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Posts Tagged ‘Education’

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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I don’t like Joe Biden being a lackey of the teacher unions, and I think the entire Department of Education should be eliminated.

That being said, intervention from Washington is the not the main cause of America’s education problems. The real problem is that we have an inefficient monopoly system that is – for all intents and purposes – run for the benefit of teachers and bureaucrats.

All of us should be upset that we see more and more money going to more and more employees, but we don’t get any progress in boosting academic outcomes.

I sometimes think the system can’t get any worse.

But then I read something that almost makes me think that politicians want the system to be a failure.

Here’s a story from Yahoo! News that I first assumed was from the Babylon Bee. But it’s not satire, it really happened.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown privately signed a bill last month ending the requirement for high school students to prove proficiency in reading, writing, and arithmetic before graduation. Brown, a Democrat, did not hold a public signing or issue a press release regarding the passing of Senate Bill 744…, an unusually quiet approach to enacting legislation, according to the Oregonian. …The bill, which suspends the proficiency requirements for students for three years, has attracted controversy for at least temporarily suspending academic standards… Backers argued…the new standards for graduation would aid Oregon’s “Black, Latino, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color.” …Republicans criticized the proposal for lowering academic standards. “I worry that by adopting this bill, we’re giving up on our kids,” House Republican Leader Christine Drazan said.

I don’t know which part of the story is more reprehensible. Should we be more outraged that state politicians wants to eliminate standards, or should we be more outraged that supporters are implicitly (at the very least) racist in thinking that minority students can’t perform?

This is equivalent to breaking your bathroom scale because you don’t like your weight.

In any event, we have more evidence that government schools squander lots of money and deliver very poor results.

Which means we have more evidence in favor of school choice.

P.S. Since I’m pointing out the failure of government schools, I can’t resist sharing a couple of older stories

Here’s a bizarre story from New Jersey (h/t: Reason).

Ethan Chaplin, a Glen Meadow Middle School student, told News 12 last week that while he was twirling a pencil with a pen cap on in math class, a student who bullied him earlier in the day yelled “He’s making gun motions, send him to juvie.” He was suspended for two days and then underwent five hours of a physical and mental exam at Riverview Medical Center’s crisis unit, his father told NJ.com.

We have another crazy example of political correctness run amok, as reported by the New York Post (h/t: Daily Caller).

Meet 8-year-old Asher Palmer, who was tossed out of his special-needs Manhattan school for threatening other kids with a toy “gun’’ — which he made out of rolled-up paper. …[His mom] was incensed that Principal Micaela Bracamonte told other staffers in an email that Asher “had a model for physically aggressive behavior in his immediate family.’’ Spadone thinks Bracamonte was referring to her husband because he served in the military during the Kuwait war. If that was the reason for the comment, she said, “I find it offensive and inappropriate.’’ As far as the toy gun is concerned, she said Asher, a first-year student, made it out of a piece of paper after discussing military weapons with his dad.

I’ve previously shared many stories of anti-gun political correctness in government schools (see here, here, here, here, here, and here). Makes me wonder whether that kind of nonsense is even more counterproductive to kids that some of the excesses of critical race theory.

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The most powerful argument for school choice is that children from poor families will be more likely to get a high-quality education. After all, these are the kids most likely to be trapped in failing government schools.

But there are lots of secondary arguments for school choice.

Today, we’re going to add to this list by considering the current controversy over whether “critical race theory” should be taught in schools.

I won’t bother trying to put forth my own definition of CRT.

But, for what it’s worth, I think it’s a good thing if kids learn that the United States (like all nations) has an imperfect history, while it’s wrong if kids are brainwashed into believing that they are either oppressors or victims simply because of skin color.

But what about people who think differently? Should I decide what schools teach, or should other people make those choices?

The right answer is that we don’t need a one-size-fits-all approach. Either mine or anyone else’s.

In a column for Reason, J.D. Tuccille says school choice is a way of letting parents pick the schools that best reflect their values.

…some states are banning the teaching of CRT—an approach that threatens to turn advocates of the ideology into free speech martyrs fighting the entrenched establishment. …families that choose how their children learn—my own included—rather than defaulting to government-run institutions…have largely escaped these battles. By homeschooling, or micro-schooling, or picking private or charter schools, we can avoid curricula permeated with ideas we find toxic… Parents that…support CRT also have alternatives to battling over the content of schoolroom lessons. They can introduce their tykes to Ibram X. Kendi’s Antiracist Baby Picture Book, marinate their kids in CRT-infused homeschooling, or send them to one of many private schools that offer willing families an education steeped in the ideology. …if that’s what they want their kids to learn, let them do so in peace, and without zero-sum arguments about what children are taught in shared institutions.

Amen.

Critical race theory won’t be nearly so controversial if we let parents choose the type of education that’s best for their kids.

And the same is true for other contentious issues, ranging from phonics to prayer.

No wonder more and more states are shifting in the right direction on this issue.

P.S. If you want to learn more about school choice, I recommend this video.

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

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Sometimes Bill Maher, the host of Real Time on HBO, says smart things and sometimes he says not-so-smart things.

His recent monologue on the “college scam” was an example of the former. It’s almost as if he was channeling Professor Daniel Lin.

Maher makes great points about how government subsidies for higher education are a backwards form of redistribution, taking money from lower-income people and giving it to higher-income people.

And I love what he says about credentialism, where people can’t climb the job ladder without getting useless degrees like masters in education.

But his monologue wasn’t perfect. He mentioned how tuition costs have exploded, but he didn’t make the should-be-obvious connection between rising costs and government subsidies.

To be more explicit, tuition expenses have skyrocketed because colleges and universities have raised prices to capture all the extra loot politicians are dumping into the system.

Which, by the way, is what happens in every sector of the economy (health care being an obvious example) where government tries to make things more affordable.

By the way, if you don’t want to trust Maher’s comments because he’s an entertainer rather than a policy expert, you may want to read a column in the Wall Street Journal by Tomas Philipson, an economics professor at the University of Chicago.

Here’s some of his analysis.

The student-loan crisis is rooted in government policy… The Biden administration’s American Families Plan is designed to perpetuate the cycle. The student-loan crisis has a long history but accelerated dramatically in 2010, when lawmakers moved the portfolio onto the Education Department’s balance sheet to “pay” for ObamaCare. …But Education Department bureaucrats, not experts in lending, didn’t bother with prudent practices, such as underwriting, that are routine in private credit markets. The result: A lender with the lowest cost of capital on the planet is now about $500 billion in the red. …And federal student loans are highly regressive. …The Brookings Institution found in April 2019 that Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s loan-forgiveness proposal would mainly help the rich, with families with income in the top 40% receiving about two-thirds of the benefits. …These policies reward professors and administrators who can then raise the price of their services. …Tuition rising as loan subsidies expand is no different. It isn’t a coincidence that education and health care, the industries in which government subsidies are most pervasive, took the highest price increases over the past 15 years—3.7% and 3.1% a year, compared with the 1.8% average across industries.

Amen, especially with regards to the final sentence. Student loans and other subsidies are the reason colleges and universities can get away with never-ending tuition increases.

And Joe Biden wants to make matters worse, as Bill Maher noted. Not that we should be surprised since that’s what Barack Obama wanted and what Hillary Clinton wanted.

The left is in favor of just about anything, other than the policy that would solve the problem.

P.S. There’s even academic research showing that government spending on higher education has a negative impact on economic performance.

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After three columns on the topic in the past five weeks (see here, here, and here), I wasn’t expecting to write again about school choice anytime soon, but this speech by State Senator Justin Wayne of Nebraska must be watched.

What a great idea! All politicians who vote against school choice have to send their kids to the crummy government schools in their states and districts.

That wouldn’t be good news for hypocrites like Barack Obama (and his Secretary of Education), Elizabeth Warren, Democratic congressional candidates, and the head of a teacher union.

Heck, we could create a giant list of all the rich leftists who exercise choice for their own children while voting to deny similar opportunities for kids from families that don’t have lots of money.

And this is why I’m overjoyed that we have seen a lot of progress on the issue this year.

And it’s continuing. Here are excerpts from an editorial in the Wall Street Journal about recent steps to expand choice in Florida.

Florida already has among the most expansive school-choice offerings in the nation, and this week the Legislature expanded private-school vouchers to more families. …The bill increases the eligible household income cap from 300% to 375% of the poverty level—about $100,000 for a family of four—though it prioritizes households under 185%. The enrollment cap will continue to escalate by 1% of public-school enrollment annually, allowing roughly 28,000 new students each year. …One of the bill’s biggest boons is extending scholarships to students already in private school. …Florida is a haven for overtaxed northerners, but it’s also an education refuge for low- and middle-income families.

Also in the Wall Street Journal, Paul Peterson of Harvard has a column on how government lockdowns have created an opening for expanded educational freedom.

President Biden wants credit for opening up the nation’s schools within 100 days of taking office. …The big news at the 100-day mark isn’t school opening but the revival of the school-choice movement. …school-choice advocates have scored big victories around the country. Indiana enlarged its voucher program. Montana lifted caps on charter schools. Arkansas now offers tax-credit scholarships to low-income students. West Virginia and Kentucky have funded savings accounts that help parents pay tuition at private schools. Florida, a movement leader, has enlarged its tax-credit scholarship programs. Even Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee promises to veto a moratorium on new charter schools. …The pandemic is the driving force. The failure of the public schools to educate children in the past year has angered parents and policy makers. …the loss of learning and social connectivity produced by school closures has been devastating, especially for low-income minority children. …Survey data show a rise in the level of support over the past two years for vouchers, charters and tax-credit scholarships. Political leaders sense a change in the public mood. After aggressive unions and bewildered school boards shut down schools for a year, the choice bandwagon has begun to roll.

Let’s hope that choice bandwagon rolls further. It will be great for kids.

And, given the importance of quality education for competitiveness, it will be great for the nation as well.

P.S. I’m disgusted by the hypocritical politicians who send their kids to private schools while voting against school choice for the rest of us. But I’m even more disgusted – and baffled – that the NAACP opposes school choice when minority children have the most to gain.

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I’m pessimistic about the direction of public policy, especially on fiscal issues such as taxes and spending.

But there is a silver lining to this dark cloud of statism. We’re seeing continuing progress on school choice, most notably a big expansion of educational freedom in West Virginia.

It appears more and more state and local policy makers are reaching the inevitable conclusion that government schools operate for the benefit of teacher unions rather than students.

And this is motivating many legislators to push for school choice, especially since there’s more and more evidence that school choice improves educational outcomes.

For instance, the Wall Street Journal opined last week about a new victory in Indiana.

Ten years ago in these columns, we hailed Indiana for its leadership in establishing one of America’s most ambitious school voucher programs. On Thursday the Indiana Legislature built on that achievement by approving a budget that will take the program to 48,000 students a year from about 37,000. …The teachers unions are unhappy. Their beef is that money to expand choice is taken from traditional public schools. And this year they lobbied local school boards to pass resolutions opposed to school choice. But that common union line about choice robbing public schools isn’t true. …92% of Indiana students will be in traditional public schools, and 93% of all education funding will go to these schools. …Since 2011, when Indiana pushed through its first voucher plan, more than a quarter-million Hoosier students have benefited. In an interview with Today’s Catholic, former Gov. Mitch Daniels explains the moral logic of choice this way: “Providing poor and minority families the same choice of schools that their wealthier neighbors enjoy is the purest example of ‘social justice’ in our society today.”

Meanwhile, Arkansas may be on the verge of adding to the good news.

Here are some excerpts from an article by Jason Bedrick in National Review.

In response to families demanding more educational options, six states have already passed new choice policies or expanded existing ones this year, and similar bills are still making their way through more than a dozen other state legislatures. …the Arkansas state senate…passed Senate Bill 680, which has the support of Governor Asa Hutchinson and the Arkansas Department of Education, by an overwhelming margin. Although only half the size of the previous proposal and limited only to low-income children, the bill still represents a major step toward providing broad access to educational choice. The Arkansas House now has another opportunity to do right by Arkansas families desperate for more educational options. …the Arkansas House Revenue and Taxation Committee voted to recommend that the full House pass the bill.

The superintendents of government schools are fighting to preserve the status quo. Their main argument is that choice will hurt outcomes for students stuck in their schools.

But competition encourages everyone to do better, and Jason shares some of the evidence about government schools doing better when there is school choice .

The research about the effects of educational-choice policies on public schools…overwhelmingly finds that such policies benefit not only participating students, but also the students who remain in their assigned district schools. Out of 27 studies, 25 find that students attending district schools improve their performance on standardized tests after the introduction of a choice program, while only one study found a negative effect, and one found no visible effect. …a recent study by the University of Arkansas found that states with robust educational-choice policies saw significant improvements on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (known as the “Nation’s Report Card”) over the last two decades. …The sky isn’t falling in any of the 29 states that have some form of private-school-choice program. Indeed, the sun is still shining on their public-school systems, which have not only not collapsed but are actually performing better than before.

Fingers crossed that Arkansas lawmakers do what’s right for kids rather than siding with the education bureaucracy.

Let’s conclude with this video from the Institute of Justice, which makes the point that school choice is especially critical for those with low incomes and other challenging backgrounds.

I shared a similar video back in 2016 as part of a column about why school choice is critical for black children.

P.S. If you want to learn more about school choice, I recommend this video.

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

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I wrote one week ago about a big victory for education in West Virginia. The Mountain State arguably now has the most extensive system of school choice in the country.

This will be great for parents and children.

There’s a lot of research showing better educational outcomes when families have options other than low-performing, monopoly-based government schools.

Now we have some additional good news.

Kentucky legislators have just overridden the governor’s veto, meaning that students in the state will now have expanded educational opportunities. Eric Boehm of Reason has some of the details.

The new law, originally House Bill 563, allows students in Kentucky public schools to switch school districts, and it creates a new tax-advantaged education savings program for families to use for private school tuition, to pay for tutoring, or to cover other educational expenses. The most controversial part of the proposal was the creation of a $25 million scholarship fund—to be filled by donations from private businesses, for which they would receive state tax credits—that students in Kentucky’s largest counties can tap to help pay for private school tuition. …With the passage of the first school choice bill in state history, Kentucky is now the 28th state with some form of school choice.

Speaking of other states, the Wall Street Journal editorialized about the beginning of a very good trend.

The pandemic has been a revelation for many Americans about union control of public schools… That awakening is helping to spur some welcome reform progress as several state legislatures are moving to expand school choice. One breakthrough is in West Virginia, where the Legislature passed a bill creating the state’s first education savings account (ESA) program. …Meanwhile in Georgia, the House passed a bill last week that would expand eligibility for the state’s voucher program for special-education students. The Senate, which had already passed the legislation, voted to approve House amendments on Monday and the bill is headed to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk. In South Dakota this month, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill that expands eligibility for the state’s tax-credit scholarship program to students already enrolled in private schools. …in Kentucky, where Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a bill last week that would establish a new tax-credit scholarship program. But the state legislature voted late Monday to override the veto… Nearly 50 school-choice bills have been introduced this year in 30 states. It’s a testament to how school shutdowns have made the advantage of education choice more evident, and its need more urgent.

By the way, school choice has existed for a long time in Vermont. Yes, the state that regularly reelects Crazy Bernie has dozens of small towns that give vouchers to students. Laura Williams explains in an article for the Foundation for Economic Education.

Vermont’s “tuition towns”…distribute government education funds to parents, who choose the educational experience that is best suited to their family’s needs. If the school doesn’t perform up to parents’ expectations, they can take their children, and the tuition dollars they control, elsewhere. …Ninety-three Vermont towns (36 percent of its 255 municipalities) have no government-run school at all. …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. …parents have the ability to put their kids in school anywhere, to buy the educational experience best suited to each child. …A variety of schools has arisen to compete for these tuition dollars. …Eligibility for tuition vouchers actually increased home values in towns that closed their public schools. Outsiders were eager to move to these areas… Having watched these models develop nearby, two more Vermont towns voted in 2013 to close their government-run schools and become “tuition towns” instead.

Rhode Island is another unexpected example. That deep-blue state recently expanded charter schools in Providence.

That’s not as good a genuine school choice, but it gives parents some ability to escape traditional government schools. The Wall Street Journal opined last year on this development.

…this particular hell may have frozen over, as last week the state’s education council voted to expand and open more charter schools to rescue students in the district. About 13% of Providence’s 30,000 students attend 28 charter schools, some in other districts. But demand far exceeds supply. Only 18% of the 5,000 or so charter school applicants were offered a seat this school year, according to the state education department. …The state education council last week gave preliminary approval for more than 5,700 new charter seats in Providence and other districts. Three of four new charters that applied got a green-light to open, pending final approval in the spring, and three existing charters (two of which serve Providence) are expanding. …The teachers union isn’t happy. In a letter to Gov. Gina Raimondo, three union leaders including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten complained… This is the usual rhetorical union trick. Charters are public schools, albeit without the barnacles and costs of union control.

Let’s now add to our collection of evidence about the benefits of school choice.

In an article for National Review, James Piereson and Noami Schaefer Riley discuss the track record of the Children’s Scholarship Fund.

Children’s Scholarship Fund enables low-income children to attend private schools — and thrive. …parents who receive financial aid from the organization…send their children to inner-city private (mostly Catholic) schools. …When it came to how satisfied they were with their children’s education, almost 90 percent graded their school a 4 or 5 out of 5. …Since its inception in 1998, the fund has helped more than 180,000 children attend private schools. CSF’s high-school graduation and college matriculation rates far surpass those of the urban public schools that surround them. In Philadelphia, for instance, 96 percent of CSF eighth-graders graduated from high school on schedule — compared with Philadelphia’s public-school graduation rate of only 62 percent. A study of CSF in Baltimore found that 84 percent of scholarship recipients were enrolled in college five to ten years after completing eighth grade, compared with fewer than half of students from local public schools. Nor are these high-priced private schools. The average tuition at these schools is about $5,300 per year, and the average scholarship award is $2,200.

Why do even low-cost private schools out-perform expensive government schools?

Because they have to deliver a good product. Either that, or parents will take their money elsewhere.

It’s a simple question of incentives, as illustrated by this meme about why private schools have been much better than government schools during the pandemic.

While the obvious argument for school choice is that it delivers better educational outcomes (and at lower cost), it’s worth noting that there are all sorts of secondary benefits.

As explained by W. Bradford Wilcox in an article for the American Enterprise Institute, private schools produce better families.

The public debate surrounding the efficacy of private versus public schools tends to revolve around their relative success in boosting test scores, graduation rates, and college admissions. …But there is more to life than excelling at school and work. For instance, there is the opportunity to be formed into a woman or man of good character, a good citizen, or a good partner and parent. …Until now, however, we have known little about how different types of schools are linked to students’ family life as adults. …In this report, we examine how enrollment in American Catholic, Protestant, secular private, and public schools is associated with different family outcomes later in life. …Adults who attended Protestant schools are more than twice as likely to be in an intact marriage as those who attended public schools. They are also about 50% less likely than public-school attendees to have a child out of wedlock. …Compared with public-school attendees, ever-married adults who attended a secular private school are about 60% less likely to have ever divorced. Catholic-school attendees are about 30% less likely to have had a child out of wedlock than those who attended public schools.

And Corey CeAngelis notes in this tweet that school choice reduces segregation.

And the Wall Street Journal editorialized last December about school choice improving mental health.

Teachers unions have pushed to shut down schools during the pandemic no matter the clear harm to children, just as they oppose charters and vouchers. Now comes a timely study suggesting school choice improves student mental health. Several studies have found that school choice reduces arrests and that private-school students experience less bullying. One reason is that charter and private schools enforce stricter discipline than traditional public schools. …The new study in the journal “School Effectiveness and School Improvement” is the first to…analyze the correlation between adolescent suicide rates and the enactment of private-school voucher and charter programs over the last several decades. They find that states that enacted charter school laws witnessed a 10% decrease in suicide rates among 15- to 19-year-olds. Private-school voucher laws were also associated with fewer suicides, though the change was not statistically significant. The effect would likely be larger if more students received vouchers. …The researchers also looked for any correlation between students who attended private school as teenagers and their mental health as adults. …individuals who attended private schools were two percentage-points less likely to report a mental health condition when they were roughly 30 years old.

Let’s conclude with some excerpts from a strong editorial from National Review. The magazine points out that teacher unions wield power in blue parts of the nation and schools are run for their benefit rather than for the best interests of children.

…the interests of children and their families take a distant second place to the desires of the public-sector unions that dominate Democratic politics around the country and run the show practically unopposed in California. …unionized teachers…have turned up their noses at the children they are supposed to be serving and looked instead to their own two-point agenda: (1) not going to work; (2) getting paid. Randi Weingarten exercises more real practical political power than any senator or cabinet secretary, and her power is exercised exclusively in the interest of public-sector workers and the Democratic Party, which they effectively control. Perhaps it is time for Americans to take back some of that power.

And what’s the way to take back power?

It’s possible to reform labor laws so teachers don’t have out-sized influence. That sort of happened in Wisconsin under Governor Scott Walker.

But that’s difficult to achieve and difficult to maintain.

The best long-run answer is to have school choice so parents are in charge rather than union bosses.

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As a public finance economist, I’m a huge fan of fiscal reforms such as a spending cap or a flat tax.

But, if asked to pick the reform that would have the biggest positive impact for the United States, I’d be very tempted to pick school choice.

Largely because of the pernicious effect of teacher unions, government schools are doing a poor job of educating children. Especially considering the record amounts of money that’s being dumped into the system.

Which is why I’m very excited that we’re about to see a massive expansion of school choice in West Virginia.

The state legislature has enacted and the governor is expected to sign (fingers crossed!) legislation creating education savings accounts (ESAs) providing $4,600 per child.

These accounts, called Hope Scholarships, will be available to all families with kids in government schools (and every single new kindergarten student). Parents then can use the funds for private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, and a range of other approved items.

The state’s leading think tank, the Cardinal Institute, has a primer on the issue.

ESAs allow parents to apply for eligible students to receive the state portion of education funds into a personal, parent-controlled account. Parents are then empowered to customize an education experience that meets the individual needs of their child, using their account to pay for approved services like tuition, therapy, tutoring, textbooks, and more. …the bill would extend ESAs to students who are enrolled in a public elementary or secondary school… parents will only be able to purchase approved items and services. This makes ESAs as—if not more—transparent than any other form of education spending. …The key aspect that distinguishes ESAs from vouchers is parent control and customization. Instead of the state sending funds directly from the state to a specific private school, the state instead deposits funds into a parent-controlled account. These funds can then be spent on wide array of approved education services, not only tuition

Corey DeAngelis and Neal McCluskey address some of the hot-button issues in an article for Reason.

West Virginia’s public schools spend an average of $12,644 per child per year, while the estimated amount of funding that would follow the child under HB 2013 would be about $4,600. If the legislation becomes law, public schools would keep large amounts of funding for children even after they left, meaning they would end up with more money per child. …choice opponents in the state also are claiming that $4,600 is too low to cover private school tuition. But do those same people oppose Pell Grants just because they don’t cover the full cost of attending many universities? …And $4,600 would actually go a long way in West Virginia as the average private school tuition in the state is just $6,068 and the average elementary school cost is $4,890. …The worst thing about anti-school choice myths is that they disproportionately prevent the least advantaged from access to much-needed education options.

Amen to the last point.

School choice should be the civil rights issue of the 21st century since black and brown kids are the biggest victims of the government school monopoly.

I’ll close by observing that teacher unions traditionally have done a very good job of protecting their monopoly. Every time I think a state is poised to make progress on school choice (most recently in Pennsylvania and Colorado), the unions dump tons of money into campaigns so they can maintain their privileges.

Assuming West Virginia’s Republican governor, Jim Justice, doesn’t betray children by unexpectedly vetoing the legislation, the union win streak will have ended.

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.

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Government schools in America are a national disgrace.

Every year, we throw more money into the system and every year we get back mediocre results.

The numbers are especially depressing when you compare how other nations get better outcomes while having significantly lower levels of per-pupil spending.

Given this grim situation, I’m always on the lookout for analysis that can help us figure out how to make things better.

Though some people seemingly want to make things worse.

In an article for the Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan reveals how elite private schools have become high-pressure pathways for entrance to elite colleges. It’s a fascinating – and even disturbing – look at the life of people (mostly) in the top-1 percent.

But what grabbed my attention was her conclusion. She accurately observes that government schools do a crappy job, but then suggests that high-performing private schools are the problem.

In a just society, there wouldn’t be a need for these expensive schools, or for private wealth to subsidize something as fundamental as an education. We wouldn’t give rich kids and a tiny number of lottery winners an outstanding education while so many poor kids attend failing schools. In a just society, an education wouldn’t be a luxury item. …We’ve allowed the majority of our public schools to founder, while expensive private schools play an outsize role in determining who gets to claim a coveted spot in the winners’ circle. …Public-school education—the specific force that has helped generations of Americans transcend the circumstances of their birth—is profoundly, perhaps irreparably, broken. In my own state of California, only half of public-school students are at grade level in reading, and even fewer are in math. …Shouldn’t the schools that serve poor children be the very best schools we have?

At the risk of understatement, this point of view (the article’s headline in the print edition is “Private Schools Are Indefensible”) is utterly perverse.

If we know that private schools do a better job (and not just the super-elite schools discussed in the article), then the ethical answer should be to get rid of the government school monopoly and adopt a system of school choice so that the children of non-rich families also have an opportunity to get a quality education.

That would be good for kids and it would be good for taxpayers (we’re spending record amounts of money on the failed government school monopoly, so turning that money into vouchers would provide enough funding for families to afford the vast majority of private schools).

But this brings up another issue. What if leftists aren’t just against private education? What if they also object to any sort of system where better students get better outcomes?

Chester Finn of the Hoover Institution wrote a column last November for the Wall Street Journal about the efforts to undermine the tiny handful of high-performing government schools.

Nationwide, selective-admission public schools, also known as “exam schools,” are under attack… Much like elite universities, critics allege, these schools have been admitting far too many whites and Asians and not nearly enough blacks and Latinos. …in New York, …admission…is governed by the eighth-grader’ scores on a specialized admission test. …there’s no denying that they’re full of Asian and white kids, many from low-income and middle-class families. …Mayor Bill de Blasio and his schools chancellor have recently pushed to make the admissions process more “equitable.” They want to…abolish the entry exam…[i]nstead of repairing the elementary and middle schools attended by poor and minority kids… Consider another furor in Virginia, over admission to the esteemed Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, regularly ranked the country’s top high school by U.S. News. Thomas Jefferson is in such demand that it can accept fewer than 1 in 6 applicants. …The Fairfax County superintendent and board last month moved to abolish the qualification exam… the remedies being sought in every case are wrongheaded. …School systems…have to face the reality that some kids are smarter and more motivated than others, no matter their color. That’s anathema to “progressive” reformers, who prefer to abolish accelerated classes for high achievers. …The progressive assault on education in the name of equity ends up denying smart kids from every background the kind of education that will assist them to make the most of their abilities.

I’m almost at a loss for words.

For all intents and purposes, our friends on the left would rather have everyone be mediocre than allow some students to succeed.

  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by attending private school.
  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by attending so-called exam schools.
  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by taking accelerated classes.
  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by attending charter schools.
  • They don’t want some kid to succeed by being home-schooled.

This hostility to achievement is reprehensible.

Part of it is probably motivated by a cynical attempt to appease teacher unions.

And part of it is presumably the ideological belief in equality of outcomes rather than equality of opportunity, even if the net result is that all students are worse off (the same perverse instinct that leads them to support economic policies that hurt the poor so long as the rich get hurt more).

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Other than some clever examples of gallows humor, the only silver lining to coronavirus pandemic is that more people now understand that teacher unions are an obstacle to quality education.

This video hopefully will make that lesson apparent to everyone.

What a reprehensible person.

Needless to say, I don’t blame Mr. Meyer for putting his kid in a private preschool. And I won’t blame him if he then sends her to a private elementary school and a private high school.

After all, teachers in government schools presumably are very aware that private schools do a much better job than government schools.

But it’s total hypocrisy for him to take advantage of in-person schooling for his daughter while fighting to deny that option for parents who have no choice but to rely on government schools.

Sort of like Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton wanting higher taxes on the rest of us while coming up with a clever tax strategies to protect their money from the IRS.

But I’m digressing (which is understandable since our friends on the left can be very hypocritical).

Let’s get back to our main topic. The Daily Caller has an article about Mr. Meyer’s despicable hypocrisy.

Viral video footage shows a California teachers union president who led school closures dropping his daughter off at a private school. …“Meet Matt Meyer. White man with dreads and president of the local teachers’ union,” the group tweeted Saturday. “He’s been saying it is unsafe for *your kid* to be back at school, all the while dropping his kid off at private school.” …The video was filmed by Berkeley area parents who did not give their names out of fear of retaliation… The video sparked a backlash among parents who want their children to return to in-person learning as soon as possible.

A total hypocrite.

Just like Gregory Hutchings. Just like Elizabeth Warren. Just like Barack Obama. Just like Dan McCready. Just like Arne Duncan. Just like…well, you get the point.

Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with all of them opting to send their kids to private schools. Indeed, it’s what they should be doing given the subpar track record of government schools.

But it’s disgusting that they want to deny that same opportunity for parents who don’t have the same financial resources. Especially since minority children are the ones who suffer most.

P.S. It’s worth pointing out that this column is an attack on teacher unions, not teachers. For what it’s worth, the main argument for school choice is that it would be better for students. That being said, good teachers also would prosper in a choice-based system.

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