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Around the country, school districts are urging officials to crack down on charter school growth--and on existing charter schools--because, they assert, there isn't enough money in strapped state budgets to pay for this sector--and of course the districts must come first.

I'm seeing this in Ohio, in Utah and in Massachusetts and do not doubt that it's happening all over the place.

But of course it's completely cockeyed. If every public-school pupil in America attended a charter school, the total taxpayer cost would be 20-30% LESS than it is today. That's because charters are underfunded (compared with district schools) and thus represent an extraordinary bargain--even if their overall academic performance isn't much different from that of district schools. Think of it as the same amount of learning at three-quarters of the price.

What's really going on here are two bad things. First, as we've known for decades, school systems are great at expanding their budgets but absolutely dreadful at shrinking them. So they reach for every imaginable excuse and alternative--federal bailouts, state bailouts, county bailouts, the "Washington monument strategy" ("if you make us cut our budget we'll have to eliminate art and football and Advanced Placement"),...

The Washington Post reported Sunday on Bush's plans to start a new think tank, the Freedom Institute, which will include an education component:

Mark Langdale, president of the George W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation, said the policy institute will be built around several key themes, including "freedom, compassion, opportunity and individual responsibility."

"It's really a place where you're trying to advance effective policy solutions above a partisan level," Langdale said. "He's made clear that history will be a judge of his legacy. The purpose of the institute is to be more forward-looking."

Margaret Spellings, Bush's education secretary and longtime friend, said in an interview last week that she expects the policy center to focus on "game-changing" initiatives such as the schools testing program called No Child Left Behind. "There will be a dimension of trying to keep these policies current and in context with whatever is happening at the time," she said.

So he apparently will join brother Jeb in the education think tank world. I'll be curious whether they collaborate or compete on this issue, and I submit that any scorecard should show Jeb Bush in the lead--in Florida, ??No Child Left Behind ...

It's great news that Tom Nida, chair of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, has been exonerated by the District Attorney General, for allegations raised by the Washington Post that he was improperly mixing his day job as a banker with his volunteer job overseeing D.C. charter schools. (Thanks to eduwonk for the tip.)

Much has already been written (also see here and here and here) about the unfair treatment the Post gave him, with its Sunday front-page headline ("Public Role, Private Gain") worded to sell newspapers, and to its credit, the Post editorial board did take Tom's side. But it's a shame that this good news is relegated to the Metro section, and it's disappointing that one won't read an apology from the reporters and their headline writers for dragging his name through the mud unnecessarily.

Post ombudsman Deborah Howell, what say you?...

I've heard from several friends, particularly those on the left, who are perplexed by the arguments made by me and others that budget cuts can be good for education reform. Sure, they concede, it's theoretically possible that difficult times would give local leaders the political cover to make tough decisions that would otherwise be politically impossible, such as releasing their most ineffective employees. But most often, superintendents and school boards do the politically expedient thing instead, such as laying off all their young teachers, or cutting art and music, or eliminating school counseling programs.

This issue is brought into stark relief in the city of angels. Los Angeles Unified has announced plans to lay off 2,300 teachers. And guess which approach to layoffs the district is pursuing? The most junior teachers will be gone, including most (maybe all?) of the city's Teach For America teachers. This even though those recruits have been found to be just as effective as more veteran instructors, and even though they earn much lower salaries.

This is an outrage. A crisis. And crises are good times to push for policy changes. The L.A. Times, local foundations,...

It's no surprise that Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and nearly every other governor in the country have a hand out for a hand out from Washington. Democrats want to spend $825 billion on all kinds of programs from roads and energy efficiency to welfare and education. States have real pressing needs to pay for all these items and not enough money to do it. Strickland, looking at least a $7 billion budget deficit has asked for $5 billion from the federal government. Whatever Ohio gets, presumably, a billion or so will go to education.

The question is whether the feds will use the bank bailout philosophy or the auto bailout philosophy in handing out the money. With the banks, it was shovel it out the door and ask questions later. With the auto execs, it was run them through the ringer a few times and demand a realistic plan. The later method is probably the best way to treat state aid.???? This awful economic mess arrives when Ohio education is at a crossroads--either to make it stronger, more academically focused and accountable or, perhaps to turn back against meaningful reform. President-Elect Obama has already indicated he's into education reform....

The House Democrats released an outline of their stimulus package a few hours ago. The big items for education: $13 billion more for Title I (doubling the appropriation for that program); $13 billion more for IDEA (more than doubling that one); $14 billion for k-12 school construction (plus $25 million for charters); $1 billion for technology; $250 million for state data systems; and $200 million more for the Teacher Incentive Fund (to support pay-for-performance programs). And then the REALLY big item: a $79 billion state bailout fund, of which $39 billion must go to education (k-12 and higher ed), though much of the rest could go to the schools, too, at the discretion of the states.

That puts you in the neighborhood of $80 billion for k-12 education, as rumored yesterday (and as Checker, Rick Hess, and I speculated last week).

It's not clear to me whether these amounts are all to be appropriated immediately, or would be spread out over several years. But keep in mind: Uncle Sam currently spends about $40 billion a year on the schools, so the House is talking about...

Our favorite podcast hosts, Mike and Rick, will be discussing President Bush's education legacy at an American Enterprise Institute-hosted event in February. Take a look at the agenda:

Thursday, February 5, 2009, 1:00-2:30 p.m.

Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, AEI

1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036

Please register for this event online at www.aei.org/event1872.

With a new administration taking up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and George W. Bush's centerpiece No Child Left Behind Act up for reauthorization, Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at AEI, and Michael J. Petrilli, vice president of national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, consider the education legacy of the Bush administration in their forthcoming article "Left at the Altar." They note that the administration found common cause with progressive reformers by pursuing ambitious policies focused on narrowing achievement gaps-but often at the expense of its own conservative principles. They also find that the po litical environment created in the past eight years presents not only challenges, but also surprising opportunities for reform.

Petrilli and Hess will be joined at this event by...

That's what it's starting to look like, at least if the rumors swirling around Washington have any merit. While I strongly doubt that Arne Duncan will put Wendy Kopp, Jon Schnur, and Andy Rotherham in his 1, 2, and 3 spots , it's conceivable that the reform crowd will win the "personnel is policy" game (just not by a landslide). But even more interesting is the news that the "stimulus" package will include an $80 billion fund for education--on top of the $100 billion or so of state bailout funds that will find their way to local school coffers. This sounds like the "education community's" dream come true. It's like fully funding NCLB, IDEA, and then some, all in one fell swoop.

So the reformers get to make "policy" for the next four years. That's small potatoes compared to the stimulus-driven federal largesse, which has the potential to retard reform bigtime. (Reformers who doubt that are kidding themselves.)

If I ran the teachers unions and the other edu-blobby groups, I'd take this deal in a heartbeat....

Amy Fagan

I ran across an informative interview with Washington Post's Jay Mathews about his new book, Work Hard. Be Nice: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America. The book explores in depth the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and tracks the career paths of founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin. The interview with Jay was conducted by EducationNews.org. Check it out!

My initial reaction to the news (here and here ) that teachers at a KIPP school in New York City have voted to unionize included several variants on four letter words. But now, with the perspective of some time, I can offer a more refined view. You have to give it to the people who work at the American Federation of Teachers. They are good at their jobs.

Remember ??the AFT's impeccably-timed plant of a New York Times story about how charter schools performed worse than traditional public schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress? It was August 2004???August being a perfect time to catch members of the charter school community napping away their summer vacations, and 2004 being an election year with an incumbent Republican president who strongly supported charter schools. (If you don't remember this episode, you can read a whole book about it.)

And now? The incoming Democratic president is a strong charter supporter, so frontal attacks are out. Instead, go after the most prized jewel of the charter movement (KIPP) and strike right at the heart...

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