School Choice Works, but the politicians are killing it

We at the Rio Grande Foundation have believed it for a long time, and it only makes sense: giving parents and students greater control over education decisions improves results. Of course, if you’ve been following the debate, you may also be aware that the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats are dismantling choice programs. The problem being that regardless of results, teachers unions, a powerful voting and fundraising ally, can’t stand school choice.
We need educational choice in New Mexico and nationwide. Regardless of political party affiliation, improving educational outcomes and creating more diverse opportunities for students should lead to choice-based reforms.

Bailing Out the College of Santa Fe

It seems that Governor Richardson and the City of Santa Fe are dead set on saving the bankrupt College of Santa Fe. Richardson has pledged $11 million for the school — don’t you love how politicians, particularly the executive branch, can arbitrarily throw massive amounts of money around regardless of what the Legislature does or what might be best for the average citizen? The Governor is not alone. The City of Santa Fe is moving forward with a plan to purchase the College through a massive (and I might add, risky) issuance of bonds.
Of course, it would seem that perhaps the College’s failure might be due to inadequate demand for its services or a lack of perceived value for the price from potential customers (see the Big 3 for further details), but unlike the private sector which self-regulates by squeezing out inferior and unnecessary products, government has every incentive in the world to provide a taxpayer-funded bailout.
While the current economic situation would be painful enough by itself, it is government policies that are extending the pain to taxpayers and others who were largely blameless. Hopefully Governor Richardson and the City of Santa Fe allow the College of Santa Fe to play its part in the cycle of “creative destruction,” but if history is any guide, New Mexico taxpayers will soon be paying once again for someone else’s mistakes.

Mimi Stewart is Just Nuts

There’s no other way to say it. She wrote an opinion piece in the Albuquerque Journal on Wednesday and I just find it amazing that she continues to push a half-billion-dollar annual tax hike on struggling New Mexicans.
Her first specific point is about the study the Legislature commissioned by American Institutes for Research which found that funding should be 14.5 percent higher than it is now. Even after that increase, she argues that we would only be funding a “sufficient” education for New Mexico’s children. Of course, Utah spends the least per pupil on K-12 education but has some of the highest graduation rates in the nation. Regardless of Stewart’s assertions, spending alone does not make for an “adequate” or even “excellent” education. Notice that she makes no guarantees as to what, if anything, taxpayers will get in terms of improved results for pouring billions of dollars into this broken system in the next few years.
True, New Mexico’s education funding formula is broken, but New Mexico’s K-12 educational system is broken as is apparent due to our near 50% dropout rate. Rather than killing New Mexico’s economy with higher taxes (thus making jobs harder to come by regardless of graduation), perhaps Stewart and the education establishment should re-evaluate “adequacy” and come back with some ideas (like choice). As an aside, it is worth noting that Congressional Democrats are trying to kill Washington, DC’s school choice system.
Stewart and her friends in the teachers’ unions have worked hard to keep New Mexico students from having access to similar programs and thus finding out what an “adequate” education is all about.

New Mexico Education Falling Further Behind

If you read this blog regularly, the postings on the topic of education will begin to sound like a broken record. Unfortunately, the key word is “broken” as our educational system is. More evidence was provided recently b the findings of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the limited government-oriented national legislative umbrella organization based in Washington, DC.
That organization’s recent study, the 15th edition of their “Report Card on American Education,” shows that New Mexico’s K-12 government-run education system is not only behind other states, but is falling further behind as time passes. According to the New Mexico-specific pages of the study which can be found here, The Land of Enchantment has fallen from 43rd to 48th since 1998 in ALEC’s overall ranking. This, despite a more rapid increase in per-pupil spending than was found in other states (42% to 36.6%). Of course, this has not deterred New Mexico’s educational establishment from demanding still more money to pour down this rat hole.
One would think that beating out only Hawaii and Mississippi among the 50 states would be enough to encourage New Mexico’s political establishment and citizens to demand immediate change, but so far this session, SB 355 which would establish a system of education tax credits, has languished without so much as a committee hearing. Hopefully this changes quickly before another lost generation of New Mexico children is failed by the government school monopoly.

New Mexico Business Battles Education Establishment

Recently, I blogged about the arrogant and ignorant comments made by Ellen Bernstein, the head of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation. Basically, Bernstein told the business community to “sit down and shut up” if they don’t support higher taxes for education.
While New Mexico’s beleaguered and small business community, particularly the Albuquerque Chamber, has repeatedly sold out over the years, perhaps they are turning over a new leaf under the leadership of car dealer Don Chalmers.
The most important example of this turnaround is the fact that the Albuquerque Chamber was among the groups criticized by Bernstein and the fact that, at least to date, the Chamber has remained firm in its opposition. A recent op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal by Chalmers and Cole laid out the Chambers’ very good reasons why the business community should have a tremendous say in our educational system and how it is funded.
Here’s hoping the business community remains engaged and opposed to these unnecessary and economically-harmful tax hikes.

Proposed Tax Increase For Education

The New Mexico legislature has announced that it will be decreasing government funding across the state, which will effect spending on public schools. This has created an uproar among many people who believe that the solution to our education problem here in New Mexico is to give more money to schools. Toward the end of last year members of the New Mexico education board proposed a so-called solution, a one percent gross receipts tax increase to help aid public school funding.
Unfortunately, the only thing that the tax increase will do is create more of a tax burden on New Mexicans and New Mexico-based businesses during difficult economic times. Despite the money which the state plans to spend on government schools, study after study has found little to no correlation between better education and more government funding.
It’s easy to understand why it would be popular to increase education funds; more money should mean more books, better teacher pay, better facilities, and an overall better education. The problem within New Mexico’s education system cannot be solved by an increase in taxes. Certainly a cracked desk or a leaky roof has never caused a child to under-perform. Change must come from somewhere other than an increased supply of government money. It must come from a school’s drive to improve its quality and the realization on the part of parents and students that the educational product being provided is extremely valuable. This is not currently the case.
One option for improving this situation is to offer tax credits to students in low-income families. Parents can utilize tax credits when they decide to place their child in a school that is either private or outside of their district. Although this means that a child may have to travel longer distances to get to school, the benefits outweigh the losses. In the end the child gets a better education. After all, parents would not make the extra effort to get their kids out of the government-run school (and pay a portion of the new school’s tuition) if they were not receiving a superior education.
This tax credit proposal, which has been introduced in the Legislature as SB 355 by Sen. Pete Campos (D), is a more optimal solution than the proposed increase in sales tax. Tax credits affect only those parents who are paying the school fees. Furthermore, it creates competition without privatization. Schools will have incentive to improve, because parents have more options. Although tax credits will not solve all of our public school’s problems, they are a step in the right direction without wasting still more tax dollars.
New Mexicans must shift away from the belief that more money necessarily means better education, toward the idea that a smart use of resources and planning can guarantee better results.

Educational Hubris

I just love New Mexico’s education bureaucracy and the people who defend it. Now, as I’ve discussed previously, the education establishment is pushing for a massive tax hike to fund even more wasteful spending — this despite the fact that the educational system is set to receive a massive cash infusion from the federal stimulus package.
Anyway, as the tax hike bill (in its current form it would increase both the gross receipts and personal income taxes), HB 346, began moving through the Legislature, New Mexico’s usually acquiescent business community showed signs of life and opposed the tax hikes. That is when things started to get interesting.
According to this article from the ABQ Journal, the head of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation said of the business community “They have no business in the education business…they either need to support the kind of funding education needs or they need to be quiet.” There are so many things I could say about this extremely arrogant statement:
1) Given New Mexico’s near 50% dropout rate (second worst in the nation), it would seem that the teachers’ unions and education experts aren’t exactly doing the job;
2) New Mexico has dramatically increased per-pupil education spending over the years, so money may not be the answer (check out page 6 of this study);
3) Since businesses and their consumers will foot the bill for higher taxes, shouldn’t they have a say in whether they are raised?;
4) When did we decide that teachers’ unions were the final authority on education anyway? After all, unions don’t run United Parcel Service and it certainly seems that the unions have not done much for GM, Ford, and Chrysler. When did we abdicate the education of our children to a union that is primarily concerned with increasing teacher salaries, increasing their own membership, and preventing non-union competition?
5) If there are lawsuits over the supposed “adequacy” or lack thereof of New Mexico’s educational offerings, shouldn’t we at least objectively define “adequacy” first? Perhaps choice would make New Mexico’s schools more adequate? Why is more money the only answer (see question 4 for the real reason).
Hopefully the business community stands its ground. We’ll be there providing intellectual ammunition to opponents of this incredible boondoggle.

Adequate Education Funding?

Now that the education establishment is lobbying for higher taxes, the pleas for “adequate” education funding are pouring forth. Recently, Sharon Morgan of the National Education Association New Mexico argued that point on the pages of the Albuquerque Journal.
The problem is that among the platitudes and discussion of schools as “community hubs,” Morgan makes absolutely no arguments to support more education spending. After all, what exactly is “adequate?” How much spending do proponents believe will ensure that our children receive an excellent education? The fact is that our current education is a bottomless pit in need of unlimited taxpayer money because there few incentives for schools to improve and compete to serve children.

No Tax Hikes for Education

Rarely do we at the Rio Grande Foundation see eye to eye with left-wing Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, but he actually talked some sense in a recent column in the Alibi. His conclusion and ours: higher taxes are not the solution to improving education in New Mexico.
In a letter to the editor I expressed support for this realization and the Senator’s call for smaller schools, and suggested a system of education tax credits as a means of spurring reliance on smaller schools in the short term. Find out more about tax credits here.