Monday, June 05, 2006

Elections Part 2: Propositions

The upcoming primary election is novel in that it only has two propositions for California voters to vote on. Of course there was last year's infamous special election that was all propositions, so maybe there's less to go around this year because of that. Unlike the Democratic primary for governor, these are much more interesting.

Proposition 81 -- Bonds for libraries. I like libraries, I really do. Growing up, I frequented the public library near my house. In high school, I would spend many hours at the libary at the community college, doing research for papers. In college, I would troll around the 7th floor of Millikan Library, the math floor. However, I must oppose this proposition. I wouldn't mind more funding for public libraries, but not via bonds. These are debt instruments with no pre-defined repayment mechanism. If bonds were not used and a more well defined and defensible tax mechanism was proposed instead, I would reconsider my position. Plus as it is, libraries are becoming less and less valuable with the advent of the internet. Most of the information that I once had to go to the library to find, I can now easily find online. A couple of years ago I almost took a job with a very cool company called eBrary. They provide a library portal that's kind of like the Dewey Decimal System on steroids. Right now they try to sell to public libraries, but I think it would be a great component to complement private schools. Enroll your kid in a private school and get access to that school's eBrary portal. I digress... No on Prop 81!

Proposition 82 -- Universal Preschool. I just know that this is going to pass. It uses the old "think of the children" trick to justify atrocities. Where to begin on this? I'll try to stick to two basic points.

Free preschool will devalue preschools. Think of how bad public schools are in the United States and in California. This same kind of devaluation will result from tax payer funded preschools. Sure the preschools themselves may remain private, but they will have to conform to state regulation in order to be eligible to receive state money for student tuition. Refusing regulation will mean that they will lose students (and future students) of parents for whom the tuition reduction of letting the state pay for preschool is too great to turn down. This is in its own way just as bad as the No Child Left Behind fiasco. Proponents like to talk about how much better off children who attend preschool are, but it's a useless statistic (correlation does not imply causation!) Children who go to preschool have parents who spend money on sending them to preschool. Those parents are going to be very interested in making sure their kids the most out of preschool because of their considerable investment. The preschools themselves are also under pressure to perform, since kids don't have to go to preschools so their parents could easily remove them from the school completely or just to change schools. If you give away preschool, then parents will not have the investment in it and will not be compelled to be involved as much. This is exactly what happens with public schools. Similarly with less pressure to compete, the preschools themselves will only be motivated to pass their state mandated regulations and nothing more.

Financial unfairness. One of the reasons why this will surely pass is because it is funded by a tax on people who make over $400,000 annually. There's not too many people like that and so their votes are useless, and many people will say "those people are rich and can afford to pay the tax." That's an awful way of thinking in my opinion. Here's how I look at it. People with that kind of income can already send their kids to preschool, and probably do so. Thus they will receive little or no benefit from the program that they are being told to fund. You can't get more unfair than that. Now I know that there are already many such programs based on the same funding principle, but does that justify another one? This is basically singling out a minority (people with high income) and forcing them to do something against their will. But they have money, so it's ok, right? Some of the first persecutions of the Jews in not-quite-yet-Nazi Germany were based on these same principles. No on Prop 82!

There you have it. Two propositions, two Nos. Given my track record on propositions, I'm sure both props will pass.


terry chay said...

Well given that my brother did the study proving the efficacy of Head Start, I’m going to be slightly biased.

It’s sad to say, but those “proponents” are correct. Matriculation date into school is the largest correlate with IQ (and IQ is a strong correlate with future performance). In fact, besides your parents income level, the month you are born is probably the single next largest factor on your future education.

Don’t dismiss the evidence out of hand simply because you don’t agree with it.

Also a little history lesson is in order.

In order to understand why these propositions appear, you have to understand how Serrano v. Priest and the Proposition 13 backlash it created have destroyed the California public school system vis-a-vis other states. As long as Californians are not allowed to fund public schools using property taxes, Proposition 13 will be supported. This causes the entire public school education system to be underfunded. Since the only thing that can trump a proposition is another proposition, ad hoc solutions such as this are going to be pushed every year until Prop 13 is repealed.

Having said that, I’m voting against these two propositions. I think what is going on is a great example of why direct democracy is a bad idea because this is a band aid.

In general, I vote against all propositions. The only exceptions are ones that repeal past propositions and ones that limit the number of people going to jail. Right now the state expenditures is a zero sum between corrections and education. So you can see, I was especially doubly pissed when Schwartzneggar torpedoed the proposition that would have repealed the repellent “three strikes you’re out” law (Proposition 184).

terry chay said...

Hmm, I wasn't clear about the "correlation does not imply causation."

My point was simply that you are correct in your logic but flawed in your application.

There is a causal contrapositive that trumps self-selection (a child’s birth month causing up to a year difference in grade school matriculation). Unless you are going to imply that people who are richer are going to self-select for their child being born during a certain month?

The Head Start studies (low income families) strengthen that causal proof. My brother’s study weights by adjusting for birth month and income level and still finds a correlations between Head Start and future performance. Coincidentally (or not), the factor of the correlation is accounted for almost entirely by the fact that the kids in this income bracket are entering school a full year earlier under Head Start.

This doesn’t “prove” that preschool increases children’s performance, but the correlation is surprisingly strong. It’s almost shocking how well the data lines up with projections. (The cynical me often likes to say that it doesn’t matter what you teach them in Head Start as long as you get them in there younger.)

That’s why Head Start as a program does well in both Democrat and Republican administrations and states.

Given that you have two children, I think it’d be in your best interest to vote for Prop 82. At the very least, it will drive down prices of the private education you send your kids to.

As for $400k earners getting shafted, cry me a fucking river here! Those people probably own some >$1 million dollar home that has been assessed at <$500k. Though I’m not the former, I’m really close to the latter. They dodged their municipal obligations and now they’re screaming bloody murder because someone has a roundabout way to tax them? Ask these people, “Would you prefer Prop 13 be repealed?” because that’s the alternative.

Unknown said...

Bring out Prop 13, nice! Like everyone else in the Bay Area or in LA, I feel the effects that Prop 13 has had on home prices. However, it is too easy to blame things on Prop 13. It's yet another case of logical fallacy.

As of 1998, Californians paid 11.7% of their income to taxes. The national average was 11.5%. So despite Prop 13, Californians are still more taxed than people in other states. So if Californian schools are underfunded, does that mean that other state schools are even more underfunded?

The funding problem does not come from a lack of taxes. It comes from beauractic inefficiencies. There is no accountability in public schools and there never will be. It is impossible. Parents are under-motivted because their lack of investment, and teachers lack incentive. Who makes more money, a great teacher who has been teaching for two years or a terrible teacher who has been teaching for ten years? That's right, the latter. That's how it will always be with public schools.

As for preschool effectiveness and head start... does your brother's study say that if you are younger when you start school then you will do better than a older child, or is the other way around? This sounds interesting, show me some links. Most things I had read about Head Start indicated that its effects were very positive in the short term, but were statistically insignificant long term. That's why I'd like to see evidence to the contrary.

Finally, your response to "$400K earners getting shafted" is exactly why Prop 82 will pass. People look at such people with disdain, just as some people look at Koreans with disdain. They say who cares about those people? It's democratic rule-by-majority at its worst. I don't make $400K, far from it. But I think a tax should benefit the people being taxed. Is that such an awful perspective?