Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday May 25, 2011

The failure of American schools. The Atlantic: “Who better to lead an educational revolution than Joel Klein, the prosecutor who took on the software giant Microsoft? But in his eight years as chancellor of New York City’s school system, the nation’s largest, Klein learned a few painful lessons of his own — about feckless politicians, recalcitrant unions, mediocre teachers, and other enduring obstacles to school reform.” Key takeway idea: “As a result, even when making a lifetime tenure commitment, under New York law you could not consider a teacher’s impact on student learning. That Kafkaesque outcome demonstrates precisely the way the system is run: for the adults. The school system doesn’t want to change, because it serves the needs of the adult stakeholders quite well, both politically and financially.” … Also: “Accountability, in most industries or professions, usually takes two forms. First and foremost, markets impose accountability: if people don’t choose the goods or services you’re offering, you go out of business. Second, high-performing companies develop internal accountability requirements keyed to market-based demands. Public education lacks both kinds of accountability. It is essentially a government-run monopoly. Whether a school does well or poorly, it will get the students it needs to stay in business, because most kids have no other choice. And that, in turn, creates no incentive for better performance, greater efficiency, or more innovation — all things as necessary in public education as they are in any other field.” … Overall, an eye-opening indictment of American public schools.

Professors to Koch Brothers: Take your green back. In The Wall Street Journal Donald Luskin takes a look at what should be a non-controversy: A gift by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation to Florida State University to endow a program to study the foundations of prosperity, social progress, and human well-being — at the Stavros Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Economic Education. (Sounds like a good match.) Writes Luskin: “Then there’s the donors. One of the donors, according to the two professors, is known for his ‘efforts to influence public policy, elections, taxes, environmental issues, unions, regulations, etc.’ Whom might they be referring to? Certainly not George Soros — there’s never an objection to that billionaire’s donations, which always tend toward the political left. No, it’s Charles and David Koch, owners of Koch Industries.” … Critics say the gift is an assault on academic freedom. Luskin counters: “The issue at FSU isn’t that the university has bargained away its academic freedom. The problem is that FSU has exercised its academic freedom in a way that the political left disapproves of. As [FSU College of Social Sciences] Mr. Rasmussen put it to the St. Petersburg Times: ‘If somebody says, ‘We’re willing to help support your students and faculty by giving you money, but we’d like you to read this book,’ that doesn’t strike me as a big sin. What is a big sin is saying that certain ideas cannot be discussed.”

History and legacy of Kansas populism. Recently Friends University Associate Professor of Political Science Russell Arben Fox delivered a lecture to the Wichita Pachyderm Club that was well-received by members. Now Fox has made his presentation available on his blog In Media Res. It’s titled The History and Legacy of Kansas Populism. Thank you to Professor Fox for this effort, and also to Pachyderm Club Vice President John Todd, who arranges the many excellent programs like this that are characteristic of the club.

Federal grants seen to raise future local spending. “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” — Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman (The Yale Book of Quotations, 2006) Is this true? Do federal grants cause state and/or local tax increases in the future after the government grant ends? Economists Russell S. Sobel and George R. Crowley examine the evidence and find the answer is yes. The conclusion to their research paper Do Intergovernmental Grants Create Ratchets in State and Local Taxes? Testing the Friedman-Sanford Hypothesis states: “Our results clearly demonstrate that grant funding to state and local governments results in higher own source revenue and taxes in the future to support the programs initiated with the federal grant monies. Our results are consistent with Friedman’s quote regarding the permanence of temporary government programs started through grant funding, as well as South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s reasoning for trying to deny some federal stimulus monies for his state due to the future tax implications. Most importantly, our results suggest that the recent large increase in federal grants to state and local governments that has occurred as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will have significant future tax implications at the state and local level as these governments raise revenue to continue these newly funded programs into the future. Federal grants to state and local governments have risen from $461 billion in 2008 to $654 billion in 2010. Based on our estimates, future state taxes will rise by between 33 and 42 cents for every dollar in federal grants states received today, while local revenues will rise by between 23 and 46 cents for every dollar in federal (or state) grants received today. Using our estimates, this increase of $200 billion in federal grants will eventually result in roughly $80 billion in future state and local tax and own source revenue increases. This suggests the true cost of fiscal stimulus is underestimated when the costs of future state and local tax increases are overlooked.” … An introduction to the paper is here.

Debt observed as sold. New U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp, who represents the Kansas first district, recently observed the Bureau of Public Debt electronically sell debt obligations of the United States of America. In a press release, the Congressman said: “In a matter of minutes, I observed the United States sell $30.4 billion more in debt. The ease with which this transaction was done reminded me that it is just too simple for Washington to acquire, buy, sell and trade debt.” As to the upcoming decision as to whether to raise the ability of the U.S. to borrow: “As Congress considers yet another increase in the debt limit, the only responsible option that exists is to put America on a path to fiscal responsibility with clear limits on spending. Democrats say they want a debt limit increase that is ‘clean’ without any of the budget cuts we have proposed. Yet, they have offered no plan to eliminate annual trillion-dollar deficits. There is nothing ‘clean’ about increasing the limit without tackling the massive deficits and ever-increasing debt. … With nearly one-half of the nation’s debt held by foreign countries, including more than $1.1 trillion by China, our national security is threatened as well. Too many of our freedoms and liberties are threatened when Americans owe trillions of dollars to nations who put their interests before ours.”

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