Washington D.C.

How Congress Should — and Shouldn’t — Bolster School Choice

This week, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on “Expanding Education Opportunity through School Choice.” As I’ve written before, there are lots of great reasons to support school choice policies, but Congress should not create a national voucher program:

It is very likely that a federal voucher program would lead to increased federal regulation of private schools over time. Once private schools become dependent on federal money, the vast majority is likely to accept the new regulations rather than forgo the funding.

When a state adopts regulations that undermine its school choice program, it’s lamentable but at least the ill effects are localized. Other states are free to chart a different course. However, if the federal government regulates a national school choice program, there is no escape. Moreover, state governments are more responsive to citizens than the distant federal bureaucracy. Citizens have a better shot at blocking or reversing harmful regulations at the state and local level rather than the federal level.

Do Baltimore Schools Need More Money?

Is the problem with Baltimore’s district schools a lack of funds?

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart argued as much during a recent interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:

“If we are spending a trillion dollars to rebuild Afghanistan’s schools, we can’t, you know, put a little taste Baltimore’s way. It’s crazy.”

However, under even cursory scrutiny, Stewart’s claim falls apart like a Lego Super Star Destroyer dropped from ten feet. As economist Alex Tabarrok explained:

Let’s forget the off-the-cuff comparison to Afghanistan, however, and focus on a more relevant comparison. Is it true, as Stewart suggests, that Baltimore schools are underfunded relative to other American schools? The National Center for Education Statistics reports the following data on Baltimore City Public Schools and Fairfax County Public Schools, the latter considered among the best school districts in the entire country:

school data2

Baltimore schools spend 27% more than Fairfax County schools per student and a majority of the money comes not from the city but from the state and federal government. Thus, when it comes to education spending, Baltimore has not been ignored but is a recipient of significant federal and state aid.

Whose Brother’s Keeper? Obama Administration Denies School Choice

The Obama administration’s proposed budget for 2015 would continue unsustainable spending growth at more than twice the rate of inflation and hike taxes by more than $1 trillion. It also includes $69 billion in education spending, much of it on programs that are unconstitutional, proven to be ineffective, or both.

And yet, in one area where the federal government has the constitutional authority to fund and manage education policy—the District of Columbia school system—the Obama administration’s budget cuts all funding to the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which has proven to be much more effective than the government-run school monopoly.

The administration’s proposal is particularly puzzling in the wake of the president’s announcement last week that he is launching a $200 million charitable initiative called My Brother’s Keeper to help young, male minorities. As Dr. Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas points out today at the Choice Words blog, there is solid evidence that school choice programs tremendously aid exactly that population:

Three evaluations of private-school choice programs have followed enough students for sufficiently long to determine their effects on the rates of high-school graduation, college enrollment, or both. A 2010 evaluation of the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program that I led for the U.S. Department of Education found that students offered private-school choice by winning a random lottery graduated from high school at the rate of 82 percent, compared with 70 percent for the control group. The impact of actually using an Opportunity Scholarship was to increase the likelihood of graduation by 21 percentage points, from 70 percent to 91 percent. Over 90 percent of the participants in the study were African American, and almost all of the rest were Latino American.

Freedom Banned in Washington

It’s hardly big news, right? Another of our freedoms gets banned in Washington every day. But this time it’s not just particular constitutional rights. They don’t like the whole idea. Or at least the word, on a license plate. 

The District of Columbia allows residents to purchase vanity license plates. And as Chris Moody and Chris Wilson of Yahoo! News describe, there are strict rules about what you can say on your vanity plate:

According to the official list of banned D.C. plate combinations, it may take some extra creativity to get your idea accepted by the city’s meticulous censors. The capital city’s DMV has a 53-page list of 26,993 license plate no-no’s that prohibit everything from praising the local baseball team to expressing disgust with the Internal Revenue Service. The list was made available through a Freedom of Information Request filed by the transparency website GovernmentAttic.org.

You can check out your own ideas at the interactive tester below. Moody and Wilson note that you can’t have such interesting plates as “GOPSUX,” “GODEMS,” “RONPAUL, “”GVTSUX,” ANTIIRS,” “OBAMA,” “BARACK,” or “OBAMA44.”

And that’s right, you can’t have a license plate reading “FREEDOM.”

You can have “LIBERTY,” though, which might suffice. Wonder how they made that distinction. I tried a few other ideas. I once noted that Starbucks wouldn’t let you print “laissez-faire” on a customized Starbucks card. D.C. is more accommodating and has no objection to “LFAIRE.” “GAY” is OK, and perhaps surprisingly so are “HOMO” and “ANTIGAY.” I’ll bet the list of banned words will be constantly growing. “FEMNIST” passes muster, and so does “ANTIFEM.” But don’t try “SEX” or “SEXY.”

Moody and Wilson noted that you can’t have “RONPAUL” or “OBAMA.” But you can have “JEBBUSH”—who is speaking at Cato tomorrow, by the way—or “JEB2016” or “JEB45.” Also “HILLARY” and “BIDEN16.” (“CHRISTIE” is too long, but you can have “CHRISTI” or indeed “CHRIST.”) Hmmm, I’m beginning to wonder why you can’t have “RONPAUL.” But you can have “RAND,” “RAND16,” or indeed “AYNRAND.”

Try your own combinations. Just don’t expect to get “FREEDOM.”

The Future of Growth

Just in case you were wondering where future growth might come from, the Washington Post reports:

a new analysis warns that the Washington area doesn’t have nearly enough housing for the wave of new workers that will arrive in coming decades.

Researchers at George Mason University say the area is projected to add more than a million new jobs by 2030.

Thank You, America!

The Washington metropolitan area is the only major U.S. housing market where prices increased on an annual basis in the first quarter, according to a 20-city S&P/Case Shiller home-price index released Tuesday. The region was helped by relatively stable employment, fewer foreclosures and an abundant supply of house hunters.

Other surveys indicate sales in the area are approaching boom-time levels.

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