Tag: education

Who’s Blogging about Cato

Here’s a round-up of bloggers who are writing about Cato research and commentary:

  • QandO’s Michael Wade offered his own thoughts on the New York Times blogger who said Cato’s voice against bailouts has not met her “expectations of adequate noise.”
  • The Atlantic’s Clive Crook reviewed the new Cato book, The Beautiful Tree, which explains how private education efforts are empowering children in Third World nations.
  • Blogging on Tax Day, Jacob Grier cited Charlotte Twight’s essay in Cato Journal on the history of income tax withholding in the United States.
Topics:

The California Legislature Is Being Misled

The California Assembly Committee on Revenue and Taxation is holding hearings today on bill AB 279, the “Great Schools Tax Credit Act.” This bill is much like the scholarship donation tax credit program in Florida, which is a bi-partisan success that saves the state $1.49 for every $1 it reduces state revenue.

But you wouldn’t know that if you read the Committee’s remarkably flawed official Bill Analysis.

Among other things, the Bill Analysis glaringly misrepresents Adam Schaeffer’s ”Public Education Tax Credit” paper, incorrectly calls tax credited donations public funds, omits crucial findings from other states that favor credits, and engages in unsubstantiated speculation.

To address its failings, I penned the following letter which is being distributed to the committee today.

Dear California state legislators,

The official Bill Analysis of AB 279 suffers errors of fact and omission, misrepresents the findings of a paper published by my organization, and will mislead legislators unless these problems are corrected. To address these problems, I respectfully submit this letter.

The Bill Analysis characterizes a 2007 Cato Institute paper as arguing that “vouchers and tax credits deliver similar results” (page 7-8 of the Analysis). This is false. The paper in fact argues that:

Vouchers and tax credits are, however, very different mechanisms for delivering school choice and it is those differences that will be analyzed below. The analysis reveals that tax credits are inherently preferable to vouchers across at least five dimensions.

The above text appears on the same page as one cited in the Bill Analysis, so the author of that Analysis can reasonably be expected to have noticed the boldface section title on that page of the Cato Institute paper: “Why Tax Credits Are Preferable to Vouchers.” The dimensions on which tax credits are found to be preferable include program outcomes such as maximizing the diversity of educational options among which parents are able to choose, maximizing parental and community involvement in education, and creating incentives for long term program efficiency. This directly contradicts the characterization of our paper by the Bill Analysis.

The Bill Analysis goes on to claim that AB 279 appears to be “patterned after the Public Education Tax Credit Act model legislation developed by the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Reform.” I would be pleased to claim credit for this if it were true, but since the PETC model legislation combines a scholarship donation credit (such as AB 279’s) with a direct credit for parents to use against their own children’s education, it does not appear that AB 279 was based on our model. It is worth noting that our organization’s name is the Center for Educational Freedom, not the Center for Educational Reform as it is referred to in the Bill Analysis.

Among the more surprising omissions in the Bill Analysis is that it fails to mention the only official government fiscal impact assessment of a scholarship tax credit program: a study released last December by Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability. The OPPAGA study finds that Florida’s program, which is similar to AB 279, saves the state $1.49 for every dollar it reduces state revenue. This 49% annual return on investment represents a staggering windfall for the state treasury at a time when budgets are extremely tight. Not surprisingly, Florida’s legislature is currently considering legislation to expand the base of taxes to which the credits can be applied, to maximize the number of families who can benefit, and hence the state’s savings. This follows the Florida legislature’s increase of the program funding cap by 50% last year, with the support of one third of the state’s Democratic caucus, half of its black caucus, and its entire Hispanic caucus. The program is a bi-partisan success.

The AB 279 Bill Analysis is also confused in its assessment of the legal issues. It asserts that AB 279 “encourages the use of public funds for religious activities and education.” This claim is mistaken, and the Analysis unsurprisingly presents to no evidence to support it. Several court cases in Arizona and Illinois have addressed the question of whether non-refundable education tax credits represent the spending of government money, and all have found that they do not. The money donated to scholarship organizations never enters the state’s coffers, and so is not public money. The supreme court of Arizona, for example, has upheld that state’s scholarship donation tax credit program for specifically this reason, while recently striking down two voucher programs because they do use public funds in contravention of a state constitutional prohibition similar to that in California.

Finally, the Analysis is filled with unsubstantiated speculation about what might happen under scholarship donation tax credit programs, but presents little evidence from the most similar programs – those operating in Florida and Pennsylvania – on what is actually happening. Legislators would be wise to request testimony from people familiar with the actual operation of those programs and from families participating in them. Children’s futures are at stake.

In English Learning Case, Families Will Lose Either Way

The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today in a case that will affect how and at what cost English is taught to non-native speakers in U.S. public schools. On one side are Hispanic parents from southern Arizona who sued their school district for failing to properly teach their children English, and on the other are district and state officials who want the courts to butt out and let them teach students in whatever way, and at whatever cost, they choose. I understand what these parents are going through – I grew up in an English-speaking family in the French-speaking province of Quebec – but it really doesn’t matter who “wins” this case: the families will lose either way.

Even if the parents “win,” and the Court orders their public school district to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more on English instruction, it won’t do any good. A 1985 federal court order compelled the state of Missouri to spend an additional $2 billion over 12 years to desegregate Kansas City schools and improve the achievement of African American students. Neither goal was achieved, and even the presiding judge eventually admitted his order was a failure. Extra spending and court pressure do not improve public school performance, because public schools don’t have to show improvement to get the money and because courts can’t dismiss ineffective administrators or teachers.

The real solution is to empower families to _leave_ the schools that are failing them and move their children to more effective ones. Fortunately, Arizona has an education tax credit program that makes scholarships available to defray private school tuition. Whatever the court’s verdict, these parents should be banding together to create a local scholarship fund that can accept tax-credited donations so their children can attend the private schools of their choice. They can then pick whichever schools demonstrate the most success at teaching English instead of spending their time in court.

Rare Duncan-Free Friday

As readers of this blog, and other fine blogs, have no doubt noticed over the last few weeks, Fridays have been kind of popular with the Obama administration for quietly doing questionable education stuff. Well somehow we’ve gotten through this Friday (as far as we know) without Obama and company trying to slip anything past us, leaving us with nothing new to add to recent posts like this one, and this one, and this one.

Look at this as a blessing, and a chance to catch up on all the recent federal edu-action by checking out today’s Cato Daily Podcast featuring yours truly. I give a quick summary of what the Obama administration has promised and done to date, and a prediction of what it will — and won’t — do when edu-push finally comes to edu-shove. It’s a perfect bit of listening for a surprisingly uneventful Friday afternoon.

People Are Discovering A Beautiful Read

I’m a bit ashamed to admit it: I just finished reading The Beautiful Tree, Professor James Tooley’s new book recounting his remarkable travels through some of the world’s poorest slums discovering for-profit private school after for-profit private school. I’m ashamed because The Beautiful Tree is a Cato book and I should have read it long before it became publicly available. Fortunately, it seems many people outside of Cato caught on to the importance of Tooley’s work the moment they heard about it.

Yesterday, the Atlantic’s Clive Crook blogged about Tooley’s book, calling Tooley “an unsung hero of development policy” for bringing to light — and refusing to let others blot that light out — how mutual self-interest between entrepreneurs and poor families brings education to the world’s poorest children. And there’s the companion story: How billions of government dollars have erected some relatively nice public school buildings but have created an utterly dilapidated public school system, one that enriches government employees while leaving children — sometimes literally — to fend for themselves.

In addition to the blogosphere, the national airwaves have begun carrying the uplifting story of Tooley’s findings. On Wednesday, ABC News NOW ran a lengthy interview with Prof. Tooley in which he laid out many of the book’s major themes. And the book was only released, for all intents and purposes, that same day; much more coverage is no doubt forthcoming.

It needs to be.

The Beautiful Tree, quite simply, contains lessons applicable not only to slums or developing nations, but to all people everywhere, and they need to be learned. In the United States, whether the subject is  government-driven academic standards or the desirability of for-profit education, this book offers essential insights. But many readers will find the overall lesson tough to take: The cure for what ails us is not more government schooling — providing education the way we think it’s always been done — but embracing freedom for both schools and parents.

Whether or not this lesson is tough to stomach, it must be acknowledged by all who honestly seek what is best for our children. For as Tooley’s work makes abundantly clear, denying reality — no matter how unexpected or politically inconvenient it may be — only ends up hurting the people we most want to help.

Duncan: “I’m a big fan of choice and competition”

How does U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan live with what must be some of the most painful cognitive dissonance in the history of mankind? I mean how, fresh off of doing all he could to make even more untimely the untimely death of the D.C. voucher program – and opposing private school choice generally – could Duncan say this in a new Time interview:

I’m a big fan of choice and competition, and in our country, historically, wealthy families have had a lot of options as to where to send their children. And families that didn’t come from a lot of money had one option — and usually that option wasn’t a good one. The more options available, the more we give parents a chance to figure out what the best learning environment is for their child.

How could Duncan say all this great stuff about competition and maximizing choice right after what he’s done to private school choice – which maximizes options for the very poor who have typically had none – in the nation’s capital? It is simply impossible to reconcile the words and actions.

Unless, that is, the words don’t really mean what the words, to a normal person, really mean. And to Duncan – like lots of political creatures – they don’t. He offered those gushing words of love for choice and competition in response to a question about charter schools, and in continuing to answer the question went right into this:

To me it’s not about letting a thousand flowers bloom. You need to have a really high bar about whom you let open the charter school. [You need] a really rigorous front-end competitive process. If not, you just get mediocrity. Once you let them in, you need to have two things. You need to give those charter operators great autonomy — to really free them from the education bureaucracy. You have to couple that with very strong accountability.

And finally, it is clear how Duncan twistedly reconciles both killing school choice and competition, and loving school choice and competition: It is all about who is doing the choosing. If schools and potential schools have to compete for the approval of government – of the same smarter-than-thou, bureaucratic apparatchiks who have given us atrocious public schools for decades – then that’s competition Duncan can embrace. But compete based on the approval and demands of the people the schools are actually supposed to serve, the people most interested in schools performing to high standards? In other words, compete for the approval and business of parents, especially without the choices first being fully vetted and approved by parents’ government betters? Well, that just shouldn’t be any choice at all!

Why So Shy With The Hatchet?

ABC reports, “The Los Angeles Board of Education voted Tuesday to lay off as many as 5,400 teachers and support personnel for the upcoming school year” in order to help close “a roughly $718 million deficit.”

Ok, that’s a start. But the number of public school employees in the US has doubled since 1970, while the number of students has increased by just 9 percent.

The bloated, inefficient and ineffective LA District now spends nearly $13 billion a year –- over $20,000 per student –- so they might want to keep on cutting.

Considering the fact that the median private school tuition is around $4,800, maybe they could just let parents and taxpayers keep, say, a third of that money to spend on education themselves.

Presto, no budget problem! Although there would be a huge increase in unemployed school bureaucrats and ineffective teachers … I think it’s a good trade.