The Left’s new school funding argument

On Thursday, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI) published “Funding North Carolina’s Public Schools: Changes Since FY 2008-09.” The two-page note formed the basis of a piece by editorial page editor Ned Barnett (NB) of the News & Observer among others.

I had hoped to provide a more detailed response to both, but most of the John Locke Foundation crew is in Denver for the annual State Policy Network meeting and I will be headed there shortly.

The gist of the N.C. DPI note was straightforward. If you exclude changes to employee salaries and benefits approved by the legislature since 2008, then there have been reductions to state funding for classrooms (per student). DPI reports,

The majority of additional funding since FY 2008-09 has been for benefit and salary changes. There have been reductions to classroom funding. Total funding has remained essentially flat since 08-09 despite an increase of 43,739 students.  (p. 2)

They contend that this is important because parents do not “see” salaries and benefits but do see textbooks, TAs, and the like.  So, parents perceive that there has been a cut to education spending because they see things that have been reduced or cut.  That is probably true.  Polls show that parents often have few details about the financial operations of their schools, including per pupil expenditures and teacher pay.

Perception is not reality, of course.  The truth is that public school children and their parents may benefit in observable ways from the increases in teacher compensation.

For years, the Left has made the argument that higher salaries and better benefits are needed to allow our public schools recruit and retain higher quality teachers.  If this were the case, then parents would have the benefit of a higher performing teacher in the classroom.  After all, teachers are arguably the most important investment in public schools, so one would reason that the additional funding is money well spent.  To put it a little more philosophically, teaching is human-centered activity, so investing in human capital is a sensible strategy.  The Left and the Right may disagree about how to invest in teachers, but I suspect that neither side would dismiss the need to do so.

The main problem, one that is not unique to North Carolina, is that too many children receive no benefit from teacher compensation increases.  Coupled with employment protections, higher pay and better benefits for teachers may further entrench an already underperforming or apathetic cohort of teachers. (Coincidentally, this is a good reason to support incentive or performance pay.)

In the end, I do not think that DPI and NB are suggesting that salaries and benefits do not matter or that teacher compensation is sufficient.  Rather, the argument comes down to one belief that both hold dearly – taxpayers need to shell out much more money for our public schools.  Even if visible spending increased exponentially, both would find something that is “underfunded” in our public school system and devise even more creative methods to “show” just how underfunded it really is.

One more thing:  To my knowledge, this is the first time that DPI conducted such an analysis.  Why now?  Why use this unprecedented method?  After all, this is a curious time to release a report on education spending, particularly when the agency still cannot provide basic information, including Final Average Daily Membership for the 2013-14 school year and mandated cuts to the agency budget for the 2014-15 school year.

The “Obamacare of education”

What is? Common Core, naturally — a massive federal regulatory intrusion that will have huge costs and create long-run problems. So argues Vicky Alger of the Independent Institute here.

Statistical disparities prove nothing

In his latest column, professor Walter Williams aims at one of the tropes that mega-state interventionists rely on often — that whenever there is some statistical disparity involving racial groups, that indicates discrimination and injustice. The remedy is always something to keep the state growing and clueless individuals clamoring for more of it. That belief, Williams shows, is utter nonsense.

Utter nonsense, however, is the key ingredient in the expansion of government.

Dispatches from the campaign trail, September 23, 2014

• Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan sponsors a new ad, saying she’s “tough enough to keep taking the punches” from her opponents. Some conservatives and Republicans cry foul, claiming Hagan is exploiting the recent firestorm over domestic violence roiling the National Football League.

Meantime, an ad aired during the Sunday network talk shows takes aim at President Obama and the Democrats’ “War on Women” theme:

• A new High Point University poll finds Hagan maintaining a slim lead among likely voters over Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis, 42-40. Libertarian Sean Haugh gains support of 6 percent of the respondents. Obama’s approval rating is 38 percent, with 57 percent disapproving of his job performance. With a margin of error of 5 percentage points, the Senate race remains a statistical dead heat. More results here.

• Republican Mark Walker, who’s running for the open seat in the 6th Congressional District, wins the endorsement of five sheriffs in the district. Last week, the N.C. Troopers Association pledged their support to Walker.

• Citing frustration with the destruction of employee emails and other public records by IRS officials under investigation for targeting conservatives nonprofit groups, the House last week passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-11th, making the destruction of such records by federal employees a firing offense.

More momentum for lawsuit challenging teacher tenure in New York

Campbell Brown has enlisted more support in her efforts to challenge public school teacher tenure in New York, as the New York Post documents.

The parents of two Queens students who say they were abused by their science teacher have joined a lawsuit to overturn New York’s tenure laws.

Laurie Townsend and Christine Grendeau — whose kids attend PS 101 in Forest Hills — became plaintiffs after the Department of Education sent Richard Parlini back to the school despite investigators finding he used corporal punishment.

“It’s an outrage,” said Townsend, whose son, Nakia, is a sixth-grader. “He’s afraid of [Parlini].”

She said that when Nakia was in second grade, Parlini pushed him.

“It’s crazy that he could get away with this and still teach,” she said.

Grendeau said Parlini teased her son, Leo Christopher Memoli, now a fourth-grader, about his stuttering in front of his classmates.

She said he made Leo write “um” numerous times to make fun of his impediment.

The DOE confirmed it substantiated claims of verbal abuse and corporal punishment against Parlini. He was fined $2,500 and attended a training course.

Campbell Brown, founder of the Partnership for Educational Justice, said, “These two cases make it crystal clear that New York state’s teacher-discipline system is in desperate need of an overhaul.”

As this forum has noted in the past, one of the best ways to improve public education is to ease the process of getting rid of the worst teachers.

Government in spite of the people

Lawson Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute examines for Human Events readers some recent bureaucratic nightmares.

[T]here are the head-shaking stories of interactions with our favorite blue-shirted defenders of airport safety – the Transportation Security Administration. Such as the TSA agents who didn’t know the District of Columbia is an officially recognized legal geographical piece of the United States of America. Or the JFK screener who didn’t realize the metal detector was unplugged. Planes had to be diverted, passengers rescreened. Or the TSA agent who asked me, “Sir, is this your real name?” What? Seriously? I was tempted to respond “Ah, you got me, it’s actually Fidel Castro.”

George Bernard Shaw entered idiom history with, “He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches.” Now, I married into a family of teachers and, for reasons of personal safety, I will not comment on what is, of course, a silly statement. But I will revise it to, “He who can, does; he who cannot, takes a job with a federal safety agency.”

Sweeping generalization and ad hominem attack? Of course. But it does carry a grain of truth.

Or make that a silo. Recently, two teenagers were crossing from Canada back into the United States after a competition. And then, as AP reported:

The skirl of their pipes had barely receded before two New Hampshire teenagers learned a hard lesson in cross-border musical diplomacy: If your bagpipes have ivory in them, leave them at home before traveling to Canada or risk having them seized at the border.

The U.S. is part of an international agreement banning ivory importation as of 1976. Bagpipes often contain ivory, but, like many musical instruments (Stradivarius anyone?), they are hundreds of years old and therefore well predate that 1976 cutoff. These boys had certificates to prove as such. But to no avail. The U.S. border guards merely indicated they were enforcing an international ban against illegal ivory shipments, and that it is ultimately up to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine the provenance of any seized ivory and whether to release those seized items back to their owners.

The boys eventually got their pipes back – thanks to congressional and public pressure – but not before paying a $576 fine for taking their instruments across the border at a “non-designated crossing.” That’s what we call the U.S. government trying to save face.

Heritage expert reads the tea leaves from recent voter ID rulings

Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation writes in a Daily Signal column that the most recent courtroom developments in cases challenging state voter identification laws don’t bode well for voter ID critics.

Voter-ID opponents have suffered another stunning blow.

On Friday, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals dissolved the injunction that had been issued against Wisconsin’s voter-ID law by a federal district court in April. The court told Wisconsin that it “may, if it wishes (and if it is appropriate under rules of state law), enforce the photo ID requirement in this November’s elections.” In reaction, Kevin Kennedy, the state’s top election official, said that Wisconsin would take all steps necessary “to fully implement the voter photo ID law for the November general election.” The appeals court issued its one-page opinion within hours of hearing oral arguments in the appeal.

As I explained in an NRO article in May, the district court judge, Lynn Adelman, a Clinton appointee and former Democratic state senator, had issued an injunction claiming the Wisconsin ID law violated the Voting Rights Act as well as the Fourteenth Amendment. Adelman made the startling claim in his opinion that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2008 upholding Indiana’s voter-ID law as constitutional was “not binding precedent,” so Adelman could essentially ignore it.

However, that was too much for the Seventh Circuit. It pointed out, in what most lawyers would consider a rebuke, that Adelman had held Wisconsin’s law invalid “even though it is materially identical to Indiana’s photo ID statute, which the Supreme Court held valid in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 553 U.S. 181 (2008).”

It was also obviously significant to the Seventh Circuit that the Wisconsin state supreme court had upheld the state’s voter-ID law in July, since the three-judge panel cited that decision, Milwaukee Branch of NAACP v. Walker, too. In fact, the appeals court said the state court decision had changed the “balance of equities and thus the propriety of federal injunctive relief.”

In other words, there was no justification for striking down a state voter-ID law that was identical to one that had been previously upheld by both the Supreme Court of the United States and that state’s highest court. …

… This is also another big defeat for Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced in July that the Justice Department would be intervening in this lawsuit. The Department lost a lawsuit that claimed South Carolina’s voter-ID law was discriminatory in 2012, and a federal judge recently refused to issue an injunction against North Carolina’s voter-ID law in another lawsuit filed by Justice.

The lingering problem of regulatory overreach in Dodd-Frank

John Berlau of the Competitive Enterprise Institute explains for National Review Online readers how the Dodd-Frank legislation — designed to address problems revealed by the financial crisis in 2008 — ended up as an example of the dangers associated with regulatory overreach.

The two recent federal court decisions on Obamacare subsidies — one for, one against — prompted fevered reactions and discussion. By contrast, two recent rulings against the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act — which is about the same length as Obamacare (around 2,600 pages) and which was rammed through the same Democrat-controlled Congress — attracted much less notice. Why? It may have something to do with the particular provisions involved.

Dodd-Frank’s Section 1502, for example, does not contain much of the terminology one would expect in a “Wall Street reform” bill. There is no mention of banking, lending, or financial fraud. Instead, one finds references to things such as “minerals necessary to the functionality or production of a product manufactured.” Minerals, manufacturing, “functionality” — in a banking bill? At least in Obamacare, no one has found any hidden provisions on foreign policy, international trade, or energy policy.

In the more than four years since Dodd-Frank became law, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — significant players if not the largest culprits in the mortgage crisis — are bigger than ever. The law did not lay a hand on them. And Dodd-Frank didn’t curb the power of too-big-to-fail banks. In fact, the law’s designation of “systemically important financial institutions” enshrines too-big-to-fail by telling creditors which financial firms the government will spare from a normal bankruptcy. But some parts of Dodd-Frank simply have no relationship to financial stability.

As Mercatus Center scholars Hester Peirce and James Broughel explain in their recent book on Dodd-Frank, the law’s “miscellaneous provisions” in Title XV offer “a clear example of how a statute invoked as the answer to the financial crisis is, in reality, an odd conglomeration of responses to issues, many of which had nothing to do with the financial crisis.” Section 1502, championed by celebrities such as Ashley Judd and Ben Affleck, requires all types of publicly traded firms to disclose their use of five “conflict minerals” — including gold, tin, and tungsten — sourced from war-torn regions of the Congo. Similarly irrelevant to finance is Section 1504, added at the behest of rock-star-turned-activist Bono. With the stated aim of combating the use of “dirty money” by U.S. energy companies, it requires firms developing oil, gas, or minerals to disclose payments they make to foreign governments to further their development activities.

Fighting corruption and violence in the Congo is a laudable goal, but pursuing foreign-policy objectives through a financial bill is the wrong approach.