By Benjamin Hodge
In a difficult period of economic correction, there is no better time for Johnson County’s leaders to finally embrace a movement that will create tremendous economic growth, lower taxes, diversify the community, and provide hope and opportunity in the inner city.
I am writing about consumer-driven school choice: allowing parents and students to determine where to receive an education. There is one chief reason why the public higher education system works and why the K-12 system does not: competition.
The experiment of the American republic produces an exceptional culture because it guarantees its citizens more freedom than any nation on Earth. But the experiment of freedom-less, government-run education has failed – and we should not be surprised or offended by this.
After all, education is a service, and regardless of the industry, a capitalistic and competitive environment creates the best product for the consumer. Financially rewarding mediocrity – or worse, failure – is never a successful business model. Public K-12 schools – with $11,000 per student – provide exceptional education for a few students and an OK learning environment for a majority. Schools inexcusably neglect a sizeable minority. Meanwhile, private schools and home-schooling programs experience wide success with $1,000 to $6,000 per student.
Kansas is one of only five states whose schools do not recognize all learning disabilities, and Johnson County’s schools partner with schools state-wide in fighting against parents of dyslexic children who try to change the laws in Topeka every year.
Many high school students (of all ranges of skill and intelligence) would be better served by Johnson County Community College or another area college – again, the area’s union-approved “educational leaders” oppose giving parents the authority to use educational tax dollars as they choose.
Your elected school board members call all this “local control,” which is also how they justify the use of our tax dollars to hire lobbyists to fight against our interests. Don’t expect those lobbyists to be cut from next year’s budget. These lobbyists even oppose efforts to increase the transparency of the almost 300 individual school district budgets, so that we can actually understand where our money is going.
Let’s be clear about two things:
1. The move away from government-run education is already occurring. The Kansas numbers are incredible. Between 1970 and 2000, Kansas grew by 25 percent in population, yet the total number of children in public schools grew by 0 percent; interestingly, during that period, the number of teachers grew by 30 percent, and the number of school administrators grew by 90 percent, nearly doubling, according to Americans for Prosperity.
2. The area business community actively opposes educational reform. So-called chambers of commerce have allowed unions, government schools, and trial lawyers to cloud their reasoning. In 2006, leaders in the Overland Park Chamber and the JCCC Foundation (which includes the two leading candidates for county commission chair in 2010, Commissioners Annabeth Surbaugh and Ed Eilert) unsuccessfully attempted to interfere in needed reform efforts at Johnson County Community College. The JCCC Board ignored them and moved forward.
School choice proponents are extremely flexible in our request to provide parents with a voucher or tax credit worth merely a fraction of what the school district would otherwise receive. We don’t object to providing the district with a reasonable amount of money to cover fixed costs. The remaining amount can be considered a savings to taxpayers.
Within weeks of such legislation, great new schools with enthusiastic teachers would appear across the metro, providing diverse educational services. Some would focus on writing, others on technology. Some would help students with learning disabilities, and others would be ideal for students with part-time jobs.
Johnson County Community College has convinced me of these things:
- De-regulation is usually a good thing. Our administration will tell you that entering students who received education from home – often from parents with no government-approved teaching license – are among the strongest students.
- Increased competition benefits the consumer.
- The consumer almost always makes the right decision.
Let’s embrace school choice. Freedom is what makes America exceptional, and freedom always lives up to its promise.
Benjamin Hodge is one of six, at-large elected board members at Johnson County Community College and is a former state representative. Hodge’s public policy record has been recognized by Americans for Prosperity, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the NRA, Kansas for Life and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. He lives in Overland Park.