The Leave No Parent Behind Act

In today's Washington Post, E. J. Dionne proposes what he calls the Leave No Teacher Behind Act.

So I have come up with my Leave No Teacher Behind Act. In its roughest form, it means forgiving all teachers their federal income tax. For a married teacher with two kids under the age of 14, that would mean an additional $4,300 a year in disposable income. If states and localities joined in, the pot would be even richer.

He justifies this in part by drawing a comparison to the subsidization of farmers.

No magic bullet exists for what ails our schools. The problem is complex, and it is further complicated by politics, ideology and in some cases the recalcitrance of teacher unions. Yet everything we know about education alerts us to the critical importance of good teachers and principals. Ask someone who turned his life around and he will often name a teacher. [...]

Take agriculture. The government sets target prices for so-called row crops -- wheat, corn, soybeans, cotton and rice. If the market price doesn't match the target price, the government makes up the difference. The justification for these programs is totally social or, if you will, political. America wants farmers, and politicians want their votes. [...]

But the point is for us -- the Bush administration and the country as a whole -- to put our money where our mouth is. If we care so much about education, if we truly believe that cliche -- our children are the future -- then let's pay teachers what they are really worth, not what the vaunted market says. In fact, if there is anything to the market, then making teachers a bit richer ought to make them a bit better. It's just a theory, but George Bush would understand.

Call it faith-based.

"America" does not want farmers; farmers want farmers. "America" is not a person with wants and goals. I, as an individual, would rather buy food from people who offer me a lower price, including those in the third world trying to make a better life for themselves. The reason taxpayer money is coercively redistributed from me to farmers is that farmers bribe politicians. Of course, Dionne says as much, but then uses this to justify a similar policy for teachers.

So I propose a Leave No Parent Behind Act. In its roughest form, it means that parents get a tax credit equal to what their local school board spends per child on education. The figure would vary from one locality to another, but it would likely mean on the order of an additional $5,000 per child in disposable income for parents every year. With this money, parents are free to choose their own method of educating their children. They would be able to provide an education unique to the needs to every individual child. For example, if I was a parent, I would be able to demonstrate my valuation of the services of a public school teacher at exactly zero. I would instead choose environments suitable to learning as an active, lifelong process, rather than passive, temporary one.

This is no magic bullet, but it would be a great first step. Every child's needs are different and education is a complex issue. Yet everything we know about education alerts us to the critical importance of good parents. Ask someone who has been the most positive influence in his life, and he will often name his parents.

Parents are too important to leave behind. It is time to let parents put their money where their mouths are. If we care so much about education, if we truly believe that cliche -- our children are the future -- then let's pay parents what they are really worth, not what the vaunted bureaucrat says. It's just a theory, but E. J. Dionne would understand.

Call it reality-based.

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It's a myth that farm

It's a myth that farm subsidies are intended to benefit "farmers," as opposed to agribusiness companies. The "farmer" is just a friendly brand-image, like the Maytag repairman, to sell agribusiness subsidies to the taxpayer.

The only genuine farmers still around are small-scale truck-farmers who cater to specialized markets nearby. A large portion of them are organic.

Leaving aside corporate-owned farms, even the row crop "farmers" who technically own their land operate, for the most part, on a contract system: ADM or whoever tells them what and how much to grow, what kinds of fertilizers and pesticides to use, etc. Agri subsidies are just a way of reducing the contract price ADM has to pay. It's a lot closer to the cottage industry of the eighteenth century than to genuine self-employment--just barely a step above a factory system.

Kevin, I was using the term

Kevin,

I was using the term "farmers" generally to describe the farm lobby, which includes agribusiness.

Yeah, I know. The comment

Yeah, I know. The comment was aimed at the public perception, not you. There's probably some parallel to selling policies as "pro-teacher" when they really mean subsidizing the publik skool bureaucracies.

my problem with this is that

my problem with this is that the results would likely be disasterous. Honestly, Jon, what would you expect to happen as a result:
a. more efficient "private schools" spring up everywhere, everyone is happy (this has been tried incidentally, and failed miserably.)
b. 2 types of schools are created, one for upper middle class and rich kids with a reasonable teacher-student ratio, and one "economies of scale" school with horrible ratios and draconian policies designed to reduce liabilty.
c. private elite schools spring up, and poor kids are denied an education because single mothers in desperate situations need the tax credit, not to mention irresponsible parents who may keep it anyway.

"more efficient "private

"more efficient "private schools" spring up everywhere, everyone is happy (this has been tried incidentally, and failed miserably.)"

Where?

High achievers must be

High achievers must be punished because other's cannot achieve...

Is this a recipe for:
A) Economic development and progress
or
B) Economic stagnation and decline

It certainly violates any standard of fairness to deny opportunity on the basis of "egalitarian" concerns.

Focus on saving the poor children with bad educational outcomes, rather than punishing "rich" children for having successful parents.

Ken, I'm referring to

Ken, I'm referring to "Charter schools" which are significantly freed from state intervention and after a short while are completely freed from state funding. They aren't "bad things" either, as far as I'm concerned- given the "no child left behind act" I think the further a school can get away from such ridiclous statist curriculum setting the better. The point is that it won't be funded under a private system. If "private school" alternatives to public schools were truly wonderful, you would expect investors to take advantage of the wonderful profit making opportunity that this would afford them by taking out "inefficient" public schools.

Well Brians, how could we conclude that we are "punishing" better students? Only if you assume that "better students are entitled to better education." Which I think is highly objectionable. But there are even deeper problems- you are assuming that better students will be the ones with the wealthy parents. Why should that be assumed anyway?

Charter schools are not the

Charter schools are not the same as private schools and are not relevant to this debate, as no one here expressed support for them. You are arguing against a strawman.

The point is that it won't be funded under a private system. If "private school" alternatives to public schools were truly wonderful, you would expect investors to take advantage of the wonderful profit making opportunity that this would afford them by taking out "inefficient" public schools.

This is demonstrably false, and it is easy to see why - there is a huge logical fallacy in your assumptions. For-profit businesses are not the only kinds of businesses that exist, so it is completely false to assume that schools will not be funded if there is no profit to be made. Further, why assume that there is no profit to be made from private schools? As of now, there may not be much of an opportunity to make a profit, because consumers (parents) are already offered the product for free from the government, so any private schooling currently has to be that much more desireable than public schooling in order for parents to forgo the free good and pay for the private good. If education was not socialized, this would no longer be the case, and we would expect demand (and thus, willingness to pay) to rise accordingly.

quickly: My (originally)

quickly: My (originally) parenthetical comment was not a straw man. It was an IYI, the facticity of which you are free to debate, but please don't accuse my of trying to use fallacious arguing tactics. Ken asked what I was referring to and I answered. The fact that I said "incidentally" should be enough to show that I was trying to build a case off of it.