To Ken Jackson: Responding to your blog on the meaning of conservatism in the context of the Oxford Foundation proposal, your discussion of the term conservative has a certain historical truth, but it doesn't reflect the meaning of the term as generally used today, particularly if you add the word "fiscal" in front of it. You are correct that Conservatives strive to conserve that which is time-tested and true, including the principle of providing a good public education, but such conservation cannot be accomplished at all costs because in the end it means that all fails. Conservatism, and particularly fiscal conservatism, is strongly rooted in concepts such as balanced budgets, folks paying their own way in life and a government of limited size that is sustainable, financially, over the long haul.
These concepts apply to public education too. There's nothing inappropriate, at the state level, with advocating for changes to what you describe as a "carefully constructed" method of delivering a public education if the system is financially unsustainable or if it doesn't actually work "perfectly well", as you suggest. We're blessed to be in the BHSD. By any objective measure, our kids get a very good education in a financially stable district, but I get the sense that not all public schools, statewide, are working perfectly well. If that's right, reforming the system may be the only way to save it.
That being said, reforming it in a responsible manner is another matter. My concern with the approach that is suggested by the Oxford Foundation is how it will work in light of the significant educational and financial commitments already in place between our kids, our parents, our school district and, importantly, district tax payers. The Oxford Foundation's proposal, a work in progress, has a number of important concepts, I’ll highlight two: the disaggregation of schools (essentially further freeing a kid from her 1 in-district school in favor of allowing her to pursue credits “any place where learning can occur”) and funding follows the student (that is, the per-pupil allowance, or part thereof, goes with the child outside of the district to, for example, an on-line school or community college).
In theory, I have no objection with these concepts. A kid should have maximum flexibility to supplement her education and having what is essentially for-me, follow-me funding could serve her well… in theory. But think about the tumult to any district trying to budget for and deliver a quality education year-after-year when large numbers of district students can freely come and go, taking a significant portion of their per-pupil dollars with them when they go. It could be a budgetary nightmare.
Add to the problem mandatory school of choice laws, almost certain to be part of the new legislative package, which will force school districts such as ours to accept out of district kids whose parents, frankly, aren't paying the tax bill for the maintenance or construction of our school facilities. Many of those kids will come to the district with a per pupil allowance of around $8,000, not the almost $12,000 that accompanies our kids. Fair to property owners that are paying the sinking fund millage and who will now pay the bond for the new high school?
With so much freedom of movement in and out of our school district, when do we hire or fire teachers and how many? Before or after the entire freshman class decides that Mr. Smith is too tough in Calculus but that Mr. Danielson at OCC offers the course on-line ... and it's easy. How do we predict how many teachers we need and what type of teachers, how much staff we need, how many buses we need. Will students chose the best path in the district or the easiest path outside of the district (take their funding with them)? Will "accredited" businesses spring up that offer short cuts to education?
So Ken, while I respectfully disagree with you on the role of conservative principles in education reform (necessary reforms to improve and sustain the public education system is certainly conservative), I think you may be right that we need to be careful when completely overhauling something that works for many districts, including ours, even if not for so many others. Balanced legislation is called for and high performing districts need to be supported, not sacrificed. The Oxford Foundation proposal isn't final, but from what I can discern so far, it will likely gut the local school district and transfer a tremendous amount of control from our community to Lansing. That may be a good idea in some districts, but not ours. As conservatives that believe in local control and respect for our local taxpayers, we can do better.
All of which brings me back to our school board race. In my opinion, conservative principles in the context of our school board race means electing people that understand budgets and financial issues and, in that sense, while I'm reluctant to group the words Howard Baron with no brainer (after all he has a degree from MIT and a MBA from the University of Chicago), electing him to the school board is, I would humbly suggest, a no brainer. He has worked as a financial executive for 30 years. He's been an active participant in the Community Partnership Committees, including the Legislative Committee, which is focused on the issue of the Oxford Foundation's proposal. He understands how the district's finances work as evidenced by his recent blog on the subject (http://bloomfield-mi.patch.com/blog_posts/my-financial-assessment-of-bloomfield-hills-schools). It's hard to think how someone could be more prepared for this position if "fiscal stewardship and responsibility" is what one is looking for. It's what I'm looking for and it's one of the reasons I will be voting for him on November 6th.
Of Interest: Patch Blogger Weighs in the Oxford Group and How it Relates to the BHS School Board Election.