must raise the bar, challenging children to achieve. I’m not a teacher, but I truly believe No-Fail philosophy is destructive to young people because it coddles students as it rewards the unmotivated and punishes the over-achiever by promoting mediocrity. Students need a solid foundation of core knowledge. They need to be challenged to excel and to learn there are consequences for their actions. Accountability. Responsibility. Discipline. Without these traditional, time-tested, success-proven basics, how will they ever be able to hold a job, let alone succeed at life?

sources:

  1. The Foundation for Educational Choice: Advancing Milton & Rose Friedman’s Vision of School Choice for All Lessons for Tennessee from Florida’s Education Revolution by Matthew Ladner (2/9/2011)
  2. 21st-Century Skills Are Not a New Education Trend but Could Be a Fad by Andrew J Rotherham, U.S.News & World Report  (12/15/2008)
  3. How Public School Teachers Can Reverse the Educational Decline by Bruce Deitrick Price, Canada Free Press  (6/1/2010)
  4. The Latest Doomed Pedagogical Fad:  21st-Century Skills, by Jay Matthews, The Washington Post (1/5/2009)

Derailing the Gravy Train

Why do taxes, debt and government spending continue to skyrocket while public and elected officials claim they are making significant cuts? It’s a numbers game. A lack of fiscal savvy on the part elected officials often plays a contributing factor, as do those with a ‘kid in a candy store’ mentality. Either way, the solution is derailing the gravy train.

The principles I outlined for getting yourself out from under debt in Debt Makes Slaves of Those Who Owe and in Roadmap to Financial Freedom are equally as valid whether you own a business, are the CEO of a large corporation or an elected official representing your constituents at the federal, state or local levels… yes, even those we elect to our school boards. Debt is debt… and just like the law of gravity, the key for gaining financial freedom is the same at home, work and even for government. There shouldn’t be a difference between how a person responsibly manages their personal finances and how they would manage public finances, if elected to office. The common sense principle of  living within our means is as true as the laws of nature… that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

Government entities have a difficult time comprehending this fact because they are addicted to spending. After all, it isn’t their money they are spending. No, they’re spending other people’s money… the taxpayers’ money…. your money.

“Are you entitled to the fruits of your labor or does government have some presumptive right to spend and spend and spend?”–President Ronald Reagan

Most government programs related to public education are out-and-out failures. Most government efforts at so-called educational reform are misnomers. In most cases, government programs do nothing to actually “reform” or improve student learning and typically, the interference makes things worse. Think about it. Kids in the Wisconsin Northwoods have different educational needs than kids in the inner cities or those living along the southern border of the US… or anywhere else, for that matter. Even within our own state there are different student needs from school district to school district. It doesn’t make sense for the state or federal government to try and impose on local school districts a one-size-fits-all approach to education, but that is often the case. The problem with the big government blanket approach is it doesn’t effectively target resources. Instead, it is your local school board, administrators and teachers who know best how to educate and meet each of their students’ unique needs.

So why doesn’t the state and federal government just get out of the way and let the local experts do it?

President Reagan said it best:

“We developed at the local school district level probably the best public school system in the world. Or it was until the Federal government added Federal interference to Federal financial aid and eroded educational quality in the process.”

It’s all about control, bureaucracy, politics and money. This is the root of the problem.

Government programs are never really intended to actually improve student learning, but if you read the small print, it becomes crystal clear the true purpose of these programs is to consolidate more authority and power over local public education at the state or federal level.

You see, unlike other areas of government… say the court system… where first a case is tried at the county level, then it can be appealed and work it’s way up the ladder to state or district courts before finally reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, which is the highest in the land and final decision, in the case of your local school board, they hold the decision-making power in your local school district. It’s only when they take the carrot on the stick… when they sign on the dotted line to become involved in various government programs, usually in exchange for funding, which rarely, if ever, covers all of the costs… that they are actually selling out the local taxpayers, parents and students… and something which is priceless:  local control.

This is what’s meant when you hear school administrators, board members or other local officials complain about “unfunded mandates”… it’s really the proverbial strings attached to these various government programs and the realization the funding provided by the government as an incentive to participate was not nearly enough to actually cover the costs associated with it.

There are some government programs such as the controversial and infamous No Child Left Behind (NCLB), among others, which local school boards have no choice in the matter but to participate because these programs have been written into law as mandates. But there are many, many other state and federal programs where school boards do have full authority to decide whether to participate or not. School boards need to approach these programs, cautiously, to ensure they are truly needed and determine if they are a wise use of funds.

Government and public schools financing is not an easy topic to tackle. However, a fundamental understanding of the process and pitfalls is necessary if we are to get off the hamster wheel and actually fix it… so listen up.

One of the most glaring problems I see is the budget practice of Line-Item Budgeting and Traditional Incremental Budgeting which is a budget process utilizing Baseline Budgeting, a common practice at many levels of government, and is especially popular in school districts across the country. Line-Item Budgeting is akin to “accountant-speak” because unless you are an accountant, it can be extremely vague and confusing for the average person to understand exactly where or how the money is being spent.

An easy way to understand what Incremental or Baseline Budgeting is would be to think of it as if you were to apply this method to your personal finances:

Hypothetically, let’s say you spend $100 a week on groceries, which totals $5,200 in a year. If you were setting up your budget for the coming year, using the baseline method, you would automatically add to that total an anticipated increase in cost for food of $600 over the year, bringing your total up to $5,800.

Let’s say you want to add new spending in the form of hosting a huge party, once a month, which will cost an extra $200 per party or $2,400 over the course of the year. Now you’re up to $8,200. This amount becomes your baseline.

So, maybe you decide to “cut back” and only host a huge party twice during the year bringing your annual food budget down to $6,200… that becomes a “savings” of $2,000 out of your budget even though you are, in reality, adding $1,000 for two new parties plus estimated cost increases.

The other part of this is looking at the estimated $600 increase for food. Maybe costs won’t increase at that level and come the end of the year, the actual increase was only $100. You have $500 extra. Since you are using Baseline Budgeting and want to be sure to get as much or more money to spend the following year, you have to quick spend that $500… so it’s generally wasted, keeping your baseline going forward at $6,200… an $1,000 increase over the previous year.

This is a simple illustration of how government spends your tax dollars. It is, particularly in school districts, why, as the end of their fiscal year draws night there is a rush to spend every last cent remaining in the budget. By reporting any end of the fiscal year surplus, they will not get an increase in their funding. Many, if not most, public school districts, other local government entities and government agencies all tend to operate under this system, which, in reality, encourages wasteful spending and fiscal irresponsibility.

Governor Scott Walker's budget gives local governments tools to rein in spending

It also partially explains why school districts can claim they are making substantial cuts to their budgets, yet, year-by-year spending continues to increase. In Wisconsin, public schools operate under a funding cap, which normally includes a built-in annual increase. The current year, however, is an exception due to significant changes made at the state level in Governor Scott Walker’s biennial budget passed into law earlier this year.

It is thanks to Scott Walker’s changes to the collective bargaining law which has provided public school districts, towns, cities and counties across Wisconsin with the needed tools to rein in employee benefits costs while giving taxpayers a break. It’s a valuable opportunity, especially for school districts facing structural deficits which could very well cause them to go bankrupt, to right the ship and return to a course of fiscal stability. The question is, though, will public schools and local governments use this opportunity to effect long term solutions, heading off disaster… or squander it?

Well, that depends on whether or not those governing the purse strings have the strength and will to insist on rooting out waste and making fundamental changes to the budget process, itself.

The combination of using Line-Item Budgeting and Baseline Budgeting serves to obscure how a school district truly spends its funds. There is nothing “transparent” about it and basically, a person just about has to be an accountant to understand where the money is going. I believe a school budget, and particularly it’s annual report, should be written in plain language the common person can comprehend and understand… and all documents should be readily available for public scrutiny. Some public school districts are very open about their budgets. Many schools are actually posting their budget, broken down into easily understandable categories, along with supporting documentation, right on their websites. This is transparency. Anything less is not.

Even though the lion’s share of a public school district’s budget goes to paying employee salaries and benefits, out-of-control spending and budget bloat cannot be blamed entirely on the number of employees, alone. School boards must also take a critical look at the entire budget, ask questions and get answers, for instance:  How much money is being spent on Professional Development? What is the total amount spent on travel, both in-state and out-of-state? What is being spent on non-sick day substitutes who are used so teachers can attend meetings during the school day? What is being spent on food and beverages for meetings? How much money is being spent on mileage reimbursements to staff and administrators? Is the district paying for employee cell phone bills?

These are all examples of common costs which siphon money out of the classroom in favor of creating perks for administrators and staff. It’s one of the reasons why many school districts are on a continual treadmill of decrying budget shortfalls and touting their perennial “cuts” to supposedly “balance their budget”… yet, before the ink is dry on one year’s budget, they are right back to talking about having to cut as much or more from the upcoming year’s budget. It’s also a tactic some districts employ in an effort to wear down their taxpayers and pressure the public to approve a referendum to raise taxes while claiming “it’s for the kids”.

It’s time for perks to go the way of the dinosaur.

It’s not only the status quo in public school districts, but also at each step of government all the way to the top. This is why we have Government Gone Wild and taxes up through the roof.

There is nothing balanced nor fiscally responsible on the part of elected officials who allow this sort of smoke-and-mirrors financial mismanagement to continue, year after year… always on the trajectory of financial bankruptcy and ruin, just around the corner. “Cut” only what’s absolutely necessary to get the numbers to appear balanced, all the while continuing to spend and spend… and waste money like there’s no tomorrow. In reality, it is doing nothing more than paying lip-service to fiscal responsibility. Tell the public what they want to hear so no one will look too closely at how tax dollars are being spent or ask any questions… so the Gravy Train can keep on rolling.

Instead, why not actually FIX the problem? Wouldn’t that be the logical and common sense thing to do?

This is why, I believe, we must do away with Line-Item and Incremental or Baseline Budgeting practices in favor of the efficiency and transparency of Zero-Based Budgeting (ZBB), a methodology for conducting the budget process which was predominant throughout public education from the 1950s and 1960s through in to the 1980s, when it fell by the wayside. It is now seeing a resurgence as boards of education are returning to the time-tested, proven budgeting model for efficient and improved school operation. Zero-Based Budgeting is popping up in districts from Vermont… to Georgia… to Oregon and many, many other locations.

A recent article published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports how the Penn Hills School District’s finances have benefitted by changing to a Zero-Based Budgeting model:

“Using a zero-based budgeting approach, in which all departmental spending starts at zero and must be justified in detail, the district was able to eliminate inefficiencies, officials said. Mr. Liberto said departments lowered their operational budgets by about 10 percent, as he and superintendent Tom Washington had requested.

“Over the past three or four years, we’ve gotten into a rut where we might have gotten out of one program, not eliminated it, and started something new, so we were picking up double expenses,” Mr. Liberto said. “We’ve noticed a lot technology wise … programs and things that we’ve been operating for years that we no longer need and can streamline. So, the zero-based budget has helped quite a bit.”

So why do I favor Zero-Based Budgeting? Because it approaches the budgeting process with a clean slate as it bases the allocation of resources according to actual needs rather than simply adding across-the-board increases to previous spending levels. By forcing the justification of spending on a needs basis, it eliminates wasteful and obsolete spending practices, and avoids habitual spending while detecting inflated budgets. It puts an end to the end-on-the-fiscal-year “spend it or lose it” mentality. This sort of systematic review imposes fiscal discipline on the organization, improving operational efficiencies. It shines sunlight on the process and the end results. It increases transparency and accountability.

I believe, particularly given the country’s economic troubles, finding better ways to ensure good stewardship of tax dollars is more important than ever… and Zero-Based Budgeting is a valuable, common sense tool in accomplishing this goal.

Using a Zero-Based Budget, managers and administrators are forced to find cost effective solutions to improve operations while performing meaningful review. One of the inherent benefits of Zero-Based Budgeting is conducting analysis to critically evaluate program effectiveness on their merits as a part of the review process. It is the “big picture” which connects cost with results.

This is vitally important information as it can assist in improving the quality of elected board members’ decisions as they determine if or when a program should be sunset, based on facts. It also goes without saying, this process elevates board-level budget discussions to a more meaningful level and enables them to ultimately make better, more informed, intelligent decisions. Ultimately, this approach will have a positive impact in the classrooms as ineffective programs are eliminated in favor of methods which demonstrate proven success. It benefits both the children and the taxpayers… truly a “win-win” for everyone.

But Zero-Based Budgeting is not just for public school districts. Counties, towns and cities are rediscovering the benefits of Zero-Based Budgeting; from small towns like Wimberley, Texas and Nashua, New Hampshire… to major metropolitan giants like Phoenix and Chicago. Likewise, it’s winning favor in state legislatures, as well. Already eighteen states are using it, with legislation pending in many others. And it’s not just a growing trend, here, in the US as it’s catching on in Canada and the UK, too.

Mr Marc J. Lane, a Chicago business and tax attorney and a financial advisor recently wrote an Op-Ed published in Chicago Business entitled Zero-based budgeting holds much promise for Illinois’ fiscal future:

“An unheralded provision of last spring’s budget legislation adds Illinois to the growing roster of states committed to performance-driven budgeting. “Budgeting for outcomes” was introduced by former Washington Gov. Gary Locke in 2002, when he faced a $2.5-billion budget shortfall. Mr. Locke reformed the way state officials prioritized and spent taxpayer dollars and, by 2003, had closed a nearly 15% budget gap. Since then, state after state has followed Mr. Locke’s lead, demanding that budgets be designed from the ground up, a common-sense practice now mandated in Illinois for fiscal year 2012 and beyond.”

Here’s how it works:  The various departments of the particular government entity or building level, for public school districts, prepare and submit their budget proposals under the guidance and watchful eye of the Chief Financial Officer or Accounting Department. Within schools, this would include the input of teachers at the department level before presenting to to their building principals. This should include alternative levels of funding:  with a Minimum Level below current spending, a Base Level reflecting current costs and an Improvement Level. The “Decision Package”, as it is called, is advanced to the administrator, if there is one, along with the elected officials, who sit down… to review these proposals. Then, the elected officials set priorities and make decisions as to what should be cut, changed or approved… just as we should all do with our own personal finances.

It’s not the job of a hired administrator, in my opinion, to decide on their own or with their hand-picked, small inner circle behind closed doors, what the spending priorities should be, because typically, they usually tend to be more concerned with implementing their own personal agenda, padding budgets, expanding costs and staffing – and, unfortunately, in some cases, how to enhance their own resume – rather than in what is best for the taxpayers and community.

But it’s not their job to care about the strain their spending places on taxpayers.

Think about it. When decisions as to how tax dollars are to be spent are made exclusively by paid administrators – and when they are operating within a system of Baseline Budgeting, it’s no wonder so many of our public schools and other levels of government are drowning in red ink.

I firmly believe it is the sworn duty of those whom the citizenry elects to represent them to have an active and participatory role in the budget process. This is what’s meant by having a representative form of government and is why our Constitution begins with the words: “We the People”. If it were otherwise and it was, in fact, the paid administrator’s exclusive right to make these budgetary decisions in a process which excluded those who sit on an elected board, I ask you, why even have elected officials at all? In such a situation you have taxation without representation… exactly what our ancestors fought against and died for during the American Revolution… and something which is a principle cornerstone of the founding of our nation.

A hired administrator’s job is limited to acting in an advisory capacity to the board – be it school, town or at county levels. You see, setting goals each year, establishing priorities, planning and making these kinds of decisions is the job of those we elect to represent us. Each of these components are vital to the creation of a successful budget and in operating an efficient, effective organization.

When a budget is written in a one-year vacuum, without considering its impact and ramifications going forward into subsequent years, it becomes simply a “placeholder”… or worse, like putting a band-aid over a life-threatening wound. At minimum, I believe public school districts should create a three-year balanced budget plan – and share it with their community in the interest of openness and transparency. It’s only by taking the time to map out a long-range view where we can solve these public schools and government’s dire financial problems… while actually working to avert any bankruptcies looming on the horizon so these organizations can become fiscally responsible.

Isn’t this what the voters and taxpayers expect?

Listen up… it’s not just all about money:  Zero-Based Budgeting is very much tied to student performance and realistically improving both the school district’s cost-effectiveness, as well as the level of student learning. It’s about financial and educational accountability. Forget all the media and political hype about needing “educational reform”. Look at it this way, if you have educational accountability, you won’t need any “reform”.

Let me say it again. If you have educational accountability, you won’t need any “reform”.

In a nut shell, Zero-Based Budgeting pulls back on the reins, steering the organization onto the path leading to fiscal reality, soundness and sanity. In times of economic upheaval or even prosperity, it’s about living within our means – whatever that may be.

Critics claim it is too much work, but what they’re really afraid of is how Zero-Based Budgeting upsets the apple cart in that it exposes waste, inefficiencies and ineffective programs as it Derails the Gravy Train. Did you hear that? I’ll say it again:  Zero-Based Budgeting exposes waste, inefficiencies and ineffective programs as it Derails the Gravy Train. It changes the paradigm as it eliminates the old status quo in favor of accountability and true transparency.

sources:

  1. Penn Hills School District cuts 44 jobs, contracts bussing to balance budget by Zak Koeske, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (5/26/2011)
  2. North Hampton School Board pushes zero-based budget for 2009-10 by Tamara Le, Seacoast Online (11/25/2008)
  3. Zero-Based Budget Committee Page, Burlington School District (8/1/2011)
  4. Catskill looks at zero-based budget on March 1 by Paul Smart, WGXC Newsroom (2/25/2011)
  5. Plans for zero-based budgeting by Lynh Bul, The Arizona Republic (6/25/2011)
  6. Council adopts zero-based budgeting in preparation of future city budgets, The Hays County RoundUp (7/25/2011)
  7. OpEd:  Zero-based budgeting holds much promise for Illinois’ fiscal future by Marc J. Lane, Chicago Business (1/10/2011)

Canadian Occupy Leader Plans Overthrow of United States

The Occupy circus of crime and chaos has consumed the entire spectrum – from left to right – of the media’s attention non-stop since September. Reportedly, it all began with a call to Occupy Wall Street from Adbusters editor, Kalle Lasn. But why would a self-described “anti-consumerist” magazine based in Vancouver, British Columbia… Canada… even care about Wall Street, let alone attempt to declare war on the U.S. economy? Surely, in a country as large as Canada they could find plenty of real or imagined injustices to keep their band of activists busy launching protests on their own side of the border. It begs the questions of who is Kalle Lasn and why does he despise the United States?

“America, the great liberator, is in desperate need of being liberated from itself — from its own excesses and arrogance. And the world needs to be liberated from American values and culture, spreading across the planet as if by divine providence.”–Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn, in his book Culture Jam: How to Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge — and Why We Must

“What makes you think you have the right to drive around with a ton of metal wrapped around you, the right to twist a tap and get hot water, the right to flick a switch and get your house warmed up?”-from the September/October 2003 issue of Adbusters magazine

If Mr. Lasn were to have his way, we would all be living a primitive lifestyle devoid of modern conveniences and eating nothing but veggies. No cars. No indoor plumbing. No McDonalds.  Although he preaches the simple life, he readily admits he, himself, does not adhere to these beliefs.

British news reports:

“…If you think this sounds like the rantings of a deluded Bolshevik, it’s worth noting a few things about Lasn and his cohorts at Adbusters, who have been producing the bi-monthly magazine from their Vancouver office since 1989. Lasn, an Estonia-born, former high-flyer in the advertising industry, now pushing 70, started Adbusters as an antidote to corporate greed, and what he saw as an aggressive pro-consumerist message that was being rammed down our throats.”–Buy Nothing Day:  Adbusters’ role in the global Occupy movement by Lena Corner, The Independent (11/20/2011) 

Apparently, there isn’t enough Canadian corporate greed to keep Lasn busy up north.

In my previous Occupy-related articles, Reaping What We Sow, The Puppeteers and The Tides Turn on the Occupy Movement, I exposed an effort to indoctrinate school children into the Occupy mentality through several stick figure, anti-consumer, anti-American films, beginning with Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, shown in many public schools over the past four years – and most recently with The Story of Broke released earlier this month. Ms. Leonard’s leftist benefactor, the Tides Foundation & Tides Center, also funds Adbusters. And just like Annie Leonard, who was a former Greenpeace employee, Adbusters has a close working relationship with the like-minded  environmentalist organization founded by American draft-dodgers who, at the height of the Vietnam War in 1969, fled to Vancouver.

Is it mere coincidence both recipients of Tides Foundation funding happened to have their fingerprints all over the Occupy movement? I think not.

One thing I find puzzling is why Adbusters would identify Wall Street as a target when a key donor to the publication, and reported friend of Mr. Lasn, Robert S. Halper, is a retired Wall Street trader and former Vice Chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange. A perplexing pair of extremely odd bedfellows to say the least. Apparently, the New York Times agreed as they did a focus piece on the irony last month.

“The whole thing is very surreal to me — the fact that I spent my whole career right across the street,” he said in an interview last week on a marble bench near the park. “It makes me a little anxious, to tell you the truth. It could go anywhere. I just pray that it ends peaceful.”

Mr. Halper said he first heard about the plan for protests in June when he visited Kalle Lasn, the editor in chief of Adbusters, a Canadian anticorporate magazine, in Vancouver. Over a steak dinner, the two longtime friends discussed Mr. Lasn’s project, a plan to fill Wall Street with protesters as a way to galvanize anger on the political left into a revolutionary movement resembling the Arab Spring.

“I rolled my eyes,” he said. “I was more interested in talking about health care.”–He Made It on Wall St. and Used It to Help Start the Protests by J. David Goodman, The New York Times (10/17/2011)

Even after learning of Lasn’s desire to spawn a revolution against everything he had spent his career building, rather than rebuke his threat against our Republic, Halper meekly went ahead and wrote another$20,000 check to Lasn. Perhaps that explains the dynamics of their relationship.

Occupy leaders plan spring Occupation... and more

Supposedly, we are told, Occupy is a leaderless movement. So then, why is Lasn being referred to as the “godfather of Occupy Wall Street” and why is he calling on his foot soldiers camping out in protest to pack it in until spring? Could it be an effort to save face because most of the protesters have already voluntarily gone home and slow-to-act city officials, weary of the stench… disgraced by the crime wave accompanying these refugees from reality camps… and hounded by public outrage have finally sent in their police forces – in full riot gear – to clear out the squatters?

It seems to me, Kalle Lasn is claiming ownership of the Occupy movement and has much more on his agenda than just reviving the hippie counterculture and spawning silly protests as an annoyance to law-abiding citizens and local governments. It’s time to wake up and read the handwriting on the wall:

“We use the winter to brainstorm, network, build momentum so that we may emerge rejuvenated with fresh tactics, philosophies, and a myriad projects ready to rumble next Spring.”

He said he expects the Occupy movement to re-emerge with more focus next spring and predicted it would rise to a third political party in the United States.

“Basically, we will try to get the money out of our political systems and start creating a new model of democracy,” he said.

“Permit me to be grandiose for a moment, but I can feel it – I can feel this movement is the beginning of a deep transformation of capitalism. It’s a game changer.”–Adbusters, the Occupy Wall Street innovator, says movement should wind down and start up in spring: suggests Dec. 17 as good day to scale back movement by Helen Kennedy, New York Daily News (11/15/2011)

The New York Daily News got the headline wrong. It should have read:  Canadian Occupy Leader Plans Overthrow of United States