In case you don’t read one of the 62 newspapers that syndicates Matthew Miller’s column, here are excerpts from last week:
The problem with Bush’s school plan is not its eensy-weensy voucher program, which, despite all the shouting, won’t affect more than a handful of families if enacted. No, the real problem is twofold.
The first is that Bush devotes far fewer resources to his supposed “No. 1 priority” than to tax relief for the best-off Americans. The second is that Bush punts almost entirely on what he has rightly identified as the biggest challenge facing public (and especially poorer) schools: the need to recruit 2 million new teachers over the next decade.
Based on campaign figures aides say he’ll track in his new proposals, here’s where things roughly stand. Bush wants new school spending of $10 billion a year. His tax cut for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans will cost $36 billion a year.
Dividing the tax cut by the school plan gives us an initial, “unadjusted” hypocrisy index of 3.6, which is impressive.
But we can refine this further. After all, Bush might say that when it comes to schooling, money isn’t everything, and he’d be right. But how about when it comes to creating incentives for young Americans to enter a teaching profession where the starting salary now averages $26,000 and rises to only $40,000?
Every free-market fan knows that you get what you pay for. Bush, for example, would never have put his talent to work in the baseball industry without the prospect of public stadium subsidies that could earn him millions. Similarly, when affluent Scarsdale, N.Y., pays teachers with a master’s degree and five years of teaching experience $60,000, and New York City pays her counterpart $38,000, is there really a question about where the top talent goes?
If Bush is serious about his “solemn pledge … to build a single nation,” where the ambitions of poor Americans are not “limited by failing schools” and “the circumstances of their birth,” money must be part of the answer. He knows that poorer districts can’t find the cash on their own; they’re already too strapped to fix crumbling buildings.
Let’s look at the numbers. Bush is adding $400 million a year to an existing pot of money for teacher training and recruiting, and an additional $300 million in tax breaks for school supplies that teachers pay for themselves. That comes to $235 for each of today’s 3 million teachers. Bush is also devoting $30 billion a year to abolishing the estate tax. Nearly half of the savings will go to 2,400 families. The savings per rich family is $6.2 million.
Dividing the cash per rich family by the cash per teacher gives you a final hypocrisy index of 26,382 – meaning that Bush’s agenda is nearly 27,000 times better for heirs (not mentioned once in the inaugural address!) than for teachers – and, by implication, for poor school kids.
[. . . It’s possible], of course, that this index doesn’t measure Bush’s hypocrisy but his detachment, meaning he is unaware of the stunning gap between his avowed priorities and his actual plans. While this ignorance would be troubling as we take our measure of the new President’s brain, it gives some hope regarding his politics, because it would mean Bush might yet be persuaded to make his deeds less a moral mockery of his words.
The idea that the first lady, a former teacher, will urge young Americans to pursue a career in the classroom is terrific. But, as Bush himself argues, good intentions aren’t enough. Think of the hypocrisy index as a way to save our new President from “the soft bigotry of low expectations” that he deplores, or as the Oval Office equivalent of Bush’s call for performance measures in our schools.
We know what’s in your heart, Mr. President. Now show us the money.
Matthew Miller’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
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