Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Is the ‘Learning Community’
Just a Smokescreen For Higher Spending?

There’s a telling sentence in an article in the July / August American Enterprise magazine that should give pause to anyone who’s positive or neutral about the new “learning community” that’s being forged in the metropolitan Omaha area.

It makes a good case that the push toward centralized school management and school infrastructure that’s more removed from the voting public is a ruse to hide increasingly out-of-control school spending. That spending is caused by collusion -- so-called “middle-class racketeering” -- between educrats and self-serving parents and politicians on school boards and other decision-making bodies.

Written by Lewis M. Andrews, executive director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy in Hartford, Conn., the article contends that spending for special nonacademic programs in schools crowds out time for the 3 R’s in an era in which property tax collections nationwide have increased 23% from 2000 to 2004. It’s the old story: spending more . . . getting less.

The rationale for the “learning community” in Omaha is supposedly to be to achieve “racial equity” in schools. None of those involved in crafting the way the funding and management structures will work has promised that academic achievement of inner-city and minority kids will become equalized with white suburban kids. All they’re saying is that resources will be more “equitable.”

Translation: it’s a shell game . . . salaries and benefits will rise for educrats . . . the tax bite will get deeper and more painful . . . it’ll be much more difficult for voters and taxpayers to discern waste, fraud, mismanagement and corruption or force spending cuts . . . and poor kids will be no better off.

The article states: “The true costs of suburban education are obscured in many parts of the country by regionalized school systems, which tap a labyrinth of funding sources, including state income taxes, state and local sales taxes, casino gaming licenses, and lottery profits.”

The article, “A Coming Crisis in Suburban Schooling?” contends that schools are creating a shell game of complicated funding structures and redefining “quality education” as an increasingly broad array of nonacademic activities for both kids and families: subsidized day care, sports, subsidized summer camps, food courts, stadiums, observatories and computers and video equipment much costlier than private-sector adults are using.

The purpose: not to produce better-educated kids, but to “groom” local parents and politicians to keep the gravy train flowing for the educrats.

What’s the answer? On this Fourth of July, you’ll be happy to hear that it’s the same answer that’s always been true in these United States. Grassroots activism: shedding the light of day on reality to wake up the public. To arms! Or, in this case, to computer terminals and the Internet.

According to the article, taxpayer groups in Maine, Ohio, New Jersey and Texas have gotten property-tax reduction measures on the ballot, and forced politicians in Nevada, Iowa and Indiana to establish commissions on tax reductions.

Meanwhile, the legislatures in South Carolina and Virginia are considered annual levy caps, and in Connecticut, less than half of the school district budgets put before the public in referenda have been approved on the first vote. Note that in that state, the number of town taxpayer groups doubled from 25 to 50 in recent years, with increasingly sophisticated and effective websites, spreadsheets, policy papers and PR expertise.

Interestingly, the article suggests that an electorate with more taxpayers who don’t have school-age children is much harder to manipulate into overspending than a more “captive” audience, whose children are enrolled in the public schools and supposedly will benefit from the increased spending. So ironically, the “learning community” in Omaha might shift the balance of power away from suburban educators and their “insider parent” partners in a way that might benefit children as a whole. But that’s doubtful: the “learning community” is being designed to be well-insulated from accountability and influence from the general public, regardless of what that public might want. The only answer appears to be to stop it in its tracks.

Is it too late to stop the “learning community”? Not at all. Will anyone come forward and lead the charge to stop it? Doubtful, unless articles like this one are sent to every decision-maker and voter in the state. Otherwise, the “fix” appears to be on . . . and this is one that not even Ernie Chambers saw coming.

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