Author: kathryn hickok

Press Release: Report shows ride-hailing services would be a viable solution for TriMet’s high-cost bus lines

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:
John A. Charles, Jr.
503-242-0900
john@cascadepolicy.org

PORTLAND, Ore. – Today Cascade Policy Institute released a report that recommends TriMet pursue a one-year pilot program which replaces one or more high-cost and low-ridership bus lines with ride-hailing services. The program would be supported by a subsidy funded by the costs saved by eliminating the bus line.

The report, Ride-Hailing as a Solution for TriMet’s High Cost Bus Lines: A Proposal for a Pilot Project, was authored by Eric Fruits, Ph.D., an Oregon based economist and Portland State University adjunct professor.

The proposed pilot program would offer riders point to point service from ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft within a ride-hail zone, when and where within the zone would be most convenient to the rider. The two high-cost bus lines suggested by Fruits include lines 97 (Tualatin-Sherwood Rd) and 63 (Washington Park/Arlington Hts). These lines intersect other bus lines and MAX stops, so the proof of the transaction should be used as a 2.5-hour TriMet pass. Doing so would allow passengers to connect to other buses or light rail in the area.

Cascade President and CEO John A. Charles, Jr. stated, “TriMet should embrace the benefits ride-hailing services offer instead of viewing them as a threat. Pairing services like Uber and Lyft with TriMet’s bus services would give riders a convenient and affordable way to commute while saving TriMet considerable money.” Indeed, the cost of subsidizing 75% of a user’s ride-share fare would be 55% lower than the current cost of operating proposed bus lines 97 and 63.

This proposal comes with its own set of challenges in the form of barriers to access. Services such as Uber and Lyft are hailed through an app on an individual’s smartphone and paid for by linking an individual’s bank account to the app. Some TriMet users do not own either a smartphone or a bank account. Jurisdictions which have adopted similar programs have handled this challenge by creating call centers available to riders without smartphones and by giving unbanked riders prepaid gift cards.

Ride-hailing services also contract out wheelchair accessible rides to third-party companies which would allow disabled riders to continue to commute in the corridor.

Similar pilot projects have been implemented in cities across the United States as transit authorities have recognized and taken advantage of the benefits ride-hailing services offer. TriMet should follow suit and engage in a low-stakes, one-year pilot project in order to cut costs that are rising due to declining ridership in certain areas. Doing so will serve riders, TriMet, and taxpayers alike.

The full report, Ride-Hailing as a Solution for TriMet’s High Cost Bus Lines: A Proposal for a Pilot Project, can be downloaded here.

Founded in 1991, Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s free-market public policy research center. Cascade’s mission is to explore and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity. For more information, visit cascadepolicy.org.

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On 25th Anniversary, Charter Schools Have Much to Celebrate

By Kathryn Hickok

America’s charter school movement celebrates its 25th anniversary this month. Since the first charter school opened in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1992, the number of charters nationwide has grown to about 7,000, serving three million students.

Charter schools are public schools that operate according to a charter granted by a sponsoring agency (like a school district, a university, or a department of education). In exchange for independence from many regulations applicable to traditional public schools and unionized school staff, charters agree to standards of accountability for student achievement. This allows charters to focus on innovative ways to meet students’ educational needs.

In a recent commentary for The Wall Street Journal (“Charter Schools Are Flourishing on Their Silver Anniversary,” Sept. 7), the Progressive Policy Institute’s David Osborne noted that “[t]he American cities that have most improved their schools are those that have embraced charters wholeheartedly.”

“New Orleans,” he wrote, “which will be 100% charters next year, is America’s fastest-improving city when it comes to education….The city’s schools have doubled or tripled their effectiveness in the decade since the state began turning them over to charter operators….New Orleans became the first high-poverty city to outperform its overall state in 2015 and 2016.”

Given charter schools’ increasingly recognized ability to use innovative means to raise students’ achievement levels, Oregon lawmakers, school districts, and education professionals should note what’s working both here in Oregon and across the country, and make it easier for Oregon’s charter schools to build on these successes.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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“Worker’s Choice” Would End the Unions’ “Forced-Rider” Problem

By Kathryn Hickok and Steve Buckstein

This is National Employee Freedom Week (August 20-26), a national effort to inform union members about their freedom to opt out of union membership if they choose and to make decisions about labor representation and the use of their union dues.

National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW) conducts surveys of union members and households. One significant finding is that a strong majority of union members nationwide agree that if members opt out of paying union dues and fees, they should represent themselves in negotiations with employers. Union leaders argue labor laws require them to continue representing workers even after they stop paying dues. “Worker’s Choice” would end this so-called free-rider problem (which is really a forced-rider problem).

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy explains: “Without requiring a complete overhaul of collective bargaining laws, [Worker’s Choice] can free unions from having to provide services to employees who do not support them, and allow individual employees to represent themselves and negotiate independently with their employers.”

According to the NEFW survey, two-thirds (66.9%) of Oregon union members agree that workers should be able to represent themselves, and they don’t want to force unions to represent non-dues payers. It remains for future court decisions, or other political efforts, to end union compulsion in Oregon. Until that happens, Worker’s Choice should continue to be brought to the attention of union members and the public.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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The Right to Choose or Reject Union Representation Respects Workers

By Kathryn Hickok

Why do many workers choose to opt out of union membership? Some believe they can make better use of their money than giving it to a union. Others “vote with their feet” against what they perceive to be poor union service or negotiating results. Still others leave because they oppose their unions’ political positions. They simply don’t want to support an organization that promotes different political beliefs from their own.

August 20-26, 2017 is National Employee Freedom Week, a national effort to inform union members about their freedom to opt out of union membership if they choose and to make decisions about labor representation and the use of their union dues.

Many recent scientific surveys have been conducted to see how the public and members of union households think about these issues. In 2015, National Employee Freedom Week asked members of union households this question:

“Are you aware that you can opt-out of union membership and of paying a portion of your union dues without losing your job or any other penalty?” 

Surprisingly, over 27 percent of Oregon union household members surveyed that year answered No. This implies that a large number of Oregon’s current union membership of 228,000 may not realize that membership and some dues are optional.

The right to work without third-party interference is more than an economic issue; it is a profoundly moral one as well. In America, no one should be compelled to join a union or to pay union dues in order to hold a job. For more information about how employee choice can benefit Oregon workers, visit oregonemployeechoice.com.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Let Parents Wield School Spending Power

By Kathryn Hickok

Are we missing the trees for the forest in Oregon school funding and education reform debates?

Media reports, school districts, and political leaders usually focus on the big picture: reaching a 100% high school graduation rate so all children have the best chance in life. That’s a great goal. Frequently lost, however, is the fact that every child is an individual. The focus of real-life Oregon parents is helping their kids reach their potential in light of their specific needs and gifts.

These two perspectives shouldn’t be at odds. In fact, the second could drive the first―if more parents were empowered to make meaningful choices for their children’s education.

According to the National Education Association’s Rankings and Estimates report for 2016 and 2017, counting local, state, and federal funding, current expenditures per Oregon student in Average Daily Attendance are estimated to be $13,230, more than 33 other states. Adding in spending for capital outlays and interest payments, that number increases to $14,911 per student.

Yet, the National Association of Education Progress reports that only 34% of Oregon fourth-graders tested “proficient” in reading in 2015; and Oregon has the third-worst high school graduation rate in the country.

No one disputes the need for improvements to public schools. But children who need help today—first to learn the basics (like reading and math) and then to graduate from high school—should get the help they need now. What we ought to do is give Oregon students the power of choice to find their own paths to success.

For lower-income parents, the stakes are high. Nearly half the children born into poverty will stay in poverty as adults. Key to changing that outcome is an education that leads to high school graduation and future employment. Unlike parents with greater means, who can move to another neighborhood or pay out-of-pocket for private schools, lower-income parents often find their children trapped in public schools that do not meet their kids’ needs. Education Savings Accounts could change that.

Six years ago, Arizona became the first state to pass an Education Savings Account (ESA) law for some K-12 students, and it recently expanded eligibility to eventually include all Arizona children. Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee also have ESA programs limited to certain students, such as those with special needs.

An ESA is analogous to a limited-use debit card for qualifying education expenses. It gives parents who want to opt out of a public school a portion of the per-student state funding to spend on their child’s education in other ways. ESAs can fund a wide variety of education-related expenses, including tuition, tutoring, and supplemental materials. Money not used in one year can be rolled over for future education expenses, even college.

But if ESAs let parents spend education funds outside the public school system, would ESAs drain money from public schools? Not necessarily. Schools are funded by local, state, and federal money. ESAs would be funded by only part of the state component. The amount of the ESA deposits is negotiable and would be the biggest driver of their fiscal impact.

Legislators can design an ESA program so that it would be revenue neutral to public schools, or even create a net increase per student who remained in the system. If students leaving public schools took less funding with them than would have been spent if they had remained, schools could reduce their class sizes without a negative impact on per-student funding.

No one can craft a school system that meets every child’s needs. Statistical data analysis and bureaucratic goal-setting can’t ensure that any particular child makes it to high school graduation or excels in a career. But most parents are keenly aware of their own children’s needs. Giving parents power to find the right fit for their kids would make a world of difference, as any parent knows.

Focusing on the forest (the public school system), Oregon is missing the trees (kids). We should expand the role of parents in achieving better educational outcomes for their children. We’ve tried everything else. Parental choice is the future of education reform, and Education Savings Accounts are a fiscally responsible policy solution that can give all kids options now.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She is also Director of Cascade’s Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program, which provides privately funded, partial tuition scholarships to Oregon elementary students from lower-income families. A version of this article originally appeared in The Portland Tribune on July 18, 2017.

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Trump’s apprenticeship message to young adults: “There is dignity in every honest job”

By Kathryn Hickok

President Donald Trump stressed the dignity of work in a speech last Friday promoting his Apprenticeship Initiative for young workers. “Today, this is the message I want every young American to hear: there is dignity in every honest job, and there is nobility in every honest worker,” Trump said.

This is a timely message. According to a recent report by the American Enterprise Institute, the workforce participation rate for men 25-54 has dropped from 96% in 1967 to about 88% in 2016, an all-time low. Young men, especially with less education, are increasingly opting out of the workforce, and not just due to a weak economy. Other causes of unemployment among men include “a lack of postsecondary education, dependence on benefit programs, opioid dependency, the rising prevalence of criminal records, a lack of available jobs in economically distressed areas, and weakening cultural norms [that expect able-bodied men to be working].”

Public policies and government regulations should make it easier—not harder—for young people to develop marketable skills and experience. When young adults at the point of entry to work lose the belief that earning a paycheck is better than the ease of drawing a benefit check, the human cost is significant. Renewing a moral sense of the value of labor can refocus policy makers onto solutions promoting gainful employment, the pride of accomplishment, and financial self-sufficiency over dependence on government programs.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Freedom in Film: Shane (1953)

By Kathryn Hickok

“That’s the trouble with this country. There ain’t a marshal within a hundred-mile ride.”

Considered by many to be the greatest Western of all time, Shane (1953) is a Father’s Day-worthy classic about a young boy’s relationships with his father and a mysterious gunslinger. A tale of the era of cattle drivers, the open range, and gunfighters settling disputes, the visually stunning Shane was filmed on location near Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Alan Ladd plays Shane, a man with a past who works as a farm hand for Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) and his wife Marian (Jean Arthur). Starrett is the unofficial leader of seven homesteading families, who want to put down roots and create something bigger than themselves―a future built from hard work and devotion to each other. They want to build a town, with “a church and a school,” a place where people can come and raise families.

The settlers’ vision of civilization conflicts with the desires of the cattle barons, who want to keep the range open. The barons reject the settlers’ claims to private property, stampeding through plowed fields and fences to terrorize people into giving up and leaving. When the barons resort to lawless violence, the homesteaders’ last chance of winning is Shane.

Starrett and Shane are each men of courage, self-restraint, and high ideals. They seek prudent, honorable solutions to the settlers’ problems; and in different ways they need to work together to survive. Shane celebrates individual initiative, creativity, free enterprise, and the classic opportunity of the American West.

But it is also clear that no one succeeds alone. Joe and Marian Starrett are a team. Their farm is only possible because they have each other, as Joe points out with loving pride. Their family also needs neighbors. The farmers rely on each other for moral and physical support and protection. The rights of individuals are only secure as long as honest people defend them. And the whole community needs the act of selfless courage that only Shane can pull off.

The lawless days gradually give way to civilization; but only through the courage of homesteading families determined to turn the Wild West into a peaceful, self-sufficient, hard-working community. The Starretts’ young son Joey idolizes Shane, but Shane steers him away from the false glamour of the lone ranger. When Shane rides off into the sunset, he tells Joey, “You go home to your mother and father and grow up to be strong and straight.” As Shane exits, the day of the gunfighter is over. The family now guards the range.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. A version of this article was originally published in August 2013.

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Testimony in Favor of SB 437 – The Educational Opportunity Act: “The Power of Choice”

By Kathryn Hickok

Director, Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon

Dear Chairman Roblan and Members of the Senate Education Committee:

My name is Kathryn Hickok, and I am director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon. For almost twenty years our nonprofit program has provided privately funded partial-tuition elementary scholarships to children from lower-income Oregon families. As CSF-Portland, we originally served Washington, Multnomah, and Clackamas counties. Our program area now includes the entire state of Oregon. We are currently sponsoring students from Beaverton to Bend and Albany to Medford.

The Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon is a permanent program of Cascade Policy Institute and part of the Children’s Scholarship Fund national network of scholarship granting organizations (www.scholarshipfund.org). CSF and its partner programs are committed to empowering families in need with the ability to choose the K-8 schools that best meet their children’s needs, regardless of their ability to pay or the neighborhoods where they live. To be eligible for a scholarship, families must demonstrate financial need according to standards similar to the Federal free and reduced price lunch program. Our scholarships are financed through the generosity of local Oregon donors and matching grants from the national Children’s Scholarship Fund.

Our experience with the educational choices made by the lower-income Oregon families participating in our program demonstrates several key points relevant to this bill:

First, lower-income parents want to take charge of their children’s futures through educational opportunity; and when they are given a real choice, they do so. While their financial means are limited, our parents are knowledgeable about their options and determined to make any sacrifice to raise their children to be well-educated, responsible, and successful adults. Parents in our program value high-quality education as the way out of poverty for their children and make the commitment and sacrifice of paying a substantial portion of their tuition themselves.

Second, demand for broader educational opportunities in Oregon is real. When our program began in 1999, the parents of more than 6,000 children applied for only 550 available scholarships. Weekly, parents call and email me because they want to find the right educational fit for their children. It could be a specialized program or school tailored to their learning or physical needs, or they could be looking for educational opportunities not available in the public school assigned to them by their home address. Senate Bill 437 would give Oregon families greater power to choose among the broad range of educational choices and learning opportunities currently available, or available in the future, using money the state already allocates for their children’s education.

Third, it does not take a lot of money to change a child’s life. Our scholarships average about $1,500. That small amount can make the difference in allowing children to attend schools they love, that motivate them to do their best, and that foster their individual talents. Education Savings Accounts would make an even greater, empowering difference for parents in where they send their children to school and how they tailor their kids’ entire educational experience to their unique needs and talents.

The benefits of an Education Savings Account program for Oregon families are not theoretical for us. As a charitable scholarship program, CSF-Oregon helps parents to choose the schools best suited to their children’s needs. This bill extends educational options to more children in our communities. It will make a real and immediate difference in thousands of lives, just when they need it the most.

Respectfully,

Kathryn Hickok

Director

Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon

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Oregon Legislature Should Give Kids a “Ticket to the Future” Today

By Kathryn Hickok and Steve Buckstein

Derrell Bradford has spent his adult life passionately advocating for education reform through parental choice. Bradford grew up in poverty in southwest Baltimore and received a scholarship that allowed him to attend a private high school, preparing him for college and a successful career. Better than anyone, he knows the power of educational choice to unleash a child’s potential.

“A scholarship is not a five-year plan or a Power Point…,” Bradford explained recently. “It’s a ticket to the future, granted today, for a child trying to shape his or her own destiny in the here and now….”

Choices in education are widespread in America, unless you are poor. Affluent families can move to different neighborhoods, send their children to private schools, and supplement schooling with enrichment opportunities. Lower- and middle-income families, however, are too often trapped with one option: a school in need of improvement assigned to them based on their ZIP Codes. Families deserve better.

Six years ago, Arizona became the first state to pass an Education Savings Account (ESA) law for some K-12 students. In April, lawmakers there passed a new ESA bill which expands the program eligibility to eventually include all Arizona children. Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee also have ESA programs limited to certain students, such as those with special needs. Nevada also passed a near-universal ESA bill, but it is yet to be funded.

An Education Savings Account is analogous to a debit card for qualifying education expenses. It gives parents who want to opt out of a public school that is not meeting their child’s needs a portion of the per-student state funding to spend on their child’s education in other ways.

Now, Oregon has a chance to put parents in the educational “driver’s seat” with Senate Bill 437, known as the “Educational Opportunity Act: The Power of Choice.” This bill would allow parents to spend a portion of the per-student state funding for their child on the schools or education services that are best for them as individuals. Options could include private or home schools, tutors, online courses, and therapy. Funds not used by the student in a given year could be rolled over for future years, even into college.

Critics might ask if this bill would drain funds from public schools, or would it leave them harmless while allowing many students to make different choices? The answers depend on several assumptions which have been evaluated in a new review of a universal Oregon ESA program.

The amount of the ESA deposits is the biggest driver of fiscal impacts. Based on the assumptions in the study, the program would have a fiscal “break even” for state and local school districts combined at an annual ESA amount of $6,000 for each participating student with disabilities and/or in a low-income household and $4,500 for all other students. These are the dollar amounts proposed in an Amendment to the bill and represent a reduction from the current state allocation which averages $8,781 for all students.

Of course, fiscal impact is not and should not be the primary measure of this or any well-designed school choice program. But it is a political reality that such a program should not impose a fiscal burden on the state at a time when all budgets are under pressure. SB 437 would offer Oregon families as much choice as possible in how their children take advantage of educational opportunities funded by the state, while not harming public schools.

The Senate Education Committee will hold an informational hearing on SB 437 on Tuesday, June 13, at 3 pm at the Oregon State Capitol. You can make a statement in favor of school choice by attending the hearing and/or submitting written testimony on the bill.

Children have different needs and learn in different ways. The landscape of educational options available to meet those needs is more diverse today than ever. Education Savings Accounts for Oregon parents are a life-changing education solution whose time has come. Families have had enough five-year-plans and Power Points, as Derrell Bradford put it. To give Oregon kids a ticket to the future—today—the Legislature should enact Senate Bill 437.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. Steve Buckstein is Cascade’s Senior Policy Analyst and Founder. A version of this article originally appeared in The Portland Tribune on May 25, 2017.

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Education Savings Accounts Treat Kids Like the Individuals They Are

By Kathryn Hickok

Six years ago, Arizona became the first state to pass an Education Savings Account law for some K-12 students. In April, lawmakers there passed a new ESA bill which expands the program eligibility to include all Arizona children. Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee also have ESA programs limited to certain students, such as those with special needs. Nevada also passed a near-universal ESA bill, but it is yet to be funded.

Education Savings Accounts put parents in the educational “driver’s seat.” An ESA is analogous to a debit card for qualifying education expenses. It gives parents who want to opt out of a public school that is not meeting their child’s needs a portion of the per-student state funding for spending on their child’s education in other ways. Funds not used by the student in a given year can be rolled over for future years.

To really empower Oregon families, the Legislature should enact Senate Bill 437. This ESA bill would allow parents to choose the education that meets their child’s needs, such as private or home schools, tutors, online courses, and therapy.

Children learn in different ways, and the landscape of educational options is more diverse today than ever. Education Savings Accounts for Oregon parents are a life-changing education solution whose time has come.


The Senate Education Committee will hold an informational hearing on SB 437 on Tuesday, June 13, from 3-5 pm at the Oregon State Capitol. You can make a statement in favor of school choice by attending the hearing and/or submitting written testimony on the bill.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Arizona’s Universal Education Savings Account Law: A “Breakthrough” in Education Financing for Students Today

By Kathryn Hickok

Six years ago, Arizona became the first state to pass an Education Savings Account law for some K-12 students. Last week, Arizona lawmakers passed a new ESA bill which expands the program eligibility to include all Arizona children, phased in over the next few years.

The Heritage Foundation’s education policy fellow Lindsay Burke explains:

Education savings accounts represent a breakthrough in public education financing. Instead of sending funding directly to district schools, and then assigning children to those schools based on where their parents live, parents receive 90 percent of what the state would have spent on their child in their district school, with funds being deposited directly into a parent-controlled account.

Parents can spend the money on the educational services that best meet their children’s individual needs, such as private or home schools, tutors, online courses, and therapy. Funds not used by the student in a given year can be rolled over for future years.

Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee also have ESA programs limited to particular groups of students, such as those with special needs. Nevada passed a near-universal ESA bill in 2015, but it is yet to be funded.

“When parents have more choices, kids win,” said Arizona Governor Doug Ducey. It’s time for Oregon parents to have those choices, too. For more information about Oregon’s Education Savings Account bill, under consideration this legislative session, visit schoolchoicefororegon.com.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

 

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Testimony Regarding Senate Bills 432, 602, 608, 612 and 618

Testimony of John A. Charles, Jr.

President & CEO, Cascade Policy Institute

Regarding Senate Bills 432, 602, 608, 612 and 618

April 6, 2017

Advocates of land-use planning strongly believe that the benefits of planning always outweigh the costs.

But no regulatory system is perfect. Certainly the Oregon program can be improved, if we have the will.

The most obvious problem is that land-use regulation imposes a static vision on a dynamic economy. Oregon demands “urban containment” as the top priority, enforced through urban growth boundaries and rural exclusionary zoning. This has to result in an imbalance between housing supply and demand, leading to rapid price escalation. There is no other logical outcome unless planning advocates have invented a new economic theory that only they understand.

The bills under discussion today may not be the perfect responses to current problems, but surely at least one of them could be used by the Committee as a vehicle for modest reform.

I encourage the Committee to pick one flaw in the Oregon system and address it going forward.

You could focus on the dysfunctional urban growth boundary management process, the punitive “Transportation Planning Rule,” or perhaps farmland preservation requirements that are disconnected from economic reality.

It doesn’t matter which problem you address, but to say that no flaws exist and all reform bills must be killed year after year is not plausible.

Failure to address obvious problems will undermine public confidence in the legislative process. Please use the remaining time in this session to solve at least one problem related to zoning.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Educational Choice: An Economic Development Catalyst for Urban Neighborhoods

By Kathryn Hickok

A case study on urban renewal suggests that private and charter schools can act as positive drivers of economic development and neighborhood stability. The report, Renewing Our Cities, was produced by EdChoice, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting educational choice for all families.

The report’s authors state:

We find that the school is a strong relocation attractor, and families gravitate toward the school after their children enroll. To the extent public charter schools and/or other parental-choice options influence family relocation decisions, continued growth in these programs may provide a useful policy tool informing urban design and revitalization initiatives in areas where economic growth is otherwise stunted by inferior assigned schools.

These findings are meaningful. A common argument against school choice for low-income children is that neighborhoods and schools would be worse off if families left their assigned public school for a school they thought better met their children’s needs.

This viewpoint doesn’t recognize that private and charter schools are part of the neighborhood, too. When parents have educational options within their communities that are helping their children succeed, they have an incentive to remain part of their neighborhoods and even to move closer to those schools. This supports economic development and a more vibrant civic life in those areas.

Urban economic development is one more way educational choice can be good for both kids and their communities.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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The Road to Success Travels Through 3rd Grade Reading

By Kathryn Hickok

Denisha Merriweather failed third grade twice. Today, she is finishing her master’s degree, thanks to Florida’s tax-credit-funded scholarship program. Last week Denisha was President Trump’s guest at his Address to Congress, where he called educational choice “the civil rights issue of our time.”

The key to Denisha’s success was her godmother’s ability to remove Denisha from a school that was failing her, and to send her to the school that provided her with the support she needed.

Denisha says:

“Now that I’m in graduate school, I can look up statistics that suggest I’ve beaten the odds….[S]tudents who don’t read proficiently by the third grade are four times as likely to drop out of high school as those who do….

“That was me.”

According to the National Association of Education Progress, only 34% of Oregon fourth-graders tested “proficient” in reading in 2015. Oregon students should have the power of choice to find their own path to success, just like Denisha. The Oregon Legislature can help them do this with Senate Bill 437. SB 437 would give parents who want to opt out of a public school a portion of the per-student state funding for their child, to spend on education in other ways. No one disputes the need for improvements to public schools. But children who need help today should be able to get help now.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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An Oregon Education Solution Whose Time Has Come

By Kathryn Hickok

Derrell Bradford has spent his adult life passionately advocating for education reform through parental choice. Derrell grew up in southwest Baltimore and received a scholarship to a private high school. Better than anyone, he knows the power of educational choice to unleash a child’s potential.

“A scholarship is not a five-year plan or a power point…,” Derrell explained recently. “It’s a ticket to the future, granted today, for a child trying to shape his or her own destiny in the here and now….”

Choices in education are widespread in America, unless you are poor. Affluent families can move to different neighborhoods, send their children to private schools, and supplement schooling with enrichment opportunities. Lower- and middle-income families, however, are too often trapped with one option: a school in need of improvement assigned to them based on their home addresses. Families deserve better.

January 22-28 is National School Choice Week, the world’s largest celebration of parental choice and effective educational options for all children.

Students have different talents and needs and learn in different ways. The landscape of options to meet those needs is more diverse today than ever. These options include traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.

Oregon’s 2012 “Mother of the Year” and parental choice activist Bobbie Jager says, “The word ‘choice’ in our home means, ‘of high quality and carefully selected,’ as our children’s education and schools should be. As parents, we need to be able to make these choices for each of our children.”

It’s time Oregon took a serious look at the diversity of options parents now have in 61 school choice programs across the country, including privately or publicly funded scholarship programs, charter schools, education tax credits, vouchers, and Education Savings Accounts.

Parents—not public school bureaucracies—should be in the educational “driver’s seat.” To really empower Oregon families, the Legislature should enact Senate Bill 437 during this year’s upcoming legislative session. This law would give parents who want to opt out of a public school that is not meeting their child’s needs a portion of the per-student state funding for spending on their child’s education in other ways. With this “Education Savings Account” (analogous to a debit card for qualifying education expenses), parents can choose the schools or services that will meet their children’s learning needs.

Oregon has a history of bold experimentation in other policy areas. It’s time to expand the role of parents choosing―and the market delivering―better education for Oregon’s children through educational choice, because every child deserves a ticket to a better future right now. Parental choice is the way of the future, and Education Savings Accounts for Oregon parents are a life-changing education solution whose time has come.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. This article originally appeared in The Coos Bay World on January 23, 2017.

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An Oregon Education Solution Whose Time Has Come

By Kathryn Hickok

Derrell Bradford has spent his adult life passionately advocating for education reform through parental choice. Derrell grew up in southwest Baltimore and received a scholarship to a private high school. Better than anyone, he knows the power of educational choice to unleash a child’s potential.

“A scholarship is not a five-year plan or a power point…,” Derrell explained recently. “It’s a ticket to the future, granted today, for a child trying to shape his or her own destiny in the here and now….”

Choices in education are widespread in America, unless you are poor. Affluent families can move to different neighborhoods, send their children to private schools, and supplement schooling with enrichment opportunities. Lower- and middle-income families, however, are too often trapped with one option: a school in need of improvement assigned to them based on their home addresses. Families deserve better.

January 22-28 is National School Choice Week, the world’s largest celebration of parental choice and effective educational options for all children.

Students have different talents and needs and learn in different ways. The landscape of options to meet those needs is more diverse today than ever. These options include traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.

Oregon’s 2012 “Mother of the Year” and parental choice activist Bobbie Jager says, “The word ‘choice’ in our home means, ‘of high quality and carefully selected,’ as our children’s education and schools should be. As parents, we need to be able to make these choices for each of our children.”

It’s time Oregon took a serious look at the diversity of options parents now have in 61 school choice programs across the country, including privately or publicly funded scholarship programs, charter schools, education tax credits, vouchers, and Education Savings Accounts.

Parents—not public school bureaucracies—should be in the educational “driver’s seat.” To really empower Oregon families, the Legislature should enact Senate Bill 437 during this year’s upcoming legislative session. This law would give parents who want to opt out of a public school that is not meeting their child’s needs a portion of the per-student state funding for spending on their child’s education in other ways. With this “Education Savings Account” (analogous to a debit card for qualifying education expenses), parents can choose the schools or services that will meet their children’s learning needs.

Oregon has a history of bold experimentation in other policy areas. It’s time to expand the role of parents choosing―and the market delivering―better education for Oregon’s children through educational choice, because every child deserves a ticket to a better future right now. Parental choice is the way of the future, and Education Savings Accounts for Oregon parents are a life-changing education solution whose time has come.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. This article originally appeared in The Coos Bay World on January 23, 2017.

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The Oregon Education Solution Whose Time Has Come

By Kathryn Hickok

Next week is National School Choice Week, the world’s largest celebration of parental choice and effective educational options for all children.

Students have different talents and needs and learn in different ways. The landscape of options to meet those needs is more diverse today than ever. These options include traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.

Oregon’s 2012 “Mother of the Year” Bobbie Jager says, “The word ‘choice’ in our home means, ‘of high quality and carefully selected,’ as our children’s education and schools should be. As parents, we need to be able to make these choices for each of our children.”

Parents—not public school bureaucracies—should be in the educational “driver’s seat.” To really empower Oregon families, the Legislature should enact Senate Bill 437. This law would give parents who want to opt out of a public school that is not meeting their child’s needs a portion of the per-student state funding for spending on their child’s education in other ways.

With this “Education Savings Account” (analogous to a debit card for qualifying education expenses), parents can choose the schools or services that will meet their children’s learning needs. Parental choice is the way of the future, and Education Savings Accounts for Oregon parents are a life-changing education solution whose time has come.


Cascade Policy Institute will host a National School Choice Week Policy Picnic on Wednesday, January 25, at noon. Oregon’s 2012 “Mother of the Year” Bobbie Jager will talk about how she got involved in education advocacy and what’s ahead for Oregon parents and students in 2017. Those interested in attending can find more information and RSVP here.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Educational Choice: A “Ticket to the Future” for Every Child

By Kathryn Hickok

Derrell Bradford has spent his adult life passionately advocating for education reform through parental choice. Derrell grew up in southwest Baltimore and received a scholarship to a private high school. Better than anyone, he knows the power of choice to unleash a child’s potential.

“A scholarship is not a five-year plan or a power point…,” Derrell explained recently. “It’s a ticket to the future, granted today, for a child trying to shape his or her own destiny in the here and now….”

Choices in education are widespread in America, unless you are poor. Affluent families can move to different neighborhoods, send their children to private schools, and supplement schooling with enrichment opportunities. Lower- and middle-income families, however, are too often trapped with one option: a school in need of improvement assigned to them based on their home addresses. Families deserve better.

It’s time Oregon took a serious look at the diversity of options parents now have in 61 school choice programs across the country, including privately or publicly funded scholarship programs, charter schools, education tax credits, vouchers, and Education Savings Accounts. Oregon has a history of bold experimentation in other policy areas. It’s time to expand the role of parents choosing―and the market delivering―better education for Oregon’s children through educational choice, because every child deserves a ticket to a better future today.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Freedom in Film: Won’t Back Down (2012)

With students everywhere heading to class, we hope you enjoy Part 3 of Cascade’s “virtual” back-to-school School Choice Film Fest.

Social problem films are not generally “feel-good” movies, in the sense that viewers feel comfortable with their feet up, eating popcorn, laughing with the heroes, and hoping for happily ever after. Won’t Back Down (2012) is a bit different. The film makes clear the near-impossibility of a desperate single mother getting her small daughter out of the worst public school in town; but it maintains a buoyant, upbeat vibe.

Here is what Cascade’s Steve Buckstein said about Won’t Back Down when it opened in theaters:

It’s not often that a Hollywood movie both entertains and helps parents learn about another option to improve their children’s education. The film Won’t Back Down…does both.

Inspired by actual events, it’s the story of a third-grade student trapped in a failing public school. Unable to afford a private education, her mother, played by actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, learns about parent trigger laws, now the reality in seven states, which allow parents to take control of such schools and institute improvements.

Gyllenhaal enlists the help of a dedicated teacher in her daughter’s school, played by actress Viola Davis, to jump through the myriad of hoops put in their way. Together, they learn how to fight not only the bureaucracy, but the powerful teachers union, personified by actress Holly Hunter.

The film explores the complex relationships among good teachers, bad teachers, and a union whose leader once famously said he’d represent the interests of schoolchildren when they started paying union dues. Poor parents who want the best for their children are given a glimpse of the educational choices that those with political power are able to make.

Surprisingly, the good guys aren’t all good, and the bad guys aren’t all bad, in this multi-layered drama….

Won’t Back Down was criticized by some as “anti-union” or even “anti-teacher.” But it is actually a relatively gentle take on union/parent/teacher conflicts. The film takes extra care to present the concerns and fears of lifelong public school teachers and union members with sympathy and understanding. The characters are lovable, and the drama is human.

The takeaway can be summed up by the school board member who, casting the decisive vote, says….Well, you’ll have to see the movie to find out.

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Freedom in Film: Waiting for “Superman” (2010)

With students everywhere heading to class, we hope you enjoy Part 2 of Cascade’s “virtual” back-to-school School Choice Film Fest.

The 2010 documentary film Waiting for “Superman” ignited new interest in the desperate desire of low-income parents to get their kids out of failing, one-size-fits-all public schools into better-performing charter schools. The five children poignantly profiled in the film faced barriers to their dreams in the form of too few charter school seats and a lottery acceptance process that made their futures dependent on a roll of the dice.

Charter schools have become a vital education option for thousands of students throughout the U.S. Moviegoers previously unfamiliar with charter schools (public schools with more freedom to be innovative than traditional district public schools) began to understand why parents―especially lower-income parents―want their kids so much to have a chance to attend charters.

Demand for charter schools far outstrips available seats, as Cascade’s 2011 study of Oregon charter school waiting lists found. Opening more charter schools is an important piece of the education reform puzzle. However, immediate, viable, successful alternatives to failing public schools have existed, often right in parents’ own neighborhoods, for decades. In much of the U.S., those options pre-date the American public school system itself.

Private and parochial schools have been a lifeline for low-income kids for generations, and today’s school choice movement seeks to maximize parents’ options for choosing the public, private, online, public charter, or home school that is the best fit for their children. Dozens of states and the District of Columbia have pioneered voucher programs, education tax credit laws, and Education Savings Accounts for parents. Private charity also plays a major role in helping children in need get a hand up early in life.

Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs, may be the most flexible way for states to help children learn in the ways that are best for them. ESAs are not a college savings plan. Rather, if families decide the public schools to which their children are assigned are not meeting their needs, they can leave those schools and instead receive money from the state to pay for approved alternative education options and expenses. Parents can spend the funds on private school tuition, individual courses at public schools, tutoring, online learning, textbooks, educational therapies, and other education-related services and products. They can use a combination of these services based on what they think would best meet their child’s learning needs.

Reforming our public education system is necessary, but low-income kids can’t wait for Superman. When the 2017 Oregon legislative session begins in January, ask your state legislators to empower Oregon children to succeed in whatever education setting works for them by supporting an Education Savings Account law.

And if you haven’t seen it yet, this is a great week to watch Waiting for “Superman.”

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Freedom in Film: To Sir, with Love (1967)

With students everywhere heading to class, we hope you enjoy Part 1 of Cascade’s “virtual” back-to-school School Choice Film Fest.

Nearing the end of his patience, a first-year teacher challenges his scarcely literate students to think seriously about the lives ahead of them. What will happen after high school graduation? One academically indifferent girl supposes she’ll get married, giggling that “everybody gets married.”

Such comfortable assumptions have disappeared since 1967; much else about the lives and troubles of at-risk teenagers hasn’t.

To Sir, with Love stars Sidney Poitier as Mark Thackeray, an engineer who takes a temporary teaching job. The kids are rough, uninterested in school, and oblivious to the possibility that they could become more than they are. The gentlemanly Mr. Thackeray, called “Sir” by his students, is as much a culture shock to them as they are to him.

To Sir, with Love is like a time capsule of the late 1960s: Sentimental optimism contrasts with the grittiness of poverty, illiteracy, teenage rebellion, and rapid social change. There is a sense that Mr. Thackeray’s class is careening wildly toward dead-end or delinquent adulthoods, and he has a few short weeks to reach at least some of his students before they are lost. His greatest asset as a teacher, though, has nothing to do with cutting-edge curriculum or teaching “best practices.”

It is culture. “Sir” is a living example of another world which his students could choose to enter, if only they could see themselves in it. Through him they experience, for the first time, what it is to have dignity. As the teenagers begin to awaken to their own self-worth, they start to grasp why people have manners, respect others, and behave in ways that draw respect in turn. They take interest in the written word and the process of intellectual inquiry.

Education is more than transmission of facts; it’s an invitation to explore the world of the soul, of human creative capacity, and of the physical universe. When students get in touch with their own dignity as human beings, they grasp the meaning of learning. They no longer mark time until school is out; they transform as students and as people.

Great teachers help students discover the grandeur of human existence, potential, and achievement and that they are made for more than superficial pleasures and “easy outs.” To Sir, with Love shows what can happen when the right adult comes into a teenager’s life at the right time―and why that’s so important.

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The Everyday Heroes of 9/11, Remembered

“The greatest thing I ever did with my life.”

The largest sea evacuation in history took place on September 11, 2001, when nearly 500,000 civilians were rescued from Manhattan by boat in less than nine hours. By comparison, during World War II, the evacuation after the Battle of Dunkirk saved 339,000 British and French soldiers over the course of nine days.

Many of the rescue boats were private watercraft whose owners volunteered to ferry thousands to safety.

“No training, just people doing what they had to do that day,” said a man who worked on one of the boats.

“Average people, they stepped up when they needed to,” said another.

This video narrated by Tom Hanks tells their unforgettable, moving story.

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Two-Thirds of Oregon Union Members Want to End the Unions’ “Forced-Rider” Problem

By Kathryn Hickok and Steve Buckstein

This month, National Employee Freedom Week (August 14-20, 2016) called attention to the rights of union members to opt out of union membership if they choose and to stop paying dues and fees to unions they do not support. National Employee Freedom Week has conducted surveys of union members and households. One of this year’s significant findings is that a strong majority of union members nationwide agree that if members opt out of paying union dues and fees, they should represent themselves in negotiations with employers.

Two-thirds (66.9%) of Oregon union members agree with this proposition. “Worker’s Choice” would end the so-called free-rider problem (really a forced-rider problem), which argues that labor laws require unions to continue representing workers even after they stop paying dues. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy explains: “Without requiring a complete overhaul of collective bargaining laws, [Worker’s Choice] can free unions from having to provide services to employees who do not support them, and allow individual employees to represent themselves and negotiate independently with their employers.”

Now we know that two-thirds of Oregon union members want workers to be able to represent themselves, and they don’t want to force unions to represent non-dues payers. It remains for future court decisions, or other political efforts, to end union compulsion in Oregon. Until that happens, Worker’s Choice should continue to be brought to the attention of union members and the public.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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“The Best Earthly Inheritance” Our Founders Bequeathed

Every July much is said about the blessings of liberty, the meaning of the American Experiment, and the price of freedom. But this year we also mark the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and, on August 10, of the arrival of the news of this world-altering decision in London.

Benjamin Franklin is said to have advised his fellow patriots of the potential consequences of challenging the British Empire and its king: “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” While each of the 56 British subjects who affixed their names to the Declaration risked life, fortune, and sacred honor, none may have risked as much as the delegate from Maryland, Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

At the time of the signing, Charles Carroll was the wealthiest man in the American colonies. The risk he took in siding with the cause of independence was acknowledged to be substantial, both in material terms and in his social standing as one of the most prominent citizens of Maryland. In his book, Charles Carroll of Carrollton: Faithful Revolutionary, biographer Scott McDermott recounts that when John Hancock asked Carroll to sign―and Carroll responded, “Most willingly”―a bystander commented, “There go a few millions.”

And just to make sure that everyone, including King George III, knew which of Maryland’s many Charles Carrolls was the signer, he proudly added the words “of Carrollton” (his Frederick County estate). Thus, history remembers him as “Charles Carroll of Carrollton.”

Carroll is unique among the signers for more than just his wealth. He was, in fact, ineligible to vote or to hold public office when he was chosen by the Maryland Convention as a delegate to Congress to approve the Declaration on its behalf. Maryland’s early Toleration Act granting religious freedom had been overturned in 1692, so Catholics could not vote, hold public office, worship in public, or freely educate their children in their faith.

Carroll’s participation in the War of Independence was motivated by his firm belief in natural law and rights, government by consent of the citizens, and freedom of religion. The Catholic minority in the British American colonies recognized in the cause of liberty the path to equality under law.

Carroll strongly supported and collaborated with George Washington during the war, influenced the crafting of the Maryland and the U.S. Constitutions, and served as the first senator from the new state of Maryland. His public life was long, and he was a giant figure through the early decades of the 19th century. Looked up to as an elder statesman and symbol of national unity, at his death in 1832, the Baltimore American called him “the last of the Romans”―a reference to the classical prototype of the generation who built the new but maturing Republic.

Charles Carroll’s brief testament to the America he would leave behind was written on a parchment copy of the Declaration, dated July 4, 1826. He wrote in the style of a man educated in the 18th century, but behind the formality is a stark humility and a simple message intended for today:

“Grateful to Almighty God for the blessing which, through Jesus Christ our Lord, he has conferred upon my beloved country, in her emancipation, and upon myself, in permitting me, under circumstances of mercy,…to survive the fiftieth year of American Independence, and certifying by my present signature my approbation of the Declaration of Independence adopted by Congress…, and of which I am now the last surviving signer, I do hereby recommend to the present and future generations the principles of that important document as the best earthly inheritance their ancestors could bequeath to them, and pray that the civil and religious liberties they have secured to my country may be perpetuated to the remotest posterity and extended to the whole family of man.”

As we celebrate many historic anniversaries of our freedom this year, and the legacy of each of America’s founders, let us also “remember Carroll’s sacred trust…and all [who slumber] with the just.”

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"The Best Earthly Inheritance” Our Founders Bequeathed

Every July much is said about the blessings of liberty, the meaning of the American Experiment, and the price of freedom. But this year we also mark the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and, on August 10, of the arrival of the news of this world-altering decision in London.

Benjamin Franklin is said to have advised his fellow patriots of the potential consequences of challenging the British Empire and its king: “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” While each of the 56 British subjects who affixed their names to the Declaration risked life, fortune, and sacred honor, none may have risked as much as the delegate from Maryland, Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

At the time of the signing, Charles Carroll was the wealthiest man in the American colonies. The risk he took in siding with the cause of independence was acknowledged to be substantial, both in material terms and in his social standing as one of the most prominent citizens of Maryland. In his book, Charles Carroll of Carrollton: Faithful Revolutionary, biographer Scott McDermott recounts that when John Hancock asked Carroll to sign―and Carroll responded, “Most willingly”―a bystander commented, “There go a few millions.”

And just to make sure that everyone, including King George III, knew which of Maryland’s many Charles Carrolls was the signer, he proudly added the words “of Carrollton” (his Frederick County estate). Thus, history remembers him as “Charles Carroll of Carrollton.”

Carroll is unique among the signers for more than just his wealth. He was, in fact, ineligible to vote or to hold public office when he was chosen by the Maryland Convention as a delegate to Congress to approve the Declaration on its behalf. Maryland’s early Toleration Act granting religious freedom had been overturned in 1692, so Catholics could not vote, hold public office, worship in public, or freely educate their children in their faith.

Carroll’s participation in the War of Independence was motivated by his firm belief in natural law and rights, government by consent of the citizens, and freedom of religion. The Catholic minority in the British American colonies recognized in the cause of liberty the path to equality under law.

Carroll strongly supported and collaborated with George Washington during the war, influenced the crafting of the Maryland and the U.S. Constitutions, and served as the first senator from the new state of Maryland. His public life was long, and he was a giant figure through the early decades of the 19th century. Looked up to as an elder statesman and symbol of national unity, at his death in 1832, the Baltimore American called him “the last of the Romans”―a reference to the classical prototype of the generation who built the new but maturing Republic.

Charles Carroll’s brief testament to the America he would leave behind was written on a parchment copy of the Declaration, dated July 4, 1826. He wrote in the style of a man educated in the 18th century, but behind the formality is a stark humility and a simple message intended for today:

“Grateful to Almighty God for the blessing which, through Jesus Christ our Lord, he has conferred upon my beloved country, in her emancipation, and upon myself, in permitting me, under circumstances of mercy,…to survive the fiftieth year of American Independence, and certifying by my present signature my approbation of the Declaration of Independence adopted by Congress…, and of which I am now the last surviving signer, I do hereby recommend to the present and future generations the principles of that important document as the best earthly inheritance their ancestors could bequeath to them, and pray that the civil and religious liberties they have secured to my country may be perpetuated to the remotest posterity and extended to the whole family of man.”

As we celebrate many historic anniversaries of our freedom this year, and the legacy of each of America’s founders, let us also “remember Carroll’s sacred trust…and all [who slumber] with the just.”

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Freedom in Fiction: Ida Elisabeth

Ida Elisabeth had every reason to leave her husband. He was foolish, immature, irresponsible, and unable to change. She couldn’t respect him. She had never really loved him. When he had an affair with another woman, it was her chance to leave and take the children―and no one blamed her.

Nobel Prize-winning novelist Sigrid Undset placed Ida Elisabeth in her own contemporary 1930s Norway, a period of escalating social change prior to the Second World War. People spoke skeptically of the beliefs and assumptions of previous generations, doubting that conventional ethics would outlast their lifetime. Socialist-type welfare policies were becoming popular in noncommunist Western countries. Democratic governments, responding to the demands of the electorate, promised citizens more and more―and supplanted many social roles formerly played by spouses, families, local communities, and private charities. The modern world was unfolding―uneasily.

In a key conversation, Ida’s older mentor muses about the rise of the modern welfare state and Norway’s path to unsustainable public debt:

“…[T]he qualities which put a man in power and those which make him feel responsibility are not necessarily associated, nor do they necessarily exclude each other,” [he said.] “…We had an institution here in Norway in the saga times which was called debt-servitude. When a man had incurred more debts than he was able to pay, he could hand over his children to his creditors, and they had to work as thralls until they had earned enough to cover their father’s indebtedness. I don’t believe children are told anything about this debt-servitude in the schools nowadays. But they’re destined to experience it.”

Ida Elisabeth nodded: “They won’t have a good time, those who come after us.”

“No. And…[w]ill those who come after us be content to bear all the burdens which we still feel it our duty to shoulder? To help all that neither can nor will help themselves?…Especially when the young are aware that the old have taken upon themselves to determine, that they should come into the world, and when they should come, and how many should be put into the world to take over the burdens when they themselves are no longer able to bear them.”

In Ida’s time, the modern welfare state was already detaching individuals from reliance on those around them. While the state-run systems―“almshouses,” etc.—seemed streamlined, efficient, and economical ways of relieving people of the need to personally care for others, the underlying philosophy of utility was already becoming disturbing.

Ida’s friend wonders what will obligate future generations to honor the debts of their forebears, if people no longer believe that other human beings―just like themselves―possess innate and inalienable value? In the modern world, no one needs to be bothered with others any more than they think is reasonable, children come into the world solely at the convenience of adults, and family bonds may be broken at will. Who will decide what price is too high to meet the needs of the elderly, the sick and disabled, and those who cannot “pull their full weight” in society? (By the end of the decade in which Ida Elisabeth was published, these questions had begun to bear bitter fruit in Germany. In the novel, these musings were still largely theoretical.)

As the novel plays out, “big government” (or the welfare state) appears to be a symptom (or symbol) of another, more subtle disease: the human decision to put one’s own needs and desires ahead of the call to serve others, relinquishing individual responsibility to a nameless, faceless state. The genius of Ida Elisabeth is the connection made on the level of the heart between decisions made within personal relationships and a philosophy of self-centeredness that paves the way for far-reaching social change and loss of respect for human beings.

But the novel isn’t about government. It’s a love story of a mother and her children, her husband, and the man “who should have been.” When Ida Elisabeth falls in love with a man who shares her wishes and desires, she is forced to confront a struggle of conscience that is hard for the postmodern reader to accept. Ida tries to reconcile her mind and conscience with cutting herself off forever from family members from whom it once seemed right to separate.

While she is not a religious person and does not base her decisions on what is left of Norway’s conventional morality, Ida cannot fully agree with her secular friends that it is best to abandon those who couldn’t possibly make her feel fulfilled. “We at any rate can’t watch people drowning because they can’t swim, and not care,” she says. Her fundamental choice is between a “happy ending” and the needs of her family. Her choice determines their futures, her character, and her understanding of the meaning of life.

One of the lessons Sigrid Undset teaches so adeptly in her fiction is the step-by-step nature of discernment: Decisions made today may need to be adjusted tomorrow, because mercy has claims as well as justice. Undset deprives the reader of an easy ending because real life is often difficult. Happiness does not always appear in the form for which we wish. Deep human longings, passions, hopes, and personal needs may clash with what we know in our hearts must be done. The mysteries of life can’t be shoehorned into simplistic answers to complex problems. Codependence is not a virtue; “tough love” is a necessary, difficult road. But once Ida Elisabeth decides not to abandon the source of her sorrows to the public almshouse (so to speak), the way begins to become clear―a road of thorns for her at first, but a path of light, understanding, reconciliation, and peace.

Ida Elisabeth is a novel to be pondered with an open mind and heart―and more than a few good tears.

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Freedom in Film: Follow That Dream (1962)

What may be the funniest movie about personal initiative and limited government? Look no further than Follow That Dream (1962), a rollicking pro-freedom comedy starring Arthur O’Connell and Elvis Presley.

Elvis plays Toby Kwimper, the young adult son in a family that gets just about every possible government entitlement benefit; and his dad (O’Connell) is proud of it. When overbearing bureaucrats make them angry, what does the Kwimper family do? They swear off their benefit checks, build a homestead on an empty beach in Florida, and start a small business. With several subplots, Follow That Dream shows off Elvis’s deadpan comic ability. He outwits the mafia, cunning social workers, and (most) adolescent girls with equal aplomb.

Suitable for family viewing, the movie delivers a victory for ordinary folks over the powers that be. It’s full of jokes about welfare-state attitudes, zoning laws, and government “looking out for you.” In the climactic courtroom scene, a judge praises the American spirit of enterprise, initiative, and voluntary community.

As Pop Kwimper puts it, sometimes there just gets to be too much government, and a person wants to move someplace without all those regulations. If you’ve ever felt that way after a frustrating encounter with bureaucracy, Follow That Dream will have you in stitches.

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Oregon Teens Discover Their “Lightbulb Moment” at Young Entrepreneurs Business Week

Your average high school students may not be able to explain a fictional company’s dividends to a lecture hall full of adults from the business world. But after five days at Young Entrepreneurs Business Week, they could.

YEBW is a nonprofit annual summer camp founded in 2005 by young Oregon entrepreneurs Nick and Maurissa Fisher, hosted on the campuses of the University of Portland, Oregon State University, and University of Oregon. From 75 students on one campus during its first year, YEBW has grown to more than 400 participants on three campuses in 2016.

YEBW’s founders shared a concern that young people of all educational and economic backgrounds often leave high school with no practical business knowledge, hindering their ability to innovate, create, and produce the kinds of goods and services key to Oregon communities’ growth and success. They sought to fill the gap by drawing together curriculum developers, business professionals, educators, and successful youth-focused program leaders to launch an innovative educational program for high school students.

Participants spend one week on the UP, OSU, or UO campus and are exposed to a challenging curriculum designed to teach students that business can be fun and exciting, not to mention understandable and interesting. Students leave the camp possessing relevant, basic financial and business skills to apply to whatever goals they set for themselves. YEBW board chair Jeff Gaus says, “For some, YEBW is that lightbulb moment when they realize who they are and what they want to do in life.”

During the program, students are divided into student-led companies, guided by volunteers from the business community who share their knowledge and expertise throughout the week. The curriculum provides students with the financial literacy, business fundamentals, and confidence they need to be self-sufficient and successful.

During the first-year program, Business Week, students form mock companies where they create management teams, develop mission statements, invent a product, and conduct actual operation of their own business by competing in business simulations. Designed to broaden the practical skill sets of each student, the program incorporates professional speakers and other interactive learning exercises like mock interviews and networking events.

For returning students, Investing Week gives students the opportunity to learn about basic investment vehicles, the principles of evaluating a potential investment, and understanding the personal and business effects of the financial market system. Entrepreneur Week provides the chance to learn what it is like to start and run a business. Students prepare a full business plan, run an on-campus business as a team, and present their individual work to a panel of judges acting as potential company “investors.”

It’s not all “head knowledge,” either. YEBW fosters professional interpersonal skills. Students learn the art of the handshake, eye contact, introductions, proper business and evening attire, and table manners, so they can navigate job interviews and networking events with confidence.

Young Entrepreneurs Business Week teaches teens that “there is a business side to every occupation.” Likewise, every Oregon occupation would benefit from having more business-savvy graduates of YEBW. The young people who attend the first-year program mostly come with no prior business knowledge or experience, but they leave with well-earned confidence in their abilities and potential as tomorrow’s successful professional adults. A nonprofit program like YEBW, spearheaded by enthusiastic young business leaders, is truly a bright light for the future of the entrepreneurial spirit in Oregon.

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Children’s Scholarship Fund Closes the Achievement Gap for Low-Income Kids

Since 1999, the nonprofit Children’s Scholarship Fund has empowered more than 152,000 low-income children nationwide to receive a quality education in private and parochial grade schools through privately funded partial-tuition scholarships.

Children’s Scholarship Fund parents value high-quality education as the way out of poverty for their children and sacrifice financially to give them that opportunity. It is a feature of the CSF program that all families pay part of their tuition bill themselves, ensuring a family commitment to education.

The investments of both parents and scholarship benefactors are reaping great rewards. Over time, studies of college enrollment and graduation rates of scholarship alumni are showing that, despite coming from socioeconomic backgrounds associated with lower rates of college enrollment, CSF alumni enroll in college at an average rate that is similar to or higher than the general population.

In other words, these students’ education in private and parochial grade schools, made possible by a relatively modest level of financial assistance, is closing the achievement gap for kids from less advantaged backgrounds.

Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland is a “hand up” here in our state that helps Oregon kids to reach for success in school and in life. If you would like to help a lower-income Oregon child to get a better education today, contact the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland at Cascade Policy Institute.

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Freedom in Film: Ever After (1998)

If you are looking for an uplifting summer movie for the teenage girls in your life, Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998) provides a thought-provoking twist on the classic fairytale. While director Andy Tennant’s plot follows the traditional story, Ever After also explores themes of family loyalty, economic interdependence, social justice, and the rewards of hard work.

In a refreshing departure from predictable Hollywood storylines, Drew Barrymore’s tough and brave Cinderella (“Danielle”) combines a loving respect for her family’s heritage with a can-do approach to solving problems. A hard-working, educated girl―homeschooled by her father―she wants more than anything to restore the just order of her “economy” (in the ancient Greek sense of “managing the home”).

Orphaned young, Danielle does not dream of escaping work. Rather, she defines “happily ever after” as the restoration of her family’s estate to the prosperity it enjoyed under her parents. Like them, she takes pride in the farm and regrets it can’t reach its potential under her stepmother (Anjelica Huston), who has no interest in running what is essentially the family business. Danielle tries to be a good steward of the patrimony she should have inherited, even though her freedom to act independently is limited.

In Danielle’s world, the feudal agrarian society of the Middle Ages begins to meet the mercantile economy of the Renaissance. Forward-thinking Danielle masters the business acumen needed to keep the estate financially afloat; but her primary motivations are rooted in the medieval values of family loyalty, mutual obligation to others, and fulfilling one’s duty. Danielle considers “family” to include servants with multigenerational ties to the household. She wants to succeed for the sake of those whose livelihoods depend on her, as well as for herself.

An admirer of the English humanist Sir Thomas More, Danielle’s father bequeathed to her an inquiring mind and a social conscience. While Danielle’s Utopia-inspired prescriptions for the improvement of society have a fairytale simplicity, her instincts are basically good. She lives the Golden Rule with humility and charm. Her interactions with others show she believes in behaving with dignity and respect toward all whose various roles in society together make the world go ’round.

Of course, Ever After is a fairytale, so while it’s set in 16th-century France, the film isn’t without anachronisms and fictionalized historical events. (Obviously, the son of King Francis I didn’t marry a girl named Danielle, sorry to say.) But if you are looking for a delightful story about filial love, the blessing of honest work, and the ability of virtue to attract the right man, Ever After offers positive lessons, while entertaining the whole family.

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Freedom in Film: Gettysburg (1993)

“Up, men! And to your posts! And let no man forget today, that you are from Old Virginia!”

―Major General George Pickett

In Gone with the Wind, Rhett Butler grimly tells Scarlett O’Hara that a looming battle soon would “pretty well fix things, one way or the other.” It would take place in “some little town in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg.”

The 1993 film Gettysburg recreates the events surrounding July 1-3, 1863. Unlike many war movies, including Civil War films, Gettysburg doesn’t really “take sides.” Instead, the film delves into the minds and hearts of both Northern and Southern combatants, largely through the thoughts and decisions of General Robert E. Lee (Martin Sheen), Major General George Pickett (Stephen Lang), and Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels), among many others.

Gettysburg manages to convey understanding of, if not sympathy for, the wide range of motives and issues with which honest people grappled on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line in the 1860s. This approach makes the movie an excellent introduction to both the Civil War and the culture of the Old South for high school and college history students.

Because of the issue of slavery, it can be easy for many 21st-century Americans to relate immediately to the perspective of the North. However, the war was actually much more complicated than a conflict over slavery. The slavery issue brought deep-seated, decades-long tensions between the agrarian South and the industrial North to a head. The war was also about federalism, sectionalism, federal tax laws and their effects on state economies, and cultural differences between the North and the South.

Many Southerners were loyal to their home states in the same way their grandparents had been loyal to the colonies at the time of the American Revolution. They believed they had the right to declare independence if their states’ legitimate interests were no longer served (or their rights were being abused) by the federal government or by other states, just as the colonies had separated from Britain. As one Southern general put it while musing one evening in the camp, the federal government denying Southern states the right to secede from the Union seemed like a voluntary club refusing to permit people to resign their membership when aggrieved.

Countless surviving letters from Southern soldiers and their families show they believed they were fighting for their homes, freedom, rights, and the sovereignty of their states. On the other hand, the United States was becoming a world power. The Northern states feared that secession would result in numerous tiny, powerless, irrelevant countries. The United States as a nation―and its Constitution―would fail. After the Civil War, the phrase “these United States,” in common parlance in the 1800s, faded. It was replaced by “the United States,” a singular noun, as we say now.

The causes and the legacy of the Civil War are not intuitive for many Americans today, especially for those who live far from the South. Because Gettysburg is a long movie, there is enough time and thoughtful dialogue for viewers without much understanding of the history behind the battle to be pulled into the philosophical, moral, and cultural underpinnings of the events. Gorgeous cinematography and a soul-stirring musical score remind viewers that it’s possible to hold in one’s heart both Old Glory and Dixie, and still to miss Old Virginia, 150 years after the war.


This article was originally published June 22, 2013.

 

 

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Freedom in Film: Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot (1957)

Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot is the longest running motion picture ever, watched by more than 30 million visitors to Colonial Williamsburg since 1957. One of the most technologically advanced films of its day, it was recently remastered and restored to its original vibrancy. For those who can’t retrace the birth of freedom in Virginia’s colonial capital this Independence Day, Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot is available online.

A 2004 feature in Colonial Williamsburg magazine explains this film’s significance: “…[F]or forty-seven years The Patriot has introduced guests to Williamsburg and America on the eve of the Revolution. It shows the people of eighteenth-century Williamsburg as they might have been, introduces characters that made the nation, [and] helps audiences understand the issues that divided colonists from one another and from the mother country.”

In one memorable scene, Virginia colonist John Frye (Jack Lord) discusses the impending war with another landowner. His friend is disturbed by talk of independence and says he has decided to go “home,” meaning back to England. John’s reply reflects the shift in loyalty felt by Virginia’s patriots: “I am home.”

Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot is only about 40 minutes long, making it appropriate for young viewers and for classroom use. If you want to make America’s founding come alive for your family or students, Colonial Williamsburg’s website features extensive interactive history sections and multimedia presentations designed to make the people and issues of the 1770s accessible to children and teenagers.

Not everyone can experience the “Revolutionary City” in person, but through technology you can bring the characters of the American Revolution home.

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Freedom: America’s Treasure

Three days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush said in a speech, “…[A]dversity introduces us to ourselves.”

“America is a nation full of good fortune,” he said, “with so much to be grateful for, but we are not spared from suffering. In every generation, the world has produced enemies of human freedom. They have attacked America because we are freedom’s home and defender, and the commitment of our fathers is now the calling of our time.”

Freedom is America’s precious treasure―and never too far from being lost. Acts of war and terrorism can undermine a nation and its values; but as Russian thinker Alexander Solzhenitsyn famously said, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”

On Independence Day 2016, it can be consoling to remember that character is the first defense against the loss of freedom, and that each of us still has the power to make it a force for good. Character under pressure built America, brought us through 240 years, and can keep our country “freedom’s home and defender”—if we want it to.

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A Sales Tax by Any Other Name…

Public employee union backers of Initiative Petition 28 have turned in more than enough signatures to place their massive 2.5 percent gross receipts tax measure on Oregon’s November ballot.

While supposedly dedicating most of the $6 billion per biennium additional tax revenue to public education, health care, and senior services, in reality legislators would be under pressure from powerful lobbyists in the Capitol to substitute at least some of this new revenue for money they would otherwise dedicate to those services. In short, the loudest voices in Salem, not voters, will ultimately control where this extra tax money goes.

While the unions portray their measure as making large, out-of-state corporations pay their fair share of Oregon taxes, the nonpartisan Legislative Revenue Office has released a detailed report giving a much more balanced perspective, which includes:

■ IP 28 will increase state and local taxes by $600 per year on average for every man, woman, and child in Oregon, totaling over $6 billion each full biennium.

■ IP 28 will dampen income, employment, and population growth over the next 5 years. In fact, it is expected to reduce employment growth by more than 20,000 jobs over the next five years, with private sector job growth slowing while public sector job growth accelerates in order to spend all that new tax money.

■ IP 28 will hit lower- and middle-income Oregonians harder than it will affect high-income earners. In other words, it is a regressive tax.

Perhaps most telling, the Legislative Revenue Office concludes that IP 28 will act largely like a consumption tax. It estimates that roughly two-thirds of that $6 billion per biennium tax increase will be passed on to Oregon consumers in the form of higher prices. Another name for a consumption tax is a sales tax.

The reality that IP 28 would effectively be a sales tax should be a lesson for all Oregonians that businesses generally don’t pay taxes, people do. Even the largest corporations are made up of people, namely employees, and sell their goods and services to other people, namely customers. It is largely these two groups of people who pay so-called business taxes like the one that IP 28 would impose.

The backers of IP 28 certainly understand that it is really a tax on people, not corporations. But, it is harder to get voters to approve a tax measure when they think it will hit them with rising prices at the store and fewer job opportunities. Better to promote the fiction that big faceless corporations have some magic pots of money that they will simply hand over to state government and public employees without any consequences for the rest of us.

Public employee unions back IP 28 because most of the tax revenue it would generate will go into the pockets of their members. Once the rest of us realize that this money will come primarily out of our pockets, we might not be too excited about voting for this massive new money grab.


 

A version of this article originally appeared in The Coos Bay World on June 1, 2016.

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New Orleans’ Miracle School District

Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated the southeastern United States, displacing more than 372,000 school-aged children. Today, New Orleans’ school population has returned to more than two-thirds its pre-storm level, but a lot has changed for the better in the public school district.

Before Katrina, a Louisiana state legislator called New Orleans “one of the worst-run public school systems in America.” Almost two-thirds of students attended a “failing school.” After Katrina, the state legislature transferred more than 100 low-performing Orleans Parish schools to the Recovery School District. Now, the district has 57 charter schools operating under nonprofit charter management organizations.

According to The Washington Examiner, barely more than half of New Orleans public school students graduated before Katrina. Today, almost all New Orleans students attend charter schools. In the 2013-14 school year, three out of four students graduated on time, and fewer than seven percent attend a “failing school.”

This amazing turnaround is due to the hard work of teachers, administrators, local and state leaders, and parents who rebuilt New Orleans’ public school system from the ground-up, with the vision and determination to create “an all-choice school district with high-quality schools.” The unprecedented success of New Orleans’ Recovery School District serves as a model for education reform efforts across the country. Parental choice, flexibility for educators, and innovation in management really can achieve the impossible.


This article was originally published August 26, 2015.

 

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Washington, D.C. Charters Called a Laboratory for Innovation in Public Education

Did you know that almost half of Washington, D.C.’s public school children attend charter schools? In fact, our nation’s capital now has 115 charters, run by 62 nonprofit organizations.

President Bill Clinton signed the legislation authorizing D.C.’s charter schools twenty years ago this spring. Since then, D.C. charter school students have made significant academic gains. A recent study on urban charter schools by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University found that D.C. charter students are learning the equivalent of 96 more days in math and 70 more days in reading than their peers in traditional public schools.

David Osborne, director of the project Reinventing America’s Schools at the Progressive Policy Institute, has called D.C. “the nation’s most interesting laboratory” for public education. In an article for U.S. News and World Report, Osborne compares the traditional public school system with a Model T trying to compete on a racetrack with 21st century cars. “…[F]or those with greater needs,” he writes, “schools need innovative designs and extraordinary commitment from theirs staffs.”

Charter schools’ entrepreneurial governance model allows them to innovate, adapt, and specialize to meet the particular needs of students. Their successes in educating children who face the greatest challenges to academic achievement is fueling an even greater demand for the kind of choice in education that charter schools have come to represent.

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Freedom in Fiction: Mansfield Park

“Wretchedly did [Sir Thomas] feel, that with all the cost and care of an anxious and expensive education, he had brought up his daughters, without…his being acquainted with their character and temper.”

Graduation season begins this weekend. With young Oregonians taking their next steps in life, why not revisit a classic story about young people setting out into the world of new jobs, independent incomes, first homes, debt, leisure, and love?

Of all Jane Austen’s novels, Mansfield Park is probably the most misunderstood and underrated. Unlike Austen’s more popular tales of upper-class English gentry, Mansfield does not star a confident young woman from a prominent family. Instead, Fanny Price is a shy teenager, dependent on wealthy relatives, who says little in public and hates attention. Mansfield is the only Austen novel in which the full force of a cynical world comes crashing down on an inexperienced teenage girl who seems least equipped to fight it.

The most contemplative of Austen’s works, Mansfield is not so much about a young girl’s search for love as it is a careful study of how not to lose oneself while trying to “make it” in the world. Because Fanny is a quiet person, she observes her peers while they hash out among themselves what is important to their lives and how they judge what they encounter. They debate―often acrimoniously―what their career choices should be, how much money they stand to make, what prestige they can earn in the eyes of others, and what are the criteria by which they should evaluate these decisions.

As their friendships unfold, the young adults of Mansfield Park don’t appear much different from today’s college students. In the brief window of time in which they settle their ideals, professions, friends, and spouses, they show each other their true colors. They discover they have irreconcilable worldviews. They decide what they can and can’t live with. Their romantic and financial decisions bear fruit.

Henry Crawford and his sister Mary, friends of Fanny’s relatives, excuse their personal shortcomings by their upbringing. Raised without the example of stable, responsible adults, they don’t have the confidence (or the will) to operate from a higher set of principles than convenience, social convention, and popular opinions. They admit they don’t have the capacity to trust others or to be reliable in their relationships. Mary is socially adept and attractive, but her cynical biases against concepts and values beyond her personal experiences are crippling. Her intellectual and romantic clashes with Fanny’s favorite cousin reveal the depth of their different approaches to discerning one’s path in life.

The Crawfords had lacked guidance, but Fanny’s cousins have the opposite problem: Sir Thomas confuses his children’s abiding by conventional rules of behavior with authentic character development. Sir Thomas “had meant them to be good, but his cares had been directed to the understanding and manners, not the disposition; and of the necessity of self-denial and humility, he feared they had never heard from any lips that could profit them.”

When three of his four children become involved in public scandals, Sir Thomas’s pain as a parent comes mostly from the realization that he does not truly know who they are. He knows them from the outside―how they tried to do what he expected of them while in his presence―without being acquainted with their minds, hearts, values, and aspirations. Their choices surprise him.

On the other hand, Fanny, despite her social and financial dependence and shy temperament, knows herself. Lacking self-deception or illusions about what will make her happiest in life, she is truly independent on a personal level. When morally unreliable (but financially eligible) Henry suggests that by becoming involved with him, Fanny could bring out the best in him, she delivers her most famous line: “We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” By calling him to take responsibility for his own conscience, and refusing to make him a romantic “project,” Fanny shows she understands equal relationships. Her refusal to compromise her self-knowledge by being mismatched frees her to seek a healthy relationship. She and the man she really loves are the only young couple in the novel who do not subscribe to, or settle for, a transactional view of friendship.

Mansfield Park and Fanny Price have drawn acerbic criticism from writers who cannot “like” her and wish the novel “came down” on the side of the sparkling, au courant Mary rather than the quiet, conservative Fanny. That the characters make modern readers uncomfortable says more about what we value, and what we think about how to treat other people, than perhaps we want to admit. The contrast between Mary and Fanny is exactly what we are meant to see: No matter how clever she is, Mary is tragic because she will not give up her self-centeredness; Fanny is heroic because she won’t be browbeaten into going along with the crowd.

Personal authenticity requires the ability to say no, to find happiness in simple things, to value one’s primary relationships, to resist the urge to hide from oneself in a blur of activities and friendships that mask a restless spirit, and to make choices that resonate with one’s true self. At a crossroads in life—like high school or college graduation, or any new beginning—these are crucial reflections deserving deep thought. The most important decisions a person will ever make involve choosing a state in life, establishing a healthy outlook on one’s career and finances, and loving a good person. Each involves surrounding ourselves with a set of people and activities that either will enable or inhibit us from being who we ought to be. By remaining steadfast under tremendous pressure, Fanny Price proves not to be Austen’s weakest heroine, but her strongest.


British television’s 2007 Mansfield Park is a condensed but faithful―and charming―movie adaptation which remains true to Austen’s characterization and the most important themes of the novel. The 1999 feature film is seriously flawed. It alters characters, including Fanny’s, in key ways and introduces plot elements that distract from the meaning of the novel. The 1983 miniseries is faithful in both characterization and plot, but it is missing the production values audiences are used to in Austen films made since the early 1990s.

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Flexibility Is Key: The Next Generation of Parental Choice Solutions

Families in five states now have access to a special program called Educational Savings Accounts.

Educational Savings Accounts, or ESAs, allow parents to take money the state otherwise would spend on their children in the public system and put it on a restricted use debit card. Parents can spend this money on a wide variety of approved educational options, including private school, individual tutoring, online classes, and other services. Any money not used is rolled over for parents to spend in the future.

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice surveyed Arizona families to see how they are choosing to spend the resources allocated for their kids. The survey found that more than a third of participating families used ESAs for multiple educational purposes, not just private school tuition. It also found that families saved a significant amount of their ESA money for future expenses.

This indicates that ESAs not only expand the learning options available to individual children, but they also encourage fiscal discipline within education spending.

Parents and lawmakers in nearly a dozen states, including Oregon, are working to make this flexible learning option available to more children. The next generation of education reform in America needs to embrace flexibility to meet the needs of every child, and Educational Savings Accounts are proving to be a simple but powerful way to do just that.

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Freedom in Film: Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius (2004)

“Amateur” is French for “one who loves.” But today, the word is commonly misused to imply “mediocre.” Amateurs may love their avocations, our modern minds assume, but not enough to be “really good at it.” “Professionals,” we think, are those who truly excel.

Golf prodigy Bobby Jones was an amateur in the true sense. He played for love of the game and decided not to turn professional, retiring at the astonishingly young age of 28. The only golfer to win the U.S. Amateur, the British Amateur, the British Open, and the U.S. Open in a single year (or in an entire career), Jones is still considered arguably to be the greatest golfer ever.

If you’re a golf aficionado who since last Sunday is already missing the lush greens of Augusta National, you would relish the 2004 film, Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius.

Jim Caviezel stars as Bobby Jones during his rise from obscurity to golf legend. Caviezel brings color and depth to his portrayal of Jones, who was an academic genius and man of dignity, as well as a superb athlete. The film shows Jones’s struggle to overcome his own character flaws, including a fiery temper and a tendency to perfectionism. It also poignantly develops Jones’s relationship with his wife and children and shows how the good of his family factored into his decision to retire from golf at his peak.

Not only was Bobby Jones an outstanding athlete, but he was universally known to be a man of genuine character. Golf writer Herbert Warren Wind said of Jones, “In the opinion of many people, of all the great athletes, Jones came the closest to being what we called a great man.” (The U.S. Golf Association’s award for distinguished sportsmanship is named for Bob Jones.)

While sporting scandals often monopolize headlines, countless athletes compete with integrity, honor their families, and serve their communities. A sports hero can be both an outstanding athlete and a class-act human being. One person’s positive choices have the potential to inspire millions and make the world a better place. If you’ve ever been tempted to cynicism over athletics, Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius is guaranteed to make you smile again.

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How Much of the Year Do Your Taxes Cost?

If every penny earned since the beginning of the year went to pay federal, state, and local taxes, Americans would have to work until the middle of April just to cover their tax bills. Tax Freedom Day is a calendar-based illustration of the cost of government which divides all taxes by the nation’s income. By this calculation, Americans typically work more than a hundred days a year, and pay about a third of their earned income, to all levels of government.

But this is only what Americans actually pay, not what government spends. If annual federal borrowing were taken into account, representing future taxes owed, Tax Freedom Day wouldn’t occur until May. That’s more than two weeks of federal government spending paid for by borrowing.

Americans pay more in taxes ($4.85 trillion) than they do on food, clothing, and housing combined. The saying goes, you should “work to live, not live to work.” But the more government grows, the more Americans are working less to live and more to pay for runaway government spending. That leaves fewer resources to invest in the real engines of economic growth: private sector businesses that create jobs and produce goods and services for a market fueled by Americans’ hard-earned purchasing power.

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What Would Jefferson Advise Today’s Supreme Court About the Little Sisters of the Poor?

In 1804 an Ursuline nun in New Orleans asked Thomas Jefferson to clarify in writing her religious community’s right to retain their property and to continue their ministries without government interference following the Louisiana Purchase. As French Catholic Louisiana was being incorporated into the Anglo-Protestant United States, the nuns were concerned about the status of their institutions under U.S. law. President Jefferson assured her that the government would not interfere with the sisters’ property, ministries, and way of life. In a letter dated May 15, 1804, he wrote:

“I have received, holy sisters, the letter you have written me wherein you express anxiety for the property vested in your institution….The principles of the constitution and government of the United States are a guarantee to you that it will be preserved to you, sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority.”

Jefferson confidently promised that the American Constitution would protect the nuns and that the government would leave them alone. So why don’t Catholic sisters today even qualify for a religious exemption from ObamaCare’s insurance mandate that requires contraception and abortion coverage? It may seem unbelievable, but according to the Obama Administration’s definition of “religious employer,” sisters are not included.

On March 23 the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on behalf the Little Sisters of the Poor (and other religious clients of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty) in a historic religious freedom case. The Little Sisters are a nearly 200-year-old religious community dedicated to caring for the elderly poor. They run 30 homes in the U.S. (four in the West) and care for nearly 13,000 people in 31 countries.

During implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) directed most employers to include coverage of contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health insurance policies, or else pay a fine of $100 per employee, per day. The Sisters subsequently filed suit against the federal government, saying “they cannot, according to their faith, include contraceptives in their employee health plan.”

The Becket Fund, which represents the Sisters and other religious clients in their lawsuit, explains:

“The Court’s decision will finally resolve the crucial question of whether governmental agencies can, wholly without legislative oversight, needlessly force religious ministries to violate their faith….The [HHS] mandate forces the Little Sisters to authorize the government to use the Sisters’ employee healthcare plan to provide contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs—a violation of their faith—or pay massive fines, which would threaten their religious mission.”

The “HHS Mandate” has a narrow conscience exemption that applies only to organizations whose purpose is solely to inculcate religious values and which employ and serve primarily members of their own faith. The exemption does not include religiously affiliated or faith-based institutions which serve all people without discrimination (like hospitals, colleges, schools, and social service agencies). And it doesn’t apply to communities of nuns.

“The Little Sisters should not have to fight their own government to get an exemption it has already given to thousands of other employers, including Exxon, Pepsi Cola Bottling Company, and Boeing,” said Becket Fund Senior Counsel Mark Rienzi. “Nor should the government be allowed to say that the Sisters aren’t ‘religious enough’ to merit the exemption that churches and other religious ministries have received….It is ridiculous for the federal government to claim, in this day and age, that it can’t figure out how to distribute contraceptives without involving nuns and their health plans.”

Thomas Jefferson explained to the Ursuline nuns of 19th-century Louisiana that American law would protect them and their institutions, regardless of the differences among American citizens:

“Whatever the diversity of shade may appear in the religious opinions of our fellow citizens, the charitable objects of your institution cannot be indifferent to any; and its furtherance of the wholesome purposes of society, by training up its younger members in the way they should go, cannot fail to ensure it the patronage of the government it is under. Be assured it will meet all the protection which my office can give it.”

We can only imagine what Jefferson might think of American women having to sue the Obama Administration to defend their First Amendment rights. But can we doubt he would be dismayed by how intrusive and coercive the federal government has become since the day he wrote so cordially to a group of French nuns about the safeguards of the American Constitution?

 

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Freedom in Fiction: The Leopard

While the Irish celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day this week, Italians are celebrating National Unification Day, memorialized by Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s classic novel The Leopard.

This “great book,” often called Italy’s Gone with the Wind, follows the private thoughts of a scientifically minded Sicilian prince as he tries to make sense of the newly emerging Italian democracy and his place in it. This tumultuous upheaval in 19th century Italy―obscure to most Americans―forced the aristocracy and middle class to face social and cultural change not terribly different from Margaret Mitchell’s observations of the American South during roughly the same timeframe.

The Leopard also offers a prism through which we Americans might reflect on the dramatic changes unfolding in our political landscape this presidential primary season.

Don Fabrizio―The Leopard’s protagonist―wants to preserve his aristocratic lifestyle while recognizing that the future will belong to a new kind of man. The “new man” will not be an aristocrat, but a politician. Aristocrats, for all their faults, represent stability, predictability, and unchanging order. Sicilians know what to expect of them.

In contrast, the Garibaldi revolution inaugurates the democratic age. The man and woman who can succeed socially, politically, and financially make quick impressions, change their views when their factions fall from power, and work a room full of people to their advantage.

Don Fabrizio’s nephew and his middle-class, newly rich, fiancée are this “new” man and woman:

Conquered for ever by the youth’s [his nephew’s] affectionate banter, he had begun during the last few months to admire his intelligence too: that quick adaptability, that worldly penetration, that innate artistic subtlety with which he could use the demagogic terms then in fashion while hinting to initiates that for him, [the nephew], this was only a momentary pastime….Tancredi, he considered, had a great future….[H]e lacked only one thing: money; this Tancredi did not have; none at all. And to get on in politics, now that a name counted less, would require a lot of money: money to buy votes, money to do the electors favors, money for a dazzling style of living.

The new regime respects Don Fabrizio’s “dignified and liberal attitude,” made manifest during the town’s first election; but he refuses to take a seat in the Italian Senate when begged to do so:

“I belong to an unfortunate generation, swung between the old world and the new, and I find myself ill at ease in both. And what is more, as you must have realized by now, I am without illusions; what would the Senate do with me, an inexperienced legislator who lacks the faculty of self-deception, essential requisite for wanting to guide others? We of our generation must draw aside….Now you need young men, bright young men, with minds asking ‘how’ rather than ‘why,’ and who are good at masking, at blending, I should say, their personal interests with vague public ideals.”

Don Fabrizio’s melancholy nostalgia for the old order coexists with his belief in the inevitability of the new. However, Lampedusa is clear-eyed about the human failings that can corrupt all political systems. Democracy promises an equal voice for the common man, but electoral politics are only as fair as individuals are honest. Lampedusa paints a poignant image of the middle class struggling for acceptance on equal footing with the “old families.” He shows how transparently money buys power and influence until the “new families” in time become as entrenched in their social positions as the old.

Gone with the Wind describes the blending of classes and shifting political realities under uniquely American circumstances. Lampedusa’s The Leopard shows how universal Mitchell’s themes are. Italy’s history of revolution and social change can shed light on our own American story. The consequences of cynicism, civic complacency, political corruption, and rapid change are vivid when we view them through another country’s eyes. The cultural phenomena depicted by both writers are especially worth thinking about this spring, as populist candidates from both ends of the political spectrum successfully appeal to fed-up voters—voters who have the power to bring about the next seismic wave that reshapes American politics.

(Burt Lancaster starred in an award-winning film version of The Leopard in 1963.)

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Freedom in Film: “For Greater Glory” (2012)

“You cannot fight for something you don’t believe in,” says the wife of General Enrique Gorostieta, the reluctant hero of the 2012 film For Greater Glory. “I may have issues with the Church,” her husband replies, “but I believe in religious freedom.”

Nearly 100,000 people were killed in Mexico in a 20th century conflict few Americans have heard of. The last known living veteran of this largely forgotten war for religious freedom, Juan Daniel Macías Villegas, just passed away last month at the age of 103.

For Greater Glory captures the spirit of the Cristero War (1926-1929), depicting the conflict through the eyes of an agnostic retired general (Andy Garcia) who leads a popular uprising against the dictatorial Calles regime.

The back-story to the film is President Plutarco Calles’s draconian enforcement of Mexico’s 1917 Constitution. The constitution gave the federal government full power to regulate or suppress religion, to control the number and activities of clergy, and to ban religious schools and instruction. By implementing the “anticlerical articles,” Calles intended to neutralize the influence of Catholicism on Mexican society and to prevent opposition to his social agendas. After all churches were closed in 1926, a popular rebellion―the “Cristiada”―began.

What happened in Mexico throughout the 20th century is a warning that loss of freedom has dire consequences. By the time they come to light, it’s usually too late to undo the damage. The Cristero War eventually forced the government to reopen the churches; but Mexico’s anticlerical laws, including the ban on worship outside a church and wearing religious garb, remained on the books until 1992. (Pope John Paul II’s outdoor Masses in 1979 and 1990 were technically illegal.)

Today, many younger Mexicans are unaware that citizens ever took up arms against the Calles regime to fight for freedom to practice their faith openly. “In public school they didn’t teach that,” said actor Eduardo Verástegui in publicity interviews.

The lush cinematography of For Greater Glory―combined with a musical score by the late James Horner (Braveheart, Titanic)―captures the beauty of Old Mexico and the soul of Hispanic America. People of faith may identify with the film from the opening line to the closing photographic montage. But one need not be religious to be moved by the human cost of totalitarianism or to be deeply troubled by a government that outlaws prayer and fires on statues of Christ.

In the United States, our separation of powers under the Constitution is designed to protect citizens from fast-rising dictatorships, sweeping constitutional changes, suspension of civil rights, and armed conflict to settle differences. Mexico’s tragedies remind us of the importance of the rule of law, of vigilance in defending freedom, and of not taking for granted what we have.

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Oregon Legislators Raised the Minimum Wage; Students Lose Their Jobs

Oregon’s three-tiered minimum wage law was just signed by Governor Kate Brown last week, but it’s already set to cost Oregon university students their campus jobs. The Oregonian reports that Oregon’s public universities are now calculating how the wage increases will affect their budgets for student workers.

Most college jobs paying the current minimum wage are not part of the federally funded work-study program; student workers are hired by the universities, which pay them hourly. According to The Oregonian, “Oregon’s new minimum could put more money in some students’ pockets, but it will more likely lead administrations to either cut back on the number of students they hire or the number of hours they’re allowed to work.”

The new wage law goes into full effect over six years, and Oregon is divided into three wage regions, so the cost increases will compound over time and affect colleges differently depending on where they are located. A spokesman for Oregon State University says OSU may need to cut up to 700 student worker positions by 2019, which is about a nine-percent reduction in student employment.

Until legislators understand that income cannot be generated by state mandate, minimum wage increases will continue to hurt workers they’re thought to help, including first-time job-seekers, workers with less experience, and college students just trying to get a part-time campus job.

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Freedom in Fiction: A Man for All Seasons

“If you’re going to be a good and faithful judge,” said Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in a 2005 speech, “you have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re not always going to like the conclusions you reach. If you like them all the time, you’re probably doing something wrong.”

Justice Scalia, who died February 13, 2016, was a champion of “textualism,” a judicial approach which attempts to interpret law according to the text as it was intended by the legislators who wrote it. Scalia’s “originalist” defenses of the U.S. Constitution during his thirty years on America’s highest court will influence legal scholarship for generations.

One of Justice Scalia’s heroes was Sir Thomas More, England’s chancellor under Henry VIII and a champion of the rule of law as a check on royal power. (Scalia has even been photographed wearing a replica of More’s hat, as seen in the famous Hans Holbein portrait.)

Given Scalia’s own passion for the rule of law, and his admiration for More, wouldn’t it be easy to imagine him delivering some of the best lines in Robert Bolt’s timeless play, A Man for All Seasons—a classic that deserves revisiting as Scalia’s own legacy is discussed since his passing….


“So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!” declares Thomas More’s son-in-law Roper in one famous scene.

“Yes,” More replies. “What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”

“I’d cut down every law in England to do that!”

“Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you―where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast―man’s laws, not God’s―and if you cut them down―and you’re just the man to do it―d’you think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”

Sir Thomas More is remembered as a great statesman, humanist, and hero of conscience. Bolt’s play shows him to be all three, but particularly focuses on More’s defense of the rule of law against its disintegration and a culture of “political correctness.”

Henry VIII’s decision to make himself head of the Church of England to divorce Catherine of Aragon is famous. Considered less today is how Henry’s actions changed the balance of power in English government and civic life. Having dispensed with his opponents, the king became nearly an absolute monarch, formally limited by the English Constitution and Parliament, but only to the extent that the people’s representatives were willing and able to oppose his wishes. The fewer the checks on the power of the king, the harder it became for any individual to hold a different position from that favored by the monarch.

And all the shiftier became the political sands.

At the core of the drama is the dangerous rise of Early Modern autocratic government and how individuals react to it. More neither desires nor seeks a public conflict with Henry, who is also his personal friend. As Lord Chancellor, he tries scrupulously to follow the law and refuses to take positions he believes are not justifiable according to legal precedent or logic. He will not swear a false oath. In that he differs from most other officeholders, some of whom adopt the king’s domestic and diplomatic agendas for substantial material gain. Others concur publicly with the king because they would rather not rock the boat. As More’s friend the Duke of Norfolk says:

“You’re behaving like a fool. You’re behaving like a crank. You’re not behaving like a gentleman….We’re [the nobility] supposed to be the arrogant ones, the proud, splenetic ones―and we’ve all given in! Why must you stand out?”

More’s response shows how sincerely he values integrity, the expression of one’s personhood, over political expedience:

“I will not give in because I oppose it―I do―not my pride, not my spleen, nor any other of my appetites but I do―I! Is there no single sinew in the midst of this [grabbing his shoulder] that serves no appetite of Norfolk’s but is just Norfolk? There is! Give that some exercise, my lord!”

A nation’s rule of law depends on certain basic things, such as equal justice, clearly defined statutes, enforcement of contracts, respect for property rights, and the sanctity of the oath. Dispensing with these tips the scales toward factionalism and autocracy, against the rights of individuals and citizens. A Man for All Seasons reminds us how delicate is the fabric of freedom.

(Paul Scofield won Best Actor for his role as Thomas More in the 1966 film version of A Man for All Seasons, which won six Oscars, including Best Picture. Scofield also won the 1962 Tony Award for Best Actor for the original Broadway production. Charleton Heston both directed and starred in a 1988 television movie, also based on Bolt’s play.)


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

 

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Extending Oregon’s Public School Open Enrollment Law Empowers Parents

This week the Oregon State Senate passed an extension of Oregon’s open enrollment law, Senate Bill 1566. The bill extends for three more years the sunset provision of a 2011 law which allows students to attend public schools in different districts from their home residences, as long as the receiving district is accepting transfers. The bill is expected to pass the House before the end of the session.

Oregon’s open enrollment law is a victory for parents, because it gives them more power to choose among Oregon public schools without requiring transfer permission from their local school district—permission that was often denied. Other winners include rural district schools which have worked hard to attract incoming transfer students by focusing on strong academics.

Instead of more bureaucracy, Oregon needs effective accountability in K-12 education by empowering every parent to hold his or her child’s school accountable and to ensure that their children are getting the education they deserve. Oregon legislators should be commended for supporting the Oregon open enrollment law, a relatively easy way to promote accountability and continuous improvement within the public school system. When parents can choose the schools that are best for their children, students have better chances to learn and succeed; and school districts have both the incentives and the opportunities to shine. And that can only be a plus for education in Oregon.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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2016’s Record-Breaking Celebration of School Choice

This week is National School Choice Week. Every January, National School Choice Week highlights the need for effective educational options for all children “in a positive, forward-looking, fun, nonpolitical, and nonpartisan way.”

Planned by a diverse coalition of individuals and organizations, National School Choice Week features special events and activities that support school choice programs and proposals. School Choice Week began five years ago with 150 events. Since then, it has grown into the world’s largest celebration of education reform. The 2016 School Choice Week will feature more than 16,140 independently planned events nationwide.

Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week, explains, “More American families than ever before are actively choosing the best educational environments for their children, which has galvanized millions of additional parents―those without options―to demand greater choices for their own children. National School Choice Week will [provide] a platform for people to celebrate school choice where it exists and demand it where it does not.”

Students have different talents, interests, and needs; and they learn in different ways. The landscape of educational options to meet those needs is far more diverse today than it was even a few years ago. It’s becoming increasingly evident that more choices in education are the way of the future. For more information, visit National School Choice Week online at schoolchoiceweek.com.

Cascade Policy Institute will host a National School Choice Week School Choice Policy Picnic on Thursday, January 28, at noon. Cascade founder Steve Buckstein will discuss the importance of school choice and where we go from here to get more of it in Oregon. Those interested in attending can RSVP online.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

 

 

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“They Left out Radio!” ― Human creativity is the key to economic growth

Bull market? Bear market? Recession? Recovery? What does 2016 have in store for us?

Our economy—national, state, and local—is usually described in terms of numbers, percentages, and quarterly comparisons. But the picture is richer than an aggregate dollar value of impersonal production and consumption. No economy exists without millions of unique people bringing to the marketplace their gifts of creativity, intelligence, initiative, and effort. Human capital―the knowledge, skills, and experiences of people―is the true wealth of a society.

The story is told that during his presidency, Ronald Reagan remarked on the limitations of economic predictions that don’t take into account people’s capacity to invent the unimaginable. During a meeting on economic policy, he said:

“You know, back in the twenties I think they did a report for Herbert Hoover about what the future economy would be like. And they included all their projections on industries and restaurants and steel, everything. But you know what they left out? They left out radio! They left out the fantastic rise of the media, which transformed the commercial marketplace. And those were economists talking about the future!

“And now they make their projections, and they leave out high tech….”*

Fostering economic growth requires remembering where wealth comes from. Government doesn’t create it, and human beings can’t fully predict it. Individuals can change the course of the economy with one key new idea. So in this new year, let’s celebrate the special contributions every person brings to American enterprises, great and small, in Oregon and across the country.

* Peggy Noonan, What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era (New York: Random House, 1990), 146.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

 

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Living an “Examined” 2016

Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” 2016 begins with national discussions about federal spending, taxes, unemployment, the economy, turmoil overseas, and tragedy at home―things over which most individual Americans have little or no control. But if we review our own lives carefully, much of what we find most personally significant is within our power to change for the better this New Year.

A palliative caregiver writing for AARP says her patients taught her five basic insights about living well. As they near death, she explains, people wish they had discerned their true calling and followed it, rather than other people’s desires and expectations. They wish they had simplified their lifestyle to spend more time with spouses and children and less on a work “treadmill” to pay for things they didn’t value in the end. They wish they had summoned the courage to express difficult emotions, to grow through resolving difficulties, and to become less mediocre. They wish they had stayed close to friends because “[i]t all comes down to love and relationships in the end.” Finally, they wish they had broken stale habits that curtailed personal growth and stifled laughter and joy.

An examined life is indeed worth the effort and is possible regardless of circumstances beyond our control. If we reflect deeply on our values, choices, and who we are called to be, we can live with purpose, integrity, and authenticity, regardless of the myriad problems in the world that cause us worry or sorrow.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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The Truth About Santa Claus

Do you believe in Santa Claus? Many think they are too old to believe in Santa Claus, but they have unwittingly come believe in another one—a figurative Santa Claus that goes by the name of “welfare state” or “big government.”

But Santa would be insulted by the comparison.

The real Santa Claus is Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop who used his inheritance to anonymously alleviate the suffering of others, particularly children and poor women. This reputation led to his being associated with giving surprise gifts at Christmas.

The mystique of Santa Claus is about giving, not entitlement. Santa Claus is about the magic of the serendipitous, the unexpected miracle, the abundance of goodness unleashed in the world when we choose generosity and compassion over selfishness.

Santa isn’t about getting; he’s about giving. When as family members, neighbors, and citizens, we give a hand to those around us, we’ll be less tempted to expect government to be the first, best, or only solution to society’s problems. And we’ll be less likely to think only about what we can get—from our family, our neighbors, or the state.

Merry Christmas!

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

 

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Freedom in Film: Becket (1964)

Film and stage legend Peter O’Toole died December 14, 2013, at age 81. Best known for his epic Lawrence of Arabia, O’Toole is also remembered for his dramatization of King Henry II in Becket (1964), for which he received one of his eight Academy Award nominations. What makes Becket particularly special is the dynamic, intense interaction of two larger-than-life Hollywood personalities, with Richard Burton arguably giving one of his best performances in the title role.

Becket concerns the complicated relationship between King Henry and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is also the King’s best friend. Henry nominates Thomas Becket for England’s highest ecclesiastical position because he believes Thomas will always side with the King in disputes between the increasingly autocratic power of the State and the independence of the Church. What Henry cannot foresee is that Becket will take his ordination seriously and use his office to defend the legal rights of the Church and promote the civil rights of minorities. Like Sir Thomas More centuries later (whose life and fate resemble Thomas Becket’s), Becket becomes “the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

American viewers today may experience Becket primarily as a story about the separation of Church and State in a context far removed from the modern world. Yet, in a broader and subtler sense, the film strongly highlights the reasons why we need separation of powers among branches of government.

The power struggle between Henry and Becket takes place in the 12th century, before the adoption of the Magna Carta. At that time, there were few checks on the power of the monarch, and tensions between the King and the barons ran deep. While the King needed a quorum of nobles and knights to support his decisions, few ambitious people dared to take the losing side. The only sector of society which the King could not completely influence was the Church. With its legal structure, rights of “sanctuary” (where accused persons could take refuge while seeking to prove their innocence), and authority figures capable of negotiating with heads of state on behalf of minorities, the Church of the Middle Ages was the only consistent counterbalance to the monarch.

The adoption of the Magna Carta in 1215 was an important milestone in the evolution of English constitutional law. It limited the power of the monarch, guaranteed various rights and liberties to “freemen,” and set the stage for the eventual development of modern parliamentary government in the English-speaking world. When the U.S. Constitution was adopted more than 550 years later, the Founding Fathers recognized the crucial importance of checks and balances. No one person or group of people should be allowed to concentrate all the powers of law, taxation, administration of justice, and war (not to mention religion) in their own hands. The framers of the Constitution created three distinct branches of government so that no one could become an autocrat like Henry, and the U.S. government would not devolve into a brawl among factions.

The Saxon Thomas Becket’s courage in standing up to a Norman King of England, and his tragic betrayal, have been so deeply imprinted upon the English imagination that the events of the night of December 29, 1170 have been memorialized famously from Chaucer, to T.S. Eliot, to O’Toole and Burton’s Becket. If you are looking for an unusual film for Christmas week, look no further than Becket, and watch it in honor of valor and freedom on December 29.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

(A version of this article was originally published December 17, 2013.)

 

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Freedom in Film: Mockingjay, Part 1 (2014)

When the first film of the Hunger Games series premiered, Cascade’s Sarah Wolf wrote about the themes of human freedom found in the popular novels by Suzanne Collins.

“In a society where rules and oppression define the lives of its citizens,” she wrote, “the fictional Katniss shows that freedom is not completely lost, despite the external constraints on her freedom. She still has the will to make choices based on what she believes to be right and wrong, often in defiance of the expectations of her government.

“Even in the darkest of circumstances, personal choice and liberty can prevail if only we don’t cave in to the immoral expectations of our leaders and peers. Good can overcome evil, one small act at a time.”

If you missed it, you can read Sarah’s review here.

The Acton Institute’s Dylan Pahman has written an insightful take on the third Hunger Games movie, which opened in theaters earlier this month.

“While some would criticize the series for lack of depth, ‘Mockingjay, Part 1,’ offers more than just a shallow cast of good guys vs. bad guys, acting as a window into the messy realities of tyranny, class, and freedom,” he says.

Pahman points out the role that beauty can play in defending freedom. In the movie, the fashionable Effie Trinket says “she has been ‘condemned to this life of jumpsuits’—skewering the conformist dress of the militaristic District 13.” Does Effie sense the connection between the loss of expression of beauty through dress with the denial of the intrinsic worth of each human being under an authoritarian system that squelches personal expression and human difference?

Consider the themes of tyranny and class dynamics in The Hunger Games, a subject that I reflected on last year with reference to ‘Catching Fire.’ In ‘Mockingjay,’ which like past films in the series does an excellent job of bringing these themes more to the forefront than their source material, we see again a clear rejection of ‘us vs. them,’ class warfare dynamics in favor of greater nuance and complexity.

Which brings me to Effie Trinket (played by Elizabeth Banks). Effie epitomizes the shallow lifestyles of Capitol denizens…..[However], another side of Effie comes to the fore. Plutarch scolds her that the revolution is happening and there is no going back to the extravagant life she once had, calling her, ‘replaceable,’ just like everyone else. But Effie counters that certainly Katniss, who the rebellion so wants to be their mockingjay, is not replaceable, and neither is she. Her self-worth may be inflated, but she also hints at the error of Plutarch’s way of thinking: no person is replaceable, an inherent dignity violated year after year by the Hunger Games themselves….

Commenting on France under Napoleon III, Lord Acton once said, ‘The victims of the imperial despotism are for the most part its instruments.’ Panem has far more victims than the willing instruments of the Capitol, but nevertheless ‘Mockingjay’ shows that even the Effies of the world, the symbols of self-serving tyranny, may themselves be tyrannized and worthy, too, of liberation. If we can look more than skin deep (past, no doubt, copious layers of concealer), we might see even those we believe to be shallow or adversarial to possess the irreplaceable dignity of the image of God.

You can read the rest of Pahman’s thoughts on Mockingjay here. Hopefully, you will find food for discussion about the story’s themes of freedom and human dignity to share with moviegoers you know this holiday season.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

(A version of this article was originally published December 12, 2014.)

 

 

 

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Freedom in Film and Fiction: A Cascade Series

Since 2013, “Freedom in Film and Fiction” has been an occasional series of book and film reviews housed on Cascade’s blog Cascade Insider. We’re moving this series to Cascade’s main website. Join us as we explore themes of freedom and timeless truths in literature and art.

(originally published February 27, 2013)

Great truths come to life through great stories. Some of the best arguments in favor of individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity are found in works of literature and art. A good plot will stay with you when you’ve forgotten a good essay; a vibrant scene will convince when arguments fail.

So, please join us periodically for an exploration of themes of freedom and timeless truths from works of art you already may know―and some you may have missed. And if you have suggestions for reviews, please e-mail me.

Let’s begin with a recent Cascade guest review of the novel voted “the greatest book of the 20th century.” An epic story by a perceptive critic of the modern world, J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings illustrates the battle between overweening power and personal freedom. Totalitarianism depersonalizes the individual, undermines self-government, and corrupts community and civilization, destroying life, beauty, and virtue in its path:

“Perhaps the most profound insight of [The Lord of the Rings] is that self-government requires governance of self. Freedom is not license. To be free you must exercise control over your own will, which often means doing what you would rather not and expressing your individuality in solidarity….” read more

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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Educational Savings Accounts: The “Smartphones” of Parental Choice

Yesterday the Senate Interim Education Committee of the Oregon Legislature held an informational hearing on Educational Savings Accounts, or ESAs. The focus of the hearing was the recently passed ESA legislation from Nevada, which will make 93% of Nevada students eligible for ESAs in 2016 and all students eligible by 2027 (at the latest).

Educational Saving Accounts allow public school students to take money the state would spend on them and put it on a restricted use debit card. Parents can spend this money on a wide variety of approved educational options, such as private school, individual tutoring, and distance learning. Any money not used is rolled over for parents to spend in the future.

State Senator Scott Hammond of Nevada, an architect of the Nevada law, addressed the Committee via speakerphone. During his introduction of Sen. Hammond, Steve Buckstein of Cascade Policy Institute referred to earlier school-choice ideas such as tax credits and vouchers as “the rotary-dial telephones of the school choice movement.” He encouraged the Oregon Legislature to consider legislation modeled on the Nevada law—which to continue the analogy is like a smartphone with unlimited apps.

The hearing set the stage for Oregon ESA legislation to be introduced in a future session. ESAs would give families who can’t afford to pay taxes for the public school system, plus tuition for private options, real opportunities to meet their kids’ individual needs, learning styles, and interests.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute. CSF-Portland is a partner program of the New York-based Children’s Scholarship Fund.

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How Washington Is Disinheriting American Kids

By Jared Meyer and Kathryn Hickok

Is Washington, D.C. disinheriting America’s kids? You bet. Achieving the American Dream will be more difficult for the next generation because policies and programs created by politicians and bureaucrats in Washington restrict economic opportunity for the young.

The expansion of entitlement benefits and government services places a major future financial burden on the young. The federal government’s $18 trillion debt is only the tip of the iceberg. Unfunded liabilities driven by Social Security and Medicare push the total federal fiscal shortfall to more than $200 trillion.

The Affordable Care Act has raised health insurance premiums for younger adults. While people under 30 only spend an average of $600 a year on health care, young people cannot pay less than one-third of what older people pay.

And these are only two examples of the financial burden our government is placing on the next generation.

Many think a larger government, and higher taxes to pay for it, would benefit young people. This isn’t true. The key to restoring Millennials’ lost economic opportunity is for government to get out of people’s way.

Washington is robbing America’s young. Our country is facing a crisis, and change is essential for young people to achieve the kind of future their parents and grandparents worked hard to build. Otherwise, the bill will eventually come due, and the next generation will pick up the tab.

Jared Meyer is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and the coauthor with Diana Furchtgott-Roth of Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America’s Young (Encounter Books, May 2015). Cascade Policy Institute will host Meyer to speak on this topic in Portland on October 22, 2015. Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute.

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Scaling Down: The Power of One

Is it truly possibly for one person to make a positive difference in education in America? Darla Romfo has a good answer to this question. She is president of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which has helped more than 145,000 low-income children nationwide to attend private grade schools. She wrote:

“[Children’s Scholarship Fund founder] John [Walton] once told me…that giving the scholarships and meeting the kids and their parents grounded the whole effort of trying to reform the larger system. He knew no matter what happened with those efforts, he was having a direct impact on the lives of kids today….

“[A] caring adult who really invests in an authentic relationship with a child will bring enormous benefits to the child, to say nothing of the rewards to the adult….

“We can’t stop trying to get education right in America, but maybe we will get further faster if every adult who can gets involved in the life of a child who has a couple of strikes against them. Whether it is through a mentoring program, a scholarship program, a school-based program, or some other means, it could make the ultimate difference in a child’s life, and you don’t have to be up to speed on the latest education reform idea to do it and make it work.”

For more information about how you can help the Children’s Scholarship Fund make a difference today, visit scholarshipfund.org.

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What Gets Kids “Ready for College and Life?”

Students across Oregon are back in school. Have you ever thought about how important it is where a child goes to school? After their family, the greatest influence on children as they grow up is usually their school.

Private scholarship programs like the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland help elementary children from lower-income families choose the school that is right for them. CSF-Portland has helped nearly 700 Oregon kids get a “hand up” in private, parochial, and home school educational settings.

Studies of similar scholarship programs around the country show the difference educational opportunity makes in children’s lives, including raising their chances of high school graduation. By choosing the right school for their child and paying part of the tuition themselves, parents are empowered to hold schools accountable. When parents actively invest in their children’s education, students are highly motivated to succeed.

A young man who attended private schools in Portland thanks to the Children’s Scholarship Fund wrote at graduation, “I have learned that nothing’s going to be handed to you and that you’ll succeed through hard work….[Private school] was challenging, but it has gotten me ready for college and life.”

A quality elementary education is a simple step that puts kids with limited choices on a path to success that can change the rest of their lives. To see how you can help a child reach his or her potential through this program, visit cascadepolicy.org.

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New Orleans’ Miracle School District

Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated the southeastern United States, displacing more than 372,000 school-aged children. Today, New Orleans’ school population has returned to more than two-thirds its pre-storm level, but a lot has changed for the better in the public school district.

Before Katrina, a Louisiana state legislator called New Orleans “one of the worst-run public school systems in America.” Almost two-thirds of students attended a “failing school.” After Katrina, the state legislature transferred more than 100 low-performing Orleans Parish schools to the Recovery School District. Now, the district has 57 charter schools operating under nonprofit charter management organizations.

According to The Washington Examiner, barely more than half of New Orleans public school students graduated before Katrina. Today, almost all New Orleans students attend charter schools. In the 2013-14 school year, three out of four students graduated on time, and fewer than seven percent attend a “failing school.”

This amazing turnaround is due to the hard work of teachers, administrators, local and state leaders, and parents who rebuilt New Orleans’ public school system from the ground-up, with the vision and determination to create “an all-choice school district with high-quality schools.” The unprecedented success of New Orleans’ Recovery School District serves as a model for education reform efforts across the country. Parental choice, flexibility for educators, and innovation in management really can achieve the impossible.

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Employee Freedom Respects Workers’ Choice

Why might workers like the opportunity to opt out of union membership? Some believe they can make better use of their own money rather than giving it to a union. Others “vote with their feet” against what they perceive to be poor union service or negotiating results. Still others leave because they oppose their unions’ political positions. They simply don’t want to support any organization that doesn’t share their political beliefs.

Many scientific surveys have been conducted to see how the public and members of union households feel about these issues. A survey conducted for this year’s National Employee Freedom Week asked members of union households this question:

“Are you aware that you can opt-out of union membership and of paying a portion of your union dues without losing your job or any other penalty?”

Surprisingly, over 27 percent of Oregon union household members surveyed answered No. This implies that over 65,000 of Oregon’s some 243,000 union members don’t realize that membership and some dues are optional.

The right to work without third-party interference is more than an economic issue; it is a profoundly moral one as well. In America, no one should be compelled to join a union or to pay union dues in order to hold a job. For more information about how employee choice can benefit Oregon workers, visit oregonemployeechoice.com.

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U.S. Sees Huge Growth in Homeschooling

What does it mean for parents and kids today?

The Center for Education Reform reports that since 2003, the number of homeschooled kids in the U.S. “has jumped nearly 62 percent with 1,773,000 students being educated in the comfort and flexibility of their own homes.” Cascade’s publications director Kathryn Hickok discussed this trend on KUIK’s The Jayne Carroll Show on May 27. Listen to Jayne and Kathryn talk about the increasing popularity of homeschooling and what resources are available to parents today!

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Tennessee Special Needs Kids Get Choices in Education

Tennessee just became the 28th state to enact a private school choice program, giving parents more options for their children’s education. Governor Bill Haslam signed the nation’s fourth Education Savings Account law on Monday.

Arizona, Florida, and Mississippi already allowed parents to have some control over the funding allocated for their kids’ education through Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). ESAs are a flexible way for parents to manage some of the money that otherwise would be used for their kids’ education in their zoned public school. ESAs allow parents to pay for different kinds of educational services that may be the best fit for their children, including tuition, online courses, tutoring, therapy, or other categories of expenses defined by law.

Now, Tennessee children with an Individualized Education Plan will be able to use state and local funds, plus special education funds to which they would be entitled, for the schools and services their parents judge will best meet their individual needs. This law empowers parents of children with autism and many other special needs to get the help they need to succeed in school.

Parents of children with special needs want less red tape and more options. ESAs empower families to find and pay for those options, providing winning solutions for children. Oregon children should be given this opportunity, too.

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Low-Income Scholarship Recipients “Highly Successful” in High School and Beyond

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice just released an exploratory study examining the graduates of the Children’s Scholarship Fund Baltimore. CSF Baltimore is a privately funded scholarship program helping low-income children in the Baltimore area to attend the tuition-based elementary schools of their parents’ or guardians’ choice. CSF Baltimore is a partner program of the New York-based Children’s Scholarship Fund.

According to the study:

“The study found that CSFB elementary scholarship recipients had indeed been highly successful in their post-elementary educational achievements. Nearly all CSFB alumni contacted had graduated from high school in four or fewer years after eighth grade―97 percent to be exact. This high percentage is nearly identical to tracking studies completed with Children’s Scholarship Fund programs in other metropolitan areas (Philadelphia, Charlotte, and Toledo). The percentage is much higher than the national high school graduation rate of 70 percent, and higher than the Baltimore City Public School (BCPS) graduation rate of 38 percent to 64 percent.”

Children’s Scholarship Fund partner programs empower students to overcome challenges through a strong foundation in their K-8 education. As these children grow up, studies show that the philanthropic investments made in their education―combined with the initiative, dedication, and involvement of parents and teachers―is paying off for tens of thousands of children who now have a better chance at success in high school, college, careers, and life.

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America’s 2015 Tax Bill? It’s 31% of the Work Year

Tax Freedom Day arrives this year on April 24, six days later than it was two years ago. Tax Freedom Day is a calendar-based measure of Americans’ cumulative tax bill. It is calculated as the day on which Americans have worked long enough to pay all their taxes. Americans will have worked 114 days to earn enough money to pay this year’s combined federal, state, and local taxes. These taxes include personal income taxes, payroll taxes, corporate income taxes, and property and sales taxes.

However, this is only what Americans actually pay, not what government spends. According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, “Since 2002, federal expenses have surpassed federal revenues, with the budget deficit exceeding $1 trillion annually from 2009 to 2012 and over $800 billion in 2013….If we include…annual federal borrowing, which represents future taxes owed, Tax Freedom Day would occur on May 8….”

Americans currently pay more in taxes ($4.85 trillion) than they do on food, clothing, and housing combined. The saying goes, you should “work to live, not live to work.” But the more government grows, the more Americans are working less to live and more to pay for runaway government spending. That leaves fewer resources to invest in the real engines of economic growth: private sector businesses that create jobs and produce goods and services for a market fueled by Americans’ hard-earned purchasing power.

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Is Your Five-Year-Old Ready for Full-Day Kindergarten?

The Oregon State Senate is considering a bill that would lower Oregon’s compulsory, full-time school age from seven to five. Senate Bill 321 was heard in the Education Committee on March 5.

Most children start at least a half-day Kindergarten as five-year-olds, but not every five-year-old is ready for full-time school. According to a recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics, about six percent of five-to-six-year-olds nationwide are not enrolled in school. These children may need a little more time to be ready for a formal classroom setting.

Children are unique, and maturing at different rates is normal. Temperament, emotional maturity, life experiences, and family situations also can affect a child’s classroom readiness. Parents are in a better position to determine a young child’s abilities than an arbitrary standard set by state law.

Some opponents of SB 321 point out that there would be no protections for children who are not ready for a traditional classroom at five years of age. Their parents currently have the option to let them grow up a little first. This bill removes parental discretion.

Forcing children to start school too early for them can have long-lasting consequences. They may view themselves as failures, think they don’t like school, or find themselves playing a demoralizing game of catch-up with their classroom peers.

Parents, rather than state legislators, should decide when their preschool-aged kids are ready for full-time school.

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Are ObamaCare’s Insurance Subsidies Legal?

Today the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case challenging the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Plaintiffs in King v. Burwell claim the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does not have the authority to circumvent the actual text of the ACA. According to the law, federal insurance premium subsidies can be allotted only if plans are purchased “through an Exchange established by the State.” When 36 states chose not to create their own exchanges, the IRS essentially rewrote this portion of the law to give subsidies anyway.

Oregon did set up a state exchange―Cover Oregon. But Cover Oregon never worked as planned; and now Oregon is contracting with the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov. The federal government and Oregon state officials claim this will guarantee Oregonians continued access to federal subsidies, but the King decision may not allow such subsidies to continue.

The King v. Burwell case could have a major impact on the future of ObamaCare. If the Court strikes down the IRS rule, the government would withhold subsidies for those living in states that chose to protect their citizens from the law’s employer mandate, the individual mandate, and the high costs of operating their own state-based exchanges. The Court’s decision could provide an important opportunity for states to reform health care in a meaningful way that respects taxpayers, provides for the truly needy, and addresses health care costs.

A ruling is expected by June 30.

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Cascade Report Exposes $2.6 Billion in Unfunded Liabilities

Cascade Policy Institute has released a new report showing that Oregon public employers have more than $2.6 billion in unfunded actuarially accrued liabilities associated with non-pension benefits promised to current and future retirees. Referred to as “Other Post-Employment Benefits,” or OPEB, these liabilities include various forms of deferred compensation.

The Governmental Accounting Standards Board mandates that public employers clearly state financial obligations for OPEB in their comprehensive annual financial reports. However, employers are not required to set up trust funds to pay for these promises. As a result, the Cascade review of 125 financial reports of state, regional, and local governments shows that most employers have no money set aside and are paying for OPEB obligations out of annual operating revenues. This cannibalizes funds needed for actual services.

The Cascade paper is a call to action for the legislature to impose some form of fiscal discipline on public employers by requiring them to make annual contributions to OPEB trust funds. Legislation to accomplish this has been considered in past sessions but never approved. The Cascade report can be viewed at cascadepolicy.org.

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How Do Children Learn? Let Us Count the Ways

“I wish that the education system could understand that not every child fits into the same sized box, and everyone needs to do what is right for their family,” says Lisa, a Portland-area mother whose children receive tuition assistance from the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland.

When Cascade Policy Institute started this privately funded scholarship program in 1999, we learned “hands-on” that middle- and lower-income parents share the same interest in their children’s education as do parents of greater means, and they are motivated to seek the same kinds of opportunities on their behalf.

Parents know a solid education prepares students for life, and that path begins in grade school. But many children are trapped in neighborhood public schools assigned to them by their street addresses that, for many reasons, may not meet their needs or standards that are important to their families.

“Education reform” debates usually focus on how to get the maximum number of children minimally educated. But real-life parents want to get at least a minimum number of children (their own) maximally educated. These two goals shouldn’t be at odds. In fact, the second can drive the first―if more parents had the opportunity to make meaningful choices about their children’s education.

Fifteen years ago, the national Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF) offered dollar-for-dollar matching grants to independent local partner programs that would provide partial tuition assistance to low-income grade school children to attend the schools of their choice. Cascade Policy Institute was among the nonprofit organizations which took up this unprecedented challenge, raising $1 million in local funds to start a $2 million local program, the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland. Since then, CSF and its partners have invested $610 million in private funding to help more than 145,000 children nationwide.

While they don’t have much discretionary income (the average CSF-Portland family income is $39,000), CSF families always must pay part of their tuition themselves (Portland parents pay $1,799 on average). This ensures that the scholarship remains a “hand up,” rather than a handout. Because they have “skin in the game,” CSF parents are motivated to choose schools carefully and to encourage their children to make the most of their opportunities.

The private schools CSF students attend typically spend one-third to one-half what neighboring public schools spend per student (the average tuition for CSF-Portland students is $3,856 this year), with better results in terms of graduation rates and college attendance. However, the point of the CSF program is not to prove that private schools are better than public schools. Rather, CSF believes that parents are the primary educators of their children and have their interests at heart. When empowered with a modest amount of financial help (the average Portland scholarship award is $1,497), parents will invest their own money, time, effort, and discipline to obtain the kind of education they want for their students.

CSF partner programs respect the decision-making processes of families and support parents in directing their children’s education. This family-centered element is what sets parent-focused school choice efforts apart from other ways of addressing the failures of today’s public education system. No one can design a school system that meets every child’s needs. No statistical data analysis or bureaucratic goal setting can ensure that any particular child makes it to high school graduation, succeeds in college, or excels in a career. No school can be all things to all children―nor should it. But most parents, including low-income ones, are keenly aware of their own students’ needs, aptitudes, strengths, and interests―and what it takes for them to learn.

“The children have grown in spades since attending [their] school,” says Lisa. “They have a school family that is very comforting to them. They feel safe every single day. They know that everything that is being done is centered on their lives and future….In their prior school they were pushed aside, never pushed into academically challenging areas. Here at this school every opportunity is given to them to succeed and become better students and better learners.”

Top-down education reform focuses on what is not working for large numbers of people―but keeps those students in the system while the problems are being “fixed.” School choice focuses on what is working across all kinds of schools―and empowers parents to choose the options that best help their children learn.

Top-down approaches pour more money into a broken system. School choice programs achieve more satisfactory results with more modest amounts of money because the dynamic is shifted in favor of parents. Government-focused education reform analyzes the forest; school choice promotes the best interest of the trees. School choice programs like CSF-Portland prove that good things happen when parents have opportunities to choose excellence for their own children.

(January 25-31, 2015 is National School Choice Week, an annual public awareness effort in support of effective education options for all children. Versions of this Cascade Commentary have been previously published.)

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2015’s Forward-Looking Celebration of School Choice

Next week is National School Choice Week. Every January, National School Choice Week highlights the need for effective educational options for all children “in a positive, forward-looking, fun, nonpolitical, and nonpartisan way.”

Planned by a diverse coalition of individuals and organizations, National School Choice Week features special events and activities that support school choice programs and proposals. School Choice Week began four years ago with 150 events. Since then, it has grown into the world’s largest celebration of education reform. The 2015 School Choice Week will feature more than 10,200 independently planned events nationwide.

Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week, explains, “More American families than ever before are actively choosing the best educational environments for their children, which has galvanized millions of additional parents―those without options―to demand greater choices for their own children. National School Choice Week will [provide] a platform for people to celebrate school choice where it exists and demand it where it does not.”

Students have different talents, interests, and needs; and they learn in different ways. The landscape of educational options to meet those needs is far more diverse today than it was even a few years ago. It’s becoming increasingly evident that more choices in education are the way of the future. For more information, visit National School Choice Week online at schoolchoiceweek.com.

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Tide Goes Out on Ocean Energy

A new report released by Cascade Policy Institute concludes that the public-private partnership Oregon Wave Energy Trust has failed to achieve a return on public investment.

The Oregon Wave Energy Trust (OWET) is a nonprofit, public-private partnership established by the Oregon State Legislature that works to “responsibly develop ocean energy by connecting stakeholders, supporting research and development, and engaging in public outreach and policy work.” Since its inception in 2007, OWET has received nearly $12 million in public funding from the Oregon Innovation Council (Oregon InC), another government-sponsored entity. OregonInC claims its initiatives must earn a profit, but that is clearly not the case with OWET. None of the money spent to date by OWET has led to any profitability.

Cascade President and CEO John A. Charles, Jr. commented, “Electric utilities in Oregon, both public and private, are quite capable of generating and delivering power to their customers. If wave power is a good idea, utilities themselves will bring it to commercial scale. If it’s a bad idea, taxpayers should not be forced to bear all the risks of early-stage experiments.”

The Cascade paper, entitled Waiving Profitability, recommends that Oregon legislative leaders “should closely examine all state-sponsored venture capital funds to determine if grant recipients will ever become financially self-sufficient, as originally envisioned. OWET would be an excellent place to start.”

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$15 Minimum Wage? More May Turn Out to Be Less

Last summer, Seattle passed an ordinance raising its minimum wage to $15 per hour. A Portland-area restaurant owner recently explained in The Oregonian how a $15-per-hour minimum wage here would spell lower total wages and less opportunity for his employees.

Lee Spectator wrote: “I start most of my new hires at minimum wage, then, based on their performance, give them a raise within their first 30 to 60 days. I give merit raises based on performance [and] annual performance reviews….With a $15 per hour minimum wage, that would go away. I would have no room to pay them any more, and they would have no incentive to work harder.”

With increased wage expenses also come higher taxes and workers-comp insurance. These would balloon to nearly 48 percent of Spectator’s total business expenses, he says.

So, what would be the likely result if Portland raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour? To start, fewer jobs will be available in small businesses that pay hourly. Fewer employers will want to hire low-skilled workers like teenagers, since they will need more productive and experienced workers to justify paying them a higher wage. Entry-level workers should have the chance to climb the ranks and achieve higher earnings as a consequence of their hard work, not to be stuck at one uniform pay grade or else have no job at all.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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Molalla Patriots

Join us as Kathryn Hickok will be presenting to the Molalla Patriots on the subject of Common Core.

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School Choice Fosters Students’ “Profound Gratitude,” Author Says

Students everywhere are back in school, including grade school children from low-income families who are attending Oregon private schools thanks to the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland.

New York Post columnist Naomi Schaefer Riley recently interviewed a diverse group of students who have graduated from Children’s Scholarship Fund programs across the country. Her book, Opportunity and Hope: Transforming Children’s Lives through Scholarships, shows what a good education means to young people who have a better chance in life because of private scholarships, and she makes a compelling case for the power of school choice. The scholarship alumni profiled in the book are representative of thousands of others, including more than 650 students who have received scholarships here in Oregon.

Riley wrote: “The recurring themes I heard…were ones of improved academic outcomes, solid foundations for high school, college, and beyond, and a profound gratitude and desire to give back….Together, these children will ensure that the next generation gets its shot at the middle class.”

For many children in America, one-size-fits-all public schools fail to let them truly learn and excel; and many low-income parents want access to schools that match their children’s needs. Children’s Scholarship Fund students are living proof of what is possible when families are empowered to choose the schools that are right for their children. For more information about real-world education solutions that are getting results for kids, visit SchoolChoiceForOregon.com.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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Why Literature Lovers Hate Common Core

Please join us for Cascade’s monthly Policy Picnic led by publications director Kathryn Hickok on September 17, at noon.

Kathryn will discuss reasons many teachers say the Common Core State Standards are taking the language out of language arts and the love out of literacy. Common Core supporters argue the new standards will improve students’ literacy, but will they do the opposite instead? What can parents do about it?

Admission is free. Please bring your own lunch. Coffee and cookies will be served. Space is limited to sixteen guests on a first come, first served basis, so sign up early.

Sponsored By

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The Votes Are In: Small Scholarships Have a Big Impact

The Children’s Scholarship Fund is a nationally recognized, privately funded scholarship program which has helped more than 139,000 low-income children attend tuition-based elementary schools nationwide since 1998. The program recently surveyed scholarship families in New York about their experiences. The results include:

• 98.5 percent said their CSF scholarships help them make the best educational choices for their child.

• 73.1 percent reported they could not afford to send their child to their chosen school without a CSF scholarship.

• 70.3 percent noticed an improvement in their child’s academic performance and/or engagement since enrolling in their current school.

While New York City public schools spend about $20,000 per student, an average CSF scholarship grant of $1,600 is enough to empower these low-income parents to obtain a private school education for their kids.

Cascade Policy Institute runs the Oregon partner program of the Children’s Scholarship Fund. The New York program’s poll results are consistent with the informal feedback Cascade receives from scholarship parents here. “I wish that the education system could understand that not every child fits into the same sized box, and everyone needs to do what is right for their family,” said one Portland-area CSF parent.

Programs like the Children’s Scholarship Fund respect the decision-making processes of families and support parents in directing their children’s education. School choice programs like CSF prove that good things happen when parents can vote with their feet on behalf of their own kids.


 

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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Charter Schools Achieve Superior Outcomes with Unequal Funding

The University of Arkansas has published a first-ever comparison study of cost effectiveness and return on investment between different types of public schools. The Productivity of Public Charter Schools rates 28 states and the District of Columbia according to the productivity of charter schools relative to traditional public schools.

Public charter schools receive 36% less funding on average than regular district schools. While greatly underfunded relative to district schools, charter schools in many states score significantly higher in math and reading on the eighth grade National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Oregon’s charter schools receive 44% less funding than regular district schools and achieve higher NAEP scores at lower cost.

The study advises that the higher productivity of many charter schools may be associated with exercising greater discipline with education dollars than traditional public schools do. Studies have shown that increased public education funding hasn’t helped students learn better. “Not only are charter schools doing more with less, they are on the whole demonstrating a superior ability to act as responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars,” said Kara Kerwin, president of The Center for Education Reform.

Rather than continually increasing traditional public school funding, let’s reconsider what we already spend. Giving traditional public schools the freedom to imitate what works for successful charters may do more to improve children’s learning outcomes than allocating more money to the status quo.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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Join a Union or Pay? Not So Fast, Say Oregonians

A public opinion poll released this week reveals that 84% of Oregonians agree that employees should have the right to decide, without force or penalty, whether to join or leave a labor union.

The poll of 500 Oregon adults was conducted for National Employee Freedom Week, a grassroots campaign of 77 organizations in 44 states dedicated to helping union employees learn about their right to leave their unions.

The Oregon results are slightly higher than the national average. Nationwide, 82.9% of respondents support allowing union employees to leave their union without force or penalty, a concept known as Right to Work.

Currently, 24 states have passed Right to Work laws. Because of a deal struck by Governor John Kitzhaber in March, Oregonians won’t have the opportunity to end forced union dues in the public sector this year.

Unions often do as little as is required by law to inform their employees that they have the right to opt out. But as previous polling illustrates, over 33 percent of those in union households want to leave. Therefore, educational efforts like National Employee Freedom Week are needed to inform and educate union members about their workplace rights and empower them to make the decision about union membership that’s best for them.

You can learn more at Cascade Policy Institute’s new Oregon Employee Choice website, OregonEmployeeChoice.com.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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Supreme Court Says: Starting a Business Doesn’t Make You Lose Your Religious Freedom

Do you lose your religious freedom because you’re running a family business? On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court said no. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that David and Barbara Green and their family business, craft chain Hobby Lobby, cannot be required by the government to include forms of contraception to which they object on religious grounds in their company health insurance policy.

The Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) currently directs most employers to include coverage of all contraceptives, sterilization procedures, and some potentially abortion-inducing drugs and devices, at no cost to the user, in their employee health insurance plans. If employers don’t comply, they face fines of $100 per day, per employee. For Hobby Lobby, that would have added up to about $475 million a year.

Until now, the Obama Administration has not allowed any conscience accommodation to owners of for-profit companies who object to the contraceptive services mandate. Even the Administration’s religious exemption is so narrow that it does not apply to most religiously affiliated institutions, including communities of Catholic sisters. The only government accommodation for which most religious employers could qualify is the ability to have a third party provide contraceptive services outside the employer-provided insurance program, if the religious employer objects to providing them itself and is willing to sign a waiver authorizing this arrangement. However, this option is not available to for-profit employers.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the nonprofit public interest law firm representing Hobby Lobby’s owners, explained its clients’ suit this way:

“The Green family has no moral objection to the use of 16 of 20 preventive contraceptives required in the mandate, and Hobby Lobby will continue its longstanding practice of covering these preventive contraceptives for its employees. However, the Green family cannot provide or pay for four potentially life-threatening drugs and devices. These drugs include Plan B and Ella, the so-called morning-after pill and the week-after pill. Covering these drugs and devices would violate their deeply held religious belief that life begins at the moment of conception, when an egg is fertilized….

“The Green family respects the religious convictions of all Americans, including those who do not agree with them. All they are asking is that the government give them the same respect by not forcing them to violate their religious beliefs.”

Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed by Congress in a nearly unanimous vote in 1993 and signed by President Clinton, the government must demonstrate that a law serves a “compelling interest” and is the “least restrictive means” of achieving that interest before it can burden someone’s free exercise of religion. It appears that this standard was key for the majority ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby this week. The Green family had argued that by forcing the federal contraceptive services mandate on their company, the government was requiring them to run their company at odds with the way they live out their faith, thus unduly burdening their free exercise.

By ruling in the Greens’ favor, the Court has recognized for the first time that a for-profit corporation can have religious rights under federal law or the Constitution. Justice Samuel Alito stated on behalf of the Court: “The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate…against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs….Our responsibility is to enforce RFRA as written, and under the standard that RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful.”*

“This is a landmark decision for religious freedom,” said the Greens’ attorney, Lori Windham. “This ruling will protect people of all faiths….You can’t argue there are no alternative means [of accommodating employees who want full access to no-cost birth control] when your agency is busy creating alternative means for other people.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy, concurring with the majority, said, “Among the reasons the United States is so open, so tolerant, and so free is that no person may be restricted or demeaned by government in exercising his or her religion.”

Americans shouldn’t have to fear that they would have to run their family businesses in ways that seriously conflict with their faith and moral values just because they incorporated. As Timothy Sandefur of Pacific Legal Foundation succinctly put it before the ruling, “Whatever one thinks of the constitutionality of the ‘contraception mandate’ itself, the Supreme Court should make clear that the First Amendment applies to everyone.” In affirming that business owners have religious rights, the Court appears to have done that.

*The Court specified that its ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby applies only to “closely held” companies. Closely held companies are owned and controlled by a small number of investors, perhaps five or fewer individuals, who are often family members or the founding management. The Wall Street Journal reports that about 90% of companies in the U.S. are closely held.

 

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Small Business Owners Say: $15 Minimum Wage Is a “Mortal Threat”

This week Seattle became the first city in the nation to mandate a $15 minimum wage. But far from being a victory for workers, a super-high minimum wage is likely to cause more harm than good by destroying businesses and reducing workers’ options.

Washington Policy Center’s Erin Shannon writes: “Some business owners in Seattle say they are holding off on opening new business or expanding their current business, delaying plans to hire new workers and even moving into neighboring cities. In SeaTac, where some employers have been paying a mandated $15 minimum wage for six months, the benefits workers used to receive have been reduced or eliminated and prices have increased for consumers.” A restaurant CEO (whose employees already make $18-22 per hour) told The Puget Sound Business Journal that the increased labor costs will be “a mortal threat” to Seattle businesses.

Some of Portland’s leaders think we should imitate Seattle. We should not. Cutting off the lower rungs of the economic ladder with a super-high minimum wage makes it that much more difficult for young people and those with less education to even reach the first rung on the ladder―and then move on to higher skilled, better paying jobs. Those who support higher minimum wages may not have bad motives, but good motives in support of bad policy still result in driving job creators out of our communities and hurting the very people they want to help.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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How Jefferson Explained the Constitution to Louisiana Nuns

This week in 1804, Thomas Jefferson wrote to an Ursuline nun in New Orleans, who had asked him to clarify her religious community’s rights under U.S. law after the Louisiana Purchase. President Jefferson assured her that the American government would never interfere with the nuns’ property, ministries, or way of life.

 

Jefferson wrote, “The principles of the constitution and government of the United States are a guarantee to you that it will be preserved to you, sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority.”

 

Two hundred ten years after Jefferson wrote that letter, a community of sisters who care for the elderly is defending in court their right to carry out their ministries in accordance with their faith. Under current federal regulations, the Little Sisters of the Poor don’t qualify for a religious exemption from the ObamaCare insurance mandate which requires most employers to provide contraception and abortion coverage.

 

Like the Ursuline nuns of Jefferson’s time, Catholic sisters today should not lose their religious freedom while working in their own ministries. We can imagine what Jefferson might think of American women having to sue the government to defend their First Amendment rights. But can we doubt he would be dismayed by how intrusive and coercive the federal government has become since the day he explained the safeguards of the American Constitution to a group of French nuns?

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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Do You Know Taxes Take 30% of Your Year?

If every penny earned since the beginning of the year went to pay federal, state, and local taxes, by April 21 Americans would have worked long enough to pay this year’s tax bills (April 20 for Oregon). Tax Freedom Day is a calendar-based illustration of the cost of government which divides all taxes by the nation’s income. By this calculation, Americans will work 111 days in 2014 and pay 30.2% of their earned income to all levels of government.

But this is only what Americans actually pay, not what government spends. According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation: “Since 2002, federal expenses have exceeded federal revenues….If we include this annual federal borrowing, which represents future taxes owed, Tax Freedom Day would occur on May 6, 15 days later.” That’s an additional two weeks of federal government spending paid for by borrowing.

Americans pay more in taxes ($4.5 trillion) than they do on food, clothing, and housing combined. The saying goes, you should “work to live, not live to work.” But the more government grows, the more Americans are working less to live and more to pay for runaway government spending. That leaves fewer resources to invest in the real engines of economic growth: private sector businesses that create jobs and produce goods and services for a market fueled by Americans’ hard-earned purchasing power.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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New Education Study Shows: We’re Paying More for Less

Advocates on all sides of the public education spending-versus-results debate cite various statistics to make their respective cases. Some argue that more money leads to better results. Others claim that spending more dollars per student―at least in the ways our public school system has spent them―makes little or no difference in educational outcomes; and it appears the evidence is strongly on their side.

A new Cato Institute study, State Education Trends: Academic Performance and Spending over the Past 40 Years, uses adjusted state SAT score averages to track educational performance trends over the last four decades. The findings are staggering: Academic performance has declined despite large increases in real per-pupil spending.

According to Cato, “The study reveals that the average state has seen a three percent decline in academic performance despite a more than doubling in inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending. More strikingly, every state school system in the country has suffered a collapse in productivity over the last 40 years. Essentially, there has been no correlation between state spending and academic performance.”

In Oregon, public education spending has increased 60% in real terms, yet SAT scores have been flat. The study’s results demonstrate that throwing more money at public education has been ineffective at improving student performance. Rather than spend even more, we should let parents direct education funding to the schools of their choice. Unleashing consumer power gets more bang for the buck throughout the economy; it’s time to put it to work in education as well.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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Is a Doctor Shortage on the Horizon?

The Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) is projected to add 30 million more nonelderly persons to the insurance rolls nationwide by 2022, and Oregon intends to expand Medicaid enrollment by up to 260,000 people under the ACA. But carrying an insurance card isn’t the same as having timely access to quality health care. We also need enough medical professionals available to see us.

As the Acton Institute’s Jonathan Witt says, “A curious feature of recent U.S. health care reform efforts—easily overlooked amidst the daily media grind of canceled plans, crashing websites and new restrictions—is the irrational belief that we can extend more health care to more Americans while rendering a career as a family physician increasingly unappealing.”

A summary of a recent report by Scott Atlas of the Hoover Institution notes that “there will be an estimated additional 15 million to 24 million primary care visits, which would mean that the United States will need an additional 4,307 to 6,940 primary care doctors by 2019. This number is on top of the estimated additional 44,000 to 46,000 doctors that will be needed over the next decade and a half to meet future primary care demand, even without the ACA.”

In short, America needs more doctors―and soon. But, according to Witt, “a growing number of doctors are convinced that ‘many physicians will retire earlier than planned in the next one to three years’” due to increasing government entanglement in our health care markets. Witt explains:

My brother-in-law Bruce Woodall, a physician who has worked stateside and in the developing world, gave me another way to understand this response. Those who go into family medicine, he said, often have an independent and entrepreneurial streak. They have visions of owning a family practice one day and aren’t attracted to the idea of simply working for the government. But increasingly, that’s what family medicine in the United States amounts to. The result is that an increasing number of physicians who can leave, do.

Government currently discourages doctors from being the healers they trained to be by making it more difficult for them to treat patients, run clinics, and make a living for themselves and their families. Ever-increasing regulations, including those resulting from the ACA, are taking American health care further down that path. Add the decline in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates, and today’s doctors already find themselves unable to take on more of those patients.

Another problem for future doctors is that investing in a medical degree requires new graduates to carry heavy debt loads. That investment needs to pay off in the long run. If prospective medical students don’t think they foresee a sound financial future for their practices in the years ahead, they may not choose health care professions in the numbers we need. With fewer doctors available to see us, more insurance cards in our wallets won’t mean much.

Solutions already exist which can increase access to primary care, including expanding outpatient clinics in retail settings and allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide more care for which they are medically qualified. Government at all levels should focus on removing red tape and making it easier, not harder, for doctors to operate clinics that serve basic health care needs. Simplification of regulations that hamstring doctors is a crucial part of the answer to our physician shortage. Empowering doctors “with an entrepreneurial streak” to find ways of expanding patients’ access to quality health care would be far better than continuing to expand the government’s control over an already massively regulated system.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Is Part-Time Work Obama’s New American Dream?

Last week the Congressional Budget Office reported that the Affordable Care Act will cause Americans to work less. Significant numbers of people will choose to keep their incomes low in order to be eligible for federal health care subsidies or Medicaid. Consequently, the economy will lose the equivalent of two million full-time workers by 2017.

The Wall Street Journal explains:

CBO’s analysis is rooted in ObamaCare’s complex design that includes new subsidies, taxes and mandates. For low-wage, lower-skilled or discouraged workers in particular, ObamaCare offers incentives that can force them to trade jobs for entitlement benefits.

…The law’s insurance subsidies are gradually taken away as income rises….[This reduces] the rewards for work—whether it be overtime, accepting a promotion, or training in the hope of higher future earnings.

But the White House doesn’t think this is negative. Press Secretary Jay Carney said people “will be empowered to make choices about their own lives and livelihoods” and “have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.”

However, penalizing people for increasing their earned income hurts workers in the long run. Having government programs, mandates, and regulations steadily disconnect work from reward replaces the American dream of building a better life for yourself and your family with, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, “the new American dream of not working.” If we keep following this road, not only our economy, but our spirit, will pay.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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School Choice Promotes Opportunities “Centered on the Future”

“I wish that the education system could understand that not every child fits into the same sized box, and everyone needs to do what is right for their family,” says Lisa, a Portland-area mother whose children receive tuition assistance from the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland.

When Cascade Policy Institute started this privately funded scholarship program in 1999, we learned “hands-on” that middle- and lower-income parents share the same interest in their children’s education as do parents of greater means, and they are motivated to seek the same kinds of opportunities on their behalf.

Parents know a solid education prepares students for life, and that path begins in grade school. But many children are trapped in neighborhood public schools assigned to them by their street addresses that, for many reasons, may not meet their needs or standards that are important to their families.

“Education reform” debates usually focus on how to get the maximum number of children minimally educated. But real-life parents want to get at least a minimum number of children (their own) maximally educated. These two goals shouldn’t be at odds. In fact, the second can drive the first―if more parents had the opportunity to make meaningful choices about their children’s education.

Fifteen years ago, the national Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF) offered dollar-for-dollar matching grants to independent local partner programs that would provide partial tuition assistance to low-income grade school children to attend the schools of their choice. Cascade Policy Institute was among the nonprofit organizations which took up this unprecedented challenge, raising $1 million in local funds to start a $2 million local program, the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland. Since then, CSF and its partners have invested $568 million in private funding to help more than 139,000 children nationwide.

While they don’t have much discretionary income (the average CSF-Portland family income is $41,000), CSF families always must pay part of their tuition themselves (Portland parents pay $1,777 on average). This ensures that the scholarship remains a “hand up,” rather than a handout. Because they have “skin in the game,” CSF parents are motivated to choose schools carefully and to encourage their children to make the most of their opportunities.

The private schools CSF students attend typically spend one-third to one-half what neighboring public schools spend per student (the average tuition for CSF-Portland students is $3,578 this year), with better results in terms of graduation rates and college attendance. However, the point of the CSF program is not to prove that private schools are better than public schools. Rather, CSF believes that parents are the primary educators of their children and have their interests at heart. When empowered with a modest amount of financial help (the average Portland scholarship award is $1,458), parents will invest their own money, time, effort, and discipline to obtain the kind of education they want for their students.

CSF partner programs respect the decision-making processes of families and support parents in directing their children’s education. This family-centered element is what sets parent-focused school choice efforts apart from other ways of addressing the failures of today’s public education system. No one can design a school system that meets every child’s needs. No statistical data analysis or bureaucratic goal setting can ensure that any particular child makes it to high school graduation, succeeds in college, or excels in a career. No school can be all things to all children―nor should it. But most parents, including low-income ones, are keenly aware of their own students’ needs, aptitudes, strengths, and interests―and what it takes for them to learn.

“The children have grown in spades since attending [their] school,” says Lisa. “They have a school family that is very comforting to them. They feel safe every single day. They know that everything that is being done is centered on their lives and future….In their prior school they were pushed aside, never pushed into academically challenging areas. Here at this school every opportunity is given to them to succeed and become better students and better learners.”

Top-down education reform focuses on what is not working for large numbers of people―but keeps those students in the system while the problems are being “fixed.” School choice focuses on what is working across all kinds of schools―and empowers parents to choose the options that best help their children learn.

Top-down approaches pour more money into a broken system. School choice programs achieve more satisfactory results with more modest amounts of money because the dynamic is shifted in favor of parents. Government-focused education reform analyzes the forest; school choice promotes the best interest of the trees. School choice programs like CSF-Portland prove that good things happen when parents have opportunities to choose excellence for their own children.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute and Director of the privately funded Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland, which provides partial tuition scholarships to Oregon elementary students from lower-income families.

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Coming This January: The Largest-Ever Rally for School Choice Nationwide

Millions of Americans nationwide will voice their support for educational opportunity during the fourth-annual National School Choice Week, which begins January 26, 2014. The Week will include an unprecedented 5,500 events across all 50 states, with a goal of increasing public awareness of the importance of empowering parents with the freedom to choose the best educational environments for their children.

National School Choice Week events will be independently planned and independently funded by schools, organizations, individuals, and coalitions. Events—which include rallies, roundtable discussions, school fairs, parent information sessions, movie screenings, and more—will focus on a variety of school choice issues important to families in local communities, including open enrollment policies in traditional public schools, public charter and magnet schools, private school choice programs, online learning, and homeschooling.

“During National School Choice Week, millions of Americans will hear the uplifting and transformational stories of students, parents, teachers, and school leaders who are benefiting from a variety of different school choice programs and policies across America,” said Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week. “Our hope is that by letting more people know about the successes of school choice where it exists, more parents will become aware of the educational opportunities available to their families.”

“During the Week, Americans from all backgrounds and ideologies will celebrate school choice where it exists and demand it where it does not,” Campanella said. “National School Choice Week will be the nation’s largest-ever series of education-related events, which is testament to the incredible levels of support that exist for educational opportunity in America.”

Cascade Policy Institute will host a National School Choice Week “Policy Picnic” on Wednesday, January 29, at noon. Cascade founder Steve Buckstein will discuss the Education Savings Account (ESA) bill being considered during Oregon’s 2014 legislative session and what Oregonians can do to promote greater educational opportunity in our state. Oregon’s 2014 Education Equity Emergency Act (“E3”) is modeled on Arizona’s highly successful ESA program. For details and to RSVP for this free event, visit cascadepolicy.org.

Students today have diverse talents, interests, and needs; and they learn in different ways. The landscape of educational options to meet those needs is far more expansive today than it was even a few years ago. Freedom in education is good for all children, not just for children who are “at risk” or “in failing schools.” Parents, not bureaucracies, should decide which learning environment is best for their children and be empowered to choose those schools. National School Choice Week provides a platform for all of us to demand greater educational opportunities for children, especially in areas which do not yet provide meaningful options to families.

For more information about National School Choice Week and to participate in events near you, visit schoolchoiceweek.com.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute and Director of the privately funded Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland, which provides partial tuition scholarships to Oregon elementary students from lower-income families.

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Cascade in the Capitol: Testimony in Favor of Education Equity Emergency Act

Testimony in Support of the Education Equity Emergency Bill

Kathryn Hickok

Director, Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland

Portland, Oregon

January 16, 2014

Chair Hass and members of the committee, my name is Kathryn Hickok, and I am director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland. For 15 years our program has provided privately funded partial-tuition scholarships to children from lower-income Oregon families. The Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland has helped nearly 650 Oregon Kindergarten through 12th grade students have access to diverse educational settings that meet their individual needs.

CSF-Portland is a partner program of the national Children’s Scholarship Fund, headquartered in New York. Our mission is to maximize educational opportunity by offering tuition assistance for children from needy families. We provide partial tuition scholarships based solely on income that are usable at any private school chosen by the students’ parents or guardians. To be eligible for a scholarship, families must demonstrate financial need.

Our experience with the educational choices made by the lower-income Oregon families participating in our program demonstrates several key points relevant to this bill:

First, lower-income parents want to take charge of their children’s futures through educational opportunity. Parents in our program value high-quality education as the way out of poverty for their children and make the commitment and sacrifice of paying, on average, more than half of their tuition out of their own pockets.

Second, demand for diverse educational opportunities in Oregon is real. When our program began in 1999, the parents of more than 6,600 children applied for only 550 available scholarships. Our waiting list continues to grow every week. The last thing parents who call me want to do is see their children not succeed in school.

Third, it does not take a lot of money to change a child’s life. Our scholarships average about $1,500 for a full school year, and that amount makes the difference in allowing children to attend schools they love, that motivate them to do their best and foster their individual talents. The average tuition of our elementary students this year is only about $3,600. So, a relatively small amount of money truly can make the deciding difference for families in where they send their children to school.

While they don’t have much discretionary income, CSF families always must pay part of their tuition themselves. Because they have “skin in the game,” CSF parents are motivated to choose schools carefully and to encourage their children to make the most of their opportunities. When empowered with a modest amount of financial help, parents will invest their own money, time, effort, and discipline to obtain the kind of education they want for their students.

A Portland-area mother named Lisa recently told me, “I wish that the education system could understand that not every child fits into the same sized box, and everyone needs to do what is right for their family.” I witness the lengths to which parents like Lisa go to choose the school they think is best for their kids. The Empowerment Scholarship Accounts in this legislation would empower parents like Lisa to make life-changing choices on behalf of their children’s education, just when they need it the most. I encourage you to support the Education Equity Emergency Bill. Thank you very much.

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$52 Million Retrofit Makes Traffic Worse in Portland’s South Waterfront

A case study released by Cascade Policy Institute shows the $52 million retrofit of Portland’s Southwest Moody Avenue is already increasing local traffic congestion and will be unable to accommodate future road capacity needs in the future.

SW Moody Avenue was raised 14 feet and the overall right-of-way widened to 75 feet. This was to accommodate double-tracking of the Portland streetcar, pedestrian walkways on either side, and a massive two-way bicycle track. The primary purpose was to allow the Portland-Milwaukie light rail line to pass over Moody Avenue at-grade and stop at the OHSU Collaborative Life Sciences Building.

Before-and-after traffic counts conducted by Cascade Policy Institute on Moody Avenue show the percentage of all trips by automobile has increased since the retrofit was completed, despite the generous right-of-way allocated to non-motorized travelers.

According to Cascade President John A. Charles, Jr., “The South Waterfront has long been a Potemkin Village for Portland planners. It…will soon be served by an aerial tram, streetcar, light rail, elevated pedestrian walkway, a monster cycle track, and a 100-foot wide pedestrian greenway. But the actual evidence shows that the district is highly reliant on auto use, and the reliance is growing. Now it’s too late to provide road capacity for future build-out because so much space was allocated to the streetcar and light rail.”

To read the full report on Portland’s Moody Avenue retrofit, visit cascadepolicy.org.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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The Story Behind Thanksgiving That Every Elected Representative Should Know

The quintessential American holiday, Thanksgiving evolved from the Pilgrims’ celebrations to thank God for the harvests that saved Plymouth Colony. What most people didn’t learn in school is that nearly half the Mayflower Pilgrims died of starvation because many refused to work in the fields.

Plymouth Colony originally had a socialist economy. Land and crops were held in common. In the words of Governor William Bradford, “the young men who were most able objected to being forced to spend their time and strength working for other men’s wives and children without any recompense.” Collectivism incentivized colonists needlessly to rely on the efforts of others. Realizing this, Governor Bradford assigned each household its own plot of land. Families could keep what they produced or trade for things they needed. The result was a bountiful harvest in 1623.

Instituting private property and respecting the autonomy of the family unit caused Plymouth to survive. Collectivism and central planning produce scarcity. Private property, free markets, and personal responsibility lead to prosperity and plenty. And a healthy economy, with strong and independent families, enables a community to help those who genuinely need assistance. All are important lessons for America today from William Bradford’s first Thanksgiving.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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AP: Cover Oregon Is ObamaCare’s “Biggest Failure”

Seven weeks after launch, Oregon’s online health insurance exchange Cover Oregon still hasn’t enrolled one person, surprising out-of-state onlookers who would have voted Oregon “most likely to succeed.” An Associated Press story puts it this way:

“With all the problems facing the rollout of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, nowhere is the situation worse or more surprising than in Oregon, a progressive state that has enthusiastically embraced the federal law but has so far failed to enroll a single person in coverage through the state’s insurance exchange.”

The Oregonian has reported on numerous reasons for the delays, including last-minute federal rulemaking that set back Oregon’s website programming. Even so, Oregon received $245 million in federal money to build its online exchange, only to be processing 18,000 paper applications by hand three weeks into November.

It’s safe to say that dysfunction on this level would not be tolerated anywhere outside government: Imagine if your financial institutions were offline and nonresponsive for two months. The stunning failures of Cover Oregon and the federal website Healthcare.gov illustrate graphically how handing government vast control over important aspects of our personal and family lives results in even more loss of personal freedom than was foreseen when the Affordable Care Act was passed. Incompetence without accountability will have real consequences for those who, through no fault of their own, may find themselves without insurance on January 1.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Court Says “No” to Forced Insurance Subsidy

The federal government’s HealthCare.gov website has been nearly useless for a month. Now, millions of Americans are beginning to receive letters informing them of the cancellation of their current health insurance policies―proving the inaccuracy of President Obama’s promise that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.”

But news reports on ObamaCare as the calendar turned to November largely missed another important story. A controversial provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) suffered a judicial setback in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on November 1. Writing on behalf of the court, the judge highlighted an important civil libertarian concept which is also at the heart of many principled objections to the health care law.

In Gilardi v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the D.C. Circuit Court granted the plaintiffs, who own a family business, a preliminary injunction against the imposition of the HHS Mandate requiring inclusion of contraception and abortifacient drugs in employee health insurance plans. The Gilardi family, who are Catholics, contend that the HHS Mandate requiring coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs violates their religious beliefs and that requiring their company to cover employees’ contraception, or else pay a $14 million penalty to the IRS, is unduly burdensome. The court sided 2-1 with the Gilardis. In her ruling, Judge Janice Rogers Brown made a distinction between “noninterference” with a person’s choices and the “compelled subsidization” of those choices by another party.

The Obama Administration has consistently held that the HHS Mandate requiring contraceptive coverage is necessary to protect women’s reproductive and abortion rights. The Administration argues that women’s right to have access to contraception trumps the First Amendment rights of those who object to providing these services on religious or moral grounds. The President has refused to accommodate the conscience objections of policyholders, religious and secular employers, and charitable organizations during ObamaCare rulemaking.*

However, Judge Brown wrote on behalf of the court that “it is clear the government has failed to demonstrate how such a right―whether described as noninterference, privacy, or autonomy―can extend to the compelled subsidization of a woman’s procreative practices.”

The distinction between “noninterference” and “compelled subsidization” is important for reasons broader than conscience objections alone, and it should strike a chord with civil libertarians. The expansion of government programs and entitlements (including medical benefits specifically handpicked by the government) pits the newly created “rights” of some to receive additional products and services, against the rights of other people who may be paying for them in whole or in part (as employers, policyholders, or taxpayers).

Charles Krauthammer recently explained the connection between ObamaCare’s health care entitlements and coercion this way:

“The planners knew all along that if you force insurance buyers to overpay for stuff they don’t need, that money can subsidize other people. Obamacare is the largest transfer of wealth in recent American history. But you can’t say that openly lest you lose elections. So you do it by subterfuge: hidden taxes, penalties, mandates, and coverage requirements that yield a surplus of overpayments. So that your president can promise to cover 30 million uninsured without costing the government a dime. Which from the beginning was the biggest falsehood of them all. And yet the free lunch is the essence of modern liberalism. Free mammograms, free preventative care, free contraceptives for Sandra Fluke. Come and get it.”

Once the government has successfully compelled all Americans to purchase health coverage―even against their will―under ObamaCare’s individual mandate in order to make this wealth transfer possible, it is a short slide into compelling Americans to subsidize other people’s benefits to which they morally object.

To protect Americans’ constitutional rights, and rein in the entitlement culture, the courts need to affirm consistently that not interfering with another person’s choices does not mean forcing others to provide, subsidize, or enable those choices. According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, 77 cases representing 200 plaintiffs have been filed against the HHS Mandate on First Amendment grounds. Regardless of Americans’ disagreements over the ethics of contraception and abortion, the freedom not to be financially complicit in the choices of others to which one morally objects ought to be a value on which many of us can unite. The First Amendment may end up being one of the last legal defenses citizens have against the unfettered expansion of the entitlement state.

 

* The HHS Mandate has an extremely narrow conscience exemption which does not apply to for-profit businesses or to organizations which may be religious by any common-sense standard but are not run by a church.

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October Chaos for Cover Oregon

Three weeks after launch, Oregon’s online health insurance exchange Cover Oregon hasn’t enrolled a single person. $82 million has been spent on a website which has received more than 430,000 visits and 3.7 million page views, and yet still cannot process applications.

According to Shelby Sebens of Northwest Watchdog, Cover Oregon spokesperson Ariane Holm “said she anticipates Cover Oregon’s website will be fully functional by the end of October. She also said residents can download an application and mail it back in or file it electronically. Or they can call Cover Oregon to start the application process.”

The Oregonian has reported on numerous reasons for the delays, including last-minute federal rulemaking that set back Oregon’s website programming. Oregon hasn’t been alone with these problems: HealthCare.gov, the national website for the Affordable Care Act, cost more than $400 million dollars and has been experiencing well-publicized, thorough dysfunction since October 1.

One would think functioning websites wouldn’t be too much to ask for the official ObamaCare rollout, the date of which was the focus of both national and statewide awareness campaigns. October’s online chaos seems to bode ill for the future of Americans’ health care experiences. Hopefully, people will rethink having increased centralized government control over a health care system which comprises nearly one-fifth of the U.S. economy.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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What Would Jefferson Say to the Little Sisters of the Poor?

In 1804 an Ursuline nun in New Orleans asked Thomas Jefferson to clarify in writing her religious community’s right to retain their property and to continue their ministries without government interference following the Louisiana Purchase. As French Catholic Louisiana was being incorporated into the Anglo-Protestant United States, the nuns were concerned about the status of their institutions under U.S. law. President Jefferson assured her that the government would not interfere with the sisters’ property, ministries, and way of life. In a letter dated May 15, 1804, he wrote:

“I have received, holy sisters, the letter you have written me wherein you express anxiety for the property vested in your institution….The principles of the constitution and government of the United States are a guarantee to you that it will be preserved to you, sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority.”

Jefferson confidently promised that the American Constitution would protect the nuns and that the government would leave them alone. So why don’t Catholic sisters today even qualify for a religious exemption from ObamaCare’s insurance mandate that requires contraception and abortion coverage? It may seem unbelievable, but according to the Obama Administration’s definition of “religious employer,” sisters are not included.

Last year the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) directed almost all employers to include coverage of contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health insurance policies, or else pay a fine of $100 per employee, per day. HHS subsequently published a final rule that requires many health insurers to charge all enrollees to cover the cost of elective abortions.

The “HHS Mandate” has a narrow conscience exemption that applies only to organizations whose purpose is solely to inculcate religious values and which employ and serve primarily members of their own faith. The exemption does not include religiously affiliated or faith-based institutions which serve all people without discrimination (like hospitals, colleges, schools, and social service agencies). And it doesn’t apply to communities of nuns.

Because of this, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a lawsuit September 24 in federal district court in Denver on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor. The Sisters are a nearly 200-year-old religious community dedicated to caring for the elderly poor. They run 30 homes in the U.S. (four in the West) and care for nearly 13,000 people in 31 countries.

“We cannot violate our vows by participating in the government’s program to provide access to abortion-inducing drugs,” said Sister Loraine Marie, a superior of one of the American provinces of the Little Sisters community.

“The Sisters should obviously be exempted as ‘religious employers,’ but the government has refused to expand its definition,” said Becket Fund senior counsel Mark Rienzi. “These women just want to take care of the elderly poor without being forced to violate the faith that animates their work. The money they collect should be used to care for the poor like it always has―and not to pay the IRS.”

According to the Becket Fund, the lawsuit “is the first of its kind both because it is a class-action suit that will represent hundreds of Catholic non-profit ministries with similar beliefs and because it is the first on behalf of benefits providers who cannot comply with the Mandate.”

Jefferson explained to the Ursuline nuns that American law would protect them and their institutions, regardless of the differences among American citizens:

Whatever the diversity of shade may appear in the religious opinions of our fellow citizens, the charitable objects of your institution cannot be indifferent to any; and its furtherance of the wholesome purposes of society, by training up its younger members in the way they should go, cannot fail to ensure it the patronage of the government it is under. Be assured it will meet all the protection which my office can give it.

“I salute you, holy sisters, with friendship and respect.”

Like the Ursuline nuns of Jefferson’s time, the Little Sisters of the Poor seek to secure their right to live out their faith through service to those in need. Catholic sisters do not give up their religious freedom when they establish nursing homes―or any other ministry. We can imagine what Thomas Jefferson might think of American women having to sue the Obama Administration to defend their First Amendment rights. But can we doubt he would be dismayed by how intrusive and coercive the federal government has become since the day he wrote so cordially to a group of French nuns about the safeguards of the American Constitution?

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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“Free Speech” at Modesto Junior College Means “Take a Number”

Free speech is not allowed on the sidewalk at Modesto Junior College in California. Students must represent an official organization in order to pass out materials or engage in conversation with other students passing by. Even if what they want to distribute is just the U.S. Constitution.

Robert Van Tuinen proved this last week, when he gave out copies of the Constitution to fellow students in honor of Constitution Day. College employees notified Robert that students have to start an official club to engage in free speech on campus, and they must stand in the “free speech area.” Robert was welcome to engage in free speech there, but unfortunately it was mostly booked until October.

According to a FOX News report, Robert Shibley, senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, “said the very idea of speech codes on campus ought to be troubling to Americans.” “They are imposed in an attempt to sanitize the public space of anything that might offend somebody,” he said. “The fact is, no school specifically needs a speech code….If people are too loud, harassing people, or blocking traffic, they have the means to address that.”

Hopefully, Robert Van Tuinen will plan ahead, and Modesto students will find him and his stack of Constitutions in the “free speech area” on Constitution Day next year. Maybe he could even arrange a group reading of the Bill of Rights.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Take That First Job

A week after Labor Day, The Oregonian published a front-page story about Oregonians who rely on public assistance and how state officials want to help them transition into the workforce. What the article doesn’t mention, however, is that in 13 states, including Oregon, being on welfare can pay more than $15 per hour. The level of public assistance currently available to welfare recipients, compared with the wages they might earn for entry-level work, can act as a severe disincentive to taking a first job and breaking the cycle of long-term dependence.

According to a new study by the Cato Institute, welfare currently pays more than a minimum-wage job in 35 states. That’s more than $31,000 per year, tax-free. Instead of helping people to transition into the workforce, ever-expanding government programs―and the tax disincentives of earned income―can trap the poor at the bottom of the economic ladder just as they are trying to begin the climb.

In The Work Versus Welfare Trade-Off: 2013, authors Michael Tanner and Charles Hughes compare welfare benefits available to a “typical welfare family” (which they define as a single mother with two children) with the wages the adult would need to earn to take home an equivalent dollar income. The authors note that reports on welfare commonly focus on the cash-benefit program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), giving the impression that welfare benefits provide families with “a bare subsistence level of income.” “In reality,” Tanner and Hughes write, “the federal government currently funds 126 separate programs targeted toward low-income people, 72 of which provide either cash or in-kind benefits to individuals.” This being the case, a more accurate assessment of the value of welfare “is likely to be far higher than simply the level of TANF benefits.”

The conclusion? In many states, a welfare recipient would lose money by accepting full-time work instead of continuing to rely on public assistance. Welfare benefits are tax-free, so they can exceed the take-home pay a typical recipient could expect to earn entering the workforce. According to the Cato study, “[i]n 11 states, welfare pays more than the average pre-tax first year wage for a teacher. In 39 states it pays more than the starting wage for a secretary. And, in the 3 most generous states a person on welfare can take home more money than an entry-level computer programmer.”

With disincentives like this, it’s hard for people with few skills to give up the security of a welfare check for any kind of paid work. For those with tenuous work habits, or who are very young, it may take even more motivation to forgo welfare (and the leisure time they have while not holding a job) in favor of the hard work, inconvenience, and discipline involved with earning that first entry-level wage. But it is precisely by working that people gain the skills and experience needed to progress in a job, get promoted, earn raises, receive further education or training, create professional networks, think in longer timeframes, build assets, and be in a place where new doors of opportunity can open.

Both research and common sense clearly demonstrate that work is crucial to escaping poverty, beginning with a low-wage, entry-level, or even part-time job if necessary. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2010 that only 2.6 percent of full-time workers and 15 percent of part-time workers are poor, according to Federal Poverty Level standards. In contrast, 23.9 percent of adults who do not work at all are poor. A widely cited 2009 Brookings Institution study by Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill likewise asserted that three key factors in avoiding poverty in adulthood (and becoming middle class) are to finish high school, to work full time, and to marry before having children. Only two percent of people in the U.S. who do all three of those things live in poverty.

Unfortunately for those who want to leave welfare and become wage earners, the short-term financial consequences are not in their favor while they have few skills, limited education, or little work experience. If young people at the point of entry to work, and people who currently rely on public assistance, lose the belief that earning a paycheck is better in the long term than drawing a benefit check, the cost to their futures will be significant. The workforce participation rate for men 16-24 has dropped from 80% in the 1970s to about 58% today. Young men, especially with less education, are increasingly opting out of the workforce, and not just due to a weak economy. An enabling factor is that with all the government entitlements available, work doesn’t seem to pay.

Many welfare recipients do want to work and are trying to find employment. But many others will continue to make what seems to them to be a rational choice to stay on welfare if it pays more. If policymakers want to reduce dependence and reward work, they should strengthen welfare work requirements and resist allowing the cumulative benefits of welfare to continue to outpace earned income. Tax reform allowing low-wage workers to keep more of their own money (such as the recent temporary reduction in the FICA tax) would be a great boost for people leaving welfare for work. Taking a paying job is and always will be the on-ramp to the road to the middle class.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Welfare Pays More Than Entry-Level Work in Most States

Welfare currently pays more than a minimum-wage job in 35 states, according to a new study by the Cato Institute. In 13 states, including Oregon, being on welfare can pay more than $15 per hour. That’s over $31,000 tax-free dollars a year. This decreases welfare recipients’ incentive to accept entry-level work and increases their chances of long-term dependence.

Studies show a crucial key to escaping poverty is work, beginning with a low-wage, entry-level job if necessary. But in many states, welfare pays more than being a starting secretary or even a first-year teacher (and in three states, an entry-level computer programmer). With incentives like this, it’s hard for people with few skills to give up the security of a welfare check for any kind of paid work. Welfare benefits are tax-free, so they can exceed the take-home pay a typical recipient could expect to earn entering the workforce. This traps welfare recipients at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Many welfare recipients do want to work and are trying to find employment. But many others make the rational choice to stay on welfare if that pays more than the work for which they are qualified. If Congress and state legislators want to reduce dependence and reward work, they should strengthen welfare work requirements and resist allowing the cumulative benefits of welfare to continue outpacing the benefits of earning income.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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New York Times Calls Catholic Schools “A Lifeline for Minorities”

The New York Times recently published a feature story about the closure of inner-city Catholic schools, as the Archdiocese of New York consolidates the school system to shore up its finances (“A Lifeline for Minorities, Catholic Schools Retrench,” June 20). Among the 26 urban schools to close this year is Blessed Sacrament in the Bronx, once attended by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“The worst thing is, these kids could lose their faith in the adults around them,” [Justice Sotomayor] said in an interview inside her old fifth-grade classroom. “Children need to feel secure. This makes it worse. These kids are going to carry this trauma with them for the rest of their lives.”

Justice Sotomayor’s emotions are shared by a generation of accomplished Latino and black professionals and public servants who went from humble roots to successful careers thanks to Catholic schools. But they fear that a springboard that has helped numerous poor and working-class minority students achieve rewarding lives is eroding as Catholic schools close their doors in the face of extraordinary financial challenges and demographic shifts….

“The Catholic schools have been a pipeline to opportunity for generations,” said Justice Sotomayor….“It gave people like me the chance to be successful. It provided me…with an incredible environment of security. Not every school provides that.”

It is no secret that a substantial hurdle faced by independent private schools across the country is raising the money to operate without charging tuition that could not possibly be paid by the families they serve. Generous voluntary, private support plays a large role in sustaining faith-based private schools. In many cities a majority of students in some schools do not even belong to the institutions’ faith; they and their parents simply crave the good education they offer. But as the situation in urban New York illustrates, modest tuition plus charitable giving are not enough to keep schools open in neighborhoods that need them most.

New York spends $19,000 in taxpayer money per student in the public school system. If children are failed by public schools that do not successfully educate them (as happens to many kids), parents have no “money back guarantee.” If parents want to choose a private school to make up for the deficiencies of the public system, they must pay out of their own pockets. If parents could control only a few thousand dollars of what the public system already spends on their child, they could afford tuition at most private schools.

Today, the school choice movement recognizes the outstanding job faith-based and other independent private schools do to provide a quality education to children who are routinely failed by public schools, especially in low-income communities. “School choice” legislation empowers parents like those in the Times article to choose whatever school serves their children best through options like education tax credits, educational savings accounts, and public scholarships (vouchers).

These options allow parents to control a small portion of the education dollars that would be spent on their child in public schools. If the goal of public education is to educate the public, it shouldn’t matter where the learning takes place. What matters is that every child learns.

As of 2012, 32 publicly funded school choice programs exist in 16 states and the District of Columbia, serving close to 250,000 children. Oregon does not have such a program yet, but the state has made incremental gains in increasing parental choice within the public system. Oregon has about 115 charter schools (including online options that are especially helpful to rural and special-needs students) and an inter-district transfer law that allows students to enroll in public schools outside their district of residence.

Educating children who are most in need has been a priority of Catholic and other private schools since a New York widow named Elizabeth Ann Seton opened the first free school for girls in the U.S. in Baltimore in 1808. More than six million children attend 34,000 private schools today. If The New York Times can praise Catholic schools for educating “a generation of accomplished Latino and black professionals”―and mourn the closing of those schools―hopefully it will soon take the next logical step. The Times should connect the dots between the dreams of millions of low-income parents like the Sotomayors and practical, constitutional legislation that helps parents choose “the springboard” to success that may be just down the street.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. CSF-Portland provides privately funded scholarships to low-income Oregon children to attend the private, parochial, and home schools of their parents’ choice.

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Educational Opportunity Is a Centrist Issue

Former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry gave a speech May 21 to education reform advocates in Washington, D.C., in which he described the school choice movement as a rare example of centrism in our increasingly polarized American politics. McCurry serves as board chair of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which provides privately funded tuition scholarships to low-income elementary kids.

McCurry, who worked for the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and President Bill Clinton, believes people of good will can and should come together in favor of educational opportunity for all children. “We’ve got to…make sure we get to that destination in which every child in this country goes to a school that equips them for their future, and every parent has the opportunity to make a choice about how that kid will be educated,” he said.

McCurry said that people who want to change the education system so that parents, rather than bureaucracies, decide where kids go to school should build bridges across the ideological spectrum. He advised school choice advocates to seek new allies and to broaden the coalition for school choice.

After all, the point of school choice programs is to empower parents of every political stripe, racial and ethnic background, and income level to get their child educated, even if they live in the worst public school district in the country. If that’s not a centrist issue, what is?

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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Ben Franklin Would Approve

Having come of age during tough financial times, Millennials may turn out to be savers. A new study by Merrill Edge shows that young people 18-34 are saving for retirement earlier than previous generations. While the average Baby Boomer began saving at 35, many members of Gen Y are investing by 22.

Some Millennials are saving aggressively. Among those with $50,000 to $250,000 in assets, their average retirement savings are $55,000. Younger adults also take a skeptical view of Social Security: Less than half say they plan to rely on public programs for retirement, down from 63% just two years ago. Almost all young workers eligible for company 401(k) plans choose to use them.

Millennials have witnessed the end of the dot-com boom, the Great Recession, the housing crisis, major financial scandals, and burgeoning student debt. The positive financial news in a bad decade may be that young people now know the truth about financial planning: They can’t take future security for granted without being proactive about good financial habits today. Young people with the discipline to put money away early can help renew a culture of responsibility and thrift, which America needs for a healthy economy and civic life.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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School Choice Results Trend Positive in New Study

School choice programs empower parents to choose the schools their children attend―public or private―by allowing parents to direct a portion of public education funding for their child through tax credits, scholarships, vouchers, and education savings accounts. School choice programs are among the most prominent and successful reforms in education today.

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice has released a new report examining 23 empirical studies of school choice programs. The report is authored by scholars at the University of Arkansas, Harvard University, the Federal Reserve Bank, Stanford University, and Cornell University.

According to the study, “[o]pponents frequently claim school choice does not benefit participants, hurts public schools, costs taxpayers, facilitates segregation, and even undermines democracy. However, the empirical evidence consistently shows that choice improves academic outcomes for participants and public schools, saves taxpayer money, moves students into more integrated classrooms, and strengthens the shared civic values and practices essential to American democracy.”

More than 250,000 students attend private schools through 41 school choice programs in 22 states and Washington, D.C. Expanding educational options through widely accessible school choice programs for all children can deliver the kind of dramatic improvement American schools desperately need to meet the diverse needs and aptitudes of all students. Putting parents back in charge is the way to revolutionize education today.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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