More Delaware politicians Line up to Attack School Choice

The latest attack on allowing parents the freedom to choose the best education for their children comes from the mayor of Laurel and the transportation director for the Laurel School District, John Schwed. In the Nov. 21-27, 2013 edition of the Laurel Star he wrote:

Our State leaders have created a mess in public education. I recommend we wipe the slate clean and start all over. Why do I write this? Well, I believe by pandering to special interests: the Federal Government, unhappy parents, business, clever vocational school district administrators, etc., we have created a separate and unequal educational system for Delaware’s school children. That inequality is rooted not in racial segregation but in economic and social segregation.

A review of Department of Education (DOE) data indicates there are 16 charter schools in New Castle County, four in Kent County and one in Sussex County. I don’t believe New Castle County parents are more educationally enlightened than the people in Sussex County, so there must be some other good reason for their existence. If the Legislature believes charters are a good thing, then let’s make all schools charter schools. Oh? Perhaps that can’t be done because, quote: “traditional schools” have a different student population to serve, perhaps different governmental rules and regulations that are not there for charter schools? DOE also has an Office of Charter Schools funded by the Legislature. Now I read that some want this office removed from and made independent of DOE. Sounds like that would take charter schools one more step to becoming what they should be — private schools.

If that’s what those parents want, charter schools should not be funded by taxpayers, but by the parents, just like those parents who pay to send their children to tuition-based private schools. I am not in Rep. Kowalko’s district, but he really gets it, and I applaud his recent opposition to more funding for charter schools.

Choice, another well intentioned debacle, is now being made as easy as buying something online at Amazon.com. The American public school system was set up decades ago with school districts. This system served America well for decades. We educated generals and admirals who won wars, inventors who gave us ingenious inventions, and entrepreneurs who created very successful businesses. As a minimum there should be some financial penalty for parents who choose to send their children out of their home school district.

Teacher evaluations are the latest dustup. I applaud those school boards who are fighting back against the Component 5 section of teacher evaluations. Evaluating teacher performance on student test performance is ridiculous and unfair. I wonder if doctors would like it if we based their pay on how well a patient responds to their treatment.

Members of the State Legislature get their pay regardless of whether we agree or disagree with their votes. True, we can end their pay by voting them out of office, but while in office, everyone gets paid. The Legislature got into this because they took Federal money and it came with strings attached. Maybe you should send the money back and say, “No thanks, we are going to control our own destiny.” School administrators have rated teachers successfully for years. They know who is doing the job well and who is not.

The big elephant in the educational room that no one really wants to talk about is what has changed since WWII. Is it really the teachers or is it society and the students who have changed? I believe public education has become the whipping boy for society’s failures. Until our State and Federal government invest more energy to strengthen families we will continue to have problems with student performance. Until then government will continue to “reform public schools” as a way of showing a frustrated public they are doing something. We will get more special programs run by high paid consultants. We will get more experimentation with different techniques, but we won’t get financial support for sustainability. Districts in financially depressed areas of the State need money to hire additional resources who can provide the early intervention for students who need help and are not getting it at home. It cannot be done by the classroom teacher alone given the present state of the student population.

Now for Sussex ­— my home county. Years ago, clever administrators at Sussex Tech figured out a way to save their school from educational irrelevancy by converting a vocational high school to a comprehensive high school. The Legislature bought their story, allowed them to make a significant change, and then opened the financial floodgates. Now everyone in Sussex County pays a school tax for that school but has no say in whether their child gets to attend there. The school has great facilities, a 100-person band that they rightfully brag about going to national and international events and a host of other extras — all paid for by a willing State Legislature. The school never has to go to referendum like the people of the Laurel School District. 

State Legislature, level the playing field. Fund all public schools at the same per pupil level both for operational and capital expenditures regardless of where the student lives and repeal the Sussex Tech tax.

Business likes to hide behind the “there are no trained workers available statement.” I say to Delaware business, not DEDO, show me the jobs. What are you doing to create jobs?

I see one new business locating in Seaford and I see a brewery that’s expanding. That’s a good start but here in Western Sussex, we need thousands more at more than minimum wage to lift our people up.

I see many minimum wage jobs, but I don’t see the jobs requiring the skills that Delaware business likes to tout. The DuPont Family was a leader in making this State what is. It is time for the present DuPont leadership to rise to the current challenges and provide some new jobs throughout the State, not just New Castle County. Take the Seaford Nylon Plant back from Koch Industries, turn it into the DuPont Business Park and encourage other industries to locate there. Make washing machines, solar panels, wind turbine parts, or something to support the new budding aerospace business at Wallops Island.

State leaders, throw all of this alphabet soup back in the pot. Enact the Educational Reform Act of 2014 and level the playing field for all of Delaware’s school children.

Faced with declining or leveling revenues from the three casinos due to competition and a sluggish economy, perhaps it is time to review how to best spend the State’s educational dollars. Let the debate begin.”

 

Very clearly, Mayor Schwed (who had a note in the paper saying this letter was written asa  citizen and not in his official capacity as mayor) is going to be someone who will work hard to prevent parents from being able to choose the best schools for their children. Here are some facts for the mayor:

In regards to average SAT scores of students per district planning on attending college, Laurel School District is 14th of 19 (Seaford is 18th) with average scores of 1222 (out of 2400). That is 22% below what is considered a good score of 1550 to be enrolled in college, and 60 points below the state average (though Red Clay SD uses one of their charter schools to boost their numbers). Who would be the top performing district without that charter school being counted? Sussex Tech (average score 1413), which the mayor wants to eliminate by repealing their tax base.

The Laurel School District spends about $15,642 per student per year with $11,419 coming from the state. That is 13th overall. Seaford spends $16,378, which is 12th overall but is second to last in average SAT scores. 29% of education funding in Delaware comes from local taxpayers. Most private schools cost much less than this. Tall Oaks Classical School in New Castle, which has the highest average SAT scores of any individual school in the state, costs less than $5,000 per student per year and has about 30% of its enrollees come from low-income family backgrounds.

Based on the state’s K-12 numbers, Delaware will have more high school dropouts than college graduates, and roughly an even number of students who drop out or are suspended or expelled from school as students who enter college, regardless of whether they finish or not.

In Delaware “The education finance system is simply not organized with the goal of knowing whether how money spent produces results or whether alternate allocations of resources would increase student achievement. Instead, the system is organized around counting kids. District finance personnel focus on managing unit counts (the codified system for counting students in districts and school buildings) in order to maximize revenues.”

This is  not a CRI quote. This is a quote from the Delaware Public Policy Institute Project: “Evaluating the Effectiveness of  Financing Delaware’s Public Education”.

Conclusion? Rather than just throw more money into Delaware’s public schools, Laurel included, Mayor Schwed ought to be supportive of efforts to control education spending to reasonable levels for taxpayers, where the money is accounted for and used wisely, and for efforts for parents who are unhappy with what is being offered in a below average district even by Delaware standards to go elsewhere. This will not destroy the Laurel schools, but it will require them to evaluate how resources are being allocated and make the schools more competitive with other schools, including Sussex Tech.

 

 

 

 

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