The Price of Education

Our educational system is in dire need of repair. Over the past thirty years we have more than doubled our per-pupil expenditures, and we now spend an average of $8,996 per child compared to to 1971 when we were spending an average of $4,479 (Stupider in America). Unfortunately, we are graduating fewer students today than we did thirty years ago so money has not improved our ability to teach.

The fundamental problem is a lack of competition. While there are some excellent public schools, these are only available if you live in the corresponding school district or if you have managed to obtain a coveted school voucher. Thus our public school system is a virtual monopoly, with the only real competition coming from private schools that very few people can afford.

Perhaps the system should provide more selection. What if students could pick the school they want and the $8,996 per-pupil was attached to the student? This is what they do in Belgium and they have some of the best educated kids in the world. Allowing students to select their school would eliminate the public school monopoly, any school that could not attract students would be forced to downsize or go out of business altogether.

There is another facet to this dilemma, the teachers union protects the salaries we pay our educators and prevents schools from eliminating inept employees. The problem with this is that teachers in public schools are working for the taxpayers, so the union is ensuring the public school monopoly can be maintained for as long as these kinds of schools are chartered in the US. There is no reason for a union to protect the jobs of civil servants, the taxpayers have already agreed these jobs are for the public good and will guarantee cost of living increases.

As a result of all of this, our children are at the losing end of an educational bureaucracy. We should continue to experiment with charter schools and in the near future take some of our large urban school districts uniformly to a voucher system where students can pick the schools they want. If we can foster a competitive atmosphere where only the good schools survive then our children will be better educated.