School Choice – The Free Market Solution

Most Americans now accept and believe that school choice is a good thing.  But the largest teachers’ union, the NEA, still adamantly opposes allowing public funds to follow the student to the school of his choice.  And the political clout of the teachers’ union remains the biggest impediment to improvement in education.

I am a disciple of free-market economics.  Economics steers every human undertaking.  It is ubiquitous in every aspect of our daily lives and has been since the dawn of man.  Every adult on Earth awakens each day and sets out to improve the standard of living for himself and his family.  Nothing is more basic and necessary to our sustained well-being than knowledge of the economic forces that create wealth.

The law of supply and demand is as universally accepted as the law of gravity.  When the supply of something is scarce, it is more valuable.  And when something is valuable and in high demand, more of it will be produced.  In a true free market consumers will always choose the product that best meets their needs at the lowest price, and the profit motive for meeting this demand guarantees the continuous improvement of products.  Free competition for that profit completes the equation.

Free-market supply and demand has brought us smart phones, better cars, nicer homes – comfort, safety and wealth.  In a free market profits and wealth are generated as the quality of products improve and prices go down.  So why hasn’t the quality of education improved in our country, the epicenter of the free market, despite massive spending?  Clearly it’s because education has been removed from the free market.

When a purchase decision is made by someone other than the consumer, the product is unlikely to be what the consumer wants and needs.  Inevitably, educational decisions made by government officials, rather than parents, will not yield optimal results.  Our nation’s educational system is not keeping pace with other countries, and our employers say they can’t find enough employees with basic literacy and math skills.  Most fingers point the blame at our traditional (non-choice) schools.

Times have changed.  Technology has largely eliminated the challenges of distance and time that established the traditional school model primarily still in use today.  As traditional brick-and-mortar neighborhood schools slide toward obsolescence, the ultimate free-market school choice, home schooling, shows rapid growth.  For-profit and non-profit alternative and technical schools are in such demand that exotic lottery algorithms are used to determine which families will win admission.  Private schools enjoy continued enrollment growth.  The traditional government school is now the last resort for most families.

While the concept of school choice is broadly supported by parents, progress in changing the way education is funded has been slow.  In most states home-school and private-school families must still pay taxes for traditional schools that they do not use.  States and districts that support school choice generally fund them with tax dollars through direct allocation, vouchers or scholarships, although at lower rates than they fund traditional schools.  The majority of states and districts still fund only traditional public schools.

Education cannot be removed from economic reality.  The most reliable and quickest tools for process improvement in education are the same time-tested economic incentives that drive the entire world to higher standards of living every day.  The consumers of the education system, parents, must be trusted to make the right purchasing decision for education, the same way they are trusted to buy the right vegetables or the right car to suit their needs.

Until the NEA and the political leaders they financially support agree to allow school funding to travel (or stay home) with the student, education will remain outside the free market, in denial of the proven economic leverage that improves results, lowers costs, and increases standards of living.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

I study nuclear science
I love my classes
I got a crazy teacher, he wears dark glasses
Things are going great, and they’re only getting better
I’m doing all right, getting good grades
The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades

The Future’s So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades) – Timbuk 3

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