On The Issues
Immediately introduce competition into the government school system by letting parents choose their child’s school district.
Funds which would have gone to the local school district will follow the child to the district chosen by the parents.
Curriculum should be controlled locally, not by an unelected Board of Education in Harrisburg or by national “Common Core” standards.
End unfunded Federal and state mandates that drive up property taxes.
School Districts should place students in private community schools rather than their tax-paid Taj Mahals so that property taxes can be cut in half.
Education of our children is one of the most important issues facing us today. But despite its successes, Pennsylvania’s educational system is falling short in too many areas, primarily because our government schools are virtually a monopoly — over 90% of all children in Pennsylvania attend one — and like any monopoly, the result is higher costs, poorer service, and lack of choice.
One of the best ways to eliminate this monopoly is to introduce competition, and the ideal way to do that is to bring parents back into the equation. Specifically, parents should be given the power to send their child to any government school, not just the one in their neighborhood, and the funding which would have gone to their local school would follow the child to the school of their choice instead. That way good schools would gain more students and more funding, while bad schools would fail; or at the very least, be put on notice by their decreasing enrollment that they should put their house in order or soon be closed down. In this manner, competition would work to improve education without spending any additional tax dollars. Best of all, it would be parents deciding what is best, not some unelected bureaucrat.
Unfortunately, the two old parties are trying to take education in an entirely different direction. There have been bills introduced where parents can ultimately be thrown in jail for the crime of choosing a government school outside their neighborhood, jailed for the crime of wanting a better education for their children. Libertarians believe in empowering parents, not jailing them. So I fully support any legislation which allows parents and homeschoolers far greater latitude to decide how to educate their kids.
There are many things we can do to improve education, but increased state funding is not an answer because money is not the problem. A study by Standard & Poor’s shows that one-third of the best performing schools receive less than the average funding, while the one-third worst receive more than the average funding. Obviously, there are problems with our schools that cannot be solved by simply throwing more money at them, and great successes that aren’t tied to funding. As Governor, I would work to uncover and exploit those successes and remove the failures.
Many of the “privatization” plans currently being discussed are not the answer. What they are doing is merely outsourcing their government monopoly, not offering true choice. The result is that the children and teachers are still trapped in the same system. We need to open up education to a wider, more diverse variety of choices, curriculums, and approaches. Homeschooling, community schools, cyber schools, and apprentice programs should all be encouraged, not with state funding or state mandates, but by cutting back on the over-regulation of the education monopoly which exists today.
The funding of our schools should also be changed on a fundamental level. Although I favor complete separation of school and state, my oath to uphold the constitution takes precedence, and Article 3, Section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution states that The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth. Being constrained to work within that context, I believe that the best solution is that the law should allow for as much local control of the schools as possible. But today virtually everything is decided by an unelected Board of Education in Harrisburg. They decide what gets taught, what doesn’t get taught, who teaches, who doesn’t, who must go to school, which school, for how long, and a host of other things that are best decided by parents, not bureaucrats.
Worse yet, there are the new Common Core Standards which gives the power of setting the curriculum to an unelected board outside of Pennsylvania. Local control of schools is continually eroding.
Worst of all, a barrage of regulations and unfunded mandates continually emanates from Harrisburg. This must stop. As Governor, I promise to veto every single unfunded mandate, not just for schools, but in any other area of government as well. These unfunded mandates are a large part of the reason that local property taxes continue to rise. Rather than burden the local schools with these mandates, the Legislature should take the responsibility to fund them, especially one of the largest unfunded mandates, special education.
By eliminating these unfunded mandates, introducing competition, allowing more parental control, reducing over-regulation, and returning our educational system to its constitutional bounds with more local control, our children can receive the education they deserve at the best possible price.
However, this solution of increased competition only maintains the status quo of publicly-funded education while keeping the sources of those funds essentially the same. But there are ways to reduce, even eliminate reliance on the traditional source of education funding, such as the property tax.
One method of reducing the cost of education is to privatize the educational system. That would mean that the government would not run their own schools, but rather would place children with local private schools instead. How much of a reduction in cost would that bring? To come up with hard numbers, I Googled the private schools in my local Abington area to find out what they charged per year. I heard numbers ranging from $5,000 through about $13,000, with the exclusive schools like Abington Friends topping out at over $20,000. Leaving out the exclusive schools, I found that the average tuition was around $9,000. Then I took the latest Abington school district budget of $136 million and divided it by their 7,600 students, yielding a cost of over $18,000 a child.
The upshot: If we privatized the schools, we could cut property taxes in half overnight.
School boards already have the option of outsourcing education to local, less-expensive private schools, but usually, reserve that power only for troubled kids. Instead of outsourcing education to less-expensive neighborhood schools, they prefer to run their own schools and at a much higher cost. In the end, it’s we, the taxpayers, who suffer for their poor choice.
Many people have suggested the use of vouchers, but there are problems associated with that approach which would make me wary of attempting to use them, and the biggest is what I call the Political Golden Rule: “He who provides the gold makes the rules”. For this reason, I fear vouchers because along with the state funds would come the state mandates and rules, and within a few short years, the private schools would not be their own masters anymore.
The lesson here is that education needs fewer meddling bureaucrats and more parental involvement. Educating our children is too important to be left entirely in the hands of the government.