The Left’s Paradoxical Wish List

The denizens of Wall Street Occupistan obviously have never paid much attention to lectures on logic, unintended consequences or internally contradictory reasoning. Case in point; the demonstrators demand the police and authorities leave them alone to do "their thing" while virtually every policy position they take requires further expansion of the scope, power and intrusiveness of government. Liberals want to be able to engage in dope smoking and drug taking yet want the government to tell people what to eat and what kind of car to drive and how many gallons of water their commode can use per flush.

In economics they want government to stimulate job growth while at the same time asking for higher taxes and more regulations of every stripe on the businesses that actually create jobs. They attack the private sector’s greed and profit seeking while bemoaning the fact that there are not enough good jobs and wages are too low. They take out enormous amounts of student loans to major in degree fields that offer little opportunity outside government or non-profits and where pay levels will not support them in anything like the manner they expect to live.

And so and so on. The examples are virtually endless. But it can be summarized briefly. Education has failed and the decades-long march of left wing ideology, with its strategy of undermining cultural, education and religious institutions, is dangerously close to turning the USA into Greece or worse. The large intrusive government sought by the Occupiers will paradoxically have the power to crush all dissent they purport to be their absolute right. Be careful what you wish for is a good adage for folks to live by.

Public Sector Pay Study Completely Misses the Mark

A study just released jointly by the Keystone Research Center and the Economic Policy Institute (Public Versus Private Employee Costs in Pennsylvania: Comparing Apples to Apples) comparing Pennsylvania’s public employee pay to private sector job pay is a prime example of analytical speciousness and ideological bias.

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Promise Program as Tax Preparation Instructor

Now that the Promise program has had a couple of years of operational experience, they have seemingly encountered a problem. Perhaps they have made a bigger promise than they can keep. So they are requiring students applying for Promise money to fill out the "Free Application for Federal Student Aid" (FAFSA) in order to leverage government assistance as much possible before receiving Promise funds. What’s up with that? We were led to believe from the announcement of the Promise that money would be there for the asking for all graduating seniors who met the grade and attendance requirement. Now they have to jump through the FAFSA hoop before their scholarship is granted.

What’s worse, evidently a lot of students who can graduate from high school and presumably are ready for college cannot fill out the requisite forms so their families will need assistance in filling them out. But wait. The FAFSA forms rely heavily on tax returns which, according to the Promise’s executive director, many families have not done and are scared of the prospect. Little wonder. That will raise questions the IRS might be interested in getting answers to. In any event, the Promise program, in cooperation with the United Way, will offer tax preparation instruction to student families.

But it gets worse. The tax preparation course will be open to the 3,700 student families who make up to $52,000. One would have thought people making, say, $35,000 or more per year, would know about tax returns and would have done their own or had a tax preparation professional prepare their returns.

And, why aren’t guidance counselors and other school professionals helping students fill out scholarship applications if they need it? That’s what they are paid for. Using limited Promise funds seems like an egregious duplication. Unless of course the real reason is that with the big jump in funding to $10,000 per year for students graduating in 2012, the program managers are starting to feel the need to direct students to other sources so as to reduce the amount the fund will have to provide.

Mt. Lebanon Schools Did Not Need Obama’s Speech

Apparently some Obama party operatives think Mt. Lebanon schools’ decision to allow teachers the option of showing or not showing Obama’s pep talk was politically motivated. They argue that all classrooms should have been required to air the speech and allow students to opt out of watching. Now that’s truly ironic. If students were to opt out, where would they go for the duration of the speech and what would they do? What if all the students got up and left?

The problem is that until a few days before the President’s talk it appeared as though the speech and the attendant class involvement, including having students come up with ideas on ways to help the President’s agenda, was a totally inappropriate politicization of classrooms. After the heavy handed White House effort was publicized, the speech was watered down to an admonition to work hard and stay in school and graduate.

Here’s a thought: for one of the best performing school systems in Pennsylvania with a very low dropout rate and all kinds of positive education reinforcement happening every day, the last thing the students need is another lecture on the importance of staying in school.

And another thing. In the troubled inner city schools where the admonitions contained in the speech might be expected to have their potentially greatest measurable impact, has there actually been an improvement in attendance or an increase in time spent studying? Where is the evidence? If there has been no improvement-even a temporary blip-in these schools, then we can dismiss the effort for what it actually was: an attempt by the President to get face time with students.

Mt. Lebanon’s decision was not politically motivated as claimed by the municipality’s Democrat party leadership. Indeed, the district could have opted not to allow the speech to be aired at all. But the Obama party operatives would certainly like to have made the decision political as long as it favored them and their agenda.

Pennsylvania Education: Home Run or Strike Out?

As the Governor stumps to increase spending on public education, his efforts were boosted by a report from the Center on Education Policy, a public school advocacy group, who claim that Pennsylvania is the only state in which student performance on its own tests had improved at all school grade levels. They proclaim that Pennsylvania hit a home run in this regard. But is it really a home run, or a strike out?

Looking at the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) scores from 2002-2008 each grade tested saw improvements in the number of students in each achievement level-basic, proficient, and advanced-in both reading and math. What’s conveniently omitted are the magnitude of the gains and how much it cost taxpayers along the way. After all the crux of the Governor’s position is that we need to throw more money at public education.

A recent Allegheny Institute Policy Brief (Vol. 9, No.44) pointed out the per-pupil expenditure has risen from $8,400 to over 12,000 from 2002 to 2008. State provided funding for K-12 rose from $6.96 billion to $9.68 billion over the same period. Both measures show an increase of 40 percent-2.3 times faster than the rate of inflation.

And what about that performance level on the PSSA? As further explained in the Policy Brief, only for the 8th grade scores and 5th grade math did test results improve by 20 percent. Most of the gains for 5th grade math occurred before 2005 and have been relatively small since. For 11th graders, those closest to graduation and entering the workforce, improvement in the fraction scoring proficient has fallen well short of 20 percent. Moreover, eighth grade reading scores are highly suspect and overstate improvement as we demonstrated in Policy Brief No. 46.

The rate of return to taxpayers is clearly a strike out, not a home run.

As we have demonstrated time and again, academic achievement is not causally related to expenditures. But of course never letting reality get in the way, the Governor proclaims "we can’t stop now". More appropriately, taxpayers can’t afford to keep going at this rate of return. True educational improvement will not happen until real reforms such as vouchers and school choice are implemented.

Tax Credits for Education on the Block

In an effort to balance the State’s $3.2 billion budget deficit, the Legislature is looking to cut funding for Pennsylvania’s Education Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC). The EITC gives businesses a tax credit for 75 to 90 percent of donations to school foundations, preschool programs, and scholarship programs. The EITC provides about $45 million annually for private and parochial school scholarships as well as another $22 million for public school programs. While the amounts of the proposed cuts to the EITC program are not yet known, it is part of a larger Senate budget plan to slash 18 tax-credit programs from $400 million to $150 million.

The EITC program helps low-income people more easily afford private and parochial schools. It is as close to a school choice program as Pennsylvania residents can get. And now the strides that have been made in this area are being threatened in this budget battle. No mention is made of asking public sector union employees, particularly teachers, of foregoing scheduled raises or of holding the public districts’ basic education funding levels constant-moves with the potential for great savings in this economic environment. The Governor has gone to great lengths to protect the public education system and their massive subsidies while private education donation tax credits gets put on the chopping block.

Strengthening the education system in the Commonwealth will only begin when public education is met with strenuous competition. In absence of a pure voucher system, the EITC program has offered the only hope in this regard.