Do you remember Jonathan Gruber?
Dr. Gruber is a MIT health economist and one of the main architects of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. If you recall, Gruber experienced quite a bit of heat last November for remarks he made in 2013 about the political tactics used by the Obama administration to get the ACA legislation passed.
In particular, while participating at a panel at the Annual Health Economists’ Conference, Gruber admitted that, “the law was written in a deliberately ‘tortured’ way and relied on the ‘stupidity of the American voter‘ to ensure its passage.”
He didn’t stop there. Gruber then trumpeted the value of a “lack of transparency” — and continued to call American voters stupid.
“Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” Gruber said. “And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really critical for the thing to pass.”
Better for the American people to be saddled with a law they don’t understand, Gruber claimed, than for them to understand the law and rally against it: “Look, I wish … we could make it all transparent,” Gruber said, “but I’d rather have this law than not.”
I have a suspicion that this is the same strategy that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), via out-of-state vouchers wolves and our own state legislators are using to try to pass their so-called Oklahoma Education Empowerment Scholarship Act.
The passage of this voucher bill is dependent on a lack of transparency and intentional obfuscation on the part of its proponents. They are hoping that Oklahomans will fall for their clever euphemisms and rhetorical maneuvers. I am hopeful they have misjudged the intellect and level of discernment on the part of Oklahoma’s citizens.
The next important step happens when Senate Bill 609 goes before the fourteen members of the Senate Finance Committee tomorrow. Because of the current fiscal situation in our state (-8.5% from 2015 revenues), Senator Jolley will need to pull some magical numbers out of his hat to convince others that this legislation will be “revenue neutral,” or even a money-maker for school districts.
Oklahomans must be smart enough not to be fooled by Senator Jolley’s fiscal sleight-of-hand. The senator will try to sell this bill as a “win-win” and claim that passage will increase per pupil spending for school districts.
It will be much like Jonathan Gruber tricking the American public into believing America could decrease overall medical spending in our country while simultaneously adding millions of previously uninsured Americans to the insurance rolls.
Oklahoma also cannot fund public education with the same level of funding while simultaneously bringing students who are currently home-schooled or attending private schools into the funding equation. The numbers simply do not add up.
Let’s look at a simple example:
A school district has 10,000 students. The state funding formula provides an average per pupil funding of $3,000 per weighted student. The numbers are not precise but are used to illustrate the potential impact of ESAs on school funding.
10,000 x $3,000/students = $30,000,000 total state funding
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that 5 percent of the residents of this community already attend private schools or are home schooled. These students currently receive no state money to offset their educational expenses.
But, under Jolley’s legislation, a parent could apply for 80% of the total State Aid factors that would be generated by each qualified student for the applicable school year. According to the bill, the remaining twenty percent (20%) of the total State Aid factors “shall be used by the State Department of Education to provide bonuses to teachers in the respective resident public school districts.”
With that in mind, let’s run the numbers again.
10,000 x $3,000/students = $30,000,000
500 (5% of district total previously unfunded – home school/private school) x $2,400 (.80 *$3,000) = $1,200,000
“Remaining” funds back to district: 500 x $600 (.2 *$3,000) = $300,000
As a result, it appears that the district will now have an additional $300,000 to use for teacher merit pay, and that the total state funding would be $30,300,000. It’s a win-win, right?
Wrong! The legislation says nothing about increasing school funding to account for this additional expenditure. There is NO MORE MONEY generated by this bill. It is a zero-sum game.
The reality is that this additional $1.5 million in funding will inevitably be drawn from the money already in the pot. The money that goes to the families with children in private schools or home schooled will come from already existing projected expenditures–NOT new money!
The truth is the district will now get $28,800,000 for the 10,000 students it has on its rolls, a net reduction of $120 per student. The missing $1,200,000 will go to children previously uncovered by public funds. This is a LOSING proposition for many Oklahoma public schools.
As with federal medical insurance, the government cannot cover MORE students while maintaining current public education funding without reducing per-pupil allocations to schools. And, unlike the federal government, the state of Oklahoma must have a balanced budget. I’ll say it again. There is no additional money to fund these educational “scholarships.”
Even if there were more money, our state must first commit to restoring public school per-pupil funding to 2008 levels and increasing compensation for Oklahoma’s educators. Being first in the nation in cuts to public education (-23.6%) in the past six years is not okay!
This is simple math. You cannot add numbers to one side of the equation without subtracting from the other side. Senator Jolley and other supporters of this voucher bill know this. However, like Dr. Gruber, they value a lack of transparency and hope that Oklahomans are stupid.
Remember, Senator Jolley was also the proud architect of our school A-F grading system in 2013. That’s gone well, hasn’t it?
This is not a Democrat issue or a Republican issue. It is a “we’re not dumb enough to fall for it again” issue. Call the Senate Finance Committee tomorrow and tell them to vote NO.