Opinion: Schools need more choice, not more money

  • Benita Dodd
12:00 p.m Friday, Feb. 2, 2018 Opinion

Legislators and policymakers continually debate how and how much funding to allocate to help Georgia’s public school students and public education in general. But there is a little-discussed, bigger challenge: How to meet the choices Georgians demand.

How big is that challenge?

Georgia spends more on public education per student than all its neighbors except South Carolina, according to the latest data (2015). Yet, it trails all its neighbors when it comes to on-time high school graduation rates. Clearly, how much is far less important than how to spend education dollars.

The “how” is expanded educational choice for all Georgia families. Empower families to choose from charter schools, private schools and educational services through control of their education dollars in Education Savings Accounts. A bill is languishing in the Legislature.

It’s high time to end the cookie-cutter approach to education, where the success of schools and systems hinges on how well they teach to the test, and where educators sometimes resort to cheating in high-stakes tests because so much rides on those academic results.

Universal choice will render the existing testing structure obsolete as parents shop for services, and schools and educators compete transparently to offer a quality, affordable education product that meets the needs of the child.

Today’s teachers are obliged to operate in a virtual monopoly, offering the same product across different locations. When quality educators can compete to provide their services, unshackled from school districts, quality options can increase without increasing bureaucracies.

With parents free to choose, instead of the state serving as curator, parents will then be the curators. Children are unique, with unique comprehension and learning approaches. Parents will decide, from their child’s individual test results, whether the progress is acceptable. Even better, they can take their education dollars elsewhere if it is not.

Providing parents with the ability and the educational tools to make informed choices will improve outcomes and, over time, reduce the cost of education for all taxpayers.

Crowdsourcing works for TripAdvisor and Yelp. GreatSchools and similar rating services providing transparency will flourish in a competitive marketplace of education options. Georgia has tried more money. It’s time to try more choice.