School funding, rankings, and choice

Advocating for reform requires a lot of repetition. The successful advertisers understand that human nature requires it – it’s why you often see particular ads more often than you’d like. And so we too repeat ourselves – sometimes saying the same thing more than once.

The call for accountability and transparency in public school spending actually fits perfectly the Illinois Constitution’s demand for an “efficient” system found in Article X. Those who resist such efforts often sound like they’d have you believe that anyone arguing for better financial management in the public schools hates children.

Actually, Illinois taxpayers love kids – and have been showing it by increasing funding at twice the rate of inflation for over twenty years. Illinois schools are not poorly funded.

First, a note about “state funding” versus “local funding.” The state maintains the ultimate responsibility for funding public schools since local governments are subject to the state.

Some would have you believe that the current system results from the state government shunning its responsibility. On the contrary, it was the citizens of the state who decided that local control of public education funding was preferable to having all decisions emanate from Springfield.

The current hullabaloo over state funding results from the simple fact that the public school establishment doesn’t like that too many local citizens are saying ‘no’ to ever increasing taxes by voting down referendums. Since local taxpayers won’t give them what they want, they turn to calling the state government bad names.

Residents of individual school districts hear a lot about how their district compares with other districts in their region in terms of percentages – for example, in local tax rates, spending per pupil, etc.

As one wit has pointed out, “Outside the parallel universe of government schools, in any given sample, roughly half are below average.” Any district that is below the median is having its civil rights violated, or so some would have you believe.

This percentage argument is just the ratcheting game – and it’s getting old. Taxpayers of different areas are becoming increasingly aware that they’re being pitted against each other to see who can spend more – all without regard to whether it’s necessary or productive.

That said, you’re not going to get an argument from me on this: the Illinois General Assembly does need to reform how Illinois schools are funded. Specifically, we should not be funding the schools – we should be funding the students.

Students should not be the property of what amounts to public school district “plantations.” Public school students deserve emancipation. The greatest resistance to that liberation comes from those with a financial interest in the current system. Kids are “chattel” to the public school establishment, that is, they mean money.

The real solution is to empower parents with the right to send their children to the school of their choice. We’re never going to know what the real cost of public education should be, or how good the schools can be academically, until the monopoly is ended and children are free.

School choice will introduce competition and competition will introduce something called “incentives.” It’s not pro-education to constantly work to avoid any penalty for inferior academic performance or financial inefficiency. And it’s not anti-education to demand liberation from the current failed public education monopoly. Only with school choice will we see substantial improvements brought to publicly funded education.

Until then, we’ll be subjected to never ending complaints about mean taxpayers not doing their part. We’ll also be stuck with Perestroika-like efforts to improve a corrupt, bloated, inefficient, and ineffective system. (If you don’t like the use of the word “corrupt,” by the way, consider buying and reading this book.)

To learn more about the future of public education (school choice) and the ever-growing national school reform movement, follow the many links available on this website.

©2008 John Francis Biver