Archive for the ‘Youth’ Category

National School Choice Week and the Perils of Government Monopolies

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

Originally published at Every Joe

It’s National School Choice Week, an annual affair built on advocacy in pursuit of “effective education options for every child.” According to the group’s website, “The goal of National School Choice Week (NSCW) is to raise public awareness of all types of education options for children. These options include traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.”

To an individual who isn’t embroiled in the politics of education, this sounds like a commonsense statement. Why subvert the needs of children to empower government and its special interests? Unfortunately, this question answers itself: The culprits are typically money and power. As a result, the issue of school choice is more complicated than it seems on its face, primarily due to the government’s long-held monopoly on education.

Eighty-three percent of children in the United States attend a traditional public school. This means that generally speaking, their education options are limited to the government-run school district that their families happen to live in. This can work out if a child is from a decently affluent area, the schools are good, and his or her parents are engaged with their education. But for disproportionately low-income children trapped in failings schools, lack of choice in education can be a nightmare that sets them up for a lifetime of underperformance.

School choice comes in many forms and, despite its increasing popularity, there are myriad roadblocks to its success. One of the most well-known and popular alternatives to traditionally zoned public schools are charter schools. These are semi or fully publicly funded entities that function as non-profits, led by a private board. Other models include vouchers or education savings accounts; both of which essentially function as a tax credit given to families with which they are allowed to make their own educational and school placement decisions.

Critics of the charter model, including socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, say these schools are focused more on profits than education. “I’m not in favor of privately-run charter schools,” said Sanders to a New Hampshire audience earlier this month. “If we are going to have a strong democracy and be competitive globally, we need the best educated people in the world. And I believe in public education,” he added. (It’s unclear whether Sanders realizes charter schools are public and that on balance they outperform traditional models.)

Critics also claim that voucherizing education – insofar as taxpayer money could be spent at a private school – has the same allegedly negative impact. But there are some major problems with these notions. First is the basic idea, as Sanders claims, that charters are profiting. They’re typically set up as non-profits for a reason; their board members aren’t investors. And secondly, even if they were making a profit, from the perspective of a free market advocate, so what? Profits are the engine of innovation; the more the better. Yet people who are ideologically committed to government centralization malign the efficacy of profits, and naturally tend to oppose choice in education because it undermines the top-down system they so admire.

But not all opposition to school choice is driven by ideology alone. Teachers’ unions are unfortunately one of the biggest opponents of a competitive market in education – and they’ve done a disservice by pitting the demands of public school teachers against what years of data proves is best for children. As Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Jared Meyer wrote at The Manhattan Institute, “The tripling of funding to schools has not benefited students. Powerful teachers’ unions have directed this funding to pay raises for themselves and increased hiring, as student achievement has stagnated.” As they noted, the U.S. went from having the world’s highest graduation high school graduation rate post World War II, to spending the most money per student in the world while falling drastically performance-wise.

This is no doubt an indication that something is fundamentally wrong with the model, not the amount of money being poured into it. And where charter schools are tried, the results speak for themselves. A popular case study proving this point is New Orleans. Post Hurricane Katrina, the city’s public schools were virtually wiped out. In a moment of crisis, the city allowed charter schools to come in and take over. What resulted was so impressive, the model has stayed intact for ten years – and is going strong.

As Jonathan Alter wrote at The Daily Beast last year, pleading with liberals to support school choice, “The results in New Orleans are impressive. Over the last decade, graduation rates have surged from 54 percent to 73 percent, and college enrollment after graduation from 37 percent to 59 percent. (There’s also a new emphasis on helping those who attend college to complete it.) Before Katrina, 62 percent of schools were failing. Today, it’s 6 percent.”

This is an incredibly impressive feat. And it’s worth noting that 85 percent of students attending New Orleans public schools are African-American, many of whom come from low-income families. These are ostensibly the people presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton (who has also spoken out against charters) seek to help with their top-down approach to education. Yet the model they’re pushing is an outdated, monopolistic failure. In fact, data shows that competition from charter schools actually improves the traditionally zoned ones. But yet again, we have politicians putting the interests of a union over the needs of low-income children.

Innovation should always be a key component in education. Yet all too often it’s stifled in favor of stale, rigid models that assume one-size-fits-all. The truth is this is almost never the case, especially when it comes to the art of teaching individual students. And on the measure of retaining and educating challenging students, charters manage to outperform traditional public schools as well. There’s simply no doubt that more choice in education leads to better outcomes for students, particularly those who come from families that cannot afford alternatives. To the extent that we can free the market in education and make it as vibrant as possible, the better. Here’s to National School Choice Week and their lobbying efforts. May it pay off, for the sake of the nation’s future.

The number of college students that want to restrict this important freedom is disturbing

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

Originally published at Rare

Higher education has always, at least in theory, hinged upon the free exchange of ideas. While young adults are at college, exposing them to viewpoints that differ from their own is not just intellectually healthy, but necessary for the development of strong critical thinking skills. As a recent survey commissioned by The William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale found, 87 percent of students agree that there is value in listening to ideas that differ from one’s own.

But when you drill down further, there seems to be a limit on how much students actually support intellectual diversity.

After all, we’ve been regaled with recent tales of rescinded speaking invitations – Pulitzer Prize winning columnist George Will is apparently beyond the pale – and have heard about the advent of campus “safe spaces,” recently satirized in brilliant fashion by South Park as utopian escapes from reality. These trends follow the concerningly authoritarian doctrine, popular in some corners of the left, where offensive speech is conflated with physical violence.

According to the Yale poll of approximately 800 college students across the country, 51 percent support speech codes to regulate what can be said by both their peers and faculty alike. Only 36 percent outright oppose such bans on allegedly improper speech.

Of course, who would regulate what is and isn’t “proper” remains unresolved. One can imagine the students in favor of these restrictions might just change their mind if a President Ben Carson used the Department of Education to monitor “extreme liberal bias”–an actual campaign promise from the candidate.

Furthermore, a whopping 63 percent of students believe professors ought to be required to issue “trigger warnings” when coursework could be considered offensive or upsetting. This again begs the question, by what definition? Given today’s internet mob standards, virtually everything is a microaggression of some kind. It makes one wonder what kind of material wouldn’t require a so-called “trigger warning.”

Perhaps most concerning of all is the fact that one-third of survey respondents didn’t know the 1st Amendment to the Constitution is the portion of our governing document that deals with free speech, explicitly stating that it “shall not be abridged.” Remember, we’re talking about college students, so by definition, nearly 35 percent of people who managed to graduate from high school are unfamiliar with our Bill of Rights’ most foundational protection.

35 percent of students said that despite the First Amendment’s unambiguous wording, it doesn’t protect “hate speech.” Should we assume that to mean anything with which the respondent disagrees? Because it would get extremely messy policing that in practice. As UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh wrote at the Washington Post:

“Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas. One is as free to condemn Islam — or Muslims, or Jews, or blacks, or whites, or illegal aliens, or native-born citizens — as one is to condemn capitalism or Socialism or Democrats or Republicans.”

Here’s hoping that the 36 percent of students who say they believe giving ideas they disagree with a hearing, but also support campus speech codes, rethink their contradictory position.

While it may seem pleasant to be shielded from ideas one finds offensive, college campuses should be a place of growth. If students aren’t prepared to contend with reality, which will inevitably include a whole lot of intellectual diversity, they’re going to have a hard time functioning as productive members of society upon graduation.

To Win Nationally, First Act Locally

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

Originally published at Every Joe

I’m far from the first person to suggest that insurgent political factions looking to wield influence on a national level need to take the reins of power locally first, then build their way up. While it’s sexier to focus on the presidential primary than it is to work on city council races, there’s no doubt that your marginal impact will be greater with efforts geared toward the latter. It’s also important to remember that without a farm team of good – in my case defined as liberty-leaning – candidates and activists to draw from when the time does come to run nationally, one can expect little chance of success.

This is an area where President Obama was right: Community organizing is the key to eventual national-level victory. The Left is generally quite good at building from the ground-up via local action while simultaneously motivating their activist base with national and statewide issues. Take for example, an ongoing effort in my adopted home state of Texas.

Pioneered by former Obama Field Director Jeremy Bird, Battleground Texas (BGTX) is an effort spearheaded by liberals who believe that if they can increase voter registration and turnout in Texas, especially among minority populations, they can turn the solidly red state blue. And if Texas turns blue, best of luck to Republicans presidentially given Texas’ thirty-eight electoral college votes.

Truth be told, BGTX’s calculations aren’t entirely off the mark. Though Wendy Davis, the candidate for Governor they pushed, lost to current Governor Greg Abbott by over twenty points, I don’t believe the group’s efforts have been in vain. Davis was a flawed candidate for countless reasons, as chronicled aptly by Erica Grieder at Texas Monthly.

But BGTX is thinking long-term – and rightfully so. Despite her many shortcomings, Davis served as a motivator for liberal activists who canvassed targeted neighborhoods throughout Texas, registering voters and identifying new recruits to their cause. Savvy liberals, particularly those who have done this type of organizing before, know the change they want won’t come overnight. And Republicans, especially those of the insurgent liberty variety, ought to take note.

The good news is that in Texas, particularly my home city of Houston, I’ve seen positive progress that motivates me, even when I feel incredibly disillusioned by the state of national politics. And the truth is, I do feel that way right now (remember my Trump rant from earlier this summer?). While I’ve only lived in the Houston area for five years, I’ve seen grassroots changes here, and in countless cities and towns throughout the country, that lead me to believe our Republican future will in fact be bright, if we stay the course.

Flashback to May of 2013: The Houston Young Republicans hosted a forum in the wake of an incident that still makes my blood boil. It featured a discussion between Gregory Angelo, national President of the Log Cabin Republicans, and Dave Welch, a Houston based leader with the U.S. Pastors Council. They convened to talk about the state of the Republican Party in response to an occurrence that stirred longstanding factional divisions and upset many activists, especially those of us on the younger side.

A month beforehand, Chris Busby, a prolific Republican volunteer for a variety of candidates and causes, decided he wanted to become a precinct chair, and the seat in his neighborhood wasn’t occupied by anyone at the time. This led to an interview with the county Party’s vacancy committee that frankly, didn’t go well. As conservative Houston blogger David Jennings explained:

“When I spoke to Chris today, he described the questions from Mr. Lowry as “brutal”. Chris was asked about his membership in the Log Cabin Republicans, should sex education be taught to kindergarteners, his position on gay marriage, and, bizarrely, did Chris agree with the 1972 homosexual agenda that promotes removal of all “age of consent” laws. Yes, he was asked that, confirmed by the people that were in the room. Chris took this to mean that the question was asking if he approved of pedophilia. Obviously he answered of course not but the damage was done and Chris was denied membership in the club.

No words.

If you don’t know about the ‘1972 homosexual agenda’ just Google it. Like I had to. Who in the hell has a copy of that on hand so that they can interrogate potential Harris County Republican Party Precinct Chairs?“

This inquisition upset a large number of people, and reflected ongoing problems with a less-than-inclusive good old boys club that had long controlled the Harris County Republican Party (HCRP). During the aforementioned forum however, Dave Welch, with whom I have many fundamental disagreements, said something simple but prolific.

Welch chronicled how the Christian Right wrested local control of Republican Party apparatuses throughout the country and were able to rise up in the ranks. He implored more socially moderate and liberty-leaning Republicans to do as he and his allies did in the late Reagan era: Work to take the reins of power and move the party in our direction. Of course from Welch’s perspective, this was more a challenge than a wish – and a small but determined group of Houston activists stood ready to accept.

In March of 2014, Jared Woodfill, the former HCRP chair who had long enabled the type of behavior chronicled above was defeated in a primary by an insurgent candidate and longtime Republican activist Paul Simpson, who has since measurably improved HCRP’s programs and increased local electoral victories, not to mention the fact that he has taken a much more inclusive stance toward Party participation.

Meanwhile, a very competent liberty Republican named John Baucum became the President of the Houston Young Republicans (HYR) around the same time, growing the club to levels it hadn’t seen in nearly a decade. John’s efforts in HYR and other arenas got him elected as the newest Texas Young Republicans Chairman in a landslide just last month. And guess who replaced John as HYR President with the overwhelming support of his peers? Chris Busby – who by the way, now has more power as the leader of an official GOP auxiliary club than the men who, just two years ago, needlessly persecuted him and drove people who had identified with the Republican Party out of activism entirely.

The moral of the story is ultimately that the efforts of pro-liberty Republicans are in fact laying crucial groundwork and making a measurable difference. John, Chris, and the many activists working beside them, represent the future of the GOP. And this is just one story; efforts like this are being replicated on a nationwide scale, particularly in a generational context.

Ultimately, a significant portion of winning is simply showing up, taking power, and staying active; and it starts in your neighborhood. It’s precisely what I’m focused on through a new group called Liberty Action Texas, which with enough manpower behind it will be a crucial weapon in the arsenal in the fight against the efforts of organizations like Battleground Texas.

I know that right now, a lot of my ideological allies are frustrated by things like Rand Paul’s current presidential poll numbers, conservatives conflating religious liberty with government-enabled discrimination, an increase in hawkishness among national Republicans, and the rise of hyper-nationalism as embodied by Donald Trump.

These are trends I believe we need to fight within our own movement, but without building and cultivating our local armies, there will be no ultimate battle. While I’m less than thrilled with much of what’s going on right now politically, I stay optimistic by looking at what I know the future holds. Millennial Republicans, reflective of our generation broadly speaking, are vastly more socially tolerant and interested in fair, limited government than many of our predecessors, according to a variety of polling.

The question is, will we take our ball and go home, refusing to identify as members of the GOP because we dislike the status quo? Or will we take over by integrating ourselves, making a difference locally, and building the infrastructure necessary to not only change the public’s perception of our Party, but win nationally? I believe enough of us are doing the latter to make a difference. Ultimately, politicians are always interested in taking the path of least resistance to electoral victory. If you’re a young, libertarian-leaning voter, become one of the Republican power-wielders they need to get past to win. The future might quite literally depend on it.

A Generational Gap in Foreign Policy Opinions Could Spell Bad News for Republicans

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Originally published at Every Joe

Over the last several years, data has shown that Millennials – broadly defined as those born between 1980 and 1997 – are strongly non-partisan, and lean somewhat libertarian on policy. Several comprehensive polls have backed this contention up, painting a picture of a generation that is socially tolerant, yet skeptical of large institutions.

Much ink has been spilled analyzing the fact that while a contingent of young Americans sympathize with fiscally conservative positions, our largely generational commitment to social liberalism has kept us from identifying with a political party that stakes its identity on promoting “traditional values,” often through government force.

As Andrew Kohut of the Pew Center, who has researched the views of Millennials extensively said, “There is a libertarian streak that is apparent among these left-of-center young people. Socially liberal but very wary of government.” Furthering this point, a Reason-Rupe poll found that to the extent young people identify as liberals, they do so primarily for social reasons. As Emily Ekins of Reason explained:

Coding millennials’ responses reveals that for most liberal and progressive millennials, their ideological label primarily reflects social liberalism, not necessarily economic liberalism. Overall, 68 percent of self-identified liberals’ explanations mentioned elements of social tolerance and personal freedom, while only 35 percent mentioned economics.”

Another factor that pollsters have studied but has received less attention is foreign policy. Reason found that even among Republican Millennials, there’s a strong distrust of how the government handles international affairs and that overall, 38% trust neither party on the matter. Democrats however, have a trust factor of 34%, while Republicans languish at 23%.

To delve into this issue beyond existing analyses, The Cato Institute recently published a study that looks at the foreign policy views of Millennials, and breaks these trends down in a generational context. The paper’s authors, Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner, note that several factors have led to Millennials viewing foreign policy in a manner very different than that of our elders.

As they explain:

The Millennial Generation will be most deeply affected by historical context and events between the mid-1990s, when the oldest Millennials started to reach young adulthood, and the early 2020s, when the youngest Millennials will reach their mid-twenties….

. The first category comprises the trends and events that started or occurred before the Millennials came of age and provide their historical context. This includes the end of the Cold War and the evolution of the global distribution of power, the development of the Internet, and the acceleration of globalization… The second category includes major discrete events that have occurred so far during the Millennials’ critical period—most obviously the attacks of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ….

. But whereas historical context is largely invisible to most Millennials, thereby shaping perceptions subconsciously, 9/11 and the War on Terror are more salient to Millennials than to others and are very much at the center of how Millennials process issues of foreign affairs. Indeed, the unprecedented nature of 9/11 and the United States’ response to it raise the prospect of a ‘9/11 Generation’ that may view future national security and war very differently from the ‘Vietnam Generation’ or its predecessor, the ‘Munich Generation.’”

Thrall and Goepner also place a strong emphasis on the end of the Cold War, which to most Millennials, is part of history, or at least something that happened when we were very young. Said the authors:

The Cold War world was known for its high-stakes brinkmanship and increasing bipolarity, with the United States leading one side and the Soviet Union leading the other. Mutually assured destruction reminded policymakers and citizens alike of just how dangerous the world had become ….

. Since the end of the Cold War, however, threats are smaller, less urgent, and have come from an array of sources rather than a single rival. At the same time, bipolarity has given way to a more complex distribution of power; individuals, non-state actors, and transnational networks now influence both U.S. national security and the foreign policy process in ways unimagined during the Cold War. In the face of these changes in the international environment, the United States now lacks an obvious North Star to guide debate and decisions.”

It can certainly be claimed that the aforementioned Cold War consensus has been, in some cases ineffectively, applied to more modern international challenges. Millennials were shaped by 9/11, but at the same time, we saw the failures of treating a roving, non-state terror threat as something that could be rooted out for example, by invading Iraq. As Rand Paul has aptly noted, toppling secular dictators has had the unfortunate consequence of creating a power vacuum, in which groups like ISIS have been given free range to rise.

Given this, it’s unsurprising that the generation that came of age as our peers fought in Iraq and Afghanistan fears more than our elders that U.S. policy abroad, even if well-intentioned, can lead to chaos. In fact, Cato found that a majority of Millennials share this view, which backs up Reason’s findings that even young Republicans distrust the government on foreign policy. “A lot of the older generation is still stuck in the Cold War,” a 25-year-old respondent told Cato.

These realities pose a problem for politicians, especially Republicans, looking to reach young voters. While there is undoubtedly a libertarian wing of the GOP, most notably represented by Rand Paul, a generational gap threatens to derail current progress. In fact, pollster Frank Luntz told Fox News this week that, “(Republican primary) voters absolutely reject (Paul’s) position on foreign policy.” Similarly, the other GOP candidates reject Paul, and in turn, the foreign policy views of Millennials.

Of course, we cannot expect a near-consensus on foreign policy among Republican politicians and voters to shift overnight, even with the changes Millennials are starting to bring to the table. As with social issues, progress in the realm of international affairs is likely to come as Millennials both age into senior positions in government and older viewpoints eventually fall out of mainstream favor.

The question for Republicans in the meantime however, seems to be how to address these gaps between the typically older voters who make up their primary-voting base, and a general electorate where Millennials have proven to be a strong enough swing vote to sweep President Obama into office.

Recent polling consistently indicates that Rand Paul, the Republican most aligned with young independents, performs best against Hillary Clinton in a general election matchup, where Millennial influence outpaces its relatively small impact in Republican primaries. Despite Paul’s consistent general election strength however, his polling numbers among likely Republican primary voters have dropped; though it’s too soon to know for sure if he, or any other member of the vast GOP field, will rise above the early noise.

Ultimately, even if we don’t see it during this election, there will inevitably be many changes both to the Republican Party, and government in general as Millennials come of age. While people within the same generation clearly have differing political views, there are many underlying attitudes that color basic outlooks. There’s no doubt that even the most hawkish of Millennials will have a different, if not more restrained view, of what’s possible foreign policy wise in light of what Cato’s authors refer to as the “Iraq effect.”

The challenge for Republicans presently is that the gap between their primary voters and that of the general electorate on foreign policy and other key issues appears to be wide enough that overcoming it could be very difficult on a national scale. This ought to be a wake-up call to young voters that we can in fact have an influence in Republican primaries and therefore the ultimate presidential outcome if we actively organize, vote, and hold politicians with reckless views accountable. We don’t have to be clones of our elders to be our own type of Republican. Impacting the GOP primaries might just be the only way those of us who are fiscally conservative, socially tolerant, foreign policy realists will have a political voice.

Will a Divided Government Work for Millennials?

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Originally published at Townhall

As defeated politicians clear out their offices and prepare to trek home permanently, there’s a lot to consider about what the midterm elections meant and how the incoming Congress will behave. Requisite attempts at partisan excuse-making aside, there’s a wide consensus surrounding the fact that the left simply couldn’t motivate its base this year. Notably, Democrats even lost their once-tight grip on the cohort that swept Obama into office: young people. In many key Senate races, Republicans won the youth vote outright. Even where conservatives didn’t capture the full 18-29 demographic, there were significant swings in the GOP’s direction almost universally.

Although Republicans experienced a major victory this election, they ought to recognize that voter rejection of Democrats doesn’t constitute a full-throated embrace of their party—especially as it pertains to young voters. If conservative legislators want to keep and expand upon the support of Millennials that they earned this year, they’ll need to pressure the President into accomplishing goals that will benefit our generation. If, as he claims, Obama is interested in bipartisan compromise and helping those still suffering due to our poor economy, he and the new Republican Congress have their work cut out for them.

Luckily, there are places where the President and Congress can in fact work together. One area that has begun to foster promising across-the-aisle cooperation is criminal justice reform. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have put forth a noteworthy piece of legislation called the REDEEM Act. If passed, this law would make it easier for juvenile delinquents to get their lives back on track, with a specific focus on non-violent offenders. Another bipartisan bill co-authored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) called the Smarter Sentencing Act, would reduce mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses and give more discretion to judges who believe such harsh penalties may not fit specific, non-violent crimes.

An additional arena of interest to young people is higher education reform. The average Millennial now graduates with over $30,000 in student loan debt. Proposals that beat around the bush by tinkering with interest rates only serve to exacerbate underlying problems with the system. The fundamental issue is the federal government’s death-grip both on student loans and the university accreditation process. Government monopolies in these spaces strangle the kind of freedom necessary to foster innovation and competition. The HERO Act, introduced by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Representative Ron DeSantis (R-FL), is a good first step toward breaking the government control that has led to both stagnation and out-of-control costs in an industry so crucial to the future of our nation.

Happily, there’s already one piece of good news that’s materialized for Millennials since the election. Speaker Boehner has said the House won’t be taking the misnamed “Marketplace Fairness Act” up this year. This is fantastic, because the legislation is actually an Internet sales tax in disguise. Sadly, this disastrous bill that targets Millennial entrepreneurs has won bipartisan support in the past. If you agree that forcing small online retailers to comply with over 10,000 tax codes is a ridiculous, job-killing proposition, make sure to hold your elected officials’ feet to the fire if this awful legislation materializes again.

An area that’s also crucially important to young Americans is healthcare. While it’s unlikely that the President will provide any leeway as it pertains to his signature law, Republicans need to make it clear that they’re fighting for our generation. Obamacare stacks the deck against Millennials in a profound way. It more than doubles costs for a high share of those under thirty. To make matters worse, its employer mandate and endless red tape have contributed to America’s troubling transition to a part-time economy of underemployed young people. It’s clear that Millennials desperately need compromise from the White House in this area. A good place to start looking is the new reforms suggested by health care policy analyst Avik Roy .

Ultimately, one of the biggest takeaways from this election ought to be that young Americans aren’t loyal to any particular party, or even political ideology. Time and again, we have made it clear to politicians that we want results that work for our generation. We’re fed up with Washington’s rampant cronyism and blatant disregard for us. We may have trended Republican this election, but make no mistake, conservative legislators are going to have to earn our trust moving forward. The road to 2016 is long, and the next two years will be a trial run. Our generation is in a position to be part of a major swing vote—and we’re sick of being disappointed.