Why is it that public education is subject to one-size fits all government mandates, while the remaining portion of our economy operates on under market conditions?
John Stossel went in to investigate this situation.
He looked at Philadelphia’s school system for potential answers.
During his investigative journey, he came across Philadelphia mother Elaine Wells who was upset about her children’s learning environment at a public school in Philadelphia. It wasn’t just poor teaching that she was worried about. Her son’s safety became a concern when she learned that there were fights every day at the school her son attended.
To try to improve her son’s future, she entered him in a charter school lottery. While this seems straightforward, trying to get into a charter school is not necessarily an easy step. According to Stossel’s research, Philadelphia rejected 75 percent of charter school applicants.
Politicians and bureaucrats are often the biggest culprits behind these rejections. After all, they despise competition and would like to keep the never-ending gravy train of government benefits going regardless of how poorly they perform.
Thankfully for Wells, her son was able to get into the Boys’ Latin charter school. However, many Philadelphia parents will likely not be so lucky.
The schools in Philadelphia suffer from the same problems that many other public schools face across America—lack of competition and massive bureaucracy. In Stossel’s report, the journalist detailed that “Philadelphia schools already spend $18,400 per child, about half a million dollars per classroom.” This is among the highest per student spending in the nation. But here’s the kicker, such spending is practically guaranteed regardless of the school’s performance.
Similarly, Baltimore City Public Schools, spends $16,187 per student. Despite such massive injections of public funds, only 15 percent of students were capable of passing the state’s English exam. What we see here is guaranteed funding regardless of performance.
In a free market, businesses and institutions that fail are disciplined by profits and losses. If they provide sub-standard services and customers reject them, they go under. However, for government-operated services, it’s the exact opposite. That’s why for most public schools, there’s no real incentive to perform at a high level.
In sum, the education sector needs as much competition as people. Charter schools are solid incrementalist steps in bringing some semblance of a market force to government schooling.