Competition in education is a good thing.
The most fundamental aspect of a free market is competition. It drives innovation while keeping prices lower for consumers. When a monopoly takes hold on an industry, it often becomes stagnant and inefficient because there is no need to evolve and compete as there are no other options for consumers to choose from. This idea also can apply to a another essential part of our society: education. Expanding school choice, by way of vouchers, is one possible solution to the problems affecting the traditional public school system. It is currently failing to provide top-notch schooling as a whole, as well as producing the necessary workforce among the up-and-coming generations.
First off, a commonly-cited critique that must be addressed is that school vouchers are just another form of social welfare. This is only true if it is applied to certain groups that meet low income requirements. If it is applicable for all students, regardless of socio-economic status, it is the equivalent of your annual taxes that go towards your local public school anyway. The driving force behind the debate for school choice is the idea that a family’s zip code should not determine the success or failure of their children. Parents should be able to provide the best education for their kids possible, without being restricted by the geographic lines in which they live.
School choice initiatives essentially narrows down to taking tax money that would already be allocated for every child in the state for a public school education, and giving it to the parents to decide what the best options are for their individual child. If they choose to take the voucher or tax credit and send their child to a private school where they feel a better education is offered, that should be an available option.
As mentioned previously, because the government basically monopolizes“free school,” there is no reason for them to compete with private schools since their students — who cannot afford private schools — are stuck with no other option. At public schools, tenure of faculty often takes priority in terms of promotion and pay ,instead of performance-based evaluations. Unfortunately, all too often the best teachers are not rewarded because they may be among the newest, which means they do not have the security of tenure or the years under their belt to demand more money and preservation of their job.
After they are let-go or leave to find higher paying jobs, the public schools are often strapped with teachers who do not feel the need to constantly improve — or are just plain bad in the first place — because they know they have job security. By stifling competition over quality faculty, children are stuck with poor teachers, and quality faculty can be stuck without children to teach. Private schools, just like private companies, have to appeal to their customers by showing they are the best option on the table by offering more utility than their competitors. This means hiring the best teachers and experimenting with innovative teaching methods to make sure their kids are given the best opportunities, which undoubtedly translates to higher test scores and better prepared students come time for graduation.
A perfect example of school choice working in a real life scenario is higher education. Individuals have the option to apply for any college or university they want, and through loans and grants from the government, they are able to afford the schools they choose. I personally chose to leave my home state and attend school in Ohio — because the University of Cincinnati offered the best opportunity for me. My zip code did not prevent me from crossing the river to pursue a better education. Why should we wait for kids to graduate high school before they and their families can decide the best path for them individually? Why not take this idea and apply it to arguably the most important schooling years, and start from the very beginning?
“Offering more options for parents will not only help more kids, but it will foster more diversity among individual schools.”
Another benefit of school choice is that it gives options outside of the traditional schooling experience. Something is clearly not working, because while the rest of the world is excelling in education, the United States is dramatically being left behind. Are our students becoming less intelligent, or are the programs becoming less effective? As technology advances, many parents are turning to online school, because their kids thrive in an environment different from the typical public school setting.
Offering more options for parents will not only help more kids, but it will foster more diversity among individual schools. With the entire world focusing on increasing diversity in every aspect of our lives, maybe it is time diversity of thought and experience takes priority in our grade-schools too. Having variety in how we think stems from how we are taught, and the experiences that shape our thought process, goals, and learning strategies. We should not force every member of society to learn the same way, because that only breeds students geared towards standardized tests — which rarely exist in the real world — and leaves those not able to learn in the standard way out in the cold.
Money is another significant aspect of this debate. Those who oppose school choice claim that public schools will lose vast amounts of money and will not be able to function properly, essentially allowing only private schools room to operate. This is simply not true given the studies conducted in regards to money saved on school voucher programs. Money that is given in voucher programs or in tax credits is allocated by the state for the child enrolled in the program. The local money the school receives from the city or county will not be affected. This would actually mean that the school is downsizing in enrollment numbers without decreasing budget, which means more money per student.
Another study looked at eleven programs that gave school vouchers across eight states, and the findings showed in a 16 year period, the states saved a total $22 Million while local school districts saved $422 million. This influx of savings in the budget can then directly be put back into the public schools to help with improvements and allow them to compete on the same level as private schools in the areas.
There is no reason that students should be stuck with a poor education because on their zip code. Choice in education will allow all parties to thrive and get out what they put in. A voucher system is a policy that treats individuals as just that, individual people with varying needs. There is no reason to continue with a failing collective-oriented approach to education. The oft-cited saying of “insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result. “ Sound familiar?
Follow this author on Twitter: @mollie_finnegan