It might seem like we keep pouring more money into our public schools, and they just keep getting worse, but that’s not true. Actually, we keep pouring more money into the schools and they stay exactly the same.
That’s the conclusion of a recent study by the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, which found that, while government appropriations to schools have increased by nearly 200% since 1970 in inflation-adjusted dollars, student performance has remained flat.
Clearly, it’s time to try something different.
The question is whether middle-class and poor children should be consigned to mediocre or bad schools just because that’s how they’re “districted.” The correct answer is “school choice,” which means parents, not government, decide where their kids go to school.
Unfortunately, school choice is a red-flag for many in the education establishment, who see it as a threat. They’re afraid that if students had options, they would choose to go elsewhere, thus depriving them (the establishment) of power, influence, and (especially) funds.
As legislators in Georgia and elsewhere debate this issue, I hope they will keep in mind three guiding principles:
Kids come first. Too often, the interests of children and families are subordinated to those of educators, teachers’ unions, and politicians. This must end. I’m tired of hearing from those who oppose school choice about the harm that might befall them if students and parents have more options. (What does that say, by the way, about their confidence in the job they’re doing?)
Clearly, that’s completely backwards. The real issue is the harm being done to kids right now, as too many languish in chronically failing schools. Fixing that problem — giving all kids the opportunity to succeed — must override any perceived harm to the adults involved.
Parents need choices. In order for kids to escape failing schools, parents must have as many options available to them as we can possibly provide. That certainly includes charter schools — a step in the right direction — but it also includes allowing students to cross arbitrary “district” lines.
And yes, it even includes some sort of voucher system providing families who otherwise couldn’t afford it the opportunity to send their kids to a private school. Which brings me to my next point:
The money follows the student. Establishment types seem to regard tax revenues as their money, to spend as they see fit. No. That money is for the children. As long as a student is in a school, the funds designated for that student should go to that school. But when he or she elects to go elsewhere, the money should follow.
One happy by-product of this policy, as free-marketers have long argued, is that competing for students and therefore funding will provide powerful incentives for schools to innovate and improve.
Either way — whether their schools get better or they get to go to better schools—the real winners will be the kids.
Rob Jenkins is a local college professor and freelance writer and the author of four books, including “Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility” (available at Books for Less in Buford) and “Welcome to My Classroom.” E-mail Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org.