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.

1 comment:

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?