The Political Problem: School Children don’t write PAC checks

Why Don’t We See Real Education Reform? Because of Powerful Special Interest Groups 

Jay Greene, the endowed chair of education reform at the University of Arkansas and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, wrote this in the New York Sun on February 21, 2007:

“The safe thing is to make bland declarations about the need to improve the quality of education without getting into any of the messy particulars that might be necessary to produce a better education. Changing the status quo in education almost certainly requires ruffling someone’s feathers, but doing that is almost certainly bad for business.

In part this is why we see highly successful entrepreneurs who survive in a world of ruthless competition abandon these business principles when they turn to education philanthropy. People who would never endorse the idea that businesses should be granted local monopolies, offer workers lifetime tenure, or pay employees based solely on seniority, embrace a status quo public system that has all of these features.”

It’s time for some straight talk about the situation here in Illinois. Our public school system continues to fail students, parents, and taxpayers in its Illinois Constitutional duty to provide “an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services.”

On the quality side, the test scores graph shows a flat-line. details.

On the efficiency side, taxpayers have been increasing funding at levels substancially better than the rate of inflation for more than twenty years and yet 80 percent of school districts are in deficit spending.

Why do we fail to see real school reform – on both fronts – after many many years of debate?  It’s quite simple, actually. State legislators, the people with the power to force real change, cower in fear in the face of the teachers unions.

As a result, the discussion about how to improve the academic performance and financial management of the public schools isn’t conducted based on the facts of what’s been proven to work. Nothing matters but money – the call for ever more money.

The public school establishment would like you to believe they’re the experts, and it’s their expertise that’s being heeded. The truth is, they’ve had plenty of time to get the job done.  Unfortunately, those who can – do; those who can’t – call for higher funding levels.

Here’s a nice summation of the unions from

The two ‘”most powerful interest groups in Springfield are the state’s teacher unions – the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

During the past 12 years, the IEA has contributed $10.5 million to statehouse candidates, while the IFT has donated $5.5 million, according to records filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Of all political contributors during that period, the IEA ranked first and the IFT ranked third, outpacing traditional political heavyweights such as power companies, manufacturers and trial lawyers.”

The good news is that the solution is also simple. Competition works, monopolies don’t.

We need to give parents the right of choice via the voucher: the money should follow the kids – the kids shouldn’t belong to the school district.

This will force the schools to compete for students. They will then have to improve – on both fronts.