Topic: Education and Child Policy

With Friends Like These…

The American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE) used to be beloved by conservatives for its staunch advocacy of traditional liberal arts education, not the politically correct, pseudo-intellectual pabulum conservatives think is dribbling out of most American schools.

But then AALE got in the way of the Bush administration’s obsession with declaring itself the head of all education, and has like St. Thomas More ever since been languishing in the college accreditors’ version of the Tower of London, waiting as the U.S. Department of Education has seemingly searched for ways to have it “legally” killed. Inside Higher Ed has more on what has happened to these one-time conservative friends since they’ve dared to say that higher education can’t be reduced to simple, standardized-test scores, and to resist big-government conservatives’ most unconservative education power-grab.

Tax Revenue Tanking? Act Now on Education Tax Credits and Watch Your Savings Grow!

With a sluggish economy and rising costs for everything, state and local governments are facing serious budget problems. It’s clear that there’s a lot of spending that they should simply cut outright. But politicians hate doing that.
But there is one way to save billions of dollars without cutting a single program or budget; broad-based education tax credits.

A fiscal impact analysis of our Public Education Tax Credit from our own Andrew Coulson and economist Anca Cotet was released today that shows the potential savings for 5 states.

Education spending makes up about half of most state budgets and is the biggest item at the local level, so we expected major savings from our broad-based program. But the totals surprised even us.

Here are the pretty stunning highlights:

Illinois saves $5.1 billion in the first 10 years and $1.6 billion every year after the program has been in operation for 15 years.

New York saves $15.1 billion in the first 10 years and $4.8 billion every year after the program has been in operation for 15 years.

South Carolina saves $1.1 billion in the first 10 years and $350 million every year after the program has been in operation for 15 years.

Texas saves $15.9 billion in the first 10 years and $5.4 billion every year after the program has been in operation for 15 years.

Wisconsin saves $9.3 billion in the first 10 years and $3.2 billion every year after the program has been in operation for 15 years.

This Little Philly Did NOT Go to Market

The Washington Post claims that Philadelphia’s contracting out of 45 public schools to private management firms represented a test of whether “the free market could educate children more efficiently than the government.” It represented no such thing, and to claim otherwise the Post must not understand the city’s contracting arrangements or the nature of free markets.

Families cannot choose from among the privately managed schools. Students are assigned to these schools based on where they live, just as is the case with traditional state-run schools. Markets require consumer choice, and no consumer choice exists in this contracting arrangement. A free market also requires significant autonomy for providers. Under the contract signed by Edison Schools, the largest contractor, its teachers and principals remain employees of the school district. Edison is also bound to honor the terms of the collective barganing agreement reached between the local teachers’ union and the district. Hence, Edison may only make “recommendations” as to who will work in its schools, and has little input on the salaries they will be paid or the length of the school day or year, or other relevant factors. Finally, markets require a price system driven by supply and demand, but the private management firms may not charge tuition, and in any event they are not chosen so there is no basis for demand-driven pricing.

Philadelphia did not create a “free market” in education. What it did was to subcontract aspects of its monopoly to providers of its own choosing – an arrangement not too far afield from the one that gave the Defense Department $640 toilet seats. As I noted five years ago, there was never any reason to expect this subcontracting to yield dramatic gains.

As if to drive home the lack of research that went into this story, the Post’s reporter asserts that DC public schools suffer “a lack of funding.” Three months ago, I calculated the total per pupil spending in the District this year as $24,600, roughly $10,000 more than total per pupil spending in area private schools. That calculation was published in… the Washington Post (with further details on this blog).

Tax Credits We Don’t Need, Tax Credits We Do … Maine #1

Yesterday I posted the first in a continuing series about tax credits we don’t need to illustrate how absurd it is that more politicians don’t support the one good kind of tax credit; education tax credits.

I noted that one of the more popular tax credits is for saving old buildings that some people don’t want torn down but don’t care enough about to save with their own money. So they subsidize the renovation with credits. Maine’s government likes their old buildings just as much as Ohio’s, so the legislature recently expanded the state building rehab credit:

A new law that makes up to $5 million available to developers willing to rehabilitate historic buildings in Maine drew a record crowd Tuesday, a bellwether of its potential to spur new life in old buildings, organizers said.

With an estimated 25 projects that could take advantage of the expanded credit, Maine is looking at somewhere around $100 million in credits for building rehab.

What most states don’t have are education tax credits – the one and only tax credit that makes fiscal sense because it really does save taxpayers’ money and the only tax credit that actually decreases market distortion rather than increasing it.

So, I have a question for Maine’s politicians; if it’s good to encourage developers to invest in building preservation, why isn’t it good to encourage all taxpayers to invest in education? Are developers and old buildings more important than a child’s future?

Will Representative Ted Koffman, Speaker Glenn Cummings, Senator Peggy Rotundo, and Governor John Baldacci, all of whom pushed hard for the building credit, come out in support of at least $100 million in tax credits for educating Maine’s children?

If not why not? Inquiring minds want to know …

OK Preschool Study Provides No Evidence of Lasting Benefits from Preschool

USA Today reports today on the findings of a preschool study, which concludes that Oklahoma’s government-run preschool gives a boost to the performance of all students in the short-term. Its news because the collective conclusions of previous studies overwhelmingly suggest that preschool boosts at-risk children in the short-term, but not children from middle and upper-income families.

An ambitious public pre-kindergarten program in Oklahoma boosts kids’ skills dramatically, a long-awaited study finds, for the first time offering across-the-board evidence that universal preschool, open to all children, benefits both low-income and middle-class kids…

More than any other state, Oklahoma has pushed for universal pre-kindergarten, with the USA’s highest enrollment rate.

There’s just one tiny problem. Oklahoma’s achievement scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, AKA “the nation’s report-card”) suggest that the state’s universal preschool program is at best ineffective and at worst harmful to student achievement.

Oklahoma, “where state-funded pre-kindergarten has been in place for 18 years — and offered universally for nearly a decade,” has slipped below the national average on math and reading scores for both the 4th and 8th grades since it began expanding government pre-K in the 1990’s.

Oklahoma slipped from one point above the national average in 4th grade math in 1992 to two points behind in 2007. They slipped further behind in 8th grade math, from one point ahead to five points behind the national average. In reading the stories the same; 8th grade scores slipped from four points ahead in 1998 to one point behind. And Oklahoma’s 4th grade reading scores plummeted during the 1990’s at the very same time the state was aggressively expanding preschool access, increasing attendance, and building a system that the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) rates 9 out of 10 on quality.

There is little evidence in the research that these kinds of preschool programs impart lasting gains to low-income students and no evidence that they benefit middle-class kids. The real-world evidence demonstrates that the test scores of children in Oklahoma have eroded significantly, as have our nation’s performance on international tests, at the same time that preschool programs have massively expanded and the quality of those programs has supposedly improved.


Tax Credits We Don’t Need, Tax Credits We Do … Ohio #1

Here is the first of what might become a series depending on the fan mail …

We have tax credits for all manner of things at the federal, state, and local levels that we don’t need and shouldn’t have tax credits for … like hybrid cars, movie production, and lemonade stands (the last one isn’t real as far as I know, but I wouldn’t rule it out).

One of the more popular tax credits is for saving old buildings that some people don’t want torn down but don’t care enough about to save with their own collective money. So they subsidize the renovation with credits. The Plain Dealer editorializes in support:

A state historic tax credit that, shortsightedly, was drastically scaled back this spring has now been expanded, thanks in large part to advocacy by Russell Township Rep. Matt Dolan - a leading GOP candidate to become the next Ohio House speaker - and support from Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher.

The program was revived when Gov. Ted Strickland signed a $1.6 billion economic stimulus bill. That will allocate $120 million in tax credits for developers to preserve and renovate historic properties, most of which are in urban areas.

What most states don’t have are education tax credits – the one and only tax credit that makes fiscal sense because it really does save taxpayers’ money and the only tax credit that actually decreases market distortion rather than increasing it.

But I have a question for Ohio’s politicians; if it’s good to encourage developers to invest in building preservation, why isn’t it good to encourage all taxpayers to invest in education? Are developers and old buildings more important than a child’s future?

Will the Plain Dealer, Rep. Matt Dolan, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, and Gov. Ted Strickland come out in support of at least $120 million in tax credits for educating Ohio’s children? If not why not?

Inquiring minds want to know …

So Much, Yet So Little

Depending on where you live, you might have seen a story in your local paper on a new report finding that test scores have improved under the No Child Left Behind Act, implying — but not outright saying — that NCLB is working.

So why would getting this news depend on where you live? Because the report looked primarily at state tests, and only about 28 states had sufficiently consistent data to do meaningful score analyses. The other 22 had changed their testing in so substantial a way since NCLB’s passage that not even three years of consistent results could be strung together. Which is the biggest non-finding finding of the report: NCLB has instigated so much test engineering — often to make assessments easier — that nearly half of all states have no useful long-term data. And don’t automatically assume that the other 28 haven’t changed things: the report itself notes that they could have made questions easier or harder, changed relative weights of questions, and made other, more subtle changes to their tests.

There are other problems with the study that make it impossible to credit score increases to NCLB, most of which the report is upfront about but news stories rarely feature: There’s no “control group” unaffected by NCLB against whom to compare students “treated” by the law, no ability to tease out the effects of NCLB versus other reforms, etc. The most obvious problem, though, is that in large part because of NCLB, lots of states have testing systems incapable of providing the consistent, long-term results that federal policymakers promised the law itself would deliver.