K-12 Education Is Failing Our Children…And Our Taxpayers
a conservative look by Robert Malt
The first public schools in America were started in the New England colonies, and modeled after English grammar schools. The idea was to educate young boys to read, write, and integrate into a more complex and increasingly prosperous society that required these basic skills. Today, public schools are available for free to every child. K-12 schools are funded by a combination of local, state and federal taxes, and are heavily regulated by a variety of laws at all levels of government.
It is generally accepted today that our public schools are not measuring up against the rest of the industrialized world. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2009 the U.S. ranked 31st in mathematics out of 65 countries surveyed. The consensus of liberal-progressive thinkers is that we, as a nation, are not spending enough money to properly educate our children. However, when one looks at the facts, this presumption is patently false.
Total spending on K-12 public education has skyrocketed in the past 40 years. Whereas three times as much money is spent today per student as was spent 40 years ago, educational achievement has not progressed at all in these past 40 years.
A simple, yet rarely asked question, is, are we getting our money’s worth? And the obvious answer is, no we are not.
Burdensome regulations and a total lack of competition are at the root of the problem. The government education monopoly system is simply unworkable and destined to fail our children, despite the good intentions of those individual educators working within it. Just like Amtrak and the Postal Service, which lose billions in taxpayer money each year, our government monopoly system is a failure.
Just imagine if grocery supermarkets worked on the same principle. Instead of being able to shop wherever you wanted, you were forced to shop at a single supermarket that you were “assigned” to. You and 9,999 other people assigned to a single store. How long would it take before the quality of the produce and other products started to deteriorate? How long before the friendly, courteous staff devolved into brusque and uncaring bureaucrats, just like the ones we encounter at the DMV and other government institutions? How long before the prices…that you were forced to pay…began spiraling out of control?
Competition breeds innovation, quality, efficiency, choice, and a whole host of other things that people want. If parents had a choice, they could vote with their (and their children’s) feet, and the tax dollars that would follow them through a publicly-financed voucher system. Poorly performing schools would have to reform and improve their service or risk going out of business, just like in the private sector. New schools would pop up to fill the voids left by the failed ones. Free market competition has made our nation the most prosperous in the world, and has pulled hundreds of millions of people in the world out of grinding poverty in just the last 50 years. It can work in K-12 education as well, if we just give it a chance. Our children deserve nothing less.
For the complementary piece in our The Pros and Cons feature, be sure to read the progressive take on public education and its funding here.
Robert Malt is a father, husband, business owner, and conservative activist, who lives in Buncombe County, North Carolina. He has a history of working for economic freedom and property rights at the local level, including a grassroots campaign that successfully halted an unjust forced annexation attempt by the City of Asheville. Mr. Malt is a past chairman of the Buncombe County Republican Party, and currently serves as the executive director of Buncombe Forward, a local, non-partisan, political action committee supporting conservative issues and candidates at the local level.