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American Education System Needs a Monopoly-Buster

My latest column at AIP is up. Today I discuss the DC voucher system that President Obama and the Democrats have killed.Yes, it's still available for those kids who are still in the program, but no new vouchers will be issued. I call for extending the voucher system and not just for DC kids. The entire American educational system should be radically changed so every student has a voucher equal in value to what his school spends to educate him. Rather than the money going the school system to educate the child, the money follows the child to the school of his and his parents' choosing, whether public or private. Here's a portion:

The grandfathering of vouchers may be good news for the kids like Mercedes Campbell who are already enrolled, but it's devastating news for other DC children who were hoping for the opportunity to escape their crowded, unsafe, and dilapidated schools. Unfortunately, they will be condemned to participation in a system that President Obama and 39 percent of Congress refuse to enroll their own children in. The Obamas have chosen to place their daughters in the elite Sidwell Friends School (whose previous students include Chelsea Clinton), yet non-privileged children in the DC area are being denied the same opportunities for a high quality education.

In short, the demise of the DC voucher system is a scandal, and not just for kids in the nation's capital. There are millions of children - vast amounts of untapped human potential - literally wasting away in failing public city school systems. So many of these kids feel that their academic futures are hopeless they drop out of school in large numbers. The graduation rate in America's 50 largest cities is only 53 percent, and that's the good news. Cleveland's graduation rate is a shocking 38 percent. Even more catastrophic is Detroit's 24.8 percent graduation rate.

Rather than eliminating the voucher system, the administration should have expanded it. In fact, the entire US school system could be radically improved if it had more in common with the Swedish educational model. In Sweden, all families are allowed to choose their kids' schools, and the money that the government would have given to the school system or the state to educate each child instead follows the child to whatever school his parents determine suits his needs. The result? Sweden has an array of schools to choose from, both public and private, so parents can pick the school with the most appropriate educational philosophy and cirriculum for their children.

Read all of it, and when you're finished, please leave a comment at AIP and let me know if you agree or disagree.


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Comments (21)

Got to keep them on the pla... (Below threshold)

Got to keep them on the plantation, whatever they want to really call it.

The White House press corps... (Below threshold)

The White House press corps prepares for a briefing by the one.

The "dumb one" sinks to an ... (Below threshold)

The "dumb one" sinks to an even lower performance level.

"In fact, the entire ... (Below threshold)

"In fact, the entire US school system could be radically improved if it had more in common with the Swedish educational model."

That could be accurate if 'improved' is what is desired. I don't believe it is.

The US school system has become more of a guaranteed jobs program than a system designed to do the best possible job educating children. You have to look at the various 'ideas' that have come into prominence - 'mixed' classrooms where high and low acheivers plod along at the rate of the slowest in the class, the lack of discipline, the dumbing down of textbooks, emphasizing the newest educational ideas and trends over techniques that worked - and you have to wonder whether it's all being done 'for the children' or more to stroke the egos of administrators and experimentalists who look on the school systems and the children in them as their own little lab rats and fiefdoms.

Somehow, the kids are getting lost. And that's a REAL bad thing for the future.

In Belgium, like Sweden, pa... (Below threshold)

In Belgium, like Sweden, parents are given X amount of dollars (whoops, I mean Euros) from the government which they can take and spend on the public school of their choice. What a great idea. I would love to see it implemented here, at least on a trial basis. Of course, the teachers union has such a stranglehold on American public school system that there is no way this would ever happen. The unions also have a stranglehold on the Democratic party which will do whatever it can to stifle innovation, competition, and anything else that limits union power.

It is ironic that in this case, it is a European system that encourages improvement through competition and the American system that is crippled by moribund, corrupt socialism.

Question 1: Where the gover... (Below threshold)

Question 1: Where the government is going to get the money for the vouchers.

Question 2: "...every student has a voucher equal in value to what his school spends to educate him." This seems to be a big loophole. Suppose school A says "We intend to fund our schools at a rate of $100K" per student". Will the government give every student in the district a voucher for $100K? Or is the plan to have the government intercept the school taxes and route them back to the parents through a voucher?

Good questions! Not!... (Below threshold)

Good questions! Not!

Since education is free now, we'll need a new tax to pay for the vouchers.

Oh, wait! Education isn't free now is it. Our taxes pay for it already. So, where is the money coming from? It already exists.

Private schools would be competing for the voucher causing the average cost of education to decrease. If a 'district' wants to charge $100,000 for school, let them. The public school district will no longer be a monopoly and therefor can't arbitarily raise their price. Other private schools in the area will open up for much less. The vouchers won't pay a student $100,000 if he wants to go to a particular school, they will only pay an certain average amount. You want a higher cost school, then you'll pay for it out of your own pocket.

Rance -1. Everyon... (Below threshold)

Rance -

1. Everyone pays into it - you DO pay taxes, don't you? The money would come from the portions allotted to the schools. If you were to take your offspring out of the public school system, they'd give you a voucher for the amount per offspring they would have gotten that year. You'd put your offspring into a school of your choice, and hand over the voucher. That school would pay taxes, pay teachers, pay for food and equipment and supplies and books, farming a portion of the money BACK into the tax system.

2. Must be Washington DC. I believe they've got the highest per-capita allotment per student, but they sure aren't getting their money's worth.

The voucher is in the amount the PUBLIC school would intend to pay. It's up to the parent to find a school that is (a) affordable, (b) to the parent's liking re educational values, and (c) make up the difference if the cost is greater than the amount of the voucher.

"Suppose school A says "We intend to fund our schools at a rate of $100K" per student"."

Remember, we're talking about what the LOCAL SCHOOL BOARD is intending to pay per student. First thing, I'd accuse the school board of being liars. Second thing, I'd want to see the books - how much did they collect per student LAST year? How much are they going to spend THIS year? Short of winning the lottery, WHERE are they planning on getting the money from?

As a parent dissatisfied with the school my offspring is zoned for, (30th percentile in the 49th state re education) we didn't see a choice BUT to put the offspring in private school. I'd love to get a voucher - it'd make our finances a lot less stressed.

I figure the offspring gets one good chance at a primary education - it's our responsibility to make sure it's as good as we can make it. But the local system just isn't good enough in spots, and that's where we were.

My point is that most of my... (Below threshold)

My point is that most of my school budget comes from local property taxes, then state taxes, and a minor portion from the feds. If the feds are going to give out a voucher, they would have to put in place a mechanism to collect the local and state money, process it and then give it back to parents in the district. It sounds like a big increase the size of the federal government.

No, Rance - you're thinking... (Below threshold)

No, Rance - you're thinking about it wrong.

They've already GOT your money - it's all about allocations.

Say you've decided to move your precious offspring from "We Be Failin' & Shit" Public School to "Anything's better than where your child is now" Private School. You withdraw your offspring, they hand you a voucher made out to the new school, along with your offspring's records. You turn in your offspring, your offspring's records, and the voucher to the new school.

The new school sends voucher to the local school district's accounting office, like any vendor billing the school would do. They cut a check, send it out. As the Geico commercial goes - "Easy, squeezy, lemon peasy."

JLawson,I can see ... (Below threshold)


I can see a problem to be worked out with that system: How big is the voucher?

Kim says "a voucher equal in value to what his school spends to educate him."

How is that going to be computed?

If you say it's one-nth of the school budget, where n is the current enrollment, as students transfer out, the fixed costs get spread over fewer and fewer students, reducing the amount that is actually spent on their education, lowering the quality even further.

If you allow the schools to determine the incremental cost of student, then you can easily get into creative accounting by the school system where they attempt to justify more and more as fixed costs. That is going to short change people getting vouchers.

The school system, at least parts of it, are seriously flawed. But I would want to be very sure it wasn't going to get worse before signing on to this solution.

You want the per-student nu... (Below threshold)

You want the per-student numbers? Well, would the Census do?

This stuff isn't secret - it's all public record.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget provides a $3.8 billion increase in education funding, enough to boost average school spending in California to a record level of $11,000 per student next year.
Put in something like 'how much spent per student' and the state, you'll get info.
In the 2008-09 school year, it is estimated that Utah will spend $7,700 per public school student. As the graph below shows, the amount that Utah spends per student each school year has consistently increased over the decades. Since 1960, per student spending has increased 146% (more than double) even after adjusting for inflation.
Google is your friend, Rance. Zero in on the city, or district, and you'll get the goods.
St. Ann (MO) public schools spend $6,250 per student. The average school expenditure in the U.S. is $6,058. There are about 14 students per teacher in St. Ann.
Come on, man - are you so uncurious that you never thought to even TRY to find the info on your own?

What they pay in St. Ann wouldn't cover the offspring's tuition, but it'd sure make life easier...

Now, you objected: "as students transfer out, the fixed costs get spread over fewer and fewer students, reducing the amount that is actually spent on their education, lowering the quality even further."

No - remember, the money is already collected. 50 students transferring out means that there's 50 fewer sets of books to buy, 50 fewer bodies to put in classrooms, and so forth. Capital goods like schools and furniture and suchlike are going to still be there.

If there's an exodus of students, wouldn't you think the school administrators are going to go "WTF?! Why's everyone leaving like rats off a sinking ship?" And then they'd seriously look at WHY the parents are pulling their kids out. As it is now - the parents have little to no power to influence things. A voucher system would spur competition in education, and I think that'd be a very good thing.

JLawson,Where I co... (Below threshold)


Where I come from it doesn't matter if you have 20 in a classrooom, or 30 in the classroom, you still have to heat the classroom when it's cold and cool it when it's hot. Same fixed cost. Same thing for mopping the floors, cleaning the toilets, patching the roof, etc. Those costs don't go down when you reduce the number of students. If 20% of your students opt out, you can't mow 80% of the lawn or empty 80% of a trash can.

JL,One more thing ... (Below threshold)


One more thing to consider.

If a private school can fill all its classes charging X dollars per year, and suddenly all their students have an extra V dollars in the form of a voucher, that can only be used to pay for schooling, they can raise their rates to X+V dollars. After all, if you are willing to fork out X dollars of your own money pre-voucher, won't you be willing to fork out the same X dollars post-voucher?

Rance,Or, students t... (Below threshold)

Or, students that couldn't afford the school now can. And parents that could just barely afford the school now has money they can spend it on something else, or sock it away for college.

Also, you are right, that some fixed costs will not go down, other costs will. Fewer students = less wear and tear. A lower water and sewage bill. Fewer administrative staffers, and perhaps fewer janitors as well. The schools that have an influx of students will possibly in the market for their services, of course.

And as someone that has stood in the front of the room, I can tell you that 20 students are a lot easier to teach effectively than 30.

RanceHow about if ... (Below threshold)
retired military:


How about if the state pays $14k a year (about what DC does for a student) then provide vouchers for half that to the parents if they wish and send the other half to the school system.

A. The costs for the school system goes down

b. They still get plenty of money for fixed cost.

Of course the dems would never agree to this because

a. It gets kids out of their monopoly brainwashing.

b. They will scream sepearation of church and state if the parents decide to send the children to a private religous school (most of which educate children for far less than the state does).

Rance -Sorry for t... (Below threshold)

Rance -

Sorry for the delay - real life and all that...

Re your #13 - If there's only one student in a school, obviously there's going to be some pretty hefty fixed costs. But on the other hand, there will be one teacher and one janitor (comes in on Fridays) and they can order in lunch each day for much less than a lunchroom worker would cost. And if the school was so badly managed that it lost THAT MANY students, then there's something obviously wrong somewhere.

Let's face it - there's going to be a LOT of parents that won't be involved enough to bother moving their kids. (A friend who was a teacher in a public school said that if two parents out of a class of 30 showed up for parent-teacher conferences, she thought she was doing great. Most parents just didn't care what their kids were learning.) So from that I'd estimate that roughly 90% will be staying, if there's not something drastically wrong with the school.

Re your #14 - If a voucher is worth $V, a private school that's been charging $X per year for a satisfactory education is not going to suddenly be able to charge $X+V. $X+1k, $X+2k maybe, but not $X+V.

Remember - education is a consumable good and the parents who are looking for a good education will weigh all aspects. They'll compare school ratings AND costs. Right now, we're paying a good chunk'o'change for the offspring. If we got vouchers (yeah, like there's a snowball's chance in hell THAT will ever happen anyway) and the school tried to gouge us for MORE tuition up to the cost of the voucher - then we would reconsider that school. With the addition of a voucher I wouldn't MIND paying a bit more for a commensurate return, but there's limits.

I tend to think his education is priceless - but it's also got to be affordable. So I'm going to go for the best possible combination of features and price I can find. Think of comparison shopping for a flat-screen TV...

At one time all education i... (Below threshold)
Paul Hooson:

At one time all education in America was run by private and religious schools, however high tuition rates which kept many poor children from an education and forced them to work in child labor helped to bring about the free public education system.

Much of my early education was in private schools where the tuition was high, however it was a great education for the most part. I have no problem with some fair system that allows children to get a private education if they wish, even if it includes "vouchers" or some other form of tax break for parents.

I have no problem ... (Below threshold)
I have no problem with some fair system that allows children to get a private education if they wish, even if it includes "vouchers" or some other form of tax break for parents.

This is most sensible. Try bringing it up with the teachers' union, though, and they'll squeal like stuck pigs.

I'm agnostic on school vouc... (Below threshold)
James H:

I'm agnostic on school vouchers. But I don't believe that a) the federal government should mandate them or b) the federal government should provide them out of federal taxes.

Schools are funded primarily by local taxes, so let voucher money come from there. And if states or local educational systems want to implement vouchers, again, that's their business. But I prefer that the feds stay out of local matters as much as possible.

Won't disagree with you the... (Below threshold)

Won't disagree with you there, James H - the Feds seem to prefer a 'one size fits all' approach to local matters - and frankly, that's just micromanaging from the top. Let the locals decide the local stuff, let the Fed take care of the stuff that affects the entire country.






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