This commentary originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle on September 26, 2014.
School choice in Houston and across Texas is the solution for paying quality teachers their true value and improving the education system.
A commonly heard solution to failing schools is to increase state spending on education. However, the state has doubled per pupil education spending in inflation-adjusted terms since 1970 without much change in educational outcomes. For example, a recent report by the Texas Education Agency claims that public schools are performing better, but 9 percent of schools still don't meet the state's academic standards.
Too often, students are trapped in these failing school districts with no other schooling options. I understand this struggle. I grew up in the city of South Houston in a single-parent household with my mother working at day-care facilities. We considered the public schools in our district to be inadequate for my education.As we were in the lowest-income quartile, our choices were limited.
Fortunately, my grandparents were able to provide financial assistance for me to choose a school despite struggling with their own finances. I attended private school from kindergarten to second grade, public school from third grade through sixth grade, and home school from seventh grade to 12th grade. This schooling combination provided me the opportunity to start working a full-time job at age 16 to help pay bills and learn to teach myself new material contributing to the knowledge and skills necessary to earn a doctorate in economics.
Instead of just arbitrarily spending more taxpayer dollars on education, paying K-12 teachers more could encourage the best teachers to teach at K-12 schools, improve educating students and provide hope to those currently trapped in failing schools. This path is supported by 67 percent of Texans, according to a recentUniversity of Texas/Texas Tribune survey.
Unfortunately, the current school system can't pay teachers more because of distortions in the teaching-services market, as outlined in the Texas Public Policy Foundation's report, "Teachers Win: A Case for School Choice."
Public school teachers in Houston now earn an average annual salary of about $51,000. By advancing school choice in Texas, teachers would have the opportunity to negotiate a higher salary at multiple schools and the freedom to choose where to teach based on their specific desires.
Currently, K-12 teaching services are primarily consumed by the public school system. We call this situation in economics a "monopsony," which is when there is a market with a single consumer of a good or service. This phenomenon distorts the teaching services market by holding teacher salaries lower than they otherwise would be. This issue was exposed in depth during the recent school-finance trial.
Imagine that you are the only new customer of lawn-mowing services in your neighborhood serviced by five lawn-mowing entrepreneurs. You know that you are potentially their only new customer.
It is in your best interest to choose the individual who will best mow your lawn at the lowest price. This results in lower earnings by the entrepreneur than if there were multiple new customers because entrepreneurs could gain negotiating power.
Good teachers should be paid more.
Bottom line: School choice will drive up teacher pay, diverting more spending to the classroom and improve educating students – the primary reason for schooling. Teachers win, as would students in Houston and across Texas, including those like me who were trapped in a failing school district.
Ginn is an economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a nonprofit, free-market research institute based in Austin.