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Idaho Should Spend Money on Educational Bounties


Bounties are cash paid to promote trades. Idaho should adopt this once common, very American competitive education policy.


As a result of Gov. Brad Little’s Special Session gambit, Idaho now has over $400 million in undesignated funds to direct to education. The money may be directed toward “high demand” jobs, as the law provides. If the money must be spent, Idaho legislators should consider spending it on educational bounties. Pouring more money into the system itself leads to neither better results nor accountability. So money should be spent outside the system. That would be revolutionary.


Educational bounties are direct cash payments, going to individuals, when they are certified in certain skills like nursing or an auto mechanic. Giving individuals direct cash bounties or bonuses for genuine achievements would bring honor to professions that often do not receive any, encourage healthy ambition and competition, serve important state interests, and spend the money without the corrupt intervention of our education bureaucracies.


Individuals would earn bounties when they achieved entrance into a profession through passing a board exam or certification exam. No board exam would count if it was run through our education establishment. Only serious professional boards exams would count, as opposed to exams with very high pass rates.


It would work like this. There is a marked shortage of auto mechanics in Idaho. It is not easy to become an auto mechanic. Auto mechanics often must take two years of school and then do two years of apprenticeship under a certified car care dealer. After that preparation, they can pass the Automotive Service Excellence test, a test with a significant fail rate. Passing that exam makes someone, officially, an ASE certified auto mechanic. This is a significant achievement. When individuals pass the test, they would get a significant bounty from the state—say $50,000. The bounty has to be big enough to reward entry into that profession.


Other professions could get the same bounties. Engineers of most sorts must pass boards, after a long apprenticeship. HVAC servicemen must be certified. Same with plumbers (8,000 hours apprenticeship, among other requirements), nurses, electricians (8,000 hours plus an exam), welders, cyber-security experts (who do private testing instead of going through college programs), and perhaps accountants. Here is the rule: no genuine professional certification, no bounty.


Not enough people are entering these fields in Idaho. Bounties would encourage those entering these professions. Perhaps the reason for these shortfalls is that these jobs have high barriers to entry. There is a risk that people will not pass the exams, so making the reward larger makes sense.


Educational bounties are subject to several objections. Bounties are subsidies to certain professions, a picking of winners and losers. When governments subsidize activities, society usually gets more of what was subsidized and perhaps too much of that activity. Subsidies for auto mechanics might lead to too many auto mechanics. Another serious concern is that by incentivizing passing a serious certification test, we would create incentives to water down these serious tests. Serious tests would turn into fake tests, so that people could get bounties. These tests would come to resemble a high school diploma—an easy, almost universally-achieved “certification.”


There are ways to deal with these problems, however. The number of bounties could and should be capped at an appropriate number for each profession. Idaho might certify one hundred auto mechanics, for instance, but only those with the top fifty scores would get the bounty. Only certification tests that have fail rates of 30% or 25% would continue to keep bounties (nursing boards have a fail rate currently of 15%). The program would work best if it was small and competitive and emphasized genuine achievement.


There is a species of job known in the business as a bullshit job (if you will pardon the expression). A bullshit job that has no qualifications and no real responsibilities. If people doing such a job simply stopped coming to work, few would notice. They add little or no value to a company’s productivity. Estimates vary, but, David Graeber, author of the book Bullshit Jobs, thinks that about one-third of modern jobs fit this description.


A bounty program should never expand to less serious, bullshit jobs, but there would be pressure to expand it in that direction. Everything must be done to prevent watering down of a bounty program. Education bounties must never attach to bullshit jobs. They point to real education in jobs where people build things or repair things or do things that require certified expertise.


Education bounties are designed to encourage excellence in serious professions, to reward people for significant achievements. It would revive professions and reward the working class without funneling money to some complicated bureaucracy. Such a program could be administered by one person, part-time.


Channeling money through the education system itself will not create real change. Creating a competitive market for education achievement is crucial. Our education system is not designed for competition or excellence. Bounties are. A pilot program should be passed to see if bounties can infuse Idaho education with energy and ambition.

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