Publisher's Note: Jim Bispo's weekly column appears in the Beaufort Observer.
Editor's note (Beaufort Observer): A Republican proposal in the Legislature would make fundamental changes in the way our tax system works and the way money goes to schools. It is getting very little attention in the Elite Media. But Jim Bispo is on top of it for us. This is a long piece, but let us urge you to read the entire thing. Every voter needs to know about this and you should let your elected representatives know how you feel about it. Here's Jim's perspective:
Educating our kids is an expensive proposition. Some blame the dismal results we achieve on the teacher's unions and their work rules, class size, tenure, lack of parental interest, the breakdown of the family, poverty. And there's more. There are varying degrees of validity in all of these. There is plenty of blame to go around. But blaming each other doesn't solve the problem. So what should we do about it??
Short answer: Clearly something different than we have been doing.
So, what have we been doing??
We have been talking about improving the quality of our educational system for as long as I can remember. We institute pre-school programs to ensure our kids are ready for school and prepared to learn. We have poured a lot of money into programs such as Smart Start, More at Four and the like. We continue to fund them. Only the NCAE and Judge Howard Manning believe that they are underfunded. (Where the Judge got his ideas about education funding is a mystery, but it isn't very difficult to imagine from whence those ideas may have come.) Our cost conscious Rep controlled Legislature changed the name of More at Four to NC Pre-K Program and moved responsibility for implementation to Division of Child Development and Early Education in the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Surely that will enhance the effectiveness of the program. Of course it will, the same as reorganizations always do... Give me a break.
We can only wonder how much research the legislators (or their staffs) did before coming up with this brain child.. What we see is what looks a lot like "high school" level (and quality) of research. You check the literature until you find support for what you are trying to prove. As soon as you find it, you quit reading. Welcome to "high School research methodology". Surely whoever researched the issue found studies that clearly indicated that the kids coming through those pre-school schools, were indeed ready for kindergarten and perhaps even did a little better than their peers. At that point, the researchers must have stopped reading. Had they read a little further, they would have discovered that these same studies indicated that the beneficial effects of the pre-school education "wear off" by about the third grade. If that's the case, why bother?? Surely we can find something more productive on which to spend our money. Something that yields a little return on our investment.
We have been following the "To solve a problem, pour more money on it" theory of educational improvement for years and years. And what has it produced?? Unconscionably high costs of education and clearly miserable levels of educational attainment.
But now, after a hundred years of control by the Dems, our ever innovative Rep. controlled legislature has come up with an absolutely great idea. They are going to allow corporations to take a tax credit; not a deduction, but a credit for contributing to a poorly conceived and rather poorly disguised school voucher program. .( Tax refresher: A "deduction" reduces the amount of your income that is taxable by the amount of the deduction. A "credit" reduces your actual tax dollar for dollar by the amount of the credit.) It isn't clear if they are trying to help reduce workload on state employees, who seem to be left completely out of the proposal, or if they are taking a page out of President Obama's playbook and "rewarding" their big supporters. (That's a euphemism for contributors, or perhaps bundlers.). Instead of tasking the State education folks to manage the program, corporations would receive tax credits for money they contribute to non-profit organizations which will then provide private school scholarships. We surely could not trust state employees to administer something like this with an even hand, so we must resort to non-profit organizations to take care of it for us. Say what?? Give me a break..
Everybody knows that not for profit organizations are much preferred to government employees or for profit organizations for taking care of the public's business. They are honest and they are focused on the well being and welfare of those they serve. They don't have to worry about making a profit so they are free to concentrate on fulfilling their forever high sounding purposes in life. Well, at least that's the conventional wisdom. And guess what. We have at least two such organizations already in line for the corporate donations associated with this proposal. That would be the Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina and presumably the Partners for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. A little competition for the privilege of managing the program can only have positive results. But wait. Both of those organizations are the brain child of the same individual who has reportedly been lobbying in favor the legislation. Hmmm...
Does that raise any red flags in anyone's mind?? Should it?? I do not intend to cast any aspersions on the individual involved, but it certainly doesn't look all that good.
It's too bad that more people don't pay attention to the performance of non-profits. What they would find is that a lot of them seem to be more interested in doing well as opposed to doing the good for which they claim to be organized. The IRS requires that their tax returns be available to the public and there are several sites where one can go to review the returns. The returns on those sites tend to be a couple of years behind but they do give a fairly good picture of what's going on. When you begin to pay some attention to the non-profits' returns several rather disconcerting facts are frequently discovered. The first thing that normally pops out at you is the amount of remuneration received by whoever is in charge. Not-for-profit CEOs frequently receive an outlandish salary. One of the IRS required tax forms shows the organization's expenditures. The total expenditures (for various items) are shown and then broken down into expenditures dedicated to supporting the function for which the organization claims to be in business, the expenses dedicated to management and administration of the organization, and expenditures dedicated to fund raising. (Sorry to have to drag you through all that, but...) What we frequently find is that 30 to 40% of expenditures are for management and administration and fund raising (I have seen much higher figures.). That frequently doesn't leave much for doing all the good for which the organization was ostensibly established. That should be enough to turn a lot of folks against non-profits being involved in governmental activities, or at least getting us interested in paying much closer attention to what's going on with them.
So there you have it. Our legislature is preparing to hand over management of an important educational program to an outside organization which may or may not be interested in much more than enriching itself. It we want to hand over the management of state programs, why don't we ask for competitive bids for getting the work accomplished. And, if we trust the taxpayers (in this case the corporations) to decide where their tax money should be spent, why don't we give individual taxpayers that option. Not just for education, but for highway construction and maintenance, infrastructure, and everything else the state currently does. It wouldn't take long to find out how the taxpayers felt about a lot of the things the state currently absconds with our money to pay for.
By the way, what's wrong with having Corporations pay their taxes to the state and having state folks set up and manage the program?? And, what would be wrong with our legislators having to decide through the normal appropriation process how much goes for "vouchers" when considered against all the other proper demands for state funding?? Let's face it. If that is more responsibility (or heat) than many of them are willing to stand, perhaps it would be a good thing to know before the next election time comes around. We clearly should not allow them to take themselves "off the hook" by handing over state responsibilities to anyone else, especially a not-for-profit organization.
The education of our kids is too important for us to allow this to happen.
Vouchers, MAYBE!! Non-profits, NO!!