By Jon Cassidy | Watchdog.org
HOUSTON — Polls show that public education is the area people would most like the Legislature to protect, yet even in this sensitive area there are savings to be had, even with a tool as blunt and indiscriminate as a line-item veto.
My favorite idea among those I’ve come across in the past few days is to bill school districts for any remedial education their graduates need at college. The Lone Star Foundation estimates that would save the state $392 million, but of course you’d need separate legislation for it.
Here are some education programs that Gov. Rick Perry could eliminate, which would get rid of waste while allowing local districts to re-establish any of their meritorious elements.
Statewide educational programs
This $328.6-million line item could be chopped out, and all you’d lose is some standardized testing for elementary school, support for Advanced Placement tests (which would obviously be picked up again locally), tiny subsidies for Head Start and Boys and Girls Clubs, plus a program that provides some optional online coursework .
School improvement and support
Goodbye $308.2 million for teacher development and community centers meant to prevent dropouts. I was going to drop out of school and sell drugs, but then I went to this great community center, which is obviously a lie. Community centers are best left to the communities, not artificially established from on high. Leave teacher training to the districts.
School Health and Safety programs
That’s the name given to disciplinary and alternative education programs that will cost the state $182.2 million during the next two years. Stop wasting money on kids who don’t want to be there. Some teens are going to bum around and party for a few too many years before they figure out that’s not sustainable, then learn a trade. Let them. They’re not bad people, per se, so don’t reinforce that self-image for the sake of squeezing a few more facts in their heads.
Cut pre-kindergarten programs
We hear so much rhetoric about early childhood education, but the truth is that nobody has yet designed a scalable early education program that produces lasting results. There are isolated programs that achieve high performance thanks to dedicated personnel, but Head Start and the like are empty gestures.
A study by the Department of Health and Human Services last year confirmed what earlier studies had found:
“Looking across the full study period, from the beginning of Head Start through 3rd grade, the evidence is clear that access to Head Start improved children’s preschool outcomes across developmental domains, but had few impacts on children in kindergarten through 3rd grade.”
A study by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, which endorses these ideas, found that reduction in the programs would be worth $209 million. I don’t have a figure for cutting them all, as they fall under several categories.
Eliminate Tuition Equalization Grants
Here’s $180.1 million that is effectively a subsidy for the state’s private universities. This grant program goes to cover the difference in tuition between a state school and a private one. It serves no public purpose. Private schools such as Baylor, Rice and Southern Methodist University all have great endowments and can easily offer attractive financial aid packages to make up the difference, or they can admit other students. There’s no need for the state to create an incentive not to go to a public school.
In all, that’s more than $1.2 billion in taxpayer savings just from education, without going anywhere near core programs. There’s more to be had.
I don’t know the merits of every program coming under the above headings, but neither does anybody else. There’s too much distance between a billion dollars and the classroom. The more that the state can abandon this terrain to local bodies, the more informed the decision-makers will be.
Contact Jon Cassidy at [email protected] or @jpcassidy000.