Don’t extend school infrastructure for 21 years – to 2050!

The Iowa House of Representatives should definitely not pass HF 230 – to extend the school infrastructure sales tax for another 21 years – to 2050!

In 1998, we were told that the 1% local option tax for school infrastructure would be temporary – for 10 years.  In 2008 the temporary tax was changed from a local option to a state-wide sales tax, and was extended for another 22 years – to expire in 2029.  Even though we still have 12 years left of the tax, school districts are pressuring the legislature to extend the tax for an additional 21 years!

Why would they want to do this?  Because years ago, they borrowed against the future taxes and have already spent the taxes that will be collected during the remaining 12 years.  If the tax is extended again, you can bet that some school districts will again quickly borrow against the future taxes and spend the money decades before the taxes are collected.

Do we really need this much money for school infrastructure.  Some school districts might need the money, but it appears that many school districts are flush with money and already have excellent facilities.  We really should wait until 2029, then allow local school districts have their own local option tax if the local taxpayers believe there is still a need.

No proof that unions help education of students.

In his essay in the Des Moines Regiser, T.J. Foley made at least two errors in the conclusions he drew from the statistics he used in his essay opposing changes in collective bargaining as it applies to teachers.  (See link below.)

First, assuming it is true that test scores are higher in schools with unionized teachers, he provided no evidence that the existence of unions is the cause of higher test scores.  It very well may be that unions are more often present in larger cities with higher incomes and larger schools, and that the higher scores are caused by those factors rather than the fact that a union is present.

Second, assuming it is true that the average teacher in Iowa earns 7% less than median household income in Iowa, that statistic is meaningless.   Teachers are individuals and many households have more than one earner.  Comparing individuals to households is simply not valid.

It is very difficult to say whether it would be better or worse for students if teachers lose some of their collective bargaining power.  T.J. Foley’s essay did not clarify that issue.



How to lower the cost of college.

The cost of a four year degree, even at our public universities, has gone up much even faster than medical care.  For many college graduates, their post-graduate pay does not justify the amount of student debt that they accumulated.
Similar to community colleges, our public four-year universities should offer certificate programs that focus on specific skills, take less time, and cost less.  The certificate should indicate that the student has specific specific skills that employers demand, without the extra classes, time and cost of a broad, liberal four year degree.  If desired, students could live on campus and gain some of the non-classroom experience and relationships  that colleges offer.  This could go a long way towards lowering the cost of college while providing a college education.

Free community college?

President Obama is proposing that we, the taxpayers, pay for two years of community college for everyone who wants it and who meets relatively easy minimum requirements.  The plan would save each student, (and cost taxpayers), about $3,800 per year.  The total cost over 10 years for the estimated 9 million students for two years each would be about $60 billion.

The idea is bad for at least two reasons:

First, philosophically, under what circumstances should the force of government be used to require all taxpayers to pay for the benefit of a relative few?  We are already paying for pre-school, primary, and secondary education for all children.  We pay for health care for all of the poor, plus we subsidize health insurance for many others.  We subsidize housing, energy, and food costs for the poor.  To the extent that these things are provided for children and people who are incapable of providing for themselves, it may be morally defensible to use the force of government to require everyone to contribute.  But to the extent that we are talking about adults who have reasonably normal capability, it is not.  These kinds of policies not only weaken people’s ability to be independently responsible for their own lives, they also reinforce a belief and expectation that more government spending is the appropriate solution to every human problem.

Second, practically, why won’t a large majority of students currently bound for four year colleges want to do their first two years at a community college for free?  The projection of 9 million students might be extremely underestimated.  What happens if enrollment of freshmen and sophomores plummets in both public and private four year universities? How will they handle extreme down-sizing?

This proposal seems like a recipe for disaster.  There will be many more unintended negative consequences if we adopt such a policy.  We shouldn’t.