Guest post by Jeff Yass
As every Forbes reader knows, there are times when the market is a bear and when it’s a bull. Thankfully for the state of education, we are at the onset of a bull market. States from West Virginia to Arizona are investing education assets in families, giving them direct control over how to spend the assets that are reserved for their children’s education, instead of leaving it in the hands of inefficient governments to spend on their behalf.
Given the tribal political divides in our country that seem to widen daily, this may seem like a crazy time to suggest that progressives and conservatives might actually rally behind this cause. But in fact, this is an ideal time.
Why? First, lawmakers from both parties are angry at the failure of the system to support students, especially as minority parents account for most of the massive pull-back from traditional public schools that leaves districts struggling with enrollment losses. They have good reason to leave. In 2019, only 20% of black fourth graders in traditional public school systems tested proficient or above in reading on the NAEP. By the time they get to 8th grade, proficiency drops at least a point on average. Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett once quipped that the longer students stay in the average traditional U.S. school, the farther they fall behind. That remains the case to this day.
Second, I know there is an appetite for a new bipartisan commitment to education freedom. I have seen and supported both Democrats (like Pennsylvania State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams) and Republicans (like Arizona Governor Doug Ducey) who believe that parents – and in particular minority parents – are capable of sending their kids to the best schools of their choice. There are more and more of them each day precisely because years of studies show conclusively that low-income minority students benefit greatly from school choice options, especially the top charter school performers in the inner cities.
All this adds up to a sign: Now is the time to rekindle the bipartisan school choice collaborations from the President Obama years, the years that gave birth to so many new schools desperately sought by low-income parents, giving life to a multitude of new and expanding charter school networks. In fact, among all the issues plaguing our tribal politics, this issue shows the most promise of drawing us together.
And my proposals go far beyond these successful charter school networks that got launched in those years. We can easily afford to offer virtually every child even in the worst school systems much better options. Not only is it doable with existing education dollars, but we could even have enough funds to provide low income families not only the tuition money for alternative schools, but also thousands of dollars each year per student that could be placed in an education account that the families could use for school books, tutors, vocational training, and even to help with college tuition.
Instead of the government starting and funding its own schools, it could create an account for kids that parents can use to identify the best education possible. Let’s say we allow two-thirds of whatever the state is collecting from all sources and paying out for education to be spent annually starting in pre-K. If you live in Boston, that’s a whopping $17,000. The average Catholic school in Boston costs less than $15,000 (far less for elementary school). The average, non-elite private school? $16,000.
If the parent spends less than is available, the leftover funds go into the student’s account. Once the child graduates, they could use whatever is in the account for whatever educational benefit they want – to get trained for a job, to go college, to learn in another country. Big plus – they would have to finish to get the funds. The public would quickly begin to understand the cause and effect of a great education, and the purchasing power it provides.
Wanting every parent to have the ability to buy their child’s education isn’t a radical notion. It’s you who should decide how to create your own path. You see, I believe you’re a better consumer than the government, that you would do a better job than the bureaucracy.
To some, education freedom may seem like a radical idea. And who believes that anything can get accomplished during times of tribal politics? Actually, the time is perfect for this to happen.
Considering the thousands of schools failing low-income students, and the thousands of parents who have lost faith in schools and “disappeared” their kids from schools, the truly radical option is doing nothing.