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Forgive my stereotyping. I’d argue that a general position on the right is that “they” are opposed to the expansion of Pell Grants. Indeed, a hypothesis (that I’ve even published on back in my days as a useful scholar) that gained traction in those circles is known as the “Bennett Hypothesis” – a not crazy idea that if you provide vouchers for attending university, it’s possible that university prices would rise, leaving students not much better off than without the voucher. I’d also argue that a generic position of the right is also to favor school vouchers at elementary schools. 

So, which is it? Are vouchers for schooling desirable or not?

Similarly, I’d argue that a general position on the left is that “they” are very much in favor of the expansion of Pell Grants. Indeed, many refuse to acknowledge even the possibility that the Bennett Hypothesis is true (deniers anyone?). At the same time, I cannot imagine a “group” more hostile to a system of vouchers in K12 education.

So which is it? Are vouchers for schooling horrible or not? Do these folks oppose Pell grants because those funds might be used in the “promotion” of religion? Last I checked, students of Mercyhurst were eligible for Pell Grants, and I’ve not seen a lot of rejections of those programs. 

I realize this glosses over the fine devilly details such as the existing institutional structures of each sector and the nature of the interest group support for each sector.  But at least as a first pass it would be nice to see a measure of theoretical consistency which tells us why having schooling funding redound to the student is preferable/not preferable as compared to directly funding schools themselves. 

I prefer that “each side” move harder to the wings on issues of education, with the left pushing for state control of all education at all levels in all aspects and the right arguing for a total demolition of state involvement in the running of education at all levels. Methinks such clearly defined positions make for more lively debate and more intellectual honesty and consistency.

On a related note, are there ANY issues where if I ran a regression of “Do you believe X?” on a whole bunch of predictors, where a dummy for political affiliation would come up insignificant? I’d be very much indebted to a student who put together such a database of issues (and related regression results) – it would be fun to put together a seminar on those topics, which presumably would be less infected with the stink and rot of tribal rain dances masquerading as science.

UPDATE: Here is Arnold Kling today on modern religion. Appropriate.

One Response to “YCHIBW: Education Edition”

  1. Harry says:

    A great question WC. But do we have to take sides?

    The question is about our obligations to our children. For a long time now, we have had in this country a general commitment to teach our children the three R’s, presuming that these skills and more will make them able to care for themselves when they become adults, and maybe care for us. This idea is not controversial. While I would have preferred that a portion of my heavy real estate taxes might have been converted into a voucher to allow my daughter to pick between the local high school and the local private school, that battle is over. And while I would reengineer the system, I think it is good that every child might have the opportunity to get a good education, including among other things a foundation in science and math, if they are able, which most are.

    But as children mature, they become more responsible for their own lives, and there is some point where parents have to draw the line. It has been the rule for parents, maybe at least three generations now, that one sacrifices all to provide for higher education beyond high school. This is also an uncontroversial idea among us in the land of the free, where we have such choices.

    But, the further out you go, the more complex the problem becomes. In my own family, I and my wife took it as a given that we would send our college, even if it would lead to an impoverished retirement (relatively speaking, in comparison to say, a retired couple in Honduras). But graduate school, no. And four years of college we regarded as our problem, not somebody else’s, as did our parents who sacrificed much.

    So Bill Bennett’s theorem about federal money increasing the price of higher education may be correct on its merits — how else does one explain it? By saying that state aid was a bigger contributor? Same argument.

    But it is not inconsistent to say children should have vouchers and adults should not. One has to argue that some adults should get certain welfare benefits. That is different from whether private colleges should offer scholarships based on need.

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