Pulling the Education Trigger for Students

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow for education policy at the The Heartland Institute. A free-market think tank based in Chicago since its inception in 1984, Heartland typically offers compelling research and insights.

Do I agree with everything I see from Heartland? Far from it.

On education, though, Pullmann has been paying particular attention to Indiana. She reported extensively on the Common Core debate last month.

Now, she weighs in on a "parent trigger" reform bill passed by the House Education Committee last week. Her comments on that option to expand school choice.

“The bill’s proposed changes will give parents actual power to change their kids’ failing schools, which is the whole point of a Parent Trigger. The current school board veto is a veto to the whole idea.

“Because Indiana already has a statewide voucher program, state representatives could add another option for parents besides converting the school to a charter school: giving all the kids slotted to attend that failing school a voucher. Real options for parents is what the Parent Trigger is all about.”

Learn much more on education issues in the General Assembly with Indiana Chamber updates and reports.

More Frivolous Lawsuits

Courts play a critical role in society. A justice system, however, that permits extremely frivolous (and extremely costly) lawsuits demonstrates there is a great deal of room for improvement. Everyone pays the prices for lawsuit abuses. The Heartland Institute looks at a few:

An 18-year-old high school student in shop class attached an electrical cord to one of his nipples with an alligator clamp, while a classmate used another alligator clamp to attach the cord to the student’s other nipple. A third student plugged the cord into an electrical wall socket.

The resulting three-second shock knocked the student to the ground and briefly stopped his heart. The boy survived but allegedly suffered short-term memory loss and brain damage.

Naturally, he’s suing the school and the teacher for failing to warn him it could be dangerous to play with electrical cords.

Too Much Wind a Bad Thing?

Trying to find a compromise when it comes to wind power has proven difficult. Few can argue with the fact that wind turbines and the power they generate are a good thing, diversifying our energy mix. The point of contention has been between those who believe wind and other renewable can replace coal (and other traditional sources) and those who are not "blown away" by the wind or "overheated" by solar’s potential.

Now there is a new argument, courtesy of a recent study, that the unpredictable nature of wind is causing an actual increase in carbon dioxide emissions. I’ll let the expert, James Taylor of the Heartland Institute, explain. The bottom line, as Taylor points out, is that Washington just might need to slow down on the emission regulations and the renewable mandates.

Government policies designed to fight global warming by encouraging, subsidizing, or mandating renewable power may be making global warming worse.

In a published paper, electrical engineer Kent Hawkins shows when wind power surpasses 5 percent of power generated, the frequent ramping up and ramping down of other power sources to compensate for wind’s unpredictable variability causes such inefficiency in power generation that overall carbon dioxide emissions rise.

For a good analogy, consider this: A driver who keeps his or her speed at a consistent 60 miles per hour will get better gas mileage than one who frequently accelerates and decelerates between 45 and 75 miles per hour. The inefficiency of frequently ramping up and ramping down vehicle speed is substantial enough that the vehicle driving at variable speeds will burn up more gasoline than many vehicles with a lower fuel economy rating.

The same appears to hold true for power generation. Power plants in the Netherlands, Colorado, and Texas switched some of their generation from coal and natural gas to wind power. Because wind speeds are variable and unpredictable, plant operators were forced frequently to vary the ordinarily steady, constant generation of baseload power to back up variable wind power. Whereas a small amount of wind power generation helped reduce carbon dioxide emissions, those emissions began surpassing prior levels once wind power exceeded 3 percent of the power mix.

If the proponents of federal legislation to force reduction of carbon dioxide emissions are sincerely concerned more about alleged global warming than the accumulation of government power to hand out money and favors to preferred industries and contractors, these real-world carbon dioxide facts should put an immediate freeze on renewable power subsidies, renewable power mandates, and cap-and-tax global warming plans. How Congress responds to these new findings will tell us much about the true motivation behind proposed global warming legislation.

In the lawmaking process, as in life itself, rushing to enact "solutions" to speculative problems before the facts are known usually produces more harm than good. Keeping this axiom in mind, Congress need not rush to enact carbon dioxide restrictions on the American economy. After all, total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are falling, not rising, and they have been declining for the past decade. To the extent global emissions are rising, the fault does not lie with the United States. 

California Still Not Learning Hard Lessons on Education

Oh, California. You gave us good wine, the Grateful Dead, and Reggie Miller. We should probably be a little kinder to you than we are. But you don’t make it easy. The Heartland Institute asserts the Golden State just isn’t getting it when it comes to education, throwing money at a failing system instead of letting the system work for the kids. Here’s an excerpt: 

Frustrated by some tough budget years, California public school officials want a court to declare the state’s Byzantine school finance system unconstitutional. The stated goal of the lawsuit is to circumvent lawmakers (and reality) by asking a judge to force billions of dollars in unaffordable education spending increases.

But the system isn’t "unconstitutional" so much as unworkable. The way to achieve an equitable and affordable public school system in the Golden State isn’t more funding to prop up a bloated bureaucracy. The answer is to fund all children equally by letting the funding follow the child. The answer is choice.

This is hardly a radical idea. Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania, for example, offer tax credits to corporations and individuals who finance scholarships for children from low-income families. Even Sweden lets families choose the school they want, public or private, backed by a tax-subsidized scholarship…

The education establishment views the case as a bureaucracy preservation problem, which evades the real problem – the failure of that bureaucracy to educate California’s children. Students only enter the equation as a pretext for propping up the salaries and benefits of public employees.

The fact is, court-ordered school spending has never translated to academic success. A federal court judge ruled in 1985 that school officials in Kansas City, Mo., had to double local property taxes to fund $2 billion aimed at improving performance in low-income and mostly minority schools. In the blizzard of spending that followed over the next two decades, students got state-of-the-art science facilities, Olympic-size swimming pools, small classes – and no measurable improvement in academic outcomes.

Voters’ efforts to boost school funding haven’t translated to success either. Proposition 98, which Californians passed in 1988, locked California into a budget-busting mandate directing at least 40 percent of the state budget toward elementary and secondary education. Since its passage, California has seen negligible gains in academic outcomes and lagged well behind mediocre national trends.

What the California case needs is a second group of plaintiffs to intervene and argue the only workable way to secure the fundamental right to an education in a truly equitable fashion is to fund every child equally. The court certainly could declare the entire system unconstitutional – and then insist that funding follow the child to any school that meets California’s content standards.

Lasting reform requires shifting from the stifling chaos of the current "bureaucracy-based" system to the spontaneous order that will unfold as we fund the child. That’s the only system that comports with the spirit and the letter of the "equal protection" clause in any constitution.

Heartland Institute Reviews Odd Lawsuits Around the Country

The Heartland Institute released another installment of its Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly newsletter recently, which is normally good for a chuckle and a solid read. Here’s an excerpt of one lawsuit that you may have seen in the news, as well:

A Queens woman is suing Citibank, claiming the bank fired her because she looked too sexy at work.

The woman was a business banking officer at a Citibank branch in Manhattan. The branch manager and his assistant told her “she must refrain from wearing certain items of clothing, in particular, turtleneck tops, pencil skirts, [or] fitted business suits,” the suit alleges. She told them other women workers wore such clothing, the suit says. “In blatantly discriminatory fashion, plaintiff was advised that as a result of the shape of her figure, such clothes were purportedly ‘too distracting’ for her male colleagues and supervisors to bear.”

She also alleges she was told “as a result of her tall stature, coupled with her curvaceous figure, she should not wear classic high-heeled business shoes, as this purportedly drew attention to her body in a manner that was upsetting to her easily distracted male managers.”

The claim was originally filed in court but dismissed because she had previously agreed any employment disputes would be settled in private arbitration, where her case is now pending. 

While I’ve certainly never been accused of being too attractive for work, I was once falsely accused of being "too cool for school" by an acquaintance. And maintaining my innocence did prove to be a very trying and litigious process, so I can see why this is such a noteworthy hearing.

Legally Speaking, This Stinks!

There are many, many things right in our country. While freedom is one near the very top of the list, something is not right when the "whocanisue.com" web site helps proliferate lawsuit abuse. Read for yourself in an installment from the Heartland Institute’s Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly.

A lawyer referral Web site is causing controversy in Florida over rules governing legal advertising. It’s called “whocanisue.com” and features a drop-down menu suggesting possible causes of action to wannabe litigants.

Under nursing home abuse, for instance, there are numerous subcategories, such as bed sores, dehydration, and falls and fractures. Lawyers are matched with clients by zip codes. Listed under “Hot Topics” are car accidents, bankruptcy, divorce, DUIs, foreclosure, overtime, mortgage loan modifications, and wrongful termination.

Strict rules apply to lawyer advertising, but the service isn’t, legally speaking, lawyering, so they may be exempt from those rules, though the matter hasn’t been finally resolved.

Business seems to be booming, with 250 law firms signed up and about 25,000 visits to the Web site every month. The service operates in California, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and other states. Lawyers using the service rave about it.

“I’m getting probably twice as many phone calls,” one said. Another said his phone hasn’t stopped ringing. “The name was catchy,” he added. “I was upset I didn’t think of it.”

Others called the advertising “egregious” and a “disgrace.”

Asia Continues Greenhouse Gas Emissions Growth, Not Concerned About U.S. Policy

Critics of cap and trade remain unconvinced that tightening the reins on CO2 emissions in America would have much impact on global pollution — and thus would hinder American businesses with little benefit. That’s a sentiment echoed by the Heartland Institute:

Already responsible for one-third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, China, India, and other Asian nations are on pace to generate more than 40 percent of the world’s emissions by 2030, according to data released at a climate change conference in Manila, Philippines…

Following a recent visit to Beijing by U.S. climate change envoy Todd Stern, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang indicated his country has no plans to curb emissions in the near future, regardless of whether the United States does so.

“China is still a developing country, and the present task confronting China is to develop its economy and alleviate poverty, as well as raise the living standard of its people,” Gang told reporters. “Given that, it is natural for China to have some increase in its emissions, so it is not possible for China in that context to accept a binding or compulsory target.”

Max Schulz, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, observes China and India have both publicly stated they have no plans to slow their growth.

“The steep growth in emissions by developing Asian countries, combined with clear statements that these nations have no plans to curtail their emissions, further highlights the futility of the United States’ plans to make drastic cuts in emissions,” said Schulz.

What do you think? Would cap and trade be futile due to the impact of Asian polluters et al.?

Complying with Tax Code Costing Billions of Hours

The Heartland Institute crunched the numbers and discovered that — contrary to popular opinion — taxes really stink.

U.S. Treasury Department paperwork, some 90 percent of which consists of personal and business income tax forms, imposes a burden of 7.75 billion hours on Americans. That’s equal to 3.7 million employees working 40-hour weeks year-round without vacation, according to NTU’s study—more than are employed at the five biggest Fortune 500 companies combined.

Individual taxpayers will spend about 3.8 billion hours complying with income tax laws this year—up from 3.6 billion hours last year. This time is worth $110.6 billion. They’ll also spend an estimated $29.33 billion for tax software, tax preparers, postage, and other direct out-of-pocket costs.

The cost of paperwork time burdens for corporations facing the federal income tax (3.2 billion hours) adds up to $159.4 billion—equivalent to 54 percent of corporate income taxes collected in FY 2008. The expense is generally passed along to consumers, employees, and shareholders.

My sardonic intro aside, I think we’d all agree that taxes are a necessary cost of order, but could there be a simpler way as to prevent so many man hours dedicated simply to compliance?

Green & Gold Paint Thicker Than Water

The Heartland Institute’s "Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly" newsletter was recently released. You should read the whole thing, but we’ll feature this gem about some serious Green Bay Packers fans. Also, lawsuit aside, kudos to the Packers for a lifetime of some serious branding success. A waiting list of nearly 75,000? Is this Lambeau Field or Heaven?

Forget the issue of who gets the family jewels when dear old Dad kicks the bucket. In Wisconsin, the more important question is who gets the Green Bay Packers tickets.

Two brothers are currently embroiled in a court battle over 13 midfield Packers season tickets. Their father left the tickets to one brother but stipulated the brothers were to share any proceeds from scalping them, allegedly worth about $250 to $300 per game per ticket. The brother without possession of the football tickets claims in court the tickets really belong to both of them.

The Packers are among some NFL franchise teams designating season tickets as family property. The tickets rarely go on the market, and there is a multi-millennium-long waiting list. “For instance, if you put your name on the waiting list today, you would be number 74,659,” Sports Illustrated noted a few years ago. “An average of 70 people give up their tickets every year, which means you’ll have your tickets by the 3074 season. Luckily you’ll still catch Brett Favre’s last year.”

WARNING: Do Not Hold Wrong End of Chainsaw — May Cause Discomfort

The latest edition of the Heartland Institute’s "Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly" newsletter has some gems. For example:

The top prize winner in the “Wacky Warning Label” contest sponsored by Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse and the Parent Bloggers Network? The label on a chainsaw that warned: “Do not hold the wrong end of a chainsaw.”

One runner-up was the label on a rocking chair: “Do not eat The Rocker or anything included with The Rocker, including, but not limited to, nuts, bolts, tags, cardboard, packaging, plastic bags, plastic pieces, styrofoam, unpopped popcorn kernels, etc. Attempting to eat these things may result in injury, death, or at the very least, discomfort while passing these items through your digestive system from entry to exit.”

“The growing number of frivolous lawsuits has prompted manufacturers to cover all their bases where it comes to warning labels on products,” according to the Parent Bloggers Network. “These labels may be funny, but lawsuit abuse costs all of us money. Let’s bring common sense back.”

You should really read the entire rundown here. I especially like the Yale University student who is suing an airline for $1 million for allegedly stealing his souped-up Xbox (worth an estimated $1,000), citing "noneconomic distress." Noneconomic distress? Look, if I can’t sue somebody for that reason each time my morning alarm clock radio kicks on with a Jason Mraz song, then this guy can’t use it either.