Tag: Colorado

Public Schools Cost More Than Americans Think

Imagine your business trying to decide whether to increase or decrease spending on marketing without knowing how much your company currently spends on marketing. Worse, imagine making that decision under the false impression that your company spends nearly half as much as it actually does. Sadly, that’s the state of the education funding debate nationwide, and the media often exacerbate the problem.

For example, in a news segment on Colorado’s NBC affiliate earlier this month, the reporter acts as though the amount of money spent per child in the public schools is a matter of political opinion to be legitimately debated rather than an empirical fact:

Like any good political debate, there are two sides to every single answer. When it comes to school funding, people have been wondering how much schools get to spend per student. That answer depends on who you ask.

The first person the reporter asked was Kathleen Gebhardt, the lead attorney in Colorado’s education adequacy lawsuit, who claimed that the public schools “receive an average of $6,474 per pupil in tax dollars.” How does that compare with other states? According to Gebhardt, “We’re in the top 10 for wealth and in the bottom 10 for funding our students.”

The reporter then gets a second opinion from Ben DeGrow, senior education policy analyst at the Independence Institute, who claimed that education funding is actually “closer to $10,000 per student.”

The media segment doesn’t give DeGrow an opportunity to explain how he reached that figure, instead turning to a laughing Gebhardt who chortles, “Oh, $10,000-a-year would be unimaginable for almost anybody in Colorado! It would be a nice problem to have, but it’s not one we currently have.”

So who was telling the truth? According to the reporter, no one can really know. He concludes the segment: “Like any good political debate, much of the issue will be addressed at the polls.”

After the segment aired, DeGrow explained how he and his counterpart arrived at their figures. Gebhardt’s figure didn’t account for all sources of tax revenue. In DeGrow’s words, “It is equivalent to counting only the primary breadwinner’s earnings as household income, even though about half as much more money comes in through a side job, home business and investment earnings.”

Moreover, the reporter was asking the wrong question. He wanted to know the amount of state tax dollars that public school districts receive per pupil. The more relevant question is what is actually spent per pupil, including local and federal sources of funding. Not surprisingly, that figure is even higher. According to a report from the Colorado Department of Education, Colorado’s average per-pupil expenditures total $12,181, nearly double the misleading figure given by Gebhardt.

But why mislead the public about how much public schools actually cost? The penultimate paragraph provides a clue:

On Election Day, voters in 31 school districts around the state will decide whether to raise property taxes to pump an additional $1 billion into the school system in the form of bond issues for buildings or mill levy overrides for operating budgets.

And what did voters decide?

Tuesday’s election saw voters in 29 Colorado schools districts approve 34 bond issues and operating revenue increases – plus one sales tax hike – worth just over $1 billion.

Would voters have decided as they did had they known how much money was actually spent per pupil? That’s impossible to know. But it’s also impossible to legitimately debate what the right level of public school funding should be when bureaucrats misinform the public about what public school funding currently is. A 2008 survey by Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance found that voters greatly underestimate how much public schools cost and that their funding preferences vary depending on whether they are accurately informed or not:

The average per-pupil spending estimate from respondents to the 2008 Education Next/PEPG survey was $4,231, and the median response was just $2,000; but for these respondents, local average spending per pupil at the time exceeded $10,000. When told how much the local schools were spending, support for increased spending dropped by 10 percentage points, from 61 percent to a bare majority of 51 percent.

Likewise, in PEPG’s 2011 survey, only 46% of informed respondents wanted to increase funding compared with 59% of uninformed (read: misinformed) respondents.

A part of the media’s job is looking at every claim with a gimlet eye. Sadly, this is far from the only case of the media replacing their self-proclaimed “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out” skepticism with “Rekab Street” credulity.

 

Colorado Court Halts School Voucher Program

Last Friday, a Colorado District Court halted the new and unique Douglas County school voucher program with a permanent injunction. School choice legislation is a little like the Field of Dreams: pass it, and they will sue–and we all know who “they” are. So there’s a tendency to dismiss legal setbacks for the choice movement as purely the result of self-serving monopolists exploiting bad laws or partisan, activist judges. There are certainly cases that fall into that category, but this Colorado ruling isn’t one of them.

Oh, the self-serving monopolists and opponents of educational freedom are no doubt cheering it, but the ruling does not read like the work of a rube or an ideologue, and not all of the state constitutional provisions on which it was based can be dismissed as outdated examples of religious bigotry. The state’s “compelled support” clause, in particular, seems to uphold a fundamentally American idea: that it is wrong to coerce people to pay for the propagation of ideas that they disbelieve. Thomas Jefferson, in his Virginia Declaration of Religious Freedom, called this: “tyranny.”

Obviously, conventional public schools have been a source of such coercion for a very long time–everyone has to pay for the public schools, despite profound objections they may have to the way those schools teach history, literature, government, biology, or sex education. That’s why we’ve had “school wars” as long as we’ve had government schools. And obviously vouchers offer the advantage of giving parents a much wider range of educational options for their children than do the one-size-fits few public schools. But despite this advantage, vouchers require all taxpayers to fund every kind of schooling, including types of instruction that might violate some taxpayers’ most deeply held convictions. That’s a recipe for continued social conflict over what is taught.

If there were no alternative to vouchers for providing school choice, perhaps it would make sense to have a debate over which freedoms should take precedence: the freedom of choice of families or the freedom of conscience of taxpayers–and then to sacrifice whichever one was deemed less worthy. But there is an alternative, and it does not require anyone to be compelled to support any particular type of instruction. I discuss this alternative, education tax credits, in a recent Huffington Post op-ed.

Aetna Exits Colorado’s Individual Market

According to the Denver Business Journal:

A spokeswoman for Aetna confirmed Monday that the insurer will no longer sell new individual-market health insurance policies in Colorado and will terminate current policies held by state residents no later than July 31, 2012.

Aetna had already announced that it will no longer sell child-only coverage or small-group coverage in the state.   Colorado is one of 34 states where insurers fled the market for child-only coverage as a result of ObamaCare.  Colorado took steps to try to stabilize its child-only market, and is considering requiring insurers to sell child-only coverage as a condition of selling coverage directly to adults.

Aetna isn’t commenting on whether ObamaCare played a role in its decision.   Aetna customers will have to switch plans by July 31, 2012.

Remarkable Interest in School Choice in Colorado?

In Douglas County, CO, a jurisdiction with 240,000 residents south of Denver, there is strong public interest in the possible implementation of a sweeping school choice program.  Here’s a blurb from the Denver Post:

Douglas County School District officials say an unexpected level of interest in a retreat exploring school choice today and Saturday is forcing them to add an overflow room and a video feed to allow the public to watch the discussion. The school board is investigating a voucher program that would allow students to use public money to help with tuition at approved religious schools and other private ones. The two-day retreat will discuss the findings of a school-choice task force that has been mulling several issues, including vouchers.

…The board will officially discuss the school-choice recommendations at a meeting Tuesday night, during which the public will be allowed to comment. No Colorado school district has a voucher program.

Here’s a link to the full proposal. I’m told that parents will have a voucher for about $4,500 per child that can be used to finance tuition at any qualifying school. This is more than enough money to cover costs at most non-government schools, and the population is sufficiently large to make this program a dramatic test case.

Keep your fingers crossed that Douglas County officials resist special-interest groups that are seeking to thwart this reform. The teacher unions have been vicious in their efforts to stop this kind of development. If Douglas County succeeds in putting kids first, this could break the logjam and lead to better education policy across the nation.

Think Tanks Should Be Able to Opine on Public Policy Without Running Afoul of Campaign Finance Regulations

In 2005, political opponents filed a complaint against the Independence Institute for not complying with the Colorado constitution and other campaign finance regulations when it spoke against a state ballot initiative. These regulations require, among other things, disclosure of the identity of anyone who has donated more than $20 to a cause and imposes registration and contribution limits on groups who have major interests in ballot issues.

The Independence Institute challenged the constitutionality of Colorado’s state ballot issue requirements and the issue is petitioning the Supreme Court for certiorari in Independence Institute v. Buescher. Cato has filed an amicus brief, in cooperation with Wyoming Liberty Group, the Center for Competitive Politics, the Sam Adams Alliance, the Montana Policy Institute, and the Goldwater Institute in support of the Independence Institute. We argue that Colorado’s ballot campaign regulations run roughshod over constitutional protections for political speech and association, which lie at the very heart of the First Amendment—particularly for think tanks and other organizations that regularly comment on public policy matters. Loss of these First Amendment protections will chill think tanks’ future attempts to educate the public about issues that are the subject of ballot campaigns. The Court should thus review this case and ensure that citizens maintain their associational rights—including the right to remain anonymous when donating to non-profits—and associations their freedom of expression.

You can download the entire brief here. A special thanks to Cato Legal Associate Travis Cushman for his assistance on this brief.

Three Worthwhile Health Care Videos

The first comes from the group Patients United Now.  Keep this video in mind the next time you hear someone say that a new “public option” is not about a government takeover of the health care sector.

The next video comes from the Independence Institute in Colorado.  It is a nice complement to my colleague Michael Tanner’s recent study, “Massachusetts Miracle or Massachusetts Miserable: What the Failure of the ‘Massachusetts Model’ Tells Us about Health Care Reform.”

Finally, a really disturbing video showing Christina Romer, chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, refusing to admit to a congressman that the president’s reform plan would oust Americans from their current health plans.

It’s a shame what politics does to really smart people.

“If I Had ONLY a Gun”

ABC’s 20/20 did a hit piece on the Second Amendment and armed citizens on Friday night.  The show responded to the growing sentiment that “if I only had a gun,” maybe an armed citizen could make a difference in a spree shooting such as the incidents at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University.  In reality, it ought to be called “if I had ONLY a gun.”  Picking people without concealed carry permits to represent the armed citizen and rigging the scenario to ensure that they don’t defeat your narrative is propaganda, not journalism.

Several college students are selected to represent the “armed student” hypothetical, given some marksmanship training, and armed with training guns that shoot paint bullets. The firearms instructor who trained them plays spree shooter and storms the room.  All of the students are hit before they can effectively engage the mock spree shooter.

The show handicaps this scenario in favor of the attacker in several ways.  First, none of the students selected are actual concealed handgun permit holders who carry daily and practice regularly.  Those with more experience get it from shooting Airsoft guns or from a form of shooting that does not involve drawing from concealment.  The poor performance of the students in hitting the attacker is supposedly explained by the lack of law enforcement firearms training.

The simulation is too narrowly construed to show the full impact of an armed response.  First, the experiment is limited to one armed student in the first classroom that the spree shooter hits.  At Virginia Tech, the spree shooter entered several rooms, so a student in any room other than the first would be able to draw, find a position of cover and concealment, point the gun at the door, and wait for the assailant to enter.  Second, the experiment supposes that an intended victim pulling a gun and shooting back, even if not immediately effective, does nothing to stop the attack.

These results don’t reflect the reality of an armed citizen responding to a spree shooter.  Contrary to what the firearms instructor says, it is not “too much for a normal person” to deal with.  Often, the mere confrontation with an armed response takes them out of their revenge fantasy and derails the killing spree.

Some examples:

1997, Pearl, Mississippi: A 16-year old boy stabs his mother to death, then goes to the local high school to continue his rampage with a rifle.  An assistant principal hears the gunshots, retrieves a pistol from his truck, and confronts the assailant.  The boy surrenders.

1998, Edinboro, Pennsylvania: A 14-year old boy opens fire at a high school graduation dance being held at a local restaurant.  The restaurant owner confronts the boy with his shotgun, who surrenders.

2002, Appalachian Law School: Two law students with law enforcement and military backgrounds run to their cars, grab handguns, and stop an expelled law student on a rampage.

2005, Tyler, Texas: A distraught man ambushes his estranged wife and son as they are entering the courthouse for a child support hearing.  After killing his wife and wounding several deputies, armed citizen Mark Wilson intervenes with his handgun and shoots the spree shooter.  The shooter is wearing a flak jacket and kills Wilson with return fire.  Wilson’s actions broke up the attack and gave law enforcement officers time to organize a response that ended with the shooter’s death.  Wilson is later honored by the Texas legislature.

2005, Tacoma Mall: A spree shooter with a criminal record and five days’ worth of meth in his system opens fire at the Tacoma Mall.  Concealed carry permit holder Dan McKown intervenes, but gives a verbal warning instead of shooting.  McKown is shot and receives a spinal injury that leaves him paralyzed, but the shooter retreated into a store and took some hostages after being confronted.  After complaining about life’s travails to his hostages for several hours, he is taken into custody and sentenced to 163 years in prison.

2007, New Life Church, Colorado: Volunteer security guard Jeanne Assam shoots a spree shooter as he enters the foyer of a church.  The spree shooter’s blaze of glory is over, so he shoots and kills himself.

2008, Israel: A Palestinian man goes on a killing spree in the library of a seminary.  Police officers stop at the door and do not go in after him.  Student Yitzhak Dadon draws his gun and engages the shooter, wounding him.  Part-time student and Israeli Army officer David Shapira blows past the cops, demanding a hat to identify him as a police officer and not the assailant, before entering the building and killing the spree shooter.

2009, Houston, Texas: Distraught woman enters her father’s workplace and shoots one man with a bow and arrow.  She points a pellet gun at two employees, both concealed handgun permit holders, who shoot her.  Police show up and she points the pellet gun at them.  They shoot her again and take her into custody.

The scenario is also unrealistic in that the student is seated dead center in the front row, a bad move for someone trying to conceal a gun on their hip under a T-shirt; far better in the back of the room in a corner.  Plus, the spree shooter is expecting resistance and knows where the armed student will be, advantages that will not be replicated in the real world.  In one iteration of the scenario, a second assailant is placed a couple of seats away from the armed student.  When the armed student draws to shoot at the assailant, he is blindsided by the co-conspirator.  This isn’t a result of “tunnel vision,” as the program would tell you.  This is a rigging of the experiment.  A second assailant in placed practically next to the armed student, while our amateur is wearing a face mask that restricts vision?  No one, not even the firearms instructor playing spree shooter, would win in that situation.

There are no magical powers that accrue to a sworn officer, contrary to the anti-concealed carry propaganda this piece puts out.  A recent NYPD Firearms Discharge Report shows that hit percentages for a major metropolitan police department never rise above the 50% mark, even within two yards of the assailant.  Unsurprisingly, people who carry a gun and train with it consistently outperform those who do not.  The FBI’s report “Violent Encounters: A Study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nation’s Law Enforcement Officers” shows that criminals who beat cops in gunfights practiced regularly while their victims only averaged 14 hours of firearms training a year.

The only thing that stops a spree shooter is a bullet, either from their gun when they commit suicide or from someone else who intervenes to stop further loss of life.  Law enforcement responses that quarantine the shooter compound the problem, while aggressive “active shooter” protocols that push police officers into the scene in small teams or as individuals tend to reduce casualties.  The police response is moving toward being on the scene as fast as possible with a gun; we ought to follow their reasoning and allow people to have a fighting chance, not advise them to play dead and call the cops on their cell phone.  When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

On the bright side, 60 minutes had a more balanced segment on the recent surge in firearm sales and prospects for a revival of gun control in Congress.