Friday, August 13, 2010

Democrat economist: Increase Oklahoma's per-pupil spending by ... enacting a voucher system

For two years now I've been writing and speaking about the HOPE initiative (later christened State Question 744), and I've been telling any legislator who will listen that one way to cope with HOPE would be to enact school choice. Simply put: if 744 passes, legislators are going to be faced with enormous budget pressures; one way to ease the strain would be to get as many students as possible off the appropriators' dime and onto the parents' dime. As I observed last summer,
"Whoever digs a pit will fall into it," the proverb says, "and he who rolls a stone will have it roll back on him." Wouldn't it be ironic if the teacher union's irresponsible ploy forced legislators to save money via school choice?

Comes now Mickey Hepner with a terrific new post on his economics blog, "OKonomics." Dr. Hepner is an economics professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and, significantly, a member of the executive committee of the board of directors for the Oklahoma Academy, a venerable think tank founded in 1967. A self-described "centrist Democrat," Dr. Hepner was (is?) an enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama. In short, he is not a member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy (at least he's never at the meetings).

The debate over State Question 744 is all about per-pupil funding, Dr. Hepner wrote yesterday, and there's a way "to raise per-pupil funding without impacting other government programs or raising taxes -- by instituting a school voucher program."

In 2008-2009 Oklahoma education funding averaged $8,006 per student. This figure though, is based only on the number of students enrolled in public schools. If Oklahoma was able to shift more students from public to private schools, state funding would be spread out over fewer students, thereby raising the per-pupil average. Of course, the only way to shift large numbers of students from public to private schools is to help pay for private school tuition ... a cost that offsets some of the gains. However, if structured correctly, a voucher system could still generate cost-savings for the state, allowing it to raise per-pupil spending.

In short, "the numbers don't lie: if education proponents really want to increase per-pupil spending, they should embrace a school voucher program."

Yes and amen. My only suggestion would be to phrase it this way: "they should embrace a school voucher or tax credit program." There's nothing wrong with vouchers, of course, but until Oklahoma can solve its Blaine Amendment problem (preferably through repeal), tax credits are going to be a much cleaner way to go. In any case, Dr. Hepner's blog post is excellent and I encourage you to read the whole thing.

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