Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Choice and Competition or No Options and Monopoly - Which Is Better?

The answer depends.

If you’re a member the (Washington) state teachers union, the League of Women Voters, El Centro de la Raza or the Washington Association of School Administrators, then it would appear that monopoly power is preferable to you. If, on the other hand, you are a student, or the parent of a student trapped in a bad school, or even just a concerned citizen, you are likely to favor choice and competition since they offer at least the prospect of a better educational outcome.

But, as that student, parent, or concerned citizen, you would have little reason to feel hopeful about the chances of choice playing a role in education if you'd been following the events outlined in a recent Wall Street Journal Article titled, “Washington Charter School Law Ruled Unconstitutional by State’s High Court”


 Because, as one astute observer commenting under the article put it:

 “A pig at the trough doesn't share. Especially when it is by far the largest pig and can push any would-be competitors aside.” 

The trough, is the collective wallet of the taxpayers supporting public education in Washington state, The pig is the monolith, which includes the groups mentioned above, that filed suit in Washington to challenge the legality of charter schools, which are publicly funded independent schools established by teachers, parents, or community groups under the terms of a charter with a local or national authority. 

Voters approved Initiative 1240 which legalized charter schools in Washington in 2012. And in the 2014-2015 school year, the first charter school opened. This school year, eight more have opened. Despite all that, the Washington Supreme Court said,

“...charter schools don’t qualify as common schools under Washington’s Constitution and can’t receive public funding intended for those traditional public schools.” 

Apparently, the factor keeping the charter schools from qualifying as common schools is that they are controlled by a charter board rather than local voters. Sounds like the common school definition should be ruled unconstitutional.

According to the article, the court went on to say that,

 “Our inquiry is not concerned with the merits or demerits of charter schools. Whether charter schools would enhance our state’s public school system or appropriately address perceived shortcomings of that system are issues for the legislature and the voters. The issue for this court is what are the requirements of the constitution.” 

In reaction to that ruling, Kim mead, president of the Washington Education Association, said this, 

“The Supreme Court has affirmed what we’ve said all along—charter schools steal money from our existing classrooms, and voters have no say in how these charter schools spend taxpayer funding,” 

When you consider that what Ms. Mead is really saying is that charter schools steal money from her union's coffers, her argument makes all the sense in the world.

Pigs at a trough don’t share.

So here’s another question, in multiple choice form.

Whats the best way to ensure a person has at shot at a prosperous and productive life?

a) have that person be born rich
b) have that person be born to the "right" race
c) give that person every opportunity to get a high quality, preparatory education

I say it’s option c, hands down. But I suspect that if this question were administered randomly,a tally of the responses might not reveal the third option as the definitive one. I further suspect that either of other two options might beat option c outright, but together they would almost certainly win out. I would love to be wrong.

Now for the refrain.

Which is better choice and competition or no choice and monopoly? The answer depends on what’s important to you. And the future does too.


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