Fifteen years and billions of dollars later, legislation has been proposed that would “eliminate agriculture direct payments subsidies completely and permanently.”
When these direct payments to farmers began in 1996, they were meant “to serve as a temporary transitional handout to farmers as they moved in a more market-oriented direction.”
But good intentions do not a temporary government program make.
The direct payments program has cost taxpayers $41 billion since Congress made it permanent in 2002.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, eliminating these subsidies would save $28 billion over the next decade.
Taking a cue from other large cities like New York and San Diego, Kentucky Senate President/Candidate for Governor David Williams is calling for a shut down of the Jefferson County Board of Education and transfer of power over schools to the mayor of Louisville.
It’s a dramatic proposal, but something better needs to happen in the Louisville school system, where a huge proportion of the state’s lowest performing schools are found and where dropouts and poor academic performance are an everyday fact of life.
Jefferson County is overloaded with some of the poorest performing schools in Kentucky. Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) reports show that 13 of the state’s current total of 22 Persistently Low-Achieving Schools – 59 percent – are found in Jefferson County.
That is way out of line with the district’s share of all the students in Kentucky’s public school system. An annual KDE report on Growth Factor/Ethnic Membership in all school districts shows Jefferson County’s 2010-11 school year fall membership included 95,176 students, while statewide the total number of students was 654,997. Thus, while this lone district has only 14.5 percent of the state’s students, it has 59 percent of the state’s highest problem schools.
There are many other problems in this troubled school system, such as low high school graduation rates, especially for children of color, and poor academic performance in other schools besides the Persistently Low-Achievers. We cover that information in our reports on “How Blacks and Whites Perform in Jefferson County” and “Examining Kentucky’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ Tier 5 Schools” and in our long-running series in this blog (just search on the term “busing” to find) about the deplorable school bus plan in the district. That busing plan, which is now hugely controversial in Louisville, routinely and unnecessarily forces five-year-olds on bus rides over an hour, one way, with multiple bus exchanges enroute.
David Williams apparently understands that.
Meanwhile, when asked about the Williams proposal, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said, “Kentucky’s local school systems have worked well for years with locally-elected boards of education, directly responsible to the people of that area.”
Clearly, the governor must be uninformed about what is really happening in Jefferson County.
Also lost in the governor’s comment is the fact that Kentucky has a history under KERA of moving in when local school districts don’t do their jobs well.
KERA itself was aimed in no small measure at low-performing school districts in Eastern Kentucky that had become virtual family fiefdoms – places where patronage was far more important than the education of children. Under KERA, those school districts had all sorts of power taken away by people who lived much farther away from them than David Williams does from Jefferson County.
You see, while local control is often a good thing, when something is really wrong, where you live has nothing to do with whether or not you are able to understand the issues and have a desire to make things better.
I was on the road when the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce held its annual conference, but a post in the chamber’s blog concerning an education discussion is worth a look.
It was a three-way panel with former US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, international education consultant Sir Michael Barber, and Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday.
Spellings says business people must act as “the point of the spear” in fighting for education reform in order to develop a qualified workforce that meets the demands of a new economy. Both parents and business leaders should demand higher expectations from students and, most importantly, teachers and administrators.
She also said Kentucky had room for improvement in identifying and retaining effective teachers and removing ineffective teachers. She didn’t like the lack of charter schools and noted the disappointing achievement gap between white and minority students.
Barber said, “Any system that wants to make progress has to stop feeling sorry for itself and take responsibility for its own future.” He also pointed out, “Spending money alone won’t fix the system.”
Holliday admitted that a third of our kids are not graduating from high school. He also pointed to another shocking fact: “A meager four counties are graduating the vast majority of our state’s college-ready students.” That means the vast majority of Kentucky’s 174 school systems are not meeting this very important goal.
Clearly, there is much work to be done.
Kentucky not immune
Fox News reports that there is a disturbing rise in school staff and teachers cheating on tests their students take.
And, don’t think that cheating is just happening elsewhere. Right here in Perry County, Kentucky a district-wide cheating scandal on the ACT is still an open and, so far, unpunished issue.
Fox.com summarizes recent reports of cheating in several large metropolitan school systems including Washington, DC and Atlanta, Georgia.
There are also reported problems in Baltimore.
Secretary Duncan told Fox.com:
“State and local officials share responsibility for defending against security breaches and threats to data quality.”
Fox.com says Duncan urged state and local educators to review “assessment security” and make improvements, if necessary. Duncan also urged “unannounced, on-site visits” when tests are being administered.
Sadly, Kentuckians should not sit back and think this is only happening elsewhere. Back on October 9, 2010, we first commented on a cheating scandal surrounding ACT testing in Perry County’s public schools.
By December 6, 2010 the ACT, Inc. completed its investigation and confirmed there had been cheating in Perry County.
Just Duncan noted about Atlanta, the Perry County situation appears to involve a system-wide culture issue.
By the way, it is now mid-2011. So far, no Perry County educator has faced any consequences for the alteration of student answer sheets.
At present, only one organization, the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board (EPSB), has an ongoing investigation to hold teachers and staff accountable. The EPSB started that investigation back in March.
Four months later, EPSB has yet to announce any findings, and the office advised by phone today that the matter remains “under investigation.”
Other state enforcement agencies such as the Attorney General and the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability are aware of the Perry County situation, but it appears the EPSB has been given the lead for first investigations.
That puts a lot of pressure on EPSB to do the job well and to be aggressive about forwarding their findings to other agencies if improper activity, such as criminal actions, is determined. The reason is that the EPSB only has authority to suspend or revoke teachers’ and principals’ certificates. However, more aggressive action may be warranted because these ACT tests are paid for by the taxpayer and are used in a number of official ways such as awarding tax-funded KEES scholarships. Inflated ACT scores can lead to higher KEES awards.
In general, the cheating issue is really important. We agree with US Department of Education spokesperson Justin Hamilton, who told Fox.com:
“People want to have confidence in that process. It’s clear that the real crime here is that these kids are being cheated out of the world-class education they deserve.”
To be very clear, we agree with Secretary Duncan that the great majority of our teachers are honorable and undoubtedly deplore cheating on education tests just as much as we do.
However, so far any public expression of outrage from honest teachers and their professional organizations has been rather muted, at best. That does little to put pressure on Kentucky’s education leaders to find and appropriately deal with cheaters who do a great disservice to their profession, to their students and to the general public alike.
And, so long as the cheaters go unpunished, it’s our kids ultimately continue to be cheated, and we don’t want this to continue, whether it happens in Atlanta, DC, Baltimore, or right here in Perry County, Kentucky.