Tag Archives: The Kalamazoo Promise

The old hometown looks the same

A few years ago some fellow Kalamazooans created the  "Kalamazoo Promise,"  a privately-funded program that guarantees four years of in-state public university tuition for anyone who graduates from a Kalamazoo public school with at least four years of continuous enrollment.  It's a little more complicated than that, but you can read the details here

Sounds like a grand idea, if you live in The Kalamazoo Public School District.  Not so much, perhaps, if you live nearby and need to sell your house in a down housing market.  It might also not be such a good idea if you have to go to school in a neighboring school district.  The tax drain might put the squeeze to the school funding. 

But that's speculation.  As luck would have it, Conor Williams, the winner of the Washington Post's "So you think you can pundit" contest (seriously there is one), is from Kalamazoo as well.  Luck would also have it that he devotes his first (I think) column to the Kalamazoo Promise.  Down several paragraphs he writes:

This is also a perfect way to cut across ideological lines in the education reform wars. Small-government advocates get a chance to prove – as they often claim – that private philanthropy can address social injustices more effectively than public initiatives can. After all, what better way to shrink the size of government by proving its programs unnecessary? Meanwhile, progressives can applaud the emphasis on equal opportunity and the constructive approach to improving student performance without demonizing teachers or administrators.

I think, however, small government advocates cannot make this argument.  The Kazoo (that's what we call it) Promise has it that kids who go to public schools (not private ones) get a scholarship to a public university (in Michigan).  What they have done, in other words, is tax themselves, and earmark the money for public college education.  It grows, or perhaps prevents from shrinking, the schools in the Kalamazoo Public System, and it grows, or again prevents from shrinking, the state university system.  Government involvement in education, in other words, remains the same or bigger. 

What also remains in place–and perhaps needs some tweaking–is the way we fund public education–property taxes.  The people who move or remain in the KPS for this reason still pay those.  Only now they're getting an added public benefit, on account of the very laudable supererogatory self-taxation of a few (likely very rich) people.