Topic: Education and Child Policy

College Aid Calculations Don’t Measure Up

Every other year, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education (NCPPHE) – an organization run almost exclusively by politicians and higher education insiders – issues a report called Measuring Up, which typically declares that as a nation we provide far too little aid to students to help them afford college. Measuring Up 2006, released today, is no different.

Now, to be fair, the 2006 edition of the biennial woe-fest does make a good point about government-funded student aid, noting that it has increasingly targeted middle and even upper-class – rather than low-income - students. Of course, it fails to note the inevitability of that outcome given that aid to the poor must be accompanied by aid to the middle class to be politically viable.

Where Measuring Up 2006 deserves scorn, though – as have previous Measuring Up reports – is in how it calculates federal student aid, a critical part of the report’s determination of college affordability.

A reasonable person would, of course, consider federal aid to be any kind of financial assistance provided to students by the federal government. That would be both federal and aid, after all. But the folks at NCPPHE don’t see it that way. No, for them, only Pell grants count as federal aid. Why? Because, according to the Measuring UpTechnical Guide” – which is separate from the main report – “Pell grants are by far the largest component of federal grant aid.”

Oh, come on! According to data from the College Board, while it is true that Pell grants provide more aid than any other federal grant programs, Pell is still far from the only federal grant initiative, and not even close to the only federal aid program.

Here are the numbers: In the 2004-05 academic year, while the federal government doled out $13.1 billion in Pell grants, it provided an additional $6.3 billion through work study and grant programs other than Pell. Add to that the $8.0 billion that people received through federal higher education tax benefits, and the non-Pell total surpasses the Pell amount, hitting $14.3 billion. And then there are federal loans, which even when not technically subsidized (the feds pay the interest on the loans for a given amount of time) are still in reality subsidized because they are backed with taxpayer dollars, which helps keep their interest rates artificially low. Add those loans – a total of $62.4 billion – to the student aid pot and Pell grants are absolutely dwarfed, coming in at just 14 percent of all federal aid.

And so, the higher education establishment has struck again. Absurdly defining all federal student aid as just Pell grants, Measuring Up 2006 has ignored the vast majority of aid furnished by federal taxpayers and cried out for more money. It’s just the kind of accounting that could only measure up in a report intended to further rip off taxpayers and enrich the ivory tower.

So Should We Go Dutch, or Not?!?

A while back, Reason Magazine’s Julian Sanchez blogged about what he saw as an inconsistency in my position on the Dutch national school voucher program. Though I missed his post at the time, it’s worth responding to.

Julian pointed out that I have bemoaned the stifling regulatory encroachment  besetting private voucher schools in the Netherlands, while also touting the superior academic outcomes of those schools.

What gives?

The answer is relativity. While Dutch academic performance is among the best in the world, that does not mean it is anywhere near as good as it would be under actual market conditions. The Netherlands competes with nations (like our own) suffering from morbidly obese government school monopolies. Their own system, with its modicum of parental choice and competition, is merely fat and out of shape by comparison. When they race, the Netherlands invariably comes out at or near the front of the pack. That does not mean it is the Carl Lewis of school systems.

The same can be said of the Dutch school system’s impact on social harmony. While it has advantages in this area over state school monopolies, it still has shortcomings when compared to market systems that do not rely on government funding of private schools to ensure universal access.

So, when I talk about the Dutch voucher program, I try to point out its shortcomings while also noting that – even though it falls short of a true market – it outperforms our calcified centrally planned school systems.

As Julian no doubt saw, I wrapped-up my earlier piece trumpeting the academic superiority of the Dutch system with the following caveat:

All this might sound like a sales pitch for introducing a Dutch-style voucher program. It isn’t. As it happens, research suggests that there are even better ways to reintroduce the benefits of parental choice and competition in education.

When everyone else is moving backwards, the guy who’s standing still seems like a high-achiever.

What You Don’t Know Is Costing You… Dearly

The excellent blog Sound Politics had a great post yesterday by Marsha Michaelis, revealing how little Washington state residents know about current levels of public school funding. Washington is fairly close to the national average, with total per-pupil spending in 2004-05 coming in at $10,121. Only 12 percent of Washingtonians surveyed came within $2,000 of that figure. (There’s nothing special about Washington state in this regard, by the way. A similar knowledge gap was found earlier this year in Florida).

When asked if $10K was too low, too high, or about right, 61 percent of Washingtonians said it was either too high or about right.

In other words, the reason taxpayers keep voting to increase public school spending is that they have no idea what is being spent per child now. If they did know, they’d stop feeding the beast.

But why doesn’t the public know how much the public schools spend per-pupil? I’ll let Marsha explain that one.

After College Presidency, Telling It Like It Is

In this morning’s New York Times, William M. Chace, a former president of Emory and Wesleyan Universities, offered the welcoming speech he always wanted to give to incoming students, but could never deliver as a college president. Just a bit of his speech explains what should be obvious about skyrocketing college costs, but is constantly denied by “experts” in higher education policy: As more and more money goes into the ivory tower, students demand ever-grander amenities, and tuition prices are driven higher and higher.

Laudable [a fictitious university] could be cheaper, but you wouldn’t like it. You and your parents have made it clear that you want the best. That means more spacious and comfortable student residences (“dormitories,” we used to call them), gyms with professional exercise equipment, better food of all kinds, more counselors to attend to your growing emotional needs, more high-tech classrooms and campuses that are spectacularly handsome.
Our competitors provide such things, so we do too. We compete for everything: faculty, students, research dollars and prestige. The more you want us to give to you, the more we will be asking you to give to us. We aim to please, and that will cost you. It’s been a long time since scholarship and teaching were carried on in monastic surroundings.

For state and federal policymakers, the implications of the basic economic reality Chace describes should be pretty clear. All the aid that they give to students using taxpayer dollars–more than $96 billion in the 2004-05 academic year alone (which is more than twice the inflation-adjusted total of just 10 years prior)–allows students to demand more and more grandiose stuff, and in so doing drive college costs to ever-dizzier heights.
 

Dumb and Dumberer?

Tonight, ABC will rerun its 20/20 special, “Stupid in America,” which exposes our monopoly school system for what it is: a remarkably dumb — and harmful — idea.

Central planning has been thoroughly discredited in every other field of human exchange over the past half-century. But, for some reason, we still cling to our public school politburos.

Tonight, you can see John Stossel summarizing some of the human and financial costs of our dumbitude.

Why Does the WSJ Have a Preferred Monopolist?

Today’s Wall Street Journal once again defends the mayoral takeover of Los Angeles public schools. The editorial board’s argument is that we shouldn’t make “the perfect the enemy of the good.” Fine.

But the pointless is the enemy of both the good and the perfect.

What the WSJ is saying is that it is “good” to substitute one education monopolist for another. In what other field does the WSJ have a preferred monopolist? In what other field would they suggest that simply dividing authority over a monopoly between a mayor and another government agency will lead to meaningful improvement?

The only way of “fixing” monopolies is to break them up and return power to consumers by instituting a level, free, competitive playing field for producers.

C’mon, guys, Adam Smith had all this figured out in 1776 – even with specific respect to education. And the evidence proves him right.

PFAW: “Well, We Did Do the Nose…”

Apparently People for the American Way thinks that the “American Way” was best embodied by Salem’s witch trials.

In a bizarre ad hominem breakdown, PFAW posted a hatchet piece on Alliance for School Choice president Clint Bolick yesterday.

It isn’t a news release as such. It contains no news. It’s simply a list of Bolick’s alleged crimes against the state school monopoly.  And I question the timing.

PFAW’s putative indictment seems intended to discredit Bolick in the eyes of the New Jersey media, due to a lawsuit the Alliance has filed on behalf of dissatisfied public school parents in that state. The parents are seeking choice – school vouchers to be precise – and there are few things that PFAW opposes more stridently than parental choice in education.

Fortunately for Bolick and for American children, PFAW’s attempted witch trial is less reminiscent of the real thing than of the Monty Python satire (whence comes the title of this post). Its most glaring error is to confuse the institution of government monopoly schooling with the ideals of public education.

Bolick, like most school choice advocates, is indeed critical of the bureaucratic school system that Americans inherited from the 19th century. But he is critical of it precisely because he is so committed to the ideals of public education. Our current system of schooling has failed to live up to our ideals and expectations for generations, and school choice advocates suggest introducing market forces because they will do a much better job of fulfilling those ideals and expectations.

I point all this out, moreover, as someone who does not support efforts, such as the New Jersey lawsuit in question, to encourage legislation from the bench.