In A Flash

It’s been almost a year since I commented on anything written by Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs contributor Greg Forster who is a fellow with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.  He’s the one who early on eased my conscience about referring to these fellows as Limited Thinkers when he used the oh so clever term “Blob” to refer to Oklahoma’s school teachers, bus drivers, classroom assistants, cafeteria workers, custodians and building principals who work hard to educate over 650,000 children in our state.  In his latest “contribution” to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs website, Does School Choice Expand the Welfare State?, June 1, 2017, he doubles down on his name calling, but argues so shallowly that “in a flash” we will see how he is so enamored with his own rhetoric that he misses the point entirely.

But first to another flash, the Green Flash, the second of my Pacific Beach trifecta sightings (see A Rise By Any Other Name for the first).  Don’t you love the segue?  It may have been our second visit to San Diego–first was with children so no romance–in the late eighties, but was at least early nineties, when we enjoyed a dinner for two at the Marine Room in the La Jolla Shores area.  Linda and I were watching a beautiful sunset through the picture window on a perfectly clear evening and when the sun finally disappeared beneath the ocean we turned to each other and said, simultaneously, “Did you see that?”  Right at the moment the sun disappeared, its yellow falling behind the ocean’s blue, a brief green flash of light appeared and then was gone.  It was memorable for us, but I don’t think we were able to substantiate our vision until a few years later when an internet search confirmed that our experience was a real phenomenon.

As we became regular semiannual visitors to San Diego in the years that followed our son’s permanent relocation there in 1998, we became well acquainted with the Pacific Beach and Mission Beach neighborhoods, including a restaurant named the Green Flash right on the beach promenade where Pacific Beach becomes Mission Beach (it closed a couple of years ago).  We have watched many sunsets over the years from these beaches and mostly due to cloudy skies have usually failed to see the green flash; but at least twice, and maybe more, we have again enjoyed the brief pleasure of a green flash sighting.  It is a phenomenon, according to internet postings, that can occur with a sunset over any body of water under the right conditions, though we have not experienced it elsewhere.  To my simple understanding it is just the effect of the color wheel, blue and yellow briefly mixing to create the green flash.

Here is a photo something like what we’ve seen I found on the internet, followed by a photo we took when we tried, but failed, to see the flash at PB.

Now to Limited Thinker Forster.  It’s hard to wade through his language like “omnipotent and omnibenevolent state”, “ever-expanding technocratic state”, “bureaucratically bloated, lethargic, and incompetent”, “leeches who suck money out of the school bureaucracy without contributing to education”, and “greed and sloth”, and get directly to his point, which centers around this quote by State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister who, concerned about the state’s revenue shortfall, opposed legislation that would establish Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) in Oklahoma, “Is this the right year, is this the right time to start a new government program?”  In Forster’s one size fits all little mind this marks Superintendent Hofmeister’s concern as disingenuous “anti-government rhetoric”.  You see Forster is employed by a foundation whose mission is to promote the expansion of “school choice” legislation like Education Savings Accounts, so Hofmeister’s opposition is messing with his livelihood which includes trying to deliver access to tax dollars to those businesses that make financial contributions to his employer (just guessing here, but bet it’s true).  You see public education in this country spends a lot of money and shifting control of those expenditures to individual parents, whose only responsibility is to their family, not to the public who has provided the funding through taxation, will open up new markets to businesses seeking to profit.  That’s not necessarily bad, though I doubt Forster’s claim that such will always “improve educational outcomes”, and suspect his vision will lead to more TV Ads for the latest and greatest sure fire educational programs than we now have for prescription drugs, though absent the warnings.

Anyhow I digress.  My “in a flash” point is that Forster misses the point of Superintendent Hofmeister’s concern.  She is responsible for following the laws of this state and to supervise the provision of educational services to over 650,000 students; Forster is apparently only responsible for regurgitating the same anti-government rhetoric over and over.  I think “Is this the right year, is this the right time…” clearly is referring to the flat, at best, and uncertain budget she faces for FY 2018.  As a prudent public servant she is right to be concerned about any new program that could add to costs in the short run when, as Forster acknowledges, the state “can’t pay its bills”.  You see despite Forster’s generalized statements like “a well-designed school choice program won’t cost money, but merely redirect existing levels of spending.  Most choice programs actually save money for state budgets,” etc., thoughtful analysis concerning the short run impact suggests otherwise.

Here is how one researcher puts it:  “What can complicate the task of calculating potential voucher savings are other factors that can affect the results:  First and foremost, eligibility for a voucher program may include some students who would have enrolled in a private school even without the vouchers’ financial assistance.  This “private school propensity” effect is an incremental public cost that must be taken into account.”  Translated, what Hofmeister must be concerned about is that a new ESA program could draw in students who, without the ESA program, would have cost the state of Oklahoma nothing, but now become an additional cost.  According to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs there are some 100,000 private school students in Oklahoma (I show why the number is more like 45,000 in my post This Is Too Much Fun) so it is not a concern she can ignore.  I don’t know if anyone attempted to estimate this additional cost with respect to the Education Savings Account legislation Forster is mourning, but a good resource in making that effort would be to check out the work of the researcher I quote above, namely Jeff Spalding whose paper The-School-Voucher-Audit:  Do Publicly Funded Private School Choice Programs Save Money?” was published by, wait for the drum roll, The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Forster’s employer, in 2014.

This gets me back to my primary gripe about the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and its brother The 1889 Institute.  Hofmeister’s comment was reacting to actual legislation that had been filed.  She was right to be concerned about its impact on the state’s budget and needed to look no further than The Friedman Foundation to find support for her concern.  What a good think tank would do, one that is serious about real research, is to produce an analysis of the incremental cost to implement the ESA legislation, perhaps using Spalding’s work as a framework for that analysis.  I haven’t asked, but I doubt either one took the time and, sadly, doubt that either one has the thinker power to do such work.  They aren’t even curious enough about the underlying facts to figure out how many children are educated at home and by private schools, the necessary starting point.  What the OCPA has given us is just Forster’s misguided and warmed over sour grapes.  By the way, Mr. Forster, I’m still involved in government and I use email all the time.  When I do I keep it professional and to the point—you should try that, it works.

As always lunch is on me for the first to ID the location of the photo.

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