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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, a member of the Finance Ways and Means Committee and the Ethics 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.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Time to Review Republican Ideals

My great hope is that when the last opinion article is written on this half of the legislative session, Republican ideals will shine through, or at least that there will be great evidence that they were fought for.

Ideals such as:

  • No new taxes
  • Protect the unborn
  • No wasteful spending
  • Return surplus money
  • Encourage self-reliance
  • Create choice in education
  • Fight for open government
  • Lower the sales tax on food
  • Consumer driven healthcare
  • Promote commerce and competition
  • Fight illegal immigration on the state level

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Pork and Beans

"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents...." James Madison, father of the United States Constitution, made this statement with the firm belief that our republic needed checks and balances to limit the influence of special interests, even the special interests of benevolence.

Was he speaking of government grants to life saving fire halls? Probably not. It was about tax funds expended for the designs of special interests.

The problem is that guilt is often associated with "benevolence" and who wants to criticize and risk being called cold hearted or stingy? However, taxes are not collected for discretionary purposes. Most still believe that the agreement between the citizens and the government is to provide protection, promote commerce, educate the population, and to provide important protection from sanitary and public health threats.

Largely, we do have checks and balances. However, when it comes to subjective appropriations like many the Governor is proposing in his supplemental budget, gifts the Tennessee Center for Policy Research's report calls “goodies and giveaways,” we all realize that few checks and balances are employed. We may rationalize such gifts but reports reveal that they are often to organizations directed by political campaign contributors.

If one disregards guilt and asks the tough questions that are asked for any other expenditure of public funds, one should ask where is the objective design, list of goals, application and determination process, assurance of nondiscrimination, and fair notice of opportunity for all who may wish to benefit from such expenditures of public funds? In addition, how will accountability and efficiency be determined for the fruits of the taxpayer’s labor?

What about purpose? Do the grants strictly meet the purpose for which government is intended or are they just something nice to do? Most could be content to do nice things with other people’s money all day long; especially if it created endearment.

It is sad that such expenditures are exactly enough so that the taxpayers cannot enjoy a decrease in their own taxes to spend their own funds as they see fit.

Certainly the children of a single mother making $27,000 per year might enjoy a publicly supported history project, if, and to whatever extent, they actually spend time reviewing it. But does she really have the latitude in her budget for us to spend money on such items? Does not the “family unit,” and ensuring its strength, aid society in far greater ways and much more permanently? Shouldn't other people, private people with ability, be supporting such projects?

In truth, the government’s contribution to non-profit organizations is their tax exempt status. Because their mission is to perform a ‘public good’ non-profits are granted the privilege and benefit of not having to pay taxes on purchases, property and income. However, in return, they must prove their utility through reporting.

The fact is too many conflicts abound to spend public funds in such a manner. A politician could buy political endearment and payback for past and future support. Or an elected official may serve on the board of a recipient organization and thereby have a direct hand in spending the taxpayer’s funds. The ability to make such appropriations is not simply a right, or entitlement, of being elected.

James Madison was incredibly intelligent; enough to realize that there are no limits to the provision of benevolence when a huge treasury, guilt and political gain tango with each other.