Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Hillary Clinton's College Tuition Plan Flunks Econ 101

'There ain't no such thing as a free lunch," economist Milton Friedman was fond of saying.

What he meant was that every policy has a cost, and that cost should be carefully considered. It is easy to be deceived by lofty promises while disregarding what it takes to fulfill them.

With her latest proposal for higher education changes, Hillary Clinton is employing the Santa Claus strategy of promising Americans free money in exchange for their votes.

In a nutshell, she wants to spend $350 billion to directly reduce tuitions at universities across the country and eliminate the need for student loans.

A good idea, right?

The student-loan bubble is undeniably a problem, and it would be great if more people could afford to go to college. Out-of-control tuitions are making higher education unreachable for many Americans, so it's easy to see why Clinton would propose something so appealing on the surface.

Unfortunately, the surface is where the idea's appeal stops.

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch, and that $350 billion has to come from somewhere. We're already facing over $18 trillion in debt, a number that gets bigger every day.

Since spending cuts are anathema to Democrats (and, regrettably, to many Republicans) Clinton is proposing the evergreen "more taxes on the rich" to fund her plan. She couches these higher taxes in terms of ending loopholes and deductions, but the net result is still that people pay more of their money to the government.

Ignore for a moment the fact that the incentive effects of higher taxes — even targeted on the richest Americans — would reduce productivity, cost jobs and end up hurting people at the lower end of the income ladder.

Let's even ignore the fact that nearly 35% of high school graduates don't even go to college, and would therefore bear the expense of a service they don't use. The monetary costs are only a small fraction of the costs in terms of opportunity for students, and the overall quality of education.

Fact is, Clinton's proposal merely pushes more people into a broken system, without doing anything to fix the fundamental problems with higher education in America.

We've seen this approach before. It's the same tack Barack Obama took with his signature health care law.

The Affordable Care Act focused on driving consumers into a broken health care framework, a strategy that has only resulted in lower quality of care for higher prices. Clinton's plan will drive consumers into a broken education framework, and we can expect the results to be similar.


Charter school revolution in  Britain gets results

Next month, David Cameron will become the first Conservative Prime Minister to send his offspring to a state secondary school – a fact that he loves dropping into conversation. When discussing education in parliament recently, the Old Etonian declared a personal interest: reform matters, he said, “if you have children at state school, as I do”. Except, of course, his daughter Nancy won’t be going to any old state school. She’s off to join Michael Gove’s elder child at Grey Coat Hospital school in Westminster, which is as good as a private school. And, if anything, harder to get into.

In a way, the average independent school is pretty egalitarian: if you have the cash, you can buy a place. But to get into the best state school, money is nowhere near enough. A house in a leafy catchment area is a prerequisite, then a five-year game begins. A speedy baptism, where appropriate. Dinner with the vicar, where it helps. And then years of school-gate intelligence-gathering: how big is the catchment area? Whom to nobble, and how? Playing Britain’s state-school game is a long and arduous task, but the prize is the best education that money can’t buy.

While politicians have spent years moaning about the state-private divide, teachers have been hard at work breaking it down. Each January, the Government now releases results for each school – and the data destroys the idea of feepaying schools having a monopoly on excellence. For A-Levels, England’s 500 top state schools actually outperform the 500-odd private schools – in spite of having a fraction of their budget. This really is quite extraordinary. It’s well-known that our private schools are the best in the world; what’s less well-known is that the best state schools are even better.

Colchester County, Dover Grammar, Liverpool College, Reading School, Wolverhampton Girls – they’re not as famous as Eton, yet they all outperform it in the A-Level league tables. Of course, they all have entrance exams so they’re all dealing with pretty exceptional raw material. And often, dealing with parents who have been happy to move house, fake a divorce, pay for private tuition; anything to get past the 11-plus.

This is why Anthony Seldon, former Master of Wellington College, speaks about a “middle-class stranglehold” on the best state schools and wants parents to pay.

His argument is certainly coherent: if such schools are colonised by the rich and well-connected, why not ask them to pay fees just as the universities now do? The answer, of course, is that parents have already paid through their taxes. But at least his analysis goes beyond the tired (and tiresome) state vs private argument.

You could abolish every private school in England (as the Labour Party has been advocating, on and off, since 1943) and still end up with a hideously unequal state system which educates the richest best and the poorest worst. The Prime Minister is not slumming it with Grey Coat Hospital School, as he well knows. But his reforms are helping to break the link between poverty and bad results.

The staggering advances being made by state schools in Britain are the work of teachers and pupils, rather than politicians. On the A-Level league table, Grey Coat Hospital now sits right next to Mossbourne Community Academy – formerly the infamous Hackney Downs school in East London. Pupils threw stones at staff, discipline was non-existent and academic achievement was pitiful. Yet its closure in 1995 was deeply controversial. To its defenders, the problem lay with the pupils rather than the school. They’re dealing with troubled families with chaotic lives, the argument ran, so its failure was the result of deep social problems, not bad teaching. Exactly the same argument – blame the parents – is trotted out today by the enemies of school reform. It’s the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Now, Mossbourne – which serves the same neighbourhoods as it did in 1995 – is one of the best in the land. A quarter of its pupils qualify for free school meals, yet 85 per cent secured five good GCSEs yesterday, far above the national average. It’s amazing what pupils from deprived neighbourhoods can do, given great tuition.

It’s a hugely cheering thought: children from communities once served by the worst school in Britain can now attend one as good as that used by the Prime Minister. This was exactly what Tony Blair was aiming for when he and Andrew Adonis started their City Academy reforms, setting schools free from local authority control. Soon, there will be 5,000 Academies.

Yet vindication of Blair’s reform has come at a time when Labour has lost interest in helping pupils in this way. Its likely next leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has pledged to end what he calls a “failed experiment”. Only the most ideologically blinkered could persuade themselves that reform has failed. The city that has undergone the most reform, London, emerged yesterday with the strongest GCSE results in England.

The school chains based in the capital who first started worked with Blair – Harris Federation and ARK – have yet again published amazing exam scores. Council-run schools have also raised their game; competition and choice are working.

Colchester County, Dover Grammar, Liverpool College, Reading School, Wolverhampton Girls – they’re not as famous as Eton, yet they all outperform it in the A-Level league tables

When Boris Johnson is asked about his education, he cheerily replies that he would like “thousands of school as good as the one I went to: Eton”. Once, this would have been seen as preposterous: how can state schools compete with a £35,000-a-year Leviathan? But each year shows what teachers can do, given enough power and trust.

Battersea Park was a failing school when Harris took it over last September with only 45 per cent of its pupils securing five decent GCSEs. Yesterday, it announced this has risen to 68 per cent.

King’s Maths School, a free school in London, released its first-ever results earlier this week. Its average points score is among the top 10 schools in the land. Not the top 10 per cent; the top ten schools.

The staggering advances being made by state schools in Britain are the work of teachers and pupils, rather than politicians. Kenneth Baker, Tony Blair and Michael Gove simply offered increasing amounts of freedom to teachers, and their faith has been amply rewarded.

For those who had despaired of ever finding a remedy for sink schools, this is nothing short of miraculous – and it’s only just beginning. School reform can now be seen as the greatest achievement of the Labour years, even if the Conservatives are the only ones who believe in it.


Amid Declining Participation, USDA's School Lunch Program Embraces 'Cultural Inclusion'

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 changed the nutrition requirements for school lunches and breakfasts, but the U.S. Agriculture Department says the law also gives schools the flexibility to prepare meals that are "familiar to kids from culturally diverse backgrounds."

Blogging at the USDA website on Wednesday, Dr. Katie Wilson, deputy undersecretary for for food, nutrition and consumer services, hailed the nation's "diversity" of people, ideas, and culture: "One of the way culture is expressed is through the foods we eat," she wrote. "Our nation's school meals should be no exception."

Wilson said she recently participated in one of USDA's "Team Up For School Nutrition Success" training workshops, where she learned how school food authorities are finding creative ways to meet the government-mandated nutrition standards while preparing meals that are "tastier and more appealing for this tough audience."

"For instance, I learned that in Puerto Rico, it is common for children to eat arroz con habichuelas y carne de cerdo (rice and beans with pork). Schools are finding ways to prepare this same meal in a healthy way that satisfies the palates of children who are used to eating it at home.

"In the same way, school children in the Southwest region of the United States enjoy burritos and refried beans that are similar to what they might have at home. In West Virginia, schools have found ways to offer healthy versions of Southern-style cooking like sausage gravy and a long-time favorite in the state—the pepperoni roll.

"Our goal at USDA is to ensure children have access to nutritious food that nourishes their growing bodies -- all while embracing diverse cultural customs and cuisines. I’m confident that through cultural inclusion and nutritious choices, schools across America will pave the way for a healthier next generation," Wilson concluded.

Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, school food preparation is an increasingly regulated industry. In March, the USDA published a rule, effective as of July 1, requiring a minimum amount of annual training for all school nutrition program directors, managers, and staff.

USDA said the training will vary according to the position and job requirements.

The rule also sets minimum hiring standards for new state directors of school nutrition programs, state directors of distributing agencies that oversee USDA Foods, and school nutrition program directors.

Amid the stricter nutrition standards and hiring criteria, participation in the National School Lunch Program has declined since the law was passed.

In 2010, the year the Healthy and Hunger-Free  Kids Act passed, a record 31.8 million children participated into the National School Lunch Program, according to the latest data (as of Aug. 7, 2015). The same number -- 31.8 million -- participated in 2011, but then the number began to drop -- to 31.7 in 2012 (the first year the new nutrition standards took effect), 30.7 in 2013, and 30.4 in 2014.

The percentage of children getting free or reduced-price meals continues to increase, however: In 2014, 71.6 percent of children were getting free or reduced price school lunches, compared with 70.5 percent in 2013, 68.2 percent in 2012, 66.6 percent in 2011, 65.3 percent in 2010.

In 1969, the earliest year for which data is available, 15.1 percent of children were getting free or reduced price lunches.

As participation has dropped, costs have gone up. The cost of the school lunch program was $11,355,872,476 in Fiscal Year 2014, up from $10,414,118,759 in Fiscal Year 2012, partly because of rising food costs and a higher percentage of children getting free or reduced-price lunches.

As of Aug. 7, 2015,  thirty-seven states showed declining school lunch participation in the three years since 2012, when the nutrition rules changed. In the remaining 13 states plus the District of Columbia, participation increased steadily only in North Dakota and the District of Columbia in those same three years.

In the remaining 12 states, participation dropped in 2013, then recovered slightly in 2014.


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