Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Homer

There is quite a debate going on over at Emily's Post, $429 million over the next thirteen years? 43 comments so far.

Homer left the following comment:

Well, yeah, we can go on and on about how it isn't about the money but then that's the first thing voucherites throw out. They start talking about savings, and the pretensious oreos start flying around and the money juices start revving up the debate.

It is not about the money. Schools are not a business, and children are not units of production. It isn't about cost-effectiveness or cost-benefit anaysis because we're talking about people, not commodities.

it isn't about choice, either. Parents can and do make choices for their children all the time and no law prevents that.
The debate about whether the public has to pay for someone's personal choice is another matter.

This debate involves a huge shift in the boundaries between the public and private spheres in our society. As Mero did say, Public education is a civic value.

If we value the objectives, place, and role of public education as a social institution then we pay for it. If we don't then, we don't pay for it.

Floating oreos, I mean tax money, into the private sphere is problematic, opening holes in the political boundaries that "we the People" use to maintain individual rights in the face of government power and vice versa.

This move to privatize (because private is better, i.e. Enron, Blackwater, etc.) has been in the news lately as the Bush ideas come to roost. Maybe we can fight a war cheaper and more efficiently without messy checks and balances and other inefficiencies and respecting basic rights, laws, and social decency, but is that the kind of society we want to become.

Because our values will define us a society. Do we want a society where the unfortunate get a welfare school as mero puts it or where the rich get every incentive to leave the larger commmunity, or do create a great system for all, together.

Agree or disagree, but vouchers are more than just a little >4% experiement--they are the beginning of a change. Whether it's a good or bad change in the now--we need to think ahead about what kind of society we would become.Well, yeah, we can go on and on about how it isn't about the money but then that's the first thing voucherites throw out. They start talking about savings, and the pretensious oreos start flying around and the money juices start revving up the debate.

It is not about the money. Schools are not a business, and children are not units of production. It isn't about cost-effectiveness or cost-benefit anaysis because we're talking about people, not commodities.

it isn't about choice, either. Parents can and do make choices for their children all the time and no law prevents that.
The debate about whether the public has to pay for someone's personal choice is another matter.

This debate involves a huge shift in the boundaries between the public and private spheres in our society. As Mero did say, Public education is a civic value.

If we value the objectives, place, and role of public education as a social institution then we pay for it. If we don't then, we don't pay for it.

Floating oreos, I mean tax money, into the private sphere is problematic, opening holes in the political boundaries that "we the People" use to maintain individual rights in the face of government power and vice versa.

This move to privatize (because private is better, i.e. Enron, Blackwater, etc.) has been in the news lately as the Bush ideas come to roost. Maybe we can fight a war cheaper and more efficiently without messy checks and balances and other inefficiencies and respecting basic rights, laws, and social decency, but is that the kind of society we want to become.

Because our values will define us a society. Do we want a society where the unfortunate get a welfare school as mero puts it or where the rich get every incentive to leave the larger commmunity, or do create a great system for all, together.

Agree or disagree, but vouchers are more than just a little >4% experiement--they are the beginning of a change. Whether it's a good or bad change in the now--we need to think ahead about what kind of society we would become.

10 comments:

Curt said...

Nice going Homer.

We have known for some time that this is all about "their children" escaping the schools where "our children" attend. Why else would they have effectively excluded the poorest of the poor, i.e., illegal immigrants?

Sadly, the real danger here is that ultimately we are at their mercy. Once they succeed in getting their children out, they will neglect the public system even more than they already are (if that is possible).

hypocrite republican senator said...

I watched Matt Lauer interview the Republican Larry Craig. The Republican Senator’s story didn’t add up.
First, no strait man will look into the crack of stall, knowing the stall is being occupied.
Second, he claims to be against gays and their lifestyle. But when he goes into a bathroom stall, he doesn’t mind if his foot touches another man’s foot, in the next stall, with both their pants down.
Third, he claims that it is impossible to run your left hand, under the stall divider (which the police officer claimed)….. False, you can.
Fourth, Republican Senator Craig didn’t tell his wife about the arrest, it until it hit the press.
Wake up…
The Republican Senator Larry Craig is a lying hypocrite.

Don said...

I saw Homer's post last night while dealing with Mr. Mero and some of his number deficiencies but didn't have time to comment.

This is really a great post Homer. This battle should be about our values as a society. Do we really want to start down the path of privatizing education entirely? Because make no mistake about it, this is the ultimate goal of many in the pro-voucher camp. This isn't about helping poor kids. It's not about a $500 subsidy/tax cut for rich people who don't need it. In the long run, it really is about shifting the education paradigm away from a system that is open and accessible to all, to one that works on the "survival of the fittest" philosophy.

But we can't have an honest debate until the pro-voucher crowd stops trying to sell their wares with lies, distortions and half-truths. There's no doubt, voucher proponents have been very slick in their propaganda. They bombard the public with simplistic "oreo" commercials, and talk glowingly of saving over a billion dollars, ostensibly to be used for public education. Many voters will take what they hear at face value, but it's just not true.

The "savings" that vouchers will provide has been one of the major talking points for the pro-voucher crowd (along with the evil union and its minions, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, moveon.org, etc. *rolls eyes*). Frankly, I am going to continue to do whatever I can to debunk their fuzzy and misleading rhetoric at every turn. I'll leave the philosophical debates to others . . .

Jason The said...

Homer touches on a more encompassing aspect of our voucher debate:

"Agree or disagree, but vouchers are more than just a little >4% experiement--they are the beginning of a change. Whether it's a good or bad change in the now--we need to think ahead about what kind of society we would become."

Well said, and something every Utahn (and American) should ask themselves more often. Thanks Homer (and Rob for putting it up for us to read).

Paul Mero said...

Homer is prescient. Indeed, this values argument is a large part of the historical essay I wrote...and was lambasted for writing...and, alas, it is the real point of any issue surrounding educational freedom.

What shall we become, indeed.

PTM

Frank Staheli said...

It's kind of funny how Homer is somehow a prophet when, by his rhetoric, he dismisses out of hand the issues of cost and choice. It's a slick shell game. Yes it's about values, as he describes, but holy cow how is it NOT about cost? And how is it NOT about choice?

The people against vouchers are always saying that there is not enough money in the public schools. I agree. Now that we have found the best way to get more money for the public schools, you don't want it. Go figure.

There is almost NO choice in Utah when you compare it with other states. For a whole bunch of voters (and their children) this is finally the first time they will have the economic wherewithal to make that choice. Don't deny them this opportunity with all of your lofty moralizing.

Don said...

Frank,
Please explain to me how vouchers will increase funding to public schools when they end up costing taxpayers more in the long run. It just doesn't add up.

(And don't tell me the bill just needs to be "fixed". It ain't gonna happen.)

Homer said...

Someone told me my comment was posted up on UtahAmicus (thanks, Rob, I'm honored).

As this voucher thing is heating up Utah politics and as a public school teacher I want to repeat that this whole thing is not an educational issue. It is squarely a political issue and has been from the beginning. People have been teaching and learning for thousands of years in all different ways and under all different social systems.

The way our system of public education has developed is as uniquely American as, well, as are the values that constitute our society.

We propose the bold idea that as a public we ought to provide for the education of all of us together, attempting to break down the barriers that would deny someone the opportunities that our America envisions.

And then as a public, we pay for it. We want it, we pay for it. Just as we pay for any other public insititution or government service or function we may want as a society. We the People means we decide--we also pay.

So, yes, Frank, cost does play a part in this, but when it's only about the cost, it ceases to be about purpose and values. Even in business with cost-benefit analysis becomes the driving force there is a danger that a worker, for example, becomes merely a cost on the balance sheet instead of a human asset to the company.

With all the oreos and the million dollar memos floating around, I'm afraid the voucher arguments are begining to sound rather crass and bottom-line oriented.

The danger in privatizing something that is essentially a social institution is that the profit motive and the winners and losers mentality of that all-important voucher icon, competition, will destroy the human side that is the essence of education.

Frank thinks I'm dismissing cost. That's a chicken or the egg argument. Which came first? the cost or the value? If it's cost, then education becomes a commodity--if it's value, then education is a goal, objective, and something that we work to improve and strengthen, and yes, pay for, together as a society.

It's more about priorities and competing values. And where we put our money certainly reflects our values as a society.

Next, are you kidding Frank? No choice in Utah compared to other states? The reality is the complete opposite. Utah's schools are so porous and ill-defined that boundaries don't seem to mean much for our system here. Actually many east-side schools in SL County wouldn't exist otherwise. Parents can and do choose all the time in this state.

Most states have city-wide school districts instead of our large regional mega-districts. Some states are very strict about controlling access to certain neighborhood schools and programs. In upstate New York they will send investigators to an apartment outside of a district even if you're building a house within the school boundaries.

I guess "real" choice for you means the public should pay for our private choices. I'm sorry, I may sound like a crazy liberal with this, but the conservative republican I am resists that kind of whiny, entitled grab of public money. We pay taxes as part of our responsiblity in being a member of a larger society and then we live our own lives.

I don't get a tax refund for disagreeing with a war, I don't get a tax refund if I don't need or use police or fire protection, and I don't seek a water voucher if my choice is to use bottled water instead of the tap (sorry Rocky).

This is not about choice, not about money, not about some mythical monopoly (nope, I'm not a member), and not about savings or even cookies. It is about power and control. It is about the boundaries between competing spheres of power in our society--the private and the public. It's about control of the public treasury. It's about the unequal power in a stratified society used by some to further increase their incentives for fleeing the larger society. It's about controlling who our children might be educated with, and by whom, and about what things.

Finally, (I must say this has been quite a release since I'm busy teaching 198 high school students most of the time), I don't think that directing our debate to the larger concerns of the values that make us who we are as a society makes me a "lofty moralizer". I was hoping that considering the consequences of the money and power-driven decision-making we've been seeing in the legislature lately (nukes anyone?) actually makes us seem wise and deliberate.

Survival of the fittest really only works for the fittest. So what kind of society are we if that is our governing value?

United we stand, divided we fall. Why can't we work harder for and more committed to one of our most important institutions?

I hope that we can continue to revisit our wonderfully American governing values as we move our society into the future. I'm sorry if this polemic sounds over-dramatic when looking at the doomed voucher law, but honestly Frank, if it's not about values first, then what is it about?

Don said...

I vote that you put Homer on the front page again.

His latest comment is truly remarkable!

kane said...

Utah's voucher law was designed to help the children of poor families who cannot do well in public schools. There are certainly children in this situation. They, usually by choice, do poorly in school and learn little if anything. The public schools in many cases either can not or do not help these children. For this reason, H.B. 148 was written. To send their children to a good private school, parents will have to pay a small amount of money. This ensures that parents will not send their children to private schools using some public money without a good reason.
It has been argued that H.B. 148 does not require private school teachers to have sufficient certification. It says that private schools enrolling scholarship students must:
(g) employ or contract with teachers who:
155 (i) hold baccalaureate or higher degrees; or
156 (ii) have special skills, knowledge, or expertise that qualifies them to provide
157 instruction in the subjects taught;
158(h) provide to parents the teaching credentials of the school's teachers;
The State Board of Education must approve schools before they are allowed to enroll voucher students, and if there are is a problem with a school, they can block it from enrolling voucher students. There are many requirements private schools must meet in order to enroll voucher students, including keeping anti-discrimination laws and being financially stable. Ultimately, since schools are required to inform parents about the credentials of their teachers, parents will judge schools and choose where to enroll their students.
Vouchers are predicted to cost the state $429 million over 13 years by Utahns for Public Schools. They cite the Legislative Fiscal Analyst for this figure, however, the Legislative Fiscal Analyst never published that number. Simple math reveals that was calculated in an inaccurate way:
$429 million / 13 years = $33 million per year for years 1 through 13

The Impartial Analysis from the Legislative Fiscal Analyst published in the Utah Voter Information Pamphlet states that during the thirteenth year of the voucher program, when every elementary through high school student in Utah would be eligible for a voucher, schools would save $11 million to $28 million, and that vouchers would cost the state $71 million.
$71 million - $28 million = $33 million during year 13

The anti-voucher advertisers have calculated the net money loss for the state in the thirteenth year of the voucher program. They have pretended that this figure was valid for each previous year of the program, and multiplied it by 13. Then they mailed fliers announcing the voucher program “Diverts $429 million from our public schools” trying to make it appear as if $429 million were going to be taken from education per year, and that the Legislative Fiscal Analyst determined this. If the Legislative Fiscal Analyst is believed, the state would probably save money overall during the program's first year. Here is the amount of money the state would gain during the first year of the program:

The Impartial Analysis from the Legislative Fiscal Analyst states that during the first year of the voucher program, schools would save $2.4 million to $11.5 million per year, and that vouchers would cost the state $5.5 million.
($2.4 million + $11.5 million)/2 = $6.95 million saved by schools during year 1
Note: This average will be used as a reasonable amount of money public schools could save from students leaving for private schools.
$5.5 million spent on vouchers – $6.95 million saved = $-1.45 million = $1.45 million net gain

During the thirteenth year of the voucher program, the net cost to the state would be $33 million. After that, it would increase in proportion to the number of students qualifying for vouchers in the state. Voucher money would not come from the school budget, but from the general fund, so schools would not lose money anyway.
The anti-voucher advertisers have used deceit to persuade the public that there are severe problems in H.B. 148. They have done damage. The November 6 elections will be affected by their cunning abuse of statistics and deliberate misinterpretations. Other states have been benefited by similar voucher programs. Utah will not be a test of this program, it has been proven, particularly in Florida. Support less fortunate Utahns be voting for referendum 1!