New Orleans, Occupied

If Louisiana State Rep and candidate for New Orleans City Council at-large seat, Austin Badon (D-New Orleans), gets his way New Orleans will soon have soldiers patrolling its streets to assist NOPD. According to this article, Badon’s bill would authorize the governor to send National Guard troops to New Orleans when the murder rate exceeds 45 persons for every 100,000 (a figure NOLA exceeded in 2010 and 2011).

To that, I say hell no! Sure more people policing the streets would be good. But when those people are wearing fatigues and carrying M16s and driving Humvees, I don’t think so. Soldiers patrolling our city would only further exacerbate the heightened anxiety and nervousness of our citizenry and tourists. And in a city that heavily relies on tourism, you must be pretty dense to think that tourists want to visit a city that needs soldiers in the streets for basic safety.

We’re only 3 weeks away from the spring primary and I already wasn’t going to be voting for Austin Badon, but now I certainly am not. Hopefully this bill amounts to nothing in this years legislative session.

Down With Public Use, Long Live Public Use

Yesterday, February 13, 2012, WDSU reported comments by interim New Orleans City Councilman-At Large Eric Granderson stating his desire that the city step up enforcement efforts of franchise fees on local businesses. These “franchise fees” apply when businesses use public property as part of their business operations, be it tables on the sidewalk or a stage in the public right of way. The problem, according to Granderson, is that some businesses pay the fee and a lot seemingly don’t, costing the city, by Granderson’s estimates, as much as $800,000 annually.

Essentially what’s going on here is that the same government that would just as quickly condemn and seize private property under emminent domain laws for the supposed “public use,” gets all upset over the public actually using public property without paying the city it’s fair share. Sure the city has the right to charge fees to people for using it’s property, but aren’t these businesses and their customers already paying fees for property use indirectly through taxes?

This is just another example of the City Council seeing a revenue source and pursuing it aggressively, good sense be damned. Does Councilman Granderson not understand the implication of these fees? Instead of forcing them upon all non-compliant businesses and potentially putting some out of business (leaving no one to pay the fee or the existing tax income), how about repealing this system entirely and allow New Orleans to slightly become more business friendly increasing the tax base through PRODUCTION. I know, a novel idea.  

I Survived the Office of Motor Vehicles

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of making a trip to the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles. Fortunately, all I had to do was renew my driver’s license and change the address on my vehicle registration so I was able to go to the little office on the westbank under the expressway. Based on stories of most people’s experiences I expected a long wait, but being middle of the day on a Thursday, I was in and out in an hour.

Even though an hour isn’t too bad, especially when you are sufficiently prepared with reading material, there must be a better way. How is it possible that in the New Orleans metro area there are a grand total of 2 offices to serve this size of a population? Not to mention that there are none in Orleans Parish. This is crazy.

I grew up in Oklahoma, where instead of centralized, state-run offices they have “tag agencies.” Tag agencies are businesses contracted with the state to provide all the services of the Office of Motor Vehicles. The beauty of this system is that they function like franchise businesses, so they have offices all over and compete with each other for customers. In the city of Tulsa, there are 15 offices alone! Some are even open on Saturday. Can you imagine a world where you can walk in and out with a new license in 5 minutes and have the option of paying with a debit/credit card? That is what the people of Oklahoma are able to enjoy.

As we approach a new state legislative session I’m hoping to get a bill introduced to pave the way for Louisiana to implement a tag agency system like Oklahoma. I’ll be sure to post on my progress to eliminate an avoidable headache for Louisianans.

A Backpack Full of Dollars

Jarvis DeBerry wrote a column Sunday, February 5, 2012 for the Times-Picayune asking for proof that school vouchers are worth having. Within the column he draws some incorrect assumptions about voucher proponents. Such as:

“We are asked to accept it as truth that schools that are privately funded are by their very nature better than publicly funded campuses.” He goes on to say, “The pro-voucher argument hangs tenuously on this point: Parents are reaching into their pockets to send their children to private schools; ergo, the quality of the education there must be better.”

Before we even look at the numbers, lets first explore the philosophy behind school vouchers. I haven’t read anyone saying “without a doubt, private schools are better than public or charter schools.” The whole point of vouchers logically follows the proven effectiveness of families being empowered to choose what public/charter school to send their children to to further expand their options to include private schools. 

Families are paying for the public education of their children through property and sales taxes either directly or indirectly regardless of whether the child actually attends public school. Also contributing to this tax base are families and individuals without children. Without vouchers, those families who choose to either homeschool or send their children to private school are paying for a system they receive no explicitly direct benefit from for their children.

Now imagine, a family cannot get their child into a public or charter school they like but a slot is available at a private school who’s track record is strong. However, they cannot afford tuition out of pocket and no scholarships are available. Vouchers make the funding system of education equitable. The money truly follows the student to the school they attend, i.e. “backpack full of dollars.”

Onto the numbers. The Reason Foundation’s Annual Privatization Report on Education for 2010 (the 2011 edition should be available soon) provides in depth factual support for voucher and tax credit systems. Some highlights:

  • “In 2010 the Department of Education released the final report of the evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The report found that students who were randomly selected to receive vouchers had an 82% graduation rate. That’s 12 percentage points higher than the students who didn’t receive vouchers. Students who actually used  their vouchers had graduation rates that were 21% higher.”
  • “A February 2010 analysis by School Choice Wisconsin found that students who receive vouchers from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) graduate at a 12% higher rate than students in the Milwaukee public schools.”
  • “A 2010 study from Northwestern University finds that competition from private school vouchers has led to academic improvements in Florida’s public schools. After the state began offering tax-credit scholarships to low-income students in 2001, students in public schools with a greater and more diverse array of private schools around them showed greater gains in standardized test scores than students in other public schools, as found by David Figlio and Cassandra Hart at Northwestern University.”

Also, to the point of a few commenters on Mr. DeBerry’s original column, vouchers actually save states money!

  • In Arizona, “an analysis by the state’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee showed that every student who would transfer from a public school to a private school because of the program would save the state’s general fund an average of $5,000 in one year because the cost of the school voucher is much less than the state’s per pupil education allocation.”
  • “The two-year-old Georgia Scholarship Tax Credit Program is estimated to save taxpayers approximately $5.9 million a year, and the Indiana Scholarship Tax Credit Program is slated to save the state anywhere from $6.4 million to $17.6 million per year after five years of operation, according to studies by the Indiana-based Foundation for Educational Choice.”
  • In Pennsylvania, “the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives estimates that if all the children receiving scholarships between the 2001–02 school year and the 2006–07 school year attended public schools instead, it would have cost the state an additional $1.5 billion dollars over those years.”

The data above should provide more than enough of a starting point for Mr. Deberry, but we can even look to our own state for proof of voucher benefits.

“Low-income students who moved from chronically failing New Orleans public schools to private schools as a result of the Louisiana Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence (SSEE) program demonstrated academic growth on state tests despite their recent school transitions, according to new data released in May 2010. Results from the state’s LEAP tests indicate modest year-to-year growth for scholarship students in core subject areas, on par with what students in the first or second year of scholarship programs typically achieve, experts say.”

Now is the time to be bold and extend the progress in New Orleans education since Katrina. Not only do vouchers definitively produce positive results, it’s also the right thing to do. Allowing the parents of children to use the funds allocated to their child at whatever school, either public, charter or private truly provides accountability to the schools and empowers the students. Which we all can agree is the goal.