Elections are defined by the candidates, what they say, and the issues they focus on. COVID. The economy. Court packing (phew). Healthcare. But the issues the candidates don’t focus on matter as well. Between now and inauguration day, I will write a series of articles diving into education, the national debt, and foreign policy, topics of major importance that were largely ignored by both Presidential candidates.
Education is vital to the health and vibrancy of our republic. But the American educational system is broken. The goal of our educational system ought to be to give students the knowledge to be active participants in society and contributors to the economy. To achieve this, kids should read classic literature and history and learn math. They should learn to think critically and engage actively with the world around them. Right now, by and large, students don’t get out of education what they should.
Only 11 percent of Americans are completely satisfied with the quality of K-12 education, but to actually make improvements and unite people behind a plan the issue has to be discussed and debated. Throughout the 2020 campaign, education was on the margins. Mr. Biden promised a “teacher-oriented” Department of Education, prompting many on the right to question why he wouldn’t want a student-oriented one (tens of millions of reasons why, actually), while the President occasionally touted some of the work his administration has done with charter schools. During the two debates, the only discussion of schools was a series of jabs between President Trump and Joe Biden about school closure. The lack of discussion of education does an enormous disservice to our kids.
Much discussion focuses on funding disparities in different school districts and a general lack of education funding overall. If only it was that simple. According to education economist Caroline Hoxby, since 1970, inflation adjusted per-pupil spending in US Public Schools has nearly tripled. At the same time, scores on reading and math assessments of high school seniors have remained completely stagnant. Meanwhile, many politicians on the left promise that all we need to do is increase funding for public schools. We have been doing that for years; the outcome is clear. As Einstein’s saying goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
The data on education are clear: school choice works. Forcing public, private, and charter schools to compete for students improves the quality of education for everyone. Schools in wealthy neighborhoods already deal with competition. If parents don’t like the quality of the public schools, they can send their kids to private ones. Expanding choice to all parents makes the system more fair, but more importantly, makes it better.
Opponents of school choice often argue that it drains resources from public schools. However, public schools by and large have bloated administrations; if they make cuts in the right areas, there wouldn’t need to be any reduction in resources that actually go to education. Second, most education costs are variable, meaning when a student leaves a public school to go to a charter, private, or parochial school, the vast majority of the money earmarked for him is no longer needed.
Like it or not, the federal government plays a role in education. In a perfect world, conservatives may look to limit the jurisdiction of the Department of Education or realize Rick Perry’s dream of eliminating it, but that is politically infeasible. Instead, the Congress should pass laws that meaningfully expand options for students and parents across the country, particularly for those on the lower end of the income spectrum. Government spending on education is worthwhile -- but a blank check is not.
When it comes to improving education, the JFK quote rings true, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.” As we prepare to enter a new era for the Republican Party and the country as a whole, it is my great hope that the GOP and reform-minded Democrats like Senator Cory Booker (‘91) make the case for increasing competition in our school system and take action to give every child in America a better shot at the American Dream.
Image Source: Patrick Semansky, AP Images