Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Texas Miracle: Two Fishes and Five Loaves for the Children

Paul Krugman wrote a post about education in Texas a few days ago:
Now, politicians — and especially, in my experience, conservative politicians — always claim to be deeply concerned about the nation’s children. Back during the 2000 campaign, then-candidate George W. Bush, touting the “Texas miracle” of dramatically lower dropout rates, declared that he wanted to be the “education president.” Today, advocates of big spending cuts often claim that their greatest concern is the burden of debt our children will face.
In practice, however, when advocates of lower spending get a chance to put their ideas into practice, the burden always seems to fall disproportionately on those very children they claim to hold so dear.
Consider, as a case in point, what’s happening in Texas, which more and more seems to be where America’s political future happens first.
Texas likes to portray itself as a model of small government, and indeed it is. Taxes are low, at least if you’re in the upper part of the income distribution (taxes on the bottom 40 percent of the population are actually above the national average). Government spending is also low. And to be fair, low taxes may be one reason for the state’s rapid population growth, although low housing prices are surely much more important.
But here’s the thing: While low spending may sound good in the abstract, what it amounts to in practice is low spending on children, who account directly or indirectly for a large part of government outlays at the state and local level.
And in low-tax, low-spending Texas, the kids are not all right. The high school graduation rate, at just 61.3 percent, puts Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings. Nationally, the state ranks fifth in child poverty; it leads in the percentage of children without health insurance. And only 78 percent of Texas children are in excellent or very good health, significantly below the national average.
But wait — how can graduation rates be so low when Texas had that education miracle back when former President Bush was governor? Well, a couple of years into his presidency the truth about that miracle came out: Texas school administrators achieved low reported dropout rates the old-fashioned way — they, ahem, got the numbers wrong.
And what now when the Texas Miracle turned out to be a mirage and the state is suffering from serious budget problems? Education spending will be cut back.

I don't really need to tell anyone smart enough to read my blog that this is like the farmers eating the seed corn. There will be little to plant next year, which in terms of education means that the next generations will have few skills, will not be able to handle complex work tasks and will, in general, suffer from lower earnings and standards of living.

The conservatives sometimes buy the argument that we should spend some public funds to educate the children so that corporations in the future will have a better labor force. But we shouldn't stop at that pecuniary level. An educated society is a much nicer society for all of us to live in. An educated society means that an old conservative will be taken care of by skilled nurses and doctors, for example. An educated society has fewer desperate people, less poverty and less crime, all nice things for an elderly conservative wanting to rock on that front porch watching the sun set.

But mostly conservatives see children as the punishment their parents deserve for having dared to have sex. Nobody else should pay for them, they should be educated at home by their mothers and somehow a miracle is required that all this would provide the kind of educated society the conservatives would ultimately want. Without them having to pay anything. A Texas Miracle of sorts.