Uber and Student Transport

August 27, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Oh yeah- it’s on. Btw transportation is an allowable expense under NVESA.

ACLU v. Nevada Children

August 27, 2015

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

The American Civil Liberties Union announced today that it is filing a legal challenge against Nevada’s new education savings account program. The ACLU argues that using the ESA funds at religious institutions would violate the state’s historically anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment, which states “No public funds of any kind or character whatever…shall be used for sectarian purposes.”

What “for sectarian purposes” actually means (beyond thinly veiled code for “Catholic schools”) is a matter of dispute. Would that prohibit holding Bible studies at one’s publicly subsidized apartment? Using food stamps to purchase Passover matzah? Using Medicaid at a Catholic hospital with a crucifix in every room and priests on the payroll? Would it prohibit the state from issuing college vouchers akin to the Pell Grant? Or pre-school vouchers? If not, why are K-12 subsidies different?

While the legal eagles mull those questions over, let’s consider what’s at stake. Children in Nevada–particularly Las Vegas-–are trapped in overcrowded and underperforming schools. Nevada’s ESA offers families much greater freedom to customize their children’s education–-a freedom they appear to appreciate. Here is how Arizona ESA parents responded when asked about their level of satisfaction with the ESA program: Parental satisfaction with Arizona's ESA program

And here’s how those same parents rated their level of satisfaction with the public schools that their children previously attended:

Parental satisfaction among AZ ESA families with their previous public schools

Note that the lowest-income families were the least satisfied with their previous public school and most satisfied with the providers they chose with their ESA funds.

Similar results are not guaranteed in Nevada and there are important differences between the programs–when the survey was administered, eligibility for Arizona’s ESA was limited only to families of students with special needs who received significantly more funding than the average student (though still less than the state would have spent on them at a public school). By contrast, Nevada’s ESA program is open to all public school students, but payments to low-income families are capped at the average state funding per pupil ($5,700). Nevertheless, it is the low-income students who have the most to gain from the ESA–and therefore the most to lose from the ACLU’s ill-considered lawsuit.

(First posted at Cato-at-Liberty.)

North Koreans Prefer to Use their Infravision, scoff at the need of lesser nations for “light bulbs”

August 27, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The North Korean Ministry of News and Correct Thinking explained away this photo by advanced North Korean genetic engineering. Dear Leader Kim Jung Il kidnapped a Japanese Dungeon Master in the early 1980s, and forced the poor man to run the Dear Leader through every TSR module. The Dear Leader never suffered so much as a hit point of damage. The Dungeon Master once insisted otherwise, and was found to have suffocated after mysteriously deciding to swallow 3000 twenty-sided dice. Dear Leader easily bested all imaginary foes, just like real life. Inspired by the concept of “infravision” the Dear Leader ordered his scientists to give all of his followers the ability to see in the dark. This made light bulbs obsolete in the greatest of all nations.

An alternative explanation might be that this whole central planning thing just doesn’t work out well in practice. This however is an obviously absurd and implausible explanation.

HBx and the Death of Distance

August 26, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Harvard Business school class, more from Fortune magazine here.

Oil prices-look out below!

August 24, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So global stock markets have crashed and the price of oil has dropped below $40 a barrel. This interesting article however points out that if one conceptualize the oil glut as an attempt by the Saudis to crush American frackers it is not going to work because the frackers now represent mid-price rather than high-price producers. In other words, if the Saudis and Frackers have started a bar room brawl, it is a number of other producers who will wind up getting their proverbial jaws broken. Mid-price producers will be very likely to find the financing needed to survive while demand and supply balance. High priced producers will likely find themselves out of luck.

Alternatively you can think of it this way: $100+ per barrel oil created a massive over-investment in oil supply. Right now you don’t want to be the high cost producer or saddled with a massive welfare state financed on petrol. American frackers are neither of these things.


Health Care Cost Inflation vs. K-12 Spending: Something Has to Give

August 19, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

What happens when you have a large and growing elderly population in your state? One answer: you spend more money on health care.  While we think of Medicare as the program for the elderly and Medicaid as a program for the poor, the reality is that the elderly often access both programs. On a per person basis, the elderly consume considerably greater Medicaid resources than either children or non-elderly adults.

Medicaid has been the biggest single program in state budgets for some time (K-12 ranks second), creeping up on a quarter of total state spending. People sometimes overlook this because Medicaid operates through a system of federal matching grants to the states, and thus much of the funding for Medicaid comes from the feds.

Of course in the end we are all local, state and federal taxpayers at the same time, meaning that federal money does not represent manna from heaven unless your only concern in life involves certifying a state budget. I’ve been examining budget data from Florida however, and even after you exclude federal funds, the trend in health vs. K-12 is clear.


Medicaid vs K-12

Despite a healthy increase in K-12 spending, state funding of Medicaid looks set to overtake state K-12 funding in the very near future, constraining other spending. Increasingly budget battles between K-12 and Medicaid will be seen as a generational battle between the interests of the young and old. Policymakers have recognized for some time that health care inflation would spell the doom of state higher education funding (Texas lawmakers deregulated tuition in 2003 in recognition of this fact for example) but we have no reason to think that matters will rest there.

You may have heard  by the way that Uncle Sam has $55 trillion in unfunded entitlement liabilities, so state lawmakers should view his ability to sustain his end of the Medicaid matching funds bargain with some suspicion. America needs major policy and practice innovations in both education and health care.



Ed Next Poll Shows Character is Important

August 18, 2015


Education Next is out with a set of great new poll results.  They ask a representative sample of the general public, parents, and teachers about a variety of salient education policy issues.  You can see the results in detail on this fantastic interactive site.

There are many interesting results to discuss, but the one that caught my eye is a question about how much schools do and should emphasize different topics.  The general public, parents, and teachers were asked to rate on a scale from 1 to 7 (with 1 being “a little” and 7 being “a lot”) how much they thought schools were emphasizing reading, math, the arts, history, science, character, creativity, global warming, athletics, and bullying.  Respondents also described how much schools should be emphasizing those topics.  I calculated the difference between how much parents said schools should and do cover different topics to see where parents think schools are currently most falling short of their priorities.

Parents would like to see schools increase their emphasis on every topic except athletics.  But the two topics they wanted to see increased the most were character and creativity.  Parents rated the emphasis that schools give to character as a 4.10 on the 7 point scale.  When asked how much schools should emphasize character, parents gave an answer of 5.41 — an increase of 1.31.  For creativity parents rated schools’ current efforts as 4.25 but would like to see 5.63 — an increase of 1.38.

Parent demand for increased focus on character and creativity is almost double their desired increase for reading or math.  Parents say schools are emphasizing reading at 5.62 and math at 5.66 but would like to see that at 6.28 and 6.31, respectively.  They want more focus on math and reading but only an increase of .65 or .66 compared to an increase of 1.31 and 1.38 for character and creativity.

Why do parents think schools are falling much further short in their emphasis on character and creativity?  Part of the problem is that character and creativity involve questions of values on which there is much less consensus than on technical skills in math and reading.  If we assign students to public schools, we are often forcing people with diverse sets of values into the same schools.  If they try to teach character, they invite fights over what the content of that character should be.  Public school districts can’t even agree amicably on what to name their schools let alone what kinds of values to teach.  The Cato Institute has put together a useful web site documenting the endless conflicts produced by forcing everyone into the same school system.

If we really want schools to give a much greater emphasis to teaching character, we will need to expand school choice.  Choice allows families with similar values and priorities to send their children to schools that will then be free to teach those values.  Schools won’t be deterred by struggles over values since parents seeking a different type of character education can choose a different school rather than fight.

Schools also fall short of parent expectations for teaching character and creativity because those concepts are ill-defined and even more poorly measured.  What do we mean by character and creativity?  How would we know if schools are doing it?  To address these difficulties, the Department of Education Reform has launched the Character Assessment Initiative, or Charassein (sounds like kerosene), under the direction of my colleague, Gema Zamarro. I’ve written before about some of the path-breaking research coming out of Charassein, but be sure to stay tuned as more is on the way.

With better understanding of what we mean by character, better ways of measuring those outcomes, and more choice so that schools and families are free to teach desired character traits, we may see a closing of the gap between what parents want and what schools do in teaching character.


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