Mike Kueber's Blog

June 19, 2012

Aphorism of the week #14 – throwing good money after bad

Filed under: Education — Mike Kueber @ 9:24 pm
Tags: , ,

Today’s edition of the San Antonio Express-News headlined an article about a proposed increase in the city’s sale tax.  As I was reading the article, I couldn’t help but think about the aphorism, “throwing good money after bad.” 

According to the E-N article, the sales tax in San Antonio is 8 1/8%, and the state will, upon the request of a city’s voters, collect an additional 1/8% sales tax for city projects.  San Antonio is preparing to ask its voters to request the additional tax, which will be used to provide pre-k schooling to 4,000 four-year-old children in San Antonio.

A blue-ribbon task force studied a variety of educational initiatives for over a year and ultimately chose the pre-k program over programs that aimed to reduce the number of dropouts or increase college enrollment, and that makes sense to me.  “A stitch in time saves nine.” 

The article indicates that San Antonio has 20,000 four-year olds, and 16,000 are already eligible for a pre-k program.  Furthermore, 12,000 of those kids (75% of the eligibles) are already enrolled in federal government’s Head Start or a similar state-funded program.  Thus, San Antonio’s new initiative will have an objective of providing pre-k schooling to the other 4,000 eligibles (25%).

My problem with the proposed initiative is that there is no solid evidence that pre-k schooling works; instead the cheerleading article says the following – “high-quality prekindergarten programs have been shown to effect (sic) everything from high school completion rates to the likelihood that participants will develop a smoking habit.”  What does a high-quality pre-k program have to with San Antonio?  If our early-education efforts that are applied to 75% of the eligible kids are failing, why should we spend $29 million a year extending those efforts to the remaining 25%? 

I recently blogged about the difference between fair and objective reporting.  The Express-News article’s author Josh Baugh apparently doesn’t bother with either.  Fair reporting means to give both sides the opportunity to make their case, and apparently Baugh felt the anti-tax case could be fully articulated in less than half of a sentence – “Derided by some as taxpayer-funded baby-sitting….”  By contrast, Baugh supported the pro-tax case with multiple experts and reports. 

Objective reporting means using neutral language and not conveying your personal feelings.  While using “derided” in connection with the anti-tax case, Baugh uses the following words and phrases in his pro-tax case – blue-ribbon, strengthen the city’s workforce, centers of excellence, dramatic, significant change, significant economic impact.

Baugh used a similar technique in reporting on the task force’s decision to ratify Mayor Castro’s mandate that the money should go to a single program – “… with one caveat from Castro: a focus on a single initiative rather than attempting to spread the money to programs in a patchwork fashion.”  The decision to go with a single initiative was apparently such a no-brainer that any discussion of any alternatives was unnecessary.  After all, who would prefer a patchwork when we can simply double down on something that is already not working?



  1. There have been lots of studies that show that pre-K has value. What they ALSO show is that any advantage gained by/for the youngster completely disappears by grade two.

    It truly is a babysitting program looking for youngsters that aren’t currently enrolled in a government program. Perhaps the parent(s) simply aren’t interested or don’t want it? Perhaps many of those children are in private schools or daycare?

    Just because everyone eligible doesn’t participate doesn’t mean the taxpayers need to fund a search and seize program.

    Comment by bobbevard — June 19, 2012 @ 11:49 pm | Reply

  2. […] why didn’t I think about that when I blogged a few weeks ago about Mayor Castro’s so-called Pre-K 4 SA […]

    Pingback by The priorities of San Antonio city government « Mike Kueber's Blog — August 7, 2012 @ 7:11 pm | Reply

  3. […] few months ago, when I first blogged about Pre-K 4 SA, I expressed concern that taxpayers were being asked to throw good money after bad.  This concern was based on the fact […]

    Pingback by Pre-K 4 SA « Mike Kueber's Blog — October 9, 2012 @ 2:13 pm | Reply

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