Nevertheless, my sentiments have drifted toward the pro-side, but not in the way one might suspect.
We should have one Greater San Antonio zone of public education where children can attend whichever autonomously-owned and operated school their parents believe is best for them. They would pay for it with a proportionate amount of tax revenue earmarked for that purpose.
As with all publicly-funded operations, the ideal way to do this would be with a zone-wide sales tax. It is the most efficient form of taxation, and unlike targeting income, it does not penalize work, savings or investment (it actually encourages the latter two), the very actions that power our prosperity.
Alas, odious though property taxes are, amending the Texas constitution may be required to eliminate that option lest we be subject to both.
Once the fog of any U.S. constitutional misinterpretation and/or property-wealth elitism has cleared, the logic of the choice option becomes apparent.
First, there is no reasonable explanation for why this decision should rest anywhere but in the hands of children’s legal guardians. When discerning parents spend their scarce time and resources focusing on what’s best for their families, the optimal result for society is more likely to follow.
Some might respond that not all parents are so judicious. Unfortunately, there’s truth to that. We see examples of it too often.
However, putting choice where it belongs would, to one degree or another, compel less engaged parents to get more involved. Regardless, should our education system, or anything else for that matter, be geared around those who go through life in such an inattentive manner?
Once the “three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic)” are accounted for, schools would be free to specialize, and set their own curriculum. Parents could then go shopping.
A former professor of mine at UT-San Antonio, Dr. John Merrifield, has made a living on this topic, wading into these waters yet again with his forthcoming book “School System Reform: Why and How is a Price-less Tale.” The title alludes to a key ingredient that’s been missing in grammar school: price signals.
My favorite example to use in class to illustrate the power of price signals is flat-screen televisions. When I first bought a 40” or 42” fifteen or so years ago, I shelled out a few thousand dollars. Now, you can get one for few hundred bucks, or less!
To correct this problem in K-12, schools would be free to set their own tuition. Invariably, this is where 5-second thinkers throw their arms up in a huff. But go back to the T.V. example.
If one school sets its tuition high, it would certainly need to deliver the goods. If it didn’t, it would not stay in business long. If it did succeed, not only would it be providing a superior service, it would attract competition for the new standard it has set, and when supply increases, price has nowhere to go but down.
This all assumes of course a light regulatory touch.
If this is good enough when it comes to watching a ballgame or T.V. drama in HD, in multiple rooms, why isn’t it good enough for our kids’ education?
Another possible positive outcome came to mind recently thanks to a group of parents promoting an organization called RootEd.
It encourages parents to get to know their schools, something with which I wholeheartedly agree, having volunteered a number of times for Watch D.O.G.S.: dads patrolling hallways, spending time with their child/children’s class, helping out in P.E., etc. It was always a delightful, often inspiring experience. Having lunch with three different sets of friends never ceased to amuse me (my four daughters range in age from 16-10).
I believe however, that the authors of that piece, and perhaps others, use the words “neighborhood” and “community“ too synonymously.
“Neighborhood” is self-explanatory. Your neighbor lives right next door, maybe even a couple doors down. “Community” is somewhat broader, perhaps a group of neighborhoods. Possibly even a city.
Many of us are “rooted” in our respective neighborhoods. We keep an eye out for each other. Our children play together at the same playgrounds and parks. We set up homeowners associations to address common concerns.
How well though, do we know our fellow city dwellers from across town?
To be sure, many of us work with folks who fit that criteria. If you’re fortunate, those relations are good. I see staff commiserate regularly with executives about fantasy football, for instance. That’s important because we all have our eye on the same ball; survival/success in our respective industry.
Imagine however, parents from a city’s economically distressed neighborhoods, rubbing elbows with their counterparts from more affluent areas because of a common choice they made for their children. Maybe the former will come to be less likely to view the latter as unbothered by real-life stresses and concerns, while the latter might see that “shiftless” or “irresponsible” stereotypes don’t apply to all people in lower tax brackets.
Our K-12 segregation almost makes one wonder if those in power prefer it that way in order to maintain their electoral bases. By knocking down these artificial walls that serve to fuel class warfare, our cities/counties could very well be woven more tightly together.
It would also help teachers, some of whom have good, innovative ideas for how to educate and/or run schools. They need only be free to do so, rather than constrained by competing with entrenched institutions that have built-in claims on the funds.
And those are the only folks who wouldn’t benefit, so dependent on the status quo that they think they know better than us. Do they?
That’s where parental choice comes in.