Saturday, May 19, 2012
A Worthy Cost
I recently receive push-back on my proposal, on the grounds that it would be prohibitively expensive. At an ordinary 3000 student school in a poor community, simply implementing an NCLB testing regime would only cost taxpayers $150,000, it was claimed.
Education is already a major social expense, and asking citizens to pay maybe 2-3x more for disadvantaged students is a tough sell. It amounts to a major redistribution of wealth. I would argue it is just, as well as ultimately a financial bargain if it increases productivity and saves on social costs of dysfunctional adults. However, if the result is true equality of educational outcomes, we then face the problem of capitalism currently being inherently exploitative of low-capital workers. If we raise human capital across the board, how are we going to manage the fact that so much of our economy relies on low-skill, low-pay labor?
I would further argue that this dynamic itself causes downward pressure on community capital as low-income ghettos form, thus requiring further redistribution of wealth in the form of increased social services. All of this - heavy government intervention - is enough to want to wash one's hands of the social justice argument and adopt a more Darwinian attitude toward poverty (let the strong (high-capital) survive), or at least pretend that simple, non-interventionist fixes like better teaching and charter schools will "do the trick".
But, back to the original question. The $150k estimate on testing does seem a far cheaper solution. I'm not sure what that number represents, but I'll assume it's reasonable to think current reform measures are far cheaper.
An average per-pupil cost of $7K at a 3000 student school nets $21 million. Halving class sizes from 30 to 15 would mean paying for 200 teachers. You have regular administrative costs. I mentioned field trips, counselors - maybe 10? I would like to see home nurse visits at the elementary level. I'd like to see parenting classes. I'd like to see social workers . I'd like to see an organized intervention system whereby families get direct, targeted help. Let's say we had an administrative and support staff equal in number to teachers. That puts us at 400. Let's do an average salary of $70K. That puts us at $27 million. If we increased per-pupil spending 3x, we'd be at $21k. That would give us $63 million. Mind you, this would just be disadvantaged (parent income, education) kids, and we could possibly drop funding from wealthier districts. But its going to be really expensive.
Child poverty in CA is at 23%. There are 6 million students. 1,380,00 pupils at $21k each is nearly $3 billion. That's less than 1% of the $400 billion in state and local tax revenues. Of course, the politics of government taxation and spending isn't so easy. But If what I'm proposing ends up being effective, the extra expense would clearly be worth it.