This commentary originally appeared in The Monitor on April 19, 2015.
There is a grand opportunity for Texas to be the nation’s leader in educating the bright young minds of tomorrow while paying quality teachers more.
This won’t require a ton of new cash to be sent to failing public schools that have proven to be ineffective methods time and again, either.
It would require more opportunities for parents to have control over the school that meets their child’s needs, however. It would require teachers to be paid their worth so that quality teachers teach.
Instead of repeating the same mistakes of the past, it’s time to implement what works well in other markets: Competition through school choice.
It’s interesting that we cheer competitive markets in most of the goods and services we purchase, but not for something as important as education.
Competition brings about the best quality product at the cheapest price.
Conversely, the public education system in Texas is a monopoly in the schooling market and causing a monopsony in its teaching services.
A monopsony occurs when there is only one consumer of a good or service. The teaching services market is close to a monopsony as public schools are essentially the only consumer.
However this could change with school choice and there is more momentum to pass school choice during the 84th Texas Legislature than ever before. Bills currently in the Texas Senate leading the charge would allow grants and scholarships to follow a student to private schools and free businesses to provide education scholarships to those in need.
School choice would help resolve the current situation where many students are locked in to attending their district’s public school. Of course, many parents today decide to send their children to private schools, which is costly and leaves many poor families unable to afford their desired school.
As with any other frowned-upon monopoly, public schools that educate the vast majority of Texas students should be questioned as it leads to higher costs and lower quality of education.
Teachers also lose in the public schooling system from distortions in the teaching services market that result in quality teachers to be paid less than their market wage.
The average salary for a Texas public school teacher is $48,821, which lags behind salaries earned by many other professionals with similar education levels. This causes many quality teachers to switch professions.
Consider how much of classroom funding goes to teacher salaries. According to the Texas Education Agency, Texas annually spends $9,058 for each student in average daily attendance. So, in a classroom of 23 students, we’re spending $208,334. With a salary of less than $50,000, teachers receive only 23 percent of funds. On the other hand, the average salary of central administrators is $92,664.
Teacher pay is also depressed because public schools employ 93 percent of almost 350,000 Texas teachers in grades kindergarten through high school, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
A monopsony market puts the negotiating power in the hands of public schools — holding teacher salaries lower than in a competitive market. School choice would give teachers more negotiating power with opportunities to employ their services at a higher salary outside of public schools.
At a recent hearing on school choice bills before the Senate Education Committee, former Texas U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, correctly said: “There is no such thing as public money. It’s taxpayer money.”
Let’s pass school choice this session so taxpayers can have the freedom to spend their money as they see fit and liberate the education system to generate better outcomes for students, parents, teachers, and all Texans.
Dr. Vance Ginn is an economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a nonprofit, free-market research institute based in Austin. He may be reached at [email protected].