Tag Archives: budget

Did the Punishment Fit the Crime: Test Fraud in Atlanta

Cheating is never right, so many will applaud the punishment handed out to ten Atlanta administrators and teachers charged with racketeering for cheating on state-administered standardized tests. Three of the ten convicted educators will serve a minimum of seven years each in prison while five will serve a minimum of one to two years each in prison. All ten will face stiff fines and 1,000 to 2,000 hours of community service. Did the punishment fit the crime? Maybe, but it is interesting to note that according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the three educators sentenced to seven years in prison may have received a lighter sentence in 87% of the crimes tracked by the Commission. Only murder, kidnapping/hostage taking, sexual abuse, and pornography/prostitution carried longer median sentences than the three Atlanta educators received for cheating on standardized tests. Although testing fraud is serious and should be punished, do these educators really deserve harsher punishment than 87% of hardened criminals?

Fulton County Superior Court Judge, Jerry Baxter, said, “Everyone starts crying about these educators. There were thousands of children harmed in this thing. This is not a victimless crime.” There is little to argue with in the judge’s statement, but as despicable as the actions of these administrators and teachers were, it is hard not to see them as victims also. Administrators and teachers across the United States are under inordinate pressure to meet district and state student achievement targets and failing to do that they often face severe evaluation and/or termination consequences. The Atlanta educators were no different. However, they could have taken the high road and let the chips fall where they may as the vast majority of educators do, but they chose to sell their professionalism and integrity for a shortcut to success – their success, not the children’s. As a result, the children became victims of their fraud, and they became victims of their own stupidity as well as victims of a “CAN’T WIN” testing system for school administrators and teachers.

That these educators should be held accountable for their actions is not in question, but their sentencing does not solve the problem. Their sentencing only substantiates there is a problem. Judge Baxter is right; when the stroke of the cheater’s pen passes kids regardless of their ability to read, write, or do basic math, the kids become victims. However, aren’t they also victims when their parents don’t take responsibility for their education; aren’t they also victims when state lawmakers do not adequately fund education; aren’t they also victims when teachers pass kids to the next grade who lack the skills needed to succeed; aren’t they also victims when principals tell teachers no one fails even when kids do not have the skills needed for the next grade or school; and aren’t they also victims when superintendents make it clear to principals and teachers that their jobs depend on how well kids do on state tests?

If educators are to be held accountable for a child’s education, which they should be, it stands to reason that not only teachers but everyone who has a hand in the child’s education, including parents and state lawmakers should be held just as accountable. Why should school administrators and teachers shoulder all the pressure and blame? After all, if judges are going to uphold children as victims in cases of test fraud and hand out prison sentences normally reserved for hardened criminals, shouldn’t the same consequences be applied to parents of children with excessive absences from school or parents of children with habitual behavior problems in the classroom that impedes the teacher’s ability to teach? Also, shouldn’t the same consequences be applied to state lawmakers who fail to fully fund resources needed by teachers and children in the classroom? Aren’t children being educationally harmed, cheated, and victimized just as much by the actions or lack of actions by these individuals?

There are no doubts the administrators and teachers in Atlanta deserved to be punished for their fraud, but a more fitting punishment may have been to strip them for life of their license to teach and ban them for life from involvement in education in any capacity whether it be in the public or private sectors. Fines large enough to make it hurt and community service were appropriately part of their sentencing, and the shame and stigma they will carry with them for the rest of their lives may very well be the harshest punishment they will receive. However, Judge Baxter felt more was needed than expulsion from the teaching profession, large fines, and community service. He felt such an egregious conspiracy to fraud by professional men and women who disgraced their profession, themselves, and their families deserved more, and he may have been right. Through his actions, he has sent a message across the nation that such disingenuous neglect of duty will not be tolerated. Maybe, someday neglect of duty will likewise not be tolerated by the courts in the ranks of parents and state lawmakers as well.  After all, when it comes to educating children, educators are not alone, or are they?

JL

©Jack Linton, April 19, 2015

Advertisements

Funding Mississippi Education and Seceding from the Union

I see where Governor Phil Bryant will sign the state Senate’s education funding bill although it short changes K-12 education by another $211 million dollars. I could rant and rave about how little the Governor and the state legislators value education, but these men and women have children and grandchildren of their own, so it’s hard to believe they do not value education to some extent. More likely the truth is that Mississippi is a poor state that truly cannot financially afford to do what is right educationally for its children. However, the problem with that truth is that it makes the Governor’s and legislators’ aversion to the Federal dollars that have financially propped up Mississippi for years, and their support for doing away with state income taxes that account for 31% of the state’s total revenues even more bewildering. This is a troubling paradox which stands to be corrected only through the ballot box, but Mississippi has long been enamored with its paradoxes, so sanity is not likely to occur through the vote.

If we accept the truth that Mississippi is a poor state that truly cannot afford to fully fund education, then we must also accept the truth that cutting a third of the state’s revenues is not a practical solution to providing for our children’s education or any of the other countless services needed in the state. Anyone who does not accept that truth either has a private bankroll capable of providing for all their children’s needs, including education, or they know of some secret stash the state has hidden away in a Richton salt dome. But, this is not just an education issue; it is an issue that permeates all agencies and divisions of the state. It is an issue that cannot be resolved by throwing away your wallet and praying for heavenly intervention although when it comes to funding education in Mississippi, educators have been praying for heavenly intervention for years.

Many state legislators call for improvement in education before they “hand out” more money. I agree there are improvements that can be made in education, but withholding funding to make that point is grossly negligent on the part of our legislators. Withholding funds until improvement is realized as so many legislators advocate does not resolve the problem, but rather exacerbates the problem.   Also, although it is highly laughable, too many of our leaders in Jackson believe Mississippi teachers are getting rich off the state. As a result, our children are growing educationally poorer due to distrust and declining legislative financial support. However, the biggest problem with our leadership in Jackson is they fail to understand the education funding issue in Mississippi is not about teachers; it is about children.

When it comes to making a living for their families, teachers in Mississippi are in the same boat as the majority of the people in the state; they struggle. Most families in Mississippi, including teacher families, do not have a bankroll capable of providing private education for their children, nor do they have a key to the mystical stash in Richton; they depend on a free public education for their children’s future. Therefore, instead of conjuring up ways to throw away a third of the state’s revenue, we need legislators who think outside the proverbial box to find ways to better address state funding not only for education but for all areas that depend on state funding. To do that, our leadership needs to look for ways to consolidate spending as well as avenues for creating new revenue dollars rather than proposing schemes that will further cripple the state. Therefore, in line with the current trend of enigmatic thinking engulfing our state and country, I want to share some practical funding suggestions and benefits of thinking creatively and not foolishly.

Practical Suggestions for Funding Mississippi Education

Practical Suggestion #1: Consolidate elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools at the county level.

Benefit: Under this plan, the state would save money by having only one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school in each county. By slashing the number of schools in the state by 75%, the savings in administrative and instructional personnel as well as support staff alone would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So what if it means mega schools of three to four thousand kids, the savings to the state would make it more than worthwhile.

Practical Suggestion #2: Consolidate or reduce the number of state senators and state representatives to Jackson.

Benefit: Under this plan, the state could have one senator from each county, which would increase the Mississippi Senate from 52 members to 82 members. Second, three representatives to the state house would be elected from each of five state congressional districts such as the Coastal District, Central District, Capital District, Delta District, and Hills District. In each district, one Republican, one Democrat, and one at large representative to the State House of Representatives would be elected. This would reduce the number of state representatives from 122 to 15. This plan would reduce the overall number of state legislators from 174 to 97, which would save the taxpayers around $2,000,000 annually if not more.

Practical Suggestion #3: Conduct a study to look for redundancy in the 138 state agencies and departments. Reduce the number of state agencies and departments as indicated by the study through consolidation.

Benefit: Considerable savings could be made by consolidating some of the 138 state agencies. Savings would come by eliminating redundant directorships, support staff and clerical staff.

Practical Suggestion #4: Direct MDOT to be more conservative and repair state roads and highways with pea gravel instead of expensive paving. Also, to save money on bridge repairs, MDOT should think outside the box, and build ramps on both sides of deteriorating bridges.

Benefit: Money saved by MDOT to repair roads and bridges would actually be redirected back to the working sector. For example, mechanics would benefit greatly from automobiles constantly in contact with pea gravel potholes and ramping over creeks, rivers and overpasses where bridges once stood. I can also see a sudden spike in business for body shops as people across the state opt to have their cars painted orange like Bo and Luke’s car on the Dukes of Hazard! In addition, gas stations would benefit from the need for higher priced high octane fuel, car dealers would benefit from selling more souped up automobiles, insurance companies would benefit by charging higher rates, and the demand for emergency response and medical personnel would skyrocket.

Practical Suggestion #5: Require all adults in the state to exercise their second amendment rights and carry a firearm. This would effectively reduce the number of sheriffs, deputies, highway patrol officers, police officers and other law enforcement personnel needed in the state.

Benefit: Money would be saved by moving to a vigilante style of citizen law enforcement. What law enforcement personnel left could spend their time helping coroners identify bodies.

Practical Suggestion #6: Completely restructure K-12 education by placing one certified teacher in each school as the lead teacher, and since anybody can teach, hire substitute teachers off the street to teach classes. For administrative positions such as principals and assistant principals, conduct a monthly community lottery to draw names for a lucky citizen to serve in those positions for a month, or better yet, draw the lottery names from a hat containing the names of state legislators. For clerical positions, it would be the civic duty of all citizens to sign up to serve in their local school for one week each year.

Benefit:   This plan would allow the state to funnel the majority of public school dollars to private schools and charters and populate those schools with elite upper class, white middle class, and minorities with unique athletic skills while reserving public schools for poor whites and non-athletic minorities. This would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Practical Suggestion #7: Charge parents for any absentees their child accrues beyond 10 days unless the child is hospitalized or is bedridden for more than three days under a doctor’s care.

Benefit: Charging parents for excessive absenteeism makes sense. The money paid by parents would go to help offset the expense of providing tutoring services, loss of state funding to schools and summer schools.

Just think how much money Mississippi would save if such a plan was adopted! This plan would allow the state to save so much money that Mississippi could afford to secede once again from the distrustful United States of America. By doing so, Mississippi would no longer be enticed to accept those evil nasty Federal dollars the government keeps trying to shove down our poor throats to offset the expenses of such things as education and health care. With this plan there would be so much extra revenue pouring into the state coffers, Mississippi could afford to entice companies to build in Mississippi with one-hundred year state tax exemptions; the state would even have enough money to pay the cost of moving the companies’ management and workers to Mississippi. Finally, we could elect our own president, Bubba, field boss, or master or whatever the state legislature decides is best for us. There would be no state taxes! The only requirement would be to raise cotton in your backyard, and happily sing, “We Have Overcome” in tribute to the personal and political agendas and opinions of those who know best in Jackson.

JL

©Jack Linton, March 24, 2015

It’s Not Complicated

I do not mean to offend, but . . . .

AT&T has recently launched a series of commercials that have propelled the company to number one status among the most watched and liked commercials.   The “It’s Not Complicated” ads focus on a deadpan moderator sitting at a child-size table populated by a group of bright, beyond cute, children.  The moderator asks the children such questions as, “Do you guys think it’s better to be fast than be slow?”  The delightful, uncomplicated, off the wall answers that illuminate the often times bizarre and whimsical minds of the children is a lesson for all of us in simplicity.  It is a simplicity that I wish we could somehow bottle and pass on to our elected officials, especially at budget time.  In fact, it would be to everyone’s advantage if we could get our senators and representatives to sit down at the table with these children.  I have no doubt the children could help them understand that when it comes to budget, it is really not that complicated.

You see, according to USA Today, the national debt in the United States is now equal to $534,000 per household, but no one seems to know how to slow it down much less stop it.  I use to think it was because our leaders did not care, but I have come to realize that they do probably care, but they do not have a clue as to how to solve the problem.   However, if we could get the leaders to the table with the children, and have the moderator ask, “How do you handle your allowance,” I am convinced the children could teach these adults a few things about economics.  “It’s not complicated,” especially if they would simply heed what I am sure the children would refer to as The Seven Principles of Kindergarten and 1st Grade Economics:

(1)   You do not spend more than your allowance;

(2)   You do not borrow more than your allowance;

(3)   You do not give away your allowance;

(4)   You do not put your allowance in a broken piggy bank;

(5)   You do not invest your allowance in strangers;

(6)   You do not spend your allowance on every piece of candy in the store;

(7)   You do not share your allowance with anyone who can’t or won’t pay it back.

It is not complicated!  Ask the children.

I do not mean to offend, but . . . .

JL

©Jack Linton, January 6, 2014