Monday, February 28, 2005

Married with Fishsticks

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:08 PM |  

Someone came to my site from this referral from Google --
Warrior Princess - Married with Fishsticks
1hr 0min

Lucy Lawless, Renee O'Connor, Ted Raimi ...more

Knocked unconscious while swimming, Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor) awakens to find herself in a watery world populated by mermen and mermaids. She herself has grown fins in place of her legs, and has now assumed the identity of Crustacea, the wife of merman Hagar (Ted Raimi) and the mother of three bratty piscatorial youngsters. Meanwhile, a pair of scaly villainesses who closely resemble Gabrielle's earthly nemeses Aphrodite and Discord hatch a plot against her. This anachronism-packed comic episode may remind the viewer of such theatrical features as Splash and Overboard. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
Eat your heart out, Nick!

Update: March 2 "Search of the Day" from sitemeter:
Search Engine:
Search Words:
showing thongs in public

Cheri Yecke announces bid for Congress

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:46 AM |  

The following press release information was provided by the "Yecke for Congress" committee.

Former Education Commissioner Cheri Yecke announces bid for Congress

Yecke pledges to take her conservative record of “getting things done” to Washington for the people of the Sixth Congressional District

Anoka, MN – Surrounded by over 100 supporters at the Anoka American Legion, former Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke announced today that she is running for Congress in the Sixth Congressional District where the seat is being vacated by Congressman Mark Kennedy.

“When one door closes, another one always opens,” said Yecke. “I still have the desire to serve the people of Minnesota as a public servant. My conservative record of accomplishments and experience in both state and federal government will help me make an immediate impact in Washington for the families and taxpayers of the Sixth District.”

“I want to go to Washington to help hold the line on taxes and spending, work to defend life and traditional marriage, and stand with President Bush as he leads the War on Terror. My husband spent 20 years in the Marine Corps, and my son-in-law is a Marine who was recently deployed overseas to play his part in the war effort. I know firsthand the sacrifices our soldiers and military families make to keep our country safe and free. I will work to ensure that our troops receive all of the support they need to make the world a safer place for generations to come. And I will work to ensure that our veterans receive the help that a grateful nation should provide.”

Yecke is best known for her bold leadership on the issue of education reform. Before returning home to Minnesota, Yecke served under Governor George Allen on the State Board of Education in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and then under Governor Jim Gilmore as Deputy Secretary and then Secretary of Education for Virginia. She was then tapped by the Bush administration to serve in the U.S. Department of Education.

In each of her roles, Yecke has been a tireless advocate for citizen control of education policy, parental choice, and accountability to the taxpayers.

Although her tenure as Governor Tim Pawlenty’s point person on education lasted only 16 months, Yecke spearheaded some of the most sweeping education reforms in recent memory, including:

Scrapping the Profile of Learning and implementing new standards that are rigorous, knowledge-based, and that establish high academic expectations for our children.

Requiring public accountability from our schools through such things as annual school performance report cards that include an objective rating system for our schools.

Reorganizing the “Department of Children, Family and Learning” by shrinking bureaucracy, imposing efficiency, and leading the charge to rename the agency the Minnesota Department of Education.

Yecke, a Republican, is strongly committed to seeking and abiding by the endorsement of the delegates to the Sixth District Convention, which takes place in the spring of 2006.

Yecke was born and raised in St. Paul and attended grade school at St. Mark’s. She graduated from St. Agnes High School in 1973. She met her husband Dennis in high school and married shortly after he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. They have been married for 31 years.

Over the course of his 20-year career in the military, they were stationed in Hawaii, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Minnesota. During his overseas deployments, Yecke remained behind and raised their two daughters: Anastasia (28) and Tiffany (25). Tiffany was married last year to Captain Aaron Brooks, U.S.M.C.

Dr. Yecke currently serves as the Distinguished Senior Fellow for Education and Social Policy at Center of the American Experiment.

Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District covers all of Benton, Sherburne and Wright Counties, and most of Anoka, Stearns and Washington Counties.


Cheri Pierson Yecke, Ph.D.

An award-winning middle school teacher, Dr. Yecke received a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Hawaii; a master's of science degree in teaching from the University of Wisconsin; and a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Virginia.

Dr. Yecke is a noted author, researcher, and presenter whose works have appeared across the country in newspapers, magazines, and peer-reviewed journals. As a Senior Fellow with American Experiment, she has authored numerous commentary pieces and three studies. Her study on the misuse of tax dollars for political purposes, Kids Schools and Politics, has resulted in the introduction of a bill in the Minnesota legislature aimed at curbing such abuses.

In July 2004, Cheri Pierson Yecke was named the Distinguished Senior Fellow for Education and Social Policy at the Center of the American Experiment. In this position, she is furthering the Center’s nationally recognized leadership with hard-hitting and provocative analyses of education and contemporary social issues.

Dr. Yecke served on the Virginia State Board of Education under Governor George Allen (1995-1998) and then was Virginia’s Deputy Secretary of Education (1998-2001) and Secretary of Education (2001-2002) under Governor Jim Gilmore. She also served as the Director of Teacher Quality and Public School Choice at the U.S. Department of Education for the Bush administration (2002-2003), during which time she was detailed to the White House as a senior advisor for USA Freedom Corps. Dr. Yecke then became the Commissioner of Education for the State of Minnesota for Governor Tim Pawlenty (2003-2004). In all of these positions, she played a key role in establishing rigorous standards and meaningful statewide accountability systems.

Dr. Yecke’s new book, The War Against Excellence: The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America's Middle Schools, was published in 2003 and will be released in paperback in the spring of 2005 (see Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett wrote the foreword for this book.

She and her husband Dennis have two grown daughters and reside in Blaine, Minnesota. She is currently seeking the Republican endorsement for the 6th District Congressional seat.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Welcome to the Party

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:44 PM |  

I had a conversation recently with a reader who visits my site primarily for my columns and related posts.” He noted that when he starts surfing the blogosphere, he kind of feels like “the guy who arrives at a cocktail party 90 minutes late.”

I take his point. One of the things bloggers constantly fault the mainstream media for is insulating itself from the outside world. Although I don’t believe that the bloggers do that when it comes to gathering information, we bloggers may as a “community” be rightfully accused at times of becoming close-knit just short of inbreeding.

The Pew Study, The State of Blogging, has an interesting chart that shows blog creation increasing at rate of about 6 to 7 percent; however blog readership is increasing at a rate of 26-27 percent. While the trend line for “Blog Creators” is rising, the trend line for “Blog Readers” is increasing far more rapidly.

What I take that to mean is that the days are coming to an end when one builds traffic and garners one’s readership primarily from other bloggers through “promiscuous linking.” The blogosphere is no longer simply a community of shared interest in blogging. It’s developing a real constituency, and in (gasp) mainstream media terms, its share of the information-seeking market is going to be primarily non-bloggers.

One can’t draw those people in to the festivities unless one occasionally glances over and approaches that lost-looking guy contemplating the cheese tray and takes him around for introductions. Our your posts “non-user” friendly?

Just a thought.

Friday, February 25, 2005

More on the mercury/autism/vaccination connection

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:44 AM |  

The following article appeared in the New York Times. Based on my research on this topic, this article is accurate and provides great perspective on the issue of mercury and childhood vaccines, and highlights some of the political issues that have compounded both the problem and the reluctance to seek a solution. It is further reason why Minnesota should pass a prohibition on vaccines containing mercury, not just for the sake of vaccine safety, but as "firewall" protection for the state to protect it from mishandling of issues at the federal level.

Health Agency Splits Program Amid Vaccination Dispute


Responding to growing concerns about its ability to monitor the side effects of vaccines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided last week to separate its national immunization program, which advocates vaccination, from its vaccine safety branch, which monitors the potential risks of the vaccines.

The action comes at a time of increasing public outcry over the government's handling of drug safety issues. Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it would create a board to advise it on drug complications and to warn patients about unsafe drugs.

Critics of the disease-control agency have argued for some time that the advocacy nature of its immunization program hinders its ability to monitor and investigate any adverse reactions to vaccines.

Much of the pressure has come from lawmakers and parents of autistic children, who are concerned about a possible link between rising rates of autism and a mercury preservative, thimerosal, once widely used in childhood vaccines. They have argued that the agency's dual role in promoting vaccines and overseeing their safety is a serious conflict of interest.

The decision to separate the offices was announced last Friday, a day after a panel of medical experts urged the agency to improve access to a database of patient information that is at the center of a dispute over whether vaccines can cause autism.

Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, the director of the agency, said that shifting the safety branch was intended to improve its "credibility and capability," and that the branch would now be led by Dr. Dixie E. Snider Jr., the agency's chief of science.

"We believe the best practice for the safety monitoring program is to keep it in a separate locus from the large-scale program," Dr. Gerberding said.

Representative Dave Weldon, Republican of Florida and a physician who has a strong interest in autism issues, called the move "a step in the right direction."

"You can't have an organization whose primary charge is getting kids vaccinated also have credibility in looking at side effects," Dr. Weldon said. "Their primary mission is getting lots of kids vaccinated. I don't think they should be the same people looking at safety."

But Dr. Paul Offit, who was a member of a federal advisory panel on immunization practices, said the idea that the agency would be less concerned about whether vaccines were safe than with seeing that every child received a shot was absurd.

"The notion has been that this is the fox guarding the henhouse," said Dr. Offit, who is also a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "That's not true. They care as much about vaccines being safe as they care about them working. They wouldn't recommend them unless they felt the benefits clearly outweighed the risks."

But Dr. Weldon and others say the agency has made it difficult to assess what those risks might be, particularly as they relate to autism.

Their concerns were echoed on Feb. 17 by a panel of medical experts assembled by the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences. The committee recommended that the C.D.C. ease some restrictions on outside scientists who want to use its heavily guarded Vaccine Safety Datalink, which holds more than seven million medical records that the agency uses to monitor adverse reactions to vaccines.

Dr. Thomas Verstraeten, a former researcher at the agency, used the database to carry out a large study that was published in 2003. Many scientists have said the study shows no statistical link between thimerosal and autism.

But Dr. Weldon and the parent groups, through the Freedom of Information Act, later obtained an earlier draft of the study that had not been made public. The early findings did suggest a relationship between exposure to thimerosal and some developmental delays, and Dr. Weldon and the groups say the results were deliberately "watered down."

Two outside researchers, Dr. Mark Geier and his son, David Geier, who were expert witnesses for parents seeking damages from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, have fought for access to the database. The agency has been hesitant, fearing that doing so could violate the privacy of those whose medical histories are in it.

Dr. Stephen E. Fienberg, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a member of the committee that weighed in on the dispute, suggested the Geiers be granted further access.

Now, outside researchers who want access must submit a proposal and obtain permission from the more than a half-dozen health maintenance organizations that provide the centers with their medical records. The report determined that the inquiry process should be streamlined, and listed steps the disease-control agency could follow to balance patient privacy with the need to open the database to some outside researchers.

Tom Skinner, a C.D.C. spokesman, said his agency would consider all of the committee's recommendations and work to carry them out.

"We're going to continue to deliberate on them as we strengthen our vaccine program," Mr. Skinner said. "All of this supports our desire to continue to place a high priority on vaccine safety."

The agency has come under fierce criticism for its handling of the preliminary findings from the 2003 Verstraeten study. Dr. Weldon has alleged wrongdoing, pointing to transcripts of a private meeting where agency staff members shared Dr. Verstraeten's findings with representatives of the vaccine industry, government officials and physicians.

The study's authors have argued that later phases of the study were intended to replicate earlier findings, but found no association between thimerosal and developmental delays. Numerous epidemiological studies conducted in Europe have also shown no link between autism and vaccines containing thimerosal.

Anahad O'Connor reported from New York for this article, and Gardiner Harris from Washington.

Yecke makes it official

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:05 AM |  


Contact: Chris Tiedeman FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
612-834-1919 mobile

Cheri Pierson Yecke to Announce Her
Intentions Regarding the 6th Congressional District Race to Succeed Mark Kennedy

Where: Anoka American Legion, 400 West Main Street, Anoka
(Click here for map)

When: Sunday, February 27th, 2:00pm

Questions: If you have questions or need directions, please visit our Web site at or call 612-834-1919

[Note: Web site is apparently still under construction -- CW]

Reporters and photographers are encouraged to cover this event.

Kudos, Rep. Denny McNamara

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:23 AM |  

A busy schedule this week, I am ashamed to say, has delayed proper kudos to my state representative (57B ) Denny McNamara.

As a constituent, I sent Denny an email late in the afternoon with my views on the effort to prohibit use vaccines that contain mercury from being administered in Minnesota (Senate File 639) unless there are exceptional circumstances, asking him to consider becoming a sponsor of the bill in the House. Motivation for the bill is a growing body of evidence that mercury in childhood vaccines is a cause of autism-like symptoms in a large and growing number of children.

I didn’t mince words.

I laid it on the line -- this would not be an easy bill to support. The medical establishment opposes it, state and federal health agencies oppose it. Supporters are demonized as fanatical parents that are anti-vaccination and are only looking for someone to blame for the unfortunate but random occurrence of autism in their children. And indeed, there are some who scream about conspiracy theories about the Bushes and the Quayles plotting to poison children for profit, which doesn’t help the bill’s credibility. Nonetheless, I told Denny, it’s the right thing to do, but I’d understand if he passed on it.

Denny did the right thing. He didn’t snow me with a lot of doubletalk. He wrote that he was actively supporting a number of bills, that this was outside his area of expertise, but he promised to look in to it. By the next day he had contacted the group supporting the bill and within a few days had contacted the group’s lobbyist, talked with other legislators and despite his schedule, signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill.

I do a lot of picking on the legislature on this site and in my column, and sometimes my criticism falls unfairly on those who do not deserve it. So let me go on record that in this case, I am extremely proud and grateful that my district has a representative that proved responsive, honest and in the end courageous enough to put his name to what will be a controversial bill -- because it is the right thing to do.

Thank you, Representative McNamara.

READER RESPONSE -- NCLB a good thing

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:49 AM |  

Reader Jerry Ewing sends along these comments inspired by this Pioneer Press article critical of the No Child Left Behind Act.
I see by our own Pioneer Press that Steve Kelley is trying to prevent Minnesota's kids from getting a decent education. Even granting the widespread perception among conservatives that No Child Left Behind is unwarranted and unconstitutional meddling in state education matters, I think that position is short-sighted and damaging.

Yes, NCLB has flaws in that it isn't "flexible" enough. It supposedly leaves matters of curricula, standards, and testing methods to the states, but it does impose other requirements-- such as having "no child left behind"-- a bit over-rigidly. It also contains-- horror of horrors-- a requirement for "vouchers" if schools continually fail.

The far more important question, in my mind, is who other than the federal government could break the stranglehold that the unions and the education monopoly have over education quality? That they have put their own financial interests ahead of the children is indisputable, and any law holding them to account for such criminal perfidy is bound to be challenged. Conservatives, who actually DO care about "the children," ought to stand up for this law, not give up.
Jerry is one of the more outspoken defenders of school choice on this site and has made some insightful observations that -- damn, I wish I’d thought of. But on this one, I think Jerry's wrong.

Don’t misunderstand -- I think Kelley is opposed to NCLB for all the wrong reason; for him it’s a partisan issue and has nothing to do with “the children.” And I agree, the NCLB Act has done the nation a great service by highlighting the achievement gap that is “leaving behind” children of color. And NCLB does have a “voucher” provision. It does hold schools accountable. All good things.

But I cannot agree with Jerry’s implication that “unwarranted and unconstitutional meddling in state education matters” is justified by the results. That unconstitutionality can not be excused as inconsequential.

The federal government has no legitimate constitutional role in education. Period. Moreover, such interference is dangerous to a free people. Tweaking the NCLB Act to make it more “flexible” does not address the basic problem that the federal government is exceeding its authority.

If the government were serious about breaking the “stranglehold that unions and the education monopoly have over education quality” (which I think is a fair assessment of the situation) there are any number of labor laws that might be invoked without inserting the government into the context and management of education.

The easy path of government activism is as wrong for conservatives to pursue as it is for liberals.

Plagiarizing Marx

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:23 AM |  

Writing in support of Bishop Peter Rogness Feb 22 "View Points" column, “Shaping the kind of place we want the state to be,” Gerhard Cartford says --
It makes sense that as a society we take stock of who we are and how we want and ought to live with each other. We can't escape living in a community. So we fashion a government to help us, divvying up the costs among members of the society, requiring of each what each can afford, treating all members equitably, according to their means. It's called paying taxes, the responsible and honorable way for a just and compassionate society to meet its needs. [emphasis added]
He should have at least cited his source --
In a higher phase of communist society . . . only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be fully left behind and society inscribe on its banners: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.
Scary stuff.

Business interruptus

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:03 AM |  

This article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, about bars and restaurants being slow to apply for exemptions to Ramsey County’s smoking ban, illustrates on a much larger scale the damage caused when government starts mucking around in the marketplace.

The gist of the article is that only a few dozen bars and restaurants have applied to the county’s Public Health Department for an exemption to the ban, which is scheduled to begin March 31.

Under the Ramsey County ban, smoking will be allowed in establishments that do more than half of their business in liquor sales and can demonstrate the split with state tax records.

But herein lies the rub ---
As long as the debate is proceeding at the Capitol over a statewide smoking ban, and because county commissioners have suggested they might beef up the ordinance in 2006, the ultimate configuration of a smoking ban will remain unknown. Changes to an establishment's ventilation system could all be for naught if the law changes again. . . .

[Pat Fleury, owner of Shamrock's Grill and Pub and the head of St. Paul's bar owners' organization] said that some of his fellow tavern and restaurant owners are in something of a "quandary about what they want to do."

He will seek an outright exemption for his establishment, but others tell him they're unsure if it would make financial sense to try to comply with the requirements for an exemption in the uncertain legal climate.

They also question whether the total ban in Minneapolis might send customers across the river and help them, or whether the partial ban in Ramsey County might depress their businesses to the point where they can neither make enough money nor afford to sell it off, he said. . . .

At the Capitol, dueling versions of a statewide ban are under consideration. Two Senate committees have passed a total smoking ban, and a House committee has passed a restaurant-only ban. . . .

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has indicated he would support a ban, although he hasn't indicated how restrictive he expects it to be.
So, what’s a business owner to do? This is not the way a free market works. Business owners should not need to worry about arbitrary government actions, for which they can neither plan nor compensate for, which significantly alter the way they do business, to the point of putting them out of business. Smoking ban legislation targeting private business is an example of government interference at its worst.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

It's good to be the king

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:45 AM |  

One of those $75 columns that wouldn't have been published if I took up Nick Coleman's offer, raised the issue of the possible connection between childhood vaccines and Autism Spectrum Disorder. The issue plays in a somewhat higher strata as well --
Bob Wright, chairman of NBC, has a 3 year old grandson that has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. He has sent an e-mail out to all NBC/Universal employees to tell them about his grandson and to let them know that Autism is a hidden epidemic that takes an enormous toll on tens of thousands of families across the country. He also said that his goal is to bring the best and latest information to as wide as possible an audience on the subject of Autism.
Since Monday, February 21st, NBC has been airing a ten-part, week long series on autism spectrum disorder on the "Today Show," with two segments aired each morning at approximately 8:10 EST and 9:10 EST. ASD is also being discussed on other NBC properties.

The MSNBC web site has an exhaustive list of organizations to help families, educators, and others in the community interact and learn more about ASD. I'm familiar with many of these sources; this is an excellent list.

A personal note: Research I did for my column -- and for future columns on the vaccine/autism connection -- has provided me the honor of meeting some dedicated parents who have struggled for years to gain recognition of the potential harm of the mercury in vaccines despite being shut down by bureaucrats and medical experts.

Not to diminish the tragedy in Bob Wright's family, the exposure to this issue from the single case of his grandson's autism will gain huge visibility to the issue, but let's not forget that it is upon a foundation laid by hundreds if not thousands of tireless parents that Mr. Wright stands.

Do Hindrocket and Big Trunk do pro bono blogging?

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:58 AM |  

Chad "the elder" from Fraters Libertas dropped me the following good morning email. And because a mention of Nick Coleman does for my site what a naked butt shot of Dennis Franz on "NYPD Blue" does for ABC's ratings, I figured I'd post it.

On his radio show today (which I enjoy listening to for some sick reason), Nick Coleman was going off on Mr. Westover once again. He called him a "hobby columnist", mocked him for getting only $75 a column, and offered to pay him $76 a week to stop writing for the PiPress.

Getting paid for doing nothing? Sounds just like the kind of offer that a liberal would make.

Pretty tempting, isn't it Craig?
Actually, I think paying to silence opposing points of view is more to the point, but Nick's paltry offer is hardly tempting. Journalistic whores must come cheaper in Nick's neighborhood.

Political correctness #23,672

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:08 AM |  

Dave Downing relates an interesting example in support of a "political correctness" double standard.
What if someone suggests that women are BETTER than men? This is a true story. I witnessed it myself. No members of the media were there to report it, but even there had been, I doubt they would have seen anything newsworthy.

It was at my children's St. Paul public elementary school a year ago. There was a general assembly, and the speaker was Debbie Montgomery, a new St. Paul council member and long-time police officer. Montgomery talked about police work, and encouraged girls to consider law enforcement as a career.

Nothing wrong with that.

But then, Montgomery went on to say that she thinks women are better suited to police work than are men, because women have better communication skills!

Of course, she may be right. But can you imagine the uproar if a male firefighter told the kids he thought men were better suited to his job, because men are stronger than women?

Actually, we don't have to imagine. We already know he can't get away with that. We know, because the city of St. Paul has been through a lawsuit over that very issue. And now, the city has been forced to modify the physical skills test given to firefighter candidates, to try to qualify more women for the department.
Actually, if you want "better than men. . . ."

UPDATE: Dave Downing comments:
I should add that I wrote a polite letter to Debbie Montgomery, expressing my concern about what she had said. She was apologetic, and I hope that I taught her to consider her words more carefully. I don't want to vilify her. But my point is, this is the sort of innocent, offhand comment that is apparently OK in one case, but possible grounds for firing in another.

Freedom "from" vs Freedom "to"

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:31 AM |  

There's a nice little debate on the nature of freedom over at the John Adams Society blog. Unfortunately, non-members of the society don't have the freedom to post a comment, but it's a great read.

And unlike the Society of Cincinnatus, the the John Adams Society is not limited to aristocracy by birth; one has the freedom to aspire to membership. It is a worthy aspiration.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bachmann defines bid for 6th Congressional District

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:00 PM |  

From a release dated February 23, 2005:
State Senator Michele Bachmann, of Stillwater, on Monday February 14th, announced her candidacy for the Republican endorsement for Congress from Minnesota's 6th Congressional District.

The 6th District will be an open seat in 2006 due to the announcement February 11th by incumbent Congressman Mark Kennedy that he will seek the United States Senate seat being vacated by Mark Dayton.

Surrounded by family and friends, Bachmann declared: "Preserving the quality of life we have here in Minnesota requires a new and different role for the federal government.

"I want to increase the number and vibrancy of local choices in education and move away from increased nationalized education systems. I want to protect the traditional notion of marriage, as between one man and one woman, and will work to insulate it from re-definition by activist courts. I want to move towards healthcare that is more affordable and accessible, free market driven, decentralized, patient driven and less costly based upon unnecessary lawsuits, " said Bachmann.

"Leaving enough room for Minnesota values to succeed requires positive changes in Washington. I want to help bring about those changes," she concluded.

Michele Bachmann ­ A Local Success Story:

When making her announcement, Bachmann pointed to strong local roots ­ which she said has "always been an important ingredient" in her success. The two term Senator attended Anoka schools from elementary grades through high school, and has been an active community member in neighboring Washington County for 13 years.

"The 6th Congressional district is where Marcus and I have raised a family, and spent our life," continued Bachmann. Just prior to running for the Minnesota Senate, Bachmann was a full time mother to her own five children and the 23 foster children she and her husband Marcus took into their home. Her three older children will be enrolled in graduate school or entering college by the election in November of 2006; a circumstance that made her decision to run for Congress "easier to make."

In the Minnesota Senate, Bachmann is known for her work on education issues and as an ardent champion of local control. She played a major role in the drive to repeal the "Profile of Learning." She also became recognized as an effective and articulate legislator, and was appointed to the post of Assistant Republican Leader in charge of policy, by Republican Minority leader Dick Day. Senator Day stated he chose Bachmann for leadership, in part, based upon her ability to pull together large coalitions of people into the political process, many of whom were unfamiliar with politics.

Bachmann has also proved to be an able campaigner. In two successive bids for the Minnesota State Senate, she defeated two well-financed, long-time incumbents, including a senior DFL committee chair.

Due to redistricting in 2002, Bachmann has essentially represented two separate senate districts. In her first term, she represented the citizens of south Washington County, and in Bachmann's second term she currently represents the citizens of northern Washington and eastern Anoka counties.

A Reform Platform for Change in Congress:

"National security and the war on terror will remain priorities for Congress and our country for years to come," she said. "I support efforts to secure our borders to keep our citizens safe from the threats posed by radical terrorists."

As a legislator, Bachmann has also maintained a strong interest in issues that "affect strong and stable family life."

Education would continue to be a major focus for Bachmann if she is elected to Congress. "In recent years the federal role in education has expanded aggressively. I believe strong local control is the best way of insuring excellence in our public schools," she explained.

On Social Security reform Bachmann was likewise direct. "Clearly a major overhaul is needed," she said. "As the mother of five children, I find very frustrating that some members of Congress believe that nothing needs to be done to reform this system. I want to ensure that those 55 and older continue to receive social security benefits as well provide hope to younger workers that they will enjoy retirement security. Achieving both goals means that we need to get to work today."

Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District covers all of Benton, Sherburne and Wright Counties, and most of Anoka, Stearns and Washington Counties.

Yecke to announce for Congress from the 6th District

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:51 PM |  

Former Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke will make her anticipated annoncement for Congress this coming Sunday, February 27 at a press conference at American Legion Post 102 at 400 West Main Street, Anoka.

Yecke joins GOP state Sen. Michele Bachman of Stillwater, state Rep. Jim Knobloch and former U.S. Air Force pilot Jay Esmay in the race for the seat being vacated by Republican Mark Kennedy, who is seeking the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Democrat Mark Dayton.

A special post for the lovely ladies of the M.A.W.B. Squad

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:04 AM |  

Why Men Shouldn't Take Messages

READER RESPONSE -- More on Canadian health care

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:10 AM |  

Note: When I first interviewed Dr. Lee Kurisko for a column on the failings of the Canadian health care system, he told me about his brother, who is suffering from advance stages of cancer. When Dr. Kurisko left Canada to practice medicine, little did he know that the health care system that prevented him from adequately treating his patients would, in a metaphoric sense, extract its revenge on his familiy.

Below, Dr. Kurisko's mother, Joan Skelton, writes about her ill son's experience with the Canadian system. It's a very moving piece that appeares in today's, a leading Canadian online news source.

An aberration in a natural pattern

With so many other grieving parents, I weep at this variance. I am 25 years older than he is. I should be dying, not him.


On Christmas Day, my 48-year-old son was taken to Emergency, gravely ill. I watched his eyes rolling back into his head, his lithe, runner's body arching in reaction to pain, his speech slurred from a malfunctioning tongue, his eye drooping. Only morphine would control his pain.

He had actively been in the medical system for three months with golf-ball size lymph nodes, head, face and neck pain, blocked ears, difficulty swallowing, weight loss and fatigue. His treatment was a stent in his ear, then the recommendation of two weeks of bed rest because of "exhaustion" and "viruses," finally antibiotics for "sinusitis" and Percocet. Percocet! Then, a CT scan showed the possibility of a tumour. Appointments were made for weeks hence.

In Emergency, we were told no MRI's were performed on Christmas Day. Ever. With great family pressure, a MRI was performed on Boxing Day. The diagnosis: No tumour. "Sphenoid and left ethmoid sinus disease." The diagnosis, even to laymen, was not logical.

A copy of the MRI was obtained and my radiologist son from Minneapolis flew in. While I set the table for dinner, he sat at a computer table reading the fateful MRI. With sadness, he informed us his brother's problem was not a sinus infection. It was a baseball-size tumour in the nasopharyngeal area, extending back to his C1 vertebra and eating into his skull. No wonder he had pain. With dread, it fell to one brother to inform the other he had advanced cancer.

No one at the hospital questioned his interpretation of the MRI or his diagnosis. Another more extensive MRI confirmed it. After seeing an ear, nose, and throat specialist, a consultation at a cancer centre was arranged, but not for 10 days because New Year's Eve Day fell on the regular assessment day, a holiday at the oncology unit. However, despite an appointment card being issued by the ENT specialist, no appointment was made at the oncology unit! "Holidays," was the explanation for the error. No apology. More delay.

Moral of the story: Don't get sick on statutory holidays. Educate one of your children to become a radiologist in order to catch diagnostic mistakes. Be a squeaky wheel. My son and his wife are gentle, uncomplaining people; my son a stoic. Generally healthy, at arm's length from the faults of the Canadian medical system, they trusted it. Had my son's cancer been caught when the first subtle symptoms appeared last March, his chance of survival would be more than 80 per cent. Depending on the type of cancer, it may now be as low as 20 per cent. Despite the magnitude of the problem, despite the bungling, he had to wait three weeks for treatment to begin.

A huge cost to the system was incurred as it scrambled in slow motion to rectify its errors. Consider, too, the human cost. His unnecessary suffering. The strain, no matter what the outcome, on his wife, his three young children, his law firm, church, his friends. His father and me. Consider the possible loss of this unique window of consciousness that is life; his life, his never-to- be-replaced life. So often we forget how unique and special each individual life is.

I have moved from secret weeping, to anger, to depression. I have seen the death of my parents, my friends, my dogs, all with the realization these events were part of the grand and mysterious scheme of things, part of a pattern. To see a child dying is unnatural, aberrant, not part of the pattern. With so many other grieving parents, I weep at this variance. I am 25 years older than he is. I should be dying, not him.

Yet, if the universe is infinite, the death of a child may not be part of a pattern, but it is certainly one of the infinite possibilities.

Realizing my depression, I also realized my attempt to escape life would help no one. I forced myself to return to tai chi, to stretching and skiing and my writing. We began a search for a place to which we could move temporarily to be with my son and his family. Whatever I do, though, has lost its joy: the mind-body meld of tai chi, the enclosure in the swirling arms of snow-laden trees while skiing, the thrill of capturing a thought in the written word, all this has gone.

At least four health professionals made grievous mistakes in the care of my son. Were they irresponsible? Negligent? Incompetent? Unlikely. Undoubtedly, they are over-worked, tired, stressed out, scratching to maintain a semblance of sanity in a system that would suck out their soul, if they let it. Such is our Canadian health-care system.

Joan Skelton lives outside Thunder Bay, Ont.; her ill son lives in southern Ontario. She is the Mother of Dr. Lee Kurisko of Minneapolis.

Boycott Bill Maher?

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:23 AM |  

I received an email this morning from the Intellectual Conservative asking me to tell HBO that I don’t want Bill Maher hosting another political show, specifically Real Time, which begins on February 25. The email cited several examples of statements Maher has made that are ignorant and offensive. The email asks --
Why are we giving this self-hating, Christian-despising bigot another show? And asking HBO to remove him is not an affront on free speech, rather, it is using your free speech to ask a private corporation to deny someone a venue.
Well, here’s my problem -- I don’t subscribe to HBO, and I generally don’t listen to or read Bill Maher. If HBO removed Bill Maher from its line-up, I’m still not likely to subscribe to the service. What do I think about Bill Maher? I don’t think about Bill Maher. So why should I write a letter to HBO?

There's a good reason not to.

I disagree with the premise that demanding HBO to remove Maher is not an affront to free speech. It is. The email cites Thomas Sowell’s excellent column on the theme that free speech has consequences, an idea I completely agree with, but one of those consequences should not be an organized boycott.

An organized boycott of a private business is an attempt to collectively coerce that business, through economic force, to air only “acceptable” speech -- as the email states, “deny someone a venue.” That is as much a curtailment of free speech as university students shouting down a conservative speaker.

As individuals, we have the right to boycott businesses as part of our daily routine. But we do not have the right to form a mob, physically or digitally, to force others to conceal their opinions out of fear of reprisal. If the economics work out, and people individually don’t watch Maher’s program or independently cancel their subscriptions, then HBO will make the economic decision on its own, Sowell will be proved right (free speech has consequences) and liberty and justice will be served.

When it comes to boycotts, the end doesn’t justify the means.

COLUMN -- School Vouchers: Constitutionality is a false issue

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:22 AM |  

Wednesday February 23, 2005

Two philosophical issues define the battle over the educational access grant legislation proposed by Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, and Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan. The legislation would grant low-income families in St. Paul and Minneapolis up to $4,600 in tuition aid at accredited private schools, including church-affiliated schools.

The first is the nature of "public" education, discussed in last week's column; the second is constitutionality of access grants used at religious schools.

Debating Hann on MPR Feb. 9, Sen. Steve Kelly, DFL-Hopkins, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, confused the constitutionality issue with a lack of legal and historical knowledge.

Responding to Hann's position that the bill would pass constitutional muster, Kelly argued that the Minnesota Constitution expressly prohibits state funds from flowing to religious schools. Referring to a provision that requires parents to endorse state checks payable to private schools, Kelly gratuitously accused Hann and Buesgens of a scheme to "engage parents in money laundering," funneling state money to religious schools.

Article 13, Section 2 of the Minnesota Constitution, titled "Prohibition as to aiding sectarian schools," reads: "In no case shall any public money or property be appropriated or used for the support of schools wherein the distinctive doctrines, creeds or tenets of any particular Christian or other religious sect are promulgated or taught."

To Kelly that clause rules out the use of vouchers at religious schools; however, neither history nor law is on his side.

The prohibition clause was not in the original Minnesota Constitution. It was added in 1877 as part of the wave of so-called "Blaine Amendments," named for Maine Rep. James G. Blaine. Blaine was a member of the radical Republican movement, which in post-Civil War America held a majority in many state legislatures, including in Minnesota.

Blaine Amendments were a direct result of the nativist, anti-Catholic bigotry, which was a recurring theme in American politics during the 19th and early 20th centuries. With the presidency in mind, Blaine attempted to ride anti-Catholic sentiment by amending the U.S. Constitution to prohibit direct public aid to Catholic schools.

That attempt failed, but over the next 15 years prohibition of aid to "sectarian" schools was imbedded in 29 state constitutions, including Minnesota's.

However, Blaine Amendments are not just simple bigotry. They have a precise legal foundation.

"The plain language of Blaine Amendments is not targeted at voucher programs," states Richard Komer, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm. "Blaine Amendments were a response to Catholic schools seeking direct aid on an equal footing with public schools, which in the reality of the times were de facto 'Protestant' schools."

Only in relatively modern times has public education donned the mantle of "secular" education. Until the 20th century, when courts began extending the U.S. Bill of Rights to the states under the 14th Amendment, state support for openly religious but nondenominational schools was not uncommon.

The great "common school" movement of the progressive era was overtly religious. Its purpose was creating the virtuous citizens needed to maintain a republic, and "virtue" meant instilling religion — specifically a "non-sectarian" generic version of Protestantism.

The "melting pot" metaphor in practice was attempted conversion to Protestantism of European Catholic immigrants. The tool was public education. Catholics rebelled. As taxpayers, they wanted equal aid for a Catholic school system.

"Blaine amendments address the question of direct public aid," said Komer. "Not vouchers. A voucher is not direct aid for a religious school. Parents use it to purchase education for a specific child. That is not aid; that is an exchange of value."

The distinction is important. Parents seeking educational opportunities for their children are not, as Kelly insultingly contends, co-conspirators in a money-laundering scheme. Parents purchase education from schools of their choosing. The state provides funds to families, not aid to "sects." Parental choice breaks the direct link between state and church.

Article 13, Section 2 of the Minnesota Constitution was born in bigotry; further, in plain language that requires no judicial sleight-of-hand, it legally prohibits only direct state aid to religious schools and is legally irrelevant to the question of vouchers. Courts have so ruled in Wisconsin and Ohio. Constitutionality of the Hann-Buesgens bill is not an issue. At best, it is a red herring; at worst it has a dead fish odor of ripening bigotry.

MEA CULPA: I've been spelling Senator Kelley's name incorrectly, dropping the second "e." Apologies.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Look for the union shackle

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:10 AM |  

My son, the aspiring actor who's out in Los Angeles doing the multiple-part-time-jobs-acting-lessons-thing, is learning some valuable life lessons that one doesn't learn in the hallowed halls of higher learning.

The latest addition to his list of jobs is a grocery store gig. He was required to join the union. The union has a negotiated rule that an employee must be given a half-hour lunch break for every 6-hour shift. So guess how long his shift is? 5-3/4 hours.

Forget that he needs the hours. Forget that he's willing and eager to skip the formal lunch break. That's not an option, comrade. Not good for the collective.

More on MSM and blogging

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:36 AM |  

Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees, the local press continues to write about blogs and blogging, but don’t see the potential to ingrate either the medium or the talent pool into their own operations.

The latest is this offering from the Star Tribune about ways in which local officials are using the medium of blogs to better communicate with their constituent base.
Not long ago it might have been hard to find out what's been ailing the Northfield police chief, or where the Eden Prairie city manager was going on a midwinter getaway, or the latest redevelopment efforts in Rosemount.

But now there are Web logs. And around the metro area, some elected and appointed officials are blogging away, maintaining Internet diaries that often go well beyond the quarterly constituent newsletter.

"It just seems like a few years ago that my son Chris graduated from a training bike to the 'big kid' bike," wrote Northfield Police Chief Gary Smith on his blog for Feb. 13, describing how his son was now learning to drive a car. Within days of that posting, Smith, who said he spends several hours of his own time each day freshening up his site, also had "blogged" about other topics.

They included a flu bug traveling through the Police Department. And he had knocked down an urban myth about a law regarding contact with aliens and reported on a recent seminar on crime suspect identification.

Smith said that, judging from e-mail responses, he's been able to keep readers interested since he started the blog eight months ago.
And here is the lesson for newspapers --

Local state Rep. Ray Cox has been blogging since shortly after his election in 2002, and several city, county and school board officials -- as well as a handful of public-minded citizens -- are sharing blog space on, a blog maintained by the nonprofit group Northfield Citizens Online.

Griff Wigley, a Northfield Citizens member who also consults on blogging in business circles, has long been energized by the "salon" model of civic dialogue championed by the Utne Reader magazine, where he once worked. Blogs merely adapt that model to the Internet, he said, providing a place for constructive discussion of local issues and building community along the way.

Wigley said that blogs by government officials help remove the information filters -- such as newspapers -- that, he argued, can separate citizens from their governments. "People are hungry for this authenticity, which is so hard to get from big institutions," he said [emphasis added].
But, here comes the “balanced” part of the story.
Of course there's still a question of whether blogs are simply another way for officials to control information, this time with personality.

"The very environment of blogging has some problems inherent about trustworthiness," noted Milda Hedblom, director of the Telecommunications and Information Society Policy Forum at the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and a professor of politics and communication at Augsburg College. But while blogs also can be notoriously unreliable as sources of information, public officials bring a high level of credibility to the arena, Hedblom added.

"It's more definite who they are than a lot of the other people out there," Hedblom said.
That’s not exactly line-in-the-sand concise commentary from someone who’s supposed to be an expert. My simply non-PHD translation is that people who lie to the press will lie on their blogs -- the difference is when they attach their name to a blog, instead of being “an unnamed source,” they carry accountability for what they say. Tell me again why that is bad?

Hugh Hewitt's definitive work on blogs and blogging for business executives, government officials or anyone else with a need to communicate with customers or constituents, Blog, at


Posted by Craig Westover | 8:07 AM |  

After running a column of letters under the banner "That darned Westover," the Pioneer Press Letters column offers up a few kudos to moi for my recent column on the potential link between mercury poisoning and childhood vaccinations. At least my mother can read the paper today without having to double her medication.

History crossing the center line

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:49 AM |  

Mark Yost writes an excellent column in today’s Pioneer Press analyzing a 5th grade history textbook. It speaks for itself.
I can't sit in a fifth-grade class for a week (I'd never fit in the desk), but I did get the fifth-grade history textbook from Como Park Elementary School. If you wonder why people today don't understand the Second Amendment and other important elements of American history, look no further than this textbook.

Not surprisingly, it takes the predictable left lane down history's highway. For instance, the Spanish are justifiably chastised for their treatment of the Incas and Aztecs, but there's no mention of virgins being thrown into volcanoes. If this textbook were your only source, you'd think the natives lived in an utter state of equanimity before the evil Europeans arrived.

Ditto for slavery. The text makes the argument that slavery existed for eons in Africa, but it wasn't that bad.

"In some parts of Africa slaves could rise to positions of honor and trust. After a time, they could be given their freedom."
Not so for America.

"Little by little, however, life for Africans in Europe and in the Americas began to change. One of the most important reasons for this change was that there were not enough workers in the Americas."

You can just see the seeds being sown in the young minds for future lessons discrediting capitalism and the widespread benefits of the Industrial Revolution.

When it comes to the American Revolution, Thomas Paine is covered in a picture and a caption that notes he "lost his job as a tax collector after asking for a raise." One page is devoted to "American Heroes," brief paragraphs on John Paul Jones, Nathan Hale, Ethan Allen and others. In about 20 pages, we go from "Decision for Independence" to the "Treaty of Paris."

But what's really disturbing about this text is its tone. It is so dry that no kid could come away the least bit excited about American history. There's no sense that the Founders were unique; they were just a bunch of guys angry about taxes.

Is this really what our country has devolved into? Have we become so cautious about aggrandizing the Founders that Valley Forge only warrants three mentions — two of them tangential?

In his farewell address, Ronald Reagan asked: "Are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world?"

Reading this textbook, it's clear that the answer is a resounding "no."
For a fair and balanced version of American history, a great "antidote to this biased approach to our history" is A Patriot's History of the United States. This book doesn't gloss over America's mistakes, but it puts the back in their proper perspective. The focus of the book is on America's role as a "beacon of liberty" to the rest of the world.

"Let them eat cake" 21st century style

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:40 AM |  

Despite a world full of earth-shattering events, this item takes the cake -- literally.

State Sen. Brian LeClair has introduced legislation that takes the cake — and makes it tax-free.

Seeking to smooth out Minnesota tax laws, LeClair's bill would exempt ice cream cakes, such as those sold by Dairy Queens, from sales tax, just like their bakery counterparts.

"It does seem to make sense to me that it's a matter of fairness. If we're going to exempt bakery items, then we should exempt all bakery items," the Woodbury Republican said.
No Senator, it doesn’t make sense. But the “it" is why the tax was implemented in the first place and how the unfairness came about.
The issue had its genesis in a change to the tax code that came during the 2001 legislative session. Before then, cakes and other bakery goods weren't taxed. But lawmakers decided that beginning Jan. 1, 2002, there would be a tax on them.

The tax was short-lived. Consumers and bakers complained, so the 2002 Legislature voted to remove the tariff six months after it had gone into effect. But in doing so, ice cream cakes weren't included. . . .

LeClair said the state's Finance Department has not yet determined the bill's fiscal impact, but he said he didn't think it would be huge.

"None of these items are going to break the bank," he said.
Okay, so what do we have. We have a bill that was passed with no “huge” financial impact, but that significantly damaged a relatively few people. The law passed without regard to any principle of governance was repealed due to constituent complains, again based on no principle of governance. The repeal further screwed things up because it didn’t return the matter to the way it was before the ill-advised tax was put in place.

So, state legislators are wasting time tying to correct the consequences of a law that never should have been passed, trying up the time of state agencies (and spending tax dollars) writing fiscal notes to justify an action that never should have taken place. Meanwhile, small business owners must take time away from their businesses to build constituent support and lobby legislators to repeal the bad legislation in order to sell a cake.

Relax, only 2,730 pieces of legislation filed with the Revisor of Statutes office so far this year.

While front-page stories report and editorial screeds opine about casinos, stadiums, smoking bans and education, it is the myriad of often unreported bills that belay the attitude of those that govern. Benjamin Constant, writing in the 1800’s when political discourse was an art form, wrote --
“Whenever there is no absolute necessity, whenever legislation may fail to intervene without society being overthrown, whenever, finally it is a question merely of some hypothetical improvement, the law must abstain, leave things alone, and keep quiet.”
Simple, concise, that’s a phrase that ought to inscribed in every committee room at the state capital. Indeed, someone ought to propose legislation to do that. It makes a heckuva lot more sense than taxing cakes.

Selections from Benjamin Constant at

Monday, February 21, 2005

Classical charter high school set to open this fall

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:31 AM |  

Matt Abe reports on the formation of a new charter high school opening in the western suburbs, Veritas Academy. Veritas Academy will be dedicated to a rigorous, classical, liberal arts, college preparatory curriculum. It will be opening in the fall of 2005 starting with 75-100 9th and 10th graders. Veritas will add 11th grade in 2006 and 12th in 2007. Being a charter school, it will be a public school, meaning no tuition. The school's college prep emphasis also makes it unusual among charter schools.

Parent meetings will continue through the spring, check out the Veritas Academy web site for the schedule and more information.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Open Forum

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:51 AM |  

Mrs. Paul and Captain Fishsticks will be spending the weekend at an undisclosed location off the grid. So your trip here looking for a new post won't have been in vain, leave a comment, suggest a column topic, start a discussion or suggest a biologically impossible act (latter judged on originality and a projected degree of pleasure versus pain).

Hopefully the innkeeper will accept our little green pieces of paper in exchange for a room, otherwise Mrs. Paul and I shall be homeless for the weekend.

COMMUNITY EVENT -- Eminent Domain Debate

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:37 AM |  

The Federalist Society presents
Kelo, Best Buy and Walser –
Municipalities’ Use of Eminent Domain for Redevelopment

A debate between
Dana Berliner
Institute for Justice, Washington D.C.
John Baker, Esq.
Greene Espel, Minneapolis, MN

Debate Resolution:
The Fifth Amendment’s public use requirement prohibits a municipality from condemning private property, not to eliminate slums or blight, but for the sole purpose of economic development that may increase tax revenues and improve the local economy.

Thursday, February 24
12:15 – 1:15

University of Minnesota Law School
Room 50

229- 19th Avenue South, Minneapolis

$10.00 for members, $15.00 for non-members
(CLE Pending)

Questions and / or RSVP appreciated to Susan Shogren Smith:
600-62nd Avenue North, Brooklyn Center, MN 55430
612-812-8160 or

A case of child abuse

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:17 AM |  

R-Five posts a great follow-up to a news item I posted about a “telling microcosm of modern education.” He writes --
But the fact remains, that the students are clearly being short-changed by this stubborn, unfounded, and intentional resistance to phonics. Given the undeniable importance of reading, and given the undeniably poor results of "modern" methods, this borders on child abuse.
Why should this be? R-Five provides some insightful thought.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Syndication: scam or survival of the fittest? A reply.

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:07 AM |  

If I remember my "Joys of Yiddish" correctly, I think Vox Day just paid me a “grisha” --
The fact that Craig Westover's very good blog has only a few more readers than any other random no-name blog despite his holding a regular spot on the St. Paul Pioneer Press op/ed page tends to support my theory that a only fraction of the people who subscribe to the newspaper actually read it, in contradiction to the self-serving theory advanced by newspaper ad sellers that there is a multiple involved.
In other words, kind of a bank-handed compliment. Not that I don’t appreciate it. Vox Day considering my blog “very good” is worth a lot of random more effusive “attaboys.”

The context of his remarks is a longer post on the influence of various columnists online and in the mainstream media. Vox asks the question is syndication a scam or survival of the fittest, which is kind of a misleading dichotomy because Vox concludes --
Popularity is not synonymous with quality. But what it should demonstrate that a proven ability to maintain a respectable readership is only one factor out of many that go into the saleability of a column. Syndication likely is more survival of the fittest than a scam, but the determining factors are not necessarily what you might assume them to be.
Nonetheless, I have to agree with Vox. Very few links to my blog come from the Pionner Press site, which only recently made available a link from the online version of my column to my site and an online archive of my columns. And I agree that only a fraction of the readership of the Pioneer Press reads the editorial page. What Vox might be missing, however, is the quality of that fraction.

Since I’ve had my column, I made contacts with people who were inaccessible to me before. I’ve had state legislators and government officials go out of their way to introduce themselves. My phone calls get returned. I get invited to a better class of parties.

More importantly, the quality of people who write “Taking Exception” responses to my articles improve -- if one measures "quality" by titles and the number of initials that appear after their names. And their arguments have changed.

The smoking ban issue, for example, was originally a no-brainer health issue. The Pioneer Press editorial board hammered that point of view, while my column kept insisting it was a rights issue. Today, health factors are clearly secondary to the rights issue -- in reader response to the Pioneer Press and in committee meetings at the legislature. It would be arrogant to take the lion’s share of the credit for that, but I’ll argue that my column played a part.

The MSM still carries influence, whether it deserves it or not. It still hasn’t figured out the role of blogs and bloggers, and the longer it takes the more it’s going to hurt. But a few of us through trial and error are figuring it out. Today, you don’t need to be syndicated to have influence, one MSM outlet and “a very good blog” might be all it takes.

More sources on blogs and blogging.

Casinos, Indians and Beer

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:56 AM |  

Wednesday was my virgin experience at the “The Antient and Honourable John Adams Society, Minnesota's Conservative Debating Society,” which is sort of a Society for Creative Anachronism for those whose day jobs and families don’t leave time for Dungeons and Dragons. It was, nonetheless good for me. I hope they still respected me Thursday morning.

And indeed, Thursday morning at the John Adams Blog, a debate was continued over the issue of expanding casino gambling. JAS member Chris wrote --
Last night, after the debate caucus, a group of us retired to Brit’s Pub as is traditional (actually we went to Sweeney’s. Lying about where we go is also traditional). There I argued with Craig Westover and TFB from Jo's Attic about Indian casinos and whether the state should be involved with gambling. As I am wont to do over beers, I wasn’t as clear (or polite!) as I should have been. So here, upon the sobriety of day, is why I think we should license non-Indian casinos.
Chris stated his case, I responded, he’s responded, and I just sent off my rebuttal. Check it out.

BTW -- Chris is a research economist, and consequently his analysis of casino gambling is, as economic analysis is wont to do, based on many situational assumptions. . . .
An physicist, engineer and economist were alone on a deserted island with on a book of matches and a can of beans. They puzzled over how to open the can of beans.

The physicist suggested building a fire, heating the can of beans until the can expanded to the point where the seams were about to break, then carefully breaking open the can.

The engineer agreed and set about calculating projected stress points of the can based on its size and the density of the beans.

The economist started waving his hands wildly in the air. “Wait, wait, I have the solution.” As the physicist and engineer looked at him expectantly, he began: “Assume we have a can opener . . . .”
For a more informative perspective on economics check out Economics in One Lesson.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

COLUMN -- Vouchers throw light on public education

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:00 AM |  

Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2005

The battle lines are drawn in the debate over the educational access grant legislation. Proposed by Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, and Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, the legislation would grant low-income families in St. Paul and Minneapolis up to $4,600 of tuition aid at accredited private schools, including religiously affiliated schools.

While there is skirmishing around details of the proposed legislation, the main battle is a philosophical contest of two issues. The first is the nature of "public" education; the second, state constitutionality of tuition funding at religious schools.

These issues were prevalent themes in the debate between Hann and Sen. Steve Kelly, DFL-Hopkins, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, on MPR's "Midday" program on Feb. 9. This column addresses the first issue — the nature of public education. Next Wednesday's column will discuss the constitutional issue.

During the debate, Hann repeatedly returned to the point that the voucher debate is ultimately about to whom schools are accountable — parents and students or the state and (the argument goes) taxpayers. Kelly was equally dogged on the accountability issue, arguing that parental accountability was not the only consideration for public education; the benefit to society of education was equally important.

Hann's argument is familiar to readers of this column. "Public" education is education in the public interest and not necessarily defined by any specific delivery system of skills and knowledge. An educated population is essential for democracy to function, but Hann lays no claim to being the arbiter of the content of that education. The state, he contends, has no authority to dictate private school curriculum as a consequence of the proposed legislation.

The benefit to society of education is the diversity of ideas that evolves from a diversity of educational options. The more choice the better, Hann says. Ultimately, he argues, parents are the arbiters of the education they want their children to receive, and schools are ultimately accountable to parents. The Hann/Buesgens legislation simply extends the opportunity to choose private education to low-income families for whom it is now out of reach. At one point in the MPR debate, Hann defined the debate with the question "Whose interest is primary — kids and education or a school system protecting its revenue stream?"

Kelly was shockingly candid in his response. He stated that parents need to step back and realize that public education is not just about the parent or the child. Public education is what is good for all citizens. The effect is that Minnesota is a more prosperous state because of public education.

Kelly accused Hann of wanting to narrow public education to just the parent and student and leave out the broader benefits to society. He said that in a public system, all schools must be subject to "accountability mechanisms." All students must be measured to ensure that schools are accountable. He said the proposed legislation would give money to private schools but not hold them to the same level of accountability as public schools.

An editorial on these pages put the issue this way: "The focus for school improvement policy should be on what's best for kids and what's fair and constructive for the whole civil society. The drive for vouchers blurs the vital focus on effective choice, accountability for results and compliance with new federal requirements."

On one level, this position reflects good stewardship of public funds. On another it's more sinister. As the editorial implies, "effective choice" is defined by the state, measured by the state and complies to state requirements. "What's best for the kids" is what the state says "is best for the kids."

Kelly's state-centric position of state-defined "accountability mechanisms" imposed on those without the means to opt out of the system contrasts with Hann's family-focused position of parent-defined accountability promoting a diversity of educational options for a greater number of children. While critics generate heat by demonizing vouchers, the Hann/Buesgens bill throws light on the nature of education and other fundamental questions.

Do Minnesotans have more faith in bureaucrats to make basic decisions about their lives than they do in their own judgment? Does the "collective good" necessarily mean that individuals must subjugate their dreams to their neighbors' desires? Does single-system education conforming to state-imposed standards create the independent-minded citizens a democracy requires to survive?

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, can a gelding still remain fruitful?

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

What does this education study really say?

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:12 AM |  

The Manhattan Institute has released a study of national graduation rates showing that, nationwide, 71% of public school students in the class of 2002 graduated from high school with a regular diploma. Only 34% of all students in that class left high school with the qualifications necessary to apply to a four-year college.

Manhattan Institute scholars Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters also calculated public high school graduation and college readiness rates for each state. Because the requirements to graduate from high school are set lower than the requirements to apply to a four-year college, many high school graduates are ineligible to enroll. Not surprising given recent publicity, in Minnesota the difference in graduation rates between white and African-American students is particularly large.

The study finds that Minnesota's graduation rate went from 86% in 1991 to 84% for the class of 2002, which ranked the state 5th in the nation that year. However, only 33% of public school students in the class of 2002 left high school in Minnesota's with the skills necessary to attend a four-year college.

Minnesota's public high school graduation rate was 88% for white students, which ranked 2nd in the nation, while its graduation rate for African-American students was 54%, which ranked 24th out of the 28 states for which information was available to calculate an African-American graduation rate.

Other national findings include:
The national high school graduation rate for all public school students remained flat over the last decade, going from 72% in 1991 to 71% in 2002.

Nationally, the percentage of these students who left high school with the skills and qualifications necessary to attend college increased from 25% in 1991 to 34% in 2002.

(The authors argue that the finding of flat high school graduation rates and increasing college readiness rates is likely the result of the increased standards and accountability programs over the last decade, which have required students to take more challenging courses required for admission to college without pushing those students to drop out of high school.)

There is a wide disparity in the graduation rates of white and minority students. In the class of 2002, about 78% of white students graduated from high school with a regular diploma, compared to 56% of African-American students and 52% of Hispanic students.

Nationally, there is also a large difference among racial and ethnic groups in the percentage of students who leave high school eligible for college admission. About 40% of white students, 23% of African-American students, and 20% of Hispanic students who started public high school graduated college-ready in 2002.

There is very little difference between the number of students who graduate from high school college-ready and the number of students who enroll in college for the first time. (This indicates that most students who have the skills necessary to attend college, do so; there is not a large pool of students who don't attend college because of a lack of funds or other non-academic factors.)
Two things ought to jump out at you from this study.

First and obviously, it's good to be white. No need to beat this point into the ground; our current approach to education is simply not getting the job done when it comes to closing the achievement gap between white kids and kids of color. Something needs to be done besides pumping more dollars into programs that clearly aren't getting the job done. There's an urgency here, that will not be satisfied by another five-year plan.

Second, the current education system is contributing, not ameliorating, the division of America into a have and have-not society. If at least some college is required to secure a decent-paying job in today's job market, and only 33 percent of Minnesota high school graduates (about 28 percent of all children that attend high school) meet the requirements for college enrollment, then perhaps we have a problem.

And the solution is not more money for college scholarship programs. As the Manhattan study indicates, students are not (in large numbers) failing to attend college for economic reasons. They simply haven't been prepared by the public education system to do so.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Howard Dean answers my question

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:15 PM |  

I’m not faulting Hugh Hewitt or Peter Beinart for not giving me the answer I was looking for when I asked my question at the big Hewitt-Beinart debate on the future of the Democrat Party, sponsored the AM1280 “The Patriot” this past Thursday. Mine was the last question of the a long night. Besides, Howard Dean answered it Saturday.

Here’s how Doug at Bogus Gold phrased it in his live blog of the debate --

New Question: Big tent? How do parties go about it? Principles or pragmatics? Explain philosophy?

Hugh: Building big tent complicated. Toss out ideas. Find what works and people want. That's how to build an open tent. Opportunity not subsidy society.

Peter: Plugs New Republic Magazine, in response to Hugh's Blog-flog.

Dem big -tent - party of opportunity. Cites MLK. Education & economic opportunities. Integration & national unity. Disenfranchised must be included. Cites gays hoisting American flag instead of rainbow flag after sodomy laws overturned. It's still the party of Marshall Plan, Truman, Kennedy. Maybe someday some of audience will come back. Well received by audience.
Basically there are two ways to fill a tent. Spoon up a variety of politically diverse dishes so there’s something for everybody, or create a masterpiece of a meal that no one can resist.

Here’s Howard Dean’s menu as reported in the Washington Post --
Incoming Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean spent yesterday in a series of meetings with valued Democratic constituencies at the Hilton Washington. He did the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus at 12:15 p.m., the Seniors Coordination Council at 12:45 p.m., the Women's Caucus at 3:40 p.m., the Native Americans at 4:35 p.m., the African Americans at 5 p.m., the Asian Pacific Islanders at 5:20 p.m. and the Hispanics at 5:40 p.m.
Despite Peter’s elegant statement of Democrat principles, bottom line is Democrats don’t think in principled terms. They think in terms of groups, and that necessarily limit’s the size of their tent. Eventually they’ll reach the point -- if they haven’t already -- where group interests collide and there’s no basis for consensus. To use an example Peter used, think Black Churches and the Democrat’s stance on abortion and gay marriage.

In the same Washington post article, Dean is quoted saying "This is my seventh meeting of the day," he declares to the [Hispanic] crowd. "I think they only have one caucus in the Republican Party," which he calls "homogenous."

That’s not a bad thing if “homogenous” means belief in the same principles, which is what Hugh was getting to in his answer to my question. When you party is based on principles, there’s no limit to how big it can grow. Anyone and everyone is welcome. They need only hold to the unifying principles.

However, “homogenous” is not a good thing when Republicans are afraid to go after the tough sales. To keep party momentum growing, Republicans and Conservatives need to translate their party principles into actions that benefit traditional Democrat constituencies. That’s not pandering; if Conservatives really believe their policies are best for the country as a whole, then they must be both able to demonstrate how and have the willingness to reach outside the tent and pull new constituencies in -- not wait for them to wander by on their own.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

MPR DEBATE: Hann vs Kelly on Education Access Grants

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:27 PM |  

[Long Post]

READER COMMENT-- This is probably the longest post I've had the patience to read in full. What's the blog equivalent of "couldn't put it down"? Thanks so much!

On the MPR MIDDAY program on Wednesday, February 9, host Gary Eichten moderated a debate between State Senator David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) and State Senator Steve Kelly (DFL-Hopkins) over the Hann/ Buesgens proposed legislation that would allow low-income families in the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts to apply for “education access grants” (vouchers) to send their children to any accredited, non-public Minnesota school of their choice.

Gary Eichten did an outstanding job moderating this debate, keeping the participants on point and framing questions such that they required specific answers.

Overall, Senator Hann did an excellent job staying on his point that, when the rhetorical smoke clears, this debate boils down to who ultimately are schools accountable to -- parents and students or the state and (the argument goes) taxpayers.

Senator Kelly was equally dogged on the accountability issue claiming that parental accountability was not the only consideration for public education and that the benefit to society of education was equally important. Below, based on my notes on the debate (not a verbatim transcript), are the comments of the participants [along with some comments of my own]. An audio of the debate can be heard on the MPR site.

Eichten started the debate with the obvious question, “Why do we need vouchers?”

Hann responded that we recognize that parental choice in education is important; that there is educational choice today for people with the means to do so. The proposed legislation recognizes and fairness demands that people of limited economic means have the same opportunity for choice.

Eichten followed up asking why the proposed legislation only applied to the St. Paul and Minneapolis schools districts, not the entire state.

Hann replied that supporters of the legislation are not opposed to expanding the bill if that’s what people want. The rationale for limiting the coverage of the bill is to provide an opportunity to test concept. The bulk of the people eligible for education access grants are in Minneapolis and St. Paul and so are most of the private school options. But supporters of the bill are not opposed to expanding it.

To Senator Kelly, Eichten rephrased the opening question -- “Why not vouchers?"

Kelly did not answer the question directly, but tried to steer the question to the ad hominem argument of motive. The legislation, he said, doesn‘t reflect the public school choice already available. He argued that if the bill is the right thing to do, we should do it everywhere in the state, but he asserted, Hann and co-sponsor Representative Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan) were concerned about feedback in their districts. There are poor kids everywhere, but Hann and Buesgens want to focus on Minneapolis and St. Paul because they are “easy targets.”

Eichten did not allow Kelly to duck the question, but rephrased and repeated it -- But why not allow low-income families the same options as the wealthy?

Kelly responded that the choice offered by the bill is illusionary. The amount of the voucher is $4,600. Holy Angels Academy charges $8,000 for tuition and Blake School is even more. Even with $4,600 low-income parents don’t have the same choice as wealthy parents. The legislation doesn’t reflect reality. The proposal is really a step down the road to vouchers for everyone, which undermines public education.

[Before we move on to the question of whether or not the proposed legislation does indeed undermine public education, let’s look at the debate thus far. Hann has basically stated his rationale for the bill -- giving low-income families the same opportunity for school choice as more well-to-do families have. Kelly has tried to taint Hann’s motives, but made one point -- that a $4,600 grant still doesn’t provide low-income families with the same opportunities as the wealthy.

The difference here is one of perception, or rather misperception, of what is meant by “school choice” that is fostered by language used by both Hann and Kelly. “School Choice” does not mean that a parent receives state funding to send a child to any private school they desire. It means the ability to remove a child from a school that is not meeting the child’s needs and place that child in another school -- public, private or religious -- that might, in the parent’s opinion better educate that child. Currently, 85 percent of non-public schools in the Minneapolis and St. Paul charge tuition less that $4,600. Kelly's "reality" that the proposed legislation doesn't provide low-income families with ALL of the opportunites available to the wealthy ignores the reality that it provides low-income families opportunities they do not have now.]

Resuming the debate -- Eichten asked Kelly to elaborate on how vouchers undermine public education.

Kelly cited charter schools as an example. He put the effect of a child leaving a school in terms of dollars and cents -- under the proposed legislation, if 10 students leave a public school, that’s $46,000 in revenue that leaves the school. That’s a teachers salary and that teacher teaches a lot more than 10 children. The loss of that teacher means larger class sizes and perhaps even the need to close some schools.

Eichten rephrased the question to Hann, asking if his legislation was a threat to public education.

Hann didn’t hedge in answering that it was not a threat. He believes that the legislation will actually help public education. He acknowledged that some private schools charge more for tuition that $4,600 but cited the 85 percent figure for private schools in the Twin Cities with tuition less than $4,600. He said he has heard from parents that the $4,600 would be helpful if they chose a more expensive school. Hann then repeated his point that the purpose of the bill is to help all kids get a good education, There are, he said, pressures on the public school system today. Students from families that can afford it are leaving the system already, and he doesn’t see his legislation changing that dynamic. He pointed out that today when a student leaves the Minneapolis or St. Paul school district, all the funding leaves the district. Under the Hann/Buesgens bill, only $4,600 leaves with the student. The balance of budgeted funds remains in the district (phased out over three years). If every student eligible under the bill took advantage of it, in the first year that would equate to a $300 more per pupil funding increase for students remaining in public schools. Hann returned to the issue, whose interest is primary -- kids and education or a school system protecting its revenue stream?

[At this point in the debate, it is becoming clear that Hann’s parting question is not rhetorical, but the central issue of the debate. Kelly’s example of $46,000 leaving a school means the loss of a teacher is somewhat fallacious. The $4,600 is the amount of instructional cost associated with a student statewide. Overhead costs of per pupil education remain with the districts under the Hann/Buesgens bill. The school districts have more money per student to focus on fewer students. It is hard to see how that is a threat.

To use Kelly’s logic of applying the total revenue loss to a single teacher, the math would like this: To total cost to educate a student in St. Paul is, in round numbers north of $11,000. Ten students leaving at $4,600 each leaves $6,400 per student with the district, times 10 students, equals $64,000 additional dollars to spend on the remaining kids in the class. Of course, that reasoning is fallacious. Money is left behind for the school district, but the affect per class room is not that great -- nor is the negative affect Kelly tries to portray as great. He can’t have it both ways. ]

Resuming the debate -- Eichten asked the question “Whose interest must be protected?” Kelly was surprisingly if not shockingly candid in his response. Paraphrasing his remarks, he said, “Parents need to step back and realize that public education is not just about the parent or the child. Public education is what is good for all citizens. The effect is that Minnesota is a more prosperous state because of public education.” Kelly accused Hann of wanting to narrow public education to just the parent and student and leave out the broader benefits to society. He said that in a public system, all schools must be subject to “accountability mechanisms.” All students must be measured to insure that schools are accountable. He said the proposed legislation would give money to private schools but not hold them to the same level of accountability.

[Kelly’s comments call for a rather lengthy aside that departs somewhat from the debate itself. His notion that society at large is ultimately responsible for defining content of public education through “accountability mechanisms” reflects the thinking of Marc Tucker, President of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). On his web site, Scholar’ s Notebook, education commentator Matt Abe writes --

"Education reform activists will recognize Tucker as the author of the "Dear Hillary" letter that started us on the road to a federal curriculum (Goals 2000) and Soviet-style polytechnical education (School-to-Work) back during the first Clinton administration. This is where Minnesota's discredited Profile of Learning graduation sandards came from."

[In fairness, Tucker’s influence, while strong during the Clinton administration, began during the Bush 41 years.]

Abe’s citing of Tucker is in the context of a meeting between Tucker and state legislators arranged by St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Pat Harvey. At the meeting, Tucker and Harvey pitched their vision of “transforming” public schools [link added]. The evening meeting was for legislators only -- no staff, no public, no press.

To understand the real significance of this meeting, and to provide context for Kelly’s remarks in the debate, a knowledge of Tucker’s book "Thinking for a Living: Education and the Wealth of Nations" is helpful. It is a must read for supporters of school choice, not because they will agree with it, but because it reveals the mindset of those who would turn education into a tool of state economic policy. As favorably described in an review --

A highly educated and trained workforce is the key to economic growth and full employment, assert the authors of this boldly visionary book, an important contribution to the debate over national priorities and the U.S.'s economic competitiveness. They urge the nation's employers to heed the lessons learned by Germany, Japan, Sweden and Singapore--countries that have linked education and economic policy into a single integrated strategy.

I read this book several years ago, and it still frightens me. Tucker reduces public education from an individual pursuit of knowledge to a tool of the state to guarantee available labor for projected economic needs. And you can guess who it is that determines those needs.

Whether or not Kelly is a baptised Tucker disciple, I don’t know, and it is irrelevant. His debate comments about public accountability for education mirror Tucker’s philosophy and pose a dangerous threat to individual freedom.]

Resuming the debate -- A caller directed this question to Senator Kelly: “the graduation rate in Minneapolis is 56 percent and poses a problem for the community in the future. How can you [Senator Kelly] look a parent I the eye and vote against the opportunity for better education?”

Kelly was again surprisingly strident in his response. Paraphrasing his response, he said “I can look a parent in the eye and say if your student is in danger of failing maybe you haven't been involved enough in your child's education regardless of what school it is.” Kelly went on to say that a parent that has already made a choice is not the parent covered by the bill. Those parents are already engaged in their children’s education. The Hann legislation will not affect the drop-out rate. The Minneapolis and St. Paul schools have put in place a number of programs to engage parents. They are doing a good job. Kelly did acknowledge that we still need to do a better job.

[An aside is required here. As I’ve written numerous times before, it always amazes me when public education supporters consider problem students and problem parents speed bumps in the road to a effective education when educating problem students from homes where education is not a priority is probably the most societal significant function of “public” education. The fact is, many private schools do take low income, non-native speaking kids with behavioral problems and deal with them as individuals. Do they always succeed with them? No, but, they succeed much of the time, and they never whine.]

Eichten turned his attention to the Milwaukee Public Schools where 16,500 students are currently enrolled in the voucher program. “Have they benefited from the program?” Hann responded first citing a study by Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute finding that students attending private schools through Milwaukee's voucher program had higher high-school graduation rates than students remaining in public schools, even those in academically selective public schools. Since the inception of the voucher program, public school graduation rates also increased. He also noted that voucher supporters in Milwaukee have tried to conduct a broader more rigorous study of the voucher program, but were blocked by voucher program opponents from conducting the study.

Kelly contended that such studies do not account for the selection bias that is built into a voucher program when a parent is engaged in a child’s education. He noted that there is now broad public school choice and that the parents who take advantage of such programs are going to do more for their kids and those kids have the advantage of family support for education. He also noted that private schools are not subject to the mandates of the NCLB act and therefore tests aren’t given to test schools for accountability. He charged that Hann doesn’t want accountability for private schools.

Eichten asked Hann if he agreed with that assessment.

Hann said that the education access grant legislation requires students using grants to take same tests as public school students. He also noted that many people contend that the requirements of the NCLB act are unnecessary federal impositions on public schools. Why then, he wonders, would we impose those regulations on private schools. Under his bill, vouchers must be used at accredited private schools that are already regulated. Again he returned to his theme that ultimately parents are accountable for their children’s education. Parents must have enough of a say in that education to move a child out of a school. Today that choice is not available to low-income parents. Many have applied to private scholarship funds, but those funds don’t always have the resources to meet the demand.

[What’s interesting to note at this point is that Kelly’s responses reflect the attitude that Hann cited when he noted that it was opponents of vouchers -- teacher’s unions and school administrators -- that prevented definitive studies on the effectiveness of voucher programs. It is clear that Kelly is operating on the premise that concept of vouchers is bad for the current system and his job is to protect the system.

Hann is being diplomatic, but it’s clear he believes the current public education system is failing to educate a significant number of children. However, although advocating vouchers to give these kids a chance, he is not condemning the “concept” of public education. His immediate goal is helping kids now by allowing the opportunity to move to schools that working. If we give Kelly the benefit of the doubt, his solution is keep kids in public schools with the promise to fix them.]

Resuming the debate -- Eichten asks -- Would private schools have to take all students, like the public schools? Hann replied that the proposed legislation would not impose changes in the ways private schools admitted students. He didn’t believe the state had the right to do that. He pointed out that the education access grant established under the legislation was funding families to help facilitate school choice. It is not right for the state to make private schools treat some students differently than others.

Eichten to Kelly -- “Is that alright with you?”

Kelly states that Hann and Buesgens “engage parents in money laundering” so it doesn't look like money goes to a private school. Kelly states that under the bill, money must be endorsed over to the school. He noted that Eichten made a key point about public education when he stated that public education must take all comers. If private schools are successful, Kelly said, it’s because they have been selective.

An online question: This listener called the proposed legislation an “end-run” to get tax dollars to private and religious schools. He stated it was not right to use his tax dollars to support schools that discriminate. He noted that Catholics don’t allow women to be priests. He asked, “ What if a school taught white supremacy or the KKK? Would you [presumably Hann] want you tax dollars to go to that school?”

Eichten modified the question to a broader question of the constitutionality of the proposed legislation.

[Before getting into the constitutionality, a brief aside. This is the only time in the debate where I think that Eichten slipped a little. He stripped the caller’s question of its passion and tossed a softball to Hann. The constitutionality issue is dealt with below, but I’d like to address the “discrimination” question, which is not.

Sending tax dollars to religious schools is a very real and very emotional issue for some people, which is why I personally favor universal tuition tax credits over vouchers. Nonetheless, the problem raised by the caller exists today and is neither created nor solved by the proposed legislation. Tax dollars fund many educational programs of which many people disapprove -- sex education, teaching evolution, emphasis on multiculturalism, American history from a western European perspective and the like. The proposed legislation actually reduces the problem of discrimination in a small way in that it enables parents to move their children from schools that don’t represent their values. This could even apply to a family that is considering a low-tuition Catholic school as an alternative to public school that with the aid of a voucher might be able to afford a more expensive secular private school.

The second issue of white supremacy schools or Muslim jihad schools or “hockey schools” or whatever one fears is basically unfounded under the proposed legislation. Vouchers can only be used at accredited schools. Parents are not dumb. Life is a bell-shaped curve, and voucher participants will tend to the middle of the curve.]

Back to the debate and the constitutionality of the proposed education access grant. Hann took up the question first and declared that the bill as written would pass constitutional muster. He noted that the state already provides funds to private schools for books, for transportation and other items. Higher education funding is provided for students attending schools like St. Thomas. The state funds families for daycare, which is money that may end up at a church daycare center. He repeated the premise of the legislation -- that it is funding families for educating kids and ultimately it is the families that decide where the money will go.

Eichten directed the question to Kelly -- “Senator Kelly, do you see a constitutional issue here?”

Kelly responded that the Minnesota State Constitution does prohibit public funds from going for the religious instruction. Kelly noted that he went to Catholic school and private high school. He said it is okay that we support private schools with funds for non-sectarian books, but believes that we must, as is done now, draw the line at tuition for religious instruction. He argued that the only way to say the proposed legislation is not a constitutional issue is to fail to look behind the money laundering aspect of the bill.

[The prohibition against use of public funds for religious schools is Article XIII Section 2 of the state constitution, which reads --

Sec. 2. PROHIBITION AS TO AIDING SECTARIAN SCHOOL. In no case shall any public money or property be appropriated or used for the support of schools wherein the distinctive doctrines, creeds or tenets of any particular Christian or other religious sect are promulgated or taught.

It should be noted that this prohibition was not in the original Minnesota State Constitution but was added in 1877 as part of a wave of so-called Blaine Ammendments,” named for Representative James G. Blaine, who pinned presidential aspirations on introduction of a similar amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The primary purpose of the amendment was to prohibit aid to Catholic schools. That attempt failed, but the idea was imbedded in 29 state constitutions within the next 15 years, including Minnesota.

Blaine Amendments were passed as a direct result of the nativist, anti-Catholic bigotry that was a recurring theme in American politics during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Writing the majority opinion in the Supreme Court's Mitchell v. Helms decision in 2000, Justice Thomas was explicit in stating the background of Blaine Amendments. He wrote --

"[N]othing in the establishment clause requires the exclusion of pervasively
sectarian schools from otherwise permissible aid programs, and other doctrines
of this court bar it. This doctrine, born of bigotry, should be buried now."

And it has been. No Minnesota court has ever used Article XIII Section 2 as a basis to strike down a program under which state assistance flowed to parochial schools. If the sectarian schools provision were used to challenge the Hann/Buesgens bill, case law and the moral high ground is on the side of the proposed legislation. (Hat tip to Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice for the legal references.)]

Resuming the debate -- A caller made the comment that there is more urgency in the St. Paul schools and therefore it made sense to implement a voucher program in that area. The caller pointed out that public schools are not working and there is a need to try something different. The caller then asked Kelly if he were opposed to Pell Grants [federal grants to college students that may be used at sectarian colleges].

Kelly noted that Minnesota has a constitutional obligation to provide a system of education that is comprehensive and uniform across the state and has a constitutional prohibition against funds for education at the K-12 levels.

He supports the state grant program where state funds may be used at sectarian colleges like St. Thomas. He noted that legislators live with a lot of ambiguity, but he believes that if support we go down the road of funding religious schools at the K-12 levels we are making a fundamental mistake that will be damaging to the health of our democracy. Public education, said Kelly, is part of our heritage from before the time of the constitution. He cited public education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as an example.

[Brief aside. Both Kelly and St. Paul Superintendent Pat Harvey have a strange view of American history when it comes to the founder’s views on public education and separation of church and state. Harvey’s ideas are addressed here. Kelly should note that the purpose of Massachusetts public education, in which teachers were often ministers of local churches, was to ensure that children were properly schooled in religion and could read the Bible.]

Kelly continued his response by disagreeing with the caller that things aren’t working in St. Paul Public Schools. He said he could understand Harvey’s angry response to the Hann/Buesgens legislation. He noted that test scores are improving, Superintendent Harvey has created more opportunity for choice and done what folks have suggested in the way of reform. He also noted that Governor Pawlenty has written a “glowing” letter about the achievements in St. Paul. Kelly cited plans around site-based management and the fact that social promotion has been eliminated as some great things happening in St. Paul. He said we ought to be celebrating these accomplishments rather than telling Harvey we’ll be sending kids out of the district. In business, we don’t treat managers that way.

Eichten asked Hann to comment on Superintednet Harvey’s remarks. Hann replied that he was a little surprised at her strong reaction. He had met with her prior to introducing the legislation. He said he could understand someone in schools not welcoming competition and [diplomatically] recognized St. Paul is doing some great things, and said he supports those efforts. But it’s also true, he noted, that no matter how good any school system is, it can not serve the needs of everyone. He noted that 19 percent of St. Paul students are in alternative learning schools that were set up to handle problem students. Hann said he is not suggesting that St. Paul isn’t making progress, but -- again returning to his main point -- he said the real question is should parents who feel their children’s chances for immediate success are better in another school have that choice.

An online question -- “If this idea (education access grants) is so good, why not eliminate public schools altogether and go to an all voucher system? Isn’t that the Republican goal?

Hann stated categorically that is not the intent of the proposed legislation. Private schools have been around for a long time and serve the public interest. Hann stated that public education is about education that serves the public interest and not the system that delivers it. If public schools are not serving some students well, he asked, why impede them from having a choice?

Kelly countered that students aren‘t impeded, that private scholarships provide choice.

Eichen asked, “But isn’t it still hard to come up with tuition?

Kelly agreed that it could be, but that it would still be hard with vouchers. His take on the real question is should public money be used for schools that don't take all comers. He repeated the idea that schools serve the student interest and the public interest at the same time. He doesn’t think that we make schools better by adopting consumerist view just on behalf of parents. Parent must realize, he said, that school provides benefit to the public and not just their kids.

[I’ve dealt with that notion of Kelly’s earlier, but what bears notice here is that Kelly’s view implies that educating children is not the end of the education system it is merely the means to the real end, which is the benefit of society as determined by the state.]

A caller asked -- What happens to children left behind? The caller speculated that those doing well will take advantage of the voucher program and drain resources from public schools. What, he asked, is the state going to do to help schools become more effective?

Eichten to Hann -- At time when schools need more money will this bill drain resources from the schools? Eichten calculated that if all eligible students took advantage of the voucher program the result would be a $3 million dollar revenue drain on public schools.

Hann said he couldn’t confirm that math, but if all eligible students took advantage of the voucher program at the $4,600 level, that an extra $300 per student would remain with the district. Hann said in drafting the bill it was understood there would be transition costs and it would be unfair to hit the districts with them all at once. He also noted that students are leaving the districts today. That’s a dynamic that exists today. Again, he returned to his theme of so why shouldn’t we help those who don’t have that opportunity today.

Kelly took up the theme of an earlier caller and said that the proposed legislation is part of overall strategy folks have been using. He said that Hann and his co-author (Buesgens) had voted to take away funds from St. Paul, Minneapolis and Duluth schools in addition to proposing this bill, which would drain more funds. “When I look at the votes,” he said, "I call it the way I see it,” referring to a comment he made about the legislation's intent to “blow up public schools.”

Eichten, referring the Hann’s comments in a Star Tribune Op-Ed Piece that he would like to debate that comment with Senator Kelly -- “Well here we are.”

Hann replied that in his view there’s no evidence that his legislation would “blow up public schools.” The best evidence is Milwaukee. He recognizes that the Milwaukee program is not universally welcomed by everyone, but it certainly hasn’t destroyed the public schools system. The evidence is that it is better. That’s not to say vouchers are the only reason, but the point is, vouchers haven't been harmful in Milwaukee. After 15 years, you can’t make a case that Milwaukee is worse off.

Kelly responded that Milwaukee is not making same case to take away money from schools. Here, he said, we have attacks on Minneapolis and St. Paul school funding. There is a broader agenda to go after public schools.

A caller question to Senator Kelly -- “If you lived in North Minneapolis, where would you send your kids to school?

Kelly responded that he lived in Hopkins and did send his kids to the Hopkins public schools. He said there are actually some great schools in North Minneapolis. He cited Henry High School, noting that it had been down to 700 students, but was now back over 1,000. He’d have no qualms about sending his kids to Henry.

Hann confessed he did not know as much about North Minneapolis schools, but acknowledged there are some very good schools in Minneapolis. Depending on the ages of children, Hann said that if he lived in North Minneapolis he would want to decide which schools were the best and if he had the means, he would send his kids there. Why if he didn’t have the means should the state as a policy say he can’t choose? Again, Hann stated there are some wonderful schools in Minneapolis. He emphasized that the proposed bill is not an indictment of Minneapolis schools, but one system may not be good for all children.

[A brief aside. Hann is obviously not comfortable on the tightrope between advocating for vouchers and criticizing the public school system. I get the sense that like most supporters of school choice, he realizes that government schools are a part of the education system and have the potential to be a valuable part of the system. What Hann is reluctant to say is that the reason vouchers are an issue is that the public schools just are not working. Good public schools are the exception, not the rule, especially for low-income children of color. We have an admitted achievement gap, and justice demands that we do something to correct it other than just pumping more money into a system that hasn’t been able to solve the problem. Eventually, I think Hann/Buesgens supporters are going to have to take that stand -- otherwise, they forfeit the urgency for passage of the legislation. ]

In the same debate thread, Kelly noted that we already have great voluntarily cross district programs. If he lived in North Minneapolis he could send his kids to any school district, with some limitations. We also have a proliferation of charter schools, so people do have choice.

Hann said his support is for the more choice the better. He said he is a bit confused by the resistance to the proposed legislation.

Kelly added that all public school kids are subject to testing and that schools are accountable. If private schools thought about accountability, Kelly said, they would be reluctant to take the voucher money.

An online question -- “Will schools that take money have to teach public school curriculum -- for example, evolution?”

Hann, repeating earlier themes, said he is not suggesting that the state has the right to tell private schools what their curriculum should be. Ultimate accountability lies with the parent. If parents have a direct interest in a school, they have a say in the curriculum. It doesn’t make sense to make the private system public. Hann said he hears from the public system that we ought to relieve some of its burdens, which he supports. Why impose those burdens on the private system?

Kelly said he is looking for Hann’s support to get the state out of the NCLB act. He disagreed that market concept would level the education playing field. There is a set of accountability measures for public schools and the Hann/Buesgens bill proposes to send state funds to providers not subject to same regulations. That’s not a level playing field, Kelly argues. Therefore, market forces don't come into play.

Hann countered that the public system also has it advantages. It can raise funds through bonding and levies, for example. The two systems are not identical, noted Hann, and he sees that as a virtue. Different kids have different needs. Does public education mean educating the kids or does it mean a defined delivery system? Hann argues for the former and said kids deserve choices.

Eichten asked about Governor Tim Pawlenty’s proposal for an education tax credit tax and whether or not Hann and Kelly supported it.

Hann said that he did support it, along with toher proposals to broaden the education tax credit system.

Kelly agreed in principle with allowing deductions for educational purposes, but said he hasn’t seen the language in the governor’s proposal and isn’t sure there is an unmet need.

Eichten’s final question was to the point -- “Will it become law?”

Kelly said that the senate education committee, which he chairs, will give the bill a hearing. He said he’s curious to see the support. His sense is, however, that most Minnesotans don’t support it. He said legislators listen to their constituents and the bill is not likely to become law.

Hann, while acknowledging that Kelly has been in the Senate longer and is probably more astue about passage, believes that the public mind is not made up. The concept of choice is understanding that public education is what helps kids. Hann hopes there will be a wide public debate.

[I am sure there will be.]

UPDATE: Matt Abe reports --

According to EdWatch, Marc Tucker's appearance at a February 9 private forum for legislators was changed at the last minute and replaced with Dr. William Ouchi, author of the book Making Schools Work: A Revolutionary Plan to Get Your Children the Education They Need.