By Christian Kent, JMI Intern and Florida State University Senior in Economics
Posted January 26, 2012
In an age where many Americans would like to see a reduction in the size of their government, it can be a difficult task choosing a starting point. With so many laws affecting so many lives, it can be easy to overlook subtle inequities that don’t apply to the majority of the population—case in point, the McKay Scholarships. Don’t get me wrong, programs like the McKay Scholarship are wonderful in that they allow children with learning disabilities a better chance for educational success, an opportunity that they might not otherwise be afforded. The McKay Scholarship is aimed at allowing the parents of students with learning disabilities the chance to choose a school in their area that best accommodates that disability. However, school choice advocates want to see that ability to choose extended to all students and not limit our youth to the school to which they’re zoned. This model mimics the university system which is a beacon for international talent and in turn, best accommodates the educational needs of its student body. Competition is the underlying agent that allows for universities to develop programs that differ from other schools and offers more choice for parents looking to send their children off to college. Doesn’t this sound familiar? All businesses in the private sector have to develop ways of competing with each other to attract customers. This makes for efficiently made, more attractive products.If the tables were turned, and our university system was run similar to the public K-12 system, flagship universities in the state of Florida wouldn’t be able to harbor the students they house now, and small town folk like me would be limited to a 2 year degree in something in which we have no interest. Supporters of school choice want to see the same university model applied to the K-12 system, promoting choice and competition where everyone will benefit. The current K-12 system mandates that if children want to attend public school, they are limited to enrolling in the school assigned to the zip code where they live. On the surface, this seems like a reasonable model because of convenience. But parents realize the difference in quality of schools between the public high school down the road and the private high school across town. Parents who can afford to send their children across town usually do so. Unfortunately, the current model lets only families who can dish out the extra cash have more choice. I’d like to see that option extended to all families which will in turn benefit everyone. A shift in the direction of more school choice will generate competition between schools, and that spirit of competition will benefit everyone, even those who can’t afford to send their children across town to that private high school.I understand that this proposed new system would mean that the current funding formula would have to change. Replace this complex formula, that basically throws money at schools based on per student enrollment, with a simpler model that attaches the funding to the student and follows that student wherever his/her parents choose to send their child to receive their education. Unfortunately, teachers unions won’t budge on the issue. Their narrowly focused objectives hurt Florida’s youth because they only look at the surface of the problem, at blindly protecting the jobs of all teachers, good or bad, and at protecting their revenue stream. If they listened to the idea, they would realize that it actually emphasizes what their purpose should be in the first place.In all, if parents had more school choice, they would be more satisfied with the schools to which they send their children, and the economic engine through which America educates its youth would be stronger heading into the future.