Friday, November 2, 2007

The Nuts and Bolts of Voucher Funding -- Parts 1 1/2, 2, 3, 4, and a response to BYU professor, Clayne L. Pope

I attended the propaganda meeting, errr, I mean "voucher discussion" advertised on the Herald's front page in the Orem city council chambers on Thursday, Nov. 1, 7:00 p.m. I almost went to the more exciting sounding debate at Provo High, but felt I should go and see what my legislators had to say. I'm GLAD I did. Before the meeting started, a man passed out VoteFor1 newletters. Various people asked why there weren't representatives from both sides. I soon realized I was in one of the "cottage meetings" being held around the state to "educate" us 60% of voters against vouchers ( why the politicians are right. I passed out the copies I had brought of my flyer (see my first blog on Oct. 30th) and received over a dozen happy thank you's afterwards.

I got to meet my senator and my representative. Senators Valentine and Dayton and Reps. Daw and Fowlke were there. I will say that they were very respectful of teachers and of everyone attending, even though 90% of the questions were doubting their assertions.

I was concerned by a lot of the positions they were taking, I was answering some questions from other audience members afterwards, and I had my previous plan to explain all of the funding. Then I saw this:
Guest opinion: BYU professor urges: Educate, don't brainwash

I read those smug, condescending words to all those who actually read the studies and bill language and have philosophical objections to the superiority of private schools while regarding public schools as one of the principal causes of America's greatness...and I just had to respond... completely, thoroughly, rationally, truthfully, to defend the good people I met at the discussion last night and teachers everywhere. So I will be giving some more blow-by-blow of what was said at the forum later. Here is the truth...

Which also happens to address Major Voucher Untruths:

2. Ignoring, or deliberately diverting attention from the true amount of money the state actually sends districts per student in WPU and MSP.

3. Misrepresenting the mitigation money as a full refund for the money lost from the voucher and allowing the misconception that the mitigation money goes directly back to the affected school.

4. Claiming that the schools won’t lose any money because the voucher check itself is written from the General Fund rather than the Uniform School Fund.

The entire cookie rationale and increase in per-student spending is dishonest, unethical, and a bunch of other words.

Public education is about pooling tax resources to educate the children of the whole society, even those who can't pay for that service on their own, because that's consistent with our public standards of social justice and morality and our capitalist principle of teaching them how to fish rather than giving them a fish (welfare). Education is the true social ladder.

So public education dollars predominantly go to services that benefit hundreds or thousands of students at once, i.e. schools, teachers, computers, buses, etc. The myth of "my taxes" going where "I want them"—rather than some sacrifice for society's good—changes the paradigm to school as a paid service where we purchase what we want. Whatever the exact stat is—20% percent of tax payers pay 80% percent of taxes...or something in that range—that philosophy inevitably leads to increased privatization and exclusion of a large portion of society because they can't afford their share. Most Americans and most Utahns reject that, as does the official state policy for education funding.

The voucher amount and mitigation monies are based on MSP:

The largest part of MSP is WPU:
Notice where it says "The WPU is NOT a plan of expenditure, or budget...but a mechanism to derive total program cost and distribute revenues." (Caps mine)

A teacher doesn't teach a class of five students because of a cookie commercial claiming each student has a right to $7500 of unique funding, and a student benefiting from at least $245,000 dollars worth of teacher throughout his/her seven classes doesn't take away those funds from others. The entire cost/savings argument of the voucher movement is based upon these false claims.

Average Timmy's true average financing in Utah in 2005 (year I have definite stat's from) without vouchers:
District receives $2220 from local funds that are almost entirely devoted to buildings and maintenance.
District receives $597 in federal money inflexibly dedicated to special programs.
District receives $3508 in MSP from the state to the district. The vast majority of this MSP is spent on salaries and benefits of faculty and staff who benefit many students, rather than just one--less than $40 dollars of that money is sent to his actual school because of head count. (Money sent to an Alpine District Jr. High in 2007-08 is 37.99 per student.)
The school spends $2-3 uniquely on Timmy rather than on resources that benefit many students from that about $35 dollars sent to the school. (Considering the cost of reams of paper and utilities vs. the unique paper and electricity usage of Johnny)
First 3 numbers from:

Average Timmy's true average financing in Utah in 2005 in a bizarro back-in-time world with vouchers:
$2220 from local funds that are almost entirely devoted to buildings and maintenance.
$597 in federal money inflexibly dedicated to special programs.
(Both of these are not based on head count, and both flow in and are automatically spent on fixed costs regardless of Johnny leaving the district for Private School 101.)
The district gets mitigation money, the difference of Johnny's average voucher, $2000, and MSP, $3508, for 5 yrs, thus receiving $1508 this year.
The state general fund disperses a $2000 check to Private School 101.
The State allocates the remaining $2000 dollars equivalent to the voucher from the Uniform School Fund to the district, but then removes it and deposits it...back in the Uniform School Fund...where it sits until next year. Lines 309-315.
Timmy's departure was not enough to let go of a teacher, so the district has to absorb that $2000 loss to its budget offset by the $35ish dollars not sent to the individual school. (And if the district would have lost enough students in a single school, 25-28ish students, to hire one fewer teacher, it also would lose an average of $50000-56000 in voucher funding and classroom size would remain the same. NOT because of district spite, but because of the lesser amount of WPU's allocated per head by the same state legislators who passed vouchers! And in a much more realistic scenario, if 25 students leave from 15 different schools, the class size is minimally reduced for one year and the district just eats the average $2000 loss for each student while releasing no teachers. AND after 5 years, the district doesn't even get the $1500 in mitigation money.)

Final results of student voucher: Total taxpayer money allocated is $2000 more. Total funds per student in education money appears higher [(District student population - 1) divided by same amount of money originally allocated] even though both the district and school actually LOST money. The $2000 that was sent to the district so it could be called school funding, but was shell-gamed back into the Uniform School Fund, just rolls into the allocations for the next year. Or it accumulates because of many vouchers and the legislators cut taxes because of the "surplus" while the actual schools and districts slowly bleed to death, leading eventually to the ultimate goal of complete privatization.

The typical classroom is almost entirely fixed costs until you remove enough students to get rid of a teacher.

The Susan Aud study I quoted above admirably sums up MSP and exactly what amount of funding comes from the state, completely contradicting all of PCE's and the pro-voucher legislators' $7500 statistics that count state MSP spent on teachers and local and federal funding as "leftover" that can be redistributed.
But being the biased person she is--her words, not the opening disclaimer of her study--she then proceeds to label leftover local funds which she acknowledged are fixed construction costs as a windfall."

This USU study of a previous Tax Credit for Private School bill from 2004 has two very relevant points to this discussion:
First, it explains very well on page 34 that the average school district in Utah budgets on average of 75% of its funds to salaries, benefits, and capital projects (construction). You can't redistribute those things in any "reasonable projection" that doesn't involve large groups of students leaving the same schools rather than small amounts from many schools.
But the study also goes CRAZY, like seriously bonkers/nuts/weird-professor-proving-that-one-plus-one-equals-three-with-arcane-statistics-that have-no-bearing-in-the-real-world crazy. In the Executive Summary, the authors state that the marginal cost “per WPU” (huh?) in 2002-2003 is $8675...when the actual WPU for that year was $2116 and the “total per student” was just under $6000. I am not misreading this. Here is a direct quote from page 6:
“But, this is then also the value that state and local districts can be expected to save from public school appropriations if a single student leaves a publicly funded school...This figure significantly exceeds per student spending...This is to be expected and is a natural result of school district managers doing their job well.”

So they admit that public schools are extremely well run, and then...what?!
I actually read most of what I could understand in this 149 pg. monster until pg. 45 which contains the table with the crazy "marginal costs." I will be the first to admit I did not understand much of what I read about all of the stats. But any reasonable person can conclude that claiming marginal savings higher than the broadest possible total cost statistic is a fraudulent way to claim over a billion dollars in savings.

The laymen version of this is that the study claims, for the year 2002-2003, that when the state put a kid in school and sent the local district the WPU of $2116 (plus some more if he was special ed.), the state somehow then gained $8675 if the kid moved out. I repeat, it is fraudulent to publicly claim that taxpayers save $1 billion dollars from this "magic money."

And that's just what the voucher supporters do:
The entire "vouchers help public schools" case is dead. Aud's study counts local money specifically devoted to fixed costs and "savings" sitting unallocated in the Uniform School Fund to reach her conclusions, and the USU professors, the ones whose claims are the basis of all of those doorhangers and PCE's front page claiming "over $1 billion in savings, defy belief. Did no one ever read this?! Is the incomprehensibility of voucher funding their greatest defense?

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