04.30.2010 0

Bring Back the Competition

  • On: 05/19/2010 10:37:02
  • In: School Choice
  • By Rebekah Rast

    In America’s free-market system, people are encouraged to shop around to find the best deals on car insurance or a home loan, but when it comes to education, many Americans are stuck sending their children to the neighborhood school.

    Many parents have very limited options of where their child will attend school. Depending on state laws, options other than public schools may include private and charter schools. Some states also implement voucher programs, to help less fortunate students get the education they deserve.

    “Students should come first in the education system,” says Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG). “Parents deserve options when deciding where their child should attend school.”

    By providing more school options to choose from, more competition is introduced into the system. This means better education for all students.

    Private Schools

    There are a number of benefits to attending a private school, says Joe McTighe, executive director of the Council for American Private Education (CAPE). “One of them is the quality academics, and the second advantage of religious and independent schools is that they focus on the whole person, not just reading and math. They focus on physical education and reflect the student’s values,” he says.

    In 2009, about six million students were enrolled in a private school, which is about 11 percent of all U.S. students.

    Religion is the main reason parents enroll their child into a private school. Parents can know that the values and morals being taught to their child in school are the same as those taught to them at home.

    Many parents are also concerned with the academic breakdown of some public schools.
    “There is a concern about chronically underperforming public schools,” says Ron Reynolds, executive director of the California Association of Private School Organizations (CAPSO). “You can see it when parents are organizing for the passing of legislation for voucher programs.”

    Cost is a big factor, and sometimes a hindrance, when deciding to send your child to a private school. Those parents who send their children to private schools know the benefits of the education the students are receiving. The Obama family would seemingly agree as their two daughters attend an elite private school in Washington, D.C.

    Students enrolled in private schools consistently score well above the national average in every academic area. They are also more likely than public school students to complete a bachelor’s or advanced degree by their mid-20s, according to research done by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

    “Private schools are able to provide parents, through choice, a school that best meets their child’s needs,” says McTighe. “Parents make the match of how their child learns to how the school teaches.”

    Charter Schools

    The first charter school opened in Minnesota in 1992. The charter school movement has grown to 4,600 schools serving more than 1.4 million students, according to a report by the Center for Education Reform.

    What makes charter school different than public schools? For one, it gives parents more options of where to send their child. Also, charter schools have more freedom from the many regulations of public schools. Charter schools allow students and teachers more authority to make decisions. Instead of being accountable to rules and regulations like public schools are, charter schools are focused on the students and academic achievement and upholding their charter.

    “About 95 percent of charter schools are non-union,” says Mike Antonucci, director of the Education Intelligence Agency (EIA). This causes a lot of opposition from teachers unions.

    “Unions lose members,” says Antonucci, whenever a new charter schools opens. “Every teacher in a charter school means one less union member and unions want more money. This can put a dent in union’s bottom line.”

    Because of the opposition charter schools face, not all states allow them. According to Antonucci, 10 states do not have charter schools. “Unions keep them out,” he says. “The only reason you have them is because a democrat got them in in opposition to the unions or the unions got something in return—like putting caps on the number of schools allowed.”

    Despite the opposition, many charter schools are doing very well and being renewed.

    Voucher Programs

    Maybe one of the most controversial programs of them all, education vouchers have recently been a topic dealt with by the Obama Administration. Nearly 2,000 students in the Washington, D.C., public school system have been recipients of the federally assisted voucher program. This program has allowed those students to attend a private school, which under normal circumstances would have been impossible. Now that program is coming to end after six years of a successful run.

    “The D.C. voucher program benefitted disproportionately African American students and it was ended by our first African American president,” says Niger Innis, national spokesman for Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

    The opposition to voucher programs sees them as a threat to public schools. Innis sees the program as helping public schools. “Vouchers save public schools so they can compete,” he says.

    Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has one of the oldest and most successful voucher programs. Milwaukee spends about $14,000 per public school student and roughly $6,400 per private student voucher. Those who have received vouchers are performing just as well if not better than their public school counterparts while causing more competition within public schools and saving taxpayer money.

    With constant union opposition and a bureaucratic-run school system, vouchers have yet to be fully accepted into the education system, despite their proven success.

    If the education system does not change, some parents may never have a choice when it comes to their child’s education. It is easy to see that all these education systems thrive when parents are given an option of where to send their children to school. Parents know their children best and should be allowed to pick the school best suited for them.

    “The biggest solution is giving parents the opportunity to choose the best road for their children,” says Innis. “Who are we focusing on, the institutions or the children? Are these dollars that are earmarked for education going to the institutions or children? The dollars should follow the children.”

    ALG Editor’s Note: To read Part I of this series, click here. To read part II, click here.

    Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor to ALG News Bureau.

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