Controlling the use of the school allowance: the false good idea

The views expressed in opinion pieces are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors.

Posted on August 19, 2022


By Jean Level.

The school allowance is paid in August. And many are those who criticize a distribution of money that would be used to buy hi-fi equipment or other various products, and not to cover the costs of the start of the school year for families.

This obviously leads to regulatory tendencies among some who think it would be necessary to ensure that this money is used for its intended purpose, which is to buy books, notebooks and crayons.

For example, some suggest that the equipment be purchased directly from schools or town halls. They add that it would also save money by ordering in bulk. Because it is certain, we can be confident that elected officials will spend money that does not belong to them wisely on products they will not use.

Others, less fanatical, simply suggest replacing this hard allowance with vouchers reserved solely for school supplies.

Even if the idea and intent seem good, I think it’s a trap the liberals shouldn’t fall into.

I am not trying to defend the existence of this fee, I would also like its pure and simple abolition. And I think that’s the case for the vast majority of purported liberals.

Some will think that it must be abolished immediately and unconditionally, others that it is first necessary to solve the problems of unemployment and housing, which weigh on the family budget, by cutting the labor code and building permit respectively.

This debate about when and how to remove this allotment, exciting as it may be, will not be addressed here in favor of this question: “Given the existence of this aid, should liberals support measures aimed at limiting the categories of goods and services that can be purchased? »

For me the answer is clearly no.

A measure that would be useless

First, because it would be useless. Or rather, that would be punished most vulnerable (as with any regulation), here the children who are already in a complicated situation. To justify this claim, let’s look at three cases, three families.

Firstly, this purchase of audiovisual equipment is nothing but an inappropriate purchase. The members know that they can count on this money and are delaying or proposing their purchase accordingly.

And the money they didn’t have to save for this purchase has already been used or will be used to buy supplies. Thus, legislation would have no effect on them or their children, because at least they would end up with the desired television and school equipment.

The second family, unlike the first, does not buy its photo box or its tablet in a programmed way, as they have ensured that they can afford the necessities of the happy toddlers. For her, the purchase is compulsive, improvised, and actually comes at the expense of the precious notebooks that are so useful for collecting the good Republican word distributed in our beloved schools.

Forcing this family to spend the manna it is initially intended for can indeed have positive effects (we will consider here that the unique school and the high-quality classes taught there are superior to the vast variety of online courses that a tablet can offer. or computer access).

But there is one last type of family for which the effects of such a restriction are downright negative this time around.

In this third family, Dad really wants his new TV. He doesn’t have the means to pay for the supplies of his more or less dear descendants, but he doesn’t care. Watching football in high resolution precedes back-to-school purchases. “All the more reason to force him to use my tax money as it should!” » you could say to me.

Except that we are no longer in the case of compulsive buying. Our guy really wants his TV, and if it’s not the pens that go along the way, it will be some of the money for the meals, and not sure if his offspring will win at the exchange.

“There are no such cases! » Anyone who works in the hospital knows very well that this is the case. And I think many, many other professionals working in other fields can attest to this.

“Cases like this are rare! » Perhaps, but can we decide to harm the children who are in this particular case to improve the situation of those in the second case? Some, I hope many, will answer no to this question.

But for those who would answer yes, there is a second reason why we should set individuals free to spend this money as we see fit.

Allocation and Interest Groups

Today this manna does not benefit any industry more than another or in small quantities. It is money that is taken out of one pocket and put (partly) in another pocket. So that no industry, no sector has a real interest in seeing it grow.

On the other hand, if this fee were to be spent on a limited number of products, then the industries involved would have a vested interest in using lobbying resources, asking for more to be taken from those who pay to give more. to those who would be forced to buy from them.

Thus, limiting the choice of those who benefit from this money raised is the best way to see the sums raised increase and would therefore be a very bad calculation for the Liberals.

The misuse of this fee is a direct consequence of its existence. And any attempt to address this consequence without addressing the root of the problem will negatively impact the weakest (children from difficult families) and tax billing by making lobbying profitable. Let’s be careful in choosing our battles.

Article originally published in August 2014.

Also read: Back to school allowance: really a consumption bonus?

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