October 21, 2010

Misperception of Need or That Old Budget Game?

Justin Katz

So Education Commissioner Deborah Gist is placing the protection of the funding formula above all else in education, and I can't help but wonder why she believes it to be so critical. I suppose it's a compounding component of the state's budget for education, and allowing it to come up shy at the beginning bodes ill for its chances of persisting to fruition. Still, there's either a complete lack of insight to what works or hackneyed budget bullying techniques on display in this:

Other savings would be achieved through shifting some department positions to federal funds, eliminating non-public school textbook aid by $240,000, and $250,000 from the Physics First Program and $98,000 for science kits.

Eliminating textbook aid to private schools would be little more than an additional tax on parents, many of whom are struggling to pay a tuition on top of that which they already pay through property and other taxes because they are not satisfied with the school system under Gist's charge. Potential also exists for such a move to backfire, to the extent that increases in private school tuition could drive up the number of students in public school, straining budgets.

The subsequent part of the above block quote is the more astonishing. Physics First has been credited with bringing the Portsmouth school district to the top of the list when it comes to science proficiency on the state NECAP tests. (Albeit with the barely tolerable proficiency rate of 52%.) Would the education commissioner really be looking at scaling back a rare program that appears actually to be working in order to maintain the purity of an unproven method of shuffling money around?

I suspect this is just more of the typical government routine of threatening absurd cuts in order to preserve funding for programs that voters might not support financially in isolation. Politics as usual with our children, once again.

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I am increasingly concerned about the reluctance by school committees to cut overhead from their systems. Laying off a few Asst. Superintendents and other high-level bureaucrats would easily save multiples of what they are saving through these nickel-and-dime service cuts.

Posted by: BobN at October 21, 2010 8:06 AM

"Eliminating textbook aid to private schools would be little more than an additional tax on parents"

Sorry, gotta disagree.

First I'll say that my child goes to a private school as well.

I am against the town paying for both text books and busing for children in private schools. Sending a child to a private school is a choice. If this is the choice you make, then you deal with all the responsibilities and obligations of that. I don't understand what's the difference between providing the text book for the child and providing the tuition? Why can't the private schools buy the books? Simply build it into the tuition.

I don't expect private schools to start their own busing, that would be a bit prohibitive, but I also don't expect the public school system to go out of their way to get private school kids to their destination either. If there's a local bus stop that also passes the private school, fine. But I wouldn't want the bus or any other bus going out of its way for the private school kids.

To me, this busing and text books law is really another unfunded mandate that should be changed. Just like we say that we can let towns make their own decisions on bus monitors, let towns make their own choices on whether to provide busing and text books to children that don't go to their schools.

Posted by: Patrick at October 21, 2010 9:24 AM

It is indeed parental choice to send children to private school, but parents don't have a real choice about whether or not to fund failing public schools that they may even find loathsome in some regards.

I'd agree with you about busing and textbooks if it were the case that parents received back the portion of their property and income taxes that end up in public school budgets to put toward tuition — or even a larger portion of the dollars that the public system allocates for the education of their children. (It wouldn't even have to be the full amount, because for most of students' elementary and secondary education, most private schools are less expensive than the average per-student cost of the public schools.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 21, 2010 9:33 AM

If the entire education industry were privatized, then all kids would go to private schools.

Parent who pay the bills for their childrens' education are typically much more involved in ensuring their success.

And the flowering of new, creative education innovation would leave our present system in the dust.

Informed consumers spending their own money and service providers competing freely for that money tend to come up with much better solutions than union thugs and government hacks. "Tend to" means about 99.99% of the time.

Posted by: BobN at October 21, 2010 10:09 AM

"if it were the case that parents received back the portion of their property and income taxes "

I didn't think you'd go there. No, paying for the public school systems is the responsibility of all taxpayers. Why should you or I get a portion of our taxes back when our kid goes to a private school, but we have to pay the full amount when we don't even have a child in any school system? That's backwards. Or should we pay nothing into the school systems if we don't have a child in the system. Someone would be really popular with senior citizens on that stance. Just like I shouldn't have to pay for the senior center in town, because I don't use it and I never plan to use it. We all pay for education, roads, services as our public responsibility. It's no different than if I build a road on my private property. I can't expect the town to then maintain it, just as I shouldn't be able to pull my child out of the public system and expect the town to maintain with books and busing.

Posted by: Patrick at October 21, 2010 10:39 AM

"...eliminating non-public school textbook aid by $240,000..."

Note that she said "AID", and did not say she would relieve the cities and towns from the legal obligation to provide textbooks to private school students. What she is proposing will shift the cost away from the state budget and push it down to the local budgets (taxpayers). She is just making it more difficult for the local taxpayers.

Posted by: John at October 21, 2010 10:55 AM


Your analogies don't fit. Roads are a public concern because we all use them and benefit from their existence. If your town decided to begin routing traffic over your private road, you would (at the very least) have a right to request some sort of funding.

In the case of education, the public interest derives from having an educated citizenry. In other words, the public benefit is intellectual capital of your children and mine. The public benefit is not that we all get to benefit from the schools themselves, because we don't, as you point out.

Whether we send our children to public school or private, we are serving that end. That is why it's reasonable to suggest that parents have access to some of the funds allocated for the education of their children. (And that's before we get into the beneficial effects of such a system on the public school system.)

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 21, 2010 3:48 PM

And to apply the principle of Justin's last post, the government interest derives from having an indoctrinated citizenry. In other words, the government benefit is the obedience of your children and mine.

That's why we have to get government out of our school system. It is a systemically corrupt special interest. The only to neutralize it is to have free consumer choice among freely competing, private providers of educational services.

Is the evidence of superior academic performance by home-schooled children no being publicized? (Oh, of course not. It contradicts the government/MSM narrative.)

Posted by: BobN at October 22, 2010 8:57 AM
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