This commentary originally appeared in The Morning Consult on December 15, 2015.
In just a matter of weeks, my employer the Texas Public Policy Foundation will host its nationally known Policy Orientation, an annual conference held in downtown Austin. Two Nevada state leaders, Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison (R) and Sen. Scott Hammond (R), are among the many national thought leaders set to speak this year. They will both tell Texans about the most innovative educational-choice program in the entire nation. That bill passed the Nevada Legislature and was signed by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) this year.
The Nevada Education Savings Account bill provides universal choice throughout the state of Nevada. It empowers parents to make decisions regarding the specific educational services needed for their child. Customized education is the concept, which seems to be sweeping the nation. Parents are allowed to select from many options such as traditional public schools, special tutoring, books, online learning and other approved educational services. The parent receives a debit card, good only for approved educational services, and they can shop around to find what best serves the needs of each of their children.
If all the money is not spent in one year, the balance rolls over and can even be used for college tuition. This concept will completely change the dynamic in the field of education to the dramatic benefit of children and teachers. The major problem with K-12 education today is the simple fact that over the decades, education has morphed into a monopoly. Anyone who has studied economics or world history realizes that monopolies are inherently inefficient in the allocation of resources.
Thousands of great people work in the field of public education. Unfortunately, union leaders, bureaucrats and politicians all think they can tell teachers what is best. We must set educators free. We must set our children free.
Unfortunately, there is no better example of misplaced resource allocation than in the field of K-12 education in Texas. Texans spend over a quarter of a million dollars per year for a classroom of 25 students, yet the average teacher is paid $50,000. In order to advance professionally, great teachers must leave the classroom, where they have great value to the institution, and move into administration, where in many cases, they add less value. The very best teacher is paid the same as the worst, assuming the same tenure, and for the most part, teachers in shortage areas are paid the same as areas with a surplus of teachers.
That is how command systems work. They reward what bureaucrats and politicians value instead of what consumers value. Imagine a system which actually values a great teacher and keeps her/him in the classroom. Imagine a system that allows a student to select one provider for a specific need and another for yet another educational need. Imagine a system that encourages one to spend educational resources wisely for maximum benefit. Imagine a system that encourages innovation.
Today, if allowed to operate freely, no one can conceive how education might be revamped to better meet the needs of students. As Professor Michael Cox at Southern Methodist University indicated: If government bureaucrats were in charge, not only would we not have smart phones, people wouldn’t even know they wanted them. Markets encourage innovation like nothing else in the history of mankind. Texans, and all Americans for that matter, must allow the dynamics of cooperation and competition to work their magic for the benefit of posterity.
The Honorable Kent Grusendorf is the Senior Fellow in the Foundation’s Center for Education Freedom.