Sunday, January 25, 2015

Why Progressives Should Not Trust Tony Messenger and the Saint Louis Post Dispatch No. 000081

Most days when I read a Saint Louis Post Dispatch Editorial I put down the paper shaking my head with the thought, with friends like this, who needs enemies. Wannabe Celebrity Editor Tony Messenger, @tonymess, with only 8,784 Twitter followers, is the best thing going in Missouri for the reactionaries and neo-reactionaries of the Missouri GOP.

Why such a difference with Mr. Messenger?

First, he lacks the skill, ability, and insight to invert a problem. Further, he and all the most post writers see but they do not observe. How do these lacks of skills work together?


  • Open Enrollment

Let's consider K-12 education in the Saint Louis Region, the City, West County, North County, and Francis Howell School District in Saint Charles.

The facts are these. The schools in the City, in North County, and in Francis Howell are failed or are failing, all due to a lack of money. Taking the last first:

ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. ( – The Francis Howell School District has a projected budget shortfall of $22 million dollars which may force the district to cut 80 jobs, half of which would be teaching positions.


“Where it gets tricky is you have, as an example, a first grade teacher retire, but you need to trim high school math,” said Dr. Steven Griggs, Human Resources Officer for the school district. “Sometimes the attrition and where you need to trim don’t match.”


Francis Howell has more than 17,000 students, 1300 teachers, 900 district employees, and a projected budget of $203 million dollars. Griggs says he expects most of the job cuts could be handled through employees taking jobs elsewhere or retiring.


One resident, Randy Watson, is critical of district’s decision and says they brought this predicament on themselves. “Our average teacher makes about $58,200. Next is Fort Zumwalt and that average teacher makes about $52,000. I’m not against teachers getting raises, but we don’t have the funds to pay for them.”



Read more:

Mr. Messenger's non-solution for this problem is two fold.  First, he proposes that the successful schools in West County be forced through Open Enrollment to accept more students without any increases in revenue or funding. If he inverted or observed he would know that solution would not work for fundamental reasons.

First, when you invert a school district and look from the bottom up and not the top down you will see that its primary mission is not education. The primary mission of every school district, when inverted, is to provide free public transportation of students to school. Inverting allows one to see that the secondary mission is providing education during the period of time when students wait to be transported home in the evening, again for free. Advocates for open schools are, in effect, advocating for abandonment of the primary mission of schools. Since open enrollment plans never include transportation, and the taxes necessary for transporting students greater distances, they are never talking about reality.

Second, open enrollment advocates never observe the market or supply of teachers. Presumably, those who support open enrollment believe that teachers in West County schools are better teachers than those available elsewhere. If true, then open enrollment cannot work unless one also increases the supply of entirely new teachers. What is accomplished by transferring an lower skilled teacher from the City to Clayton to teach the same students?

Thus, for open enrollment to work, teacher salaries must go up to attract new or better teachers. Professor Brad Delong here (Proposal 2) explains current teacher compensation in the United States where we presently use non-cash compensation, in the form of tenure and job security, to hire teachers at below market salaries. 

Again, Mr. Messenger disregards these facts. While he proposes open enrollment he never talks about from where the money will come to pay the higher teacher salaries necessary to make such a program work.

Last, Mr. Messenger never inverts and asks, How will voters in the West County districts react to open enrollment. The West County districts which Mr. Messenger wants to force open are not closed now. They are open to anyone who wants to move into the district and pay the local taxes that fund these districts, which "self fund." This means that they fund by local real property taxes instead of relying upon Missouri's School Foundation Formula.

By advocating for open enrollment Mr. Messenger is advocating for the kind of mooching and free riding that makes Missouri famous. A family could choose to live in a low tax district---and use Hancock to resist increases in their taxes by voting against such---and send their students to Clayton.

Under such a system Clayton voters will soon loose their appetite for funding their schools.


  • Fully Funding the Foundation Formula to the tune of $400 Millions

Mr. Messenger also frequently writes advocating fully funding the Foundation Formula. The Foundation Formula is Missouri's plan to kill the Goose, St. Louis and Kansas City, that lays the golden egg by taxing these two regions and spending the money out-state in lieu of imposing adequate taxes on farmland. The lack of adequate funding for out-state schools is assured by our State Constitution and Law's discriminate in the favor of agricultural and horticultural property.

If effect, under Missouri's current system of school funding, taxpayers in Saint Louis and Kansas City, living in self-funding school districts, via state sales and income taxes, are paying the principal amounts spent to educate children in out-state Missouri. 

When Mr. Messenger advocates for fully funding the Foundation Formula he does not mention that this will not increase (significantly) the funding for schools in Saint Louis.

Further, he fails to reason through whether this new funding could result in an increase in education quality.

It is an unfortunate reality that merely raising an employee's compensation does not get you a better and more productive employee. Raising funding for schools works, but only if you do one or both of two things:

First, you use the money to train current teachers or to provide a more effective learning environment or better teaching tools or for similar improvements.

Second, you use the money to hire new teachers with higher skills.

Republicans distrust raising the Foundation Formula because they believe that school districts will merely us the new funds to raise current teacher salaries without any increase in education quality.

As Professor Delong explains:

Teachers will fight attempts to disrupt security of employment unless they have confidence that the grand bargain by which they trade security for higher salaries will be kept — which they do not have. Fiscal conservatives will fight teacher-salary increases unless they are confident that the Democratic Party-public sector union complex will then disarm itself of its weapons — which they are not.

This is where the tone of the Post Dispatch, set by Mr. Messenger, is of no help whatsoever. 

Under Governor Nixon a grand bargain was available over Education over the last six years.

If the Post Dispatch had focused on the unfairness of St. Louis and Kansas City paying more taxes for higher teacher salaries in out-state during years in which farmers were enjoying record and near record incomes and farmland prices, the stage could have been set for an agreement on raising out-state taxes and assuring that new monies merely did not go to higher salaries for existing teachers.

Mr. Messenger goes not think and advocate in these terms because a solution is in conflict with his base motive which is to become a celebrity pundit of the Left.