Friday, October 19, 2007

the conservative case against vouchers

(Photo Credit: Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News)
(Republicans Representatives Sheryl Allen (displaying the charts), Kay McIff (left), and Steve Mascaro)

With PCE claiming that somehow the ACLU, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and the gays are behind opposition to vouchers, it is helpful to remember that the only reason Referendum 1 is possible is thanks to a few courageous Republicans who disobeyed their leadership's wishes. Utahns appreciate it.
"I respectfully disagree with my Republican colleagues who support the flawed voucher law," said Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful. "Utah voters, especially Republican voters, need to hear from Republican lawmakers that this law has too many flaws and will cost too much money — money that could be spent in our public schools."
" the program is phased in, the costs far exceed any savings associated with the program," Allen said. "Over a 13-year period, Referendum 1 would cost the state $429 million, which is hundreds of millions of dollars more than even the most optimistic estimate of savings."
"We have funded education in the state through our entire history, through the Depression and thick and thin," said Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield. "Now we find ourselves with the fewest numbers of kids per family and the strongest economy in our state's history and they are saying, 'We can't afford to fund our kids' education'... Citizens should know that we will continue to educate our kids in the state (in a system) that gives us the biggest bang for our buck."

Rep. Steve Mascaro, R-West Jordan, also said he wanted to dispel the myth that vouchers will lower Utah's large class sizes.

"If you reduce the number of students in a school, then you reduce the number of teachers as well. ... Vouchers will not change that," Mascaro said.

The Legislative Fiscal Analyst estimates a reduction of three students, at most, per school per year, he said.
Three students? For those of you who never took or forgot basic economics, fixed costs-- school buses, salaries (teachers, bus drivers, crossing guards, school support staff, district administration), maintenance, etc.--will all not be reduced by vouchers, especially if the 3 students number bares out. So where are the savings supposed to come from? [crickets]

I don't want government programs for the sake of government programs, so if the private sector can do something better, then let them do it instead. But when there is a market failure, the government should step in for moral reasons. For example, private charity has failed to keep the elderly and the poor from getting health care...thus, we have Medicare and Medicaid.

Likewise, private education in the early republic failed to adequately educate a sufficient number of our citizens. And for over 200 years, we have provided free public education for our children until secondary school. Now other countries are doing a better job of educating their children, and none of them have vouchers. Rather, they have nationalized education. If you want to talk about savings, how about nationalizing education? Why not use the bargaining tactics and power that Walmart uses for toilet paper to buy supplies for schools, including textbooks, buses, building materials, playgrounds etc.?

Instead, the Republican leadership in the legislature prefer gimmicks like vouchers that by design cannot and will not give enough parents "school choice" to see if the idea would really work.


John said...

Glad to have found your blog. I really don't understand your arguments though. Students wouldn't disappear, just from public schools. There will still be plenty of opportunity for teachers, probably more as class sizes decrease. It also doesn't take money from education, it comes from the general fund. It would cost more to the state since so much more money is going into education as a whole. Overall for me the big issue is that schools need to be more efficient and provide the kind of education I want for my children. If they can't, I want my money back so I can take my kids somewhere else. I did think the ACLU/Hillary Clinton commercial was funny though. Anyway I have a bunch of studies on how voucher programs have helped in many states, and haven't seen any evidence of them hurting public schools.

John said...

Glad to have found your blog. I really don't understand your arguments though. Students wouldn't disappear, just from public schools. There will still be plenty of opportunity for teachers, probably more as class sizes decrease. It also doesn't take money from education, it comes from the general fund. It would cost more to the state since so much more money is going into education as a whole. Overall for me the big issue is that schools need to be more efficient and provide the kind of education I want for my children. If they can't, I want my money back so I can take my kids somewhere else. I did think the ACLU/Hillary Clinton commercial was funny though. Anyway I have a bunch of studies on how voucher programs have helped in many states, and haven't seen any evidence of them hurting public schools.

Oldenburg said...

You are right, students won't vanish, but you are wrong that the few that would go to private schools would save any money.

Schools have operating costs, and a handful of students per a school won't lower those.

I would love to see these "bunch of studies" since all of the ones I have seen in the news lately show that vouchers don't work.

And I think you seem to fail to get the idea behind public education. People are happy to pay for public education through their property and state income taxes even if they don't have children because they value having the next generation learn skills to prepare them for the world. We all pay in because it is a public value. People don't balk at paying for police or fire even if we lived in a fireproof and crime-free neighborhood because we care about people who don't live in such neighborhoods.

While it is your tax dollars at work, it isn't "your money" in the sense that your $x in taxes go towards only your children. They go to everyone's children in the school district you live in.

John said...

Here are the studies:

From Vanderbilt showing that kids in charter schools get higher test scores.

From the Manhattan Institute, showing the major improvements in FL schools when vouchers were introduced.

CATO Institute, showing the average private school operates at less than half the cost per pupil.

Anyway, there's the "bunch of studies" and there are more obviously, but these show what I mean.

Many, many things have public value, government doesn't need to manage or fund all of them. When government does, that is called Socialism.

Obviously education has value, that's not the point. How do we get the best education for our children is the question. And public money is my money, I am the public, you are too. I would like the final say in where the $7000 goes to pay for my childrens education.

Public schools are good, and I think with some competition they'll be even better. Go ahead and show me the studies that back up anything you have said.

Do you think everyone is happy schools are paying for birth control for their 11 year old daughters in Maine, New York, California and elsewhere, and not allowed to even notify parents of this? If I had a choice, my children wouldn't be in a school with such practices.

Oldenburg said...

First on your studies: Manhattan and CATO are ideological voucher supporters and thus are not trustworthy. (Same would go for a teachers union study against vouchers). I will have to read through the Vanderbilt study to comment on that one.

But let's look at the recent credible studies: Stanford's study on Milwaukee vouchers having no discernible impact on test scores
Ditto for Washington DC
Ditto from Center for Education Policy

Non-partisan GAO study on the problems with Washington, DC's voucher program:

As for the birth control argument, what are you talking about? That is a red herring designed to distract us from the real debate, which is whether our children would be better off with vouchers.

When schools put in policies like offering birth control that parents don't like they can: raise holy hell at school board meetings, vote school board people out and get their own in, urge their state legislators to legislate on such matters, or take their kids to another school.

No vouchers will not eliminate that and has nothing with my public schools as a public value choice argument. If the people of California or Maine want condoms handed out to teens, who am I to judge?

John said...

You mentioned how happy everyone was to pay for public schools. I'm telling you that people are not happy with the way things are going. If the parents want condoms or birth control fine, but I've heard almost nothing but unhappy people in those states. Just shows that public schools don't cater to the wants or needs of parents, don't have to.

I wouldn't call a Washington Post article about a study ordered by 3 democrats unslanted. But I read it (didn't dismiss it) and sounds to me like it isn't a failure of the vouchers themselves but a failure of the government oversight.

Instead of having to raise holy hell all the time, I'd rather have a choice.

Oldenburg said...

This is starting to get fun.

I found another study at Princeton that shows that vouchers don't work also

It doesn't matter that the "liberal" Washington Post reported on a study, or that Democrats in Congress asked for a study. The GAO is an auditing agency of Congress, whomever asks for a study can get one. The GAO is not a partisan outfit and is trusted by Congress to help them in their oversight. So when the voucher law they wrote is shown to have problems--similar to the ones that the Utah voucher bill has--I think it is worth reading.

On your claim that I was stating that everyone loves public schools. Not really. I was saying everyone supports the idea of public schooling and pays for it willingly. Are their people that don't like what their school board is doing/not doing? Several in every school district in the country.

Vouchers will not give you the "choice" that you yearn for to keep your kids away from birth control or whatever else you don't like about their public school. The voucher bill will provide a modest subsidy to ultra poor parents to pay for schooling that won't be accepted and that they still can't afford. Even if the school took th money and the family could pay for the schooling, there might not be one in their area.

Vouchers, as designed by the Republicans in the state legislature is a gimmick. It won't solve anything and offers only rhetoric.

John said...

Ha, I don't think we're getting anywhere. For me it's about principles. I believe capitalism works for most things, and I think it will work in public schools favor. The current vouchers system, I'm sure, isn't perfect, and isn't pure capitalism but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

Everybody doesn't pay for public schools willingly, it's called pay or lose your house.

Vouchers don't only go to ultra poor, everybody under $86k/year gets at least a $2k voucher. You're right that doesn't get poor kids into the expensive private schools, but definitely would open up options. I agree if you think the vouchers should be more.

How would you fix the public school system?

Oldenburg said...

Market forces and capitalism are great in general, but in there are many cases where the market fails to provide what the public needs.

Health Care is a good example. All of those private insurance companies have made our system worse and wasted money (see Medicare part D). Another is schooling. Like it or not, if we didn't tax people to pay for schools, we wouldn't have universal schooling.

By "willingly pay" I mean you don't see people demanding public schools not be funded by property taxes. Or private education vouchers for that matter.

Please show me a private school that a person making 88K could afford on $2K--including transportation costs, uniforms, books, etc.

I would fix public schools by training and hiring more quality teachers, weeding out bad teachers (this is where the teachers unions and I disagree), building more schools so that we don't have mega-schools and can get small class sizes. I would also change the funding mechanism to be income tax only and standardize education statewide (and ideally nationwide).

John said...

OK, we're starting to find some common ground. I agree that funding for public schools should come from taxes. I just don't think the government should administer the education.

Also agree, bad teachers should be fired, good teachers should get raises. I'd like to see a system where this happens; Parents want to send their children to a school where everyone knows the teachers are great. The schools can't afford to lose them since that's what brings in the business(students). Thus, they pay the teachers more to keep them around.

Again, it sounds like you agree that the vouchers should be for more money. But private schools aren't catering to the poor now. Somebody making $88k probably couldn't find a school for under $2k, but with vouchers can find one for $2k less than without vouchers. If $3000 is what is available I guarantee schools will start up where that is the tuition.

Look at the funding per student for charter schools, under $3k. They get way less than public schools and seem to do fine (better, according to Harvard and Vanderbilt)

It's easy to say train and hire more quality teachers. How is this accomplished? The truth is, we won't get that unless the teaching profession offers more to the teachers (higher salaries), and require more. As is, they get paid crap and can't even be fired. We can set a million standards and disqualify more teachers, we'll be left with the best, possibly, but will there be enough teachers?

Example of this, extreme I know. I'd bet that the NBA houses 99% of the best basketball players in the United States. It has a lot to offer its players. You think public schools have 99% of the best teachers in the United States? A lot who would love to teach and would be some of the best choose different vocations (that can support their desired lifestyle).

I don't think standardizing education, as far as curriculums go, is good either. I want choices in that regard as well.

John said...

Just curious, who do you think you're going to vote for for president?

Oldenburg said...

Let's not overstate our lines of agreement. I don't think that private administration of education makes it necessarily any better, nor do I agree that more money should go to vouchers. I oppose vouchers in all forms. My argument is merely, if you are really serious about vouchers then you need to make it so that every student could go to any private school. But the fact is, they aren't serious and this will provide a tiny portion of the population with vouchers at best.

A merit pay system for teachers is like training and hiring more teachers-- easy to support, hard to implement effectively. The problem with merit payments with teachers in contrast with other professions is that the results of your labor cannot be judged immediately.

A far better indicator of how a student is impacted by a teacher is not how they score on that year's test, but how many of them graduate from HS, how many go to college, etc. It is hard to wait that long to determine salary changes, and there will be a lot of intervening factors that affect the outcome.

Hiring more qualified teachers seems to be the most straight forward. Make sure they have degrees/course work in what they are teaching, and make them take a test to prove that they know the material and know how to convey that material to the appropriate age group.

Training can happen through mentoring programs, developing national best practices, etc. This is where Teachers' Unions come in handy.

If the training and hire/fire practices were changed to make it more of a merit-based position with higher pay, then I think public esteem of teachers would be such that it wouldn't be only politicians praising teachers. Then we could get a better pool of teachers as well.

The standardization of best practices for curriculum in areas like math and science should be nationalized, history and literature perhaps a bit more localized. But when Japan and Europe routinely beat us in aptitude, it shows that nationalizing does work far better than our local-level focus.

Moreover, there still will be plenty of choice under this scheme: charter schools and private schools would still exist.

PS I think I am a lukewarm Obama supporter.

John said...

Oh well, they lost. I guess we'll never know, but disagree with most of your points. I guess the argument depends on whether you believe the public or private sector would do a better job. I go with private almost every time.

John said...

Obama?! I have no idea who I'd vote for this election if I were a Democrat. Probably the one who could make a whole sentence without saying "Bush" or "this administration". It's also funny that they're all promising higher taxes.

Oldenburg said...

It's funny how Democratic candidates can't keep from talking about Bush while Republican candidates can't keep from avoiding talking about Bush. Oh wait, it's because he is the least popular president since Harry Truman, having passed Nixon in terms of disapproval just the other day.

At this candidates I support can make a whole sentence, unlike our current president. And at least they don't try to scare you by demonizing brown people and advocating torture.

Unless you are making over $300K a year, your taxes will not go up under a Democratic administration. However, if you are making that much, will see your taxes go down if under a Republican one (and if you earn less than 300K your taxes will probabbly go up under a Republican administration). Since I doubt you are in the top 1%, it would pay for you to vote Democratic this time.

John said...

Ha! True about Bush on the Republican side, but come on about the brown people, being stupid (your sentence about Bush not being able to make a whole sentence has an error), and torture thing. While I disagreed with your previous comments I did respect your opinion, not here. Sounds like you're very emotional about the Bush administration and aren't thinking about it much. I'm not that happy with everything Bush has done, but come on.

The top 1% creates jobs (Small business owners). There seems to be a hatred of the rich on the left. I am currently trying to grow a company as quickly as possible without going into debt, other than company funds. The more taxes we pay the slower we are able to hire, it's pretty simple. Who makes more money off of big oil than big oil? The US government. Same with Wal-Mart. I think the government has plenty of money if it used wisely. I'm sure you've heard, but under Bush, the top 1% are paying the greatest portion of taxes ever. How much do you want them to pay?

Also, while Bush does deserve much of the criticism he gets, his approval ratings are still higher than Congress last I checked.