Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Harry Potter and the Pathetic Bag of Wind

You'll have to supply your own Harry Potter. Here's the bag of wind, a letter in yesterday's Star Tribune:
I continue to be amazed by the zeal that the Star Tribune
devotes to opposing vouchers. The Aug. 15 editorial "Vouchers remain a
bad, wasteful idea" blasts a $100 million federal plan for Opportunity
Scholarships, providing $4,000 per year to low-income children to attend a
school of their choice.

I have authored bills at the Legislature to provide
similar scholarships to low-income families in Minneapolis and St. Paul. I
agree with the Star Tribune that family stability and income are good
predictors of success. Helping more families find work is good policy. It's
laudatory to see the Star Tribune belatedly endorse the now 10-year-old welfare
reform act that moved millions out of poverty. I also agree with the Star
Tribune that public schools do a remarkable job for many students, especially
in Minnesota.

Yet while state math and readings score have risen for
most students, inner-city achievement scores -- especially among blacks -- have
stagnated, despite years and years of compensatory funding.

Many inner-city parents want their children to receive
the best education. These grants will enable many low-income students to have
access to the same school choices that middle- and upper-class students have
always known. Providing access grants to these children can help many succeed
where they haven't before. Why would any caring adult continue to deny children
from low-income families that opportunity?


Who indeed would deny opportunity to low-income children? Why, Spotty says it's you, Rep. Buesgens! Spot has said it before and will say it again: the goal of No Child's Behind Left and school vouchers is the destruction of public education. Period. Buesgens will give you that sad puppy smile if you say that to his face, but don't be fooled. The inner-city children that Buesgens - and Katie, Captain Fishsticks, and Geoff MIchel, for that matter - appear to champion are just so many little black stalking horses for them.

No Child's Behind Left is actually a moniker applied to the slow-motion homicide of public schools by Greg Palast in his recent book Armed Madhouse.

Most of the people who show up at Rep. Buesgens' little pep fests for school vouchers already have kids in private, most often sectarian schools. They're just looking for a subsidy for something they already do. According to Palast, and the source NCLB expert Scott Young, 76% of the voucher money handed out in an Arizona voucher program went to students already in private schools. Just a subsidy.

It is also laughable, especially when the idea is raised in an election year, to think that the feds are going to sink $100 million into vouchers. Heck, these clowns don't pay enough money to the states to cover the cost of the mandated testing under NCLB. Again, according to Palast, fifteen states have sued the federal government on these grounds.

What is the effect of vouchers on public schools? Let's assume for a minute they actually do what proponents say: persuade kids to transfer to private schools. Every time a child leaves a public school, the per-pupil funding attached to that child also leaves. Because Republicans like them so much, Spot is now going to use some business concepts.

In microeconomics, there is a concept called the "shut-down" point. An enterprise arrives at the shut-down point when its revenue no longer covers its variable costs. Notice, Gs and Gettes, the shut-down point is under the point where the enterprise is merely in the red. An enterprise may be in the red, yet earning enough money to pay its variable costs and eat up some of its fixed costs, the so-called overhead items, or to entrepreneurs, the "nut." In other words, you shut down when you lose more money by operating than closing.

Even attractive suburban schools, like the ones on Spot's hometown, are in on the dogpile on inner-city schools. The district loves open enrollment, right up to where the schools are full, because it maximizes revenue and minimizes per-pupil costs, and there is a bigger herd over which to amortize fixed costs.

Well, that was brutal, but that's the way it works.

Every student that leaves drives the marginal revenue down a lot more than the marginal cost of that student. It pushes the school closer to the shut-down point. This is the end zone for the public school killers.

Vouchers are not about sending poor little black kids to Blake, or The Blake School, as it likes to call itself. (Spotty says that anything with "the" in the front of it usually comes with a price premium of at least 25%.) They are about easing the burden to well off parents who already send their kids there. That, and putting additional financial pressure on already-strapped inner-city public schools.

Spot has more to say about NCLB, but it will have to wait for a day or two.

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