[This column by Brandon Dutcher appeared January 17, 2011 in The Oklahoman.]
Recent news reports informed us the U.S. Postal Service lost $8.5 billion last year. Another informed us that a postal workers union had to extend its election deadline because thousands of ballots … got lost in the mail.
We laugh, but we shouldn't be surprised. Create a heavily unionized, government-owned, government-operated monopoly, and problems will ensue. That's true whether you're trying to deliver mail, or trying to deliver education.
Public education's productivity collapse has been nothing short of staggering, Cato Institute scholar Andrew Coulson wrote in 2009 in Investor's Business Daily. "Once upon a time, America could afford to sustain a parasitic school monopoly, fecklessly throwing billions more dollars at it decade after decade despite its failure to improve. That time has passed. … The perpetuation of that monopoly puts our economic future at unacceptable risk."
Indeed, a 2009 report from McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, found that America's "underutilization of human potential" imposes "the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession."
It's no wonder business leaders are starting to take note. In November, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, The State Chamber of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition and others teamed up to host an Oklahoma City screening of the powerful documentary Waiting for 'Superman.'
And this month the presidents of the Oklahoma City, Tulsa and state chambers unveiled a joint agenda that includes proposals making it easier to get rid of bad teachers.
All of which is good. But when confronting a permanent national recession, tinkering at the edges is not going to suffice. As Coulson put it, "It's time to bring the field of education into the fold of the free enterprise system."
"Many policy proposals are on the table that could inject market forces back into the field of education, bringing to it the same long-term productivity growth that has been the norm in other fields," he said.
Currently there are limited voucher and tax-credit programs operating in 16 states. But according to Coulson, "the first states to combine and expand these programs on a grand scale will become magnets for businesses in search of better-educated workers and lower taxes, leading to an economic and educational boom. The states that don't will continue to burn in the budgetary hell created by monopoly schooling, needlessly jeopardizing their children's economic and educational futures."
If our policymakers want Oklahoma to become a magnet for business — if they're serious about beating Texas — then bold action is required.
My money's on Florida. "Why should we cling to models created in another century?" newly elected Gov. Rick Scott asked in his inaugural address this month. "Why should we allow bureaucracies to make our decisions for us?"
Scott is considering a plan that would essentially give everyone a voucher. Parents could create an education savings account for their child, then receive state funds equal to 85 percent of the child's per-pupil funding in the public school system.
Electronic funds transfer, please. Don't put the check in the mail.