The Learning Quest



Timothy Baird, Ed.D.


Teachers continue to explore new and interesting ways to delve into design and research learning units.  DREAMS (Design, Research, Engineering, Art, Math, and Science) provides a framework for thinking about the process skills and the content areas but it doesn’t provide an instructional model for doing the work. Perhaps the best instructional model being used currently is the 5E Instructional Model (Bybee and Landes, 1990). Even this model has its limitations. The 5E model is designed to create a learning cycle of Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.  This can help organize thinking related to planning a unit but it doesn’t identify key steps in each area of the cycle. It also doesn’t ensure that specific action steps such as asking questions or looking at the issue from different perspectives take place.

That is what drove me to create the Learning Quest. There is nothing new in this model. These are all practices that teachers use on a regular basis.  What The Learning Quest does provide is a step by step framework that a teacher can use to create a design or research based learning unit.


The model is based upon the following steps, Question, Understand, Experiment/Experience/Explore, Solve, and Tell.  Each step has specific actions that can be modified based upon the needs of the teacher and the learner.  The model can also be slightly adjusted and used to solve a specific problem, set up a design challenge, or simply focus work on interesting research questions.


Question(s) –    Formulate the Leading Question: What is the Leading Question to be answered?  The Leading Question is best if it is a real-world problem that you are trying to address.  Anything that can be answered with a Google search or it is something that the teacher already knows the answer is probably not the best Leading Question.  Leading Questions start the process and focus the follow-up questions, designs, and research on this big picture issue.  Leading Questions should be focused enough that they can be answered but broad enough that they can be approached from many different perspectives.

Teacher Tip – Initially this is probably a teacher task. However, as the learners get more skillful at Learning Quests, learners can eventually create their own Leading Questions.

  • Use the Question Formulation Technique: What new questions arise from the leading question? – Learners brainstorm all questions that they have about the topic. Questions can then be grouped by common factors or themes.

Teacher Tip – Teachers can be in control of this activity but the learners need to be the ones asking the questions.  The teacher can eventually release control of grouping by common factors or themes as the learners become more skillful at the process.

Understand  –   Task Understandings: What parameters do we want to put on this unit?

  1. Time – What is our timeline for this Quest?
  2. Team –   Who will I work with on this Quest?
  3. Task – What format will our answer take?
  4. Technique – If known, how will we try to solve the Quest?
  5. How will we share our work?


  • Perspective Understandings:
  1. Personal– What existing perspective, knowledge, beliefs, or bias do I start with about this issue? What impact does that have on my work?
  2. Audience– What do I need to understand or know about the impacted audience that this QUEST is focused on that will help me do this work more effectively?
  3. Nature– Is there anything that I can learn from nature or natural solutions that would help inform my work on this task?
  • Question Topics: What big ideas or concepts do I need to learn, know, or experience to answer the questions that have been raised? Which ones will I focus on in this unit?

Teacher Tip –  Teachers will probably establish the task understandings.  The learners and teachers will probably work together on the remainder of this part of the Learning Quest.

Experiment/ Experience/Explore   –   Starting the Work to answer our questions:

What experiments should I conduct to solve the Quest?

What learning experiences should occur to help me solve the Quest?

How can we explore these ideas deeper?

What data will help guide our work?

Teacher Tip –  Teachers can have as much or as little control around this part of the       work as they desire.  Some experiences and experiments may require preparation time before the Learning Quest begins, so the teacher may need to organize these.

Solve  –   Create solutions to the Quest:

Create prototypes if solving a design challenge. (Optional)

Answer specific questions that help to understand driving questions.

Design multiple iterations of solutions.

Use critical feedback and reflection to improve design or refine research.

Analyze various solutions that address understandings and answer leading question.

Evaluate and concisely determine best answer(s) to leading question.

Teacher Tip –  This is a learner task.

Tell – Tell your story

Who is the audience?  Why do they care about this?

What format / media do you use to tell the story?

Answer the leading question.

Teacher Tip – This is a learner task but must follow the task understandings section.



A blank Learning Quest Instructional Model Design Template is on the following page.  Feel free to modify and change the model to suit instructional or learner needs.

































          Leading Question –


        Follow-up Questions (Use Question Formulation Technique) –


       Key Themes to Explore –




          Task Understandings –

  1. Time Frame –
  2. Team(s) –
  3. Task –
  4. Technique –


Perspective Understandings –

  1. Personal Perspectives
  2. Audience Perspectives
  3. Nature Perspectives


        Big Ideas / Themes / Areas of Inquiry / Focus Areas –




         Preplanned Activities –


Design Work –


        Research Work –




       Identify Potential Solutions –


Analysis and Evaluation of Solutions –

  1. Addresses Understandings
  2. Answers Leading Question




            Audience –


Format of Presentation



  • Tim Baird

It has been painful to watch the recent dispute between players and owners of the NFL over the players’ right to protest during the playing of the National Anthem.  Although this expression of free speech did not start out as a personal battle between these two groups, it has slowly devolved into one.  I’m afraid that as this issue takes on darker overtones of racial tension between the all white owners and the 70% black players, resolution of this conflict will slip further away.  That’s a shame because this unnecessary conflict is hampering both sides from achieving what they want.  What is needed now, is an experienced school administrator to step in and stop this dispute before we lose sight of the real issues on both sides of this debate.

I will admit that I am biased when I state that what is needed now to help resolve this divide is a school administrator.  I’m sure that there are other skilled mediators out there who could also help.  But as a long-time school administrator, I have seen many of these types of disputes and proposed solutions before.  If not managed carefully, this can lead to a situation where both sides lose.

The recent ruling by the NFL owners to fine teams every time players take a knee during the National Anthem is a great example of this.  I have made this same mistake when I served as a high school principal.  In our high school, we had two different “gangs” that rivaled each other.  Both groups came from different parts of our community. This was a rural / suburban area so these were not hardened criminal gangs but there was still much posturing on both sides that sometimes resulted in fighting.  As with any team, both groups had to have a uniform, so they began by wearing hats with letters identifying their specific neighborhood. I knew immediately what to do.  I banned those specific hats.  They switched to specific colors of shirts.  I banned those.  They moved to different belt buckles, then shoelaces, then different hats, and on and on.  I learned a tough lesson.  It is difficult to legislate the details because someone will just change the details. Although the NFL policy actually forbids anything that shows disrespect for the flag, they purposely called out kneeling.  Owners might argue that they have accounted for the details with this somewhat vague policy but the reality is that whether they are specific or vague about the details, they don’t want to get into a definition war with the players over what constitutes respect or disrespect.

We see this happen right now in a number of areas.  Almost every week, we read about new designer drugs being created that are legal because the specific laws haven’t caught up with that exact formula yet.  The same is true for gun restriction legislation.  Laws against specific guns and equipment are simply avoided through minor modifications of the equipment.

I expect that the NFL players will probably respond in kind.  They will respond in a dozen different ways forcing the owners to have to respond in equal measure to every specific action.  If I were the players, I would address this by standing up for the Anthem while holding up a card that reads, “I respect the National Anthem and my country.  However, my first amendment rights to free speech are being restricted.  Also, Black Lives Matter.”  Is this a violation of the new policy?  Not according to the policy.

Here is where I would apply my second school administrator lesson.  When addressing a potential dispute, a good school administrator will look for common ground or understanding.  This is frequently done when working with parents when their child has broken some rule or is not doing well in class.  This can be a point of contention or you can come together as adults who care about the child and try and find the right supports to address the issue.  Effective school administrators always try to build the connection to a common goal before these difficult conversations.  This is also true in difficult negotiations with teachers. Finding common ground and working together toward solutions that help everyone are always the goal here.

How does this apply to the NFL situation?  There are legitimate issues on both sides of this issue.  Owners are concerned that the players actions are being misinterpreted by the fan base as being unpatriotic.  This has the potential to lose fans and devalue their team. This ultimately could lead to teams having less income to spend on players’ salaries and benefits.  Thus, everyone could potentially lose in that situation.  The players have an equally compelling point.  They are using their star status to draw attention to a serious social issue impacting the black community.  Their message of, “Black Lives Matters,” is largely misunderstood by the white fan base of professional football.  The players are uniquely positioned to bring this message to a larger audience because of their national status.  The truth is that NFL team owners should realize that since their workforce primarily comes from the black community, they should also care about this issue and help the players to amplify the message, not work to attack the form that the message takes.

Here is what a school administrator would recommend to both sides. Stop making this about the National Anthem.  The players’ message is not against the Anthem or even the country itself.  It is about how African Americans are treated in this country at many levels, including how they are dealt with by some law enforcement agencies.  A school administrator would encourage owners to sit down with the players and talk about how they could help players amplify this message.  A school administrator would also sit down with the players and let them know that their current protest is being twisted to mean something that wasn’t intended and therefore the real message is being missed.  Try a different approach.

Here is the campaign that a school administrator might put forward for both sides.  Owners and players come out together in a united front.  Players come out in support of the National Anthem and our country. Owners tell the nation that players were never being unpatriotic.  Owners, with the players, make the statement that Black Lives Matter and that they are going to put resources toward resolving the issue.  Owners should advertise the issue in their stadiums and publications. Imagine if “Black Lives Matter,” came up on the scoreboard after the National Anthem.   In addition, owners should work with the players to fund a national information campaign on the issue.  They also could commit resources to the black community to address related issues of poverty, housing, education, job training, and health care. Owners could also contribute to police training around cultural sensitivity.  Owners could hire Colin Kaepernick to be their spokesperson for this campaign. They could also stop blacklisting him from getting picked up by a team since he should be judged on his skills and ability to be an NFL quarterback not his politics.  Together, owners and players could work together to address issues that are important to the players and our country.  At the same time, the players would support the owner’s request to not alienate some of their fan base over the misperceived issue of lack of patriotism.

This is how a school administrator would work to resolve this dispute.  Both sides would have to agree to help each other achieve their goals.  Otherwise, everyone gets detention.

Failing to Fail


Timothy Baird, Ed.D.

The new mantra heard in the boardroom and much of today’s leadership training is “Fail early and fail often.”  We now have conferences devoted to failure.  Leadership work groups spend dedicated time celebrating their most recent failures.  New books on failure are emerging all the time.  In our headlong rush to embrace failure, we are failing to notice one important point.  Despite our new failure philosophy, we really don’t understand what we are celebrating and we truly aren’t living this philosophy, despite the parties, plaques, and public sharing of our most recent setbacks.

This came to my attention recently, when I heard a very articulate high school junior publicly lamenting her personal difficulty with failure.  In her world (and most of ours) failure is punished and we are rewarded only when we succeed.  Failure on tests or papers leads to serious consequences for a high school student looking to establish a strong academic record for college applications.  How do we reconcile this reality with our new focus on failure philosophy?

First, I believe that we need to understand what we are talking about when we say failure.  There are many ways to fail and many forms of failure.  Some are not failures that we wish to embrace.  No one wants to use a parachute from a company whose motto is, “Fail early and fail often.”  You don’t want this to be the personal philosophy of your heart surgeon or even your car mechanic.  Your ATM better not fail.  So, we need to clearly identify the parameters of failure that make failure either a positive event or a horrific nightmare. That means we have to more clearly identify the meaning of failure.  There are random failures, research failures, and design failures that all have different causes of the failure and different purposes for potentially using the failure to move forward.

Random failures are simply mistakes that happen to all of us.  They may originate in not planning well or rushing into something.  They may be the result of changing environmental factors or just bad luck.  Whatever the cause, we all make random mistakes in our lives and work.  The results of these random mistakes can sometimes be serious.  It was the failure of a poorly designed O-ring seal that led to the Challenger space shuttle disaster resulting in 7 deaths.

These random mistakes can be informative.  If we learn from this type of failure and don’t repeat it in the future, then random failure can be a positive thing.  However, I don’t believe this is what we are truly trying to embrace when we talk about, “Failing early and failing often.”  When we are talking about failure being part of the planning process, we are really talking about a very different type of failure.  These are the failures found within the process skills of research and design.

These processes are truly not building off of failure.  I would more accurately call what happens in this work iterative successes and informed and measured risk taking.  Let’s start with research failure.  I define research in two distinct areas, information literacy and the scientific process.  Both of these processes can start with a question that leads to testing to get answers.  We need to explore answers to these questions (some of which lead to dead ends) to make progress.  This is clearly observed in the scientific process.  The story of Edison and his team perfecting the incandescent bulb is a great example of this.  This team tried over 3000 different theories before finally coming up with the forerunner to today’s modern-day lightbulb.  Were these attempts failure?  I would term this work as 3000 successful designs showing what didn’t work.  This allowed the scientists to finally find something that did work.  This is how science works and this gets closer to the idea of, “Failing early and failing often,” to get the results that one wants.

That leads us to design or design thinking where this concept is truly developed.  In design thinking, the designer has to work through a series of steps.  These include: thinking up the question or questions that they are trying to solve; understanding the parameter of the question including who the audience for their work will be and what do they want; researching the questions; attempting to test, experiment, and explore solutions to the questions: and then ultimately coming up with a final solution and sharing that solution with the audience.

Failure can occur at every step in this process.  Here is where the real meaning of, “Fail early and fail often,” comes into play.  Failure at the questioning, understanding, testing, experimenting, and exploring phases helps guide the work and allows the designer to improve on their work throughout the process.  Asking lots of questions and thinking up new crazy ideas often leads to important findings or other new ideas.  Testing the user needs and designing multiple models and prototypes of ideas leads to better ideas.  At this stage, more failure is often better.  Failure at later stages in the design process can still be helpful but the closer the designer gets to a final product, the consequences of failure become more serious and costly.  Strategic failures early make for a stronger final product.  This again is not really failure but informed and measured risk taking.  The purpose of this risk taking is to lead the designer to new information that will then be applied in the final design.  Even saying final design is not accurate.  Every new final design of a product or plan is really just the beginning of the next design challenge.

When we talk about failing early and often, we really are celebrating effective research and design principles.  These include using the scientific process to test theories.  It also includes informed and measured risk taking and testing multiple iterations of ideas.  The overarching concept is that we learn from our experiences and then apply this learning to new settings.

Let’s go back to our high school junior and see how this applies to her and many of her fellow students.  Much of our school experiences now have the look and feel of final products.  In many schools today, students are frequently denied the early stages of research and design as they try to establish their own meaning of new learning.  They have no opportunities to fail and learn from their failures.  They aren’t given options to try multiple iterations to see what works.  They are taught that learning is a one-shot game that requires a win every time to be successful.  It was a good thing that Edison’s team was not given the same guidelines.  Otherwise, I might be trying to write this in the dark.  We need to recognize that it is not just random failure that should be celebrated.  We need to focus on planned failure found in design and research strategies that impact future learning.

A great place to start this work would be in our schools. Students and teachers need to be given the same opportunities to use failure to learn and improve that we give our researchers and scientists.  Then we can begin to truly succeed at failing.











We All Can Use More Dog Time

I promised last time that this entry would be about puppies.  It has been a challenging few weeks in our nation’s schools following the tragedy in Parkland, Florida.  So we are going to talk about puppies… and a few older dogs as well.

When you enter El Camino Creek Elementary School, it will not take very long before you come across a four legged furry friend ready to greet you.  There are fourteen therapy dogs on the campus ready to read a book with you, calm you down after an incident on the playground, or just sit quietly at your feet while you work on a math problem.  You can read all about them and see their bios and stories on the Love On A Leash Wall in the office.

The therapy dog program at El Camino Creek School is part of the Love On A Leash Program.  Love On A Leash began back in the 1980s in San Diego County.  It has since spread to almost every state in the nation.  The program stresses the positive power of pet therapy to provide people of ages with emotional comfort and companionship.  These are not service dogs or even trained emotional support animals.  Their job is pretty simple and incredibly important.  They are there to snuggle, lick your hand, and be your friend.  All dogs do go through rigorous training and evaluation to ensure that they are safe with all types of people and settings.

So what is the impact of these dogs?  Discipline problems at El Camino Creek seldom occur.  Students and staff often take a few minutes to stop and pet a dog whenever they are having a bad day.  Students eagerly volunteer to feed and clean up after the dogs.  There is a powerful sense of community and connection on the campus that is supported by the dogs’s presence.

Other schools in the Encinitas Union School District are following suit.  There are now therapy dogs at two other schools in the District.  Starting a program is relatively easy.  Schools need the approval of the site administrator.  The dog and the handler (usually a school employee) go through training and evaluation.  Schools that have a Love On A Leash Program must provide classrooms without dogs for those students who are allergic.  Finally, it is important for the school to have procedures in place for access to the pets, cleanliness, and routines for cleaning and feeding that don’t take away from regular instruction.

I don’t know if more dogs in schools can help prevent tragedies like Parkland in the future.  But I do know that every student stopping to pet Shadow when entering school that day, walks to their classroom with a smile.  Maybe that’s a start.

Here is a great article on therapy dogs:









A New Path Forward For California School Funding

So last week was about tax dollars and this week is about school funding.  I promise that I’m not just going to talk about money issues but tis the season.  Next week, I’ll try and talk about puppies or ice cream or something fun.

With Governor Brown proposing to fully fund the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) for California Schools one year early, we now find ourselves at a new crossroads.  The Governor terms out next year and although the funding formula will stay in place, many new ideas are going to be put forward as we look to the next stage of California school funding.  Let me start that conversation with a new idea that I have been thinking about.

First, this is not a discussion or plea for additional funding for California schools.  That is a given.  Our state remains among the poorest funded educational systems in the nation.  This needs to change immediately. Lots of people and organizations are addressing this.  Most recently, CSBA has put forth a resolution for school district endorsement calling for full and fair funding for California Schools.  Let’s do that.

The conversation that I want to have is around how funding is given to districts.  The LCFF process is an equity-based funding system.  Districts get base funding, supplemental funding based upon numbers of students in at-risk populations, and concentration funding for districts that have large numbers of students in these at-risk populations.  Before the LCFF, the state would give general funding that school districts could use as they determined and also categorical funding.  Categorical funding could only be used as designated.  Elaborate systems of funding and accountability were set up to coordinate this targeted and convoluted system of school budgeting.  Eventually, there were over 50 categorical programs in place.  When LCFF came into existence, most districts did not miss the complication of categorical programs and they appreciated the new local decision making they were given.  However, every year, there is increasing pressure to bring categorical programs back.

My idea starts with retaining the basic concept of LCFF.  It has accomplished a more equitable distribution of funding to districts that have greater needs. There is a great uproar in many communities, though, that the money is not going to support the students that generated the additional funding.  This complaint is creating much of the push backwards toward categorical funding.  There is also severe pressure put on school districts to put much of this new funding into teacher salaries.  This combined set of pressures around what priorities drive district spending and how much direction the state gives districts on this spending threaten to undermine the entire LCFF process.

Let’ begin with some basic agreements.  I believe that teachers deserve to be well compensated for their work.  School district employees as a whole are often on a compensation rollercoaster that goes up steeply in good times and drops in bad times.  This creates organizational turmoil for most school districts.  Districts and employee unions are frequently in conflict over these dramatic shifts in funding where employees are trying to get more compensation today because tomorrow may bring furloughs and budget cuts.  This dynamic creates the community angst over dollars going toward compensation when it could be supporting educational programs, materials, and facilities.

Here’s my idea.  What if the state didn’t tell us how to spend the money but they were more prescriptive about what percentage gets spent on compensation?  I would start with the same LCFF base, supplemental, and concentration buckets.  I would also add a few new categorical program areas that would be funded on state derived formulas.

The categorical programs would be dollars that are set aside for district cost increases that are created by state action or market economics.  These programs could include increased pension costs, increased utility costs, increased special education costs, increased step and column costs, etc.  The goal would be to limit the number of categoricals to areas that have to be addressed in the district budget anyway.  This should not be a tool to create new programs!

Supplemental and concentration dollars would then continue to be used to support at-risk students.  There could be greater restrictions put in place on how these dollars could be spent.  Any dollars spent in these areas on compensation would have to go toward additional support personnel or specialized funding supporting teachers in high risk schools.  This money could not be spent on generic raises.

Finally, there would be the new base funding.  The state could end most of the labor strife that we currently see by dictating that districts would have to spend a percentage of these dollars on total compensation for employees.  If the state determined that 80% or 85% (many districts fall in this range) of these dollars went toward employee compensation, then the remainder of the money after that would be available for true district discretion.

There would have to be provisions made for districts in financial difficulties.  If districts were in danger of becoming insolvent there could be different sets of rules that kicked in that diverted funds toward district solvency.

If the state were to help districts pay their mandatory cost increases first and then dictated a statewide percentage going toward employee compensation, many problems would be eliminated. Communities would be satisfied that their children’s needs were being met. Districts would be able to pay their bills and not have to fight with their teachers over compensation.  Teachers would be able to expect a fair process for getting compensation every year.  Everyone wins in this model which is why is probably will never be adopted.

That’s this week’s Cup of Supe.  Once again, bigger than a cup but not the tureen that I could have written.  Until next time.  I’ll try and remember – puppies, ice cream, or anything that isn’t about dollars.





The New Tax Plan


“When a bowlful is just too much”

Timothy Baird, Ed.D.

Welcome to my new blog.  So why does the world need another blog from a school superintendent?  It probably doesn’t.  However, I sometimes need to write things down to clarify my thoughts and process ideas.  These thoughts are not always about education.  Sometimes these ramblings turn into an article but many times they are just an idea examined.  So, this blog is more for me than you.  If you read it and get something out of it, you’re welcome.  If you read it and it makes you angry or you disagree with me, then respond back.  I love reasoned, respectful, and appropriate argumentation.  We don’t see enough of this anymore and it is my favorite way to push my own thinking.  I’m not really a fan of anonymous attacks or hate mail so save those for someone who may appreciate it more.  Other than that, have at it.

The title of my blog, beyond being a simple play on the word, “SUPE,” is also a reminder to me about brevity.  More often than not, I will use four pages to share something that probably could be said in two.  In some cases, I may reference a longer piece for those who would like more detail.  Trust me.  In most cases, a cup is plenty.

The New Tax Bill

 For my first blog topic, I decided (more like was driven) to write about the new federal tax system overhaul.  Right now, alarms are going off all over my district because some of my colleagues think that this is about to turn into a political piece.  Calm down everyone, because this is not a political piece in the traditional sense of the word.  Much has already been written about the Democrat vs. Republican sides of this debate.  We have also seen the discussion between competing economic theories on this.  These articles have been written already and you can read compelling insights from all sides of these debates somewhere else.

I wanted to write about this issue from a perspective that I haven’t seen written about anywhere.  That is the difference between public and private spending and how that factors into the arguments made on behalf of these tax cuts.

There are many arguments that have been made on behalf of overhauling the American tax system.  Many of these arguments resonate with most Americans.  The major goals stated are to create more jobs, reduce unemployment, and stimulate the economy.  There are other factors but these have been touted by lawmakers as the driving issues behind this work.

I would argue that Democrats and Republicans both agree with these major goals.  How to try and achieve them is where agreement breaks down.  The recently passed legislation follows a familiar line of thinking.  There are two major pushes in the bill.  The first is to give money back to individuals.  This will help individuals save more and also spend more in the economy.  Both of these outcomes could be helpful to the overall economy and spending more may stimulate job growth.  The second push is to reduce taxes for businesses.  Again, this may lead to more savings and jobs.  It also may lead to additional research and development which also might lead to more jobs.  Ultimately, the hope is that as business makes more money, they create jobs and put more money in the economy.

The two questions that I have not seen anyone ask so far are, “Where is this money coming from that we are giving back to individuals and businesses and what are the consequences of shifting these funds?”  These are critical questions.  The first answer is obvious.  The money that we are giving to individuals and businesses are tax dollars.  These are public funds that will not be available for public purposes.  The second question is critical.  If we are shifting over a trillion dollars in the next ten years from public to private money, will there be consequences?  Of course there will be, and these should have been discussed more thoroughly before the legislation was enacted.  Here is part of the conversation that we should have had:

Let’s start the discussion with some basic misrepresentations around public spending.  To be fair, no one likes to pay taxes.  However, we all want our communities to be safe, have good schools, functioning infrastructure, and sound government.  These things take money.  We often believe that government spending is largely unregulated and there is waste and fat aplenty.  Any organization may have these problems, including businesses.  However, government tends to be more regulated, more structured, and less prone to these things by design.  Government operates in the open under public scrutiny.  As the superintendent of a public school system, we run all of our Board meetings in public.  Our books are open to everyone.  Everything from emails to planning documents are open to review and we get requests for this information all the time.  Public CEO salaries are miniscule compared to private.  Despite some well publicized breeches of public trust, most governments operate more frugally and more openly than most private businesses because they are accountable to the public.

So, let’s get back to the tax system overhaul goals.  By flowing money to individuals to spend on business goods or by giving directly to businesses, the hope is that this may result in more job creation which will stimulate the economy.  There is a great deal of research out there taking exception to this line of thinking.  Recent experimentation in Kansas where large business tax breaks and corresponding reductions in taxes and public spending led to economic break down also show that this line of reasoning is not always correct.  But let’s not drift off in political or economic territory.  Let’s just accept that businesses may invest back in jobs but there are other ways to spend this money.  Businesses may invest in jobs but these jobs may not be in America.  More and more this is the case, particularly in lower level manufacturing jobs.  They also may invest in technology that takes the place of jobs.  Businesses also may just give higher executive compensation or pay more back to shareholders.  Also, they may just sit on the dollars to build up capital.  There are many options here, with job creation and U.S. economic development only being a few of them.

Public expenditures are very different.  Let me give you an example from my world, the school system.  School systems are people heavy industries.  85% to 90% of every dollar given to school systems are spent upon people.  More money to schools means more teachers, more nurses, and more of other types of support staff.  These people are all American workers.  They live in your town.  In many cases, public school districts are one of the largest employers in your town.  They spend their dollars at the grocery store, in local restaurants, at local shops, and on other local businesses.  More tax dollars for schools creates more local jobs which support other local jobs which grow the local economy.  This is not one possible outcome, it is the only possible outcome. Conversely, less tax dollars for schools means fewer local jobs.  These reduced jobs impact other local jobs and their absence directly negatively impacts the local economy.

This scenario is built around school spending but most government spending is similar.  Tax dollars at the local and state level are generally used to create jobs or buy goods and services from local providers.  When a city decides to do infrastructure improvements, it puts the job out to local contractors at good wages.  This is job creation and no organization is better at job creation than public entities.  Ironically, it is at the federal level where this is less regulated.  However, much of the tax income that goes to the federal government, is given back to individuals, local governments, and state governments.  Through this redistribution, federal tax dollars end up back in our local jobs and economies.

Now some of you may be saying, “Yes, that’s the problem, public entities hire too many people and pay them too much.”  We all can recount stories of driving by a Cal Trans road project and seeing one guy working and ten standing.  We may all laugh at the inefficiencies that we saw at the DMV (they have greatly improved by the way).  That’s not the point I’m making.  Remember, the goal was simply to create jobs and grow the economy.  We are not evaluating business on the types of jobs they create or quality of work they produce.  If business manages to add additional jobs and show that they are putting dollars back into the economy, this tax cut will be heralded as successful.  Why do we not use this same metric for public jobs?  It can also be argued that even if no new jobs were created but these public dollars were simply given to existing public workers then this money would be recirculated back into the economy.  Remember, part of the tax overhaul plan was to give money back to people so that it would be spent back in the economy.  These public dollars that go to public workers already do that.  Redistributing these dollars does not improve this outcome and may actually put it at risk.

If the goal is to grow jobs and put dollars back into the American economy (particularly at the local level) then we should be putting more money into public agencies (especially public schools – just my personal bias).  Yes, this means tax dollars.  Public agencies are better at job creation than private business.  There is no comparison.

That’s this week’s Cup of Supe.  As expected, it ran long and is probably closer to a full bowl.  Oh well, brevity is a resolution that I will continue to try and achieve.  Until next time …