Education: Our Kids Deserve Better

Toilet paper. Ice cream. A vacation. What do these three things have in common?

For each there exists a variety of preferences to fit your needs. Two-ply, chocolate chip cookie dough, and the Florida Keys does it for me…

So when it comes to our schools, where our children spend 8 hours a day and formulate foundational ideas about the world, why do we allow mandates from the Department of Education and a one-size-fits-all approach? It sounds awfully vanilla to me, but this is exactly what most states encourage with school districts that don’t allow choice or competition.

In the past few decades, government policy has been to put more taxpayer money and more bureaucrats on the case to try to save our schools. But it hasn’t worked. Not only are our schools subject to national and state interventions that hamper innovation and competitiveness, but the budgets of many states will also be stretched when they implement these new rules and “reforms.” Jamie Gass of the Pioneer Institute in Boston uncovered the extremely high cost of implementing Common Core Standards (Common Core is this administration’s education reform mandate attached to short-term federal funding).

How can we allow more options and use taxpayer dollars wisely? Lindsey Burke from The Heritage Foundation lays out some options in her new paper:

Some states provide school choice through scholarships, also known as vouchers, which go directly to students to be used at a private school of the family’s choice. Other states provide tax credits to individuals or corporations that contribute money toward children’s scholarships. Some states provide both types of programs. Education savings accounts (ESAs)—currently available only in Arizona—are a particularly innovative approach to school choice, allowing families of special needs children to use a portion of the dollars that would have been spent on their children in their assigned public schools for a variety of other education options, including private-school tuition, online education, and special-education services.

Other states and localities are undergoing different tactics, such as cutting the administrative bloat and failing teachers and schools.

For example, Philadelphia is launching an unprecedented overhaul of their public education system. In a dramatic fashion, the plan titled “A Blueprint for Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools” was released this Tuesday. It closes 64 schools and reorganizes the rest into “achievement networks.” The leaders of these achievement networks would have contracts based on performance. The cuts aren’t just for the schools, but for the central bureaucracy too.The central office, comprising 650 workers not one year ago, will be slashed to 200 people by next year.

Philadelphia’s Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen said of the plan:

It’s time to move away from “command and control” to a “service delivery” model.

These transformative changes seek to rescue the Philadelphia public school system from the fiscal nightmare it’s in. Their current deficit, expected to be $186 million, is now $218 million. Left unchecked, the deficit would hit $1.1 billion by 2017.  Monumental problems need monumental solutions.

Philadelphia’s proposal highlights the strength of our federal system. Each state, or even city, acts as an independent entity experimenting with new approaches to tackle common problems. This idea, that states are laboratories of democracy, is the greatest argument for defending the autonomy of the states.