Wednesday, March 22, 2006

School Funding Lawsuit

I wrote the following in this month's BrainstormNW column. The news of the suit landed yesterday, announced by an organization headed up by Paul Kelly, former Nike chief counsel and long time school funding advocate. I'm going to dig around a bit and see if I can find who is funding this new group. I'll be shocked when I find that the OEA is funding them.

School Funding Fight Goes to Court

School funding activists are just about to take their fight to a different arena in their never ending quest to get more state general fund dollars into education: the courts. A newly created group, called the Oregon School Funding Defense Foundation, is planning to file a lawsuit to force the legislature to give more money to the schools.

After more than a decade not getting what they want out of the legislature, and after the voters have continually said no to their demands for tax increases, they plan to do what liberals always do – find a sympathetic judge.

School funding lawsuits are not a new development – they have been filed in 37 other states. But the suit planned for Oregon is different. In nearly all the other states, the lawsuits have been about “equity funding.” Most state constitutions (including Oregon’s) have language that implies there shouldn’t be huge discrepancies between school districts in how much money they have for schools.

Oregon never faced such a lawsuit, in part because Measure 5 shifted most of the school funding burden to the state, and various laws passed since then have basically equalized school funding for districts.

The lawsuit planned by this group (which is made up of a virtual “usual suspects” list of long time school funding advocates) is challenging the adequacy of school funding, not the equity. The suit will claim that Oregon’s constitution requires a certain level of funding that is not being met by the legislature’s K-12 budget allocation.

Their basis for the claim comes from Ballot Measure 1. Remember that one? Didn’t think so. Most people thought it was just a symbolic ornament that John Kitzhaber wanted put on the ballot so he could look as if he cared about schools. It passed easily.

The ballot measure amended the constitution to read: “The Legislative Assembly shall appropriate in each biennium a sum of money sufficient to ensure that the state's system of public education meets quality goals established by law…”

Just what are those “quality goals,” and who will define them? Remember the “Quality Education Model?” It was former House Speaker Lynn Lundquist’s project that defined the “optimal school model” and then calculated what it would cost to make every school in Oregon look like the model. The current price tag on the model is $7.2 billion, almost $2 billion more than the current K-12 allocation.

Well, while you weren’t watching, the legislature passed laws that basically defined “quality goals” for the purpose of defining school funding adequacy to be the “Quality Education Model.”

So there we have it. The constitution says funding must be adequate for certain goals to be met, and those goals require $7.2 billion.

When Ballot Measure 1 was being debated back in the 2000 election cycle, I was pretty lonely opposing such a feel good measure. (It passed in every county in the state, and got 66% statewide.) I argued that it was a power grab - the effect would be to take the question of school funding out of the legislature’s hands and give it to an unelected commission, the Quality Education Commission.

And that is precisely what this lawsuit, if successful, will bring about.

It took them six years to get the necessary framework in place to file the suit. They had to pass a few bills that fleshed out the constitutional language – bills that created the Quality Education Commission, and that codified the Quality Education Model as defining Oregon’s education goals.

For six years they’ve been busily grinding out all the requisite white papers and proceedings, all using public dollars, so now they can finally file the lawsuit that was the point of the entire exercise. Everything is in place.

If this lawsuit succeeds, then the legislature will no longer have a say in how much schools get from the budget. The number will be handed down by the unelected Quality Education Commission, and will be based on an entirely fabricated standard that emanates from the Quality Education Model, which has never had its own assumptions subjected to empirical scrutiny.

There is a silver lining here. By the time the lawsuit grinds its way to a conclusion, we can predict that the funding level required by the Quality Education Model will be even more laughably distant from any realistic level the state budget could allocate. It’s already about $2 billion higher than the current K-12 funding allocation.

The lawsuit could take three or four years. Assuming it succeeds, what will happen when the courts decide that the constitution requires an additional $3 or $4 billion be give to the schools?

But the real question is the question that is almost too late to be asked. It should have been asked in 2000 when Ballot Measure 1 was getting a free pass: are the courts the appropriate arena to decide the level of K-12 funding?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Oregonian Watch

I predicted some time ago that we were going to be treated to a regular stream of "invented" news stories by the Oregonian, all of which would be some variant on the theme "government needs more money."

We got another one today. Front page story on how Oregon is "falling behind" other states in public funds for pre-school, and how important pre-school is to get kids off on the right foot.

In their proud tradition, there isn't any news in the story. There was no national study that triggered the reporting, no proposal announced by a governor candidate or the like. Rather, the Oregonian has a point it wants to make, and in the absence of news on the issue, it just writes a story that supports its position.

The reader is supposed to read the article and then worry that we are hurting children by not paying for as much pre-school as other states. More money would of course solve the "problem."

The article refers to research that shows a dollar invested in pre-school saves more than $12 in social servces needed later on. It didn't, however, make any mention of the significant body of research that shows the Head Start pre-school program has little if any lasting effect on student achievement and other indicators. Abigail Thernstrom, Vice Chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights evaluated that research in her book "No Excuses."

I have a better idea. Rather than raise more tax money to pay for pre-schools that working mothers send their kids to, why not reduce taxes so families can afford to have one parent stay home with their kids until they are school age?

It seems as if the government class wants kids to be in their schools at the earliest age possible. With the well-known deficiencies in our public school system, why would we be looking to expand their reach and mission to pre-schoolers?

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Oregonian excludes Dave Lister

In yesterday's "InPortland" pullout section of the Oregonian, there was a full page profile of three candidates for Eric Sten's seat on city council. Each had full-body photos with wrapped text that consisted of the candidate's answers to a bunch of whimsical questions the Oregonian had asked of them.

The candidates profiled were Emily Boyles, Ginny Burdick and Eric Sten. Notably absent from the profiles was Dave Lister.

I wrote to the reporter covering the race to give her the business. She responded with the typical explanation: "We can't cover everybody"... "He hasn't raised much money" ... "It was a hard decision" ... blah blah blah.

Of course, Dave Lister is the only candidate in the race who opposes all the policies that the Oregonian has supported all these years: light rail, urban renewal, "new urbanism," the tram, etc.

Each of the other three candidates who were graced with the implied legitimacy of the Oregonian profile can be described as "left, lefter and leftest." God forbid we actually have a debate over ideology in a city council race. We certainly can't have a voice for small business, lower taxes and ending wasteful city spending in a city council race.

Dave Lister has written a column on Portland issues for BrainstormNW magazine for two years. He has served for years on the city's Small Business Advisory Committee. He has owned and operated a small business for a couple decades. He is raising money for his campaign, employs paid campaign staff, and has been invited to participate in the City Club's debate next Friday. He has been endorsed by Jack Bogdanski, who runs Portland's most well read blog (

But the Oregonian doesn't think this qualifies Dave Lister as a candidate legitimate enough to be covered on par with Emily Boyles, who as far as I can tell has done little other than get 1000 people to give her $5 so she can spend $150K of taxpayer money on her campaign.

The Oregonian really showed its stripes on this one. Oh sure they'll try to explain it away, but bottom line they don't want Dave's voice heard, and so they will do nothing to tell voters about him.

Is it any wonder why the Oregonian's reputation is sliding so far, so fast these days?

They should understand that gone are the days when they can make this kind of call with impunity. They don't get it yet, but "new media" is big enough and powerful enough that when establishment media pulls this kind of a stunt they pay a price.

Just as CBS didn't get away with publishing fake documents, because the bloggers tore them apart like so many pirhana feasting on a dead carcass of an ox floating downstream, the Oregonian can't define any longer who is and who is not a legitimate political voice.

Dave Lister is not just a legitimate voice - his common sense views about all the craziness happening in Portland's political arena have a following among political liberals and moderates as well as conservatives.

Maybe that is what the Oregonian is worried about!

Monday, March 13, 2006

A good example of a campaign lie

I'm supporting Ron Saxton for governor, but I've said all along that we have three terrific candidates running, each with his own strengths, and that I would support any of them in November.

Because I want a Republican governor, I have tried to only stress the positive things about my chosen candidate, and have refrained from tearing down either of the others on my radio show, BrainstormNW column, this blog, and other public utterances.

That said, I don't think it is out of bounds to point out when one candidate is stretching the truth so far as to make it unrecognizable, as was reported in the Oregonian today.

The story is about the kicker, and each candidate's position on whether to keep it or send it back to the taxpayers. I'm assuming that what the O reported is accurate here. If not, I am perfectly willing to stand corrected.

The Mannix campaign, according to the O, is telling people that Ron Saxton voted to keep the kicker.

Here is the actual text of the story:

On the Republican side, Kevin Mannix's campaign staff pilloried Ron Saxton for what they claim is an election-year turnaround, saying Saxton supported spending the kicker on schools when he was Portland School Board chairman but opposes the idea now.

"Saxton voted to have state government -- rather than taxpayers -- keep state tax 'kicker' refunds," according to a flier Mannix campaign workers hand out at events. As evidence, the flier cites a Nov. 22, 1999, Portland School Board resolution.

What the resolution actually supported was voluntary donations from parents who wanted their kicker refund check to go to schools. Saxton has never favored repeal of the kicker, said his campaign manager, Felix Schein.

That's about as misleading as it gets.

Look - I have no problem with Kevin Mannix criticising Ron Saxton's record. That is fair game, even if the 11th amendment Commandment is in play. But to completely mischaracterize Saxton's record is another matter entirely.

Supporting voluntary contributions of the kicker returns is not the same thing as voting to keep the kicker. It isn't even close, and the Mannix camp knows it.

Mannix doesn't do himself any favors by making such obviously false claims. If he wants voters to trust him, he should stick to the truth.

So, I will say it first:

Knock it off, Kevin.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Atkinson Blogger is making things up

All the Atkinson bloggers are posting their updates on Dorchester, and one of them, run by a guy I don't know (or at least I don't know if I know him) has posted a bald-faced lie about me.

I added a comment to false post on his blog, challenging his blatantly false assertion, and apparently he has blocked it from appearing. It's been more than a half day since I posted it. When I did it, there was a message that said the post would appear after the blogger approved it.

Interesting, I thought. Most every other blog I've posted to immediately displays the comments. I wonder if he will censor it?

Well, it hasn't appeared.

Background: I asked all the Governor candidates to come on my radio show that I was broadcasting from the Dorchester Conference Sunday morning. While on a break from the show, I asked Jason to come on, and he told me he wasn't at all happy with KXL and he didn't think he'd come on.

I said "What have I ever said that was negative about you? He said he didn't know.

When I got back on the air, I mentioned to my co-host that we'd be having all the governor candidates but wasn't sure if Jason was coming on. Marc Abrams, my co-host, said something like "He's passing up the chance to reach our audience for free?"

A few minutes later, Jason came to the booth, sat down, and we had our interview. It was perfectly cordial. Marc did most of the interviewing, as is our practice - we usually let the liberal ask the conservative guests questions and vice versa.

That was that.

Here's how the blogger Max Redline characterized the interview:

Atkinson takes another hit on KXL
The Kremer&Abrhams show is on, and Kevin's about to put in an appearance. Atkinson was asked as well, and apparently said that he might appear - this was greeted with derision by Kremer, who cracked that that attitude pretty well tells him all he needs to know about the Atkinson campaign.

This is blatantly false, and I told him so. I said no such thing. I was not derisive in my tone with Jason in the interview and I did not say anything like what the blogger said.

In the comment he apparently censored, I pointed this out.

It is one thing for a guy to get it wrong - people can make mistakes, hear what they want to hear, misinterpret, or attribute a comment to the wrong person. That can be done in good faith.

But to have the falsehood pointed out and then block the correction from his blog - well, that speaks to the integrity of the blogger.

So, I know not who this guy is, but there's no reason to take anything he says seriously.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Proof that Randy Leonard hates black people

Randy Leonard and I have a running joke that stems from the radio shows we have done together. Randy's debate style is to engage in the issue for a certain period of time, only to suddenly launch a nuclear attack.

For instance, we might be talking about school spending, debating where the excesses are, PERS, health insurance, etc., and at some point Randy says: "Rob, why do you hate children?"

The first few times I was irritated, since it is such an obvious attempt at over the top demagoguery. But I soon learned with Randy just to do it back to him.

So when we would talk about minimum wage, which cuts off the lowest rungs of the ecomic ladder for the least skilled amongst us (and disproportionately harms black teenagers,) I would just ask: "Randy, why do you hate black people?"

We both usually start laughing about that time. We actually like each other. I disagree with Randy on almost everything, but I like Randy. The world is a much more interesting place with him in it.

Recently, however, Randy gave us ipso-facto proof that he does indeed hate black people! I would have never believed it - but it must be true.

I read in the Willamette Week today that the cell phone tax Randy is pushing has a far greater impact on blacks and Hispanics than it does white people! That is right - Randy Leonard is trying to save the schools on the back of black people!

I know it's hard to believe.

Randy, oh Randy: why do you hate black people?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

My son, on tolerance

My son is 15, a freshman at Lake Oswego High School. He likes to debate political issues and other things with friends and classmates.

Several times lately he's come home with stories about class discussions about "tolerance." He says the overwhelming consensus among his schoolmates is that tolerance means no one should ever judge anybody else. He's often laughed at the self-refuting nature of the notion of tolerance (should we tolerate intolerance?) and the other day, he wrote the following, which I thought was perfectly worthy of being posted on my blog:

What is tolerance?

Why is it that we aspire to nullify our opinions when our opinions are all we have? After all tolerance only morphs itself into the hatred of intolerance, at which point everyone is pressured into tolerance through intolerance.

Therefore a feigned tolerance reigns over the general populace who fear being alienated as outsiders.

Opinions seperate us from animals. Animals have no opinions and and cannot follow a logical path. So why attempt to nullify our opinions which in effect gives animals an equal station to humans?

Because opinions make us individuals, the admission of equal correctness of all opinions creates a uniform society in which if you have an opinion and therefore are an individual you are not tolerated. That is a communist state.

I dont advocate fighting over every small difference in opinion, but I do protest the notion that it is somehow wrong to hold an opinion on another's life style.
For those who say "who are you to judge?" - I am a human being, of body and mind capable of logical thought.

That alone permits me to judge.