Thursday, April 10, 2008

A rant

It is sickening how much money we throw at public schools in Howard County without so much as a thought to more efficient ways to provide education.

I would be willing to bet that exactly no one will agree with me on this, but I think one of the worst things to ever happen to the United States of America is publicly financed education. By that I mean it is a terrible thing that those who have children do not have to bear 100% of the cost of educating those children. I am not even saying that government provided education is a terrible idea, but certainly something is wrong when the more children you have, the better value you get for your tax dollars.

It is almost unbelievable, but over 50% of the Howard County FY2008 budget (pdf) is to be spent on education. This means that over $724 million is going to be spent on the Howard County school system. If you are a Howard County resident, think about how much you pay in property taxes and local income taxes in a year. Just about any property owner pays several thousand dollars a year in property taxes alone.

Instead of this broken system that provides an incentive to breed, each child’s parents should have to pay for their education in full, be it on a payment plan or in one lump at the beginning of the school year. Of course, the truly destitute would have to have their bill subsidized with discounts or free passes just like we currently do with school lunches, but for the most part all users of the school system should pull their own fiscal weight. Since parents would now have a local tax bill that is 50% lower, they could put that money toward their children’s education.

The quality of public education would be unchanged; we would simply be changing how public education is paid for. One benefit of such an approach would be that private schools would suddenly be a more attractive choice for many parents. Who knows how many private schools would pop out of the woodwork? This cannot happen as long as we have publicly financed schools, because it is hard to compete with someone providing a free service- piss poor as that service may be. All of this extra competition would significantly improve the quality of education that would be available to students.

Another benefit is that there would not be such an unhealthy incentive for folks to procreate. For god’s sake, how many environmentalists complain about overpopulation? Making people pay for what they consume is a simple way to stop subsidizing population growth. Will this idea ever come into being? Of course not.


Iconic Xer said...

Kudos to you, FM, for speaking your potentially unpopular thoughts. While my own view doesn't overlap with your perspective 100%, I find myself aligned with your general thinking more often than not.

Anonymous said...

You'd be surprised how many people, including parents, agree that private education should be encouraged - I read a study that said most public school parents send their own kids to private school. Very telling.

Also, no where near enough is said about overpopulation.

And the most controversial part: We have a culture that completely ignores the downside to parenting. Existing parents are not free to tell younger people what it's REALLY like. This contributes to an unrealistic fantasy through cultural support for the 'family', and then, Surpise! It's damn difficult every hour to parent correctly, but suffering in silence is the only acceptable response.

(I have teenagers.)

Anonymous said...

I agree. It is odd that those of us who have children and create the need for public schools actually get tax breaks for having children. Conversely, retirees who either don't have children or whose children are no longer in school, still pay full taxes. It is kind of backward.

Another point I would like to make about the financial situation of public schools is that I have a big issue with these new schools being constructed to look like Taj Mahals at an unnecessaril exorbitant cost to taxpayers. Why can't the State just build a plain old run-of-the-mill school like they used to: painted cinder blocks and a blah looking cafeteria? It's turned into a pseudo contest to see which County or community can have the nicest looking school. Isn't the quality of the education more important than superficial appearances of a building? If the schoold were constructed more modestly, I bet the State could save about 33% of the construction cost (or 15-20 million dollars PER school). That money could be used for a lot of other necessities.


wordbones said...

The Howard County Public School System has its faults but overall it provides a pretty good value proposition. The schools consistant national ranking has helped attract employers to Howard County which gives the public investment an economic development return.

Anonymous said...

The facilities are highly impractical - I remember being seated in a 3rd grade "open" classroom as a volunteer and couldn't hear the child next to me reading aloud.

The reason the schools in Howard do well is because of the parents, not because of the facilities or the programs or the administration. Teachers have an impact, but really, no one can influence more than the parents.

FreeMarket said...

Wordbones- I doubt that it is true. Our proximity to Baltimore and DC probably have much more to do with our economic development. Our location had much to do with why Rouse chose Howard County to build Columbia. In fact, you probably have it backward- we "invest" in public education because of our economic infrastructure- not the other way around.

Besides, your point is moot because I am only suggesting that we change who pays for the schools- nothing else. I don't think there is anything wrong with saying "welcome to Howard County, we have good public schools, but if you use them, you have to pay for them. If you don't use them, your taxes are lower."

Anonymous said...

I have no kids, but I thank the School System in Howard County for current value of my house.

FreeMarket said...

Doesn't that also mean that you paid a lot more for your house because you have access to free schools that are considered "good"? Free schools that you don't even use? You shouldn't be so confident that your house in Howard County is a better investment than a similar house in a nearby County.

jim adams said...

Boy do I disagree, F.M., but it's late and i am to tired to respond.

Maybe tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:18- your comment is interesting. I read recently about how when parents are polled as to their feelings on parenthood, almost 100% of the responses are positive. However, when asked if they would do it over, something like 30% said that they wouldn't.


Anonymous said...

Definitely real estate taxes are higher as a result of higher housing 'costs', local income taxes are higher as a result of the Bd of Ed budget.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:51,

30% were being honest or 70% hadn't raised the children to adulthood, is my guess.

If we told people the truth they'd never have kids, our romance with the perfect family ideal would become more realistic.

Here are some highlights:

-You have certain standards, but the world works against you every hour of the day.

-Knowing what your child needs and finding it in schools or volunteer oppty is impossible

-Unless you allow abject blood dripping violence and raunchy sex viewed by your child, they cannot visit friends

-Your child needs 3 stay-at-home parents and doesn't even have one

-Your child has your heart in their hands, and squeezes the life out of it for years at a stretch.

-You never have peace again, worry is a constant state

I hear what goes on in other households when they forget the windows are open. Not good, people. Not good.

mamagoots said...

Anon 6:51

-Your child has your heart in their hands, and squeezes the life out of it for years at a stretch.

Are you a parent? Of course your child squeezes your heart, but "the life out of it?"

My 4 children (including one step) are all adults, in their late 20's and early 30's. There isn't a moment I don't feel blessed by their presence. There isn't a moment I don't wish I saw them more often. There isn't a moment I don't feel proud of their accomplishments. There isn't a moment I don't give thanks for the opprotunities they've had, for the friends who have supported us through difficult years.

If anything, they squeeze the life into your heart. My children are a constant source of wonder, of love, of delight, long after they left childhood behind.

HCPS? Anybody who doesn't think the reputation of the HC public schools contributes to the value of their real estate, feel free to reduce your price. Do you know that DC has one of the highest per pupil costs of public schools with one of the lowest test scores? You are getting tremendous value for your tax investment ...

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:58 - sounds like you are part of the "kids are dandy" propaganda machine. Sounds like someone might need some "me" time.

mamagoots said...

"Propaganda machine?" Wow. Am I SUPPOSED to hate my kids?

I didn't say it wasn't hard, even gut wrenching, at times, and that I didn't occasionally want to banish them all to Siberia, but I never wished for a do-over without them. EVEN when they were teenagers.

And what does "me" time have to do with anything? They don't live in my house, in my neighborhood, or even in my state. We don't talk/phone/email/text on an hourly or daily basis. I don't know what they did last night or last week.

But when I think of them, I smile. And yes, my heart squeezes - with joy.

Where does all this anger come from?

jim adams said...

The article you are referring to is a poor choice. My childrew went there in the late 80's and the school needed money spent on it then. Parents, teachers, and the school system have been talking about renovations for more that a decade, and no money has been throw at the school yet. Even the 27 million for renovations is not in the school, but in the local government's contingency fund.

If you want to curb spending, look into the fact that work on the schools is not bid out. Another thought if we want to control expenses in this computer age, is to print out on the web the check registars associated with our schools. One more thought, send out the property tax bills the day before Board of Education elections.

This discussion has moved from education to having children, and my quess is because of F.M.'s comment, more children better value - for your tax dollar. F.M. there is nothing wrong with that if you are only thinking public education. But I really doubt couples sit around talking about the cost value of having a large family. Come to think of it, my Mom and Dad both came from large families, they had 5 brothers and sisters in each family, but they only had 2 children, and my wife and I had 2. I think that is more typical than not. The better value for your dollar through education by having more children isn't working. The school system must be failing as an incentive to breeding, and thank goodness, we should leave breeding to the production of animals, and love making as the preferred method to create human beings.

As far as having children, yah it was a pain at times, but now as a 66 year old widower, when I walk into the same house that was once filled with family and pets, and dreams of a better tomorrow for all of us I realize the value of dreams and memories that would have never been if my wife and I would not have had children.

Anonymous said...


You're talking to two different anons. At least two.

FreeMarket said...

Jim- your points are weak, and worse you have completely missed my point. I really don't care if the school needs money spent on it or not. My point is that those who should be spending the money are the parents whose children are using the school over the life of the building. It is not simply a matter of curbing spending, it is making those who get the value the ones who pay for it. I don't care if spending increases on public schools if that is what parents want and they are willing to pay for it themselves.

Mamagoots- you have a very poor understanding of economics. Those who get the value from public schools are the ones who use them. Everyone else has to pay extra for their home and then pay higher taxes on top of that. Not much of a value. I think we spend $13,000 per child to educate them in HCPS. Why should parents not to have to pay one dime extra over those who have no children? That is just mindless.

MAYBE there was a time when it made sense to provide free public education. Even if there was a time like that in the past, it sure as heck is long past now.

mamagoots said...

OK, my initial response was really directed to the comments by anon 702 (sorry for the misprint anon 651). And since there are so many anons out there, it really doesn't matter whjich one I'm responding to.

But I can play at economics, even if I have a "very poor understanding" of it.

Suppose we adopt FM's plan, abandon free public education, and adopt a pay as you go plan. What happens to the families who can't afford to pay? FM says we'd have to have subsidies for them, just like we do for the free lunch programs. Where is the money for subsidies going to come from?

Or do we say no pay, no school? And you don't think that will have an economic effect?

You don't think universal education (supplied by "free" taxpayer subsidized public schools) has any benefit for a childless person who has no use for those schools?

So what happens when half the population goes uneducated? What good is your extra $ (from those taxes you didn't have to pay) going to do you when you can't get the goods and services you're used to because nobody can operate the cash register? Or count your money?

Is there a world power which doesn't provide state-supported education? Did they get that way without educating their citizens?

I always thought that education, not basketball, was the way out of poverty, but I guess I better go buy some balls for the grandkids...

FreeMarket said...

"So what happens when half the population goes uneducated?"

In addition to your poor understanding of economics, you also have a very poor grasp of English because you have failed to understand anything that I have said. I simply suggested that we change who pays for education- this does not have any impact on who is educated nor does it impact the quantity of education. In fact, the State would still be controlling education. The ONLY difference would be that the parents of children in schools would have to pay the full cost. Obviously, taxes would have to pay for those who are truly destitute just like taxes pay for school lunches for the destitute.

At least have the courtesy to attack the actual idea that I proposed and not a straw man. Your misrepresentations of my idea are not appreciated.

jim adams said...

Your point:only parents pay for their children's education, and at a rate that would offset the life of the building.

How do you determine the life of the building, or more precisely the useful live. Do you include estimates of future repair expenses in the current cost, than award credits, or charge previous students, when you have to correct the life span.

Lets forget how you develope your fee schedule, and discuss what is more important.

Staying with your argument, parents, a child, an education.

The orphan can not go to school.

The poor can not provide the same 1 through 12th grade education for their child as some one in the middle class.

The single parent has another load placed on their shoulders

Any assistance to the above groups is not allowed in your argument.

I feel your system of education is more expensive and less effective than what we would want in an advanced society.

My reasoning is that all of society benefits, from the educated person, not just the individual.

Our public school system is not as good as a private school system, but without our public system we would be no where near what we are today.

I hope you didn't dismiss my points on how to control the cost of education, especially here in Howard County.

Your thought that a free education leads to overpopulation
sounds like the expression we should not have intercourse, it leads to dancing. Neither expression makes sense, but they happen independent of each other so we should band them all?

Oh!, two years ago education was 60% of the budget, so the current percentage is a decrease.

jim adams said...

Oh no, no fair F.M., you have changed the rules while I was writting my response.

Mamagoots I think we should give F.M. a little vacation, a little R&R (rest and recovery).

FreeMarket said...

Jim, we make accounting estimates all the time both in government and private business. It is actually not rocket science. When Coca-Cola makes changes in how they compute average costs of their products, do they go back and charge past customers? Of course not.

The rest of your comment has absolutely nothing to do with anything I wrote. AND FOR THE LAST TIME, THERE WOULD STILL BE PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

I am sorry if I am getting frustrated, but it seems like the point I am trying to make is very simple and your criticisms are way off target.

im adams said...

Let's take a break.

mamagoots said...

FM, you don't see how requiring parents to pay for education leads to some parents who don't / won't pay leads to some people going uneducated?

And why should some have to pay and some get subsidized? And who decides who gets the subsidies? What's the income cutoff?

Is education still compulsory? How do you enforce that? How do you compel people to pay for something they decide they don't want? Isn't that a contradiction of free market philosophy?

Then don't you need a financial aid bureaucracy as well as an enforcement bureaucracy being supported by taxpayer money? Or do the parent taxpayers have to pay for this too?

I may not understand English, but you haven't followed your idea down the roads it will take.

Jim, he doesn't need a vacation. Maybe he needs some dance lessons.

mamagoots said...

OK, Jim, break time.

jim adams said...

Mamagoots your making me laugh, I hope the same thing is happening for F.M.

FreeMarket said...

Mamagoots: Education would still be mandatory, and the same system of making sure that people are sending their kids to public or private schools now will work regardless of who is paying for it. Perhaps you may be aware that such a system exists now. Do you pay all your local taxes? The same force of government would make sure people paid for school.

How many parents do not want their children educated? You make it sound like that will be a common and insurmountable problem, but you can't possibly be foolish enough to actually believe that.

mamagoots said...

Sorry, Jim, he made me do it.

FM, you assume that all parents want their children educated, and in theory you're right. But I've been in the trenches, and seen what happens when money enters the equation.

You see, I've worked in private schools, and heard every excuse known to man as to why tuition isn't being paid. I've hear rich parents say they've decided they've paid enough already and poor parents say they had to make their car payments instead (and that they had to buy the new Mercedes instead of the used Cavalier). The main difference is that the rich parents will go to the top to keep their kids in school; the poor ones just keep them home.

And what about the "why should I have to pay when my neighbor doesn't" issue. Who determines that?

As for our enforcement system, when was the last time you actually heard of someone being arrested for truancy? You're not that long out of high school - surely you had classmates who cut school endlessly and never ended up in the pokey?

Now your idea might very well work as a population growth deterrent (although I don't buy the opposite population explosion theory of the free public education). But you'd have to wait to institute the policy until all babies currently in the pipeline are born, or you'd have a whole bunch of parents crying foul! You really can't penalize people who didn't know it was going to cost them $12,650 a year to educate their kids. They might never have had them had they known!

And then maybe everybody who wants kids would move to a different locale, where the school costs aren't quite as high. So there'd you be in the childless county with no schools at all! Just think - no more tot lots! No more teens working at McDonalds! Only senior citizens and illegal immigrants!

Anonymous said...

A strong argument can be made to support the idea that schools would perform better and more efficiently if a much higher percent of expense and payment came from the private sector, rather than government.

Also, because population growth is a serious problem, asking parents to pay a larger share might help. Was Patrick Moynihan completely wrong? I don’t think so, not at all.

FreeMarket said...

Mamagoots- After making me suffer through your ridiculous anecdotal stories from your limited experiences in the accounting department (apparently) of a private school and throwing fear tactics at me that would get Dick Cheney proud, you finally raise one valid point- the program would definitely have to be very slowly phased in with the major burden being shifted to parents in 18 years. In the meantime, at least some of the costs could be shifted to parents. It’s hard for parents to complain that they have to pay, maybe 3K or 4K per child, when they are getting a 13K value. The mechanics of it all will have to be worked out, and they can be. You make it sound like every potential problem is insurmountable.

I think one of the benefits of such a plan is that it would make parents choose between certain material goods (bigger house, fancy car or whatever) and having that extra kid. That is the whole point, actually.

mamagoots said...

Oh dear. You really don't like me, do you? It was okay when you insulted me for my "very poor" grasp of economics, and English, and called my anecdotes ridiculous and my accounting experience limited. But comparing me to Dick Cheney? That spawn of Satan? That, sir, calls for pistols at dawn. I don't think I've ever made anybody that mad before.

And to think we've just met. Maybe I should change my name to Anon.

fred said...

I think one of the benefits of such a plan is that it would make parents choose between certain material goods (bigger house, fancy car or whatever) and having that extra kid.

So, you are saying, in a sense, that people would be penalized for having kids. How has that worked out so far in China?

Anonymous said...

Fred- Ha ha. So foregoing the new Hummer is to be "penalized"? How does having to make the choice between a "fancy car" and an extra kid at all relate to the one child (or two, if your first is a girl) mandate in China in which heavy fines are levied against violators?

This does much to explain the sense of entitlement Americans have.

fred said...

should have put "penalized" in quote because you are's not really a "penalty". And you are right, that there is a sense of entitlement in America.

since anecdotes is the name of the game, I'm not talking about scenarios where husband and wife are sitting at the kitchen table wondering about whether to buy that "Hummer" (always a fun emotional card to pull) or have a child.

Let's instead say that husband and wife have recently bought a Toyota Sienna Hybrid, have recently spent $20,000 on solar panels for their home and have 2 children (ages 7 and 9 - born prior to FMs ascension to world domination).

Now, birth control isn't 100% effective so wife gets pregnant for the third time. Now, for some, the best option is to get an abortion, which is now a booming industry. Our husband and wife are philosophically opposed, so they are going to have the third child.

The government is going to charge them however many thousands of dollars per year to send that child to their school system (or 2-3 times that for private school). So it's not a "penalty", but it is a government mandated "fee" for having a child. Which is basically what China has.

Not someone who has kids, but I think my parents did, I have to say I am flummoxed as to where this idea that there is some sort of monetary incentive to have kids. I hear a lot about couples not having children because they can't afford it, but not so much about having children to strike it rich.

Anonymous said...

My thought is that the people you are speaking of will still be able to make ends meet, if they could afford the solar panels and toyota in the first place. Will the kids each get their own Wii for their chosen winter holiday? Maybe not...

I don't know if we incentivize having children, but our culture certainly puts an inferred value on it, and yes, I believe, financially compensates those who've chosen to have children more than those who don't.

Free education, tax breaks, welfare, are all ways in which the costs of having children are borne by all of society, but only those with children benefit.

I can hop on the anecdote bus too. My friend has 4 children. She doesn't work. Neither does her husband. They never have. Rather, they've made ends meet with welfare and a house courtesy of Habitat. They are both young and healthy, just not inclined to work- at all- and, in fact, have said that all they need, God, and the government, will provide.

Does everyone have the "right" to have children? I don't know. But my gut tells me that people have the obligation to provide as best they can, with government filling the gap to be sure each child eats on a daily basis. But where does the line of responsibility get drawn? Who knows.

fred said...

i think a cultural value placed on children is far different than any economic incentives the government offers, and that is not what FM referred to the "unhealthy incentive for folks to procreate."

It is my understanding that the government taxes you a little less for each kid you have. Still, that money you save in taxes probably does even come close to the cost of raising that child (I'd be curious to see some real world numbers on that), so having children is still a net economic loss for people. I fail to see why that equals "incentive."

Also, tax breaks to people who have children makes economic sense for the government, because those children will eventually become adults, earn money, and pay taxes. I would be willing to bet that most people pay back more taxes to the government in their lifetime than was spent on their education by the government.

Freemarket said...

"I would be willing to bet that most people pay back more taxes to the government in their lifetime than was spent on their education by the government."

Of course that is true, otherwise the government would be flat broke. However, that is a function of tax rates and the level of services provided to the taxpayers. Publicly financed education should not be thought of as an investment by the gov't to get additional tax revenue in the future.

Publicly financed education is like a big coupon good for "one free education" for each child you have. That coupon is very valuable, it is worth tens of thousands of dollars. That coupon is one heck of an incentive to have kids.

jim adams said...

Call us old fashion
Call us naive
Say what you will

My wife and I thought about
having childrew first,
then about their education

For us childrew were a part of natures plan,
not a part of a government program, or a market driven decision.

mamagoots said...

"Publicly financed education is like a big coupon good for "one free education" for each child you have. That coupon is very valuable, it is worth tens of thousands of dollars. That coupon is one heck of an incentive to have kids."

Wow. We've gone way beyond Jim's "intercourse may lead to dancing" analogy here.

At first I thought this was about FM not wanting to pay his taxes to educate somebody else's kids. But now I understand that what it's really about is controlling population so that people don't have those kids at all.

You don't seriously believe people make babies just to get that "coupon" good for one free public education per?

And you say I don't understand economics?

jim adams said...

I guess break time is over, right

Freemarket said...

"But now I understand that what it's really about is controlling population so that people don't have those kids at all."

Wow, Mamagoots. So asking people to pay for what they consume is now "population control"? That kind of doublespeak would make George Orwell roll over in his grave. A new low for you!

Anonymous said...

mamagoots: FM flies off the handle at times, pls don't think it's personal. (True FM, don't deny it). Further, if he knew who you were, he'd never talk that way to you.

But again, DP Moynihan was absolutely right - if we completely financially and indefinitely support families, they will become dependent, their children will become families and will become dependent and so on.

Entitlement, encouragement to procreate - of course it is, and it's empirically proven, not theory.

FreeMarket said...

Mamagoots: I could have expressed my disagreement with you in a way that was much more civil. Regardless of your identity, that was not appropriate. I'm sorry.

jim adams said...

Your a Gentleman, Free Market

An interesting man with an interesting blog,

Proud to know you.

mamagoots said...

Wow. I don't quite know what to say here.

Apparently I have sort of been outed?
Some of you apparently know who I am?

Freemarket, I never was insulted; I had fun with our discourse. There's still fundamentals we could resolve......

Jim Adams, you were always the thoughtful voice of reason.

Fred, I KNOW who you are!

So what's the next step here?

jim adams said...

Mamagoots, the next step is to realize you have in no way, in no manner been outed. You have been shown respect.

Mamagoots is Mamagoots and no one else.