This commentary originally appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on October 23, 2014.
Texas has thousands of highly dedicated school administrators. Over my 30 years of work on education issues, most school leaders I have met are totally devoted to what is best for Texas children.
Most, however, do not really understand how conservatives think. A great example can be found with the recent school finance lawsuit.
During the discovery phase of the trial, one of the parties to the suit (referred to as the Efficiency Litigators) offered expert reports suggesting that school choice would benefit students, teachers and taxpayers.
In response to those reports, the school districts asked one of their economists to explore the downside of school choice.
His best argument was that “unleashing competitive forces” would cause existing school districts to pay teachers more.
In short, he seemed to be saying don’t pass school choice because school districts would then have to pay teachers more money.
His conclusion was supported by other experts at trial and is consistent with textbook economic thought.
If more schools are created through choice, then more schools would be competing for good teachers. Therefore, teacher pay must increase and more teachers will be hired.
The interesting thing is that the school leaders who were managing the lawsuit must have thought the “cheap” argument would resonate with conservative legislators who want to limit spending.
Most conservatives, however, actually believe that teachers should be paid more. They also believe teachers should be treated as professionals rather than like union labor.
During my years as a legislator, I noticed that when talking about the “efficiency” issue, school leaders immediately think “cheap.”
Efficiency can actually require more money. For example, if one does not invest enough to get the job done, then that expenditure is a total waste.
Likewise, if you spend too much to achieve an objective, you also experience waste.
Efficiency is about finding balance, or as we say in business, maximizing our return on investment.
Decisions to maximize ROI happen every day in the private sector through the reallocation of resources. In the government sector it is much more difficult to do because reallocations require taking from one interest group and giving to another.
Markets force the allocation of resources efficiently. If not, consumers go elsewhere to get better goods and services. Enterprises compete for talent in the labor market in order to maintain clients.
How does that relate to education? First, ever since the very first school-finance court decision in 1989, the Texas Supreme Court has defined efficiency to mean “productive of results with little waste.”
The court has said that efficiency is an explicit constitutional issue. That issue is now before the courts for the very first time.
More importantly, even though research indicates that the most import factor to student success is the teacher, our resource allocation does not reflect that reality in today’s top-down education system.
Although we spend more than $250,000 in total for a classroom of 25 students, the teacher only gets about $50,000. Something is very wrong with that.
Kent Grusendorf was a state representative from Arlington from 1987 until 2007. He lives in Austin.