Mississippi Values & Party Politics: It is Time for Elected Officials Concerned About the Former and Not the Later

You know the values of Northeast Mississippi and the people who live here really haven’t changed much since I was a child. By and large, I believe most of us still believe in working to provide for ourselves and our families. We still believe in the importance of faith in our lives and the social stands having that faith entails. We still support our local schools as the gateway to a better future for our children and are willing to work hard to help them. We still believe in the right for law abiding citizens to bear arms, but look down on those who handle such guns carelessly or foolishly for show. We still believe that wasting government money on foolish spending that benefits no one is a betrayal to all hard working taxpayers. We still believe that this type of spending is not be confused with good government programs that help provide for our health, safety, and to give hard-working people an opportunity to improve themselves. We still believe in backing our law enforcement and our military along with their families for their dedication and sacrifice in the name of protecting and serving. We believe in the value of human life and that it should be protected from harm.

I suppose that is why it is so discouraging at times to see our elected representatives sometimes get so caught up in national party politics. I have voted for many, many good individuals over the years with a clear conscience as being the best person to do the elected job they were seeking and to represent the values I mention above. Many of those individuals had a (D) beside their name, many of them had an (R) beside their name, and at some point I probably have voted for at least one who had an (I) there as well. I voted for men and women who I felt would reflect the traditional values of our area of the country that I hold dear. By and large, the greatest disappointment that I have had in watching how these individuals behaved once in office was how they all too often became absorbed in their party politics and quickly forgot about the values of the average person who elected them.

Little by little, these elected officials became more and more obsessed with only really pushing issues and causes that did not reflect our values, but the values of some large donors or group of donors (often from out of state) whose issues had nothing to do with what the average voter cast their ballot for them to accomplish. For those issues that the donors or the national party pushed, they seemed to work tirelessly. Often these bills and laws pushed by our elected representatives had no resemblance whatsoever to the issues we elected them to push. After a while in office, many of them even lost the ability to give real lip service (except maybe in an election year) to the things which the average Mississippian values and which impact our daily lives. No, their rhetoric and comments increasingly talk about this or that partisan issue that most of us could care less about. Sadly, as they get more involved in the politics of party, these individuals even end up being persuaded by the powers within their party or donors to vote against the very things we put them in office to protect. It is bad enough to ignore and not work for things which help and are important to the average Mississippian, but truly sad when you begin to be so far removed from your starting place that you are actually working against many of the things which we hold dear.

All of that being said, I do not wish to paint a gloomy, “the sky is falling” picture of politics in our state. Nor do I wish to say that all of our present elected officials fall into this category, some have done a fine job. However, I am more convinced now than ever to vote for individuals, no matter what the letter or lack of a letter in parenthesis after their name might be, who I truly believe reflect the values that represent me and my community. Many of our elected officials seem to have gotten consumed by party politics, but my vote is and will be about the individuals I believe will do the best job, irregardless of which party or no party at all they might be affiliated. It just seems that politics needs to return a bit to being about Mississippi and less about some out-of-state agenda. At least for me, this will be the primary factor in my vote and support in the elections to come.

– Clint Stroupe

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Works for the Public Good Are Not Only a Legitimate Function of Government; They Are the Very Purpose of Government

It strikes me that long ago there was a point where there was no government of any sort. Some may read that first line and think to themselves, “Ah, Yes! If only we could return to those blessed days!” However, it strikes me that for government to form, which it seems to have formed to to some degree in every culture, there must be a need of people that government fulfills. Without delving too deeply into religion, God himself setup government for his people to fulfill this need. It would seem to me that government in and of itself cannot be evil, if it fulfills a need common to all mankind as they became more advanced than individual wanderers. It certainly seems to me that government in and of itself cannot be evil, if forms and structures of government were instituted by divine inspiration from at least as long ago as the Judges during the patriarchal age of God’s people.

No, government itself must not be evil. But, what is the need that government fulfills? I mean what is the denominator that sums up the need government fulfills? Several functions can readily come to mind: enforcing consistent justice without regard to the economic, social, or physical strength of those being protected; providing defense of all its citizens from foreign invasion; protecting property from theft; and the list could go on and on. The common denominator in all of these instances is that government functions to provide for the “common good” of its people. It takes actions that have the potential to benefit every citizen, regardless of the standing of that citizen. Common sense tells me that government was not needed most by the “strong” members among its citizens. Those physically, financially, or socially strong have the ability to protect themselves to varying degrees. Consider a very wealthy landowner in ancient times. Did such a wealthy individual find himself unable to protect himself from those who would seek to rob him of his possessions? It would seem that his wealth would provide the resources needed to buy ample weapons, hire armed guards, and build protections around his property to such an extent that the extremely powerful members of society had little to gain from government in this regard. No, government very much is the greater benefit to the “weak” in society. To those who lack the influence, the economic power, or the clout needed to protect themselves and to potentially seek compensation for wrongs done to them, very much in contrast to the “powerful” who had the resources to accomplish such protections and to obtain compensation, if necessary.

Yes, I do believe government’s function has to be to provide for the common good. This is the only legitimate thing it has to offer. How does the government get the resources it needs to provide such services? Well, those resources must come from its own citizens. Again, another topic that might lead one to recoil at its mention, but if government is a necessity, as it seems to have been worldwide, taxes seem to also be a necessity to fund such a government. Yet, we also must concede that taxes from the ones who stand to benefit the most from governments’ efforts to provide for the common good are not available in sufficient quantities from these same individuals to fund the degree of services they receive. Common sense tells us that a person unable to afford for the armed protection of his own property by security guards would also be unable to pay sufficient taxes to pay for a police force which essentially serves this same role. For example, whose home is more likely to catch fire, the fine, new, brick home with a fire extinguisher on every wall and sprinkler systems throughout or the home built forty years ago, made primarily of wood, and which lacks even modern safer forms of electrical wiring? Thus, the class of people who tend to benefit the most from having their home put out when on fire are also the ones who would tend to not have contributed enough in taxes to pay for the firetrucks and firemen which rushed out to save their home. Yes, the “common good” efforts of government inevitably have to be funded by and large by those who statistically stand to need them the least.

I think through this reasoning it seems evident that government is not inherently evil. It also seems that if government is not inherently evil, then funds must be provided for such a government to exist. These funds must come from taxes as the only means for government to obtain funds. Then, we have also established that the largest share of taxes in any government will almost certainly be paid by those with the most resources, as no matter the type of tax those with the most resources will end up paying the larger portion of its volume. Furthermore, it seems to have been shown that in spite of the fact they pay the greater portion of taxes to fund the government, the need of those with the most resources for any service government provides stands to be on average less than their fellow citizens with less resources and who naturally pay less taxes. Then, I think we can easily see how governments began to offer many of the “common good” services that came about over the years. From hospitals to city parks to social security to rural mail delivery to the paved roads that mark our countryside, government used this same approach to provide for the common good by providing for these public works. They are provided for everyone, but in the end have always been funded via taxes of which those with more resources have always paid a larger share.

While those with the least resources and the least power (economic power, social influence, etc.) tend to need and possibly enjoy these “common good” works by government the most directly, those with resources and the most power enjoy the benefits of such efforts indirectly. These individuals get to indirectly benefit by being surrounded by a society and culture which is a better place because of such benefits and is populated by potentially better people than would almost certainly be possible otherwise. Yet, in the end, the benefits of government’s efforts cannot be looked at individually, but must be looked at collectively. The creation and funding of law enforcement may never directly retrieve a stolen vehicle for me. However, my fellow citizen and a fellow member of my same country may very much benefit when his stolen vehicle is retrieved. In the final summation, government demands that we as citizens be happy to see these resources benefiting those who need them more than us. We are a group and part of one whole as citizens of one country. When government serves to help a member of the group other than ourselves, we should be happy as members of this unified group of people ourselves.

Of course, there must be discussions and debates as to where government should draw the line in providing these “greater good” services. Naturally too, government sometimes must be held accountable to make sure what it is providing is done in an efficient manner. However, one must seriously question the appropriateness of a fellow citizen and member of this brotherhood that we call a country making comments such as, “Well, why should I pay in taxes for something that doesn’t benefit me?” The individual who decides to never have children must look at the good for the group and society as a whole by paying school taxes which his children will never enjoy the benefits from. The citizen in Iowa must look at the greater good provided to our country by the Coast Guard patrolling and protecting the safety of our citizens in Alaska, Florida, or the many other states which have coastlines. The citizen with acres of beautiful land to enjoy for himself and his family must not begrudge the state park his taxes are funding and being enjoyed by those who do not own a home, much less a fraction of an acre of land. Those who are able to read and whose income allows them to pay for educational resources for their children and grandchildren long before reaching the age to start school must look with pride at the educational programming funded partially through tax dollars which allow those without such things to learn the basics of reading and get exposed to concepts which expand their thinking as children via educational television picked up with an antenna in their rural household.

While we can and rightly should demand for efficiency in government and making sure tax dollars are not wasted, we must concede that the things those tax dollars provide which help to elevate and uplift our fellow citizens are good things. It strikes me that perhaps their is a bit too much emphasis today in our political rhetoric and from our politicians on “me” and “mine,” instead of “we” and “our.” Desiring such good public works by government and seeing them enhanced to provide opportunities for those who would otherwise be left out in the proverbial cold, is something which maybe needed a bit of renewed emphasis on our part. No, such efforts at benefiting society are not evil and by themselves are not “socialism” nor “communism.” When done right, they instead reflect the best reasons for government to exist in the first place, to benefit us all as one united group. Perhaps, it is time to encourage good efficient things that government does at the same time as we discourage things that are inefficient and abuses of government. Maybe, it would benefit us all to examine the mindset and the original great intent of those who preceded us as citizens of our states and our nation, who enacted many of these public works. If not, we may once again find out what life was like before they existed and realize that the generations which preceded us may not have been so ill-informed or misled as some on the extremes might want us to believe.

-Clint Stroupe

Public Schools are Public Cooperatives – Divided They Fall

We do not think about it much until we pass a ranger station, forestry tower, or a pickup truck with their department logos on the side, but every day many hard working individuals go to work for our state forestry, federal forestry, state game warden, and federal parks services around our state and country. Often we do not let our minds think about these important individuals as they work hard to provide the services we need and enjoy. Whether protecting the game and fish we all see the need to the preserve or guarding the forests that are reserved for our enjoyment, these individuals are a vital part to maintaining the way of life we have come to enjoy and insuring the country our children inherit is one that has these same natural resources preserved and hopefully even improved.
 
Of course, some of us do not use these services directly at all. The person growing up and living in an apartment in downtown Jackson may never even meet one of these workers in his entire life. The catfish farmer in the delta, although he raises, catches, and comes in contact with more fish than even the most avid tournament fisherman, may never contact someone from the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, as the farmer maintains his operation and provides for his fish and ponds. The large landowner with literally hundreds, if not thousands, of acres in pine and hardwood may never meet his local forestry commission as his investment in timberland grows awaiting eventual harvest. Yet, a portion of all of these individuals’ taxes goes directly to pay for these departments, their buildings, and their employee salaries. Yes, regardless of whether or not we take advantage of our beautiful state and federal parks for a vacation or outing, our taxes are used to support and maintain these public resources.
 
There are many other similar government resources, like these, that we all pay for in taxes, yet maybe never take direct benefit from or take much less benefit than some other of our fellow citizens. Social security, the departments of agriculture, our local law enforcement, and the list can go on and on. We pay into these, yet never may receive the direct benefit many other citizens do from their existence. Our taxes flow into them, yet the person who hunts once a year on state land and the person who visits state waterways daily both get vastly different levels of benefits, although both may be paying the exact same share of the taxes to operate the state’s Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. We all realize that this is the only way these public services could possibly be run. We justify our tax payment into them, despite the vast difference in the direct benefits from their existence we may receive, as a necessity since they benefit the overall public good.
 
Imagine the ridiculousness that would be greeted to the delta catfish farmer who suggested he receive “his share” of the taxes going to the Department of WFP back to him in the form of a tax deduction or refund, since he does not use the services himself directly. The same could easily be said for the large landowner who operates his enclosed “fox pen” of hundreds of acres which he maintains; who then suggests he receive back his “share” of the tax money that normally goes to game wardens’ management of wildlife beyond his hundreds of acres of fenced in hunting land. Why? I mean, why is this suggestion ridiculous? Why would it be beyond silly for the person living in a gated community with its own security guards to demand back his or her portion of tax money that would go to support the local police force? What would be the huge downside to allowing such a person to have his or her “share” of the taxes pulled back out of the public service which they do not themselves choose to use?
 
The first answer that comes to mind is that we all know these are government services for the public good. The public obtains the benefits, sometimes very directly and sometimes totally indirectly, but we all benefit in some way. Beyond this fact that we all are receiving “something,” whether direct or indirect, from these public services, we also all know what would happen to these departments and these public resources, should those who have the means to not use them directly or do not have the need to use the services themselves be able to “pull out” their tax money. Would the Natchez Trace, Pickwick Lake, Holly Springs National Forest, or the many resources we enjoy be able to operate, if such funds were suddenly pulled from their budgets to operate? If only those using them directly were the only ones paying taxes for their operation, we know that these departments and the services they provide would probably cease to exist or exist on such a small scale that we would no longer recognize them. After all, these are public works and as taxpayers, we all are needed to pay into this “cooperative” that pools our funds together to provide public services which could not exist without this cooperation. Without all of our membership, such resources would soon be nonexistent for the regular citizen to enjoy and only exist for the most rich among us to pay to enjoy privately on privately operated land. Perhaps, we could still visit the overgrown state park with impassible roads and thorns clogging the trails that the meager budget they were left to operate with allowed, while the few rich and their families were able to visit their plush private parks and hunting reserves, maintained with some of the money they were able to “pull out” of the public departments they did not themselves benefit from.  But, we all know this is not the type of country we have chosen to live within, we made this choice long ago and continue to maintain it today by continuing these cooperative public works that we all are able to enjoy equally.
 
The above situation is the reason so-called “vouchers” for use in private schools do not work. It is the same situation and has the same effect for the government resource of a free, public education for all children that we all enjoy the benefits from, either directly or indirectly.  If there is waste in our public system, address the waste and enforce the laws against such waste already on the books.  If money is being spent in unwise ways, then simply pass laws listing those as unallowable expenditures by local boards.  But, vouchers do nothing to address such issues; they only use the issues as an excuse to effectively doom the entire system for everyone.  One could go into much more detail about the reasoning behind how such an ability to pull out of our public education “cooperative” would doom the system to fade into a slum version of what we currently enjoy with quality, safe education only being available to the richest in our communities, many of whom had always used private schools anyway, regardless of the introduction of vouchers allowing them to siphon off their share of tax dollars from our cooperatively funded public schools.  Yes, it could be discussed at much greater length, but I do not think it needs to be. The heart of why such a system of pulling out of the cooperative public services is outlined above, and it does not really need further explanation for the average person to see the common sense of its inevitable effects.
 
Further discussion with the same concepts can be read in these two prior blog posts:
– Clint Stroupe

School Funding in Mississippi House Bill 957, Good or Bad?

Okay, so I have had a couple of requests to summarize the changes proposed in HB 957 and the proposed effect for the future of public education in Mississippi.  While there are many others with a better ability to explain the changes and their implications, I will try to do the best I can with my current understanding.  The bill would effectively replace the current Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP).  It is a significant bill and does drastically change the way Mississippi “should” fund public education each year in our state.  While there are many changes to the current funding law for our schools by this bill, I will look briefly at the most obvious one and that is the change to “base student cost.”

The change in base student cost, which is the amount of money given to districts per child for the expense of their education, can and will likely have an impact on local school district funding and local taxes in the future.  MAEP used a formula to determine this cost which looked at districts that were doing an “average” job, according to accountability measures, of educating their students and using the spending needed by those districts to accomplish this goal to determine the base student cost to reimburse each year.  You may be asking several questions at this point.  Why would this amount be different for each district across the state?  Shouldn’t it be the same?  Why would this average spent per student from these average performing districts change the amount the state gives?

The answer lies in where districts mainly get their money to pay for educating their students.  The majority of it typically comes from the state (which is the topic we are discussing), but individual districts use their share of local property taxes (land, houses, etc.) to supplement the money from the state.  This amount can vary HUGELY from district to district.  The value of property in each district can vary to large degrees (think DeSoto County vs. Kemper County) and the percent used of the available property tax rate for schools may also vary.  So let’s say you live in the very poor “County X” with little or no industry and little value in property, their school district can make a request each year to increase their share of local property taxes in “County X” to attempt to get the funds needed to provide for students to be well-educated to the maximum percentage set by state law.  So very economically poor “County X” has now maxed out its share of property taxes for all of its property (which is mainly all of low value), but “County X” still has very little money from this source to add to the money coming from the state for education, despite its maxed out rate, due to the fact property is simply not highly valued in that area.  Now, “County Y” is on the other end of the state and has huge industry with vibrant economic development.  In “County Y” the businesses are many, the houses are large, and the property values are high.  “County Y” does not request each year to increase its percent of available property tax money.  This is because the smaller percentage is so large an amount of money (bigger pie equals bigger pieces), it does not need to max the rate out to get plenty of local funds.  Thus, “County Y” has much, much more local money to spend per student, despite its lower rate of education property tax, than “County X” has, despite its maxed out rate.  As you can see, if more local education money is needed, “County Y” can raise their rate, because it is not reached the maximum allowed by state law.  But, poorer “County X” can only sit back and decide what will go unpaid and unsupplied in the district.

Now in the above example, who knows who is doing better academically at the end of the year.  Maybe, it is “County X,” but it is probably going to be “County Y.”  Regardless, MAEP is like a honey badger in the sense that “it don’t care” who is spending more or less at the beginning.  All MAEP is concerned about is listing performance for students and doing the math to determine the amount of total average money spent to get this average performance result.  Once this amount of money is determined (which is done every four years), the base student cost is updated and the state uses this to “recommend” to the legislature the amount to allocate per pupil for each district.  This is base student cost.  Now, I am leaving out some other MAEP details, such as the fact the cost goes up a little per year due to inflation and some other details.  But, the main point is that MAEP looks at what it takes to educate an average performing student and updates it every four years to determine the base amount to give all districts per student, with the idea this is the minimal, adequate amount needed for a student achieve average performance.

Now, the big change with HB 957 is that it gets rid of this formula and says the amount is now $4,800 per student.  This move is being criticized because the whole point of the above formula was to make a logical and somewhat scientific determination of how much minimum spending it takes per student to achieve average results and replaces this objectively determined number with a number made up on the spot.  Again, so what?  I mean what is the big deal if the number is made up out of thin air, as long as it works out well for your district to get its funding?

Well, here is the rub.  While the breakdown of increase or decrease of funding for each district may seem higher as listed in local newspapers under the new law, this amount is an increase based only upon the amount funded last year for that district, which was less than what MAEP says each district needs to adequately educate its students.  Right now MAEP is figured using some of the calculations mentioned above and is standing there waiting every year and figuratively staring the legislature and governor in the face.  It is basically saying with real, hard data, this is the number that needs to be funded per student, objectively.  With the formula and hard data gone to be replaced with a made-up number, there is nothing holding them accountable to fund at a certain amount based on data.  If ten years from now, the legislature comes in and changes that number to $3,800, there is no real data to say this number is not just as valid.  Another issue is that this number does not adjust automatically, once fully implemented.  With MAEP figuring that average cost for average performance base student cost, the amount typically will go up over time as costs increase.  Without this type of recalculation, the new bill’s $4,800 per student will have less and less buying power over time.  Like your father’s salary when you were a child, what was a large number then in buying power becomes a smaller number in buying power every year, until decades later it almost seems a funny joke unless it is raised over time (i.e. Cokes were a nickel back in my day).  There is no mechanism for inflation or other adjustments to raise this base $4,800 amount from year to year as it more than likely is capable of buying less and less.

Some might say, “Hey, the legislature almost never funds the current MAEP amount anyway, so who cares about the rewrite.  I mean they give schools what they feel like giving, despite the formula they adopted themselves and various governors have voiced approval for, including current Gov. Bryant.  What’s the difference now?”  In response to this, there really is not a huge difference other than the issue of how easily schools can be starved for funding without an automatic means of accountability or political consequences due to MAEP being an existing law.  Currently, MAEP is like a divorce settlement document that spells out how much child support the mother (school districts) is due from the father (state government) each month to provide for the father’s share of the children’s needs based upon that year’s cost for insurance, baby sitting, etc.  Now, in this analogy, the father has been defying the divorce settlement for years and years.  Month after month, he says in effect, “I’m sorry baby, but times are tough.  I’ll send what I can.”  The mother just keeps making up the difference out of her income (local taxes).  Then, every year or two, good old dad sends a check with the amount that was legally due for the first time in ages, and wants mom to praise him and be tickled for him simply doing one month what he was supposed to do every month for years.  Now, the mother does not make a big deal of this and just keeps the peace, despite being shorted.  However, what would you think would be her reaction if and when the father calls her up and says, “Hey babe, guess what?  I think it’s time we rewrote our divorce settlement.  I mean, we both know it’s not realistic, and I say we just lower it and set a number without all this yearly increase mumbo-jumbo.  The kids are almost school age, so just figure how much it costs you right now and let’s set that number.  I mean it’s not like food, insurance, or other stuff goes up every year.  Besides, you know me, I’ll treat ya right, if you need more cash in the future.  Daddy is good for it!”  Would this be something advisable, in your opinion, for the mother to agree upon?  My opinion would be, if you think the mother should gladly agree to a new settlement, then you will certainly have no concerns with HB 957 in relation to local schools.  But, if you think the mother would be unwise to revise the current formula for Dad’s new plan, even though Dad has almost never kept his end of the current agreement anyway, then you probably would have issues with making this drastic a change to the current MAEP funding formula for schools.  Personally, while I do think a divorce settlement (state education funding law) that is constantly being violated (underfunding by the legislature almost every year) is a problem that needs addressing, I think the only way a fair settlement will be created is if mother (the local school districts) and father (the state government) both sit down at the same table and come up with a real plan that address real-world funding that is needed and will be needed from year to year with an understanding of how accountability measures will be in place to make sure both mother and father actually follow-through.  I can say without reservation that this current bill, HB 957, is definitely not this type of realistic agreement where both sides’ needs are addressed in a way that both sides actually understand.

– Clint Stroupe

 

*If anything in the above article seems factually incorrect, please let me know.  Also, the view expressed, as always, are my own personal views and in no way affiliated with anyone else or any other entity.

On Brexit & Our National Unity

“Let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and shew the whole world, that a Freeman contending for Liberty on his own ground is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.”
― George Washington

It is amazing watching the aftermath of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. One thing which has struck me is the surprise on some people’s parts as to a group of people wanting to be distinct, independent, and separate from the larger group. This just seems a little ironic when you look back on all of human history with this same scenario occurring over and over again. Whether its the Roman, Greek, Babylonian, Austro-Hungarian, or any of the other countless empires that have attempted bring together people into one group, there has always been a tendency of groups to want to remain distinct. The same can be seen in modern countries such as Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, or Iraq which were not formed directly through conquest. For a nation to remain unified, it must share some sort of uniting cultural commonality.

The cultural glue may be ideals, language, values, or religion held in common, but there must be something which holds people together or the groups within the larger group who do share some of these things will begin to come together and eventually desire to self-direct their own future. Personally, I think this tendency of people will occur in spite of all of the positive economic or standard of living benefits of remaining in their current unified state. In the case of the United States, in my opinion, it was always a belief in freedom of the individual, agreement on the fundamental principles of our democratic republic as outlined in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, and agreement on the need for all of us to respect the rule of law governing disagreements we might have with one another. I would argue that this has always allowed us to overcome the tendency to want to break apart and divide on the basis of our differing cultural and religious beliefs. We all shared the common idea that freedom of the individual is of the utmost importance and our form of democratic limited government protected that freedom from others, both within and without, imposing their will upon us as individuals.

The big question, I suppose, for our future is whether we will keep these common beliefs which bind our country together as a unit. If we do not agree upon such overriding ideals which can hold us together, the various differences which have always been present in our country will inevitably weaken us to some degree or another. Our country has always been unique and strong because of our ability to take various peoples from various differing backgrounds and come together because of our love for the beliefs that make the United States a united country based not upon common ethnicity or race, but upon common ideals. I sincerely hope we all do our best to make sure this is always the case for ourselves and future generations by recommitting to these ideals and emphasizing them to our young people as being the glue which has been able to hold us together thus far.

-Clint Stroupe

It’s A Wonderful Life, School Choice, & Sticking Together

It's a Wonderful Life

 

GEORGE:    Now, just remember that this thing isn’t as black as it appears.

As George speaks, sirens are heard passing in the street below.  The crowd turn to the windows, then back to George.

GEORGE:    I have some news for you, folks. I’ve just talked to old man Potter, and he’s guaranteed cash payments at the bank. The bank’s going to reopen next week.

ED:    But, George, I got my money here.

CHARLIE:    Did he guarantee this place?

GEORGE:    Well, no, Charlie. I didn’t even ask him.  We don’t need Potter over here.

Mary and Ernie have come into the room during this scene.

Mary stands watching silently. 

CHARLIE:    I’ll take mine now.

GEORGE:    No, but you… you… you’re thinking of this place all wrong.  

As if I had the money back in a safe. The money’s not here

Your money’s in Joe’s house…

(to one of the men)

…right next to yours. And in the Kennedy house, and Mrs. Macklin’s house, and a hundred others. Why, you’re lending them the money to build, and then, they’re going to pay it back to you as best they can.

Now what are you going to do? Foreclose on them?

TOM:    I got two hundred and forty-two dollars in here, and two hundred and forty-two dollars isn’t going to break anybody.

GEORGE:    (handing him a slip) Okay, Tom. All right. Here you are. You sign this. You’ll get your money in sixty days.

TOM:    Sixty days?

GEORGE:    Well, now that’s what you agreed to when you bought your shares.

There is a commotion at the outer doors.

A man (Randall)comes in and makes his way up to Tom.

RANDALL:    Tom… Tom, did you get your money?

TOM:    No.

RANDALL:    Well, I did. Old man Potter’ll pay fifty cents on the dollar for every share you got.

(shows bills)

CROWD:    Fifty cents on the dollar!

RANDALL:    Yes, cash!

TOM:    (to George) Well, what do you say?

GEORGE:    Now, Tom, you have to stick to your original agreement. Now give us sixty days on this.

TOM:    (turning to Randall) Okay, Randall.

Tom starts out…

A few other people start for the door. George vaults over the counter quickly, speaking to the people.

GEORGE:    Tom! Tom! Randall! Now wait… now listen… now listen to me.

I beg of you not to do this thing. If Potter gets hold of this Building and Loan there’ll never be another decent house built in this town. He’s already got charge of the bank.  He’s got the bus line. He’s got the department. And now he’s after us.  Why? Well, it’s very simple. Because we’re cutting in on his business, that’s why.  And because he wants to keep you living in his slums and paying the kind of rent he decides.

 The people are still trying to get out, but some of them have stood still, listening to him. George has begun to make an impression on them.

GEORGE:    Joe, you lived in one of his houses, didn’t you? Well, have you forgotten?  Have you forgotten what he charged you for that broken-down shack?

(to Ed)

Here, Ed. You know, you remember last year when things weren’t going so well, and you couldn’t make your payments. You didn’t lose your house, did you? Do you think Potter would have let you keep it?

(turns to address the room again)

Can’t you understand what’s happening? Don’t you see what’s happening? Potter isn’t selling. Potter’s buying! And why? Because we’re panicky and he’s not.  That’s why. He’s picking up some bargains.  Now, we can get this thing all right. We’ve got to stick together, though. We’ve got to have faith in each other.

– It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

          

 

The scene outlined above is one of my favorites from one of my favorite Christmas films, It’s a Wonderful Life.  George is, of course, making the case why the individual member of the community who is being served by the local building and loan must not decide to pull their funds out at once or else the whole institution will collapse.  George is having a hard time convincing the individuals to think larger than themselves and to consider the institution and what it provides to the community.  I found myself mentally coming back to this particular scene as I thought about the recent efforts to push so-called “school choice” in Mississippi.  I believe this particular scene in the movie provides us with great insight into our present situation in Mississippi public education by illustrating the main elements of the “school choice” movement in regards to motivation, action, and consequences.

In the film, there is a “run” on the building and loan by many of the customers with deposit accounts (checking and savings).  The “building and loan” which Bailey managed was basically a small community bank which shareholders throughout the community owned.  The customers in the building and loan were the actual shareholders as all had a stake in it.  This is in contrast to the larger bank in town which was run mainly by Mr. Potter.  The “building and loan” in the film was designed to serve the community by reinvesting funds back into the community.  While in the film, the bank’s primary function was to maximize profits. At the moment of the “run” on the building and loan, many of the customers with deposit accounts had no loans from the building and loan.  But, when they needed its lending services in the past, it was the only option which could meet their lending needs by providing loans for quality homes at fair and reasonable interest rates.  In effect, the building and loan was a sort of social insurance to the whole community when and if they had a need for it.  Yet this insurance could only exist by all members of the group sticking together and staying in the “pool” of customers, some borrowing money and many more depositing money which the building and loan used to make the loans.  With the recent push by lobbying groups and politicians to increase “school choice” by enabling per student tax dollars to follow the student and flow into alternative charter or private schools, it seems especially important to remind taxpayers of how their local, public school provides a form of educational insurance to meet the sometimes extreme needs of students much like Bailey’s Building and Loan met its community’s financial needs.

At this point, I believe we all know how the “school choice” system (or scheme) works.  Schools are funded by the state based upon each student who attends.  The state has a certain amount it gives to the public school district per individual child enrolled to educate students in the district.  “School choice” seeks to allow that money to be used to fund tuition at a non-public school by giving the child a voucher or tax credit to spend based upon this money.  the charter or private school then receives this per student funding. If the amount of state reimbursement is $3,500/year and one student left to attend a non-public school, that $3,500/year money would flow to the non-public school which the child chose to attend.  These funds would thus be diverted from the public school in that community and would essentially be cut from its budget or the shared budget of all public schools from state funding.  This sounds perfectly reasonable on the surface.  I mean, if the state gives $3,500/year to educate a child, then what does it matter if the money and that child leave the public school?  The school where the child enrolls gets the money and one might think this will simply reimburse the charter/private school for the cost of his or her education.  However, there is only one problem with that logic, and this problem rests in one simple word, “average.”

Funding amounts per student are based upon averages, not real dollar amounts required to educate a particular child.  This key difference can be illustrated by using a business analogy.  Imagine you work for a company as a full-time (40+ hours per week) employee.  However, this company has only ten full-time employees, counting you, with many more being part-time (less than 20 hours per week).  In fact, the company works a total of twenty-five part-time employees in comparison to the ten full-time.  At the end of the week it is pay day and the company has a meeting when it is time to give out the checks.  The boss tells all employees there has been a slight change in the way everyone will be paid this week.  Instead of different check amounts, all employees will now make the exact same for their week of work.  Both, full-time and part-time regardless of experience or any other factor will make the exact same.  This is, of course, perfectly fair from the bosses perspective because the exact same amount is being paid out by management this week as the week before.  The only difference is that now everyone will make the “average” rate of pay calculated per employee.  Naturally, you and the other nine full-time employees would be very supportive of this change, correct?  No, both common sense and fairness require the pay to not be based upon an “average.”  As you can see, in the real world of dollars and cents, the average is good for very little other than having a mathematical conversation.

Likewise, the school district is reimbursed on this same average amount to pay for the expenses to provide a free and appropriate education for each child.  However, the cost of such an education can vary a great deal from this average.  The child who has autism and requires intensive therapies by specialized staff during the day requires much more to educate than this average.  The child from a poor family who has moved eight times during the last year and who stays for hours by herself every evening as her parents go to their second job will probably require greater help to stay caught up in reading than a child without these disadvantages.  This help will require more money for the interventionists and tutors who work with her in a small group while the other students are all working in the regular classroom.  There are countless other examples of students who require more resources to educate during the day than other students.  Students without these special situations, who are able to keep up in the regular classroom without extra help, require much less funding to receive a quality education than these others.  However, the average sees all of these children the same in regards to the cost of their education.

To return to the movie analogy, if you are fortunate enough to have a child who requires no additional help to keep up and receive a quality education, you are much like the large group of deposit account holders at the building and loan.  The average amount of dollars which follow your child more than cover the cost of your child’s education.  What happens to these excess funds that exceed the cost of your child’s education?  The excess amount funds the needs of the other students within the school district who have educational needs which require more money than their average amount is able to afford.  Those students with these extra needs are like those who borrow money from the Bailey Building and Loan to obtain decent housing or to cover expenses.  Just as George told those depositors in the film, your money is not in a safe the back of the building, “your money is in Joe’s house.”  The building and loan was a cooperative organization with all of its members depending on the one another to provide enough funding for the common benefit and to provide a sort of insurance against the risk of needing a loan in the future at reasonable terms and being unable to get it.  Just like you as the parent of the child who is educated without the extra services with their expenses, your child is in effect paying for the education of the other children since his or her educational services cost less.  However, the exchange is that when you have your next child and that child is born with Down Syndrome, that child will now receive the same “insurance coverage” from the excess funds provided by their counterparts in the school district who do not require their full “average” funding to meet their needs.  The funding following your child is not in the back room or the school bank account; the funding following your child is literally in the child across the room or down the hall.

If you are with me thus far, you can see how the public schools function as the same type of cooperative providing needed services and risk protection for all children in the state just as the building and loan provided for the needs and protection from risk for the members of the community of Bedford Falls.  However, there is another institution which we have a need to recognize in this analogy.  That is Potter’s bank.  Potter’s bank in the story is an institution driven by profits primarily for Mr. Potter and whatever other few shareholders the bank possesses.  This is the situation with many of the “charter schools” which operate for a profit in states where “school choice” is being implemented.  Many of these companies are for-profit businesses which seek to educate children for less than the money reimbursed by the state and keep the remainder as profit.  How do they do this?  Are they really that much more efficient than the public schools?  While there is no doubt there are examples of waste out of the thousands and thousands of public schools in our country, efficiency is not behind the potential profits of the charter/private school receiving average student reimbursement from the state in a “school choice” scenario.  No, the secret formula of their profits lies again in one word, “average.”  The students who attend the charter or private school are not the students who require the greatest needs and with those needs the greater expenses.  While there are many reasons and ways that these schools only end up enrolling these students with less expensive needs, they are too lengthy to go into here.  However, in short, charter and private schools traditionally market themselves to parents based upon greater and more rigorous academics in preparation for college. However, as you might imagine, for many parents of students with special needs children is not their chief concern.  These parents of special needs children are much more likely to be more concerned with life skills and the abilities which allow independent living. There are also financial aspects which allow children with less financially stable home situations who are more likely to be behind their peers due to stress and less time available for their parents to be provide academic help at home to be filtered out of the charter school enrollees. Many, if not most, charter or private schools do not provide free transportation and transporting a student to and from school by car requires greater expenses on the part of parents and the time off work to provide this transportation. Through these and many other “filters” charter or private schools end up with a pool of students who are generally more affluent, more involved with their student’s education, or a combination of both of these traits.  Thus, charter schools are like Potter’s bank, they desire to have the cash depositors (students who can be educated with less expense) to bring their money (the average state reimbursement which follows the student) from the building and loan (the public school) and put in into Potter’s bank (the charter or private school).

If the “run” on the bank happens, the deposit account holders will go to Potter’s bank taking their funds leaving only those with loans at the Bailey Building and Loan.  I think we all know what happens to the Bailey Building and Loan in this scenario, it collapses unable to provide the loan services it needs to those customers without the capital funds of the depositors.  The only way the Bailey Building and Loan would not collapse in this scenario would be to have a sudden infusion of funds allowing it to still provide loans.  Essentially, someone like the government would have to bail out the building and loan to keep it from closing altogether.  I think we all have enough common sense to know who foots the bill when the government has to bail someone out, you the taxpayer.  Unless you are willing to allow the building and loan to collapse, much more money will be spent propping it up financially while still sending the average funding to the charter/private school to make its profits than ever was required before the charter siphoned off the children whose education is less expensive to provide.  This is the reason “school choice” with tax money following the student into the accounts of the charter/private school, if allowed to continue unhindered will inevitably result in public school districts either closing their doors or requiring huge infusions of taxpayer cash to cover the actual education expenses of the students who are left (the students with the greatest needs).  Yes, money is made in “school choice” schemes, but the money is made on the back of the taxpayer and goes into the pocket of the company operating the charter/private school.

The crisis scene of It’s a Wonderful Life ends on a happy note as most of the community members with money in the building and loan realize the sense in what George is telling them.  They see that they are investors and partners in a cooperative partnership with the other community members providing resources and opportunities when and if they need the services of the institution.  This type of partnership cannot be accomplished without everyone paying into the pool, both those who need the greater services and those who do not.  My friends, we are all taxpayers, we have no choice in the matter and our state constitution mandates that all children will receive a free education.  Therefore, we cannot opt out of paying for this education for each and every child.  The only question is whether we want to invest these tax funds into the students who need the services and into our community members, or whether we will give the investment to Mr. Potter and his handful of shareholders and abandon the cooperative we have together.  Make no mistake, the end result in years to come can only be the ending of education for every child or even more money required to fund the education of children needing higher than average expenses while at the same time maintaining the profit margin of the charter/private school shareholders.

-Clint Stroupe