A central theme in Douglas Adams’s epic space comedy “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is the number 42, which a supercomputer determines to be the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything”. The computer does not however, know what the Question itself is.
Sometimes it seems like proponents of big government are just like the computer in Hitchhiker’s Guide.
Every issue they encounter has the same solution, more spending. Low employment? Throw money at it. Unsatisfactory health care system? Throw money at it. Falling grades? Throw money at it. Even before anyone’s had a chance to ask why these issues exist, the answer is assumed to be a lack of spending.
It’s fitting, then, that their solution to improving Mississippi’s public school system is Ballot Initiative 42: The Throw Money at Schools Amendment.
According to its sponsors:
“Initiative Measure #42 would protect each child’s fundamental right to educational opportunity through the 12th grade by amending Section 201 of the Mississippi Constitution to require that the State must provide and the legislature must fund an adequate and efficient system of free public schools. This initiative would also authorize the chancery courts of this State to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.”
As Russ Latino has explained in great detail (in his recent BAMSouth.com op-ed and various Facebook posts), however, this amendment does more than just “protect each child’s fundamental right to educational opportunity.” By giving the chancery courts power of injunctive relief, Initiative 42 essentially places all final decisions on public education in Mississippi into the hands of judges.
This is very troubling for anyone who cares about separation of powers and checks and balances in State government.
And even setting aside the legal issues, we still don’t know what the Ultimate Question is. Until we’ve figured out exactly why our schools don’t meet expectations, we can’t assume that money will solve the problem.
That’s the mistake that Mark Zuckerberg made in 2010, when he gave $100 million to the Newark public school system, only to see it vanish into the bureaucratic black hole present in every government institution. Initiative 42’s price tag, by the way, will require an additional $201 million in the 2016 State budget, necessitating either tax increases or cuts elsewhere.
It’s pretty obvious to everyone with an eye on education that the real problem with public schools is the lack of choice. Private schools, which spend well under the $15,000-$20,000 per student that public schools do, regularly beat them in test scores, college admissions, and graduation rates. Unlike public schools, they also have to compete for their students. This means producing demonstrable results, finding ways to keep students and parents invested in the classroom, and eliminating unnecessary overhead.
Markets tend to improve every area where they exist, and we desperately need improvement in our schools. The proponents of Initiative 42 clearly don’t want school choice, or they wouldn’t have pushed a bill that simply throws more money at the giant monopoly that is the public school system. But it’s becoming more and more apparent, even to those who don’t want to admit it, that this is not a path to sustainable results.
In Hitchhiker’s Guide, the supercomputer responsible for finding the Answer also designed a second computer to calculate the Question. This computer was the planet Earth. Unfortunately, its calculations were thrown askew by a ship full of “an entire useless” group of aliens who became our ancestors. And so the universe went on citing 42 as the Answer to everything, never knowing whether or not it was a useful answer at all.
I think I might have found the question, though:
What should you vote against this year?
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