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Monday, October 4, 2010

Children's Investment Fund: Vote "No"

By Laurie H. Rogers

(Updated Oct. 9, 2010, with information about certain members of the Children's Investment Fund steering committee.)
A brochure and postcard came to my door last weekend, asking me to vote “yes” to the Spokane Children’s Investment Fund, a proposed property tax. The brochure acknowledges Spokane’s “persistently troubling dropout rate,” then states: “While our public school system is doing all that it can” to close achievement gaps, “it truly is a community-wide problem” that “demands” taxpayer “attention” and “resources.”
If the Spokane Children’s Investment Fund is approved in November, taxpayers will pay $30 million over six years for programs to prevent child abuse, engage children after school, provide early-learning opportunities, and offer mentoring. These programs, the brochure assures us without any proof or data whatsoever, will reduce Spokane’s dropout rate.
This $30 million levy would be in addition to the federal, state and local taxes you already pay for education and social services. Spokane Public Schools currently spends more than $10,000 per student per year. According to the state education agency, 68% of that expenditure goes toward “learning.” It’s actually worse than that. Money for “learning” is not the same thing as money for “the classroom.”
The brochure for the Spokane Children’s Investment Fund says, again without proof, that Seattle and Portland have had “remarkable” success with their versions of a voter-approved children’s levy. What does it mean to be “remarkable”? The brochure doesn’t say.
I already know that Seattle has issues with on-time graduation, so I looked into the data.
In 1990, Seattle voters approved a “children’s” levy, called the “Families & Education Levy.” At the time, according to Seattle Public Schools, Seattle’s on-time graduation rate was 81%. In the 14 years between 1990 and 2004, Seattle taxpayers paid $138 million for the Families & Education Levy. In the seven years between 2004 and 2012 – you’ll love this – they’re slated to spend nearly $118.6 million on the levy. In 2008/2009, after 18 years of paying for the Families & Education Levy:
  • Seattle’s on-time graduation rate was 70.1% (a drop from 1990 of nearly 11%). For black students, the on-time graduation rate was 55.2%.
  • Just 75.3% of Seattle’s 2009 student cohort remained in school through Grade 12, giving Seattle a cohort dropout rate of 24.7%. (For black students, the cohort dropout rate was 38.1%).
    That is, indeed, remarkable.
In Portland, Ore., the annual $12.5 million “Children’s Levy” has been in place since 2002. According to an America’s Promise report called “Cities in Crisis 2009: Closing the Graduation Gap,” in 2005, Portland’s metropolitan graduation rate was 72.8%. In 2008/2009, the Oregon Department of Education reports, Portland’s graduation rate was 70.1%.
After eight years and $100 million for the Children’s Levy, Portland’s graduation rate failed to improve. Remarkable.
In 2002, Dade County voters approved “The Children’s Trust” levy. Six years later, voters approved the levy “in perpetuity.” It will be 2020 before they get another chance to say no to it. In 2008/2009, after hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent on The Children’s Trust levy, Miami’s cohort graduation rate was 68.2%. Remarkable.
Here's something else you should know:
The Communities in Schools program (a national program located in several cities, including Spokane) is supposedly a leading dropout prevention program. The CIS program does not provide data or research supporting its program, although it claims to be "proven" to work. An organization called ICF International is conducting a study of community-in-schools programs. This study is incomplete.
  • Ben Stuckart is executive director of the Spokane chapter of CIS, and he also is on the Advisory Steering Committee for the Children's Investment Fund
  • Doug Durham is on the board of directors for Spokane's CIS, and there is a Doug Durham on the Advisory Steering Committee for the Children's Investment Fund
  • Lee Taylor is on the board of directors for Spokane's CIS, and there is a Lee Taylor on the Advisory Steering Committee for the Children's Investment Fund
On the Mike Fitzsimmons KXLY radio show Thursday, Oct. 8, Ben Stuckart did not mention his connection to CIS until he was asked what else he did for a living, a question which came well into the show. And when he was asked what he going to do after the vote on the Fund, he did not mention the CIS. The materials for the Fund do not mention the connection between CIS and the Fund. The public is not being properly informed about that connection.
Please vote “no” to the Spokane Children’s Investment Fund property tax initiative. Money isn’t going to fix Spokane’s dropout rate. Vote no, ask your family and friends to vote no, and ask the businesses and organizations that support this levy to withdraw their support.
You are being asked, during an economic downturn, to tax yourselves in support of a nebulous program, run by as-yet unknown mayoral appointees, who will give grants to as-yet unknown organizations, which supposedly will be able to (through as-yet undetermined extracurricular services), reduce Spokane’s dropout rate.
Spokane Public Schools has a dropout problem, no doubt about it. Its 2008/2009 on-time graduation rate was 62.1%. For black students, it was 54.6%. Just 71.3% of the 2009 cohort was still in school in Grade 12, giving Spokane a cohort dropout rate of 28.7%. (The black cohort dropout rate was 32.8%.)
Clearly, something needs to be done in Spokane, but the Spokane Children’s Investment Fund is the wrong tool for this job. According to the initiative's brochure, any grantees will have to show “proven effectiveness and successful track records in fighting the root causes of school dropouts.” But if their track records actually were proven, why is Spokane staring at a 28.7% cohort dropout rate? Why would the levy even be needed?
What exactly are those “root causes”? Could some of them have to do with Spokane Public Schools’ counterproductive academic policies?
  • Spokane Public Schools has a habit of cluttering the school day with nonacademic activities, events, parties, assemblies and “character classes.”
  • The school district’s absolute and unwavering commitment to constructivism (or “discovery learning”) prevents teachers from directly teaching the students critical subjects such as arithmetic and grammar. Every day, students are guided into muddling in herds, teaching themselves and each other, deferring to groupthink and attempting to reach “consensus” on things they don’t understand.
  • District policy is to socially promote students to the next grade regardless of what they know. Standard operating procedure is to plunk them into advanced classes for which they’re insufficiently prepared. In response to queries about these policies, administrators have said to me: “Even if they don’t pass, students must have learned something while they’re there.”
At some point, do you suppose students give up? I can’t imagine suffering with this terrible process for 30 hours out of every week. Can you? How will the Children’s Investment Fund have a positive impact on these disastrous policies? How will that additional $30 million translate into improved graduation rates? Where is the data to support this tax initiative?
Supporters of the initiative want you to vote “yes” for the children by voting “yes” to this tax initiative. I’m asking you to vote “yes” for the children by voting “no” to this initiative. I’m asking you to push Spokane Public Schools to give up on its failing policies, to fire its ineffective administrators, and to give its corps of teachers the freedom to teach their students a strong curriculum in a focused learning environment.

Most of what Spokane administrators need to do for our students is just get out of the way.
Let’s see where we are then with our dropout rates.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:Rogers, L. (October 2010). "Children's Investment Fund: Vote "no"." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

1 comment:

Joshua's Law said...

Well said friend, money never going to solve all problems or reduce the drop outs, what they needed is a perfect strategy and answers to below questions.

A research about why people failing at which step?
What would be the cause for their failure?
What could be the best solution?
Implementation pilot project report?
How, Where, When to implement?
What results they are expecting?
If results are not meet what is theirs next plan?
How much time it will take ?
What will be the use for taxpayers?