Friday, March 8, 2013

Why Politics Sucks ... More Cheap Talk from White House on Education ... Vouchers Are the Obvious Answer, but Public Choice Theory Says No

Public choice theory teaches that most government officials are looking to do the kind of 'good work' which will directly benefit them and their political allies. Not the public at large.

In other words, people participate in politics to enhance their individual power and prestige, as well as for financial success, both direct and indirect. It's their job or career, in other words. And part of that job is NOT to focus solely on serving the public at large. It's self service instead.

For example, members of the Democratic Party and the unions, especially public sector unions, are joined at the hip. It's a longstanding political alliance which serves the politicians and unions well but serves the public poorly. Especially the poor.

In America, we treasure the freedoms we enjoy and the opportunity we have to "be all that we can be." That "formal pursuit of happiness" approach frequently begins with our formal education.

So here's a simple idea which should appeal to all Americans, even individual politicians and union officials. Besides, they have families, too.

Why not spend the taxpayer money that we decide to spend as a society on education by putting it under the direct control of the intended beneficiary and his family? Let's adopt vouchers for everybody, and in an amount equal to the amount which the public schools are already spending per student. Free market competition for the publicly provided money for education, in other words.

And the exact same simple logic would apply to President Obama's current proposal for universal preschool program funding. Just give the money directly to the parents and children of the preschoolers and skip the government knows best gang allocators.

So why don't we do that? Well, it's politics, pure and simple. And American politicians aren't dedicated to helping individual families help their children to get a great education in order to pursue the American dream. Instead these government officals create programs which are about rewarding political allies. In the case of urban education, it's the unions. It's a simple political matter of "you scratch my back, and in return I'll scratch yours."

And that's why the idea of limited government is a wonderful thing. Since We the People can't trust politicians to act solely in our best interests with any money we give them, let's not give them any more than is necessary to provide the limited government that we need and want. And that doesn't include 'monopoly' money to educate our children. As individuals we can do that for ourselves. That's just common sense and reality combined.

Now let's get speific.

One of my favorite expressions has long been the following, "What you're DOING speaks so loudly I can't hear what you're SAYING."

And that about sums up the story of the President's unwillingness to allow voucher programs for public school students in big urban areas with huge issues of poverty and poor educational opportunities. It's a case of the circle going unbroken. In the case of urban poverty and poor education, one begets the other and the circle never ends.

Nevertheless, and despite the lousy urban schools of today, the President is now promoting the idea of an expensive and ineffective government mandated universal preschool program. At the same time, he's not promoting vouchers. Why?

Obama's 'Evidence' Standard has the details:

"Education Secretary Arne Duncan has just announced the appointment of David Johns to head the "White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans."

"As executive director," reads the press release, "Johns will work to identify evidence-based best practices to improve African American student achievement—from cradle to career." Mr. Johns has his work cut out because the Obama administration has shown little interest in "evidence-based" approaches to improving education for low-income minorities, however often Mr. Duncan and President Obama throw around that phrase.

Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas is the nation's leading authority on the Washington, D.C., voucher program for low-income kids that began under President George W. Bush. His research found that voucher recipients had high school graduation rates of 91%. That's significantly higher than the D.C. public school average (56%) and the graduation rate for students who applied for a D.C. voucher but didn't win the lottery (70%). Nevertheless, Mr. Obama has been trying to kill the voucher program and appease his teachers union allies since he took office in 2009. "The Administration strongly opposes expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and opening it to new students," said the evidence-obsessed White House in a 2011 statement.

More recently, the president has been pushing for universal preschool, another initiative the unions support because it means more jobs for their members. But what's the evidence on the effectiveness of federal preschool programs? Well, a report released by the administration in December on Head Start found exactly what earlier studies have found: the benefits are meager and fade by around third grade, when you can't tell the Head Start kids from their non-Head Start peers. As Shikha Dalmia of Reason put it recently, "President Obama is flogging the case for [universal pre-kindergarten], for which there is little evidence—but actively killing school vouchers, for which there is tons.""

Summing Up

To repeat, what people do speaks volumes. And what they say is all too often insincere. And that's especialy true with politicians.

What President Obama and the teachers' union leadership are saying about improving educational opportunities for minorities will not translate into better schools for our inner city children to attend.

They're just practicing good 'public choice' politics. It's not about the kids and their parents.

And as a result, far too many of our urban kids are being forced to attend terrible schools and miss out on achieving the American dream.

So are their voucherless parents.

So are We the People.

Politics sucks.

Thanks. Bob.

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