This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, which deregulated American freight…
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Happy 40th to the Staggers Rail Act, Which Deregulated and Saved the U.S. Rail Industry

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, which deregulated American freight rail and saved it from looming oblivion.

At the time of passage, the U.S. economy muddled along amid ongoing malaise, and our rail industry teetered due to decades of overly bureaucratic sclerosis.  Many other domestic U.S. industries had disappeared, and our railroads faced the same fate.  But by passing the Staggers Rail Act, Congress restored a deregulatory approach that in the 1980s allowed other U.S. industries to thrive.  No longer would government determine what services railroads could offer, their rates or their routes, instead restoring greater authority to the railroads themselves based upon cost-efficiency.

Today, U.S. rail flourishes even amid the coronavirus pandemic…[more]

October 13, 2020 • 11:09 PM

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Parent Trigger Agonistes: School Reform Hits a Wall Print
By Ben Boychuk
Thursday, August 06 2015
True parent empowerment is more than a petition.

Parents shouldn’t be stuck with poor public schools for their children. In theory, public schools exist to school the public — to give the young the skills they need to live and flourish in a self-governing republic. Ideally, parents should have the option to send their kids to the school of their choice, whether public, private or parochial. In practice, many schools act as warehouses for kids and jobs programs for unionized workers.

Empowering parents to break the status quo and disrupt the public school monopoly has been an important innovation in education reform.

California had, for a brief moment, led the way in the parent empowerment movement. State Senator Gloria Romero, a Democrat from Los Angeles, shepherded the state’s landmark Parent Empowerment Act during a 2009-10 special legislative session. The law passed by just one vote in both houses of the Legislature, despite fierce resistance from the powerful California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers.

For a while, the law seemed to hold great promise. The Wall Street Journal in 2010 called the parent trigger “the radical school reform law you’ve never heard of.” Two-dozen states considered legislation modeled after California’s; seven of those bills became law.

In California, if at least half of eligible parents at a persistently failing school sign a petition, the school district must undertake one of several prescribed “intervention models.” The district can close the school and let students enroll in a higher-performing public school nearby; convert the school into a charter school, which would operate with greater autonomy from local and state regulations; or implement the “turnaround” and “transformation” requirements set forth under Race to the Top rules, which could involve replacing staff, extending school hours, and revising the curriculum.

Parents have the first choice of which intervention model should be used. If a district determines that it cannot carry out the particular reform that parents want, officials must adopt one of the others.

Getting a petition approved, however, is no easy task. Although the statute is only a couple of hundred words, the regulations specifying how the law should work are extensive. Turns out, organizing a grassroots campaign often requires professional help.

What’s more, school districts have fought to quash parents’ petitions, usually without success but at considerable cost in time and resources. And only half a dozen schools in California have been successfully “triggered.” Another half-dozen or so have used the threat of a petition to extract reforms from school officials.

The upshot: Parent empowerment remains for many people the radical school reform they’ve never heard of. It’s worth asking whether the experiment may be counted as a success, and what might be done to make the trigger better.

The Los Angeles Times this week weighed in with an editorial pronouncing the parent trigger a qualified failure.

“Five years after California's parent-trigger law was passed,” the editors write, the law “has not had the dramatic effect on public schools that its proponents hoped it would. Yet it is already at a crossroads in its young life.”

For starters, the landscape of school reform is much different today than it was in 2010. California and 43 other states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, which supplanted earlier standards. California did away with its old standardized tests and — crucially — gutted its Academic Performance Index (API), which provided one of the key metrics for determining whether a school qualified as “persistently failing” under the parent trigger law.

Now that Congress is close to passing a new and . . . well, let’s not call it improved version of No Child Left Behind, another measure — the Adequate Yearly Progress score — will likely go away, too. And because the new Common Core tests are not in any way comparable to the old California Standardized Test, measuring long-term progress is now nearly impossible.

Already, the Anaheim, California, City School District has argued that because the state has suspended reporting test scores to the feds, and because the state isn’t releasing its API scores, a group of parents backed by former Senator Romero’s California Center for Parent Empowerment should be prevented from using the trigger to convert Palm Lane Elementary School into a charter. The judge last month ruled in favor of the parents, but it’s only a matter of time before the legal tide turns.

The Times recommends “improving” the trigger law by making it even less useful to parents and more easily subverted by entrenched bureaucrats and teachers unions — stricter guidelines, no possibility of closures, “public” petitions with “all parents informed” and, more ominously, “the larger community given a chance to be involved.”

If petitions become “public” — presumably open to scrutiny from the moment parents begin canvassing for signatures — then parents should have easier access to school rosters in order to ensure as many parents as possible have a chance to sign. As it stands now, parents typically have to go door to door blindly seeking signatures, while schools have used their mailing lists to discourage parents from signing.

And if the law requires larger “community” involvement, then it should also provide real penalties for union organizers and public officials who use threats and intimidation against parents who sign petitions, which is a routine occurrence. But with a legislature largely owned and operated by the California Teachers Association and other public employee unions, what are the odds of that happening?

Whatever becomes of California’s parent trigger law would have national implications. The handful of other states that attempted to follow the Golden State model, such as Connecticut and Indiana, ended up with weak facsimiles that left bureaucracies with a strong upper hand.

Where does that leave reform? True parent empowerment is more than a petition. More than half of U.S. states have private school choice programs — whether in the form of vouchers, education tax credits and savings accounts, distance learning or some other option. Many states, including California, have robust public school choice programs that let parents enroll their children in well-performing schools outside their home districts. Charter schools are booming, too.

Year after year, evidence mounts proving that school choice raises academic performance and outcomes. The teachers unions may resist, but the evidence will soon become overwhelming — even in a state like California. A parent trigger is fine as far as it goes. But parents deserve real choice.

Question of the Week   
Which one of the following was the first 20th century presidential candidate to call for a Presidential Debate?
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Quote of the Day   
 
"In nominating Barrett to the Supreme Court, [President Trump] kept his promise by choosing an undaunted originalist -- someone who interprets the Constitution based on the understanding held by its ratifiers.Trump's most profound effect on the Constitution will come when she and the other Trump Justices apply that originalism to the questions of liberty and equality."Read entire article here.…[more]
 
 
—John C. Yoo, Heller Professor Law at U.C. Berkeley School of Law
— John C. Yoo, Heller Professor Law at U.C. Berkeley School of Law
 
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