Archives: 09/2008

School Choice Talk

Thought people might be interested in a conversation I had yesterday with Norm Leahy of Tertium Quids, a free market issue-advocacy organization in Virginia, about school choice in that state and across the country.

More states are waking up to tax credits as the best bet for school choice; an education reform that saves kids, saves money, and has increasingly bipartisan support.

School Choice Q & A

This year’s SPN K-12 Education Reform Summit delivered yet another line-up of great information and hard questions. I’d like to follow up, belatedly, on one of the most important questions raised during the conference; are education tax credits more viable than vouchers?

If we hope to succeed against the power of the teachers unions and entrenched political interests, we need to approach this issue in the most careful, systematic, productive way we can. With that in mind, I’d like to pose a few questions that might shed some light on the debate …

How many voucher and credit programs serving at least low-income children have passed since 1995?

  • Since 1995, seven state-wide tax credit programs have been passed and all are still in operation. Two of these programs, in Arizona and Georgia, are universal-in-principle, and none are limited to special-needs. In 2008, Georgia passed a $50 million dollar program with no family income cap on student eligibility. Not included in the tally is a universal education tax deduction program passed in Louisiana in 2008.
  • Since 1995, four state-wide voucher programs serving (at least) low-income children have passed and only one survives. Only one universal-in-principle program passed, in Utah, and it was overturned. Not included in the tally is a Louisiana voucher program passed in 2008 for poor students in failing schools in New Orleans.

How many since 2005?

  • Since 2005, no state-wide voucher programs have passed that serve at least low-income children.
  • Since 2005, four tax credit programs have passed that serve at least low-income children.
  • Only one modern statewide voucher program – Ohio’s – serves students other than those with special needs or in foster care. Three additional modern programs – in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and New Orleans – serve students in those cities. Three statewide programs – in Florida, Colorado and Utah – were overturned by the courts or referendum.

How bipartisan is the support for vouchers and tax credits?

  • When Florida’s donation tax credit program was passed seven years ago, only one Democratic legislator voted for the measure. Last month, a third of state house Democrats, half the black caucus and the entire Hispanic caucus voted to expand that program.
  • Arizona, Rhode Island, and Iowa all passed education tax-credit initiatives in 2006, and Pennsylvania expanded its existing program. The Arizona, Iowa, and Pennsylvania bills became law under Democratic governors, and the Rhode Island business-tax credit was born in a legislature controlled by Democrats.
  • A government fully controlled by Democrats in Iowa—governor and both legislative houses—actually expanded the tax-credit dollar cap by 50 percent in 2007.
  • In contrast, Democratic governors have recently made serious attempts to de-fund voucher programs in Milwaukee and Ohio.

The Constant Bailer

Over the last couple of weeks, the nation has been understandably preoccupied with faltering financial houses and federal promises to save them. Save them, of course, for the public good, to the tune of roughly 700 billion taxpayer dollars. (Or is it 1 trillion taxpayer dollars? Oh, what’s a few hundred billion among friends?)

These happenings have inspired a lot of folks to declare truly free enterprise a failure and conclude that government must do more to “manage the economy.” But before we accept all that, let’s put the supposed failure of freedom—and magnificence of government—in a little context by considering something government has managed for a long time: public schooling.

In the 2004-05 school year (the latest with available data), the nation spent about $520 billion, adjusted for inflation, on public schooling, a figure that in two years would surpass the utterly atrocious $1 trillion some people fear taxpayers are about to eat saving investment bankers. And, of course, we’ve been paying through the nose for public schools for decades. But what do we have to show for it? Flat achievement, sinking international academic standing, and a lot more teachers and school employees living off the taxpayers.

Without question, from taxpayer and simple justice perspectives, the proposed rescue of private companies that took big chances and lost is unconscionable. It’s hardly, however, a sign that free markets don’t work. Indeed, considered alongside the perpetual bailout that is public schooling, it just highlights once again that government—the constant bailer—is the real problem, not a free market that would punish both bad bankers, and bad schools, if only it were allowed.

California’s Spending “Cuts”

I was just skimming the Washington Post and noticed the bold type “In Fact” information at the top of page 2 regarding the new California state budget:

“The legislation Schwarzenegger signed includes $7.1 billion in spending cuts.”

My phone happened to ring and it was an analyst for the California legislature who needed some other information. But he had the actual California numbers at his fingertips. Under the new budget deal, general fund spending will be $103.4 billion in fiscal 2009, up very slightly from $103.3 billion in fiscal 2008. There is no actual “cut” in the overall budget.

The analyst noted that the $7 billion refers to the scaling back of Schwarzenegger’s proposed spending increases from earlier in the year. Unfortunately, states play the same rising baseline game that the federal government plays, but that doesn’t mean that the media has to go along with it.

State reporters: Please report actual spending in dollars for the current and prior fiscal years when telling us about state budgets. That would allow readers to form their own view about whether governments are cutting, freezing, or increasing spending.

“Wakeriding” the GSE Collapse

On the blog, I’ve reviewed some of the bills introduced and moved in Congress the last few days to respond - or at least react - to the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

These bills deserve skepticism - the market for political posturing and other silliness is obviously high right now - but they might not all be bad … .

NPR Article, Audio of IQ2 Universal-Coverage Debate

Today, National Public Radio’s Julie Rovner writes about the recent Intelligence Squared debate where John Stossel, Sally Pipes, and I squared off against Paul Krugman, Michael Rachlis, and Art Kellerman on whether the federal government should pursue a policy of universal health-insurance coverage.  The article includes links to the full audio recording of the debate, an edited audio recording, and audio excerpts.  (You can also absorb the debate via YouTube and the transcript.)

Rovner quotes me:

You can have a health-care sector that guarantees universal coverage, or you can have a health-care sector that continuously makes medical care better, cheaper, and safer, making it easier to deliver on that moral obligation that we have to help the less-fortunate among us. You cannot have both.

If you agree, you may be a candidate for the Anti-Universal Coverage Club.

Don’t Read the Whole Thing - Just the “Repeal” Part

You know how blogs link to something and tell you to “read the whole thing?” That’s more reading than I ever care to do. Well, here’s one where you don’t need to read the whole thing.

This week, the Center for Democracy and Technology submitted comments to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators regarding the structure of data systems that would implement the REAL ID Act, our national ID law.

Here’s some material from the first paragraph: “… CDT has consistently questioned the wisdom of the REAL ID Act and supports its repeal or significant amendment.” ‘Nuff said. No need to read any further.

Here’s where to find letters that CDT signed on to earlier this year, saying, “The REAL ID Act was a poorly-conceived law that can never be made to work in any fair or reasonable manner.”