Reform first, tax hike later
by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, December 15, 1992
Despite a decade of demonstration programs, mandates and reforms, Public school test scores keep declining, costs keep going up, and the education establishment absorbs all the money we give it while stonewalling reforms demanded by parents and taxpayers.
Lesson: Until the public school monopoly is broken, there will be no change. That’s why we hear increasing calls for restructuring. Only a new system of competition will liberate innovative teachers, reward cost-conscious, consumer-oriented administrators, and provide break-the-mold schools.
So, what are the remedies? There are four, one strategic and three substantive:
First, the strategic: no more “pay first-reform later” policies. The public should “just say no” to our educrats’ insatiable desire for more money until they enact fundamental reforms.
In Colorado, that means a “no” vote on Amendment 6, the so-called Children First Initiative, a job-killing proposal to increase the sales tax, which hits hardest the poor and middle class, to increase spending for educrats and business-as-usual public schools.
Next, the substantive. First, we need to transfer the attendance decision about where kids go to school from educrats to parents. That’s what “choice” is all about. Today only rich kids have a choice: they can go to private schools.
Second, we must give all people the means to exercise choice. This requires vouchers. In Colorado, a “yes” vote on Amendment 7 will achieve this objective.
Vouchers empower the consumer. Think about the GI Bill. We didn’t give money to colleges and universities, telling them to go find education-hungry GIs. No, we gave public money – a voucher – to GIs and let them choose the university, college or technical school of their choice – either public or private. In response, these institutions offered programs that appealed to GIs. It was one of the most successful education programs in history – and one of our most important economic development programs, sparking unprecedented economic expansion.
The GI Bill didn’t destroy public higher education; it strengthened it. Just because education is delivered by a private or parochial school doesn’t mean it cannot be a part of our system of public education. What makes public education “public” is public funding and adherence to certain minimum standards, which accredited private schools already do.
Competition is key because it increases quality, contains costs and sparks innovation as teachers and administrators vie for vouchers that will pay their salaries. Expanding choices is key to meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse population.
Third, we need to make to easy for new kinds of public schools to appear. That requires legislation allowing independent districts to bypass unresponsive school boards. We must make it easy for successful demonstrations to spread in response to demand – such as Denver’s Knight Fundamental Academy, or Jefferson County’s Open School, or Delta County’s technology-intensive program. Long waiting lists to get into magnet or demonstration schools are dramatic indications of the unresponsiveness of the monopoly educrats.
In short, we need to restructure the education system, putting the consumer in the driver’s seat. Consumers should not have to do “Mother, may I” to educrats. Just say “no” on No. 6 on Nov. 3. That’s what democracy is all about.