MJS Showdown: Enlow Annihiliates

March 10, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I’m late getting this up, but check out yesterday’s battle royale on the op-ed page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In this corner, the title holder – the champion of choice, the vizier of vouchers, the BMC of ESAs – Robert Enlow!

And in this corner, the challenger – the canard kid, the defenestration of education, the unionbomber – O. Ricardo Pimentel!

The subject: Gov. Walker’s proposal to lift the income restriction on the Milwaukee voucher program from 175% of the poverty level to 325%, or $72,635 for a family of four. Walker has an eye toward eventually lifting both the income restriction and the cap on the number of participants – which would make Milwaukee a universal voucher program.

They’re getting mental in the Sentinel!

There’s the bell, and here comes the champ!


Looks like he’s confident. Now we’ll see what the challenger’s got.


Ouch! That snooty condescention is going to cost him. But he’s on fire and the hits start coming: 

Now, $72,635 is not what it used to be, but it’s not low-income…

 The champ fires back:

There are almost 210,000 households in Milwaukee, with more than 90% of them earning less then $100,000. That’s less than the average Milwaukee Public Schools teacher earns in annual compensation, according to the Journal Sentinel.The point isn’t to attack teachers but to show that what many consider “poverty” to qualify for a school voucher is not the same amount of income it actually takes to survive – and thrive – in America.

The challenger’s reeling under the punishment. But he comes back with another attack!

If schools need fixing, the community needs to pull together to do that. Walker’s budget cuts $834 million in school aids. MPS says it will have to cut $74 million from its preliminary budget.

This prompts a round of stunning brutality from the champ:

School choice saves taxpayers big bucks. The per-pupil cost to educate a child in Milwaukee is $13,229, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Yet the voucher program funded by the state is about half that at $6,442, which covers a good portion of tuition at many parochial and private schools.

The challenger’s down! No, wait, sorry, he’s just looking for his teeth.

Okay, now he’s back in the fight.

Bet on it: If families that aren’t precisely low-income “need” help here in Milwaukee, it is just a matter of time that he’ll reason they need help in other communities with challenged school districts or perhaps even those in higher-performing districts.

So, this begs the question: Were low-income students – mostly youngsters of color – just useful pawns for the right?

Wow, he must really be hurting to play the race card so flagrantly. Still, there’s something vaguely resembling an argument in there somewhere. Let’s see how the champ handles it.

With a ceiling on the number of students who can participate, the program’s impact has been limited although still positive. That’s why Walker’s plan to open the program to all students is welcome news, as unrestricted freedom will work even better to improve MPS and increase the academic achievement of children.

For example, if a large grocer has a monopoly in a neighborhood and a convenience store opens on the corner selling milk and bread, there isn’t enough competition to force the large grocer to offer better products. However, if three convenience stores and two other larger grocery stores open, customers suddenly will see an improvement in the products available. The same happens in education, as parents always win with multiple education choices. Such will be the case in Milwaukee when all parents have the choice of a private or public school.

How is the challenger still on his feet? An amazing sight, ladies and gentlemen!

I never would have thought Robert Enlow was capable of brutalizing another human being so totally. Why isn’t the ref putting a stop to this inhumanity?

It looks like the challenger can’t even see where he’s punching. He’s just flailing now.

Gov. Scott Walker is on the cusp of making the much desired entanglement of public dollars and private schools – many of them religious – an unassailable reality.

Yes, unassailable. See what happens if middle-class folks are given vouchers and some subsequent governor or Legislature tries to take them away. Won’t happen…

Choice made sense as a matter of equity for low-income children with no options in a district that demonstrably served them poorly…

Yes to choice – but for those who really have none. And if extended for families beyond that? We can consider ourselves duped.

Did I hear that right? Vouchers violate the separation of church and state – but only when rich white kids use them. When poor black kids use them, they’re fine. And remember, it’s voucher supporters who are using poor black kids as political props.

And, sure enough, the challenger’s self-contradictory idiocy has prompted the ref to step in. Clearly this is one fighter who’s taken a few too many hits.

Enlow is carried out of the ring by a cheering throng of supporters!

No, wait – that’s the mob of union protestors who were bussed in from Madison to watch the fight. I guess Robert is headed for an “undisclosed location.”

And now over to Jay and Matt for the post-match show.

Public Schools: Cornerstones of Democracy!

January 5, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

During the mad real estate rush a couple years ago, five school districts here in Wisconsin (including the biggest district here in my county) borrowed $200 million and sunk it into some extremely unwise investments hoping to get rich quick.

Because that’s exactly why we gave the public school system the right to tax us – so it could play the market with our money.

The investments all went south and are now worthless.

But don’t panic! Fortunately, they structured the deal so that in the event they lost all their money, they could totally shaft their creditors. The investments were made by a trust they set up rather than by the districts themselves, so the districts aren’t liable for the losses. Their creditors have to eat it all.

One bank, which lent the districts $165 million, has asked the districts to try to pay at least some of it back, on grounds that they have a “moral obligation” to make the losses good even if they don’t have a legal obligation to do so.

Here, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, is the districts’ response:

The districts’ officials have argued they are protected from paying back the $165 million because the loans were undertaken by trusts rather than the districts themselves and because a moral obligation is not the same as a legal obligation.

But remember, public schools are the cornerstone of democracy because they and only they are capable of inculcating children with strong civic values like responsibility and respect for the rights of others.


February 11, 2009

fancy-church  shack

An underfunded regular public school; a money-draining charter school

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I can see that school buildings are going to be a big topic for us for the foreseeable future. There’s the feds’ desperate need to blow money on something, anything, in the “recovery” bill (they’re no longer even bothering to call it a “stimulus” bill, apparently). And Jay’s post on school construction last week generated some interesting conversation in the comment thread.

Then last week opponents of the bill had a lot of fun spotlighting its provision of $89 million for school construction in Milwaukee, despite the fact that Milwaukee has had major enrollment declines leading to lots of empty and “underused” buildings, its buildings are deemed to be in good condition, the city has no plans for any construction projects, and just last year it had a major scandal centering around the waste of tens of millions of dollars in construction funding.

But here’s something I don’t think anyone outside Milwaukee has highlighted yet. In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s story on the funding, somebody at the paper (presumably a bemused editor) inserted the following subtitle above a section of the story:

What is “Construction”?

Somebody get Socrates on the line, because it’s a good question. As a commenter pointed out on Jay’s post last week, once money goes into the system, we can’t be sure what it really gets spent on. We know how much money was budgeted for “construction,” but typically there’s nobody checking to see what was actually bought with those “construction” funds.

Sure enough, the Journal Sentinel quotes a state Democratic spokesperson saying that all of that yummy yummy swag for “school construction” could legitimately be spent on “school modernization.”

Next month’s headline: “What is ‘School Modernization’?”

Do these sound like conditions under which the money will be spent wisely? And don’t kid yourself that Milwaukee is somehow a special exception, and the stimulus money is going to be well spent elsewhere.

Suppose you don’t believe the vast mountain of empirical research that Jay cited last week. Let’s just drop all that science into the toilet bowl and flush. Even so, can anyone believe that money will be well used when it’s handed over to a system that has no real transparency, much less effective oversight, never mind accountability for results – and that is run by people who also just happen to derive political power by diverting school funding into an enormous gravy train of featherbedding, pork, etc.?

If we’re dumb enough to hand over the money under those circumstances, why would they not divert it to the gravy train? I’m amazed the schools in the government monopoly system aren’t even worse than they are.

But wait. There’s yet another school building story on the horizon. This one broke out in the edreformblogosphere just yesterday.


They built it with surplus “school construction” money

Like Milwaukee and pretty much every other city, St. Louis has long-term declining enrollment, but that didn’t stop it from pouring tons of money into school construction over the past few decades. Now St. Louis has a bunch of empty school buildings it needs to unload, so it’s going to sell them off.

But not everyone is allowed to bid on the empty school buildings. Joanne Jacobs puts it succinctly: “The school board has banned sales of buildings to liquor stores, landfills, distilleries, sex shops and charter schools.”

Read that again: Liquor stores, landfills, distilleries, sex shops and charter schools.

Not much more to say, is there? Charters are the one sector of the government-owned education system that is 1) growing fast, 2) willing to take on the most disadvantaged, toughest-to-teach kids, and 3) producing improved results, and they do it with less money – especially less construction money! – than the regular system. But they aren’t allowed to buy – not take for free, but buy, as in purchase at market value, by paying actual money – the city’s empty buildings.



Some typical St. Louis charter schools

I’m with Matt – if the system’s defenders don’t realize they’re destroying millions of children’s lives in order to funnel money to a corrupt gravy train, it’s only because they don’t want to know.

Correction on MJS and the “Funding Flaw”

December 12, 2008


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Yesterday I posted an analysis of a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article. The article reported as fact, not opinion, that the Milwaukee voucher program has a “funding flaw” because it fails to pay the Milwaukee public schools to teach students whom the Milwaukee public schools do not teach.

The occasion for the article was a debate over whether it was still true, as it had been in previous years, that the Milwaukee voucher program increases costs for local property taxpayers – this is what people had always meant in the past when they talked about the “funding flaw” in the program.

The claim made by the local voucher movement that the program no longer increased costs for property taxpayers seemed solid to me at the time, and the voucher opponents quoted in the article tacitly accepted it by desperately trying to change the subject. To my knowledge, nobody else had disputed the claim. So I reported the claim as true.

Robert Costrell, who knows more about this than anyone, now says he thinks the claim that vouchers no longer cost extra in local property taxes is incorrect. Apparently it comes down to whether a certain element in the formula varies by enrollment or not.

So I’ve attached a correction to the original post, and I apologize that I didn’t wait longer to hear from more people before reporting the claim as true.

That said, the bulk of my post was on another subject (the attempt by some Milwaukee politicians to use the voucher program to fleece state taxpayers, and MJS’s docility in reporting their obviously specious claims as true) and on that subject I stand by everything I wrote. I only hope my carelessness on this other point doesn’t help get MJS off the hook for its irresponsibility.

(Edited to more clearly differentiate Costrell’s thoughts from my own.)

(UPDATE: Bob Costrell’s new analysis is here.)

MJS: Failure to Steal Money Is a “Funding Flaw”

December 11, 2008


“I beg of you, Monsieur, watch yourself. Be on guard. This place is full of vultures . . . vultures everywhere. Everywhere.”

HT mcgady.net

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Update: Robert Costrell says he thinks the claim that vouchers are now saving money for local taxpayers is incorrect. Apparently it comes down to a question of whether a certain item in the funding formula varies by enrollment or not. Costrell knows this stuff better than anyone, so I’m happy to defer to him.

At the time I wrote this post, I only had the MJS story to go on, and even the school choice opponents quoted in the article (Mayor Barrett and Superintendent Andrekopoulos) weren’t disputing the savings claim. So I wrote the post as though the savings claim had been implicitly accepted by voucher opponents because it had, in fact, been implicitly accepted by them. But I shouldn’t have actually reported the claim as true just because voucher opponents were implicitly accepting it as true, and I apologize for my carelessness.

That said, the MJS story is still amazingly irresponsible and I don’t regret a word of what I said about its complicity in Barrett and Andrekopoulos’s attmept to fleece Wisconsin taxpayers. I only hope that my own carelessness doesn’t help get MJS off the hook for printing this stuff.

(This update has been edited to more clearly differentiate Costrell’s thoughts from my own.)

For years, the Milwaukee voucher program had what the locals call “the funding flaw,” under which some local Milwaukee property tax revenues were diverted for every student who used the voucher. When the program was first enacted in 1990, there was no “funding flaw,” and it saved money for both the state and local Milwaukee taxpayers, just like most voucher programs. But in 1999 the rules were changed, and the program began diverting property taxes; the state profited handsomly at the expense of the city, using the voucher program as an intermediary. As a result, from 1999 until 2007, the program was a drain on local resources. The school choice movement in Milwaukee never supported this practice and worked to help stop it, but of course state politicians were never interested in helping, and the voucher program was always blamed for the local tax drain.

But now things have changed. This year, the program is once again saving local money – the amount the city loses from the program is now down below what it saves in reduced educational costs because it doesn’t have to teach the students in the program. So there is no more “funding flaw.”

Not so fast! Over the weekend, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a very strange story claiming, not as opinion but as fact, that the “funding flaw” was never just about property taxes. Another, much more serious “funding flaw” has been lurking unnoticed in the bushes for all these years – namely, that the program fails to steal money from state taxpayers and transfer it to Milwaukee public schools.

I’m not sure anyone had ever heard about this “other” funding flaw before now. Call it the super double secret funding flaw.

1) The article begins by citing an argument between voucher proponents and opponents over whether the “funding flaw” still exists. It evenhandedly reports the claims on both sides: on the one hand, the school choice movement has facts and figures showing that voucher kids are now a net gain, not a net drain, for Milwaukee taxpayers. On the other hand, property taxes are going up and the people who run the public school system “associate a lot of that increase” with the voucher program. Facts and figures on one side versus mere assertion on the other – well, obviously there are two equally valid points of view about this controversial question! Who says the media aren’t evenhanded?


2) The article then lays out the facts: the “funding flaw” was always that a voucher student cost Milwaukee more than a public school student in property taxes. Now that’s not true anymore. The school choice folks are pointing out this inconvenient truth and saying, reasonably enough, that there’s no more funding flaw.

Then we get this: 

[Milwaukee Mayor Tom] Barrett and MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos dismiss that notion, saying the amount of property tax dollars per student illustrated only one part of the flaw. It was the main thing they pointed to because, frankly, it was easier to understand than other aspects. But, they say, the other aspects are actually a bigger deal.

So all these years they’ve been making a big deal over less important issues while concealing the real problem, but now, at last, they’re prepared to come clean and talk about the real problem.

Did you catch the casual insertion of the word “frankly” in the second sentence? This is the MJS reporter speaking in his own voice rather than quoting – but he’s such a puppet of the system’s defenders that their “frankly” comes out of his mouth. When Barrett stubs his toe, do MJS reporters say “ouch”?


 3) Then comes the really amazing part. MJS reports, as fact and not opinion, that the funding flaw always consisted of two problems. The first was the property tax issue, which now favors vouchers rather than public school kids – although when the story gets into the details of this, it never directly admits this as fact; it is reported as a claim being made by school choice proponents, and only sophisticated readers will be able to figure out from the reporter’s convoluted words that what the school choice proponents are saying is, in fact, indisputably true.

The alleged other part of the funding flaw, the super double secret one, is that voucher students are not counted as students being educated in Milwaukee public schools for purposes of setting the funding levels for Milwaukee public schools.


Got that? MJS reports as fact, not opinion, that the voucher program is flawed because it fails to force the state to pay Milwaukee public schools to teach kids that Milwaukee public schools do not, in fact, actually teach.


But of course the story doesn’t say this as clearly as I’ve just put it, or it would be obvious that this is sophistry in the service of a naked political agenda. A reader who didn’t already know the ins and outs of school finance would never realize from the article that the supposed other “flaw” is that the program doesn’t pay Milwaukee schools to teach students whom they don’t teach.


4) The article then goes on to note that fixing the super double secret funding “flaw” would be deeply unpopular because it would take money away from other areas of the state. The unstated implication is that it would be much more sensible to scrap the unworkable voucher program altogether.

Well, no kidding it would be unpopular for MPS to try to use the voucher program as an excuse to take money from state taxpayers to teach students that MPS doesn’t teach. Taking money to do something that you don’t do is called stealing.

What’s really galling is that this attempt to steal from state taxpayers is framed (by MJS as well as by Barrett and Andrekopoulos) as an attempt to “fix” an alleged funding “flaw” – the implication being that money is somehow being unfairly withheld from MPS. So the guy warning you about thieves is in fact the thief. I think that may actually be Andrekopoulos’s picture at the top of this post.


5) The article then parades Robert Costrell’s big cost analysis showing that vouchers cost more than they save for local taxpayers. At the very end of the paragraph, it quickly notes that this analysis “does not include figures from this fall.” In other words, the conclusion that the voucher program costs Milwaukee money is out of date because the facts on the ground have changed, and it has no relevance to the story (except by confusing readers who aren’t paying close attention).


6) Finally, at the end, the school choice movement is allowed to come back onstage and point out that Milwaukee public school spending and state aid to Milwaukee have both been growing relentlessly for years. Then we get this:


Andrekopoulos said in an interview that the main point is that something has to be changed, and the state funding system, including how vouchers are paid for, is the place to turn.

He said that Milwaukee residents are facing a 14.6% tax levy increase this year, even though the actual MPS budget went up less than 2%.

“Doesn’t that seem wrong?” Andrekopoulos said. “Something’s not right.”

This, like the previous claims about the super double secret “other funding flaw,” is sophistry pure and simple. Property taxes pay for much more than just schools, and the MPS budget gets a lot of revenue from sources other than property taxes. So these figures are apples and oranges; you can’t compare the two.


It would be like the UAW arguing that Rick Wagoner’s salary costs GM more than the UAW jobs bank, because budget category A (which includes spending on Wagoner’s salary, engine parts, steel bolts, and the company health plan) costs more than budget category B (which includes spending on the jobs bank, tires, car doors, and lunches in GM company cafeterias).


Until you break down the categories and look at what the individual components cost, you’re just blowing smoke. And when you break down the categories, vouchers save Milwaukee money – which is exactly what the MJS article established all the way back at the beginning.

I’ve seen a lot of irresponsible journalism, but this article just leaves me dumbfounded.

(UPDATE: Bob Costrell’s new analysis is here)

%d bloggers like this: