Posts Tagged school

Fixing America

Once again America is grieving.  The deaths of five Dallas police officers and two young men who died elsewhere having been shot by police have rocked the nation.  Set aside for a moment the politics and circumstances of these events and reflect on the fact that as a result today there are children without fathers, mothers without sons, wives without husbands, sisters without brothers.

The shootings, and the protests than inevitably follow, are becoming ever more common.  What has become abundantly clear is there are inequities in our criminal justice system. The growing violence stemming from those inequities has made the already difficult job of law enforcement even tougher, which in turn has yielded more violence.

This being a presidential election year the powder keg upon which we sit will become even more volatile.  President Obama is calling for more federal control over local police departments.  Donald Trump struck a traditional tough on crime posture.

The solution is none of the above. More federal regulation only hamstrings local police and social services agencies, and filling our prisons even further does nothing to address the root cause of the problem.  It is time to admit that, while government has a role, government alone cannot fix what is wrong.

What can government do?

Criminal justice reform is in fact one of the few areas of public policy where the Left and the Right have found some common ground.  Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, speaking to the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference ( last year explained it well:  “Ninety-five percent of the people in our jails are coming back out.  So we can ignore that, or we can make the criminal justice system be what it was supposed to be and that is an opportunity for rehabilitation, for correction and for improvement.”

Some conservatives might recoil at that suggestion, but Cuccinelli explains: “I believe nobody is beyond redemption.  That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve punishment for doing wrong. But when you talk about literally or figuratively throwing away the key are you abandoning perhaps more important beliefs in your life?”

Those “more important beliefs” get to the heart of the ultimate solution, for our goal must be to prevent people from ending up in the criminal justice system in the first place.  The root cause of the current crisis is as much societal than it is governmental.

I served for four years as a Dauphin County Commissioner with oversight of human services.  During that time I watched many dedicated folks dealing with the result of what was a breakdown of family and community.  Simply put, government does not and cannot have the resources necessary to supplant the many individual support networks that family, church, and community provide.

While we must work with law enforcement and improve our criminal justice system, the ultimate solution comes down to three things: faith, family and education.  Until and unless we strengthen those institutions we cannot expect the situation to improve.

The removal of religion from the public square is not just some right wing talking point.  Religion – Christian or other – has throughout history provided the moral underpinning of our society.  It is through religion we learn not only rules of conduct, but find the most important of human yearnings including unconditional love, forgiveness and hope.  In the absence of these vital intangibles people, particularly the young, fill the void with drugs and crime.

There has never been born that person who did not need the guidance and discipline of strong family ties.  Define family in whatever way you will, but at the end of the day children and youth need someone who cares about them, provides for them, and nurtures them.  In particular, the absence of fathers has contributed to a breakdown of the family unit.  All of our institutions – government, school, church – must place an emphasis on responsible parenting.

The third fundamental building block of society is education.  Rather than endless debates over the minimum wage we should be focused on educating people for jobs that pay a living wage. And that includes preparing students for the hundreds of thousands of high paying jobs in manufacturing that go unfilled. Our education system must bring everyone up to the starting gate of their work life fully equipped.

Rather than looking at government, or the police, or around the room at others, repairing what is wrong with America begins with each of us.  We must strengthen our churches, our families and our communities.  Then, and only then will what we have witnessed in recent weeks become the exception rather than the rule.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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Is a Liberal Arts Education Obsolete?

Beset by rising costs, massive debt, excessive political correctness and questions over its relevance, the tradition of a four-year liberal arts education is under assault.

As well it should.

The concept of a liberal arts education extends back to the ancient Greeks and is governed by the theory that students should be exposed to a wide range of disciplines with the emphasis on building critical thinking skills that will have broad application.

That paradigm has worked for generations.  But higher education today has perverted the quest for knowledge into factories of indoctrination and profit while failing to equip graduates for practical employment and even life in the real world.  As a result, the time has come to question whether we are receiving an acceptable return for our massive and ever-increasing investment in the education industry.

Intellectual elites will cringe at the use of the word “industry.”  A few years back I was amazed at how disconnected from reality some educators have become when one professor wrote a letter to my local newspaper arguing that higher education cannot be viewed through the prism of economics, but rather knowledge was valuable just for the sake of knowledge.

Certainly there are those in society who can afford to study and earn a degree purely for personal enrichment.  The reality is a four-year or graduate degree is but a tool to finding family-sustaining employment.  For most individuals, in fact for our economy as a whole, higher education is a useless ornament unless it leads to practical application; in other words a good job.

On this front our colleges and universities are failing us.  On the cost side of the ledger our institutions of higher learning compete for students by adding costly amenities that have turned many campuses into four star resorts.  Students pay for this in the form of higher tuition, and fees which today rival tuition in cost.  As a result students incur massive loan debt that makes it difficult, sometimes impossible, to establish a family and purchase a home.

After investing four – or today more likely five – years of their lives in a costly education increasing numbers of graduates are having difficulty finding work in their field.  That is because higher education is stuck in an early 20th century model that simply does not adequately prepare students for today’s employment opportunities.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, succinctly pointed out that we have more need today for welders than for philosophers.  There is, of course, limited demand for philosophers.  In the meantime, industry cannot find enough qualified applicants to fill high paying manufacturing jobs.  According to a national study five percent of skilled production and production support jobs currently are unfilled “simply because they can’t find people with the right skills.  Translated into raw numbers, this means that as many as 600,000 jobs are going unfilled.

And here is the kicker: A survey of manufacturers finds respondents reporting “that the national education curriculum is not producing workers with the basic skills they need – a trend that is not likely to improve in the near term.”  As a result, despite stubbornly high unemployment and underemployment, manufacturers will continue to export jobs to other countries simply because our system of higher education is failing to equip students for the jobs available in the 21st century economy.

Worse, the spectacle of student protests in recent weeks has undermined the foundational argument that a liberal arts education teaches students to think.  It has become abundantly clear that our colleges and universities place the inculcation of Left-wing political correctness above critical thinking skills.  So much so that students are demanding so-called “safe zones” so they don’t even have to hear words with which they disagree.

As taxpayers watch increasing amounts of state budgets going to higher education, and students incur massive debts only to graduate without the skills employers need, the time has come to question whether it is worth the investment.  Basically, a liberal arts education today has become an eight-track player in the digital age.  If our nation is to continue to be competitive in today’s global economy the time has come to rethink and redesign how we educate and prepare our young adults for productive employment.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is

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Tough Love

Would you invest in a business whose product failed 80% of the time?  If so, you might want to contribute money to the City of Philadelphia School District where, according to the Commonwealth Foundation, studies show that percentage of students cannot read or do math at grade level.

In what has become an annual tradition fiscal hysteria is radiating out from the City of Brotherly Love with predictions of dire consequences for the local populace if Harrisburg does not pony up more dollars. The annual crisis seems to swing back and forth between trains and subways will stop running if more money isn’t allocated to mass transit, or schools won’t open without additional funding.

This is the year for schools.

Once again the mismanagement which runs rampant throughout the Philadelphia city school system has resulted in a beginning of the school year budget crunch that has administrators claiming hundreds of teachers will be laid off if the state legislature does not approve a new revenue stream.  Bureaucracies looking for more money always cut first that which will inflict the most pain to gin up a public outcry. That is why teachers, not administrators and support staff, are on the chopping block.

The imminent start of the school year comes as no surprise to anyone, it is as predictable as Philadelphia funding crises, yet the highly paid administration of the school system failed to make the tough budget decisions necessary to begin the new term on time and on financially solid footing.  Instead, they assumed Harrisburg would once again – as it always does – come up with the money for them.

This year’s scheme to fund the failing schools involved levying an additional $2.00 per pack tax on cigarettes sold in the city.  Philadelphia lawmakers dutifully spun a tale of dire consequences without the new funding and almost managed to get it enacted.  But, the bill hit a bump in the road and the legislature left town for a summer vacation that will last until well after the new school year begins.

After a planned rare August session of the state house fell through, Philadelphia’s city schools were left hanging.  And so the cries of woe rang out from the banks of the Delaware River.  Governor Tom Corbett, facing an uphill re-election battle, rode to the rescue by delivering budgeted state dollars early, thus allowing schools to open on time.

But should the governor have done that?  And should the general assembly approve the cigarette tax?  The other 499 school districts in Pennsylvania all will start the school year on time. They too have faced budget challenges and managed to get the job done without running to Harrisburg for special taxes.  Like a spoiled teenager who constantly wrecks the family car, perhaps the time has come to take the keys away from Philadelphia city schools.

The bottom line is Philadelphia’s city school system does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.  The Commonwealth Foundation reports that revenue in the school district has increased by more than $1 billion since the 2002-2003 school year.  Per pupil spending has jumped 21% in inflation-adjusted dollars during that time frame.  And here is the kicker: enrollment has dropped by 25% while the teaching staff has increased 6%.

Not only has the school district continued its profligate spending, but like most school districts it has resisted the types of structural change needed to bring both fiscal stability and academic success to public education.  Philadelphia’s lawmakers, while extending their hands for more tax dollars universally refuse to back pension reform so the single biggest cost driver can be brought under control.  The city is hostile to charter and cyber charter schools which would provide a pathway out of a failed public school system for many students.

It is now time for some tough love.  So long as Harrisburg is willing to bail them out, Philadelphia city schools will constantly be asking for more money.  The governor and the general assembly should require them to make needed structural reforms before giving them another cent in revenue.  Otherwise, the summertime saga of more money for Philadelphia will continue to be an annual rite.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is 

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Open Records Law Key to Restoring Penn State Credibility

Penn State University is fighting efforts in Harrisburg to place state-related universities, of which Penn State is one, under provisions of the commonwealth’s Open Records law.  This would require the folks in Happy Valley to provide the same transparency as other beneficiaries of the taxpayer’s largess.  As the botched search for a new president of the state’s marquee institution illustrates, the need for such a law clear and compelling.

Even the Jerry Sandusky scandal failed to bring about the structural changes needed to transform the insular and secretive cultural of Penn State’s governing board and administration.  While much about the sordid Sandusky saga remains the topic of debate, there is no doubt the cloistered culture of the university’s board resulted in a climate that allowed the Sandusky wound to fester.  That culture allowed the tragic sexual abuse of young men to continue, destroyed a storied football program, ruined careers, and cast a shadow of shame over a once proud educational institution.

That the “reforms” so far have been little more than window dressing has come into focus as Penn State seeks to select its next president.  Rather than conduct the search in an open and inclusive process, a sub-set of trustees have dominated the search to the point that they have excluded board members who are not part of the inner circle.  Trustee  Anthony Lubrano, elected after the scandal and an independent voice on the board, has been highly critical of the selection process and the failure to significantly involve all board members.

The process so far appears to ensure two things: the new president will take office under a cloud of controversy, and that person will be beholden to the power clique which made the selection.  This is clearly not the way for Penn State to begin repairing its tattered reputation.

If you believe that where there is smoke there is fire, the fact the trustees are undertaking what will be one of their most important decisions in such a manner then it is reasonable to conclude that little or nothing about the institution’s governing culture has either been learned or has changed because of the Sandusky scandal.

Penn State, like virtually every other educational institution, constantly has its hands out asking for more tax dollars.  Like baseball, apple pie and hot dogs, public education at all levels is a cultural icon.  So taxpayers are generally supportive. But, more money does not necessarily guarantee a better education.  So in a time of tight budgets, education spending has come under more scrutiny.  Penn State, along with the other state-related institutions wails and rends garments because their fiscal demands are not being met.

As they roam the halls of the state capitol panhandling for more taxpayer cash, the universities are also fighting to stave off inclusion in the Open Records law.  Their goal is a never-ending stream of state dollars, without transparency and accountability for how those dollars are being spent.  For some reason they believe they deserve a special exception to the rules other institutions receiving state funds must follow.

If anything, the Sandusky scandal and the presidential search fiasco should serve as glaring reasons why Penn State and the other state-related universities should and must be placed under provisions of the Open Records law.  A case can even be made that the law should be strengthened across the boards.

Simply put, you cannot have too much transparency in government.  Information is power.  And the natural inclination of any bureaucracy is to preserve and expand its power.  A strong, enforceable Open Records law is vital to preventing the abuse of such power.  And the key to any new law covering the state-related universities must be enforceability.  Compliance should be tied to funding: comply and the university gets state funds, fail to comply and funding is withheld.

Given the proven inability of Penn State’s board and administration to reform itself the minimum that must occur is to let the light of full disclosure shine into the dark recesses of the institution’s back rooms.  Only then will we the people of Pennsylvania be able to regain trust and confidence in Penn State and it can be restored to its rightful place as one of our commonwealth’s most important and respected institutions.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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PSEA & The Art of the Bargaining Chip

By Lowman S. Henry

One of the most common rhetorical techniques used by politicians to disguise the true nature of a proposed policy is to give legislation a name implying something totally different.   For example, the health reform measure popularly known as Obamacare is officially entitled the Affordable Health Care Reform Act of 2010. It is about government control, not health care; and the results have been anything but affordable.

So it was that the president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association – which is really a teacher union, not an education association – audaciously claimed that: “Using public school students as a political bargaining chip is a bad idea.” Mike Crossey was talking about Governor Tom Corbett’s plan to dedicate new revenue generated by the privatization of the state’s antiquated liquor store system to grants for public education.

The PSEA’s suggestion that “using public school students as a political bargaining chip is a bad idea” is the public policy equivalent of a Jedi mind trick. For the cinematically-challenged that means to claim something is other than what is actually standing in front of you. The fact is the PSEA has shown a remarkable willingness to use as a bargaining chip whoever and whatever is necessary to achieve its union power goals.

The PSEA bludgeons local school boards, taxpayers and parents by going out on strike if they don’t get what they want in contract negotiations. The degree to which students are held hostage is evidenced by the fact that Pennsylvania perennially leads the nation in the number of teacher strikes. If Mr. Crossey and the labor union he leads truly were appalled at the thought of using students as bargaining chips, they would support legislation aimed at making teacher strikes in Pennsylvania illegal.

And, students are not the only ones the PSEA will hold hostage to achieve its political goals. The union opposes the right of parents to decide for themselves which public, private or parochial school their child should attend. PSEA wages war against other forms of school choice such as the establishment of charter and cyber charter schools. As a result, hundreds of thousands of students are trapped in failing schools. If Mr. Crossey and the labor union he leads truly were appalled at the thought of using students as bargaining chips, they would support legislation that empowers parents with full school choice rights.

Not only does the PSEA hold the threat of strikes over the heads of taxpayers, but they force taxpayers to subsidize the collection of union dues via payroll deduction. This adds administrative cost to school district budgets, dollars which could otherwise be dedicated to student education. If Mr. Crossey and the labor union he leads truly were appalled at the thought of using students as bargaining chips, they would collect their own dues rather than have taxpayers foot the bill.

The current instance of PSEA caterwauling about the governor’s plan to dedicate new revenue from a privatized liquor system to education further illustrates its commitment to union power over serving students. Their true concern here is not education dollars; it is preservation of the jobs of their union brethren in the state store system. Unions now represent less than 12% of all American households; those are mostly in the public sector. The PSEA’s true goal here is to prevent further erosion of union membership and lucrative dues dollars.

Governor Tom Corbett has been subjected to a steady barrage of bashing by the PSEA for so-called cuts to public education. State dollars have, in fact, remained rather constant. The “cuts” have come from federal stimulus dollars that were temporary. So, the real blame for the “cuts” lies on Barack Obama and the federal government, not Tom Corbett and state government. The Corbett liquor privatization plan finds a way to help replace some of those lost dollars.

You would think the PSEA would applaud such a move, but then again you would have to believe that that an organization built on using students as bargaining chips would actually care about their well-being.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is

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This Week on American Radio Journal: Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum

The Week of September 3, 2011 – September 9, 2011
This week on American Radio Journal:
  • Lowman Henry catches up with former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum in the first of a series of interviews with candidates on the Presidential campaign trail
  • Col. Frank Ryan, USMC (Ret.) has an American Radio Journal commentary on why he is optimistic about our nation’s economic future
This week on Lincoln Radio Journal:
  • David Taylor of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association and Matthew Brouillette of the Commonwealth Foundation talk with Otto Banks of the REACH Alliance about the upcoming legislative battle over school choice
  • Lowman Henry has a Town Hall Commentary on the fall of John Perzel

Visit the program web sites for more information about air times. There, you can also stream live or listen to past programs!

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