Month: August 2014

Don’t Pay Twice for Public Education

Last week, the American College Testing organization (ACT) released the results of its national college admissions examination consisting of tests in English, Reading, Math, and Science. Thirty-six percent of Oregon’s 2014 high school graduates took the tests. Only 30 percent of those students scored high enough to be ready for college in all four subject areas.

One conclusion we might draw from these findings is that we shouldn’t spend more money on our higher education system until we can honestly say that our K-12 system is preparing most college-bound students to actually succeed there. Otherwise, we’re just paying twice for remedial courses to teach college students what they should have learned in high school.

This is yet another reason for voters to reject Measure 86 on the November ballot. It will encourage state legislators to borrow perhaps $100 million or more to subsidize certain student higher education costs. Before we saddle taxpayers with such debt, let’s fix our K-12 system. That won’t take more money, because research shows that spending more money doesn’t lead to better educational outcomes; it just rewards the adults who get paid by the system.

Instead, we should take the top-down control away from bureaucrats in Salem and give it to parents and students through a genuine system of school choice. Then watch our college readiness numbers climb.


Steve Buckstein is founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Read Blog Detail

Will Parent Rebellion Spell Doom for Common Core?

By Lance Izumi

If one asked most people a couple years ago about the Common Core national education standards, the response would have been a blank stare. Now, Common Core is a front-burner political issue because parents are discovering that their children are struggling under the new standards.

Common Core is a set of national math and English standards, which most states, including Oregon and California, have adopted because of the funding incentives and strong-arm tactics used by the Obama Administration. There have been many “big picture” criticisms of Common Core: the lack of transparency and public input when Common Core was developed, the middling quality of Common Core, the high cost of implementing Common Core, and nationalization of education under Common Core. Yet, these critiques are now being overshadowed by the anger of parents at how Common Core is negatively affecting the learning of their children.

Columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan has written that Common Core’s Achilles heel is implementation: “implementation―how a thing is done day by day in the real world―is everything.” Take, for example, new Common Core-aligned curricula and associated teaching methods.

Core Connections is a Common Core-aligned math curriculum that is starting to be implemented in classrooms and which emphasizes the use of cooperative learning. The curriculum tells the student: “Learning math [through cooperative teamwork] has an advantage: as long as you actively participate, make sure everyone in your study team is involved, and ask good questions, you will find yourself understanding mathematics at a deeper level than ever before.” While such utopian pronouncements sound impressive, the reality is quite different.

Bryce is a sixth grader at a public school in Northern California. He is a very bright student, achieving several perfect scores on the state’s math exam and consistently receiving A+ grades in math. Yet, Core Connections has had a discernible negative impact on Bryce.

Under Core Connections, Bryce and his fellow students are organized into teams of three to four students. Bryce says that there is unequal participation among team members, with more advanced students being more involved and carrying more of the work.

Further, not all the groups finish at the same time. Those that finish early can’t go on to harder problems, but have to wait until other teams finish. Oddly, Bryce says that his teacher doesn’t want early finishers to read because that’s English language arts, and not math.

Since the teamwork method started, the class usually doesn’t finish math lessons in time, and sometime it cuts into their science time or the math is simply not completed. Bryce emphasized that this situation happens a lot. When asked if the class starts the next day where they left off the day before, he answers “no,” saying that the class simply goes on to the next new concept.

When asked his thoughts on the new teamwork method, Bryce said that he thought that working in teams was distracting: different ideas were talked about at the same time; there was too much noise from other groups; and, worst of all, much of the conversations were not about math.

Whereas his prior math curriculum allowed him to do math at his own pace, so he was doing eighth-grade math while still a fifth grader, now Bryce says he has to spend a lot of time explaining his answers and go at the same pace as his team.

Bryce’s frustrations with the new Common Core curriculum are having a negative impact on his achievement. According to his mother, for the first time Bryce’s grades are starting to falter, which is worrying her greatly.

Bryce’s problems with the new Common Core curriculum are not unique. Children and parents across the nation are up in arms over the confusion inherent in Common Core curricula. A recent PACE/University of Southern California poll found that 41 percent of Californians surveyed were opposed to Common Core, while only 32 percent supported it, a flip from the poll numbers recorded last year.

As Peggy Noonan observes: “Life isn’t lived in some abstract universe; it’s lived on the ground, in this case with harried parents trying, to the degree they can or are willing, to help the kids with homework and study for tests.” Parents seeing their children struggle under Common Core’s liberal teaching methods and philosophy are rebelling, and that rebellion likely spells eventual doom for Common Core.


 

Lance Izumi is Koret senior fellow and senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute and a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute.

Read Blog Detail

Charter Schools Achieve Superior Outcomes with Unequal Funding

The University of Arkansas has published a first-ever comparison study of cost effectiveness and return on investment between different types of public schools. The Productivity of Public Charter Schools rates 28 states and the District of Columbia according to the productivity of charter schools relative to traditional public schools.

Public charter schools receive 36% less funding on average than regular district schools. While greatly underfunded relative to district schools, charter schools in many states score significantly higher in math and reading on the eighth grade National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Oregon’s charter schools receive 44% less funding than regular district schools and achieve higher NAEP scores at lower cost.

The study advises that the higher productivity of many charter schools may be associated with exercising greater discipline with education dollars than traditional public schools do. Studies have shown that increased public education funding hasn’t helped students learn better. “Not only are charter schools doing more with less, they are on the whole demonstrating a superior ability to act as responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars,” said Kara Kerwin, president of The Center for Education Reform.

Rather than continually increasing traditional public school funding, let’s reconsider what we already spend. Giving traditional public schools the freedom to imitate what works for successful charters may do more to improve children’s learning outcomes than allocating more money to the status quo.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

Read Blog Detail

Will the Supreme Court’s Ruling on Subsidies Be ObamaCare’s Downfall?

By Sally C. Pipes

The battle over ObamaCare has shifted to the courts. This time, the president is on the defensive. Last month, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled 2-1 in Halbig v. Burwell that the federal government lacks the authority to provide subsidies to offset the cost of health insurance to folks shopping for coverage on HealthCare.gov, the federally run exchange. The federal government has since asked the full Circuit Court to hear the case.

The same day that the D.C. Circuit panel issued its ruling, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, based in Richmond, Virginia, arrived at the opposite conclusion in a similar case, King v. Burwell, and upheld the federal subsidies as legal. The disagreement practically begs the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in. The plaintiffs in King v. Burwell have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for cert. If granted, the case will go to the high court. It’s unlikely that the high court will hand down a decision until spring or fall 2015.

The D.C. Circuit panel has the law on its side. Should the Supremes agree with them, then ObamaCare could quickly unravel. And if it does, Congress should be ready with a replacement health care reform plan that empowers doctors and patients, not the federal government.

The Affordable Care Act’s text is unambiguous about how the insurance exchanges are supposed to work. According to the law, federal subsidies are available through exchanges “established by the State.” Thirty-six states didn’t set up exchanges. In some cases, their elected leaders decided not to. Other states tried to build their own. In many cases—among them Oregon, Maryland, Vermont, and Hawaii―they failed.

The law provided that the federal government would step in if the states did not. As a result, the federal government has found itself running an exchange that serves more than two-thirds of the states. And it’s decided, based on the counsel of the legal eagles at the IRS, to ignore those four words— “established by the State”—in order to dole out subsidies.

Even as it sided with the federal government, the Fourth Circuit observed, “If Congress did in fact intend to make the tax credits available to consumers on both state and federal Exchanges, it would have been easy to write in broader language, as it did in other places in the statute.” The court, which ruled for the government, went on to say that it “cannot ignore the common-sense appeal of the plaintiffs’ argument; a literal reading of the statute undoubtedly accords more closely with their position.”

ObamaCare’s supporters argue that “congressional intent” justifies direct federal subsidies. But they’ll have a tough time proving that before the Supreme Court. An early version of the health care reform bill did include an explicit authorization to distribute subsidies through a federal exchange. But it was absent from the final version.

That’s a problem for the Obama Administration, as U.S. Supreme Court precedent holds “that Congress does not intend sub silentio to enact statutory language that was earlier discarded in favor of other language.” Or as another Supreme Court decision put it, “the starting point for interpreting a statute is the language of the statute itself. Absent a clearly expressed legislative intention to the contrary, that language must ordinarily be regarded as conclusive.”

If the Supremes forbid the Obama Administration from distributing subsidies through the federal exchange, the law will crumble. That’s because many, if not most, exchange shoppers will be unable to afford policies without subsidies. As more and more people go without insurance, the exchange pool will skew sicker and premiums will head higher.

Already, average monthly premiums for a mid-level silver plan are $324. They’ll rise 8 percent next year, according to Avalere, a consulting firm. Eighty-seven percent of the people in the 36 states that rely on the federal exchange are receiving subsidies. Without those subsidies, premiums for some 5 million people will spike dramatically. The disappearance of subsidies would also destroy the employer mandate, which requires employers with more than 50 full-time workers to provide insurance coverage.

Fortunately, there are other ways to expand access to affordable insurance. Subsidizing insurance does little to encourage insurers to rein in premiums. In fact, if distributed as a percentage of premiums, subsidies can reward them for hiking prices. Expanding competition among insurers, by contrast, can make insurance more affordable and drive down costs. Creating a truly national marketplace—where Americans could purchase health insurance across state lines—would do just that. There’s no reason insurance should cost 2.5 times more in Rhode Island than in Alabama.

Allowing individuals to purchase health insurance tax-free—just as those who have employer-sponsored insurance through their work can—would also make coverage more affordable. Most Americans get health insurance through their place of work. So they have little incentive to consume care judiciously. After all, they’re not paying the bill. Increased usage of the health care system leads to higher overall premiums.

Two years ago, ObamaCare’s individual mandate survived before the U.S. Supreme Court. The law’s exchange subsidies may not be so lucky.

Sally C. Pipes is President, CEO, and Taube Fellow in Health Care Studies at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco. She is a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute. A version of this article was originally published by Forbes.

Read Blog Detail

Join a Union or Pay? Not So Fast, Say Oregonians

A public opinion poll released this week reveals that 84% of Oregonians agree that employees should have the right to decide, without force or penalty, whether to join or leave a labor union.

The poll of 500 Oregon adults was conducted for National Employee Freedom Week, a grassroots campaign of 77 organizations in 44 states dedicated to helping union employees learn about their right to leave their unions.

The Oregon results are slightly higher than the national average. Nationwide, 82.9% of respondents support allowing union employees to leave their union without force or penalty, a concept known as Right to Work.

Currently, 24 states have passed Right to Work laws. Because of a deal struck by Governor John Kitzhaber in March, Oregonians won’t have the opportunity to end forced union dues in the public sector this year.

Unions often do as little as is required by law to inform their employees that they have the right to opt out. But as previous polling illustrates, over 33 percent of those in union households want to leave. Therefore, educational efforts like National Employee Freedom Week are needed to inform and educate union members about their workplace rights and empower them to make the decision about union membership that’s best for them.

You can learn more at Cascade Policy Institute’s new Oregon Employee Choice website, OregonEmployeeChoice.com.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

Read Blog Detail

The Demise of the Highway Trust Fund: A Market Solution

 

In the 1967 film The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman plays a nerdy twenty-something who suffers through an unwanted college graduation party hosted by his parents. As he makes the rounds, a middle-aged business man offers a memorable bit of career advice: “I just have one word for you: plastics.”

 

In the context of today’s forum on the future of the Highway Trust Fund, I also offer one word of advice: Uber.

 

Most of you probably know that the ride-sharing company Uber relies on the use of a smartphone app to connect potential customers with nearby drivers who use their own vehicles to provide door-to-door transit service. The $17 billion company has become so successful that in late June thousands of taxi drivers around the world went on strike to protest this private, unsubsidized challenge to their monopoly franchises.

 

The Oregonian reported recently that Uber had launched in Vancouver, WA, but faces one major barrier: The company’s service is outlawed in Portland. In fact, Portland is the only major city on the entire west coast that does not allow Uber.

 

This issue is symbolic of everything that’s wrong with transportation policy. Municipal taxi regulation is as anachronistic as the price and route control which used to be imposed by the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB); and the Congressional decision to euthanize the CAB in 1978 enabled the market-based airline revolution that changed flying from a boutique experience for the wealthy to a mass consumption option for the middle class.

 

Transportation insiders are now obsessed by the consistent failure of Congress to come up with a new funding stream for surface transportation programs, but the success of Uber suggests that we’re looking in the wrong places for money. There is a vast amount of investment capital circling the globe, looking for a profitable place to land. That capital can be deployed to the benefit of motorists and transit users if we create real markets in transportation.

 

Apparently, most people in this room have a different perspective; they agree with Congressman Blumenauer that the primary solution is to raise the 18.4 cents/gallon federal gas tax. But if we step back and think about the nature of the problem, there is no reason to have the federal government involved at all. The beneficiaries of every transportation investment are the users, who can pay the full cost through user fees or local taxes. All users are local.

 

Collecting taxes from Ames, Iowa and Camden, New Jersey to finance a road culvert project in Beaverton, OR is a convoluted and wasteful way to pay for service. The only reason we cling to it is because it benefits the politicians and bureaucrats whose power base is tied to the laundering of gas tax money through Washington, D.C. The legislative ability to pork-barrel from one state to another removes all fiscal discipline, and virtually guarantees that vast amounts of money will be wasted on useless toys such as “high-speed rail.”

 

I was asked to defend the concept of “devolution” today, and I’m happy to do so. There are federal agencies that should follow the Civil Aeronautics Board into the bureaucratic burial grounds, including the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration. Neither adds much value, and both distract us from better solutions.

 

However, devolution would only be a small step forward because state and local politicians love to pork-barrel tax money just as much as federal officials do, and they’re very good at it. For instance, in 2013, the Portland Auditor released a report entitled: “Transportation funding: revenue up, street maintenance down.” That’s all you need to know about the contrived road maintenance crisis in Portland.

 

The Metro Auditor has published at least 5 reports since 2008 chastising Metro for wasteful transportation spending. The Metro Council has completely ignored these reports.

 

TriMet has been awash in taxpayer cash over the last decade, yet service has dropped. Between 2004 and 2013, total annual operations revenue at TriMet went up 62%, while annual vehicle miles of transit service went down by 14%.

 

Given that pork-barreling is endemic to government spending, the transportation finance “solution” requires a massive dose of Uber, whereby capital is raised from private investors, innovative services are marketed entirely on the basis of consumer preference, and the profit motive imposes fiscal discipline on spending.

 

What is preventing this from happening in transportation is the mindset of government officials. They want to control the flow of investment dollars, pick all the projects, set all the prices, and determine how and where people travel.

 

In other words, they insist that we regulate surface transportation in the same failed way that the CAB used to set prices and routes for commercial airlines.

 

The Uberization of the transportation economy would involve at least the following elements:

 

  1. Allowing/encouraging bridges and limited access highways to be converted to tollways, with variable pricing in those urban areas where peak-hour traffic congestion is a problem. The gas tax at any level cannot solve urban congestion because traffic varies by day of the week, time of day, location, and direction of travel. Therefore, the appropriate user fee must vary in real time as well in order to modify behavior appropriately.

 

  1. Restricting the use of all highway toll revenues to maintenance and expansion of those tollways. Motorists cannot be used as ATMs for non-road boondoggles.

 

  1. Allowing/encouraging private companies to build new highways and bridges with private equity, financed through electronic tolls, without excessive regulation. The latter point is highly relevant as we consider the possibility of a third bridge over the Columbia River that might be built by a private company and financed entirely with tolls. If that company approached Metro next week seeking help with the environmental permits, everyone in this room knows what the response would be: drop dead.

 

We need a major attitude adjustment among regulators, not just more money.

 

  1. Deregulating the entire transportation market to allow/encourage competition to TriMet, the streetcar, the taxi cartel, PDOT, and ODOT.

 

  1. Devolving all decisions away from the federal government, and converting the existing 18.4 cents/gallon federal gas tax to an add-on state tax (which would bring the state tax rate to 48.4 cents/mile).

 

  1. Creating real markets in transportation infrastructure and returning consumer sovereignty, whereby consumers get all the transportation choices they want – as long as they are willing to pay for them.

 

The decades-old arguments about the federal gas tax versus some other funding mechanism is stale. You can choose to stay in that endless legislative loop, or you can get out of it and look for something else. The success of private companies such as Uber, Lyft, Bolt Bus, and the large consortiums building new tollroads all around the world indicates that there is plenty of money available for the construction, reconstruction, and maintenance of surface transportation facilities under the right conditions. The job of elected officials is to create those conditions and then get out of the way.

 

I predict that within two years, Uber will be legal in Portland, and the local taxi cartel will have morphed into something much more market-driven. We should applaud this change, and look for other opportunities to connect consumers with service providers through the dynamic market process.

 

A version of this essay was presented at a Portland town forum sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer on August 4, 2014.

 

Read Blog Detail

Eight Out of Ten Oregonians Agree: Let employees choose whether or not to join a union or pay union dues

Because of a deal struck by Governor John Kitzhaber, Oregonians won’t have the opportunity to end forced union dues in the public sector this year. However, a just-released public opinion poll makes it clear that if the Public Employee Choice Act had been on this November’s ballot, most voters likely would have supported it.

The poll, conducted for National Employee Freedom Week (August 10-16) asked adults across America:

“Should employees have the right to decide, without force or penalty, whether to join or leave a labor union?”

Nationwide, 82.9 percent of respondents answered Yes. Of the 500 respondents in Oregon, a resounding 84 percent answered Yes.*

These results are significant because Oregon and twenty-five other states require workers to pay so-called “fair share” dues even if they decline union membership and refuse to pay the political portion of union dues. The other 24 states have taken advantage of federal Right to Work law that lets workers choose not to pay any dues at all if they decline to join a union. The federal government also prohibits forced union dues in its own workplaces; yet unions still represent some federal workers, and they represent workers in Right to Work states who voluntary choose to join.

Forced union dues are on the political front burner this year because of the recent Harris v. Quinn U.S. Supreme Court decision. It favored certain Illinois home care workers who don’t want to join a public employee union or pay dues just because their services are paid for with state funds. While the ruling may be narrowly interpreted, it did cause two of Oregon’s largest public employee unions to stop collecting fair share dues from some ten thousand home and child care workers in this state who have chosen not to join their ranks.

Unions claim that such workers should pay fair share dues because the unions are currently required to bargain for and represent them even if they decline union membership. But that is not the fault of those workers, and the unions haven’t seemed to mind as long as their dues money kept flowing.

Unions also claim that without their representation, workers would see their pay and benefits decline. But, after union stronghold Michigan became the latest Right to Work state in December 2012, per-capita personal income actually rose from $38,291 in 2012 to $39,215 in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. That was the ninth highest increase in the country.

Why do workers want to opt out of union membership and all union dues? Some think they have better uses for their own money. Some want to “vote with their feet” against what they see as poor union service or negotiating results. Still others oppose their unions’ political agendas. They simply don’t want to support any organization that doesn’t share their political beliefs, whatever those might be.

The right to work without third-party interference is more than an economic issue; it is a profoundly moral one as well. No one should be compelled to pay union dues in order to hold a job. Hopefully, Oregon will soon grant true employee choice to every worker in our state.

* Last year’s National Employee Freedom Week poll asked union households, “If it were possible to opt out of membership in a labor union without losing your job or any other penalty, would you do it?”

The results were released in this June 2013 Cascade Commentary: More than thirty percent of Oregon union households want out.

Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Read Blog Detail

New Poll Shows 84% Percent of Oregonians Support Employee Choice

Eighty-four percent of Oregonians support allowing union employees to leave their union without force or penalty, a concept generally referred to as Right to Work. That’s the finding of a new poll, released today by Cascade Policy Institute as part of National Employee Freedom Week, which runs from August 10 to 16. NEFW is a grassroots campaign of 77 organizations in 44 states dedicated to helping union employees learn about their right to leave their unions.

The poll, with a sample size of 500 Oregon residents, asked this question: “Should employees have the right to decide, without force or penalty, whether to join or leave a labor union?” Of the respondents, a resounding 84 percent answered Yes.

The coalition also released a poll showing 82.9 percent of Americans nationwide support the Right to Work principle. Currently, 24 states have passed Right to Work laws which allow workers to leave their union without penalty or having to pay dues to an organization they choose not to belong to. Because of a deal struck by Governor John Kitzhaber, Oregonians won’t have the opportunity to end forced union dues in the public sector this year.

The poll results are significant because Oregon and twenty-five other states require workers to pay so-called “fair share” dues even if they decline union membership and refuse to pay the political portion of union dues. The other 24 states have taken advantage of federal Right to Work law that lets workers choose not to pay any dues at all if they decline to join a union. The federal government also prohibits forced union dues in its own workplaces; yet unions still represent some federal workers, and they represent workers in Right to Work states who voluntary choose to join.

Cascade Policy Institute founder Steve Buckstein notes, “Most Oregonians now support letting workers decide whether to both join and pay any dues to a union. Cascade research finds significant economic benefits if Oregon becomes a Right to Work state, but employee choice is more than an economic issue. It’s a profoundly moral one as well. No one should be compelled to pay union dues in order to hold a job.”

Unions often do as little as is required by law to inform their employees that they have the right to opt out. But as previous NEFW polling illustrates, over 33 percent of those in union households want to leave. Therefore, educational efforts like NEFW are necessary to inform and educate union members about their workplace rights and empower them to make the decision about union membership that’s best for them. More information is available at www.EmployeeFreedomWeek.com and at Cascade’s new website, www.OregonEmployeeChoice.com.

The poll was conducted by Google Consumer Surveys, between July 11 and July 31, 2014. It surveyed adults nationwide, including roughly 500 Oregonians and has a margin of error of approximately 3.76 percent.

Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s free market public policy research center. Cascade’s mission is to explore and promote public policies that advance individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity.

Read Blog Detail

Sustainability Is Fine, Unless There’s Nothing Left to Sustain

The University of Oregon may hire four new “hot shot” sustainability professors whose mission will be to “change the world by figuring out how to rebuild and reorganize cities…to account for climate change, population growth and environmental damage.”

Worthy goals, no doubt. But remember what the blind longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer had to say about the role of cities in civilization:*

“I’ve found that everything creative comes from the city. All men’s theories and great achievements―they were not realized in the bracing atmosphere of forests and steppes and mountaintops, but in the crowded, stinking cities! NOTHING OF IMPORTANCE HAS EVER COME FROM THE VILLAGE—how could anything be invented in places where strangers are not welcome?Man becomes human in the city; without the city, man would have been nothing…And, of course, it’s in the cities that man decays, too. America will die if we don’t know how to run viable cities.”

But, Hoffer wouldn’t trust “hot shot” professors to solve our city’s problems. Here’s what he had to say about such men:

“I AM AFRAID OF SCHOOLTEACHERS AND INTELLECTUALS—I THINK THEY MAKE THE WORST TYRANTS IN THE WORLD, AND THEY NEVER HAVE ANY UNDERSTANDING OF THE MASSES.”

Hoffer saw business as “the sphere that most of the energy and ambition and talent in America gravitated toward.” But, then he saw the “social landscape in America…started to tilt away from business, and the rewards offered to intellectuals…loomed higher and higher.”

“Hot shot” professors may be smart; but they won’t create the goods and services we need to truly sustain our lives, liberty, and happiness. For that, we need a vibrant business climate, and I see nothing in the “hot shot’s” job description that allows for that.
* All Eric Hoffer quotes are from Eric Hoffer: An American Odyssey, by Calvin Tomkins, EP Dutton, 1968


 

Steve Buckstein is founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Read Blog Detail