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Del. Ken Plum: Save Our Schools

by Del. Ken Plum — May 11, 2017 at 10:15 am 19 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Among the many institutions that seem to be under attack these days, the federal Department of Education and public schools are of great concern.

Public education predates the federal Department of Education, but the Department has played an important role in raising standards and expanding access for all children. Left to their own devices, state and local school boards would go in many different directions that may leave quality and access more to chance than legal requirements.

I am reminded regularly by my constituents of their support for quality public schools, but last week I was reminded also of the range of controversy surrounding public education. A postcard I received in the mail had a picture of a yellow school bus on it with a caption: “The humanist machine.”

The card was from a group called Deconstructing the Coliseum whose stated purpose is “to eliminate humanist political policies, eliminate the machine (the civil government school system) that produces humanist politicians.” The text of the card goes on to explain that “The civil government is using force and coercion to advance its version of truth (humanism), under the guise of ‘public education.’ Thus, civil government schools must be abolished.”

Although this group has a Virginia address, I do not think that it would have many supporters in our community. Their ultra-conservative views are likely to get the attention of some downstate legislators.

As concerning are the views that are being espoused by the current federal Secretary of Education. As I understand her plan, public schools would be replaced by charter schools. Charter schools are held up by some as a panacea to cure ills real and concocted about public schools, but their results have been very mixed in the places where they have been opened.

The main issue for the proponents seems to be control. Rather than having elected or appointed school boards set school policy, there are proposals that groups of parents would control the charter school curriculum, standards and requirements without further supervision. There is a real concern that charter schools could lead to renewed segregation of the schools along racial and class lines.

Even with all their critics and those who remember wistfully how schools were when they attended, today’s public schools do an excellent job. Open to all students, they bring out the best in our children. They attempt to prepare our children for an unknown future. The school boards struggle every year with meeting needs that are greater than the resources available to them.

Whatever the perceived needs are in educating our children, there are none so great that would require the getting rid of “government schools” or replacing them with charter schools.

We need to look at paying teachers more to attract the best and the brightest to teaching as a career; the current deficit of $4,000 under the national average that exists in Virginia is not defensible.

And we need, in this season of teacher appreciation, to thank the teachers for the exceptional work that they do.

  • Scott

    Oh Ken…

    “the Department [of Education] has played an important role in raising standards and expanding access for all children”
    Since the Dept of Education was created…you know, way back when you were a plucky 60 years old…the performance of American schools has only gotten worse, despite spending oodles more money. It’s amazing that you cannot look at basic evidence and get out of your own ideological handcuffs. Come on Ken.

    “The main issue for the proponents seems to be control.”
    This is funny. You think the Leftists at the federal level wanting control is righteous and great, but parents and citizens wanting control on the local level is bad. Come on Ken.

    “today’s public schools do an excellent job.”
    Really? For every school doing an excellent job, I’ll show you one failing…probably failing mostly racial minority children. Why do you hate black kids Ken? Are you a racist? Let’s give parents some choices to get there kids out of gang-filled hell holes that leave them unprepared for life in America. Come on Ken.

    “There is a real concern that charter schools could lead to renewed segregation of the schools along racial and class lines.”
    Uh, Ken…let’s look at a little place like New York City, one of the most LIBERAL places in America, where most residents say they don’t even know a Republican. Look it up. NYC is the most racially segregated district in the US, where Parents, including the media darling Samantha Bee and her actor husband, are fighting to prevent lower-income black kids from being redistricted into their kids school. Come on Ken.

    Ken, you shtick is getting old. I don’t care if you are a liberal progressive, but I do care when you try to mislead your constituents. The DOEd is unconstitutional and fails to achieve it’s stated mission. It should be abolished and the dollars returned to the States and local school districts where smart people like YOU can dictate what is best for education in Virginia, because it is surely different than what is best for education in New York, Oklahoma, or Idaho.

    Come on Ken.

    • east297

      Amen

  • Oy

    Rather than having elected or appointed school boards set school policy,
    there are proposals that groups of parents would control the charter
    school curriculum, standards and requirements without further
    supervision.

    Taxpayers should control the institution THAT THEY PAY FOR? Gasp, shock, unthinkable!

    The main issue for the proponents seems to be control.

    Project much? In fact, the main issue for YOU and other Democrats is ensuring you retain control over the school system and the curriculum.

    • Willie Reston

      Having a group of school administrators that we elected as a community sounds a heck of a lot better than a school committee that gets hijacked by a cabal of the pushiest/loudest/craziest parents. I’d rather not have loony arch-Conservatives mandating that Creationism be taught in our SECULAR schools, thank you very much. Nor do I want super lefties imposing their agenda, either.

      “Taxpayers should control the institution THAT THEY PAY FOR? Gasp, shock, unthinkable!”

      This institution is already “controlled” by us taxpayers through the officials we elect to hold these positions. Vote for those who best represent your values. It’s called Representative Democracy; you may have heard of it if you had taken social studies in grade school. Are you butthurt that you also don’t get to vote directly on every bill that passes through our state and federal legislatures?

      • Oy

        a school committee that gets hijacked by a cabal of the pushiest/loudest/craziest parents

        In fact that’s what we have now, except the loud/pushy/crazy parents are liberals so you’re fine with it.

        Nor do I want super lefties imposing their agenda, either.

        That is EXACTLY what we have.

        This institution is already “controlled” by us taxpayers through the officials we elect to hold these positions.

        Are you really that naive? When was the last time any of those officials got voted out?

        Good grief, not even the Reston Association is genuinely controlled by the homeowners who elect the Board, and the county government is at least an order of magnitude less responsive to the taxpayers.

        • Willie Reston

          You ever stop and think that maybe the county government is stocked with liberals because, gee I dunno, liberal voters vastly outnumber the conservative around here? What makes you think that by turning decision-making at the school level over to citizens that all of a sudden conservative values will start winning out?

          • Greg

            No, Willie, it’s called gerrymandering. Not often taught in public schools, but it’s the only thing Ken Plum has done well — self-serving well, of course.

            The one value most conservatives share with liberals is pro choice. School choice, that is.

          • Willie Reston

            Oh, the sweet delicious irony of a conservative lecturing us on the downsides of gerrymandering! What’s next, a lesson on how Democrats are evil for giving in to corporate lobbyists?

          • Greg

            No, Willie. Nowhere did I say I was a conservative.

            But I think we all know how much the hildebeest, her alleged husband and now Barry are getting for their speeches to the 1 percenters, Wall Street, and corporate lobbyists.

            Oh, and, Barry’s influencing the French election. But I digress.

            Pro choice for schools.

  • Oy

    We need to look at paying teachers more to attract the best and the
    brightest to teaching as a career; the current deficit of $4,000 under
    the national average that exists in Virginia is not defensible.

    Why should teachers in every state be paid the same? That makes no sense at all. It doesn’t even make sense to pay teachers the same within the same state. The cost of living in southwest Virginia is much lower than in the DC area; it is not defensible to argue that a teacher in Wytheville should be paid the same as a teacher in Arlington.

    It is not even defensible to argue that we need the nation’s “best and brightest” to be teachers (certainly not at the grade school level).

  • Jenny Gibbers

    I can only take my hat off to Michelle Rhee and her relentless efforts in overhauling the DC school system and putting “students first”. The whole story is worth repeating nationwide!

    So in my mind the whole thing only hinges on one thing – political will.

    Ken, please extend this job offer and welcome Michelle Rhee to our state!

    Thank you, the “students”.

    • Greg

      As always, Ken Plum cares not for the taxpayers and spews inflammatory and false rhetoric that schools are “under attack.” Please. Have some empathy and compassion for those of us who have suffered from a real attack.

      It’s time to reform many things, first among them the absurd second pension we, the taxpayers, fund, and which does little to benefit the schools, the students, or the taxpayers.

      Moreover, there should never, ever be a requirement that “public” and “school” be married and assumed to be the only choices for taxpayers’ funds.

      I want quality in all schools, and I want the freedom to spend my tax dollars where I, not Ken Plum, determine my children will receive the best education.

      Most Fairfax County taxpayers residents are in complete disbelief when they learn that Fairfax County offers, and continues to offer, a pre-social security supplement benefit – also known as the second pension. Employees that started working for Fairfax County right out of college can retire from the County as early as age 55. In addition to their regular pension benefits, which are more generous than surrounding jurisdictions, County employees get a second pension benefit that provides the employee a County-paid benefit equal to social security payments until they reach social security age. Unlike actual social security payments, which saw no increase last year, the County’s second pension recipients receive a guaranteed 3% increase. Serious pension reform in Fairfax County is past due and it starts with elimination of the second pension benefit for new employees.

      Here are just some of the reasons we need to eliminate the pre-social security supplement for new general County and school employees:

      This benefit does not help recruit or retain employees. Compensation plans should be designed to recruit and retain employees – this benefit does neither. The benefit is not valued as much as salary by the employees we are trying to recruit. Because the benefit is not paid unless you retire, it encourages employees to retire earlier.

      Fairfax County is the only jurisdiction in Virginia to offer this benefit.

      It is an expensive benefit that adds 6% to the cost of every payroll dollar. This benefit cost the County $35M and the school system $75M in FY 2016.

      The cost of providing this benefit continues to grow and is unsustainable. As people live longer, the cost of providing this benefit continues to grow and continues to crowd out important County and school programs.

      The cost of this benefit is unpredictable. Because this is a defined benefit, poor market returns can significantly increase the cost of the benefit.

      • Jenny Gibbers

        Mostly agree with you on everything you said, only one question:

        If someone offered you this chocolate-dipped carrot would you take it?

  • The Constitutionalist

    Public education is a hairy beast. No matter what, you will get those on the left saying this and those on the right saying that.

    The real issue here is that with the wide adoption of charter schools, if it ever was to happen, for better or for worse, will be the death knell for public schools, as they will be even further unsustainable.

    It is however, the most “fair” option.

  • Reston Realist

    Ken, I have no comment. I went to public school and was never taught how to think for myself. Actually here is my comment – please retire.

    • Greg

      Ditto — RETIRE!

  • TheRealODB

    I love Ken’s Thursday articles. All I have to do is read everything he says, and then understand that he is completely full of it and the complete opposite is likely true. Thank you Ken for providing us this service. Also, please retire.

  • 40yearsinreston

    Who is going to save us from Plum and Hudgins ?

  • 40yearsinreston

    Plum, just like a bad smell, he sticks around

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