People Shouldn’t Have Price Tags

One night a few years back, after too many drinks around our dining room table, a friend told us how he was recently recruited by his town’s superintendent to serve on the Board of Education. Newly enmeshed in the intricacies of the school budget, he was amazed that every penny in the multi-million dollar budget was already allocated towards items like teachers’ salaries and building maintenance with very little wiggly room for new innovative programs. In his working class community, taxes couldn’t be raised easily, so an unexpected emergency like a leaky roof could blow the budget.

He speculated about a potential emergency cost. “A family moves to town with an autistic kid, who needs to be sent to a special private school, and it’s $100,000 per year,” my friend exclaimed. “Over a million dollars, maybe two, in total for K-12. You know how many teachers I could hire for that!”

Read more at Apt. 11D, the newsletter

18 thoughts on “People Shouldn’t Have Price Tags

  1. I was thinking about your solution to the seemingly-unsolvable problems that you’re posing: “I mean, some people will need services, which will cost money, but it would be better for those numbers to be hidden and less resented by neighbors and even friends.” I think there is no way to hide numbers of any kind, and that no matter what, any taxpayer spending – federal, state, local – that goes to anyone thought “undeserving” in any way will be resented. Secrecy about this is impossible. So we have to convince people that everyone is deserving. I would love to believe that this can be done, and would love to figure out how to do it.


  2. I’ve been thinking a lot about this newsletter. I’m not sure what to do about the perception that particular individuals have a cost, which is sometimes misguided (people assess the costs in the short term and not the benefits in the long term). But, sometimes its not wrong, because some services are more expensive than others, or because the benefits do not accrue to the people who bear the costs.

    The American myth of “rugged individualism”, people, eg Ron Johnson, say things like “. . . it’s not ‘society’s responsibility’ to care for ‘other people’s children’ . . . .” Often that group doesn’t see all the ways in which society is supporting them. They imagine that they are taking care of themselves. When they need help, they see the help they need as being the result of circumstances out of their control, exceptional.

    They think they are “matchers” (an analysis where people in groups try to make the same contribution as others, as opposed to givers and takers who give as needed, or try to take more than they give, “winning”), but they notice their contributions and not the contributions of others. I haven’t found these arguments particularly effective in changing anyone’s minds (though I don’t know many people who admit to this point of view). It’s a management theory (, but I see it applying to government. The bottom line in the management books is that givers get ahead, but, at least partially because matchers punish the takers and try to promote the givers, because, matchers believe in fairness. But, matchers are also bad at evaluating themselves, so many who think they are matchers are actually takers.

    How does this apply to groups where people don’t know each other? as with student loans? Or with people who think that people with disabilities or children or parents are takers and should be punished? An interesting exercise.


    1. Management theory never does “extensive research”, but I do like proving the existence of takers and how you suppress them.


  3. I am more sanguine about the “hiding” of costs through pooling them at the federal level as an entitlement. Of course, the big part is not the hiding, but the pooling of resources so that the effect of high costs are borne by a bigger group of people. But, hiding happens, too, because people don’t pay attention to the individual cost of benefits programs in the same way that they do to local school budgets.

    The $300,000/year in cost for the out of state school placement for a girl with Prader-Willi syndrome stands out as a big cost in the Lincoln County School district (or even in Oregon state, where the 9th circuit required the placement) in a way that it just wouldn’t at the federal level.

    (Oregon State is supposed to pay 70% of the cost of “high cost” students, but not the entire amount, and sometimes the full grant isn’t made available)


  4. But fully funding the IDEA entitlement would require a different federal government, one that seems unimaginable right now, when even Democratic control isn’t enough to pass that kind of funding.


    1. bj said, “But fully funding the IDEA entitlement would require a different federal government, one that seems unimaginable right now, when even Democratic control isn’t enough to pass that kind of funding.”

      Yeah, gotta forgive six-figure earners’ college loans.


      1. Wait, I am repeatedly told that we can’t raise taxes on households that earn six figures because they need the money to live on, but heaven forbid we should forgive $10K of their college loan debt?


      2. Yes, jibes that an executive order might give some money to some “undeserving” people that are takers. But, maybe also considering the bill to fully fund IDEA: S.3213 – IDEA Full Funding Act?

        30 cosponsors, all Democrats (and Sanders), including the two senators from NJ. Our WA senators are not cosponsors and I am wondering why.

        There are approximately 7 million students with IEPs, 15% of the public school population (up from about 13.5% in 2010). I think we should be able to fund this entitlement centrally.

        (I don’t think this bill is going anywhere, but the venn diagram of those who oppose the student loan forgiveness and support the a bill fully funding IDEA is pretty small, so opposing those who oppose the forgiveness is probably a necessary component of seeing movement on IDEA)


      3. It doesn’t matter what we do — snark or no snark about college loan forgiveness. Fully funding IDEA isn’t going anywhere, and all of those bill sponsors know it. It’s symbolic support, because they know that will never be asked to go to the mat for this issue.

        I do have trouble getting woo-woo excited about college loan forgiveness, when nobody is doing anything for non-college going people like Ian.


      4. I don’t need anyone to be rah rah about student loan forgiveness. But, I always think working for a solution is worthwhile, and, I don’t think fully funding IDEA is a hopeless cause (though, certainly not a hopeful one, either). And, I think that it is the people who are are rah rah about student loan forgiveness who are more likely to fund IDEA, though some of them might complain about families who make more than 100K getting the benefit, too


      5. Cool. Are there actually people who think that public education should be free for every rich jock and tutor- enhanced AP kid, but a public education is only for special Ed kids, whose parents earn less than $100,000? Well, Rand Paul has his groupies, too!


      6. Yes, there are plenty of people who think that, if serving one person costs more than serving another — so the model where each child is allocated a certain cost. Say, the situation in New Orleans all charter system.

        I think the current model is trending towards public schools being for the poor and those with special needs (who may or may not get the resources they are entitled to based on the kindness of the school, the knowledge of their advocate, and the resources they have to fight for their rights). The poor don’t have enforceable rights, in most states.

        Mind you I don’t think that’s what schools should be, but that’s the model we end up if everyone is matching and we’re not talking about equity for everyone.


  5. This is exactly what my wife faced as a school mental health worker. She was forbidden to ever tell a parent their child needed inpatient or some others higher level of care because local law meant the school district was on the hook for at least some of the cost. She would try to get the parents to come to that conclusion on their own which meant some really insane conversations (and also having to look like an idiot when a parent had their child evaluated by someone outside of school who told them they needed care pronto). Nothing like a parent chewing you out in this situation while you make 56k. At least when a child threatened suicide or violence she could speak up.

    This took a toll. My wife is building her private practice while feeling guilty when she gets texts from her student at her old job.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. When Ian was in public school/pre-school-disabled program, the school sent him to their neurologist for an evaluation, who said that he didn’t have autism. Autism would mean ABA therapy, which is very expensive. Our idiot, old pediatrician said that he didn’t have it, and I was ignorant. Ian didn’t get a diagnosis until nearly 5, because a school OT hinted that we should take him to see a different neurologist. That OT got into massive trouble. Ian missed out on 3 years of ABA therapy, because the school took advantage of my ignorance.


    1. And all this cover-up comes from the top administrators. I know Ian’s teachers and therapists have felt guilty over the years about what has happened. Some literally can’t look me in the eye.


Comments are closed.