How to Fix DC’s School Problem: Lose the Schools

Last week, the U.S. House of Representative passed the SOAR Reauthorization Act.  (Next week they will, no doubt, be debating other clever backronyms for other equally banal bills.)  SOAR, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results, is, like so much of what government does, benevolent on its surface.  After all, who doesn’t like giving money to disadvantaged children in one of America’s most disadvantaged cities?  It’s almost as fun as handing out puppies!

But, also like so much of what government does, someone else ends up paying for it.

First, the whole concept of Congress legislating anything that happens outside the halls of federal government but inside the borders of the District of Columbia flies in the face of what the District was meant to be.  The “taxation without representation” nonsense on the license plates and the ongoing quixotic call for D.C. statehood are just so many sour grapes.

D.C. was never meant to be a permanent residence for anyone.  It was created to house the federal government at a time when the fledgling nation was still very much a delicate alliance of independent states, not the ironclad country that it has increasingly (although lately, decreasingly) become since the end of the Civil War.  Part of the reason for this should be abundantly clear now that five out of the top ten richest counties are bedroom communities for federal government officials and lobbyists: government service was never meant to be a permanent gig or a road to wealth, so why would anyone want to stick around long enough to put down roots, especially in a humid, mosquito-infested cesspool like the one that D.C. was at its nascence?

But there’s no turning back now.  D.C. is one of the largest cities in America, and its future is undeniably tied to the whims of Congress and the president.  (This fact was intriguingly examined in both The West Wing and House of Cards, where it was used as a political football by a president seeking to control Congress.)

But when the federal government runs roughshod over the 10th Amendment as it has for so long now, it’s at least somewhat checked by the desires of political leaders in state capitals who either have a genuine interest in the future prosperity and freedom of their states or simply want credit for whatever program Congress is seeking to shove down the people’s throats.  I’m sure D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser has similar desires, but, being only one person with her entire budget at the mercy of Congress, she doesn’t have quite the power of a governor and his legislature (except when she has the president on her side, as displayed in the aforementioned TV shows).  So, then, D.C. becomes a hyperbole of every bad (and sometimes good) idea that the federal government has – all that power laser-focused on a mere 68 square miles.

So what’s the problem with SOAR?  Well, nothing, really – just as there’s nothing wrong with giving kids puppies.  The problem is in who pays for the puppies, and for the scholarships.

When you’re taxing 300 million people and using it to educate a mere 1,244 children, that’s not bad at all.  But it’s also the federal government doing what it does worst: picking winners and losers.  Don’t get me wrong: I have a lot more faith in the future of the boys and girls attending D.C. private and charter schools on an Opportunity Scholarship than I do in whatever cockamamie green energy scheme made it to the president’s desk this week, but it’s still a dangerous precedent that’s been set – and all the more dangerous because, ironically, precedents for federal fiscal support of something as controversial as school vouchers are rather tenuous.

Now, if I were a congressman, I probably would have voted for SOAR, too, just to keep the money coming, and I applaud President Obama for his support of it as well (words I don’t often write), but at some point, SOAR will become a political football, and the unfortunate children of D.C. will be held hostage.  Furthermore, regardless of the future, there are thousands of children in D.C. schools who, while perhaps not as “disadvantaged” as the ones taking advantage of Opportunity Scholarships, are still at a disadvantage.  (And many of them could be worse off, since D.C. Opportunity Scholarships are awarded through a lottery.)  There is a better way – as Reagan may have said, not necessarily an easier way, but a better way.

The ultimate solution to this problem lies in D.C. ceasing to be a quasi-state, with its public infrastructure tied to the whims of the federal government.  For education, this means that residents need to start sending their children to schools outside D.C.  This is where permanent residents of the area should be living anyway.  In turn, schools in Maryland and Virginia (and the other 48 states, for that matter), should be allowed to succeed or fail on their own, with limited ties to federal or state mandates.

While people often lament the state of public education in this country (and rightly so), I’ve never heard anyone feel sorry for the children going to private schools.  Wouldn’t the answer, then, be to send all of our children to private schools?  And before you protest, trust me when I say that this solution doesn’t necessitate only the wealthy getting an education; after all, many of the children using D.C. Opportunity Scholarships may attend private schools – even Sidwell Friends, home to First Daughters Sasha and Malia Obama!

Cross-posted at AmericanThinker.com.

The Excellence of Private Sector Solutions

The school year is coming to an end and at Bellevue’s Eastside Academy a group of eleven teenagers is preparing to graduate. But these kids are not like most graduating Seniors in America. When they don their cap and gown in a few weeks it will be an accomplishment far greater than that of the majority of their peers, for these students are part of a relatively new school, founded just nine years ago, that reaches out to teens that have been rejected by nearly everyone else, including, in some cases, themselves. Before coming to Eastside Academy most of these kids had problems with drugs, alcohol and the law. They’d already been expelled from the public school district and some hadn’t attended class in years. But through the great attention paid to them by Executive Director Toni Esparza and her staff at Eastside Academy these bright young minds, once destined for a prison cell or even a life cut short, now have a new chance at life and that renewed sense we all shared in our early years, that anything is possible. Amongst the graduating class at Eastside Academy this year are future attorneys, airline pilots, teachers and doctors.

One such student, Lyric Hammond, will also be honored next week by the Rotary Club of Seattle Skyline with a $500 scholarship toward her higher education expenses. She was chosen for this award in part because of the moving essay that she submitted in which she writes of her journey from drug addict to aspiring neurosurgeon.

Several more inspiring stories of success from Eastside Academy students are here.

Eastside Academy has helped its students achieve amazing results; students who the government had already given up on. It achieved these results in no small part because of its whole person approach to education. It holds classes at First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue and, while not a religious school –anyone can attend Eastside Academy regardless of his faith or lack of it– the school does bring in an outside speaker on a regular basis to talk about issues of faith, civility or other topics that would almost certainly be shunned in our public schools. This approach, along with programs like the Student of the Month, which honors student by inviting them to lunch at the Rotary Club of Seattle Skyline, and giving them an award, has inspired these great kids to reach for goals that just a few years ago they would never have even dreamed.

Eastside Academy is proof that, to achieve the dreams we all hold of great success for even the least among us, we don’t need to continue sending more and more money to Washington, D.C. or Olympia for education programs that have continued to fail us. Americans are the most generous people on Earth and also posses an incredible drive, ingenuity and entrepreneurship. Eastside Academy’s annual budget is modest, raised by donations from the private sector; and their bureaucracy is small. This wonderful school has the flexibility and ingenuity to bring about the change that so many politicians speak but seldom deliver. Why not give the private sector a chance? We’ll be pleased with the results.

Don’t Mess With Tex(as)tbooks

Liberals and conservatives are, once again, having a knock-down drag-out battle over something neither side needs worry so much about: textbooks. Liberals are accusing conservatives of wanting to indoctrinate children with right-wing Christian, creationist science and conservatives are accusing liberals of wanting to indoctrinate children with left-wing God and America hating history. They’re both wrong but, for the sake of argument, let’s just say they’re both right. What’s the big deal? Why not let both camps carry the day? That’s the great thing about libertarianism. I’ll teach my kids how I want to and you teach your kids how you want to. Everybody wins! How do we do it? Simple, senator: eliminate the government monopoly on education. We can start with the utterly worthless Federal Department of Education. Once the sky doesn’t fall and proves big-government types wrong, we can move on to state education departments. Finally, we could do away with slightly more palatable but, nevertheless, unnecessary local school boards leaving each school, lo, each teacher, to decide which text books they are going to teach from. If we wanted to go really crazy (not really), we could privatize education.

“Whaa!!! Privatize Education!!!” You say. Well, again, if we wanted to go really crazy (not really) we could literally privatize it: no state funding for education. You want your kids to be educated, make sure you have enough money to do so (or, here’s a concept: rely on the proven charity of the American people to provide scholarships and such). Too radical? Okay, vouchers will work. Unless, of course, you think people are too stupid to make their own decisions about education (elitist). And regardless, even if you do think people are too stupid to make their own decisions, guess what? Too bad. They’re going to do so anyway. Even if secularist liberals achieved their dream of a school devoid of any mention of God or guns or whatever the enemy-du jour is, the biggest influence in most children’s lives are still their families. Teachers can hoot and holler about how evil guns are (or whatever other topic you’d like to pick) until they’re blue in the face, but once little Billy gets home and his dad takes him to the range or out hunting, be it right or wrong, he’s probably not going to listen much.

But most of this aside, for just this one problem, if we allowed individual schools, or even just local school boards, to choose which books to use in their classrooms we wouldn’t be hearing about this. Side benefit: if you really think Howard Zinn is the best teacher of American history and you can convince enough of your friends that that’s the case, then you may just see McGraw-Hill go out of business.

Spokane Falls CC Decides that 1st Amendment’s actually a good thing

Spokane Falls Community College has decided to change its policies on student groups distributing fliers and having speakers after it settled with student pro-life activist Beth Sheeran who’d been forbidden from holding a small, not intrusive pro-life event at the college last spring and threatened with expulsion if she did.

I’m glad to see one of our institutes of higher learning has decided that freedom of speech is okay.

Griswold for Representative – Website Positions

The Economy

I am committed to getting Washington back to work.  Our economy is already improving, but they are many things yet to be done if we expect this recovery to grow and stay.  The best way to ensure this continued growth is by lightening the regulatory and tax burden on our small business.  It is also important to retain and attract large national companies like Boeing an Microsoft, but ultimately, it will be small and local business which will provide the range of employment opportunities that truly maintain a healthy economy.  In order for those companies to prosper, we must make sensible decisions in the following areas;

Minimum Wage Laws
I would love nothing more than to be able to ensure that everyone in this state earns at least $15 per hour.  The cost of living in Washington is high, especially in larger cities such as Seattle and Everett.  Guaranteeing such a wage level, sadly, is not a realistic goal for government.  The current minimum wage laws create more poverty, not less.  Small businesses very often fail because they cannot afford the artificially elevated costs of the employees necessary to their enterprise.  The end up being forced to close their doors and layoff the employees they did have, resulting in additional strain on our state economy and budgets.  The minimum wage should be tied to the unemployment rate, enabling more people to find employment, especially those just starting their careers, or working and going to school at the same time.

Health Care
Free market economics are dictated by one overall principle, consumer choice.  Requiring that a business providing healthcare to its employees must purchase the state-mandated policy inhibits the choice that promotes high quality and low costs.  The state-mandated policy often covers unnecessary areas at inflated costs.  Instead of purchasing this inefficient policy, many small businesses purchase none at all.  This is another classic example of government exceeding its role and forcing excessive regulation on us, ultimately hurting the very people they are supposed to help.  Allowing companies to choose from a range of healthcare options will lower costs, and raise quality, benefiting both the businesses and the employees.

Union Membership
Unions have their place and reasons for existing, now and when they were conceived.  Some workers still see unions as the primary tool for negotiating their employment contracts and protecting their rights.  Many unions, however, have turned into bureaucracies that do little to protect workers, charge excessive dues, and often go against the will of their membership on such issues as political donations.  This is primarily caused by a lack of choice for the workers.  Bad unions would go away, and good ones would flourish if we simply allowed the workers the choice to join or not.  It is simply indefensible to allow “closed shops” that force workers to join a union against their will.  Membership cost money, and there is no excuse for allowing a system that forces the paying of dues, or membership in any organization.  A workers first right should be the right to choose.  Many unions operate successfully in states without “closed shops”.

Education

Education is the great equalizer, and the key ingredient to success.  I believe that a quality, unbiased, affordable education should be available to all.  Our education system is in dire need of repair.  Every year, the costs go up, and the quality goes down.  It is time to stop simply throwing money at the problem, and develop a new approach to improving our education system.  We must re-examine our priorities and use the vast resources that currently exist to make a quality education in this state affordable.

K-12 
The quality of an education starts with the teachers.  It is high time that we recognize the value and nobility of teachers in this state, and reward that value with salaries that reflect it.  Our current pay system, however, rewards seniority above talent, and still does not provide enough incentive to attract the talent we need in the teaching profession.  We cannot continue to experience strikes and other foolishness.  The future of our children is too important, and the time to play politics with this issue is over.

Higher Education
Subsidizing higher education to make it available at little or no cost is crucial, but carelessly throwing money at the problem helps no one. A student at the University of Washington currently pays approximately $6000 a year. This, however, is not the true cost. An out-of-state student will pay almost $18,000 a year, a price that more adequately reflects the true cost. Many of the introductory classes students attend have upwards of 300 people in them and are often taught by teachers’ aides, not professors. Many private schools in this country, Seattle University being one of them, charge approximately the same amount but rarely have classes with more than 40 students in them, one of which is taught by teachers’ aides. We can manage state-run institutions better so that the students receive a higher quality education with a lower price tag.  We can bring the true cost of tuition down by reexamining how our tax dollars are spent. The current president of the University of Washington makes $472,000 a year.  That’s more than the President of the United States!  While a university president encounters difficult challenges it seems unrealistic to expect that the position requires that kind of salary.  Do I even need to mention that the president’s salary is nowhere near as high as the Husky football coach’s?  Our pay structure is only one of the areas in which we waste money.  Improving our higher education system must start with cleaning up our act.

Transportation

Seattle is a Tech Town.  In order to continue to hold our position as a leader in the technology sector, we must have a top-level business environment, especially when it comes to transportation.  We simply cannot afford to skimp in this area.  If we had taken this issue seriously 20-30 years ago, the complexity of fixing our current problems would be much more manageable.  Our solutions must last well into the future, and must include options aside from more roads and more cars.  The environmental and economic benefits we will reap from a solid, logical public transportation outweigh the investment in dollars we need to make today.  The solutions that work in other cities such as Paris and New York took trust in the ideas of visionaries.

That being said, our current attempt, Sound Transit, has to be one of the greatest boondoggles of recent history.  Spending millions and millions of dollars of public money without laying an inch of track is simply unacceptable.  The Sounder is rarely used due to its infrequent schedule and limited scope.  For the few who do ride it, the cost per passenger averages out at over $50 per trip, once all the taxpayer subsidies are factored in.  It would be cheaper to buy all those riders a cab ride!  We must demand a system that works, and get the process started right away, and we must demand that the continued fleecing of taxpayer money on study after study, and on excessive administrative costs stop immediately.  Even it that means shutting down Sound Transit, and rethinking the monorail.  It is far better to spend a little more money now, and do this right the first time.

Speech to Technology Group

My main focus in this election is going to be on what we need here the most, and that’s not a discussion on gay marriage, although that does need to be addressed. We need to focus on fact that our schools are failing (Seattle School District scored amongst the lowest in the state WASLs) and too many people are out of work.

In terms of the IT field, I can attest to two major reasons why so many of those jobs are being shipped to other parts of the country and the world. First, doing business overseas is more attractive financially for many companies but restricting the free market is not the way to bring them back. We need to make them want to come back, not force them to. This can be done by improving the economy and reducing regulations on these businesses. Also, and this is straight from Gates, there just aren’t enough qualified people in Washington to apply for some of the jobs being offered.

We need to improve education so that we are turning out students that can do more than just show up for class. We need to hold schools accountable for turning out students with top quality educations so that they can compete in this new market.

As for Homeland Security, you are absolutely right that money is not being allocated in a reasonable way. As a state-level official I won’t have much control on that type of legislation but I will do whatever I can to make sure the Puget Sound is as protected as possible from outside threats.