23 Nov 2009

"Free" education taxes the poor & hurts students

One poor, "uneducated" resident of Watts, upon hearing Ralph Bunche say that he could not have had a college education unless tuition were free, opined, "Perhaps it's time he repay out of his higher income for that privilege granted him by taxes on us Negroes who never went to college." That reply spots the difference between educational opportunity and a redistribution of wealth.


WITH FULL COST tuition, competition among California colleges, and even among academic departments would change. Instead of competition for funds being negotiated among university committees, deans, regents, state college boards, and legislators, competition would rely more on classroom behavior of instructors who would be more dependent on student attendance vis-a-vis other departments and other colleges. This would enormously enhance the power of the student in the former zero tuition colleges.


  1. Laissez's Fairest Maiden23 Nov 2009, 23:16:00

    Would you then support the elimination of subsidies for primary and secondary education as well?

  2. I'd start with competition between schools (vouchers).

    Then, I'd consider eliminating subsidies, but that would involve a move to reduce property taxes at the same time...

  3. My understanding is that Bunche went to UCLA and Harvard using scholarships. My wife went to UCLA where the ugliest building on any UC campus is named for him. ;-)

    I understand your comment about vouchers and competition but the regulations should be uniform among schools that receive vouchers and public schools. I agree with vouchers but I do think there is an inherent difference between public and private schools and the Constitutional and legal priorities and requirements for each. The private schools I attended operated very differently than public schools in terms of due process rights of students and faculty. Those rights have profound effects on how primary and secondary schools operate, for better and worse. For example, many private schools can summarily dismiss teachers without stating a reason but public schools must go through due process hearings, which costs time and money. In addition, it is much more difficult for public schools to turn away disruptive students due to Constitutional rights. For example, my sister, a teacher, has two autistic kids in her third grade classroom right now. She has a hell of a time providing attention to her other 33 students during the two days the autistic kids are in her classroom due to the disruptions they cause. :-( We need to make a good faith effort not to let public schools become cesspools where we throw the trash of our society.

  4. @Anonymous: I could not find a reference to education in my copy of the U.S. Constitution. Nor could I find any reference to educational rights or employment rights. My state Constitution does address education. Do not confuse union work rules developed to protect union members for Constitutional rights.

    Uniform regulations are no answer to the quality of schools. Competition for students and choice by students and parents are more important for meeting needs. The needs of students are not homogenius, so there is no reason to expect uniform schools would address the different needs of all students. Schools should have the abiltiy to specialize.

    There have been extensive studies on students that have used vouchers to attend schools different than the public school they were assigned to. The studies show that voucher programs do not skim the cream of the students from the public schools. It makes sense that the students that are poorly served by the schools would be the most motivated to escape the schools where they are not succeeding. In addition, every voucher program that I am familiar with - Milwaukee and Cleveland are among the oldest - grant vouchers that are a small fraction (in the range of 25%) of the costs of the public schools that the students and their parents are trying to escape.

    The Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation for School Choice is one of the best sources I know of for information on vouchers and other school choice programs. The web site can be found at www.friedmanfoundation.org.

    Bottom Line: Good intentions often lead to results different than those stated. The poor uneducated resident of Watts has a valid point that can be investigated. Education may not be pure public good that supporters of public education take as a given. There may be other arrangements that are fairer and more effective.

  5. David Zetland said...

    I'd start with competition between schools (vouchers).

    Mr. Zetland,

    You have a very interesting blog here, but vouchers will do nothing for K-12 ed except create an even bigger gap between rich and poor.

    If you have ever spent any time in K-12 and really looked at what is going on, you will realize that neither the liberal solution "throw more money at it" or the conservative solution "vouchers!" will deal with the true underlying problem in K-12 education.

    The truth about K-12 public school, which no one, for various reasons, wants to face is this:

    No K-12 public school will ever be better than the community that surrounds it.

    Yes, for a while, if you pour money and attention on a poor school and keep out disruptive students through self-selecting entry requirements (such as calling it a "Charter" school, you can raise test scores, etc.

    But once that money, that attention, those entry requirements are gone, those schools will revert to the level of the community that surrounds it.

    Charter schools, btw, are nothing more than private schools with a public school name. Any school that has an entry requirement beyond TB test, Rubella inoculation and proof of residence is a private school because they "select" students by eliminating students whose parents won't "jump through the hoops" that those type of schools require.

    Their higher scores have nothing to do with longer hours or better curriculum or better teachers at those schools. It's nothing more than they've rid themselves of 90% of the problem students before they even start.

    For a blog that contains many references and links relating to the importance of the total ecological system in dealing with water issues, it's surprising that you haven't looked at the total ecological links involved with education.

    Or, to put it another way, "vouchers" is a solution to K-12 school problems the same way desal & big storage projects are the solution water problems.

    Yes. They will both solve some community's problems. But they don't address the underlying problem.

  6. Laissez's Fairest Maiden24 Nov 2009, 06:36:00


    True, the right to an education isn't explicitly stated in the constitution. However, freedom of speech and freedom of the press don't mean shit if you are illiterate.

  7. Jay, it's in the preamble. Read it carefully.

    David, I don't get Mr. Bunche's comment, because the difference between tuition and registration fees is semantics. As for the cheap-by-subsidized education vs. full-on private tuitions, I see a correlation in California between lower tuition/greater subsidies and the quality of the UC system. Up until the late 90's, the UC system was the premier institution in the world. It still may be, but it is showing some serious cracks.

    Of course, correlation does not imply causation, but it is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for proof of the logic of a statement. If it were true that subsidies were seriously driving down the quality of education, then we should have seen the UC system just blossom over the past two decades, as tuition-like fees rose precipitously. In fact, the opposite appears to have happened.

  8. @Anon1 -- as long as there is competition, I am happy. If unions kill a school (so it can't compete), then we know the problem. I have talked to a few teachers -- they blame administrators, and I agree with that problem.

    So it's administrators and union reps who are the biggest barrier to delivering good education.

    @Jay -- agreed.

    @Anon2 -- great point, and I agree, but note that communities are BETTER served by competition (e.g., Walmart, cell phone carriers) than monopolies (liquor stores, lottery and public schools). No matter the ecosystem, it's healthier with competition.

    @LFM -- it helps to own a newspaper if you want freedom of speech, but that's not a constitutional right, either. Hold up on those "rights..."

    @Josh -- the UC system is great b/c it's part of a bigger system (community colleges and state schools) that competed for students (e.g., UCB vs UCLA). Low fees helped attract smart but rich students and may have helped smart but poor students, but the poor are better served with scholarships.

  9. "Low fees helped attract smart but rich students and may have helped smart but poor students, but the poor are better served with scholarships."

    David, I can agree to that, so long as it is scholarships and not loans... or, maybe some low loans, but not gargantuan ones.

  10. @Jay & @David Zetland: The issue I brought up is not that education is a right provided under the Consitution, the issue is that once the government provides a service or hires someone it must provide due process rights under the 5th Amendment (applies to federal government) and 14th Amendment (applies to the states). Requirements to provide due process does not automatically attach to parties who get government funding (i.e. vouchers).

    I agree that unions and administrators are a big part of the problem, similar to how the UAW and GM/Chrysler/Ford managements' collusion in idiocy ruined those companies. Competition would be good and is an idea past its prime. Public districts in Michigan can compete to some extent against each other (kids can go across district boundaries to attend school). Some districts I know have seen dwindling enrollment and been forced to close schools while neighboring (good) districts have full enrollment even though their local population would not support it.

    That said, the voucher programs currently in place are carefully crafted to avoid mass migration from public to private schools. If voucher programs went mainstream (outside of ghetto communities), paid for more of the cost, and were serious about providing competition, then I think it is likely only the most disruptive or desirable kids would remain in public schools. The little bit of competition that currently goes on between public school districts and schools in Michigan occurs on a level playing field with regard to due process and other legal requirements stemming from due process rights. That would not happen with voucher schools. I can and do support voucher programs when those vouchers attach due process requirements.

    I partly agree with what anon2 said but do think that part of why ghetto schools are not better than the community is more a fact that unions and bad administration dump bad teachers there and refuse to remove them. That's where competition plays a role. LA Times had a crazy piece a few months back about LA Unified not removing bad teachers quickly (or at all). I should not these are contractual much more than about due process. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-teachers-landing-html,0,1258194.htmlstory

    As for desal, it is part of the solution, just as important as recycling/reclamation/toilet-to-tap, and conservation. SoCal needs to invest in desal for more local control over water and to avoid a date with a single point of failure. ;-)

    btw: I made the first post as anonymous but not the other. :-)

  11. @Josh -- yes, scholarships, not loans. BUT people will still want loans, and then what do you do?

    @dfb -- I don't understand what you mean by due process except perhaps a "fair hearing" before getting fired. Fine, I can deal with that. I am not afraid about school competition for the same reason I am not afraid about college competition -- it works. I see a HUGE problem with union/admins blocking ANY change/merit pay/etc. and that's NOT the choice of parents...


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