01 November 2007

This started as a sweet little post Halloween recap, but then...

Last night was a blast. Hung out on the block with all the other middle-aged parents, sipping wine out of Starbucks paper coffee cups so we wouldn't end up like this lady (oh yes, my DC memory is deep, my friends, very deep). Every now and then I had to hand out some candy. It was a remarkably light night, and by 9 p.m. we were inside, lights off, and upstairs. It wasn't long ago that Halloween meant knocks on the door well past ten p.m., with trick or treaters taking a very liberal definition of "costume" to mean street clothes.

The light traffic meant I had plenty of time to sit on my porch silently contemplating the night and watching rats scurry across the yard. I chased a few of them, especially after I got a big stick to flush them out of the underbrush. And speaking of flushing out rats...

George Will is writing his usual nonsense again about topics he knows nothing about. For Will, if the topic contains the keyword "Choice" or "Competition," it must mean "Good." So in this case he's writing about education, a topic about which he's so ignorant, but gosh he uses all the correct right-wing keywords: "near-monopoly," "anti-choice," "opponents of choice," "fear of competition," etc. It's really very tired.

Of course, he gives the game away when you realize he's mainly concerned with teacher unions. Will isn't concerned whatsoever with the poor downtrodden children forced into Dickensian workhouses that liberals and big bad teacher union bureaucrats call "public schools." These children don't exist in his world, because they aren't going to grow up to be little overprivileged bowtie wearing stuffed shirt prigs...his opinion of public education is so low that he imagines all the products of the teacher union enslaved schools will become the faceless trolls who take his plates away after dinner, hand him his drycleaning, and bag his groceries.

Like any shill for laissez-faire capitalism, Will's real bogeyman is unionization, and the specter of living labor getting together to meet dead accumulated Capital on even somewhat level terms terrifies him. Teacher unions just happen to be an especially easy target for him, since teachers are public sector employees. For some strange reason, Will believes the NEA (he generally attacks the NEA, probably because it's the larger of the two major teacher unions) should not look after the rights of its members, and more fantastically he somehow believes that the interests of teachers (the union membership) is somehow at odds with the interests of education. As if teachers are looking for ways to make schools fail.

Like most right wing critics of education, Will couldn't be bothered with actual facts or details about how schools work and curriculum gets set. Again, Will isn't concerned about the children in the schools or the idea of public education itself (for all its flaws, universal public education is anathema to Will's coterie of elitists, since it assumes that everyone -- not just the children of privilege -- deserve education and are capable of learning): he's interested only in dismantling the system that for all the scare tactics (beginning with Why Johnny Can't Read way back in the 1950's), actually works for most students (the job, of course, is to make it work it work for all, since public schools, unlike private schools, can't throw out anyone and everyone who might lower their test scores...).

This reactionary anti-union stance is why Will finds himself defending what he would otherwise deride as a "government handout" (Will is great at cherry-picking his anti-government stances, generally ignoring right wing entitlements and deriding the "Big Government" excesses of, let's say, funding for public education or healthcare for the poor). Here's Will explaining the Utah program that he's trying to defend:

In balloting more important to the nation than most of next year's elections will be, Utahans next week will decide by referendum whether to retain or jettison the nation's broadest school choice program. Passed last February, the Parent Choice in Education Act would make a voucher available to any public school child who transfers to a private school, and to current private school children from low-income families.

Note the hyperbole that he leads with: this state-level ballot about a program that is very similar to programs that have been around a long time in other states (and the District) is more important than "most of next year's elections," which are at the national level, including for President. But that's typical Will. Will touts this government handout because it comes from the "general fund" and not from traditional sources of public education funding, therefore robbing the voucher opponents of the argument that it's taking funding from the public schools. So if you follow along, essentially Will is arguing that the $500 - $3000 vouchers are in addition to funds already allocated for education, and Utah's state expenditure of $7500 per pupil will remain intact. He uses this line to argue that the voucher program, and I quote, "every Utah voucher increases funds available for public education."

In fact, he details the process. Follow carefully:
Utah spends more than $7,500 per public school pupil ($3,000 more than the average private school tuition). The average voucher will be for less than $2,000. So every voucher that is used -- by parents willing to receive $2,000 rather than $7,500 of government support for the education of their child -- will save Utah taxpayers an average of $5,500. And because the vouchers are paid from general revenue, the departed pupil's $7,500 stays in the public school system.

OK, got that? Since Utah spends about $7500 per public school pupil, and the vouchers are worth on average $2000, then Utah saves $5500 per child using a voucher, but the $7500 per pupil doesn't go away. Did anyone else wonder at Will's deployment of the New Math? If the money stays in the system, you don't actually save that money and get to count it as savings to taxpayers, who by Will's admission are still paying the $7500 to the public school system...now in addition to the $2000 for the private school subsidizing voucher.

Am I missing something? Is he not claiming that the original $7500 that would have been there anyway is still there, and an additional $2000 is being paid out, yet somehow the taxpayers are saving $5500? As I said before, Will and education are not exactly familiar with one another...

To seal the deal (and I know you're bored by now), Will makes the argument that Utah's private schools "are operating one-third below full enrollment" and the vouchers will help fill them up. Isn't it funny when a free marketeer like Will starts arguing for subsidies because the market doesn't seem to work the way he wants it? Check it out:
The voucher program will enable demand for private schools to match the supply. A privately funded scholarship program, Children First Utah, for low-income pupils can support only 15 percent of applicants. Although most of the total value of the new voucher program will go to low-income families, the program amounts to a reduced government subsidy for such families -- at most $3,000 rather than more than $7,500 per pupil.

So replace "voucher program" with "subsidy" and you see what Will's aiming at. The private schools are underenrolled because they aren't seen as providing the value for their cost. Rather than make them "compete," as he wants with the public schools, Will wants the government to give them a handout, therefore allowing them to continue to overcharge their pupils. And he returns to his ridiculous, wrong even on the basis of his own evidence, argument about a reduced cost. He's already stated that the $7500 per pupil remains in the system, so we aren't looking at a "reduced government subsidy," but rather an increased subsidy (in fairness to Will, he does say "reduced government subsidy for such families," and technically he's correct: since the family is not in public school, they don't directly receive the subsidy; but he's either lying to the reader or simply too stupid to understand the difference between the individual family and the system as a whole when he argues that it's some sort of reduction in taxpayer burden).

Anyone read this far?


Anonymous said...

"For some strange reason, Will believes the NEA (he generally attacks the NEA, probably because it's the larger of the two major teacher unions) should not look after the rights of its members, and more fantastically he somehow believes that the interests of teachers (the union membership) is somehow at odds with the interests of education. As if teachers are looking for ways to make schools fail."

You are living in a la la land if you think the interests of the children and the interests of the teachers (as expressed by the unions) don't clash on significant issues. For instance, the tenure system (which protects lazy and low performing teachers) and the objection to merit pay are clearly not in the interests of the students.

Nicky Carpathia said...

This started as a sweet little post Halloween recap, but then you had to drop the disguise and connect with your inner Marxist.

Jason Fleece said...

Hey Nicky

Let me see if I understand you.
You are saying that arguing AGAINST tax payer handouts to private corporations to help raise demand to meet supply levels is MARXIST?

I didn't know that the rules of capitalism had been changed. It has always been one of the basic facts that the 3 parts of a capitalistic free market i.e. supply , demand, and prices .... regulate themselves without government intervention.

In other words, according to original Adam Smith free market doctrine .. the over supply of space in private schools can be met by lowering the price of tuition ... we call that "supply and demand effecting prices" you might want to google "Capitalism"

Now we have the (Corporate ) Socialist Republican Party which believes that instead of the market being left to stabilise prices in regards to supply and demand when it comes to enrollement capicity in Utahs private schools - that THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD PASS OUT VOUCHERS to INTERVENE in the FREE MARKET and thereby PROP UP ARTIFICIALLY the PRICE for Private Schooling in Utah

What started as a little comment idea to find a gratuitous reason to throw out the word "MARXIST" at anybody who doesn't agree that THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD PAY PRIVATE SCHOOL TUITION ended up revealing how much you do not know about "Marxism" or "Capitalism" ... you are very good at pointless irreleveant idiotic name calling

So obviously you are a "republican" which is some kind of attitude or football team or something which has NOTHING to do with actualy understanding MARXISM or CAPITALISM
You just used the word because it's an official reuplican insult for anybody you don't like

If you were actualy a conservative and understood the premises of such and the basics of capitalism you wouldn't .... well I guess .. you wouldn't have made that post and you woulen't be a republican, but then again, if you had wings you'd be a bird

It's all about the name calling never a discussion of principals

mysterygirl! said...

I didn't read to the bottom!!!

But I thought of you when some dude in Adams Morgan was interviewed on the news last night about rats eating the wires in his car.

Momentary Academic said...

I love Halloween! :)


cuff said...

Wow. Someone found my post. This is the most comments I've had in a hell of a long time. Very briefly:

Anon: tenure doesn't protect poor teachers -- bad managers protect poor teachers. Unlike the fantasy world of conservative talking points, tenure doesn't protect against firing for negligence, incompetence, criminal offenses, etc. While instituted to protect academic freedom, tenure mainly protects teachers these days from politically motivated, "old boy network," or nepotistic firings.

Nicky C: You've already been answered well by Jason Fleece, but I readily admit to being a Marxist, if we understand that to mean someone who believes Marx's explanation of political economy is compelling and relatively accurate. However, my main point, as Mr. Fleece points out, was to turn Will's logic against him and to point out the incredible error in fact that he makes concerning the cost of vouchers in Utah.

Jason: Well said, even if you may be a libertarian.

MG!: That's OK about the reading thing. When are you going to post again?

MA: Halloween was good this year. And now I think I have an idea for a costume next year. I'll go either as Adam Smith or Karl Marx.

Rachel said...

MA: Halloween was good this year. And now I think I have an idea for a costume next year. I'll go either as Adam Smith or Karl Marx.

I went one year as the Spectre of Communism...

Anonymous said...

First, scary about the Chardonnay Lady. What kind of city do I live in? Ohh right, a frequently dysfunctional one.

Second, I'm glad someone had the energy to read the George Will column. I knew I should and I just... couldn't... bring myself... to suffer through it since I knew it would be riddled with logical fallacies. And what do you know, it was!

Third, the Deseret News (a Utah paper) did an analysis of the voucher law and found: "Even if voters approve giving $3,000 a year per child in state vouchers to help non-wealthy families pay private school tuition, families would still need another $4,800 or so per child to afford typical annual tuition in Utah. That suggests that vouchers — the center of this year's biggest election battle — might give many needy families only weak-to-moderate help toward truly affording typical private school tuition."
Outside of all of the excellent points made here (particularly regarding the free market), the question is why would we subsidize wealthy families' (eligible for $500 per child) private education?

John at AFT said...

We linked to your post on our blog. It's quite widely read, so you should expect to see, oh, 3 or 4 new visitors to your site.

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