Archived Story

Robb Morse: A proposal for True Schools of Choice

Published 12:22am Thursday, April 14, 2011

We decide where a child has to attend school based on where they live.  We remove all parental choice from the equation. This also removes the competition for students that might otherwise exist among schools. If schools had to compete to attract students, well-run schools would see increased attendance, and poor schools that don’t do a good job educating students would lose their students to other, better schools. When you think about it, it’s almost crazy that parents don’t get to choose their child’s school. The state will pay for the cost of educating your child, but only if you allow it to dictate which school(s) they will attend — solely on the basis of geography! It’s ridiculous that the most reliable way to get your child out a bad school and into a good one essentially requires selling your home and moving to a more expensive neighborhood!

So here’s my proposal, which I call 80-10-10 True Schools of Choice. Under this plan, 80 percent of the money currently paid to local school districts would be available to follow the student to whatever qualifying school a parent wants their child to attend. Ten percent would remain with that students’ “home” district, meaning that public school district gets to keep money for not educating that student anymore, which they can use to better educate the students they still have left. The remaining 10 percent represents savings for the state, retained in the State Treasury and paid out to no one — ultimately benefiting we the taxpayers.

So what makes a school a qualifying school? To receive True Schools of Choice funding from the state, a school or district would be required to either accept all applicants, or else set a fixed quota of how many new students they will accept in a given year, then award those spots through a lottery.  Schools would be allowed to specify that a given number of openings are available for each grade, or even that no openings exist in certain grades. Schools wishing to receive True School of Choice monies would have to follow these rules: they would not be allowed to cherry-pick the good students, or recruit the top athletes or use any other criteria to choose which non-district students they will let in.

Schools with less than 20 students would not qualify. But charter schools could qualify. Private schools could qualify. Public schools could certainly qualify, assuming that district’s administration feels they can provide an education to an additional student while only receiving 80 percent of the “normal” funding for that student. The best schools will attract more students and grow, the worst may well wither and die. This proposal will force schools to compete for students, which means poorly performing schools will have to become better, or risk losing their students to the schools that already are better.

Let’s look at some example numbers to see how this might affect a public school district that loses students under this proposal.  Let’s start with a hypothetical district of 1,000 students, with the state paying the school district $6,000 per enrolled student, or a total of $6 Million a year.

If fully half the students leave for other schools, the district will now have 500 enrolled students.  It will still receive the $6,000 per remaining student, or $3 million. It will also receive $600 per student for each of the 500 students that still live in that district but whose parents have chosen to send their child to a qualifying True School of Choice.  That’s a “bonus” of $300,000 the school will receive for NOT educating the 500 students that are now being educated elsewhere at 80 percent of the original cost. The school now has $6,600 to educate each of its remaining students instead of the $6,000 per student they had been receiving.

Now let’s take it to the extreme.  Let’s say the same school loses 90 percent of its students. Now the district has 100 students to educate, and will receive the $600,000 for those students still enrolled, plus another $540,000 for the in-district students that are being educated elsewhere — or $11,400 per remaining student! Schools that lose students cannot complain that they are crippled under this proposal, because they actually wind up with more money per enrolled student every time a student leaves.

People will argue that if we don’t set standards, we won’t know whether a school is doing a good job.  But given the choice, what parent is going to send their child to a bad school when they have other options? If a school consistently fails to educate and serve its students, only the most apathetic of parents will leave their children in that school, and even the apathetic will likely take notice if all their child’s friends are gone because they’ve all moved on to better schools!

80-10-10 True Schools of Choice allows parents to send their child to the school of their choosing while forcing schools to compete for students. Struggling schools with declining enrollment will receive more money per remaining student than they get now. Successful schools will not be limited to educating only those students that happen to live in their district.  The State Government will save hundreds of dollars every time a student chooses to attend a school that is not in their “geographically proper” district.

Students win. Parents win. Good schools win. Taxpayers win. It seems to me that the only losers will be those schools, administrators and educators that are so inept at educating their students that all their students leave … but then, are those the people we should have been entrusting to educate our most precious resource anyway?

— Righteous Robb

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