Don Your Hip Boots

Former Honolulu Advertiser editorial page editor Jerry Burris, who used to write the Advertiser's education-related editorials, notes the national attention which the Hawaii DOE furlough policy has attracted. Mr. Burris cites the criticism of US Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the New York Times editorial page.

From 1993 to 1997, reporters and editorial writers of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Advertiser (that would include Mr.Burris) bemoaned "cuts" to the DOE budget. Harriet gave to Education writers and editorial writers of both papers copies of reports which the Hawaii DOE makes to the US DOE which showed budget increases, both in aggregate and per-pupil terms. Writers for both papers continued to complain of "cuts" to the DOE budget. They lied. Harriet eventually called in to Rick Hamada's morning talk show and related the above facts. The papers temporarily stopped lying about "cuts" to the DOE budget.

Secretary Duncan's Department suppressed a favorable review of the DC voucher program before the program came before Congress for reauthorization. As Superintendent of the Chicago School district, he claimed credit for illusory performance gains.

No matter how mistaken or deliberately deceptive an argument, most attempts at persuasion proceed from assertions which the proponent believes his/her audience will accept. Secretary Duncan's criticism of the Hawaii DOE's furlough policy combines trite truisms with bald assertions and bait-and-switch misdirection. He writes: "...we need to invest in our future (1). Too many of our schools are not preparing students for success in college and careers.(2)...On international tests, American students are struggling to compete with their peers around the globe. Twenty-seven percent of the nation's ninth graders don't finish high school within four years. In Hawaii, 36 percent of freshmen don't complete high school on time...(3)...now is not the time to decrease investment in education(4)."

1. Like, we can invest in our past? What a maroon.
2. Why give this failing institution more money?
3. Okay. See point 2, above.
4. Not ("school"="education"). Cuts to the DOE budget and to the span of compulsory attendance do not equal cuts to education.

From the NYT: "The governor, who had ordered the Department of Education to cut its $1.8 billion budget by 14 percent, now says she had not expected the union to take its furlough days from instruction time."

They're only off by $1 billion. In 2007 (the last year for which complete figures are available), the Hawaii DOE reported "total revenues to education" of $2,985,593,000 and a total enrollment of 180,728, which works out to more than $16,000 per pupil-year, and current expenditures (total minus capital improvements and debt service) of $2,199,604, which gives a per-pupil budget over $12,000.

Why is this insufficient? Even with a 20% cut, this is more than enough.

Remember when, as a child, you got caught in a lie, and tried to cover that lie with another, and another, until the fable collapsed? The persistent lies about "public education" proceed from the false assumption that society at large benefits from a State (government, generally) role in the education industry.

Beyond a very low level, the education industry exhibits no economies of scale at the delivery end. Education only marginally qualifies as a public good as economists use the term, and the "public goods" argument implies subsidy and regulation, at most, not State operation of schools. The State cannot subsidize education without a definition of "education", but then the State's definition binds students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers. Since oversight of State functions is a public good which the State itself cannot supply, State sssumption of responsibility for the subsidization of public goods transforms the collective action problem at the root of "public goods" analysis but does not eliminate it.

The Hawaii "public" (i.e., government-operated) school system originated in anti-Catholic bigotry. The "public" schoool system has become an employment program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFSCME cartel, a source of padded construction and supply contracts for politically-connected insiders, and a venue for State-worshipful indoctrination. If this is not so, why cannot any student take, at any time, an exit exam (the GED will do) and apply the taxpayers' age 6-18 education subsidy toward post-secondary tuition or toward a wage subsidy at any qualified (say, has filed W-2 forms on at least three adult employees for at least the previous four years) private-sector employer?

Update (2009-11-06): I left a comment at Mr. Burris' blog supplying a correction to the NYT budget figure. That comment sat in moderation until it evaporated.

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