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8.29.2005

Federal Education Vouchers

Here’s an idea:

Department Of Education Budget: $71.5B
US Population, age 5-17: 53.3M

Give each kid a voucher of $1,342.96 a year that can only be redeemed by state approved teachers.

This would also change the accounting in schools, such that each family would be giving a school a check. This would allow state voucher programs to be adopted with greater ease. In fact, considering folks have been trying to use federal power to affect state's rights, why not require all states interested in receiving the funding to institute an optional voucher program. This way, the $71B would initially be split only among the few states that adopted the idea, giving a huge incentive for politicians to make the change

In addition, given that the average cost of private education is $3,116, which is half the average cost of $6,857 per pupil in public schools, this federal voucher could be used to send many kids to a private school. Also, many more private schools would start up in response.

16 Comments:

At 2:12 PM, Blogger Miguel said...

This may be a good idea, but maybe not. Reasons to not undertake this proposal:

1. It makes little sense for federal politicians to take control of the whole nation's education policy.

2. Smaller projects have yet to provide evidence that vouchers are an improvement over the status quo.

As it happens, I think vouchers are a pretty good idea, but that they should be implemented in different ways at the city or county level, so that people can effectively study which systems work the best.

Making all public schools into private ones who need to "sell" their ability to parents with tax credits may be helpful in getting rid of lousy teachers and administrators, but I think it would happen at the cost of also alienating a huge number of good tachers and administrators, so I don't really think it would be a net gain for American education.

 
At 2:19 PM, Blogger Miguel said...

Reading over the education department's website, it looks largely like their budget is actually a redistribution scheme, where they spend those 70+ billion dollars on stuff for poor students. Redistributing that money across society as a whole is a pretty funny thing to advocate; it's actually saying that you think Head Start and lunches for impoverished students are benefits you'd like to eliminate.

 
At 2:33 PM, Blogger Ivan said...

I'm actually advocating the opposite of a federal take-over of education.

The difference is between funding and administration.

The state administration of education is poor. Bypass it with federal funds. The net result would be a parent take-over of education. The only thing the government would control is the amount.

The only evidence you need to show a potential improvement is the fact that private schools produce kids that perform better. It is a difficult position to defend the quality of public schools.

As for programs like Head-start and school lunches, I wouldn't complain if

As for head-start, start giving the voucher when the kids are pre-school age.

As for school lunches, the federal government should give fewer entitlements. A single Earned Income Tax Credit (aka inverse income tax) is all we need to deal with poverty. Parents can use part of that benefit to buy health insurance and food for their kids. I don't see a need to have an entirely separate program.

 
At 2:34 PM, Blogger Ivan said...

"alienating a huge number of good tachers and administrators".

What does that mean?

Am I alienated from being a programmer because I know I'll be fired if I do poorly and given a pay raise for doing well?

 
At 4:11 PM, Blogger Miguel said...

The only evidence you need to show a potential improvement is the fact that private schools produce kids that perform better.

Don't be an idiot. As a group, parents who choose to pay extra for schools perform better for their children in a wide variety of other ways which affect acedemic achievement. The comparison is meaningless.

Parents can use part of that benefit to buy health insurance and food for their kids. I don't see a need to have an entirely separate program.

Then you haven't thought about it very hard. School lunches are provided because the government coerces children to attend, and deems those children's parents incapable of providing food effectively. if you throw cold cash at that problem, I think it's plain that much of it would be spent on high risk investments, debts the child isn't responsible for, or a little something to take the edge off, and that the money will have only a partial effect on lunch being delivered.

What does that mean?

It means what it says, except for the typo; apologies there. I think that by telling a large category of people whose skill is teaching that they'll be judged by whether parents choose to go to their institution, you'll drive out good as well as bad. Many good teachers deliberately work in shitty schools because of idealism. Also, public school teachers where I went to school in Minneapolis are very good at what they do, and have every reason to believe that you libertarian who enjoy acting through your creationist politicians will be quite bad at setting standards for them.

 
At 5:24 PM, Blogger Ivan said...

"As a group, parents who choose to pay extra for schools perform better for their children in a wide variety of other ways which affect academic achievement."

Parents care less because the choices in education are removed. Is it any wonder many parents give little effort when the government administered schools have taken all responsibility for the kid's education? People respond to incentives.

As far as the lunches are concerned, you shouldn't be so patronizing to the poor. Yes, bad choices are made, but providing food is pretty easy. It isn't like choosing which prescription to take; it's giving your kid a sandwich and an apple for $1.

Also, why trust the poor so much if they are the idiots you claim. Why don't we have a national car stipend for the poor, because they can't make such a complicated decision? Or how about a dress code for all those fashion-less paupers? The patronizing spirit is identical an unneeded.

"…have every reason to believe that you libertarian who enjoy acting through your creationist politicians will be quite bad at setting standards for them."

[Give each kid a voucher of $1,342.96 a year that can only be redeemed by state approved teachers.]

Who said anything about new standards? The public schools today are already regulated by the states to have teaching standards. Use those same standards.

A good teacher could do far more in a voucher system, by getting more money in attracting more students.

 
At 6:53 PM, Blogger Miguel said...

You've changed the subject from your unsubstantiated claim that private schools "produce kids that perform better." I'll assume you concede my point.

re: trusting the poor. I'm saying that the state forces kids to attend schools, and observes that many show up with inadequate or no food. I don't think your welfare idea is a good solution to this particular problem, and I'm not sure why you think it is.

The patronizing spirit is identical an unneeded.

Wrong again. Your examples are of people acting on their own behalf; whereas this issue is one where people are acting on behalf of their kids. It's a significant distinction.

Broadly, my criticisms are: You're proposing cutting benifits for the poor and creating a new entitlement for all parents; and I don't think there's a money-to-good-teacher transfer mechanism yet developed. Your last statement above leaves me confused about what happens; I presumed that the money would be transferred to a school, not a teacher. I still think voucher systems should be experimented with locally until one is created which has positive results in practice.

 
At 7:17 PM, Blogger Ivan said...

The claim of private schools being better because of the parents was unsubstantiated to begin with.

We have private schools with better results than public schools. Without evidence, wouldn't the simplest explanation be that private schools are better?

Are you saying public schools are better or equal to private, but the parents are not as involved? I don't believe it.

"You're proposing cutting benefits for the poor…"

Actually, it's shifting benefits, and expanding head start.

" and creating a new entitlement for all parents"

The parents don't get any money. The Earned Income Tax Credit was an aside about the ideal form of welfare. (not to say the EITC is perfect, only 33% of those eligible use it)

"I don't think there's a money-to-good-teacher transfer mechanism yet developed"

The whole proposal is for a new money-to-good-teacher system. The mechanism is in the form of a blank check that can only be cashed by folks with a teaching credential. It'd be easy: go to your neighborhood post office, show them the check with your name on it and some ID to prove you're a teacher. Or better yet, go to voucher.gov and sign-in and give the teacher's paypal account.

The individual state’s requirements to get a teaching credential are a totally different.

 
At 7:22 PM, Blogger Ivan said...

"Wrong again. Your examples are of people acting on their own behalf; whereas this issue is one where people are acting on behalf of their kids. It's a significant distinction."

I'm surprised. School lunch programs are probably the most nanny-state program around. In my life I have certain responsibilities. If I had a kid, it would also be my responsibility. There is no distinction.

Criminal negligence and abuse aside, the government shouldn't tell parents how to raise their kids.

Even in mandated schooling, there needn't be such a program. It basically comes down to my disinterest in having the government take responsibility for something that clearly should be a parent's responsibility.

 
At 11:57 PM, Blogger Ivan said...

By the way, part of the motivation is that unions have been strongly against vouchers, not because they fear bad teachers will be fired, but because they don't want competition for union dues. I can easily imagine a private school streamlining the process by removing redundent layers of administration, unions being one of them.

A federal program would either unify the teachers unions nationwide or crush them.

Did you know that watchdog groups have a goal for schools, with few states achieving it: 60%+ of spending is "inside the classroom", i.e. spening on the room, supplies, and teachers' salaries?

That means the majority of states spend over 40% of that $6K on matters which are largely unrelated to education. More than 10% administrative overhead is a crime.

Anyway, thought I'd point that out next time you think public schools are bad because the parents don't care ...

 
At 1:15 PM, Blogger Miguel said...

Without evidence, wouldn't the simplest explanation be that private schools are better?

Yes, that is a simple solution.

Actually, it's shifting benefits, and expanding head start.

You can call cutting benefits for the poor shifting benefits to the well off; that's fine. Now that you're expanding Head Start, you no longer have the 71 billion you started with. The idea that you should cut spending in some areas while increasing it in more shows an interesting philisophical kinship with the pork-crazy president you support politically.

" and creating a new entitlement for all parents"

The parents don't get any money. The Earned Income Tax Credit was an aside about the ideal form of welfare
.

It doesn't have to be money to be an entitelment; if these checks are worth nothing, you wouldn't be giving them away. Your plan is an entitlement for parents.

It'd be easy: go to your neighborhood post office, show them the check with your name on it and some ID to prove you're a teacher.

I thought the money would go to the school you chose to send your kid to; my mistake. Obviously I've taken this proposal too seriously. I didn't realize it was for popular teachers who give easy A's to drive Hummers and retire early.

no distinction...

The distinction is that in areas where a person chooses to not provide for your child, the cost is borne by the child, not the adult decision-maker. You may think that's irrelevent in your life, and it probably is. But you also think you have a system so clever it should be used for 50 million other people.
_

I think the teachers union comments are off topic, and I'll repeat once more that I think I'm pretty open to vouchers, but the idea of implementing them federally is nuts.

You made two comments about parents not caring; I made zero comments about that, and don't know where you got it from. If you want to argue with the statement "As a group, parents who choose to pay extra for schools perform better for their children in a wide variety of other ways which affect academic achievement," you may (you'll be wrong), but it is a caring-neutral statement.

 
At 1:47 PM, Blogger Ivan said...

"The idea that you should cut spending in some areas while increasing it in more shows an interesting philosophical kinship with the pork-crazy president you support politically."

Actually, my entire motivation is that the department of education is inappropriate. Simplifying federal involvement to a single voucher is reducing the number of bureaucrats employed. This is very different than NCLB which did the opposite.

"I didn't realize it was for popular teachers who give easy A's to drive Hummers and retire early."

Parents are wise enough to pick good teachers. The assumption that they aren't shows yet another patronizing view of the average parent.

"But you also think you have a system so clever it should be used for 50 million other people."

The topic of that distinction was school lunches. I think you're inflating the importance of the program. If it is so important, the states can and probably already do have a mirror program. Also, the imposition of a world-view is the coercion to require, fund, and administer education. I’m proposing a correction to solve some of the resultant problems.

"but the idea of implementing them federally is nuts."

Generally I'd agree. You only need to look at a brief history of vouchers to see the main opponents in states are the unions, which is why they're on topic. This proposal is a way to circumvent those barriers.

Further, the funding is federal, but the administration is state, or even individual teacher based. This means effective control will become more distributed, not less.

The only federal control should be the amount. As vouchers become more common, the amount can be lowered and the program eventually eliminated.

"As a group, parents who choose to pay extra for schools perform better for their children in a wide variety of other ways which affect academic achievement,"

You're right that 'caring' is the wrong word. 'Affecting' is more appropriate. Just do a find and replace, and we can continue. How do private school parents affect education? Note that the answer needs to more than offset the obvious differences in schools themselves to justify the better performance.


Being open to vouchers, how would you propose enthusiasts actually get a few pilot programs. The largest growing unions in America are public sector employees. Read this for background. How do you counteract this force stifling education innovation?

 
At 6:03 PM, Blogger oded said...

I was just talking to my friend's mom the other night. She is an education board member in nashville and a veteran teacher/beurocrat. I asked her what the biggest problem with this country's school system. She told me that by far the biggest problem is that perents don't care about their children's education. This makes me think that a system that puts more trust in parents will be detrimental to most children. Ivan I think one thing that you haven't accounted for is the cost of licensing qualified teachers. To do a througho job of licensing and monitoring the million people that will sign up to be teachers will be a monsterous cost, but it wont be as costly as allowing these checks to be cashed by unscrupouless "teachers".
I think that vouchers being applied to "established and accredited secular schools" is great idea, but I dont think that it will reduce the overhead of teaching children, and it will recive an emense amount of opposition exactly because it is such a great idea. It will force perants to pay more interest in their children, A concept that I don't think will go over well given the social trends that I have observed over the last two decades. In short I think this is all alot of hot air.

Bonus fact:
I read a while ago in the economist that countries with manditory elementary education recive a 600% benefit to GDP as opposed to countries with eclusively private education. I think the voucher system that you have outlined it is probably less efficant at teaching the avarage child than an all private system.

 
At 6:25 PM, Blogger Ivan said...

“She told me that by far the biggest problem is that perents don't care about their children's education.”

The question, if true, is: why? I would maintain that the current system is to blame, where parents aren’t _expected_ to care. People respond to incentives; making it free to not care by having schools that run with zero parental involvement means you’ll get low parental involvement.

Changing to a system where the first choice, which school, is up to the parents, could start to change this.

“Ivan I think one thing that you haven't accounted for is the cost of licensing qualified teachers.”

Almost every state has an existing accreditation program. It entails a test usually. It’s no more overhead than the SATs, which last time I checked cost less than $100 per test. This is usually paid by the person taking the test. Problem solved. Also private training for these tests is common.

Also, a good part of this idea is that it takes into account the fluid and heterogeneous standards available across different states.

As for monitoring of the teachers, if you don’t think your child is learning enough, you fire the teacher. That is exactly what is missing in today’s education, where teachers achieve “tenure” after only a few years and are hard to fire. That alone could account for the bulk of why private schools are better.

“I dont think that it will reduce the overhead of teaching children”

A gang of teachers can get together and start a school. That would make overhead (as defined before as costs “outside the classroom”) zero.

“It will force perants to pay more interest in their children, A concept that I don't think will go over well given the social trends that I have observed over the last two decades.”

Initially there might be some opposition in the form of parents wanting to continue the status quo. They would receive the voucher, and give it to their current school. In this sense, the program is entirely voluntary: it is up to the parent to decide how much research and effort to put into the decision.

Other than moving, parents don’t even really have such a decision. School is determined by location alone.

“I think the voucher system that you have outlined it is probably less efficant at teaching the avarage child than an all private system.”

That’s totally unsubstantiated. The only different is that the source of funds for parents is guaranteed, while in an all private system, parents who don’t want to pay wont send their kids to school.

The voucher system is the best of both worlds: private competition with obligatory attendance and guaranteed funding.

 
At 6:54 PM, Blogger oded said...

I feel like I have stuff to say about every point you said, But I wont because I find it tiersome.
Example:
As for monitoring of the teachers, if you don’t think your child is learning enough, you fire the teacher. That is exactly what is missing in today’s education, where teachers achieve “tenure” after only a few years and are hard to fire. That alone could account for the bulk of why private schools are better.
I dont think most peraents will or can afford to put the time and energy to monitor teachers at a level that is provided by being apart of a school that is monitored by fellow teachers and principles and beurocrats. If you have a problem with tenure procedures that go and try to change that first, you will have alot more sucess at convincing people of that. (translated: not a snowballs chance in New Orleans)

I will say only this more on the subject: your system places a certin amount of faith in people acting in the best intrest of their children. I dont have this faith. The same as I dont faith in Companies careing for the environment, Or any number of pipe dreams that you contiously belive in.

If you want to know why I feel this way we should talk about it on IM or somthing but I feel that DT is not working for me. I appreciate you seeing things not as they are but as they could be, but I really dont think that any amount of blogging is going to change the educational system or my skepticism of americans acting in their own best intrest or careing about it for that matter.

 
At 8:40 PM, Blogger Ivan said...

aight...

but one comment

"a certin amount of faith in people acting in the best intrest of their children"

the opposite is a dangerous faith in government to do what people apparently wont do for themselves.

 

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