ISTA threatens state with more punches
By Ben Velderman
INDIANAPOLIS – The nation’s most comprehensive voucher program has survived its first legal test.
Last Friday, a Marion County judge ruled that Indiana’s new voucher law, the Indiana Choice Scholarship program, is completely constitutional. The 2011 law gives low- and middle-income families a voucher to pay for tuition at the public or private school of their choice, including religious schools.
The Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, and a collection of voucher opponents sued that state, arguing that the law violated the separation of church and state.
In his ruling, Marion Superior Court Judge Michael Keele wrote, “This Court therefore concludes that the degree of religiosity of the participating schools is immaterial to the case at hand,” and noted that the scholarship program “bestows benefits onto scholarship recipients who may then choose to use the funding for education at a public, secular private, or religious school.”
“(The program) is designed to benefit students, not schools, and the court recognized that very essential fact,” Bert Gall, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, told IndyStar.com. "It's the most salient fact in determining that the program is constitutional."
“This is a huge victory,” said Robert Enlow, president of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. “It means that the nearly 4,000 low-and middle-income children in Indiana who are participating in the program can continue to attend a high quality, non-public school using public funds.”
Voucher supporters believe the favorable ruling will encourage more Hoosier families to make use of the program, which is designed to level the education playing field between poor and affluent students.
The voucher program is available to families earning up to 150 percent of the federal free and reduced price lunch program with enrollment caps set at 7,500 students in the first year, 15,000 in the second, and no limits in year three and beyond.
That last detail explains why the president of the state’s teachers union has promised to appeal the ruling.
“This is just round one,” said ISTA President Teresa Meredith.
It’s very revealing that the teachers union frames this issue in terms of a boxing match. While lawmakers are trying to free children from failing schools and give them a brighter future, the union sees this as just another political slug-fest over money. We’re disappointed by their response, but not even a little bit surprised.
GOV. CHRISTIE PROPOSES SIMILAR VOUCHER PLAN
Indiana’s success in passing a voucher program may have started a domino effect throughout the country.
Last week, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said he wants a voucher program for students who attend a state-managed school district.
This week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie used his State of the State address to promote the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a voucher program that would apply only to students trapped in the Garden State’s worst-performing school districts.
“Opportunity should not be offered to only those in an excellent school district, or with parents who have the money to release their children from the prison that is a failing school,” Christie said.
The voucher plan was presented during last year’s legislative session. Though it had strong bipartisan support, it never received an up or down vote.
It’s unclear if the scholarship act will fare any better in 2012, as the New Jersey Education Association remains a powerful political player that’s determined to kill the bill.
“Voucher” is still considered a dirty word by some, but at least three governors agree that it’s an idea whose time has come.
NESHAMINY TEACHERS TO END STRIKE TODAY
Pennsylvania’s Neshaminy Federation of Teachers has agreed to end its nearly two-week strike, and members will return to the classroom Friday morning. But that doesn’t mean the nastiness is over.
The school board had refused to continue contract negotiations while the union was on strike, which means the disagreements about future pay raises, health insurance contributions and retroactive pay are still unresolved.
State law requires that a three-member arbitration panel be brought in to help assist negotiations, reports PhillyBurbs.com. The panel will make its non-binding recommendations by spring. If the district and the union still cannot agree, the NFT has the legal option of going on strike a second time this school year.
School board President Ritchie Webb said that a second strike would prompt the district to file an injunction with the state, asking that the teachers be ordered back to work.
“Teachers need to understand that you can strike until the cows come home, but it doesn’t create more money in the district,” Webb said. “We have limited resources.”
The community seems to have had enough of the NFT’s selfish behavior, too.
“I think what the teachers are doing is greedy and insulting to us – the taxpayers," said Tony Brillhart
, according to LowerSouthhampton.Patch.com
. “We pay them to do a job, not walk in front of the schools with posters.”
“They went to strike over greed and my daughter’s education is forced to suffer because of it,” said Shawna Frey, a sergeant in the National Guard who served in Iraq.
Like we said, the strike might be over, but the dissension and hard feelings remain.
JUDGE ORDERS BAILOUT OF UNION-DOMINATED SCHOOL DISTRICT
These days a lot of school budgets are being held together by the accounting equivalents of bailing wire and duct tape. But one Pennsylvania school district is so broke that it needs the state to provide the wire and the tape.
The Chester Upland School District began this week with only $100,000 in its savings account, and had no way of meeting its $1 million payroll – that is, until a judge ordered the state to give the district a $3.2 million advance in its allowance, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The money will allow the teachers to be paid and the lights to remain on, at least for a few more weeks. The district is on track to be $20 million in debt by the end of the school year.
“Anxious parents are looking at other options for their children, such as sending them to private schools or having them live with relatives and go to other public schools,” the Daily Journal reported two days before the bailout was announced.
What’s causing Chester Upland’s financial meltdown?
According to school officials, the state has been illegally giving some of the district’s money to charter schools. State officials say the law requires it to fund the schools where students actually attend, and many choose to attend charter schools. A judge is expected to settle the dispute next month.
While the district might win its case in court, it seems destined to lose in the court of public opinion.
Since 2006, Chester Upland’s enrollment has dropped by almost 1,000 students. During that same time, the district has increased its workforce by 145 employees, and its budget by $28 million, reports the PhillyBurbs.com.
Members of the local teachers union have pledged to keep working “as long as they are individually able … even if they are not paid.”
While that makes for a nice press release, the Radar has learned that none the district's three school employee unions have agreed to open their contracts and offer any concessions to help the district survive.
Just another financial crisis, courtesy of Big Labor.
RECORD NUMBER OF FLORIDA SCHOOL EMPLOYEES EARN $100,000 IN 2010
Florida’s Marion County school district drew national headlines last summer when it announced that it was switching to a four-day school week as a way to save money.
Other school officials took a more conventional route by laying off teachers and cutting student programs, all the while blaming Gov. Rick Scott for underfunding Florida’s public schools.
Now comes a report that finds 946 school employees in the Sunshine State earned at least $100,000 in 2010. That’s up 818 percent from 2005, according to the Foundation for Government Accountability.
The foundation also finds the percentage of non-school employees who earn at least six-figures has increased by only 7 percent during that same period.
“You don’t have to be great in math to figure out that something is wrong with these school salaries,” Tarren Bragdon, Foundation for Government Accountability CEO, told the Sunshine State News.
“During these five years, you have flat student enrollment, the biggest recession since the Great Depression and skyrocketing six-figure salaries – that adds up to a raw deal for Florida parents and taxpayers,” Bragdon said.
The average salary for a Florida teacher is about $47,000, which means administrators and superintendents receive the majority of those hefty paydays.
Tea Party leader Patricia Sullivan summed it up best: “It appears the servant is now the master, and the children get the crumbs.”