Policy Institutes

Now You Can Draw Meaningful Time Trends from the SAT. Here's How...

Cato Op-Eds - Wed, 03/12/2014 - 14:40

Andrew J. Coulson

Over the years, countless reporters and even policy analysts have attempted to draw conclusions from changes in state SAT scores over time. That’s a mistake. Fluctuations in the SAT participation rate (the percentage of students actually taking the test), and in other state and student factors, are known to affect the scores.

But what if we could control for those confounding factors? As it happens, a pair of very sharp education statisticians (Mark Dynarski and Philip Gleason) revealed a way of doing just this—and of validating their results—back in 1993. In a new technical paper I’ve released this week, I extend and improve on their methods and apply them to a much larger range of years. The result is a set of adjusted SAT scores for every state reaching back to 1972. Vetted against scores from NAEP tests that are representative of the entire student populations of each state (but that only reach back to the 1990s), these adjusted SAT scores offer reasonable estimates of actual changes in states’ average level of SAT performance.

The paper linked above reveals only the methods by which these adjusted SAT scores can be computed, but next week Cato will publish a new policy paper and Web page presenting 100 charts—two for each state—illustraing the results. How has your state’s academic performance changed over the past two generations? Stay tuned to find out…

Categories: Policy Institutes

Sweden, Spending Restraint, and the Benefits of Obeying Fiscal Policy's Golden Rule

Cato Op-Eds - Wed, 03/12/2014 - 13:33

Daniel J. Mitchell

When I first started working on fiscal policy in the 1980s, I never thought I would consider Sweden any sort of role model.

It was the quintessential cradle-to-grave welfare state, much loved on the left as an example for America to follow.

But Sweden suffered a severe economic shock in the early 1990s and policy makers were forced to rethink big government.

They’ve since implemented some positive reforms in the area of fiscal policy, along with other changes to liberalize the economy.

I’m particularly impressed that Swedish leaders imposed some genuine fiscal restraint.

Here’s a chart, based on IMF data, showing that the country enjoyed a nine-year period where the burden of government spending grew by an average of 1.9 percent per year.

From a libertarian perspective, that’s obviously not very impressive, particularly since the public sector was consuming about two-thirds of economic output at the start of the period.

But by the standards of European politicians, 1.9 percent annual growth was relatively frugal.

And since Mitchell’s Golden Rule merely requires that government grow slower than the private sector, Sweden did make progress.

Real progress. It turns out that a little bit of spending discipline can pay big dividends if it can be sustained for a few years.

This second chart shows that the overall burden of the public sector (left axis) fell dramatically, dropping from more than 67 percent of GDP to 52 percent of economic output.

By the way, the biggest amount of progress occurred between 1994 and 1998, when spending grew by just 0.27 percent per year. That’s almost as good as what Germany achieved over a four-year period last decade.

It’s also worth noting that Sweden hasn’t fallen off the wagon. Spending has been growing a bit faster in recent years, but not as fast as overall economic output. So the burden of spending is now down to about 48 percent of GDP.

And for those who mistakenly focus on the symptom of red ink rather than the underlying disease of too much spending, you’ll be happy to know that spending discipline in the 1990s turned a big budget deficit (right axis) into a budget surplus.

Now let’s get the other side of the story. While Sweden has moved in the right direction, it’s still far from a libertarian paradise. The government still consumes nearly half of the country’s economic output and tax rates on entrepreneurs and investors max out at more than 50 percent.

But here are the two most compelling pieces of evidence about unresolved flaws in the Swedish system.

First, the system is so geared toward “equality” that a cook at one Swedish school was told to reduce the quality of the food she prepared because other schools had less capable cooks.

Second, if you’re still undecided about whether Sweden’s large-size welfare state is preferable to America’s medium-size welfare state, just keep in mind that Americans of Swedish descent earn 53 percent more than native Swedes.

In other words, Sweden might be a role model on the direction of change, but not on the level of government.

Categories: Policy Institutes

New NWF Report “Mascot Madness: How Climate Change Is Hurting School Spirit”—They’re Kidding, Right?

Cato Op-Eds - Wed, 03/12/2014 - 13:18

Paul C. "Chip" Knappenberger

The latest from the National Wildlife Federation has to rank among the most absurd global warming reports I have encountered.  And, after 30 years of encountering all sorts of wacky warming hype, this is saying a lot.

This NWF doozey is entitled “Mascot Madness: How Climate Change is Hurting School Spirit” and was timed so as to try to take advantage of the pre-coverage of the upcoming March Madness—the popular annual NCAA college basketball tournament. Apparently linking climate change to negative impacts on sports is a new green tactic.

The NWF’s premise is that human-caused global warming is threatening the natural version of school mascots, and, in some cases, causing them to be dissociated from the region that includes the university that they represent, presumably dampening “school spirit.”

The NWF offered up its solution to this vexing problem:

• Passing effective laws that reduce carbon pollution and other air pollutants that drive climate change and endanger the health of our communities and wildlife.

• Investing in clean, wildlife-friendly, renewable energy sources to replace our dangerous dependence on dirty fossil fuels.

• Practicing “climate-smart conservation” by taking climate change into account in our wildlife and natural resource management efforts.

Of course.

Even if it were true that anthropogenic climate change could be scientifically linked to changes in the location and/or health of the various school mascot species—which it almost certainly can’t—how this impacts “school spirit” is completely beyond me.

If the real-world situation that the mascots find themselves in is reflected in school spirit, can you imagine the level of dejection in the fan base of say the San Diego State Aztecs, the University of Southern California Trojans, the University of Calgary Dinos, or the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne Mastodons? It is a wonder that a single seat is filled for home games.

And as to the relationship between the natural territory of the mascot and the degree of rah-rahness, consider what must be the struggle facing the booster clubs behind the UC Irvine Anteaters, the Pittsburg (Kansas) State Gorillas, the Youngstown State Penguins, or the University of Missouri-Kansas City Kangaroos. Global warming’s impact is small beans compared to this kind of territorial displacement!

The NWF draws special attention to the worrisome case of the rivalry between the University of Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes, fretting that climate change is driving the wolverine out of the state of Michigan while simultaneously driving the buckeye tree into Michigan (and out of Ohio).

But, according to this webpage from the University of Michigan athletic association, how the University’s mascot became the Wolverines is a matter of some debate. Interestingly, the page goes on to note that an actual wolverine has never been captured in the state of Michigan, and the first verified sighting of one didn’t occur until 2004!

And a quick peak at the USDA Plant Guide indicates that distribution of the Ohio buckeye tree shows that while the tree may extend is natural boundary northward in a warming climate, there is still plenty of territory south of Ohio to keep the tree in the state for a long time to come.  So, everyone (including the NWF) can rest assured that climate change will not serve to lessen the Michigan/Ohio state rivalry.

In keeping with the ringing the global warming alarm bells, I am a bit surprised that the NWF didn’t compile a companion report titled “Mascot Madness: How Climate Change is Boosting School Spirit to Unhealthy Levels.” In that report, they could have featured the Miami Hurricanes, the University of British Columbia-Okanagan Heat, the Geneva College Golden Tornadoes, the Southeastern Oklahoma Savage Storm, and, of course, the most obvious of all, the Dartmouth College Big Greens.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Lessons from the New Transit Data

Cato Op-Eds - Wed, 03/12/2014 - 08:43

Randal O'Toole

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) argues that a 0.7 percent increase in annual transit ridership in 2013 is proof that Americans want more “investments” in transit–by which the group means more federal funding. However, a close look at the actual data reveals something entirely different.

It turns out that all of the increase in transit ridership took place in New York City. New York City subway and bus ridership grew by 120 million trips in 2013; nationally, transit ridership grew by just 115 million trips. Add in New York commuter trains (Long Island Railroad and Metro North) and New York City transit ridership grew by 123 million trips, which means transit in the rest of the nation declined by 8 million trips. As the New York Times observes, the growth in New York City transit ridership resulted from “falling unemployment,” not major capital improvements. 

Meanwhile, light-rail and bus ridership both declined in Portland, which is often considered the model for new transit investments. Light-rail ridership grew in Dallas by about 300,000 trips, but bus ridership declined by 1.7 million trips. Charlotte light rail gained 27,000 new rides in 2013, but Charlotte buses lost 476,000 rides. Declines in bus ridership offset part or all of the gains in rail ridership in Chicago, Denver, Salt Lake City, and other cities. Rail ridership declined in Albuquerque, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Sacramento, and on the San Francisco BART system, among other places. 

APTA wants people to believe that transit is an increasingly important form of transportation. In fact, it is increasingly irrelevant. Although urban driving experienced a downward blip after the 2008 crash, it is now rising again, while transit outside of New York City is declining. Source: Urban driving data from Federal Highway Administration, urban population from the Census Bureau, and transit numbers from APTA. Transit PM = transit passenger miles.

Rail and bus ridership have grown in Seattle and a few other cities, but the point is that construction of expensive transit projects with federal funds is not guaranteed to boost transit ridership. In many cases, overall transit ridership declines because the high costs of running the rail systems forces transit agencies to cut bus service.

APTA wants more federal funding because many of its associate members are rail contractors who depend on federal grants to build obsolete transit systems. Light-rail lines being planned or built today cost an average of more than $100 million per mile, while some cities have built new four-lane freeways for $10 million to $20 million per mile, and each of those freeway lanes will move far more people per day than a light-rail line. 

Congress will be reconsidering federal funding for highways and transit this year, and APTA wants as much money as possible diverted to transit. President Obama has proposed a 250 percent increase in deficit spending on transportation, most of which would go to transit.

Transit only carries about 1 percent of urban travel, yet it already receives more than 20 percent of federal surface transportation dollars. Since most of those federal dollars come out of gas taxes, auto drivers are being forced to subsidize rail contractors, often to the detriment of low-income transit riders whose bus services are cut in order to pay for rail lines into high-income neighborhoods.

The real problem with our transportation system is not a shortage of funds, but too much money being spent in the wrong places. New York City transit was the only major transit system in the country that covered more than half its operating costs out of fares in 2012; the average elsewhere was less than 30 percent. Funding transportation out of user fees, such as mileage-based user fees and transit fares, would give transportation agencies incentives to spend the money where it is needed by transport users, not where it will create the most pork for politicians. 

Categories: Policy Institutes

The SAT Commits Suicide

Cato Op-Eds - Wed, 03/12/2014 - 08:40

Andrew J. Coulson

The College Board announced this week that it is dropping the more arcane words and more advanced mathematics from its SAT test, among other changes. This, however noble its intentions, seems counterproductive and institutionally suicidal.

The purpose of the SAT is to help predict success in college. It does this in the same way as every other test: by distinguishing between those who know the tested content and those who do not. Not surprisingly, most modern tests are designed using something called “Item Discrimination Analysis.” That unfortunately-named technique has nothing to do with racism or classism. It is simply a mathematical formula. What it does is measure, for every question, the difference between the percentage of high-performers who got the question right and the percentage of low-performers who got it right. In general, the higher this “Discrimination Index” (DI) rises, the more useful the question is and therefore the more likely it is to be retained.

The problem with the College Board’s announced revisions is that they seem likely to eliminate questions with high DI values in favor of others with lower DI values. You might guess that reducing the SAT’s ability to distinguish between high and low performers would inhibit its ability to predict college success. But you don’t have to guess, because there’s already at least one recent study that looked at this question. What the authors found is that the DI value of SAT mathematics questions is usually the strongest contributor to the test’s ability to predict college success—by a wide margin.

There’s a good chance that the College Board is aware of this study since two of its three authors work for the College Board and the Board hosts a presentation about the study on its own website.

The Board’s changes are intended to make the SAT more fair. In practice, they seem likely to make it less useful. And as its usefulness diminishes, so will the number of colleges using it. If this proves to be the case—and we’ll know for sure in just a few years—the College Board will have succeeded in doing something that its critics have been unable to accomplish despite decades of effort: killing the SAT.

Categories: Policy Institutes

The FBI versus the Citizens

Cato Op-Eds - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 16:45

Gene Healy

This Thursday at Cato, we’re hosting an event for a remarkable new book: Betty Medsger’s The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI (RSVP here). As I explain in the Washington Examiner today, it’s a story as riveting as any heist film, and far more significant:  

Forty-three years ago last Saturday, an unlikely band of antiwar activists calling themselves “The Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI” broke into a Bureau branch office in Media, Pennsylvania, making off with reams of classified documents. Despite a manhunt involving 200 agents at its peak, the burglars were never caught, but the files they mailed to selected journalists proved that the agency was waging a secret, unconstitutional war against American citizens.  

As a young Washington Post reporter, Medsger was the first to receive and publish selections from the files—over the protests of then-attorney general (and later Watergate felon) John Mitchell, who called the Post three times falsely claiming that publication would jeopardize national security and threaten agents’ lives. 

Four decades later, those claims echo in former NSA head Michael Hayden’s assertion that the US is “infinitely weaker” because of Snowden’s leaks. Like the apocryphal old saw suggests, if history doesn’t repeat itself, at least it rhymes.

“As if arranged by the gods of irony,” Medsger writes, the very morning Hoover learned of the break-in, then-assistant attorney general William H. Rehnquist (later Chief Justice), in testimony the FBI had helped prepare, told a Senate subcommittee that what little surveillance the government engaged in did not have a “chilling effect” on constitutional rights. Among the first documents Medsger reported weeks later, was a memo urging agents to “enhance the paranoia… get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.”

Ironies abound. The burglars timed the heist for March 8, 1971, when the country would be distracted by the “Fight of the Century” between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Medsger notes the “poetic justice” that the much-spied upon Ali would unwittingly help provide cover for exposure of FBI spying. Oddly, it’s acting attorney general Robert Bork–survivor of the “Saturday Night Massacre” and nobody’s idea of a civil libertarian)–who orders the release of key documents on the COINTELPRO program and urged the incoming attorney general to investigate the program. There’s another vignette where President Nixon speaks to an FBI Academy graduating class about “reestablishing respect for the law”–and the next evening orders Haldeman to have someone break into the Brookings Institution and steal a purloined copy of the Pentagon Papers (a zealous Chuck Colson suggested firebombing the think tank to create a distraction).  

The book is full of “truth is stranger” moments: if a historical novelist made up a scenario where, two days before the burglary, the ringleader, Haverford physics professor William Davidon, goes to the White House for a sit-down with Henry Kissinger to argue about the Vietnam War (thanks, ultimately, to an introduction made by Shirley MacLaine), there’s no way I’d have bought it. Stranger still, at the time, Davidon was an unindicted co-conspirator in a bogus kidnapping case engineered by Hoover in which Catholic peace activists had supposedly plotted to hold Kissinger hostage. Kissinger didn’t take it very seriously, having joked to the press that the plot had been engineered by “three sex-starved nuns.” As the meeting began, Medsger reports, “Kissinger immediately turned to Sister Beverly, sitting on his other side, and apologized for his flippant ‘sex-starved nuns’ comment.”

Last week, an indignant Rep. Mike Pompeo (R.-KA) chastised the organizers of Austin’s South by Southwest conference for inviting Edward Snowden to address the group via video feed: Snowden is “a traitor and a common criminal,” he railed, “whose only apparent qualification is a willingness to steal from his own government.” As I’ve said before, the debate over the content of Snowden’s character is a sideshow: what’s important is what he revealed: secret, unlawful surveillance capabilities that J. Edgar Hoover could hardly have imagined 40+ years ago. Unless we’ve made radical improvements in human nature in the interim, those capabilities–and the temptations they represent–should concern us greatly.

The legacy of the Citizens’ Commission shows that their “willingness to steal from their own government” may have been the only way to stop much greater lawlessness. Here’s what the FBI’s own website says about the burglars:

A radical group called “Citizens’ Committee to Investigate the FBI” broke into the office in Media and stole a wide array of domestic security documents that had not been properly secured. Some of the documents mentioned “Cointelpro”, or Counterintelligence Programs—a series of programs aimed to disrupt some of the more radical groups of the 1950s and 1960s. The leaking of those documents to the news media and politicians and the subsequent criticism, both inside and outside the Bureau, led to a significant reevaluation of FBI domestic security policy.

Medsger quotes Neil Welch, one of the few top agents within the Bureau to oppose COINTELPRO at the time:

“If [the burglars] had been convicted, I would have recommended that they should be given suspended sentences because of the major contribution they made to their country.”

 

 

Categories: Policy Institutes

Washington’s Inflated Sense of Security Leadership

Cato Op-Eds - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 16:30

Ted Galen Carpenter

With the Ukrainian crisis continuing to simmer, criticism of the Obama administration’s response is growing. One common refrain is that the administration has squandered its leadership role, not only in Europe, but globally. Calls are mounting for the United States to inspire and cajole its NATO allies to support a hard-line policy toward Russia. Representative Peter King (R-NY), speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press, stated that Washington needs to make clear not only that “there will be firm sanctions,” but we “have to make sure the allies are working together.”

Such calls reflect wishful thinking rather than sober analysis. Although the European countries (especially those in Eastern Europe) are nervous and unhappy about the Kremlin’s decision to send troops into Ukraine’s Crimea region, the principal European powers (Germany, Italy, France and Britain) show few signs of wanting a confrontation with Moscow. Indeed, their criticisms of Putin’s military intervention have been slower to materialize and remain milder than those expressed by U.S. officials. That is not coincidental. The United States has scant economic ties with Russia; barely two percent of America’s foreign trade is with that country, and U.S. investment there is similarly modest. Imposing sanctions and risking Moscow’s retaliation would have little impact on America’s fortunes.

But Washington’s European allies have far more substantial—and vulnerable—ties. Germany, for example, gets nearly 40 percent of its natural gas supplies from Russia, and that country is also a significant arena for German investment. Unsurprisingly, Chancellor Angela Merkel has been relatively circumspect in her criticism of the Kremlin’s conduct in the Ukraine crisis. She is unlikely to accord calls for NATO solidarity greater importance than the need to keep German homes warm and business operating in the cold winter months.

Washington’s leadership clout within NATO has long been exaggerated. As I note in a recent article over at National Interest Online, U.S. officials have never been able even to get the European allies to spend credible amounts on their own defenses. Burden-sharing complaints go back to the earliest months of the alliance in 1949, and have surfaced repeatedly since then. In 2006, George W. Bush’s administration extracted a promise that all members would spend at least two percent of their gross domestic product on the military. (That was a very modest target; the United States spends nearly 4 ½ percent.) Today, the vast majority of members, including such leading countries as Germany, Italy and Spain, fail to fulfill their commitment. Even Britain and France have fallen perilously close to that spending floor.

Shortly before the onset of the Ukraine crisis, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel admonished his NATO colleagues that the current downward spiral in European defense budgets “is not sustainable.” Rebalancing NATO’s “burden-sharing and capabilities,” he stressed “is mandatory, not elective.” But his call for a more serious effort on the part of the European allies will probably fare no better than previous ones. Even Russia’s jarring actions in Ukraine are unlikely to dislodge the NATO countries from their fondness for free-riding on the security exertions of the United States. The Baltic republics and other nations directly on Russia’s border have made some comments about the need to increase their military spending, but only time will tell whether they turn out to be more than yet another episode of empty talk. And the major Western European powers show few signs of altering their policies or budgets.

Indeed, even the vulnerable Eastern European countries are spending more energy trying to get the United States to enhance its military commitment to the region than they are on boosting their own defenses. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, for example, warns that “Russia is a threat to the whole of Europe, and Europe must understand what it is dealing with.” However, just a few years ago, she led efforts to cut Lithuania’s already meager defense budget. Today, the country spends barely 0.8 percent of GDP on defense.

Invocations of U.S. leadership cannot get alliance partners to adopt measures they do not wish to pay for or assume risks that they want to avoid. Anyone believing that the United States will lead a grand alliance parade to counter Russian aggression in Ukraine will soon find that this country is marching alone.

Categories: Policy Institutes

American Society as Chessboard

Cato Op-Eds - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 16:06

Chris Edwards

One of my favorite Adam Smith passages is:

The man of system … seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it.

Today, the men and women of system in the nation’s capital have a high regard for their ability to arrange the chess pieces of American society. There are 318 million individuals, 28 million businesses, 50 state governments, 89,000 local governments, and countless churches, charities, and other organizations in this great nation. Congress passes laws to intervene in the affairs of all of these people and groups, trying to impress its design.

But federal policymakers usually ignore, or fail to understand, the principles of motion in society. They impose minimum wages and health laws, and businesses cut hiring. They subsidize water, which exacerbates droughts. They subsidize flood insurance, which increases the damage from floods. They impose the world’s highest corporate tax rate, and they are shocked when corporations shift their profits abroad.

Federal attempts to arrange state government policies bring surprises as well. Federal policymakers offer matching grants for Medicaid, and are surprised that it prompts rapid state spending growth and dubious schemes to boost payments. Federal policymakers provide state aid for schools, but states probably just substitute added federal funding for their own.

The latest lesson on society’s principles of motion regards food stamp aid. From the Washington Post:

Congress last month passed a revamp of agriculture and food policy that was supposed to save the U.S. government $8.6 billion in food-stamp costs over a decade. That may not happen, though, now that some states are finding a way to avoid the cuts.

New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania are triggering extra nutrition spending by adding money to a home-heating subsidy tied to increased food-stamp aid. The move feeds needy families while thwarting spending-reduction goals … If more follow, the federal government would have to spend much of the $8.6 billion it planned to save, as states reduce spending on other programs to meet the new mandate.

“These federal cuts have made it harder for our state’s most vulnerable residents to put food on the table. The state has intervened on behalf of these low-income New Yorkers,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said in a statement Feb 25. “New York is stepping up to help families in need.”

Categories: Policy Institutes

Europeans See Ukraine and Fear Russia? Time for Them to Take over Europe’s Defense

Cato Op-Eds - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 14:07

Doug Bandow

Had the U.S. been so foolish as to bring Ukraine into NATO, Washington would have a treaty responsibility to start World War III.  Today’s game of geopolitical chicken might have a nuclear end.

Still, the West cannot easily ignore Russia’s Crimean takeover.  It was an act of aggression against Kiev, yet a majority of Crimean residents may welcome the move.  Although secessionist sentiment has been largely dormant of late, the Western-supported putsch/street revolution against President Viktor Yanukovich inflamed pro-Russian passions in eastern Ukraine. 

Of course, Moscow intervened for its own ends.  And Putin is wrong, dangerously wrong, to use force.  But how to punish Moscow?  America’s direct stake in the controversy is essentially nil. 

Putin is a garden-variety authoritarian, not another Adolf Hitler.  The former’s ambitions are focused on border security and international respect, not global conquest and ideological domination.  Moreover, Russia—with a weak economy dependent on energy revenues and badly managed military in desperate need of reform—is no Nazi Germany. 

Since whatever happens between Russia and Ukraine poses little threat to Americans, military retaliation is inconceivable.  Yet the administration added fighter patrols in Europe and others have proposed sending the Sixth Fleet into the Black Sea.  However, absent plans to strafe Russian villages and seize Sevastopol, what’s the point? 

Former White House aides Stephen J. Hadley and Damon Wilson advocated “deploying and exercising NATO forces in Poland, the Baltic states, and Romania.”  That would only reinforce Moscow’s determination to prevent Ukraine from becoming a similar advance base for the U.S. military.

John Bolton suggested putting “both Georgia and Ukraine on a clear path to NATO membership.”  Yet alliances are supposed to increase America’s security, not increase the likelihood of confrontation and war.

The Europeans don’t have much of a military option because they don’t have much of a military.  Despite constant exhortations from Washington to do more, almost all European states are cutting back.

Which leaves economic and diplomatic sanctions for both America and Europe.  Alas, many measures, such as individual visa bans, would have but minimal impact on Moscow. 

More serious would be sanctioning Russian banks, restricting energy sales, and embargoing trade.  However, enthusiasm in Europe for acting drops the farther one moves from Russia. 

Moscow also could retaliate by freezing the assets of Western businesses.  Moreover, Russia could damage significant allied interests elsewhere, impeding logistical support for Afghanistan and buttressing Iran in negotiations over its nuclear program, for instance. 

As I point out in my latest article on Forbes online:  “The best answer for the Crimean crisis is a negotiated climb-down, where Russia pulls back its forces, Kiev addresses those disenfranchised by Yanukovich’s ouster, Crimea delays its referendum, Ukraine accepts a secession vote, Europe respects the result, Washington stops meddling in Kiev’s politics, and everyone disavows any intention of bringing Ukraine into NATO.”

If Moscow forges ahead anyway, the allies should play a long game—employ limited economic sanctions against business elites and sustained diplomatic pressure against political elites, while avoiding a new cold war.  However, the U.S. should act only in cooperation with Europe, since there is no gain to unilaterally penalizing American business. 

Finally, over the longer-term, Washington should force Europe to take over responsibility for its own defense.  In early March the administration undertook what Secretary of State John Kerry termed “concrete steps to reassure our NATO allies.”  Actually, Washington should adopt the opposite strategy.  America’s friends should understand that if they are not willing to defend themselves, no one else will do so. 

At the same time, Washington should rethink nonproliferation policy.  It’s too late for Ukraine, but Kiev gave up Soviet nuclear weapons left on its soil in return for paper border guarantees.  Possession of even a handful of nuclear-tipped missiles would have changed Moscow’s risk calculations. 

Whatever the resolution of the immediate crisis, the Obama administration should use Russia’s Crimean gambit to end Europe’s dependent military relationship.  That would offer at least one silver lining to yet another potential conflict without end.

Categories: Policy Institutes

E-Verify Does Not “Turn Off” Job Magnet

Cato Op-Eds - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 12:24

Alex Nowrasteh

One of the main claims of E-Verify’ ssupporters is that it will turn off the job magnet that incentivizes unauthorized immigration.  A recent Working Paper by economists Pia M. Orrenius and Madeline Zavodny casts doubt on that.

They find that E-Verify mandates in the states have decreased wages by likely Mexican unauthorized immigrant men by about 7.8 percent and unauthorized immigrant Mexican women by 1.2 percent.  The likelihood of men being employed is not much affected by E-Verify but it does increase female employment and labor force participation – which makes sense in the context of making migration and employment decisions on the family level.  Clearly, E-Verify has diminished the anticipated wage gains from illegally immigrating to the United States.

However, E-Verify has not turned off the job magnet.  Assuming that unauthorized immigrant men and women earn the same wages, the estimated gains to coming here for the marginal Mexican immigrant is only slightly lowered.  Based on gender data from Pew, assuming that Mexican immigrant wage and comparing identical workers in Mexico and the United States, here are some back of the envelope calculations showing how E-Verify has affected wages for unauthorized Mexican immigrants:

Unauthorized Immigrant Workers 

 

Female

Male

All

Gender

39.4%

60.6%

100.0%

Monthly Wages in U.S. (Pre-E-Verify)

 $  1,470.80

 $  1,470.80

 $  1,470.80

Monthly Wages in Mexico

 $     580.90

 $     580.90

 $     580.90

Wages Multiple from Working in U.S.

2.53

2.53

2.53

Monthly Wages (Post E-Verify)

$1,453.15

$1,356.08

$1,394.32

Wages Multiple from Working in U.S. Under E-Verify

2.50

2.33

2.40

Sources: Center for Global Development, Pew Hispanic Center, and Dallas Fed Working Paper

E-Verify lowers the wage gain for all Mexican unauthorized workers from 2.53 times as great as in Mexico to 2.4 times as great – a whopping 5 percent decrease.  That’s not much to brag about considering E-Verify is supposed to be the lynchpin of future immigration enforcement.  It’s hard to see how E-Verify proponents can look at this small wage effect and conclude that E-Verify is worth it, given the enormous array of problems and burdens caused by it.  In practice, E-Verify does not turn off the job magnet that attracts unauthorized immigrants to our shores and will not if it is ever mandated.   

Categories: Policy Institutes

How Much Tax Revenue from Legalized Marijuana?

Cato Op-Eds - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 10:20

Jeffrey Miron

Some marijuana legalizers push the argument that legalization will generate additional tax revenue. Opinions differ widely, however, on exactly how much revenue.

In mid-February, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper predicted that the taxes, licenses, and fees on medical-plus-recreational marijuana would generate $134 million for the fiscal year starting in July.

In my 2010 Cato White Paper, I predicted that full legalization (federal and state) would generate roughly $55-60 million per year for Colorado.

Now just released data from Colorado for January, the first month of fully legal marijuana sales, show about $2 million from recreational marijuana and about $3.5 million for medical-plus-recreational marijuana.  The latter figure implies annual revenues of about $42 million.

This January figure may turn out to be misleading.  On one hand, the industry could grow over time, boosting revenues. On the other hand, initial hoopla over legalization may have inflated January sales.  And, longer term, sales in Colorado could decline if other states legalize or medicalize.

If the lower revenue numbers persist, does that weaken the case for legalization?

No: Increased tax revenue was never the main reason for legalization. Instead, the crucial goals of legalization are greater freedom for marijuana users and elimination of prohibition’s unintended consequences (crime, corruption, poor quality control, diminished civil liberties, restrictions on medical uses, and expenditure on enforcement).

Collecting revenue on legalized marijuana is perfectly sensible; it allows lower tax rates on everything else. But this appears to be a small effect, and it is not the main benefit of legalization in any case.

Categories: Policy Institutes

We're from the Government and We're Here to Help: School Lunch Edition

Cato Op-Eds - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 08:47

Jason Bedrick

How much does a “free” school lunch cost?

In the last few years, First Lady Michelle Obama has worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make school lunches healthier. In 2011, Neal McCluskey argued that, though well-intentioned, the changes would result in more wasted food, higher costs, and major implementation challenges. The General Accounting Office has now issued a report that confirms these concerns:

According to the GAO report, local and state authorities told researchers the new standards have resulted in more waste, higher food costs, challenges with menu planning and difficulties in sourcing products that meet the federal portion and calorie requirements.

When such decisions are made at the local level, schools can solicit and respond to feedback from parents and students. However, when the proverbial faceless bureaucrat in some distant Washington office decides, the rules tend to be uniform and inflexible, leading to all sorts of unintended consequences:

The federal government’s changes to school lunch menus have been disastrous, causing problems for cafeterias trying to comply with the rules and leaving the menu so expensive or unpalatable that more than 1 million students have stopped buying lunch, according to a government audit…

One school district told federal investigators that it had to add unhealthy pudding and potato chips to its menu to meet the government’s minimum calorie requirements. Other school districts removed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from their elementary school menus.

Five of the eight school districts surveyed by the Government Accountability Office, the official watchdog for Congress, said they believed students were going hungry because of smaller entree portions demanded by the rules.

In other words, the so-called “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” actually resulted in some kids being served less healthy food while other kids went hungry.

Two-thirds of states reported on the GAO survey that implementation in 2012-13 was a “very great challenge” or an “extreme challenge.” The report noted that much of the difficulty was related to the sheer volume of regulations. In just 18 months, the USDA issued 1,800 pages of “guidance” for following the new rules. Moreover, the “guidance” was “provided too late in the 2012-2013 school year to be helpful” because schools “had already planned menus and trained food service staff” on what they thought the new rules required. However, some guidance memos “either substantively changed or contradicted aspects of previously issued memos.” When state officials contacted the USDA’s regional offices for guidance on understanding the “guidance,” the USDA staff were “sometimes unable to answer state questions on the guidance.” 

Let’s hope this serves as a cautionary tale for those who want the federal government to play a larger role in education policy in general.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Cato Keeps Challenging an Illegal IRS Rule Regarding Obamacare

Cato Op-Eds - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 08:45

Ilya Shapiro

Last month, Cato filed a brief in the D.C. Circuit case of Halbig v. Sebelius, supporting a challenge to the IRS’s unilateral and unauthorized decision to extend tax credits to individuals who purchased health insurance from exchanges that were not established by their state. Now we’re continuing out advocacy in this area by filing a brief, joined by the Pacific Research Institute and the American Civil Rights Union, supporting the challengers in a similar Fourth Circuit case.

Here’s the background: To encourage the purchase of health insurance, the Affordable Care Act added a number of deductions, exemptions, and penalties to the federal tax code. As might be expected from a 2,700 page law, these new tax rules have the potential to interact in unforeseen and counter-intuitive ways. As first discovered by Michael Cannon and Jonathan Adler, one of these new tax provisions, when combined with state decision-making and IRS rule-making, has given Obamacare yet another legal problem. The legislation’s Section 1311 provides a generous tax credit for anyone who buys insurance from an insurance exchange “established by the State”—as an incentive for states to create the exchanges—but only 16 states have opted to do so. In the other states, the federal government established its own exchanges, as another section of the ACA specifies. But where § 1311 only explicitly authorized a tax credit for people who buy insurance from a state exchange, the IRS issued a rule interpreting § 1311 as also applying to purchases from federal exchanges. This creative interpretation hurts individuals like David King, a 63-year-old resident of Virginia.

Because buying insurance would cost King more than 8% of his income, he should be immune from Obamacare’s tax on the decision not to buy insurance (the “tax” that you’ll recall Chief Justice Roberts devised in his NFIB v. Sebelius opinion). After the IRS expanded § 1311 to subsidize people in states with federal exchanges (like Virginia), however, King could have bought health insurance for an amount low enough to again subject him to the Roberts tax. King argues that he faces these costs only because the IRS exceeded the scope of its powers.

In our latest brief, we argue that the IRS’s decision wasn’t just unauthorized, it was a blatant invasion of the powers exclusively awarded to Congress in Article I of the Constitution. This error was compounded by the district court’s holding that the IRS actions were lawful because, even if Obamacare explicitly restricts the availability of tax credits to states which set up their own exchanges, the expansion of tax-credit availability serves the law’s general purpose of making healthcare more affordable. By elevating its own perception of congressional purpose over the statutory text, the district court ignored the cardinal principle that legislative intent must be effected by the words Congress uses, not the words it may have meant or should have chosen to use.

In other words, if Congress wants to extend the tax credit, it can do so by passing new legislation. The only reason for executive-branch officials not to go back to Congress for clarification, and instead legislate by fiat, is to bypass the democratic process, thereby undermining constitutional separation of powers. This case ultimately isn’t about money, the wisdom of individual health care decision-making, or even political opposition to Obamacare. It’s about who gets to create the laws we live by: the democratically elected members of Congress, or the bureaucrats charged with no more than executing the laws that Congress passes and the president signs.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (based in Richmond) will hear argument in King v. Sebelius in May.

Categories: Policy Institutes

...In Which Katz Is Not Cited

Cato Op-Eds - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 08:41

Jim Harper

The Supreme Court is gradually coming to terms with the effect information technology is having on the Fourth Amendment. In 2001, the Kyllo court curtailed the use of high-tech devices for searching homes. In its early 2012 decision in United States v. Jones, a unanimous Court agreed that government agents can’t attach a GPS device to a vehicle and track it for four weeks without a warrant.

But the Court was divided as to rationale. The majority opinion in Jones found (consistent with Cato’s brief) that attaching the device to the car was at the heart of the Fourth Amendment violation. Four concurring members of the Court felt that the government’s tracking violated a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

What is the right way to decide these cases? Fourth Amendment law is at a crossroads.

The next round of development in Fourth Amendment law may come in a pair of cases being argued in April. They ask whether government agents are entitled to search the cell phone of someone they’ve arrested merely because the phone has been properly seized. Riley v. California and Wurie v. United States have slightly different fact patterns, which should allow the fullest exposition of the issues.

Cato’s brief in Riley, filed this week, again seeks to guide the Court toward using time-tested principles in Fourth Amendment cases. Rather than vague pronouncements about privacy and people’s expectations around it, we invite the Court to apply the Fourth Amendment as a law.

“Courts should examine whether there was a seizure or search,” the brief concludes, “and whether any such seizure or search was of persons, papers, houses, and effects. If those conditions are met, courts should examine whether the warrantless seizures and searches were reasonable.”

The brief argues that the Court should carefully examine the many distinct seizures and searches that occur in the typical law enforcement stop. Crucially, the Court should recognize that the search of a phone is a distinct, additional step from the seizure of the phone that occurs when all items are taken off a suspect for the purposes of officer safety. Looking through the phone’s contents requires its own legal justification, and typically, given the massive amounts of personal and private information on a cell phone, that search for additional evidence will require a warrant.

Cato’s brief invites the Court to openly discuss a premise that the government and the petitioner share: that a cell phone is an “effect” for purposes of Fourth Amendment analysis. No court we found has yet held this. And the contents of phones are distinct “papers and effects,” which serve the same human ends that papers, postal mail, books, drawings, and portraits did in the founding era.

In Jones, both the majority and the concurring opinion quoted Kyllo in agreeing that the Court should “assur[e] preservation of that degree of privacy against government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adopted.” The Cato Institute’s brief in Riley shows them how to do that.

Cato’s brief does not cite Katz v. United States, the 1967 case that produced the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test. With luck, the Katz test will not survive into its second half-century of weakening Americans’ constitutional protections for privacy from government.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Let’s Try Anti-Sanctions

Cato Op-Eds - Mon, 03/10/2014 - 15:08

K. William Watson

As U.S. policymakers develop their response to the Russian incursion into Ukraine, it seems quite likely that some form of sanctions will be employed.  But sanctions are always harmful to innocents and never particularly effective.  It’s worth considering, then, whether there are policy options that would have a positive impact on the geopolitical situation in Ukraine while directly improving human lives and increasing liberty.  We could call them “anti-sanctions.”

One possibility would be to liberalize U.S. exports of natural gas.  John Boehner and others in Congress have argued that doing so would reduce Russia’s influence in the region by providing countries like Ukraine a non-Russian source of energy.  Even if the geopolitical benefits are slow to materialize, allowing more oil and gas exports would have tremendous economic benefits for the United States.

A much simpler anti-sanction response would be to drop U.S. tariffs on imports from Ukraine.  Normally, many products from Ukraine would be allowed to enter the United States duty free under the Generalized System of Preferences.  But that program, meant to aid development in poor countries, expired last summer.  Renewing GSP would reduce Ukraine’s economic dependence on Russia while directly helping Ukrainians and the Americans they do (or would do) business with.  

Perhaps I am hopelessly naïve, but exploring avenues for peaceful interaction seems to me like a much friendlier and more constructive way to approach international problems.  I suspect there are a great number of pro-liberty “anti-sanctions” that the U.S. government could employ as a response to the crisis in Ukraine that might actually make a positive difference in the lives of Ukrainian people.

Categories: Policy Institutes

SAT Changes = Bad News for Common Core?

Cato Op-Eds - Mon, 03/10/2014 - 14:41

Neal McCluskey

Working on education every day, you get used to your subject rarely making major national news, probably because the troubles are constant and sudden crises rare.  But change the SAT – once known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test – and all heck breaks loose. Of course, something else has been springing heck all over the country, too  – the Common Core – but because that fight has been taking place mainly at the state level, the nation’s collective attention has never been turned to it all at once. The SAT brouhaha might, however, change that, likely to the chagrin of Core defenders.

What’s the connection between the Core and the SAT? A big one: David Coleman, who is both a chief architect of the Core and president of the SAT-owning College Board. Coleman announced when he took over the Board that he would align the SAT with the Core, and it was clear in the Board’s SAT press release that that is what’s happening. Employing Common Core code, the Board announced that the new SAT will focus on “college and career readiness.”

Why is this potentially bad news for Core supporters? Because the SAT changes are widely being criticized as dumbing-down the test – good-bye words like “prevaricator,” hello toughies like “synthesis” – and that may drive attention to people who are questioning the quality of the Core. Illustrating unhappiness with the changes, in the Washington Post yesterday both a house editorial and a column by Kathleen Parker dumped on the coming SAT reforms, with the editorial stating:

It sounds as though students could conceivably get a perfect score on the new exam and yet struggle to fully comprehend some of the articles in this newspaper. Colleges should want to know if their would-be English majors are conversant in words more challenging than “synthesis,” or that their scores reflect more than lucky bubble guesses…

Maybe even more troubling than losing an outlet like the Post, if you’re a Core supporter, is possibly losing a guy like Andy Smarick at the pro-Core Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Last week Smarick defended knowledge of words that SAT bosses now deem too “obscure.” To be sure, Smarick didn’t “decimate” the new SAT (see the post), but his critique was enough to elicit a response from Coleman himself.

From a Core opposition perspective, it is crucial that people make the connection between the SAT and the Core, and that may be happening. The Post noted that “it’s no accident that this push comes from a College Board president who helped produce the K-12 Common Core standards.” Similarly, the New York Times report on the changes identified Coleman as “an architect of the Common Core curriculum standards.”

Making this connection is important because Core supporters’ major pro-Core (as opposed to anti-Core-opponent) argument is that the standards are highly “rigorous.” That claim has taken heat from several subject-matter experts, but they have struggled to be heard amidst pro-Core rhetoric.  Sudden and intense national scrutiny of the SAT, if directly connected to the Core, might help doubters of Core excellence get more attention.

Of course, the primary reason to object to the Core is not that it may or may not be high-quality – though that is certainly an important concern – but that it is being foisted on the nation through federal power, and a monopoly over what schools teach is a huge problem. It kills competition among differing ideas and models of education, stifles innovation, and severely limits the ability of children – who are all unique individuals – to access education tailored to their specific needs, abilities, and dreams.

Common Core opponents should be encouraged by a national critique of coming SAT changes not, ultimately, because the changes are good or bad, but because serious scrutiny could well bolster resistance to the federally driven Core. In so doing, it could help to preserve some of the freedom necessary to ensure that standards have to earn their business rather than having children handed to them by Washington.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Supreme Court to Government: Stop Railroading Property Owners

Cato Op-Eds - Mon, 03/10/2014 - 14:18

Trevor Burrus

Today, in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States, the Supreme Court rebuked another attempt by the Obama administration to adopt a novel and extreme litigating position that was contrary to well-established precedent. Eight justices agreed with Cato’s amicus brief, holding that the United States does not retain a property interest in former railroad lands that are no longer used by railroads. Although this may seem like an arcane issue for Cato to be involved in, the case actually resembles a typical takings case, but this time the government tried to define a property right out of existence rather than pay compensation to the owners.

To be fair to the Obama administration, this case began in 2006, and both Republican and Democratic administrations have been litigating similar cases for some time. Brandt is a best seen as an example of how governments of all stripes will find the path of least resistance to accomplish its goals, including defining a property right out of existence to avoid paying for it.

First, a little background on property law for those who haven’t been to law school. You may have heard the term “bundle of rights” or “bundle of sticks” applied to property. Those phrases merely describe the various rights that people can have in property. It is possible to own something, such as prescription drugs, that you’re not allowed to sell. Thus, you wouldn’t have the “right to sell” in your bundle of rights.

When it comes to real property (the term lawyers use for land) there are many rights in the bundle, and those rights can be split up both temporally and spatially. For example, mineral rights can be sold or leased, as can the airspace above land. Those rights can then be split up temporally, as in an agreement to transfer mineral rights to a neighbor in 10 years for a period of two years, at which point the rights would revert back to the original owner. At the time of the agreement, the neighbor would have a “future interest” in the mineral rights (he would take possession of it in 10 years) and the original owner would have a reversionary future interest (in 12 years the rights will revert back to her).

In Brandt, the question was whether the U.S. government retained a reversionary interest in the easements it gave to railroad companies in the 19th century. Easements are generally rights of way. They give the right to move across someone’s property, but they do not give the right to build on the land or live on it. Historically, in American and English common law, when an easement was “extinguished” the rights would merge back into the rights of the underlying property owner. The owner would then have his property back, unencumbered by the easement. In this case, however, the government argued that possession of lands with abandoned railroad easements should revert back to the government, not to the landowners.

This may seem like a small and unimportant question, but there are hundreds of thousands of miles of former railroad tracks in the country, and 3,000-4,000 miles of track are being abandoned every year. Much of that trackland crosses the land of private landowners, particularly ranchers in the West, and thus who owns the land when the easement expires–the government or the landowners–is an important question. There is even a National Association of Reversionary Property Owners that has assisted over 10,000 property owners in litigation against the government.

So why has the government so doggedly tried to take this land? There are many reasons, but one is the “rails to trails” program, which turns former railroad land into hiking and biking trails. If former railroad land is owned by the underlying property owners, then the government has to pay compensation to take it. If the government owns it, then of course no compensation is needed. Over the years, the government has litigated dozens of these cases, and they have increasingly used tenuous arguments that one court called “so thin as to border on the frivolous.”

Today, a near-unanimous Court clarified who owns the property: the private landowners. Most damaging to the government’s position was the fact that, 70 years ago, the United States argued that the railroads only owned a common easement to the trackland, and, as explained, a traditional easement reverts back to the underlying property owner when extinguished. As Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “The Govern­ment loses th[e] argument today, in large part because it won when it argued the opposite before this Court more than 70 years ago[.]”

Despite Brandt’s arcane subject matter, it is an important victory for property rights. Stable and predictable property rights are vital to a well-functioning and free society. Not only do they facilitate commerce, but they protect the rights of private owners against the grabby hands of government officials who believe that they can put that property to better use. Now, if the government wants to turn rails into trails, they can pay for the land, just like anyone else.

Categories: Policy Institutes

A Bumpy -- but Hopeful -- Road Ahead for Ukraine

Cato Op-Eds - Mon, 03/10/2014 - 13:41

Dalibor Rohac

Even when one tries to ignore the current developments in the East of the country, Ukraine is in a pickle. With one of the lowest incomes per capita among the transitional economies of Eastern Europe, rampant corruption, and quickly depleting foreign reserves, the country is overdue for a reform package in many areas, including fiscal and monetary policy, the judiciary system, bankruptcy law, energy policy, state ownership, to name just a few.

While there is no shortage of foreign experts offering their views on what policies Ukraine needs or does not need, the future of Ukraine is for Ukrainians to decide. Still, the outside world can help. The Cato Institute, for example, is teaming up with the Atlas Network and the Kyiv-based European Business Association this week, hosting an emergency conference on Ukrainian economy.

Instead of policy wonks from Washington, the conference convenes a stellar group of policymakers from the region, who have direct experience with reforms enhancing economic freedom. The speakers include Einars Repse, the former Prime Minister of Latvia, Ivan Miklos, author of Slovakia’s flat tax revolution, Kakha Bendukidze, who as Minister of the Economy was the driving force behind economic reforms in Georgia, Sven Otto Littorin, the former Minister for Employment of Sweden, who assisted with the liberalization of the country’s labor markets, Jan Vincent-Rostowski, until recently the Minister of Finance of Poland, as well as Cato’s very own Andrei Illarionov.

The conference website is here, and you can follow my live twitter feed at this link. Notwithstanding the pessimism of the daily news coming from that part of the world, the recent events in Ukraine have given its people and its leaders a unique window of opportunity to make a departure from the country’s post-Soviet legacy and to put in place institutions that will lead to economic opportunity, freedom, and shared prosperity.

Categories: Policy Institutes

Fifty Years Ago Yesterday...

Cato Op-Eds - Mon, 03/10/2014 - 12:14

Walter Olson

…the U.S. Supreme Court handed down what was to become one of its most celebrated tort reform decisions. A profitable national manufacturer had been sued in a distant rural state in which it was decidedly unpopular, resulting in a runaway jury verdict which it sought to challenge on appeal. Pointing out the disadvantages of unpredictable and locally variable tort standards, the corporation’s lawyers pushed for a more uniform and modern standard of liability suited to a nationwide market, which the high court agreed unanimously to develop for the occasion and impose on state courts. And ever since 1964, the winning party in the case — that is to say, the New York Times Company — has taken a sympathetic editorial interest in the plight of other national businesses subjected to runaway verdicts in local courts.

Well, OK, maybe not that last sentence. But the rest of it did happen, in the celebrated libel case of New York Times v. Sullivan. [adapted slightly and re-posted from Overlawyered in January]

Categories: Policy Institutes

Kansas Court Wrests School-Budget Decisions from Voters

Cato Op-Eds - Mon, 03/10/2014 - 12:12

Walter Olson

Many public schooling advocates chafe at our constitutional tradition that public moneys be appropriated only at the behest of voters or their elected lawmakers, since it means school budgets often wind up getting rejected, trimmed, or balanced off against other budgetary priorities. As I’ve noted previously in this space, a well-organized, foundation-backed movement has pursued litigation around the 50 states urging courts instead to seize control of school funding in the name of “equitable” or “adequate” school funding.

Such an effort succeeded last week in Kansas, where the state supreme court ruled in favor of a challenge and “ordered increases by July 1 that, according to the state Department of Education, would total $129 million annually.” The case will go back to litigation in a lower court and conceivably could result in further court decrees that could be broader and much more expensive. The Kansas affiliate of the National Education Association can hardly contain its jubilation, while the Associated Press writes that “If the courts order more spending in the future, lawmakers may have to reconsider personal income tax cuts in 2012 and 2013 that were championed by [Gov. Sam] Brownback.”

As I wrote a while back on New Jersey’s Abbott school finance litigation (one broken link removed):

school reform lawsuits like Abbott are much more than just vehicles for inefficiency and waste of tax dollars: they’re examples of an alternative method of governance…. Typically, successful litigation of this sort transfers control over an important issue like school funding from branches of government that are accountable to taxpayers and voters to a cluster of private litigators, expert witnesses, special masters, consultants, law professors, backers in liberal foundations, and so forth. The legal basis for the power grab is often flimsy in the extreme; in the Garden State, for example, the state constitution vaguely mandates that there be a “thorough and efficient” system of public education, and “educational equity” lawyers have prevailed on the courts to erect the whole thirty-year edifice of Abbott orders on a filling in of those mysterious blanks, a process that Gov. Christie has accurately described as “legislating from the bench”. (Our friend Hans Bader at CEI has more here.) In New Jersey, as in many other states and cities subject to these suits, governors and legislators may come and go, but the permanent government of court orders and negotiated consent decrees grinds on and on, conferring a curiously unaccountable power on the lawyers who manage and advance the litigation and their circle of allies.

Categories: Policy Institutes

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