Sub-par scare tactics

On Reason’s Hit & Run blog, Matt Welch responds to a LA Times story warning California’s future will be ruined by cutting 5,000 government employees to cope with the $24 billion budget deficit. Among other things, the Times fears, “Promising students would go to other states, taking their future skills, earnings and, possibly, Nobel Prizes elsewhere”?

Welch writes: 

There is no scenario being contemplated that I’m aware of where the net number of University of California students will be decreased under whatever cuts are coming. Does higher tuition = less Nobel Prizes? I dunno, ask the aforementioned Stanford, which IS A PRIVATE UNIVERSITY THAT WON’T BE AFFECTED BY THESE ANNIHILATING CUTS, YA MAROON.

California companies would then find it harder to attract high-value employees who might be dubious about moving to a state with sub-par schools,” warns the Times.

California has increased education spending with “The ZERO noticeable improvements,” Welch writes.

Because the union-run school districts are infamous laboratories for inefficiency, job protection, and corruption, the state spends and spends, with nothing to show for it. Teachers unions are literally running out of other people’s money, and now they warn us about “sub-par schools”? That par got done subbed a long time ago. If politicians, journalists, and other “experts” want to defend the status quo (of constant spending increases), then they need to explain why Californians need to keep throwing more and more good money after bad on a K-12 system that is showing no results.

I think California is making progress in public education, despite enormous challenges.  High housing prices — not poor schools — have discouraged some “high-value” workers from moving here. 

I do worry about the state’s future because our legislators seem incapable of making difficult decisions.

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Comments

  1. High housing prices — not poor schools — have discouraged some “high-value” workers from moving here.

    Actually they work together. Back in the 80’s when I was hiring Ph.D. level workers, our company lost several high value recruits because they decided they would rather have their kids attend school in North Carolina or Georgia in communities where they could live than attend school in the communities they could afford in California (Bay area). These families (usually the wife) spent a lot of time in local schools on their recruiting trips. Much of their concern was the lack of differentiation by achievement for age and the low achievement of students the same age as their kids. That is, their concerns were philosophical not financial. The communities where students were at a higher level were too expensive to live in given their potential salary.

    But, don’t doubt we lose highly talented workers because of our poor schools ( and roads).

  2. Ragnarok says:

    “California’s future will be ruined by cutting 5,000 government employees…”

    I think California has well over 200,000 state workers, not counting teachers.

    If that figure is correct, then these draconian cuts amount to less than 3%. Has Arnie no mercy?

    Where I live, a few feral pigs regularly make their way through the neighborhood, destroying lawns, snuffling through garbage cans, scaring people, and generally making life difficult.

    Yet no-one – not Animal Control, not the City of San Jose, not the park rangers, not the police, and especially not our esteemed concilman, Forrest Williams, is willing to do a thing.

    For what do these people get paid? I think you could cut a good 25% of them and see no change in services – maybe they’d improve if they thought they might actually get fired if they didn’t do some work.

  3. McSwain says:

    I live and teach in CA. I can’t afford to buy a house in an area with decent schools, so I rent. If my family were not all here in CA, I would move out of state in a heartbeat, to a place where I could afford a home in a good district and where the schools are decent.

    The current cuts are devastating California’s education system–don’t let higher test scores in lower demographic areas fool you into thinking we’re okay. I’m looking at private high school for my son, because the thought of him going to our public schools given the cuts to the arts and honors programs just breaks my heart. Not to mention that it would cost him nearly private school tuition money to play baseball in our PUBLIC schools. Yeah.

  4. I really wish CA legislators would make cuts on other things other than the workforce.

    I’ve taught in schools where there are literally roomfuls of books, computers, etc that have never been used. But they keep stockpiling the stuff because people are afraid they might not get the same amount of money in their budgets next year.

  5. “…cutting 5,000 government employees…I think California has well over 200,000 state workers

    241,164 source: http://www.sco.ca.gov/ppsd_empinfo_demo.html

    A 2% cut in the workforce won’t hardly cause a dent. I say let’s bump it up a notch to say something like 10% (25,000) and start saving some real money.

  6. Bill Leonard says:

    Doesn’t matter how much or how little is cut; those who might be affected will raisse the hue and cry.

    Point: Do we expect those who make their money off the public system to do anything but defend and advance the system?

    Ragnorak: If feral pigs are such a problem, and the powers that be, including your esteemed city council person, will do nothing, then: do you own a deer-worthy sporting rifle or a heavy-caliber handgun?

    I do, and if the powers that be can do nothing, then I would:

    A. Document all governmental refusals to act;

    B. Act affirmatively; i.e., kill at least one of the suckers; and

    C. Be prepared, in detail, with paperwork denials of responsibility from City Hall, to tell my tale to the media. That’s where the documentation comes in. Ask those TV “reporters” to ask your city councilman WHY nothing was done, despite your (documented) numerous complaints. Also ask them to ask the flunkies who signed the letters from City Hall and on behalf of the councilperson, DIRECTLY AND IN PERSON why they signed such letters.

    And always remember: Government is 3/4 incompetence and 1/4 imbecilic bumbling.

    Good luck.

    Bill

  7. Back in the 60s and 70s, Pasadena public schools turned out dozens of National Merit Scholars. Today, I know very few people who make those public schools their first choice. When David Baltimore became head of CalTech, he approached the Pasadena Unified District about setting up a Math/Science High School, because it would be a great recruiting incentive for him to attract faculty members. He got turned down flat because it would be “elitist”. This in the city that houses CalTech and is near JPL. That’s just typical of the mind-set.

    Pasadena jumped on every new education trend, except the “return to excellence” one.

  8. A 2% cut in the workforce won’t hardly cause a dent. I say let’s bump it up a notch to say something like 10% (25,000) and start saving some real money.

    And nearly every one of those 25,000 has a family and rent or a mortgage and bills to pay.

    You’re a disgusting toad.

  9. From Mr. Toad

    Get a clue Mikey, layoffs and cutbacks are the way of life in California now. The government is not and should not be exempt.

    “…Every one of the more than 50 companies surveyed by the council said it was laying off 5 percent to 15 percent of its work force”

    http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_12211096?nclick_check=1

  10. Ragnarok says:

    McSwain said:

    “The current cuts are devastating California’s education system…”

    What devastating cuts? California spends about $12,000 per kid per year, far more than is appropriate. Money isn’t the problem, except that there’s too much of it.

    I think that most of the blame is society’s; too much permissiveness, too little pride in doing well, the broken families from which many kids come, the lack of commitment they see all around them, the rise and glorification of the single-mother family (!), the vilification of men, the constant demands for state-of-the-art buildings/facilities/computers – and so on and so forth.

    Is this going to change? I’m not holding my breath.

    Bill Leonard:

    ‘Fraid I don’t have any guns. If I did, and I were to use it, there would be trouble – discharging a firearm within city limits, harming an endangered species, hurting the pig’s feelings, using a dangerous substance (lead) etc.

    Mike:

    If they can’t or won’t do the work, but still want to get paid, that’s welfare. Are you seriously claiming that many of these employees actually do real work?

    Yes, they have families and rents and mortgages. Are we responsible for their inflated salaries and their unrealistic expectations? No.

    Remember Bernard Parks, the failed LA Police Chief? Do you know what he’s doing now?

    From the LATimes:

    “Los Angeles Councilman Bernard Parks, City Hall’s budget committee chief who is warning that soaring payroll and pension costs threaten the city’s financial stability, receives $22,000 a month in city retirement benefits, in addition to his $178,789 a year salary, records and interviews show.”

    Nice work if you can get it!

  11. Ragnarok says:

    KateC said:

    “This in the city that houses CalTech and is near JPL. That’s just typical of the mind-set. “

    Sorry, forgot about this.

    A couple of years ago I called CalTech to see if they had any new problem sets for the Feynman lectures (my college days are long gone, but they’re fun to do).

    They told me that they were no longer using the Feynman lectures because they were “too hard”! At CalTech!

  12. Mike Curtis says:

    Government workers who don’t have to produce anything have only two reasons to work. (1) For the intrinsic value of serving the public; or, (2) to perpetuate their own existence. Of the pair, one is a public servant, and the other is a parasite. Both get paid the same. Cutting 10% will only save money, cutting the right 10% saves money and helps restore credibility.

  13. Ponderosa says:

    Government haters, I’ll tell you this: our California middle school is losing its sole vice-principal due to budget cuts. Student misbehavior already impairs our efficacy; it’s going to be worse next year without our Disciplinarian-in-Chief (the poor principal is already overburdened with responsibilities, although, since you seem to regard all government jobs as sinecures, you probably don’t believe me). Most high-functioning advanced nations (e.g. the Netherlands) have much higher taxes than we do. Their people do not suffer from rabid anti-government psychosis. Taxes are the price we pay for civilization. We slipping into banana republic status.

  14. Ragnarok says:

    Well, Ponderosa, how much more money would you like for the schools? If ~$12K isn’t enough, not counting tax breaks and parcel taxes and the fact that you float bonds for capital improvements, how much do you think would be enough?

    As for the Dutch:

    “First, as in the United States, income tax in the Netherlands is a bendy concept: with a good accountant, you can rack up deductions and exploit loopholes. And while the top income-tax rate in the United States is 35 percent, the numbers are a bit misleading. “People coming from the U.S. to the Netherlands focus on that difference, and on that 52 percent,” said Constanze Woelfle, an American accountant based in the Netherlands whose clients are mostly American expats. “But consider that the Dutch rate includes social security, which in the U.S. is an additional 6.2 percent. Then in the U.S. you have state and local taxes, and much higher real estate taxes. If you were to add all those up, you would get close to the 52 percent.””

    And the Dutch get a lot more for their taxes than we do.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/03/magazine/03european-t.html?scp=3&sq=dutch%20taxes&st=cse

    “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”

    No, taxes are what we pay to support a horrendously expensive but dysfunctional system and the parasites who infest it.

  15. I wouldn’t move to California on a bet.

    When I was visiting job fairs, all the hiring districts were local except for two: one from California and one from Texas — both offering much higher salaries than we get locally.

  16. Far too many government employees, at all levels and including teachers, see their positions as entitlements; see above comments. In the private sector, people can and will be summarily fired, downsized etc. I’ve never even heard of a school system where the real problem was lack of money; the problem is how that money is spent. This includes the vastly inflated ranks of administrators and “specialists” of all types; people that private schools typically don’t have.

  17. “High housing prices — not poor schools — have discouraged some “high-value” workers from moving here”

    High housing prices, exorbitant tax rates, idiotic nanny state regulations, and a few thousand other reasons discourage sane human beings from moving there.

  18. Parent2 says:

    “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” Taxes are levied upon the local tax base. When the local tax base decreases, the amount of money taken in taxes should also decrease. Otherwise, increasing taxes serve to drive away the productive.

    I suppose the union could offer to accept a significant wage cut. Workers in the private sector are being fired, or accepting wage cuts. Property values are falling, and retirement savings have plummeted. Many middle class parents aren’t sure if their children will be able to attend college, nor are they certain that they will ever be able to retire.

    The voters aren’t being hard-hearted. Most of them want to have good schools and good local services. The trouble is, they want to be able to eat and pay their mortgage.

  19. Yes, California will be “decimated” by cutting 5,000 state workers. A piddling 5,000 will do little or nothing to help the state and its people. Instead, the state needs to cut 50,000 workers.

  20. Ponderosa says:

    I’d love it if some of you could come visit our middle school and show me where all the fat is. In the broken-down computer lab? In our shabby gym? In our bare-bones district office?

    And I’d like you to find a “parasite” among the earnest, hard-working teachers. Is $40,000 too much money for what these folks do?

    Do you all realize that teachers were paid peanuts before unionization? (Just as workers in many industries were over-worked, underpaid and generally exploited before the labor movement.) Do you know your history? Are you happy to have weekends? Do you think the 40 hour work week is a horrendous encroachment on employers’ rights? Do you think children should still be “free” to skip school and work for wages?

    Face it, the Ayn Rand utopia is as false and unattainable as Marx’s. The best countries are public-private hybrids.

  21. Margo/Mom says:

    California is in deep trouble any way that you look at it. And as far as I can tell, there’s plenty of blame to go around. They were the country’s leader (couple decades back) in cutting taxes. Their per/pupil rate is about the same as it is here in the midwest–but I would be homeless on my current salary if I lived in California.

    There are several approaches to change that don’t suggest good results. One is massive budget hacking to save dollars. It’s always a bad move to let the budget folks lead. You want to lead from a strong sense of mission. Without this there is no way to determine which things that you are doing are working well and which things are merely nice distractions. The cut, cut, cut approach–with some dim notion that what survives will be what is most valuable too easily results in unintended consequences. Laying off massive numbers of workers has an impact–both on business (loss of customers with disposable cash to purchase the product) and on government (loss of tax-payers, greater levels of indigence, greater social problems).

    Chester Finn at Fordham is touting recession as an opportunity (for schools) to reconsider what is important enough to salvage and whether the current means of operation are both the most efficient and the most effective. At base, I think this is right–if schools/government/communities can arrive at some sense of clarity regarding mission. This is not helped by either the gloom and doom proponents who (understandably) want to save their own jobs. Neither is it helped by the anti-government folks shouting about lazy do-nothings in government who deserve to lose jobs. Come on folks. I am content to NOT be the Governor of California at this point–I don’t relish trying to find a middle somewhere in that discordant chorus. But the effort is not assisted by cheer-leaders for either extreme.

  22. Parent2 says:

    Unfortunately, the budget situation is extreme. I believe that California’s current problems don’t include the looming pension obligations, complicated by major troubles at almost all organizations charge with managing money to pay for pensions.

    I’ve never seen a public school system cut their budget, without a budget crisis. I don’t live in CA, but I do live in a very blue state. Sure, it’d be best to cut from a sense of mission–but if you only trim the budget when the times are desperate, you’ve chosen your budgeting model.

    Ponderosa, in the last months I have read of school districts switching to four day weeks to save money, and I’ve read of the prospect of 50 students per class in California. My local district is piling on fees and cutting staff. The state may cut the money it gives towns in mid-budget cycle, which is unheard of.

    ” Laying off massive numbers of workers has an impact–both on business (loss of customers with disposable cash to purchase the product) and on government (loss of tax-payers, greater levels of indigence, greater social problems).”

    But when the workers are government workers, their wages must come from taxes. The tax burden on private industry, and on private citizens, is one factor companies weigh when deciding whether to open a branch in a state–or, indeed, whether to stay in a state. California now has a domestic net outflow. “Most troubling of all, domestic out-migration, about even in 2001, swelled to over 260,000 in 2007 and now surpasses international immigration. ” [http://www.american.com/archive/2008/november-december-magazine/sundown-for-california/?searchterm=california]

    As another article at Reason points out, the cause of California’s troubles can’t be laid at the feet of Prop 13. The state’s budget has increased at too great a rate. “In 10 years, state spending in nominal terms increased 92 percent.”
    [http://www.reason.com/news/show/132646.html]

    California’s not the only state in this situation. It’s only the first to go broke.

  23. Ragnarok says:

    Ponderosa,

    I don’t think you’ve actually dealt with any of the points.

    1. If ~12K per student isn’t enough, how much is? If you doubt the figure, you can verify it easily enough at the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s website.

    2. You mentioned the Dutch and their taxes, which you claimed were much higher than ours; I pointed out that their taxes aren’t much different from ours, and they get a lot of things that we don’t. Would you admit that you were mistaken?

    3. You ask if $40,000/year is too high a salary. Here in the Bay Area, the starting salary for teachers is ~$45K, topping out at over ~95K. On top of that, they can retire at age 50 with a pension of 3% of their highest yearly pay for each year they’ve worked, assuming they’ve worked 30 years. Annual COLAs and free health are thrown in,

    So you could retire at ~$95K/year + annual increases + free health care for the rest of your life. That sound like enough to you?

    As for Margo, I’m not quite sure what her point is – too much verbiage.

    “Their per/pupil rate is about the same as it is here in the midwest–but I would be homeless on my current salary if I lived in California.”

    First, are you saying that your schools get 12K/year per student? If so, that’s far too much money, particularly in the Midwest.

    Second, what’s the connection between the two halves of the sentence? At first glance I see none.

    Third, your salary may or may not be appropriate for where you live, but looking at whether it is appropriate for California makes no sense.

    “There are several approaches to change that don’t suggest good results. One is massive budget hacking to save dollars.”

    And the others are?

    In general I dislike layoffs intensely. I would much prefer conservative planning, spending cautiously, sharing the pain etc. But isn’t going to happen.

  24. >I think that most of the blame is society’s; too much permissiveness, too little pride in doing well, the broken families from which many kids come, the lack of commitment they see all around them, the rise and glorification of the single-mother family (!), the vilification of men, the constant demands for state-of-the-art buildings/facilities/computers – and so on and so forth.

    This is exactly what I think. We no longer educate well because, as a society, we no long value education the way we once did. Educating our citizens is more than sending them to school or paying taxes. It’s living and acting every day as if knowledge and understanding of our world, its workings and its history were important. Since we, as a society, no longer live this way, it’s hardly surprising that our quality of education has declined.

    Here is a link to figures from the National Center for Education Statistics to that has plenty of inflation-adjusted numbers. The year I was born, 1957, we spent $2,792 per pupil in 2001 dollars. In 2001, it was $9,614 per pupil. Has this more-than-tripled spending resulted in three-times-better educated kids? I don’t see anyone arguing that it has.

    California spends a good deal more than the national average and still they claim it isn’t enough. Just what would be enough? $20,000 per child? $100,000 per child?

    No, it’s not about the benjamins. It’s about the value we all place on education and how we communicate that value to our youth.

  25. Parent2 says:

    Ragnarok, is the 3% a typo?

    “On top of that, they can retire at age 50 with a pension of 3% of their highest yearly pay for each year they’ve worked, assuming they’ve worked 30 years.”

  26. Ragnarok says:

    Sorry, I wasn’t clear.

    It’s 3% of their highest yearly salary for each year they’ve worked. So if a teacher had worked for 30 years and his highest salary was $90K, his base pension would be (3% of $95K) x 30 years = 81K.

    If you work for 35 years it would be (3% of $95K) x 30 = $85K.

  27. Ragnarok, Where do teachers have this deal? I know many fire and police get this (they are paid more than teachers and can pad the final year with overtime), but I have never heard of teachers getting it. A few years ago the California retirement system was tuned to cause the teachers to leave at age 60.

  28. Parent 2 said, “California’s not the only state in this situation. It’s only the first to go broke.”

    The political class in ALL states and the federal government thinks that the people exist for the government. Until they are shown that it is the other way around, the talk about how much is too much or how little is too little really makes no difference.

  29. I absolutely cannot believe that CA school systems are not overloaded with administrators/specialists of all kinds who are credentialed but do no teaching.

    A number of years ago, I saw a comparison of admin/non-teaching personnel between DC Public Schools and the Archdiocese of Baltimore (almost exactly the same number of students); the Archdiocese had something like 15 and DCPS had something like 1350!!! It’s seen as a jobs program; education isn’t the priority, which is just as well since they don’t educate many of their students.

    Montgomery County, MD does much better academically than DC because they have fewer of the problems Rob enumerates, but they still have enough bureaucracy to choke a whole stable full of horses. Just because they don’t make the money end up in the classroom doesn’t mean they don’t have the money; they just don’t use it properly. In my experience, that’s typical.

  30. Ragnarok says:

    Here’s an interesting link that shows you the lowest, highest and average teachers’ salaries:

    http://www.sacbee.com/1098/story/995141.html

  31. Mark Roulo says:

    I saw a comparison of admin/non-teaching personnel between DC Public Schools and the Archdiocese of Baltimore (almost exactly the same number of students); the Archdiocese had something like 15 and DCPS had something like 1350!!!

    I would want to see that comparison.

    Washington, D.C. has approximately 600,000 people (from here:http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/11000.html). About 13% of them are K-12 school age … so figure about 78,000 school age kids. If we figure that ½ of them go to the public schools (my guess is that it is higher), then we have about 40K students. With only 15 support staff?

    That 15 includes janitors? And the principal(s)? And secretaries? And the librarians? None of these are teaching personnel, and I have a very difficult time believing that the Baltimore parochial schools can get by with only 15 people to do these jobs.

    -Mark Roulo

  32. Andy Freeman says:

    If we take CA’s 2005 budget and adjust for both inflation and population growth, we get get a number that is about %25B less than CA’s current spending plan. You know, the plan that is $25B more than likely revenues.

    Does anyone think that CA’s govt wasn’t providing $25B in essential services that it’s providing today? I thought not. Given that, surely no one will object to calling that $25B increase “spending on foolishness”.

    Ponderosa seems to think that CA’s schools are taking a hit, that they’re actually getting less money than in 2005. If that’s true, CA is diverting money from schools to pay for the foolishness spending, so it’s even worse than the $25B figure suggests.

    However, CA’s govt is largely a creature of the various public employees unions, the teachers being close to or at the head of the pack. In other words, Ponderosa’s union has been protecting and promoting that foolishness. If he’s correct about diversion, they’ve even been diverting money from schools for more foolishness….

    If CA teachers insist on telling us that all state spending is essential, they don’t get to complain when education takes a hit along with everything else. If, instead, they’re willing to argue that there’s $25-30B of foolishness to cut elsewhere, great – education doesn’t get cut.

    We’ve previously established that public school advocates are primarily concerned with funding. We’re about to find out if they think that education funding is special. If they don’t act as if it is….

  33. Andy Freeman says:

    > I really wish CA legislators would make cuts on other things other than the workforce.

    > I’ve taught in schools where there are literally roomfuls of books, computers, etc that have never been used. But they keep stockpiling the stuff because people are afraid they might not get the same amount of money in their budgets next year.

    You do realize that you’ve described something that the rest of us would consider fraud, right?

    I’ll bet that your district or one near by has been complaining about a lack of money. If that’s what you do with what you get, why should you get more?

    People cost $40k/year plus benefits, or easily $50k/year. Cutting stuff won’t do that, unless there’s a lot of kick-backs going on.

  34. Mark, my memory says that the study was looking at professionals; credentialed administrators/specialists who did no teaching. It was a while ago, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t including janitorial or clerical personnel. DCPS probably had/has more of those than they need, too.