School Choice: Let the Song Play On

classroom-2093746_960_720Last week we dipped our toes in the waters of school choice and school vouchers.  Now, let’s put our hesitations aside and dive right in, because just like Mr. Dylan said, “The times they are a changin.” If all goes as planned, our new secretary of education will be implementing school choice in every state in America, not just her home state of Michigan. And still it’s not the idea of implementing school choice or school vouchers that seem to keep a dark cloud looming over the American people but more the idea of this system not being properly executed. School choice can work, we’ve seen that in other places on the globe. The fear is how do we keep in-tact policies and practices that we the American people have already fought a for and won? Besides freedom of choice, American citizens and American parents want to make sure discrimination in any form does not seep its way back into a modern America.

But alas, does school choice really increase discrimination against minorities or low income individuals/households or does it open up a realm of opportunities for every parent, if they so choose, to give their child the best education and best chance at a bright future? Our good friend Milton Friedman said, “Do not underestimate the role which bad schooling, provided by our present governmental mechanism, has played in creating poverty. It’s been a major source, particularly among black and white teenagers coming up in the slums, it’s been a major source of their difficulties of getting out of the trap of poverty.” And we’d have to agree, because public schools fail and seemingly get more money yet produce the same results. The scale is tipped to benefit those who can afford to live in the areas with quality schools. If a parent is willing to drive their child an hour away, get up an hour earlier to take the bus or find any other means to get their child to the best school, to give them their best chance, then why should those parents not have the freedom to do just that? It then becomes equality of opportunity for every parent and every child, regardless of race, income, occupation, etc., to give their child the education they feel they deserve and are willing to work for to get.

books-1012088_960_720Let’s also point out how bizarre it is that with any other product in the world, all of which we pay taxes for, the same as to pay for education, does not factor in inequality of income or designate to a specific zip code where a person must spend their money. Microsoft, Apple, Sony, Ford, Nike, you name it, do not sell their products to only those in the wealthy zip codes. The same goes for the grocery stores we shop at, gas stations, retail outlets, etc. Could you imagine having to limit the products you purchase and the stores you shop at based on your zip code? Whether we like it or not, education, like everything else in the world functions and thrives on the dollar. Professor of Economics at Stanford University, Caroline M. Hoxby explains this process as, “If a school could raise a student’s achievement while spending the same amount as the current school, it would be expected to draw the student away from his or her current school. This process would shrink the less productive and expand the more productive school, until one of two things happened: the more productive replaced the less productive school or the less productive school raised its productivity and was thereby able to maintain its population of students.” Education, like everything else, is a market. We might not like to think of something as empowering and important as education as a commodity but that is the cold hard reality.

If you are an American citizen who works, owns a home, drives a car, purchases goods and services, you are paying taxes. We are forced to pay education taxes regardless if we even have children, to support and benefit society as a whole. Yet the public school system that is currently in place, takes our hard-earned dollars and gives only one “free” option as to where the children in our cities must attend school. Regardless if we feel we’re getting the best price for performance or not.  Ultimately, competition in the market of education, like every other industry, would seem to inevitably cause an increase in productivity, an increase in excellence and high standards in our schools and if not why would we want to pay tax dollars for a school full of shortcomings to continue to operate?

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