Friday, June 15, 2007

Bad Omen

What does this vote tell us about the chances of a revived immigration bill passing the house of representatives?

The U.S. House of Representatives this morning voted to withhold federal emergency services funding for "sanctuary cities" that protect illegal immigrants.

Anti-illegal immigration champion Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., sponsored the measure, which he says would apply to cities such as Denver and Boulder. He was elated by its passage, which stunned critics and supporters alike.

The House passed the amendment, 234 to 189, with 50 Democrats voting in favor.

Tancredo has introduced similar amendments at least seven other times since 2004, but each has failed - often by wide margins.

The amendment comes as the Senate is poised to take up debate again next week on an immigration reform plan that some opponents criticize as giving amnesty to illegal immigrants.

Tancredo said he thinks his amendment is an indicator that the House would crush the reform plan if it passes in the Senate.

"If I were (Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi, I'd be asking if she could pass a vote on amnesty on the House side," Tancredo said. "If she lost 50 Democrats on this one, and she says she needs 70 Republicans to pass the immigration plan, this is an interesting indicator of things coming down the pike, and that the times, they are a-changing."

The more exposure this issue gets the more of a loser the immigrant amnesty bill becomes. It seems that until about a year ago most Americans were essentially in the dark about what was happening on our southern border, but gradually they've come to learn that politicians and businessmen have formed a cabal to work toward making Mexico a de facto 51st state. Most Americans find this outrageous, and they're turning up the heat on their legislators. Evidently, a lot of congressmen are beginning to feel a little warm.


Dying Schools

Yesterday I wrote that I thought the future of public schools was bleak. Then I came across this essay by Jonah Goldberg which says the same thing except with more evidence to back it up:

Here's a good question for you: Why have public schools at all?

Ok, cue the marching music. We need public schools because blah blah blah and yada yada yada. We could say blah is common culture and yada is the government's interest in promoting the general welfare. Or that children are the future. And a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Because we can't leave any child behind.

The problem with all these bromides is that they leave out the simple fact that one of the surest ways to leave a kid "behind" is to hand him over to the government. Americans want universal education, just as they want universally safe food. But nobody believes that the government should run nearly all of the restaurants, farms and supermarkets. Why should it run the vast majority of the schools - particularly when it gets terrible results?

Consider Washington, home of the nation's most devoted government-lovers and, ironically, the city with arguably the worst public schools in the country. Out of the 100 largest school districts, according to the Washington Post, D.C. ranks third in spending for each pupil ($12,979) but last in spending on instruction. Fifty-six cents out of every dollar go to administrators who, it's no secret, do a miserable job administrating, even though D.C. schools have been in a state of "reform" for nearly 40 years.

In a blistering series, the Post has documented how badly the bureaucrats have run public education. More than half of the District of Columbia's teenage kids spend their days in "persistently dangerous" schools, with an average of nine violent incidents a day in a system with 135 schools. "Principals reporting dangerous conditions or urgently needed repairs in their buildings wait, on average, 379 days ... for the problems to be fixed," according to the Post. But hey, at least the kids are getting a lousy education. A mere 19 schools managed to get "proficient" scores or better for a majority of students on the district's Comprehensive Assessment Test.

A standard response to such criticisms is to say we don't spend enough on public education. But if money were the solution, wouldn't the district, which spends nearly $13,000 on every kid, rank near the top? If you think more money will fix the schools, make your checks out to "cash" and send them to me.

Private, parochial and charter schools get better results. Parents know this. Applications for vouchers in the district dwarf the available supply, and home schooling has exploded.

As for schools teaching kids about the common culture and all that, as a conservative I couldn't agree more. But is there evidence that public schools are better at it? The results of the 2006 National Assessment of Educational Progress history and civics exams showed that two-thirds of U.S. high school seniors couldn't identify the significance of a photo of a theater with a sign reading "Colored Entrance." And keep in mind, political correctness pretty much guarantees that Jim Crow and the civil rights movement are included in syllabi. Imagine how few kids can intelligently discuss Manifest Destiny or free silver.

Right now, there's a renewed debate about providing "universal" health insurance. For some liberals, this simply means replicating the public school model for health care. (Stop laughing.) But for others, this means mandating that everyone have health insurance - just as we mandate that all drivers have car insurance - and then throwing tax dollars at poorer folks to make sure no one falls through the cracks.

There's a consensus in America that every child should get an education, but as David Gelernter noted recently in the Weekly Standard, there's no such consensus that public schools need to do the educating.

Really, what would be so terrible about government mandating that every kid has to go to school, and providing subsidies and oversight when necessary, but then getting out of the way?

Milton Friedman noted long ago that the government is bad at providing services - that's why he wanted public schools to be called "government schools" - but that it's good at writing checks. So why not cut checks to people so they can send their kids to school?

What about the good public schools? Well, the reason good public schools are good has nothing to do with government's special expertise and everything to do with the fact that parents care enough to ensure their kids get a good education. That wouldn't change if the government got out of the school business. What would change is that fewer kids would get left behind.

Indeed, there are still some good schools, but even these often provide a quality education to only the top half of their student population. Most of the rest of that population disdains education and makes it harder and more expensive to educate those who do value it. Courts and legislatures have made it exceedingly difficult to remove this academic deadwood from our schools, so these surly, disaffected young people sit in class or roam the halls and cafeterias, intimidating students and teachers alike, and poisoning the atmosphere and morale of everyone in the building.

The situation grows worse every year, but educational bureaucrats, sounding like Saddam's spokesman Baghdad Bob, keep telling us that there's really no problem, and anyway the problems can be solved if we just give them more money.

What schools need to do, but either cannot or will not do, is take back control of their hallways and classrooms and turn their buildings into places of civility where education, not stress or crisis management, is the top priority. Until they do, parents will continue to seek alternatives.

In other words, the biggest need of schools is not money, it's discipline. Without a disciplined student body (and faculty) no learning is going to take place in even the most handsomely appointed educational edifices. Yet schools cannot expel troublesome students without jumping through costly hoops and paying to have the student educated elsewhere. Nor can they easily establish dress codes, search lockers without probable cause, or physically reprimand the insolent thugs who understand only the language of superior force.

Students know they can say anything they please to teachers, no matter how demeaning, insulting, and vulgar, and all teachers can do is ship them off to the office where an administrator may or may not decide to impose some sort of punishment. Frequently the administrator just doesn't want all the hassle of disciplining the student so he simply returns him to class more impudent and uncontrollable than before. Little wonder some teachers wake up every morning dreading having to go to school and face their classes.

Or perhaps the administrator will impose a punishment like making the miscreant sit in a room with other boneheads for three days, as if this were some sort of deterrent for bad behavior instead of a reward. In more serious cases the wretch might be sent home for ten days, which is like throwing Brer Rabbit into the briar patch.

Public schools should have a three strikes policy. If a student is sent to an administrator three times they're automatically suspended from school. If the student is suspended three times in a school year he/she is expelled. For good. And the taxpayers should not have to pay to have the incipient criminal sent to an alternative education facility. Either the family pays the cost of their student's education or the he would be required to enroll in some sort of distance learning program where he gets his education by computer at home where he's not a drag on the education of hundreds of others.

This would do wonders for teacher and student morale in many of our schools, but it won't happen anytime soon because the political left will oppose it. Instead, we will maintain the status quo, attempt to salvage our public schools by pouring more money into them, and watch helplessly as those who continue to attend these schools sink quietly into academic oblivion.


Immigration Vote Perilous for Dems

No Left Turns' William Voegeli explains why he thinks House Democrats will not support the immigration bill which the Senate recently allowed to pass into a coma. It will not surprise you that politics, Voegli thinks, is the chief motivation:

If Democrats really like this [immigration] bill, Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel could pass it in the House on a party-line vote without a single Republican. (There are no cloture votes in the lower chamber.) Their reluctance to do so says something about the politics of immigration.

There are 232 Democrats and 203 Republicans in the House. Republicans need a net gain of 15 seats in the 2008 elections to regain a majority. As Michael Tomasky has pointed out, 62 Democrats represent districts that gave majorities to Bush against Kerry in 2004, while only 8 Republicans represent districts that Kerry won. Many of those 62 Democrats are freshman in districts that have been colored red on the electoral map for a long time.

Emanuel knows, in other words, that many of these Democrats are going to be vulnerable if they vote for McCain-Kennedy and then have to explain their vote next year in a campaign against a secure-the-border-first Republican challenger. Every Republican vote for McCain-Kennedy in the House will let one more vulnerable Democrat off the hook. They can vote against the bill, mollify their conservative constituents, and blame it all on Pres. Bush and Republicans. The Democrats get to have the bill they want, with all the political benefits and none of the political dangers it entails.

House Republicans who enjoy being in the minority have clear reasons to go along with this scheme, as do those who find the policy arguments in favor of the Grand Compromise compelling, or those who lie awake at night worrying about the Bush domestic legacy. If there are 40 such Republicans, then a revived Senate bill could pass the House. If, however, the Stupid Party is not quite stupid enough to sign onto this suicide pact, then Pelosi and Emanuel will either have to gamble their majority on enacting immigration reform with Democratic votes only, or shelve the whole question.

Wanna bet they'll find an excuse to shelve the whole thing?