Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

It’s time to celebrate another victory for school choice.

  • In 2021, West Virginia adopted statewide school choice.
  • In 2022, Arizona adopted statewide school choice.
  • In 2023, Iowa adopted statewide school choice.

Now Utah has joined the club, with Governor Spencer Cox approving a new law that will give families greater freedom to choose the best educational options for their children.

Here are some details from Marjorie Cortez, reporting for the Deseret News.

The Utah Senate gave final passage to legislation that will provide $8,000 scholarships to qualifying families for private schools and other private education options… The bill passed by a two-thirds margin in each legislative house, which means it cannot be challenged by referendum. …The bill creates the Utah Fits All Scholarship, which can then be used for education expenses like curriculum, textbooks, education, software, tutoring services, micro-school teacher salaries and private school tuition.

As you might expect, teacher unions and their allies are very disappointed – which is a very positive sign.

…the Utah Education Association…opposed HB215… The bill was also opposed by the Utah State Board of Education, Utah PTA, school superintendents, business administrators and school boards. The Alliance for a Better Utah was pointed in its reaction… “Conservative lawmakers just robbed our neighborhood schools of $42 million. Private school vouchers have been and continue to be opposed by Utahns but these lawmakers are instead pursuing a national agenda to ‘destroy public education.’

The Wall Street Journal opined on this great development.

School choice is gaining momentum across the country, and this week Utah joined Iowa in advancing the education reform cause. …Utah’s bill, which the Senate passed Thursday, 20-8, makes ESAs of $8,000 available to every student. There’s no income cap on families who can apply, though lower-income families receive preference and the program is capped at $42 million. The funds can be used for private school tuition, home-schooling expenses, tutoring, and more.

But the best part of the editorial is the look at other states that may be poised to expand educational freedom.

About a dozen other state legislatures have introduced bills to create new ESA programs, and several want to expand the ones they have. In Florida a Republican proposal would extend the state’s already robust scholarship programs to any student in the state. The bill would remove income limits that are currently in place for families who want to apply, though lower-income applicants would receive priority. …South Carolina legislators are mulling a new ESA program for lower-income students. In Indiana, a Senate bill would make state ESAs available to more students. An Ohio bill would remove an income cap and other eligibility rules for the state’s school vouchers. Two Oklahoma Senate bills propose new ESA programs… ESA bills are in some stage of moving in Nebraska, New Hampshire, Texas and Virginia.

Let’s hope there is more progress.

School choice is a win-win for both students and taxpayers.

P.S. Here’s a must-see chart showing how more and more money for the government school monopoly has produced zero benefit.

P.P.S. There are very successful school choice systems in CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

P.P.P.S. Getting rid of the Department of Education would be a good idea, but the battle for school choice is largely going to be won and lost on the state and local level.

Read Full Post »

Since I’ve repeatedly written (and spoken) about the momentum for school choice, I’m naturally a big fan of this video from John Stossel.

It’s not just libertarian-oriented people who recognize that school choice is gaining ground across the country.

The union bosses at the National Education Association have bitterly complained that their under-performing monopoly is being threatened as parents get more options.

Given the malignant role of teacher unions (especially with regards to disadvantaged students), that definitely warms my heart.

Now we have more good news to share – assuming you are a good person who puts the interests of kids above those of union bosses (unlike someone who happens to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue).

After getting comprehensive statewide school choice in West Virginia in 2021 and Arizona in 2022, the Hawkeye State has now enacted its own version.

Here are some of the details of this remarkable development from Iowa, as reported by Jeremiah Poff for the Washington Examiner.

Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-IA) signed new legislation Tuesday…to establish a universal school choice program. Hours after the state legislature approved the Students First Act to establish a statewide education savings account program for all K-12 students , Reynolds, surrounded by children, triumphantly affixed her signature to the legislation… The new program will provide students with more than $7,000 in annual funds through an education savings account that can be used to cover all sorts of education-related expenses, including private school tuition and private tutoring. …Reynolds said in a statement after the legislature approved the bill. “Parents, not the government, can now choose the education setting best suited to their child regardless of their income or zip code. With this bill, Iowa has affirmed that educational freedom belongs to all, not just those who can afford it.”

This is good news. It means better results for students at lower cost for taxpayers.

By the way, here’s another excerpt that is worth sharing.

The Governor not only is a supporter of school choice, she took the very unusual step of going after Republican state legislators who were siding with union bosses rather than families.

Reynolds, a Republican, had sought to enact a school choice program in the state’s previous legislative session but encountered opposition from members of her own party that doomed the bill. She later took the unusual step of endorsing primary opponents for several of her party’s own incumbents who opposed school choice.

She didn’t just endorse primary opponents.

Many of those candidates actually defeated incumbent Republicans who opposed choice.

And that’s been happening in other states as well, which arguably can be considered the best political news of 2022.

I’ll close with an upbeat prediction that Iowa won’t be the only state to adopt comprehensive school choice this year. So I fully expect big, positive changes in next year’s version of this map.

And I’ll also predict the list of school choice hypocrites will expand.

P.S. Depending on how you rank the importance of different issues, what’s been happening with school choice may be only the second-most important development at the state level in recent years.

Read Full Post »

There are two important things to understand about K-12 education.

  1. There is national evidence and international evidence that spending more money on government schools does not produce good results.
  2. There is national evidence and international evidence that school choice produces better educational outcomes for families and society.

With today’s column, let’s add more evidence to the discussion.

Paul Gessing, the President of the Rio Grande Institute, wrote about New Mexico’s comparative educational performance in an article for National Review.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is known as “the Nation’s Report Card.” Sadly, the most recent “report card” represented failure for many states, not the least of which is my home state of New Mexico, which came in dead-last in all categories studied: fourth-grade and eighth-grade reading and math. Sadly, especially for New Mexico kids, the additional tax dollars being spent by the state’s education system have not moved the needle. If anything, the needle has moved in the wrong direction. Let’s compare New Mexico with lower-spending, reform-minded states, such as Arizona… Arizona neighbors New Mexico and has a similar demographic profile, including large Native American communities and a large Hispanic population. …We’ll use fourth-grade reading scores to make the comparison. …In 2005, New Mexico…was tied with Arizona, with a score of 207. By 2022, Arizona outperformed New Mexico 215 to 202.

Here are the numbers on comparative spending.

As you can see, Arizona is getting better results with frugality while New Mexico is getting worse results with profligacy.

…in FY 2022…Arizona spent $10,639…the…fifth-lowest-spending state…in the nation. …New Mexico, on the other hand, has increased education spending over the past 15 years or so. …Today, New Mexico ranks 19th among states at, considering its dismal educational record, an astonishing $15,338 per student.

But it’s not the frugality or profligacy that matters.

What seems to make the difference is whether the state has some form of school choice.

What happened? …Arizona has had a charter-school law since the mid 1990s and…is ranked as the second-best charter law in the nation… A system of tax credits to be used for private school choice has been in place and growing since 1997, and various specialty programs as well as narrowly targeted vouchers have also made Arizona a school-choice leader. That’s even before the program of universal education savings accounts approved in early 2022 fully takes effect.

Not only is Arizona out-performing New Mexico today, but the gap will probably grow.

Arizona is ranked #1 for school choice while New Mexico is buried in the middle of the pack at #26. And, as Paul noted, there’s a new statewide choice system that will give every family the ability to choose – and that means pressure on both private and government schools to produce better outcomes.

It will be interesting to see if Arizona (especially with its new choice law)…can keep or accelerate the momentum. Sadly, New Mexico is one poorly performing state that has not gotten serious… The children in my state have suffered despite a large increase in government education spending. Better results are possible without breaking the bank.

It’s unfortunate that New Mexico politicians are siding with teacher unions rather than families.

The evidence is very strong that school choice is a win-win for both taxpayers and students.

Read Full Post »

In Part I of this series, I shared a very amusing video from Bill Maher about how colleges and universities have become “luxury day-care centers.”

I then added some of my analysis to show that government subsidies – such as student loans – were the underlying problem.

Simply stated, colleges and universities increased tuition and fees so they could capture the value of the subsidies (as explained by Professor Daniel Lin back in 2012).

To make matters worse, they’ve been spending the money on more bureaucracy rather than anything that would improve educational outcomes for students (or generate spin-off benefits for the overall economy).

But “more bureaucracy” is an understatement. Here’s a sentence that I initially thought had to be satire.

But I’m not joking. This sentence comes from a jaw-dropping story about university bureaucrats trying to micro-manage student social life at Stanford University.

Here are the full details from the Wall Street Journal report, written by Douglas Belkin.

A recent headline in the Stanford Daily News student paper says: “Inside ‘Stanford’s War on Fun’: Tensions mount over University’s handling of social life.” Stanford has acknowledged the students’ complaints about their doldrums… Stanford has a long reputation as an offbeat party school for high achievers. …on campus, rules around parties dominate the conversation. Stanford began mandating students file an application two weeks ahead of a party including a list of attendees, along with sober monitors, students said. …The number of registered parties dwindled to 45 during the first four weeks of school this fall… Samuel Santos Jr., associate vice provost of inclusion, community and integrative learning within the Division of Student Affairs, says the school is working to address students’ concerns about Stanford’s social atmosphere. The party-planning process will be streamlined and more administrators will be hired to help facilitate student social life.

While this is an extreme example of bureaucracy run amok, it’s symptomatic of a broken system.

In an article for the Federalist, Rebecca Kathryn Jud and Chauncy Depree cite the spread of bureaucracy at a local university.

Over the past few decades, U.S. higher education has seen dramatic changes, few of which have been for the better. …We went to the website of a local public university and checked the office of the dean of the business college. The site identified the following vaguely titled and well-paid hangers-on: senior associate dean, associate dean for undergraduate programs, assistant dean for academic services, administrative specialist, technology and database specialist, marketing coordinator, assistant to the dean for finance and administration, senior major gift officer, and director of the Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Education. This does not include the multitude of secretaries and assistants who support these dubiously necessary administrators. Nor does it include the deans for other colleges, the department heads, the office of the president, or any of the other administrative offices. Bear in mind, this expensive phenomenon is replicated across colleges and universities throughout the country.

And here are some excerpts from a 2020 column in Townhall by the late (and great) Walter Williams.

…college administrators assume that today’s students have needs that were unknown to their predecessors. Those needs include diversity and equity personnel, with massive budgets to accommodate. …Penn State University’s Office of Vice Provost for Educational Equity employs 66 staff members. The University of Michigan currently employs a diversity staff of 93 full-time diversity administrators, officers, directors, vice provosts, deans, consultants, specialists, investigators, managers, executive assistants, administrative assistants, analysts and coordinators. Amherst College, with a student body of 1,800 students employs 19 diversity people. Top college diversity bureaucrats earn salaries six figures, in some cases approaching $500,000 per year. …Diversity officials are a growing part of a college bureaucracy structure that outnumbers faculty by 2 to 2.5 depending on the college.

Fortunately, we have a way of solving all the above problems.

P.S. The mess in higher education is another example of what happens when politicians create a “third-party payer” problem.

P.P.S. Hillary Clinton was wrong on this issue and Joe Biden is wrong on this issue.

P.P.P.S. Given my libertarian sympathies, I also object to subsidizing folks who are hostile to economic liberty.

Read Full Post »

Continuing a tradition that began back in 2013, let’s look at the best and worst developments of the past year.

Since I try to be optimistic (notwithstanding forces and evidence to the contrary), let’s start with the good news.

I’ll start by mentioning that we will now have gridlock in Washington. That’s probably a positive development, but I’ll explore that issue tomorrow as part of my “Hopes and Fears” column for 2023.

For today, let’s focus on three concrete developments from 2022 that unambiguously are positive.

States cutting tax rates and enacting tax reform – Since I’m a long-time advocate for better tax policy, I’m very pleased that more states are moving in the right direction. I especially like that the flat tax club is expanding. I’m also amused that a bad thing (massive handouts from Washington) backfired on the left (because many states decided to cut taxes rather than squander the money on new spending).

Chileans vote against a statist constitution – There was horrible news in 2021 when Chileans voted a hard-core leftist into the presidency. But we got very good news this year when the same voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed constitution that would have dramatically expanded the power of government.

More families have school choice – Just like last year, we can celebrate that there was more progress on education this year. In 2021, West Virginia led the way. In 2022, Arizona was the best example. And we’ll discuss tomorrow why there are reasons to be optimistic about 2023.

Now let’s shift to the bad news of 2022.

I thought about listing inflation, which definitely caused a lot of economic damage this year. But the bad monetary policy actually occurred in 2020 and 2021 when central bankers overreacted to the pandemic.

So I’m going to write instead about bad things that specifically happened in 2022.

Biden semi-successfully expands the burden of government – The president was able to push through several bad proposals, such as the so-called Inflation Reduction Act and some cronyist subsidies for the tech industry. Nothing nearly as bad as his original “build back better” scheme, but nonetheless steps in the wrong direction.

The collapse of small-government conservatism in the United Kingdom – Just as today’s Republicans have deviated from Reaganism, the Conservatives in the United Kingdom have deviated from Thatcherism. Except even worse. Republicans in the USA acquiesce to higher spending. Tories in the UK acquiesce to higher spending and higher taxes.

Massachusetts voters opt for class warfare – Starting tomorrow, Massachusetts no longer will have a flat tax of 5 percent. That’s because voters narrowly approved a class-warfare based referendum to replace the flat tax with a new “progressive” system with a top rate of 9 percent. Though bad news for the state’s economy will be offset by good news for moving companies.

P.S. I almost forget to mention that the best thing about 2022 occurred on January 10 when the Georgia Bulldogs defeated Alabama to win the national championship of college football.

P.P.S. While 2022 was a mixed bag, history buffs may be interested in knowing that it was the 100th anniversary of a big tax rate reduction (top rate lowered from 73 percent to 58 percent) implemented in 1922 during the under-appreciated presidency of Warren Harding.

Read Full Post »

Since my specialty in economics is fiscal policy, I’m used to wonky (and perhaps boring) debates about topics such as marginal tax rates, Keynesianism, and the Armey-Rahn Curve.

But there’s also a moral component to fiscal policy.

Though immoral might be a better word. That’s because some of our friends on the left actually think that all money belongs to the government.

As such, they think that it is a “subsidy” if we are allowed to keep any of our earnings.

If you think I’m exaggerating, let’s look at some excerpts from a column in the New York Times by Ron Lieber. He starts by equating Biden’s student loan bailout with a provision in the tax code.

For months now, we’ve been in a nationwide debate over whether we should cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt for tens of millions of people. …But hiding in plain sight is another federal program — 529 college savings plans — that offers the biggest benefits to wealthy families. …With some careful planning, no taxes will come due for most people as long as future generations use the money to pay for college…, graduate school…and any other related educational costs.

Mr. Lieber wants people to think these two policies (the student loan bailout and the tax provision) are both ways of giving benefits to people.

But there’s a big moral difference.

Student loans take money from taxpayers and gives the funds to other people (the real beneficiaries are college administrators rather than students, but that a topic for another day).

By contrast, Section 529 accounts allow people to keep their own money.

Here are some further excerpts from the column.

In 2015, President Obama proposed taxing future earnings in 529 accounts. The blowback from the upper middle class was so severe — and from Democrats and Republicans alike — that he rescinded the plan in the same month that he introduced it. …we did not, as a nation, feel the need to call on The Supremes to weigh in on the legality of maintaining tax-favored savings for millions of people who could afford many college educations anyway. We just canceled the cancellation of their sweet, juicy subsidy without a vote in Congress or a trial. …it is the wealthy who have the best opportunity to extract the largest breaks from the federal government when it comes to saving and paying for college. 

I’m not surprised Obama was on the wrong side, but let’s ignore that and instead focus on Lieber’s assertion that Section 529 accounts are a “sweet, juicy subsidy.”

As already noted, I don’t think it’s right to say it’s a subsidy when people get to keep their own money. That’s reminiscent of the offensive “tax expenditure” term used by some of the people in Washington.

But it is true that some provisions of the tax code create distortions and should be eliminated as part of tax reform.

However, Section 529 accounts are not loopholes. They are simply ways for people to save and invest without being subject to double taxation. Very similar to IRAs and 401(k)s.

And eliminating all forms of double taxation should be a top goal if we want fundamental tax reform.

The bottom line is that folks on the left are wrong about IRAs and 401(k)s and they are wrong about Section 529 accounts.

Read Full Post »

A big advantage of living in a constitutional republic is that individual rights are protected from “tyranny of the majority.”

  • Assuming courts are doing their job, it doesn’t matter if 90 percent of voters support restrictions on free speech.
  • Assuming courts are doing their job, it doesn’t matter if 90 percent of voters support gun confiscation.
  • Assuming courts are doing their job, it doesn’t matter if 90 percent of voters support warrantless searches.

That being said, a constitutional republic is a democratic form of government. And if government is staying within proper boundaries, political decisions should be based on majority rule, as expressed through elections.

In some cases, that will lead to decisions I don’t like. For instance, the (tragic) 16th Amendment gives the federal government the authority to impose an income tax and voters repeatedly have elected politicians who have opted to exercise that authority.

Needless to say, I will continue my efforts to educate voters and lawmakers in hopes that eventually there will be majorities that choose a different approach. That’s how things should work in a properly functioning democracy.

But not everyone agrees.

A report in the New York Times, authored by Elizabeth Harris and Alexandra Alter, discusses the controversy over which books should be in the libraries of government schools.

The Keller Independent School District, just outside of Dallas, passed a new rule in November: It banned books from its libraries that include the concept of gender fluidity. …recently, the issue has been supercharged by a rapidly growing and increasingly influential constellation of conservative groups. The organizations frequently describe themselves as defending parental rights. …“This is not about banning books, it’s about protecting the innocence of our children,” said Keith Flaugh, one of the founders of Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group focused on education… The restrictions, said Emerson Sykes, a First Amendment litigator for the American Civil Liberties Union, infringe on students’ “right to access a broad range of material without political censorship.” …In Florida, parents who oppose book banning formed the Freedom to Read Project.

As indicated by the excerpt, some people are very sloppy with language.

If a school decides not to buy a certain book for its library, that is not a “book ban.” Censorship only exists when the government uses coercion to prevent people from buying books with their own money.

As I wrote earlier this year, “The fight is not over which books to ban. It’s about which books to buy.”

And this brings us back to the issue of democracy.

School libraries obviously don’t have the space or funds to stock every book ever published, so somebody has to make choices. And voters have the ultimate power to make those choices since they elect school boards.

I’ll close by noting that democracy does not please everyone. Left-leaning parents in Alabama probably don’t always like the decisions of their school boards, just like right-leaning parents in Vermont presumably don’t always like the decisions of their school boards.

And the same thing happens with other contentious issues, such as teaching critical race theory.

Which is why school choice is the best outcome. Then, regardless of ideology, parents can choose schools that have the curriculum (and books) that they think will be best for their children.

P.S. If you want to peruse a genuine example of censorship, click here.

Read Full Post »

Because politicians have built-in incentives to expand the size and scope of government, it is very rare to find elected officials who actually deliver more liberty.

Some of them will offer rhetoric, of course, but very few of them produce results.

That’s true nationally (with limited exceptions), and it’s true internationally (with limited exceptions).

And it’s almost certainly true at the state level.

Though I found an exception, and that is the topic of today’s column.

The outgoing governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, deserves praise from libertarians and small-government conservatives.

George Will is especially impressed with Ducey’s education reforms (and I agree).

Here are some excerpts from his Washington Post column.

With two trenchant sentences, the nation’s most successful governor of the 21st century defines the significance of his signature achievement: “Fifty years ago, politicians stood in the schoolhouse door and wouldn’t let minorities in. Today, union-backed politicians stand in the schoolhouse door and won’t let minorities out.” Hence Gov. Doug Ducey’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program, which was enacted this year to provide universal school choice in grades K-12. Every Arizona family is eligible to receive about $7,000 per student per year to pay for private school tuition, home schooling, tutoring, textbooks, online courses, programs for special-needs pupils and more. …ESA was ferociously opposed by the teachers’ unions, whose confidence in the quality of their schools can be gauged by their fear of competition. A union attempt to repeal ESA by referendum failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, partly because of a group (Decline to Sign) in which, Ducey said here last week, Black leaders were disproportionately active.

The Wall Street Journal is impressed with his tax reform (and I agree).

Arizonans who fled California for sunnier tax climes can breathe easier after a court ruling that has saved the day from a punitive 8% top state tax rate. A state judge…struck down Arizona’s Proposition 208, which placed a 3.5% surtax on incomes above $250,000, or $500,000 for joint filers. …Nixing the surtax means Arizona will soon have a flat tax of 2.5% on individual incomes, the lowest flat rate among states with an income tax. Gov. Doug Ducey slashed the previous 4.5% top rate in his 2022 budget… Tax competition has helped Arizona draw residents and businesses from neighbors like California, but the surtax would have sent the Grand Canyon State down a Golden State path. The tax’s $250,000 income threshold made it a particular burden on small businesses that pay taxes under the individual code. The episode is a reminder of the value of constitutional guardrails on state taxes and spending. Arizona voters in 1980 placed limits on school spending through a ballot initiative, preventing unrestrained budget bloat.

In a column for National Affairs, James Glassman mentions school choice and the flat tax, but also a few of his other accomplishments.

Since Arizona’s governor is limited to eight years in office, Ducey’s second term — which ends in January — will be his last. This makes it an opportune time to consider Ducey’s legacy… This past January, Ducey told the state legislature, “[l]et’s think big and find more ways to get kids into the school of their parents’ choice…” In July, he did just that. The Empowerment Scholarship Account program — the most expansive school-choice program in America — is a pure choice-based system that provides $6,500 per student to any family that prefers an alternative to public schools. …When he entered office, he announced that he wanted the state’s personal income tax rate, which stood at 4.5%, to be “as close to zero as possible.” He started by indexing brackets to inflation, then chipped away at the rate with dozens of specific reductions. Finally, last year, he signed into law the largest tax cut in the state’s history, which will achieve a flat tax of 2.5% within three years. On regulatory policy, …he axed or modified more than 3,000 regulations. …he signed the first universal occupational-licensing law in the nation: Arizona now automatically recognizes occupational licenses issued by any other state. He also eliminated initial licensing fees for applicants from families making less than 200% of the federal poverty level.

Ducey’s licensing reform is especially impressive. For all intents and purposes, he adopted an approach based on “mutual recognition,” and that makes it much easier for people in other states to shift economic activity to Arizona.

P.S. George Will’s column also notes that Ducey is not a fan of Republicans who want to surrender to bigger government.

During a September speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, Ducey deplored the fact that “a dangerous strain of big-government activism has taken hold” in the Republican Party, and “for liberty’s sake we need to fight it with every fiber in our beings”.

Amen. Whether it is called national conservatism, compassionate conservatismkinder-and-gentler conservatismcommon-good capitalismreform conservatism, or anything else, bigger government is bad news for ordinary citizens.

Read Full Post »

When I write about government schools, I often revise Winston Churchill’s famous quote about the Royal Air Force so that it reads “never have so many paid so much to achieve so little.”

That’s because American taxpayers have been dumping ever-larger amounts of money into government schools and getting consistently dismal outcomes.

Many families, especially those with money, have opted out. They are still forced to pay taxes for government schools, of course, but they prefer private education.

That means paying with their money for a private school or paying with their time (and some money) for homeschooling.

It’s happening more and more, as John Harden and Steven Johnson have reported in the Washington Post.

The pandemic transformed the landscape of K-12 education. Some parents withdrew their kids from public school and placed them into private or home schools. Their reasons varied: Many preferred private schools that offered in-person instruction; others distrusted public schools’ pandemic precautions. …So far, data show that since 2019, private enrollment is up, public enrollment is down and home schooling has become more popular. Families flocked to private and home schools at the greatest rate in a decade, according to American Community Survey estimates from the U.S. Census. The government projects that K-12 public school enrollment — already facing demographic pressures — will drop further to about 46 million students by fall 2030, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, reversing decades of growth.

The story then continues with summary statements from several parents about why they opted their kids out of government schools.

But allow me to throw in my two cents and answer the question about “Why are Americans Fleeing Public Schools?”

  • Subpar Education – I sent my kids to private schools because I wanted them to get a better-quality education and the evidence is clear that private alternatives do a much better job of teaching.
  • Political Brainwashing – It is good for kids to learn the good points and bad points about their nation’s history, but things like the “1619 Project” are academically sloppy and almost seem designed to promote victimhood and division.
  • Pandemic Failure – It became apparent to many parents that government schools, first and foremost, are run for the benefit of government bureaucrats rather than providing education for children.

There doubtlessly are many other reasons for choosing private alternatives over the government monopoly.

Some parents worry about safety. Others want a school that reflects their social and religious values.

Since I’m a public-finance economist, I’m motivated by the fact that government schools cost more and provide and inferior product.

The bottom line is that everyone deserves education choice, not just rich people (including lots of hypocritical leftists).

P.S. Here’s a video explaining the benefits of school choice.

P.P.S. There’s international evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands, all of which shows superior results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

 

Read Full Post »

Since teacher unions care more about lining their pockets and protecting their privileges rather than improving education, I’ll never feel any empathy for bosses like Randi Weingarten.

That being said, the past couple of years have been bad news for Ms Weingarten and her cronies.

Not only is school choice spreading – especially in states such as Arizona and West Virginia, but we also are getting more and more evidence that competition produces better results for schoolkids.

In a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Professors David N. Figlio, Cassandra M.D. Hart & Krzysztof Karbownik found that school choice led to benefits even for kids who remained stuck in government schools.

They enjoyed better academic outcomes, which is somewhat surprising, but even I was pleasantly shocked to see improved behavioral outcomes as well.

School choice programs have been growing in the United States and worldwide over the past two decades, and thus there is considerable interest in how these policies affect students remaining in public schools. …the evidence on the effects of these programs as they scale up is virtually non-existent. Here, we investigate this question using data from the state of Florida where, over the course of our sample period, the voucher program participation increased nearly seven-fold. We find consistent evidence that as the program grows in size, students in public schools that faced higher competitive pressure levels see greater gains from the program expansion than do those in locations with less competitive pressure. Importantly, we find that these positive externalities extend to behavioral outcomes— absenteeism and suspensions—that have not been well-explored in prior literature on school choice from either voucher or charter programs. Our preferred competition measure, the Competitive Pressure Index, produces estimates implying that a 10 percent increase in the number of students participating in the voucher program increases test scores by 0.3 to 0.7 percent of a standard deviation and reduces behavioral problems by 0.6 to 0.9 percent. …Finally, we find that public school students who are most positively affected come from comparatively lower socioeconomic background, which is the set of students that schools should be most concerned about losing under the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program.

It’s good news that competition from the private sector produces better results in government schools.

But it’s great news that those from disadvantaged backgrounds disproportionately benefit when there is more school choice.

Wonkier readers will enjoy Figure A2, which shows the benefits to regular kids on the right and disadvantaged kids on the left.

Since the study looked at results in Florida, I’ll close by observing that Florida is ranked #1 for education freedom and ranked #3 for school choice.

P.S. Here’s a video explaining the benefits of school choice.

P.P.S. There’s international evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands, all of which shows superior results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

Read Full Post »

I’ve been pontificating in favor of school choice from the early days of this column, in part because I believe in the benefits of competition and in part because there’s such overwhelming evidence that government schools have deteriorated.

In recent years, I’ve shared good news about states implementing and expanding school choice, with Arizona and West Virginia deserving special praise.

But I’ve always wondered which states do the best job and which states do the worst job with education policy.

Thanks to the Heritage Foundation, we now have an answer. Its Education Freedom Report Card looks at four variables (choice, transparency, regulation, and spending) to rank the states.

As you can see from this map, Florida is in first place for overall education policy, followed by Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, and South Dakota.

The worst state isn’t a state. It’s the District of Columbia.

New York is next, followed by New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

The best part of the report is that you can also see how states rank in the four categories.

As a fiscal policy person, I’m naturally interested in how states rank with regards to spending, especially since that variable shows that you can get good results without spending a lot of money (congratulations to Idaho for winning that category, followed by Utah and North Carolina).

Very similar to the “ROI data” on cities that I looked at back in 2015.

But the data that really intrigues me is the ranking on school choice.

For background, here its some of what’s written in the report.

Our report card measures four broad categories (School Choice, Transparency, Regulatory Freedom, and Spending) that encompass more than two dozen discrete factors. ...Florida is the top-ranked state across the board. Families looking for a state that embraces education freedom, respects parents’ rights, and provides a decent ROI for taxpayers should look no further than The Sunshine State.

But I want to focus specifically on school choice. On that basis, Arizona is in first place, followed by Indiana, Florida, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

Hawaii is in last place, followed by Massachusetts and North Dakota.

Here’s some discussion of the report’s methodology.

States with more education choice have more educational liberty. “Education Choice” has five sub-categories: (a) Private School Choice, (b) Private School Choice Program Design, (c) Charter Schools, (d) Homeschooling, and (e) Public School Choice.

Charter schools are better than regular government schools, so it’s good they’re included.

And ranking states on their homeschooling laws is even better.

P.S. There are very successful school choice systems in CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

P.P.S. Getting rid of the Department of Education would be a good idea, but the battle for school choice is largely won and lost on the state and local level.

Read Full Post »

Politicians are generally despicable people, but the worst of the worst almost certainly would include the ones who oppose school choice in order to curry favor with teacher unions.

Like Joe Biden, for instance.

But if you want the worst of the worst of the worst, then we need to look at politicians who oppose school choice while having their own kids in private schools.

In other words, they are hypocrites who also support horrible education policy.

Like Elizabeth Warren, for instance.

Today, we’re going to highlight one of these reprehensible people.

In a column for the Washington Free Beacon, Chuck Ross writes about a Pennsylvania Senate candidate who wants poor kids to be stuck in sub-par schools, but has his own kids at a fancy private school.

Pennsylvania Senate hopeful John Fetterman (D.) opposes vouchers that let children in failing public school districts attend private and charter schools. But the progressive champion…sends his kids to an elite prep school. Fetterman’s kids attend the Winchester Thurston School in Pittsburgh, where parents pay up to $34,250… Fetterman and his wife Gisele have sent at least one of their three kids to Winchester Thurston for the past seven years. …Fetterman’s embrace of school choice for his own family opens him up to allegations of hypocrisy on several fronts. …Fetterman has publicly opposed vouchers that parents in poor-performing districts like his own could use to send their kids to private and charter schools. In 2018, he told an organization founded by Bernie Sanders supporters he opposed vouchers for families.

Some people are criticizing Fetterman’s hpocrisy, though I would have said something much stronger than “shame on him.”

“Shame on him,” said David P. Hardy, a distinguished senior fellow at the Commonwealth Foundation and co-founder of Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia charter school. “Fetterman could send his kids to [Woodland Hills], but he’s got money, so he can send them somewhere else,” Hardy told the Washington Free Beacon. “But the poor people there are stuck going to those schools, and he doesn’t give them any way out.”

It’s hardly a suprise that politicians often are hypocrites.

That’s true with regard to taxes. And that’s true with regards to the pandemic.

But it’s nauseating when they’re hypocrites on school choice since they are denying kids a chance for a better life by trapping them in failing government schools.

Read Full Post »

There are many serious objections to Biden’s unilateral student loan bailout (I included a poll with six potential answers in this column).

And I’m sure I’ll write more serious columns about the issue, whether focused on the specific problem of the bailout or the broader issue of how student loans enable colleges to increase tuition (the third-party payer problem).

Today, though, let’s enjoy some gallows humor.

We’ll start with some satire directed at the people who think others should pay for their mistakes.

Here’s another meme with the same message.

Next, we have a couple well-to-do college graduates explaining the benefits of the bailout to someone who only finished high school.

As you might expect, the satirists at Babylon Bee have weighed in.

One local plumbing contractor, Sam Caughorn, is really looking forward to paying the tab on his neighbor’s $89,000 gender studies degree. “Listen, I’m just a plumber,” he said. “I didn’t go to college, but I work hard and support my family. I don’t know about all that high-falutin gender stuff they teach in college, but I’m sure it must be important since it’s so expensive! Happy to help out another person in need.” According to studies, there are millions of white girls working at coffee shops across the country while struggling under the crushing student debt they acquired by irresponsibly obtaining college degrees that gave them no marketable job skills. …Local gender studies major Amber White is looking forward to having all her debt forgiven, thanks in part to the contributions of plumbers like Sam Caughorn. “I’m so thankful for the generosity of our Democrat leaders!” she said. “They really look out for the little folx. Also, down with capitalism and white men!”

One of my oft-repeated jokes is that I’m a lesbian trapped in a man’s body.

Well, here’s a bailout version of that sophomoric humor.

But why stop with mortgage? Surely other types of debt deserve forgiveness?

There are many villains connected to this issue, most notably callow politicians such as Biden.

But colleges and universities must be thanking their lucky stars that so few people are focusing on their role.

As is my tradition, I’ve saved the best for last.

Here’s an updated look at the oft-used equality-equity meme.

I’ll close with one serious point.

As a general principle, redistribution is economically harmful since it penalizes work and subsidizes idleness.

But it becomes disgusting and morally offensive when it takes money from the less fortunate and gives it to those with more wealth and income. And that’s the net effect of Biden’s student loan bailout.

Read Full Post »

As a general rule, some of the worst people are attracted to the wold of politics.

As such, we should never be surprised when politicians push bad policy.

But there are bad ideas…and there are really bad ideas.

At the risk of understatement, Biden’s proposed scheme to “forgive” a big chunk of student debt is spectacularly misguided.

The challenge is identifying why it’s wrong. There are so many possible answers.

Let’s review some of the ways this is bad for the United States (you get to make your choice in a poll at the end of the column).

  • Redistributes from poor to rich
  • Subsidizes irresponsibility and penalizes responsibility
  • Abuse of power
  • More red ink
  • Higher tuition price
  • Awful precedent

To help determine which answer is best, let’s review some recent analysis.

National Review editorialized on the topic. Here are some of the highlights.

Biden’s student-loan plan will cost about $2,000 per taxpayer. …Biden is effectively telling all the people who didn’t go to college, those who went to college but didn’t borrow money, and those who went to college and already paid off their loans that they are suckers. …Federal student loans are already issued on very favorable terms. …The order caps those eligible for loan forgiveness at $125,000 in individual income, which is approximately double the median household income and hardly excludes anyone. …the president has…abused emergency powers to pursue a reckless and senseless policy.

In her Washington Post column, Megan McArdle savages the president’s giveaway.

…the Biden administration announced that it would forgive up to $10,000 in student loan debt (up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients)… How many ways can a single policy be bad? This one could cost the federal government somewhere between $400 billion and $600 billion, completely unpaid for. Its legality is at best an abuse of the law to address the “national emergency” of upcoming midterm elections. …an extremely regressive policy, heaping benefits on the most affluent demographics, while leaving everyone else to pay the cost through some combination of higher taxes, lower benefits, or higher inflation and interest rates. Worst of all: What do Democrats do for an encore? …This first action will beget demands for a second and a third. …like trying to quit smoking by switching to unfiltered cigarettes. 

Honest folks on the left are equally upset about Biden’s reverse redistribution.

President Obama’s former top economic aide, Jason Furman, didn’t mince his words.

And the editors at the left-of-center Washington Post were equally scathing.

The unemployment rate for people with bachelor’s degrees and higher is just 2 percent. It’s hard to make the case that college graduates are…facing an unprecedented crisis. …canceling student loan debt is regressive. It takes money from the broader tax base, mostly made up of workers who did not go to college, to subsidize the education debt of people with valuable degrees. …Mr. Biden’s plan is also expensive — and likely inflationary. …Mr. Biden’s student loan decision will…provide a windfall for those who don’t need it — with American taxpayers footing the bill.

From a libertarian perspective, Elizabeth Nolan Brown of Reason denounced Biden’s scheme.

Biden’s basis for saying that the executive branch has the right to simply declare student loans forgiven is both egregious in its own right and troubling for the future of executive power plays. …The program amounts to a massive subsidy for middle-class Americans, as opposed to benefiting the most economically downtrodden or financially strapped. …the program “consumes resources that could be better used helping those who did not, for whatever reason, have a chance to attend college,” as economist Larry Summers put it …there are many people for whom avoiding student loan debt or paying it off promptly meant making all sorts of sacrifices. Biden’s loan forgiveness program says to them that this thrift, practicality, etc. may have been for nought.

By the way, Larry Summers was Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary and also head of Obama’s National Economic Council, so hardly a libertarian fellow traveler.

Here’s more of his analysis.

Returning to libertarian commentary, Brad Polumbo of the Foundation for Economic Education adds his two cents.

…forcing taxpayers to pay down the roughly $1.5 trillion in government-held student debt is not a “progressive” policy by any stretch. …just one in three American adults over age 25 actually has a bachelor’s degree. …college graduates typically make 85 percent more than those with only a high school diploma and earn roughly $1 million more over a lifetime. So any government policy that forces taxpayers to pay off loans held by a relatively well-off slice of society is actually regressive… Economists Sylvain Catherine and Constantine Yannelis crunched the numbers to conclude that full student debt cancellation would be a “highly regressive policy” and award $192 billion to the top 20 percent of income earners, yet just $29 billion to the bottom 20 percent. …other research from left-leaning institutions like the Urban Institute has reached the same conclusion. So, we’re left with the simple fact that one of the Democratic Party’s top agenda items is a taxpayer-financed handout to the wealthy. 

Charles Cooke of National Review also is not impressed.

Congress has passed no rules that allow down-on-their-luck presidents to throw money at people for political gain. As of yet, Congress has given no instruction that if the president’s friends might like a little more cash, he can raid the Treasury to give it to them. Certainly, Congress has set up a loan program. But the deal there is rather simple, all told: First you borrow, and then you pay back what you borrowed. There is no mention of “forgiveness” days or of “help” or of rolling Chekhovian jubilees, and by pretending otherwise, President Biden is making a mockery of his oath to uphold the Constitution. …This isn’t a reform. It’s not even pretending to be reform. It’s a contemptuous, abusive, unbelievably expensive shot in the dark… Joe Biden and his party prefer college students to you, and they think that those students ought to be rewarded for that by being handed enormous gobs of your money. Electricians, store managers, deli workers, landscapers, waitresses, mechanics, entrepreneurs? Screw ’em.

Robby Soave of Reason also is disgusted.

Biden’s debt forgiveness plan will do nothing—absolutely nothing—to fundamentally change the incentive system that created the doom spiral in the first place. Degree-seekers will continue to borrow large amounts of money to buy useless educations; indeed, they might feel even more encouraged to do so now that this precedent has been set. Meanwhile, colleges and universities will have even less incentive to lower costs. …Forgiving student loan debt exacerbates this problem since it encourages more reckless borrowing. …It is a slap in the face to everyone who either paid down their college debt or made different educational choices to avoid accruing it. …Biden…simply engaged in a vast transfer of wealth, taking hard-earned money from those who did not fall prey to the federal government’s scam and awarding it to those who did.

So what’s the bottom line?

One obvious takeaway is that the party of the rich has provided another giveaway to their rich constituents. Think of it as the bailout version of the state-and-local tax deduction.

But I think this message might be the real moral of the story.

P.S. At the risk of influencing the poll, Biden’s student loan bailout will give colleges and universities the leeway to further increase tuition, but you need bad monetary policy to get a sustained increase in the overall price level.

P.P.S. Cast your vote.

Read Full Post »

Whether I’m debating the quality of government schools or the funding of government schools, I routinely share this chart from the late Andrew Coulson.

There are two obvious takeaways from this data.

  1. Taxpayers have been shelling out ever-larger amounts of money.
  2. All that money has produced no improvement in student test scores.

Those two takeaways should lead any rational person to conclude that dramatic changes are needed.

Probably the biggest change is school choice. And the good news is that more and more states are moving in the right direction on this issue.

But there’s another potential big change. As illustrated by this tweet (and this story), a former Secretary of the Department of Education thinks it is time to abolish her former bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, we are not seeing any progress on this goal. The bureaucracy’s budget grew dramatically under Trump. And it’s getting even more bloated under Biden.

But maybe there’s hope. Congressman Tom Massie, a libertarian-leaning Republican from Kentucky, has legislation to get the federal government out of education. Here’s some of his office’s press release on the topic.

Representative Thomas Massie…has introduced H.R. 899, a bill to abolish the federal Department of Education. The bill, which is one sentence long, states, “The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2022.” …said Massie. “States and local communities are best positioned to shape curricula that meet the needs of their students. Schools should be accountable. Parents have the right to choose the most appropriate educational opportunity for their children, including home school, public school, or private school.” The Department of Education began operating in 1980. On September 24, 1981, in his Address to the Nation on the Program for Economic Recovery, President Ronald Reagan said, “…we propose to dismantle two Cabinet Departments, Energy and Education. …There’s only one way to shrink the size and cost of big government, and that is by eliminating agencies that are not needed and are getting in the way of a solution. …education is the principal responsibility of local school systems, teachers, parents, citizen boards, and State governments. By eliminating the Department of Education less than 2 years after it was created, we cannot only reduce the budget but ensure that local needs and preferences, rather than the wishes of Washington, determine the education of our children.”

In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Patrick Carroll applauds Congressman Massie, along with his cosponsors who have embraced genuine reform.

Though it may be tempting to think Massie and his supporters just don’t care about education, this is certainly not the case. If anything, they are pushing to end the federal Department of Education precisely because they care about educational outcomes. In their view, the Department is at best not helping and, at worst, may actually be part of the problem. …Massie is echoing sentiments expressed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, who advocated dismantling the Department of Education even though it had just begun operating in 1980. …Education needs vary from student to student, so educational decisions need to be made as close to the individual student as possible. Federal organizations simply can’t account for the diverse array of educational contexts, which means their one-size-fits-all findings and recommendations will be poorly suited for many classrooms.

Amen.

From the moment it was created by Jimmy Carter, the Department of Education has failed to generate any positive outcome.

By that metric, it has something in common with the Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and almost every bureaucracy in Washington.

P.S. As one might expect, Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Obama’s Common Core were both expensive failures.

Read Full Post »

I wrote earlier this week about school choice in Arizona, but this is such great news that it merits more attention. Indeed, I made it my “underreported story” in this week’s edition of the Square Circle.

What excites me is that school choice will lead to better educational outcomes.

We already have lots of evidence for this proposition, which our friends on the left falsely blame of “cream skimming.”

The good news about Arizona is that it will become impossible to make that silly argument when all children are eligible.

What’s really amazing is that opponents of school choice basically admit that private schools do a better job.

Consider this column for Salon by Kathryn Joyce. All the critics basically acknowledge that parents are going to abandon government schools now that they have a choice.

In practice, the law will now give parents who opt out of public schools a debit card for roughly $7,000 per child that can be used to pay for private school tuition, but also for much more: for religious schools, homeschool expenses, tutoring, online classes, education supplies and fees associated with “microschools,” in which small groups of parents pool resources to hire teachers. …Democratic politicians and public education advocates described the law as the potential “nail in the coffin” for public schools in Arizona…by steadily draining funds away from public education. …the money to cover children who leave public schools in coming years will be deducted from public school budgets. …”I think we’re witnessing the dismantling of public education in our state,” said Lewis.

I’m also excited because Arizona lawmakers didn’t try to dictate how the new system will work.

Why is that good news? Well, Max Eden of the American Enterprise Institute writes that Arizona’s program will encourage educational entrepreneurship.

…the Arizona Legislature passed the most expansive school choice initiative in America: the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program. ESAs are the purest version of school choice. …Arizona’s ESA program would give about $6,500 directly to any family that decides a public school isn’t quite the right fit for their child. …the most significant consequence may come from a sector that essentially didn’t exist just a few years ago: “pods” or “microschools.” …If a teacher were to advertise and attract a dozen students, she stands to draw nearly $80,000… More importantly, her students will get far more specialized attention, likely suffer through far fewer distractions, and are less likely to fall behind or slip through the cracks. …The beautiful thing about Arizona’s ESA program is that it can eliminate any mismatch between what parents want for their child’s education and what they can get. Arizona now funds students, not systems. For many independent-minded parents, the idea of taking their child’s education directly into their own hands and partnering with other families to form small educational communities will be deeply attractive.

The bottom line is that there is not a system that is ideal for every kid. Some will thrive in a traditional school setting. Others will benefit from microschooling. And some will do best with homeschooling.

Let a thousand flowers bloom!

P.S. More than 10 years ago, I was very hopeful that states such as Colorado and Pennsylvania would lead the school choice revolution. But that was back when there were a significant number of Republican legislators who wanted to appease teacher unions. Fortunately, Republican voters have learned to punish politicians who put union bosses above children.

Read Full Post »

I thought passage of statewide school choice last year in West Virginia was something to celebrate.

And it was, especially since other states also expanded educational freedom for families.

But there’s even better news from Arizona, where the legislature just enacted, and the governor just signed, the nation’s most comprehensive system of school choice.

Parents will get vouchers of about $7,000 for each school-age child, to be used at the schools that are best for their children.

This is a victory for parents. And a victory for taxpayers.

The Goldwater Institute in Phoenix played a big role in this victory. Here’s their description of the now-universal Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.

In a major victory for families weary of a one-size-fits-all approach to education, the Arizona Legislature today passed a groundbreaking bill which ensures all Arizona families can access school choice. …ESAs, which Goldwater pioneered in Arizona more than a decade ago, put money that would otherwise go toward a given child’s public education into an account that parents can use to customize their child’s education experience to best meet their unique needs. …Families would receive over $6,500 per year per child for private school, homeschooling, ‘learning pods,’ tutoring, or any other kinds of educational service that would best fit their students’ needs.

I’m glad to see that homeschooling is on a level playing field.

Here’s some media coverage from KAWC.

Arizona Republican lawmakers late Friday gave final approval to the most comprehensive system of vouchers of taxpayer funds for private and parochial schools in the nation. The 16-10 Senate vote came as proponents said parents want more choice for their children. …The solution that Republicans say HB 2853 offers is to allow each of the 1.1 million students in Arizona public schools to get a voucher they can use to attend a private or parochial school. …Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, said the nature of providing resources to parents to make education choices necessarily makes them more involved in their child’s education as they have the resources to choose a school. “Remember: this is for whatever the parent thinks is best for their kid,” he said. “And, for the life of me, I still can’t fathom why anybody would oppose that.”

Sen. Boyer is right. There are no good arguments against school choice.

This is a very simple issue. Government schools are failing. They’ve received more money and more money, yet they keep producing dismal results.

You can blame the natural inefficiency of monopolies. You can blame teacher unions. Heck, you can blame sunspots or space aliens for all I care.

What matters is giving ordinary families an opportunity to get better education for their kids (the same choice that rich – and hypocritical – leftists like to utilize).

Thanks to lawmakers in Arizona, more American families will now have this opportunity.

P.S. It’s uplifting to see very successful school choice systems operate in nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

Read Full Post »

It was back in 2010 when I first shared a video about school choice. We’ve enjoyed a lot of progress since then, which is producing a backlash from teacher unions and their lackeys.

In this new video, Corey DeAngelis debunks their arguments.

The “3 big lies” mentioned in Corey’s video are 1) school choice defunds governments schools, 2) school choice is unaccountable, and 3) school choice violates separation of church and state.

When I discuss this issue with my left-leaning friends, they usually trot out the third argument. They say it is wrong, or perhaps even unconstitutional. to give families tax-funded vouchers that can be used at religious schools.

I then ask them whether they want to get rid of grants and loans for college students who attend religious schools such as BYU, Baylor, and Boston College?

Needless to say, I’ve never received an intelligent answer to that question.

To be fair, that’s not their only argument. They also claim that the solution to bad government schools is more money from taxpayers.

Corey didn’t address that myth in his video, but I’ve explainedover and over again – that we’ve tried that approach. At the risk of understatement, it doesn’t work.

School choice, by contrast, produces good results.

Even in some unexpected places. In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Laura Williams describes how school choice has successfully operated in Vermont’s “tuition towns” for a long time.

Too small and sparsely populated to support a traditional public school, these towns distribute government education funds to parents, who choose the educational experience that is best suited to their family’s needs. …Ninety-three Vermont towns (36 percent of its 255 municipalities) have no government-run school at all. …In these towns, the funds local governments expect to spend per pupil are instead given directly to the parents of school-age children. This method gives lower- and middle-income parents the same superpower wealthy families have always had: school choice. …A variety of schools has arisen to compete for these tuition dollars. A spectrum from centuries-old academies to innovative, adaptive, and experimental programs… Eligibility for tuition vouchers actually increased home values in towns that closed their public schools. Outsiders were eager to move to these areas… Because parents, not bureaucrats or federal formulas, determine how funds are allocated, schools are under high economic pressure to impress parents⁠—that is, to serve students best… Having watched these models develop nearby, two more Vermont towns voted in 2013 to close their government-run schools and become “tuition towns” instead. …Wealthy parents will always have school choice. They have the power to choose the best opportunity and the best fit for their individual child. Tuition towns—where all parents direct their child’s share of public education spending—give that power to every family.

Amen.

The concluding sentences are very important. School choice is a way of giving families with modest incomes the same opportunities that have always existed for rich families (including the families of hypocritical politicians).

P.S. There’s strong evidence for school choice from nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

P.P.S. Since I’m a fiscal economist, I can’t resist mentioning that school choice is not only good for students, but for taxpayers as well.

Read Full Post »

When I shared the best and worst news of 2021, I expressed happiness about how school choice is spreading across the nation.

But it’s not spreading as fast as it should because some establishment Republican state legislators would rather kowtow to teacher unions rather than promote better educational opportunities for the kids in their districts.

But parents are beginning to notice.

In a closely watched primary contest yesterday in Iowa, the Republican Chairmen of the House Education Committee (and a lackey of the teacher unions) was being challenged by a supporter of school choice.

Needless to say, it’s very difficult to defeat an incumbent politician. But, as Corey DeAngelis shared in a tweet, the challenger prevailed in a stunning outcome.

And if you peruse the press release from the American Federation for Children, that was just one of many victories in the Hawkeye State.

Indeed, it’s just one of many victories in primaries across the country.

Corey wrote an article last week for National Review, co-authored by Jason Bedrick, that analyzed primary results in other states this year.

They start with some good news.

DeSantis made school choice a centerpiece of his campaign, and voters rewarded him. In a race decided by fewer than 40,000 votes, his unusually high level of support among black women (18 percent, or about 100,000 votes), who chose him over an anti–school choice black Democrat, Andrew Gillum, proved decisive. …Republicans began wrapping themselves in the mantle of parental rights and school choice, but the fulfillment of their promises has been mixed. States such as West Virginia and New Hampshire enacted bold new education-choice policies in 2021, while Florida, Indiana, and more than a dozen other states expanded existing choice policies.

They then share some bad news.

Nevertheless, choice initiatives stalled this year in Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Utah, with some Republicans casting the deciding votes.

But they close with the best news of all.

In recent primaries, GOP voters threw their support to candidates who supported choice, even if it meant tossing out otherwise conservative incumbents. …Representative Phil Stephenson, an incumbent backed by the teachers’ union, lost to school-choice supporter Stan Kitzman, who secured 58 percent of the vote despite spending less than half of what his opponent spent… Likewise, school-choice champions Ellen Troxclair and Carrie Isaac both defeated candidates who were endorsed by the Texas affiliate of Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers. In all, eleven of 14 Texas House of Representatives candidates endorsed by the pro-school choice Texas Federation for Children PAC won their primary runoffs. …in Kentucky, an incumbent known to be the leading opposition to school choice in the Republican caucus, Representative Ed Massey, suffered a devastating primary defeat by school-choice champion Steve Rawlings, who garnered 69 percent of the vote despite being significantly outspent. Candidates endorsed by American Federation for Children Action Fund and its affiliates won their primaries or advanced to runoffs in 38 of 48 races in Texas, Arkansas, Idaho, Georgia, and Nebraska so far this year.

Actually, the best news of all is not what happens in elections. Instead, the best news is when legislation is approved that expands school choice. Like we saw last year in West Virginia and other states.

I’ll close with some political analysis.

I’m a big fan of the no-tax-pledge organized by Americans for Tax Reform.

Why? Because it is a way of targeting politicians who are sympathetic to tax increases.

Signing the pledge does not guarantee that a candidate is good (they can vote for debt-financed spending without violating the pledge).

But a candidate who does not sign the pledge almost certainly is bad. And voters now have a way of identifying – and rejecting – those politicians.

We need something similar for school choice. Maybe that’s a pledge. Maye it’s simply endorsements by the American Federation for Children.

All that matters is that politicians learn that there are negative consequences if they side with teacher unions instead of children.

P.S. Politicians who oppose school choice often are reprehensible hypocrites, as noted by Democratic state senator Justin Wayne of Nebraska.

Read Full Post »

For years, I’ve been explaining that students have been hurt rather than helped by government programs to allegedly make higher education more affordable.

How can this be true?

For the simple reason that colleges and universities dramatically boosted tuition in response to all the government subsidies.

Did students somehow benefit?

Hardly. In addition to much higher tuition and fees, the higher-education sector became more bloated, with much more bureaucracy and much lighter workloads.

So the people working for colleges and universities were big beneficiaries.

Students, by contrast, got put on a backwards treadmill featuring more loans, higher tuition, and more debt.

Given this background, I was interested to see a column in the New York Times describing how students at Bennett College (and elsewhere) have been disadvantaged by the current system.

Here’s the headline from the piece, which was written by Tressie McMillan Cottom.

While I certainly sympathize with students who are now trapped in this system, I was left unsatisfied by both the above headline and the actual details of Ms. Cottom’s column.

Why?

Because there was a lot of discussion about the consequences of the current system but zero recognition that government is the reason colleges and universities are now so expensive and bureaucratic.

So I decided to make a modest correction to the headline.

Ms. Cottom thinks the answer is student loan forgiveness, which simply means other people pick up the tab.

That’s a perverse form of redistribution since people who went to college have higher earnings than the general population.

I don’t like redistribution in general, but redistributing form poor to rich is particularly perverse.

But even I might be willing to embrace loan forgiveness if something was being do to solve the underlying problem of the government-caused tuition spiral.

Needless to say, that’s not part of the discussion in Washington.

P.S. The underlying economic problem is “third-party payer.” It’s wreaked havoc with America’s health sector and it’s have the same pernicious effect on higher education.

Read Full Post »

It is very common for politicians to cause a problem with government intervention and then use the problem as an excuse for even bigger government.

I call this the lather-rinse-repeat cycle of government failure.

And the current controversy over student loan forgiveness is a perfect example.

  • Politicians decided to subsidize student loans.
  • Colleges and universities predictably responded by increasing tuition so they could grab this additional money.
  • Politicians are now responding to the government-created crisis by pushing loan forgiveness.

I could write a column about how this will make a bad situation worse. Heck, I already have written that column. Several times.

But I want to focus today on a different aspect of this issue.

Biden on his allies in Congress are pushing a policy that will redistribute money from lower-income people to higher-income people.

Let’s look at some of the findings of a new study by Professor Sylvain Catherine at the University of Pennsylvania and Professor Constantine Yannelis at the University of Chicago.

…on average, those who graduate with a post-secondary degree earn more than those who do not, so student debt forgiveness plans, by definition, are geared toward higher-wage earners. Further, many holders of high loan balances completed graduate and professional degrees and thus earn even higher incomes. …universal debt forgiveness policies would disproportionately benefit high earners. …universal and capped forgiveness policies are highly regressive, with the vast majority of benefits accruing to high-income individuals.

Peter Suderman of Reason is unimpressed by this backwards form of redistribution.

The single largest source of student loan debt is MBA programs, as Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Adam Looney has noted, and MBA grads average more than $73,000 in earnings their first year out of school. “The five degrees responsible for the most student debt are: MBA, JD, BA in business, BS in nursing, and MD,” Looney wrote in 2020. “That’s one reason why the top 20 percent of earners owe 35 percent of the debt, and why most debt is owed by well-educated individuals.” Technically, it’s true that well-paid professional school graduates fall into the category of “working people.” But..what Biden appears to be considering, is a massive program of government aid that would disproportionately benefit doctors, lawyers, well-paid medical specialists, and comfortably salaried individuals with advanced business degrees. …a trillion-dollar bailout for the upper-middle class.

This is disgusting and reprehensible.

I don’t think it is a proper role of the federal government to redistribute money. But it is especially grotesque and misguided when politicians use the coercive power of government to shift resources from lower-income Americans to higher-income Americans.

For what it is worth, there already are many policies and programs in Washington that – on net – shift money from the poor to the rich.

I will close by observing that there has also been a vigorous effort from our friends on the left to restore an unlimited deduction for state and local taxes.

It’s almost as if it is okay to have policies that benefit rich people, so long as they mostly live in blue states.

P.S. It is possible to design loan forgiveness to reduce the level of poor-to-rich redistribution. The aforementioned study by Professors Catherine and Yannelis includes data showing how various income deciles will (or will not) benefit depending on different types of forgiveness rules.

P.P.S. However, any type of loan forgiveness exacerbates the original problem, which is how politicians have enabled and subsidized ever-higher tuition rates.

Read Full Post »

In my libertarian fantasy world, schools and libraries would be private institutions, which means market forces would determine which books would be available.

This would mean plenty of diversity.

Private schools in rural Oklahoma presumably would opt for content that reflects traditional values, for example, while private libraries in San Francisco would be more likely to feature salacious content.

But there also would be entrepreneurs who would cater to the needs and interests of left-wingers in Oklahoma and right-wingers in San Francisco.

The bottom line is that there’s no need for a one-sized-fits-all approach if a market is allowed to operate.

All that sounds nice, but my libertarian fantasy world doesn’t exist (even though it already has an anthem).

In the real world, we have government schools and government libraries. So what should the rules be for which books get selected?

As you might imagine this gets very contentious.

Valerie Strauss and Lindsey Bever have a story in the Washington Post about a battle in Florida over what math books to use.

Florida said it has rejected a pile of math textbooks submitted by publishers in part because they “contained prohibited subjects,” including critical race theory. The Florida Department of Education announced…41 percent of the submitted textbooks were rejected — most of them in elementary school. …“It seems that some publishers attempted to slap a coat of paint on an old house built on the foundation of Common Core, and indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was quoted as saying in the announcement.

And a report by Annie Gowen in the Washington Post examines the fight over which books should be in public libraries.

…a growing number of communities across America where conservatives have mounted challenges to books and other content related to race, sex, gender and other subjects they deem inappropriate. A movement that started in schools has rapidly expanded to public libraries, accounting for 37 percent of book challenges last year, according to the American Library Association. …Gov. Greg Abbott (R) jumped into the fray, calling for an investigation of “pornography” in school libraries. …challengers are being assisted by growing national networks such as the parental rights group Moms for Liberty or spurred on by conservative public policy organizations like Heritage Action for America, the ALA has said.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think libertarians have a dog in this fight.

We viscerally oppose government-mandated censorship, of course, but that’s not what is being debated.

The fight is not over which books to ban. It’s about which books to buy.

And since schools and libraries obviously don’t have the ability to purchase every book ever written, somebody will need the authority to choose.

  1. Should local librarians and local principals have that authority?
  2. Should local and state elected officials have that authority?
  3. Should politicians and bureaucrats in D.C. have that authority?

The worst outcome is allowing the crowd in Washington to have any power. That leads to one-size-fits-all and it is a recipe for endless conflict.

Moreover, the federal government has a terrible track record, especially with regards to education. And I can’t imagine the folks in D.C. would do any better if they got involved with libraries.

So we are left with options #1 and #2.

But that’s somewhat misleading because local politicians already have a lot of power over which principals and librarians get hired. They may delegate that authority, to be sure, but they have the ultimate power.

Indeed, the two stories cited above are about citizens pushing elected officials to make certain choices.

That’s democracy in action, for better or worse.

P.S. Libertarians favor democracy, but we very much want to limit the size and scope of government. In other words, for everything other than genuine “public goods,” we prefer markets over majoritarianism.

P.P.S. I don’t want to ban any book, but I definitely would be happy if fewer schools and libraries chose to buy Howard Zinn’s inaccurate book on American history.

Read Full Post »

I’ve already shared a “Tweet of the Year” for 2022, as well the “Most Enjoyable Tweet” of the year.

I’m going to call this the “Most Obvious Revelation Tweet” since it reaches a should-have-been-immediately-clear conclusion that the Department of Education is a net negative for the United States.

I’ve already provided my two cents on why the Department of Education should be eliminated.

So let’s look at what others have said.

In a column for National Review, Charles Cooke says it’s time for the bureaucracy to be retired.

In our constitutional order, education is the preserve of the states, and it ought to be the preserve of the states — not only because educational institutions work best when they are close to their benefactors and beneficiaries, but because education is power and because the centralization of power presents enticements that are beyond any human being’s ability to resist. …We have now seen the failure of nationalized education policy under presidents of both parties: George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” was a signature of his campaign in 2000 and his pre-9/11 presidency and has been largely abandoned, as has Common Core, which started life as a “conservative” idea but was quickly sucked into the maw under President Obama. The problem, as so often, is the system itself.

And here’s some of what Neil McCluskey wrote back in 2020.

Department of Education…was basically a payoff to the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, for their 1976 support of Jimmy Carter’s presidential candidacy. …What we have gotten… One thing we do know is that total, inflation‐​adjusted federal education spending, including K‑12 programs and college student aid, has risen greatly since 1980, from $115 billion to $296 billion. Meanwhile, national test scores for 17‐​year‐​olds have been basically flat… Federal education meddling, especially since the advent of the Department of Education, has been of questionable value at best, and a high‐​dollar, bureaucratic failure at worst.

Needless to say, I agree with both of them. The current system is bad for America’s kids.

If you’re wondering why I have that view, just click here, here, here, here, and here.

By the way, it’s not just that the Department of Education has been a failure for K-12 kids. It’s also been bad news for college students.

Here are some excerpts from a 2015 column that Richard Vedder wrote for the Foundation for Economic Education.

He observes that higher education was a success story before the Department of Education was created.

The 30 years between 1950 and 1980 were the Golden Age of American higher education. The proportion of adult Americans with college degrees nearly tripled, going from 6 to 17 percent. Enrollments quintupled, going from 2.3 to 12.1 million. …This was the era in which higher education went from serving the elite and mostly well-to-do to serving many individuals from modest economic circumstance. …During this period, however, the federal role was quite modest. …College costs remained remarkably stable. Tuition fees typically rose only about one percent a year, adjusting for inflation. At the same time, high economic growth (real GDP was rising nearly four percent annually) led to incomes rising even faster, so in most years the tuition to income ratio fell. In other words, college was becoming a smaller financial burden for families.

But things took a wrong turn after a new federal bureaucracy was created. Here are some of the reasons Prof. Vedder has identified.

First, of course, education costs have soared. Tuition fees rose more than three percent a year in inflation-adjusted terms, far faster than people’s incomes. …rising federal student financial aid programs are the primary factor in this phenomenon. …Second, if anything, college has become more elitist and less accessible to low income students. The proportion of recent graduates who are from the bottom quartile of the income distribution has declined since 1970 or 1980. …Third, there has been a shocking decline in academic standards. Grade inflation is rampant. …Fourth, accreditation of colleges, overseen by the Department of Education, is expensive and ineffective. …Fifth, the federal aid programs and “college for all” propaganda promoted by the Department have led to a large proportion (probably over 40 percent) of recent graduates being underemployed… Sixth, the Department is guilty of regulatory excesses and bureaucratic blunders. …the form required of applicants for federal student aid (FAFSA) is byzantine in its complexity.

For what it’s worth, I think Rich’s first item deserves some sort of special emphasis. Maybe a couple of exclamation points to drive home the point that higher education is absurdly over-priced today precisely because of government intervention to supposedly make it more affordable.

Now politicians are reacting to this mess by urging even more subsidies. Which will simply make the problem worse. Lather, rinse, repeat.

P.S. Here’s a bit of humor to compensate for the depressing news in today’s column.

My other examples of education-themed humor can be found here, here, here, and here.

P.P.S. Biden wants to reward failure with a 21 percent increase in the Department of Education’s budget.

Read Full Post »

You can find examples of libertarianism in some very unexpected places.

What’s particularly interesting are the examples of how private governance is evolving in developing nations.

These are real-world example of “anarcho-capitalism” and they exist for the simple reason is that governments have utterly failed to provide core “public goods” such as crime control.

Now we have a new case study. The U.K.-based Economist reports on the development of a “private parallel state” in South Africa.

Situated in the north of Johannesburg, Steyn City has shops, a school, generators, a petrol station, golf, 50km of biking trails, fishing dams, 24-hour security and a dinosaur-themed playground. There is even a helipad; but residents need never leave. …estates like Steyn City, which account for nearly one in five property transfers (a proxy for sales)…represent a broader demand: for a sanctuary in a country where the state cannot seem to curb crime or provide decent services. And it is not just the rich who are fending for themselves. So, increasingly, is everyone else.

Incidentally, we have similar “estates” in the United States, such as The Villages in Florida and other private communities and residential developments.

But let’s focus on South Africa and why people are opting for private alternatives to government.

The article notes that a growing number of citizens are choosing private schools (akin to what’s happening in India).

Since 1997 the number of pupils in private schools has tripled, from 236,000 to 703,000… The increase is not happening in the most expensive schools, which are, in fact, becoming easier to get into, because so many well-heeled South Africans are emigrating. “The growth is in the low-to-mid range of the market,” says Lebogang Montjane, the head of the Independent Schools Association. …Private fees are priced to be affordable for the black middle class. Spark costs 28,050 rand ($1,800) a year for primary school.

There is also a section on private health care.

But the part about public safety is even more remarkable.

Security is the clearest case of where private companies are replacing the state. In 1997 there were roughly as many police officers (110,000) as active security guards (115,000). Since then officer numbers have increased by 31% (to 144,000) but the number of private guards has ballooned by 383% (to 557,000). Gun-carrying watchmen and ubiquitous surveillance cameras that feed footage to security firms’ operation rooms are everyday sights in suburbs and high-walled estates. …the sense that the state cannot protect citizens—underlined dramatically last year when the country saw the worst civil unrest since apartheid—is widely felt.

Here’s the bottom line.

Some South Africans emigrate to escape failing public services. But most cannot leave, or do not want to. Instead, argues Gwen Ngwenya of the opposition Democratic Alliance, they slip across an imaginary border, migrating, as it were, into the arms of “the private parallel state”.

The obvious takeaway is that the failing parts of government should be eliminated and, in tandem, the tax burden should be reduced so that it’s easier for citizens to pay for the private alternatives that actually work.

But that’s a very unlikely outcome.

Why? Because government programs in developing nations generally exist to provide patronage to friends and supporters of the politicians.

  • The purpose of government schools is to provide over-paid patronage jobs to teachers, not to educate children.
  • The purpose of government health care is to provide over-paid patronage jobs to providers, not to cure sick people.
  • The purpose of government security is to provide over-paid patronage jobs to cops, not to fight against crime.

So long as this corrupt system works for politicians, there’s no reason to expect changes.

P.S. At some point, South Africa will go bankrupt. In theory, this should lead to long-overdue changes. In practice, it will mean a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, which temporarily will prop up the current system of corruption and waste.

P.P.S. South Africa will be bankrupt sooner rather than later if it takes advice from the OECD.

P.P.P.S. This comparison of South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe is very revealing.

Read Full Post »

In theory, annual awards should not be bestowed until the end of the year. But I already violated that rule when writing about “2022’s Tweet of the Year” last month (in my defense, anything that mocks Oxfam deserves favorable attention).

Given my weakness for premature proclamations, I may as well do it again.

Being a big fan of school choice, you can understand why this bit of whining and grousing from the National Education Association is my “Feel-Good Tweet of the Year.”

Oh, dear, the union bosses are upset that children are getting more options to escape government schools. My cheeks are wet with crocodile tears! So much schadenfreude.

By the way, I agree with part of the tweet. The union bosses at the NEA are correct that school choice is spreading.

Most notably, there was a huge victory for choice last year in West Virginia. But there’s also been progress in many other states.

But I can’t resist correcting two other parts of the tweet.

  • First, choice doesn’t “divert funding for public education into private hands.” Instead, it returns funding to private hands, where the money can then be used to get the best possible education for kids. Incidentally, that could mean government schools (researchers have that quality increases when government schools have to compete for students).
  • Second, it’s not voucher proponents that have been “steadily working to undermine public education.” Instead, the NEA should look in the mirror. It’s the union bosses and their political allies who have made government schools less attractive. They’ve been given record amounts of money and produced dismal educational outcomes.

P.S. As always, I can’t resist reminding people that there are successful systems of school choice in CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands. In other words, it’s not a crazy idea being pushed by American libertarians.

Read Full Post »

What’s the main problem in K-12 education today? Based on news reports, one might think the top challenge involves hot-button social issues such as sex education and critical race theory.

Or maybe pandemic policies such as masking, remote learning, and vaccinations.

Or the malignant role of teacher unions.

Those are real issues, of course, but surely the biggest problem must be that taxpayers are spending ever-more money and getting ever-weaker results.

Given these issues, I was interested to see that the Washington Post has a lengthy article, written by Laura Meckler, that looks at the various challenges facing government schools.

It starts with a grim assessment.

Test scores are down, and violence is up. Parents are screaming at school boards, and children are crying on the couches of social workers. Anger is rising. Patience is falling. For public schools, the numbers are all going in the wrong direction. Enrollment is down. Absenteeism is up. …Public education is facing a crisis unlike anything in decades, and it reaches into almost everything that educators do: from teaching math, to counseling anxious children, to managing the building. …Schools are on the defensive about their pandemic decision-making, their curriculums, their policies regarding race and racial equity and even the contents of their libraries.

As one might suspect, the pandemic made a bad situation worse.

Remote learning, the toll of illness and death, and disruptions to a dependable routine have left students academically behind — particularly students of color and those from poor families. Behavior problems ranging from inability to focus in class all the way to deadly gun violence have gripped campuses. …In fall 2021, 38 percent of third-graders were below grade level in reading, compared with 31 percent historically. In math, 39 percent of students were below grade level, vs. 29 percent historically. …A McKinsey & Co. study found schools with majority-Black populations were five months behind pre-pandemic levels. …Last school year, the number of students who were chronically absent — meaning they have missed more than 10 percent of school days — nearly doubled from before the pandemic.

Many parents have responded to this mess by seeking other options.

More kids are now attending charter schools or private schools, and there’s also been an explosion in home schooling.

Enrollment in traditional public schools fell to less than 49.4 million students in fall 2020, a 2.7 percent drop from a year earlier. …if the trend continues, that will mean less money for public schools as federal and state funding are both contingent on the number of students enrolled. …Some students have shifted to private or charter schools. A rising number, especially Black families, opted for home schooling. And many young children who should have been enrolling in kindergarten delayed school altogether. …charter schools, which are privately run but publicly funded, saw enrollment increase by 7 percent, or nearly 240,000 students, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. There’s also been a surge in home schooling. Private schools saw enrollment drop slightly in 2020-21 but then rebound this academic year, for a net growth of 1.7 percent over two years.

From my perspective, here’s the best part of the article.

Fueling the pressure on public schools is an ascendant school-choice movement… EdChoice, a group that promotes these programs, tallies seven states that created new school choice programs last year. …Another 15 states expanded existing programs.

Amen. School choice is the answer to our education problems – from the perspective of both students and taxpayers.

We’ve already seen a lot of progress on this issue, but more is needed. I hope more and more states copy nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands and give parents the ability to opt for higher-quality private schools.

P.S. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t help when politicians created a federal Department of Education in the late 1970s. At best, it meant another layer of costly bureaucracy. At worst, it led to mandates and regulations that exacerbated the problem of ever-more spending for ever-weaker results.

P.P.S. Here’s a very amusing video about home schooling.

Read Full Post »

If Winston Churchill was commenting on America’s government schools instead of the Royal Air Force, he would have said, “never have so many paid so much to achieve so little.”

Which is one of the messages in this new video from Reason.

I won’t keep anyone in suspense.

The message of today’s column is that government schools are becoming ever-more expensive while producing ever-more dismal outcomes.

As a nation, we have two choices.

We can continue to pour more money into monopoly, government-run systems that never produce better results.

Or we can learn from the evidence and harness the benefits of competition and innovation with school choice.

Let’s look at some more data and research.

In a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dennis Epple, Richard E. Romano, and Miguel Urquiola were largely agnostic on the desirability of choice.

But their research included some very favorable analysis.

We review the theoretical, computational, and empirical research on school vouchers, with a focus on the latter. …multiple positive findings support continued exploration. …for some subgroups or outcomes, vouchers can have a substantial positive effect on those who use them. …Evidence on both small scale and large scale programs suggests that competition induced by vouchers leads public schools to improve. … The most robust finding is that voucher threats induce public schools to improve. …In addition, recent evidence from small-scale experiments in the United States finds substantial gains in years of school for recipients… More encouraging results on the effect of small-scale programs come from developing countries. …interesting evidence comes from India. While vouchers there delivered modest test-score gains, they did so at one-third the cost per student of public schools. …In the case of Sweden’s large-scale voucher program, …recent work features evidence of significant gains… Recent research also tends to support the finding that voucher competition has improved the performance of public schools.

Since I’ve written about choice programs in nations such as Canada, Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands, I’m glad the study mentioned some of the international evidence.

Moreover, I’ve also noted that proponents of school choice have been gaining ground.

Francis Suarez, the Mayor Miami, wants more progress. A National Review article he co-authored with Corey DeAngelis makes the case for expanded options.

School choice is the civil-rights issue of the 21st century. Choosing the right school opens opportunity, it shapes success, it prevents failure, and it unleashes economic opportunity. …We believe the best way to improve our schools and invest in our future is to expand parent-driven school choice. …Miami has always led on school choice. In 1996, T. Willard Fair, the president of the Urban League of Greater Miami, partnered with Governor Jeb Bush to start Florida’s first charter school in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. …Since then, Miami-Dade County has launched 140 charter schools, serving more than 70,000 students, and more than 440 private schools that serve tens of thousands of students with school-choice scholarships. Miami has done well, but now we need to do better. …Moreover, the students who benefit from increased school-choice options are overwhelmingly from historically discriminated-against communities. In a 2019 study, the Urban Institute found students using the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income families — 24,502 students in Miami-Dade used them last year — are far more likely than their public-school peers to enroll in colleges and earn bachelor’s degrees. And a 2020 study published by the National Bureau for Economic Research found that, as that same program grew, students in the district schools most affected by competition saw higher test scores.

The moral of the story is that school choice is a win-win for taxpayers and students.

Now let’s shift to the politics of school choice.

That normally means focusing on the baleful role of teacher unions, which place their personal self interest above student outcomes.

But there’s also the red-vs.-blue dynamic. In a report for the American Enterprise Institute, Jay Greene and Lindsey Burke analyze some of the challenges of trying to enact bipartisan choice legislation.

…in their quest for broader support, choice proponents have conceded to Democrats’ policy demands that ultimately weaken the options available to families: limited student eligibility, heavy-handed standardized tests and regulations, caps on scholarship amounts and student participation, and admissions regulations. Not only has that approach weakened many school choice programs, but it doesn’t appear to have actually won Democratic policymakers’ support. It may have even alienated Republican policymakers who were on the fence about supporting school choice. …Any Democratic support has been for modest or heavily regulated programs, such as the voucher program in Louisiana. The Louisiana voucher program suffers under a mountain of regulations that has discouraged private schools from participating, so much so that only one-third of the state’s private schools will accept the vouchers. …What does this all mean for private school choice proponents? It means supporters should not be afraid to make what is likely our most compelling case: that education freedom is fundamentally about enabling parents to choose learning environments that align with their values. …choice proponents should embrace and be vocal about school choice allowing families an escape hatch from government schools pushing an agenda that runs counter to their values. In other words, choice proponents should be unafraid to appeal to Republicans. …proponents have not made the cultural case for choice to the Republican base, for fear of losing Democratic legislative allies, who, it turns out, weren’t really there to begin with.

I’m a policy wonk rather than political pundit, so my only comment is that proponents shouldn’t give up on bipartisanship.

There’s new legislation in Georgia to enable choice and it has several Democratic cosponsors. If enacted, this could be even bigger news than last-year’s victory in West Virginia.

And I’ve already lauded the powerful words of Justin Wayne, a Democratic member of Nebraska’s legislature.

Speaking of politics, another complication is that charter schools (a type of choice in the government system) may undermine private schools.

Christopher Bedford explains this problem in an article for the Federalist.

Search the Lehigh Valley papers and you’ll find Catholic school after Catholic school closing down. In March 2018, Our Lady Help of Christians in Allentown closed its doors. In June 2020, Sacred Heart School in Bath and St. Francis Academy in Bally shut down. And last May, Trinity Academy in Shenandoah became the latest victim. …Charter schools are booming in Pennsylvania. …enrollment at charters rose by 25,000 last year; about 10 percent of all children in the state are enrolled in them. There are at least 14 charter schools in the Lehigh Valley region so far. …Often, in fact, the arrival of a charter is the death knell for a parochial school. In New York state, a 2012 study found that for every charter school that opened, a parochial school closed. …This is the kind of mutilated, self-defeating “victory” we see on the right far too often. Democratic teachers unions were weakened, and public school bureaucrats faced some small level of competition. …But in the big picture, parents and their children are still at the mercy of a government bureaucracy… Still, for a lot of parents, the choice is simple: They know public schools are poisonous, and now they have an alternative that doesn’t cost them a dime in tuition. And so, charter schools are booming, while parochial schools are slowly withering and dying.

This creates a quandary.

Charter schools are better than regular government schools.

But it would be a Pyrrhic Victory if the expansion of such schools undermines the vitality of private schools.

P.S. Many rich folks on the left believe in private schools, but only for their own kids.

P.P.S. There’s also evidence that school choice is better for children’s mental health since it’s associated with lower suicide rates. That’s a nice fringe benefit, much like the data on school choice and jobs.

P.P.P.S. Getting rid of the Department of Education would be a good idea, but the battle for school choice is largely won and lost on the state and local level.

Read Full Post »

When contemplating the issue of school choice, it’s most important to focus on how we can improve educational outcomes, particularly for children from low-income communities.

But, as a fiscal economist, I can’t help thinking about how school choice is also good news for taxpayers.

And I also can’t help but notice that opponents are often very hypocritical.

What do these opponents of choice have in common? What drives their hypocrisy?

Simply stated, they put the interests of teacher unions above the interests of children.

Speaking of which, the NH Journal recently reported on another glaring case of hypocrisy.

One of New Hampshire’s most outspoken school choice opponents stunned reform advocates Friday when she admitted she had pulled her son out of public school to attend a private academy… Advocates for education reform were stunned. “I’m sure Rep. Porter had good reasons for choosing a private school for her own child, and other families have good reasons as well,” said Jason Bedrick, Policy Director at EdChoice. “It’s a shame she’s seeking to deny families the same opportunities she and her children had.” …Porter’s stance highlights what supporters of EFAs and similar programs say is the hypocrisy of their opponents: They oppose letting low-income families use their children’s share of education funding to have the same choices they do. For example, while New Hampshire teachers’ unions are strident opponents of EFAs, multiple studies have found public school teachers are far more likely to send their children to private schools than their fellow parents.

Since we’re on this topic, it reminded me of past examples of education hpocrisy.

For instance, the Daily Caller investigated some of the Democratic Senators who opposed Trump’s Secretary of Education because of her support for school choice.

Lo and behold, they exercised choice for their children while opposing choice for poor kids.

At least seven of the 46 Senate Democrats who voted against Betsy DeVos…currently send or once sent their own children or grandchildren to expensive private schools. …Sen. Al Franken…has two children who attended The Dalton School in New York City… The cost of a single year of tuition for students in kindergarten through 12th grade at Dalton is $44,640. …Sen. Elizabeth Warren…has a granddaughter who rubs shoulders with the children of movie stars at the trendy Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, California. Tuition at Harvard-Westlake costs $35,900 each year. …Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse…has two children. His daughter attended the Wheeler School, a coed day school in Providence where a single year of tuition for sixth grade through 12th grade currently costs $35,215. …Whitehouse…also sent his son to a St. George’s School, a private boarding school… Annual tuition at St. George’s is currently $39,900. …Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand…sends her two school-age children to Capitol Hill Day School… Tuition at the private, progressive bastion currently runs $30,300.00 per year for sixth through eighth grades… Sen. Richard Blumenthal…sent one of his four children to Brunswick School, a private, all-boys day school in Greenwich… A year of high school tuition at Brunswick currently costs $40,450. …Blumenthal sent another one of his kids to Greenwich Academy, an all-girls day school where high school tuition currently runs $41,890. …Sen. Maggie Hassan…daughter attended Phillips Exeter Academy… The cost for a year of tuition and fees at Phillips Exeter is currently $37,875. …Sen. Bob Casey…sent his daughters to Scranton Preparatory School, a private Jesuit school where a year of tuition costs $13,400.

Researching today’s topic, I also came across a column for PJ Media, authored by Tom Knighton, that exposed Matt Damon’s hypocrisy.

I’m a Matt Damon fan. …throughout his career, I’ve also known that he was a rabid leftist… It wasn’t until recently that I learned he was also a grade “A” hypocrite. You see, …he’s not sending his kids to public school. …Damon’s argument is that he can’t find the kind of progressive education he had growing up for his own children, and thus has no choice but to send his own kids to private school. Isn’t that just fascinating? Throughout this country, there are people who are less than thrilled with the school they find their children assigned to due to where they live. Maybe they live in a great neighborhood for their modest income level but the school they’re zoned for is notorious for drugs and violence. Maybe it’s just a bad school. …Damon would have that hardworking family that only wants what’s best for their kids to be forced to attend the bad school with no say in the matter, all while sending his kids to private school because he can’t find quite the same “progressive” education he had as a kid. In other words, because he’s rich, it’s cool for him to be picky about his children’s education, but not for the rest of us.

To be fair, while there are many leftists who are hypocrites (as well as plenty of folks on the right), we should acknowledge that there are counter examples.

Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post made a strong case for school choice back in 2017.

Millions of parents choose to send their children to parochial or other private schools. Millions more decide where to rent or buy a home based on the quality of the local public schools. The only people who do not enjoy this right are those who are too poor to move out of neighborhoods where public schools are failing. A disproportionate number of these are people of color. …Well, here’s a suggestion: DeVos could offer one or two cities the chance to become laboratories of choice. …The federal government would offer financial help… The system would then stop funding schools and begin funding families. Every child would be given an annual scholarship. Poor children, who often enter school needing extra attention, would get bigger scholarships. …Every school would then have to compete for students. Principals would be allowed to hire the teachers they wanted. …positive change would be almost immediate: Poor parents, so often ignored and disrespected by public school bureaucrats, suddenly would find themselves being wooed and treated as valued customers. …positive results might soon become self-reinforcing: High-performing schools would attract more students, low performers would have to improve or close.

Heck, the official editorial position of the Washington Post is favorable to school choice, notwithstanding the paper’s generally left-leaning outlook.

These honest and ethical leftists should be applauded.

Let’s close by celebrating the fact that 2021 was a great year for school choice and educational freedom (especially in West Virginia).

J.D. Tuccille of Reason has a new article pointing out that not only was it “a ‘historic’ year for school choice,” but it also has resulted in much greater levels of acceptance for alternatives to the government monopoly.

…accelerated by pandemic-era stresses, innovations in recent years brought big changes to education. The biggest change of all is probably the growing acceptance won by charters, homeschooling, and a host of flexible approaches to teaching kids… “How have your opinions on homeschooling changed as a result of the coronavirus?” EdChoice asks parents every month. In December 2021, 68 percent of respondents reported that they are more favorable to homeschooling than they were before the pandemic. Only 18 percent are less favorable. It’s not just homeschooling. The same survey finds rising support (70 percent) for education savings accounts which allow parents to withdraw their children from public schools and receive a deposit of public funds to pay for education expenses, school vouchers (65 percent) by which public education funds follow students to the schools of their choice, and publicly funded but privately run charter schools (68 percent) like the one my son attended through third grade.

You can see why I listed school choice as one of the best developments for 2021.

P.S. The “Tweet of the Year” for 2021 involved school choice.

P.P.S. There’s strong evidence for school choice from nations such as Canada, SwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

 

Read Full Post »

I wrote two days ago about how the Supreme Court will be ruling in the next few months on a very important school-choice case, involving whether state and local governments should be allowed to discriminate against religious schools.

As part of that column, I mentioned that “government school systems cost a lot of money and do a bad job.”

Some readers emailed me and expressed disbelief. The common message was that private schools surely had to be more expensive.

There are some very costly private schools, to be sure, but the data clearly show that government schools, on average, consume a lot more money.

I want to build on this message today by calling everyone’s attention to a great report by Martin F. Lueken of edChoice.

Here are some of the key findings from the executive summary.

This study estimates the combined net fiscal effects of each educational choice program on state and local taxpayers… Through FY 2018, the 40 educational choice programs under study generated an estimated $12.4 billion to $28.3 billion in cumulative net fiscal savings for state and local taxpayers. This range represents $3,300 to $7,500 per student participant. …Educational choice programs generated between $1.80 to $2.85 in estimated fiscal savings, on average, for each dollar spent on the programs. These savings result from many of the students who exercised choice who would have been enrolled in a public school if these choice programs did not exist—and enrolled in public schools at a much larger taxpayer cost.

The report is packed with lots of data, including state-by-state estimates of how different choice programs save money.

But if you’re going to digest one set of numbers, Figure 4 tells you just about everything you need to know.

And remember, when you look at these cost comparisons, that private schools produce better outcomes, as measured by student achievement.

P.S. Here’s a must-see chart showing how more and more money for the government school monopoly has produced zero benefit.

Read Full Post »

The case for school choice is very straightforward.

The good news is that there was a lot of pro-choice reform in 2021.

West Virginia adopted a statewide system that is based on parental choice. And many other states expanded choice-based programs.

But 2022 may be a good year as well. That’s because the Supreme Court is considering whether to strike down state laws that restrict choice by discriminating against religious schools.

Michael Bindas of the Institute for Justice and Walter Womack of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference make the case for a level playing field in a column for the New York Times.

In 2002, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution allows school choice programs to include schools that provide religious instruction, so long as the voucher program also offers secular options. The question now before the court is whether a state may nevertheless exclude schools that provide religious instruction. The case, Carson v. Makin, …concerns Maine’s tuition assistance program. In that large and sparsely populated state, over half of the school districts have no public high schools. If a student lives in such a district, and it does not contract with another high school to educate its students, then the district must pay tuition for the student to attend the school of her or his parents’ choice. …But one type of school is off limits: a school that provides religious instruction. That may seem unconstitutional, and we argue that it is. Only last year, the Supreme Court, citing the free exercise clause of the Constitution, held that states cannot bar students in a school choice program from selecting religious schools when it allows them to choose other private schools. …The outcome will be enormously consequential for families in public schools that are failing them and will go a long way toward determining whether the most disadvantaged families can exercise the same control over the education of their children as wealthier citizens.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized on this issue earlier this week.

Maine has one of the country’s oldest educational choice systems, a tuition program for students who live in areas that don’t run schools of their own. Instead these families get to pick a school, and public funds go toward enrollment. Religious schools are excluded, however, and on Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear from parents who have closely read the First Amendment. …Maine argues it isn’t denying funds based on the religious “status” of any school… The state claims, rather, that it is merely refusing to allocate money for a “religious use,” specifically, “an education designed to proselytize and inculcate children with a particular faith.” In practice, this distinction between “status” and “use” falls apart. Think about it: Maine is happy to fund tuition at an evangelical school, as long as nothing evangelical is taught. Hmmm. …A state can’t subsidize tuition only for private schools with government-approved values, and trying to define the product as “secular education” gives away the game. …America’s Founders knew what they were doing when they wrote the First Amendment to protect religious “free exercise.”

What does the other side say?

Rachel Laser, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, doesn’t want religious schools to be treated equally under school choice programs.

Here’s some of her column in the Washington Post.

…two sets of parents in Maine claim that the Constitution’s promise of religious freedom actually requires the state to fund religious education at private schools with taxpayer dollars — as a substitute for public education. This interpretation flips the meaning of religious freedom on its head and threatens both true religious freedom and public education. …The problem here is even bigger than public funds paying for praying, as wrong as that is. Unlike public schools, private religious schools often do not honor civil rights protections, especially for LGBTQ people, women, students with disabilities, religious minorities and the nonreligious. …If the court were to agree with the parents, it would also be rejecting the will of three-quarters of the states, which long ago enacted clauses in their state constitutions and passed statutes specifically prohibiting public funding of religious education. …It is up to parents and religious communities to educate their children in their faith. Publicly funded schools should never serve that purpose.

These arguments are not persuasive.

The fact that many state constitutions include so-called Blaine amendments actually undermines her argument since those provisions were motivated by a desire to discriminate against parochial schools that provided education to Catholic immigrants.

And it’s definitely not clear why school choice shouldn’t include religious schools that follow religious teachings, unless she also wants to argue that student grants and loans shouldn’t go to students at Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Liberty, and other religiously affiliated colleges.

The good news is that Ms. Laser’s arguments don’t seem to be winning. Based on this report from yesterday’s Washington Post, authored by Robert Barnes, there are reasons to believe the Justices will make the right decision.

Conservatives on the Supreme Court seemed…critical of a Maine tuition program that does not allow public funds to go to schools that promote religious instruction. The case involves an unusual program in a small state that affects only a few thousand students. But it could have greater implications… The oral argument went on for nearly two hours and featured an array of hypotheticals. …But the session ended as most suspected it would, with the three liberal justices expressing support for Maine and the six conservatives skeptical that it protected religious parents from unconstitutional discrimination.

I can’t resist sharing this additional excerpt about President Biden deciding to side with teacher unions instead of students.

The Justice Department switched its position in the case after President Biden was inaugurated and now supports Maine.

But let’s not dwell on Biden’s hackery (especially since that’s a common affliction on the left).

Instead, let’s close with some uplifting thoughts about what might happen if we get a good decision from the Supreme Court when decisions are announced next year.

Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I think we’re getting close to a tipping point. As more and more states and communities shift to choice, we will have more and more evidence that it’s a win-win for both families and taxpayers.

Which will lead to more choice programs, which will produce more helpful data.

Lather, rinse, repeat. No wonder the (hypocritical) teacher unions are so desperate to stop progress.

P.S. There’s strong evidence for school choice from nations such as SwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: