Posts tagged ‘vouchers’

Simply Corrupt

The US Justice Department is using decades-old anti-discrimination law to stop poor black families from escaping crappy schools via a school choice program.  The awesome Clint Bolick of Goldwater has the details:

Despite reports of compromise or capitulation, the U.S. Justice Department is continuing its legal assault on the Louisiana school-voucher program—wielding a 40-year-old court order against racial discrimination to stymie the aspirations of black parents to get their children the best education.

The Louisiana Scholarship Program began in 2012. It provides full-tuition scholarships to children from families with incomes below 250% of the poverty level, whose children were assigned to public schools rated C, D or F by the state, or who were enrolling in kindergarten. In the current year, 12,000 children applied for scholarships and nearly 5,000 are using them to attend private schools. Roughly 90% are used by black children.

Parental satisfaction is off the charts. A 2013 survey by the Louisiana chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a national school-choice organization, found that 93.6% of scholarship families are pleased with their children's academic progress and 99.3% believe the schools are safe—a far cry from the dismal public schools to which the children were previously consigned.

But last August, the Justice Department filed a motion to enjoin the program in dozens of school districts that still have desegregation orders from generations ago. It claimed that any change in racial composition would violate the orders. After a tremendous public backlash, Justice withdrew its motion for an injunction, insisting it did not intend to remove kids from the program....

In fact, the children are very much in danger of losing their opportunities. The Justice Department is demanding detailed annual information, including the racial composition of the public schools the voucher students are leaving and the private and parochial schools the students are selecting. If it objects to the award of individual vouchers based on those statistics, the department will challenge them.

If I had to make a list of the top 10 things we could do to actually help African-American families (as opposed to the garbage programs in place now to supposedly help them), #1 would be decriminalization of narcotics and in general stopping the incarceration of black youth for non-violent victim-less offenses.  But #2 would be school choice programs like the one in Louisiana.

PS- I am thinking about what the rest of the top 10 list would be.  #3 would likely be putting real teeth in police department accountability programs, as I think that police departments tend to be the last bastions of true institutionalized racial discrimination.  #4 might be some sort of starter wage program that gives a lower minimum wage for long-term unemployed.  If I weren't a pacifist and committed to free speech and association, I might say #5 was shutting down half the supposed advocacy groups that claim to be working for the benefit of African-Americans but instead merely lock them into dependency.

The True Poverty Rate

I thought this was interesting.  I guess I never realized that poverty rate excludes anti-poverty programs, nor that frequent comparisons made by the Left that our poverty rates compare unfavorably to those in Europe are essentially completely disingenuous as they are comparing apples and oranges.

the only way anyone’s ever really found to reduce the number living in poverty is to give the poor money n’stuff so that they’re no longer living in poverty. But if we don’t count the money n’stuff that is being given to the poor then we’re not going to be able to show that giving the poor money n’stuff alleviates poverty, are we?

And that’s the point at the heart of this necessary correction to the US poverty numbers. The 15% number is not the number living in poverty. It is the number who would be living in poverty if it weren’t for all the money n’stuff we give to the poor. For when we calculate the poverty number we ignore almost all of what is done to alleviate poverty. We leave out all four of the largest anti-poverty programs in fact. We don’t count the money spent on Medicaid, we don’t count the EITC, we ignore the costs of SNAP and we completely overlook Section 8 housing vouchers. That’s hundreds of billions of dollars worth of spending on poverty alleviation right there and all of it is entirely ignored when calculating the poverty numbers. What’s worse, we could double the amount of money we spend to alleviate poverty and the number under the poverty line wouldn’t change by one single digit.

 

uspoverty2

 

 

These alternative measures are explained in WAY more depth here (pdf) by Bruce Meyer and James Sullivan

Who Makes the Price-Value Tradeoffs?

I have written a ton in the past on what I consider the fundamental problem in health care:  The taking of price-value tradeoffs out of the hands of consumers, first through encouragement of first-dollar employer plans and now through a Federal government takeover.  For example:

The computer keyboard I am typing on right now costs about $55 on Amazon.com.  Is that a fair price?

At some level, the answer must be “yes.”  Why?  Because I bought it – simple as that.  No one was compelling me to buy this particular model, so if I thought the price too high or the features too skimpy, I would have just passed on the purchase.  If I desperately wanted or needed a keyboard, I might have bought one of literally hundreds of others for sale at Amazon, priced from a low of $1.49 (used) to a high of $2400 (I kid you not).  After shopping through the various options, I chose my keyboard as the best match, for me, of price and features.

For decades, this seemingly prosaic act of individual “shopping” has been steadily eroded in health care with the growth of third party payers, particularly Medicare.   How much did you pay for you last doctor visit?  Your last x-ray?  Your last blood test?  Believe it or not, it is still possible to price-shop medical care — I do it myself, because I have a high deductible health insurance plan under which I pay all but the most bankrupting bills out of pocket.  As an example, three x-rays last month of my son’s ankle would have been billed to my insurance company at over $100, but I asked for their cash price and they pulled a separate book from a hidden place under the counter and quoted me $35.  I got a 70+% discount merely for caring about the price.

But my health plan, which includes this seemingly positive incentive to shop, will soon be illegal as high-deductible insurance plans, as well as medical savings accounts, are effectively banned.  Under Obamacare, virtually all individual payments for medical products and services will cease — the government and a few large, highly regulated insurers will pay for nearly every visit, drug, or procedure.  The government will be making price-value trade-offs for our care, and they will be doing it incredibly imperfectly, because by eliminating individual shopping they have cut off a, excuse the pun, priceless source of information.

And here:

If we are all forced to have the same, low deductible, first-dollar health plans, what incentive is one going to have to stay out of the health care system, even for something minor?  What is to stop you from going to the doctor every day because you are hypochondriacal, or you are lonely, or bored, or just because you want to save on buying your own subscription to Highlights Magazine?  The buffet will be open and everything will be essentially free – what’s to stop people from gorging themselves?

You might say that you are more responsible than that, and perhaps you are.  But think about this:  Twenty years ago we used to all complain about the 2 or 3 pieces of junk mail we might find a day in our mailbox.  That was when the each piece of mail cost real money to send.  Today, junk mail in the form of email is essentially free to send.  How many pieces of junk mail do you get today?  Even if you are not hitting the system up for free health care, you know someone else will be spamming the system, and eventually all of us as taxpayers will have to pay for it.

The only way to stop this behavior is for the government to create a department of “No” to head off this behavior — what Sarah Palin so famously called “Death Panels.”

Both Tyler Cowen and Megan McArdle discuss individual vs. the government in making price-value tradeoffs for health care in the context of Paul Ryan's proposal to voucherize Medicare.

McArdle:

Expect there to be a lot of angry back and forth over this in the next week or so.  But one thing to keep in mind is that this Medicare plan is not effectively very different from what the Democrats claim ObamaCare is going to do:  which is to say, cap the amount of money spent on providing health benefits to those who are not rich enough to opt out of the public system.  The Democrats want to do so by having a central committee of experts decide what our health dollars get spent on; the GOP wants to put those decisions into the hands of consumers.  But this is not an argument about who loves old, sick people more.  Both parties are promising to halt the rapid growth of government health care expenditures, which is definitionally going to fall hardest on old, sick people....

There are also the tradeoffs to consider.  It seems quite likely to me that vouchers are going to be better at controlling health care cost growth than a central committee.  Every committee decision that cuts off a potentially useful treatment (and I'm afraid it can't all be back surgery and hormone replacement therapy) will trigger a lobbying explosion from affected groups.  Each treatment is a decision with a small marginal cost to the taxpayer; it's in aggregate that they become expensive.  Which means that the congressional tendency is always going to be to override--and while there are supposed to be structural barriers against this in the bill, they aren't very strong . . . about like trying to quit smoking by hiding your cigarettes from yourself.

Bring Back the DC Voucher Program

Litmus Test

A lot of the time, the left can reasonably argue that their increases in the size of government are made out of concern for the common man.  For example, they argue that government needs to massively expand its involvement in health care to help the poor get better treatment.  I think they are wrong, but that's a different story.

But there are occasionally important litmus tests where the left must decide between the interests of government (and its expansion) and the interests of the common man.  I think the DC school voucher program is such an occasion, and its pretty clear that the Democrats in Congress are landing on the side of government.  No matter than most Democrats in Congress send their kids to private schools rather than DC public schools.  No matter that our new Secretary of Education was unable run a public school in Chicago that our current President was willing to send his kids to.

I think proponents of school choice have been very smart in creating school voucher programs that preferentially target poor kids in failing schools.  It eliminates the typical class warfare argument that the program is just about giving rich people a break on their private school tuitions.  Democrats are forced to declare on whether the well-being and education of kids in a program that is dominated by poor African-Americans is more or less important to them than sealing a crack in the government education monopoly.

Government Schools

I thought this was a very illuminating bit from Obama on education:

TAPPER: But"¦proponents of school choice say that the best way to
change the status quo is to give parents, inner-city parents a choice.
Why not?

OBAMA: Well, the problem is, is that, you know, although it might
benefit some kids at the top, what you're going to do is leave a lot of
kids at the bottom. We don't have enough slots for every child to go
into a parochial school or a private school. And what you would see is
a huge drain of resources out of the public schools.

So what I've said is let's foster competition within the public
school system. Let's make sure that charter schools are up and running.
Let's make sure that kids who are in failing schools, in local school
districts, have an option to go to schools that are doing well.

But what I don't want to do is to see a diminished commitment to the
public schools to the point where all we have are the hardest-to-teach
kids with the least involved parents with the most disabilities in the
public schools. That's going to make things worse, and we're going to
lose the commitment to public schools that I think have been so
important to building this country.

Some responses:

  • I love it when my opponents make my argument for me.  One strong argument for school choice is that public schools put a governor on 80% of the kids' educations, forcing them to learn at the pace of the slowest students.  But Obama basically says this.  He acknowledges in paragraph three that most of the kids would take the private option (and the only reason they would do so is that they perceive it to be better) leaving only the "hardest-to-teach
    kids with the least involved parents with the most disabilities in the
    public schools."  I'm sorry Mrs. Smith, I know you want more for your kids, but we've decided that they should not have a better education than that demanded by the least involved parents.
  • If his fear in  paragraph #3 comes true, isn't that consistent with a leftish market failure model?  And if so, why wouldn't it be entirely appropriate for the government to focus only on this small segment not served by private schools?  Isn't that what the government does in, say, housing or transportation, providing services only to a small percentage of the market?
  • Obama parrots the "there are not enough private schools" objection.  Duh.  Of course there is not currently 20 million student-slots of excess private school capacity just waiting for school choice.  But capacity will increase over time if school choice is in place.  Or, if the capacity does not appear, then what's the problem for Obama?  Everyone will just stay in government schools.
  • The class warfare here is both tiresome and misplaced.  Most school voucher plans have explicitly focused on the poorest families and worst schools as a starting point
  • The statement that kids leaving public schools with vouchers would be costly is just wrong, at least from a monetary point of view.  I don't know of any voucher program where students are offered a voucher as large as the average per-pupil spending of that school district.  So, in fact, each student leaving public schools is a new financial gain, subtracting a $6,000 voucher but removing at the same time an $8,000 cost.
  • Finally, note the political mastery here.  Take the question of how many kids would leave government schools for private schools under a full school competition system.  Obama wants to be on both sides of this assumption, sometimes assuming the number is small (when discussing benefits) and then assuming the number is large (when discussing costs).  Obama is a master because he makes this switch back and forth from sentence to sentence.  First, the  number leaving public schools is low, since choice would just benefit "some kids" (Bad old rich ones at that) and leave our "a lot of kids."  He again in the next sentence implies the number switching must be low, because there are not many private school spots.  One sentence later, though, the number switching is high, since it would be a "huge drain of resources."  And then, in the third paragraph, the number switching is very high, since all that are left in public schools are a small core of the "hardest-to-teach kids."

Also note what was strategically left out of his answer:

  • "Even if school choice worked, I could never support it because my party depends too much on the teachers unions in this election."
  • "Just when I have a good chance to be the leader of this government, do you really think I want to abandon the government monopoly on the indoctrination of children and the power that brings to the government?"

Interesting Story on Housing and Crime

A reader sent me a link to what was a pretty interesting story on housing programs and crime in the most recent issue of the Atlantic.  In short, federal housing policy over the last 20-30 years has been to blow up central housing projects (fans of the Wire on HBO will have a good idea of this type of place) that tended to concentrate poverty in a few neighborhoods in favor of voucher programs that would spread the very poor around.  The idea was to get the poor into middle class neighborhoods, with the hope that middle class schools, support networks, and values might be infused in the poor.

Some now seem to be worried that exactly the opposite is happening.  As the article relates, city centers are being revitalized by sending the poor and associated criminal elements outwards.  But in turn, certain here-to-fore quiet suburbs are seeing crime spikes, and these crime waves seem to line up well with where the housing vouchers are being used.

A couple of thoughts:

  • [insert libertarian rant on government playing god with poor people's lives, drug prohibition, government schools, etc.]
  • The people of Houston would not be at all surprised by this, and might call it the Katrina effect.  It may well be that the dispersion of poor families will eventually result in reductions in total crime (say in the next generation or two), but hardened criminals of today don't stop being criminals just because they move to new neighborhoods -- certainly Houston has found this having inherited many criminals from New Orleans.
  • I still think that if we are going to give out subsidized housing, that this in the long-run is a better approach.  The authors of the article seem to fear that the poor, having been dispersed, lost their support networks.  But it strikes me that it was this same network that reinforced all the worst cultural aspects of the old projects, and long-term I think fewer new criminals and poorly motivated kids will exist in the next generation if we can break some of this critical mass up. 
  • The article is an interesting example of how new attitudes about race can get in the way of discussion as much as the old ones.  Stories about increasing crime in the suburbs after an influx of black poor is just too similar to the old integration fears held by whites in the 1960s and 1970s. 

Wow! Megan McArdle on Vouchers

I won't even bother to try to excerpt the post.  Just read it if you are interested in vouchers.  Or Education.  Or just read it anyway.

OK, I lied, one excerpt.  She is refuting anti-voucher arguments.  Here is #11:

11)  There's no way to assure the quality of private schools
Ha. Ha. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Seriously? The problem with
private schools is that they can't match the same level of quality
we've come to expect from our urban public school system? And what else
have you learned in your visit to our planet?

Go, Megan, Go

Best thing I have read all week, from Megan McArdle:

I very rarely get angry about politics. But every time I see some
middle class parent prattling about vouchers "destroying" the public
schools by "cherry picking" the best students, when they've made damn
sure that their own precious little cherries have been plucked out of
the failing school systems, I seethe with barely controllable inward
rage. It is the vilest hypocrisy on display in American politics today.

Anti-Universal Coverage

Michael Canon has proposed for principles of an anti-universal health care coverage club:

  1. Health policy should focus on making health care of ever-increasing quality available to an ever-increasing number of people.
  2. To
    achieve "universal coverage" would require either having the government
    provide health insurance to everyone or forcing everyone to buy it.
      Government provision is undesirable, because government does a poor job of improving quality or efficiency.  Forcing
    people to get insurance would lead to a worse health-care system for
    everyone, because it would necessitate so much more government
    intervention.
  3. In a free country, people should have the right to refuse health insurance.
  4. If governments must subsidize those who cannot afford medical care,
    they should be free to experiment with different types of subsidies
    (cash, vouchers, insurance, public clinics & hospitals,
    uncompensated care payments, etc.) and tax exemptions, rather than be
    forced by a policy of "universal coverage" to subsidize people via
    "insurance."

You know I'm in;  after all, I am the one that has said that "universal coverage is as if, in the Great Society public housing programs, everyone in the country, not just the poor, had been required to tear down their current houses and enter monolithic public housing structures."

However, I would have added a fifth principle:  Health care decision-making and tradeoffs amongst cost, quality, and
content of care should belong to the individual, except when an
individual delegates this decision in some way by his own choice (say
by joining a very structured HMO program).

I wrote about the joys of actually shopping for health care under a high-deductible policy here and here.  Michael Canon also has a new post on shopping and HSA's here.

Anti-Universal Coverage

Michael Canon has proposed for principles of an anti-universal health care coverage club:

  1. Health policy should focus on making health care of ever-increasing quality available to an ever-increasing number of people.
  2. To
    achieve "universal coverage" would require either having the government
    provide health insurance to everyone or forcing everyone to buy it.
      Government provision is undesirable, because government does a poor job of improving quality or efficiency.  Forcing
    people to get insurance would lead to a worse health-care system for
    everyone, because it would necessitate so much more government
    intervention.
  3. In a free country, people should have the right to refuse health insurance.
  4. If governments must subsidize those who cannot afford medical care,
    they should be free to experiment with different types of subsidies
    (cash, vouchers, insurance, public clinics & hospitals,
    uncompensated care payments, etc.) and tax exemptions, rather than be
    forced by a policy of "universal coverage" to subsidize people via
    "insurance."

You know I'm in;  after all, I am the one that has said that "universal coverage is as if, in the Great Society public housing programs, everyone in the country, not just the poor, had been required to tear down their current houses and enter monolithic public housing structures."

However, I would have added a fifth principle:  Health care decision-making and tradeoffs amongst cost, quality, and
content of care should belong to the individual, except when an
individual delegates this decision in some way by his own choice (say
by joining a very structured HMO program).

I wrote about the joys of actually shopping for health care under a high-deductible policy here and here.  Michael Canon also has a new post on shopping and HSA's here.

School Choice, But Only for the Most Irritating Parents

A while back, I wrote about wealthy, legally savvy parents exploiting disabled-education funds to get their high achieving kids into private schools, paid for by the state.  Apparently we can't get $6000 vouchers, but this is legally OK, if you are persistent enough in gaming the system:

In Sonoma County, for example, a family recently enrolled its child in an
out-of-state boarding school, then billed its district not only for tuition,
but airfare, car rental, hotel, cell phone calls, meals, tailoring, new
clothes, an iBook computer, stamps, tolls, gas and 13 future round-trip visits.
Total tab: $67,949....

Here is the mom, in this case, explaining her son's "disability" which justified this largess

"He was not offered the classes that I thought he needed," the mother
said. "If my son didn't get what he needed, my fear was that he would drop out
of school.'' 

She acknowledged he had never been a discipline problem. The hearing
records describe him as a "young adult who is likable, friendly, energetic and
highly motivated. He is physically active, plays lacrosse and soccer, and
enjoys wakeboarding and snowboarding."

"He's a model child," she said. "However, his frustration and anxiety were
so high that I could see that this is the type of person who, out of
frustration, turns to drugs or something that he shouldn't be doing."

Well, the good news, I hope, is that the Supreme Court is set to review this kind of legal abuse of the ADA and other disable rights legislation:

the Supreme Court has accepted for review a case in which, according to
the New York Times's account, a former chief executive of Viacom did
not even give a public school program a try before enrolling his son in
a private school and demanding that New York City pick up much of the
resulting bill. The New York Times's account is distinctly
unsympathetic toward the parent, and quotes Julie Wright Halbert,
legislative counsel for the Council of the Great City Schools, as
saying: "Many wealthy, well-educated people are gaming the system in
New York City and around the country."

Let's have school choice for everyone, not just for the well-connected, legally savvy, or downright irritating.

Government Opposes Things That Work Well

As a follow-on to this post on public vs. private schools, I saw this via Neal McCluskey at Cato:

District officials, as well as the president of the
teachers union, bristle at assertions by the Charter Schools
Association that middle and high school charters are significantly
outperforming their district counterparts.

A fairer comparison would be with the district's magnet schools,
which outperform charters, school board member Jon Lauritzen said.

"I think it's basically unfair to compare an entity that is able to
take their entire budget and focus it entirely on their own schools,"
he said. "They have some real advantages over our schools in the
flexibility of actually providing the type of education that a
particular community wants, whereas we are trying to provide a
curriculum that works for everyone all across the school district."

This last paragraph is hilarious on its face.   The average parent must wonder what Mr. Lauritzen is doing with the public school funds in contrast to focusing his entire budget at, you know, the schools, like those evil competitors do.  And what government official would ever be caught dead providing the type of serves that a particular community actually wants.  And this is all in the context that charter schools are, in McCluskey's words, a "pale shade of choice."

So, what does the teachers union and school board members do in the face of competition that they acknowledge works better?  Do they demand the same flexibility in spending and rules in their own schools?  No!  Of course not!  They demand that the schools that work better be eliminated:

It's no wonder that, a few months ago, Mr. Lauritzen proposed a
moratorium on charter schools, and that public schooling's defenders
fight even harder against reforms like vouchers and tax credits. After
all, who could just sit by and watch parents get schools they want when
an old, hopeless system is suffering?

A Bad Week for Public Schools

I am a bit late on this one, but a California judge has determined that giving kids tests that have consequences is unconstitutional:

A judge in Oakland struck down California's
controversial high school exit exam Monday, issuing a tentative ruling
suggesting the test is unfair to some students who are shortchanged by
substandard schools.

If finalized, the unexpected ruling
would block the state from carrying out its plan to deny diplomas for
the first time to tens of thousands of seniors who have been unable to
pass the exit exam.

Note that this standard essentially means that no tests with real consequences (e.g. denial of grade advancement or diploma) can ever be given, because with 1129 high schools in California, some schools will always be below par.  So his argument will always apply -- there will always be kids who can claim their school is on the low end of the normal distribution.  And even if every school were exactly the same, kids within these schools could, I presume, similarly argue to this judge that they had sub-par teachers or sub-par parents or a sub-par reading light or a sub-par dog that ate their homework.

By the way, doesn't this also imply that California can no longer name state champions among high schools in various sports?  After all, isn't that unfair to schools with lesser sports programs?  And couldn't I extend this ruling to say that California state run colleges shouldn't be using high school grades or SAT scores or any other test-based metric in selecting entrants since some of these folks came from low-performing schools?

This confusion of equal protection with equal outcomes is so absurd its not really even worth commenting on further.  I won't even bother, then, asking how the judge expects sub-par schools to be made to improve without testing-with-teeth, or even what objective standards the judge used to determine that any schools were "substandard" in the first place.

For those who support this ruling, and agree with the plaintiff attorney's language that sounds like students have a right to a diploma that can't be denied without due process, here is a question:  What is a diploma?  Obviously, you don't want it to mean that a student has demonstrated basic knowledge and abilities against an agreed upon standard.  Are we reduced to a diploma being a certificate of attendance, indicating that a student grimly sat through 4 years of classes and nothing else?

This same week, the Florida Senate was unable to rescue the very successful state voucher program in the face of last year's insane Florida Supreme Court ruling that vouchers were unconstitutional because the Florida Constitution's uniformity clause:

the Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the voucher program violated
the "uniformity clause" of the state constitution guaranteeing a
high-quality system of public schools. Because the performance of the
voucher kids was superior to those in public schools, the court ruled that education was not uniform -- or in this case not uniformly miserable.

The program in question that was struck down by the court awarded vouchers to students of schools that failed to pass state standards. 

The program at issue is Governor Jeb Bush's
seven-year-old "Florida A+ School Accountability and Choice Program."
For the first time, schools have been graded on the reading, writing
and math progress made by the children they are supposed to be
teaching. (Imagine that.) Any school that received an F in two of four
years is deemed a failure, and the kids then get a voucher to attend
another school, public or private.

One immediate impact -- according to researchers at
Harvard, Florida State, and the James Madison Institute -- has been
that the mere threat of competition caused many inner-city school
districts to improve. The percentage of African Americans who are now
performing at or above grade level surged to 66% last year, from 23% in
1999.

What is amazing about the court's decision is that every kid who got a voucher, 90% of whom are minorities, came from a school demonstrated by objective standards to be far below average.  But, according to the court, it is constitutional for these kids to be in schools that are far below average, but becomes unconstitutional when kids are moved to above average schools?  Does this make any sense?  I'ts sort of a reverse Lake Wobegone effect -- the system is constitutional as long as all the schools are below average but once any are above average then its unconstitutional.  LOL.

Here is the reason that the court's logic doesn't make sense:  The real thing they are concerned about with the uniformity clause is not uniform quality, but whether the schools are uniformly controlled by the government and uniformly populated with union rather than non-union teachers.

Note that both these decisions use the existence of flaws within the two states' educational systems (e.g. low-performing schools) combined with a "uniformity" or "equal protection" standard to strike down reforms aimed at fixing these very flaws.  Both are saying that you can't reform the schools until all the schools are equally good,  but of course the schools will never improve without reform. 

Update:  But good news in Newark.  It's depressing but not surprising to see my alma mater's own Cornell West out there fighting against school choice for African-Americans.

Update #2:  Walter Olson comments:

It would appear that from now on a high school diploma is meant to
signify not a student's actual mastery of a certain body of material,
but rather the mastery he or she would have attained had the breaks of
life been fairer. Employers, and all others who rely on California high
school diplomas in evaluating talent, would be well advised to adjust
their expectations accordingly.

Static Analysis and School Choice

Below in my first post on the old 1968 edition of The Population Bomb, I said one of the key mistakes of these doomsayers was static analysis, which I described as:

blind projection of trendlines without any allowance for individuals
actually doing something to alter those trends, particularly in
response to pricing signals.  This leads not only to predictions of
disaster, but to the consistent conclusion that only governments
coercing individuals on a massive scale can avert dire consequences for
humanity

A great example of the static analysis fallacy in action today in in the debate on school choice.  School choice opponents often bring out some or all of these arguments:

  • Private schools are often more expensive than public schools, so even with vouchers set at the state per pupil spending, many won't be able to afford private schools
  • Private schools have admissions requirements and testing, such that many students will not be able to meet the cut
  • Private schools are disproportionately religious, leaving few options for secular parents
  • There are no where near enough private schools for the potential demand

Do you see the consistent fallacy?  All the arguments assume that private schools, in terms of pricing, mission, supply, etc., will remain static and unchanged after a voucher program is instituted.  I hate to waste electrons stating the obvious, but the private schools that exist today did not evolve in a vacuum.  They evolved in a world of monopoly public schools, and their nature is based on that reality.  Change that backdrop, and the schools will change.

For example, take the cost issue.  Sure, many private schools are expensive.  The main reason is that private schools have been created in an environment where their customers must have the ability to pay for their kid's education twice.  My kids go to private school, and every month I pay their bill to go to a public school they don't attend (via my property taxes) and then I pay a second bill to the private school they do attend.  As a result, many private schools have high prices, because their customer base can pay.  If the government instituted a special tax so that everyone received a government-funded Yugo, don't you think that the number of inexpensive cars sold by private companies might dry up some?

But private schooling does not have to be expensive.  My kids go to a fantastic school here in Phoenix.  We have moved around a lot, and we have been lucky enough to be able to send our kids to some very good and sometimes very expensive private schools, and I can say with confidence that their school here is both the best and the cheapest!  In fact, the tuition I pay for an education far, far superior to the local public schools is less than what the state of Arizona spends as an average per pupil in the public schools.

The same type of rebuttal can be made to all the other arguments.  Private schools often have tough admissions requirements because the public schools have already staked out the niche for the lowest-common-denominator education, so private schools differentiate themselves by serving an intellectual elite.  But does anyone doubt that if millions of average kids suddenly had $6000 vouchers in their hands, someone would step up to serve the heart, rather than the tail, of the normal distribution?  And I addressed here the huge potential for private school to evolve to serve a diverse range of viewpoints.

Arizona Watch has a nice post on this same topic, including similar thoughts in response to criticisms of school choice:

The statist arguments against HB 2004 are more clearly spelled out in Mike
McClellan's blog
on AZCentral in which he calls HB 2004 "tuition tax fraud." Mike is (surprise
surprise) a public school teacher. Indicative of the quality of public school
education in Arizona, Mike's arguments against HB 2004 are weak, but I'll
briefly refute them here.

1. Private schools can choose who they take "“ many have entrance exams that
will block some students from entering the school.

Mike's correct: private schools can choose the students they accept. Some
students may not qualify for their first choice school. The real point he's
making here is that some students may not have access to private schools even
with the corporate funding "“ that the bill would create a class divide in
education. That's absolutely incorrect. If private schools become affordable to
a significant portion of the population, then more private schools will emerge.
These schools will assuredly serve different market segments. There will be prep
schools, technical schools, art schools, religious schools, atheist schools, and
schools that just provide a decent basic education. There will even be schools
that specifically serve challenged students "“ those students who Mike claims
won't have access to private schooling. The opposite is true. Schools will be
better able to serve a variety of students in a manner far more effecting than
the current one-size-fits-all public school system.

2. Even if they can attend the school, the tuition might not cover all the
costs the student will incur "“ books, uniforms, other fees. If the schools won't
waive those costs "“ and many can't afford to do that "“ the student's family
might not be able to make up the difference.

Certainly some private schools will be more expensive than the tuition grants
can cover. However, many more will design their tuition structure specifically
to stay within the limits covered by the tuition grants. It is absurd to think
that schools would deliberately price themselves out of the market. If the
demand exists, private schools are going to find a way to meet that demand and
earn those tuition dollars.

3. And here's the big one: Republicans apparently believe there are quality
private schools everywhere. They oughta take a more careful look. While Phoenix
and Tucson have plenty of private schools "“ some far too expensive for the
Republican plan, by the way "“ that is not the case in the rest of the
state.

Do you see a trend here? The answer to this last argument is the same as the
answers to the previous two. Tuition grants will create demand for private
schools. New private schools will emerge to meet that demand and collect that
grant money. This is basic economics.

The one concern I have is that statists and choice opponents have many ways to block private schools.  Even with vouchers, zoning and land use laws in many areas have provided a powerful tool to block private school expansion.

By the way, here is one way to test whether people who make these arguments against choice really mean them or are using them to hide the true reasons that they object to school choice:  If they are right, then what are they worrying about?  No new schools will open, no publicly educated kids will be able to afford or meet the admissions standards of those schools that do exist, so nothing will change.  But they seem really worried about school choice, which makes me think that they don't even believe their own arguments.

Defeat for School Choice in Florida

I was gearing up to write a response to the Florida Supreme Court decision that strikes down a school choice plan as unconstitutional, but Baseball Crank did such a nice job, I will refer you to him.  The plan as crafted allowed students in low-performance schools to opt out with  a voucher for another public or private school.  The justices struck down the law because they felt that the Florida Constitution which requires a "uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system" of education thereby necessitates schools run by the government only.  Their "logic" was that using a public voucher at a private school thwarted the "uniform" part.

But here is the scary part of their interpretation of "uniform".  Most reasonable people would read the Constitution as meaning "uniform in quality".  But the voucher law as written almost by definition increases the uniformity of quality.  The vouchers were offered only to students at low performing schools.  The recipients of the vouchers could then stay at the same school or use the voucher to go to another school.  Since a voucher holder will only go to a different school if they perceive that school to be better than the school they are leaving, the law increases the net quality of education received (at least in the eyes of parents, though perhaps not in the eyes of the NEA or the education intelligentsia).  By any reasonable definition, improving the education of the kids receiving the worst education as determined by consistent standards should actually improve uniformity of quality, not reduce it.  From a quality standpoint, I would argue it is unconstitutional in Florida NOT to have this school choice plan.

So if it is not uniformity of quality that is being discussed, it must be uniformity of something else.  As Baseball Crank points out, what is left is a strongly Maoist overtone of uniformity of thought -- that everyone is receiving the same state programming.  This ability to opt out of state programming has always been at least as powerful of a driver for private and home schooling as bad quality.  While public education has been controlled mostly by the left, the right has been the main group "opting-out".  However, as the right takes over the left's cherished institutions, I made a plea a while back to the left to reconsider school choice:

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never
going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is
impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents
object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the
Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and
overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents
object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents
object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some
parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem,
while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't
learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just
test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one
day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly
increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these
softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by
just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.
Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking
about rolling back government spending or government commitment to
funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use
that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of
their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine,
they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus
on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their
kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love
nature and protect the environment - fine, do it...

Arizona School Vouchers

The Arizona legislature has passed a school voucher bill, though the Democratic governor is likely to veto it.  The MSM generally hates vouchers - just check out this Google news search on the bill.  I have not even linked to a cached version - I just have complete confidence that any time you click on the link the preponderance of headlines will be negative.

I think that the legislature did make a tactical mistake in crafting this bill.  While over time, everyone should be eligible, it is much more intelligent politically to phase the law in with a means test.  Otherwise what happens is the initial beneficiaries in the first year of the plan, before new private schools begin to develop, are the rich who are already sending their kids to private school who will get back some of their tax money that went to public schools they did not use.  The optics of this are terrible, as seen in arguments like this that play on this effect, even if I find the class warfare elements of this extremely tedious.

If the bill were crafted to squelch this argument, the rest are easy to fight.  For example, the same article complains about:

the very different mandates and requirements public schools must comply with and private schools do not

Duh.  If private schools had to follow all the same stupid rules as public schools they would be bloated celebrants of mediocrity as well.

Another argument is that kids leaving public schools will drain the schools of money.  This is a huge scare headline by opponents of choice.  It also makes no sense.  In 2004, the average pending per pupil in Arizona (according to the teachers union, opponent #1 of choice) was $5,347.  Per the proposed law, the average voucher size per pupil is $4000.  So, for every student that leaves, the state will spend $4000 but save $5347, meaning that every student that leaves actually increases the money per pupil that can be spent on those left behind.  (by the way, more on the absurdity of NEA positions here and here).

The other argument that gets made is that private schools are all very expensive.  Again, duh.  Today, the only market
for public schools is to people who can afford to pay for their kids to
go to public school and then pay again for private school.  However,
private schools at the $3500 to $4500 level will appear if people have
a voucher in their hand and are looking for alternatives.  My kids
private school is awesome, and does not charge in the five figures - in
fact it is just a bit over $5000 a year.  Here is more on why more private schools don't exist today.

I would love to find a way to get the left, who in other circumstances seem to be all for choice, onto the school choice bandwagon.  This post had an invitation to the left to reconsider school choice:

After the last election, the Left is increasingly worried that red
state religious beliefs may creep back into public school, as evidenced
in part by this Kevin Drum post on creationism.
My sense is that you can find strange things going on in schools of
every political stripe, from Bible-based creationism to inappropriate environmental advocacy.
I personally would not send my kids to a school that taught creationism
nor would I send them to a school that had 7-year-olds protesting
outside of a Manhattan bank.

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never
going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is
impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents
object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the
Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and
overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents
object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents
object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some
parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem,
while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't
learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just
test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one
day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly
increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these
softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by
just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.
Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking
about rolling back government spending or government commitment to
funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use
that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of
their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine,
they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus
on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their
kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love
nature and protect the environment - fine, do it.

Might "Red Statism" Cause the Left to Embrace School Choice?

After the last election, the Left is increasingly worried that red state religious beliefs may creep back into public school, as evidenced in part by this Kevin Drum post on creationism.  My sense is that you can find strange things going on in schools of every political stripe, from Bible-based creationism to inappropriate environmental advocacy.  I personally would not send my kids to a school that taught creationism nor would I send them to a school that had 7-year-olds protesting outside of a Manhattan bank.

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem, while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.  Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking about rolling back government spending or government commitment to funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine, they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love nature and protect the environment - fine, do it.

Yes, I know, private schools to fit all these niches don't exist today.   However, given a few years of parents running around with $7000 vouchers in their hands, they will.  Yes, there will be problems.  Some schools will fail, some will be bad, some with be spectacular (though most will be better than what many urban kids, particularly blacks, have today).   Some current public schools will revitalize themselves in the face of comeptition, others will not. It may take decades for a new system to emerge, but the Left used to be the ones with the big, long-term visions.  The ultimate outcome, though, could be beautiful.  And the end state will be better if the Left, with its deep respect and support of publicly-funded education, is a part of the process.

Of course, there is one caveat that trips up both the Left and the Right:  To accept school choice, you have to be willing to accept that some parents will choose to educate their kids in a way you do not agree with, with science you do not necesarily accept, and with values that you do not hold.  If your response is, fine, as long as my kids can get the kind of education I want them to, then consider school choice.  However, if your response is that this is not just about your kids, this is about other people choosing to teach their kids in ways you don't agree with, then you are in truth seeking a collectivist (or fascist I guess, depending on your side of the aisle) indoctrination system.  Often I find that phrases like "shared public school experience" in the choice debate really are code words for retaining such indoctrination.

In other words, are you OK if Bob Jones high school or Adam Smith high school exist, as long as Greenpeace high school exists as well?  Or do you want to make everyone go to Greenpeace high school exclusively?

I honestly don't know how folks on the left would answer this question.  Is Kevin Drum hoping that all parents have the choice of a secular education available to their kids, or is he hoping that all parents are forced to have a secular education for their kids?  Is he trying to protect his kids from intrusive creationism supporters or is he trying to impose his beliefs on the children of those creationism supporters?  I can read the article and his fear of creationism either way.