Author Archive

The next battlegrounds for school choice: Stubborn red states (Glass Op-Ed)

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Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Where can school choice advance in 2017? Franklin Center’s Kevin Glass takes a closer look at the education landscape in red states:

The sweeping successes of Republicans nationwide in the 2016 elections presents a huge opportunity for the school choice movement. Republicans have historically been more friendly to school choice than Democrats, and they now have 33 governorships and full control of 32 state legislatures.

Unfortunately, Republican control doesn’t always equal the best outcomes for students. In places like Texas and Mississippi, hundreds of thousands of students sit on waitlists for choice programs despite Republican control in both of those states.

“Mississippi is a little late to the school choice dance,” education activist Kevin Chavrous said, according to Mississippi Watchdog. The state has a choice program, but that “only a small percentage of Mississippi students are able to take advantage, and opportunities need to be expanded.” Reformers there are working with legislators.

Watchdog Texas reported that the state “remains a laggard” in this important area, and that the Republican speaker of the house has been an opponent of expansion of school choice programs. The status quo policies are what keep a reported 120,000 students on waitlists to get out of failing public schools.

Click here for the full op-ed in the Washington Examiner. 

A new administration begins, and Watchdog reporting continues

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Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

 

No matter who leads our country, federal bureaucrats with political agendas will always run amok in Washington. And that means we are always under threat of overreach from the federal government. 

With a new administration taking office, here’s a look back at three major stories Watchdog.org broke in 2016 about the federal government and how we will continue covering these issues in the new year.

1- The Google Administration

Watchdog reporter Johnny Kampis broke the news that Google officials visited the White House more than once a week on average since President Obama took office. The story immediately went viral, landing on the Drudge Report and the front page of FoxNews.com. Thousands of people were talking about the story on social media, including Rob Lowe, who tweeted his thoughts.

Kampis also broke a second story about the revolving door between Google and the Obama Administration, exposing that more than 250 people moved from Google and related firms to the federal government or vice versa since President Obama took office. For a second time the story was featured on the Drudge Report, and it also led to a segment on Fox Business.

Google was reportedly planning to remain close to the White House if Hillary Clinton has won, but with Donald Trump taking office, the tech giant is scrambling to get close to him and his staff. As Google and other major players try to gain access to the federal government and massage policy in their favor, we’ll expose their actions.

You can find all stories in our Google Administration series by clicking here.

2- Border Disorder

Watchdog.org Texas reporter Kenric Ward was built up trust with sources knowledgeable about immigration and border security, so they know they can come to him with big news. And they did: Watchdog was able to exclusively report that the Department of Homeland Security shut down a key aerial surveillance program along the border.

His reporting got the attention of a bipartisan coalition of public officials. Together, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. John Cornyn and Democrat Rep. Henry Cuellar demanded that the department resume the program. Abbott also shared Ward’s work on Twitter:

Will the new president resume the program, which was responsible for apprehending 110,000 illegal border crossers? As the Trump Administration moves to secure the border, we’ll continue to cover this important topic.3-

3- Deadly Delays

Wisconsin Watchdog bureau chief Matt Kittle exposed a huge scandal in the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review: an employee who brought to light claims of incompetence, misconduct and long case delays told us that management was retaliating against him for blowing the whistle.

Meanwhile, Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss was accused of deciding disability cases based on the appearance and race of claimants and of making highly inappropriate and sexually-charged comments about them. Documents obtained first by Watchdog show the judge using terms such as “cute,” “buxom,” and “gorilla-like,” to describe claimants.

As a result of our reporting, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee began an investigation into the Social Security Administration. The judge was later suspended and escorted from his office, and more SSA employees at the center of scandals have decided to leave the agency or have been reassigned.

Will President Trump and the Congress clean up the SSA? We’ll be watching.

You can find all of our stories in the Deadly Delays series by clicking here. 

These stories are just a few examples of our impact journalism. And regardless of who holds office, government must be watched. That’s exactly what Watchdog does. While other news organizations get distracted with salacious stories and snappy soundbites, we keep the focus on what really matters.

Neily Op-Ed at RedState

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Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

The Eyes Of Texas Are Upon You: The Franklin Center’s Amicus Brief In Hall V. McRaven

The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity filed an amicus brief in a case before the Texas Supreme Court. President Nicole Neily explains why at RedState:

For years, well-connected applicants to the University of Texas benefitted from a secret admissions process; hundreds of applicants who would otherwise have been denied admission to the school were accepted due to the influence of powerful legislators, friends, or family members. But thanks to strong-willed whistleblowers and dedicated journalists, the scandal was uncovered in 2013, culminating in the resignation of UT-Austin President Bill Powers.

The University’s official investigation initially discovered very little wrongdoing; a subsequent report by the independent firm Kroll Associates found more widespread abuse. Watchdog.org’s Jon Cassidy also investigated this scandal, discovering that at least 764 people were admitted to the University of Texas that would not have been under the admissions standards typically applied to applicants. “The Kroll investigation confirmed what had been common knowledge… students were getting into UT at extraordinary rates, despite bad grades,” Cassidy found.

The full extent of the malfeasance, however, remains unknown; many have hypothesized that the Kroll report may have publicly downplayed the scope of the scandal. Accordingly, Wallace Hall, a member of the UT Board of Regents, has repeatedly requested – and been denied – access to the full set of documents compiled by Kroll. Hall was forced to turn to the courts, filing suit against University Chancellor William McRaven in a case that will be heard by the Texas Supreme Court today.

The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, the publisher of Watchdog.org, filed an amicus brief in support of Hall, because of the implications that Hall’s case has for transparency and oversight of government boards throughout the state of Texas. We have requested some of the same information at issue in this case, and are currently in litigation with the University of Texas system in a Public Information Act case. 

In our brief, we assert that “release of the information at issue in this case is vital for proper government of UT, and the stated grounds for withholding it are symptomatic of institutional drift of governmental bodies in the Texas and the U.S. to insulate themselves from the public they are intended to serve.”

Read more at RedState.

Glass Op-Ed Published in the Washington Examiner

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Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Conservatives may miss an opportunity in the battle against ‘fake news’

The term ‘fake news’ is thrown around a lot these days, but there’s a real problem with fabricated news designed to look real. Franklin Center’s Kevin Glass writes that while conservatives have been skeptical of efforts to crack down on ‘fake news,’ that doesn’t mean they should stand on the sidelines of this debate.

Not long after the conclusion of the 2016 election, leaders at Facebook and Google announced they would be trying to crack down on “fake news” that became common on their sites. They defined “fake news” as stories fabricated wholesale that appeared on legitimate-looking sites designed to trick people into thinking they were reading about something that happened.

Conservatives have been skeptical of these efforts, and rightfully so. Google, Facebook and other tech companies have not exactly engendered trust with conservatives recently. Just in the last year, Facebook was revealed to have been curating its “trending” stories section in an anti-conservative direction, and Google fielded complaints that their platform was biased against then-candidate Donald Trump.

In response, many conservatives claim the fight against “fake news” will end up as a witch-hunt that delegitimizes conservative voices across some of the biggest platforms on the Internet, and that these criticisms of “fake news” could just as easily be applied to what people consider to be mainstream media.

But those criticisms from conservatives miss the mark. Yes, the mainstream media is biased, because most people who work for mainstream outlets are liberals. Yes, the mainstream media gets stories wrong far too often. Yes, the mainstream media credulously reports things that should be more deeply reported. And yes, especially, the mainstream media needs to get their own house in order and rebuild their credibility before tut-tutting everyone else about the news media environment.

Read more in the Washington Examiner.

Neily Op-Ed Published in The Hill

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Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

US is losing the innovation war — to China

Franklin Center President Nicole Neily writes in The Hill about the decline in American innovation due to a weakening of intellectual property laws:

Over the last decade, government policies and legal rulings are pushing U.S. investment money overseas to China, while here in the United States, key industries that have potential to spur economic growth are paying the price.

This may sound like the sentiments of President-elect Donald Trump, but it’s actually the verdict that former U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Director David Kappos delivered during his closing remarks at a recent Inventing America conference.

“The U.S. no longer provides the kind of patent incentives that are necessary to invest in key industries like biotech and software,” Kappos lamented. “When investment incentives are reduced, you can expect investment to move elsewhere.”

Read more in The Hill.

Bicknell Op-Ed in National Review

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Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

Want to Fix Journalism? Start by Bringing Diversity of Thought to Newsrooms

If mainstream news organizations want to regain credibility with the public, they should begin by hiring young conservative journalists. That the message from John Bicknell, executive editor of Watchdog.org:

How can we fix the failures of journalism that were made so obvious by the election of 2016? We could start by doing something that might put me out of business, or at least make my job harder to do.

I hire reporters to cover state and local government. They are tasked with finding waste, fraud, and malfeasance, along with shining a light into corners where most news outlets don’t look and from a perspective — that of the free market — from which all too many reporters and editors are not familiar.

During my more than three decades as a journalist, I have sat through my share of diversity training sessions. I have been handed memo after memo and read study after study about how we needed to make our newsrooms look more like the communities we serve. The key word there is “look.”

Read more at National Review Online.

Glass Op-Ed Published in Townhall

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Sunday, December 18th, 2016

Will Draining the Swamp Work in Florida?

Franklin Center Policy Director Kevin Glass takes a closer look at the anti-cronyist aspirations of Florida’s new Speaker of the House:

Incoming Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran cut his teeth on the Florida house appropriations committee, but he’s got bigger aspirations than merely appropriations as he assumes his leadership position: he wants to make the Florida legislature the most transparent in the country, and he’s willing to take on his own party to do it.

Legislators around the country could learn from Corcoran’s ambitious agenda.

While Florida has a reputation for a hard-partying coastal vacation destination, its state capitol’s politics may take more cues from the notorious “good ol’ boys’ network” that other more traditionally Southern states have. Reformers have targeted Tallahassee, claiming that handouts and corporate welfare permeate the way the state government does business.

Read more at Townhall. 

 

Glass Op-Ed Published in the Washington Examiner

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Saturday, December 10th, 2016

Why the Constitution still matters at universities

Franklin Center Policy Director Kevin Glass takes to the Washington Examiner to weigh into the campus free speech debate:

Polling tends to find that millennials are the generation least friendly to free speech. They focus more on potential downsides and harm that words can cause than the upside of being able to speak their minds freely. Perhaps they never learned the axiom about sticks and stones.

Or perhaps it’s because the millennial generation has, largely, been through four years of a college education on a modern university campus (Remember, the millennial generation starts with those born in 1980. Most of them already have their bachelor’s degrees). With speech codes, speech zones, funding inequities and more, they’ve been educated in an environment that teaches that free speech can be tolerated if absolutely necessary, but never encouraged.

That this flies in the face of 200 years of American legal and normative precepts doesn’t much matter. But even the college campus might begin to find that the ivory tower is sometimes subject to antiquated notions like those contained in the U.S. Constitution.

It’s important to realize how dependent colleges and universities are on taxpayer money at both the state and local level, which is why they continue to run into issues that don’t affect private institutions. “Spending on higher education is the third-largest budget item for state legislatures, after Medicaid spending and public schools,” Casey Mattox of the Alliance Defending Freedom said at a Washington policy summit hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council. “So you have quite a lot at stake.”

Read more in the Washington Examiner.

As newspapers shed staff, we are helping to fill the void

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Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Even the nation’s largest newspapers aren’t immune to newsroom layoffs: earlier this year the Wall Street Journal announced it would cut 48 jobs as part of changes to its print edition.

Shutterstock Image

Journalism shouldn’t suffer just because newspapers are facing shrinking budgets.

But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the losses taking place in the industry overall. In fact, newsroom jobs at daily newspapers across the country have declined by more than half from their high point in 1990, according to Ken Doctor, the president of Newsonomics.

And it’s only getting worse. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that newspaper reporter positions will decline by 28 percent and editor positions by 34 percent between 2014 and 2024.

This is bad news for newspapers, but it doesn’t have to be bad news for journalism.

Online and non-profit journalism are on the rise, as any follower of the Franklin Center knows. Our website Watchdog.org is proving that digital investigative journalism has an important role to play in the future of media.

In fact, the Franklin Center is teaming up with traditional media outlets to help spread the truth about government mismanagement and overreach. Newspapers are valuable community institutions that millions of Americans still depend upon for their news, and that’s why we make all of our stories available for free to any news organization who wants to run our work. We know that every daily or weekly newspaper can’t afford to hire an investigative reporter or keep tabs on the state capital. But we can, and we hope to fill the void.

When columnists bemoan the decline of print journalism, the biggest concern is there won’t be enough journalists informing the public about important issues. This doesn’t need to be the case. By partnering with newspapers and broadcast outlets large and small, we are doing our part to ensure the public is informed about their government, whether they get their news in print or online.

You can support the Franklin Center’s public-interest journalism by making a tax-deductible donation. Click here to donate. 

Glass Op-Ed Published in Townhall

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Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

2016 Highlights Battles Ahead for Choice Schooling

Franklin Center Policy Director Kevin Glass examines the election’s impact on education reform:

The biggest narrative coming out of the toplines of the 2016 election is that Americans voted for change. When it comes to traditional K-12 education, though, many voters showed they’re voting for some of the same status-quo policies that have left so many American parents and children behind.

In Massachusetts and Georgia, two major school reform measures were put directly to the voters – and rejected wholesale. Massachusetts’ measure would have increased the artificial cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state, while Georgia’s would have given the state government flexibility to relax rigid rules on failing schools. The voters in those states turned them down, despite the track records of success that indicate that education outcomes would have improved.

Read the full piece at Townhall.com