Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Governator and Vouchers

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Hatcher was diligently trying to get some work done in his office, when the offices of the National Education Association in DC apparently spilled out to surround my building with protestors, who were tipped off that Arnold would be coming to meet with someone in our building later that day. Apparently, if their signs were any indication, the NEA is upset that a bankrupt state may actually deign to cut education spending, along with everything else (with the possible exception of fetal stem cell research). After hearing their chants for several minutes, the Hatcher whipped up a power point slide with the simple message: "Arnold: Vouchers!" My office is on the second floor, overlooking the alley; I purposefully passed up the penthouse office so I could stay close to the street, or the alley as it were.

After an hour or so of grown men and women walking around with big signs thinking that they are going to change the system, it transpired that all indications were that the Governator would enter said building via the backdoor in the alley just beneath my office window. The above is a picture of the Governator getting out of his Chevy Suburban (huge minds think alike). I knocked vigorously on the window to try to capture his attention to my counter-protest, but to no avail. As a result, all you get is the top of his head. In retrospect, I should have made a sign that quoted him thusly: "There is nothing wrong with throwing up or passing out at the gym." Now that would have drawn his attention.

In any event, it jogged my memory to a post that I had drafted but never published, regarding vouchers.

As a big proponent of school vouchers, I thought other like-minded red-necks and country club Republicans would find this story interesting, concerning the Democratic Governor of Michigan. If there is one issue that cuts through the BS rhetoric about Democrats caring more for kids than Republicans, it is the voucher issue. I know of no Republican who wouldn't gladly make the granting of a voucher a means-tested program, so that the effect of such vouchers would be to give the poorest families some choice, and indeed most current voucher programs are of this nature. But we are always told that this is merely a way for Republicans to finance their own private school options with public funds.

I work in DC, where Kerry captured 90 percent of the vote, and the entire Northwest section of the city is filled with wealthy liberal white lawyers who wouldn't think of sending their kids to a public school in the District. Why would a group like this be against vouchers? Because whatever money it might save them in their own education costs is more than offset by the possibility that they are all trying to avoid in the first place - having their kids going to school with inner city black kids. Unlike the rednecks, they won't just move to the suburbs to achieve that goal. Opposing vouchers, staying in the city, and paying kindergarten tuition fees that rival what I paid (more accurately what my parents paid) to go to college allows them to decry white flight, claim they are pro-public schools, and keep their kids from the wrong side of the tracks.

Anyway, vouchers and school competition are apparently so bad that a $200 million donation is to be rejected:

Granholm, like most Democrats, is not pro-education. She's pro-teachers' unions. Early in her tenure as governor, she rejected an offer from a philanthropist to donate $200 million to open 15 new charter schools in Detroit, a city with some of the nation's worst schools. Granholm didn't dare cross the state's powerful teachers' unions or the recklessly incompetent Detroit City Council, who attacked the philanthropist as a white suburbanite who didn't understand Detroit. Instead of standing up to the anti-reform forces in her party and doing the right thing for the tens of thousands of Detroit kids who are trapped in a failed school system, she told the philanthropist and his $200 million to go pound salt.


Blogger Professor Vic said...

So here is the basic liberal argument against vouchers, using a simple model.

Suppose a private school requires $10K per year to attend. Also assume there are two families, poor and rich, and the rich family has $20K in disposable income while the poor faily has $5K in diposable income. The rich family uses their disposable income to send their child to private school.

Now assume a voucher granting $3k is passed by the state. The voucher isn't large enough to allow the poor family to send their children to a private school and simply serves as a $3K gift to the rich family (or, alternatively, allows the private school to raise tuition by $3K without losing students.)

So the rich get a gift and the poor get nothing. So where did the $3K come from? Most liberals believe (either correctly or not) that tax revenues previously dedicated to education would be diverted to vouchers meaing that the rich privately educated kids win at the expense of public schools.

Even if the money was newly raised, liberals would wonder why the priority would be to spend the money on a gift to the rich rather than using the newly raised $3K to increase funding to the public schools currently used by the poor.

Obviously this (as with any model) is a huge simplification of reality, but I think overall a general voucher plan would serve to redistribute money away from public schools and the poor children who use them towards rich families who can already afford to send their kids to private schools. I don't think there would be very much public to private movement in students at the margin in comparison to the costs involved.

I also think that vouchers are likely to result in a huge windfall for private schools rather than the families that pay for private schools. As a professor at a private college, I certainly know that if the college tuition tax credits proposed by the Dems in the last two elections ever passed, the first thing I would do would be to go to our financial aid department and have them reduce financial aid to students by the amount of the tax credit. The savings in financial aid could then go directly to increasing my salary to the $140K average for economics teachers reported by the WSJ last week.

8:19 AM  
Blogger Hatcher said...

Well stated. But recall that I said I don't know of any Republicans who would object to making receipt of such vouchers means-tested. I might be wrong about that contention, but if I'm not, then a means-tested program would probably not lead to any of what your simple model describes. It might, however, lead to poor black kids studying alongside rich DC liberals, and once again such parties cannot bear that - diversity is only good in small doses, and preferably comes from within the same socioeconomic strata. But even if we grant your argument, why turn down $200 million earmarked for a city that probably has very few rich people living within its bounds?

8:25 AM  
Blogger Incredible Dirigible said...

There is nothing wrong with throwing up or passing out in the schools.

Hatcher, could you tell how tall Arnold looked? I've read that he's 6'2", but I know people who've seen him in person & said he looked quite a bit shorter than that.

10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As one of those "rich" parents who choose to opt out of my local public school (which happens to be one of the highest ranked school districts in my very blue, Northeastern, extremely liberal state), my wife and I pay approximately $2,200 per year for that privilege. My extremely liberal, very blue, and very wealthy town pays an average of $9,990 per student for education. This is about average for my extremely blue, very liberal county, with the exception of the extremely blue, very liberal and very poor school district of Camden, NJ which spends about $1,500 more than this average per student. These schools, however, rank among the very worst in the world. No exaggeration. At the local Catholic school where we choose to send our son, there are approximately 20 kids from Camden whose probably poor parents make this sacrifice of $2,200 per year also. If money is the sole determinant of school quality, why would they opt out of a school which spends $11,500 per student to go to a school that spends $2,200? Maybe because they actually want their kids to learn something. Do you think they deserve a voucher to spend their money where they choose? The public school parents in my very wealthy, very liberal, town would not be pleased if they had to share their number 1 ranked public schools with these Camden kids. You see, in their minds, they already made their school choice by living in a town where that average property taxes are approx. $10,000. There's no way somebody from Camden's getting into their kids school! Keep them in the jungle where they belong. Meanwhile, my son gets to hang out with, and make friends with kids from entirely different socio-economic backgrounds in a disciplined learning environment. If money were the issue, these Camden public schools would kick ass. Throwing more money at the problem is the standard NEA line. The public school problem could be fixed overnight. Make the teachers accountable with performance reviews and real competition from vouchers. And do not allow them to unionize! The good teachers would be free to make a whole lot more money. More money will attract better teachers into the field. The bad teachers can go teach at colleges.

6:05 PM  
Blogger Professor Vic said...

Be careful about those "let the bad teachers go teach college" cracks. You never know who might be reading.

That aside, one huge problem with your logic (much of which is good and I agree with) is this:

1. Don't let teachers unionize.
2. Let the high wages from teaching attract new people into the profession.

You may be right that teachers unions may do a poor job of providing good educations, but teachers unions do an excellent job of making sure their members get paid well. Ban teachers unions and I (and every economist) will be willing to bet that the salary for the average teacher falls.

Quality sans unions may rise for other reasons but not because higher average wages will attract more teachers.

1:29 PM  

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