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Signing one, vetoing other rebate bill aids public education

Those legislators with an interest in maximizing government control grumbled somewhat when state Rep. Kirk Talbot’s HB 969 got put into law, which would allow tax rebates for donations to organizations that would help pay for tuition of lower-income students to private schools. Some responded by getting behind HB 1106 by state Rep. Katrina Jackson, which would allow tax rebates for donations to all but the most successful public schools. Their discontent reached new heights when Gov. Bobby Jindal, in contrast to Talbot’s bill, vetoed Jackson’s – as it is, for very good reasons beyond what he stated.

That perturbed the bill’s author, among others, who declared, with a flair for the inaccurate and sanctimonious, that this had been the only bill out there “which truly helps our public schools to receive much needed resources.” Jindal’s veto message noted that the initial $10 million that the program could cost was unfunded (and by the bill could have created an unfunded mandate by escalating every year). That practical objection aside, there was a huge conceptual objection to it as well, related to the differences between the monopoly and market natures of the different approaches to providing education to the state’s children.

Talbot’s bill provides incentives to donate money to independent organizations although affiliated with private schools that could use the money only as direct awards to families for their children to attend those schools, with preference if demand exceeds supply given to those who would otherwise have attended an underperforming public school. Accountability measures put in place in the new law, which will be supplemented by departmental rules, minimize opportunities to subvert the system on the basis of favoritism to families for reasons of friendship, athletic ability, etc. (but does allow earmarking on the basis of disability). The schools do not get the money directly, which is capped at only 80 or 90 percent of the aid given to public schools for each child, and are not shielded in any way from market forces; you can have all the money in the world flowing into the organization but if families are turned off in having their children attend the associated school, it doesn’t get these funds (and donors who do not have their dollars used can request a refund minus the five percent allowed overhead charge), and donations would decrease to these organizations until the schools improved.

Contrast this with Jackson’s bill. In it, money goes directly to schools although they are restricted in the ways they can use so they don’t go out and do things like buy a fleet of luxury vehicles for their administrators. Regardless, it subverts the accountability mechanisms because it directs state dollars – 75 percent of the value of the donation that does not get collected in taxes that could have gone to other purposes – to schools without any connection to accountability at all. Recall that, unlike with private schools where the market provides built-in accountability and thereby moots the need for such state regulation, the state’s measures are designed to mimic in an indirect way the natural accountability afforded by the marketplace and apply that to the monopoly environment of public education.

Thus, under Jackson’s bill, a badly performing school could have, in essence, extra state money going to prop up a superstructure propagating failure, when, if that money were to be collected by the state on the basis of need and accountability, it should have gone to subsidize instead activities of demonstrated success. Naturally enough, the crippling theoretical flaw of this bill was that money solved all education woes. It does not, as any cursory look at statistics comparing financing and achievement shows. Much more important are factors such as a school’s leadership or a commitment by school boards and central offices to put, for example, academic achievement ahead of patronage.

It’s attitude that precedes money in understanding academic success. The market in which private schools must compete orders this properly: public money follows families who allocate it on the basis of school achievement. Thus, state dollars flow to their best and most efficient use in improving both private and public education: subsidizing the best of the former, and thereby forcing the latter to improve to keep its resources by preventing defection of its students to the private/nonprofit sector. The monopoly that government protects for public schools, ameliorated only somewhat by accountability measures, does not do this: public money follows the school regardless of its merit, with no guarantee that it is used best and most efficiently.

Turning Minimum Foundation Program funds over to schools largely unrelated to their merits is appropriate because its purpose is to provide the funds to cover a basic education. Then some schools will do that, others will go above the norm, while others will fail to meet it – and would regardless of how much money they get because the problem lies in the bureaucratic structures, organizational cultures, and attitudes of those governing and working in it. So if the state is going to commit extra money to education (regardless whether it is performed publicly or privately) beyond what, with competent use of it, should be enough to provide a basic education for all, it should do it in a way that maximizes enhancement of success and minimizes chances of failure.

The philosophy of HB 969 accomplishes that; that of HB 1106 did not. Thus Jindal’s signing of the former and vetoing of the latter was on solid conceptual grounds. To claim this conduct does not help public school or even shows some kind of animus to public schooling when it instead demonstrates the exact opposite tells us those making the claim do not understand how the world works nor the human beings who inhabit it.


Anonymous said...

Here we go again! Hide the ball (especially when it is hairy and nasty). Or, black is white, and white is black.

The veto message on HB 1106 stated the reason to be that there was no appropriation for it; as you say, it was unfunded.

Surprise, suprise, HB 969 carries no appropriation either; it, too, is unfunded.

And, to add insult to injury, HB 1106 is capped as to what it could cost, while HB 969 in UNCAPPED as to what it could cost.

HB 969 will be funded "out of current collections" of the Department of Revenue. Let me translate that for your readers: it will be off the budget.

We all should agree that this is terrible management and is absolutely non-transparent.

The reality: HB 969 was the Governor's bill - the other was not.

This is a clinic in the duplicity of your hero, our Governor.

Despite your continuing efforts, you cannot hide it.

Anonymous said...

Well, Professor, speaking of vetoes and like matters, it was quite a week.

The Scorecard, the "Ruthless One", has stepped up one of his prime management styles - that is, take quick, absolute retribution on every one that differs even a little with him or displeases him.

Lets see; it started with Rep. Jim Morris, who was stripped on his committee vice chairmanship. Voted wrong and disagreed with the Scorecard.

Then, he vetoed the Treasurer's appropriations to pay his employer contributions for his employees retirement benefits - and touched no other agency's appropriations for the same purpose. His sin: publicly disagreeing with the Ruthless One's position on continuing to spend one-time, non-recurring revenues of recurring, operating expenses.

Next, the Lt. Governor got two more million dollars chopped from his budget. His mistake: Publicly expressing displeasure with budget cuts backed by the Scorecard.

Then, I read that the Ruthless One's Secretary of Revenue resigned (translation: Resign today or we will publicly can you tomorrow)on Friday. Her reputation: a very competent and fair administrator, who served three governors. The paper said she did something the Scorecard did not like.

Then, there is Rep. Armes, Rep. Barrow and Sen. Erdy - all who had bills vetoed because they said they disagreed with or did not vote with the Ruthless One.

Read the veto messages and justifications for these. They would be funny if these actions were not so alarming. They are transparently insincere and adolescent. They are about the only thing regarding the Ruthless One or his office that IS transparent, though!

Look forward to your apologies/justifications for this. Must be excellent governing in some way that I cannot recognize or understand.

Mr. Harris Plutocrat said...

I'm going to attempt a rendition of every single Jeff Sadow post. Here goes...
1. Jindal is righteous and pure, but someone just said something critical about him, and I'm not going to let it stand.
2. The person who said something critical is either (a) childish and naive, or (b) a hateful monster.
4. [skip over all meaningful aspects of whatever the issue is that is the subject]
5. insert a reference to a study, or make up something to make me sound the the level-headed one in a sea of partisans.
6. refer to non-existent flaw in a non-existent cartoon version of "liberalism" from the vantage point of a hysterical Fox News-worshipper from Shreveport.
7. Flowery ending that hypes Jindal even more than Jindal himself would be comfortable with.