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One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. -- Plato (429-347 BC)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Give the Kids a Chance

Curtis Coleman, Contributing Author: Setting aside, for a moment, whether you believe the lottery in your state is effective, efficient, moral, or counter-productive and immoral, is the money from your state’s lottery being used where it’s most needed or productive? Or is time to make a drastic and desperately needed change in how education is funded? This article’s focus is on Arkansas’s scholarship lottery program (Arkansas is the home of The Institute for Constitutional Policy), but it is intended to be applicable to education in all 50 states.

$420 Million per Year
Arkansans are gambling about $35 million per month on lottery tickets and games, approximately $420 million per year or about $144 per year for every adult and child in Arkansas. However, the highest estimates for the percentage of Arkansans who actually play the lottery is 65%[1], which means those who gamble on the lottery gamble approximately $224 per person per year. Of the $420 million Arkansans gamble on the lottery, only about 22% (third worst percentage in the nation) actually goes for college scholarships. That 22% helped to fund 28,000 college scholarships in the lottery’s first year, $4,500 per year for university students and $2,500 per year for students who attend community colleges.

A closer look at the Arkansas lottery’s revenues can be more troubling. In one sample month (August, 2010), Pulaski County, the state’s most populous county, produced the the lottery’s highest per county revenue, approximately $7 million, or approximately $73 per month per household (approximately 1.9% of household income). In 2008 the Pulaski Co. median household income was $45,215 and 16.5% were below the 2008 poverty level.

Jefferson County produced the second highest income for the lottery in August, approximately $1.6 million, or approximately $81 per month per household, (approximately 2.1% of household income). The median household income in 2008 was $38,018 and 20.6% lived below the 2008 poverty level in Jefferson County.

In Lee County, a fairly typical Arkansas Delta region county, the 2008 median per household income was $25,178 and 38.6% lived below the 2008 poverty level. Lee County households gambled approximately $43 per household per month on the lottery, 2% of their income. The minority population of Lee County is approximately 58%.

According to the Arkansas Bureau of Legislative Research’s 2010 report on remediation rates and costs in Arkansas colleges, English and math remediation rates from Lee County were between 75% and 100%. Less than 18% of Lee County School District students scored 19 or higher on the ACT for math, according to the Bureau’s report. Less than 56% scored 19 or higher for literacy and less than 50% scored 19 or higher for science. The Arkansas lottery scholarship program requires an ACT score of 19 or higher to qualify for a college scholarship.

Less Than Half Can Qualify
Lee County residents, with one of the lowest per household incomes in the state with significantly less discretionary income, are nevertheless gambling approximately the same percentage of their income on the lottery, yet less than half of their students can qualify for a lottery scholarship. And of those who gain entrance to college classes, at least three out of every four students had to go through some remediation classes.

Financial inefficiencies aside, this incredibly poor educational performance does not account for the human toll nor the long-term poverty with its related liabilities for students who not only cannot achieve a college degree, but who graduate from high school without the proficiency to function productively in society.

According to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, remediation at Arkansas’s institutions of higher education increased from 51.3 percent in 2008 to 54.6 percent in 2009 – a rise of 3.3 percentage points in one year. The cost of remediation for 2008 was $65 million, which is approximately 10 percent of the total general revenue funding for institutions of higher education. The percentage at four-year institutions was 40.4 percent and 75.8 percent at two-year institutions.
Sixty-five million dollars is roughly equal to 65% of the money available for 2009 scholarships in the Arkansas scholarship lottery program. The data clearly suggest that a significant percentage of Arkansas’s lottery proceeds would be much more productively invested in P-12 education, with a concentrated focus on schools with the lowest ACT scores and highest rates of required remediation. The long-term benefit to Arkansas would be enormous.
Of course, the problems that need to be solved are not that simple, nor are the solutions.

“Public Education is Disadvantageous to Black Students”
I had the recent privilege of visiting for several hours with Cheryl Washington, Ed.D., the Chief Administrator for the Word of Outreach Christian Academy (WOOCA) on Asher Avenue in Little Rock. Dr. Washington, a former captain in the Air Force who also holds a Masters degree in Education, has been the administrator for WOOCA for 22 years.

Dr. Washington served for six years on the Governor’s Council for Gifted and Talented education. “Arkansas does an outstanding job in this [gifted and talented] area,” Dr. Washington said, “ranking 2rd or 3rd in the nation. But 40% of all public schools in Arkansas did not even meet progress requirements for the state benchmark last year."
She said the state needs to put more money into more ACT prep courses and that every child needs to go through ACT preparation. But she was quick to point out that didn’t solve the real problem.

“Public education forces the perpetuation of a culture that has not been advantageous to black students,” she explained. “The public school is an extension of the culture where it’s not cool to be smart, not cool to obey authority, where entitlement and ‘free stuff’ is the goal.”

“Education has become a tool to change our society; education has become a political platform,” she continued. “It’s not about the students, it’s no longer a ministry, it’s about money.”

“How do we fix it?” I asked.

We Have to Change the Model
“We have to change the model,” she answered. “God never intended a child to be a ward of the state. Teachers used to work for parents; now we have it the other way around. Parents report to teachers.”

“The system will have to become accountable to parents again,” she continued. “That means school choice, but not choice only within the system. It has to be true school choice, where the money follows the student. We can’t continue to just try to involve parents. We must empower parents, and that means that the money must follow the child. When we make that critical change, the system will have to become accountable to parents once again.”

“We’ve got to eliminate the bureaucracy,” she said. “When we add love, add structure, and add Christ to education, we dramatically improve the environment. We have scientific studies which conclusively demonstrate that when we eliminate stress from drugs and gangs and replace those destructive forces with love, structure, uniforms, prayer, God, and make education a ministry, we create an environment that actually changes the brain. And we see a 97% academically proficient graduation rate from that kind of education.”

“When we give parents a choice,” Washington emphatically insisted, “then we give kids a chance.”

Legislation to Give Parents a Choice, Kids a Chance
Arkansas State Representative Jon Hubbard of Jonesboro had planned to introduce a bill that would require at least of portion of available public school funding to follow the student during P-12 school years. Rep. Hubbard was advised by the Arkansas Bureau of Legislative Research that such a bill would likely be unconstitutional according to the Arkansas Constitution. “We’re looking at the possibility of amending the Arkansas Constitution to provide for the idea,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard has taught and coached in both public and private schools, including Little Rock’s Catholic High School. “Although I realize that there are still some well-performing public school districts, I also realize that the overwhelming majority of educating students in Arkansas, and everywhere else for that matter, is being done in home schools and private schools,” Hubbard said. “The clear and present danger concerning public schools is that until we return discipline back to the classroom, the educational atmosphere in public schools will continue to dissipate each and every year.”

“I am passionate about protecting and preserving the education of our young people,” he continued. “One of the greatest fears I have is that, with the way our public schools are continuing to self-destruct, we have but a small window of time in which to turn this around, or any hope that our young people will have access to a real education will be lost.”

Hubbard also said that he will support (and is willing to submit) a “Tim Tebow” bill during this session of the Arkansas legislature. The legislation would allow home-schooled students to participate in extra-curricular activities in public schools, including sports and music. The bill derives it’s name from Tim Tebow, a home-schooled student who played football for a public high school team in Florida, leading Neese High School to the 2005 Florida state championship. As the Gators’ starting quarterback, Tebow won the Heisman Trophy, earned the Maxwell Award as the nation’s top football player, the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s best quarterback, and the James E. Sullivan Award as the nation’s most outstanding amateur athlete in any sport.

The Word of Outreach Christian Academy is raising funds to send some of its students on their first trip to Washington, D.C. If you would like to help with this worthy project, please contact Dr. Cheryl Washington at 501-663-0500.
[1]The assumption that 65% of Arkansans gamble on the lottery will be used in all related calculations from this point forward.

Curtis Coleman is the President of The Curtis Coleman Institute for Constitutional Policy and contributing author to the ARRA News Service.

Tags: Arkansas, Arkansas scholarship, Cheryl Washington, Jon Hubbard, Lottery, lottery program, Tim Tebow, bill, Word of Outreach Christian Academy, Education, Lottery, scholarships, Curtis Coleman To share or post to your site, click on "Post Link". Please mention / link to the ARRA News Service. Thanks!
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