The first step is to admit you have a problem

My name is Mike and I'm a Twitter-holic.

It started innocently enough. My friends were doing it, so I decided to join them. I'd send a tweet here, a tweet there, maybe retweet something funny I read.

But then it started to get out of control. When I was away from work I would obsess about when I could send my next tweet. I downloaded the Twitter app for my iPhone so I could tweet any time. And before I knew it I was tweeting 10, 20, 30 times a day.

But I'm here thanks to my friend Jay, who called me out on my addiction. Jay, I'm ready to get help.

***

I'm only half-joking. Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@michaelpetrilli - follow me today!) know that I've been tweeting a lot lately. It's like my shiny new toy I just can't put down. And yes, I'm sure it's affected my writing and thinking too. And thus, Jay Greene writes today:

Twitter must be infecting the brains of Washington and NY education policy ?analysts.? I say this because I can't figure out what else could explain the short and inexplicable missives emanating from Fordham these days....I fear that the brains of the people at Fordham have been shrunk by over-use of Twitter. Everything is a one-line quip. No need for facts, evidence, analysis, etc? Everything is a catty little fight.

Everything? Even thoughtful discussions like these? But regardless, let me respond to some of Jay's particular concerns. He writes:

The Education Gadfly declares with Twitter-length analysis: ?While Gadfly supports the expansion of school choice to families in higher income brackets, he can't help but wonder if the Year of the Funding Cliff is the right time for this idea to come of age.? That's it. No other explanation, justification, or analysis is provided.

Uhm, don't the folks at Fordham know that the voucher and tax-credit-funded scholarship plans being adopted during the current legislative session save states money? They have generally set the voucher or scholarship amount less than per pupil spending in traditional public schools precisely so that states would save money given the Funding Cliff that states are facing. That is an important part of the appeal of these programs to some state policymakers.

Let me provide some further explanation and analysis. First, we do support the expansion of school choice programs to middle-class families. But if choice needs to be rationed, for whatever reason, we think it should be targeted on disadvantaged kids--either low-income children or those stuck in awful schools. We certainly don't think the Year of the Budget Cliff is the right time hand out vouchers to middle-class and upper-middle-class families whose children are ALREADY in private schools, as one Ohio proposal would do. I can't find any reason to believe that would save anybody--except the families--a dime.

Now, will Indiana-style programs save the state money? Possibly. But school districts that lose kids will lose money (at least state money). I've got nothing against that, per se. And yes, they will now be educating fewer kids, and will still have the same amount of local funding, so their per-pupil spending could actually go up. I get all of that. Still, districts will see their revenue decline, and at a time of major budget cuts, they aren't going to be thrilled about that. Maybe the medicine would go down better in boom years. (Not that districts were cool with vouchers in the late 90s.)

Jay also writes:

Another example of a Fordham analysis with all of the depth of a ?Tweet? can be seen in Michael Petrilli's email response to Don Boudreaux's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Boudreaux critiques public education monopolies by asking: ?What if groceries were paid for by taxes, and you were assigned a store based on where you live?.? He continues the analogy to how we provide public education by answering: ?Being largely protected from consumer choice, almost all public supermarkets would be worse than private ones. In poor counties the quality of public supermarkets would be downright abysmal. Poor people?entitled in principle to excellent supermarkets?would in fact suffer unusually poor supermarket quality.?

Mike's complete and penetrating analysis in his email response to this piece is: ?Clearly Don Boudreaux hasn't visited a Safeway or a Giant in an inner-city neighborhood, or else he wouldn't have gone with this analogy. ?

It's short enough for Twitter, but does it make any sense? Yes, urban grocery stores tend to be less nice, but there is no doubt that they are better than if they were operated as local government monopolies. There is ample evidence that markets help deliver better services at lower cost even for the very poor.

Of course I agree that inner-city grocery stores would be even worse if operated as local government monopolies. But I've always thought that the disrepair of private establishments in tough neighborhoods raised questions about the school-reform critique of urban public schools. In a lot of these communities, almost nothing seems to be working well. For sure, the public education monopoly disempowers poor people politically. But the free-market system disempowers them financially. Vouchers are a promising solution--give money to the poor so they can purchase goods and services that they otherwise couldn't--but they still don't result in high-quality offerings. Low-income families get food stamps; their grocery stores still suck. Low-income families get Section 8 vouchers (if that's what they are still called); moderate housing still, on the whole, sucks.

Anyway, my main point about Boudreaux's article is that it raises all of these problematic questions. Thus, he might have been better off going with a different analogy.

Jay, I hope this gives you confidence that I'm on the (long) road to recovery.

-Mike Petrilli

P.S. Am I going to tweet this post? Heck ya!

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