Thursday, December 03, 2009

Acorns, Squirrels, and the Nuts in Lansing

cross posted at Right Michigan

I don't much like squirrels. They look too much like rats to me and rats, frankly, even bushy tailed ones, creep me right out. I know people that hunt squirrels during small game season that would happily make a meal out of their little rat-like legs. The day one of you yahoos ever tries to force feed me rat legs for dinner is the day you better start arsenic testing your drinking water.

So, I didn't really lament the squirrel's life that was lost a couple months ago one afternoon as I drove home from town, accidentally squishing the creepy little rodent underneath my driver's side front tire. For the record, I will lightly brake for squirrels but draw the line at swerving. It isn't that I celebrated the little guy's death because I generally like animals, but this little fella didn't give himself much of a chance.

If a bullet has ever had the name of a victim scrawled across its brassy casing, this squirrel's Latin surname was marked on my tire, for this was a squirrel destined to die on that day. He darted across the road in front of me, got nearly off the road on the opposite side, panicked, backtracked, got nearly to safety again this time on my side of the road, and then backtracked one last fateful time before terminally meeting my Michelin near the center line. Having never owned a squirrel and having never spent a lot of time studying them in the wild, I'm just going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this one wasn't the valedictorian of his senior class.

We have all seen animals do this sort of thing countless times without ever revealing so much as a hint of motivation. With all apologies to Nike, they just do it.

Humans, outside of teens at the mall, rarely engage in such erratic behavior without some sort of motivation. For Michigan legislators currently considering a backtrack on education policy, the motivation is purely, and simply, about the largest pile of money.

Back in 2005, the Michigan state legislature decided that local school districts were no longer capable of setting their own school year calendars. (This really wasn't surprising because distant legislators and policy makers had already been overruling local districts for a very long time on issues that they felt the locals were incapable of deciding themselves.) If districts were forced to stay closed until after the Labor Day holiday, so thought legislators, the tourism industry would greatly benefit, and the added business (and the resultant taxes) would be a huge boon to the economy (and to public coffers.) That this change was not to the liking of some districts was too bad. Policy makers--especially those in need of a currency fix--had decided what would be good for the many, and the few had simply better suck it up and follow along.

Think about it. Policy makers and advocates have a lot more to consider than parents, teachers, administrators, and school boards do. Parents just have their kids, teachers but a classroom, and administrators but a district. But legislators and advocates. . .they have the CHILDREN!

There is the child's self esteem to consider, his proper diet, a free before-school breakfast, his physical exercise, his embrace of cultural equality, and his acceptance of the global green economy and climate change. He must possess a healthy dose of imperialist guilt, have a willingness to work in a team setting (even if other team members do nothing but screw off,) know how to apply a condom, embrace the collective, learn that communism wouldn't have been as bad had it been tried in a more industrialized country, and must have a keen understanding of his country's founding based on Judeo-Christian principles. Hmmmm, maybe not that very last part. And, let me tell you, this sort of intervention doesn't come on the cheap.

How could bureaucrats ever trust parents to do an adequate job of teaching their children these things?

As if to emphasize the fact, during the same year that Michigan legislators were telling parents and local school boards that their opinions mattered not one whit on something as simple as a school calendar, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued this statement in a ruling concerning parental rights in the education of children in California.

"While parents may have a fundamental right to decide whether to send their child to a public school, they do not have a fundamental right generally to direct how a public school teaches their child."
Since 2005, as the rolls of children in private and home schools have predictably swelled, Michigan's public school children have been entering school after Labor Day ostensibly so that they can spend the first two weeks of summer drifting off to sleep in class while dreaming about being outside in the June sun. Well, that and bigger pastie sales during the first week of September.

Unfortunately for Michigan's state-owned school children, the additional Labor Day tax revenues have not been nearly enough to steer Michigan out of the economic doldrums, and another solution (along with many more dollars) are needed to thwart insolvency. Fortunately, we might have found us a stop-gap Sugar Daddy.

From MLive and the AP:
Michigan's efforts to win more federal cash for schools could result in changes that would cause some angst beyond education circles.

Among them is a proposal that would eliminate the requirement that Michigan schools wait to start classes until after Labor Day. It's one of several changes proposed in legislation that supporters say would give Michigan a shot at winning up to $400 million in the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition.


Some lawmakers say eliminating that requirement may improve the state's chances of securing more federal cash for schools. Rep. Tim Melton, an Auburn Hills Democrat who sponsors key Race to the Top-oriented legislation, says the provision is intended to meet the federal program's goals of providing schools flexibility to boost time spent on instruction.

"It's a provision that we believe, in Race to the Top, makes us more competitive," Melton said.
Funny, isn't it, how much more attractive a policy or idea becomes when the adoption of it might result in distant bureaucrats dumping suitcases full of borrowed Chinese money on the threshold of Michigan's Department of Education. I mean, extra Labor Day business is great, but this is wads of freshly printed free federal money! It is a tough choice, really, having to decide between scrapping a plan that completely discounts the desires of most local school districts, and a plan that might make Michigan eligible for a slice of delicious Obama bail-out pie (while also potentially ceding control of school districts another thousand miles farther away from where it belongs.) Hey, if the EU would pony up some cold cash I'm sure we'd have many overlords willing to let Brussels arrange our school calendars.

From the evidence provided we can clearly discern the established preferential hierarchy of education policy makers in Lansing.

  1. The education policy makers themselves
  2. Feds with boatloads of cash earmarked directly for government education coffers
  3. Business lobbies who like busy holiday weekends (and taverns that have Lotto)
  4. School Districts that have to adapt to it all on the money they are allowed to have
  5. Parents and other citizens who have been pretty much booted out of the whole process (other than those pesky tax contributions)
  6. Public school children who will learn exactly what socially driven policy advocates feel is important for them to learn, at least as long as the money holds out and parents don't butt in
It is difficult to predict with any certainty what is going to become of public education in Michigan. Our funding structure for education is badly ill conceived, but at this point simply rearranging revenue streams is not going to tackle the problem. This is because progressive policy makers have literally choked this state of its ability to create widespread wealth, and they have done so with such dismissive zeal and ignorance that they still do not realize the fruits of their effort. Without expanding wealth creation there cannot be significant increases in tax revenues, but they continue to come back demanding more.

So, where will the money come from? The feds cannot borrow into perpetuity because either the Chinese will balk at our gluttony, or inflation will hammer the dollar into oblivion (and you thought $4.30 a gallon gasoline was bad.) Not only can the state not finance its endeavors on borrowed money, its legislators have already sucked every discretionary dollar possible out of Michigan's shriveled economy, and in doing so they have reached that magical point of giddy irresponsibility where squeezing $1 more out of the economy will drive more than $1's worth of wealth beyond the state's borders.

The solution to this problem lies in returning control of schools back to the local level and entrusting parents and voters with making the best decisions for their own children and communities. This may prove to be a pill too large for bureaucrats to swallow. After all, they didn't get the power they have today just so they could throw it away on a bunch of blue collar country bumpkins.

They would rather busy themselves with scurrying back and forth like carefree rodents between the largest piles of donated acorns while never considering the fact that acorns don't just pile themselves--they have to come from somewhere.

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