Wednesday, September 15, 2004


There are a lot of things to like about the radio broadcast, “Savage Nation” and its star, Michael Savage. He gets right down to it, doesn’t he? But here’s something I like even better from Nebraska’s own Savage -- former State Board of Education member Rick Savage of Bellevue. He’s got an idea about education that gets right down to it, too.

The retired military officer, now a self-employed landlord, believes we need to put control of education directly into the hands of parents, and foster healthy, much-needed competition among public schools.

His plan is targeted toward allowing parents to make the determination of what constitutes a ‘’good school,’’ not leave that important definition to bureaucrats and politicians.
Savage is calling for totally open enrollment in Nebraska. It would be very simple:
Parents would be free to enroll a child in a school district anywhere in the state. The money would follow the child. Presumably, there would be a flat, per-pupil allowance in state tax money determined for each child that could be used in any district in the state.
Right now, Savage points out, schools can reject a child ‘’if they do not have room,’’ but that gives ultimate control to the schools, not the parents.
His way, if enough parents were not satisfied with a particular school, the school would be closed down. But it could be reopened under the management of the school system which gained enrollment as a result of the parents’ choice to “disenroll” their child from that school.
For instance, if a lot of inner-city parents unhappy with the Omaha Public Schools because their children are not literate or numerate decided to enroll their children in Westside, then Westside would be required to take them with the corresponding per-pupil amount of state aid. If enough parents moved their kids to that district, Westside could open a branch in some of OPS's buildings, Savage proposes. The idea is that the money and the space have already been provided by taxpayers for the children; how that money and space is utilized should be a function of how the parents WANT it to be utilized, for their children’s benefit.
Yes, Savage knows the teachers’ union and school administrators would be up in arms because for the first time, there’d be a “smoking gun” to tie enrollment to how good a job they do, or don’t do.
Yes, transportation would be a hassle.
Yes, there would be instability in school systems in everything from hiring to purchasing, since they wouldn’t know for sure how many kids to plan for, from year to year.
Yes, special ed would be a headache, as it already is, and this radical change might be the time to bite the bullet and switch to full state funding of special ed, to keep it from totally burdening local schools into oblivion.
And yes, the popular schools might rage against this, because if they were forced to add more struggling students from low-performing schools to the “no-brainer” types of kids they mostly have now, it might make them have to work harder.
Eureka! As Savage points out, ‘’competition almost always improves the quality of anything offered to the public.’’

The longtime education advocate has watched various school-reform fads and programs start up and fade away over the years. Finally, he says, he realized that what’s needed is far more than tweaks.

‘’We need something more fundamental,’’ he said. ‘’We need power to the parents.’’

Could it work? Or is he just being a silly Savage?

I tell you what: it would be a beast to implement. But the results? I think they’d be great. We’d all go wild!

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