How Do We Fix our Schools?

It’s simply American.

As promised in my previous post, Public vs Private schools , there is a solution to our troubled public school system. It’s as beautiful as a Donald Trump telephone call; it’s as American as apple pie; and in spite of anything you may hear in the future or heard in the past, it is simple.

First, we need to start viewing education as an industry, and we better do it soon because the left already does. Only their description starts with the word indoctrination, not education.

Does this look like a corporate headquarters or a school? It’s the Yale School of Management — and Industrial Indoctrination (just kidding … kind of).

Once we recognize that education is an industry in distress, it’s easy to understand the fix.

Step one: drastically reduce government regulation. Say what? Hear me out. In every instance where a suffering industry is released from the shackles of government regulation, it flourishes. Education is, and has been, suffering for a long time.

Step two: decentralize authority by taking it from Washington, DC, and giving it back to the states. We already know from past experience that what’s good for NYC isn’t necessarily good for Peoria, IL.

Step three: reward the best schools, teachers, and yes, even administrators with proper incentives. These incentives need to be fair and merit-based.

How do we accomplish all these seemingly impossible goals with the greatest of ease? Simple, introduce the perfect, most beautiful, and effective cure an ailing industry could possibly desire, free market competition. And the best way to do that is through school vouchers. Give parents the ability to vote with their dollars.

For a more detailed illustration of how it would work, please read this excerpt from a book published in 2014 (fictional reproduction with permission). It’s a conversation between two men about the public school system and how to fix it. Keep in mind, it takes place over eight years ago, but could be, and should be, taking place now.

Scott interjected. “Ray, we’re both products of the public school system. I think I came out okay, and most would argue that you didn’t do too badly either, so why the hostility? You don’t like our public schools?”

“I think every American child should be provided an education, and I don’t have a problem with government-mandated or funded education being the vehicle. But as a businessman, I do have a problem with monopolistic mediocrity. It’s the inevitable end for all monopolies as a function, it’s true in business, in government, and all you have to do to find an example of both is to look at our schools.”

Scott followed Ray’s lead. “Okay, let’s say that there’s a problem with our schools. How would you propose to fix it?”

“That’s not really much of a challenge. Introduce competition into the public school system and make them fight with proven results for every tax dollar. In twenty years you’ll have teachers making $100,000.00 a year, students in fifth-grade reading at tenth-grade levels, middle school kids resolving calculus proofs, and you wouldn’t need to raise taxes to do it.”

“Not raise taxes? Impossible.” Scott wasn’t seeing the forest for the trees.

“Not at all. Think about it. Americans would be better educated, more productive, and earn more money because of their increased capabilities. Then, as a result, they would pay more money into the system at the current tax rate. Eliminate redundancy and waste in the public school bureaucracy, limit spending, allow parents to choose which schools their kids attend, and then let the marketplace work its magic. The market will decide which schools get the money that we currently allocate and the problem of underpaid, underqualified teachers goes away.”

Scott wasn’t sold. “Teachers making 100 grand without a tax increase? I still don’t see how?”

“That’s because right now there are thousands of teachers who have no business teaching school. Think about it. If you did have a couple of 100 grand teachers, wouldn’t you expect to get higher productivity, quality, and efficiency out of each one? Of course you would.” Ray waited for Scott to catch up, but he could see that the wait would be long. “Oh for goodness sakes. The system is so bloated that for every 100 grand teacher you hire, you could fire three thirty-grand teachers. Isn’t that obvious? And the best part is—the equation starts to work as soon as it’s applied, and gets better with time. Five or ten years down the road, you have a streamlined, effective, and efficient school system filled with 100 grand teachers, or teachers aspiring to be 100 grand teachers. Each one, pulling his or her own weight and contributing their talents and expertise to a public school system that one day, may even provide a margin. Imagine that, public schools making a profit.”

“Don’t you mean surplus as in budget surplus?” Scott’s doubt seeped through his tone.

Ray sighed, “A first year student of economics would be capable of making the logic leap, but I’ll walk you through it, Scott. Say my budget is $1 billion and I only spend $950 million. That leaves me with a $50 million budget surplus. If I take that surplus and put it in a money market account or a high-quality municipal bond, the money is back in the system and working. I know this because my $50 million is earning interest. $50,000,000.00 times 2.5% is $1,250,000.00 profit. Another term for that is capital gains. Isn’t that ironic?”

“What?”

“Public school systems across the country having to pay capital gains tax.”

“I don’t think it’s that simple?” Scott’s response was strictly defensive because Ray was making sense, even to him.

“Sure it is. The current bureaucracy doesn’t want you to think it’s easy, but it is. All you need to do is take the current federal and state budgets for education and cap them. Then, you take that money and distribute it to the people by issuing education vouchers.”

“Ray, wouldn’t that mean more governmental bureaucracy and massive layoffs?”

“No. The people whose jobs were eliminated by trimming the fat can be reassigned to processing the vouchers. Sure, they would earn less, but that’s because they shouldn’t be teaching in the first place. Besides, most of those people won’t take the new job. They’d be expected to work for a living instead of twiddling their collective thumbs while an obsolete union fights for their right to do so. They’ll quit, but that’ll make room for others who want to work, resulting in more productivity at less cost.

“By putting the purchasing decision into the consumer’s hands, you let the people decide which schools get funded, public or private—not some overpaid bureaucratic political flunky. Parents monitor the quality of the schools that they pay, and they do it voluntarily because they’re spending their money, not merely paying into a collective tax pool. Schools wanting more money will offer better programs and attract quality teachers with better pay incentives. They will in turn, draw more student vouchers and be able to expand their facilities while offering still higher salaries to keep the best teachers in place. When you add in the savings in commuting costs . . .”

“Commuting costs? Are you referring to busing? How would vouchers help that?” Scott was still missing the big picture.

“Not just busing and yes, routes would be shorter reducing costs however there’s another issue. You don’t have children yet, so you don’t know what it’s like to have to drop your kid off and pick him up at the end of the school day, or how much time and money goes into it, especially, when the school is inconveniently located. If parents have vouchers, they determine where a school is built, and that’s the key, the market decides, not some pork barrel government bureaucrat. It all benefits the children. Who knows? Maybe art, music, and P.E. will return and some of the displaced government bureaucrats with education degrees could get jobs teaching those subjects. Funding is the least of our problems. Parent involvement is a bigger issue and putting education vouchers in their hands gets them directly involved.

“If you’re a parent and you know you want your kid in a specific school, the same school thousands of other parents want their kids to attend, you’re going to take some time out at the end of the day to read with your son or daughter. Maybe you’ll work with flash cards, so math isn’t such a mystery, and by the time your child is ready for first grade, he or she is prepared to learn, not just attend. And because of the extra parenting, your kid is the one accepted into the school of your choice. It’s the other kids and their parents who have to settle. Scott, the studies have been done and the data is in; throwing money at a problem only makes the problem bigger.”

“You make it sound very simple.”

“No, I don’t. It simply is simple. But don’t worry, none of it will ever happen.”

Scott was a little disappointed to hear that. “Why?” He was beginning to see the forest—and it was green.

“Well, that’s simple too; it’s a simple truth. If I give you something that you think you’re getting for free and I give it to you year after year, eventually, you’ll learn to depend on it. At that point, why would I let you dictate to me how I’m going to give it to you? The answer is, I wouldn’t. You will take what you’re given, and you will be grateful to get it. This gives me extraordinary power because if that gift is your child’s free education, then they get educated the way I want, not the way you want. Liberal politicians have a death grip on public education, and there is no plan to loosen it. They wouldn’t dream of giving power like that back to their constituents . . . which is what would happen if they issued parents public education vouchers. And here’s the kicker, the free education everyone clamors for—it isn’t free, it’s paid for through property taxes.”

“True enough, but not everyone pays property taxes. I don’t, I rent.”

Scott’s statement took Ray aback, obviously, the result of public schools, he regrouped. “Okay—now try to follow along because this is going to get a little complicated, it’s actually basic economics, but I’ll try to keep it simple—er.” Ray took a deep breath. “Most people who don’t have very much aren’t property owners, and they don’t pay property taxes, they pay rent, for them, public education seems free. But wait, there’s a dirty little secret, one that landlords like me keep quiet about because we pay a lot of property taxes. Do you know what that secret is? We get the money to pay our taxes from those who rent; rent is our source of income. Likewise, homeowners get the money to pay property taxes from doing their job; work is their source of income, same as renters. Who pays the landlords, the private homeowners, and even the renters who don’t own property? The consumer pays them—that’s who. Therefore, everybody pays for free education, and Scott, that makes the term free education a perfect oxymoron.”

I don’t know about you, but I think this idea was ahead of its time, and more importantly, I think its time, has come. How about you?

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