Category Archives: Education

DeVoss vote a proxy for freedom, choice

The Democrats waged a bitter campaign against the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Ultimately they lost that battle when Vice-President Pence cast the deciding vote in a split Senate. But this battle had less to do with DeVos the women (indeed, perhaps one can only be a misogynist if they oppose Democrat women) and more to do with the concept of “school choice.” Ah yes, the Democrats, the party of “choice” when it comes to women and their bodies are decidedly anti-choice when the debate shifts to where you send your children to school. Because DeVos has expressed support for school vouchers, that means she is a blood-sucking monster who wants to see children die. This is no hyperbole in characterizing the oppositions rhetoric – noted Democrat film critic Richard Lawson tweeted “voucher programs will lead to more suicides, Betsy DeVos’s policies will kill children. That is not an exaggeration in any sense.”

The tweet has since been deleted. But you get the idea. These people literally believe that if we don’t all meekly line up single file like cattle to go to our assigned schooling center, then the very fabric of society will be rent.

Apparently allowing parents the freedom to decide where their children go to school means the public schools will be unable to function by virtue of decreased revenue. But this makes little sense on its face. If a school has 1,000 children and 500 leave for another school then both revenue and expenses have fallen in concert. This is why if you choose to eat at McDonalds and not Burger King no one says your actions are “defunding” Burger King – as though Burger King has some superior claim to your money that for the good of society necessitates you eat there. Why if you don’t eat at Burger King then they may have to fire people, and unemployment is bad for society, therefore we will tell you when and where to eat, shop, live, and go to school. Even though schooling is the only active part of that hypothetical edict, logically there is no reason this greater good argument can’t be used for any other economic activity.

School choice means that if money is directed away from public schools that are not satisfying the parent’s desire for a good education, then those public schools will have to fire teachers and (gasp!) administrators. Fewer public school teachers mean fewer public school union members. Unions oppose school voucher programs not because they genuinely think it will harm children. No. They oppose it because they genuinely think it will harm their current position of political clout.

Fortunately the American public sees through the self-interest of the unions and past their spurious claims of wanting what is best for the children. A recent poll found that 68 percent of Americans are firmly in the school choice camp. Indeed it is often claimed that school choice is a clandestine method of re-establishing segregation in schooling again, but don’t tell that to the 72 percent of blacks and 75 percent of Latinos who are pro-school choice. For many of them it is the only life-line they have to escape the failing schools they have no choice but to attend by accident of their zip code. The Democrats claim to stand for the interests of the poor and underprivileged, but they are all too willing to sacrifice those ideals upon the altar of political expediency in praise of their god the unions (indeed, the Department of Education was established by President Carter to reward the strong support he received from the teacher’s unions). But there’s still hope for the anti-DeVos camp; throw your support behind Rep. Thomas Massie’s bill H.R. 899 which will abolish the Department of Education.

Equal Treatment

Several local churches in Oconee county have proposed offering elective Bible classes at a new “Christian Learning Center” for county high school students. The CLC would be offsite and thus tight coordination between the county and the center would be necessary (exiting the campus, transportation, returning, etc.). The proposal is currently before the Oconee County School Board who has not yet made a decision. Although proponents say “freedom of religion” and opponents “separation of church and state”, neither of these slogans are useful in arriving at a decision where the question before the board doesn’t fit either narrative precisely.

Were this question before a private school board it would be easy to answer. There would be no “right” or “wrong” answer. The course of action should be whatever those running the school want to do. If parents disagree they are free to take their children, and tuition dollars, elsewhere. In the end it is the parents who have the veto power, a power they can wield immediately.

But this is not a private institution. It is a public one. And that means we parents and/or citizens have zero ability to vote with our dollars by transferring our tuition (property taxes) somewhere else. Sure we can vote, but board members have 4 year terms so one’s child is likely to be graduated before the opportunity to even attempt to do something arrives. Voting itself might be free, but it’s not without costs. You must expend enormous resources trying to convince all those around you to vote the same, otherwise your voice is silenced.

So given the fact that we parent and taxpayers have zero voice in decisions such as these, there must be a different standard when it comes to such curriculum. Non-ideological electives (languages, music, sports, etc.) favor no particular group. But ideologically drive electives, such as the proposed CLC, are an attempt by one group to expand their sphere of influence by co-opting the indoctrinatory power of the state. What advertiser would not love to get their product before a captive audience? Even if one chooses to not take such electives, the imprimatur of approval lends credence to the subject matter; that is de facto state approval.

Like it or not Christianity, or any religion, is ideological insofar as it rests on un-provable beliefs. That is not bad per se. Beliefs are by definition un-provable. But it’s still ideology. So the question here should be no different if a group of Synagogues, Mosques, or Buddhist Temples were proposing similar classes. Political ideology also falls under this umbrella. How would we react if the Democrat, Republican, or Communist parties wanted to offer a class supporting their worldviews? Is it fair to give one peddler of ideas a leg up on the competition? If you let one in, you must let all in. This non-exclusionary principal flows from our inability, under pain of imprisonment, to withdraw financial support of state functions. Whosoever removes choice is obligated to treat all equally.

Hooked on FERPA

There is no guarantee in government more assured than a bill doing the exact opposite of what its name implies. The “Affordable” Care Act – need I say more? An early vintage of this phenomenon is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, otherwise known as FERPA amongst college students and their parents. This law, enacted over 40 years ago, purports to protect the privacy of a student’s education records. But, rather than protecting privacy it simply affirms what was already true: that parents, or whoever is paying the bill, could see the results of the product they are paying for, namely any and all records related to their student. Any educational institution denying such access wouldn’t last long as no one would go there. It’s like passing an act guaranteeing the right to eat a meal you paid for. Legislative accomplishment is often measured in answering questions no one was asking.

But rather than protecting privacy, FERPA seeks to undermine it by (a) taking away the rights of the person paying for the education by virtue of the student’s age and (b) carving out a host of exceptions to that privacy for a number of state actors and various “officials” that the student or the parent may very well wish to restrict access to. But they no longer have that right. They had to give it up in order to retain that which they already had.

As both my wife and I attended a “private” college we had no prior experience with FERPA. During the orientation day for the public university where our eldest son is attending we and (based on the laughter in the room) many other parents first learned of the head popping idiocy of this “law.” The school took great pains to underscore the reality that unless our child gave us specific written consent to access their “educational records” we would not even be permitted to pay their housing and tuition bill because disclosure of the amounts owed was an illegal sharing of a student’s educational records. Brilliant. So time to crank up the paperwork machine as 99% of parents “encourage” their student to fill out the permission paperwork just so they can pay their bill. I guess it never occurred to our wise overlords that perhaps it might be more efficient to make the default option the one that the vast majority requires.

I say we had no prior experience with this act because private colleges typically do not receive funding from the Department of Education. However most public universities do. So in that sense FERPA is “voluntary” – all the school has to do is opt out of such funding. But that’s about as likely as a shopaholic cutting up their credit cards. These schools are hooked on this federal money and will do anything the Feds “ask.” If the prospect is losing millions in DOE funding or making students and parents jump through absurd hoops or be grossly inconvenienced, they’ll choose the latter every time. If you make a deal with the Devil, then you play by his rules.

Removing all doubt

Poor Bernie, he went and opened his mouth and thusly removed all doubt that he has no grasp of economics. Such ignorance from an internet troll might be expected and can be amusing in the same way that a child’s explanation of something can be so. But when such breathtakingly inane statements emanate from a candidate for President of the United States, well, what can one do but weep for the future. To what perplexing attempt at pontification do I refer? None other than this Dec 26 Tweet from @SenSanders: “You have families out there paying 6, 8, 10 percent on student debt but you can refinance your homes at 3 percent. What sense is that?”

Now most people would probably look at this statement and not find it particularly outrageous. We as a society have been conditioned to accept the notion that interest rates are arbitrarily set from time to time by some talking head in government. The assignment of these rates is apparently disconnected from any external factors. They are like lotto numbers plucked from the ball machine. We assume other lenders (banks, credit cards, etc) set their rates in a similar pattern.

In reality non-government rates are primarily market driven. That is, the relative difference in rates is market driven while the net value rests on the arbitrarily set Fed rates. Interest rates are not arbitrary digits, they are prices. They are the price people are wiling to pay to not wait. Interest rates are a reflection of supply, demand, and risk. The demand for loaned funds is indicative of high time preference, that is, preferring something now rather than later. The supply of loaned funds is indicative of a low time preference, that is, the willingness to forego consumption in the present and defer it into the future – for a price. To understand high time preference, ask yourself, do you prefer to buy that 72” OLED 4k TV today, or in a year after saving the funds yourself? Most of us prefer to have it today so that we can enjoy it immediately. The cost of that sooner than otherwise realized enjoyment is reflected in the interest rate we are willing to pay. If there are a lot of people willing to supply loaned funds, then the interest rate will be lower (supply goes up, price i.e. interest rate, goes down). If there are few people willing to supply loaned funds then the interest rate will be higher (supply goes down, price, i.e. interest rate goes up). It’s really not that complicated.

The only wrinkle with interest rates relative to regular money prices exchanged for tangible goods is that unlike exchanging cash for a hamburger (where both parties have something after the exchange), with the process of loaning/borrowing, only one party has the thing they desire in the beginning. The other party has a promise to deliver the other half of the bargain at some future date. The future is uncertain and there is always risk that someone may not do what they say, either deliberately or for reasons beyond anyone’s control. That uncertainty is also reflected in the interest rate. If there is a high chance the lender won’t get paid back then the interest rate will be quite high. But, if something can be offered to mitigate that risk, something tangible, like say a house or a car, then the lender can feel more assured that at least they will get some portion of the loaned funds back in the worst case. So that brings the rate back down.

Bernie, this is why loans backed by tangible collateral (like a home mortgage or equity line) have a lower interest rate than a student loan which has no collateral. A student loan is no different than credit card debt – it is unsecured. Now, look at the interest rate on your credit card (likely over 20%) and compare to the 6, 8, or 10% figure being cited – doesn’t look so bad now does it? These rates are so much lower than they otherwise would be because of government intervention in the student loan market.

Now some might say the banks should be willing to invest in such human capital, that a college degree will translate into a high paying job that allows them to pay it off. That can be true. That is why years ago before government involvement lenders did give out student loans, but only to the most academically worthy of students, those that clearly would succeed. But even so, possible future income is not collateral, the bank can’t take possession of the student himself and enslave him or her to get their money; they can take a house or car, they can’t take a person.

If Bernie wants to help students he should promote the idea of removing government involvement from higher education. Every sector the government subsidizes (healthcare, housing, education) has seen explosive price inflation. That is no coincidence. The patient can’t heal until you kill the disease.

Aborting Jobs

There is a problem with education in this country. It isn’t the usual suspects of cost, class size, teacher workloads, mediocre test scores, or Common Core. No, the problem goes much deeper and is reflective of a societal change in attitude concerning the purpose of education: learning. We have allowed ourselves to misapprehend the structure of the thing (education) for the thing itself (learning). When we think “education” we think nice and tidy classes, desks, lectures, tests – a regimen. We don’t think unplanned conversations, spontaneous readings, curiosity driven experimentation. Learning is the random walk of the ant who never knows what he’ll discover. Education is the regimented march of the military battalion. We have become so accustomed to the structure of the former that we fear anything that differs (homeschooling, un-schooling, etc). If we want worker bee drones to work in our factories then perhaps regimented education is the best approach. But if we want free minds to push the boundaries of human knowledge then it is learning, and not education, that we should encourage.

Learning flourishes where the individual is not prohibited from following their passion and curiosity. Today an ever-growing plethora of rules and regulations smother the spark of curiosity that would otherwise ignite a passion for learning. This process has been slowly accelerating over the past few decades. I’ve seen this change in my own lifetime. My science fair project in high school utilized (expired) human blood as part of the experimental procedure. Today the hysteria over “blood born pathogens” would make such a project either impossible or a regulatory nightmare. Fear is what drives all these ridiculous restrictions. In recent days fear has once again struck, this time to new heights of stupidity. The recent arrest of Ahmed Mohamed at his school for making a homemade digital clock (that some mistook for a Hollywood-esque bomb) is symptomatic of this anti-learning pro-education-only-as-we-define-it mentality. After it became abundantly clear the device in question was not a “bomb” the entire matter should have been dropped perhaps only to be reflected upon years later as a humorous anecdote. But that is not what happened. Despite it being a mere clock, Ahmed was still handcuffed, arrested, and hauled off to jail. Although the charges were eventually dropped the school has still suspended him, for what it is unclear. Some have claimed this is evidence of an anti-Muslim attitude in this country, unfortunately I think it is indicative of something far worse: anti-intellectualism. Those that do things we don’t understand are scary and must be stopped. Time to start passing laws to restrict access to electronic parts – that will keep us safe.

This fear driven anti-intellectualism has already infected the natural sciences at the K-12 level. Some wonder why science is on the decline in this country, but when it comes to the venerable science fair a mountain of regulations scares off all but the most persistent or well-connected students interested in chemistry or biology. Both of my sons have gone through the science fair process and the message was loud and clear: unless you enjoy filling out forms and getting multiple approvals, choose a topic in an area other than biology or chemistry. Science in this country is dying a slow death of attrition. With each new generation there is yet another layer of regulation winnowing away those that pursue that path until one day I suspect one will need a law degree before they can even consider a science career.

I will offer up one more personal example. When my father was a teenager he actually made nitroglycerin. Why? He was fascinated by chemistry and wanted to see if he could do it (he discreetly detonated it in his backyard when done, much to the chagrin of my grandmother!) My point is that today if he could even manage to get his hands on the starting materials he’d be branded a domestic terrorist and thrown in jail. But because he was fortunate enough to live in a time when society was not so fearful and uptight, he took that passion for chemistry and turned it into a career that eventually gave rise to one of the few remaining US manufacturers with worldwide sales. People ask “where are all the jobs going?” – they aren’t going anywhere, they are being aborted before they ever even had a chance. Every rule and regulation or absurd response smothers a student’s curiosity and quenches the possibility of future companies and jobs. As with cancer, it is the damage we do not see that is far more insidious.

Dumbed down

The President recently announced his plan to destroy the community college system. It is really a clever plan. In Trojan horse-esque fashion it cloaks the seeds of destruction in an appealing wrapper. Step 1: identify a non-frivolous economic good and declare it to be “free” for all. Step 2: step back and watch prices soar while quality plummets in a vain effort to keep up with exploding demand. Sound familiar? Healthcare. 4-year College education. The President is clearly an environmentalist; how else to explain his effort to recycle this garbage.

By guaranteeing full payment of tuition only for students maintaining at least a 2.5 GPA, this scheme will not incentivize students to work harder, but rather for teachers to inflate grades. Or rather, students may believe they will have to work harder, but it is far easier to inflate a grade than to study, thus grades will quickly reach that floor long before the efforts of increased studying are needed. Once that happens the value of a 2-year degree will be depreciated. There is no way for a prospective employer to distinguish between a graduate that really did learn the material vs. one who is the product of either inflated grades or a “dumbing down” of the curricula.

Once the administrators realize they can raise tuition each year at a rate vastly exceeding the rate of inflation (because the normal feedback of the customer opting to not purchase a too expensive good vanishes), those administrators in turn will make sure the professors understand their salaries depend on maintaining a certain enrolled student count. Of course the blame for skyrocketing tuition will be that the increased student load requires expansion of services (politely ignoring the economic axiom that individual prices tend to fall as volume goes up, not the other way around). That this will happen is not mere opinion or conjecture, but history: 4-year college tuition has risen at over 3x the rate of inflation since 1978.

The odd thing about this proposal is that community college tuition is already very inexpensive. Typically government only wants to make things “free” after they have meddled in the market long enough to drive prices upward. But the states and local communities already subsidize community colleges in order to keep prices low. The fact that tuition is charged at all is a function of the inability of local government to run their own printing press as well as more direct voter feedback on taxes.

It seems like the President is answering a question no one was asking. How much of a barrier can tuition be – there are already millions paying for it now. And even though the barrier is low, it is important to have some sort of barrier, if only to separate the serious from the unserious student. The President’s proposal mistakes a speed bump for a retaining wall and seeks to eliminate even that minimal level of self-selection. The people already attending have proven that they contain the seeds of success. They made the hard choices and saved their money in order to achieve a better life for themselves.

A secondary, and more sinister, effect of removing that self-selection barrier is it will transform the serious student into a less serious one. No longer is their money on the line, no longer is there pressure to perform lest they waste their hard-saved cash. Humans perform best under pressure, and if you remove that pressure you remove the motivation to perform at one’s peak. So, by removing the pressure of being out of pocket for the tuition, this policy will foster the learning style of the perpetual procrastinator. “So what if I do poorly, I can try again and again, and again” (at least until that GPA dips to a 2.5, that is, a practically failing D-).

I’m not suggesting this drop off in motivation will happen to everyone attending community college. What I am saying is that in aggregate this will be the outcome more often than not. There is a reason there are no private charities that indiscriminately fund adult tuition – it’s a bad idea from a utilitarian standpoint – it harms the individual receiving it and by extension the society in which that individual lives

Student Loan Bubble & Moral Hazard

The insurance industry is unique in that its product tends to incentivize the very behavior people seek to protect themselves from. This is called “moral hazard.” For example, all things being equal, someone with collision insurance will tend to drive more recklessly than someone with no coverage. Someone with flood insurance will deliberately build their home in a flood zone. In other words, people do things they would never otherwise do absent the assumption of protection.

There are ways to tame moral hazard. Large first-dollar deductibles ensure that the insured will feel some pain with a loss – negative feedback affects one’s behavior and results in more cautious behavior. Likewise, some events are not insured if the moral hazard cannot be mitigated. For example, homeowner’s policies do not cover loss from damage attributable to failure to maintain the upkeep of one’s home. Although moral hazard is a foundational flaw in human behavior, the market (that is, people) has figured out how to tame it.

The state is an insurer (it purports to protect its citizens). It is however the worst kind of insurer because it actively encourages moral hazard. From the crony-capitalism of “too big too fail”, loan guarantees for favored industries, to student loan bailouts, the state has a sordid record of incentivizing moral hazard by encouraging behavior its minions witlessly seek to avoid. For example, the student loan program was implemented to encourage more tuition lending by banks so that more people would go to college. This created the moral hazard of banks lending to people they otherwise would never lend to, thereby vastly increasing the demand for higher education. This massive explosion in demand (quite predictably) encouraged schools to ratchet tuition upwards. Why? Supply and demand. Loan guarantees ensured ever increasing demand that was insensitive to price increases. In a normal market, increasing tuition would have decreased the pool of available funds for such lending or raised the cost of such lending, but in either case these would have both resulted in inhibition of tuition increases and a subsequent restoration of equilibrium between supply and demand. But in a market suffering state intervention, equilibrium can never be achieved, as rising prices present no inhibitory effect on the level of demand. This resulted in tuition increasing over the last 40 years at 3-times the rate of inflation.

This willful blindness of moral hazard by Obama and his ilk is not merely sad, it is downright destructive. His recent actions only serve to deepen the crisis, not ameliorate it. By executive order (royal decree) he recently extended a cap on student loan payments to cover loans made before 2007. This cap allows borrowers to limit their loan repayments to 10% of their income for 20 years and after that the loan is “forgiven” – that is, it simply vanishes like a fart into the wind, courtesy of the US taxpayer.

This executive order is symptomatic of all state interventions: heaping fixes upon fixes to fix previous fixes. To encourage lenders to make student loans to anyone with a pulse, the state removed bankruptcy protection for student loans in 1976 and then promised the lenders to act as their enforcement agent. Step 1: All risk shifts from lender to borrower. So with Uncle Sam acting as Guido the Enforcer the floodgate of loans opened. Then loan repayment became problematic for a growing number of students (due to a dismal job market resulting from state intervention in the economy) and this inability to discharge loan debt likewise became a political liability for our wise overlords. The quick fix? Step 2: Shift all risk from the borrower to the taxpayer. For now, concentrated benefits (to students) and diffuse costs (from taxpayer) ensure little mass objection. But soon enough these loan write-offs will be priced back into tuition rates. The only solution to this quagmire is the most politically painful one: end all loan guarantees, permit bankruptcy protection, and allow lenders, not the state, to determine who is a worthy credit risk and who is not.

The Pedagogical-Socialists Fear Competition

It can be particularly challenging to carve out a pseudo-market based approach to K12 education when the framework must rest squarely upon an overtly socialist system. In Georgia we are bearing witness to such an attempt with the passage of the “Georgia Private School Tax Credit” (HB 1133) in 2008. This bill set up a system whereby private individuals and corporations can make limited charitable donations to a “Student Scholarship Organization” (a type of charitable entity authorized through the bill). These organizations in turn grant scholarships to K12 students (typically needs based) so that they can attend a private school of their choice. Private entities donating money to help needy children get a quality education, what could be wrong with that? Well a whole lot according to groups like the Southern Education Foundation. This group and others feel that this program is diverting funds from public schools to private schools. The SEF is currently assisting in a lawsuit aimed at having the entire law declared unconstitutional.

Their assertion is true, untrue, and entirely irrelevant. To explain requires a bit of background. I will attempt to not bore you to tears so I will move quickly and gloss over some details. Essentially a taxpayer with a $1000 tax bill to Georgia can choose to send that $1,000 to an SSO of their choice instead of to the state of Georgia as long as they have permission from the state. Each year the state allows people to do this until an aggregate cap ($58 million for 2014) is reached. The benefit to the taxpayer is that while it does not change their Georgia tax liability it may lower their Federal liability in some situations. Although the state does indeed receive $58 million less than they otherwise would have absent this program, there is nothing in the law that says the education budget must be debited an equal amount. The legislature is the ultimate arbiter of funding. So decreased tax revenue could put pressure on them to decrease funding, in which case their charge is true. Or, to avoid such political backlash, they may not cut funding at all, in which case the charge is untrue. The only thing one can say for certain is that decreased tax revenue means that programs on the margin will receive less funding or that taxes will be raised to make up the shortfall.

Of course to suggest that reduced funding is a bad thing is completely wrongheaded. This is precisely what it SHOULD be doing. In essence this program is a backdoor to incremental privatization of the socialistic state run school system. To the extent that this program incentivizes parents to pull their children from public schools and move them into private schools it then follows that those public schools should require proportionally less funding. If the public school has 100 students and costs $100 to run, then if 50 students leave it follows that that public school does not still need $100 to run. Even if we assumed all $58 million got carved from the 2014 education budget that would be only a 0.5% reduction.

The goal is that the SSO’s act as a private version of a state education budgeting agency. In other words, given that many different SSO’s have sprung into existence all competing with each other for donations, it follows that those that are the most efficient at maximizing the student to dollar ratio (more students educated for fewer dollars) will excel. Why? Do you prefer to give to an efficient or inefficient charity? So the public school proponents should welcome this change. It will mean that if 50 students leave they will take with them only $25 leaving $75 for the remaining 50 public school students. How can they get by with only $25? Because they’ll get $50 worth of value due to competition driven market efficiency.

Of course in a truly market based system it would not be necessary to have all sorts of complicated tax credits and state chartered charities. Until the pedagogical-socialists let go of their superstitious fear of freedom that compels them to believe the only possible way to educate children is through gun-enforced collectivist redistribution, we will be stuck with the timid attempts of the state to emulate market based solutions to problems created by the state.

Communal children?

One of the most oft-cited justifications for the state is the “what of the children!” plea. It employs what I call “the fallacy of the isolated example” and it goes something like this: parents are humans, humans are imperfect, therefore at any given time there will exist some set of human parents making imperfect choices, sometimes those choices will negatively impact their children, ipso facto these negative impacts can only be prevented by compelling the enlistment of others via that entity which possesses the exclusive legal right to engage in unilateral violence within a defined geographical region: the state. No other possible remedy is considered. Further, the state must intervene on behalf of ALL children, as we certainly can’t predict who might be harmed. This argument is fallacious because there always exists isolated negative cases in any system. In order to justify any action simply find a singular example you believe your “solution” will remedy.

Given the prevalence of this child-based state apologia it should come as no surprise that Melissa Harris-Perry (of MSNBC fame) last week uttered these words in an MSNBC promo: “We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children: Your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of these are our children. So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility… then we start making better investments”

Setting aside for the moment the bizarre notion that “communities” somehow have a non voluntary obligation in children within that community (most likely in order to establish a basis for that same community extracting its “fair share” of their earnings in the future) the listener is left to wonder exactly what dream world does Harris-Perry live in? She says, “we have never invested as much in public education as we should have…” As the kids say today “Are you serious?!?” We spend three-times the inflation adjusted amount on K-12 public education today as we did in 1970 with ZERO change in reading, math or science scores. If you pump air in a tire and the pressure does not increase, the problem isn’t the pump. Time to look elsewhere. She then says, “Once it’s everybody’s responsibility and not just the households…” Alas, it is already everyone’s responsibility. That’s what the “public” in “public education” means. Our collective (everybody’s) taxes pay for public education. Public education means it is incumbent upon the community to pay for the education of all the children, or more to the point, it is incumbent upon some people to pay the (inflated) educational costs of other people’s children, particularly the children of those who exercise no reproductive restraint as those parents bear little of the actual cost in raising them – that’s society’s job after all.

In a follow up statement over her original comments she says “This is about whether we as a society…have a right to impinge on individual freedoms in order to advance a common good.” On this she is correct – that is exactly the question we should be asking, because the answer to that question is a resounding NO. “No” must be the answer not merely for utilitarian reasons (i.e. competition would more effectively solve problems than a monopolistic government) but also for ethical reasons (a society that justifies theft because it might increase the “common good” is a fundamentally unjust and morally bankrupt society).

So as shocking as her comments were, they were merely a bolder rewording of our current public educational system, a system, I might add, both the left and right strongly support. If you took issue with the sentiments she expressed, then to be intellectually honest you must begin to question the legitimacy of any government having any hand in education at all. If you would like to take the next step on that journey I invite you to read Rothbard’s “Education: Free and Compulsory”.

The hypocrisy of local control advocates

November 6 there will be a proposed constitutional amendment to the Georgia state constitution (Georgia Charter Schools Amendment 1) on the ballot that would grant the General Assembly the authority to create charter schools directly, thus bypassing creation by the local school board. This activity had been found to be unconstitutional in a May 2011 ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court – hence the amendment to make it constitutional. This amendment is quite the conundrum: voting yes would marginally increase school choice at the expense of creating an entirely new government bureaucracy to oversee “state” charter schools. However voting no would prevent new bureaucracy, but at the expense of continuing to maintain the monopoly privilege of the local school system. A bit like trying to decide if I would prefer to be kicked in the mouth or the stomach.

When the positions of both sides are contrary to the principles of a free society it makes it that much easier to pick apart their rhetoric. The argument from the pro camp is essentially that in order to increase choice we need to just stop pouring money into the current (local) system, and now pour money into an entirely new (state) system. Trust us. We know what we’re doing. They claim it will not divert money from the local schools, and that is true, to an extent, as the amendment makes specific mention of non-diversion of funds. However, it is laced with qualifying language such as “prohibits…deduction of CERTAIN state funds from local school districts”. Funds are fungible, although non-discretionary funding may not be touched, there is no doubt that discretionary funding will magically become scarcer. And when that happens you will have one side shouting “draconian cuts!” and the other “no change in funding!” and both would be correct. Is it any wonder voters are turned off by the political process?

The con side is just as bad. They employ the same anti-competitive rhetoric usually reserved for discussions of vouchers. Charters are evil because the competition they would engender results in (a) wasteful duplication of effort and (b) would siphon money away to evil non-local “for profit” school organizations. So I suppose then it would be an equally good idea if we were to outlaw private groceries and establish a local government run “food board” that monopolistically sells food to citizens in its region in order to eliminate duplication of effort and the export of “local money”. It’s much easier to misdirect the spotlight from one’s own pro-monopoly rhetoric if it is draped in anti-local jingoism. I guess a local monopoly is preferable to “foreign” competition.

The perplexing part is that both sides are right and wrong. Both local control and more choice ARE better, but monopolistic trusts and bureaucratic government programs are not the way to achieve those goals. The truly hypocritical position lies with the local school boards that take great offense at the state intruding into their perceived power domain, however, they have no qualms about intruding into a parent’s right to have ultimate control over their child’s education. A true advocate of local control defends the rights of the most local decision makers: the parents. Parents have the right, not the privilege, of deciding how their children will be educated – without being required to suffer the diminishment of choice via the act of reaching into the parent’s wallet in order to pay for the choice already made for the parents by the school board.

In the end I reluctantly recommend a “no” vote if only to send a message to the legislature that we want better legislation. We do not need more government control of the education market, we need less. We need an option that provides for less outside control and more local control, control by the parents.