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Gov't can provide quality service while saving taxpayers money.


A plan for balancing the Kansas state budget

Kansas Policy Institute President Dave Trabert presents KPI's plan to balance the state's budget without service reductions or tax increases. Trabert spoke a...
Thu, 18 Dec 2014 17:34:52 +0000
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Another reason to watch Seinfeld reruns. Economics lessons taken directly from the "show about nothing." http://yadayadayadaecon.com/clip/67/


The Soup Nazi (The Economics of Seinfeld)
yadayadayadaecon.com
The Soup Nazi makes delicious soup—so good there's always a line outside his shop. He refuses service to Elaine, and by a stroke of luck she comes across his stash of soup recipes. She visits his shop and informs him that his soup monopoly is broken, while waving his recipes in his face. Also in thi…
Wed, 03 Dec 2014 16:15:10 +0000
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Happy Thanksgiving and a hearty huzzah for property rights. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66QdQErc8JQ


The Pilgrims and Property Rights: How our ancestors got fat & happy

The Pilgrims founded their colony at Plymouth Plantation in December 1620 and promptly started dying off in droves. As the colony's early governor, William B...
Tue, 25 Nov 2014 16:14:47 +0000
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Posted by John LaPlante on Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Students in Sharon Springs, Kansas, have produced a YouTube sensation mocking school-lunch guidelines laid down by the federal government.In the video, students collapse from hunger while playing school sports, or even sitting in a classroom. Critics say the "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act" is leaving students hungry by  limiting the calories they can get, and restricting their intake of protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Even so, some students and school officials say the problem, if it exists at all, is overblown. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Fowler) has introduced legislation to overturn the law. He says it represents "a perfect example of what is wrong with government: misguided inputs, tremendous waste and unaccomplished goals."

He is right about that, but the controversy also illustrates the dangers of centralization. Most schools participate in the federal school lunch program, and many even often breakfast, all on money taken from local communities, cycled through Washington DC, and then returned to communities, but with federal strings attached.

As the saying goes, he who pays the piper calls the tune. Or to update that, he who buys the lunch gets to decide what goes on the cafeteria tray.

What should we do? Perhaps it's time to do away with the federal program, let states and local governments make up the difference (if they wish), and stop the idea that everything, including what goes on a high school student's lunch, should be influenced by the federal government.

Would that mean hungry kids? If the video is any indication, the new school lunch program is already producing hungry kids.
Posted by James Franko on Tuesday, September 25, 2012
This post is courtesy of Michael Cannon and the CATO Institute's @Liberty blog.

The Washington Post‘s Sarah Kliff writes that the Department of Health and Human Services has decided to “punt” on the “monumental” task of dictating exactly what types of coverage those who get health insurance through the individual market or small employers must purchase. HHS has decided to let each state decide for its own residents what constitutes “essential health benefits.” It was a shrewd move: under the guise of decentralized decision-making, HHS is offering to let state officials take the blame for an inevitably controversial decision and the inevitable higher costs that will result. Yay, federalism! States have until the end of this month to decide just how much coverage they are going to help ObamaCare force their citizens to purchase.

Kliff reports that many states are now wrestling with the unanswerable question, “What health-care benefits are absolutely essential?”

Is acupuncture essential health care? Weight-loss surgery? Under Obamacare, states choose…

California legislators say acupuncture makes the cut. Michigan regulators would include chiropractic services. Oregon officials would leave both of those benefits on the cutting-room floor. Colorado has deemed pre-vacation visits to travel clinics necessary, while leaving costly fertility treatments out of its preliminary package…

A Virginia advisory board recommended that the state adopt a plan that includes speech therapy and chiropractic care. A District subcommittee has endorsed a plan pegged to an existing BlueCross BlueShield package, and public comment remains open through Friday Sept. 28…


Of course, an objective definition of “essential” coverage is impossible. Like “medical necessity,” the only way to determine whether health coverage is “essential” is if the benefits exceed the costs. That is an inherently subjective question that no legislator or regulator, state or federal, can or should try to answer for a diverse population of consumers. When they do, health care providers invariably hijack the process, demanding that consumers be required to purchase coverage of their services. Since the legislators/regulators are handing out benefits while consumers and taxpayers shoulder the costs, the result is predictable: health insurance premiums rise.

Thanks to HHS’s punt, providers now have an even greater incentive to lobby states to mandate coverage of their services. If a state creates its own list of “essential health benefits,” then any benefits the state mandates will be eligible for federal subsidies. If not, the cost of state-mandated benefits continues to fall on consumers or employers, who tend to complain. (Again, shrewd. Corrupt and irresponsible. But shrewd.)

But since ObamaCare is on the books, and HHS gave states a choice, what should states do?

The choice is identical to what states face with regard to health insurance Exchanges: states have the option to implement part of ObamaCare themselves, but no matter what they decide, Washington is ultimately running the show.

The federal government will not let states pick a menu of “essential health benefits” or establish an Exchange with fewer regulatory controls than HHS would impose itself. Since less regulation than the federal government would impose is not an option, implementing these parts of the law can only lead to more regulation, fewer choices, and higher costs. And of course, state officials will take the blame when ObamaCare starts increasing costs and denying care to people. There is simply no good reason for states to assume this impossible, harmful, and thankless task.

Instead of doing the feds’ dirty work, states should use this opportunity to show how ObamaCare rigs the game against states and consumers alike. State officials that want to rid the nation of ObamaCare should submit to HHS a “benchmark” EHB plan that they know HHS will refuse. It could be either the most affordable health plan they can find in their individual or small group markets, or a plan that state officials designed themselves. Leave out benefits that HHS considers dealbreakers. Push the deductible as high as you dare. Allow annual or lifetime limits. The less coverage you include in your EHB benchmark, the more choice consumers will have and the lower the premiums will be. Submit such a proposal to HHS and dare them to reject it. Let your voters see that under ObamaCare, choice is a mirage. Dare HHS to explain why they rejected affordable health plans and forced the Treasury to subsidize more-expensive health plans.

Alternatively, state who are not inclined to confrontation can tell the Obama administration the same thing they should say with regard to health insurance Exchanges: it’s your stupid law, you implement it.
Posted by John LaPlante on Thursday, September 20, 2012
This entry is written by KPI's education policy fellow, John LaPlante. Read more about John here and for more of his writing click here.

Arne Duncan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, has been visiting Kansas this week as part of a national tour designed to highlight the importance of excellent teachers.

Duncan's tour couldn't come at a better time. As he pointed out in Topeka, one million students drop out of high school each year--with serious consequences for them and everyone else. He added that "far too many of those who do graduate need remedial classes."

So what can we do? For starters, we can recognize the importance of excellent teachers by taking the task of evaluating all teachers seriously.

Teachers are not the only factor in how well a student learns; the home environment matters, too. Still, teachers are the most important in-school influence on student achievement. As the experience of some public charter  and traditional public schools demonstrates, even students from low-income families can do well, if given the right environment.

So exceptional or even adequate teachers matter. Unfortunately, exceptionally poor teachers matter as well; the student who is placed in a classroom with a poor teacher is set back months.

Oddly enough, our K-12 bureaucracy doesn't do much to recognize the fact that teachers, like people in any occupation, aren't all the same. As a result, an excellent teacher, a competent but unspectacular teacher, and a dangerously incompetent teacher may all be paid the same. Seniority and number of college credits, not job performance, determine pay in most schools. If a school's finances come to the point where administrators must lay off teachers, a third-year teacher who has won "teacher of the year" may be dismissed to protect the 20-year veteran who is disengaged from his subject and students.

Thankfully, some education researchers and schools are working on ways to evaluate teachers, to separate the wheat from the chaff. Some of the work has centered on using "value added" tests that pinpoint which teachers are exceptional in helping students gain in knowledge and skills over the course of a school year.

Tying teacher pay to student achievement (as measured in test scores) is controversial, and leaders who try to do so risk strikes that throw children out of school for days or weeks at a time. Witness the ongoing drama in Chicago, where Duncan used to serve as superintendent.

Is it difficult to evaluate teachers? Yes, it can be difficult for any business to evaluate its employees. Still, most companies find a way to do it, and schools need to find a way, too. As Duncan says, no teacher should be evaluated solely on the result of one test, no matter how good.  For one thing, the tests are a work in progress, so student test scores should be just one factor in a teacher's evaluation, along with qualitative assessments of student learning and teacher performance.

Students who deal with teachers every day know that "every teacher a great teacher" is a myth. If you ask them in private, you'll get a lot of teachers to say the same thing. Why, then, should we act as if what we know to be true is not?
Posted by Dave Trabert on Friday, September 14, 2012
Today's editorial from the Wichita Eagle:

 The three goals that the Priority Project set for Wichita this week have been kicked around for decades. But there is value in seeing them elevated to the top of the community agenda and treated with new urgency and accountability.

The big three:
  • Develop more downtown activities and events for individuals and families of all ages.
  • Diversify the local economy by keeping industries already here and recruiting new jobs in new industries.
  • Increase the number of people in the region who advance their post-high school education, either through degrees, certificates or retraining opportunities.
There is something for everybody on that wish list, and a lot for Wichita as a whole.

The identified goals are certainly laudable, but projects of this nature are re-introduced every few years...while the Wichita Metro area (Sedgwick, Butler, Harvey and Sumner counties) and Sedgwick County continue to become less competitive. Private sector employment in the Wichita Metro for 2011 was 6.3% below its 1998 level...and was below the 1998 in 9 of the last 14 years (here). But local government employment jumped 14.8%.

The IRS says (here) Sedgwick County lost people and Adjusted Gross Income every year since 2005, looking at interstate domestic migration (left the county for another state or moved in from another state). Even if one counts movement to and from other parts of Kansas, Sedgwick County only had a very small gain in 2009...all other years were losses.

There's a very simple reason that these well-intended initiatives haven't worked: local government and their public-private partners are offering employers what they want them to have instead of what they need to create jobs. The Wichita Chamber's own survey of business owners said taxes were too high. WIBA's member survey identified tax and regulatory issues as their top concerns, as did the US Chamber of Commerce. Yet government and their public-private partners ignore what the customer wants because they don't want the same things.

It's no surprise (or excuse, frankly) that people will say they want more downtown activities or other amenities; that's what happens when you simply ask people what they want without putting anything in context. You get a wish list.

Government and their public-private partners cannot create jobs but they can help create an environment that fosters job growth if they will listen to employers and give them what they need.
Posted by Todd Davidson on Friday, September 7, 2012
A report recently released by the Kansas Legislative Research Department (KLRD) estimates total tax payer support of public schools will reach $5.757 Billion in 2013, topping 2012s record setting $5.672 Billion.  The new numbers show total funding has likely increased $2.17 Billion or 61% since 2001; inflation was up 26% over the same period.

KLRD’s data estimates per-pupil funding will be $12,628 just $32 shy of the record set in 2009. K-12 Per-pupil funding is up $4,604 or 57% since 2001. 

K-12 spending data from 1994 through 2013 is available here.

Posted by Dave Trabert on Wednesday, September 5, 2012
I just experienced a new government intrusion into free market activities...I had to buy a permit from the City of Wichita to have a garage sale at my house.  I even had to certify that "I have not held, nor has any member of my immediate family held within the last six months, a miscellaneous sale the at address listed on this form"

Really?  The City of Wichita feels the need to restrict how frequently I can hold a garage sale?  And boy, do they mean business.  "Only two sales are allowed in a calendar year for a maximum of three consecutive days.  Holding more than two sales per household in a calendar year and/or not allowing six months between sales is punishable by a maximum fine of $100 per day of violation."  Can I get in trouble if I buy something from an 'illegal' yard sale?  If so, could I cut a deal by tipping them off to the black market lemonade stand down the street?

This is really getting out of control.

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