"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance

 and a people who mean to be their own governors

 must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Put The Club Down

When it comes to taxes and how government spends our money, there are special categories of funding that may not be questioned. To do so risks being labeled mean, cold hearted, greedy, cruel and evil, just to name a few. Government spending in these categories and the people purportedly helped by them, are among the politician’s most potent and effective weapons.

All a politician needs to say is “this money is for the children, the elderly, the poor, the disabled or the mentally ill” and we are all suppose to say “well in that case, by all means, spend away.” Anyone that dares question a program aimed at helping the “most vulnerable” is clearly a horrible person. End of discussion.

This is a very effective club that is used time and again to cut off any debate concerning a social welfare program’s actual need or effectiveness. Does a program funded by taxpayers actually work as it was intended or does it really just enrich the providers of the goods and services? Questions of this sort may not be asked in polite circles. Try it and invariably you’ll be met with - What are you some kind of _______? Fill in the blank with your pejorative of choice.

All this said in a lead up to this question. Is $300.8 million in Acting Governor Codey’s budget necessary to “educate” 29,000 preschoolers (children 3 and 4 years old)? This works out to be $10,621 per child and does not include the additional federal funds the state will spend to supplement the state’s $300.8 million.

This $300.8 million in Codey’s budget sounds like a lot for preschool education but it’s only the beginnning. A second form of preschool funding - Early Childhood Program Aid, Codey recommends spending an additional $330.6 million for preschoolers in high poverty districts around the State. Once again this amount does not include the federal funds the state will also spend for the same purpose.

And for good measure, in fiscal 2005, a new category of early childhood state aid, the Early Launch to Learning Initiative (ELLI), was introduced. The $4 million recommended for this program in the fiscal 2006 budget “will increase access to high quality preschool for four year-olds by creating new or expanded preschool programs in districts with low-income students.”

Acting Governor Codey is recommending New Jersey taxpayers spend $635.4 million dollars to educate preschoolers. Again, this does not count the additional federal funds the state will spend on these same programs. Clearly someone is benefiting from all this spending – but who? Is it the children and by extension the taxpayers? As they say, there are some things you just can’t measure. Apparently this is one of them.

The Goldwater Institute, a research organization has argued for years that there is no statistical evidence to support the idea that Head Start kids perform any better in elementary school than poor children who weren't enrolled.

Head Start and other government subsidized preschool education programs in New Jersey have not produced results and the State can not point to any record of success. New Jersey in the past has measured success of preschool education in terms of the number of children enrolled and money spent. We wonder who came up with these measures of performance. We’ll go out on a limb and submit it wasn’t the taxpayers.

Now the federal government has stepped in to require states to measure progress and accomplishments of children enrolled in these programs. This requirement has been met with the immediate howls and protests of preschool “educators”.

Some early childhood experts are blasting the test as a "high-stakes" exam that is deeply flawed, poorly constructed and may do more harm than good.

Local Head Start directors, such as Morris County's Eileen Jankunis, say they are wary that the test results will be used to dismantle the 39-year-old program. The testing emerged at the same time as debates in Congress on the Bush administration's controversial proposals for changing the program's funding structure and oversight.

"I think they've lost sight we're talking about 4-year-olds," Jankunis said. "They've forgotten they're 4-year-olds, they're babies. The nature of a 4-year-old is that if they've woken up in a bad mood they may not answer a question at all."

We wonder why Jankunis would be fearful the test results will be used to dismantle the 39 year-old program? Could it be that she has a good idea what the results will reveal? Is there something wrong with eliminating an expensive program that hasn’t worked?

Of course the tax receivers have the excuses all set to go - the test is flawed and after all the kids are just “babies”. You know the same thought crossed our minds - $635.4 million dollars to educate babies? Why has this become the responsibility of taxpayers and if by some twisted logic it is, aren’t we entitled to measurable results?

Thomas Sowell has said: “The Head Start program is a classic example. Anyone who expresses any skepticism about claims Head Start is a great success will be denounced as someone who doesn't "care" about the low-income and minority children that this program supposedly helps. One of the great propaganda tricks is to change questions of fact into questions of motives.”

Jankunis and her colleagues need not worry. Those in her industry and the politicians dependant upon their vote wield a mighty big club. The tax receivers have gotten away with hiding behind “the most vulnerable” for decades, jumping out to club anyone to death that dares question a nickel spent on “essential programs.”

It’s time for New Jersey taxpayers to take the club away. We have a right to limit or eliminate special interest government spending and to demand our money be spent wisely. We must stand together and let it be known that bankrupting the state and making taxpayers into villains is no longer an acceptable model for political success.


At 11:18 AM, Blogger Ken Adams said...

Taxpayers == Baby Seals?

At 4:50 PM, Blogger Mr. Apropos said...

As always, don't forget the 57-cents on the dollar in order to pay for the matching funds!

I have a suggestion, since we _are_ in NJ, maybe we can just starting bribing people to cut funding for programs that are questionable? Sure, it would be expensive, but maybe less so than funding the programs (and the matching funds) directly.

At 6:45 PM, Blogger Mr. Snitch said...

"Those in her industry and the politicians dependant upon their vote wield a mighty big club."

This is essentially how Jersey politics (corrupt or not) works. The only thing that can stop it is for media to act as guardians of the public trust - an actual fourth estate that exposes such fraud to public view. Our papers and other major news media have long since given up such a responsibility. It's simply not their job. Their job is to gain attention without makiing enemies, and sell advertising.

This would be sad, but acceptable, if the media were upfront about the fact, but they're not. They offer a veneer of Woodward and Bernstein, while giving us merely Entertainment Tonight. It's the lame hypocrisy of their act that's galling. (And it's why the papers are dying.)

If Jersey blogs speak up regularly about these matters, offering different facts and facets of the problem with each post, they could bring these matters out into the public view. The newspapers would eventually fall so far behind the real leaders in public opinion that they would be forced into playing me-too, in an attempt to maintain their charade of leadership.

Putting the pathetic media aside, there is clearly room for a Republican candidate to craft a powerful message out of the substantial dissatisfaction that exists, untapped, out there. The gubernatorial election comes on the heels of years of relentless headlines concerning corruption, almost all of which involved area Democrats. A smart Republican party would take a page from Howard Dean's book and engage the potential of the Jersey blogs. Meanwhile, the Dems will be counting on the machine to function as usual.


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