On School Spending, Palin’s Palein’ Again

February 4, 2009


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Back in October, I gritted my teeth and, against my inclinations, pointed out that as governor, Sarah Palin cozied up to the teachers’ unions and loved to brag about how much money she threw at schools. Never mind that the schools never got better; it played well to the media, and even more to the great “mushy middle” (in Charles Krauthammer’s wonderful phrase) that likes to make public policy based on what feels good, not on what gets results.

Then she endorsed vouchers and directly promised to push for a specified voucher plan if elected, which of course was big news. Vouchers have consistently produced academic gains whenever they’ve been tried and scientifically evaluated, and are by far the most promising reform for improving education for all students, as everyone who cares to know already knows. I tried to do justice to both sides of the story by noting that both Palin and Obama were trying to have it both ways on education.

Now she’s going back to her roots. She’s not for the stimulus, and she’s not against it (UPDATE: oops, see below). Her only position on the stimulus is that the bill doesn’t throw enough money at Alaska, and specifically that “the stimulus package rewards states for not planning when it comes to prioritizing for things like education, as Alaska has planned ahead by forward-funding 21 percent of our General Fund dollars for this very important priority. It appears only those states that did not plan ahead with education will benefit. States like Alaska should not be punished for being responsible; yet that’s what the plan means for Alaska right now” (HT Jim Geraghty).

Meanwhile, as Alaska faces a billion-dollar shortfall, she’s pushing to build a road to Nome that will cost up to $2 billion. I’m sure that has nothing to do with a desire to have “shovel ready” projects at hand, ready to shovel into the maw of the federal “stimulus” sugar daddy.

National Review‘s Greg Pollowitz was the first to dub it the “road to Nome-where.”

I hate being the designated Palin critic of the education reform movement. When I’m with my education reform comrades, I’m usually the only Republican in the room. And I’m much more Sarah Palin’s kind of Republican than, say, Mitt Romney’s, much less John McCain’s. But somebody’s got to point this stuff out.

Does anybody want to take over the job?

UPDATE: I wanted to check on this before posting it. I’ve confirmed that, in addition to usually being the only Republican in the room when I’m working on education reform, I’m also the only Republican on this blog. (Matt specifically requested that I describe him as a “disgusted former Republican.” Duly noted.)

UPDATE to the UPDATE: Wouldn’t you know it? She just put out a statement saying she agrees with the decision of Alaska’s Senators to vote “no” on the stimulus. I saw it just two hours after I posted this. But she adds that a stimulus “is needed” and plumps again for mo money, mo money, mo money!

Team Maverick?

December 15, 2008

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin: “John McCain and I, we’re a couple of mavericks, and gosh darn it, we’re gonna take that maverick energy right to Washington and we are gonna use it to fix this financial crisis and everything else that is plaugin’ this great country of ours.

Queen Latifah as Gwen Ifill: How will being a maverick solve the financial crisis? What will you do?

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin: You know, we’re gonna take every aspect of this crisis, and look at it, and ask ‘What would a maverick do with this situation?’ and then, you know, do that.”

Mike, pally, careful with the maverick talk! You’ve got to at least give us all some space from the election so that just hearing the word doesn’t sound like fingernails scratching a chalkboard.

PJM on Candidates’ Education Flip-Flops

November 3, 2008

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Over the weekend Pajamas Media carried my column on how Obama and Palin have flip-flopped on education:

Suppose I told you Candidate A has supported rigorous academic standards, has stood up to the teachers’ unions — even been booed by them at their convention — and proclaimed the free-market principles that schools should compete for students and better teachers should get higher salaries. On the other hand, Candidate B says that competition hurts schools, that kids should be taught a radical left-wing civics curriculum, that we should throw more money at teachers’ unions — excuse me, at schools — and that rigorous academic standards should be replaced with the unions’ old lower-the-bar favorite, “portfolio assessment.”

Candidate A is Barack Obama. So is Candidate B.

Meanwhile, Candidate C has made an alliance with the teachers’ unions, opposed school choice, thrown money at the unions — excuse me, at schools — and even helped undermine a badly needed reform of bloated union pensions. On the other hand, Candidate D has broken with the teachers’ unions, demanded that schools should have to compete for students, and endorsed the most radical federal education reform agenda ever proposed by a national candidate, including a national school choice program for all disabled students.

Candidate C is Sarah Palin. So is Candidate D.

Important disclaimer:

None of this implies anything about the overall merits of any of these candidates. One can love a candidate overall while hating his or her stand on education, and vice versa.

Palin Backs Special Ed Vouchers

October 24, 2008

In a speech in Pittsburgh today, Governor Palin endorsed the idea of special ed vouchers saying, “In a McCain-Palin administration, we will put the educational choices for special needs children in the right hands — their parents’. Under reforms that I will lead as vice president, the parents and caretakers of children with physical or mental disabilities will be able to send that boy or girl to the school of their choice — public or private.

Under our reforms, federal funding for every special needs child will follow that child. Some states have begun to apply this principle already, as in Florida’s McKay Scholarship program. That program allows for choices and a quality of education that should be available to parents in every state, for every child with special needs.”

Palin’s Palein’ on Education

October 3, 2008

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I didn’t bother watching the debate, but from the comments around the web it looks like my prediction that there would be nothing really worth watching was accurate.

Cruising through the commentary, though, I came across this from Mickey Kaus:

Palin sounded like she was campaigning in Iowa for the teachers’ union vote when she talked about education. We need to spend more money. Pay teachers more. States need more “flexibility” in No Child Left Behind (“flexibility” to ignore it). I didn’t hear an actual single conservative principle, or even neoliberal principle. Pathetic.

So much for all that talk about how the McCain staff was overcoaching her. It’s remarkable – yet few seem to be remarking upon it, which is also remarkable – that Barack Obama is more of an education reformer than Palin. (At least, on paper he is. In practice they’re probably both about the same, which you can take as a compliment to Obama or as a criticism of Palin according to preference.) At any rate, her approach to education is pretty hard to square with McCain’s.

The lack of attention to this rather glaring contradiction, even by Palin detractors (and McCain/Palin detractors) who presumably have a motive to pay attention to it, shows just how irrelevant education has become as a national issue, at least for this cycle. Remember how big education was in 2000?

Good thing real reforms like school choice are winning big at the state level. The movement was wise not to bother showing up in DC for the big NCLB hulaballoo eight years ago. Now they’re not tied to NCLB or in general to the fortunes of education as a federal issue. I’ve heard some conservatives bash NCLB because it lacks serious choice components. But NCLB was never about choice. It seems clear that the choice components in Bush’s original proposal were only there to be given away as bargaining chips. The important question is, where would the school choice movement be now if it had tied itself to NCLB?

Revenge Is a Dish Best Served on Live TV

September 30, 2008

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Joe Biden wishes Bret Stephens didn’t have such a long memory:

Debate Questions for Joe Biden

Finally, senator, something from the more distant past. In 1981, at the outset of the Reagan administration, you took the lead in cross-examining William ‘Judge’ Clark for his confirmation hearings for deputy secretary of state. Mr. Clark’s job was explicitly intended to be managerial, not policy oriented. Nevertheless, you asked him for the names of the prime ministers of South Africa and Zimbabwe, both of which were second-tier posts in presidential systems.

In the same spirit, Sen. Biden, and as a longstanding leader of the Foreign Relations Committee, can you give us the names of the prime minister of France and the president of Germany? Just to be clear here, senator, I am not referring to President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel.


Too bad we Americans never developed a tradition of real debate in politics. The only reason you’ve heard of the Lincoln/Douglas debates is because they’re unique. People might actually tune in and watch – even at 9:00 on a Friday night – if there were some prospect of interesting questions being asked. But there isn’t. And that’s why even this Thursday’s VP debate is likely to be anti-climactic.

Having picked on Joe Biden, which is too easy anyway, I’ll now show my spirit of evenhandedness (and also bring this blog post back to an educational topic) by picking on Sarah Palin.

Suppose there were some prospect of Sarah Palin being asked the following questions:

Governor Palin, during your term you have developed a working alliance with Alaska’s teacher union – throwing more money at schools even with no prospect of improvement, opposing real reforms like school choice, and shifting state funds into archaic and unaffordable “defined benefit” pension plans that you actually opposed when you ran for governor. In return, the state and national unions have praised you, and the state union stayed out of the governor’s race, effectively endorsing your candidacy.

Do you agree with Senator McCain that school choice “is a fundamental and essential right we should honor for all parents”?

If a constitutional provision such as Alaska’s bigoted Blaine Amendment (your excuse for opposing vouchers as governor) violates people’s “fundamental and essential rights,” which should prevail?

Do you agree with Senator McCain that Obama’s opposition to vouchers is “tired rhetoric” that “went over well with the teachers union” but leaves children “stuck in failing schools,” and that “no entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity”?

Do you agree with Senator McCain that it is “beyond hypocritical that many of those who would refuse to allow public school parents to choose their child’s school would never agree to force their own children into a school that did not work or was unsafe”?

Whom do you think he is talking about when he says that?

Do you think this would be a better country if we had that kind of debate?

Of course, we would need to have politicians who could give as good as they got. As in:

Biden: Mr. Stephens, I asked that question because I thought it was important. If Mr. Clark felt the question was unfair, he could have just said so. In that spirit, if I need to know the name of the prime minister of France when I’m vice president, it will probably be because I’m going to his funeral, in which case I’m sure I’ll have no trouble finding out the name before I show up.


Palin: Mr. Forster, as governor, I don’t have the privilege of rewriting the state constitution at will. I have to govern according to the laws as they are. I’m glad that bloggers like you have the freedom to call those laws into question. And I suppose being governor of the nation’s largest state is a little bit like being a blogger . . . except that I have actual responsibilities.

Think either of them would be up to that kind of answer?

Palin and Fundamentalist Muslims? More than Lipstick

September 9, 2008

Juan Cole has an awful piece on Salon this morning “What’s the difference between Palin and Muslim fundamentalists? Lipstick.”

A friend of mine commented: “Hmmmmm….well, lipstick, and the whole blowing up innocent people thing…. personally, its the blowing up people that gets me a bit upset about radical Islam, but hey, that’s me.”

Another friend noted: “So if this is what Juan Cole really thinks, why does he support one set of fundamentalists (the ones with suicide belts) and not the other (the ones with lipstick)?”

(edited to correct source as Salon)

Special Ed Vouchers in NRO

September 9, 2008

I have a piece this morning on National Review Online about special education vouchers. 

Governor Palin said in her convention speech that she was going to be an advocate for special-needs kids in the White House.  I discuss what she should be an advocate for — special ed vouchers.

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