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Business, Free Enterprise and Constitutional Issues; Pro-Life and Pro Second Amendment. Susan Lynn is a member of the Tennessee General Assembly. She serves as Chairman of the Consumer and Human Resources subcommittee and on the Finance Ways and Means Committee. She holds a BS in economics and a minor in history.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Choosing Performance

Tennessee lost a great opportunity for education this Session. While school choice is producing results in other areas, Tennessee’s plan is to pour $500 million more dollars into the BEP; the same’ol bureaucratic system of government monopoly of education believing it does things more fairly and produces a better outcome than anything else.

If that were true, we should have HUD build all the houses, the FDA produce all the food, and the department of health provide all of the medical care.

The BEP is a funding formula not an education plan. It funds the expenses of the classroom; it doesn’t dictate what occurs in the classroom. It can’t change the operations of the school, the teacher in front of our students; nor can it improve classroom expectations or discipline.

Under the new plan the cost of educating at-risk children receives full funding by the state.

However, “at-risk” is determined by income not by achievement. In years past, the definition of an “at-risk student” was actually performance based; defined by whether a student was two or more years behind in his or her reading grade level.

Because of the income based definition, the number of at-risk students in Tennessee is very large; Over half of our students or 493,921 children.

However, just because one is economically disadvantaged does not necessarily mean one is a poor student. Doesn’t it seem right that what we should really measure is achievement, and target new dollars to those students, at any income level, that need extra help?

Just how will we measure whether this money is producing results? If the measure is parental income, more money to the school can not change that. We may as well give the money to the parents, raise their income and totally eliminate the number of at-risk children.

The ELL plan funds children who can’t speak English at a greater teacher/student ratio than the teacher/student ratio for English speaking children. But shouldn’t every classroom have a reasonable teacher/student ratio?

Inside legislative plaza, it’s pretty well understood that the plan to increase the state share of paying teacher's salaries covers-up the fact that due to the new distribution formula many districts (over 70 counties) are actually losing money on the new plan.

How will this new money translate into the classroom? Not as you might think, the new law “eliminates (the) current requirement that BEP funds earned in the instructional positions component be spent for instructional positions.”

Is the new $500 million dollar plan the best path? More likely it seems contrived to win legislative support by playing to various demographic and geographic areas.

The truth is, the administration could have made schools accountable for years with our current laws but willingness to take tough action has been painfully lacking.

Sadly, questions in committee were too many; answers from the administration too few; and the process for spending one half billion dollars too rushed.

Opportunity was lost for the citizens of Tennessee. The legislature should have insisted on school choice for students.

Right now New Orleans is doing exciting things with charter schools. Philadelphia schools, taken over by the state five years ago, have seen vast improvements under a system where competition between schools has produced student achievement and innovative new ideas.

In many places in Europe, the idea of being locked into a local school just because you live in the area is unheard of. Schools work hard to produce results because parents are empowered to act as consumers. A school that doesn’t educate well will face competition from other schools that do. A poor school won’t have any students and will either improve to gain more students or will close.

Maybe some families don't have the means to live in the wealthiest town in the state but what does that have to do with their child’s education? Why shouldn’t every child attend a school his or her parents approve of and one that caters to the interests of the child.

Yes, opportunity was lost, and the real tragedy is that for years children have been getting another year older in a system that never really changes.

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