Let’s “Outsource” education…

Over 60% of the 2011 Indiana budget is going to whatever politicians and their lobbyists call “education.”  Over the past several decades, the percentage of those billions that gets to the classroom has dropped to less than 60%.  Our embarrassingly high percentage of administrative buildings and personnel, and the absurd cost of sports programs that serve a tiny percentage of elite students is inexcusable as average students get fat and fall behind their overseas peers.  American schooling is by far the most expensive, and among the least effective, in the world.

So it’s fine that there’s been talk of school funding, teachers’ unions, pensions, student nutrition and the taxation and spending rules that we’re told have something to do with learning.  Yet amidst all the chatter over vouchers, Charter Schools, “investment in our future,” and of course, sports, I’ve so far heard nothing that is both workable, and legal.

It is suspicious that Article 8 of Indiana’s Constitution appeared on the last day of the 1851 constitutional convention without a word of debate.  The person who transcribed the article (perhaps he wrote it himself?) was Robert Owen, Jr., son of the New Harmony commune’s founder, and ally of the “progressive” educator, Horace Mann.  Yet commie plot or not, the Indiana Constitution’s Article 8, Section I, does now “provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.

The constitution and historical context are unmistakable.  “Common Schools” were the uniform (as in identical) system of tax-subsidized schools promoted by Mann as the “ladder of opportunity” to educate poor kids without religious influences.  And Common Schools are not compulsory; parents are free to choose non tax-funded alternatives.  And the phrase, “tuition shall be without charge,” has been clarified many times over the years as meaning only tuition.  So legally, even poor parents must find money for books, lunch, transportation, and in fact everything but tuition.  Sports were certainly not part of school.  Besides, that’s what parks and public gymnasiums were for; so that even kids who weren’t in school had something to do.

Article 8, Section 2 mandates a Common School Trust Fund derived from corporate taxes and other statewide sources that forbid any local funding, like personal property tax, because we don’t need the brute force of politics to achieve inequality between rich and poor areas.  In fact, Article 4, Section 22 says, “The General Assembly shall not pass local or special laws… Providing for the support of common schools, or the preservation of school funds.”

Of course Article 8 wasn’t necessary.  There already was a rapidly-developing system of “Free and Fee” schools, but almost all of the tuition-free schools were run by churches.   Churches had been America’s Department of Health, Education and Welfare before we gave everything unto Caesar and his non-voluntary collection plate.  However, churches are, as you have no doubt heard, religious.  And Article I, Section 6 of the new constitution decreed that “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.”  So yes, Indiana legally gave at least something unto Caesar.

However, both state and federal constitutions forbid politicians and bureaucrats the monopoly power over education they now exert.  And though many of us are opposed to any socialized education on moral, religious and practical grounds, Indiana’s original socialists came up with a far more reasonable scheme than what we’ve devolved to now.

Maybe online education could break our governments’ unconstitutional, monopolistic stranglehold, and drop the now crazy costs.  I hope so.  It would be the best thing to happen to Hoosier kids in decades.  I wish I could be the one to sell it.

Do it for the children…

The Indy Star made some seemingly minor edits to my gubernatorial candidate submission, but I thought I’d better post the original here just in case you wanted to see what I’d actually sent them (or in case you don’t get the Star):

 

We all want what’s best for our kids.  Nobody wants to believe we’re screwing up our kids with government schools.  So it’s natural and common to deny the extent and nature of the problems with our schools.  But our schools are literally a criminal shame.

I don’t have space to detail the problems with unconstitutional regulations and bureaucracies that sap teachers’ authority and initiative.  I wish I could shed light on corruption like the Tremco/AEPA/Wilson Education Center no-bid jobs; or discuss the injustice of low teacher pay against six-figure salaries for school administrators, sports coaches and of course union officials.  You can see the problems if you dare to look.  What’s important is that we can fix the problems if only we’ll change the way we think, and vote, about schools.

A good start would be to examine what was originally designed, acknowledge what devolved, and then plan a fix.

Article 8 of the Indiana Constitution is the law respecting our tax-supported education system.  The key words are “…and provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.”

When our constitution was written, “Common School” meant the uniform and simple system of primary (not secondary) education promoted by Horace Mann as the “ladder of opportunity.”  As opposed to the free church-run schools of the day, Common Schools were intended to give poor children a non-Christian education.  They were to be state-funded with no disparity between rich and poor regions.  And these uniform schools were meant to be rigidly focused on scholastic achievement, so that a Common School graduate would be ready to work in the real world with useful skills in mathematics, science, communication and technology.  Colleges and universities were only for those who needed specialized, advanced training for academia, medicine or engineering.  After all, real life (and drop-outs like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Thomas Edison…) won’t wait through two decades in a classroom. 

Article 8, Sections 2 through 7 lay out specific funding by an “inviolate” and “perpetual” Common School trust fund.   Of course that fund was violated and is now gone.  But the fund is still law, to be maintained through many specified sources including “taxes on the property of corporations.”  What is excluded, and therefore not authorized, is personal property tax.  So legally, half of your property tax bill is unconstitutional. 

This is the law.  If we don’t like it, then let’s talk about how we’d amend it. 

But I believe the law is vastly better than what we’ve fallen into with our political chicanery.  So here’s what I propose we do:

We’d de-consolidate toward a greater number of smaller schools where buses become obsolete in all but rural areas, so that parents and teachers can more easily collaborate; and kids would no longer be such tiny fish in such large oceans.  Teachers would have authority to teach, to expect a high standard of performance, and to expel.  No more “dumbing-down” or lowering standards to fit a curve.  Teachers would be rewarded for performance, not just for paying union dues. We would spin off sporting facilities into community centers and gyms so that kids don’t have to be genetically gifted to play. 

…We all know kids who need more opportunities to exercise. 

And while there is no excuse for compromising necessities like music and art instruction, microscopes, and a clean, healthy environment; homeschool successes have demonstrated that education doesn’t have to be vast and expensive.  And it wouldn’t be, if school money went solely to teachers, smaller-scale buildings, and education supplies.

Besides being an improvement on what we do now, this is the law.