Sunday, January 25, 2009

Natelson update

My post on Rob Natelson's mystery posts finally drew a response from Mr. Natelson, buried deep in comments over at Electric City Weblog. I'm not sure why a conservative would think it's a bad thing that poor people can't afford to send their kids to ritzy private schools, but Rob seems to think it is. He offers two solutions: (1) Get rid of public schools altogether, or (2) give parents back some of their tax dollars through vouchers or tax credits so they can choose (presumably less ritzy) schools of their own.

It's safe to presume that Obama won't propose to do away with public schools, since that would be the effective end of his administration, so I guess we are left with vouchers or tax credits. Let's use "vouchers" as code for both.

As a strict adherent of the "let a thousand flowers bloom" philosophy of education, I'm a longstanding agnostic on vouchers. If they work, fine. And if the union doesn't like it, tough.

But I've never quite understood the logic of the voucher argument, especially in rural states like Montana. No matter how much the globe warms, a thousand flowers ain't gonna bloom in Ekalaka. And public schools, whatever their demerits, have one advantage in efficiency that's hard for private schools to duplicate: They are the closest possible schools to where kids actually live, which saves transportation dollars, if nothing else. No matter how big the vouchers are, they are never going to be big enough to send a kid to Sidwell.

Then there's the philosophical argument that public schools benefit society as a whole, not just the kids who are in them. Even if nobody in your family ever sets foot inside a public school, you supposedly are better off knowing that the soldiers who defend your country have learned to do math, and that the clerk who takes your order can read and write, and that when Joe the Plumber goes to the polls, he has learned enough civics to know how to vote intelligently, and why it matters.

That's why people who don't have kids, or whose kids have graduated, or who send their kids to private schools, generally have to pay the taxes that support public schools. Limit public school taxes just to the people who have kids in school, and their parents aren't paying taxes anymore; they are paying tuition.

I realize that lots of people feel they have no control over the tax dollars that are pumped into public schools. I'm sympathetic. But that's a political problem, not a philosophical problem. The people own, and pay for, the schools. It's up to the people to create a public school system that best meets the needs of the students who attend them.

UPDATE: This post doesn't say much about whether vouchers produce actual results because I don't know much about that. But here's a pretty strong case that they don't work.


Jay Stevens said...

Honestly, I've never understood the argument for doing away with public education. What do these people think, a bunch of affordable, quality private schools will open up, honing quality from the competition of the open market?

A quick glance around the open market will show what such a privatized school system would look like. You'd get a handful of quality, exclusive schools that only the extremely wealthy could afford, and the rest of us would have to send our kids to the educational equivalent of Wal-Mart. (I picture 50 kids jammed in a classroom watching an education video produced and made in China.)

Count me out.

Kirk Dooley said...

Because the budget here in AZ is almost $2 billion out of balance, the GOP (now that our Democratic governor, Janet Napalitano, is safely enconsed at the Department of Homeland Insecurity, and our right-wing Secretary of State, Jan Brewer, has moved up to the Ninth Floor of the Capitol) is going after education with a meat axe, trying to balance the budget entirely with spending cuts. (Tax increases are off the table, since it takes a super-majority just to raise a fee). All-day kindergarten is doomed, even though it is supported by 80% of the voters. The universities are being asked to cut about $300 million each over the next two years, so much so that ASU is talking about completely closing ASU West and ASU Polytechnic (two satellite campuses that serve around 30,000 students between them).

My guess is that the Republicans want to keep spending for public schools at rock bottom (only Mississippi spends less per student now) so that the state will have a population of idiots (it's just morons right now) who are too stupid to realize that the GOP is robbing them blind (how else can one explain why an incompetent travel agent has been elected and re-elected sherrif in Maricopa County five times). The people who are in office here couldn't get elected dogcatcher in Montana. (These people make Mike "Profanity Laced Tirade" Lange look like a pinko.)

Mark T said...

I think the logical outcome of the voucher program would be a two-tiered education system where the poor would be stuck in underfunded public schools, while everyone else would have a choice of a (at least partially) subsidized private school. Far from offering opportunity to everyone, public schools would be underfunded daycare centers.

Natelson, a tenured professor working for a government institution on the public payroll, who has a guaranteed job, health care and retirement benefits, who comes from a wealthy family and has likely enjoyed inheritance, has a problem with government.