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Thursday, January 15, 2004
Frog Fountain
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Public schools lack competition
Tyler Fultz is a freshman history and political science major from Indianapolis, Ind.

No one can deny that our public school system is in trouble. Decreasing achievement, increasing violence, and general apathy seem to affect everyone involved. Parents tend to be uninvolved and students cynical about their prospects for success. Extra money and regulations have not solved the problem, especially for inner city schools with children who are often drawn into lives of crime. America has one option that could help solve these problems: eliminate the monopoly of the public school system.

As consumers, we naturally hate monopolies. Monopolies have no need to improve the quality of their product, increase efficiency or lower prices in order to attract more customers. A monopoly can charge more money from its customers and provide less in return. The public school monopoly continues to grow, affecting 69 million consumers in the United States in 2003.

The solution to this problem lies in school vouchers. School vouchers are direct payments from the government to individuals to help them purchase an education on the open market. The voucher could be used by parents to pay tuition at a public school in another district, a private school or a religious school. State-enacted voucher programs currently exist in Colorado, Washington D.C., and Cleveland.

The ideas behind vouchers are the same ideas that have built America into the nation it is today: capitalism and free choice. Currently, neither is in our public school system. The plan is to put voucher checks into the hands of low-income students so that they can take that money to whatever school they choose. By giving low-income students the chance to transfer out of failing schools, we give them the opportunity to pursue a good education, and by taking money away from bureaucratic school districts we encourage them to improve and attract more students. When schools have to compete for students they will model themselves more like corporations: efficient, effective and motivated.

Research has shown the benefits this competition can produce. In areas where public and private schools compete for the same students, Harvard economics associate professor Caroline Hoxby’s research showed academic improvement. Among students transferring from public to private school, Hoxby found a 12 percent increase in future wage gains and a 12 percent increase in the probability of college graduation. Hoxby also found an 8 percent improvement in the test scores of the students who remained in public schools. Such research proves that competition can improve public schooling.

Opponents argue that the financial state of underfunded public schools will only grow worse, but vouchers will merely encourage such schools to eliminate bureaucracy and become more efficient. In New York City, administrative populations have increased by up to eight times the rate of new student enrollment. Couldn’t that money be better spent on students than on administrators?

The Bush administration is behind this innovative program and hopes to expand it. Opposing him are teacher and administrator unions; worried that a little competition might force them to work harder for their money. Vouchers can improve schooling for America’s children, and isn’t that what they deserve?