Commentary, Education, Free Markets, People

Jim Gray: Competition Brings Better Schools

As stated numbers of times in these columns, competition has given us good quality products like cell phones, computers, and automobiles at increasingly reasonable prices, and it will do the same thing for our schools.  To solidify this point, EdChoice recently published some statistics about public schools in West Virginia.  Even after being adjusted for inflation, spending was increased by 39 percent between 1992 and 2014, by which time the schools were spending an average of about $12,512 per student.  But during this 23-year period, the salaries per teacher actually fell by 3 percent.  How was this possible?  Because, like public schools virtually everywhere else, West Virginia public schools increased their staffing of non-teachers by ten percent: from 17,533 to 20,029 – and this happened even though they were teaching almost 40,000 fewer students!  In other words, much more money was spent on administration than on the students.  And that problem is compounded because teachers know that the higher paid jobs are in administration.  So the better teachers are “elevated” out of the classroom and into administrative positions.  In comparison, private schools, and other private businesses, put more of their resources into directly serving their customers which, in this case, is their students.  That is the nature of competition.

So how can we help to make schools more competitive?  By empowering the parents to choose where the government money will be spent for the education of their children.  That approach has been working for years in places like Milwaukee, and is also beginning to work in Indiana, Florida and New Orleans.  Furthermore, since there is more of a demand for good teachers in a competitive system, they are more highly paid.  So good teachers also come out ahead.  Bottom line: if we want to provide excellence in education for our children, give their parents the Liberty to have a choice.  It doesn’t matter whether the programs are called scholarships, coupons or vouchers, school choice brings competition, and that, in turn, will bring excellence.   (For more information, go to www.EdChoice.org.)

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