Pay to Learn: Which Side are You On?

Education reform is a good thing. Trying new things when the same old efforts fail generally makes a lot of sense. Innovation to improve student performance and graduation rates is something to applaud — for the most part.

But what about paying students for their accomplishments? Not pizza parties and "no homework for a day" passes, but cell phones and cold, hard cash. Below are two excerpts from a Governing magazine article. It’s an interesting read. Personally, I fall much closer to the second camp and give the programs under way in some big cities "A’s" for intentions and much lower scores for fairness and long-term impact.

“It’s been outstanding for us,” says Laverne Nimmons, the principal of P.S. 335. “The students took to it immediately.” Nimmons sees cash incentives not only as an academic motivator for students but also a ticket out of poverty. “When you get into wealthier, upper-middle class families, you get parents who reward their children for good grades. They pay for after-school programs or private tutors to help improve their grades.” Those are luxuries that Nimmons’ students can’t afford. “These are children in an impoverished community. There are no rewards. With this program, we’re just trying to create a level playing field.”

Opponents of incentives programs, including experts in education and child psychology, say bonus money won’t change students’ study habits in any lasting way. In fact, they argue, the incentives may backfire and hurt student performance in the long run. Others are simply uncomfortable with the social implications of paying some students to learn but not others. “It becomes a condescending situation,” says Heather MacDonald, an author who has written about education for the Manhattan Institute. “I just find it troubling that half of society is paying the other half to do something the first half already knows it should be doing. Who is in the paying class and who is in the paid class? How do you explain to one group of students that they should value education for its own sake while some of their classmates are getting money for the exact same thing?” 

Definitely Wapner: Could a “Loser Pays” Civil Justice System Be What America Needs?

A new report from the Manhattan Institute asks a very intriguing question: If the losers in civil court cases had to pay the winners’ legal fees, would it cut down on the abundance of frivolous lawsuits in the United States? Naturally, they believe the answer is "yes":

In addition to being overly expensive, American litigation is all too often inefficient and unfair. The fees and expenses incurred by lawyers on both sides of a lawsuit are almost as costly as transfer payments to plaintiffs claiming injury. Mass tort litigation, for example, over asbestos, has been exposed as rife with fraud. Small businesses are regularly besieged with nuisance suits that they must settle if they hope to avoid crippling legal costs. Last year’s $54 million lawsuit against a small Washington-area dry cleaner alleging that it had lost a pair of pants was remarkable not only for the astronomical damages claimed but also the almost $100,000 in legal fees incurred in successfully defending against it. In American law, even when a defendant wins a lawsuit, he loses.

This study explores the likely effects of adopting a "loser pays" rule for attorneys’ fees in the United States. Loser pays, sometimes called the "English rule" but actually, in essence, the rule in place in the rest of the world, refers to the policy of reimbursement by the parties who lose in litigation of the winners’ legal expenses, including attorneys’ fees. This study argues that loser pays could be an important part of a larger effort to reduce litigation costs, better compensate prevailing litigants, and better align tort law with its goal of deterring socially harmful conduct. A loser-pays rule would discourage meritless lawsuits, but because any such rule should also ensure plaintiffs of modest means but strong legal cases access to justice, our proposal calls for:

  1. A robust litigation insurance industry similar to those that now exist in other loser-pays countries; and

  2. A cap on recoverable fees to eliminate the incentive that large litigants might have to attempt to "buy a verdict" under loser pays.

So what do you think? Is this true justice, or could it be unfairly manipulated somehow?