December 13, 2000
New York City Conference on School Choice
Introduction and Opening Remarks
MR. OLSEN: —with the City of New York. We're here today to talk about offering more and more families educational opportunity. Giving increasing numbers of low-income families the freedom to make the kind of vital choices that middle-class and wealthier families already have. This is a simple idea, yet it's a powerful idea.
And we're lucky to be joined by a number of leaders of this movement. People who advocate for change at the grass roots. Educators. Researchers who are studying the impact of existing voucher and choice programs across the country, and public officials who are leading their states, cities and ultimately the nation towards a new understanding of educational opportunity.
We're also going to hear a debate between the nation's leading legal experts on the constitutionality of school choice, which is a particularly important topic given Monday's Sixth Circuit decision.
Many talented and courageous people have played a role in building the school choice movement, but all of their voices are subordinate to one voice, and that's the voice of parents. There's a reason we emphasize parental choice and that's because we want to give parents more meaningful control over these critical decisions affecting their children's future, based on the fundamental belief that they know best what is best for their children.
In fact, the reason this movement exists and is growing is because there are millions of parents across the country who are demanding alternatives in education.
So the Manhattan Institute and the mayor thought that it would be appropriate to give parents the first word of the day, not our panelists.
To that end, it's my pleasure to start off the conference by introducing the following short video which we hope will give you at least a small sense of the real voices behind the school choice movement.
Soundtrack of video:
MALE VOICE: Like everything else, we exercise choice when we're going to buy a car or when we're going to buy a box of cereal. And what can be more important than the education of your children? Why shouldn't we not have the right or the privilege of choice?
MAYOR GIULIANI: If we give poorer parents the same opportunity to make choices about their children's education that the riches and most affluent parents in New York City have, let's see if that doesn't work to really energize that school district and help to create another alternative and more competition for the school system. There are a group of public schools, a group of private schools and a group of religious schools that are included in this. And then the parents select. It makes a lot of sense, though, doesn't it? To create that kind of competition. It would make sense to do that with a school district. Any school district in this city. And see if it works. It ties parents to the education of their children. It gets them to start making choices about their children
MALE VOICE: I grew up in the public school system. I grew up unchallenged. My children now [sound cut] I need to give them the most advantage and the best shove or push or start that I can give them.
FEMALE VOICE: The teachers, I didn't see that they were learning. They have priority. It was a choice that just had to be made. To get her out of the situation where she was floundering and she was losing. I didn't like it. The choice was picked by the system.
MALE VOICE: I had to teach them in the evening. I had to teach them had to add. I had to teach them syntax. I had to teach them how to put sentences together.
MALE VOICE: But we decided to put them in a private school. We sacrificed a little bit and we just transferred them to private school.
MALE VOICE: Choice is important and giving us a choice is important. But sometimes giving a choice, if we don't have the resources is nothing.
FEMALE VOICE: The scholarship had come out. And they told me I had gotten the scholarship for my daughter. I was really happy. And the reason is that the choice of Catholic school because we know the children are safe. That they're learning more. That the environment, the people that are in there, the spirituality, the morality. So they're more aware to love each other, to respect. She just got her report card. She saw A's, B pluses, and she's like oh my God [Unintelligible] grade.
YOUNG MALE VOICE: It was a great, great, great difference between public and private. And the teacher allowed to pay attention to you. And when we asked the question they answer you back.
MALE VOICE: I can see their behavior change a little bit, because again, they are in a more structured environment during the day and the effects of that linger on when they come home.
FEMALE VOICE: And I could see their happiness, and they know that we're making a sacrifice for them because we wanted the best for them, so they try to do their best. So they can make mommy happy too.
YOUNG FEMALE VOICE: I have a hundred average in spelling. Spelling's my specialty.
FEMALE VOICE: Being able to make that choice is fantastic. And that was like the very best choice I have ever made.
YOUNG FEMALE VOICE: I want to be a lawyer when I grow up.
YOUNG VOICE: I want to be an artist when I grow up.
YOUNG VOICE: You know those persons that in the room that they announce the people coming out? I want to be an announcer with [Unintelligible]
YOUNG VOICE: I would like to be a lawyer and scientist.
YOUNG VOICE: Or maybe a referee.
MALE VOICE: Again, it's like everything else. We try to be our best consumer. And when it comes to the education of our children we have to be the best consumer. [Applause]
MR. OLSEN: Wow. Well, thank you. And without further ado it's my great pleasure to introduce the co-sponsor of today's conference, a fighter for more accountable and responsive schools and education and greater school choice, the 107th mayor of New York City, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. [Applause]
MAYOR GIULIANI: Thank you very, very much Henry, and welcome to the New York City Conference On School Choice. We're very, very honored to have all of you here and we hope that this will help further this enormously important movement.
We're also very, very honored to have with us Governor Keating of Oklahoma, Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico, Mayor John Norquist of Milwaukee, former Governor William Weld of Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania's Secretary of Education Eugene Hickok, and New York State Assembly Republican leader John Faso. And we have many distinguished guests in the audience, including the chairman of CUNY, Herman Badillo. And then we're going to have many distinguished panels and interesting panels during the day. And we're hopefully going to get people to concentrate on a new subject other than, I have these decisions from the United States Supreme Court here. [Laughter]
Last night when I got home, since I couldn't figure out from the television and the radio what was decided, I got someone to get it off the Internet for me. And then I separated it into the per curiam opinion, the Rehnquist-Scalia-Thomas concurring opinion, Stevens, Ginsburg and Breyer; Souter-Breyer-Stevens-Ginsburg [Laughter]. Ginsburg-Stevens-Souter and Breyer [Laughter]. Breyer-Stevens-Ginsburg [Laughter]. And some of them are Justice Breyer, with whom Justice Stevens and Justice Ginsburg join, except as to part 1(a)1 [Laughter] and with whom Justice Souter joins as to part 1 dissenting. Charlie Freed [Phonetic] could do this, right? I mean, he could end up figuring out how to do this.
But, so maybe we can get off this topic and get on to another one that really gets us back to the business of governing, and the work that government can do that can actually help people and assist people. And this is an important forum and we should take advantage of it for furthering this idea that's a very, very important one.
There's no question that many, many parents feel, quite correctly, that their children are not getting the education that they deserve and that they should have. And that that feeling is the strongest among parents who are the poorest, and without resources to, in essence, buy a much better and higher quality education for their children.
And that has many implications, but let me suggest one that's very important because the public school system in America has been in many ways the great equalizer. It's been the system through which immigrant children, poor children who maybe wouldn't have the advantages in their own home of reading and culture and literature or—it's the way in which they've been able to access the American Dream. It's the way in which they've been able to develop the tools that were necessary for them to compete and to succeed in society.
And you go back to the latter part of the 19th century and much of the 20th century, certainly the first half of it, and it was the American public school system that was kind of a tool of democracy in that the poorest children could get a high-quality education, unleashing themselves, talents and abilities that maybe would not have been touched and developed. And it worked very, very well to create an America in which to some extent at least we could say that the American Dream was available for those who had a good education and would work hard.
We cannot say that that's the case today in America. At least not uniformly, or in American cities. Public schools are not doing that for enough children. And we don't really need public opinion polls to figure that out although public opinion pools tell us that.
I thought the most telling poll was the one a couple of years ago when Ted Forstman [Phonetic] and his organization offered scholarships to students throughout the United States of America. And those scholarships were offered in the City of New York. I think there were 2500 scholarships that were available for children who were in public schools and their parents who wanted the option of a private or parochial school education.
For 2500 scholarships there were 168,000 — 168,000 applications. That's an enormous number of parents crying out for help, for an option, for another option for their child other than the one that the government is forcing them, and their economic circumstances are constraining them to have to accept for their children.
And in a country that keeps developing the notion of freedom in a responsible way and the idea of individual choice and giving individuals as much of an opportunity to make choices for themselves, it seems to me highly inconsistent that there's this tremendous resistance on the part of many who otherwise believe in freedom, choice, freedom of choice and liberty for people, in constraining this movement from getting any further.
And I hope that we can hope up the dialogue. And it's probably worse here in New York City than it is most other places, meaning the resistance to the idea of choice and the idea of options. It is absolutely true that there are enormously successful public schools in the City of New York and all over the country. And there are enormous successful public schools, not just the obvious ones that have been very successful for generations, but enormously public schools in places in which right next to them there are schools that are failing, that do it against the odds. And there is absolutely no reason why anyone should give up on the public school system.
The idea of choice is intended to save public education by opening it up to much more competition, much more sense of innovation and creativity.
I think of the early experiment on privatization that goes back—is it—Richard Schwartz can help me with this because he and I studied this together a long time ago when I was preparing to run for mayor. The experiment in Phoenix, Arizona with sanitation. Maybe that goes back twenty years? About twenty years? And it was a very, very innovative idea at the time. And that was to take all of the sanitation services in the City of Phoenix, I think they subdivided the city into six or eight districts, and they put them all out to bid and allowed the private sanitation companies to bid against the city municipal sanitation department.
And the first cycle of the contracts, the private sanitation companies won all of the contracts in all six or eight districts. By the second and third cycle the municipal agency starting winning two and then three and eventually almost all of the contracts. Because they straightened out the practices that they had been engaging in that made them inefficient, ineffective, unable to deliver services.
On a different scale and for different reasons, that's precisely what would happen if we had any one of the forms of school choice of which you'll hear many different examples from Mayor Norquist and from the governors and from the secretary and others. There are many examples of how you can do school choice.
But the ultimate result would be exactly the same. The ultimate result would be that the public schools would rise to the occasion. They would straighten out the reasons why parents might not want to send their children there. They'd straighten it out on their own and they'd straighten it out individually, depending on the particular school. If it was discipline, well then they would do the things that were necessary to create a safe environment so that a parent would feel comfortable, just as comfortable in sending the child to a public school as sending the child to a religious school or a private school. If that was the thing that was necessary in order to bring in the students that would allow the school to survive.
If the issue was education, declining reading scores, then they would be forced on their own terms to solve that problem. If it were math or science or not enough athletic programs, then they would try to solve that. And all of a sudden the focus would change from the focus that exists today to the focus that it should be.
And I see choice as one way of re-establishing the philosophy of education for children in America. Particularly public education. Right now the main purpose of the New York City public school system is not to educate children. You want to think about that for a moment. The main purpose of the system is not to educate children. There is a more important, more overriding purpose, and it exists in the laws, in the agreements and contracts and everything else. The single most important rationale of the New York City school system is to protect the jobs of the people in the system. It exists for the purpose now of creating, protecting and enshrining numerous jobs. And anything that affects those jobs is not allowed to be considered or done. Job protection is more important than anything else.
Now, in case you think that's an overstatement, let me see if I can prove it to you this way:
Suppose you have a school that — well, yesterday. Yesterday we had, I believe it was eighteen schools that were put on what's known as the sur [Phonetic] list. In other words, there are schools that are considered to be consistently failing schools in which the children's performance is declining, measured by any standard. Regents exams in the case of high schools, promotions, reading scores, math scores in the case of lower schools. All right.
What would you do to straight out those schools immediately? What you would do is you would think well, those schools that have been consistently failing are going to need a change in personnel. Just like if it was a consistently failing business or other government agency, you'd have to change the people that are running that subdivision. Well, you can't do that. Tenure prevents you from changing the teachers. The inability to give merit pay, bonus pay, prohibits you from giving more money to the teachers you want to keep, because you look at the school and you say I want to straighten this school out. About a third of the teachers are terrific; I want to pay them more money so they don't go somewhere else. So we keep them in this difficult school.
On the other hand, about a third of the teachers have been here for the last five or six years and every year their classes seem to be declining. Their math scores go down, their reading scores go down, their passing rate goes down, students don't want to go to their classes. These teachers are teachers that we either have to remove—that takes you three or four years of a courtroom fight so you have to keep the teacher, or we'll just pay them less money because maybe we'll discourage them and they'll kind of get the point that this is not a profession for them. They're not good at this. Can't do that either, because you have to pay all teachers exactly the same amount of money. You pay it to them based on the number of years of service, not the quality of their service.
That's a system that puts protecting the job of the teacher first. The performance of the child is irrelevant to the job of the teacher. There's no way in which you can find anything that connects to that job that has anything to do with the performances of the student. The salary is the same whether the teacher is a great teacher, an average teacher or a lousy teacher. The raises are the same, whether the teacher is a great teacher, an average teacher or a lousy teacher. And the ability to even remove the worst teachers is virtually not there because of the set of laws and contracts that surround and protect—well, what is this then? What does it protect?
It's not protecting the ability to educate children correctly. It's protecting the jobs of the people in the system, which is the most important reason for which is now exists. And that has to change. The most important reason for which any school exists is the education of the child. And then everything else flows around that. Then from that, from the good job you're doing educating children, then you become an important teacher and a very well-paid teacher. And if it's a bad job just the opposite happens.
I believe that choice will allow that to happen because all of a sudden the evaluators of the schools will be the people who have the most interest in the schools. The parents. Even more important than reading scores and math scores and graduation rates and all the other things that we use, all of which are important, if the parents have the opportunity to evaluate, that's going to create the kind of dynamic change that we need.
And therefore, I see it as one of the few things that can be done that really give us a chance to save public education. To revive it, and to make it work. And much like what happened in Phoenix, it might very well be if you did in New York City a major schools choice program that you would see some decline to start with in the size of the public school system, but after a short period of time what we find is that the public schools that survived, and there'd be many, would all be good ones, and the ones that didn't would rebuild themselves. And they'd rebuild themselves along lines that make themselves attractive to parents, meaning, doing the things that parents want done.
Every good school is an overcrowded school. If a school is an excellent school then everybody wants to go there. And parents are more than willing, I certainly would be, I imagine you would be, all things being equal, you'd rather have your child in an excellent overcrowded school in which the child is safe and the child is getting an excellent education, than in a school with a, you know, classrooms of eight, ten and twelve, but nobody's getting a good education.
And good school, college—five minutes remaining? Okay. Beep. [Laughter] Any good school is a school that's going to draw a lot of people, and it should do it on its own terms and its own merit.
Finally, I'd like to ask you to consider the following, basically because we're in Times Square. If you came to Times Square ten years ago it wouldn't look like this. It would be, in fact, we wouldn't even be here in this hotel. And it was filled with prostitutes and it was filled with drug dealers. And there was no Disney theatre and there was no Ragtime, and most of the hotels you see here weren't here, with maybe one or two exceptions. And the crime rate in this part of the city was among the highest in the city.
Now this is flourishing, it's thriving and it's doing very well. And families come here without any problem at all. And we're going to have a great New Year's Eve celebration here in a few weeks for millions and millions of people. Ten years ago nobody thought this was possible. There's very few people that thought this was possible. They would have thought this kind of change was impossible for lots of reasons that I won't belabor.
And the reality is the same thing is true with education. In New York City more than anyplace else, we resist change. I don't know why that is. We're more resistant to new ideas and to change. And unfortunately in education all of the innovative and creative things are happening elsewhere. That's why we're very, very honored to have all of the distinguished guests that we have here today. They're more open to change, like in Milwaukee. So we're very interested in hearing what the mayor of Milwaukee has to say, in which for a lot of poor parents, they're being given the opportunity that rich parents have to get the very best education for their child.
And as a society we have to be really very concerned about that. Because we don't know where the next great scientist, the next great innovator, the next great leader is going to come from. Whether it's going to come from a poor family or a rich family. And it's a shame that we're cutting off those opportunities for ourselves. And it's a shame that we're doing it in our major cities. And therefore, I look forward to the ideas that emerge from this.
And I do hope that it opens up some of the thinking of the people that are so afraid of this idea. So afraid to even experiment with it. So afraid to even try it. So afraid to even allow it some chance to give some children the opportunity for a better education. I would hope they would open their hearts and their minds and start to think about the idea that education is about children, not about protecting jobs and not about politics. Thank you very much. [Applause]
MR. OLSEN: The mayor's words about the popularity of schools reminds me of what the Yankee philosopher Yogi Berra once said about popular restaurants. That they're so crowded that no one goes there anymore. [Laughter]
Our next speaker is Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico. He's the 26th chief executive of the great State of New Mexico. And he has dedicated his two terms in office to improving education for New Mexico's children. He is the parent of two children, both graduates of public high schools and currently college students. And during his tenure in office he has passed bills for charter school expansion, and expanded annual state standard based testing for grades three through nine. He is also a strong advocate for universal school choice for all parents in New Mexico, and he has stated he will renew and sustain that effort when New Mexico's legislature reconvenes this January. And he will champion the free market ideal of school choice for all in combination with the coalition of bipartisan and multiracial and multi-socioeconomic class parents who are backing him in this effort.
So please join me in giving a big New York welcome on behalf of the Manhattan Institute and the mayor's office, to Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico. [Applause]
GOV. JOHNSON: You know, a little bit about myself. I have a great family. Wife Dee, two kids. Saya is 21. She's graduating from Boulder. And I got a notice the other day that she's actually summa cum laude. [Applause] Whoa! Son Eric, a freshman at Denver University. Again, wonderful family. I would like you to know also that I'm an athlete. I'm as fit a 47-year-old as you're going to see. I work very hard at that. I have a goal to climb Mt. Everest when I'm out of office. There are a lot of people that want to see me go up there. [Laughter]
I also wanted you to know that I'm a businessman. I started a business in New Mexico in 1974 as a one-person handyman operation, me. And in 1994 I actually had one thousand people employed. Electrical, mechanical, plumbing, pipe-fitting. Really a dream come true. You know, a lot of hard work. But a dream come true, being able to build a business from scratch and going to that level.
Politics for me. You know, I've always held that politics was a high calling. I'd never been involved in politics before, always believing that again, you could do good by others through politics. Now I also understand that half of New Mexico would line up to say that I've only been a scourge to New Mexico. But in my heart I've been given this opportunity to make a difference. And one of my greatest fears if leaving this office, thinking coulda, shoulda, woulda.
America. You know, America. Life, liberty, it's the pursuit of happiness. I think the government has a role to insure that everybody has an equal shot at the American Dream. I think I've been really successful as governor. You know, holding the lid on taxes, actually reducing taxes, a huge highway building program in New Mexico. In the area of crime we had a prison problem that I addressed. It was a problem that had been there for decades. It got addressed. Medicaid in New Mexico. A huge issue for all states. Moving to a managed care model. Operating state government with fewer employees. Arguing that we're more efficient because we're doing it with fewer people.
But when it comes to education, education is all of our priorities. You know what? The only thing that I have done, really, when it comes to education in New Mexico is put more money into education. And that is something that everybody promises to do and that's what all of us want. We want priority to be education. We want to spend our money on education. Fine. But as governors state to state, city to city, all we do is spend more and more and more money into an area that by all measurements is doing just a little bit worse from year to year to year. I know of no other aspect in our lives that we allow this to occur.
We need to bring competition to public education. We need to bring vouchers to public education. We need to make public education like higher education. I think higher education is in essence a form of voucher. You've got institutions out to attract kids. Kids choose which institution they want to go to. They've got their tuition dollars. I have a plan in New Mexico. Give every single student in the State of New Mexico a voucher. Base it on the funding formula. We spend about six thousand dollars a year to put a student through public education. Base a voucher so that in New Mexico you would get about four thousand dollars to send your child to the school of your choice.
I think the government has a role in all this to insure accountability. So any school accepting a state funded voucher would in fact test to make sure that students are accountable; that students actually live up to standards.
A huge criticism. This is taking money away from public schools. Well look, it's not. In New Mexico, like I say, if you're spending six thousand dollars per student and you're giving out a four thousand dollar voucher, in fact, you'd raise the unit value for those kids that were left in school.
And there's this criticism also: look, this isn't enough money to pay for private school. Well surprisingly, in New Mexico, three-quarters of the private schools would take a four thousand dollar tuition. So that is not the issue. And then if it is the issue, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The best and the brightest. Come on. The best and the brightest are going to leave the schools. The best and the brightest are being well-served. The best and the brightest that are being well-served are going to stay right where they're at. It's the kids that aren't being well-served that you may be giving a different opportunity.
The public schools are going to be left with the dregs. Come on. The worst students are going to be left in public education. This is just not true. They're trapped in public education. We have a phenomenon in New Mexico, everywhere, every state, you know, you got pebbles that hit the windshield of your car, the windshield breaks, right? I was talking to a windshield repair guy the other day, owner of a windshield repair store. I says man, all these rocks, all this road construction. He goes rocks? You mean road diamonds? [Laughter]
We got a whole lot of kids in public education that are road diamonds. We just have to give them a chance. That's all we've got to do.
You know, this is only for the rich. The rich. No, this is about the poor. This is about giving kids a choice that they don't have now. The rich have made a choice. They're moving into the best neighborhoods. They're moving into areas with the best schools. It's the poor. They're living in areas that they don't have a choice. They're trapped. It's about parents caring. Come on, governor, you can't legislate that. Yes, you can. You know, whether a particular is an intravenous drug user, or whether a parent is a cardiothoracic surgeon, parents care about their kids. It's just the intravenous drug user is in a situation, a bad situation that they can't get out of. Give that parent a voucher. Give that parent a chance to make good by his or her child and they will.
Transportation. Come on. You can't transport kids everywhere. Well you know, there's sixty voucher programs, pilot programs nationwide, and transportation has just not been an issue. And in New Mexico when I talk about this four thousand dollars, included in that four thousand dollars is an amount of money for transportation. Give every single student in the state a voucher. Stand back. Schools that want to compete are going to have to provide transportation, and they will.
Constitutional. It's not constitutional. Well, the issue of constitutionality boils down to the fact that you're not giving money to private schools, you're giving money to kids and parents to determine which schools they want to go to. And when it comes to constitutionality, I'll tell you what. We got voucher programs galore in state government. I mean, we give welfare mothers in essence a voucher. They choose where to put their kids in daycare. That's a voucher.
Now, the G.I. Bill. Arguably the best voucher system that the country's ever had. Arguably the G.I. Bill laid the seeds for what we're reaping today. Allowing all those World War II veterans to come back and go to the college of their choice.
Vouchers will discriminate. You know, interestingly there's more integration in private schools statistically than in public school. This was something that I had not understood.
What about the teachers, governor? What about the teachers? Well, what about the teachers? We ought to be rewarding the best teachers and we ought to get rid of the worst teachers. [Applause] And where is there an example by which the public sector pays more money than the private sector? The point being is what do teachers have to fear here? Let's get in a bidding war over teachers. And why don't teachers look at this as an opportunity also? This is a monopoly. What we've got here is a monopoly when it comes to public education.
And what is a monopoly by definition? It's goods and services that cost a little bit more, and the product just isn't as good as it might be. Is there anything that the government does better than the private sector? I can't think of a single example. Now, government does well when competing with the priority sector if there are those same services. And again, that's what I'm talking about. Leave the government to the production of an automobile, and you know what you've got? The Russian Zeal [Phonetic]. There is not one of us that would choose the Zeal over a Ford or a Dodge or a Chevy. We're just not going to do it. It's a crummy car and it costs a lot of money.
Charter schools. Charter schools are the answer governor. Why don't you just back off of this voucher deal and, you know, just get behind charters? Well charters are a great idea. And I back charters. But charters are the vehicle by which public schools are going to compete. Give every single student in the state a school voucher and you're going to see every single public school become a charter overnight because that's going to become their vehicle to compete.
And in rural schools or in other areas, governor, there just aren't any alternatives. I mean, you can issue all the vouchers you want and there are no alternatives. Well, if there are no alternatives nothing ventured, nothing gained. No problem. In rural areas, look, we only have one school; we love that school. Well, if that's the case then you don't have anything to fear. We're the best school. Well, you don't have anything to fear. But why can't we have an entrepreneurial explosion in this country when it comes to the delivery of educational services K through 12?
When we look at the Internet and the delivery of educational service over the Internet, there are states in this country that deliver high school competencies over the Internet. My understanding is that Oregon, that it costs about eighteen hundred dollars a year to buy onto a service for Internet delivery of high school education. Well, this is hot stuff. And the way that we can drive this hot stuff, the way we can drive this entrepreneurial explosion, this innovation, is give every single student a voucher, stand back, give it some time and there will be alternatives.
In rural areas. No change tomorrow. Maybe no change next year. But in a couple of years there will be change. And it will be positive change.
And how many of you have said gee, if schools were only like they were when I went to school. How many of you have said that? Well come on. We didn't have a choice either. I mean, how many of us would be better off today if we'd have been given a choice? I don't know about you? But you know what, I started turning the volume down in about the ninth grade. And maybe if I'd have been given a choice, and I'm not complaining, but maybe if I'd have been given a choice maybe I'd have done better myself.
Government's going to have to pick up the tab for failing public schools. You know, public schools might go out of business. Promise? [Laughter] Good gosh. No public schools ever fail. Private schools do. But public schools never do. And of course, this isn't about making public schools fail; this is about making public schools better. That's all this is about. This is about education for kids. About improving educational opportunities for kids. This is about making schools better. Equal opportunity for all.
Now, I applaud all of you for taking your time today, and I appreciate your having me here today to be able to speak to you. Thank you very much. [Applause]
MR. OLSEN: Thank you, governor. Our next speaker is Oklahoma's 25th chief executive who is serving his second term currently, Governor Frank Keating. He's been a leading advocate of education reform in Oklahoma and negotiated a significant education reform bill during the final hours of the last legislative session, including charter schools and increased graduation requirements for Oklahoma high school students. Prior to his election as governor he was appointed as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma by President Reagan, served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, and Associate Attorney-General, and also served with Secretary Jack Kemp at HUD as general counsel.
So please join me in welcoming Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating to New York. [Applause]
GOV. KEATING: Always wanted to be on Broadway. I'm here. [Laughter] "The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd." Those of you who've seen it, I'm dating myself, there was such a show; it was really delightful. But thanks, Rudy, and ladies and gentlemen from this magnificent city for giving Gary and me, some of the interlopers and others the opportunity to come and share our thoughts with you.
Bill Weld and I and Gary had the opportunity to serve as governors. We have many different challenges, many different solutions. But it's interesting, as the years pass our challenges and solutions morph and become the same. Whether you're from a heavily urban society or a heavily rural society, they morph and increasingly become the same, as you debate, struggle and tear through the various options and opportunities and challenges that we face as a people.
I want to say something about Gary Johnson. He was not properly introduced. Gary Johnson is a wild man. [Laughter] Gary is a world-class athlete. He really is. And Kev [Phonetic] is my youngest son, my youngest child, I should say, is a tremendous skier. He learned to ski when we were living in Virginia. You might say well, how do you ski around Virginia? Well, there are these little blips of mountains called the Appalachians and the Alleghenies that he learned to ski in. And he was really very proud of himself. He thought he was a hotdog ski patrol type skier.
Until we went to Santa Fe some years ago and on the top of the mountain just after I stumbled off the chairlift and he skied off the chairlift and his mother did as well, a flotilla of state troopers appeared. And there in the middle was the golden man himself, Gary Johnson, the world-class athlete. And Gary looked at me and he could tell that I was not an athlete. And he looked at my wife and he could tell immediately that she was too well-dressed to be an athlete. And he looked at Chip and he said hey, are you a pretty good skier? And Chip said oh yeah, absolutely. I think he was a junior in high school then. He said well, follow me.
So about two hours later I was where I needed to be, drinking hot chocolate down the mountain. But about two hours later I had my cup of chocolate admiring the great scenery of the New Mexico Rockies, and here came Chip looking like the abominable snowman. Completely covered with snow. And I said what happened to you? And he said well dad, that man you introduced me to didn't take me down the trails, he took me down the mountain. You know, rocks and boulders and pine trees. He said dad, that man is crazy. [Laughter] Gary Johnson. [Applause] Crazy but wise.
I moved home in 1993 to run for governor. I'm a Catholic, the product of Catholic education in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Benedictines in elementary school and the Augustinians in high school. Only three percent of the population of Oklahoma's Catholic and there are very few but those few are very successful Catholic schools. When I was growing up if you were a Catholic school you went to Catholic schools. If you were not a Catholic child you went to public schools. And the kids that couldn't make it in public schools were sent to the Catholic schools. Just the opposite, of course, today, but if you couldn't make it in the Catholic schools, basically you didn't make it. But if you couldn't make it in the public schools you got sent to the Catholic schools.
When I moved home in 1993 our kids had always been products of public education. Always, always, always. But we rented an apartment subject to building a house, right next to Monicasino [Phonetic] School, which was the Benedictine school that I had gone to as an elementary school. So we put Chip in Monicasino School. His eighth grade graduation from Monicasino was a stunning surprise. Not that he graduated from eighth grade, but a stunning surprise to me by what I saw. And it was utterly different, terribly dissimilar to what I was used to as a youngster where the Catholic kids went to Catholic schools and the non-Catholic kids went to the public schools.
Here was the eighth grade graduation filled with people. When I was where there weren't too many people who went to Monicasino School. But the graduation ceremony was filled with people. And there was a mass in the middle of the graduation service. And people were standing and sitting and standing and sitting. They didn't know quite what to do. And I leaned over to Sister Mary Claire the principal, and said Sister, what is the problem here? And she said sixty percent of these parents and students are not Catholics. And I went, well, why is that? Not that I'm hostile or, you know, prejudiced toward people who are not Catholics going to Catholic schools, but this was rather curious to me.
And she said well, they think our schools are better and safer. The chairman of the board of Casha [Phonetic] Hall where I went, it's an Augustinian school, told me when I began my crusade to improve Oklahoma public education, don't work too hard; we have a huge waiting list. Don't be too successful; we don't want to lose that waiting list. This is a good deal for us. To have all of these kids that traditionally would not be in the Catholic school system.
So my approach to this was not necessarily to rid the Catholic schools of the non-Catholic population. No, it was to make the public schools strong enough and competitive enough and welcoming enough and attractive enough and excellent enough to attract back the parents that really want to be there. Because they don't want to have to pay twice. I don't know of anybody who gets back their ad valorem check, their property check because they public children in Catholic schools. I mean, my parents paid the property taxes for public education and they paid the tuition for me to go to a Catholic school, and that was accepted.
Well, our approach was not only—my approach was not only to try to attract the parents back to an excellent competitive public education system, but it was also built on a foundation of economic development. When you live in New York you sometimes fail to remember that one time the Dutch had this place and there wasn't a lot here. The reality is for those of us like Gary, Bill Weld, you know, Massachusetts doesn't need to improve. I mean, it's got everything. But for those of us who come from states that have the competitive per capita income challenge, we look at why it is that we are poor. What is it that holds us back?
And we have charts and graphs and studies and analysis to try to move us in the direction of change. I had the state chamber of commerce and the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University economics departments examine the question, what has held us back traditionally as a state? What is the challenge that we need to address in order to lift up our per capita incomes? And of course, no great surprise. They examined the issue of regulatory policy. They examined the issue of tax policy. They also examined the issue of education policy. And concluded we needed a lot more college graduates.
Well, there's no way you can get a lot more college graduates, there's certainly no way you can get a lot more information technology and engineering graduates if you have an education system that is pablum. That doesn't provide the rigor and the excellence to permit people early, I'm not talking about in high school, but in the elementary grades, to pass through the system.
We heard Mr. Forstman's name, and a very great leader in the voucher movement. I was on the west coast about a year ago or so. Jim Barksdale [Phonetic], then the chairman of Netscape, was the roommate of my chief of staff. And we had breakfast together with the CEOs of a number of the major companies, information technology companies, and senior managers all over the United States. And I asked them a question that every governor, I think, asks. Namely, if I were the dictator of the day, if you were the dictator of the day, what would you do to make your company better?
What could I do to make my state more competitive so your company could be more successful, have a better product, have a more muscular economic result as a result of your being in my state? I thought they would say well, cut taxes. You know, the traditional cut taxes, remove artificial barriers to growth. All that's true. Or I even thought they would say improve education. They had already given up. They said oh, you have powerful members of the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. Ask them to dramatically raise the number of B1B visas.
Now, what are B1B visas? Those are foreign-educated workers. Get more of them into the United States to fill those places in our American economy that there are simply inadequate numbers of American students educated to fill. They had already given up. And I'm talking about the major companies that you hear about every day on the New York Stock Change and the Nasdaq. The hiring engines, the economic development engines of the American economy. They had already given up. Just bring in a lot of foreign workers.
Well, what a scourge to us as Americans. We're all immigrants. We love immigrants. But the reality is we ought to be educating the people to fill the jobs in America. So I attacked. And I said we're going to have curriculum rigor. Some of the toughest in the United States. We're going to have vouchers and charter schools and choice, merit pay, bonus pay, competition. Speaking from a state that has two urban centers and a lot of rural populations, I said if you have one restaurant in town, doubtless it will be inadequate. If you have one laundromat or one filling station, whatever it is, if there's no competition it will not be very good.
Well unfortunately, because I am a Republican, the teachers unions put up all of the barriers. Here the Education Association, you know, you're against education. You know, you're against the kids because you want to change things, you're against the children, public schools. And of course, because I was not a product of public education I was immediately demonized. Not that I had any choice. My parents when I was a little munchkin obviously sent me to the faith school of their faith.
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the bank, or on the way to the legislature. My legislature, contrary to popular misconception we, think that, you know, [an opponent] must be heavily Republican, has never been Republican. Since statehood it has never been Republican. The legislature's overwhelmingly Democrat. Now, some of them are slowly getting religion. We're beginning you know, to make some changes, but it's overwhelmingly Democrat. I'm only the third Republican governor. So to take on the culture of the majority party which unfortunately is tentative when it comes to take on the teachers unions, is difficult. And was difficult.
But nobody can argue with rigor, nobody can argue with excellence, nobody can argue for a better opportunity for kids. So we adopted one of the top fifteen curriculum rigors in the United States. We require every child to have four years of English, three years of math, science and social studies. This year I'm coming back in February requiring six academic hours a day. We moved, Oklahoma moved athletics out of the school day. That was a culture shock. But the purpose being, obviously to focus on the reason schools exist.
We were not able to pass vouchers. My proposal is like Jeb Bush's on vouchers. We weren't successful to try to provide vouchers for the [ruined] public schools. So you really can vote with your feet. We passed charter schools and we have a lot of good charter schools moving. But on school choice we adopted public school choice. In the past, in order for me to get out of one public school to go to another, and as Rudy said, there are a lot of very good public schools, you had to have the permission of the sending and the receiving school. And school district. So frequently, no great surprise, people did not want to accept kids from ruined public education communities. They didn't want to have to, you know, teach people the basics.
But now in our law neither can give permission. It's subject solely to classroom space availability. First come, first served to the kids who live in the district. And in one year the number of kids who have transferred is up fifty percent. And athletics, by the way, you can't transfer for the purpose of trying to cherry-pick athletes. So fifty percent increase in transfers as a result of what I think is a very effective school choice law.
And what has happened as a result, and as a result of curriculum rigor over the last several years trying to encourage it, our kids do not take, or a few of them take the SAT, most of our kids take the ACT. SAT are for kids who go to, obviously the private schools. We do very well in the SAT. In the ACT 73% of our kids take the ACT. This year we were the highest ACT state in the south. We beat Texas. We love to beat them in football, obviously. But we love more so to beat them in academics. Florida. We really want to win the Orange Bowl on January 3rd, but we like to beat them in academics as well. The Carolinas. Tennessee. The states in the south who are our competitors. And we had three years running, twice the number one ACT high school in the United States and once the number two ACT school in the United States. Because of curriculum rigor.
The parents understand, like the business guys in California, if you want to find a job when you graduate from high school you better be educated. And for the Chamber of Commerce which we brought in to the business community, to pound the table and insist on rigor, rigor, rigor, you're not going to get it unless you have competition. If you pay a physical education teacher exactly what you pay a higher math teacher you're not going to have excellence. Because there is simply no way that that higher math teacher, unless he has a lot of money, or she has a lot of money, or is totally devoted to public education, will not avoid the siren song of money elsewhere. And they will leave. And we lose a lot of them.
Our efforts at change, at merit pay have not been successful thus far because again, my legislature is overwhelmingly the other party. But we're working on it. But the fact that we have now curriculum rigor and charter schools, and we have a lot of excellent charter schools a-building, and school choice is a very good sign of bipartisanship, working together for the purpose of a goal, and the purpose of the goal is a much better educated student body. Because if they're not much better educated they will do nothing but be soda jerks. No offense to soda jerks. If you want to be one, that's fine. But if you have to be one because you don't have an education that's my fault.
And that's our agenda. That's our theology, that's our philosophy, that is our end game. To try to lift up our people, their per capita income, by insisting on competition in education. If you get competition you get more muscular. You get more muscular, more successful, you make a lot more money. That's where we are, that's where we're going, and we're not going to quit until we're through. Thanks so much. [Applause]