Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Reasons to avoid government schools - part 1

Here's my first in a series of post on some of the reasons to avoid government schools.

Public education wastes money. It is done under the pretense of "helping children." Some good does trickle down to children, but far too little. The television show "20/20" did a good job of documenting this in the broadcast "Stupid in America."

I have my own example of this. In my neighborhood, a little boy would ride his bike to the school near my house. From there, he was bused to another school. The school district used a full size school bus to transport one child the two miles to another school. I repeat, they used a full size (70 student capacity) school bus to send one child to another school because of legislation limiting class room size. I must add, that the school to which he was bused was the lowest performing school in the district. Between gas, insurance, salary for the driver, I wonder just how much money they threw literally out that (bus) window. So the tax payers spent extra money to insure that a child got to attend a really bad school.

A recent study by the U.S. Education Department reported that public schools perform favorably with private schools when students' income and socio-economic status are taken into account. They neglected to point out that the government schools spent on average twice as much money as the private schools to achieve similar results.


An example of why it costs so much more to educate a child in a government school can be seen in how school funding goes to replace facilities that were not properly maintained and to build new buildings which will also not be properly maintained. A new performing arts center recently built at my local high school had an extravagantly design. The students could have been served just as well with a less elegant facility.

After the last school bond was passed, I almost couldn't bring myself to speak to my neighbors who supported it. I felt like they had come into my home and stolen money out of my wallet. I already pay for the entire cost of my children's education. Why should I be forced to subsidize the education of children whose families are more affluent than mine?


Property tax is also a problem. Your obligation to pay for the support of schools is not based on services received nor ability to pay, it is based on the purchase price of your property. If your income declines because you are retired or unemployed, your school support obligation does not decline. Luckily in California, thanks to proposition 13, homeowners are protected from sky rocketing tax increases as their property values rise. The proposition limits the increase to a reasonable amount per year.

The "funding schools through property tax" system is unfair to many people. If we remodel our house and add a room, our property tax would be reassessed at the current market value. We would then be required to pay an additional $5000 or more a year in property tax. High property tax levels prevent families from buying homes or improving the properties they already own. New home owners who often have few or no children pay high tax rates for services they may never use.


And then there is the whole paying interest problem. Every time the government raises money with a bond measure, money is wasted in interest payments. Paying interest on a loan doesn't help children.

In California, a bond for classroom size reduction raised $9.2 billion dollars. It is predicted to cost $15.2 billion dollars to pay back. That's 6 billion dollars worth of tax revenues that will be collected in the guise of supporting my local school, which will really be used to pay interest. Ironically, this was the same legislation that forced the neighborhood school to bus the little boy to the lowest performing school in the district. So I got to see just exactly how much "good" that money did.

There is the money lost to "management" costs. I can only guess how much that would be. For example, in the above mentioned school bond, $160 million dollars of "school bond funds" are slotted for Home Buyer Assistance and Rent Assistance programs. I have no idea why.


Oh, then there is the argument "What about the poor kids?" In general, the children in poor neighborhoods don't do very well at public school anyway. A child's performance at school is almost entirely linked to his home situation.

This excerpt explains it best, from If Families Matter Most, Where Do Schools Come In? by Caroline M. Hoxby.

"The EEOC (Equality of Educational Opportunity Commission) report revealed that, once researchers controlled for differences in students family backgrounds, differences in school resources accounted for almost none of the disparity in achievement. That is, the report concluded that families mattered a lot and that schools hardly mattered at all: It is known that socioeconomic factors bear a strong relation to academic achievement. When these factors are statistically controlled, however, it appears that differences between schools account for only a small fraction of differences in pupil achievement.

Reviewing the EEOC report, Mosteller and Moynihan noted that, if anything, the above statement greatly understated the results: The path breaking quality of the EEOC had to do with its analysis of the relation of variation in school facilities to variation in levels of academic achievement. It reported so little relation as to make it almost possible to say there was none."


In my state, a kindergarten through 12th grade education for one child costs the tax payers about $90,000. In 2001, almost half (46%) of regularly admitted California State University students arrive unprepared for college writing and mathematics. After investing $90,000 dollars, it would be reasonable to expect a better return on your investment. The truth is that the $90,000 wasn't invested for the well being of the child. The $90,000 dollars went in to the well being of the "system."

Another problem with the government school system is that the educational resources are not equally divided. We siphon resources away from the average and gifted students to pay for the benefit of under performing students. The study, Spending on Schools by Eric Hanushek reported that the average special education student received funding of 2.3 times more than regular education students.

None of these groups is "entitled" to more resources than another. If we are going to be fair, none of the students are entitled to the resources beyond their own family's ability to pay and resources freely donated to them. If you think that sound overly harsh, read the book Escape from Gansta Island. It demonstrates how dangerous entitlement thinking can be for inner city youth.

There currently exists no validation (research study) which demonstrates that increased spending in special education has made a measurable difference in outcomes for special education students. Even if it did, it would not justify removing those resources from the other types of students.


I already donate to educational charities. I would be willing to help pay for privately funded tutors to work with "under privilege" children. My middle and upper class neighbors should provide for their own children. It may impact their standard of living, but better theirs than mine. I should note about 5% of families already do this by sending their children to private schools or by homeschooling. If communities wish to pool resources to provide a school, that would be great as long as they don't have the power to raise money through taxation. It should be entirely voluntary.

As a famous pioneer once said:

"I am opposed to free education as much as I am opposed to taking property from one man and giving it to another who knows not how to take care of it... I do not believe in allowing my charities to go through the hands of robbers who pocket nine-tenths themselves and give one tenth to the poor... Would I encourage free schools by taxation? No! "

I'm actually pleased that my school district looses state and federal funds because my children are not there. It is only about $300 per child/ per year, which is why they don't bother much with homeschoolers like us. It's not worth it to them. But still it's my financial vote against a corrupt system. Unfortunately, even if my children don't go to school, the school district still gets to keep my local property tax money.

Last of all, there is the argument that if children aren't in school all day they will get into trouble and crime rates will rise. Essentially, school has turned into day prisons for children and teenagers. A recent commercial in support of the Universal Preschool initative which was later defeated had actors portray police officers sitting in a patrol car talking about how preschool is vital to keep kids out of jail. It is an implied threat. If you don't support this measure, someday hordes of juvenile offenders will threaten your home and the safety of your family.

As I see it, financially supporting government schools is now equivalent to paying protection money to the mob.

For the next segment, see Part 2 (Textbooks are badly written), Part 3 (Problems with Teachers) and Part 4 (Wastes time).

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Anonymous said...

The public schools in Ocean Springs built an administrative center complete with a cupola (that leaks). Meanwhile they don't have enough buildings to house their students.

But hey the admin has nice new offices in a nice new building that's pretty. Who cares that the students are stuck in older buildings in crowded classrooms.

Janine Cate said...

That was the hard thing about writing this post. The examples of school waste are too many to document. I could give almost endless examples of misuse of education funds, such as in your example.

Jen said...

As someone who works in the education system in the UK - it was interesting to read about how the system works for kids over in the States. Thanks.

Unknown said...

It only takes a few minutes to do the math as to how much monies are allocated, both from local and federal sources, for an average elementary school. This is one of the little math exercises the children and I do together for fun sometimes. When you are done, you have to ask yourself, "Where does all this money disappear to?"

My son has a graphic design business and was allocated to design a brochure for our largest school district (it was a brochure to explain their budget!). When it became time to choose a printer for the project, my son found one that would do it for a pittance, but the school district's print shop manager took exception to it, because if the public knew just how cheaply things like this could be outsourced, he would be out of a job (he was putting on paper that the job would cost $2000, when my son had found a company that would do it for $250!).

Makes you wonder just how much of this sort of thing goes on everyday.