Hear Dave Adkission, head of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, explain to the Kentucky Legislature’s Interim Joint Education Committee why he and the vast majority of his organizations members favor public charter schools.
Students in a Philadelphia charter high schools benefit from results like zero dropout rates and 97 to 100 percent college going rates. No wonder members of the Philadelphia teachers union send their own children to charter schools!
Meanwhile, thousands of Bluegrass State children, especially the poor and minority kids, continue to be under-served by our one-size-must-fit-all, traditional school system. Things have not improved that much for our minority kids since KERA was enacted almost a quarter of a century ago. It’s time for new ideas in Kentucky’s public schools and time to stop listening to myths that block such real change from happening.
There has been a lot of discussion in the past few days about intentional lack of transparency with the development and enactment of the Affordable Care Act, but Kentuckians don’t have to look to Washington for examples of the public’s business being kept from the public and their elected officials.
In fact, a story WDRB is breaking in Louisville shows the elected officials at the Jefferson County Board of Education were kept in the dark regarding questionable employee actions and an expensive settlement negotiated behind closed doors.
The issue concerns a former employee who once held a six-figure salary job as Jefferson County’s public information officer. That job was cut and the employee moved to human resources, getting a lower-paying – but still six-figure – salary. The employee didn’t last long in human resources, getting fired “for misconduct and insubordination, according to a copy of her termination letter obtained by WDRB News through an open records request.”
All of this happened without the vast majority, perhaps all, of the Jefferson County Board of Education having even a clue about what was occurring.
The school district defended the secrecy surrounding a $200,000 settlement, saying:
“While we stand behind what we have done, you have to weigh a lot of things. Do we fight the fight that we think is the right fight and do so with an open-ended checkbook, which is the taxpayers’ checkbook, or do we try to settle a situation and make a good business decision?”
Well, here are just a few questions about management in Jefferson County Schools all the secrecy has left unanswered. In raising them, I want to stress that the secrecy in this situation does not allow the public to know if the employee actually was wronged or was in the wrong.
• If the six-figure salary job of public information officer was eliminated, who now performs those functions? Were there two very highly paid people nominally doing this at Jefferson County?
• Was the employee’s move from public information to a six-figure salary human resources position a good skills fit? Who determined that? Was this really just a make-work action?
• Was the firing actually justified? Does the district’s refusal to defend its action actually indicate the firing might not be justified? If the firing was actually questionable, who is being held accountable? How would a similar mistake be avoided in the future if everything is secret?
• If the firing was justified, what kind of precedent is set by the district’s failure to stand behind its actions? Doesn’t this open the taxpayer up to unending, expensive settlements that might not be justified?
• Should the elected board of education be involved with actions, especially job terminations, involving high level district personnel? Is there a legal requirement for such involvement? If so, is there a salary point or job description that would determine the need for board involvement?
• Most important of all, what is being done, if anything, to preclude another expensive action like this in the future? Are the best interests of the taxpayers served by just sweeping this under the rug?
Keep in mind that Jefferson County School’s management history is already under question for being far from stellar. A recent audit by Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts Adam Edelen raised lots of questions about how the district was handling the public’s tax dollars. Right now, it looks like somewhere around $200,000 more of those tax dollars might have been poorly spent while the local board of education – again – was left without a clue.
How charter schools can help
The Kentucky Legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education heard testimony about school choice and achievement gaps at its November 10, 2014 meeting, and one of the key speakers was Mendell Grinter, the head of the Kentucky branch of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. Mendell’s group does a lot of outreach to parents of color to find out what challenges they and their children are facing in our educational system.
This short video, which contains some key comments from Mendell’s testimony, is worth your time.
During the Kentucky Legislature’s Interim Joint Education Committee hearings on school choice and charter schools for Kentucky on November 10, 2014, one Kentucky state senator said he first needed to do more research, including digging into such things as terrible performance at Lexington’s William Wells Brown Elementary School.
But, how much more research can we possibly need?
For starters, William Wells Brown Elementary School was the lowest performing school in Kentucky in the recently released Unbridled Learning results from 2014. The Kentucky School Report Cards for William Wells show its overall Unbridled Learning accountability score actually declined between 2012 and 2013. Then, William Wells’ scores dropped again between 2013 and 2014.
In William Wells only a dismally low 19.8 percent of the African-American students were proficient on reading in 2014 testing. Statewide, African-Americans posted a 33.8 percent proficiency rate, 170 percent of the William Wells performance, though that is still far too low.
Things were even worse in math. Only 15.3 percent of William Wells’ African-Americans were proficient while statewide the figure was 30.3 percent, just shy of being 200 percent of the William Wells figure.
Even more telling, the school was designated as a “Focus School” three years ago in 2012. This school has been getting “researched” for three years already, but that has not helped. As I mentioned earlier, Unbridled Learning says William Wells just keeps getting worse. Its students suffer while the traditional system keeps trying unimaginative things that make work for adults and don’t work for kids. We don’t need a jobs project in our public schools – we need real, effective education.
Sadly, the William Wells story isn’t unique. And, stories like it are nothing new in Kentucky, either.
Furthermore, the “research” has been in for some time.
These four graphs show the Kentucky-wide public school white and black proficiency rates on fourth and eighth grade reading and math from the earliest to latest available State National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) administrations. The evidence is clear: Kentucky achievement gaps in 2013 in every single case are larger than they were in the first available test year of this State NAEP data.
Aside from the obvious growth in Kentucky’s white minus black NAEP achievement gaps, one of the really distressing messages in these graphs is that black proficiency rates have improved very little over the past two-plus decades that KERA has been in force in Kentucky. In fact, there have been no statistically significant changes for fourth and eighth grade African-American reading since 2003. And, Grade 8 African-American math improvement essentially has been static since 2007.
Anyone who says they need to do more study of these issues probably isn’t studying at all. Kentucky has a major achievement gap problem. The state has had it for a long time. It isn’t getting better.
There has been nearly a quarter of a century to do “studies” since KERA was enacted. Meanwhile, minority kids in this state’s traditional public education system have continued to seriously under-perform the state’s whites for nearly a quarter of a century. It’s time to start looking for imaginative new answers that work outside of the box. School choice is one of those out of the box ways to help improve Kentucky’s achievement gap problems.
Anheuser-Busch LLC wants to purchase Budweiser of Owensboro, an independent distributorship owned by the Hand family. The Hand family wants to sell.
However, opponents claim that allowing the transfer of the distributorship license would violate the three-tiered system – a special set of rules established following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 to regulate the alcohol industry.
As a result of this opposition, the sale, which already had the approval of local ABC officials, had been put on hold; opponents had planned to use a Nov. 21 hearing in Frankfort to stop it.
However, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip J. Shepherd last week ordered the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to issue a wholesale beer distributor’s license to Anheuser-Busch. Past court decisions have ruled that state law that prevents makers of distilled spirits and wine from owning distributors did not apply to brewers of malt beverages.
While the three-tiered system is intended to guard against monopolies and insure a level playing field for smaller producers, these shenanigans offer an example of how the policy is misused by those who live in a constant state of populistic frenzy about larger, successful companies – whether they brew beer or sell groceries – who simply want to produce, promote and protect their products without arbitrary government interference.
Among Anheuser-Busch’s opponents are, unsurprisingly, competitors and their lobbyists who serve up a keg full of misinformation and magnify misperceptions that allowing this voluntary exchange would be a slippery slope – at the bottom of which sits smaller producers crying tears in their craft beers because they’re unable to get their products on to Owensboro’s store shelves.
Among those opponents is lobbyist Karen Thomas Lentz, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Beverage Retailers, who claims that granting the license transfer “might” – “might” – mean that some retailers are denied access to smaller brands.
“If I’m a craft brewer, I may not be able to get my product to retailers and they may not have access to my beer – if Anheuser-Busch, the distributor, doesn’t carry it,” Lentz told me. “And so, these craft beers are small – so your market really gets cut if distributors don’t include them.”
But if a small craft-beer maker lacks the wherewithal to get his product to market, he must do what every other small business does: find innovative ways to meet the challenge, not deny legitimate private transactions on the part of a subsidiary of one of America’s most recognizable companies.
Actually, the small craft-beer makers should be pushing to eliminate their forced participation in the outmoded tier system. It drives up costs by requiring them to use separate distributors to get their products to the retailer – even if it’s a restaurant next door.
Wouldn’t allowing a small brewery to deliver directly to a retailer offer a much-more viable competitive advantage to craft beer makers than trying to deny Anheuser-Busch a license to deliver its own Budweiser?
Another part of this brewing controversy involves the misperception that granting Anheuser-Busch a license transfer as part of this mutually agreeable transaction will somehow cause the lines drawn by the three-tiered system to be crossed.
However, the courts have already ruled that such arrangements are allowed as long as the transfer is followed by adherence to the rules regulating distributorships. In fact, Anheuser-Busch successfully turned around a fledgling distributorship in Louisville in 1978, where it employs 175 people and is a good local corporate partner.
Opponents of the Owensboro transaction fail to acknowledge that the craft-beer industry in Louisville – where Anheuser-Busch has operated for decades as a distributor – is “red hot,” according to Mayor Greg Fischer.
To address another of Lentz’s misperceptions, just because Anheuser-Busch won’t commit to carrying smaller craft beers cannot reasonably be translated into: “there will be no way for small craft-beer makers to get their product to retailers’ shelves without violating the three-tiered requirements.”
In fact, out of the 1 million cases the Hand operation has delivered this year, only 6,000 were filled with craft beer.
Lentz also tried to convince me that geographical restrictions would somehow hinder smaller producers. But there are other distributors with a solid presence in Owensboro – including Clark Distributing, which delivers Coors and Miller beers and other less well-known brands.
If small distributors and their retailers can’t figure out how to get a miniscule 6,000 cases of beer delivered and stocked during an entire year without forcing the king of beer distributors to do it, maybe they, too, should go the way of Prohibition.