New study disproves commonly held myth
Critics of policies enabling parents to choose what type of public school their children attend often claim that these policies will increase racial segregation in public education. But support for this claim is largely based on poorly designed or flawed studies. Matt Chingos of the Brookings Institute examined this issue as it relates to charter schools, and found no evidence that allowing parents to choose charter public schools increases racial segregation.
Instead of simply comparing the racial composition of charter schools to that of conventional schools or districts (which other studies have done), Chingos tracks changes over time in racial composition in areas where charter schools actually operate. No matter which statistical methodology he employed or measure he used, Chingos found “the results consistently indicated no meaningful relationship between choice and segregation.”
Since enrollment in public schools is still largely determined by ZIP code, public schools remain highly segregated. Chingos discovered that the typical racial minority student attends a school where two-thirds of the students are also racial minorities. But this recent analysis should encourage those trying to provide low-income parents through charter schools the type of school options available to other parents, as these schools do not lead to more racial segregation.
Follow the research to help low-income students
With a push from Gov. Snyder, the business community, public employee unions and most of the significant lobbying groups in the state, both branches of the Legislature have proposed budgets that significantly expand spending on early childhood education. Unfortunately, this spending will likely not result in any significantly improved educational outcomes.
There is a lot of research out there on the effects of preschool, and a fierce debate over whether spending more money on schools for young children will result in improved performance. Something of a consensus has evolved around small, tightly-controlled educational environments for low-income, low-skilled students, with the studies on Ypsilanti’s Perry Preschool and North Carolina’s Abecedarian Intervention Project often cited. At the same time, even researchers on the left, who favor more spending on preschool in general, acknowledge that increasing funding for children of middle-class and wealthier families is ineffective.
The problem with the plans put forth in the Legislature is that, even if one accepts that preschool spending is worth the cost, the system still incenticizes spending the money in the wrong ways.
The House and Senate budgets call for more money for Great Start, which funds preschool for 4-year-olds in the state. But the bulk of the research on large, wide-ranging programs like Great Start and the national Head Start show that the results are dubious at best.
The best research done on Head Start, which includes several studies commissioned by the federal government, showed “little statistical effect” of the program – at best, preschool advantages wore off by fourth grade.
And as Shikha Dalmia, a senior analyst at the Reason Foundation, notes: The states which fund universal preschool have not seen a payoff.
[T]he latest evidence from Oklahoma and Georgia, two states that implemented universal pre-K in the 1990s, only confirms this.
Oklahoma's high-school graduation rates have dropped since it embraced UPK and Georgia's remain stagnant. The average reading score of Oklahoma's fourth graders on the NAEP -- the national report card -- dropped four points between 1998 and 2011.
Georgia just reached the national average. The NAEP reading gap between black and white children in Oklahoma was 22 points in 1992. In 2011? The same. Georgia had a 28-point spread in 1992. In 2011? Twenty-three points.
As my colleague, director of education policy, Michael Van Beek has noted: If the Legislature truly followed the research, they would create more Perry preschools; not more Head Starts.
And there is more than enough money already being spent on early childhood education to do that.
Michael Van Beek on the success of Michigan's charter public schools
James Hohman, assistant director of fiscal policy, is cited in the Lansing State Journal and by WZZM-TV13 in Grand Rapids about data showing state employees in Michigan having higher average compensation than their peers in other states.
“I would hope they have a conversation about this,” Hohman said. This is primarily why state government costs more every year.”
As Michigan Capitol Confidential has reported, the average total compensation for state workers in Michigan now exceeds $100,000 annually.
Taxpayers could save $5.7 billion a year if the benefits paid to government employees in Michigan were brought into balance with those paid to private-sector workers.
Deer hunting, "excess" property tax and Medicaid
Senate Bill 198, Amendment to accept federal health care law Medicaid expansion: Failed 13 to 25 in the Senate
To accept $1.53 billion in federal money to expand Medicaid eligibility under the terms of the federal health care law ("Obamacare"). The amendment offered by Democratic Sen. Vincent Gregory would also shift $181 million in current state health care spending onto the federal budget, making those funds available for other purposes in the short-term, but the terms of the expansion would require more money from State of Michigan taxpayers in a few years. Republican Sen. Roger Kahn joined all Democrats in voting "yes." This vote is not necessarily the final answer on this issue.
Senate Bill 347, Expand state housing subsidy agency powers: Passed 36 to 2 in the Senate
To empower the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) to use money in reserve funds to “invest” (buy ownership interest) in companies or nonprofits whose “primary purpose is to acquire ownership interests in multifamily housing projects” (and not necessarily build new ones).
Senate Bill 345, Authorize more state government housing subsidy debt: Passed 34 to 4 in the Senate
To repeal a requirement that the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) must scale back its debt from a “temporary” maximum of $4.2 billion authorized in 2012, to $3.4 billion after Nov. 1, 2014, subject to some exceptions. The borrowed money is used to provide taxpayer-backed mortgage loan guarantees, subsidies and more.
Senate Bill 335, Extend Medicaid "gamesmanship" insurance tax: Passed 25 to 13 in the Senate
To extend from 2014 to 2018 the sunset on a 1 percent health insurance claims tax intended to “game” the federal Medicaid system in ways that result in higher federal payments to Michigan’s medical welfare system. As introduced the bill would have eliminated the sunset and empowered the Department of Treasury to raise the tax without any further authorization by the legislature.
House Bill 4283, Expand allowable deer hunting guns south of “rifle line”: Passed 106 to 0 in the House
To expand the types of firearms allowed for deer hunting south of the “rifle line” in the Lower Peninsula. In addition to shotguns and muzzle-loading rifles, hunters could also use .35 caliber or larger repeating pistols, and certain .35 caliber or larger straight-walled rifle cartridges (but not modern "high-power" rifle rounds that carry for very long distances). Long-range rifles have traditionally not been allowed for deer hunting in the more densely-populated part of the state south of an uneven boundary located at roughly the same latitude as Mount Pleasant.
House Bill 4705, Refund excess property tax collected by school district on retired debt: Passed 108 to 0 in the House
To require a school district (Stephenson in the Upper Peninsula) that collected a property tax millage for bonds that were already paid off (retired) to transfer the excess revenue it collected to the state. The overcharge would then be given back to local taxpayers by reducing the amount of state education property tax on their next tax bill.
House Bill 4168, Repeal mandate for sheriffs to kill unlicensed dogs: Passed 106 to 0 in the House
To repeal a 1919 law that requires county sheriffs to locate and kill all unlicensed dogs, and which defines failure to do so as nonfeasance in office.
House Bill 4363, Ban local governmental body “phone-in” voting: Passed 92 to 14 in the House
To establish that if a member of a public body is allowed to cast a vote on a decision by the body without being physically present, it is a violation of the state Open Meetings Act.
SOURCE: MichiganVotes.org, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit http://www.MichiganVotes.org.
Michigan taxpayers will be providing corporate welfare to a production company outside the state for a film shot entirely in another country, according to an article on MLive.
The article reported that the documentary, “Original Bethlehem,” was awarded $65,270 in subsidies for $217,566 spent in Michigan.
This illustrates one of the classic problems with the Michigan film incentive program, which awards subsidies up to 32 percent of what a company spends in the state. Film subsidy supporters always point to the benefit of money being spent in the state while ignoring the cost (the subsidy money was taken from taxpayers, who will now never get a chance to spend it). The latter point is why the Senate Fiscal Agency calculated 11 cents on the dollar return for the program.
As long as states provide subsidies, film producers will shop around for the highest amount of money they can get from a state — a classic case of economic “rent seeking.” Outside of California, the states with the most generous incentives typically land the most movies.
But centralized planners are extremely poor investors. The state should get out of this business once and for all.
(Correction: Portions of this story have been changed from its original posting. The film has no ties to Hollywood and it was not shopped around among states for post-production work.)
How Republicans and Democrats view Medicaid expansion
There's an amusing story that demonstrates how focusing too much on one aspect of a situation can obliterate one's view of the bigger picture.
Once there was a lonely magician who went to a pet shop seeking a companion.
“You're in luck,” the shop clerk said. “We have a parrot for sale that is so smart he can carry on conversations. Just be careful what you teach the parrot in the first few weeks. Parrots are very intelligent, but they have one-track minds. Once the parrot locks in on what you want him to do, he'll never change.”
When the magician brought the parrot back to his apartment he discovered that the pet store clerk hadn’t exaggerated. The parrot was a great companion. It acted like a human being, carrying on conversations, asking and answering questions.
From the start, the magician's favorite activity with the parrot took place as he practiced his magic tricks. The parrot was fascinated by the magician’s tricks. He studied every move and asked the magician to repeat each trick. For the magician, this was like having a built-in audience.
Over time, the parrot always figured out how each trick worked, which gave the magician an incentive to find new tricks. As a result, the magician's act steadily improved.
Then the magician was hired as an entertainer by a Caribbean cruise company. Obviously, he couldn't leave the parrot in his apartment for weeks on end, so he took the parrot with him.
On the first night out from port, the cruise ship struck something. Soon it became clear that the ship was sinking.
Because he was an employee of the cruise company, the magician had to wait and make sure all of the passengers were safe. As things turned out, the ship sank before he could climb into a life boat. He ended up in the water, clinging to a piece of floating debris.
The next morning the magician was delighted when he spotted his parrot circling in the air. After a few minutes the parrot landed next to him on the piece of debris. With difficulty, the magician scribbled a note on a piece of paper that was in his pocket. Using a shoelace, he carefully tied the note to the parrot's leg.
“Fly to shore,” he commanded. But the parrot just sat silently, staring at the magician. This went on for several hours.
“Come on you stupid bird,” the exasperated magician finally said. “Why won't you do as I ask?”
At last the parrot spoke: “OK, I give up,” It said. “How did you make the ship disappear?”
Last week, the Michigan House Republicans unveiled what they called their plan to reform Medicaid. In reality, it represents the terms the federal government would have to meet to get the House GOP to pass Medicaid expansion.
President Barack Obama's administration wants states to expand Medicaid, which in turn will aid in the implementation of Obamacare.
The House Republican plan includes reforms to Medicaid such as co-pays, health savings accounts and a 48-month cap on coverage for able-bodied adults without children. It is worth noting that coverage for this group (able-bodied adults) is what the Medicaid expansion is primarily all about.
In addition, the plan includes statutory language that would prevent the expansion from happening if the federal government fails to agree to the reforms. The plan also includes statutory language that would undo the expansion if the federal government were to renege on any aspect of the deal.
As was the case with the parrot, various reactions to the House Republican plan show what each entity involved is focused on.
For GOP lawmakers, doing anything that appears to accommodate Obamacare is potentially a political poison pill. That’s because their conservative base sees Medicaid expansion as giving up the battle to force the federal government to repeal, or at least change, Obamacare.
This explains what conservatives are focused on. They object to the very existence of the plan. From their perspective it is a dangerous to even stick a toe in the Obamacare tent.
Meanwhile, much of the news media focused on the 48- month cap and the fact that expansion would provide Medicaid coverage to about 300,000 residents. This seems to have been a direct reflection of the reaction Democrats had to the plan. To the liberal mind the focus is on coverage. In fact, that was the impetus behind Obamacare.
This fixation on coverage is a consistent theme with American liberals. Never mind that studies have shown that, for able-bodies adults, Medicaid coverage has little advantage over no coverage at all. In fact, it can actually be worse than having no coverage.
Many liberals tend to take great comfort in having something on paper, even when its actual value might be little more than a mirage.
Another response to the House Republican plan within the news media was one of dismay. Some reporters were taken aback by the audacity of the Republicans for daring to put conditions on Medicaid expansion when the federal government is offering billions of dollars to the state.
The thought that there might be fishhooks buried in the tantalizing salmon never seems to enter their minds.
On the face of it, the House Republican plan is basically an offer that the Obama administration would almost surely refuse. The real question about the plan is whether it is essentially a creative statement of defiance to what's going on in Washington, D.C. If, and only if, House Republicans stick to their guns and refuse to budge on the major points in the plan, that's what it will likely end up being.
(Editor’s Note: Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Michigan Capitol Confidential. He is a veteran Lansing-based journalist. His columns do not represent viewpoints of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy or Michigan Capitol Confidential.)
The financial challenges faced in the Buena Vista and Pontiac school districts have been a hot topic for many weeks now, with several commenters trying to use these districts’ issues to make a case for giving schools more money.
But school districts do not simply find themselves one day without any cash on hand. It takes years of financial (not to mention academic) mismanagement to get to the point where the Buena Vista and Pontiac school districts have placed themselves.
While public outcry and political grandstanding has resulted in the Buena Vista school district being reopened for the remainder of the school year, one has to wonder whether students will see much academic benefit.
After all, this is the district where MLive recently reported that no student scored proficient on eight different MEAP tests. That was up from the previous year, when the district had five MEAP tests where no student scored proficient. There are only 18 different MEAP tests.
Michigan Capitol Confidential recently reported that Buena Vista approved a three-year teachers union contract in 2011 that awarded raises and paid for 100 percent of health care costs — even though enrollment had dropped by 13 percent in a matter of months.
Pontiac is not doing much better. Average teacher salaries have soared in recent years, as enrollment has tumbled. This appears to be a product of the district using seniority to make layoff decisions, instead of considering teacher cost and quality.
From afar, district financial difficulties appear contained. However, financial problems are generally a symptom of a dysfunction throughout the district. Dysfunction is the only way the Pontiac school district could have spent $16,400 per student but not provide toilet paper to students. Dysfunction is the only way that Buena Vista officials could have taken state money for a program that doesn’t exist and assume that there would be no repercussions.
I have been visiting Highland Park schools during the past year to watch the former conventional district transition to a charter district. The district was also dysfunctional: Highland Park was spending nearly $20,000 per student. And somehow, the bathrooms were filthy. Somehow, holes in the ceiling were never repaired. Somehow, students at the high school saw rodents in their classrooms.
At one Highland Park school, about a third of former Highland Park district teachers stayed on when the charter management company took over. Students say that the school has changed for the better — and that their teachers actually teach this year. How is it possible for a school to change so dramatically with so many of the same teachers as the year before while spending less money? By changing a culture of mismanagement and waste.
District financial mismanagement means that vast amounts of taxpayer dollars are being wasted. It is especially deplorable that some public school districts with large disadvantaged student populations are spending so much while doing so little for their students.
Excuses should be viewed with skepticism: There are hundreds of Michigan districts that are not in a spending crisis. They have survived or thrived while facing the same policy changes others blame for Buena Vista’s and Pontiac’s struggles.
A question I have asked many long-time Highland Park teachers is whether the dramatic conversion of the conventional district to a charter district was worth it, to change the culture of Highland Park schools. Teachers — including unabashed critics of the charter school model — have said yes. Even in private conversations with no charter school officials present.
Sometimes, dramatic change is needed. The worst thing to do for the students in Michigan’s worst schools is to let those schools limp on. The problem is more severe than simply a lack of funds.
Previous articles by me and others have explained how there is essentially no chance that the Obama administration will accept key reforms proposed by Republicans in the Michigan Legislature as conditions for accepting the Obamacare Medicaid expansion.
But what if lightning struck and the feds did approve the reforms, would it then be OK to accept the expansion?
Not if one shares the self-government, free enterprise beliefs and principles on which Mackinac Center policy recommendations rest. Here’s why:
This bad law is vulnerable on many fronts: legal, political, administrative, technological, perverseness. While outright repeal is unlikely under the Obama administration, it is possible Congress — including the Reid Senate — will be forced to open the law for amendment, at which point who knows what favorable changes the then-current climate of public opinion would allow (or demand).
We are barely six months from an implementation that no one thinks will be happy. There will be many painful consequences, and even launch-pad explosion can’t be ruled out.
With this context, those who share our principles have a duty to contest every step, because this issue is not concluded. A day may come when active resistance becomes counter-productive, but our core beliefs demand we be slow and grudging in accommodating that day’s arrival.
However, no one at the Mackinac Center is defending our nation’s dysfunctional health care system status quo. The problem with Obamacare is that it doubles-down on those dysfunctions rather than fixing the bad policies that caused them. Fortunately, within the broad freedom movement there is a general consensus on the kind of reforms needed to strike at the root of the dysfunctions.
Congressman Paul Ryan’s premium support model for Medicare is part of that. For the non-elderly, voucher-like health insurance tax credits like those proposed by John Goodman and others are another. On Medicaid for the poor, Florida think-tanker Tarren Bragdon is promoting a reform he calls the “Medicaid Cure,” which is actually underway as a pilot program in several counties there.
These and other patient-centered, free-market health care reforms all recognize that policies generating perverse and broken incentives for both consumers and providers are the source of our system’s current dysfunctions. They are all designed to get those incentives right. In contrast, Obamacare worsens the bad incentives and adds countless new ones.
History professor Walter Russell Mead has documented the erosion of what he calls the “blue social model” that prevailed in this country for 60 years after the New Deal, and how “voters are hungry for practical solutions (and) the party that develops real and sustainable solutions can win their trust and support.”
In the coming months regular Americans will start learning in painful detail all the ways in which Obamacare is the very antithesis of “practical” and “sustainable.”
There is a better way, and as the Iron Lady famously said on another threat to our future, “this is no time to go wobbly” on resisting a law we know will make our people less free, less healthy and less prosperous.