Occasionally, a teacher union official tells you what he really thinks. The reigning champion in this regard was the late Albert Shanker, former President of the American Federation of Teachers, who famously said, "When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children."
With equal candor, Shanker also said, "It's time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody's role is spelled out in advance and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It's no surprise that our school system doesn't improve: It more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy."
Now, the National Education Association may have someone to follow in Shanker's illustrious footsteps: Morty Rosenfeld. Mr. Rosenfeld is the head of a local union in New York and sits on the NEA national board of directors. This October, Rosenfeld said:
"If the United States is to preserve our system of free public schools, teacher unions are going to have to stop accepting the status quo and making excuses for the poor performance of our students. Most of us know that contrary to all of the talk about how we are raising our standards, in most of our schools they continue to decline. The low scores on the so-called high stakes tests are testimony to the fact that large numbers of students leave school knowing next to nothing and ill equipped for any but the most menial of jobs."
Mr. Rosenfeld continued, "While many of our most talented young people spend their days in so-called accelerated courses with curricula once thought more appropriate to the college level, too many of them have whizzed right by basic skills and cannot string together three coherent sentences or know to any degree of certainty if they have received the correct change in a store. We must face the fact that some of the right-wing critique of public education, particularly their criticism of the ever inflating costs of public education, resonates with the American public because it is true, or at least truer than some of the blather put out by the people who run the schools and the unions who represent the people who work in them. If it is true that our freedom is ultimately tied to our being an enlightened and educated citizenry, we are in terrible trouble."
Here's to Mr. Rosenfeld's candor. Accepting the reality of that "terrible trouble" is the first step to ending the union's stonewalling and beginning to solve the problems in American public education.
-Plainview-Old Bethpage (New York) Congress of Teachers: "Teacher Talk with PCT President Morty Rosenfeld: Telling What We Know, Part 1"
-Goldwater Institute: "A Guide to Understanding State Funding of Arizona Public School Students"
On November 16, the Phoenix City Council will decide whether or not to float an estimated $850 million in bonds to finance various projects, including libraries, senior centers, and police stations. If it does, voters will have the final say come March 14. Are bonds a healthy way to finance current spending?
As a wise man might say, it is better to live within your means.
In personal finance, issuing debt to pay for purchases today borrows against your future income. The risks and rewards of this type of financing are yours alone. But in government finance, issuing debt to pay for current spending bets on payments from taxpayers tomorrow, a game of chance in which government spends today, and depends on taxpayers to foot the bill later.
The city of Phoenix relies largely on property taxes and increasing assessments to finance its debt. Any slow down in property values will invite a spike in the tax rate. Rather than gamble on the back of taxpayers, the city should prioritize spending and bring current spending in line with current resources.
It is said that nothing is certain but death and taxes. But even James Bond has a better chance of escaping death than of surviving the crushing weight of future taxes promised by today's profligate spending.
Proliferating regulations are increasingly costly and hamper the expansion of good schools.
At last count, Arizona charter schools must comply with close to 100 regulations. To name just one, the reporting requirement for student headcounts resembles a NASA space mission in complexity and cost. The state requires charter schools to maintain duplicate student enrollment databases, costing thousands of dollars each, and to re-enter estimated enrollment figures from scratch every ten days.
In response to the growing cost of regulatory compliance, some charter schools are forgoing public funds altogether and converting to private schools. Regulatory burdens also hamper the ability of good schools to expand or open additional campuses, with many of the state's top-ranked charter schools reporting two and three applications for every open spot.
The need for more quality schools in Arizona is clear: 48 percent of Arizona's public school fourth-graders scored "below basic" in reading on the Nation's Report Card, a polite euphemism for functional illiteracy. Policymakers should lighten regulatory barriers, allowing great schools to be fruitful and multiply.
-Center for Education Reform: "The Simple Guide to Charter School Laws: A Progress Report"
- Arizona Republic: "State's rules stifle charter schools, threaten success"
-Harvard University: "Achievement in Charter Schools and Regular Public Schools in the United States: Understanding the Differences"
The Phoenix-Mesa metro area just topped the Entrepreneurial Hot Cities ranking published by Entrepreneur.com and the National Policy Research Center thanks to new-business growth.
That hard-earned ranking, along with the 12,350 new companies started by Valley entrepreneurs last year, suggests that the recommendations of urban expert Joel Kotkin are on target. Kotkin argues that the best path toward continued economic growth is keeping our taxes low and regulations light. He also points out that despite the billions of dollars poured into the Phoenix downtown in the 1990s, the downtown actually lost population.
Even in the Valley as a whole, there's room for improvement. Small firms represent 97 percent of Arizona's businesses. Rather than funnel taxpayer money into favored businesses and pet projects under the pretense of job creation, the Valley should do what it can to make starting and running small businesses as easy as possible.
As an example, outdated licenses like the one currently required for auctioning could be eliminated. In today's eBay world, auctioning is an important part of many people's livelihoods. Another smart step would be doing away with the protectionist use tax, a combined 7.4 percent, which penalizes businesses for using out of city or out of state suppliers. These and similar measures will keep the fires of entrepreneurship alight.
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