Florida's A+ voucher plan is improving accountability and raising test scores, according to Harvard University researchers. Under the Florida A+ Plan, students in consistently failing public schools can use vouchers to switch to private schools. Using test scores of 900,000 students for 2002, 2003, and 2004, Harvard researchers find that "students in schools that received their first 'F' grade in the summer of 2002 scored 4 to 5 percent of a standard deviation higher the following year than did students at comparable 'D' schools not subject to the voucher threat." African-American students, low-income students, and students with the lowest initial test scores showed some of the strongest gains. Significantly, researchers find that the choice provisions in Florida's A+ Plan are better at promoting student achievement gains than provisions in No Child Left Behind.
During a recent conversation on the use of incentives to attract development, a group of economic developers acknowledged that incentives may not be a good idea all the time. But sometimes.
For instance, certain projects, they would say, are an obviously meritorious "investment" in the community and thus require the tools of incentives to make those projects happen. So project by project, we are asked to evaluate the merits of every project, through the inherently leaky process of political decision making, backed by undoubtedly cheery "feasibility studies" commissioned by rent seekers.
So let's take an obvious example: sports stadiums. Among economic developers, it's the holy grail of development - and for dilapidated urban areas, revitalization. Who would be so audacious as to suggest cities should forgo incentivizing, say, baseball for the sake of the community? Well, as it turns out, economists, in a rare showing of near unanimity believe baseball stadiums have either no effect on wages and income in a region, or when a significant relationship does exists, is actually negative.
And so we are asked to have faith in the process (and a tool - incentives) that produces behemoth economic ankle weights as exemplars of economic progress. As Art Rolnick described the use of incentives generally: "Such policies lead to economic bidding wars and are counterproductive. The end result is that the public return on such investments is zero. And when the subsidy goes to high-risk businesses, ones that are likely to fail, the return can even be negative."
No one has lately accused the Valley of lacking enough hotel space.
And, yet, both the cities of Phoenix and Glendale are pouring tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money into publicly-financed hotels and convention centers.
Glendale is planning a new "upscale" hotel, estimated to cost between $40 and $60 million and financed primarily by the city.
Developer Steve Ellman, a partner in the project, comments in the Arizona Republic that the complex "really sets the stage. It gives me a competitive advantage in the West Valley."
If anyone in Glendale city government has qualms about handing over millions of taxpayer dollars to a wealthy developer, they aren't quoted in the Republic's front page article about the deal.
The Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, a public agency, admits that the deal is, in part, about driving business to the new private company:
Sports authority president Ted Ferris said Monday, "We can drive business their way, and they can drive business our way."
Should government be in the business of drumming up revenue for private corporations?
Taxpayers expect their money to be used for basic city services: police, fire, and the construction and maintenance of roads. The unholy alliance of developers, economic planners, and city officials who spend public funds to enrich private corporations use public money unwisely, and do damage to the trust citizens place in their local governments.
As millions mourn the death of Pope John Paul II, Father Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute remarks on the Pope's legacy as someone who championed human freedom and was one of the most eloquent critics of communism.
Cathleen Falsani writes in the Chicago Sun Times:
"He stood up to the Communists and encouraged organized labor as archbishop of Krakow. He is said to have been the force -- spiritual and otherwise -- behind the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of communism in Eastern Europe."
As Krakow's Cardinal, Karol Wojtila pronounced:
"Freedom is offered to man and given to him as a task. He must not only possess it but also conquer it. He must recognize the work of his life in a good use, in an increasingly good use of his liberty. This is the truly essential, the fundamental work, on which the value and the sense of his whole life depend."
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