Democrats Piss Me Off!  

rm_VoodooGuru1 49M
2116 posts
1/6/2006 8:28 am

Last Read:
3/5/2006 9:27 pm

Democrats Piss Me Off!

The Florida Supreme Court killed the nation’s first statewide school voucher program yesterday in a 5 - 2 decision, citing the program in violation of Florida’s state constitution.

Probably it is unconstitutional in Florida, and though we’ll hear cries of “judicial activism” on this decision from far right ideologues, it’s truly a constructionist decision. Anyone, anyone who says this was a result of judicial activism is a liar and knows it. Nevertheless, this is a fierce blow to public and private education in Florida, with likely consequences to the rest of the nation.

But why? What are school vouchers? Everyone’s heard of them, but few know what they are, how they work, and why they’re good for our kids and good for society. Do you know what they are, curious reader? From an economics standpoint, the details and math behind it can be a little hairy for the layperson, econ students aren’t exposed to school vouchers until intermediate microeconomics at the earliest. But I think I can explain the basics without graphs, isoquants, and indifference functions. Please note that my explanation and analysis does not go into the politics of vouchers, which is far more complicated than the math.

Let’s say you can quantify education into units (and you can, actually) and the typical public school system will provide a student with 100 units by the time he or she graduates, while a typical private school provides 120 units of education. Let’s also assume that the public school is free, and a private school costs US$10,000.00 per year.

So, as you can see, the first 100 units of education are free to anyone, the additional 20 units cost $10,000.00, and the marginal cost per unit is $500. But education can not be purchased per unit, can it?

Different families place different values on different things; this is why one family with the same income as another might build a bigger house, while the other family takes more vacations. Education is no different in this respect. Certainly you know families that valued education less than yours. Frogger1995’s family, for instance, clearly values education more than, say, one of those bloggers who misspell everything in their single paragraph post.

A family that wants 101 units must pay $10,000.00 for that additional one unit - so it isn’t likely that they’ll send the kid to private school; same for a family that would like 110 units.

BUT... what happens when the quality of education in your public school declines? This is the issue we’re trying to resolve... that public schools all meet a minimum standard level of quality, right? So now your kid is getting 80 units at your crappy school. They’re still free, but your niece is getting 100 units, 25% more for free in the next county; and your boss’s kid is getting 120 units at Ms. Featherbottom’s School for Girls. How is your kid going to compete with the grads from Featherbottom? Where’s my quality education? Where’s my cheddar biscuits?

Essentially, the Florida plan said that if your school is crappy - 80 units or less - and you want your kid to go to the good public school, the state will withhold the money it would have paid to your crappy school and give it to the quality public school system you want your child to attend. And if you want to send your kid to Ms. Featherbottom, the state will give you that money - say, $6000.00 - to go towards Featherbottom’s tuition.

At this point, market mechanisms kick in. The good schools are being rewarded for fulfilling their purpose, and more importantly, there are now consequences for the schools that are failing your community, since they don’t get your money anymore. Over time, most crappy schools improve their quality, and some end up closing (or completely replacing the administration); either way, your child is now getting her 100 units of education or more!

School vouchers are a good thing; they’re not quite Pareto optimal, but the only ones who get hurt are bad teachers and bad administrators.

And we don’t mind that, do we?

rm_deaminveni 50M
116 posts
1/6/2006 5:04 pm

I'm not sure how the US system works but in the UK we have a small problem like geographic "catchment areas". Sure, if you're rich you can send your kid to boarding school, or Mom can drive them 50 miles in a ridiculously large 4x4. Most people have more modest ambititions and are stuck with sending their kids to a "local" school.

This leads to a "postcode" (or "zipcode") lottery, where once again the more wealthy win out because they can afford to move to an area inside the catchment area of a better school. Your kid may be a dumb-as-dirt, but if you have money he can go to a fancy school. Your kid may be a smart-as-Einstein but because you live on a trailer park he'll grow up washing dishes in the local diner. Fair? I don't think so.

A school voucher system is a dumb idea, and here's why.

Applying the "market mechanism" (an ideal I generally ascribe to), as embodied in the voucher system, to the education system will inevitably lead to educational gettos.

During the time a "crappy" school is subject to the inexorable slide into oblivion all the pupils that have to attend (because they cannot afford to travel to better schools) suffer. Since this slide can take many years it can effect thousands of lives. Bummer.

Furthermore, on the law of averages at least half the schools in any broad enough sample are going to be below the average. So, taking the whole nation as our sample area, at least half of schools will by definition be below the average. If you are assuming that 100 units represents the average education we should expect (an assumption implied by your "market mechanism" argument), then the process of attrition (or improvement, according to your viewpoint) will inevitably continue ad infinitum.

Any parent looking at their schools performance and sees it falls below the 100 units (the average) will naturally take their voucher and "invest" in a better school. This impoverishes the underperforming school, and benefits the better school. So far so good (unless you happen to be unable to access the better school in which case your kids end up washing dishes even though they have a mental capacity greater than Einstein - sorry kid you were born in the wrong house). Eventually the impoverished school, unable to improve because of starvation of funds will close (of course the worst scenario has these impoverished schools catering to a local population unable to support the schools, consequently they cannot attract better teaching staff, better equipment, and so on - result kids in this school's catchment area do not get a good education). Result on a national level, the overall level of schools rises (but then so too does the average and the cycle continue).

You might say, "Fuck Yeah!", we're getting a better education system by Darwinian selection (of a sort); all hail the voucher system. History teaches us that the education system improves over time anyway: I learned things in school that my father learned in college; I expect my son will learn things in college that I learned in university. The cycle continues regardless.

My point? None really, only that school vouchers are a political gimmick, a captialist chimera. They solve nothing.

Better to pay educators well, ensure that schools invest efficiently, and that pupils are given the best opportunities we can provide. If they choose to snub those opportunites kick 'em out, if they take thes e opportunities then all the best to them!

MissAnnThrope 56F
11488 posts
1/7/2006 1:08 pm

I'm not exactly for school vouchers for a reason. The idea behind them is to get kids into parochial schools. For them to get a good religious education. Let's face it. Private schools in most cities that aren't religious, if they're any good, you have to have a certain GPA and they're far more expensive than what the vouchers would cover.

Let's face it. The average school voucher would be about $2500, which would just about cover a parochial education. Most non-religious private schools in this country are in the $10K a year range to start.

Then there's the chance that after the parents get the vouchers, they send a troubled youth to a private school, the kid gets kicked out for being a troublemaker and there goes the money. Same for if your kid is none-too-bright and is holding back the rest of the class. Let's face it, not all kids are going to do well just because they're taken out of a public school district. Some kids are just plain dumb. I can't think of one private school that has a remedial program.

Private schools don't refund your money when they kick your kid out. So, that kid ends right back where he or she started. Private schools are allowed to kick kids out for no real reason too. They can just say, we don't want your child here.

In most areas, the private schools are religious. So basically, you're telling atheists they have to pay, through their taxes, for kids to get a parochial education. Vouchers would help to remove the barriers between church and state, which has been this administration's main goal, other than war mongering.

Now, let's look at New York. Bronx Science is a public school. Yet you have to be smart enough to get in. There are kids going there from both the ghetto and the upper middle class and everything inbetween.

Upstate, not even in rich areas, but in farming areas, the public schools are getting more money per student from Albany than schools in NYC. Yet NYC taxpayers are sending far more of their hard earned money to Albany. You have to have a household income of at least $100K to even be middle class in the five boroughs anymore. So tax dollars from NYC are funding upstate schools and leaving most of their kids in the dust. This has been a bone of contention between the city and the state for years.

I feel the money would be better spent improving the quality of public school education in those areas. Yes, in rough schools teachers tend to suffer burnout and stop caring. Why? Mostly because the kids don't care. Especially once they're teenagers. However, school vouchers tend to say, it's not the kid who's bad, it's the schools. No, the bad kids are who cause the teahers to get burnt out. In bad schools, there are weeks on end where teachers don't go one day without having to break up a fight.

Improve the quality of public education. Use the money for that. Don't use tax money to send kids for religious indoctrination. Sure, some parochial schools are good. But then you get parents being suckered into using the vouchers to indoctrinate their children into things like Scientology, through their Delphi school system. About the only one who ever succeeded after going through that school was Sky Dalton. When most families book out of the cult and their children enter the public school system, they're about two years behind the other kids. I can think of a few other private schools that aren't too zippy too. The Far Hills Day School in NJ seems to be for rich stupid kids. No one with a school voucher could afford to send their kids there, but I've seen the homework fourth graders take home. They're still on basic addition and subtraction. Then again, private schools in most states don't require the accreditation the public schools have, the grade by grade uniformity of the material or the standards that you have in public schools. Some are even exempt from teaching world history. In other words, there are some really shitty private schools out there, where your children won't get the same level of education as a public school, but hey, it's an expensive school, right?

Now, as far as Florida goes, this Supreme Court ruling doesn't affect the 16,144 disabled students that attend private schools or the program that gives tax credits to businesses that donate to a scholarship fund allowing 13,497 low-income students to attend private schools. This ruling affects 733 students. If any of them are performing well, they can apply for the scholarships.

rm_VoodooGuru1 49M
2053 posts
1/12/2006 10:12 am

Wow! What thoughtful, lucid, and passionate responses... best comments EVERRR! Thank you.

Not gonna argue with any of you, none of you said anything stupid - quite the contrary. However...

[blog sexyfitwoman] - You're Canadian, eh? Your public school system is superior to ours (though you could use a few more top tier universities).

[blog deaminveni] - your assertion that there will always be schools below average is correct, but if all schools meet the standards, there will be no academic inflation. Below average schools are fine so long as their grads are proficient in math & such.

MissAnnThrope - I said I wasn't going to get into the politics of the whole thing, and that's where I peg the parochial issue. In my opinion, giving money to parents to use for parochial schools violates the 1st amendment; therefore, only secular schools qualify.

travelingintexas - It's actually the national teacher's unions that are the biggest obstacle to improving public education. At some point, their focus switched from protecting teachers from bad school systems to protecting bad teachers.

And there's all kinds of programs like the one you mentioned, from the IB program in Florida, to the magnet schools like Midwood and Bronx Tech in NYC - I was fortunate enough to be selected for one of these "krelboyne" programs when I was in high school. The problem is their limited scope... either by the union or budget. The program I was in takes 16 kids per year from three counties - how fair is that?

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