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More on Vouchers

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Laura McKenna:

OK, a little poking around found that the Cleveland voucher is now worth up to $5,000 per student, which is much closer to what the average per student funding is for public school students. And no schools have popped up.

It’s actually really expensive to run a school. The only way to break even with $5 – 7,000 is if you have packed class rooms. The church schools are able to function with low tuition levels and small classes, because they are subsidized by the church and they pay the nuns nothing.

To fill all those seats in the classroom, all the kids in a community would have to be eligible for vouchers and also use them. A education venture capitalist couldn’t make it in a community that had a competing public school system that drew away 50% of the population.

Right. And as I said in the previous voucher thread, even more problematic is that fact that the point is not to have private schools, but to have good schools. The invocation of private schools by voucher proponents can carry the suggestion that students will be able to attend high-performing, established private schools, but of course that won’t happen. It is much less obvious that newly formed private schools, with fewer resources to attract good teachers, provide facilities, etc. than both good private and good public schools in the metropolitan area and charged with educating mostly poor children will do a good job. Which, again, compels the conclusion that any remotely politically viable voucher program is likely to have an utterly trivial impact.

Dana has more. I’d be interested to know how many conservertarians purportedly defending the the interests of poor children oppose the funding of schools through local property taxes rather than through general state revenues, an obvious engine of inequality.

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  • jmack

    $5000 is close to the $5600 per pupil contribution from the state, but I wonder if it is close to the total average per pupil expenditure (state, local, federal) in districts statewide. Moreover, a quick glance at Ohio Dept. of Ed. data shows that the average per pupil expenditures of successful schools is often closer to double the state minimum of $5600/pupil.
    Even though the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled four times that Ohio has an unconstitutional funding system, there has been little support with a (until recently) Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature for actually overhauling the funding system.

  • Yeah, let’s bring the “magic of the free market” to public schools by showering unregulated private contractors with public money.
    After all, it worked so well in restoring Iraq’s infrastructure.
    The problem with public schools is simple: we need to actually devote money and attention to them. The teachers currently have to spend part of their already sub-market salaries on buying supplies for the kids. Oddly enough, this has an affect on morale.

  • $5000 is close to the $5600 per pupil contribution from the state, but I wonder if it is close to the total average per pupil expenditure (state, local, federal) in districts statewide.
    You’re correct to wonder; in 2004, Cleveland was spending $11,000 per student.
    The problem with public schools is simple: we need to actually devote money and attention to them.
    We devote plenty of money and attention to them. You should try looking at trends in education spending. (It’s only going in one direction.) Now, part of the problem is insane laws like IDEA, which make school discipline almost impossible and mandate that schools spend ungodly sums on a handful of uneducable students.

  • jmack

    “You’re correct to wonder; in 2004, Cleveland was spending $11,000 per student.”
    Which only goes to show how expensive education is and how remarkably complicated it is to fix the inequities. Money alone will not do it, but at Ezra’s I read commenters who seem to think that cutting spending is the answer. The problem is limited to money; and while money is not sufficient to address the problem, it is indeed a necessary component.
    “We devote plenty of money and attention to them.”
    Money, yes. Attention, not so much. It depends on what you mean by “attention” and to what exactly we are paying “attention.”
    “Now, part of the problem is insane laws like IDEA, which make school discipline almost impossible and mandate that schools spend ungodly sums on a handful of uneducable students.”
    The first half is so general as to be unhelpful here, and I would like to know if you are advocating not providing an education to the “uneducable,” particularly since the Ohio constitution mandates an equitable education for all students.

  • Davis X. Machina

    the point is not to have private schools, but to have good schools.
    I would not leap to this conclusion. The reverse would seem to be the case — marketolatry demands the private, even if inferior, trump the public.

  • jmack

    That should read, obviously, “the problem is _not_ limited to money.” Sorry about that.

  • ajay

    Davis: quite. The question is, would Wackenhut or KBR be first into the lucrative “new private schools” market? Or maybe Blackwater…

  • Cleveland isn’t spending $11 grand per student. That’s the total operating budget divided by number of students. The budget includes things like infrastructure (typically higher in urban districts with older buildings and higher land acquisition costs) debt, and administrative costs. Furthermore, those public schools have an obligation to educate whomever walks through their doors, including providing whatever is required by the severely disabled, who often do cost a district $11,000 a year.
    This gets pointed out over and over, but the raw numbers and the worst of major urban school systems keep turning back up in the argument. They represent a complex of problems, and no, they aren’t being given enough money and they aren’t being given enough attention, except the constant drumbeat of whatever negative publicity their opponents can create.
    Meanwhile, a few lottery winners get into private schools, while the rest of the poor remain in public schools which now have less money, and the connected keep their children in private schools while being released from their obligation to help educate everyone else. The “altruism” and “fairness” angles have both been exploded long ago.

  • aimai

    Its weird to me the way the right wing dissapears the cost of infrastructure and teacher retirements when talking about the “costs per kid” of private schools but throws them into the mix when talking about public schools. Yes, owning and maintaining a building over a few hundred years *costs money* and the money spent on the building isn’t really being spend on the kid.
    And, of course, punishing children doesn’t actually *lower the costs* of educating them it just brutalizes them. Even the nuns aren’t cost free, anymore, but I’d also like to point out that the catholic church in this area at least not only underpaid the nuns but *failed to fund any retirement at all* for them and essentially threw them onto the mercy of yet more private charities when they “retired”. This is, needless to say, not a sustainable business model for other private schools to follow.
    Here I’d like to make a point that Ezra has made about health care in general. Education: Its.Not.Going.To.Be. Cheap. and it shouldn’t be. A good education costs a lot of time (of educated, highly paid and skilled professionals) and a lot of money (for resources, infrastructure, comfort, safety, and health for the children). Its just going to cost a lot of money. But unlike, say, money spent on weapons systems that don’t work, the money spent on education is well worth it from the communities point of view. Good jobs as janitors and teachers and school nurses are *good jobs* that plow money back directly into the community. Good jobs in education produce good jobs later for good students. Its a virtuous circle in which my tax dollars are very well spent if they are spent to the degree they need to be spent. Saving money on teacher’s salaries, retirement, health benefits, school lunches, text books, and infrastructure *hurts me, the taxpayer* as it fails to build up the educated population of the country and fails to build a middle class.
    aimai

  • Davis: quite. The question is, would Wackenhut or KBR be first into the lucrative “new private schools” market? Or maybe Blackwater…
    Hey, don’t count out Corrections Corporation of America. Backwards integration is a well-established business strategy, after all…

  • jmack

    Eloquent as always, aimai. I would like it if more people would read John Dewey; it would bring into perspective why public education is so important.

  • aimai

    lemeul pitkin nails it, as usual. We could call it “vertical integration” or “cradle to prison to grave”
    aimai

  • Nathanael Nerode

    On a tangent:
    I went to a very cheap private school where most of the parents paid with “sweat equity”. It was an elementary school, though. And one room. And the teacher lived upstairs; and was paid decently, but most importantly given the freedom to teach largely in the mannter she wished, a major perk. (A one room school with one good teacher works for elementary school, not so much for middle school or high school.)
    That’s one way of creating good new private schools. A little obscure perhaps. More likely to come out of the home-schooling movement than out of vouchers.

  • One bit of advice on cost analysis. No kid costs the average amount of public school spending, and special ed kids cost more and general ed kids cost less. When you look at the pretty much non existent voucher special ed population, and do the adjustments, things start looking even grimmer.

  • aimai

    Nathanael Nerode,
    I live in the midst of great private schools, ranging from the highest of the high end (practically mini colleges) to montessori style funky. Certainly with enough education on the part of the parents, and enough time for “sweat equity” and enough great teachers who don’t mind being paid almost nothing and having neither health care nor job security nor retirement benefits we could cobble together a small number of excellent one room schoolhouses for a tiny proportion of the k-8 kids the country currently educates. But since the competition is fierce *right now* for excellent teachers who can choose between “freedom to teach what they want” and relatively little remuneration and security (private schools) and public schools with no freedom to teach but great security and retirment benefits just where are these teachers qualified to teach k-8 going to come? I’ve sat on the board, as I’ve mentioned, of two private schools and I can tell you that raising private school salaries to within spitting distance of public school ones to attract good teachers is a bear. You’d actually need to solve the health care crisis in the country before you could begin to think of solving the education crisis with little one room schoolhouses unless all your teachers are married to someone with good family health care.
    aimai

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