Flypaper

Liam Julian

In Florida, where a state income tax is verboten, the housing crisis has had a particularly damaging effect on state revenues. Education is being hit hard. Piling on, today the St. Petersburg Times reports that "lackluster lottery sales" will hurt school budgets even more.

Lawmakers, already grappling with a drop in state tax collections, must finalize a 2008-09 state budget over the next three weeks. And they're already planning to cut school spending for the first time in decades. The new forecast could mean deeper cuts. Lottery dollars account for about 5 percent of the state's education spending.

Last year, the New York Times published a long piece about how lotteries are notoriously unreliable vehicles on which to base education funding. And they may actually make legislators less willing to devote dollars to schools because lawmakers sometimes believe (mistakenly) that their state lottery provides education a lot of support. In Florida, for example, the lottery accounts for only 5 percent of state education spending; in other states, the percentage is less.

Florida, though, is saddled with a particularly dubious class-size requirement , which is popular with citizens but costs the Sunshine State loads of money that could be better spent elsewhere. One wonders if the current budget crunch will cause some reevaluation of education priorities....

There's more coverage of Fordham's Catholic schools report today, including a front-page Washington Times story (check out the great pictures); a nice Washington Post metro story; a post on "The Corner"; and a New York Sun piece.

Speaking of the Sun, reporter Elizabeth Green got many things right but one big thing wrong. Let's take a look:

A report is being released Friday by a national think tank based in Washington, D.C., the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, concluding that 1,300 inner-city Catholic schools have closed since 1990...

So far so good

...displacing about 300,000 students...

Yes

...and that, if demographic patterns keep up, almost all such Catholic schools could be gone by 2018.

Well, no. What we did say was that if trends continue, another 300,000 students could be displaced over the next twenty years. That would leave many fewer urban Catholic schools--but more than zero....

No, it's not good that the "financial know-how" of American high school seniors has "gone from bad to worse." Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is fired up about it:

The financial preparedness of our nation's youth is essential to their well-being and of vital importance to our economic future. In light of the problems that have arisen in the subprime mortgage market, we are reminded of how critically important it is for individuals to become financially literate at an early age so that they are better prepared to make decisions and navigate an increasingly complex financial marketplace.

Yes, "financial literacy" is something our schools should inculcate. But I'd rank it behind reading, math, history, science, English literature, geography, a foreign language, art, music, and health education, if I had to prioritize. As schools--with a limited amount of time to teach anything--surely must do.

Liam Julian

Mike is right: financial literacy is important, but schools can't teach everything. In fact, we wrote as much several months ago in The Gadfly.

To suppose that America's possession of more financially literate 12-year-olds would have somehow staved off or lessened the subprime mortgage crisis, as Bernanke seems to, is really a stretch.

Liam Julian

This week's Economist contains a special report on "digital nomadism," the ability to work, and to connect to family or friends, from just about anywhere. When Coburn Ventures, a consulting firm, first started up, its to-do list was as follows: 1) get BlackBerries, 2) start contacting clients, and 3) find office space at some point. Eight months later, the seven-employee firm decided that it didn't actually need office space; everyone enjoyed the freedom and autonomy of nomadic work.

Twenty years ago, few people would have guessed that businesses could be successfully run without offices. Nonetheless, evermore companies, such as Coburn Ventures, are doing just that.

One can assume that education will go this route, especially private providers that are actively competing against one another for students. Who wouldn't want their kids to attend a virtual school that saved tons of money on facilities and reinvested those dollars into hiring the best teachers and giving students a lot of personal attention?

Education Sector's Bill Tucker penned for The Gadfly several weeks ago a nice overview of how virtual education is aiding high-school reform. (Bill based his article on a report he wrote last summer.) Virtual education is expanding, and as it does, it's taking sundry different shapes. Twenty years from today, will we perhaps have entered an age of educational nomadism?...

Liam Julian

"Carney releases education plan for Del."

Step right up and get??your new??education plan! Public schools, private schools--everyone's a winner!

Liam Julian

Check out this, from The Corner, on Mexico's corrupt teachers' union.

Gadfly has not ignored Mexico's union venality: see here and here. And neither have we failed to note that if education south of the border was stronger, there would be far fewer reasons for Mexicans to attempt illegal entry into the U.S.

Over at CATO, Andrew Coulson blogs about our Catholic schools report, and says:

It's hard to compete when the other??guy (read:??state-run schools) spends about twice as much per pupil but gives his service away for "free."

It's hard but not impossible. Andrew should check out our chapter on Wichita, which explains how that diocese has made Catholic schools free, too, for all Catholics. They did it by asking all parishioners to tithe a significant portion of their salaries; the response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. You might say that Church members agreed to pay a voluntary tax. I wonder what the libertarians at CATO would think about that.

Mike has a fair point that schools can't do everything. He might have added that it's hard to picture most high school teachers being able to confidently explain variable interest rates or balloon payments, or any students bothering to listen. But Liam reaches from that to imply that Bernanke is suggesting teaching financial literacy to 12 year olds--that wasn't what he said (he was talking about high school).

But more to the point, it's just wrong, and contradicts the Gadfly piece Liam refers to, to flatly dismiss the idea that financial literacy wouldn't have prevented the current financial crisis. It might very well have. If more people had basic financial knowledge, they would be far smarter about buying homes they could actually afford, about taking loans they could pay back, and about accepting terms that were not "predatory" or overly dependent on variable interest rates. How to help people get that education is the key policy problem. Mike is probably right (as is Liam) that it's not in high schools--so where, and how?

I'm not quite sure I understand Liam's objection to my earlier post on the economics of poverty. He says

KIPP and its ilk work for lots of reasons, but it's safe to say that they wouldn't be nearly so successful without committed parents and students and staffs--advantages that most urban schools don't have.

Well, that was my point. Many KIPP schools are better than most urban schools because they alleviate more of the burdens of poverty. There should be more such schools. There are several reasons most urban public schools lack these advantages, but foremost among them is that governments have a near-monopoly on education, and they make all kinds of rules to maintain the status quo, making it difficult for schools like KIPP to peddle their innovative wares in many cities.

As always, I sympathize to some degree with Liam's concerns that schools who "try to do more than they're capable of doing, more than they're designed to do... risk ignoring their most basic function, which is to teach kids."

But ultimately, I'd argue, the level of paternalism a school offers its students should be left to the school to decide, and parents can decide whether or not to send their kids there....

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