Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Need an education reform plan? Steal this one


By Maggie Thurber | Franklin Center School Choice Fellow

The Wisconsin Federation for Children, the state-based affiliate of the American Federation for Children, wants you to steal their education plan.

In a press release they write:

“Recognizing it takes “hundreds of hours” to draft original plans, today the Wisconsin Federation for Children offered a “ready to plagiarize” education reform agenda. Any candidate is free to copy “limited passages” or adopt the entire plan word-for-word.”
You see, there’s been a lot of news coverage about Mary Burke, the Democratic candidate for governor in Wisconsin, copying large portions of her jobs plan from other candidates for governor.

This is certainly a clever way to take advantage of the news cycle, but it also gives candidates good ideas for education reform.

Calling it a public service, they present their four-point plan as a way to empower parents with quality educational options. They even provided a dotted line interspersed with scissors to make it easier to ‘cut out’ the points and carry them with you.

The copyright free, open source, public domain points are:

  • A child's ZIP code or family’s income should not determine their ability to have educational options. Today, tens of thousands of families are currently able to choose a school that meets their child’s needs but more needs to be done. That’s why I will put children and parents ahead of union bosses and I will lift the cap on the statewide parental choice program.
  • We need to break down the barriers that deny students with special needs access to quality schools. I vow to provide special needs students in choice and charter schools with equitable funding.
  • Because I am committed to education reform and believe that the powerful, entrenched special interests who support the status quo stand in the way of innovation, I pledge to expand the number of quality schools by allowing the University of Wisconsin and Technical College Systems to authorize new charter schools.
  • We have a responsibility to educate the public, but the brick and mortar of the building that education takes place is not the paramount concern. Because all of schools are a vital part of the educational landscape here, I will adopt a parent-friendly, comprehensive academic accountability plan for all publicly-funded students whether they are in traditional public schools, independent charter schools or choice schools.

There’s not much to dislike in the plan. Who could argue against equitable funding for special needs students, or expanding quality schools, or accountability for all students regardless of which school – or type of school – they attend?

Perhaps “union bosses” and “entrenched special interests” might object, since they are singled out as entities that aren’t working for the best interests of children, but their own. But education should be “for the children” and not for others who would hope to carve out more money or power for themselves.

So parents, educators, candidates, school board members, school choice advocates, feel free to use all or any part of this terrific plan. And be sure to thank the Wisconsin Federation of Children for doing all the work and sharing it with you.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Who owns the equipment in charter schools? Ohio Supreme Court will decide


By Maggie Thurber | Franklin Center School Choice Fellow

Photo by Derek Bruff
via Flickr Creative Commons
Who owns the equipment in charter schools?

We’re talking the computers, desks, supplies – all the things that go into the structure of a charter school. It seems like the common sense answer would be the school.

But most charter schools in Ohio are public, which means they’re funded with public dollars much the same way as traditional public schools.

In which case, your answer to the question would probably be “the taxpayer, ultimately.”

And again, that makes sense.

But there’s an odd twist to this question and it’s playing out in the Ohio Supreme Court.

You see, there are management companies who are contracted to run the day-to-day operations of charter schools, and when you add these private companies into the mix, things get a bit muddled.

The case is Hope Academy Broadway Campus et al. v. White Hat Management, LLC, et al. and oral arguments were heard Tuesday.

The case pits 10 charter schools against White Hat Management.

According to the schools, White Hat refused to allow their financials to be inspected by the schools who wanted to see how the money paid by the state was used. The schools sued, asking to recover roughly $100 million that was spent on property and equipment.

White Hat maintains that it owns the equipment, but offered to let the schools keep the desks, computers and other items if they paid the current value for them.

The trial court and the 10th District Court of Appeals agreed with White Hat, saying that the public money paid by the state on a per-pupil basis became private funds as soon as White Hat, the private company, received them.

Just like when the state pays a private contractor to pave a road, the public funds are no longer public, though there is an obligation for the contractor to actually complete the project according to the terms of the contract. But how the contractor spends those specific dollars is not public.

The relationship with the charters is the same, White Hat attorneys argue. They say White Hat is a private entity performing a service for the public entity.

But the charters say White Hat is acting like the “functional equivalent” of a public entity because it is accepting and using public dollars to perform the function of a public school. They maintain that White Hat was supposed to act as the purchasing agent for the schools and since the company is just the agent, the money remains public and the purchased items are owned by the school.

The charters also say that because it is public money, it can at least be audited. And there is some case law in Ohio that says when a private entity receives a substantial amount of public funds, it can be audited, but only when they are serving as the functional equivalent of a public office.

"Would you agree that White Hat is the functional equivalent of a public office?" Chief Justice Maureen O’Conner asked during the oral arguments.

"If you're doing a public function with public funds, aren't you the functional equivalent of that public official?” Justice BillO’Neill asked.

No, White Hat attorneys argued. They were a private company providing a service to the charter schools which are the public entity.


The Supreme Court will decide – and the decision will have implications for more than just the 10 charter schools in the suit.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Corporate tax credits mean more school choice for parents


By Maggie Thurber | Franklin Center School Choice Fellow

Two students whose parents took advantage
of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.
Photo courtesy of Step Up For Children
There are corporate tax credits for all kinds of things – from making a film in a certain location to providing health insurance for employees. But a corporate tax credit for school scholarships?

Yep – in Florida.  And why not?

The Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship Program grants corporations a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donations to scholarship funding organizations. The Florida legislature created the program in 2001 as a way to give low-income families a choice in their children’s education.

Under the program, corporations can redirect up to 100 percent of their corporate income, insurance premium and direct-pay sales taxes, 90 percent of their alcohol beverage excise, and/or 50 percent of their oil and gas severance tax liabilities to non-profit scholarship organizations like Step Up For Students.

Scholarships are for kindergarten through 12th grade students who qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch program.  It can be used to provide tuition assistance to one of nearly 1,500 participating private schools or $500 to help cover transportation costs to an out-of-district public school.

The program was expanded in 2010 to allow more participation by students through an increase in the eligibility thresholds and by increasing the maximum amount that can be allocated. It also indexed the scholarship amount to public school spending.

According to the Step Up For Students website, the bill granting the expansion was approved by a bipartisan majority, which included “nearly half the Democrats, a majority of the Black Caucus and all but two in the Hispanic Caucus.”

It’s not just another voucher program – there’s accountability with it.

All students in grades 3 through 10 must take a state-approved test and a University of Florida research team reports test gains in reading and math. Schools that receive more than $250,000 in scholarship monies must also file a financial report with the state.

In 10 years, the number of participants has grown 643 percent – from 10,549 in the 2004-05 school year to 67,800 in the 2014-15 school year. And 54 percent of those students are from single-parent households.

The majority of the students are minorities and “tend to be among the lowest-performing students in their prior school,” regardless of how well their prior school did in overall performance.

Sounds like a good deal – right?

Not to everyone – or rather, not to those who gets money for public education.

The Florida Education Association, the Florida School Boards Association and the state Parent Teacher Association filed a lawsuit against the program on Aug. 28.

They claim the tax credit program is unconstitutional because it funnels taxpayer money into private and religious schools, which is similar to the complaint made in North Carolina.

And like in the North Carolina case, where a judge ruled the program unconstitutional, hypocrisy abounds.

In 2006, the Florida Opportunity Scholarship Program was overturned by the courts. That program granted students vouchers from the state so they could attend private schools. The court ruled the Florida Constitution prohibits using “public monies to fund a private alternative to the public education system.”

But unlike the Opportunity Scholarship Program, this isn’t money from the state – it’s a tax credit just like for contributions to churches or food banks or other non-profits.

No one claims those organizations are publicly-funded – why is the Florida Tax Credit scholarship any different?

Interestingly, the organizations waited until the FTC Scholarship was expanded to higher incomes. They didn’t have a problem with the program when it was just low-income, low-performing students.

Florida Senate President Don Gaetz issued a statement:

“When Florida Tax Credit Scholarships were available only to the very poor, who disproportionately are minority families, and other students with unique needs, the School Boards Association didn’t challenge their constitutionality. These students often bring more challenges to the classroom and require extra help, more individualized instruction and additional resources. It is only now, when the eligibility for scholarships has been expanded and when less-impoverished students can participate that the School Board Association has discovered its constitutional indignation."

But it doesn’t look good for the opponents of school choice.

A 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn said that tax-credited contributions are not government expenditures.

“When Arizona taxpayers choose to contribute to (School Tuition Organizations), they spend their own money, not money the state has collected from respondents and other taxpayers,” the majority opinion read. “…the tax credit system is implemented by private action and with no state intervention. … Like contributions that lead to charitable tax deductions, contributions yielding (School Tuition Organization) tax credits are not owed to the state and, in fact, pass directly from taxpayers to private organizations.”

And it’s clearly a popular tax option, with more than $88 million pledged so far in 2014.

Ultimately, it’s all about the money. The organizations and entities that receive tax funds don’t want to lose funding – even when it’s funding they wouldn’t otherwise receive.

As for the children?

They’re just pawns in the struggle and whatever education best suits them be damned.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Debunking the myths about charter schools


By Maggie Thurber | Franklin Center School Choice Fellow

Graphic courtesy of National Alliance for
 Public Charter schools
Students around the nation have begun their 2014-15 school year and many of them are at charters schools – a school of choice.

But even though charter schools have been around for a while now, there are quite a number of myths about them that deserve to be debunked.

The biggest – and some think the most important one – is that charter schools are not public.

Actually, they are. They’re public schools, the same as traditional school districts operate, though they have been released from certain requirements in order to provide innovation and creativity in the way they teach.

They are not private schools either.

And despite what you may have heard otherwise, the support for charters is growing.

According to a recent PDK/Gallup poll, “(s)even of 10 Americans support public charter schools, particularly when they’re described as schools that can operate independently and free of regulations.”

That’s huge!

But there’s a problem.

PDK/Gallup conducts this polling annually, so they’re able to track opinions over time. Concerned that the description “schools that can operate independently and free of regulations” might be presenting a bias in the question, they decided to ask the question without the descriptor this year.

What they found shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Support for charter schools declined when no descriptor was included, leading the pollsters to conclude that “(m)ost Americans misunderstand charter schools.” And it declined in all groups asked: nationally, public school parents, Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

The poll also tried to determine what, exactly, the participants know about charter schools.

In 2006, 53 percent thought that charter schools were not public. In 2014, 50 percent think they are, but 48 percent still believe they aren’t.

In 2006, 50 percent thought the charter schools could teach religion. By 2014, the number who thought that was true was still high at 48 percent.

In 2006, 60 percent thought charter schools could charge tuition. In 2014, 57 percent still believe that.

Perhaps the most startling result was that 68 percent think charter schools can select students on the basis of their abilities. This is up from 58 percent in 2006.

None of those are true. Charter schools are public, they can’t teach religion, they don’t charge tuition and they cannot discriminate.

Based upon these results, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools decided to embark on a campaign, The Truth About Charters, to help educate the public and, hopefully, see the results of their efforts in future PDK/Gallup polls.

Katherine Bathgate, the director of communications and marketing for NAPCS, said she wished the misconceptions about charter schools were not as high as they were.

“That’s why we’re doing the work we are now,” she said. “It’s why we’re trying to get the word out about charter schools and how they function in the community.”

She’s careful to always refer to them as public charter schools, not just ‘charter schools’ to help address the false idea that they are not public schools and not private schools.

She said she is baffled as to why some believe public charters can discriminate in their selection of students.

“Some inaccurately claim that charter schools can skim or pick the best students,” she said. “They’re tuition free, must accept all students and if more students apply than they have seats for, they must conduct a lottery to see who gets to attend.”

She speculated that perhaps it’s an excuse for why public charters are performing better in general, “because it can’t be the curriculum, structure, or anything else that’s different,” she said.

Except that’s exactly what’s different and enables public charters to tailor their education to the individual needs of the student.

But do they all perform better?

Not all of them, just like not all traditional public schools are bad, she explained, but a great many do.

“Since 2010 there have been numerous research studies and all but one shows that charter school students outperform their public school peers,” Bathgate said. “Sometimes public charters do serve a larger percent of disadvantaged students, especially those who have achievement gaps – sometimes two to three years behind. Data shows that they’re able to close that gap.”

And what about those low-performing charters? In Ohio, some claim that parents are pulling their kids out of good traditional public schools only to send them to a bad public charter.

Bathgate thinks parents should make responsible decisions about the best educational opportunity for their child, but thinks it’s odd that so many worry about poorly-performing public charters, but not poorly-performing traditional public schools.

What about the parents who have no choice but to send their child to a D- or F-graded traditional school just because it’s the only option in their zip code?

“We advocate for strong oversight and accountability – freedom and autonomy in exchange for results,” she said. “And if that’s not being met, it needs to be addressed immediately for the sake of the students. I think it’s important to judge how a school is performing overall, but public charter schools are a school of choice and parents should have the right and opportunity to (find) the public charter school that fits the schedule or the interest of their student.”

The bottom line, she said, is parental choice and the best education for the child.

“Want to make sure that students go to a well-performing school,” she said, “but in the big picture, want to raise the bar for both charters and traditional public schools.”

That’s a goal everyone should be able to agree upon.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Choosing your words wisely - a lesson from #Dream14


The cover of new survey
by Reason-Rupe.
One of the things emphasized during social media panels at the Americans for Prosperity Defending the American Dream Summit was the choice of words.

Liberal, conservative, progressive, limited government, big government, socialism, capitalism, fair share, greater good, individual responsibility...

When you hear these words you immediately have an image of something - either good or bad depending upon if you believe in the concept or if you're going by what you've heard or associate with the term.

The other thing was the difference between preaching to the choir and trying to persuade or influence others.

Too often on the right side of the political spectrum, we are preaching to the choir and using terms they like, or ones that appealed to us as we formed our political opinions.

That's okay - and something we need.

But if we're trying to persuade others, we have to understand how they interpret words and messages and then use the phrases that will resonate with them.

So this post is definitely preaching to the choir about how to change our language and our phrases in order to appeal to those who might be receptive to a conservative philosophy if we weren't using words that immediately turned them away.

A recent Reason-Rupe survey on millennials is a good place to start.

Millennials are 18-29 years old and, according to the survey, "trust neither political party, are social liberals and fiscal centrists, and are supportive of both business and government. They favor free markets, but aren’t sure whether markets or government best drive income mobility."

They're less partisan and more receptive to a non-traditional candidate. They don't trust either party, especially when it comes to issues of privacy. They overwhelmingly (78 percent) think the budget deficit and national debt are are major problems and a majority believe that businesses pay too much or just the right amount of taxes.

As the Daily Signal explains:

Millennials say they prefer a “larger government” that provides more services. They don’t tend to think of “big government” leading to higher taxes and heavier regulation. Once the possibility of higher taxes to support a larger government is mentioned, though, millennials’ support shifts.


The survey also says "millennials believe in self-determination and endorse the values underpinning the free market system."

If you ask them to choose between capitalism and socialism, only 52 percent will pick capitalism. But if you ask them to choose between a free-market economy and a government managed economy, the support for free-markets jumps to 64 percent.

The survey shows two critical things:

1. They either don't know or don't care about various terms and what they mean, which is scary in and of itself.

2. They do understand concepts and are more likely to align with conservative economic principles so long as they are phrased to reflect the concept.

Another important fact from the survey: they vote.

As the Daily Signal explains:

"The 18- to 29-year-old demographic played a crucial role in the 2008 and 2012 elections. These millennials were instrumental in electing Barack Obama to the presidency not once, but twice. In 2008, Obama won 66 percent of voting millennials; in 2012, he captured 67 percent.

Emily Ekins, polling director for Reason Foundation, says that had those ages 18 to 29 not voted in 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney would be in the White House."

This is good news for those of us on the conservative side, but it means we have to change how we characterize our positions if we expect to reach this key demographic.

But it's not just the millennials. Too many of our friends and neighbors are just not into politics. It's something they think about only in passing or when they go to vote. They often have the same reaction as millennials - or they tune out when they hear certain words or phrases and never get to hear the message behind the language.

Bottom line: if we are going to share the message, we have to change our words.




Thursday, September 04, 2014

Hypocrisy in the NC school choice lawsuit


By Maggie Thurber | Franklin Center School Choice Fellow

A North Carolina judge has decided that the state’s school choice scholarship is unconstitutional.

Of course the case is being appealed as is the permanent injunction which would put an immediate stop to the program and kick some kids out of their chosen schools.

But what’s unusual about this case is the hypocrisy by those who sued to stop the program.

You see, this school choice scholarship allows kids to attend private schools – including religious ones.

In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly created the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) and provided $10.8 million out of the general fund budget to cover scholarships of up to $4,200 for eligible children so they could attend a private school.

There were more than 5,500 applicants for the OSP so the state held a lottery in June to determine who would get the scholarships.

The fact that there wasn’t enough money to meet the need says a lot.

Applicants had to list the school they wanted to attend. Of the 446 identified, 322 were religious schools and 117 were independent schools.

According to the lawsuit, in 32 of the state’s 100 counties, the only private schools are religious ones, and some of them will only admit students of a particular religion. As of July, the 10 schools with the most OSP enrollees were religious ones.

And that’s the problem.

Certainly, there are complaints that some of the private schools are not accredited by the state board of education and don’t follow the same requirements as public schools when it comes to credentials or degrees for teachers and principals. But part of the appeal of private schools is that they don't have to follow one-size-fits-all criteria.

True, the state constitution does have specific language about public education. But the legislature replaced the $10.8 million it originally deducted from the public school budget in order to negate the constitutional challenge about funding public education.

The bigger issue is religion. And that’s where the hypocrisy comes in.

You see, according to some, the state is funding religion with public tax dollars and that’s a no-no to them.

Except that’s not really true. Technically, the money is going to the child – or rather, the child’s parents – in order to give back to them the state tax dollars they pay toward their child’s education. The parent then chooses how to best spend that money and, for some, that’s in a private religious school.

Karen Duquette, vice president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, said the goal of the program is for every child to have the education that best fits their individual needs. She noted that a similar program for children with disabilities hasn’t been challenged in court and it operates the same way as the OSP.

The intent, she said, is to start educational choice with an underserved community.

“If you like your school, you don’t have to leave it,” she explained. “But if that school isn’t working for you, without some form of scholarship opportunity, you’re stuck in that school. Our obligation is to help every child, whether low income or with disabilities, so every child has access to the education that’s best for them.”

So you’ve got parents receiving funds from the state and then choosing how best to spend those funds and some of that spending happens to be at a religious institution.

How is that any different from food stamps?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides funds for parents to purchase food. No one tells the parent they can’t exercise their choice and purchase junk food.

And what about TANF – Temporary Assistance to Needy Families?

Under that program, the government hands out cash and the family can spend it in any way that benefits the child, including the parent’s transportation and employment expenses. A parent could choose to use those funds for costs associated with a religious vacation bible school, if they wanted.

Choices abound everywhere. These are just two examples where parents get to choose how their spend government subsidies or handouts based upon their own judgment as to what is best, including religion-related activities.

But no one sues over those decisions, even though some of them are more harmful to children than sending them to a religiously-sponsored grade school.

That’s hypocrisy.

Either parents get to decide or they don’t. And if they get to decide how they spend their SNAP and TANF funds, they should get to decide how they spend their education funds as well.

Fortunately for the children – it’s “for the children” after all – already enrolled for this school year, almost all of the schools will allow them to stay while the permanent injunction against the scholarship program is appealed, Duquette said. She hoped the North Carolina Supreme Court would quickly overrule the permanent injunction as they did the temporary injunction that was previously issued.

The unconstitutionality ruling is also being appealed.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

#Dream14: be kind and show grace to win the hearts of others


I’ve attended various blogger and center-right conferences for a number of years now and, among other things, they were focused on ‘how-to’ and engaging those of similar thinking to promote core principles of free markets, the Constitution and the ideals of our Founding Fathers.

While there is plenty of that at the Americans for Prosperity Defending the American Dream Summit in Dallas, the new message is that preaching to the choir isn’t going to advance the message or persuade those who either disagree or are uninformed and whose hearts and minds we need to win.

In fact, overwhelmingly, the discussion in sessions and speeches is that techniques that work on conservatives are likely to backfire when talking to those who are receptive to conservative principles but are predisposed to reject the buzzwords usually associated with them.

The Leadership Institute hosted a media training session where they helped people who have never been on camera – or those who are finding themselves being asked to speak to the media – understand how to better communicate their points.

They gave some instructions, video tapped attendees in an interview, then shared the recording and offered critiques. A key point was to be genuine, smile and let people get to know you because likability is more important than talking points.

But another thing participants were told is to avoid catch phrases with general audiences and tailor the choice of words so the people who are seeing the interview don’t immediately tune out. For instance, “big government” is fine with conservative audiences, but “bureaucrats in Washington” is probably better for general audiences.

Guy Benson, second from the left
In one of the general sessions on building your brand, Guy Benson, senior political editor at Townhall.com, said to work hard and “be nice.” Attendees were also told that they should be the same person online as they are in person and to allow people to see more about them than just their political opinions.

In another social media session about finding followers, Dana Loesch said to act with grace. She warned the standing room only crowd not to become what they hate.

“Social media is a form of journalism,” she said. “Journalism is a practice. Anyone can do it. But even though we are not burdened by the same constraints as traditional media, we still have a responsibility to do it right.”
Standing room only crowd at one breakout session.

She said showing grace to others in our interactions is the pathway to winning the hearts of those who are persuadable.

Loesch also emphasized that citizen journalism is not a gated community, no matter how much the main stream media and certain politicians believe. “Citizen media is the new minuteman,” she said. “The person you convert is one more person you don’t have to fight,” she added, saying you can still disagree politely and plant the seeds of change.

And she noted it was especially important to show grace to those on the same side, even when none is given.
But, she warned, “Don’t mistake finding common ground with compromise. You don’t compromise the truth.”

Dr. Melissa Clouthier instructed attendees to remember what they’re fighting for. “Remember the big picture,” she said, “and be sure your actions move you toward the right ends. We’re not fighting each other. We’re fighting an ideology that is absolutely destructive, not just in the U.S., but everywhere.”

Panelists Carol Wehe, Erik Telford, Dr. Melissa Clouthier
and Dana Loesch (seated left to right)
She said the time is ripe to persuade others.

“There is a deep sense of abiding shame across America because they voted for Obama – twice,” she said. This presents a real opportunity to reach people with a message that resonates, especially through pop culture.

She said politics is downstream from culture so understanding and knowing today’s culture is a great way to start a conversation with someone who might not otherwise be receptive to what is traditionally a political message. The new movie “The Giver” is a great example of something many are enjoying and it can be discussed with anyone, regardless of their politics. And since it has a great conservative message, it can be used to introduce conservative principles outside the political realm.

Even Arthur Brooks, president of American Enterprise Institute and one of the keynote speakers during the genera session, followed the same theme.

He said an Associated Press poll showed that only 16 percent of Americans think the Republican Party is compassionate – and that’s a problem.

He noted that a majority of people voted for Obama because they thought he cared about people like them. “You can’t win when think you don’t care about them,” he said.

Arthur Brooks during his stop at
the Blogger Lounge before his
address during the general session.
“I’m a conservative because I believe in lifting people up,” Brooks said. “Conservative values are the only values that give people dignity. Capitalism has lifted millions of people across the world out of poverty.”

But he said, conservative are good at explaining what they’re fighting against.

“The trouble is,” he said, “people don’t want to know what you’re fighting against, they want to know who you are fighting for. Until we convince them we’re fighting for them, we’ll lose.”

He said it was a moral obligation to fight for those who have been left behind.

“They might not vote like us or like us – it doesn’t matter,” Brooks said. “Patriots and leaders fight for everyone no matter how they vote. Stop fighting against things. Fight for people.”

As a result of this training, I expect that many of the grass roots will change their tactics, focusing more on the ‘how’ than the ‘what’ and engaging all people with a refined message that will actually begin to win their hearts – and their minds.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tons of potholes and this is how Toledo spends our road repair money


Around 8:30 a.m. I heard the sound of loud truck backing up. When I investigated, I found it was a city tar truck. It was having problems and around 9-ish a supervisor showed up and managed to get it working.

Probably sounds like a typical day in the City of Toledo Division of Streets, Harbors and Bridges.

Except the street they were getting ready to work on was a dead-end street in Point Place, used by only 1 household that has a driveway on it.

117th Street as it dead ends at Maumee Bay.
By 9:30, they were finished tarring and putting gravel across this small stretch of road work - and I'd been on the phone with numerous people to complain.

Finished work - isn't it pretty?

It started three years ago when they did the same thing.

I am supposed to be notified by a leaflet or paper at my home. That didn't happen then or now. I was told it was only done every five years. Wrong again.

One problem is that I have to pay for this. The cost is assessed against my property taxes and I have no say in the matter.

My neighbors across the street are great, but they're the only ones who use this "paper street" (according to the city). They pay 1/3 of what I do because their address is on 307th, even though there is no access to their property from that street. Technically, it's frontage for me and a side street for them, which means I pay 2/3 of the cost of the treatment.

My neighbor's "front" yard at the corner of 307th and 117th.

But the worst part about all this is the complete waste of resources.

The work crew, not including an
engineering intern, the crew supervisor
and the tar truck.

The city has no money - it can't balance the operating budget without raiding, over the past several years, nearly $1 million from the capital improvements budget.

The capital budget is strapped because of this and, with the extremely harsh winter, we still have major potholes and roads that are in serious need of attention.

With all that, the street resources - equipment, time, personnel - are being used for the dead-end portion of my street to benefit one home.

Wouldn't a better use have been to fix Ottawa River Road (at Suder) between the BP and Sunoco gas stations? Or if that wasn't in the same budgetary fund, any road that you find a nightmare to drive upon?

This is sheer stupidity. We're not called "Little Detroit" for nothing....

And yes, this definitely qualifies for "stuck on stupid" designation.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Ohio extends EdChoice Scholarship deadline

By Maggie Thurber | Franklin Center School Choice Fellow

It’s good news for Ohio parents. The Ohio Department of Education extended the deadline for the EdChoice Scholarship Program until Sept. 5, so there’s still time to apply.

The extension is so the state can recalculate report cards for districts that manipulated student data.

Schools in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo and several other districts throughout the state incorrectly removed some students with absences and low test scores from their required report card calculations. This resulted in better grades for the school’s academic standing.

Following the two-year investigation, the state decided to add back the deleted students and recalculate the report cards for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school year.

This means that some schools that appeared to be performing well might have grades that would allow students to qualify for EdChoice Scholarships. The program provides vouchers to students from underperforming public schools so they can attend participating private schools.

To be eligible, students must meet one of the following conditions:

  • Currently attend an underperforming public school in the district where they reside
  • Currently attend a public school in the district where they reside and be assigned to an underperforming school for the upcoming year
  • Currently attend a charter or community school in lieu of attending the underperforming school where they would normally be assigned
  • Be 5 years old by January 1, 2015 and eligible to enter kindergarten at an underperforming school
  • Be a first-time Ohio school student who would be assigned to one of the underperforming schools.

Additionally, some children may be eligible for the EdChoice expansion scholarship if they are going to enter kindergarten or first grant in Fall 2014 and has a family household income that is at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Children in the Cleveland Municipal School District are not eligible.

The state expects to issue 60,000 scholarships for the 2014-15 school year, not counting the approximately 4,000 expansion scholarships.

As of the end of May, 3,209 students had applied under the voucher expansion and 18,228 had applied for the EdChoice Scholarship.

The first application period was February 1 through May 9, 2014. The vouchers are $4,250 for grades K-8 and $5,000 for high school and they cover tuition only. Students must first apply at the participating private school.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A minimum wage political stunt to make you 'feel' but not 'think'


Last week for Ohio Watchdog, I wrote about the latest political stunt to push a higher federal minimum wage.

It's all about a "Live the Wage" campaign and you can read the details here.

But here's the gist: There are a bunch of people out there - primarily on the left side of the political aisle, along with unions - who want to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

They so want that targeted number that their latest telephone conference to announce a new initiative was held at - wait for it - 10:10 a.m.

The new ploy is called "Live the Wage" and it's similar to the bogus food stamp challenge that was so popular - and so criticized - just a short time ago.

You see, the thinking is that if only members of congress (who earn about $83 per hour) would try to live on a minimum wage, they'd see how hard it is to do. Then, after experiencing that hardship, they'll rush to vote to increase the current rate of $7.25 per hour to $10.10.

Yes - it's all about an appeal to emotion.

Of course it's hard to not have money, especially in a society that is constantly pushing you to buy things.

And no one aspires to be poor. It's not like you wake up one morning and decide your goal is to earn only the minimum wage.

Even people who are currently working at a minimum wage job don't think that's all they'll ever be paid. That's just not in the human psyche.

So with the new campaign, supporters of the increase challenge you to live on $77 per week - after taxes and housing expenses, that is. You see, housing varies so much from city to city that it's just not a doable challenge if you don't take out the average cost.

And $77 is what they say is all that's left to live on if you're a full-time worker earning the federal minimum wage. (Never mind that 21 states, including Ohio, already have a minimum wage greater than that.)

The supporters of the wage hike use a lot of emotionally-charged words in their push. Phrases like 'work hard' and 'play by the rules' and 'support a family.'

Except, as my Ohio Watchdog story shows, most people who get paid the minimum wage are NOT supporting families. In Ohio, less than 2 percent are single parents with children in the home. And the average household income for a person who earns minimum wage is nearly $66,000.

What this means is that the vast majority of people we're supposed to feel sorry for are teens or college students who are working while going to school and living with their parents (at least when they're not living at school, which their parents are most likely paying for as well).

Or they are seniors who are willing to take a minimum wage job to supplement their retirement income, especially because if they earn too much, they could see reductions in that retirement income.

Or they are spouses who are earning extra income to supplement the family budget. This could be because they desperately need that second income - even at minimum wage - or because they want it to pay for items they'd like to have but don't necessarily *need.*

So the emotional appeal - that you need to feel sorry for these poor people who are trying to support a family of four on only $77 a week - falls extremely flat in light of the facts.

But you're not supposed to pay attention to the facts. You're supposed to *feel* - but not *think.*

The other fact you're not supposed to consider is that minimum wage is a starter position, usually reserved for the least-skilled individuals with no experience. Nearly all people who start out making a minimum wage are going to be earning more than that within a year, many in less time than that. Many companies use it as a probationary wage, increasing it slightly after 90-120 day when the new employee has proven their ability to come to work on time and do the job.

And most companies will be a pay increase after one year. Even the woman on the conference call with the politicians when they announced this stunt - the one who was supposed to represent the average worker who just couldn't get by on $77 a week - admitted that she got a raise and was no longer earning just the federal minimum.

But interestingly, no reporters who were on the call with the Live the Wage supporters asked about that.

Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who was on the call, started his week of minimum wage living early. He said it was really tough.

Well no kidding. I don't know how much he's making as head of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, but the last CAP Action Fund president earned $164,000 in 2012 (according to the 990 form the non-profit is required to file). So it's no surprise if he finds it "tough" to go from that to $77 a week - who wouldn't?

You get used to living at a certain income and when your income suddenly drops, you have to make adjustments. You can't eat out as much. You buy cheaper cuts of meat - probably more chicken than beef tenderloin. You forgo $20 salads at swanky restaurants in exchange for tuna fish sandwiches you make at home. You cut down on alcohol since you just don't have the funds to pay for it.

Or you do what U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky did - eat like this:
That probably looks like most family's menu for the week. Oh the horror!

The point is - most individuals can live on a minimum wage salary if they have to. They'll make sacrifices and change their habits based upon a limited income, but they'll do it.

If they have a house with a mortgage they can't afford on that salary, they'll sell it and move into an apartment they can afford. They might get a roommate - or two - in order to make it more affordable. They make adjustments to their travel methods, maybe opting for public transportation or ride-sharing. They shop at Goodwill or re-sale shops rather than at the mall. They might even sell things, like clothes, video games and equipment or other items. They might choose to take on two jobs.

Even if they do those things, they probably won't be in such a situation for long. They'll get a raise, network, get more experience and most will get a better-paying job. Eventually they'll be back to where they were before, living comfortably.

And the less than 5 percent of minimum wage earners who are heads of a household have a host of resources available to them: food stamps,TANF, Aid to Dependent Children,housing vouchers, transportation vouchers, utility assistance, job training and host of other government benefits and private charities. They won't really be living on just $77 a week, when all that is included.

The problem is, most people know this. Most people with a job have worked at a minimum wage position (me included) and we know what it was like. We also know we didn't stay there long, and that doing a good job and showing your employer your value as a worker was a key aspect of moving out of the minimum-wage position. We remember what it was like to live on Ramen noodles and we know we could do it again - if we had to. We just make sure we don't have to.

We also know that rising the minimum wage means too many people who need entry-level, no-skill jobs will be priced out of the market. The work that they are qualified for and can do won't be worth that much money. Unemployment will rise even more. It won't give us the kind of economic growth we need.

And supporters of the hike have no arguments left that can't be debunked by a little bit of common sense.

So now you're supposed to *feel* ... because if you'd only *feel* what it's like to live a minimum wage, all your logic and reason will fly out the door and you'll jump on the bandwagon to raise it.

Instead of thinking about why businesses aren't hiring, what kinds of costs job providers are having to pay that prevents them from using money for hiring, why the economy isn't growing like it should or why millions of people are out of work, politicians are ridiculously trying to 'feel the pain' of living on $77 a week - as if that will give them great insight into why the number of unemployed is at a record.

Don't you think it's funny that no one ever tries to live like a small business owner for week? To feel what it's like to try to make a payroll, deal with government forms and mandates, handle local government rules and regulations, deal with happy and angry customers, supervise a work staff, promote your business, do the accounting and somehow find time for family and friends and an actual life outside of work?

One day in the life of small business owner is much more difficult and stressful than trying to live on $77 a week.

That's the reality of this ridiculousness - and that's why the whole "live the wage" publicity sham is such a travesty.

Friday, July 18, 2014

People will abuse powdered alcohol, Ohio lawmakers say


My latest at Ohio Watchdog...


By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog

PALCOHOL: In a YouTube video,
Palcohol inventor Mark Phillips
 shows how the product works
and addresses what he calls
the “completely false” claims
about his product.
We have powdered coffees, powdered juices, powdered soups, powdered eggs, powdered milk.

Why not powdered alcohol? After all, it’s light, portable and convenient.

But we’ll abuse it, two Ohio lawmakers say.

Reps. Ron Gerberry, D-Austintown, and Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, introduced House Bill 594 to prohibit the sale of powdered or crystalline alcohol in Ohio.

Alaska and South Carolina have already banned the substance while New York, Vermont and Minnesota have pending legislation to do the same.

“The potential for abuse of this product far outweighs any value it may have in the marketplace,” Gerberry said in a news release.

“The public health risk of powdered alcohol is too great for our state to ignore,” Buchy said in the same release. “We have to do our part in putting forth reasonable laws that protect our children and prevent the availability of drug forms that have a higher potential for abuse.”

Their concerns mirror those of U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, who asked the Food and Drug Administration to ban it.

In April, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which regulates taxing and labeling of alcohol products, approved seven flavors of Palcohol. They then temporarily rescinded those approvals due to a technical issue with the package fill levels. Palcohol made some changes and resubmitted the labels for approval.

According to Schumer, the FDA supersedes the TTB approval in the presence of significant health concerns.

He said “experts” should “step in before this mind-boggling product, surely to become the Kool-Aid of teen binge drinking, sees the light of day” and “stop this potentially deadly product in its tracks” to avoid the “hospitalizations and death that are likely to follow.”

Nonsense, says its inventor.

Read more

Friday, June 27, 2014

Ohio Democrats plan to challenge Jack Ford's independent run for Senate


Gongwer-Ohio is reporting that Democrats will file a challenge to get former Toledo mayor and current city councilman Jack Ford off the ballot. He is running as an independent against Sen. Edna Brown in the November election.

Jack Ford
The issue, Democrats say, is that Ford voted in the Democrat primary AFTER he filed his Senate candidacy petitions as an independent. They worry that the three-way race could split the Democrat vote in the traditionally Democrat district and allow Republican Ernest McCarthy to win the seat.

Here is the Gongwer story:

Democrats are preparing to file a challenge to get former Toledo Mayor Jack Ford off the ballot in his race for the Senate, where he is running as an independent against Sen. Edna Brown.

The party is concerned that Mr. Ford, a former House minority leader who currently serves as an at-large Toledo city councilman, could split the Democratic vote and hand the 11th Senate District to Republican Ernest McCarthy.

At a minimum, his entry into the race could force the Senate Democratic Caucus to spend money in a district where it otherwise wouldn't likely have to devote a significant amount of resources.

Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) said Mr. Ford was trying to get around Ohio law that requires candidates of the same party to square off in a primary election.

"You can't circumvent the system to try to make it more convenient for you. And in my opinion, that's what he's currently trying to do," he said in an interview Friday.

Sen. Schiavoni said Mr. Ford voted in the most recent Democratic primary election after filing his Senate candidacy petitions as an independent.

Mr. Ford couldn't be reached for comment before deadline.

Independent candidates have had success at the Toledo ballot box in recent years. Current Mayor D. Michael Collins and his predecessor Michael Bell both ran as independents.

No formal candidacy protest has yet been filed with the Lucas County Board of Elections and any such challenge will have to come from a registered voter in the district.

Sen. Schiavoni said the caucus might help pay for the legal expenses to help protect Sen.
State Sen. Edna Brown
Brown (D-Toledo).

"We have an incumbent state senator that's worked incredibly hard, is being challenged by another Democrat that did not want to run in a Democratic primary. So he's trying to circumvent the system to go in as an independent. That's illegal and we're trying to protect Sen. Brown," he said.

The law requires candidacy protests to be filed with elections officials by July 30. For legislative races, county boards of election hear the case and determine the validity of the candidate's petition.

One complicating factor, however, is the fact that Secretary of State Jon Husted recently removed three of the Lucas County Board of Elections' four members after years of what he called "a deep-rooted culture of dysfunction." Earlier this week, he rejected the local Republican Party's two recommended replacements and is still awaiting a nomination from Democrats.

Sen. Schiavoni acknowledged that Mr. Ford has good name recognition after decades of running for various offices in the district.

Sen. Brown won 60% of the vote in a two-way race in 2010. The addition of a well-known third-party candidate is a serious threat to her re-election in a district that was previously considered safe for Democrats.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

City of Toledo can't maintain what it has, but wants to add more


These are two letters to the editor published in today's Blade:

Use inmates to upkeep cemetery

When I visited the burial sites of several family members in city-owned Forest Cemetery on Memorial Day, I was shocked beyond belief.

On a day where the cemetery would have more visitors than most other days, you would at least expect mowed grounds. The condition of this cemetery is deplorable. The grounds in some sections have ankle-high weeds. Some of the grave markers have sunk and have been swallowed by weeds so that it’s hard to read the inscribed names.

When my family made arrangements for my mother’s burial, we were told the fees included the upkeep of the grounds. We are able to locate my family members’ graves because we maintain them.

I sent a letter to Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins and City Council members to express my concerns and to make a suggestion.

I proposed that city leaders employ inmates to maintain the grounds. This will give inmates an opportunity to pay it forward, where otherwise they will just sit behind bars.

FRANCES SMITH
Eaglebrook Road

Forest Cemetery’s condition sad

Visiting Forest Cemetery on Memorial Day to pay respects to my family, I found the cemetery to be deplorable. The only sections that were mowed were the ones along the perimeter.

The grass was so tall in the cemetery’s interior that grave markers were obscured. How sad, especially on Memorial Day.

GEORGETTE ROBERTS
Pasadena Bouelvard

Forest Cemetery is a city-owned property and as Frances Smith wrote, the fees paid are supposed to cover upkeep of the facility.

The problem is, Toledo spends a lot of money doing unnecessary things while the basic services for existing things suffers.

Here is the editor's note published along with the letters:

Editor’s note: A City of Toledo spokesman said: “The grass at Forest Cemetery was high in some areas, but is being cut. We do not have funding to allow the staff level necessary to cut more frequently during the high-grass season. The Collins administration understands the frustration expressed by a few who have visited the cemetery.”

First, it does not matter how "few" or many might express frustration. Those are just the "few" who chose to take the time to write or call. The city made a promise to the families of those interred there that the property would be maintained - and it's not, at least, not very well.

But the bigger issue is that the city is struggling trying to perform all the mowing and the pothole filling while members of council are debating how to spend money they don't have to open pools and pay for painting murals.

They keep finding new ways to spend instead of ensuring that the limited funds can cover the ongoing costs of what we already have.

Oh - and just to pour salt in the wound, one councilman suggested that grieving families should actually pay more for grave sites - so they can fund the pools.

No wonder the population of Toledo is declining.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Higher premiums coming to Ohioans using Obamacare federal exchange


The Ohio Department of Insurance is reporting that Ohioans who purchase health care through the federal exchange will see premium increases in 2015.

Individuals can expect a 13 percent increase and small businesses can expect an 11 percent increase for health plans sold on the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) also known as Obamacare.

The average premium from the 16 companies who filed to sell plans in the individual market is $374.42 per month compared to $332.58 per month for the same coverage in 2014.

In the small group market, 8 companies filing to sell plans proposed average premiums of $446.78 compared to $401.99 in 2014.

“It’s bad news, no doubt, but it’s what we expected and it’s what the research we did in advance predicted would happen. Ohio has traditionally had a very competitive insurance market which meant our rates were lower than a lot of other states. That means that Obamacare is hitting us harder and driving our costs up significantly,” Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor said in a press release. “Higher premiums will continue to put a strain on consumers and small businesses at a time when our state’s economy is showing strong signs of recovery and growth. Continued and unnecessary headwinds out of Washington are making it more difficult for job creators, hard-working Ohioans and their families to purchase health insurance.”

In 2010, the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) became law. It included the creation of health care exchanges in which individuals and small business owners in every state can purchase qualified coverage. The federal government launched open enrollment in October 2013.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Cleveland makes list for site visits for RNC Convention


Yep, Cleveland made the finalist list for the Republican National Committee Convention and will receive a site visit to evaluate the city and facilities. They are one of four finalists, in the running with Dalls, Denver and Kansas City.


Here is the press release from the RNC:

RNC Selects Cities for 2016 Official Site Visits

WASHINGTON – Today, the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) Site Selection Committee for the 2016 Republican National Convention, met via conference call, selecting Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, and Kansas City to receive official site visits from the RNC’s 2016 site selection delegation. The official site visits represent the next phase in the site selection process and will allow key RNC officials and the full Site Selection Committee to tour cities and venues vying to host the 2016 Republican National Convention. The committee’s decision was based on an extensive review of bids, presentations, and reports compiled from technical visits to each city.

Prior to the site selection committee vote, Cincinnati respectfully withdrew their bid from the process based upon the criteria set forth by the RNC for the main arena. Las Vegas also respectfully withdrew their 2016 bid based on the RNC’s criteria for a traditional arena facility and enough on-site preparatory time to accommodate the 2016 convention.

After receiving notification from Cincinnati and Las Vegas, the committee conducted votes on the remaining cities and determined each would receive a visit.

Timing and dates for official visits will be coordinated with Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, and Kansas City and an announcement will be forthcoming with more details for each visit.

Following today’s meeting of the Site Selection Committee, Chairwoman Enid Mickelsen issued the following statement:

“Today the committee determined that Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, and Kansas City will receive official visits from the full RNC site selection delegation. All cities excelled in nearly every aspect of their bids and presentation this year, but these four cities stood out from the field from the start of this process and deserve a deeper look by the full committee.

“Prior to the committee’s vote, Cincinnati and Las Vegas notified the RNC that they would no longer pursue their bid to host the 2016 convention. While the committee understands their decision, both cities made a compelling case for 2016 and would make excellent hosts should they pursue efforts to host a future RNC convention.

“I applaud the effort and commitment shown by all cities involved, and I thank all parties for their dedication to this endeavor. The 2016 convention will provide a unique opportunity to showcase our Party as well as the host city itself, and I’m confident we will choose the best possible setting to nominate our next Republican president.”

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