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Arrogantly Fleecing Taxpayers

Public education defunding drivel

Striking at the wrong target

Teachers should stop listening to union leaders and look at the data before striking. When one looks at the actual dollars-and-cents reality, the emotional photo of the kindly old 1st grade teacher picketing for more money “for the classroom” falls flat. Very, very flat. There are several relevant facts that teachers and all Americans – especially the taxpaying variety – need to know.

Letting Schools Compete: A Boon to the Economy

The National Education Association continues to throw out stale bromides in an attempt to salvage a failing and very costly education enterprise.

National School Choice Week has just ended and what a week it was! It spanned the country with 3,600 events in all 50 states and D.C., with proclamations and endorsements from 29 governors, 23 mayors and 12 state legislatures. Thousands of parents and kids attended events from coast to coast to promote school choice.

Even with many inroads, choice still has a long way to go. The war – and it is a war – is still in its early stages, and choice’s Enemy #1 is the National Education Association. In a typically contemptible post on its website last week, “Indiana governor promises more taxpayer-funded vouchers to unaccountable private schools,” the NEA attacked Indiana’s new governor Mike Pence because he promised his “anti-public education supporters” to:

expand the state’s school voucher program, draining money from underfunded public schools for private and religious schools that are not accountable to taxpayers and exempt from state and local education standards.

Private schools are not accountable? If private schools don’t do a good job, parents will go elsewhere. It’s the public schools that are frequently not accountable, which is exactly why parents should be able to choose to send their kids elsewhere.

Exempt from standards? In states where the NEA is dominant, state and local standards dictate that tenured teachers, no matter how incompetent, cannot lose their jobs. The only time one should hear “accountability” and “standards” in the same sentence as “NEA” should be in a comedy routine. But wait, it gets even goofier.

Said Teresa Meredith, elementary school educator and vice president of the Indiana State Teachers Association:

We haven’t even waited for data to be collected on the current voucher program, and they’re already talking about expanding it. Vouchers are continuing to cripple our public education system by draining funds away from programs and from schools for those who need it the most.

Someone from ISTA, the NEA affiliate in Indiana, is talking about “draining funds?!”  This is the same ISTA that was charged with securities fraud in 2009. Mike Antonucci wrote at the time,

The Indiana Securities Division filed a complaint against the Indiana State Teachers Association, alleging the union engaged in the sale of securities without license or registration, and unlawfully commingled funds from its insurance trust with other accounts, leading to the estimated loss of $23 million.

In a follow up piece in 2012, Antonucci quotes from an NEA financial statement,

“On March 31, 2010, NEA loaned the Indiana State Teachers Association (“ISTA”) $3,060,745. In August 2010, NEA increased the aforementioned note balance to $5,386,031.

“…During the fiscal year 2011, NEA provided $7,768,653 in additional support and monies to ISTA which increased the outstanding note balance to $13,154,684. As of August 31, 2011, NEA has recognized a $6,000,000 allowance for doubtful debt against this note.”

And these are the people who are lecturing us about “accountability?!” Oh, please.

As for the “draining money” part of their repertoire, enough already. If a child uses education funds to go to a private school, yes, there will be less money for the public school the child leaves. But at the same time there will be one less child for the school to educate. And what the NEA doesn’t tell you is that private schools do a better job for less money. Private schools, unlike the traditional public variety, don’t have bloated administrations and a gargantuan bureaucracy to feed and can fire bad teachers.

As Cato Institute’s Adam Schaeffer says,

What people don’t realize is that school choice saves huge amounts of money. They don’t know that they’re paying around $12,000 a year per student in California, $25,000 in Washington, D.C., or $20,000 in New York, $18,000 in New Jersey and $14,000 in Virginia. And the public certainly doesn’t know that the median full tuition paid at U.S. private schools is just $4,000. So how in the world could they guess that school choice actually saves money?

The Independent Institute’s Ben DeGrow reports,

Of the 12 programs studied, Aud found only Utah’s Carson Smith special-needs voucher program and the 200-year-old practice of “town tuitioning” in Maine and Vermont to be cost-neutral. The remaining programs have reaped savings of at least $1 million each.

The report identifies Pennsylvania’s scholarship tax credit program as generating the greatest savings: $144 million since its inception in 2001. Florida’s McKay Scholarships for disabled children have saved taxpayers $139 million in the program’s first seven years of operation.

And perhaps the most comprehensive report of all comes from the Friedman Foundation’s Benjamin Scafidi,

The United States’ average spending per student was $12,450 in 2008-09. I estimate that 36 percent of these costs can be considered fixed costs in the short run. The remaining 64 percent, or $7,967 per student, are found to be variable costs, or costs that change with student enrollment. The implication of this finding is that a school choice program where less than $7,967 per student is redirected from a child’s former public school to another school of his or her parents’ choosing would actually improve the fiscal health of the average public school district. And, it would provide more resources for students who remain in public schools.

Not only will choice save the taxpayers money, but according to researchers Patrick Wolf and Michael McShane, it will provide a great return on investment. In “School Choice Pays Off, Literally” they claim that

The District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) produced $2.62 in benefits for every dollar spent on it. In other words, the return on public investment for the private-school voucher program during its early years was 162 percent.

…Because a high-school diploma makes an individual less likely to commit crimes, it therefore decreases both the costs incurred by victims of crimes and those borne by the public in administering the justice system. Coupled with the increased tax revenue made on the increased income, this yields an extra benefit for society of over $87,000 per high-school graduate.

Multiplying the number of additional graduates by the value of a high-school diploma yields a total benefit of over $183 million. Over the time of our study, the OSP cost taxpayers $70 million, so dividing the benefits by the cost yields an overall benefit-to-cost ratio of 2.62, or $2.62 for every dollar that was spent.

And when you consider that D.C. Public Schools spend $27,263 per student – by far the highest in the country – and its test scores are by far the worst in the country, the savings become even more dramatic.

Whitney Neal, a mom and former eighth grade U.S. history teacher in Texas, is the director of federal and state campaigns at FreedomWorks. Perhaps she said it best in a recent piece written for Fox News.

School choice provides an opportunity for public schools to compete and improve – and for high-performing teachers to be recruited by top schools. More choice and competition in the educational marketplace fuels improvement and innovation across the board for students, teachers, and individual school districts.

I challenge parents, teachers, and activists around the country to come together in support of school choice. Get involved with National School Choice Week. Start attending school board meetings, run for open seats, and challenge your administrators where you see waste. Find out what options are available in your state and seek to attain or expand them. Work with state legislators to pass school choice legislation that best fits your community.

Remember that every victory, however small, is a step on the path to education freedom. Returning control of education dollars to parents and local communities gives parents (and ultimately the student) the power to shape their own family’s future. Together, we can work to create a system where schools compete for top teachers, the achievement gap disappears, and all children — no matter their economic situations– have access to a quality public education.

For the U.S. to once again have a world class education system – with the added bonus of a balanced budget – our citizenry has to get involved and demand that parents be given a choice as to where to school their kids. At the same time, the NEA, the greatest impediment to choice, must be exposed as the selfish, two-faced and reactionary organization that it is.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

The Public Education Jobs Program

As you go to the polls next week, please consider the facts before voting to pour more money into the K–12 black hole.

Last week, The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released a comprehensive study which details an employment explosion in America’s public schools.

America’s K-12 public education system has experienced tremendous historical growth in employment, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Between fiscal year (FY) 1950 and FY 2009, the number of K-12 public school students in the United States increased by 96 percent while the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school employees grew 386 percent. Public schools grew staffing at a rate four times faster than the increase in students over that time period. Of those personnel, teachers’ numbers increased 252 percent while administrators and other staff experienced growth of 702 percent, more than seven times the increase in students.

In a recent Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, Lindsey Burke (2012) reports that since 1970, the number of students in American public schools increased by 8 percent while the number of teachers increased 60 percent and the number of non-teaching personnel increased 138 percent.

And how much bang for our buck has the country received for this out-of-control hiring?

There is no evidence in the aggregate that the increase in public school staffing caused student achievement to improve. In a shocking finding, economist and Nobel laureate James Heckman and his co-author, Paul LaFontaine, found that public high school graduation rates peaked around 1970. Thus, as staffing was rising dramatically in public schools, graduation rates were not.

In addition, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend exam for 17-year-old students in public schools have not increased during the time period studied. Between 1992 and 2008, public schools’ NAEP reading scores fell slightly while scores in mathematics were stagnant.  After the sizeable increase in the teaching force and the dramatic upsurge in the hiring of non-teaching personnel, student achievement in American public schools has been roughly flat or modestly in decline.

Instead of this wasteful spending, had non-teaching personnel growth been in line with student growth and the teaching force had grown “only” 1.5 times as fast as student growth, our schools would have an additional $37.2 billion to spend. Benjamin Scafidi, the study’s author, makes some suggestions. He says we could:

  • …raise every public school teacher’s salary by  more than $11,700 per year;
  • …more than double taxpayer funding for early childhood education;
  • …provide property tax relief;
  • …lessen fiscal stress on state and local  governments;
  • …give families of each child in poverty more than  $2,600 in cash per child;
  • …give each child in poverty a voucher worth  more than $2,600 to attend the private school of his  or her parents’ choice;
  • …support a combination of the above or for some other worthy purpose.

In addition to national figures, the study includes an interactive state-by-state map. For those of us in cash-strapped California, the map shows that from1992-2009, student population increased 24 percent, but teachers, administrators and supplementary staff increased 36 percent. As a middle school teacher during this time period, I saw this first hand – my school experienced an ongoing increase in the number of deans, counselors, assistant principals, coordinators, coaches, teaching assistants, etc., but we fared no better academically with all the extra personnel.

As Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson pointed out recently:

Over the past four decades, real per pupil spending in California has roughly doubled. In dollar terms, Californians are spending $27 billion more today on K-12 education than they did in 1974, when Gov. Jerry Brown was first elected to office—and that is after controlling for both enrollment growth and inflation.

The last dashed spike on the spending line is the increase if Prop 30 passes, as Governor Jerry Brown has been assuming. If it doesn’t pass, per pupil spending will still be up more than 80 percent over this period, after controlling for inflation. What’s more, there is no evidence that the fantastic spending increases of the past have done anything to improve student achievement.

The only state-level achievement data we have that go back this far are the SATs, and, taking into account the renorming that occurred in the mid 1990s, they have actually declined by five percent.

And a look at our latest National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores is anything but encouraging. For example, on the most recent 4th grade math test, California students came in 45th nationally; in science, the same 4th graders scored higher than only Mississippi.

On Election Day, Californians will be faced with two initiatives – Prop. 30 and Prop 38. If either passes, Golden Staters will be paying millions of dollars more in taxes every year, the bulk of which will be poured into public education. Prop 38 would raise income taxes for most Californians, but Prop. 30 is worse. Our nation-leading state sales tax of 7.25 percent would go up to 7.75 percent. And the top marginal income tax rate which is now 10.55 percent – third highest in the country – would become number one at 13.3 percent – a 26 percent increase.

As it is, roughly half our state budget already goes to public education. And it is apparent that featherbedding is rampant in our K-12 schools. With the economy of California starting to look like Greece, it’s time to get serious. All the warm and positively gooey pro-30 and 38 TV and radio ads are meant to tug at your heartstrings, and distract you from the more realistic image of more of your tax dollars are going up in smoke. If either prop becomes law, education won’t improve, but we will all be taxed at an even more exorbitant rate than we are now. And high-earners, job creators and corporations will continue to flee the state.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.