As the merits of school choice are discussed, it is important for Christians to keep in mind exactly how public policy affects society. In terms of Christian solidarity, as described by Pope John Paul II, we must strive to create a sense of kinship among our fellow man, encompassing each particular community. The goals of public policy should be no different, focusing on how everyone involved in a particular issue area can be better served. Let’s examine exactly whom school choice would benefit and how.
The first and foremost goal of any education policy should be ensuring the highest quality education for our children. Competition brought about through school choice ultimately improves all schools, benefiting every child. Competition leads to more academic achievement, accountability, innovation, efficiency, individual attention, and extracurricular activities amongst schools. Surely, when students have many options and parents have the means to choose from them, an exemplary learning situation for each individual becomes much more likely than could ever occur within the present government monopoly.
School choice empowers parents to more adequately fulfill their God-given responsibilities by playing an active role in their children’s education. Choice allows parents to decide which school best meets their child’s particular academic, physical, and/or spiritual needs. Parents will have the freedom of moving their children to a different school should the current school fail to meet their expectations. Since funding is appropriated per child in a system of choice, they would be able to do this with relative ease, without taking extreme measures like relocating to another neighborhood just to have their children assigned a school in an affluent district.
Teachers who are true to the education mission will benefit immensely through choice. Competitive schools will offer superior teachers more pay and benefits to teach their students. A competitive system rewards exemplary teachers instead of subjecting them to a pay scale based solely on time served. In fact, a study conducted by Ohio University predicts that competition among all schools will increase teacher salaries by more than 5 percent (“Private School Competition Raises Salaries of Public School Teachers,” 1999, http://www.buckeyeinstitute.org). As it is now, low-quality teachers who scrape by receive the same pay raises–sometimes more–than do good teachers, based simply on the number of years worked.
Within a system of choice, new emphasis will be placed on the local administration of each school. To successfully compete, schools will need to be freed from the stifling regulations imposed government bureaucrats. School leaders will take more responsibility in answering to parent/student concerns and shaping school identity, instead of deferring to a politician in the state’s capital. Schools will become more accountable to parents instead of hiding behind a protective monopoly. A competitive system would reward effective and innovative principals and school leaders who make their schools models of superior education.
Who likes to pay taxes into a failing system? Taxpayers can rest assured that through choice, good schools are rewarded with eager students while substandard schools must improve to compete. Citizens can take heart in the fact that their hard earned tax dollars are being used to help a child attend a school that offers a quality education and a conducive learning environment. As better-educated children continue to develop, taxpayers can be confident that such funding has had a benefit on all of society.
In short, the people profiting the most from school choice are the ones that the education system should be all about: children, parents, teachers, etc.
Who is left out of the equation? Government bureaucrats for one, whose role as the education “middlemen” will largely be bypassed as parents are empowered through choice. Politically minded union bosses will also lose some clout. To be sure, unions will continue to represent teachers in many school systems, even those that practice school choice; but it is the top union lobbyists who will lose much of their unnecessary power once their protective monopoly is taken away. These groups, however, have very little to do with the education of children–and much to do with pork-barrel politics–and should not be missed in a system of choice.
The free market has worked for other products and services; it will for education too. It is time to ask, to whose benefit should our reform efforts be geared: children and parents or bureaucrats and lobbyists? The answer is obvious.
--Policy Analyst Joe Klesney for the Acton Institute